The Fifth World

Egalitarianism

Egalitarianism has proven a defining element of human nature and evolution over the past two million years. Only during a relatively tiny slice of that time, under civilization, have human beings accepted inequality. Following its collapse, people in the Fifth World have returned to the normal human state of living in egalitarian societies.

Consensus

Communities in the Fifth World almost universally use consensu to reach decisions. Generally, this means that each member can

  • support a motion,
  • oppose a motion, or
  • abstain.

Few families require everyone to support a motion to do it, but they do require that at least no one oppose it. The cajoling and discussion that this process requires can take a very long time, but it generally results in better decisions than an individual leader could make.

Not everyone has the same influence on these decisions, of course, and this does create some informal power dynamics. These dynamics shift frequently as discussion moves from one topic to the next. The people most respected on the question of where to find boar typically don’t have that kind of influence when the question turns to where to find water. Most of the time, everyone will have a moment as the most respected person in the community, and plenty of time yielding to the advice of others. Usually elders have earned more respect than others, but even the youngest child can sway a commmunity’s decision with a good argument.

Maintaining equality

Despite its ubiquity, humans have always had to put work into maintaining egalitarianism. It does not simply occur on its own. They use leveling mechanisms like gossip or ridicule to undermine individuals who try to gather power, often by mocking the very acts that would earn prestige, thus deeply complicating the path to power.

If an individual continues to accumulate power anyway, some of the community may confront him directly. Often his friends will approach him first, so as to avoid hurt feelings, but if that fails others may openly defy him or call him out in front of everyone.

If even these efforts fail, communities may consider ostracizing such a person rather than suffer living with him any longer. In the most extreme cases, they may even execute him.

[W]hen a young man kills much meat he comes to think of himself as a chief or a big man, and he thinks of the rest of us as his servants or inferiors. We can’t accept this. We refuse one who boasts, for someday his pride will make him kill somebody. So we always speak of his meat as worthless. This way we cool his heart and make him gentle.

Tomazo, a !Kung elder