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Egalitarian societies of the past were doomed to oblivion

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Old-time egalitarian societies were just too stable to survive in a dog-eat-dog world, according to Stanford University researchers, a situation which led to them being overrun by the stratified societies which dominate humanity today.

The study used a computer simulation to compare demographic stability and rates of migration for societies that shared everything equally and those that had a class structure with those on top controlling most of the resources.

The researchers found that, when resources were consistently scarce, egalitarian societies didn't have the motivation to change their ways because they shared out the pain, but in unequal communities, the have-nots tended to go in search of a better life when things got bad.

If resources fluctuated, the class societies were the ones that were stable because the ruling class always had plenty, so they expanded, while the sharing and caring communities found it hard to adapt and once again stayed as they were.

"The fact that unequal societies today vastly outnumber egalitarian societies may not be due to the replacement of the ethic of equality by a more selfish ethic, as originally thought by many researchers," said cultural evolution specialist Deborah Rogers, head author of the study.

"Instead, it appears that the stratified societies simply spread and took over, crowding out the egalitarian populations," she added.

The study, co-authored by Stanford evolutionary biologist Marcus Feldman, was published online this week in the journal PLoS One. ®

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