For a Kinder, Gentler Society
Eternal Inequality
A History of Humanity and Hierarchy during the Last 4 Million Years
  • Christopher Cumo
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Eternal Inequality. A History of Humanity and Hierarchy during the Last 4 Million Years
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Money, land, and other commodities—aggregated and passed to heirs—heighten inequality and stoke animus against it. Cumo describes the sweep of this dynamic over a vast expanse of time and territory, showing that colossal fortunes provoked warfare, rebellion, and revolution. Violence emerged both to challenge and to enforce inequality.

Eternal Inequality’s uniqueness stems, first, from its integration of insights from the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities to systematize history. Inequality and the backlash against it shaped this system. Second, this book, emphasizing our impulse to hierarchize everywhere always, regresses this instinct 4 million years, eternalizing inequality from the perspective of a species that originated some 200,000 years ago.


About the Author

Chris Cumo earned his MA and PhD in history at the University of Akron. Throughout graduate school he focused on Roman antiquity and became engrossed with the ancient world. His knowledge of ancient philosophy centers on his reading of Plato’s dialogues. These concentrations strengthened the breadth and depth of his earlier book with Algora, Skeptic's Guide to Jesus.

His usual research focuses largely on the history of science, so that he uses the methodologies of history and the Scientific Method daily. He has taught at three different universities and has written as an independent contractor for several publishers, including ABC-CLIO in Santa Barbara, CA. Nine of his books have been published.

In 2015 economist Branko Milanovic noted that wealth inequality had become "a much more important topic in the press, social networks and academic publications over the last 3 or 4 years." Mindful of this trend, Chris Cumo set out to explore the disparity between rich and poor throughout prehistory and history and ended up producing the current book. In his work, he sought to argue that inequality as a concept and as an actuality permits historians, social scientists, and scientists to unify the study of our past. That is, the imperative toward inequality, hierarchy, stratification, or whatever noun is preferred, shaped our social evolution, prehistory, and history.

Dr. Cumo is a member of the Ohio Academy of Science, the History of Science Society, the Agricultural History Society, and the American Historical Association.

About the Book

Taking inequality as a concept and as an actuality, Dr. Cumo set out to explore the disparity between rich and poor throughout prehistory and history. This theme enables him to integrate data and analyses from the sciences, social sciences, and...

Taking inequality as a concept and as an actuality, Dr. Cumo set out to explore the disparity between rich and poor throughout prehistory and history. This theme enables him to integrate data and analyses from the sciences, social sciences, and humanities to systematize the study of history.

Rich in facts and insights, the book reveals our impulse to hierarchize everywhere always and regresses this instinct 4 million years, long before the human species evolved. From insects to chickens to primates, the pattern holds, and a summary of the development of early human sociality helps explain how that shaped the evolution of civilization. 

Money, land, and other commodities—aggregated and passed to heirs—heighten inequality and stoke animus against it. Colossal fortunes have provoked warfare, rebellion, and revolution. Violence emerged both to challenge inequality and to enforce it.

Chapters review hierarchy in more primitive species, then provide crisp accounts of human revolutions—economic and military but also technological, social and religious—and discuss how the mastery of fire, the turn to agriculture, the Black Death, colonialism and manufacturing have impacted serfdom, slavery, and other forms of forced labor and subjugation.

Dr. Cumo reveals that the disparity between rich and poor appears to be fundamental to humankind and key to interpreting the past—and present.

In these pages, Dr. Cumo organizes the past’s significant events as occurrences that either heightened inequality or provoked a reaction against it, analogous to a Newtonian-like dynamic whereby periods of robust inequality necessitated counterreactions, including rebellions and revolutions. In other words, the past yields no welter of people, dates, and events, but rather an intelligible whole.

An interdisciplinary account, this book, rich in facts and insights, integrates data and analyses from the sciences, social sciences, and humanities to systematize history’s study.


Introduction

Eternal Inequality: A History of Humanity and Hierarchy during the Last 4 Million Years addresses the growing interest in inequality by defining the disparity between rich and poor as fundamental to humankind and key to interpreting the past. Covering a vast timescale, this book reveals that the penchant for ranking everyone began...

Eternal Inequality: A History of Humanity and Hierarchy during the Last 4 Million Years addresses the growing interest in inequality by defining the disparity between rich and poor as fundamental to humankind and key to interpreting the past. Covering a vast timescale, this book reveals that the penchant for ranking everyone began around 4 million years ago with Australopithecus and heightened about 3 million years later when our predecessor, Homo erectus, mastered fire and formed campsites. Evaluating talents, aspirations, and motivations as they gathered around the hearth, these people used personal attributes to rank one another. Once established, gradations deepened over time as humans elaborated culture.

Eternal Inequality shows that the cultural construct money is best understood as status quantifier, one that enables people within and outside a community to calibrate ranks quickly and precisely. Other measures of wealth (and thus power) emphasized in these pages are the means of production: land, serfs, servants, and slaves in agrarian communities, shops and ships in commercial economies, and factories in industrial societies. Once integrated into a society, money, land, and other commodities—aggregated and passed to heirs—heighten inequality and stoke animus against it. Dr. Cumo describes the sweep of this dynamic, showing that colossal fortunes provoked warfare, rebellion, and revolution such that violence emerged to challenge and to enforce inequality. Accordingly, this account emphasizes that plutocrats and their agents used cruelty, torture, and threats of violence to oppress the underclass across time and place. The downtrodden sometimes retaliated in kind, though often they lacked the wherewithal to resist.

Chapters include crisp accounts of revolutions—economic and military but also technological, social and religious — and considers how the turn to agriculture, the Black Death, colonialism and manufacturing have impacted serfdom, slavery, and other forms of forced labor and subjugation.

Succinctly covering a vast timescale and range of cultures, Dr. Cumo reveals that the penchant for ranking everyone began around 4 million years ago. The disparity between rich and poor appears to be fundamental to humankind and key to interpreting the past—and present.

Money, land, and other commodities—aggregated and passed to heirs—heighten inequality and stoke animus against it. Cumo describes the sweep of this dynamic over a vast expanse of time and territory, showing that colossal fortunes provoked warfare, rebellion, and revolution. Violence emerged both to challenge and to enforce inequality.


Table of Contents
PARTS I–IV. These insights organize Eternal Inequality into six parts. The first overviews our development over the last 4 million years and ends with early differential burials and Upper

PARTS I–IV.

These insights organize Eternal Inequality into six parts. The first overviews our development over the last 4 million years and ends with early differential burials and Upper Paleolithic (c. 43,000-c. 8000 BCE) achievements.

The second part describes the wealth gap circa 8000 BCE to 1400 CE. The third, Inequality and Its Discontents, examines medieval inequality and the fourteenth-century backlash against it.

Inequality intensified after that, as documented in Part IV.

Part V treats the French, Russian, and Chinese revolutions as class warfare.

These assaults against inequality failed as the last half century enlarged inequality, the subject of Part VI.


Pages 364
Year: 2022
BISAC: HIS039000      HISTORY / Civilization
BISAC: HIS054000      HISTORY / Social History
BISAC: HIS037000      HISTORY / World
Soft Cover
Available in February
ISBN: 978-1-62894-497-6
Hard Cover
ISBN: 978-1-62894-498-3
eBook
ISBN: 978-1-62894-499-0

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