In order for humans to live in large groups and be able to survive predators, famine and drought, they had to invent a system by which the tribe operated somewhat efficiently so that food and security were adequate to reproduce young in sufficient numbers to offset losses.
Obviously it worked.
The oldest know artifacts of modern man are somewhere around 200,000 years old. The oldest expressions of abstract thought, such as cave art, are about 50,000 years old. Our only clues about ancient humans in that span of 150,000 years show what they made and where they lived. It is clear, however, that humans lived in organized groups and hunted large animals for meat, the necessary provider of sufficient calories to support a large, constantly working brain.
We can only guess what kind of rules those tribes practiced then, because here we are almost 7 billion strong.
Geologically, those 150,000 years and about 40,000 years hence showed great swings in planetary climate. Throughout the history of the Earth, periods of climatic upheaval show large extinctions of life followed by periods of high rates of new species formation.
Those organisms that could survive the shifts in climate and attendant food sources continued their lines. Humans are the most adaptive creature we’ve ever seen. We adapted rapidly to change both technologically and socially.
Or have we?
It wasn’t until about 10,000 years ago there is a record of agriculture. This is followed quickly by the invention of transmitted language through writing and coincident inventions of numbers and economy. It is this combination of "modern" events that produced recorded history. Almost from the beginning of written history we see records of laws and wars; wars being defined as the organized movement of masses of humans against other masses.
This column is too short to fully paint a picture of man’s history, but there are some aching echoes from our past that we hear today. With the invention of agriculture and economy, laws had to be put in place to prevent chaos. In doing so, one of the basic human traits held at bay by those laws is thievery.
Over the last several millennia the laws have been supreme, but thievery and war persist. Sometimes the two behaviors of war and theft overlap completely. New excuses for war emerge for each new war, but one group seeking to control another group by force is an extension of what must have been "normal" in human evolution during the last 200,000 years.
If it weren’t, we could say that we just learned to be warriors and thieves after the invention of economy.
So-called primitive cultures provide a window into our unrecorded past. We see tribal conflicts and genocide in Africa and Asia. In the Americas we have seen our own aboriginal cultures constantly at war over territory, food sources and mates. It is recorded in just about every journal from early Euro-American explorers that theft was normal.
The irony of the Euro-American theft of aboriginal lands is obvious. Tribes frequently attacked other tribes for the specific purpose of stealing women and children to raise and include in the gene pool. It is clear they knew that too much in-breeding was not healthy to the vigor of the tribe.
Today’s modern societies are virtually choking on laws, most of which are necessary to prevent the breakdown of social order. That order is necessary to feed all the mouths we’ve managed to create. We even provide education to some to make new laws and creative ways to enforce existing ones.
Not all laws are good. Some laws conflict with each other and an individual human’s rights allegedly guaranteed by still higher laws. Most of those conflicting law issues center around thievery. Somebody is always trying to figure out ways to take more than their share from somebody else. Sound familiar?
We appear to be stuck with this system of laws bumping up against certain inherent and ingrained flaws in the human psyche; at least they are interpreted as flaws by the evolution of law.
Then again, maybe our behaviors that require laws to ensure the species’ survival are more powerful and determining than any laws we can invent.
Turner is a retired teacher and industrial engineer who lives near Marble Falls. He is an independent columnist, not a staff member, and his views do not necessarily reflect those of The Tribune or its parent company.