Understanding Naturally Occurring Social Systems
Naturally occurring social systems are systems that naturally arise when societies form, such as politics, economics, mathematics, and language.
The concept is easy to grasp, but not talked about often outside of anthropology classes. Despite this, it is important.
Like the fundamental dualities inherent in the human condition (like the political left-right or Plato’s theory), the naturally occurring social systems are an effect of the human nature and not a synthetic construct dependent on later technology (most arise quickly and naturally once humans form groups).The Agricultural Revolution: Crash Course World History #1.
TIP: This page discusses types of physical/conceptual social systems, specifically naturally occurring ones. This page is not about physics, systems theory, or another type of system.
An Introduction to Naturally Occurring Social Systems
As soon as a family was formed in nature, the state of nature was traded, at least in part, for the order of a commonwealth, the family being the simplest commonwealth or state. See social contract theory.
From here we get many constructs including political constructs, the division of labor (hunting, gather, childcare, protection), and the basics of a language.
Once two families interact, we get positive constructs like economics and trade and negative ones such as a state of war, which can also occur between a “lone wolf” and a group or between two lone wolves. We also develop more complex versions of politics and the division of labor.
The first societies formed in the Fertile Crescent starting in 10,000 BCE. Tribes converged on fertile land. They had to form more sophisticated versions of core systems, and they developed the more complex naturally occurring systems like mathematics as one can’t divide labor or trade very well without mathematics.
This can be confirmed by our quick timeline below.
A Quick Timeline of Social Systems From Prehistoric to Neolithic, and Beyond
- Simple social systems arose as early as 35,000 – 30,000 BCE (hunting and gathering, cave drawings, tally marks on bone, and perhaps the domestication of wolves).
- Complex agricultural systems arose after the first societies formed during the Neolithic Revolution from 10,000 – 8,000 BCE.
- Around 4,500 BCE cities were built along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.
- We believe that formal written language and mathematics started in the 3,000’s – 2,000’s BCE with Sumerian Cuneiform script and Babylonian mathematics, which are the complex versions of the early cave drawings and tally marks.
- Formal naturally arising systems don’t evolve until the 1,600’s AD or later (like insurance and stock), but early versions can be found; we will note these as well.
TIP: See Fertile Crescent Timeline.The History of the Fertile Crescent and the Rise of Civilization.
A List of Naturally Occurring Systems
Below is a simple non-exhaustive list of naturally occurring systems (naturally occurring social technologies):
- The state: Aristotle wrote of “the state of nature” in his 350 BC work Politics. He described the state as a naturally occurring social system where people form families (a barely self-sufficing entity), then tribes when several families unite (somewhat self-sufficient), and then, finally, “the state” (a fully self-sufficing entity). From this perspective, the state itself is naturally occurring. Learn more about this argument.
- Politics: Politics is the art of representing a body of people. Once more than one person needs to be organized, we get the basics of politics and the basic forms of government: monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy.
- Laws: The law of nature is non-aggression. The right to life, liberty, and property (and the defense of this). In more complex society, more complex laws are needed.
- Religion, Mythology, and Philosophy: People naturally create stories, mythology, and theories to explain that which they cannot explain.
- Economics: Once a system of reciprocity is in place, we get economics. Even the basic tribes have systems of reciprocity. The second we trade goods or labor, we get economics. This system can be capitalist if based on ownership or communist if based on the division of resources.
- Mathematics: Once there is a need to count, we get mathematics. How can one be fair when trading if one can’t count the objects being traded?
- Language: To trade or organize we need to communicate; the need for language arises naturally to avoid the state of war, to trade, and to organize the Commonwealth.
- Classism (Social Classes): As soon as there is a leader, a worker, a rich family, and a poor family, we get classism or social classes. Examples of social classes are the ones found in Britain, Athens, and India. Social classes are a fundamental system born from a natural inequality of skill and action; people are naturally equal in liberty and right, not skill or drive. This is reinforced by the power derived from controlling resources. A great artist and a great business person are equal many respects, but not in their ability or drive to obtain and maintain capital assets. Over time the business person will amass wealth and his family will be of a higher class. Thus, hereditary classism is also naturally occurring.
- Division of Labor: The Commonwealth must divide labor to be effective; this socio-economic system forms out of necessity. Even if there is abundance, a larger society will need to divide labor to keep order and stave off boredom. Although capital creates classism, it also creates reward and incentive, and as we know from Pavlov, this is vital.
- Food distribution: A single person can only eat so much. If food is not distributed through trade or sharing, it will spoil or rot. Not everyone in a commonwealth needs to hunt, gather, or farm.
- Farming, Fishing, and the Domestication of Animals: We know that wolves evolved alongside humans as companions; we know early man hunted; we know farming and domestication is rather old. Domestication of animals and simple farming and fishing occurs shortly after humans form societies.
- Cooking: Fire and alcoholic beverages are vital for society to avoid disease since they kill germs. Cooking is a form of chemistry. You put the lime in the coconut and “boom” you get cooking, chemistry, and medicine.
- Employment: Employment arises from the needs of society; as labor, resources, and jobs are divided, we get employment.
- Child Care: Babies are going to require constant attention; since societal roles need to be filled, one role needs to be child care. It is arguable that marriage is also a naturally occurring societal system for largely this reason.
- Insurance: Insurance is a naturally arising socialist system. If one house in the village burns down, a new one must be constructed quickly; insurance helps a single family or person avoid unbearable costs.
- Stock: Sharing in a common venture by distributing shares or stocks is a type of insurance that is an investment. If we send one hunting group out for food, they may come back with nothing. If we send out many instead, we reduce the risk of getting no food. We invest in a company of hunting groups and thus ensure food. This is another naturally occurring socialist system like insurance.
- Basic Technologies: Basic technologies that can help with written language, farming equipment, hunting tools, and mathematical language including accounting and tally sheets will arise naturally out of need. Cartography and Navigation almost certainly occurred along with geometry and astronomy. How are you going to live in a river valley and not build at least a raft?
- The Arts and Culture: Basics of arts and culture like pictures, stories, dance, rituals, etc. are naturally arising (think cave drawings).
- Property: The ownership of property is naturally arising. As people start collecting things and working for things, they start feeling ownership over things either as a group or as individuals. This includes land ownership and rent.
- War: When group A wants what group B has, whether those are things or people or land and they use force to try to get it, the groups enter a state of war.
- Military: As war naturally arises, so must defense and military strategy.
- Slavery: When people take other people as property, we have slavery. Almost every society we know of has had a form of “owning people” at one time or another.
TIP: Obviously some of the above systems come first in very rudimentary forms. The first proper stock market doesn’t arise until 1602 for instance. Despite this, the above should act as food for thought. We can’t prove all these systems arose in the wild or the hunter-gatherer pre-civilization era, but we can use anthropology to confirm that they arose in the fertile crescent. Thus we can deduce that these were naturally occurring systems.
TIP: See “Neolithic to Now” lectures by Derek de Solla Price, Yale 1976. This lecture series, first given at Yale, was meant to be the first “canned lecture series” and equivalent to online university courses today. It traces technology from the first societies until today. The concept of naturally arising systems is central to the first part of the lecture although, as the name implies, the course traces a timeline to 1976.