is professor of philosophy at the Australian National University. His books include Language and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Language (2nd ed, 1999), co-authored with Michael Devitt; The Evolved Apprentice: How Evolution Made Humans Unique (2012) and From Signal to Symbol: The Evolution of Language (forthcoming, 2021), co-authored with Ronald J Planer. His most recent book is The Pleistocene Social Contract: Culture and Cooperation in Human Evolution (2021).
Most of us live in social worlds that are profoundly unequal, where small elites have vastly more power and wealth than everyone else. Very few of the have-nots find this congenial. As experimental economists have shown, we tend to enter social situations prepared to take a chance and cooperate in collective activities. But if others take more than their share, we resent being played for a sucker. We live in unequal worlds, and few of us are unaware of, or indifferent to, that fact.
Since the elites are massively outnumbered, the origins and stability of unequal divisions of the cake are puzzling, especially once we realise that this is a very recent aspect of our social existence. Our particular species of humans has been around for about 300,000 years and, best as we can tell, for about 290,000 of those years we lived materially poorer but much more equal lives. For most of our life as a species, most communities lived as mobile foragers, shifting camps when local resources became scarce, but probably sticking to a regular pattern over a defined territory.