Natalie Angier in The New York Times:
Among the Ache hunter-gatherers in eastern Paraguay, healthy adults with no dependent offspring are expected to donate as much as 70 to 90 percent of the food they forage to the needier members of the group. And as those strapping suppliers themselves fall ill, give birth or grow old, they know they can count on the tribe to provide. Among the !Kung bushmen of the Kalahari in Africa, a successful hunter who may be inclined to swagger is kept in check by his compatriots through a ritualized game called “insulting the meat.” You asked us out here to help you carry that pitiful carcass? What is it, some kind of rabbit? Among the Hadza foragers of northern Tanzania, people confronted by a stingy food sharer do not simply accept what’s offered. They hold out their hand, according to Frank Marlowe, an anthropologist at Durham University in England, “encouraging the giver to keep giving until the giver finally draws the line.”
Among America’s top executives today, according to a study commissioned by The New York Times, the average annual salary is about $10 million and rising some 12 percent a year. At the same time, the rest of the tribe of the United States of America struggles with miserably high unemployment, stagnant wages and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Now, maybe the wealth gap is a temporary problem, and shiny new quarters will soon rain down on us all. But if you’re feeling tetchy and surly about the lavished haves when you have not a job, if you’re tempted to go out and insult a piece of corporate meat, researchers who study the nature and evolution of human social organization say they are hardly surprised. Darwinian-minded analysts argue that Homo sapiens have an innate distaste for hierarchical extremes, the legacy of our long nomadic prehistory as tightly knit bands living by veldt-ready team-building rules: the belief in fairness and reciprocity, a capacity for empathy and impulse control, and a willingness to work cooperatively in ways that even our smartest primate kin cannot match.