Open Book Publishers logo Open Access logo
  • button
  • button
  • button
GO TO...
Contents
Copyright
book cover
BUY THE BOOK

2. The Theory of Regal and Kungic Cultures

© 2017 Agner Fog, CC BY 4.0 https://doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0128.02

2.1. In a nutshell: ‘regal’ and ‘kungic’ explained

It is easy to observe that some cultures are warlike and totalitarian while other cultures are peaceful and tolerant.1 It is more difficult to explain why. Regality theory seeks to explain such cultural differences as adaptations to the different levels of danger and conflict that societies are exposed to.2 Nobody is born belligerent or peaceful, according to this theory. Instead, humans have evolved a psychological plasticity that shapes our personalities to fit the environments we live in. This psychological mechanism makes people prefer a strong leader and strict discipline in the event of war or other collective danger.

The mechanism explained here is an interplay between genes and culture. The genes code for a flexibility that allows the psychological sentiments of each person to respond to the level of war and the need for collective action. The zeitgeist and culture adapts to these sentiments in such a way that the society becomes well prepared to meet any external threats.

Fighting in war is hard and dangerous, and it would be more attractive for the individual not to fight and to let others do the fighting. This is the well-known collective action problem. Regality theory proposes that the collective action problem can be overcome by installing a strong leader who can reward brave warriors and punish defectors. If the leader has enough support, then he3 can coerce everybody to fight and let everybody benefit from the collective fighting. If no leader has enough support, then nobody will fight and everybody will suffer from the resulting collective defeat. But in neither situation will an individual have to fight alone and let others free ride on the benefits he makes for his group. Everybody will benefit from having a strong leader in the case of war, and therefore everybody should desire a strong leader when facing collective danger.

However, a strong leader is a disadvantage in the absence of war, because a tyrannical leader can exploit his followers and suppress their freedom. Therefore, it is advantageous to have a psychological plasticity that makes us prefer a strong leader in the event of war, but not in the event of peace. Regality theory proposes that such a plasticity has evolved by natural selection. People will prefer a strong leader and strict discipline when the probability of war or other collective danger is perceived to be high, while people will prefer an egalitarian society with more lax discipline when there is no collective danger.

If the majority of the members of a tribe or other group desire a strong leader and strict discipline, then, surely, this will be what they get. They will develop a hierarchical political structure and a very punitive system of discipline. It has been observed that this affects not only the political structure but many other aspects of the culture as well. People will develop a strong feeling of tribal or national identity, and their world view will be more polarized between friends and enemies. Tolerance of strangers and deviants will go down. Religion will be used as a means to keep people in line. And, perhaps most surprisingly, it has been observed that styles of art and music will gradually change so as to achieve psychological congruence with the sociopolitical structure and the world view.

Such a culture is called regal. We will use the word ‘regal’ to denote the psychological preferences of the individuals as well as the political structure and the culture and artifacts that are characteristic of a society with frequent wars, threats of war, or other collective dangers that require collective action. The opposite of regal is kungic. A kungic culture is peaceful, egalitarian, and tolerant. The characteristics of regal and kungic cultures will be explained in more detail in chapter 2.6.

The word ‘regal’ comes from the Latin regalis, which means ‘royal’. The word ‘kungic’ is coined after the !Kung bushmen, who have the most kungic culture found in the present study. War and other collective dangers (perceived or real) that push a society towards a more regal structure are called regalizing factors, and this process is called regalization.

2.2. Evolutionary basis for regality theory

It has often been observed that people prefer a strong leader and a strong social group in times of crisis,4 and a number of scientists have independently suggested that this may be an adaptive response to the need for collective action.5 However, so far there has been little discussion of why this would be adaptive.

The new theory proposed here relies on a psychological mechanism that makes people prefer a strong leader in times of intergroup conflict but not in times of peace and safety. Such a mechanism could be adaptive because it reduces or eliminates the free rider problem in collective fighting.

Several mechanisms have been proposed to explain the phenomenon called parochial altruism—the fact that people are willing to fight for their social group despite the fitness costs.6 The most important evolutionary explanations that have previously been proposed include kin selection,7 group selection,8 reciprocal selection,9 altruistic punishment,10 prestige,11 sexual selection (women are attracted to brave warriors),12 the opportunity of successful warriors to profit from the spoils and to mate with captured women from the losing group,13 and cultural group selection.14

It is a common characteristic of these proposed mechanisms that the effects are relatively weak, and perhaps too weak to compensate for the extremely high fitness costs of fighting.15 The fitness gain in the form of increased mating opportunities does not necessarily go to the people that have run the highest risks; and the mechanism of punishing defectors involves the additional collective action problem of who should bear the costs of being the punisher.16

The alternative explanation proposed here is a mechanism that may have been important in the evolution of collective fighting in prehistory. In the event of war, or imminent war, the members of a social group will show a psychological preference for having a strong leader and a social system with strict discipline. If enough members of the group express these preferences, then the group will soon develop a hierarchical political structure with a strong and powerful leader who can command group members to fight, devise a strategy, reward brave warriors, and punish defectors.

There is an important difference between being willing to fight for one’s social group and being willing to support a strong leader. The altruistic individual who volunteers to fight for his group will run a high personal risk, while all the non-fighting members of his group will benefit from his bravery. As the cost to the individual warrior is likely higher than his share of the group-level gain, this behavior will not be promoted by simple natural selection. But the strategy of supporting a strong leader is different. If only a few members of the group desire a strong leader, then there will be no strong leader and no collective fighting. If enough group members support a strong leader, then this leader will be able to dominate everybody, including the minority that do not support him, and command them to fight. Thus, it is possible for the group to suppress the fitness advantage of free riding by installing a strong leader.17 The individual who shows the preference for a strong leader will have to carry the costs of fighting, but he will also enjoy the benefits of everybody else fighting. Either everybody fights or nobody fights—there is no place for free riders. The group-level benefit of everybody fighting in a coordinated way could very well be sufficiently high to outweigh the individual fitness costs of fighting, even when the benefit is divided between all the group members.

For promoting a complex task such as fighting, where extraordinary above-average skills are particularly valuable, we can expect that a system including both reward and punishment will be more efficient than a system based on punishment alone. A system based on punishment only would make warriors deliver the minimum performance necessary to avoid punishment; and defectors might even avoid punishment if they could convincingly fake illness. A punishment system could possibly evolve by other mechanisms if the costs of punishing are sufficiently low.18 However, we would expect rewards to be considerably more costly to deliver than punishments and require a higher payback to evolve.

We can imagine a Stone Age scenario like this: a tribal people experiences frequent conflicts with a neighbor tribe. This makes the people prefer a strong leader. Such a leader emerges, and his people trust and support him. He will lead the battles, devise strategies, and appoint people to various tasks. He may deliver rewards and punishments himself, or he may delegate this task to persons of intermediate rank. Rewards are particularly important for making it attractive for warriors to fight to the best of their abilities. Brave warriors may be rewarded with better food, weapons, protection, and other resources and—perhaps most importantly—with prestige.19 A high prestige gives the brave warrior access to an attractive wife and perhaps multiple wives. This translates directly to biological fitness. Cowards who do not fight wholeheartedly will get a bad reputation and low prestige. This will give them a disadvantage in social exchanges and a disadvantage in the search for a mate. Such a system gives the best fighters the highest rewards and compensates for the risks of injury or death. The chances of winning a war against a neighbor tribe are increased as a result. The whole group is likely to support the leader, because everybody benefits from the increased chances of winning wars and there is no way of achieving the same result without a strong leader.

There is a trade-off between the benefit of being part of a strong and powerful political organization with a strong leader and the cost of repression within this organization.20 This balance is likely to be tipped in a peaceful environment where the need for collective protection is low. The individual would have no reason to submit to a strong leader in this case. On the contrary, the individual would most likely see his own fitness reduced by a despotic male leader who could take advantage of everybody else and even monopolize a large number of women.21 Therefore, the optimal strategy for the individual must be to have a flexible psychology, showing a preference for strong leadership and strict discipline when intergroup conflicts are frequent or expected, and a preference for an egalitarian social structure when intergroup conflicts are perceived to be unlikely.22 The group-level effect of this psychological flexibility is that the higher the level of intergroup conflict, the more the group will invest in a strong organization that strengthens its ability to organize collective fighting.

This is the basic hypothesis of regality theory. A high level of intergroup conflict or perceived collective danger will activate a psychological desire for a strong leader in the group members, and the group will develop a hierarchical structure as a result. The opposite situation is a group living under safe and peaceful conditions where there is no neighbor group to fight with. People in this situation will not accept a strong leader who limits their freedom. A leader who is too strict will lose the support of his people and will not be able to stay in power. The group will develop an egalitarian structure as a result.

To recapitulate, a regal group is a group that has developed strong organization, discipline, and fighting spirit as a response to conflict or danger. A kungic group is a group that has adjusted to a peaceful and safe environment. The words ‘regal’ and ‘kungic’ are also used for the individual psychological preferences that lead to strong or weak group organization, respectively.

The regal and kungic forms of social organization can be considered the extremes of a continuous scale, where most societies are placed somewhere near the middle of this scale. We can call this the regality scale or the regal-kungic scale. The regality of a culture is determined by the frequency and severity of intergroup conflicts and other dangers that require collective action.

It might be problematic to assign numerical values to the regal-kungic scale when dealing with very different cultures under different historical and environmental conditions. In many cases, it is more useful to use it as a relative scale. For example, we may prefer to say that culture A is more regal than culture B instead of saying that culture A is regal or culture B is kungic. Likewise, it can be useful to follow a particular culture over time and see if it is getting more regal or more kungic.

2.3. An evolutionarily stable strategy

Some scientists have proposed that altruistic punishment may promote cooperation in human societies. One or more altruists in the group will bear the costs of punishing defectors. A recently published model of evolutionary game theory indicates that conformity, cooperation, and altruistic punishment in a social group are likely to be stronger when the group is under threat than when it is not.23

Other models in evolutionary game theory show that cooperative punishment is more stable than punishment administered by voluntary individuals, and it has been suggested that a punishing institution (policeman) might be evolutionarily stable in genetic or cultural evolution.24 Regality theory proposes that this policeman can be replaced by a leader (who may appoint a policeman). The leader is rewarded with the fitness advantage of being a leader, and he can punish anybody who does not support him. This overcomes the collective action problem in the theory of altruistic punishment. Regality theory also allows the leader to administer rewards, which would be hard to explain by other theories because of the high costs of rewarding.

We will now discuss whether a strong leader is necessary to make group members fight for their group in times of war. We will first consider the hypothetical situation where there is no strong leader but where group members are willing to fight for their group because they have a genetic predisposition to do so. Members who fight for their group are called altruists, while members who do not fight are called egoists. A group mostly of altruists is likely to win over a group mostly of egoists. This is called group selection. However, there is also selection within the group. The altruists have a considerable risk of dying in battle, while the egoists survive. Therefore, there will be more and more egoists for each generation. A group that contains only altruists and no egoists can thrive and grow, but it is vulnerable to invasion by egoists. In other words, group selection is not effective if there is more than a negligible rate of migration into the group.25 We know from history and anthropology that conquered groups are rarely completely massacred. Some members of a losing group, especially women and children, are likely to survive and join the winning group. If the losing group in our hypothetical scenario contains egoists, then some of these egoists will survive and enter the winning group and eventually outcompete the altruists.

We will now consider a second scenario where there is a strong leader supported by the majority of group members. This is the scenario that regality theory is based on. The leader can reward brave warriors and punish defectors who do not fight for their group. We will assume that these rewards and punishments are strong enough to compensate for the fitness costs of fighting. For example, we can assume that the bravest warriors get the most attractive wives and therefore have many children, while the cowards get less attractive wives and therefore have fewer children. Or perhaps the bravest warriors get multiple wives while the cowards get none. Most warriors will fight to the best of their abilities in order to get the most rewards.

A group with a strong leader who can organize this kind of reward and punishment is likely to win battles against less organized groups that have no strong leader. The successful group will win more territory, which benefits all members of the group. Therefore, it will be attractive for all members of the group to support the leader.

Our first scenario (group selection) was not stable because it was vulnerable to invasion by egoists. We will now discuss whether the second scenario (regality) is vulnerable to invasion by individuals who do not support the strong leader. If the majority of group members support the leader, then the minority that do not support the leader will be forced to fight anyway, and they will also be punished for not supporting the leader. History is full of examples of tyrannical leaders who punish anybody who does not support them. Therefore, there is no fitness advantage to not supporting the leader. On the contrary, there is likely severe persecution. If the non-supporters form a majority strong enough to overthrow the strong leader and put a weak leader in his place, then the whole group will be weakened and be less likely to win wars. This benefits neither the supporters nor the non-supporters. The conclusion must be that a group with a strong leader in wartime is not vulnerable to invasion by non-supporters. Therefore, regality is an evolutionarily stable strategy in a conflict-prone environment.

The preference for a strong leader is not activated in a permanently peaceful and safe environment, according to regality theory. The genotype that is not activated in phenotype is not subject to selection but only to random genetic drift under these conditions.

The prediction from regality theory is that people will show regal psychological reactions in the face of any collective danger that affects them directly and that requires collective efforts to overcome. Due to the weakness of group selection, we will expect the regal reaction of people to be much weaker in the case of dangers that affect only unrelated group members.

2.4. The behavior of the leader

So far we have discussed which strategy is most fit for ordinary group members. Now we will look at the role of the leader and discuss how we can expect the leader to act from a selfish fitness-maximizing point of view. It is no surprise that people are willing to be leaders. There is a large fitness advantage to being a leader or having a high position in the hierarchy of a successful group.26 A powerful leader of a hierarchical organization is typically able to take advantage of everybody else to benefit himself and his family.27 Many of the most powerful leaders in history have assembled enormous wealth and large numbers of wives or concubines. Of course, everything must have been on a smaller scale in prehistory, but even among chimpanzees and other social animals there is a large advantage to being the alpha male.28

There are also costs to being a leader. The leader may have to take a frontline role in battles, and there is a real risk of being killed by an enemy group, by a rival for the leadership position, or by rebels who think that the leader is too despotic. A leader can be expected to make higher sacrifices or take higher risks in intergroup conflicts than low-ranking members because he has more at stake.29 Nevertheless, we can assume that the fitness benefits of being a leader are much higher than the costs.

Based on this, we can expect the fitness-maximizing strategies of leaders to be very different from the strategies of followers. A typical survival strategy for a low-ranking individual could involve being an agreeable person, making friendships and alliances, and helping friends in need in the hope that they will later return the favor.30 In contrast, we can expect the optimal strategy for a leader to involve doing everything to consolidate and increase his power, to weaken rivals for the position, to amass resources and wealth for himself and his family, and to have as many wives and concubines as he can get away with. The only thing that limits his despotism is the risk of losing the support of his followers. A person of intermediate rank or a person with chances of becoming a leader will be likely to use any strategy that can enhance his rank.

Psychological research confirms that people of high rank behave differently from people of low rank. Wealthy and high-ranking people of both sexes behave more egoistically and are more likely to cheat or behave unethically than other people.31 They tend to feel entitled to their position.32 They tend to take side with other high-ranking people in conflicts.33 They have a higher tendency to sexual infidelity,34 they are more self-sufficient,35 and they have less empathy for other people.36 The reduced empathy is not entirely bad, however. It enables the leader to make more rational decisions that give higher weight to collective interests than to the interests of single individuals.37

A leader can exploit his followers to enrich himself, the more so the more power he has. The power of the leader is weakened if the followers can easily leave the group and join another group with a more agreeable leader. This explains why the most despotic leaders in history have appeared in large agrarian societies from which it was difficult for peasants to escape.38

The ability of a leader to exploit his followers is higher the more regal his group is. We can therefore expect leaders to try to increase the regality of their group by exaggerating dangers to the group and by fighting unnecessary wars.39 Statistical studies of wars through history show such a strong connection between empires and war that we may assume that emperors need to fight wars to maintain their empires.40 Powerful leaders may even fabricate enemies or fight fictitious dangers to maintain and consolidate their power. For example, the Inquisition tried to uphold the threatened monopoly of power of the Catholic Church in the Renaissance through the persecution of heretics and witches.41 More examples of such fabricated dangers are discussed in chapter 6.

2.5. Why are most warriors and chiefs men?

The reader may have noticed that I am referring to warriors and leaders as ‘he’. There is a reason for this. Throughout history, most warriors have been men and most leaders of warring societies have been men. Obviously, culture and tradition plays a role here, but there is more to it than that. A growing amount of research indicates that the traditional division of labor between the sexes has biological roots. Many of the differences between men and women are connected with the Darwinian pursuit of reproductive success. The reproductive success of a man is limited mainly by his access to mating with women. There is practically no limit to how many children a man can sire if he can get enough women to cooperate. The situation for women is very different. The number of children that a woman can give birth to is limited mainly by her physiology and energy uptake, while the number of sexual partners plays only a minor role. Therefore, the reproductive strategies of men and women are very different and this leads to many conflicts of interest.42

Through most of our evolutionary history, our ancestors lived as hunters and gatherers, where more men than women hunted big animals, and where more women than men gathered fruits and roots and hunted small animals. Investigations of hunter-gatherer societies have found that the hunting of big game is not the most efficient way of getting food. There may be several reasons why men hunt, but showing off appears to be among the most important ones. This can be explained by the so-called costly signaling theory. A successful hunt proves that a man is strong and smart and therefore an attractive mating partner. Successful hunters have higher prestige and status than other men, and this translates into reproductive success.43 Anthropologists have found that good hunters had higher prestige and more children than other men in all of the societies investigated.44 A similar strategy for women would probably not increase their reproductive success.

There are similar reasons why men go to war. In the Stone Age, fighting and hunting were related activities that required some of the same skills and tools.45 Brave warriors have high prestige, and there is reason to believe that this gives them a reproductive advantage.46 The opportunity for capturing women from an enemy group further contributes to the fitness of warriors.47 On the other hand, there are examples where any advantage to the individual warrior is outweighed by the increased mortality.48 If some male warriors die, then there will be an excess of women in the group, and this will lead to an increased reproductive fitness of the surviving men if polygamy is allowed. The total number of children produced by the group will be almost the same if a few men are lost. In other words, there is a fitness loss to the unlucky warriors who die but a fitness gain to the survivors, so the average fitness of the men in the group is almost unaffected by the deaths of a few warriors. If all men in a group fight and the deaths are randomly and unpredictably distributed among them, then natural selection can still favor fighting, because the risk of dying is offset by the chance of getting an extra wife if you survive. This would certainly not be the case if women were warriors. A woman dying is a lost opportunity for reproduction for the whole group, and the fitness of the surviving women would not be increased much by polyandry.49

Men are physically stronger than women on average, and the differences between the sexes are particularly marked in skills that are relevant to hunting and fighting, such as throwing distance. It has been suggested that such differences are the result of evolutionary forces that have favored these skills in men more than in women.50

It was argued above that social rewards are necessary for making people fight for their group. Men are more sensitive than women to social rewards because they have more potential for gaining fitness.51 We can therefore assume that it has been easier to persuade men than women to fight throughout our evolutionary history. Psychological experiments confirm that men are more willing than women to make sacrifices for their group in situations of intergroup conflict, and this confirms the so-called male warrior hypothesis.52 Of course, there are also practical reasons behind the tradition that war is the domain of men rather than women. Women in hunter-gatherer societies often breastfeed their babies for several years, and it would be unwise to carry an unweaned baby to the battlefield.

In wartime, it seems logical to choose an experienced warrior as leader, and this would normally mean a man. But even in peaceful societies we can observe that most leaders are men. There is a large fitness advantage to having high status, and this advantage is higher for men than for women because the reproductive success of men is more variable.53 We can therefore assume that men are willing to work hard and make large sacrifices in order to increase their social status, and more so than women. This is confirmed by anthropological evidence. Almost all known societies have more male than female leaders.54

The advantage of being a leader is higher in regal than in kungic societies. We can therefore predict that regal cultures will be more male-dominated than kungic cultures. Psychological studies have found that people prefer a masculine leader in times of intergroup conflict, while they prefer a feminine leader in situations of within-group competition. This confirms the traditional roles of men as war leaders and women as peace brokers.55

Cultural theorists have often mentioned examples of cultures with unusual sex roles to prove their theory that sex roles and male dominance are culturally determined. Sociologist Steven Goldberg investigated these examples by studying the original ethnographic sources, and he found that in all of these cases there are more men than women in influential positions. This supports the theory that men are willing to sacrifice more to increase their status than women are.56 However, it would be foolish to deny the huge cultural differences in the level of male dominance. Proponents of cultural explanations have emphasized cultural differences, while proponents of biological explanations have ignored them. Here, regality theory may actually contribute to resolving this long-standing disagreement. Regal societies are generally more male-dominated than kungic societies, as the examples in chapter 7 show. We can therefore confirm that there are some cultures with high male domination and other cultures with more equality between the sexes, and that these cultural differences can be explained to a large extent by differences in the level of war or collective danger, according to regality theory.

While women are rarely engaged in direct combat, they may contribute to warfare by other means. The outcome of a war is important for the entire group, women as well as men. We can therefore expect women as well as men to support a strong leader when this is necessary for success in war. Regality theory applies to women and men alike, and we can expect everybody to desire a strong leader in times of war or collective danger.

2.6. Cultural effects of regal and kungic tendencies

Studies have revealed many interesting differences between warlike and peaceful cultures. Some of these differences are obvious, others are quite surprising. Here we will discuss some of the cultural tendencies that are characteristic of regal and kungic cultures, respectively, according to regality theory.57

When most or all members of a society desire a strong leader, it is hardly surprising that they tend to build a hierarchical political system with a powerful leader at the top. We can also predict that they will develop a strict system of discipline and punishment. These developments may be due to psychological preferences, cultural selection, or rational decision making, and most likely a combination of all three.

Military success requires a strong morale and group spirit or fighting spirit. Regal societies tend to develop a strong feeling of group identity and a world view of friends versus enemies, while some of the most kungic cultures do not even have a name for their own social group. Likewise, regal societies tend to be quite xenophobic and intolerant of all kinds of deviants, while kungic groups are very tolerant.

The ideology, philosophy, and religion of regal societies are typically used as tools for strengthening the morale and group spirit. For example, the ideology of a regal society may state that individuals exist for the benefit of the society, while kungic societies tend to have the opposite ideology, namely that the society exists for the benefit of the individuals. Political and religious leaders in regal societies often support each other to strengthen their power if they are not in fact the same person. Emperors often claim to have divine status. Religion is often used as a means to discipline people, for example by threatening supernatural punishment or promising rewards after death.58 The religious world of supernatural beings typically reflects or emphasizes important aspects of the social structure of the mundane world.59

Regal societies typically also have strict discipline in the area of sexuality. Strict sexual morals may force young people to marry early and have many children since alternative (non-reproductive) outlets for their sexual drive are prohibited.60 The strict sexual morals do not, however, prevent high-ranking men from having multiple wives or concubines. Kungic societies typically have more permissive sexual morals and lower birth rates.

A possible consequence of the regal ideology that individuals exist for the benefit of the society is that the rate of suicide is low. People do not have the right to take their own lives. This, of course, does not preclude suicide for culturally prescribed reasons, such as shame or self-sacrifice in battle. We can expect kungic societies to have a higher rate of the kind of suicide that Émile Durkheim has called ‘anomic suicide’.61

Interestingly, the differences between regal and kungic cultures in social structure and worldview are also reflected in art, fiction, music, architecture, and other forms of art. People tend to prefer psychological congruence between the different aspects of their culture, and this also applies to artistic taste. Various forms of art are efficient means for communicating ideological values and cultural unity.62 Musical style, in particular, has been observed to correlate with social structure, lifestyle, personality, and political preferences.63 It cannot be ruled out, though, that some of the observed correlations are due to cultural diffusion.64

Regal cultures tend to produce pictorial art that is highly perfectionist and embellished with endless repetition of meticulous ornamentation and thus reflects the glory of gods or kings. Regal fiction often glorifies gods or kings with clear distinctions between good and evil, friends and enemies. The architecture of regal societies is often particularly conspicuous: large and pompous palaces and religious buildings with luxurious ornamentation and oversized gates that make visitors feel humble (see figure 1). Regal music is also highly embellished and sometimes pompous.

Figure 1. Example of regal architecture. Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom). Built 1248–1880. Photo by Tobi 87, 2009.65

The architecture, art, and music of kungic cultures is less rule-bound and more individualistic, with appreciation of fantasy and innovativeness and a broad range of themes (see figure 2).

Figure 2. Example of kungic architecture. Residential buildings, Bispebjerg Bakke, Copenhagen. Built 2004–2007. Photo by Agner Fog, 2017.

There is a systematic asymmetry in the human cultural heritage. Regal societies are sometimes quite intolerant of art that is not congruent with their culture, and they may even destroy art from previous more kungic periods. For example, the government in Nazi Germany systematically destroyed what they called ‘degenerate art’66 and the Taliban in Afghanistan destroyed the great Buddha statues in Bamiyan.67 Kungic cultures (including our own modern culture) on the other hand, are very tolerant and even admiring of foreign art and often go to great lengths to preserve the magnificent art and architecture of previous more regal times.

It appears that there was a similar difference between regal and kungic art in prehistoric times. Kungic cultures have produced smaller artifacts of perishable materials, while regal cultures have typically produced large and impressive artifacts of durable materials and perhaps destroyed any remaining artifacts of previous kungic times. This effect most likely causes a systematic sampling bias in the archaeological record.68

The cultural characteristics that are typical for regal and kungic societies are listed in table 1. It has been observed that societies can reshape these characteristics, not only as a response to changing threats of war but also as a response to other dangers that threaten the social group as a whole, such as economic crisis, famine, natural disasters,69 and even imaginary dangers such as witches and devils.70 It is therefore possible that the observed psychological response is a general mechanism of adaptation to the level of danger that threatens the social group as a whole, or perhaps even to any problem that requires collective effort to solve.71 The effects of dangers to the individual may be different, as discussed in chapter 3.3.

Regal societies

Kungic societies

A hierarchical political system with a strong leader

A flat and egalitarian political system

Strong feelings of national or tribal identity

High individualism

Strict discipline and punishment of deviants

Lax discipline and high tolerance of deviants

Xenophobia

Tolerance of foreigners

The world is seen as full of dangers and enemies

The world is seen as peaceful and safe with little or no distinction between us and them

Belief that individuals exist for the benefit of society

Belief that society exists for the benefit of individuals

Strict religion

Religion has little or no disciplining power

Strict sexual morals

High sexual freedom

High birth rate

Low birth rate

Low parental investment, i.e. short childhood and low education

Long childhood and education

Low suicide rate (except for culturally prescribed reasons)

High rate of anomic suicide

Art and music is perfectionist, highly embellished, and follows specific schemes

Art and music express individual fantasy with appreciation of individuality and innovativeness

Table 1. Regal and kungic cultural indicators.


1 Russell (1972)

2 Fog (1999, p. 91)

3 Chapter 2.5 explains why most war leaders in history were men.

4 Hastings and Shaffer (2008), Jugert and Duckitt (2009), Ladd (2007)

5 Fog (1997), Navarrete, Kurzban, Fessler and Kirkpatrick (2004), van Vugt (2006), Hastings and Shaffer (2008), Kessler and Cohrs (2008), Glowacki and von Rueden (2015)

6 Bowles and Gintis (2011), Nowak (2006)

7 Thayer (2004)

8 Crofoot and Wrangham (2010), Lehmann and Feldman (2008), Thayer (2004)

9 Tooby and Cosmides (1988, 2010)

10 Boyd, Gintis, Bowles and Richerson (2003)

11 Glowacki and Wrangham (2013)

12 Van der Dennen (1995), Wrangham (1999), Glowacki and Wrangham (2013)

13 Van der Dennen (1995), Chagnon (1990), Choi (2007), Glowacki and Wrangham (2015)

14 Henrich (2004)

15 Bradley (1999)

16 Glowacki and von Rueden (2015), Fowler (2005)

17 Glowacki and von Rueden (2015), Hooper, Kaplan and Boone (2010)

18 Fowler (2005)

19 Glowacki and Wrangham (2013), von Rueden, Gurven and Kaplan (2010)

20 Summers (2005)

21 Betzig (2008)

22 Gavrilets and Fortunato (2014)

23 Roos, Gelfand, Nau and Lun (2015)

24 Sigmund, de Silva, Traulsen and Hauert (2010), Jaffe and Zaballa (2010)

25 West, el Mouden and Gardner (2011)

26 Summers (2005), Betzig (2008)

27 Anderson and Willer (2014), Padilla, Hogan and Kaiser (2007)

28 Boesch, Kohou, Néné and Vigilant (2006)

29 Gavrilets and Fortunato (2014), Johnson (2015)

30 Kiyonari, Tanida and Yamagishi (2000)

31 Piff et al. (2012), Trautmann, van de Kuilen and Zeckhauser (2013), Bendahan, Zehnder, Pralong and Antonakis (2014), Gino and Pierce (2009)

32 Piff (2014)

33 Lammers and Yang (2012)

34 Lammers et al. (2011)

35 Vohs, Mead and Goode (Goode 2006)

36 Kraus et al. (2012), Haslam and Loughnan (2014)

37 Côté, Piff and Willer (2013)

38 Price and van Vugt (2014)

39 Price and van Vugt (2015)

40 Eckhardt (1992, p. 184)

41 Ben-Yehuda (1980)

42 Geary (2010), Chapman (2015)

43 Von Rueden and Jaeggi (2016)

44 Bird, R. (1999), Smith, E. (2004)

45 LeBlanc (2014)

46 Lehmann and Feldman (2008)

47 Van der Dennen (1995, p. 328)

48 Beckerman et al. (2009)

49 Van der Dennen (1995, p. 325)

50 Geary (2010, p. 290)

51 Geary (2010)

52 Van Vugt, de Cremer and Janssen (2007), McDonald, Navarrete and van Vugt (2012)

53 Von Rueden, Gurven and Kaplan (2010), von Rueden and Jaeggi (2016)

54 Goldberg (1993)

55 Van Vugt and Spisak (2008), Spisak and Dekker (2012)

56 Goldberg (1993, chapter 2)

57 Fog (1999, p. 101)

58 Watts et al. (2015), McNamara, Norenzayan and Henrich (2014)

59 Moor, Ultee and Need (2007)

60 Garcia and Kruger (2010), van Ussel (1970)

61 Durkheim (1897)

62 Sütterlin (1998)

63 Lomax (1968), Delsing, ter Bogt, Engels and Meeus (2008), North and Hargreaves (2007), Zweigenhaft (2008)

64 Erickson (1976)

66 Goggin (1991)

67 Francioni and Lenzerini (2006)

68 Fog (2006)

69 Ember and Ember (1992), Kirch (1984)

70 Ben-Yehuda (1990, p. 123)

71 Fog (1999)