30 October 2006

Elementary societies

Social capital in the form of cooperation and trust is an integral part of all societies and economies. Some of them may even thrive on the notion that cooperation and trust are its basic foundation. This notion is typical of small communities like tribes and villages rather than modern metropolitan cities; and, I guess, is more a characteristic of the underdeveloped or developing economies than the prosperous ones.

This phenomenon can be seen today in the adivasis (ancient tribes of India) who still live by themselves in self-sustaining self-reliant communities, governed by the policies of their own tribe/community. Everyone knows everyone else in the tribe/community, and everything is done to contribute to the general well-being of the tribe/community. Within the adivasis, the notion of selfishness is almost non-existent.

It’s an elementary form of society/economy, carried forward from pre-historic times when there were no formal policies or laws or institutions guiding tribes or people. Cooperation and trust were the only means of survival and prosperity for these tribes/communities.

Although informal in nature, the norms of social interaction, joint effort and governance adopted by these tribes/communities were quite effective, and governed these tribes/communities efficiently. The tribes/communities prospered to become great civilisations and, today, form the societies and economies of which we are a part.

However, over hundreds of thousands of years, societies/economies have become more complex. Goods which were once freely available have become scarce, and competition has become a driving force behind economies and human behaviour. Nations have been formed, politically demarcating geographies, human populations, cultures and ideologies. Laws and institutions have been established for governance; while religion and systems of family/community education have assumed the role of instilling moral order.

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