Ultrasocial argues that rather than environmental destruction and extreme inequality being due to human nature, they are the result of the adoption of agriculture by our ancestors. Human economy has become an ultrasocial superorganism (similar to an ant or termite colony), with the requirements of superorganism taking precedence over the individuals within it. Human society is now an autonomous, highly integrated network of technologies, institutions, and belief systems dedicated to the expansion of economic production. Recognizing this allows a radically new interpretation of free market and neoliberal ideology which – far from advocating personal freedom – leads to sacrificing the well-being of individuals for the benefit of the global market. Ultrasocial is a fascinating exploration of what this means for the future direction of the humanity: can we forge a better, more egalitarian, and sustainable future by changing this socio-economic – and ultimately destructive – path? Gowdy explores how this might be achieved.
Part I. The Evolution of Human Ultrasociality:
1. The Ultrasocial Origin of our Existential Crisis
2. The Evolution of Ultrasociality in Humans and Social Insects
3. Our Hunter-Gatherer Heritage and the Evolution of Human Nature
4. The Agricultural Transition and how it Changed our Species
Part II. The Rise and Consolidation of State/Market Societies:
5. The Rise of State Societies
6. The Modern State/Market Superorganism
7. Neoliberalism: The Ideology of the Superorganism
Part III. Back to the Future:
8. Taming the Market: A Minimal Bioeconomic Program
9. Evolving a Sustainable and Equitable Future: What can we learn from Non-Market Cultures?
10. Reclaiming Human Nature: The Future will be Better (Eventually)
John Gowdy is an Emeritus Professor of Economics, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he served as Chair of the Department of Economics and as Graduate Director of the Ecological Economics program. He was previously a Leverhulme Professor at Leeds University and a Fulbright Professor at the Economic University of Vienna.
"Building on fresh understandings of evolution, this amazing book revolutionizes our understanding of the past and explores a future in which our humanity may be rekindled on a planet likely to be too hot to sustain conventional agriculture. A tour de force."
– Peter G. Brown, McGill University
"The evolutionary economist John Gowdy has written a grand narrative tracing how over thousands of years the global human society has become complex, stratified, and interconnected, turning into a vast self-regulating superorganism. And now this superorganism has fallen prey to the ideological virus of neoliberalism, which subordinates the well-being of individuals to the needs of the global market. Ultimately, Ultrasocial is a scathing indictment of neoliberal ideology and market fundamentalism from the evolutionary point of view."
– Peter Turchin, University of Connecticut and author of Ultrasociety: How 10,000 Years of War Made Humans the Greatest Cooperators on Earth
"Gowdy puts forward the provocative case that as we came under the yoke of states, humans became closer to ants and termites. Individually we may still be social primates, but collectively we are now closer to a leafcutter ant colony. A stimulating read that reworks the fabric of history away from a simple narrative of increasing complexity and prosperity, to one in which we have traded autonomy and humanity for power. A book that might just change your mind on what it means to be human."
– Luke Kemp, Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, University of Cambridge
"In this highly original, stimulating, and provocative interdisciplinary analysis, John Gowdy bridges the agricultural societies of African mound-building termites and fungus-gardening ants with human nature to generate deep insights into modern economics and sustainability."
– James Traniello, Boston University