Report on the Senior College Colloquium Is the existence of privileged groups essential to the functioning of societies? October 21, 2021

October 21, 2021, 2:00 -4:00 pm

Chairs: Daphne and Charles Maurer

Attendance: 18

Location: Zoom

Is the existence of privileged groups essential to the functioning of societies?

The discussion was lively and involved different approaches to inequality. The Maurers presented poll data that showed that most people thought equality was desirable, but in diverse situations, wanted leadership. Bernd Baldus summed his research on the origins of inequality. Martin Klein suggested that historical change has involved the ability of elites extract wealth from the masses, which they often used for their own benefit. There was no articulation of a belief if perfect equality, but there was generally it was desirable to limit inequality and exploitation.


Most modern societies are hierarchical, with an advantaged privileged class prominent in their governance. The same holds for groups of animals. What does this tell us about human nature? About modern societies? 

For a discussion of current western attitudes toward hierarchies, see: 

Starmans, C., Sheskin, M., & Bloom, P. (2017). Why people prefer unequal societies. Nature Human Behaviour, 1, 0082.

For a discussion of the ease with which hierarchies are accepted, see:

Koski, J., Xie, H., & Olson, I. (2015). Understanding social hierarchies: The neural and psychological foundations of status perception. Social Neuroscience, 10(5), 527-550.

For an historical perspective, see:

The original egalitarian societies: What human history tells us about human nature, 19 February 2016.