The child in the hunting tribe: a thought experiment on the morality of socialism.

Imagine a tribe in the wilderness. Every day the tribe go out hunting. A child of one of the tribesmen has just become old enough to start hunting with his tribe. On the day of his first hunt, he successfully kills a bird. On the way back to the village, the tribe begin to collect all the meat to cook and share amongst the tribe. When they approach the child to collect the bird, the boy protests “this is mine! It is my kill! I want it for myself!” The tribe allow him to cook the bird and have it for himself that evening.

The next day, they go hunting once again. This time the boy is unsuccessful in the hunt. That evening, the boy attempts to reach to get some meat from the fire. All the tribesmen say “what are you doing!? All of this meat is from our kills. It is ours to eat, not you!”

The child went hungry that evening. The next day, he was successful in his hunt. However, this time he shared his kill with the rest of the tribe.

The question we can ask ourselves from this thought experiment is: was the lesson the tribe taught the child a good moral lesson?

I would say that it is a good moral lesson. The interesting thing is that if anyone agrees that this is a good moral lesson, then this suggests agreement with the morality of socialism. This is because the morality of socialism is grounded the principle of each according to their ability and each according to their need.

The principle of each according to their ability and each according to their need addresses also addresses the role of luck implicit in the thought experiment. On one day, you can work really hard and be successful and on another day you can work just as hard and be unsuccessful. The principle of each according to their need ensures that no one goes hungry, but the principle of each according to their ability addresses issues of people being lazy and free riding off the work of others. Although the fruits of everyone’s labour is equally distributed, there remains an expectation for everyone to pull their weight. If the child refused to participate in the hunt, or it was clear he was not actively trying to hunt whilst there, then there that may be another story.

This thought experiment is far from fanciful. In Frederick Engels’ Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. Engels appeals to the research by anthropologist Lewis H Morgan that found that pre-agricultural hunter-gatherer societies were extremely cooperative in their distribution of resources, so much in way that Marx and Engels described such societies as ‘primitive communism’. I recently wrote a post reviewing a book called Dark Emu, which in a chapter described the economic structure of Indigenous Australians, which can be read here:

In this review, I mention the moral connection of the religious/spiritual beliefs and the economic system of Indigenous Australia through what they call The Dreaming. The Dreaming involves the telling of stories, many of which have implicit moral lessons. And some of these stories do address the morality of contrasting pulling one’s weight with the sharing of resources. A useful resource is for those wishing to learn more. Hence, an economic system which promotes a fair distribution of resources whilst maintaining a moral system which frowns upon laziness is the best representation of the Marxist Socialist principle of each according to their ability and each according to their need.