Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Dr. Brian Hayden has proposed the concept of an aggrandizer as a personality type in his article “Pathways to power: Principles for creating socioeconomic inequalities” in Foundation of Social Inequality edited by T. D. Price and G. Feinman. 

In one of Dr. Hayden’s papers he writes:
“Anthropological theories of elites (leaders) in traditional societies tend to
focus on how elites can be viewed as helping the community at large. The
origin of elites is cast in functionalist or communitarian terms (viewing
societies as adaptive systems). A minority opinion argues that elites were
not established by communities for the community benefit, but emerged
as a result of manipulative strategies used by ambitious, exploitative
individuals (aggrandizers). While the communitarian perspective may
be appropriate for understanding simple hunter/gatherer communities, I
argue that elites in complex hunter/gatherer communities and horticultural communities operate much more in accordance with aggrandizer principles, and that it is their pursuit of aggrandizer self-interests that really explains the initial emergence of elites. This occurs preferentially under conditions of resource abundance and involves a variety of strategies used to manipulate community opinions, values, surplus production, and surplus use.” 1
Pg. 101.

It is a joy to have my mind opened to new concepts. The concept of the aggrandizer adds a whole new component to my attempt to understand what makes my world tick.
By incorporating the aggrandizer as a human personality type, the five natural factors listed in my “We are here” essay takes on a whole new dimension.
* All life reproduces to the maximum their environment allows(population density).
* All life will use all the resources in its environment to promote its present living (population pressure).
* Much of life manifest an us against them protectionism (even plants release poisons to the soil to protect their territory. This is the convergence of territoriality (which is manifest by all life) and the need to belong for this dependently social animal called human.
* We are immersed in an environment of our own making and our "brilliance" threatens us with unintended consequences (whether agriculture or nuclear power).
* Groups larger than the small group of 30 to 200 people, which is the social environment in which we evolved for a million years, creates power-over and inequality.

Aggrandizers were fostered by abundance that was connected to the development of private property as well as changing the ethic of mandatory sharing in the small community.  The development of food storage techniques gave the aggrandizer control.  Some of the techniques Dr. Hayden believes the aggrandizers use for power and control are:

                  “● The hosting of feasts with obligatory reciprocity as a way to indebt
The creation of wealth (or prestige) objects used to validate social
transactions with obligatory returns, thus creating debts and forcing
people to produce surpluses.
The establishment of marriage prices (in food and wealth objects)
required for obtaining spouses and reproducing.
The investment of food and wealth in children via maturation
ceremonies to increase their marriage desirability and marriage
The co-opting of opposition through food and wealth dispensations.

Other strategies included the restriction of access to the supernatural,
separation from others via distinctive dress or etiquette, the extension
of kinship networks, the creation of elaborate taboos and a system of
differential penalties for those in power versus the disenfranchised, the
manipulation of cultural conventions and values to serve aggrandizer
interests, and the manipulation of conflicts and warfare to serve self interests.“ 1
Pg. 116  (see Hayden, 2001).

Dr. Hayden proposes that the aggrandizer arises genetically among all human groups.  In the simple hunter/gatherer communities, the small size of the group contains the behaviors of the aggrandizer and allows for egalitarian sharing of resource and power.  Larger groupings - complex hunter/gatherer communities, horticultural communities – and resource abundance allows the aggrandizer personality type to find fuller expression.

Hayden associates the behavior of the aggrandizer with the psychopath as studied and defined by Robert Hare2.  Here are some of the descriptors of the psychopath.

        “lack of remorse or empathy
         shallow emotions
         low frustration tolerance
         episodic relationships
         parasitic lifestyle
persistent violation of social norms”

The aggrandizer will pursue wealth and power no matter the consequences to the environment.  He or she will colonize including slaughtering of locals for access to resource.  The aggrandizer will take advantage of the weak (elderly or disabled) no matter the results.  The extreme aggrandizer will do what he or she feels needs to be done for their own benefit. 

Dr. Hayden proposes that aggrandizers have been the major change agent for humanity since complex human organizations arose.  In a global population of seven billion, there are simply countless niches for the practice of accumulation of power via manipulation.  The formation of aggrandizers resists modification or constraint.  The global economics and the global political interplays dictate consumption and consumerism to maintain the power of the elite.  This promotes a world of mini-aggrandizers or mimickers. 

We face the convergence of serious factors, perhaps the result of a long history of aggrandizers at every level and their wannabes.  Climate change, population overshoot, energy, acidification of the oceans, species extinction, droughts, floods, massive storms, global environmental degradation, resource wars - each of these alone has societal challenging implications much less as an interlinked set.  The aggrandizers from the peak of the power pyramid and lower, if unconstrained, become a deterrent to change in times of societal crisis. 
These times we are facing right now.

1 “Big Man, Big Heart? The Political Role of Aggrandizers in Egalitarian and
Transegalitarian Societies” Brian Hayden.   From: For the Greater Good of All: Perspectives on Individualism, Society, and Leadership (Jepson Studies in Leadership) Edited by Forsyth, Donelson R. and Hoyt, Crystal L. 2010.

2  Hare, Robert. 1999. Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us.  Guilford Press.

Aggrandizer strategies

2012 Brian Hayden, Neil Canuel, and Jennifer Shanse
“What was brewing in the Natufian? An archaeological assessment of brewing technology in the Epipaleolithic.” Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory. DOI 10.1007/s10816-011-9127-y Posted 31 January 2012.
2011 Hayden, Brian and Suzanne Villeneuve
“A century of feasting studies.” Annual Review of Anthropology 40:433–449.
2011 Hayden, Brian
“Big man, big heart? The political role of aggrandizers in egalitarian and transegalitarian societies.” In D. Forsyth and C. Hoyt (Eds.) For the Greater Good of All: Perspectives on Individualism, Society, and Leadership. Palgrave Macmillan: New York. pp. 101–118.
2011 Hayden, Brian
“Feasting and social dynamics in the Epipaleolithic of the Fertile Crescent.” In G. Aranda, S. Monton-Subias, and M. Sanchez (Eds.). Oxbow Books: Oxford. pp. 30–63.
2010 Hayden, Brian
“El surgimiento de cazadores-recolectores complejos. Una visión desde el Northwest Plateau.” In A. Vila and J. Estévez (Eds.), La Excepción y la Norma. Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Treballs d’Ethnoarqueologia 8:87–110, 219–21.
2010 Hayden, Brian and Suzanne Villeneuve
“Who benefits from complexity? A view from Futuna.” In T. D. Price and G. Feinman (Eds.) Pathways to Power. Springer: New York. pp. 95–145.
2010 Hayden, Brian and Suzanne Villeneuve
“Astronomy in the Upper Paleolithic?” Cambridge Archaeological Journal 21:331–55.
2009 Hayden, Brian
"Funerals as Feasts: Why Are They So Important?" Cambridge Archaeological Journal 19:29-52.
2009 Hayden, Brian
"The Proof is in the Pudding: Feasting and the Origins of Domestication." Current Anthropology 50:597-601, 708-9.
2008 Hayden, Brian
L’Homme et l’Inégalité. CNRS Editions: Paris
2004 Hayden, Brian
“Sociopolitical Organization in the Natufian: A View from the Northwest.” In Christophe Delage (Ed.) The Last Hunter-Gatherer Societies in the Near East. BAR International Series: Oxford. Pp. 263–308.
2004 Hayden, B., and Ron Adams
“Ritual Structures in Transegalitarian Communities.” In William Prentiss and Ian Kuijt (Eds.) Complex Hunter-Gatherers: Evolution and Organization of Prehistoric Communities on the Plateau of Northwestern North America. University of Utah Press: Salt Lake City. Pp. 84–102.
2004 Hayden, B., and Sara Mossop Cousins
“The social dimensions of roasting pits in a winter village site.” In William Prentiss and Ian Kuijt (Eds.) Complex Hunter-Gatherers: Evolution and Organization of Prehistoric Communities on the Plateau of Northwestern North America. University of Utah Press: Salt Lake City. Pp. 140–154.
2003 Hayden, Brian
“Were luxury foods the first domesticates? Ethnoarchaeological perspectives from Southeast Asia.” World Archaeology 34:458–469.
2003 Hayden, Brian
“Hunting and feasting: Health and demographic consequences.” Before Farming 2002/3–4(3) www.waspjournals
2001 Hayden, Brian
“Richman, Poorman, Beggarman, Chief: The Dynamics of Social Inequality.” In G. Feinman, and T. Price (eds.), Archaeology at the Millenium: A sourcebook. Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers: New York. Pp. 231–272.
2001 Dietler, Michael, and Brian Hayden
“Digesting the Feast – Good to Eat, Good the Drink, Good to Think: An Introduction.” In M. Dietler and B. Hayden (eds.), Feasts: Archaeological and Ethnographic Perspectives on Food, Politics, and Power. Smithsonian Institution Press: Washington, DC. Pp. 1–20.
2001 Hayden, Brian
“Fabulous feasts: A prolegomenon to the importance of feasting.” In M. Dietler and B. Hayden (eds.), Feasts: Archaeological and Ethnographic Perspectives on Food, Politics, and Power. Smithsonian Institution Press: Washington, DC. Pp. 23–64.
2001 Dietler, Michael and Brian Hayden (eds.)
Feasts: Archaeological and Ethnographic Perspectives on Food, Politics, and Power. Smithsonian Institution Press: Washington, DC.
(Ed.) The ancient past of Keatley Creek. Volume II: Socioeconomy. Archaeology Press: Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC.
1997 Owens, D’Ann, and Brian Hayden
“Prehistoric rites of passage: A comparative study of transegalitarian hunter-gatherers.” Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 16: 121–161.
“Feasting in prehistoric and traditional societies.” In Polly Wiessner and W. Schiefenhovel (editors), Food and the status quest. Berghahn Books: Providence. Pp. 127–147.
“The emergence of prestige technologies and pottery.” In William Barnett, and John Hoopes (editors), The emergence of pottery. Smithsonian Institution Press: Washington, D. C. Pp. 257–266.
“Pathways to power: Principles for creating socioeconomic inequalities.” In T. D. Price and G. Feinman, Foundation of Social Inequality. Plenum: New York. Pp. 15–85.
“Competition, labor, and complex hunter-gatherers.” In Ernest Burch, Jr. and Linda Ellanna (editors), Key issues in hunter-gatherer research. Berg Publications: Oxford. Pp. 223–239.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting idea. Didn't read all the links or source documents, but had a couple quick observations. Maybe a new definition ( or at least important implication) of Dunbar's number is that size of human organization above which group pressure cannot suppress aggrandizer behavior?

    Also- because of the enormous excess energy flows available right now, we have multiple levels of aggrandizer behavior and influence- an aggrandizer pecking order if you will, requiring successful sociopaths to be even more ruthless and intelligent to rise above and control their peers. Bodes ill for the rest of us, without even considering the unintended consequences of aggrandizer manipulations.