Imagine two people in contention for the same resource, say an apple.  A and B both want the apple.  How do they resolve this conflict? There are three basic ways they can resolve this conflict.  

They may fight over it and try to establish dominance over the other to see who gets it. Of course, they both might get hurt fighting so they might guess ahead of time who might win the fight and just yield to the one that will likely win anyway.  This could mean weaker yielding to stronger or lower social rank yielding to higher social rank. Basically, might makes right.  This is the dominance principle.

Another way to resolve the dispute is to just share it.  For example, cut the apple in half and share. This is simple enough to understand. This is the sharing principle.

The third way to settle it is to yield to the one that had the apple first. The interloper yields to the incumbent possessor. Simply, first come first get. This is the private rights or privacy principle.

You might imagine more options but likely they are just combinations of the above strategies.  Maybe the higher rank contender takes most but not all and shares some.  Or the share size is based on need or some establish sharing custom or community rule rather than equally. Or the first possessor shares voluntarily. In these examples of mixtures of principles, one principle takes precedence over the other.

These three principles Dominance, Sharing, and Privacy are the three principles of sociality. Which I sometimes abbreviate as DSP. Dominance, Sharing, and Privacy are the three foundational ways people resolve conflict and cooperate with each other.

Modern human societies are a complex mixture of a variety of social institutions, including property rights, communities, churches, firms, markets, political hierarchies, legal systems, and so on.  It can be hard to categorize these institutions and organize them.  Which of these institutions are natural for humans?  In prehistoric times human societies were much simpler. The species that is probably most similar to humans is the Chimpanzee, which live in very hierarchical societies with clear pecking orders.  It is likely that proto-humans lived in primitive dominance hierarchies similar Chimpanzees at one time. Later when humans lived as hunter-gatherers bands many lived in egalitarian communities [Bowles & Choi].  At the advent of agriculture, humans divided up farmable land into plots as Rousseau famously described [Bowles & Choi, Properal].  Are dominance hierarchies natural for humans? Are we naturally socialist or are humans naturally individualists? The answer might be that all of these are natural to humans. In prehistoric times humans likely lived in dominance hierarchies, primitive communism, and farming societies with private property.

In an article titled, Privacy: Its origin, function, and future Jack Hirshleifer, classifies the main structures of sociality in animals and humans as based upon three principles: dominance, communal sharing, and privacy (i.e. private rights). Dominance, Sharing, and Privacy (I call DSP for short) are so fundamental that they correspond with behaviors observed in animals not just humans. Hirshleifer admits that DSP is an oversimplification, but I think it is a useful tool and more realistic than other simplifications like K/r theory.

Dominance, Sharing, and Privacy are fundamental ways to deal with conflict.  Animals often end up in conflict with each other over rivalrous resources or access to mates and may fight to resolve the conflict. Often though fighting is costly. Instead of fighting, animals may yield to the more powerful or higher ranking contender, they may share, or yield to incumbents.

Dominance, Sharing, and Privacy are used by animals to address different conflicts. Animals form primitive communities like packs or flocks that cooperate and share resources although usually only with kin. They also exhibit behavior similar to private rights, like territorial behavior, maintaining personal space, or monogamous mating. Animals also form hierarchies that establish dominance as a method of resolving conflicts.

Hirshleifer does not give this example but I will use ducks as an example.  Ducks often fly in flocks and take turns flying in the lead sheltering the ducks behind from the headwind, thus sharing the burden of flying.  Ducks also pair up as mates that they generally (though not always) stay faithful to.  Also, ducks like many birds also have a pecking order hierarchy, in which the birds with higher rank can peck the lower rank birds but not vice versa.


Dominance refers to establishing rank among individuals or groups and establishing a pattern of dominance of higher ranks over subservient lower ranks, in which lower ranks yield to higher ranks.  Dominance between two animals can be observed when one is aggressive towards the other for example chases, threatens, or bites, but the other responds with little or no aggression in kind.  Birds have pecking orders, fish have dominance hierarchies, baboons have clear raking. Even, humans have hierarchies of leadership and government. Hirshleifer associates dominance with polygynous mating, where only a few males obtain a majority of the reproductive opportunities.


Sharing is what it sounds like. For example sharing food, collaborative hunting or scavenging, or sharing shelter like a den. Animals generally only share with kin, usually not beyond siblings. Humans share food beyond close kin much more often than animals. Ants share food with colony members, however colony members are descendants of the same queen, making them all siblings.  An ant that does not share may be viciously punished [Kropotkin]. Chimpanzees sometimes share meat. Human big game hunting tribes generally share meat from kills and punish those who don’t share. Modern humans have many kinds of communities. Hirshleifer associates sharing with promiscuous mating.


Hirshleifer uses the term privacy to mean more than just keeping secrets. He is referring to the etymology of the word “privacy”. Hirshleifer points out the basic Latin form is the adjective privus, the original archaic meaning of “single.” Not meaning the, “solitary human being but rather the individual regarding facing the potential claims of other persons. Clearly, this root idea is what the word “private” still means when we speak of private property.”  So Hirshleifer is not referring to privacy as a withdrawal from society but is speaking of privacy as a way of organizing society  Hirshleifer equates private rights with autonomy of the individual. He associates privacy with animal behaviors like respecting and maintaining personal space, territorial belligerence, reluctance to intrude, and monogamous pairing.

I have outlined some fundamental behaviors associated with Dominance, Sharing, and Privacy in the table below:

Dominance, Sharing, and Privacy in Humans

Hirshleifer writes about how different environments might favor each strategy. He tells a narrative of a general trend from dominance, to sharing, to privacy in humans. He speculates that prior to humans becoming big game hunters when proto-humans likely relied on dominance for organization, similar to baboons.  Then as humans began to eat more meat, sharing was more successful.  I think this is because meat spoils quickly it makes sense to share big game in hopes that others will share with you when you fail to kill game.  He references Marxist economists pointing out the transition from communism of hunter gatherer to individual ownership with the advent of agricultural. This corresponds to an article I wrote about how the advent of agriculture likely brought about individual rights in land.


Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.

-Ayn Rand

There does seem to be a trend towards privacy as Ayn Rand stated. Though not a linear path. Millenia after private property in land emerged, states formed bringing the dominance principle to the forefront in humans society again.

Dominance, Sharing, and Privacy gives us a simplified (maybe oversimplified), and intuitive way to categorize human sociality.

Instead of thinking of social structures as being diverse and too complicated to be categorized, these three categories allow us to classify behaviors that address conflict as one of three types or a combination of the three.  For example, might makes right is not really a property norm but it is a dominance strategy. The ethic that the world belongs to everyone is not an alternative property norm, it is the nullification of property in favor of a sharing norm.  The violent defense of a territory is not a might makes right or dominance behavior but is the defense of privacy. The reluctance to intrude on others prior establish territory is not just a fear of retaliation but a respect for privacy.

It is possible that humans inherit propensities (either culturally or genetically) for Dominance, Sharing, and Privacy with different affinities for each.  Humans seem to have emotional responses that reinforce these strategies. Respect for strength and disdain for weakness would support dominance.  While envy, fear of envy, and sense of fairness support sharing.  Reluctance to intrude, revenge and vendetta may support protecting privacy.  Each of us seems to have different propensities for these emotions. Maybe past environments of our ancestors selected for these propensities and we inherited them genetically or culturally.

Human sociality

Human modes of social organization are likely advancements on these fundamental animal behaviors. Social scientists often talk about three forms of social organization that humans use to solve social problems.  These are state, community, and markets.  These seem to correspond to Hirshleifer’s Dominance, Sharing, and Privacy principles.

Noticed how people combine these principles together to form complex social organizations.  A joint stock company, for example, is privately owned by the stockholders.  The company has a hierarchy of management. Resources are shared within the company according to the rules of the company.

Government also has a combination of Dominance, Sharing, and Privacy, with hierarchical bureaucracies that citizens must submit to, within demarcated territories, designated private rights to individuals, voting for shared decision making, and welfare for sharing resources. Different governments emphasize either Dominance, Sharing, or Privacy but all still have corresponding aspects of all three principles.

We could roughly categorize joint stock companies as representing more of a privacy strategy, cooperatives and communes as more of a sharing strategy and state governments as more of a dominance strategy.

These strategies seem to correspond to political ideologies. Dominance corresponds to monarchy, dictatorship, hierarchy, imperialism, and fascism. Communal sharing seems to loosely correspond with democracy, egalitarianism, and socialism.  While private rights could correspond to private property, markets, and liberalism (libertarianism). Modern political ideologies advocate complicated mixes of these principles, but obviously, some ideologies more strongly favor one of these three principles over others.  Since individuals likely have different preferences for each of these principles, this might lead them to advocate more strongly for one political ideology over another.

Many people try to claim that their ideology is natural or compatible with human nature and that others are not. The truth is more likely that liberalism (libertarianism), socialism, and fascism are all built on propensities that we all have towards privacy, sharing, and dominance that we inherited from our ancestors.  During different stages of humanity different environments likely favored one of these behaviors more than another.  We may have inherited aptitudes for each of these behaviors.


These categories of Dominance, Sharing, and Privacy give us tools for organizing our thoughts about social and political institutions and ideas. We can use these three categories to simplify our analysis of human organizations and institutions.

For example, we can categorize different aspects of human sociality:

These categories are obviously an oversimplification but they are still useful in helping organize thoughts.  When you are thinking about a political philosophy or an economic system you can categorize it by what principle it emphasizes. For example, socialism emphasizes sharing, fascism emphasizes dominance, classical liberalism (libertarianism) emphasizes privacy. Historical political systems incorporate a mixture of these strategies.  By identifying the strategy that is most emphasized by an ideology or institution you can categorize it to more easily organize your thoughts about it.

DSP give us a framework to organize our thinking with some simple categorization, that corresponds to behaviors observed in the animal kingdom and human society. I will continue the search for DSP in animals and humans, starting with microbes, specifically slime molds in my next article: Social Slime – Dominance, Sharing, and Privacy in Microbes.


Privacy: Its origin, function, and future by Jack Hirshleifer

The First Property Rights Revolution by Samuel Bowles and Jung-Kyoo Choi

Emergence of Individual Property Rights Among Humans by Properal