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SOCIAL EVOLUTION FORUM
Elites Don’t Understand Human Nature, But It’s Time They Learned
Human beings are deeply social creatures. But the “powers that be” are disconnected so profoundly from reality that they have no idea what they are doing. It is time to consciously introspect about what kind of future we want.
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Featured Focus articles
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a4/JimW-Sustainability_76_%289451877268%29.jpg
An Evolutionary Approach to Sustainability Science
Recent Blog Posts
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"Stone Sex Party," Khajuraho, India, by David Tubau, via Flickr.

 

“(A)s our forebears adopted life on the dangerous ground, pair-bonding became imperative for females and practical for males. And monogamy – the human habit of forming a pair-bond with one individual at a time – evolved.” (Helen Fisher 2004: 131)

“Several types of evidence suggest our pre-agricultural (prehistoric) ancestors lived in groups where most mature individuals would have had several ongoing sexual relationships at any given time. Though often casual, these relationships were not random or meaningless. Quite the opposite: they reinforced crucial social ties holding these highly interdependent communities together.” (Chris Ryan & Cacilda Jethá 2010: 9-10)

“We are not a classic pair-bonded species. We are not a polygamous, tournament species either…. What we are, officially, … is a tragically confused species.” (Robert Sapolsky)

 

The above three quotations were selected to illustrate the range of views that exist on the evolution of human sexual and mating behavior. Obviously, this is not a trivial matter. To the primatologist Bernard Chapais: “The central puzzle of human social evolution… is to explain how promiscuity was replaced by the pair bond” (that is, assuming the pair-bond has gained complete ascendancy). But it’s about more than our ancestors’ mating behaviors. Lurking in the background is the notion that our ancestral behavioral patterns impact current ones, via phylogenetic inertia. Additionally, how we view the past is important because, rightly or wrongly, we have a tendency to associate what is natural with what is good (but note well the naturalistic fallacy). For both of these reasons, the past matters.

This is obviously a sensitive topic that goes beyond academic esoterica, so it is important to tread softly. But it is also necessary to confront the facts. Heterosexual monogamy remains the dominant, privileged model in Western societies. However, with sex scandals in the news recently (and… always), and with popular books and articles asking whether monogamy is obsolete, a myth, fettered by unrealistic expectations, or in need of amending, it is understandable that people would wonder how ‘natural’ it is.

To begin, let me say that I side with Sapolsky. Individuals may figure out what works best for themselves in terms of balancing sex, love, intimacy, and commitment, but collectively we are a tragically confused species. The signposts in our biology and behavior suggest as much. This seems to originate from a few places: our evolutionary past, the overlapping – but independent – drives for love, sex and reproduction, individual variation in sexual preferences and drives, and the powerful effect of culture. One would think, given the importance of sex and mating in evolution, that natural selection would have put a straight-jacket on it and given us a stricter blueprint to follow, as other species seem to have. That doesn’t seem to be the case, however.

Humans are said to have an inclination for homogamy (mating with people from the same ethnic or sociocultural background), and exogamy, where one sex leaves the natal group to find potential mates (evidence from 2 million year-old teeth suggests that, like chimpanzees, Australopithecine females were the ones to leave). But biology is the science of trends and exceptions, not laws. Across the spectrum of human cultures, we can find examples of heterogamy, endogamy, polyandry, polygyny, monogamy, non-monogamy, polyamory, and so on. However, these do not all occur in equal frequencies, so I don’t think we are truly “blank-ogamous.” There is also lots of room for variation within each culture. Being good Popperians committed to the principle of falsifiability, it is probably easier to say what we are not than what we are. One thing is clear: we are not simple.

It must seem audacious to presume to know anything about the sexual and mating behavior of our ancestors. Interpreting the past is tricky because behavior does not fossilize well, and outside of time travel we cannot observe this directly. However, researchers can utilize clues from many fields – cultural anthropology, paleoanthropology, anatomy, genetics, psychology, primatology, neuroscience – to place the pieces of the puzzle on the table to see what the big picture looks like. And the pieces are fascinating.

A few qualifiers at the outset: I am a biological anthropologist, but this topic is not my specialty so I’m not claiming this will be comprehensive or conclusive. I’m writing this because, from my reading of things, there are good arguments on both sides for humans being pair-bonded with the ability to love deeply, though with a penchant for promiscuity. Trying to synthesize those two arguments is proving quite difficult, which I suppose makes me just another confused member of our species. It probably says something that I actually found it easier to write about the meaning of life. Due to the complexity of the topic, I decided to break this up into a series of posts (still in the works), roughly divided into the evidence for promiscuity in our species, the evidence for pair-bonding, and a synthesis of the two. Each post is probably too long, and in bullet-point style (as my advisor at Binghamton, Mike Little, used to say: “when in doubt, make a list”). I’m not completely satisfied with what I’ve compiled so far, but I am still learning.

 

References

Fisher H. 2004. Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love. MacMillan. (Link)

Ryan C, Jethá C. 2010. Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality. Harper. (Link)

Sapolsky R. This quote comes from a lecture series titled “Biology and Human Behavior,” found here (see lecture 11). It was too good not to use.
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                    [post_content] => This is the first in a series of essays on the regulation of capitalism. With them I hope to convince you that we can move toward a system of capitalism that maximizes human wellbeing, while minimizing regulations that restrain its many benefits. In this essay I start with the example of the tobacco industry. In subsequent essays I will demonstrate how the principles that underlie the problem of the harm that the tobacco industry does are just as applicable to the marketing of alcohol to young people, fossil fuel consumption, the pharmaceutical industry, the arms industry, and the financial system. The problems involved in all of these areas can be understood in terms of the principles from three different fields: public health, economics, and evolutionary theory.pie_2015oct

Let’s start with the fundamental question in public health: What is the impact of a practice on the health of a population? In the case of cigarette smoking, epidemiologists have established that smoking is the number one preventable cause of disease and death in the United States and it is rapidly becoming that deadly in developing countries as the tobacco industry has extended its marketing to those countries. In the U.S. about 480,000 people die each year due to cigarette smoking. In the U.S. about 439,000 die because they smoke and another 41,000 die due to their exposure to other people’s smoking. To illustrate the extent of carnage due to cigarette smoking, tobacco control advocates often say that it is as though two Boeing 747’s crash killing everyone on board every day of the year [1].

These facts can also be viewed in economic terms. First, the marketing of cigarettes involves negative externalities. That is, the market exchange in which smokers buy cigarettes from tobacco companies have harmful effects on people who aren’t a party to the exchange.  There are the losses to the smokers’ family when a smoker dies prematurely.  And there are the deaths of 41,000 people each year who are exposed to others smoke. Moreover, the United States incurs approximately $300 billion a year in the cost of treating smoking related illness, and the lost productivity due to sickened smokers.


Second, economists have also identified information asymmetries that can harm the buyer.  In the case of cigarettes, tobacco industry marketing convinces young people that smoking will make them more popular, but it fails to inform them about the harmful consequences of smoking—facts which the tobacco industry has been aware of for more than fifty years. In the case of the already addicted smoker, the industry has systematically mislead smokers by convincing them that so-called low tar and nicotine cigarettes would reduce their risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.  (See my Written Direct Testimony, in U.S. vs. Philip Morris et al. 2005).


A third factor involved in the marketing of an addictive product such as cigarettes is the fact that although a smoker might, in the abstract say that in the long run, they would rather be a healthier nonsmoker, their preference in the moment will be to keep smoking. 

Finally, economists have noted the tendency for a small number of firms to dominate a market.  This so-called oligopoly, often results in the firms colluding to benefit the firms at the cost to the consumer.  In the case of the tobacco industry, they have a long and well-documented history of colluding to deceive the public about the harm of cigarettes. 

By enumerating the illness and death that are caused by smoking, we can precisely gauge the cost to society of a given market exchange and thereby order our priorities so that the most common and costly harms to society can be reduced or eliminated. In subsequent essays, I will apply this same analysis to the marketing of alcohol, unhealthful foods, fossil fuels, pharmaceuticals, certain financial instruments, and guns.

The third scientific field that we can draw on to effectively deal with harmful market practices is evolution; specifically, the concept of selection by consequences. In recent years evolutionists have increasingly recognized that the principle of selection by consequences applies not only to the selection of genes, but to the selection of behavior, symbolic processes, and the practices of groups and organizations [2]

joecamelcorvette In the case of cigarette smoking, the marketing practices of the tobacco industry have been shaped and maintained over the past 100 years by their contribution to profits. Milestones in the selection of innovative marketing practices in the tobacco industry included their successes in increasing the number of women who smoke, the Marlboro campaign that captured market share through the association of the iconic Marlboro man with rugged individualism, and the success of the Joe Camel campaign in wresting market share from Marlboro by associating Camel cigarettes with Joe Camel, a charming cartoon character who was, as one youthful smoker put it, “…the type the babes love” (page 338 in my Written Direct Testimony, in U.S. vs. Philip Morris et al. 2005).

I begin this series of essays with the example of smoking because it is with the tobacco control movement that we have begun to evolve effective methods of countering corporate practices that affect health and wellbeing. Over the past thirty or so years, the facts I have enumerated have been instrumental in forging a cultural movement to reduce cigarette smoking and its harms. This exemplary instance of cultural evolution has been shaped by the selection of increasingly effective practices based on their consequences in reducing smoking. The movement was driven by: (a) the mounting evidence about the harm of smoking that epidemiological research provided us; (b) innovative communication of the epidemiological facts (e.g. two Boeing 747s…); (c) creation of advocacy organizations that garnered pubic support because of the evidence of harm of smoking; (d) the implementation of policies that increased the cost of cigarettes, prohibited smoking in an ever growing set of venues, restricted marketing of cigarettes, and changed norms about smoking; and (e) litigation which led to further restrictions on marketing and increased the costs to the cigarette industry.

In subsequent essays, I intend to show how the public health, economic, and evolutionary principles involved in tobacco industry practices and the practices of the tobacco control movement are applicable to all of the other problematic practices I listed above.

Scientific principles are like spotlights. They bring our attention to aspects of our world that were heretofore invisible. When we combine these principles from three different fields—public health, economics, and evolution—we can shine a light on myriad ways in which many current capitalistic practices harm human wellbeing, and more importantly what can be done about them. These tools provide the framework to reform capitalism in ways that curtail practices that harm us, while at the same time preserving the use of market forces to foster innovation and productivity.

References

[1] Biglan, A.(1995). Changing cultural practices: A contextualist framework for intervention research. Reno, NV US: Context. [2] Wilson, D. S., Hayes, S. C., Biglan, A., & Embry, D. D. (2014). Evolving the future: Toward a science of intentional change. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 37, 395–416. Image via Wikimedia Commons. [post_title] => Tobacco and the Regulation of Capitalism [post_excerpt] => In recent years evolutionists have increasingly recognized that the principle of selection by consequences applies not only to the selection of genes, but to the selection of behavior, symbolic processes, and the practices of groups and organizations. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => tobacco-and-the-regulation-of-capitalism [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-05-03 03:04:35 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-05-03 07:04:35 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://evolution-institute.org/?post_type=blog&p=120004009 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => blog [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 2 [filter] => raw ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 120004633 [post_author] => 35 [post_date] => 2016-04-25 06:11:56 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-04-25 10:11:56 [post_content] => EvoS (pronounced as one word) is a campus-wide evolutionary studies program that I helped to start at Binghamton University in 2003. It attempts to solve a problem that pervades higher education worldwide—the restriction of evolutionary training to the biological sciences. EvoS teaches evolution as a theory that applies to all aspects of humanity in addition to the rest of life from day one. EvoS is built from parts that exist at most colleges and universities: A quorum of faculty across departments who have already adopted an evolutionary perspective; a menu of courses taught by these faculty, plus a few key new courses; a certificate that can be earned by any student in parallel with their major; and a seminar series that brings in a flow of outside speakers—in our case, about ten every semester. The seminar series is valuable for EvoS faculty and graduate students but it also performs a vital function for EvoS undergraduate students through a 2-credit seminar course titled “Current Topics in Evolutionary Studies”, which must be taken twice to earn the EvoS certificate.  For every EvoS seminar speaker, students read one or more assigned articles from the primary literature, write a commentary on the article, attend the seminar, and attend an extended discussion following the seminar. Twenty of these experiences over the course of two semesters, on topics that span the length and breadth of the biological sciences, human-related sciences, and humanities, provide a vivid illustration of what a fully rounded evolutionary education is all about. In addition, the Current Topics course, along with other elements of the EvoS program, exposes undergraduate students to graduate-style education. Many students rank it as their best intellectual experience in college and many EvoS seminar speakers express amazement at the degree of interest and sophistication that the undergraduate students have attained. Recently, an EvoS undergraduate student named Benjamin Seitz wrote a commentary on what his EvoS education meant for him.  Coming from a student, it is more eloquent than anything I could write. I therefore asked permission to share his commentary, which he graciously provided. The EvoS program here on campus has by far been the most influential factor of my college experience. I came to Binghamton with a strong interest in evolution and biology, and a moderately strong goal of becoming an academic. Naturally, I started out in the Biology program pursuing a BS in Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior. Throughout my first semester, I took various chemistry courses and began dreading the amount of non-evolution related classes I would need to take in order to fulfill my degree, which was supposed to specialize in evolution, ecology and behavior. I wanted to learn about how and why animals act the way they do towards each other, not physics and organic chemistry. Towards the beginning of my second semester, I learned about the EvoS program and was soon encouraged to create my own major in EvoS through Harpur College’s individualized major program. The encouragement came from then Director Hadassah Head, who provided immense opportunities for students like myself to get involved with the EvoS program. I then met David, who only increased my interest in studying evolution, by showing me just how dynamic and useful an evolutionary perspective can be when asking ‘big picture’ questions. Through this relationship and my newly increased self-interest, I spent the summer after my freshmen year learning all that I could about evolution, and had also been elected president of the Evolutionary Studies Student Association. From here, I met David’s graduate student Ian, who provided me with the same encouragement as David, treating me as an equal scholar and not the naïve undergraduate that I very much was. This lead to the collaboration of multiple research projects, and these projects provided me with the experience and confidence in the academic community to land me a position in one of the top cognitive psychology labs on campus.         Ultimately, what the EvoS program does here is provide undergraduates with the opportunity to function as graduate students. Every week, we are exposed to researchers from around the world, who share a similar passion for evolutionary studies. Not only do these speakers broaden our exposure to current research in the field, but they provide phenomenal networking opportunities for those of us wishing to pursue careers in academia. On top of this, the EvoS program encourages self-learning and the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of pursuing knowledge. The evolutionary toolkit, which is so feverishly promoted by the EvoS program, is a phenomenal catalyst for stimulating intellectual discussion. It is a tool and a perspective that once turned on, is seemingly impossible to turn off. Lastly, the EvoS program provides a community on campus. When I was in high school and looking at colleges, I was torn between the intimacy of small liberal arts colleges and the vast possibilities offered at large research intuitions. I knew I wanted to get involved in research but I figured the best way to do so would be to go to tiny college where I could get to build strong relationships with my professors, and perhaps have a beer with them if I was lucky. Fortunately, I ended up at a large research institution, and the intimacy that I was seeking from a small college I found immediately from the EvoS program. It’s a rather simple formula really: bright and welcoming people, who share a common interest and understanding of the world, who are highly encouraging and respectful to all those interested in getting involved. That’s how I see the EvoS Program here at Binghamton, and this program will by far be what I cherish most about my four years here. EvoS has thrived for 13 years at Binghamton and inspired a consortium of programs at other colleges and universities with its own online journal. That’s gratifying, but evolutionary training is still largely restricted to the biological sciences at most institutes of higher education worldwide.  Ben’s commentary highlights the need for an EvoS-style education to become the norm. [post_title] => A Student Expresses the Value of an Evolutionary Education [post_excerpt] => EvoS, a campus-wide evolutionary studies program, is attempting to solve a problem that pervades higher education worldwide: the restriction of evolutionary training to the biological sciences. 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"Childbirth" by cassy1723, via Flickr.

No one is saying that medicine isn't brilliant and hasn't saved lives. But it does intervene more than necessary when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth. Part of that unnecessary intervention is driven by lack of experience; it's difficult to decide when intervention is and isn't necessary, especially when things are heating up. Part of it stems from an economically-driven disrespect for time. (Give childbirth some motherlovin' time.)  But another part of the trouble actually lies in the evolutionary perspective. Unfortunately it's not all rainbows and unicorns when M.D.s embrace evolution. Instead, evolutionary thinking is biasing some medical professionals into believing that, for example, birth by surgical caesarean is an "evolutionary imperative." Here's one recent example in The American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology of how the evolutionary perspective is (mis)guiding arguments for increased medical intervention in childbirth. It's a paper called, "A large head circumference is more strongly associated with unplanned cesarean or instrumental delivery and neonatal complications than high birthweight." It's a fairly straight-forward study of over 22,000 birth records at a hospital in Jerusalem. The authors ask whether birth weight (BW) or head circumference (HC) is more of a driver of childbirth interventions (instrumental delivery and unplanned caesareans) than the other. Of course, the focus is on the biggest babies with the biggest heads causing all the trouble, so the authors narrow the data down to the 95th percentile for both. Presumably they're asking this question about BW and HC because both can be estimated with prenatal screening. So there's the hope of improving delivery outcomes here. And, of course, the reason they ask whether head size or body mass is more of a problem is because of evolution. They anticipate that they'll discover that heads are a bigger problem than bodies because of the well-known "obstetrical dilemma" (OD) hypothesis in anthropology. OD thinking goes like this: Big heads and small birth canals are adaptive for our species' cognition and locomotion, respectively, but the two traits cause a problem at birth, which is not only difficult but results in our species' peculiar brand of useless babies. (But see and see.) So, since we're on the OD train, it's no surprise when we read how the authors demonstrate and, thus, conclude that indeed HC (head circumference) is more strongly associated with childbirth interventions than BW (birth weight), at least when we're up in the 95th percentile of BW and HC. Okay. They use this finding to advocate for prenatal estimation of head size to prepare for any difficulties a mother and her fetus may be facing soon. Okay. Sounds good. Sounds really good if you support healthy moms and babies. But it also sounds really good if you already see these risks to childbirth through the lens of the "obstetrical dilemma" with that OD thinking helping you to support some sort of evolutionary imperative for the c-section. Okay. Too many "Okays" you're thinking? You're right. There's a catch. When you dig into the paper you see that "large HC" heads are usually about an inch (~ 2.5 cm) greater in circumference than "normal HC" ones. (Nevermind that we chopped up a continuum of quantitative variation to put heads in arbitrary categories for statistical analysis.) And when you calculate the head diameter based on the head circumference, there is less than 1 cm difference between "large" and "normal" neonatal heads in diameter. That doesn't seem like a whole lot considering how women's bony pelvic dimensions can vary more than that.  Still, these data suggest that the difference between a  relatively low risk of having a c-section and a relatively high risk of having a c-section amounts to less than a centimeter in fetal head diameter. And maybe it does. Nobody's saying that big heads aren't a major problem sometimes! But maybe there's something else to consider that the paper absolutely didn't. Neonatal heads get squeezed and molded into interesting shapes in the birth canal. The data say that normal HC babies get born vaginally more often than large HC ones. But this is based on the head measures of babies who are already born! If we're pitting head circumference (HC) of babies plucked from the uterus against the HC of babies who've been through hello! then of course the vaginally delivered ones could have smaller HCs. C-sected babies tend to have rounder heads than the ones squeezed by the birth canal. It's impossible to know but I'm fairly confident about this, at least for a subsample of a population: Birth the same baby from the same mother both ways, vaginally and surgically, and its head after c-section will have a larger HC than its squeezed conehead will after natural birth. When we're talking about roughly 2.5 cm difference in circumference or less than 1 cm difference in diameter, then I'd say it's possible that neonatal cranial plasticity is mucking up these data; we're sending c-sected babies over into the "large HC" part of the story just because they were c-sected in the first place. So without accounting for this phenomenon, the claim that large head circumference is more of a cause of birth intervention, of unplanned c-sections, than large body mass isn't as believable. If these thoughts about neonatal cranial molding are worthwhile, then here we have a seemingly useful and very high-profile professional study, grounded in the popular but deeply flawed obstetrical dilemma hypothesis, that is arguing for medical intervention in childbirth based solely on the difference in head size measures induced by those very medical interventions. The circle of life! [post_title] => When Evolutionary Medicine Gets It Wrong About Childbirth [post_excerpt] => Evolutionary thinking is biasing some medical professionals into believing that birth by surgical caesarean is an "evolutionary imperative." [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => when-evolutionary-medicine-gets-it-wrong-about-childbirth [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-04-14 03:00:13 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-04-14 07:00:13 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://evolution-institute.org/?post_type=blog&p=120004599 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => blog [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 120004596 [post_author] => 23 [post_date] => 2016-04-13 07:30:32 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-04-13 11:30:32 [post_content] =>
Human sacrifice as shown in the Codex Magliabechiano, Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, via Wikipedia.

An article published this week by Nature is generating a lot of press. Using a sample of 93 Austronesian cultures Watts et al. explore the possible relationship between human sacrifice (HS) and the evolution of hierarchical societies. Specifically, they test the “social control” hypothesis, according to which human sacrifice legitimizes, and thus stabilizes political authority in stratified class societies. Their statistical analyses suggest that human sacrifice stabilizes mild (non-hereditary) forms of social stratification, and promotes a shift to strict (hereditary) forms of stratification. They conclude that “ritual killing helped humans transition from the small egalitarian groups of our ancestors to the large stratified societies we live in today.” In other words, while HS obviously creates winners (rulers and elites) and losers (sacrifice victims and, more generally, commoners), Watts et all argue that it is a functional feature—in the evolutionary sense of the word—at the level of whole societies, because it makes them more durable. There are two problems with this conclusion. First, Watts et al. do not test their hypothesis against an explicit theoretical alternative (which I will provide in a moment). Second, and more important, their data span a very narrow range of societies, omitting the great majority of complex societies—indeed all truly large-scale societies. Let’s take these two points in order. An alternative theory on the rise of human sacrifice and other extreme forms of structural inequality is explained in my recent book Ultrasociety. By “structural inequality” I mean more than just great differentials in income and wealth that characterize our modern, even democratic, large-scale societies. In addition to HS, these include ruler deification and more generally “despotism,” when there are no constraints on what rulers and elites can do to commoners; for example, kill them without any negative consequences for themselves. Briefly, my argument in Ultrasociety is that large and complex human societies evolved under the selection pressures of war. To win in military competition societies had to become large (so that they could bring a lot of warriors to battle) and to be organized hierarchically (because chains of command help to win battles). Unfortunately, hierarchical organization gave too much power to military leaders and their warrior retinues, who abused it (“power corrupts”). The result was that early centralized societies (chiefdoms and archaic states) were hugely unequal. As I say in Ultrasociety, alpha males set themselves up as god-kings. Human sacrifice was perhaps instrumental for the god-kings and the nobles in keeping the lower orders down, as Watts et al. (and social control hypothesis) argue. But I disagree with them that it was functional in making early centralized societies more stable and durable. In fact, any inequality is corrosive of cooperation, and its extreme forms doubly so. Lack of cooperation between the rulers and ruled made early archaic states highly unstable, and liable to collapse as a result of internal rebellion or conquest by external enemies. Thus, according to this “God-Kings hypothesis,” HS was a dysfunctional side-effect of the early phases of the evolution of hierarchical societies. As warfare continued to push societies to ever larger sizes, extreme forms of structural inequality became an ever greater liability and were selected out. Simply put, societies that evolved less inegalitarian social norms and institutions won over and replaced archaic despotisms. We now come to my second critique of the Watts et al. paper. I actually agree that Austronesia is a good laboratory for testing many (but not all) theories of social evolution. There is of course a serious deficiency in the dataset that Watts et al use: it’s static. The basis for their data are observations made in the “ethnographic present.” If you want to assign causality, however, you need to get at the dynamics—how things change with time (as causes typically precede effects, the ability to resolve socio-cultural trajectories in time is critical). Russell Gray’s group (AKA Watts et al) has come with a clever way to get around this problem by using linguistic trees. Some cultural evolutionists, like Joe Henrich, are quite critical of this approach. But even if it works, there is a much more important flaw in the Austronesian database. The most complex society in their sample is Hawaii, which is not complex at all when looked in the global context. I am, right now, analyzing the Seshat Databank for social complexity (finally, we have the data! I will be reporting on our progress soon, and manuscripts are being prepared for publication). And Hawaii is way down on the scale of social complexity. Just to give one measure (out of >50 that I am analyzing), polity population. The social scale of Hawaiian chiefdoms measures in the 10,000s of population, at most 100,000 (and that achieved after the arrival of the Europeans). In Afroeurasia (the Old World), you don’t count as a megaempire unless you have tens of millions of subjects—that’s three orders of magnitude larger than Hawaii! Why is this important? Because it is only by tracing the trajectories of societies that go beyond the social scale seen in Austronesia that we can test the social control hypothesis against the God-Kings theory. If HS helps to stabilize hierarchical societies, it should do so for societies of thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions, tens of millions, and so on. So we should see it persist as societies grow in size. If HS is destabilizing, then once societies become too large, HS would be selected out. HS is a liability at any size, but the larger a society becomes, the harder it is to hold it together. In this sense HS is a greater liability for megaempires than for chiefdoms. Moreover, if you live on a huge continental mass (and not in an isolated archipelago), once somebody figures out how to make hierarchical societies less unequal (and more cooperative), these people will conquer their more despotic neighbors, spreading egalitarian institutions—eventually—through the whole Afroeurasia. Note that equality here is very relative—post-Axial megaempires (read Ultrasociety on the importance of the Axial Age) also had kings and nobles, and were quite unequal by today’s standards. But they were better than the archaic states. As time went on, they gradually accumulated various egalitarian institutions. After a few thousands of years this process resulted in pretty decent modern societies in which most of us live today. Even the worst ones, like North Korea, don’t practice human sacrifice. Cultural evolution is faster than genetic evolution, but it still needs time to cumulate useful, functional traits, such as the norms and institutions that promote equality, and therefore cooperation. So we need to go outside the Austronesian material to test the predictions of the social control hypothesis versus the God-Kings hypothesis. This is what we are doing in the Seshat project, and I estimate that we will complete data collection on extreme forms of inequality by the end of summer or early Fall. So stay tuned. But as a preview (which will not come as a surprise for those of you who read a lot of world history), preliminary results suggest that HS is very common (if not ubiquitous) at a certain stage of social development—and then it invariably fades away. HS must impose a pretty hefty price on social durability and ability to resist external enemies to generate such a clear-cut macrohistorical pattern. Also, our preliminary results in the Seshat Databank indicate that there are many other kinds of human sacrifice than the one Watts et al. discuss, which targeted people at the low end of the social hierarchy. In some societies, it is aliens, such as captured warriors, are sacrificed. In others we see sacrifice of high-status individuals, such as children of the elites, or their military followers. Things are much more complex—an interesting!—than one might conclude on reading their paper. A final thought, hearkening back to another paper Watts et al published last year, in which they argued that moralizing High Gods are not necessary for the evolution of political complexity. Same problem. Perhaps High Gods were not needed for complex chiefdoms in Hawaii and Samoa, but the jury is still out on whether megaempires cold survive without them. Again, stay tuned! [post_title] => Is Human Sacrifice Functional at the Societal Level? [post_excerpt] => There are problems with the conclusion that human sacrifice is linked with the evolution of hierarchical societies. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => is-human-sacrifice-functional-at-the-societal-level [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-04-13 06:06:06 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-04-13 10:06:06 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://evolution-institute.org/?post_type=blog&p=120004596 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => blog [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 3 [filter] => raw ) ) [post_count] => 5 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 120004702 [post_author] => 40 [post_date] => 2016-05-12 09:16:37 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-05-12 13:16:37 [post_content] => "Stone Sex Party," Khajuraho, India, by David Tubau, via Flickr.   “(A)s our forebears adopted life on the dangerous ground, pair-bonding became imperative for females and practical for males. And monogamy – the human habit of forming a pair-bond with one individual at a time – evolved.” (Helen Fisher 2004: 131) “Several types of evidence suggest our pre-agricultural (prehistoric) ancestors lived in groups where most mature individuals would have had several ongoing sexual relationships at any given time. Though often casual, these relationships were not random or meaningless. Quite the opposite: they reinforced crucial social ties holding these highly interdependent communities together.” (Chris Ryan & Cacilda Jethá 2010: 9-10) “We are not a classic pair-bonded species. We are not a polygamous, tournament species either…. What we are, officially, … is a tragically confused species.” (Robert Sapolsky)   The above three quotations were selected to illustrate the range of views that exist on the evolution of human sexual and mating behavior. Obviously, this is not a trivial matter. To the primatologist Bernard Chapais: “The central puzzle of human social evolution… is to explain how promiscuity was replaced by the pair bond” (that is, assuming the pair-bond has gained complete ascendancy). But it’s about more than our ancestors’ mating behaviors. Lurking in the background is the notion that our ancestral behavioral patterns impact current ones, via phylogenetic inertia. Additionally, how we view the past is important because, rightly or wrongly, we have a tendency to associate what is natural with what is good (but note well the naturalistic fallacy). For both of these reasons, the past matters. This is obviously a sensitive topic that goes beyond academic esoterica, so it is important to tread softly. But it is also necessary to confront the facts. Heterosexual monogamy remains the dominant, privileged model in Western societies. However, with sex scandals in the news recently (and… always), and with popular books and articles asking whether monogamy is obsolete, a myth, fettered by unrealistic expectations, or in need of amending, it is understandable that people would wonder how ‘natural’ it is. To begin, let me say that I side with Sapolsky. Individuals may figure out what works best for themselves in terms of balancing sex, love, intimacy, and commitment, but collectively we are a tragically confused species. The signposts in our biology and behavior suggest as much. This seems to originate from a few places: our evolutionary past, the overlapping – but independent – drives for love, sex and reproduction, individual variation in sexual preferences and drives, and the powerful effect of culture. One would think, given the importance of sex and mating in evolution, that natural selection would have put a straight-jacket on it and given us a stricter blueprint to follow, as other species seem to have. That doesn’t seem to be the case, however. Humans are said to have an inclination for homogamy (mating with people from the same ethnic or sociocultural background), and exogamy, where one sex leaves the natal group to find potential mates (evidence from 2 million year-old teeth suggests that, like chimpanzees, Australopithecine females were the ones to leave). But biology is the science of trends and exceptions, not laws. Across the spectrum of human cultures, we can find examples of heterogamy, endogamy, polyandry, polygyny, monogamy, non-monogamy, polyamory, and so on. However, these do not all occur in equal frequencies, so I don’t think we are truly “blank-ogamous.” There is also lots of room for variation within each culture. Being good Popperians committed to the principle of falsifiability, it is probably easier to say what we are not than what we are. One thing is clear: we are not simple. It must seem audacious to presume to know anything about the sexual and mating behavior of our ancestors. Interpreting the past is tricky because behavior does not fossilize well, and outside of time travel we cannot observe this directly. However, researchers can utilize clues from many fields – cultural anthropology, paleoanthropology, anatomy, genetics, psychology, primatology, neuroscience – to place the pieces of the puzzle on the table to see what the big picture looks like. And the pieces are fascinating. A few qualifiers at the outset: I am a biological anthropologist, but this topic is not my specialty so I’m not claiming this will be comprehensive or conclusive. I’m writing this because, from my reading of things, there are good arguments on both sides for humans being pair-bonded with the ability to love deeply, though with a penchant for promiscuity. Trying to synthesize those two arguments is proving quite difficult, which I suppose makes me just another confused member of our species. It probably says something that I actually found it easier to write about the meaning of life. Due to the complexity of the topic, I decided to break this up into a series of posts (still in the works), roughly divided into the evidence for promiscuity in our species, the evidence for pair-bonding, and a synthesis of the two. Each post is probably too long, and in bullet-point style (as my advisor at Binghamton, Mike Little, used to say: “when in doubt, make a list”). I’m not completely satisfied with what I’ve compiled so far, but I am still learning.   References Fisher H. 2004. Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love. MacMillan. (Link) Ryan C, Jethá C. 2010. Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality. Harper. (Link) Sapolsky R. This quote comes from a lecture series titled “Biology and Human Behavior,” found here (see lecture 11). It was too good not to use. [post_title] => On the Origin of Human Sexuality: Part 1 - The Tragically Confused Species [post_excerpt] => “We are not a classic pair-bonded species. We are not a polygamous, tournament species either…. What we are, officially, … is a tragically confused species.” (Robert Sapolsky) [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => on-the-origins-of-human-sexuality-part-1-the-tragically-confused-species [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-05-12 11:09:15 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-05-12 15:09:15 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://evolution-institute.org/?post_type=blog&p=120004702 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => blog [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 2 [filter] => raw ) [comment_count] => 0 [current_comment] => -1 [found_posts] => 267 [max_num_pages] => 54 [max_num_comment_pages] => 0 [is_single] => [is_preview] => [is_page] => [is_archive] => [is_date] => [is_year] => [is_month] => [is_day] => [is_time] => [is_author] => [is_category] => [is_tag] => [is_tax] => [is_search] => [is_feed] => [is_comment_feed] => [is_trackback] => [is_home] => 1 [is_404] => [is_embed] => [is_paged] => [is_admin] => [is_attachment] => [is_singular] => [is_robots] => [is_posts_page] => [is_post_type_archive] => [query_vars_hash:WP_Query:private] => 9927f1fd3e51ae92e2c8ff2d6c4d8c28 [query_vars_changed:WP_Query:private] => [thumbnails_cached] => [stopwords:WP_Query:private] => [compat_fields:WP_Query:private] => Array ( [0] => query_vars_hash [1] => query_vars_changed ) [compat_methods:WP_Query:private] => Array ( [0] => init_query_flags [1] => parse_tax_query ) )
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