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Replies to This Discussion

@Simon: culture is basically a combination of the need to cooperate, with all the other local conditions that exist.

I'm not sure that is a very sufficient definition Simon. Most mammals are driven to cooperate and they live in diverse local conditions, so, from what you've given here, animals have culture. The need to cooperate comes before culture, and the need to cooperate is an inate quality in men, it is as inate as breathing and drinking water. So I don't think you gain much by saying that culture comes from the need to cooperate anymore than humans need to mate, and if you look at even a short list of "cultural phenomena" you'll find a lot that has absolutely NOTHING to do with cooperating, especially the fearful, spooky, opressive parts of culture. A considerable chunk of human culture actively renders mankind to do the utter opposite of cooperating, especially warrior culture and cultures where people easily turn on one another (think Papua New Guinea or the East German Socialist Republic).

"Most mammals are driven to cooperate and they live in diverse local conditions, so, from what you've given here, animals have culture.

- in most cases, the way that mamamls cooperate is as a loose uncoordinated rabble.  Humans, on the other hand, are like ants: an efficient well-ordered army.  This kind of cooperation takes special cognitive and social skills. 

By culture I mean a group-wide set of practices, norms and morality.  These all begin life as a means to achieve cooperation as a group. 

"a lot that has absolutely NOTHING to do with cooperating, especially the fearful, spooky, opressive parts of culture.

- I agree, and this is the problem with most cultures: the practices can drift further and further away from basic human values.  Group values, and sticking by the "twisting garden of rules", can easily become more important than the rights and dignity of the individual. 

In modern times, cultural cohesion can serve the purpose of pulling together against a common enemy. 

Before moral codes--millenia before, even before hominids--there was obedience to the tribe's alpha male, or maybe its alpha female.

There's a classic book on this subject:  “Primeval Kinship – how pair-bonding gave birth to human society” by Bernard Chapais. 

This talks about the crucial point in the evolution of the first humans, when we went from (presumably) the multi-male, multi-female model of chimps and bonobos (promiscuous mating) to a polygamous set up (one male guarding several females) in response to the harsh conditions of the savannah, to the present monogamous parent-bonds.  In polygamy, the males are much larger than the females due to sexual selection for the aggressive males needed to do well in a dominance heirarchy.  The two genders being the same size began at about the same time as stone tools (with Homo erectus), which suggests that stone tools (as weapons) evened out the playing field between males. 

This near-elimination in competition between males was a necessary stage-setter for cooperation: cooperation is impossible in a strict dominance hierarchy because the bullies take all the rewards for themselves which de-motivates the others.  The alpha male became more of a benevolent guide and protector than a dominant resources-hog. 

Simon, thanks for the tip to Chapais' book. I'm looking for it.

It's really about the evolution of the human family set-up, rather than alpha males specifically, but that's where I got that information from. 

There's another book which I consider to be complementary to it:  "Mothers and Others - the evolutionary origins of mutual understanding" by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy - another classic - about cooperative breeding, the sharing of childcare which made possible the survival of the species. 

It's interesting to consider, how did grandmothers evolve?  I.e. humans are one of the only species where the females don't die at the age of menopause.  It must have something to do with grandmothers helping with childcare, and those same offspring helping to look after the grandmothers. 

In the ancestor species to humans, the australopithecines, the relative sizes of males and females was comparable to that of gorillas, who have a polygamous harem setup. 

It's interesting that in the human race, we get polygamy reappearing in some places, as well as a multi-male multi-female way of life.  I think this shows 1) our mixed genetic heritage;  2) the underlying desire of males to dominate as many females as possible;  3) the flexibility of human behaviour.  I think that in nature, the decisive factor among primates is the environment: in the jungle, there are too many females around for one male to dominate, but on the savannah (so the reasoning goes) the groups are smaller and sparser.  But then, gorillas live in the jungle.  Maybe there isn't a lot of food in their environment.  It's believed that the reason why bonobos are so peaceful is that their food is very abundant, and this fits in with their promiscuous lifestyle. 

Lions, for example, do not seem to show this flexibility in their mating and bonding arrangements.  I wonder what the situation is like for dolphins and killer whales, which are very intelligent, and famously sex-crazy. 

There are many matriarchal societies in primitive tribal areas. As far as historian/socioligist/philosophers like Pinker, Alpha-Male-Dominance only becomes an exaggerated phenomena once humans start congregating and live beyond subsistance in small tribes. Gender relations and sexual identities were far less defined and rigid and opressive.

This shows how docile human males are as a whole, compared with other species.  Bonobos have a matriarchal setup.  So it is possible that the raw genetic material for the human line had a lot of flexibility built in. 

It seems that "ownership" reintroduced dominance hierarchies to human society. 

Regarding culture, especially its fearful et cetera (non-cooperative) behaviors, we need to ask when psycho/sociopathy appeared. The research I've found recently says the condition, now named anti-social personality disorder, has both natural and environmental causes.

Does capitalism, as we see it "on Wall Street", select for the condition?

I think the issue of psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists is an interesting one.  I know the terminology varies, but (from my experience and reading) psychopaths and narcissists are born that way (it's genetic), and sociopaths are made (they're angry disturbed people). 

Social life has two dimensions: cooperation and competition.  The prosocial qualities like empathy, kindness, fairness etc. are clustered around the cooperative dimension.  At the competitive dimension there's a spectrum going from individualism to competition to dominance to anti-social behaviour to serial killers.  So psychopathy and narcissism should be seen as genetic "cooperation disorders" as they tend to lack the qualities found at the cooperative dimension; and they tend to show the opposite of those qualities. 

I'm not saying that competitive or individualistic behaviour itself is a disorder: it's an inevitable part of normal life since we are all individuals and natural selection acts on the individual relative to other individuals.  But some people are more competitive than others, and there is a sizeable chunk of the population with a genetic disorder that means competition is all they know how to do. 

In the right setting, if someone can stick to their professional boundaries, this can be an asset.  Psychopaths and narcissists are famous for being more charming and glamorous than the average person, so that's probably why they get selected for by evolution.  It seems that these disorders show up repeatedly within a family tree.  So it wouldn't be surprising to find that in a competitive industry like Wall Street banking, there is a much higher than usual proportion of narcissists and psychopaths (especially narcissists, as they love the high life, glamour and status so much). 

In chimpanzee and bonobo societies, who lack the cooperative skills of humans, the model is "dominance hierarchy" where competition is settled by fighting ability and a position in the hierarchy is a proxy for access to food and mates.  Of course, we all know that bonobos have their own special way of making friends and keeping the peace. 

I think that all of this shows clearly, once again, that cooperation has evolved and is in our genes. 


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