Skip to content

“without cooperative coalitions, large-scale warfare and genocide would not occur,” however…

May 14, 2013

A couple more very interesting statements from Gorelik, Shackelford and Weekes-Shackelford (and they are very careful to stipulate that these theories are put forward as ways of sense-making, not moralising, so don’t let me decontextualise them too much; if it doesn’t make sense, read the article!):

“To understand the emergence of human warfare, we must first examine the emergence of coalitional behavior, which necessitates a discussion of cooperation. Ironically, without cooperative coalitions, large-scale warfare and genocide would not occur.” (p.349)

“A cooperative coalition can often extract more ecological resources per individual than if each individual was to go it alone, and so group behavior may sometimes be favored by selection.” (p.349)

Once group dynamics emerge, they can influence individuals to behave differently than they would have if they were not part of a group. For instance, otherwise caring and thoughtful people can engage in shockingly callous and ignorant behavior when in a group, as studies of diffusion of responsibility and groupthink have demonstrated (Darley & Latane, 1968; McCauley, 1989). The risks of engaging in such behaviors are lessened by the presence of others who are also engaging in such behaviors, and the benefits associated with the acquisition of reproductively relevant resources may be immense. Thus, instances of looting, raping, and ethnic cleansing are often perpetrated by groups of individuals, as during the lethal [-p.350] raids on Eastern European Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries, campaigns of extermination by German and Japanese troops and widespread sexual violence by Russian troops during WWII, and gang rape and genocide in the Balkans and in war-ravaged parts of Africa more recently. Military culture appears to be especially conducive to the perpetration of sexual violence by male soldiers (Morris, 1996). Thus, for our male ancestors, warfare may have been an acceptable venue in which they could pursue their reproductive interests by raping outgroup women with impunity. Although group-perpetrated violence can arise without centralization, charismatic and totalitarian leaders can be especially effective at directing individual and group behavior toward horrendous acts of violence and cruelty.” (pp.349-350)

From a biological perspective, the manipulation of one organism by another is a cross-species phenomenon and can be best understood with Dawkins’s (1982) concept of the extended phenotype. This concept posits that a phenotype (in contrast to the genotype, the phenotype is that property of an organism that is the product of its genes and its nongenetic environment—usually restricted to an organism’s bodily frame) does not end with the organism’s physical body. Thus, anthills and termite mounds are ant and termite phenotypes, even though they are not parts of ant and termite bodies. In a similar fashion, organisms can evolve manipulative adaptations by which they control the behavior of other organisms—that is, using other organisms as extended phenotypes. For example, our coughing and sneezing can be seen as an adaptive reaction on the part of our bodies to rid ourselves of viruses. From the perspective of a virus, however, our coughing and sneezing may be the best avenues by which it can spread and infect other humans. This makes us, and our coughing and sneezing in particular, extended phenotypic viral adaptations. With the aid of behavioral and psychological mimicry (Chartrand & Bargh, 1999), pheromones, verbal and nonverbal expressions, emotions, ideas, beliefs, and values, humans can manipulate the behavior of other humans in an extended phenotypic fashion, and can thereby acquire reproductively relevant resources.” (p.350) …

“This leads us to a discussion of human culture and its relationship to human evolution. For humans, culture provides the symbolic mechanisms by which we can pursue our reproductive interests while communicating our commitment to the larger coalition. Commitment to religious and political coalitions can be communicated by following costly dietary laws, enacting complex rituals, brandishing emotional displays (e.g., having mystical visions and revelations), undergoing reproductively harmful genital mutilation, or risking injury and death in violent coalitional conflict (Atran, 2002; C. G. Wilson, 2008). Individuals who cement their commitment to a coalition by enacting such costly displays in front of coalition members may reap long-term reproductive benefits by being part of the coalition. Without cooperative coalitions based on cultural beliefs or symbols, there would be no modern civilization. Thus, a society that is too large to be united by kinship or reciprocity may nevertheless pursue common goals by uniting behind a symbol, a tradition, a moralizing god, or a philosophy. Indeed, humans readily establish ingroup– outgroup divisions and subsequently favor members of their own group….” (p.350)

It appears that nothing unites individuals as much as beliefs in the supernatural.” (p.350) NOW THAT IS AN INTERESTING STATEMENT IN CONTEXT OF (globalised) 21st century ADOLESCENT LITERATURE…

The human extended phenotype may thus be the most extended of any species, as our technological and cultural innovations enable us to influence lives and ecosystems on a global scale. With such power, ignorance of our evolved nature—its strengths and its weaknesses—is morally inexcusable. Therefore, our secondary goal is to help ourselves and our readers to develop an evolutionary consciousness. By evolutionary consciousness, we are not referring to any mystical or new age concept plucked out of a self-help book. Instead, being evolutionarily conscious means being aware of the evolutionary origins of our drives, motivations, desires, emotions, and thoughts. Such awareness may better enable us to understand the moral and ethical implications of our actions and decisions.” (p.351) [Contextual Note: the authors maintain: “We are not naïve and understand that the application of evolutionary principles to personal matters is not without danger, as Social Darwinism and government-instituted eugenics have proven within the last century.” (p.351)

The authors argue convincingly that “…every decision that we make, as innocuous as it may seem, may contribute to global instances of rape, murder, and war. The reason for this is that over the past 10,000 years (Cochran & Harpending, 2009), human agriculture, technology, and global interconnectedness, have extended our phenotypic effects to unprecedented scales. For better or worse, modern civilization has immensely magnified our influence on each other and on our environment. From the products and services that we purchase, to the political, religious, and philosophical stances that we take, the effects of our reproductive interests have been felt by billions of humans and innumerable other species across the globe.” (p.351)

“In all likelihood, loving others was indispensable for our ancestors’ survival and reproduction and may therefore be partly responsible for our very existence. In addition to love and compassion, however, aggression and violence may have been just as indispensable for our ancestors’ reproductive success.” (p.354)

Because violence is often the product of evolved mechanisms that enabled our ancestors to acquire reproductively relevant resources over millions of years, it is unlikely to disappear anytime soon. Even if resources are equally distributed within and across populations, humans are likely to find a way to compete for innumerable other resources that are useless for survival but are necessary for the procurement of sexual partners. Violence can be a moral necessity if used to defend oneself, one’s loved ones, or those who are weak or oppressed. Thus, by seeking to eliminate violence (including the propensity for war) from the human behavioral repertoire, we may be eliminating an important means of defense against murderers, rapists, and warmongers—individuals who are ready to prey on the kindness and peaceableness of others. The reason that eliminating violence may have this effect is that nonviolent societies are vulnerable to invasion and takeover by violent individuals from within and without. Even if human violence is eliminated entirely, selection will favor the violent traits of individuals whose violence would enable them to extract reproductively relevant resources from nonviolent conspecifics. On the other hand, we may be condemning our progeny to endless cycles of violence if some violence is condoned, as the maintenance of morally sanctioned violence within a population can lead to the inadvertent emergence of cruelty and sadism in subsequent generations.” (p.354)

Ref: Gregory Gorelik, Todd K. Shackelford and Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford (2012) Human Violence and Evolutionary Consciousness. Review of General Psychology Vol. 16, No. 4, 343–356

Reference is to: Chartrand, T. L., & Bargh, J. A. (1999). The chameleon effect: The perception-behavior link and social interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 893–910.

Dawkins, R. (1982). The extended phenotype. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.


Comments are closed.