Saturday, November 6, 2010

Submitted for your approval...

The similarity in patterns of behavior between male castellans, male chimpanzees, amd female baboons raises the question of how we explain it. Someone might be tempted to posit a sort of racial memory, as if castellans and spouse abusers were and are controlled by the genes of their distant primate ancestors, genes that had been "turned off" during Boehm's intervening period of reverse dominance hierarchies. But genes do not usually act this way. It is more productive to explain the similarity of these behaviors as the product of convergent evolution. It is similarity of ecology, not relatedness, that often determines the similarity of behavior. In societies or relationships where certain conditios are met—where resources are scarce, power is distributed asymmetrically, and the ability to form coalitions is suppressed—alpha individuals manage to reinvent the pattern of random abuse because it is a psychotropic device toward which certain politically adaptive behaviors will converge. In Paleolithic ecologies, as Boehm argues, some of the key ingredients of dominance were missing, notably because power was relatively evenly distributed and because nothing hampered the formation of political coalition: the Paleolithic counterpart to the public sphere as described by Jürgen Habermas. The Neolithic revolution brought about a return to the ecology of ancestral primate societies, and, as a result, dominance hierarchies were reinvented, though in forms very different from the strictly competitive hierarchies of primate societies. The practice of random abuse, as a concomitant of dominance, was, and is, just one of the many new psychotropic mechanisms that evolved to reinstall the feeling of dominance and submission among inferiors in Neo- and Postlithic human societies.

Daniel Lord Smail, On Deep History and the Brain; University of California Press; 2008

While Smail focuses on Neolithic developments in this passage, he seems to realize that the subject—abuse to maintain dominance—is still relevant. Very much so.


susan said...

That's an interesting piece that amplifies another aspect of social development that occurred in early human history - the discovery of agriculture. I've read a number of reports that state a couple of little known results of that development - the first is that humans grew smaller and weaker, a fact substantiated by skeletal remains and the second is that slavery was a direct consequence of farming. Class structures began along with agriculture.

Ben said...

Agriculture was a tradeoff. It was beneficial in one respect, creating stores of food for draughts, floods, harsh winters et al. But it yields less variety in diet than does foraging, for reasons that are fairly obvious when you think about it. Not too surprising that malnutrition was a result.

Slavery is, of course, random abuse developed into a system.