Levels of inequality have changed dramatically during the course of human evolution: from the social hierarchies of our great ape ancestors to egalitarian small-scale societies of hunter-gatherers, and then to large-scale hierarchical societies with great inequities in the distribution of power, status, and wealth. The Axial Age (c.800–200 BCE) introduced another notable transformation in the evolution of inequality, starting a move towards greater egalitarianism that has been continuing to the present. The resulting trajectory of inequality looks like a Z, and for this reason some time ago I proposed that we call it the Z-curve:
Recently David Graeber and David Wengrow questioned an important part of this story:
For centuries, we have been telling ourselves a simple story about the origins of social inequality. For most of their history, humans lived in tiny egalitarian bands of hunter-gatherers. Then came farming, which brought with it private property, and then the rise of cities which meant the emergence of civilisation properly speaking. …
There is a fundamental problem with this narrative: it isn’t true.
For a general critique of their ideas see my previous post. I don’t disagree with everything they say (for example, the relationship between the adoption of agriculture and the rise of large-scale complex societies is indeed more complex than is usually portrayed). But the central idea in their essay, that there was no transition from egalitarian Pleistocene foragers to inegalitarian early states is wrong.
To be sure, when we talk about forager egalitarianism, nobody thinks that they were completely, absolutely equal. Of course, there were differences between men and women, children and adults; in physical prowess and in social influence. When we talk about the evolution of human inequality in the long run, we mean changes in relative levels of it.
Second, and perhaps more important, forager egalitarianism was not simply a result of foragers having fewer possessions than a typical person has today. The reason we say that foragers were fiercely egalitarian is because they practiced reverse dominance hierarchy. The key thinker here is Chris Boehm (whom G&W never mention). The goal of reverse hierarchy is to restrain physically powerful and aggressive men. Foraging societies use a variety of social mechanisms to prevent such “upstarts” (as Boehm calls them) from bullying everybody, ranging from gossip and ridicule to expulsion and even capital punishment.
How do we know that this is an accurate representation of typical social arrangements during the Pleistocene? A good summary of the argument is given by the anthropologist Camilla Power in her own critique of G&W.
Camilla Power is a self-described radical feminist, but as we shall see below, her political views do not interfere with her scholarship. However, as her focus is primarily on sex and gender, her perspective needs to be supplemented by a few other ideas/facts relevant to the broader issue of forager egalitarianism.
Here are the main points she makes (I will again quote large chunks of her text, as I did in the previous post).
Cooperative child-raising and menopause
In Mothers and Others, the most important book on human evolution published this century, the outstanding Darwinian feminist Sarah Hrdy … presents a straightforward argument. We do babysitting in all human societies, mothers being happy to hand over their offspring for others to look after temporarily. African hunter-gatherers are the champions of this collective form of childcare, indicating that it was routine in our heritage. In stark contrast, great ape mothers – chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orang utans – do not let their babies go. Because of the risks of harm to their infants, they are hyperpossessive and protective, not daring to take the chance. …
Our foremothers must have been living close to trusted female relatives, the most reliable in the first place being a young mother’s own mother. This ‘grandmother hypothesis’ has been used to explain our long post-reproductive lifespans – the evolution of menopause.
Hrdy explores how multi-parental care shaped the evolution of our species’ unique psychological nature. While cooperative childcare may start with the mother-daughter relationship, bonding with grandchildren quickly leads to the involvement of aunts, sisters, older daughters and other trusted relatives.
Unlike female chimpanzee, who disperse to other troops upon reaching sexual maturity, women in foraging societies stay with their native bands, argues Power. As a result, these women are embedded in thick support networks, not only of female relatives, but also of related males (their brothers, their mother’s brothers). This gives women social power to control powerful and aggressive bullies.
Women have evolved a sexual physiology which can be described as levelling and time-wasting. Why? Because if a hominin female really needs extra energy for her hungry offspring, better to give reproductive rewards to males who will hang around and do something useful for those offspring. Our reproductive signals make life hard for males who want to identify fertile females, monopolise the fertile moment and then move on to the next one (a classic strategy for dominant male apes). We have concealed and unpredictable ovulation. …
For a dominant male trying to manage a harem of females this is disastrous. While he is guessing about the possible fertility of one cycling female, he has to stay with her, and is missing other opportunities. Meanwhile, other males will be attending to those other sexually receptive females. Continuous sexual receptivity spreads the reproductive opportunities around many males, hence is levelling from an evolutionary perspective.
In chimps and gorillas (and probably in our Great Ape ancestors) some males enjoy huge mating success, and others none. For example, in gorillas dominant silverbacks jealously guard harems of females, which means that most male gorillas don’t get to mate. Male reproductive success in Pleistocene foragers was probably much more equitably distributed, and concealed ovulation and continuous sexual receptivity in females played a big role in this shift. Of course, once early centralized societies arose, the alpha males were able to put together huge harems maintained by coercive power (for example, using eunuchs to guard their wives). Again we see the zigs and zags of inegalitarianism in human social evolution.
Huge energetically demanding brains
The most salient feature of our anatomy distinguishing us from other apes is the extraordinary size of our brains. … Brain tissue is very expensive in terms of energy requirements. Doing the whole job by themselves, great ape mothers are constrained in the amount of energy they can provide to offspring and so apes cannot expand brains above what is known as a ‘gray ceiling’ (600 cc). Our ancestors smashed through this ceiling some 1.5-2 million years ago with the emergence of Homo erectus, who had brains more than twice the volume of chimps today. This tells us that cooperative childcare was already part of Homo erectus society.
This is an interesting idea and I am not sure I entirely buy it. In any case, this account is incomplete without bringing in another important factor: the radical change of diet, which occurred two, or more, million years ago. When our ancestors moved to the savannas they started consuming much greater quantities of animal protein and fat, which they obtained by scavenging and (later) hunting. Somewhat later they started processing food for easier digestibility. Anthropologists like Richard Wrangham make a strong argument that cooking food over fire was what made us human. But cooking is not only treating food with heat—roasting, baking, boiling, stewing, frying in oil, sautéing, etc. In a more general sense it also includes chopping, slicing, pounding, grinding, leaching, marinading, smoking, salting, drying—and seasoning. Processing food in this fashion “externalizes” digestion. The key book to read on this topic is Joe Henrich’s The Secret of Our Success (see my review How Social Norms Are Like Chili Peppers). It was this dietary change that made possible our huge and energetically expensive brains.
Any tendency to male dominance and strategic control of females would have obstructed these unprecedented increases of brain size. While there must have been variability in the degree of dominance or egalitarianism among human groups, we can be confident that those populations where male dominance, sexual conflict and infanticide risks remained high were not the ones who became our ancestors. Our forebears were the ones who somehow solved the problem of great ape male dominance, instead harnessing males into routine support of these extraordinarily large-brained offspring.
In other words, inegalitarian groups were weeded out by evolution working at the level of groups.
Perhaps the hallmark of our egalitarian nature is the design of our eyes. We are the only one of well over 200 primate species to have evolved eyes with an elongated shape and a bright white sclera background to a dark iris. Known as ‘cooperative eyes’, they invite anyone we interact with to see easily what we are looking at. By contrast, great apes have round, dark eyes, making it very difficult to judge their eye direction. Like mafia dons wearing sunglasses, they watch other animal’s moves intently, but disguise their thoughts from others. This suits a primate world of Machiavellian competition.
Our eyes are adapted for mutual mindreading, also called intersubjectivity; our closest relatives block this off. To look into each other’s eyes, asking ‘can you see what I see?’ and ‘are you thinking what I am thinking?’ is completely natural to us, from an early age. Staring into the eyes of other primate species is taken as a threat. This tells us immediately that we evolved along a different path from our closest primate relatives.
This is a great example of another trait that distinguishes humans from our Great Ape relatives, and helps to explain our uniquely cooperative species. I use it in my course, Cultural Evolution, and it is a revelation to my students. By the way, as far as I know there is apparently only one other animal that can read humans’ eyes — dogs (but not wolves).
Symbolism and language
Over fifty years ago, leading US anthropologist Marshall Sahlins made a revealing comparison of nonhuman primates against human hunter-gatherers. Noting egalitarianism as a key difference, he saw culture as ‘the oldest “equalizer”. Among animals capable of symbolic communication’ he said, ‘the weak can collectively connive to overthrow the strong.’ We can reverse the arrow of causality here. Because among Machiavellian and counterdominant humans weaker individuals can connive to overthrow the strong, we are animals capable of symbolic communication. Only in such conditions is language likely to emerge. The strong have no need of words; they have more direct physical means of persuasion.
Ability to communicate effectively and plan collective action is absolutely the key to controlling upstarts. Obviously, gossip and ridicule become much more effective with language. But harsher forms of control, such as expulsion and capital punishment also need extensive planning and seamless execution. A powerful and aggressive upstart is too intimidating and dangerous. The whole band needs to agree on how to get rid of him in a safe manner. His relatives might need to be persuaded to join the punishing detail, or at least to step aside. Language is key to all of this.
One other characteristic that distinguished early humans from other great apes, and which Powell doesn’t address, is our uncanny ability to use projectile weapons: starting with stones, then throwing spears, and later slings and bows. The key authors here are Herbert Gintis (whom Power cites in another context) and Carel van Schaik. I discuss this story in Chapter 5, “God Made Men, but Sam Colt Made Them Equal” of Ultrasociety. The idea is simple. Confronting a powerful and angry upstart with hand-held weapons is dangerous and inefficient. It is much better to get a coalition of ten or more people to shoot the bully from distance.
Execution Group, Remigia, Castellón, Spain
Women’s bodies evolved over a million years to favour the ‘one woman, one penis’ principle, rewarding males who were willing to share and invest over those who competed for extra females, at the expense of investment. But as we became more Machiavellian in our strategies, so did would-be alpha males. The final steep rise in brain size up to the emergence of modern humans likely reflects an arms race of Machiavellian strategies between the sexes.
As brain sizes increased, mothers needed more regular and reliable contributions from male partners. In African hunter-gatherers this has become a fixed pattern known by anthropologists as ‘bride-service’. A man’s sexual access depends on his success in provisioning and surrendering on demand any game or honey he gets to the family of his bride – mainly his mother-in-law who is effectively his boss. Where women are living with their mothers, this makes it almost impossible for a man to dominate by controlling distribution of food.
The problem for early modern human females as they came under the maximum stress of increased brain size would be with males who tried to get away with sex without bride-service. To deal with this threat, mothers of costly offspring extended their alliances to include just about everyone against the potential alpha. Men who were relatives of mothers (brothers or mother’s brothers) would support those females. In addition, men who willingly invested in offspring would have interests directly opposed to the would-be alpha, who undermined their reproductive efforts. This pits a whole community as a coalition against a would-be dominant individual.
What I find particularly compelling about Power’s argument is that it is explicitly evolutionary. She not only uses a variety of data to infer the egalitarianism in Pleistocene foragers, she explains the evolutionary mechanisms that made human societies more equitable, and maintained equity. This is quite unlike G&W. In fact, a disdain for evolution is one of Power’s points of critique against the G&W piece:
As an American cultural anthropologist, Graeber comes from a tradition which regards Darwinism with distrust, viewing it as a Trojan horse for capitalist ideology. But the funny thing is that sociobiology, evolutionary ecology, or whatever you want to call it (it keeps changing name because social and cultural scientists are so rude about it) has taken an extraordinary feminist turn this century. The strategies of females have now become central to models of human origins. Forget ‘man the hunter’, it’s hardworking grandmothers, babysitting apes, children with more than one daddy, who are the new Darwinian heroes. Source
I will end my review with this final quote:
The anarchist professors, because they are gender-blind in their analysis on the history of equality, have got it wrong. … [They] are undermining our current understanding of how recent patriarchy is in our history, and how little it has contributed to making us the species we are.
Thanks for the insightful post and sharp analysis from Power. That image of prehistoric art from Spain is amazing…
I learned about it from Chris Boehm
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Hi Peter, thanks for this piece which addresses a concern I had with all sides of recent debate between you and the Davids; that being the lack of discussion of sexual inequality in the grand inequality narratives being debated. I’m just responding now for two reasons: One is I wanted to ask where the z-curve graph you use is originally presented. None of the supplied links have it and I’d be keen to use and reference the idea. The other is I just wanted to point out that you don’t need to apologise for Power being a feminist, or suggest that her political views do not influence her scholarship. Some people’s feminism is actually a direct result of their scholarship and, in fact, it may be the lack of feminism that betrays interference from ones political views. Thanks for some stimulating reading! All the best.
1. The Z-curve graph is from Ultrasociety, Chapter 10.
2. I actually wasn’t apologizing, just pointed it out. As I just tweeted, I personally don’t care to put ideological labels on evolutionary mechanisms. Others do, and I reflected it in my reviews. But I don’t.
FYI I referenced the Z-curve in a recent blog post on male violence and human self-domestication: https://survival-of-the-fitted.com/2019/03/03/self-domestication-and-male-violence-in-human-evolution/ Where I consider it in light of morphological and genetic changes associated with early agriculture.
The Z is a particularly interesting model in light of work by Karmin et al. (2015) which shows consistent declines in y-DNA diversity around the dawn of agriculture in various world regions. See also Zeng et al. (2018) for relevant interpretation of this observation as competition between patrilineal bands. Regards.
Thanks for the heads-up! I have actually corresponded with Monica Karmin about using the Seshat data to further test their ideas.
I think it is easy to see, that cultural and social anthropology is not real “hard” science equipped with experimental culture and mathematics. Unfortunately in 21st century – it is merely subject dependent history and a sort of “stamp collection”. It could be difficult to imagine an existence of “feminist theory of differential equations ” or “feminist quantum mechanics” taking seriously. Hence it is not surprisingly that there is such sort of feminist cultural anthropology , feminist philosophy, feminist poetry etc.
Well, we are changing it with Seshat!
This is an amazing article! I will tweet it immediately… Some of my humble thoughts on that topic here https://firstname.lastname@example.org/the-history-of-violence-ii-half-naked-goddesses-and-margaret-thatcher-affb8b3aa53d
Thanks for the link!
I am baffled by the “one woman, one penis” statement. Why wouldn’t it be more advantageous for the individual woman to have more than one sexual partner (male or female)? Her reproductive success won’t be due to more sperm, but due to more support, well being, etc. Similarly, since sex can be a social glue, it would also be advantageous at the group level to create more cohesion. However, we need to consider other traits (such as jealousy) to see how they all interact, and in different kinds of environments, whether ones of scarcity, abundance, warfare, pestilence, etc. I’m toying with a model (not necessarily feminist, as Popov mentioned, but it does involve differential equations and evolutionary game theory, aka Darwinian dynamics), which might be applicable to the evolution of various sexual strategies, such as polygamy (associated with social inequality and individual selection), polyamory (associated with abundance, peace, group selection, and egalitarianism), and monogamy (associated with scarcity, warfare, less social inequality than polygamy bur more than polyamory, and group selection).
Terrific post. The feminist perspective is quite fascinating. Interesting, though, that in spite of all evidence she retails the old “man is polygamous, woman is monogamous” (William James) story. Nope. Men tend to monogamy to guard against other males engendering offspring which they would then have to take care of (since a child tends to require two parents), and women have occasion to seek fitter males to sire offspring. This is a truth well known for pair-bonding birds (which is most birds). Otherwise, though–great stuff–though dogs can read each others’ eyes as well as they read human ones. Our “cooperative eyes” seem a real and important thing, but higher mammals generally seem to do a good deal of eye-reading and eyebrow-reading, judging from my experience with canids and primates as well as from the literature.
1. I think there is a significant amount of variation between men in their monogamous/polygamous propensity. And in women, too!
2. As to the eyes, I have experimented with a number of dogs: hiding a treat and then pointing it out wit my eyes. About 50% get it, in my admittedly unscientific sample. Cats don’t. There is probably an article on this somewhere…
As for dogs, they seem to have learnt how to navigate through human mass transit too:
“Levels of inequality have changed dramatically during the course of human evolution: from the social hierarchies of our great ape ancestors to…”
We simply don’t know what those social heirarchies were, and it is not clear if we can ever find out. Our most closely related relatives, the chimpanzees and bonobos, show how varied the possibilities are. They are more closely related to each other than to us, having split after their last common ancestor split from the human line, yet one is patriarchal (to a first approximation, see Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex among Apes: Frans de Waal) and the other matriarchal.
Regarding the Z curve: How can we be sure that “constitutional democracy” is a major stage in the social organization of the human species, or just a bump in the road of authoritarianism? I’d be more comfortable with a term like “dispersed social power” than “constitutional democracy” given the latter’s rather specific and heavily defined implementation strategy.
Another issue I would have with the Z curve is that it is more conventional to provide the time line on the X axis. The presentation in the article above is thus harder to wrap one’s head around.
“The goal of reverse hierarchy is to restrain physically powerful and aggressive men. Foraging societies use a variety of social mechanisms to prevent such “upstarts” (as Boehm calls them) from bullying everybody,…”
The short-faced, neotenous human is the most domesticated of (short-faced, neotenous) domesticated mammals.
“African hunter-gatherers are the champions of this collective form of childcare, indicating that it was routine in our heritage.” – Powers
Champions, more so than other hunter-gatherer societies worldwide? That claim sounds glib. Indigenous traditional African cultures have a very wide range of cultural practices and heritages; as do the many indigenous traditional cultures found today and in the past worldwide. Cultural universals are hard to find, as well. Even if they were champions, it does not “indicate” what was “routine in our heritage,” since cultures can change over time, and there is nothing special or closer to “roots” about African traditional cultures – all traditional cultures (and non-traditional cultures) have had the same amount of time to change from our original common roots.
“Unlike female chimpanzee, who disperse to other troops upon reaching sexual maturity, women in foraging societies stay with their native bands, argues Power.”
Is that really a cultural universal of foraging societies? I don’t have anthropological credentials but I thought cultural universals were tougher to find than that.
“Our forebears were the ones who somehow solved the problem of great ape male dominance” – Powers
We have no idea about the degree of male dominance among the common ancestors of humans and Gorillas, none whatsoever. Maybe gorillas solved the problem of upstart females and wimpy males thinking they have some sort of “rights.” Again, compare chimpanzees and bonobos: closely related, yet like night and day in social organization and dominance relations.
“In other words, inegalitarian groups were weeded out by evolution working at the level of groups.”
Biological and cultural competition and selection can be among genes, individuals, groups, species, and no doubt higher taxa. It’s a complex issue and easy to fall into the trap of oversimplification.
“[Eyes] is a great example of another trait that distinguishes humans from our Great Ape relatives, and helps to explain our uniquely cooperative species.”
I just did a search on
at images.google.com. You can see where they are looking. And Van der Waal mentions several times in his book (Chimpanzee Politics…) about how sensitive and perceptive (and deceptive) these animals are about each others’ and their own eyes. Btw it has been found among humans that people in groups who can easily perceive pupil size (i.e. those with light-colored irises) take more meaning from that than do people in groups with dark-colored irises. Does that lead to dramatically different cultural practices across those two conditions? Yes, eyes are important. No, human eyes are not radically different windows than other eyes.
“Because among Machiavellian and counterdominant humans weaker individuals can connive to overthrow the strong, we are animals capable of symbolic communication. Only in such conditions is language likely to emerge.” -Powers
Total BS. Anyone can come up with some theory or other about the cause and the roots of human language, and many have. It’s fun. It’s not science because these conjectures are not testable and thus not amenable to the scientific method. Yet Powers is stating it strongly, as though sure of her claim.
“he saw culture as ‘the oldest “equalizer”. Among animals capable of symbolic communication’ he said, ‘the weak can collectively connive to overthrow the strong.’ ” -Powers
Again, I refer the reader to bonobo society, an egalitarian, matriarchal species so different from their close relatives the chimpanzees. Yet, the degree to which these two species are affected by their cultures as opposed to their genes is (presumably) about the same. Culture is more influential in humans, of course.
“The final steep rise in brain size up to the emergence of modern humans likely reflects an arms race of Machiavellian strategies between the sexes.” -Powers
Rampant distortion. The social competition theory of human brain evolution is all about competition for resources. Competition and clever manipulations across gender lines is simply one aspect of the general concept. Btw neanderthals had bigger brains than modern humans.
“The anarchist professors, because they are gender-blind in their analysis on the history of equality, have got it wrong. … [They] are undermining our current understanding of how recent patriarchy is in our history, and how little it has contributed to making us the species we are.” -Powers
Huh? How recent is patriarchy in our history?
One other more general comment. I find Powers extremely glib, as well as Graeber and Wengrow (and, to be fair, a lot of the comments on postings in this blog). I hope it is alright that I read Powers’ comments that Peter quoted, since she is so clear in addressing her message to a specifically female audience (“our,” “we,”). I would rarely if ever address my writing to only one gender, and I think it sets a bad precedent.
Thanks for your critical observations. They are something that Camilla is much better equipped to answer than me.
This idea of the ‘rogue alpha’ being the key inequality dynamic that forager societies had to overcome is not convincing. In the presence of hostile rival groups or predatory animals the alpha, who is presumably the strongest most athletic and intelligent man, could be the most important for the security of the community. Why would evolution attempt to neutralise this individual? Groups who managed to keep their alphas would do much better than groups that knocked them off. Much better would be to persuade the alpha to restrain himself and project his energies towards something more constructive for the group. His haram could consist of wives appropriated from another tribe. Retraining techniques could be cultural precursors of religions. Eventually though, the alpha, who wasn’t ever eliminated, got to the status of god king (those bronze age states).
Not convinced by this ‘ooh, there’s a big bad male over there, let’s get him’ theory of evolution when the big bad male was suddenly the center-piece of the next evolution – which, incidentally, possibly collapsed under the weight of alpha females.
I actually wondered this: Is there such a thing as an alpha female and has evolution done anything to protect society against them? Yes, eliminate palatial-style government (which became unstable) and favour male bureaucracies and secret fraternal brotherhoods.
Close-knit fraternal networks may have been a cultural evolutionary response to powerful archaic women.
Actually, in my opinion it’s better to have 10 disciplined, but physically not powerful soldiers than one Achilles type. And most military theorists agree. It’s teamwork, not individual prowess that’s important. That’s how Romans defeated the Celts.
We need to consider both sides of the picture on one very interesting point here. A culture in which a husband lives with his in-laws tends to subjugate the husband. A culture in which the wife lives with her in-laws (the more common type) tends to subjugate the wife. The nuclear family doesn’t seem such a bad idea after all!
Rather than navigating the inevitable male-versus-female fracture-line in Western individualism, I find the relationship between the science-versus-rhetoric dichotomy and inequality makes more interesting speculation.
The first science was probably botany and zoology taught by parents to offspring for its obvious survival value. The beneficiary of science is the listener. Science promotes egalitarianism, since it helps both parties to behave effectively in their natural environment.
The first rhetoric was used by a skilled talker to bullshit his or her way to dominance. It tended to be used by the smarter but weaker, to gain control over the stronger and stupider. The master of rhetoric could thus gain punitive control over the local population. The beneficiary of rhetoric is the talker. Rhetoric promotes inequality. Open competition for punitive control promotes endless squabbling and obscurantism.
A culture turning out lots of scientists and science teachers trends toward equality. More science also promotes linguistic precision (strengthens the culture). A culture turning out lots of lawyers trends towards inequality, and their use of obscurantism as a tool of persuasion degrades the language/culture. The problem is only worsened where large corporations can afford lawyers who can outsmart the judges whose job is to keep the law in a tidy state.
Electoral democracy is a game played rhetoricians.
The Commies tend to select their leaders from engineers/scientists. I am not a fan of the societies they set up.
To me, it’s simpler than this. The labor of women — across time and place — has been the hands-on caring of infants, babies and children. This time women have spent caring for children has given them the evolutionary advantage of empathy, especially affective empathy. (I like to say that women have long had the “home-field advantage.”) Men’s labor was always something else, originally due to biology. This other labor helped men to develop a higher level of cognitive empathy than women. But as the article states, men were kept out of the home by other forces as well — namely the female “others” mentioned above. (A friend of mine likes to say that women “box” men out of the home.) Now the labor of the home is up for grabs. Women want to work. Nannies and daycare are not ideal. Extended families don’t live together so the aunties have gone away. The robots are taking over so work is becoming less of a thing. Little boys are crying out for their daddies. (Girls need their daddies too. Helps them know what a good partner looks like, among other things.) I believe the next evolutionary leap will be driven most explicitly by the changing roles in the home – where men will start caring for children in equal proportion to women. The most dramatic changes will come from infant care. The cognitive/affective empathy ratios of the sexes will align more closely. Humans will be engaging in emotional work and the robots will take over the rest. Empathy will be the superpower of the future. (win-win over win-lose).
I think we are basically saying the same thing, right?
//To me, it’s simpler than this. The labor of women – across time and place – has been the hands-on caring of infants, babies and children. This time women have spent caring for children has given them the evolutionary advantage of empathy, especially affective empathy.//
How do you explain the history of infanticide, which was much more common than it is today, not to mention abortions? In addition to this, many cultures had a practice of ‘wet-nursing’, including higher Roman classes at certain times. This involved the mother giving up the child for the first few years to another woman who would breast feed it and rear it. If it survived, the biological mother would take it back. Given the low survival rate of children under 3 you could even argue that mothers could not afford to have too much attachment to their babies (over-invest resources at the expense of older children), and the culture simply reflected this cold-hearted attitude. That doesn’t mean women have no empathy for babies, just that I don’t think you can assume that women’s instincts are definitely geared toward empathy. It was Roman men in the Principate period who issued laws to outlaw infanticide.
I agree that we are moving into a period where women have a greater role than before. The male bureaucracies and fraternal societies that excluded women which helped upscale societies after the bronze age collapse are now causing stability problems due to the corruption that is possible with modern technology and the power that these institutions give individuals. The new synthesis will necessarily involve women to a greater extent than before (1500 BC – 2000 CE), probably an improved form of patriarchy.
Edward Turner: The two important points are: 1) Childcare has historically been done by women and not men. Whether they killed their babies doing it (like we are doing today with abortion) or offloaded the care to other women (like we do with nannies and daycare today) is neither here nor there.
2) Any child that has survived long enough to create offspring owes a debt of gratitude to the people who first held him, rocked him, fed him, changed him, talked to him, loved him, hated him, wiped his nose, etc. Whatever it is that women and only women do for the first years of life for children. For without that, the child could have never survived. Nor could he have become the person he ended up becoming. Obvious, right?
Edward Turner: One more thing. Don’t get confused by the word empathy. It is a word with so many definitions right now. Without getting into the details, I can tell you that my version of empathy does not mean “nice.” Empathic people are not “nice.” Empathy is something else.
Except that over recorded history and long before, there are oodles of evidence of women doing productive labor outside of taking care of children. Elizabeth Wayland Barber, in “Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times” notes that a certain Judith Brown once wrote “Division of Labor by Sex”, in which she argued that women’s main jobs depend on their compatibility with watching over children. She states, “such activities have the following characteristics: they do not require rapt concentration and are relatively dull and repetitive; they are easily interruptible [I see a rueful smile on every care giver’s face!] and easily resumed once interrupted; they do not place the child in potential danger; and they do not require the participant to range very far from home.”
Spinning, weaving, and sewing fit very well, as does food preparation and some sorts of farm work. Hunting and fishing and mining and smithing are not very well suited.
Dear Loren Petrich: This all sounds wonderful to me. Work and caring can go together. As long as it is not an Industrial Revolution assembly line or a CEOship of a Fortune 500 company. (No wonder women are still not leaders!) I am very interested in this “Division of Labor by Sex” book you mention and will look it up. Perhaps it can suggest ways that we can make work and home fit better today, so that we can give our children what they need.
Dear Peter Turchin, I am just now discovering your work. My advisor in grad school was the late Richard Levins. Are you familiar with his work? He was a good man.
My PhD and early research were in ecology, so naturally I know Levins’ work very wel. But never met him personally.
Peter Turchin: You are probably more familiar with his ecological and mathematical work than I am.
Interesting overview, although I do not fully agree with it.
Man’s brains grew, not specifically because of a different diet/ but because of a much more complex input by observations involving at the same time alternatives for food and shelter, which led to the different diet.
Because he had left the forrest and could already walk upright, with two hands free for all sorts of alternative choices to be made, which had to be different.
So his brains emerged from this.
The fact he has to be egalitarian in his group, is because the group’s behavior as different specialists (economy means time distribution), leads to a single objective: which is a larger free time space for everyone in the group, leading to new work opportunities. .
So obviously it leads to a more complex hierarchy by evolving towards it.
Why this hierarchy leads to inequallity again, is because the different functions within the group can be split in main goals of understanding; like warfare and religion as two main objects, dominators for behaviour; so the two fractions become unaware of each other/ while in a small group everything is visual and can be responded to instantaneously.
So you see, it still is a spacetime and communication comparison, although this requires different organisation.
That’s why the invention of the printing press and later live media was so important for human group evolution.
The new role for females has largely to do with their new place, outside the home and as a consequence inside the economic and political realm, which previously were dominated by men.
So this creates a new kind of dialogue. Something which is the hardest to addapt to by cultures who had a strict bureaucracy determining a womans place in the home, like the Arabic or islam culture. Although conservative christian groups determining politics in western states are not that different.
I do not disagree with anything that you have said above. I actually love it. But couldn’t we be saying the same thing from a different perspective? Can you see your view and my view as almost mirror images of each other? Can our views co-exist? I think they can. You are talking about mans relationship with the broader world. An important perspective. I am talking about women’s relationship with children. An equally important perspective. The true intersection here, where we all come together, is the children. Start there, work backwards and you will see how beautifully things come together.
I believe the greatest risk to the continuation of humanity is that men and women stop having sex and there are no more children. As I like to tell the climate change activists, there is more than one way for this all to end.
Well, we will soon be able to make babies in a test tube, but that would be a joyless world.
Yes I agree childcare and upbringing will become an important issue because of the role change of women, including having sex. Although I think it’s more an issue of uncertainty and the opportunity to delay the choice. Since in the (recent) past the choice was a given.
I don’t believe very much in game theory experiments, but in a a much better definition of genetic leap effects between chatacters and/ or what outcome cooperation between certain characters has. So there is a lot of work to be done for better psychological definition.
In general it’s clear the female character has a more open undecided perspective on future (love, acceptance) than man who are more short term decission makers, but therefore can be more effective. Both have a positive as well as a negative, depending on the situation.
I believe the urgency in the situation; which can also relate to a perceived opposition in a broader political perspective; creates the alpha type, so ir’s actually an external relation and not perse a biological given.
I think a more peacefull world depends very much on information. The lesser alternative information about solutions/ the more the alpha self confidence expands. This is obvious in group hooligan behavior, because it’s a self confirming spiral. Something like a military parade, or in the female version Playboy bunnies. They are both alpha types.
Exactly. Don’t you think joy is worth fighting for? I do. Who is with me?
Peter van den Engel: I agree with the last 2 sentences. These sort of do represent the “alpha” of each sex. But I don’t see any reason to pass judgement, as long as the soldiers and playboy bunnies can get along. That’s all that matters here.
Women’s different view of the future is historically related to their special connection to children. They give a crap about the long term future because they have skin in that game — the children. Their connection to children is primal because of that early caring. They hate war because they love their sons in a way that is different from the way men love their sons. When a mother loses a son, it is almost as if she herself dies. At least historically. That’s what I think.
However, the female character can no longer lay exclusive claim to love and acceptance or this long term view of the future. No way. The female character is evolving to look more like the male of yore. And the male is starting to acquire the skills of love and acceptance. I think men are getting a really bad rap right now.
Peter Turchin: I am wondering what you think of my theory.
Also, I would like to caution you about considering Camila Power’s views as representative of a true female perspective (though it is definitely a feminist perspective). Her reliance on Hrdy’s work is the first problem. Hrdy wrote a very interesting book that I often cite. But she also left out the obvious possibility that IT IS THE DYNAMIC BETWEEN MOTHER AND INFANT that is the most powerful shaper of who we become. I’m not surprised that she did that, considering the era in which the book was written. At that time, women were fighting to go to work and depended on others caring for their children on an unprecedented and very public mass scale. They could not afford to see that they were leaving the village and that the village was no longer mothers, but just others. They needed this book to absolve themselves of their responsibilities to their children by overvaluing the role of the “other” at the expense of the “mother.” The final insult is that Hrdy suggests that the people best suited as the “other” is women, rather than men — the father. The father other.
In this way, I believe her feminist perspective throws both children and men under the bus. While only telling part of the story. Building any argument off of Hrdy’s work is a house of cards.
I am just pointing out the dependence position of man and women has changed, since there is no necessity anymore to start in the same house depending on one income. So therefore the relation has become more relative and not anymore like in the past with a classical mother woman position.
This will also change both characters, because they represented the internal reflection of their diffetent function in place and time.
It’s not just that man should become more emphatic/ and women more practical, less dependend for social political reasons, found in inequality. That’s a nineties argument.
I think the female character means more than just a child relationship. It’s a cultural overlapping quality in general. Which I agree does not exclude man from, but they are usually less good in it.
What’s important for a child is trust in its environment and a feeling of belonging, which is more than wiping his nose and also the freedom to explore and getting inspiration by showing direction.
It’s true there often is a kind of competition between father and son for some reason. The Freud dilemma. So naturally it would feel more comfort with its mother. It’s the mirror function.
Whether this is brought about by competition at school and in society between men, because that’s the normal condition, is probably true/ but it might also be related to the genetic character mix, which means he gets the part from his mother, or father that was first complementary to the other, but now not anymore. Children often evolve as very different persons from their parents.
There is no evolution without people which from what I can tell starts out with children. So I really don’t care what the relationship is between women and men right now. We need to solve the problem of the children. I understand that technology makes this a slippery slope and I am most definitely keeping my I on this.
I do not believe that men are less good at it. Men are capable of being fantastic fathers. I think their capacity for play is their gift. This “play” is something that is useful to the child even in infancy.
I do not believe the parent-infant interaction is everything. But it is something that has been almost completely ignored in this field. And you can’t get to the right answer without it.
For me, evolution (at least from the female perspective) is most fundamentally a dream that we put children first and that I put my children before your children. Always and forever more.
The math is somewhere between triangles and fractals. I’m looking for a mathematician to help me with this. Ironically, the New York Times posted this article recently about the mathematics of hearts. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/14/science/math-algorithm-valentine.html
I wrote a book on these ideas titled, “Empathy Deficit Disorder: Healing from our Mix-ups about Work, Home and Sex.” The book is the beginning of a conversation. I am trying to figure out how to continue to evolve these ideas in the fields of evolutionary biology and mathematics. Any suggestions welcome. I am an epidemiologist by training.
I am neither, but I developed a natural physics theory which actually works by visualizing it.
Based on the understanding energy is actually nothing but space, in a time devision that is. Which is always circular.
Space (the universe) consists of a circular and a square devision (matrix) overlapping each other at the same time. Because space is an at the same time equality, which creates the impossibility within it, representing singularity, because it cannot be both at the same time.
So space is not an absolute nothing/ but is devided by these strict laws it keeps itself to. Light follows the square equation.
Out of which the big bang emerged and from which the creation of life can be explained. It’s the theory of everything.
It took some training, but now I can use it as a tool for explanation, something like in between language and mathematics.
It does refer to symbols like the heart, but it’s always dynamic.
The article refered to the highs and lows of love as a singularity/ but actually a singularity is weightless.
They represent emerging gravity held space in time, which is bound to the equation its involved in.
So the model would always be circular, in relation to a cone shape, something like the wormhole animation in the article, athough that’s just one angle of looking at it. Like involving past and future.
The heart represents a combination of the circular and square equation; which is flexible; representing a symmetry with a source singularity at the bottom/ and an ending (space and time) one at the top. As the two poles.
It represents two people melted together as one. It also looks like the yin yang symbol, representing male and female.
Thanks for this. The space between language and mathematics must have a word associated with it. Neuroscience?
Interestingly I am also often referring to it as psychology.
The reason for the connection is our brains registrate reality as it behaves: they function parallel to its physical laws. Because they are an energy/ spacetime concept as well, be it in miniature. Particles are miniatures as well.
Hence the paradox, one group of philofosophers says everything we percieve is not real, but self conceived, which is a wrong conclusion – and next to that scientists stating the universe does not care about our emotions, while they ARE the natural functioning of the universe itself. So they are wrong as well.
The miracle is we experience: live its natural laws and become a concsiouness of it.
It contains the same type of asynchronicities and oppositions. Because that’s what space in time involved in singularities does.
As for a name, it stretches in all directions. So neuroscience would be a nice name for dealing with percieved reality, also in relation to human psychology, in individual and group behavior, resulting in organizational outcomes which need to be understood or corrected.
I general I am also thinking of NET. Naturalphysical Evulolution Theory. Because it also explains evolution, why and how it adapts.
I like psychology as a term too. The realm of the mind by necessity must reflect the natural order of things. As such, it is a useful discipline to investigate and incorporate into any model. (Not to mention, that it is very much at the core of human experience. Was someone talking about joy earlier?). I think of the math of the mind as fractals. It is also the part of human experience shaped most explicitly by parenting. We all know this. Right?
This work reveals some sort of poetic mood and everyone would be
attracted by it. Leonardo Da Vinci was born within the Florentine
Republic on April 15th, 1452. It is maybe essentially the most worldwide of mediums, at its practice along with its range.
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Look, sorry, but woman or no, no writing in sociobiology (or evolutionary psychology or what you will) is very reliable. For a start, Darwinian selection refers to differential reproduction. Reproduction includes not just offspring born, but the number of conceptions and the number of conceptions that come to term. I don’t think it’s an accident that you can’t find decent figures on the number of spontaneous abortions. I’ve seen guesses as high as 80%. I think the lowest (offered in response to a question at a science blog) was 50%. If the most important natural selection occurs in the womb, what then are we to make of all this guesswork?
The very notion that “concealed ovulation” and menstruation are energetically wasteful rather assumes that it would be Darwinian selection to have as many children as possible. Is this really true? And it rather assumes that regularly renewing the endometrium doesn’t help get rid of less viable embryos as an earlier stage, rather than wasting resources carrying the fetus longer. Besides, hidden ovulation is synonymous with not-estrous. Is it really so obvious that a woman with a mind could of course go into heat? Maybe it’s a failure of my imagination, but it seems to me that one should generally regard instinct as preventing learning.
As to the notion that lovers are less reliable than brothers, and sisters are never rivals? Grandfathers are no use? Most of all, the idea that older men have no interest in young people to do gathering, hunting, making clothes etc. is simply preposterous. Children, not just our own, are social security. I’m not even so convinced that “concealed ovulation” doesn’t mean the females can offer sexual services without necessarily paying the price of actual pregnancy. it bears repeating, all this sociobiology stuff is dubious.
On the comments you added, most people generally think of “savanna” as grasslands with scattered trees. Humans are not particularly well adapted to grasslands (savanna, prairie, plain, steppe, veldt, etc.) They have not been outstandingly successful in hunting savanna animals. They have water requirements that limit their range.Predators on the savanna don’t seem to have learned in all those millennia people can be eaten. (Perhaps humans are skunks, but do we know this?) On the other hand, leopards in forests will take children on a regular basis, and crocodiles in rivers are a danger to anyone.
Or does “savanna” here mean the edge of a woodland, where there are many trees but a canopy doesn’t form?
Dear Steven T. Johnson:
“As to the notion that lovers are less reliable than brothers, and sisters are never rivals? Grandfathers are no use? Most of all, the idea that older men have no interest in young people to do gathering, hunting, making clothes etc. is simply preposterous. Children, not just our own, are social security. I’m not even so convinced that “concealed ovulation” doesn’t mean the females can offer sexual services without necessarily paying the price of actual pregnancy. it bears repeating, all this sociobiology stuff is dubious.”
Dear Steven T. Johnson:
By “preach” I mean you have spoken truth that needs to be said again and again and again. Until people finally understand this.
Dear Men on this Forum:
I have more to say. To reiterate what Steven T. Johnson has said, she may be a woman feminist but I am a woman female and I call bullshit on all of it. When women went to work, they had to devalue the child to rationalize their choices. Devil’s bargain. And we are all paying the price. The child is paying the price, for sure. But mostly, it’s the men.
The way to do any evolutionary science is to the start from the child and move backwards (or forwards from there.) As Steven T. Johnson says, the child is social security. Anything else is BS that I refuse to pay attention to anymore.
“Evolution: I die so that my child can live.” That’s all of it right there in a nutshell.
And as far as all of you men on this forum go, you better get your acts together. Your mortality rates are rising for the first time in non-wartime human history. I suggest you get control of the narrative. Listen to Steven T. Johnson. He makes the most sense.
Thank you for your time.
Dear Men on the Forum:
I see that you are interested in competition. Have I got a competition for you. The competition of the future is as follows: Men vs. Women.
The prize? The soul of the child.
Lets see what you got.
Eva Basilion, (one time child)
Child abuse is very hard to get over.
You should imagine future means an available timespace for people and it is contributed to a property, which means the property is the source of it, allowing it to be shared in time with.
Because female is the open character: promises an endless future, she is the promise.of this for men.
Strengthened by the fact life is extended by having children. They promise: own this future time space.
So it can become tempting to take this future timespace, out of a sense of rightfull ownership which coincides with superiority.
Therefore fathers might abuse their daughters, because they feel they should own this timespace. It belongs to them. As an inverted result they take away this timespace from the other, original owner, because it was not agreed upon.
So, the explanation is very simple, bur at the same time a very stupid childish thinking error. It is so stupid you even want to forgive. You are the superior one.Although that is perhaps hard to imagine compared to your father, or a priest.
It is much easier concerning a strange boy. So, thetefore the conflict is expended, inflated because it is the most opposite of what was agreed upon.
I think explanation would do a lot in preventing this to happen, more than objects or a specific organisation would, because it is self organizing.
Dear Peter van den Engel,
What you say above is brilliant. I believe that seeing time in this way — as a commodity that to men feels very scarce — is a great explanation for many many things, actually. But still, I ask — why? Why is men’s sense of time so different? Here’s what I believe. It’s because of what Aristotle said, “We are what we do.” The one thing that women have done across time and space that men have not done is the caring of children. Until now. As I like to say, “the only labor that men and women cannot share is labor itself.” Ha!
In terms of the jerk that showed up on this forum below, I have a few words for him.
Dear Noah James,
While I cannot debate the “one woman one penis” theory discussed above, I can tell you with certainty that size doesn’t matter. So get lost.
Eva Basilion, woman
From a feminist perspective, I would like to propose a new theory of egalitarianism that is truly related to evolution. Ready?
One sperm + one egg = one human. (Rather than one penis one hole).
This is the narrative we are all fighting to control right now. It defines what it means to be human. The robots are coming and I think it is really important that we get clear about what who we are before welcoming them into our midst. Ai can be a good thing for us or a bad thing. Being clear about this narrative will make the difference.
What do you all think about this?
I agree, although the characteristics of human sead in how it translates into psychological archetypes is still largely unknown. So you would not know what you are doing.
Although it could be retrieved from history, you need to define the main dominators and what they are. They will also not be the same in all races.
I believe the coincidence in the distribution is overcome by general dominators in the evolution of the environment, which will turn out by observing them in the first youth years, so in the end this is a more important factor than just the genes.
The advantage of the one penis one hole theory is, it will automaticly lead to an acceptance of this is my child I am responsable for, which you would otherwise miss/ and it creates an automatic environment including its characteristics, which must be contemporary.
Don’t worry about AI, since it cannot turn into self evolving intelligence, because its energy breaker is inverted to the human one. It does not contain entropy within its energy cycle either, so it would not know what to do.
But I agree humans should be conscious in using it and how. It cannot be seperated from democracy.
Dear Peter van den Engel:
Every human seed (egg + sperm) becomes a baby unless it dies in the womb first. Fact. This does not depend on race.
When that baby is born as an infant, it needs certain things to survive. It needs some kind of “caretaker.” This is a universal truth across time and space, from what I can tell. This caretaker provides food but not only food. The caretaker provides touch (see Harlow monkey experiments.) But not only touch. Caretakers provide something else too. Neuroscience combined with the latest primate research is showing us that the caretaking provides empathy — what I like to call, recognition. It’s the best word we have right now to describe the profound brain changes that occur between parent and child at this early vulnerable stage of life (which men have been left out of for far too long.) Neuroscience is where evolutionary biologists need to start looking next. See article.
Does anyone know what to make of this recent Nature study? It seems to me that things are getting more equal all the time, when it comes to our babies.
Mitochondrial DNA can be inherited from fathers, not just mothers
A tenet of elementary biology is that mitochondria — the cell’s powerhouses — and their DNA are inherited exclusively from mothers. A provocative study suggests that fathers also occasionally contribute.
That’s not surprising since sperm cells have to have mitochondria like all other cells. However, the larger egg cell is always going to be the major contributor to the offspring’s mitochondria, I think.
General nutriant distribution has nothing to do with male or female behavioral patterns. I guess the alignment is natural, because the mothers cells build the physical body as a general nutriant system.
The small deviations within it are male characteristics.