Topics in Evolutionary Psychology

Comments On The Evolutionary Origins Of Human Behavior And Social Structure

* * *


INTRODUCTION: I would argue that EP (Evolutionary Psychology) is not a 'branch' of psychology as is sometimes claimed. More reasonably psychology is a branch of EP since EP considers both human behavior and its evolutionary roots, whereas psychology considers human behavior largely in a vacuum with no consideration of its sources and thus often goes far astray from reality.

Some will argue that there are many current findings, with a sound basis, in the science of psychology that cannot be explained by events in the distant past but I've yet to encounter any that can't be better understood by considering the evolutionary history of our species. Of course variations in individual personal psychology are informed primarily by personal events, but on an evolutionary template. I doubt that there is any aspect of psychology that cannot be informed by EP, or properly understood in its absence.

To properly understand any species EP behavior one needs to look not just at the EEA formative period of that particular species, but further back to the EEA (Environment of Evolutionary Adaptation) of its precursor life forms. Only then can one get the complete picture of how current behaviors have evolved.

So I challenge the notion that any aspect of psychology can be properly understood in the absence of EP. Of course how the details of neurobiology function can be studied in themselves as they currently are, but why they are as they are can only be informed by EP. The very purpose of any organism's behavior, its psychology, is to direct its function within its environment, and it has entirely evolved to do just that. Thus it cannot be understood in isolation from its evolutionary environment.

NATURAL VERSUS MORAL: My position is that 'natural' behaviors are not necessarily 'good' or 'moral', those notions are cultural overlays on natural behaviors.

For example, rape MIGHT bring a man happiness and it is certainly a 'natural' male inclination. Does that make it good and right? No, that's a separate issue. There is a tinge of circularity in the common notion as it is really meaning to say that only behaviors which bring happiness and are good and right are really the ones that are 'natural'. That the human propensity to murder, steal and rape are somehow not 'natural'. The point is that rape is a natural male behavior and it may well provide happiness to the rapist, but that doesn't make it moral.

HYPOTHESIS FOR THE ORIGIN OF FEMALE CIRCUMCISION: Hmmmmm, now I just realized a great possible explanation for the origin of clitoridectomy! It was precisely done to keep young tribal girls from being desirable to stronger surrounding males. If the girls were cut, they would be immune from abduction by stronger rulers for the purpose of sex due to loss of desirability and attractiveness. Once started the practice would be self perpetuating for the reasons explained before, even if the threat had subsided, and be rationalized making the girl more socially acceptable and desirable as it normally is among the peoples who practice it.

That is clearly a very reasonable explanation for how the practice got started. It seems obvious once it's stated.

I would be surprised if the people who perform it didn't have an origin 'myth' about it, they usually do. There are traditional stories among the Kua about young girls being smeared with animal dung to make them less appealing to outsider males. But while it is true that a young girl smeared with dung might not be immediately appealing to marauders from other tribes I'm sure it would be obvious that 'she'd clean up well'. Clitoridectomy, on the other hand, doesn't clean up well and no doubt greatly reduces the desirability of females in the eyes of peoples who don't perform it. It certainly would for me. I can well imagine a situation in which all the girls of some tribe were consistently being seized by a stronger group resorting in desperation to drastic means to attempt to insure their survival by originating such an irreversibly effective means of reducing the desirability of their young women. That's the only reasonable theory I can come up with for the origin of such an extreme practice.

Would you not be put off by a girl whose sex had been so mutilated? Would you choose such as girl whose sexual responsiveness had been considerably diminished? I think not. Also as to whether males visually inspect the sex of young women they have sex with much of that is cultural and whether they think it's allowed or not. It is true that some cultures seem to think it isn't much but others revel in it. In any case I think there is always likely at least covert inspection to ensure e.g. that the she is not a he, or bears some obvious disease or abnormality and that would include genital mutilation. True there is considerable (not enormous) variation in female genitalia, but that doesn't include absence of the clitoris or scars to and missing sections of the labia. Are you saying you couldn't tell the difference?

Thus I'm still convinced my theory is by the far most likely.

THE QUESTION OF MALE STATUS: Many question why scrawny old rich men get beautiful girls since they have little in the way of natural male status. But money and prestige and newsworthiness ARE precisely status among humans.

In humans it is true that nearly every male marries and reproduces, so male status does not determine a male's ability to reproduce at all as it clearly does in many species, however human male status does significantly determine the selection and thus the 'quality' of the females that high status men do reproduce with, and to some extent the number of them. I do think some researchers need to more clearly take this into consideration in their theories. The male status dynamic works very differently in different types of species, specifically those in which nearly all males mate, and those in which only the alpha males do.

MATE SELECTION: Up until recently, and still in many cultures, parents chose husbands for young women and in general did a much superior job of it than the young women would have done on their own under the inexperienced infatuation of young love.

Though the contention that female choice determines male access to sex is largely true in modern western societies, that has clearly not been the norm throughout almost all of history. The norm has been, and still is in much of the world, that marriages are arranged by the parents of both the husband and wife. This mate selection the woman's parents make has been largely determined by the status of the prospective husband as well of that of his family, and of course the reverse is true as well. This system has worked very well throughout history to optimize mate selection as it avoids the histo-compatibility trap of young love that often leads to poor mate choice over the long run. It is well known that young people with raging hormones tend to simply latch on to the nearest acceptable sexual partner when they can and thus quite often make miserable choices they regret later on.

It is amusing to realize that the many who loudly proclaim that young women aren't able to make wise mate choices and that is why they can't 'consent' to mating until they reach 18 are actually supporting the argument that the parents would be able to make better choices of husbands for the girls than they could! The moralists can't have it both ways.....

WHY DO HUMANS KISS? One wonders if the fact that testosterone levels occur in saliva hasn't a lot to do with why humans kiss. In this theory it might be so that the woman could directly sample the man's testosterone level and the man could introduce the taste of testosterone to the woman to increase her sexual receptiveness and response.

Though some animals also lick each other's mouths, other species in general with their greater olfactory capacities may be able to get sufficient information without the necessity of prolonged kissing.

I recall some evidence of female testosterone sensing of male hormone levels in sweat, so it could well be the same mechanism. Many animals have pheromone sensing organs in the nasal passages which of course are connected to the mouth. Most subtleties of taste you will recall actually take place in the nose rather than the mouth.

WHY MEN AND WOMEN LIVE PAST THEIR REPRODUCTIVE AGES: A topic of considerable discussion in EP has been why the biological life span of men and especially women is considerably greater than the age at which they typically stop breeding. Though men can potentially continue to breed until their 70's they rarely have much opportunity to do so. Menopause in women typically occurs in the 40's. From the perspective of evolutionary theory which assumes that passing on one's genes is the prime directive, it is not initially clear why life expectancy should extend beyond perhaps one's 50's. However if one analyzes early human social life there is a very reasonable explanation. The success of homo lies in its ability to codify useful information in language and pass it from generation to generation. In all traditional societies the elders were the primary repository of such cultural wisdom and knowledge. They were wiser, knew more, and had a much broader perspective on all the issues that affected the survival of the group. Thus groups whose members lived longer and became wiser and more knowledgeable tended to have a survival advantage. This in turn would favor longer lived individuals who would pass on more of their genes.

This fact tends to be obscured since in most modern societies old people are often considered to be fools and out of touch partly because they tend not to keep up with rapid changes in technology, but also because 'wisdom' and 'knowledge' so called comes mostly from the media which acts as the repository of conventional wisdom. But in primitive cultures there were no such rapid changes, and no media, so the elders held valuable knowledge accumulated over their many years. I suppose, since they are products of modern society, many of the EP researchers just don't understand this properly.

So there should be no mystery about why humans live longer than their reproductive ages. The reason seems quite clear and obvious. The elders' acquired wisdom over a lifetime of dealing with survival issues conveyed a clear evolutionary advantage.

THE SOCIAL FUNCTION OF MARRIAGE: The institution of marriage has as its primary purpose the suppression of male-male conflict over females. Though the details have varied from society to society, it is essential to regulate such conflict in all societies to ensure social stability. Marriage is a societal codification and enforcement of pair bonding. The reasons individuals get married vary, but a marriage contract is always with the state as well as one's spouse. This can become painfully obvious at divorce time, when the rules agreed to can return with a vengeance. There are three parties to every marriage contract, not just the husband and wife. It should be clear that I'm discussing the reasons the state has for imposing the institution of marriage, rather than the motivations of an individual male and female in getting married.

There is no doubt that the primary 'reason' for pair bonding in humans is the enhancement of reproductive success since the young require long term care to survive and prosper. This is not however entirely consistent with the natural biology of the male procreative urge, which is to impregnate any female he can, including those already pair bonded with other males. If overt or discovered, such behavior normally leads to male-male conflict, as is still evident today. The social institution of marriage, as opposed to long term pair bonding per se, functions to limit the attempts of males to procreate with other pair bonded females (and female adultery as well). It is required for social order, to avoid male-male conflict, questionable parentage (important re property rights), and of course it functions as a basis for the codification of property rights and inheritance as well.

Through the institution of marriage, males effectively trade the possibility of widespread reproductive success with all possible females against the resulting chaos and violence of unchecked male sexual competition. It also allows most males the opportunity to successfully reproduce rather than just the most dominant.

Strong evidence for this thesis is the widespread rape which tends to occur when societies break down for whatever reason, and men are able to get away with it. Even in modern societies during times of war and social upheaval where marriage and other social contracts that hold male violence in check break down rape is commonplace. Pair bonding, and the male urge to have sex outside pair bonds are both natural biological behaviors. Marriage is a social institution whose effect is to modify and codify these natural behaviors.

Even taking into consideration the possible matriarchal structure of very early human societies, there is still the necessity to reduce male-male conflict within the group. There must to be social order for the group to survive. Whatever social structure ruled it would have a vested interest in ensuring this, so there may well have been some form of group sanctified 'proto-marriage' even in pre-historic groups.

The state does not impose marriage upon individual men and women, it imposes the rules of marriage, the institution of marriage, upon the process of pair bonding. Traditionally this protects a wife against predation by other males, as she is recognized as 'taken', as 'belonging' to her husband, and this recognition is enforced by the state. The result is greater social order. When societies originated their leaders identified a very specific behavioral problem, the unregulated male-male conflict over females, that had a highly disruptive effect on emerging social order. The response was to impose rules to codify this behavior and thereby preserve social order. The institution of marriage is the embodiment of these rules. It didn't take a psychologist to identify the behavior in question and its consequences on society, it was clear to all, and especially the rulers, who had to deal with the disruptive consequences of these male-male conflicts among their subjects. Marriage is not a behavior, it is the imposition of rules on a self evident male-male behavior for the purpose of maintaining social order.

THE ORIGINS OF WRITING - DID WOMEN INVENT IT? Writing is of course a symbolic activity with origins in cave (and other) art in which images of things stand for the things themselves. The earliest examples of purely abstract use of written symbols that I'm aware of are the many lunar cycle notches incised on bones from the same period. The function of these notches has been the subject of some dispute, with some arguing that they were 'written' by males to keep track of and predict the amount of moonlight available, something vitally important to a mammal with such poor night vision. An alternate theory is that women 'wrote' them to keep track of their menstrual cycles, so they could exercise control over whether to become pregnant or not. The last view is to my mind more convincing since the moon itself is easily visible and its phases are easily predictable day by day whereas female fertility cycles are hidden and thus it would make much more sense to keep track of them notationally. If so, Pleistocene women can be credited with the invention of writing since these were the first purely abstract notation that we know of. This could also be the considered the origin of the number system and thus perhaps mathematics and maybe even science as well. Of course it is also possible that extensive ice age cloud cover did make notching for predicting full moons for night visibility important, or perhaps it could have served some lunar worship function. So the case is not altogether clear that women incised these notches.

See 'The Roots of Civilization' by Alexander Marshak for a detailed account of the incised lunar cycles.

WHY DO HUMANS GET DRUNK? Drunkenness seems to start out as a means to escape (loosen up a little) the constant social inhibitions that constrict and chafe our natural biological urges. Socially, it provides a sort of excuse for letting those urges come out. The problem with alcohol though is that you can't just keep lowering inhibitions by drinking more without adverse end results. Perhaps we need a better drug without that side effect, though maybe the adverse side effect is useful in preventing even greater overuse. Which biological urges emerge when inhibitions are lowered will depend on individual psychology and circumstance. <P> The problem is that most modern people are so domesticated and their biology so repressed that they don't even understand why they are miserable. The 'fault' is the society, which excessively suppresses especially male biology. Though there does have to be a balance, it seems to be swinging ever further towards suppression of every last vestige of maleness.

THE ROOTS OF WAR: The roots of war seem to be intergroup competition for resources, whether land, food, money or oil, or in some cases booty and women, however in spite of one theory that war is primarily about male status and sexual access, it is not.

And of course there is the age-old problem in human societies that the most ruthlessly and aggressively dominant males tend to rise to the top of the society. The very traits that got them there then tend to spill over into war for 'glory' and 'booty' (in both senses). it is this male characteristic, amplified by the existence of a hierarchic social order (that enables the top male to control numerous sub-dominant males, something unique in human societies), that historically (and currently) has done so much more than any female influence to bring destruction and suffering on humans, other species, and the planet itself. However we need to step back and take a broader view of human and human group motivations. Men don't spend all their time thinking with their pants about the next copulation. Even if we suppose the prime imperative is spreading one's genes as widely as possible, for humans this requires establishing stable and strong families and societies in which one's children can thrive and prosper and go on to reproduce themselves. Anything that threatens or competes with this objective, such as lack of resources available elsewhere, or a threat from elsewhere, is part of this imperative, and provides motivation for war.

The sexual aspect is certainly a factor, but sex is the not only motivating factor in human life for males. Sort of reminds me of Pacino in Scarface saying something like 'first we get the drugs, then we get the money, then we get the power, and then we can get the women!' Perhaps a tacit admission he was having problems in that department?

ADOLESCENCE IS A MODERN PHENOMENON: Adolescence, understood as a psychological phase fraught with purposelessness and indirection, is an entirely modern urban invention. The word does not even appear until 1482 and the adjective not until 1785. It was little used or studied until the 20th century. Adolescence does not even exist in traditional societies where teenagers (and even younger children) derive meaning and purpose from working to contribute to the family. Adolescence only exists in situations where due to the fathers being employed away from the home young males are unable to derive purpose from working with their fathers for the common good of the family. The advent of compulsory public education greatly accelerated the rise of adolescence as it too diminishes the sense of immediate contribution to the family good (though of course it can be seen as preparation for increased contribution to the family good in the future but this does not provide the same immediate positive feedback).

In natural, traditional families there are/were no adolescents. True, there are individuals of teen age, but psychologically they are/were nothing at all like the typical modern western adolescent.

RAPE: From an EP perspective rape is adaptive in the sense that it allows men to optimize the number of possible offspring and thus the transmission of their genes. However it is normally rape of females in other than the home group that is adaptive as rape within the home group often leads to less reproductive success overall. That is what the 'statistics' seeking to prove rape is maladaptive in traditional societies which generally consider only the effects of rape within the in group are flawed and simply do not prove it is not adaptive overall. Rape of out group females which is the natural type of rape is clearly adaptive.....

Rape is an optimal strategy in situations like war where a male can get away with it. By raping he can maximize proliferation of his genes. We are all the survivors of such conflicts, and we are all certainly the descendants of rapes somewhere back in our ancestral lineage.

CHILD REARING: It is much better for children to be able to sleep with their parents if they want to. One of the great advantages of 'primitive' societies is the near constant close contact children have with their parents including the complete psychological security of sleeping with them, especially the mother. The still standard psychologist's advice that babies should sleep alone is crap. Babies and infants should sleep when and where they want which will most often be with the parents. There would be far fewer psychological problems among adults if this were standard practice.

SPANKING AND OTHER FORMS OF CORPORAL PUNISHMENT: For the proper use of physical discipline on misbehaving children humans should learn from animals, who are typically much better at it than human parents. In the mammal world we often see mild and immediate swats or growls or teeth baring to correct misbehaving young. These are typically mild immediate attention getting corrections rather than painful or humiliating 'punishments' applied sometime later. There is the essential difference, the animal approach is healthy, whereas a formal painful punishment or humiliation is not and smacks of torture. That can certainly lead to a whole host of psychological problems in later life. generally outlawed other forms of accomplishing the same end persist.

Some warn that hitting children can cause brain damage, but do you think that the swats animal mothers give their babies cause brain damage? Since animal mothers do it routinely when the infants need correcting do you think that brain damage would be selected for? Of course not, what is selected for is teaching the infants to stay out of trouble, that is why swats are given. You have a basic problem of understanding as you invariably interpret everything people say in the most negative and inappropriate manner possible. Haven't you ever observed animal mothers or watched a nature program to understand the difference between a corrective maternal swat, growl or teeth baring and a blow that causes brain damage?

SLAVERY: Slavery is clearly adaptive as it increases the effective work the owner can accomplish for the good of himself and his family. Though slavery of adults is now generally outlawed other forms of accomplishing the same end persist.

How about farm animal (food and draft), and pet ownership? That is a very clear example of slavery. In some cases it can be good for the animal, in some bad. Same for human slaves don't you think? In Rome many slaves eventually were manumitted and given considerable financial rewards for their years of service. Some even rose to positions of power. They may well have been much better off for being slaves. In all such questions comparisons must always be made not relative to ideals but to actual available alternatives. That is the sad fact of life.

Also children are in a very real sense slaves of their parents as they are totally dependent on their parents and have to obey them in most aspects of life. They cannot run away from their parent/masters. If they try the police will catch them and return them to their rightful 'owners'. One can even go out and buy child slaves in the open market. It's called adoption.

REVENGE: Most discussions of revenge seem to ignore the essential point of encouraging the social conditions that inhibit the events that lead to revenge in the first place. Preventing violence in the first place makes a lot more sense than forgiving someone for committing it. Revenge is a natural human instinct that presumably inhibits violence in the first place though it can obviously get out of hand. If revenge is complete and leads to the destruction of one's enemy then it serves the useful function of preventing further violence against one.