Thursday, July 20, 2017
I have been working on my paper for the upcoming APSA conference, and that has involved a lot of reading about primate social evolution. As always, I am going back and forth between Aristotle and contemporary Darwinian theory.
My topic is a chicken and egg question. Which came first, the family or the political community? My answer is: yes. I am arguing that you can’t get the evolution of the family without the evolution of early hominid societies that protected individuals against bullies and so protected the individual male against a bully who wants to take away his mate. At the same time, you can’t get the evolution of political societies in the full sense without families.
Relevant to this is the question of how our primate ancestors went from solitary animals, like bears, to political animals, like Thomas Jefferson. The common-sense argument goes like this: solitary animals cease to be solitary when the male sticks around to defend his mate and family. Families then come together into clans, and clans into cities. This is perfectly reasonable and probably quite wrong.
Susanne Schultz, Christopher Opie, and Quentin D. Atkinson argued in a 2011 article in Nature that the better answer is the Reverse-Jump Model. Here is their chart, laying out the alternatives.
Refrom solitary life to unstable group life coincides with the transition from nocturnal hunting to diurnal hunting. This suggests that predation was the original motive for congregation.
I am also persuaded by Michael Tomasello that the original form of cooperation among our very distant ancestors was based on mutualism. A group of individuals cooperate in chasing down some prey only when there is enough for everyone to eat. That kind of cooperation involves no sacrifice or discipline.
Two more reasons occur to me. Human males are larger and stronger than human females generally. That suggests the kind of competition for mates that presents in many primate species and it is what you would expect when solitary animals first come together in groups. Second, human females do not display conspicuous ovulation. Males frequently kill unrelated offspring. One way to prevent that is to make it impossible for them to tell which offspring are their own.
All of these points support the view that our more or less human ancestors became social first and formed families and more stable societies later. How the formation of genuine families occurred and how it was both a product and a cause of political evolution, is the topic of my paper.