Friday, May 1, 2020

A Biopolitical Science Library

I am returning to this blog after a hiatus of more than two years.  I am working on a book with the tentative title: Darwin and the Declaration of Independence.  My thesis is that contemporary research in the evolution of human social, political, and moral behaviors supports a natural right tradition that stretches from Aristotle and Plato, through Locke and the American founders, to Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. 
In this post, I am going to list some of the books and papers in contemporary biosocial science that I lean on heavily.  They constitute a library in what I call biopolitical science. 
First and foremost, Christopher Boehm’s two magisterial works: Hierarchy in the Forest, and Moral Origins.  Boehm establishes that forager societies were characterized by what he calls an egalitarian ethos.  Every (male) member of the band in good standing (not a free rider or a bully) enjoyed the protection of the group and enjoyed more than less equally in whatever resources the group had at its disposal and got the group’s protection against any member who tried to push his weight around.  Group decision making was also egalitarian: each “citizen” gets his say and each abides by the consensus.  Boehm argues that the sanctioning of bullies and free riders (hungry but unwilling to contribute to the hunt) amounted to social selection.  Human moral emotions were shaped by selection pressure as individuals internalized the egalitarian ethos.  For a shorter introduction, see his paper “Egalitarian Behavior and Reverse Dominance Hierarchy”. 
Second, Michael Tomasello’s Why We Cooperate is a pretty good introduction his work on the innate human capacity for cooperation that distinguishes us from other social primates.  Tomasello’s work frames Boehm’s, showing how we got from individuals collaborating out of convenience to a species capable of generating the concept of “we” and “our” good.  For a shorter introduction, see his paper “Two Steps in the Evolution of Human Cooperation”. 
Third, Bernard Chapais’ Primeval Kinship, a forceful argument that it was pair-bonding, stable relationships between one male and two or more females, that transformed our early ancestors from typical social apes into a network of related individuals including aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Unlike our nearest relatives, the chimpanzees and bonobos, humans had a much better idea who their fathers were and that opened up the network of family relations.  When our ancestors began to recognize affinal relationships (in-laws) the network of familial relationships expanded indefinitely.  For a brief introduction, see “Monogamy, strongly bonded groups, and the evolution of human social structure”.   

Fourth, Richard Wrangham’s The Goodness Paradox.  Human beings are the best of animals and the worst of animals.  We get along within our groups and commit atrocious violence against other groups.  Wrangham answers the old question whether human beings are violent by nature or not with “yes.”  He does so by distinguishing between reactive violence (spontaneous irritation) and proactive violence (we could sneak up on them and…).  Most importantly, he invests in the domestication syndrome, the theory that selection against reactive violence produces a range of physical changes that present in human beings and other domestic animals.  We are the self-domesticated species.  See “Two types of aggression in human evolution”.  
These works, read together, provide a foundation for political science and political theory that has so far been sorely lacking in the discipline.

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