More on E.O. Wilson’s THE SOCIAL CONQUEST OF NATURE. June 9, 2012Posted by ronwhite54 in Public Policy.
Tags: "The Social Conquest of Nature, biological evolution, cooperation, cultural evolution, E.O. Wilson, evolution of warfare, evolution or commerce
Like I said in my previous APLS blog entry, there is a lot to ponder in E.O. Wilson’s new book, The Social Conquest of Nature. Here I would like to continue my argument that cultural evolution often trumps (and elucidates) biological evolution. The most obvious point would be that biological science itself evolves based on cultural evolution. The basic argument in support of cultural evolution is that cultural beliefs evolve based on variation and selection. Beliefs are irrevocably in the minds of individuals. Individual minds are comprised by competing old beliefs and new beliefs. Our minds are mostly conservative, therefore, new beliefs are at a competititive disadvantage. The number of new ideas that enter this competition is relative to an intellectual environment. High-level global belief systems (world religions, global science) have more believers than low-level belief systems (cults). Therefore, these high-level belief systems are more likely to be innovative.
Now what does all of this this say about the dramatic increase in the rate and scale of cultural evolution after the Agricultural Revolution? Wilson and most scientists believe that before the AR humans lived in small insular groups of about 30 hunters and gatherers. In those small groups of hunters and gatherers orthodoxy was easily maintained via non-coercive, mostly democratic means. There was very little need or opportunity for innovation or cultural evolution for the first 3 million years of human existence. And, there was no permanent nest to defend. Although, there is some question as to the level of violence between these groups, one might surmise that extensive warfare probably didn’t exist at a large scale prior to the AR. Or, one might argue that post AR humans were more peaceful and that the incidence of human violence today is relatively low. In chapter 19, Wilson identifies five stages in the emergence of eusociality: formation of groups, occupy defensible nests, rise of caste systems (dominance hierarchies)in humans. The most important is the rise of permanent, defensible nests. As the size of human nests increased and specialized labor increased (especially defense-relate labor) and communitities were able to increase in size and complexity. However, Hayek and others argued that one cannot account for the increase in the size of human communities based on “natural” small group morality. Therefore, “large group morality” must have been discovered by trial and error and passed on via teaching and learning. Markets, for example, emerged after pre-AR humans “discovered” that if they don’t kill strangers, if they don’t steal, and if they keep their promises, then then they can engage in reciprocal relationships and everyone is better off. Now, there no doubt is a genetic basis for these rules, however, the puzzle is why didn’t these rules and global trade emerge earlier in human history? Another puzzle is why did the military (and military values) take over these large groups? And, why has there been so much technological innovation associated with the military? In other words, why did the “defense of the nest” lead to perpetual warfare? But how did the omnipresent quest for self-defense and military culture affect the early rise of global trade (and commercial values)? If we are by nature small-group cooperators, how can we expect to live peacefully in large groups ruled by security-seeking military regimes? Any theory that seeks to explain that transition from “small group” to “large group” socialization during the Argricultural Revolution must explain how it spawned BOTH security-seeking military culture (perpetual warfare) AND the emergence of global markets (perpetual trade). One of the weaknesses in Wilson’s account is that he did not attempt to explain the collateral rise of both eusocial commercial enterprise and anti-eusocial military culture. In other words, maybe “defense of the nest” led to the rise of both cooperative eusocial culture and competitive anti-eusocial culture. We’re still a long way from understanding the co-evolutionary basis of military culture and commercial culture.