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Natural history, evident at first only from fossils of earlier times, became more readable with the advent of the scientific method. Social evolution evolved apace among the more advanced eukaria, in that survival of a species depended in part upon its behavior.

Social Evolution -- Society Fitness

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Social evolution (evolved and inherited behavior) began well before the dawn of our genera (Great Apes) some seven million years ago when our concestor split off from the Orangutan. In fact, inherited social behavior is evident in the insect world where our concestor is more like a billion years old.

That this is so is now entering the realm of scientific proof. We quote from Donaldson and Young, 7 Nov '08 issue of Science:

    "There is growing evidence that the neuropeptides oxytocin and vasopressin modulate complex social behavior and social cognition. These ancient neuropeptides display a marked conservation in gene structure and expression, yet diversity in the genetic regulation of their receptors seems to underlie natural variation in social behavior, both between and within species. Human studies are beginning to explore the roles of these neuropeptides in social cognition and behavior and suggest that variation in the genes encoding their receptors may contribute to variation in human social behavior by altering brain function. ..."

It is no surprise at all that humanity shares behavioral traits with our great ape brethren and earlier species from which we all sprang. This is a critical underpinning to one thesis on this web site--violence is an inherited trait. Compared with speciation, evolution of societies has not kept pace with our big brains. We can form societies, but each suffers from an egg-shell-thin membrane separating civilized from jungle/savanna behavior. This makes us vulnerable to the full range of violence. Stanley Milgram, Bob Altemeyer, and Phillip Zimbardo superbly illustrate a common feature first identified by Theodor Adorno and coworkers. Then there are true sociopaths out there that can co-opt any movement, organization, religion, or government. Martha Stout estimates their prevalence at some four percent. Back to social history.

Meredith Small in a book review of "Our Inner Ape" by Frans de Waal, wrote in Discover, Dec 2005:

"Human nature is a mix of selfish cruelty and cooperative kindness. As the aftermath of hurricane Katrina so powerfully demonstrated, some people open their homes to strangers during a crisis, while others run riot. Wherein lie the roots of this paradox? According to primatologist Frans de Wall, we need look no further than our close cousins the chimpanzees and bonobos to find out.

Humans share not only a common ancestor with chimpanzees and bonobos but common behaviors, too. Chimps are socially calculating and they can be decidedly nasty. Bonobos on the other hand, tend to be more egalitarian, and they often stave off conflict with lots of sex. Yet neither species is entirely vicious or always conciliatory, and each seems to experience love, empathy and sharing--for good reason. Like humans, both species are social animals, and in order to survive in an unpredictable world, they must strike a balance between the two extremes.

In the vocabulary used on this site, the equivalent traits are the instincts for fierceness and herding. How humanity strikes a balance is by developing External Loci of Controls to deal with our fierceness while integrating Internal Loci of Controls important to to our identity and holding our own peacefully. Balancing these is done well by many societies, but one particular method is well illustrated by the Japanese Culture.

Social evolution goes in fits and starts by happenstance, just as chemical and biological evolution do. All three march toward ever-greater complexity.

Smarts eventually evolved into the ability to communicate in ways more abstract and sophisticated than those available to the bees, robins, dolphins, and bonobos. With language came a dawning of the abstract, an ability to visualize things like sophisticated tools, to question, and to plan logically for winter, in other words, moving beyond instinct and genomic memory. Codifying "hunches" led to superstitions and myths. When writing was discovered, myths and diaries were among the early subject matter, much of which comes down to us today. A stable mythology became the platform for belief systems that ascribed events like lightning, thunder, pestilence, flood, and war to various Gods.

After the paleolithic period drew to a close ten millennia ago, the God of gods of pagan times slowly evolved simply into God, some six millennia ago. During that period, hunting and gathering were displaced by agriculture. This watershed of technology gave at least a few humans enough free time to contemplate the purpose of it all and establish a measure of safety from the elements--and, one supposes, safety from the gods. Metallurgy came into being and the march toward modernization began in earnest.

The pivotal period during which religions formalized began about 800 BCE. Middle Eastern monotheism, Judaism, arose more or less in concert with Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism and Confucianism. Scribes, at last able to write and leave more or less permanent records of their days, recorded the sayings of local prophets, laced with myth from still earlier times. Their writings provided early snapshots of their cultures, that had evolved in the isolation of time and distance. Their writings were also harbingers for the religious experiences to come. Meanwhile, they also recorded secular activities such as the Golden Age of Greece with its remarkable advances in mathematics and philosophy as well as the mythologies of the day. This era of countdown to modernization ended about 200 BCE.

The many early prophets never agreed upon whose god is God. Neither did the later ones: Jesus and Muhammed continued that disagreement. And so it remained, through the age of Newton into our own times. Religious conflict, hatred and bigotry, it appears, have always been with us.

From all this, we see a marvelous and uniquely human development: first we wonder why, then we wonder how, and finally we try to explain. Along with memory, our attempts to explain evolved from instinct, through superstition, mythology, religion, philosophy, and alchemy to science and finally technology. Toolmaking likewise evolved as well and eventually included, most importantly, writing, which could be handed down. In this way societies acquired memories of a more permanent sort than myth, stories or technologies handed down from parent to child. Being splintered geographically and heterogeneous in experience and environment, one would naturally expect social evolution in separate populations to differ in language, customs and belief systems, all according to the rules of evolution. Indeed, those divergences continue in the many family, social, economic, political, and religious systems embraced by today's world societies. Societies in competition are analogous to species in competition. Only the most adaptable and fit prosper over the long run. The long run in the case of Homo sapiens means millennia. Competition, with us from antiquity, continues on an ever-more-destructive tangent. Our fiercest instincts are directed toward our very selves! Ironic? Not at all; it is mature's way.

Nevertheless, as we compete socially with one another, we also rely upon each other for goods or services. This, too, is evident in nature. Some species evolved relying on other species. Many animal species, fish from early times, evolved a herd instinct (to flock together) and that has stood us humans in good stead, too. Human families formed tribes and tribes formed social and trading groups that became nations.

Resolving inter-nation conflict began in earnest with WWII and the subsequent Cold War. The seeds for those cataclysms were of course planted much earlier, by events such as the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution.

To replay all this from a different perspective, two and a half million years from stone tools to trading groups and modernism is a mere blink of an eye for geologic time. In that period hominids evolved at least six distinct species:

Homo habilis, the first known stone ax maker was smaller than a chimpanzee but had a 25% larger brain. Homo ergaster was up to six feet tall and slender, with a brain twice as large as a chimpanzee. Ergaster doubtless survived by his/her wits. Homo erectus was the first hominid to leave Africa for the Far East. His technology was still stone axes. Homo heidelbergensis came to Europe from Africa a half million years ago with an expanded set of stone tools for hunting. The lack of artistic artifacts implies any language was rudimentary. Homo neanderthalensis, the Neanderthal, was the stoutest of the European hominids; at the same time he had a modern brain case. His presence ranged from Spain to Israel. Neanderthalensis coexisted with sapiens but died out about 30,000 years ago.

Homo sapiens idaltu is the oldest known fossil of our species and dates from some 155,000 years ago.

The Homo sapien is undeniably self-important. If, for example, a rogue virus erased all of humanity from the face of the earth, very few of the remaining species would take any notice at all, other than to expand back into their former niches. (Nature, Vol 435, 26 May 2005, p. 429.)

The intellectual explosion that most distinguishes sapiens from its progenitors began early on but only in earnest about 50,000 years ago. New kinds of tools appeared, jewelry, art forms, and elaborate graves all attest to the ability of sapiens to think in terms of symbols and use well-stocked languages. Homo sapiens came to the New World in waves beginning more than 10,000 years ago.

Distinct societies began to farm 10,000 years ago. Agrarian life, being easier and more efficient, slowly supplanted hunting and gathering. With increased time for reflection, sapien technology advanced, slowly at first, then with gathering steam to today's comparatively explosive rates. Technology itself evolves in fits and starts and otherwise mimics natural and social evolution.

The earliest technologists were farmers. They intuitively applied some of Mendel's later discoveries in developing the main crops we still see today, such as wheat, barley, peas, and lentils. It was over 10,000 years before Mendel performed the critical experiments that allowed him to formulate the laws of inheritance. By domesticating crops, and animals too, the early farmers made life easier, to the point where humanity had time to ponder about the nature of things and do something about it.

With the passage of time, the stronger societies, more efficient in discovering new science, for generating capital, and developing new tools of war, not only survived but grew to dominance in an ebb and flow mindful of the herbivore / carnivore competition. The Roman Empire gave way to Islam which in turn could not compete with the Europeans for sustained dominance.

Advanced technology and sea transportation allowed distant populations to be subjugated and many were. The Western Hemisphere came under European dominance this way. Invaders with their superior technologies won. The herbivore/carnivore competition was played out in a new form. Humanity simply added organization and technology to evolutionary behavior and carried it to new extremes in creating empires, subjugating others, eradicating other species and committing genocide on grand scales. Rebellions against empires eventually swept aside the concept of geographical empire, and new states supplanted the old. And today, the USA has become synonymous with an economic empire, no less subjugating than the older political forms.

Signs of erosion can already be found--America's ability to sustain a semblance of economic health comes mainly from the blessings of China and Europe who purchase US Government bonds that cover our shortfall. That in turn seems to depend more on the exchange rate than anything else. The depreciating dollar we now see is the necessary result. Our excesses have not encouraged peace. More likely it is the opposite. The expressed motive behind the World Trade Center bombing was a protest against our presence in and exploitation of the lands of Islam--all in the American Interest, a modern term for Manifest Destiny. In other words, our imperial nature fostered rebellion a la 1776--with the shoe on the other foot so to speak. Our vast technical and military superiorities spawned the only feasible response--TERROR. And so it came to pass.

Terror, at once so enigmatic to Westerners, so obvious to Middle Easterners, merely expresses our genetic heritage. Are Western leaders in denial of that fact? It would seem that the current crop is!

Back to our story.

With respect to peace, it is not all about fierceness, or lack of it; successful and peaceful societies have evolved in modern times, with no changes in the human genome. Many nations have avoided war for centuries. And even the most violent of nations has grown pockets of non-violent living. There are lessons to be learned here.

When left to their instincts, people naturally reach out to each other, and to nature. For example, a great many people experience a connectedness with other people, with animals, and with nature in a spiritual sense. It may be more than spiritual; we share about 99% of our genes with our nearest relative, the chimpanzees, even though our lineages separated over seven million years ago. On average, in terms of genes in common, we differ from our chimpanzee cousins by six parts in 1,000 or one part in 170. In terms of how our common genes are arranged, the difference is greater, more like about one part in forty. How could there not be great commonality in behaviors and instincts? in fact, biologists are now seeing "morality" in the behavior of chimpanzees.

Aside from that, the herding instinct can serve the ends of peace. It seems to have done just that in many societies, especially democratic ones or those influenced by the Eastern philosophies and religions. To be human is to appreciate the vastness and complexity of nature even as we gain in understanding it. To walk in the forest, along the ocean, and in the desert can be most awe-inspiring. So, also, for meeting and learning about new people, composing operas, or photographing vistas. To others, harnessing the photon, deciphering DNA, teaching animals sign language, and calculating orbits to find new worlds are equally inspiring. There is a oneness in purpose, discovery. All this while our genome contains genes for ferocity, a potential for violence expressed in part by the Authoritarian Personality.

Then there is enhanced awareness. Awareness is a consciousness of ourselves and of our surroundings and it accrues and resides in our brains. It includes what we can remember of similar moments, what our senses tell us, and what we can make of all that. Awareness exists in a huge number of species; for example, honey bees can not only navigate but communicate to their brethren where the nectar is! All three elements of awareness are present in honey bees.

What we can see includes dying. And part of our animal nature is an instinct to survive; we do not ordinarily wish to die. As children we are comforted from this fear in various ways by our parents. How to prepare for life, how to live, reproduce, and prepare for death are among explanations children get from their parents in most cultures. And local cultures make up societies and civilizations. Doubtless this need to prepare for life and death made organized religion necessary to give purpose and provide hope for individuals as well as to serve as a moral directive for society.

Cultures vary in how they go about these explanations. In most cases there are provisions for a moral life, and an afterlife. Although there are many differences, most mainstream religions agree roughly on what constitutes a moral life. It is in the deity (or deities), the after-life (or reincarnation), details like circumcision, birth control, and women's rights, and in who the prophets are where they differ most. The various religions certainly have more in common than they do in difference. Each of the three monotheistic branches, for example, do not just believe that they have the truth, they share the belief that their own version is the only true religion.

One of those cultural commonalties is the survival instinct which can lead to arguments between individuals, families, communities, and civilizations over space and resources. And, yes, the survival instinct permeates the three great monotheisms, how else could it be? They are now in conflict. Yet each monotheism borrows from practices of others; each has its own story of Abraham. Thinking people in each culture realize that even instincts must be set aside before true peace can reign. One way to accomplish that, perhaps the best, is via Education and Dialogue. To survive, you must be dominant or so the "emotion" goes.

Many people have profound spiritual experiences quite apart from organized religion. And these come in many different contexts, walks of life, and cultures. Of course, such experiences lead many into organized religion of one brand or another. But many times not. An atheist may find more joy in a walk in the woods than a theist does. Each sees and appreciates such different things.

"Entanglement" is no longer an arcane theory of physics, but an observable fact. Entanglement is the phenomenon that Einstein called "spooky action at a distance." For example, when particles of light (photons) are paired in their creation to share a measurable feature such as momentum, then once that feature is measured "later" in one of the particles, say as a 0 or a 1, the other photon instantly demonstrates the alternate value even though years may elapse and huge distances traveled from the creation to the measurement. Many people believe this feature is akin to the connectedness they experience as mentioned above. It is certainly analogous; physics provides a "template" for the experiences claimed by some people. To an amazing extent, Buddhist beliefs find analogies in physics.

Religion shows its fundamentalist Achilles heel when it masquerades as, or displaces, secular governance or science of later days. Galileo's life is perhaps the most famous example of the religion and science conflict. Although confined to quarters by the Pope for life, Galileo is remembered "reverently" by posterity; but who remembers the name of the pope?

Societies able to master nature were the societies that moved ahead technologically and, at no time was this more evident than in the last 200 years. However, this advancement began much earlier. Religion played roles in determining how and where that happened. Belief systems that could coexist with or integrate the new sciences were those that prospered. The Reformation in Europe is an example of such an accommodation that allowed technological and political explosions. It did not come easily; it threatened the powers that be. This feature persists into our times.

Evolution of society mimics that of nature because society is natural to most things capable of independent locomotion. To get a feel for this one, watch birds in migration. They have cohesion to go with their direction and purpose. In every case, a flock is a flock, its direction and purpose is set. And conflict can result when flock meets flock. It is the same with human societies: A cursory look shows that:

  • Conservative Islam today faces the serious challenge it has borne for generations; its conservative wings still insist that only the Koran, Hadith and Shariah provide the whole truth and nothing but the truth and this belief has largely been responsible for Islam lagging behind the West in science and governance.
  • After two millennia of relative peace -- though persecuted and vicitmized by genocide, Judaism was dragged by the Zionists into war with the Palestinians, even though one well-known Zionist, Jabotinsky, predicted that Israel could exist in Palestine only behind an Iron Wall and with a strong external state sponsor. He may have been the only Jew of his time to understand history in the context of human nature.
  • Some Christians seem to be confused, even put off, by the basic issues of a people forcefully displaced in Palestine, an act of state terror; most others see the Palestinians as terrorists who have no right to resist humiliation that comes from being ejected from their homes. Indians of early America suffered an identical fate and blame for resisting.
  • Each culture in Palestine thinks it is the best, the one, and only one, blessed by God.

One thing for sure, people of each faith know too little of the other. How to integrate these faiths and damp down bigotry is a challenge in our times of globalization. At the extremes in morality, we see societies that are relatively peaceful, and others that are genocidal. For the latter, the world, especially the USA in its isolationism, usually stands by until too late, a crime of a different sort. See Samantha Power's "A Problem From Hell" for how Americans could watch genocide happen again and again and do nothing of substance. American ignorance, indifference, and lack of imagination left the killing fields to the killers, not just in Nazi Germany and the Gulag, but in Cambodia, Uganda, Bosnia, Rwanda and other places as well. And it still is, though we fight on in Iraq against a nebulous opposition for dubious reasons.

Humankind has mastered much of nature in the physical sense of safety and longevity; the evolution toward a governance system that could lead to pacem in terris (peace on earth) has just begun. The physical triumph that is modernism, came, and still is coming, from the sectarian quarter, in spite of religion, not because of it.

This is not to say the Church and religions do not feed the starving, aid the poor, and otherwise implement some mastery of nature developed by the secular quarters. Religions also provide comfort to individuals in their fear of the unknown, need for purpose. All religions do these things in various ways, but by their conservative natures, monotheisms rarely create anything to further mastery of nature, whether it be science, social systems, or governance. The search for "peaceful" can only proceed in an evolutionary manner. But it will require a world social reformation.

Maybe a new word is needed, "evonation" perhaps, for reformation for peace will not happen in just one generation. Several may be needed. Meanwhile, why can't we all adopt an attitude like Stephen Low of Montreal who produced the fine documentary, "Galapagos," and who, as a Christian, views science as a celebration of what nature, or God, has done and that either way there is no conflict? Of course the conflict arises from the comfort Authoritarians find absolute hierarchy and authority in literal interpretations of the Old Testament, the Qur'an, or the Torah, never mind that their morals and fables arose largely from earlier pagan and superstitious times. The question of whose god is God will never be settled by violence. It was a Pope who inspired Martin Luther. Disagreements among the Muslim scribes led to a split, the Sunnis and the Shias we see today, each of which has spawned further sects. Judaism also has its sects descending from Abraham. Joseph Smith split away from his Protestant roots. In each case, eloquent and charismatic prophets replaced earlier dogma with new, keeping enough fragments from the past for credibility. That was just as true in Old Testament times. See: "The Causes of Anti-Semitism", by Arthur Blech, for some surprises in this regard.

Nevertheless, societies exist on earth today that are relatively peaceful. See Hope for some examples. We can learn from them. This natural history of life does not deny God, only that God operates on a more subtle scale than Abraham or the later prophets believed. See "The Theory of Everything" by Stephen Hawking, for simple yet profound extensions of the concept of God. Hawking believes that the nature of the universe says a lot about the possible nature of God. Whether or not the universe was constructed by God as monotheists envision, God cannot be anthropomorphic. Carl Zimmer in his "Evolution", Part 4, nicely interweaves natural history and religious doctrine. From the opposite pole, Karen Armstrong, in her "History of God", describes the 4000 year quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Armstrong is at once sympathetic, witty, informative, and contemplative.

Until all societies find and employ stable systems of governance with world and local peace as primary objectives, the laws of the jungle/savanna and self-interest will prevail. These laws enmesh us again and again; history does indeed repeat itself. This quest for permanent peaceful governance begins with each of us. And, it can end in the same place.

Where it all began is important here. Civilization seems to have arisen on most continents more or less in synchrony. Most of the oldest monuments to civilization include ample evidence that warfare was a motivator behind the creation of great cities well able to defend themselves. There is one great example to the contrary: Caral, Peru. At this civilization birth place there are no traces of warfare at Caral; no battlements, no weapons, no mutilated bodies. Not even depictions of war are to be found. So the violent side of humanity does not always win out.

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