In The Social Conquest of Earth, E. O. Wilson soft-pedals and sugarcoats the darkness of his vision of human nature so transparently expressed in his novel, Anthill, as similar to chronically warring colonies of ants – all our virtue derives from the cooperation necessary for groups to successfully wage war.
In his ant myth of human nature, Wilson is hewing to the tenets of his own prophet, Charles Darwin, whose own thinking was decisively influenced by Thomas Malthus’ calculations of chronic over population. Read the sentence Wilson quotes from Darwin’s Descent of Man: “There can be no doubt that a tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to give aid to each other and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over most other tribes [my italics;] and this would be natural selection.” Then several pages later: “Man tends to multiply at so rapid a rate that his offspring are necessarily exposed to a struggle for existence, and consequently to natural selection.” In his teachings, Darwin very pointedly designated natural selection as a “struggle” and all of his acolytes have remained reverently faithful to this central doctrinal tenet. There can be no doubt that for Wilson, following Darwin, the natural selection of human virtue was the result of chronic war between the groups of our ancestral species.
No one is accusing Dr. Wilson of Nazism or racism, or anything of the like because he well knows that genetic differences between all the races is negligible. Dr. Wilson realizes that the die of our fundamental nature was cast well before the first Homo sapiens ever walked the earth. Nevertheless, make no mistake that this is a new kind Social Darwinism that he is espousing which fits neatly into the core Conservative belief that the human is inherently and irreconcilably a warlike animal, and that the only way we will ever remain safe is to arm to the teeth, knuckle under, and follow to the letter the fragile documents that we congratulate ourselves for concocting by virtue of our enlightened faculties of reason.
Kiley Hamlin and her associates at Yale (2007) demonstrated a sense of justice in 6-10 month old infant children concluding that it is a “biological adaptation” in humans. The question that must be faced is whether that adaptation was nurtured in the crucible of warring groups. So, the Darwinian belief that within species competition – in this case between groups – was indispensable in hominid evolution is the central issue here.
I have presented an alternative myth which is consistent with my own researches on the emotional fossils revealed in mental illness. My findings have led me to believe that the most fundamental meaning of the biologic transition that took place 6 million years ago was the transformation of the energy squandered by competition into productive, coordinated behavior. Under population – not over population – due to low birthrates was the issue for these apes that were faced with extinction in their deteriorating climates. This novel kind of evolution was a passive process in which it was the superior fecundity and productivity of some associations within groups over others that reversed the downward trend. Specifically, it was the manner of association between monogamously mated couples within groups that were selected on account of the transformation of competition between individuals into the internal coordination of a new kind of group organism.
For the first 3 ½ million years hominids drifted into evolving huge molar teeth in order to eat abundant, low quality foods for which that there was no need for these groups to compete. And then, thereafter, reading Boaz and Ciochon’s Dragon Bone Hill (2004) convinced me that the environments that the pre-human Homo species endured were harsh enough with horrendous cave hyenas lurking all about and continuously shifting climates that their sole advantage was their unprecedented coordination to function as group organisms. The beleaguered groups of these paleolithic species couldn’t afford the luxury of waging war with 0ne other. I have offered up that the only conceivable reason the hand ax remained unchanged for 1 ½ million years was that the group practice of this activity was continuously shared between peaceful networks of groups with multiple kinship ties. In order to have variation, you must have isolation, and due to the sheer gregariousness of their nature, these group organisms were constantly mixing and sharing with one another back and forth, within and between the expanses of entire continents.
I do agree with Dr. Wilson that the processes of kin selection followed by reciprocal altruism just don’t cut the mustard by themselves on their own. They are simply too weak as evolutionary forces to have created the sheer strength and durability of bonding to have held us together all the way through our long, harsh journey into what we have become. The most glaring evidence of the nature of this fusion of individuals into single organisms is its legacy of language with its unique ability to share intentionality.
Therefore, I have become convinced that you must make a choice. There is no third way. You either have to believe in my conception of a higher evolutionary source for our beneficence or the disinterred Social Darwinism of Edward Wilson – in which the genetics our virtues are indelibly tied to internecine group warfare. Is our human nature slowly moving toward its true destiny of peace and justice for all mankind, or are our better angels destined to be forever shackled to the evil irreconcilably bred into our core?