Response to The Social Conquest of Earth


     I feel compelled to write on the momentous occasion E.O. Wilson’s newly released The Social Conquest of Earth.  Those few who know my thinking know that I have high regard for E.O.Wilson and that he has inspired me for many years.  I would point out a couple things though. Dr. Wilson knows ants.  He also is a naturalist and is deeply angry at the human race for driving many animals into extinction. In that sense, his instincts are both liberal and noble. 

However, just as he knows ants, I know people, who I have been studying “from the inside” intensively for 35years as a psychiatrist.  Now is it all that surprising that he ends up his life thinking that people are like ants?  I think people are like people – he is poaching on my turf.

My main disagreement with him is the degree to which our cooperation derives from inter-group aggression.  There is no doubt that there is group aggression in our own fallen species, and there is no doubt that chimpanzees show the rudiments of group aggression.  But there is no shred of evidence that I know of that demonstrates that group aggression existed in other hominid (yes, I use the outdated nomenclature) species.

You see, I think something big happened 6 million years ago – a major biological transition – that then led to all the subsequent unprecedented changes in hominids.  His scenario really starts with controlling fire, whereas my relatively simple explanation in a parsimonious fashion explains:

1. The sudden speciation of hominids in the face of the decline of apes.

2. Upright posture as a “drop dead” criterion from the very beginning;

3. The development of tool making way beyond any other creature;

4. The paradox of huge brain growth along side of stability in the hand ax industry, and

5. Self awareness in humans.   

Have an open mind? Start with the “emotional fossil” series. Challenge me. Ask me questions.


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2 Comments on “Wilson’s The Social Conquest of Earth (he knows ants – I know people)-1st of series”

  1. I admire your respectful disagreement. But of course the stakes are really high: how we see ourselves. Those with a very negative view of humans are playing to the crowd, since we are so riddled with shame and guilt. OTOH, beneath that people do seem to retain a sense that we are more than merely the smartest apes. You speak to that latent conviction with knowledge and compassion.

  2. Thank you Richard, I do think the stakes are high. Really Wilson’s novel, “Anthill” most disturbed me because it reveals the depth of his cynicism about human nature. I have had it with academic cynics – particularly the mathematicians. They ought to go out and mingle with some real people.

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