Thursday, May 27, 2021

Human Domestication

Here's a cartoon, funny in a slightly warped way, about the alleged negative consequences of Homo sapiens domesticating ourselves in the course of our evolution:

Yappy Lapdog Phase

Of course, the complainer's argument can be countered by the observation that tall, attractive people skilled at slaying lions aren't best suited to our present-day milieu. Contrary to popular belief, "survival of the fittest" doesn't necessarily (or even frequently) mean the dominance of the individual or group that can win a physical fight. "Fitness" refers to optimal adaptation to one's environment. For a social species such as ours, that environment is composed in large part of other people.

An article on human "domestication," with comparisons to the differences in personality between chimpanzees and bonobos:

How Humans Domesticated Themselves

In short, chimps are the more aggressive of the two species. Bonobos (formerly known as "pygmy chimpanzees") base their social structure more on peaceful interactions, often sexual. Not that regular chimps don't display cooperative, affectionate behavior, of course, but bonobos may be thought of as the more "domesticated" primates. While male bonobos can be aggressive, the females tend to keep them in check, an appealing example of gender balance among our closest animal relatives. The "friendliest male bonobos" are likelier to succeed than those who make enemies through aggressive dominance and have to stay on guard all the time, not to mention facing the disapproval of the females—a primate analogy to the concept of women's role in "civilizing" men, as in the nineteenth-century American West, maybe?

An anthropologist quoted in the article applies this premise to a variety of species (even plants, which cooperate with insects to spread pollen), including our own: "When you look back in nature and see when a species or group of species underwent a major transition or succeeded in a new way, friendliness or an increase in cooperation are typically part of that story." The article doesn't gloss over the dark side of human community-building, however. One method of enhancing cohesion within a group, sadly, is to capitalize on suspicion of other people from different groups. To overcome this inbuilt tendency to prejudice, we need to resist the temptation to "dehumanize" others who differ from ourselves.

Reverting to the cartoon character's complaint about humanity devolving from lion-slayers to accountants, consider Andy Dufresne, a banker, the unjustly condemned protagonist of Stephen King's "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" (filmed as SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION): Andy isn't physically suited to fighting off the bullies and sexual predators among his fellow inmates (although he makes a valiant effort and sometimes succeeds). But his intelligence, quick wit, and financial expertise enable him to make himself indispensable to the guards and the warden, thus ensuring his survival and relative safety in the jungle-like environment of the prison.

Even before modern Homo sapiens evolved, evidence shows that some hominids took care of physically disabled members of their tribe, a clear indication that ever since we began to "domesticate" ourselves, attributes other than lion-slaying prowess have been valued.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

No comments:

Post a Comment