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20130413 Social Conquests of Earth and Human Nature



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Every time when I read a new book, even if it is by author I know, I cannot say upfront if it worth of my time or not. Not so with E.Q. Wilson who’s every book that I read so far brings something new to think about. This time these are 2 very big ideas that do not come naturally.

The first one is that human species is not alone conquerors of Earth. Other species that we do not think about that much are actually as successful as we are. It turns out that ants and bees are as good as we are in adjusting to environment and changing environment to meet their own needs. As humans they build accommodation for millions of individuals, practice agriculture and to some extent manufacturing. Contrary to humans who are still in process of completing their expansion, these insects slowly co-evolve with environment and therefore achieved sustainable levels of existence millions of years ago.

According to estimates their biomass is approximately equal to biomass of 7 billion currently living humans, so as of now we have two types of species with eusociality sharing earth between them. One (insects) with complete subordination of individual to collective or, based on the fact of genetic sameness of all individuals in ants or bees colony, rather expansion of one individual into multiple clones adjusted by environment to fulfill different functions. (Oh boy it really sounds like socialist / communist dream). Another one (humans) with more complex relationship between individual and group based on relative independence of individual from the group and genetic diversity between individuals.

Here is where the second main idea kicks in – human evolution occurred in two dimensions. It is combination of individual selection and group selection. This duality explains a lot in human genetics and human behavior. The individual cannot survive on his/her own, but any sacrifice of own genetic fitness to the group leads to evolutionary disadvantage. So this is where duality of humans is coming from – constant tension and interplay between individual and collective interest.

The only thing is I do not think there is such a thing as collective interest, so it should be formulated as tension between individuals who are not in control of the group and individuals who are in control of the group. The individuals in control obtain it by building group identity whether as tribe or state or nation or religion or whatever. If successful, it kicks in genetically imbedded need to belong to the group and support group competition against other groups especially when this competition comes in the form of war. If needed, this support could get to the level of self-sacrifice especially in young and well-indoctrinated individuals. Somehow older age and family often switch individual’s effort from achieving group ideals to obtaining benefits for his/her family.

What is really differentiate humans from insects is that any group successfully winning competition against other groups tends to have individuals in control overreaching in identification of their own individual interests with the group so they direct resources to satisfy these interests at the expense of individuals not in control. The typical outcome is internal revolution in the group sometime partial when only individuals in control are changed, but sometimes complete when the whole group identity is changed – for instance individuals accept a different religion or much more often drastic modification of old.

The great invention of democracy is that it provides procedure for orderly and peaceful change of individuals in control. Depending on severity of unhappiness the change could be small something like between similar political parties or it could be big something like coming to power of new political force with ideas drastically different from the ones that dominated before.

Such big changes happened several times in American history – the last time it was triumph of Progressivism in both dominant political parties over period from late XIX century to the mid XX century. The continuing degradation of progressive / socialist / communist / collectivist ideas to the level of rusty junk car that we can observe now created the general unhappiness of individuals not in control that will probably lead to another radical, while peaceful change in USA and consequently in the world within next 30 to 50 years.

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