The main idea of this book is that humans carry in them DNA based and evolutionary developed blueprint of their social behavior and that this blueprint had to be taken into account in all issues related to social engineering and societal changes. The neglect to do so could and did lead to dysfunction, sometime on the huge scale like WWI and WWII. So we would be much better off if we learn to understand it and comply with its requirements.
Preface Our Common Humanity
Author starts his book about common humanity with personal experience being an outlier in the mob, as an American kid and later as teenager in the middle of Greek nationalist demonstrations with anti-American feelings. He then moves to his experience as doctor and scientist that clearly demonstrated human commonality among all the groups regardless of how they were defined: ethnic, religious, national, or whatever. After that he expresses believe in possibility to overcome divisions because: “The fundamental reason is that we each carry within us an evolutionary blueprint for making a good society. Genes do amazing things inside our bodies, but even more amazing to me is what they do outside of them. Genes affect not only the structure and function of our bodies; not only the structure and function of our minds and, hence, our behaviors; but also the structure and function of our societies. This is what we recognize when we look at people around the world. This is the source of our common humanity. Natural selection has shaped our lives as social animals, guiding the evolution of what I call a “social suite” of features priming our capacity for love, friendship, cooperation, learning, and even our ability to recognize the uniqueness of other individuals. Despite all the trappings and artifacts of modern invention—our tools, agriculture, cities, nations—we carry within us innate proclivities that reflect our natural social state, a state that is, as it turns out, primarily good, practically and even morally. Humans can no more make a society that is inconsistent with these positive urges than ants can suddenly make beehives.“
Chapter 1: The Society Within Us
Once again author starts this chapter with recollection of his childhood playing with kids from different ethnic groups. It followed by discussion of commonalities and formulation of what author calls the Social Suit:
(1) The capacity to have and recognize individual identity
(2) Love for partners and offspring
(4) Social networks
(6) Preference for one’s own group (that is, “in-group bias”)
(7) Mild hierarchy (that is, relative egalitarianism)
(8) Social learning and teaching
The final point author makes here is that tremendous amount of variation between human groups generally is not coming from human genetic makeup, but universal commonalities, as they are expressed in Social Suit, do come from human DNA common for individuals in all groups.
Chapter 2: Unintentional Communities
This chapter is about unintentional communities that where created by unusual circumstances such as shipwreck leaving a number of individuals in isolation. Author analyses how ability or inability to self-organization had decisive impact on chances to survive in this circumstances. In order to support this point author reviews in details several such cases.
Chapter 3: Intentional Communities
This is analysis of different type of communities: intentionally created utopian and/or religious communities with well-documented histories such as Brook Farm, The Shakers, Kibbutzim, Walden, and finally Urban communities of 1960s. Author provides detailed scientific analysis of human networks formed in isolated community of scientists working in Antarctic station. The concise result comes to this: “In short, though the specific circumstances vary, two broad sorts of forces serve to promote the success of, or hasten the collapse of, communalist dreams to make society anew: intrinsic biological pressures and extrinsic environmental pressures. Pushed by the blueprint within us, and even if pulled by the forces around us, it is not easy, or feasible, to abandon the social suite.“
Chapter 4: Artificial Communities
The artificial communities in this case are product of social experimentation with use of Amazon Mechanical Turk. Author describes methodology of these experiments first in building Small societies, and then in use of Massive online games. Here are some graphic results:
Then author discusses use of topology to systemize variety of shell forms using multidimensional space that opens possibility to define all conceivable forms, even if they do not exists. Author then applies this methodology to discuss societies:” To do this, we would have to define the key axes, just like Raup’s three parameters. One important axis might be the hypothetical size of the society, perhaps defined as the size at which people actually know the others in the group well, even if they are not close friends; this could range from, say, zero (meaning that no one knows anyone in our imagined society) to two thousand (each person knows two thousand other people intimately). In reality, most people have about four or five close social contacts and know roughly one hundred and fifty people well—well being defined as familiar enough that they can pick up a conversation where they left off after an absence. This latter number is known as Dunbar’s number. Another axis we might focus on is the cooperativeness of the society or some measure of its proclivity for intragroup violence, perhaps quantified as the chance that two people would cooperate with each other when playing a public-goods game (using a percentage ranging from 0 to 100, 100 percent being the most cooperative). In real human societies, the chance is typically about 65 percent, meaning that roughly two-thirds of people are inclined to cooperate with a stranger when it comes to sharing a possible reward. But the extent of cooperative behaviors can vary somewhat across societies. A third axis might be related to the structure of the social ties—for example, the number of connections people have or the likelihood that their friends are themselves friends with one another (this is known as transitivity in the network, and it ranges from 0 percent to 100 percent). An alternative parameter for the third axis could be a measure of hierarchy or equality in the distribution of some key resource. Once we chose and defined our various axes, we could put all our examples—and, indeed, all
known societies—into such a grid with three (or more) dimensions.
At the end of chapter author makes the point: “genes may have come to work outside our bodies, having their impact at some distance from their source—like fireworks exploding far from their origin—helping to shape the societies far above the genes themselves. They may do this by affecting the human tendency to cooperate with and befriend others, to care for others’ children, to value other people’s individuality, and to love one’s partners. Because of this, in all the seemingly strikingly different human cultures around the world, in all the repeated opportunities to make new societies, we see the same core patterns again and again. Even the social organization and function of political units, like tribal chiefdoms and modern nation-states, are grafted onto this ancient heritage, and they must respect the principles guiding the organization of smaller groups. Rapidly invented, deliberately designed, or wholly novel social systems that seek to abrogate the social suite cannot be as functional as organically evolved ones.”
Chapter 5: First Comes Love
Here author moves to area of love demonstrating how exceptions in societal behavior kind of reaffirm existence of rules. For this author uses kissing as expression of love. It is pretty much common for all humans except for Tsonga people and some others in southern Africa that just do not do this. It follows by discussion of variety of sexual behavior: monogamy, polygamy, polygyny, and their impact on corresponding societies.
Chapter 6: Animal Attraction
Here author compares all this with animal attraction, reviewing pair bonding in animals. Author reviews male and female strategies and behavior genetics research. As example author uses Prairie Vole and genetically close Meadow Voles. Due to the small genetic variation the former are strictly monogamous, while latter are not. The extension of such research to humans demonstrated that genetic component is present in mating behavior.
Chapter 7: Animal Friends
Here author looks at deeper roots of connectivity, first at animal to humans and then between primates. For this he uses massive amount of data collected by Jane Goodall. In addition he provides contemporary analysis of social networks for various animas from chimpanzees to dolphins.
Chapter 8: Friends and Networks
In this chapter author discusses human networks and their strength, starting with example of men who protected others with their bodies during mass shooting. He characterizes this as inherent tendency to include other into self. Here is graphic representation of this idea:
After that author discusses patterns of friendship in 60 different societies. Based on research of genetic and fraternal twins author demonstrates inherited character of individual networking with others. Author also provides some statistical research data:” In 2009, we asked a national sample of households two key name generators (“Who do you trust to talk to about something personal or private?” “With whom do you spend free time?”), and we found that Americans identify an average of 4.4 close social contacts, with most having between 2.6 and 6.2. The average respondent lists 2.2 friends, 0.76 spouses, 0.28 siblings, 0.44 co-workers, and 0.30 neighbors in response to these questions. These numbers have not changed appreciably in decades, and we see similar results around the world.44 People have roughly four to five close social ties on average, typically including a spouse, perhaps a sibling or two, and usually one or two close friends. These numbers can change somewhat over the course of a person’s life (for instance, as people become widowed).“
The last part of chapter is about friends, enemies and universal bias to one’s own group, however defined.
Chapter 9: One Way to Be Social
This starts with example of failed human heart valves that contemporary medicine can substitute with valves from animals. Author uses it to demonstrate continuity of human and animal worlds. However after discussing similarities author moves to discussing individual variances in humans providing this nice illustration:
Author characterizes individuality and recognition of Self as mainly human feature seldom existing in other species, at least based on Mirror test. Then author discusses link between identity and grief, which is also characteristics of human and very few other species. The final part of the chapter is about cooperation in humans and animals, teaching and learning and so on, with conclusion that humans societies are not that radically different from other species as usually thought.
Chapter 10: Remote Control
This is about Genes’ use of bodies to change the worlds, as author puts it. Author stresses role of evolution in formation of human network and societies and then reviews various animal artifacts as example of evolutionary development of complex systems. The point he makes is that practically everything was developed by this process, therefore networks and societies are also based on evolutionary developed DNA.
Chapter 11: Genes and Culture
Author starts this chapter with description of impact of technology on productivity and cumulative nature of culture. This is followed by discussion of complexity and unpredictability of cultural development and how it depends on size of population and length of history. The final and most interesting part is discussion of culture and genes coevolution, the process that created us and the environment we live in.
Chapter 12: Natural and Social Laws
Author starts this chapter with reference to old image of body-politics when different parts of society correspond to body parts, kind of Leviathan. This follows by discussion of human societies link to nature and their separation in theological doctrines. Correspondingly industrial age views brought this link back to be dominant idea. Here is how author describes key change processes human ideologies: “It is not just the social sciences that are vulnerable to revision. New thinking and discoveries have upended many scientific claims, such as the number of chromosomes in human cells, the composition of the core of the Earth, the existence of extrasolar planets, the health risks of various nutrients, the efficacy of anti-cancer treatments, and so on. But the provisional nature of scientific discovery does not mean—cannot mean—that it is simply impossible to observe any objective reality. Over time, items of belief become formalized into hypotheses and then, after sustained testing and much experimental evidence, get widely accepted as facts: Cold, hard facts. The social sciences, like the natural sciences, advance. Their previous errors are not sufficient grounds for their present rejection. Especially in the social sciences, we need to determine whether it is the world that is transforming or just our understanding of it. For instance, just because the manner in which we understand certain core aspects of society is updated, (for example, if we invent new statistical methods or develop new theories and discard old ones) does not mean that those same aspects of society are somehow new. Some of these changes are even to be expected; the contingency we see in the social life of our species is in fact a contingency we evolved to be universally capable of manifesting. One of the ways humans differ from other primates, for instance, is in the variety of mating practices we adopt, albeit grafted onto the core practice of pair-bonding, as we saw.“
The author moves to discuss philosophical Isms: Positivism, Reductionism, Essentialism, and Determinism. Then author returns to his idea of social suit, which is to significant extent genetically human behavior, but it is far from being deterministic. It rather defines general framework of humans’ existence, but not its details and it is what author calls “blueprint”. At the end of chapter author looks at new technology such as AI and concludes that humanity is moving to hybridization of humans with machines, retaining however the blueprint as foundational feature. He ends this book with a word of caution: “Humans have always had both competitive and cooperative impulses, both violent and beneficent tendencies. Like the two strands of the double helix of our DNA, these conflicting impulses are intertwined. We are primed for conflict and hatred but also for love, friendship, and cooperation. If anything, modern societies are just a patina of civilization on top of this evolutionary blueprint. There is another reason to step off the plateau and look at mountains rather than hills. A key danger of viewing historical forces as more salient than evolutionary ones in explaining human society is that our species’ story then becomes more fragile. Giving historical forces primacy may even tempt us to give up and feel that a good social order is unnatural. But the good things we see around us are part of what makes us human in the first place. We should be humble in the face of temptations to engineer society in opposition to our instincts. Fortunately, we do not need to exercise any such authority in order to have a good life. The arc of our evolutionary history is long. But it bends toward goodness.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think it is generally not completely correct approach to look at DNA as blueprint of anything. I would rather compare it to the typographical letters in drawers with moving type. One can build whatever text is fit to circumstances, but only if there is enough letters of required types. I would also add that it is time dependent. It other words DNA contains potential, but not a blueprint, however sketchy, of result. In any case it is an interesting book, only slightly skewed by author’s expectation for encountering resistance when he states something obvious, commonsensical, and not fitting into some racist and intersectional doctrine dominant in leftist academia. Normal people who are making living not from academic positions and government grants do not require too much supporting material when they see something clearly consistent with their common sense developed via real life experiences.