Re: meme as catalytic indexical

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sat 24 Jan 2004 - 02:52:47 GMT

  • Next message: Van oost Kenneth: "Re: meme as catalytic indexical"

    At 07:30 PM 23/01/04 -0500, Ray wrote:
    >At 05:07 PM 1/23/2004, Ted wrote:


    >>Indeed, this is exactly what we find in the historical record. We see a
    >>great many examples of cultural trends that take on a life of their own,
    >>that refuse to die even after the social context in which they once made
    >>sense have disappeared. Barbara Ehrenreich provides an excellent example of
    >>this phenomenon from the late Paleolithic. Up until the end of the last Ice
    >>Age, humans were commonly preyed upon by wild animals, especially the big

    I am not aware of evidence for significant predation on the human line by big cats since the days of the australopithecine.

    >>We developed weapons with which to fight and kill these beasts. But
    >>when their populations were decimated at the end of the Ice Age, along with
    >>the great herd populations they mostly fed on, instead of putting down our
    >>weapons, we began wielding them against each other. The battle mentality
    >>took on a life of its own. Ehrenreich's thesis can be tested against the
    >>historical record. Indeed, the evidence for warfare goes back about 12,000
    >>years, to the end of the Ice Age, where it abruptly leaves off. She
    >>describes war as a meme that was unleashed 12,000 years ago and has
    >>successfully adapted to changing conditions ever since.
    >This is the perfect example of how something can be disproved
    >historically. Barbara Ehrenreich's hypothesis - War is a meme that first
    >began propagating in humans 12,000 years ago.
    >The proof that this is incorrect: chimpanzee wars

    This doesn't really constitute proof. Suppose the chimps had gone extinct and all we had to compare with was the equally related bonobos? (It could be we just haven't studied bonobos enough and they will turn out to be killers as well.)

    But I think you are right, war has been part of human behavior for a *long* time. War is killing and to kill there has to be people. Humans have about twice the reproductive capacity of chimps because of male provisioning of females and young. Thus you would expect that for the same sized tribes there would be twice as many humans killed per unit time as chimps.

    Quoting the last paragraph of the article:

    "Prof Wrangham suggests that since we cannot escape our violent heritage, we should harness both male and female strengths to address global conflicts. "I fantasise about a world in which countries have two legislative houses, one of men, one of women, and sanctioning war only if approved by both houses. It would take us one useful step away from ape biology and the mayhem men cause.""

    Of course, it is *women* who have and raise the babies that grow up and overload the ecology inducing groups to fight each other for resources. And it is the women who pass on the genes *even of the losers* so that there is no evolutionary check on the tendency to make war on the tribe in the next valley when the alternative is starving.

    Fortunately if given power over their bodies and birth control technology women limit population growth. This has probably done more for the cause of peace than any other factor.

    Keith Henson

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