Freedom Expanded: Book 1—The New Biology
Part 8:5G The Social Ecological Model
To return now to mechanistic science’s determination to avoid the unbearable significance of bonobos’ remarkable nurturing, maternal behaviour through the development of the theory known as the Social Ecological Model (SEM).
In essence, the SEM holds that the abundance of food available to the bonobos was what gave rise to their extraordinary harmony and cooperation. The model maintains that a plentiful supply of food meant that groups of bonobos no longer had to split up to feed, which gave females the opportunity to socialise more and, in time, to form coalitions to protect themselves against aggressive male competition for mating opportunities, thus forcing males to adopt more cooperative strategies. To quote from a description of the SEM in a 2001 paper by the anthropologists Richard Wrangham and David Pilbeam: ‘The absence of gorillas made high-quality foliage more available for proto-bonobos than for chimpanzees. As a result, proto-bonobos experienced a reduced intensity of scramble competition compared to chimpanzees. Reduced scramble competition allowed more stable parties, which then made several forms of aggression more dangerous and costly, and less beneficial, to the aggressors. This change in the economics of violence led through various social consequences to female-female alliances, concealed ovulation, and reduced individual vulnerability to gang attacks. All these favored a reduction in the propensity for male aggressiveness’ (‘African apes as time machines’, All Apes Great and Small: Volume 1: African Apes, 2002, p.12 of 316). So, under the dictates of the SEM, bonobos were able to become, to quote Wrangham again, ‘a species biologically committed to the moral aspects of what, ironically, we like to call “humanity”: respect for others, personal restraint, and turning aside from violence as a solution to conflicting [social] interests’ (Demonic Males, 1997, p.230 of 350). Wrangham is also reported to have referred to ‘those loving bonobos’ (Steve Sailer, ‘Chimps and Chumps’, National Review, 1999, Vol.51, No.18).
So this model claimed to explain bonobos’ extraordinary ‘respect for others’, ‘personal restraint’, ‘loving’, ‘moral’, cooperative nature without a single mention of the importance of nurturing! Its appeal, however, can be judged by its adoption, in one form or another, by almost all the leading bonobo researchers (including Alison and Noel Badrian, Ben Blount, Christophe Boesch, Barbara Fruth, Brian Hare, Gottfried Hohmann, Takayoshi Kano, Suehisa Kuroda, Toshisada Nishida, Amy Parish, David Pilbeam, Barbara Smuts, Randall Susman, Frans de Waal, Frances White and Richard Wrangham), and by the fact that it remains virtually uncontested since being put forward in the early 1980s. While not all these scientists necessarily agree with Wrangham that bonobos behave in a ‘loving’ way—with some maintaining bonobos are capable only of reciprocal selflessness—all acknowledge that bonobos are extraordinarily cooperative and all use the SEM to explain it.
But while the SEM serves the purpose of denying the significance of nurturing in bonobo society, the mechanisms it uses to do so—namely that females have been able to form coalitions to counter male aggression, and that those coalitions are successful in dominating males—are, in fact, seriously flawed.
Firstly, with regard to bonobo females being able to form coalitions to protect themselves against male aggression, the SEM argues that the opportunity to spend more time together—which, in the case of bonobos, they say was made possible by an abundance of food—allowed bonobos to form ‘stable parties’ that in time allowed the formation of ‘female-female alliances’ to protect themselves against ‘male aggressiveness’ arising from competition for mating opportunities.
However, while it is not uncommon amongst mammals for situations to occur where ‘stable parties’ are able to and do form, it is rare for such ‘stable parties’ to lead to ‘female-female alliances’ that have the power to prevent ‘male aggressiveness’—which is surprising because such an alliance would certainly seem beneficial since male aggression does come at a cost to females, as these quotes indicate: ‘Sexual harassment has significant negative consequences for females even when it doesn’t end up in coerced sex; it can increase stress and interfere with normal activities, reducing health, fitness and longevity. Some forms of harassment may even culminate in injury or death’ (Linda Mealey, Sex Differences: Developmental and Evolutionary Strategies, 2000, p.130 of 480); and ‘Females in many mammalian species experience both sexual aggression and infanticide by males’ (Barbara Smuts & Robert Smuts, ‘Male Aggression and Sexual Coercion of Females in Nonhuman Primates and Other Mammals: Evidence and Theoretical Implications’, Advances in the Study of Behavior, 1993, Vol.22). If ‘stable parties’ were all that were required to form ‘female-female alliances’ that could stop ‘male aggressiveness’ then such alliances would be common amongst mammals, but they aren’t. In short, the formation of such alliances do occur within primate societies (especially among bonobos), but if the SEM is correct it should also be regularly occurring in non-primate mammals, but it isn’t. To quote the anthropologists Barbara and Robert Smuts: ‘the use of female coalitions to thwart aggressive males appears to be rare in other mammals compared with nonhuman primates’ (ibid).
The only conclusion for why the strategy of forging ‘female-female alliances’ to prevent ‘male aggressiveness’ is rare outside primate species is that the strategy is not genetically successful—in other words, it is not in the interest of the female’s chances of reproducing her genes, otherwise natural selection would have ‘discovered’ it and the practice would be a common one amongst all mammals. As such, there has to be some other factor aside from ‘stable parties’ enabling females to form these types of coalitions, and the regularity with which these alliances appear within primates compared with non-primate mammals suggests it is something unique to primates. But while the SEM cannot account for this peculiarity, the love-indoctrination explanation certainly does. As was explained in Part 8:4B, primates, whose arms are semi-freed from walking and are thus able to hold a helpless infant, are uniquely placed to develop love-indoctrination should conditions be favourable—and, as we’ve established, the bonobos have the most favourable environmental conditions amongst the primates and, as a result, have been able to develop the most love-indoctrinated integration.
Yes, it would appear that it is only amongst primate species, where more nurturing is able to be selected for and both males and females are able to be indoctrinated with unconditional selfless love, that the ‘economics of violence’ changes enough for it to be possible to form ‘female-female alliances’ to help rein in ‘male aggressiveness’.
So the differing degrees of success that the various primate species are having in forming female coalitions is a reflection of how favourable their environment is for developing love-indoctrination. For example, bonobos do live in a more food abundant environment than chimpanzees, something the SEM recognises, which is why bonobos have been far more successful in developing love-indoctrination and thus forming effective ‘female-female alliances’ to stop ‘male aggressiveness’—but, as stated, the SEM does not account for why chimpanzees and bonobos are, to varying degrees of success, able to form female coalitions against male aggression when that is a behaviour that ‘appears to be rare in other mammals’. No, only love-indoctrination explains why ‘female-female alliances’ to stop ‘male aggressiveness’ appears primarily in primates.
It should also be noted that even with love-indoctrination operating within primate species, the obstacles against forming successful female coalitions are significant, which accounts for why, without love-indoctrination, it ‘appears to be rare in other mammals’. For example, primate males are stronger than their female counterparts, which means that even if ‘female-female alliances’ were to form, females would still likely be injured if they attempted to defy the males, so a better strategy would be to join a male coalition—‘a strategy that carries far less risk than 2 females attempting to retaliate against the aggression of a physically larger and socially dominant adult male’ (Nicholas Newton-Fisher, ‘Female Coalitions Against Male Aggression in Wild Chimpanzees of the Budongo Forest’, International Journal of Primatology, 2006, Vol.27, No.6). While there is less size difference between male and female bonobos than there is between male and female chimpanzees, bonobo males are, nevertheless, larger and stronger than females, and this dimorphism was probably more pronounced when the split with chimpanzees occurred between one and two million years ago, as indicated by the size disparity between male and female chimpanzees today.
Another factor working against the formation of female coalitions against male aggression is that temporary male alliances among chimpanzee males—a widely reported occurrence—are used for the purpose of moving up the male hierarchy, and it is recognised that ‘males sometimes gang up on females’ (Barbara Smuts & Robert Smuts, ‘Male Aggression and Sexual Coercion of Females in Nonhuman Primates and Other Mammals: Evidence and Theoretical Implications’, Advances in the Study of Behavior, 1993, Vol.22), so there is a precedent of males forming coalitions, which could then be used to counter female coalitions.
Additionally, as further evidence that female coalitions in primate species are not forming simply in order to increase the females’ genetic fitness but as a consequence of love-indoctrination, research shows that coalitions aren’t the best response to infanticide; instead, ‘where a female carries her offspring or is at least directly associated with them (all anthropoids, many prosimians) her best option is to get male protection for them. This can come from the male who sired the infant, or, in multi-male groups, from the most likely father’ (Elisabeth Sterck, David Watts, Carel van Schaik, ‘The evolution of female social relationships in nonhuman primates’, Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 1997, Vol.41, No.5). As mentioned in Part 8:4F, there is no record of male bonobos committing infanticide, and it appears that groups of bonobos will even care for orphans, which is a further indication of how successful this species has been in developing love-indoctrination.
Secondly, in attempting to explain how male aggression could be quelled by ‘female-female alliances’, the SEM relies on the superficially persuasive but biologically flawed argument that biologists have desperately been resorting to more and more (especially left-wing biologists, who are wanting to promote cooperation and gentleness), which is that cooperation is more advantageous than competition and can, therefore, be selected for. This reliance is evident in Wrangham’s argument that ‘female alliances’ made male ‘aggression more dangerous and costly, and less beneficial, to the aggressors’ and that ‘turning aside from violence’ was ‘a solution to conflicting [social] interests’. While it may appear persuasive to suggest that males could stop competing for mating opportunities once female coalitions formed—because aggression became more ‘dangerous and costly, and less beneficial’ than cooperation, or simply because ‘turning aside from violence’ is a ‘solution to conflicting [social] interests’—the biological reality is that, without love-indoctrination, genetic selfishness will see males continue to aggressively compete for any and all mating opportunities. This fact of life was pointed out by C. Owen Lovejoy when, in discussing our ape ancestors, he said, ‘Loss of the projecting canine raises other vexing questions because this tooth is so fundamental to reproductive success in higher primates. What could cause males to forfeit their ability to aggressively compete with other males?’ (‘Reexamining Human Origins in Light of Ardipithecus ramidus’, Science, 2009, Vol.326, No.5949). The same ‘vexing’ question arises in regard to bonobos, something that was pointed out by the anthropologist Gottfried Hohmann when he observed that ‘The [bonobo] males, the physically superior animals, do not dominate the females, the inferior animals?…It is not only different from chimpanzees but it violates the rules of social ecology’ (Ian Parker, ‘Swingers: Bonobos are celebrated as peace-loving, matriarchal, and sexually liberated. Are they?’, The New Yorker, 30 Jul. 2007). Frans de Waal made a similar observation when he wrote about bonobos that ‘dominance by the “weaker” sex constitutes a huge violation of every biologist’s expectations’ (Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape, 1997, p.76 of 210).
This biologically flawed argument that cooperation can be selected for by natural selection because it is more advantageous than competition is, in fact, the same biologically flawed argument that E.O. Wilson relied upon in his theory of Eusociality. Recall in Part 4:12I how Wilson argued that a group comprised of selfless members who consider the welfare of the group above that of their own will be more cooperative and thus successful when competing against groups who have selfish, non-cooperative members, and therefore that competition between groups can lead to the selection of unconditionally selfless traits. Again, while it is superficially persuasive to suggest that a group with cooperative members will defeat a group with competitive members, the genetic reality is that whenever an unconditionally selfless, altruistic trait appears those that are selfish will take advantage of it, thus negating the establishment of a group of cooperators in the first place. Any selflessness that might arise through group selection will be constantly exploited by individual selfishness from within the group; as the biologist Jerry Coyne pointed out, ‘group selection for altruism would be unlikely to override the tendency of each group to quickly lose its altruism through natural selection favoring cheaters [selfish individuals]’ (‘Can Darwinism improve Binghamton?’, The New York Times, 9 Sep. 2011).
The flawed reasoning of this second aspect of the SEM can be seen even more clearly in this description of it by the anthropologist Brian Hare: ‘there are some species that outcompeted others by becoming nicer…[because] it’s very costly to be on top. Often in primate hierarchies, you don’t stay on top very long. Everyone is gunning for you. You’re getting in a lot of fights. If you don’t have to do that, it’s better for everybody’ (Brandon Keim, ‘Why Some Wild Animals Are Becoming Nicer’, Wired, 7 Feb. 2012). While it is superficially persuasive to argue that ‘it’s better for everybody’ if ‘you don’t have to’ ‘fight’ to stay ‘on top’, the idea ‘violates’ the fundamental fact about the gene-based natural selection process, which is that you do have to be constantly ‘gunning’ to ‘stay on top’ because if you are not others will be and you won’t reproduce your genes. That’s the reality of the ‘animal condition’: fierce competition exists between sexually reproducing individuals seeking to reproduce their genes.
It should be mentioned that advocates of the SEM argue that the bonobos’ practice of ‘concealed ovulation’ (to not give signs of their fertile period) and of making sex continually available have contributed to the reduction of male competition for mating opportunities, however, these practices can only develop once competition for mating opportunities has begun to subside because while ever competition to mate remains intense, if a female makes mating available to every male, and/or doesn’t advertise she is ready for fertilisation, she can’t ensure she mates with the strongest, most virile male and, therefore, that her offspring will be successful competitors. Making sex continually available and concealing ovulation could assist love-indoctrination, but not initiate the development of love/unconditional selflessness. No, these practices do not lead to a reduction in competition, rather they are a result of male competition having largely been contained, which, as explained, ‘selection against aggression’ can’t achieve.
So even though it is seductive to run the argument that cooperation can be selected for by natural selection because it is more advantageous than competition, it is so blatantly biologically incorrect that for biologists to employ it means they are deliberately lying—resorting to a desperate form of bluff—but such has been the extent of the need to avoid the nurturing explanation for bonobos’ unconditionally selfless behaviour, and, by extrapolation, for humans’ ‘moral’ natures. And, as we will soon see, this now insatiable need to account for our moral instincts in a non-confronting way has led to the development of a somewhat more refined form of the SEM.
Given its significance, the ‘rules of social ecology’ should be elaborated upon. Since males can produce enough sperm to fertilise an almost unlimited amount of females, they benefit from mating with as many females as possible; females, on the other hand, can only be fertilised once, and so benefit from being selective. The resultant tension between the sexes is described as ‘virtually universal’ (Barbara Smuts, ‘Male Aggression Against Women: An Evolutionary Perspective’, Human Nature, 1992, Vol.3, No.1), and is naturally resolved in favour of the physically stronger sex, which in most species is the males because competition between males for mating opportunities leads to natural selection for size and strength. The ‘violation’ of the ‘rules of social ecology’ referred to earlier is that bonobo males, who are physically stronger than the females, do not dominate. (Incidentally, while it is true that there are some species, including a few mammals, where females are the dominant sex, further examination reveals their social situations, and the circumstances leading to the establishment of that matriarchy, to be very different to that of bonobos. For example, spotted hyenas are matriarchal, but the females are physically stronger than the males, and competition within the clans also remains rife, a situation that, again unlike that of the bonobo, is in accordance with the ‘rules of social ecology’.)
It follows that natural selection dictates that any male in this ‘universal’ environment who refrains from using his strength to mate will be out-bred by more aggressive rivals, leading to the discontinuation of those less aggressive genes. The only way to minimise this costly aggression a little is through the establishment of a dominance hierarchy amongst the males, whereby conflict is reduced to only those occasions when an individual has the opportunity to move up the hierarchy. So, while comments such as Hare’s—that ‘it’s very costly to be on top…You’re getting in a lot of fights. If you don’t have to do that, it’s better for everybody’—may be superficially persuasive, they are, in fact, blatant lies, because you do ‘have to do that’ and ‘be on top’ because if you aren’t, genetics will inevitably find someone else who is.
As described in Part 4:12, outside of the love-indoctrination situation, the most superficially persuasive scenario that has ever been envisaged for cooperation to be able to defeat competition between sexually reproducing individuals and for fully cooperative, unconditionally selfless traits to be selected for lies in E.O. Wilson’s argument that a group with cooperative members will defeat a group with non-cooperative members. HOWEVER, as stated, the biological reality is that individual self-interest makes it impossible for a cooperative group of sexually reproducing individuals to emerge in the first place. As the biologist George Williams states, ‘Only by a theory of between-group selection could we achieve a scientific explanation of group-related [selfless, consider-the-welfare-of-others] adaptations. However, I would question one of the premises on which the reasoning is based’ (Adaptation and Natural Selection, 1966, pp.92-93 of 307). In describing that premise and the reason for his questioning of it, Williams wrote that ‘group selection was not strong enough to produce…[an] adaptation…characterized by organisms’ playing roles that would subordinate their individual interests’ (p.xii). His overall conclusion was that ‘group-related adaptations do not, in fact, exist’ (p.93). (It should be noted that while Williams later changed his mind about group selection in regard to some very specific traits (namely instances of female biased sex ratios, and reduced virulence in disease organisms), he remained unconvinced about group selection’s wider applicability, as the group selection advocate David Sloan Wilson concedes, ‘In general, however, George retained his worldview and I didn’t convince him about group selection’ (‘Rest In Peace George C. Williams’, ScienceBlogs, 10 Sep. 2010)). So, it must follow that if the situation where (outside of love-indoctrination) cooperation has the best chance of defeating competition, which is in the between-group selection situation, isn’t possible, then cooperation is not going to defeat competition in any situation. So, unless they are love-indoctrinated, males are not going to stop competing for mating opportunities.
So yes, while Eusociality’s cooperation beats competition theory for the emergence of unconditionally selfless cooperative traits is flawed, E.O. Wilson has at least recognised about that supposed explanation that an extraordinary force would be required to overcome subversion by selfish opportunists; in his case by proposing that group warfare was a strong enough force to enable selfless traits to emerge. In contrast, proponents of the SEM do not even acknowledge the seriousness of the challenge of overcoming genetic selfishness, which is revealed by their suggestion that stable parties simply allowed cooperation to evolve. That ‘stable parties allowed cooperation’ is an even weaker argument than Wilson’s ‘between-group selection’ theory in that it doesn’t even provide the equivalent of a powerful force to counter the problem of selfish subversion.
What has essentially happened is that unable to confront and thus recognise the truth of the nurturing explanation for bonobos, and our own original unconditionally selfless, all-loving state, biologists—especially selflessness-emphasising, left-wing biologists—have resorted to the desperate rationale that ‘Well, bonobos are extraordinarily cooperative and we do have unconditionally selfless moral instincts, so these states must have emerged somehow, and it must be because of the reasoning we are putting forward—that cooperation has to have a genetic advantage over competition’! In other words, the biologists aren’t completely aware that they are avoiding the significance of nurturing; in this sense they are not deliberately lying. As explained earlier, their denial of the role of nurturing is so entrenched they do it unwittingly, which does leave them thinking that stable parties can allow alliances against male aggression to occur, and that cooperation must somehow have a genetic advantage over competition.
It should be emphasised again here that, as explained in detail in Part 4:12D, the seductive but patently untrue argument that cooperation is more advantageous than competition and can therefore be selected for has a long history of use by cooperation-not-competition-supporting, selflessness-not-selfishness-emphasising, human-journey-to-find-knowledge-opposing left-wing biologists. For example, in 1880, the zoologist Karl Kessler said that ‘the progressive development of the animal kingdom…is favoured much more by mutual support than by mutual struggle’ (Address titled On the law of mutual aid to the St Petersburg Society of Naturalists, Jan. 1880). Even up to the 1960s this so-called ‘naive’ misrepresentation of natural selection as being socialistic rather than individualistic was still occurring, with, for instance, the behaviourist Konrad Lorenz writing frequently of behaviour having ‘a species-preserving function’ (there are many mentions of this phrase in his 1963 book On Aggression). As was explained in Part 4:12D, the development of species is part of the integrative process, but the behaviour of a species is characterised by extremely selfish competition between its sexually reproducing members. In fact, it was George Williams’ exasperation with this misrepresentation of natural selection as not being a selfish process that motivated him to write his famous 1966 book Adaptation and Natural Selection—a publication that laid the foundations for the selfishness-justifying, right-wing theory of Sociobiology/Evolutionary Psychology. When, as described in Part 4:12G, however, this theory was dishonestly used to misrepresent our cooperative, moral instincts as being nothing more than a product of kin-selection-based selfish reciprocity (only assisting others who share your genes in order to propagate your own), left-wing biologists initially tried to maintain that we do have unconditionally selfless moral instincts by arguing that they are derived from by-products of natural selection—what the biologist Stephen Jay Gould described in 1979 as ‘a lot of [building] cranes’ acting in conjunction with ‘natural selection’. However, when Gould and his colleagues were unable to specify what the particular by-products/cranes were that achieved this feat of creating our genuinely moral instincts (the by-product was nurturing but they couldn’t confront and admit that truth), the left-wing was left with nowhere to go but back to the now highly discredited ‘cooperation is more advantageous than competition and can therefore be selected for’, group-selection-type argument. As described in Part 4:12H, in 1994, despite the situation where ‘group selection has been regarded as an anathema by nearly all evolutionary biologists’ (Richard Lewontin, ‘Survival of the Nicest?’, The New York Review of Books, 22 Oct. 1998), the biologist David Sloan (D.S.) Wilson desperately tried to ‘re-introduce group selection…as an antidote to the rampant individualism we see in the human behavioral sciences’ (David Sloan Wilson & Elliot Sober, ‘Re-Introducing Group Selection to the Human Behavioral Sciences’, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1994, Vol.17, No.4). In fact, it was D.S. Wilson’s theory of Multilevel Selection that argued that natural selection operated at the group level as well as the individual level that (as described in Part 4:12I) E.O. Wilson commandeered to re-assert the right-wing emphasis on selfishness by claiming that even though multilevel selection supposedly confirmed we have unconditionally selfless instincts derived from group-level selection, it still allowed for the existence within us of selfish instincts derived from individual-level selection.
Clearly, avoiding the nurturing explanation for our moral instincts meant that neither the right-wing nor the left-wing were ever going to provide an accountable explanation of our moral instincts. While the selflessness-emphasising-but-human-condition-avoiding left-wing had to rely on the patently dishonest ‘cooperation beats competition’ group-selection-type argument, the selfishness-emphasising-but-still-human-condition-avoiding right-wing had the advantage of being able to truthfully emphasise that natural selection is a selfish process. Basically, what happened was that since both the right and the left were avoiding the human condition and therefore denying Integrative Meaning, it wasn’t possible to explain that even though the gene-based natural selection process is dedicated to developing the order of matter it couldn’t, outside of the love-indoctrination scenario, select for the self-eliminating, unconditionally selfless traits that would allow full integration. In their inability to access this reconciling explanation of the paradoxical nature of the gene-based natural selection process, two positions emerged: the right-wing position, which stressed the fact that genes are selfish, which led to the selfishness-justifying theories of Social Darwinism → Sociobiology/Evolutionary Psychology → Multilevel Selection/Eusociality; and the idealism-stressing left-wing position, which attempted to stress the greater truth that natural selection is an integrative process—the journey of these two positions was described in detail earlier in Part 4:12. Of course, without the reconciling explanation of these two, right-wing and left-wing positions, both were bound to become sillier and sillier, and, in the end, completely mad—and, as is being described, that is what happened: the right-wing ended up developing the extremely mad and dangerous theory of Eusociality, while the left-wing ended up developing the extremely mad and dangerous theory of the SEM.
Significantly, in relation to the two mechanisms employed by the SEM to explain bonobo behaviour—that stable parties allowed bonobo females to form coalitions to counter male aggression for mating opportunities, and that those coalitions are successful in dominating males and eliminating aggression—in 2009 the leading architect of the SEM, Richard Wrangham, admitted that ‘The circumstances in which females are able to form effective alliances among each other, and the frequency and effectiveness of this strategy, remain important [unexplained] problems for detailed examination in bonobos, chimpanzees, and other primates’ (Sexual Coercion in Primates and Humans, 2009, p.464 of 504). So the whole basis of the SEM, of the ‘circumstances in which females are able to form effective alliances among each other’, and the ‘effectiveness of this strategy’ in stopping male aggression, is being undermined by its leading architect and proponent! This is somewhat like E.O. Wilson conceding there were serious problems with his theory of Sociobiology when he moved on to develop his theory of Eusociality! But where else could nurturing-avoiding biologists go in their efforts to explain bonobos? Nowhere—so, despite its ‘important problems’, support of the SEM continued. What will now be described is how nurturing-avoiding, mechanistic biologists tried to make the SEM more accountable of bonobos’, and our ape ancestors’, extraordinarily integrative, moral behaviour.