‘FREEDOM’—Chapter 6 End Play for The Human Race
Chapter 6:8 The Social Ecological Model
To return now to mechanistic science’s development of the theory known as the Social Ecological Model (SEM) as a means of avoiding the unbearable significance of bonobos’ remarkable nurturing, maternal behaviour.
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, 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, eds Biruté Galdikas et al., 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’ (‘Chimps and Chumps’, National Review, 1999, Vol.51, No.18).
In essence, 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 that cooperation.
But while the SEM serves the purpose of denying the significance of nurturing in bonobo society, the arguments it uses to do so—namely that stable parties allow females 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 the societies of 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 common 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 chapter 5:4, 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’.
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. As mentioned in par. 407, this fact of life was pointed out by C. Owen Lovejoy when, in discussing our ape ancestors, he wrote that ‘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?’ The same ‘vexing’ question arises in regard to bonobos, something that was pointed out by the primatologist 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’ (‘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 Multilevel Selection theory for eusociality. Recall in chapter 2:11 how Wilson argued that a group composed 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, as such, 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’ (‘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 bonobo practice of ‘concealed ovulation’ (where females do 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, such 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 although 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’ nature. So it is not surprising that 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.