Understanding Ourselves

So much is similar in the basic biology of vertebrates, and so universal are the processes of evolution, that an understanding of nonhuman sociality is likely to illuminate human society. This point was hitherto neglected, but stressed by Tinbergen in the foreword to Kruuk's (1972:xi—xiii) book, in which he concluded, "It is therefore imperative for the healthy development of human biology that studies of primates be supplemented by work on animal species that have evolved adaptations to the same way of life as ancestral man." Following Wilson's (1975) Sociobiology, it has been widely and sometimes controversially discussed. Clearly, two routes come to mind as fruitful sources of this insight: looking at the societies of species most similar to our current condition (including some hypersocial aspects that put us in circumstances to which we have not yet had time to evolve) and focusing on those currently entering evolutionary phases through which we have already passed. The first approach has prompted (or at least its promise has funded) much primatological research. The closeness of this parallel might be diluted if, as Hinde (1981) suggested, the societies of humans differ from those of other animals in that social structure in nonhumans is determined primarily by the sum of the interactions of its component individuals, whereas in human groups a structure is more often imposed from above by government or tradition in the form of Dawkins's (1989) memes. Hinde's dichotomy may imply that the imposition of structure can cause stresses in human social systems when natural roles conflict with assigned roles. On the other hand, one could take the view that the dichotomy is not profound because the constraints of governmental ideology are loosely parallel to those imposed on all species by ecological factors such as resource dispersion. If so, a different understanding of social responses to the imposition of external constraints might be revealed by species more recently launched onto a trajectory of sociability. Examples we explore in this chapter include badgers and farm cats living as groups in agricultural settings. Certainly, badger groups show weight reduction, higher incidences of wounding, and lower reproductive success per breeding individual as group size increases (Woodroffe and Macdonald 1995a). For badgers, group living may be a social innovation facilitated by the development of agriculture; individuals may be evolving towards capitalizing on this newly imposed structure (by manipulation, support, interdependence of roles, and other factors), but for the moment the stress is showing.

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