“Humans are a social animal” (Aristotle)
A beguilingly simple statement of observation of our human nature, and underneath that apparent simplicity lies the entire subject of evolutionary sociology. We are social, and being social implies a complex web of temperaments and behaviors necessary to form a social group out of individual humans. Our individual survival and reproduction occur within the ambit of the social group and this elevates sociality and mutuality to a critical level. We must simultaneously meet individual and social needs and this imposes a set of behavioral constraints or controls upon members. These two words, social and animal, undergird our understanding of our human nature. Further, social elevates sociology over psychology and I find social rather than individually psychological explanations. Aristotle’s second sentence, “society precedes the individual” is a concise statement of the human social system.
Prologue: The Garden of Eden
We are, as all animals are, totally dependent upon plants as primary producers of foods, and other animals as secondary producers of meat.1 We have to locate resources such as food, water, and salt, acquire them, process them as needed, and consume and digest them. These dependencies elevate territory – where the resources are – to another critical level and imposes a set of temperaments. We have to explore, navigate, and experiment. We must be vigilant and communicate danger. We must be defensive or offensive as required.
In the previous essay, Demographics, Territory and Temperament, I developed the setting – the territory – for the evolution of our human nature: the African savannah with its resources and dangers, and some of the temperaments necessary to survive and reproduce thereupon. I made some assumptions about the setting: that its resources were sufficient to our needs and that we were not stressed by our ecology. That its dangers were manageable and not overwhelming. That our demographics was within our upper bound (Dunbar’s Number) so that we were not compressed either within our social group or between social groups, and thus not stressed by our demographics. This was our first Garden of Eden,2 not the Biblical garden, that came much later and under very different territorial, ecological and social conditions. But our needs were amply met and the witness to this is our inexorable population increase and consequent territorial dispersal.
In this essay, I will begin to bring the set of characters into focus: how does a human social group work? It is comprised of individuals of both sexes, all ages, with different abilities, disabilities, and motivations, yet continues through time beyond the lifetime of any individual. A social group provides friends, extra hands for gathering and hunting during the day, alloparents for child care, and eyes and ears during the night. We communicate and cooperate, sharing knowledge and food. Specific temperaments and behaviors are required to build, maintain and behave within our “…coherent, stable, coordinated social groups.”3
I would add one word to Dunbar’s summary description of human social groups: ‘…coherent, stable, and mutually coordinated social groups.” Foraging hunter gatherer social groups are not typically command coordinated structures requiring obedience. They are mutually coordinated by group decision based upon exchange of individual information derived from experience and learning by communication. Command, obedience and coercion appear in two milieus: complex intra-group conflict and sedentism, after the loss of our Garden(s) of Eden. This will be fully developed in due time.
This essay will set out some of the individual temperaments and behaviors necessary for membership in social groups. As our survival is within the ambit of the social group, it must survive even at the cost of individual death. The individual temperaments and behaviors must promote both individual and group survival, mine and yours: a dual survival strategy with the group survival being primal. This elevates sociology above psychology, the group above the individual, and mutualism above individualism.4
Our Physical State of Nature
Upon that ancient African savannah, there strode a most unprepossessing animal: Homo sapiens. Nearly naked, weak and defenseless, and without sharp teeth or claws, physically more prey than predator. The big cats said “Look at that, would yah! Big head on a small upright torso and all balanced on two feet with no hooves or claws. Slow, no need to chase ‘em. All we have to do is push them over and they are helpless. They look like they might taste good but they’re too small for us. Hardly enough meat on those bones to be worth the effort.” The hyenas chimed in “Yeah, those bones are small – easy to crack. Look like good food for us.” The canines said “Look at that funny face, no snout for smelling. How do they find anything to eat? No claws. How do they expect to catch anything?”
The chimpanzees, our nearest relatives, are mostly herbivorous and say, “They have small guts, so they cannot subsist on plants and must hunt, yet while they are larger than us, they are weaker. To hunt they should be stronger.5 What went wrong in their evolution?”
And the vultures, clinging to a branch, said “We’ll wait for the leftovers.”
What was there to be afraid of? Our unusual physical nature, of course:
The humans smile and say “We are taller than most of youse guys so we see farther, and with binocular tricolor vision, more accurately. While we are not as fast as many of you, we have more endurance than any of you. We don’t have impressive muscles but we can throw accurately and can catch. We gave up claws and gained finger dexterity. We don’t have to sit around and wait for food to digest so we have time to run, throw, catch, touch, and make. What was subtracted from our bodies was added to our brains. We can observe fine detail in your tracks and follow you until are exhausted. Watch us.”
Hairlessness allows for higher metabolic heat rejection than other animals and we can employ persistence (cursorial) hunting techniques. This together with bipedalism allows humans incredible endurance – 200 miles and more6 – compared to any other animal. We run our prey into heat exhaustion, and water and sodium depletion. James Suzman describes a persistence hunt of an eland in his recent book Work: A Deep History. In the end, the eland stands motionless, emotionless, and submissive, awaiting its fate. I have read several accounts of herbivores, at some point ceasing to struggle against their predator as if their minds turned off or went into an altered state.
We became the top predator and the herbivores became food for us. The other animals respect us. We do not prey upon the other top predators, the large cats and hyenas, but oddly even they may be afraid of us.7 Suzman, in his prior book …, tells an astonishing story of modern relict hunters commanding a pride of lions to abandon their lunch and leave it to the hunters.
The canines – wolves – joined with us, or we joined with them in mutual domestication; that story can be read both ways, so it is an example of two social animals, cross-species bonding to our mutual advantage.
The vultures have nothing to fear. They remain unperturbed.
What else is there to be afraid of? Our unusual social state of nature, powered by our unusual and powerful brains, of course.
Our Social State of Nature
We are a social species. Humans have evolved genes, hormones, neurotransmitters and receivers; and out of those biochemicals we developed temperaments and behaviors to coalesce individuals into a social group able to hold territory, extract its resources, enable individuals to survive to reproduce, and to successfully raise offspring. We have a bonding agent that glues these individuals into a social group.8 To be a member of the group requires specific temperaments and behaviors, and being a member enmeshes the individual a web of social behavior controls. Human temperaments lie at the intersection of sociology, ecology and reproduction, and function to fit the individual into the constraints and requirements of these factors. Individuals are the units of reproduction. The social group is the locus of survival. Reproduction and ‘fitness – reproductive success’ is both individual and social, to the point that a major portion of individual ‘fitness’ is conferred upon the individual by membership in the social group.
I have, from the beginning, used the phrase ‘social group’ to denote a tightly emotionally and functionally bonded set of individuals, within the demographics of the Magic Numbers, of all ages and both sexes, for the purpose of individual survival, reproduction, and raising of offspring. I have deliberately not used the anthropological terms clan, tribe or troop because I intended ‘social group’ to be a portmanteau concept into which I can place specific sub-concepts.
In the previous essay I noted that “our evolution is within a web or mesh of factors and the connections between them.” Likewise, our behavior is within a web or mesh of factors which do not unravel, for there are no loose ends upon which to pull. The more I look, the greater the number of connections I see, and the more complexity between those factors. Individuals are woven into the web of interactions in a social group and it is this web, invisible and incorporeal, that is the foundation, the locus, of individual survival, reproduction and child care. The web, the social group, is more valuable than the individual even though it has no physical reality and is composed solely of relationships, connections, and interactions. Aristotle’s second sentence: “society precedes the individual.”
A social group only metaphorically survives and reproduces. It cannot experience, learn, communicate, and know. Individuals are the units of survival and reproduction, and of experience, learning and knowledge. Individuals can operate independently; a social group can only function cooperatively. Yet all the individual functions occur or are performed in the context of the group or its sub-groups9 Extensive behavior controls operate to endure the survival of the individual via the survival of the group. Humans will risk their lives to save the lives of others in the group. This is graphically seen in the ‘fall on the grenade’ behavior in military combat. Humans will also risk their life to rescue individuals that they do not know, even other animals.
Membership and Significance
A social group is like a wave in a gene pool. A wave in the ocean has no physical existence, it is only energy lifting billions of water molecules up and setting them down as it moves forward through space and time. The molecules are part of the wave for only a short time. A social group is a sub-set of the human gene pool moving forward through space and time. An individual is a sub-set of the social group likewise moving forward through space and time. Unlike the wave, individuals are real things.
The individual’s set of genes contains the information required to collect and assemble a variety of molecules into a functional thing that, unlike the wave, can maintain thingness through time by continuously collecting and expending energy to maintain the assembly. Further, that thing can export the information needed to make a new similar thing by passing copies of the original genes to the new thing. Genes are relentlessly copying and mixing, coalescing into new subsets of genes, making new things, testing the survival and reproductive value of the subsets, and in the grand finale disassembling and vanishing into the dirt. In the Biblical words, we are dust and to dust must return. The individual is then temporary, provisional, and experimental, and is a member of the social group, and of the species, for a short time. It is the group, its set of genes and those it acquires through exogamy, that passes through longer time. It is the species, a subset of all of the biochemicals that likewise extends through deep time.
There are but two ways of an individual becoming a member of our putative social group on the ancient African savannah: birthright membership and transfer.10 The sex that does not transfer, males, will form the backbone of the social group. The sex that transfers, females, will import new genes and there will be mechanisms to incorporate incoming individuals into the social group. Also, the transferee must be equipped with temperaments and behaviors suitable for incorporation and bonding into the new group. These will have been inherited, developed, learned, and reinforced, in her natal group, priming her for amalgamation into her new group by the formation of new bonds.
Our transferee is an inter-group carrier of genes, diseases, parasites, and immunities; of temperaments, behaviors, and knowledge. The major purpose of transfer is exogamy – the movement of genes – immunities come along for the ride. These functions are necessary. The transfer of temperaments, behaviors and knowledge is useful. The sex that transfers confers novelty. The sex that does not transfer provides stability.
I have emphasized transfer. Most anthropologists omit a discussion of transfer or give it little notice. What information is available is conflicting, but most agree that female humans transfer. At some point in her sexual development, the female will develop an intense attraction to a different group, leave her natal group and join another. There is another mechanism that backs up transfer: the Kibbutz or Westermarck Effect.11 Individuals who are raised in close proximity from birth to about 6 or 8 years old will not develop sexual attraction at puberty. This would be a typical scenario in a small-scale hunter gatherer social group: there is no sexual attraction here and high attraction there, so transfer there. One or both sexes must then transfer to reproduce. These two mechanisms will also affect the optimum spacing of the territories of social groups – don’t go too far away – stay close enough for transfer to occur.12
There is one more mechanism that may underlie the logic of males remaining in their natal group. Two major functions of males are provisioning by hunting and group protection from predation, conspecific or cross-specific. This incurs danger and injury, and it would be an advantage for males to possess a tight bond to the social group via a web of individual bonds developed from propinquity from birth. Our inexorable population increase due to becoming an apex predator and lacking any internal or external controls on rate of reproduction – our dearth of death – must surely have made intra-group fission and inter-group conflict more common. This would drive the evolution of specific male temperaments which are best provided by bonds generated very early in life and developed through adolescence into adulthood. Males would not be expected to transfer.
The logic of female transfer is based upon the common experience of maternity.13 In my four-generation extended family comprised of full genetic relations plus half and step relationships, I see adult female to child bonding across those types of relationships.14 For females, bairn bonds – a neat portmanteau neologism containing the entire variety of bonds between adults and children regardless of genetic relationships – will be a major function of her life. In many cases the bairn bond will transcend the pair bond that created her children. Bairn bonds may be more durable than pair bonds.15
The obvious way for a transferring female to gain membership into the social group is to generate significance and social capital via alloparenting children in the social group thus first developing bairn bonds. It is then no accident that most grammar school teachers are women – teaching, and mentoring, is modern form of alloparenting.16 Females will then bond over their common bairn bonds. The second route would be via grooming and Robin Dunbar posits that “speech is grooming on the cheap.” It is no surprise then that females are more socially aware and verbally fluent. A third route might be helping to forage and gather food. Her knowledge of ways of preparing foods may be unique and their introduction to the cuisine would be most welcome. Finally, she may become sexual available to male(s) in the group. All routes may be taken and at this point the incoming transferee begins to gain membership by becoming significant to the existing member of the group.
Membership, significance and bonding are mutually synergistic – one developing the other in a dance of emotional and functional significance and bonds. Significance and the ensuing bonds may be emotional or functional, or any combination thereof. Functional bonds will generate emotional significance and bonds. The development of one type may develop the other.
Membership via transfer is entirely underpinned by temperaments – predispositions for behaviors – as is maintenance of birthright membership. Temperaments are then inherent controls on behaviors and are comprised of genetic, epigenetic, developmental, and experiential (learned) influences. Temperaments are individually and socially functional, and their purpose is the amalgamation of the individual into social bonds enhancing the survival and reproduction of the individual members via communication and cooperation.
Membership is not granted for merely showing up with a hopeful smiling face. It is earned by interactions that demonstrate the individual’s temperaments and behaviors, by becoming significant to others, and by developing social bonds. It is granted by the fitness of the individual to be a member of the social group.
The Social Bond
What is the coherence, what is the glue – the bonds – that forms individuals into members of a social groups? Not all primates have this glue, many species are solitary, so it is an evolutionary story and because hormones, neurotransmitters and behaviors do not fossilize, the story will have to be told largely in retrospect: looking at today and trying to figure out yesterday. I assume that, even though we are evolutionary labile, modern humans have remained relatively constant, with one exception17, over our 300,000-year history – an evolutionary short time. This allows me to work out our paleo-sociology from our neo-sociology and physiology, and to check my conclusions by the known behaviors of modern relict foraging hunter gatherer social groups. There are great difficulties in interpreting those behaviors, because they are indicative rather than definitive. Modern relict foraging hunter gatherers are under intense ecological/territorial and demographic compression and their neo-sociology may only resemble their paleo-sociology. I suspect that many anthropologists make the assumption that their neo-sociology and morality are identical to their paleo-sociology and morality. I question this assumption and posit that there may be significant differences.
Bonding is a major survival mechanism and part of our inherent behaviors. Our brains are equipped with various hormones, neurotransmitters, and receptors for these biochemicals. The individual is built to attach, to form bonds, to be social. Bonds are emotional and functional at both the individual and group levels. We give ourselves brain rewards for successful bonding and brain punishment for failure to bond. The inception of a new bond may be most exciting and the end of a bond can be extra-ordinarily painful. Bonds provide manifold benefits beyond the emotional. They are functional, generating the power of cooperation and altruism. Bonds on the whole benefit the individual more than their cost. The qualification ‘on the whole’ is necessary because there are and will be times when bonds cost and sacrifices are made.We are wired both as infants and as adults to form a variety of bonds of varying types, strengths, and durations for a number of reasons. My third great-grandson was determined to bond with me. He was less than a year old when he and his parents moved into the house next door before I had finished remodeling their bathroom. I was rushed and tired, walking past him repeatedly, paying him little to no attention. His eyes followed me every time I passed him begging for attention: pick me up and pay attention. One day after he learned to crawl, we were in his back yard and as I rushed past him to get a tool from my shop, he crawled furiously after me, howling in apparent distress, but really signaling pick me up, pay me attention, and bond with me. I laughed, stopped, turned around and picked him up. We bonded. A year or so later he will follow me around whenever possible and howls when I go through a gate and leave him behind. His legs are a lot shorter and he trots determinedly behind me. If I go into the shop he will walk around, trying every knob, switch, and drawer, and his head tilts back trying to take in everything in sight.
He is an active, avid, explorer of his back yard at two years of age. I watched him select dirt clods, carry them to the irrigation valve box, pry the cover off and hid the clods inside. He replaced the cover and stomped on it to make sure it was secured properly. That was his hidey hole. None of this was learned behavior, no one taught him to do this, and he was not imitating anyone. He was displaying exploration, and intention. He cannot yet open the door to a storage shed and when I open it, he comes running to see what is inside – curiosity. He saw me use a battery drill and when I put it down, he picked it up and knew exactly how to turn it on – imitation. These are not learned temperaments. They are inherent in human nature.18
He displays bonding, attachment, curiosity, exploration, and imitation, and manipulation of objects and most important, manipulation of other humans including begging. Begging, the outstretched hand, is common in chimpanzees and bonobos. It is common in humans also, usually in the low-key form of asking for help. By generating my bond with him, he has successfully rewired my brain to support his development and survival. These are not learned temperaments and behaviors. He has the temperaments and expresses the behaviors. We may call these temperaments instinctive, developmental, or inherent, but that begs the question of how they develop. The neuro-chemicals that mediate these behaviors are built upon his genes, but how those peptides and proteins develop behaviors is, as yet, unknown.19
In this example of a birthright bond20, I have descried a range of temperaments and behaviors, both social and territorial that I posit are universal and timeless. These bonds will be functional promoting his survival, and durable maintaining his membership in our social group. I turn next to a very different bond – modern, military and exaggerated – to illustrate a female transfer problem, for they must become members of a social group under very different conditions than birthright. I chose this and the subsequent example of bond formation in military ‘social’ groups because while reading of them I developed several of my ideas on how social groups function – a path dependency in the evolution of my thinking.
I began this series of essays on evolutionary morality with the rape of Neryl Joyce while on duty as a contract soldier in Baghdad, Iraq.21. Neryl was an officer in the Australian Army. She resigned to take a contract job as a mercenary soldier in Baghdad. The photo of Neryl Joyce on the cover of her book shows her dressed as a soldier complete with uniform, rifle, helmet and accouterments – inherent signals of personal quality. She intended her daily behavior to signal a military competence equal to or even greater than the male members of her platoon: hoping, by competence and friendliness, to gain membership in the squad, a small-scale social group characterized by care and brotherhood. She wanted to be, in her own words, “a formidable member of a formidable team.”
She expected to be treated as one of the guys. She was a female transferee into an all-male group that had its incorporation methods and rituals for incoming males, but zero experience with the incorporation of incoming female soldiers. She failed to become a member of the group for several reasons, some her fault and some the fault of the squad, but largely because there are few protocols for cross-sex bonding in any social group except sex and a pair bond – friendship and dominance structures of humans are largely unisexual.
The formation of a team of warriors out of individual soldiers is both absolutely necessary and inevitable for they are mutually dependent upon each other for survival. A common maxim is that “there are no atheists in a foxhole.” That may or may not be true but so is “there are no strangers in a foxhole.” Combat forms friendships and bonds. Special Forces teams are regularly in membership flux, and both their formal training and informal recreation function to test the qualities of a prospective team member. Hazing and initiating a newbie are rituals intended to measure his suitability.
This is one of the problems faced by Neryl Joyce. How does a male team measure and initiate a female member? Can they trust her or is she a know-it-all whose only experience was peace-time playing war games in a sandbox now telling them how to do their jobs in actual combat situations? How do they know that they can depend upon her even at the cost of her life? Would she fall on the grenade to save her teammates? The expected temperaments and behaviors of males and females is sufficiently different that they had cause to question her value to the team.
Equally instructive is the formation of social bonds out of individually competitive fighter pilots. Their combat is single pilot to pilot, although many pilots also had a weapons system operator on board to handle the technology leaving the pilot to perform the intricate three-dimensional dance of aerial combat. John Darrell Sherwood captured the experiences of air crew in his book Fast Movers: Jet Pilots and the Vietnam Experience:
Roger Lerseth (weapons system operator and navigator)22 was shot down over North Vietnam and seriously injured. He was captured and placed into solitary confinement without treatment of his injuries. Fellow POWs made extra-ordinary efforts to let him know that they were nearby, concerned about and supportive of him. It was a Sunday morning. Roger was alone in his cell after a lengthy interrogation when he heard the other prisoners singing gospel songs. Then they began singing, to the tune of London Bridge is Falling Down, “new prisoner what’s your name, what’s your name. New prisoner, what’s your name, tell us please.” “’ That was one of the happiest days of my life – just knowing that the other guys knew that I was there.’ When separated from their machines, even individualistic types like Lerseth can become group oriented very quickly.” In a few moments, in a simple vocalization, Roger became significant, a member, and a recipient of care without ever seeing a fellow prisoner. All this was communicated to him by singing in unison, a synchronized social activity.
The POW experience showed that air crew “… could, and did, adhere to the basic military tenets of organization, discipline, and the interests of the group over the self.” Aerial combat is physically and emotionally stressful, and air crew don’t go to ‘shrinks’ to resolve their issues. They have few ways of dealing with it other than alcohol and toughing it out. “Loyalty to the squadron took precedence over personal concerns.” “There are a lot worse things than dying. Living with dishonor is one of them.”
These three stories are modern but they illustrate that underneath our individualistic personas lie an ancient social morality. They are ‘microscopes into our social morality.’ Many lessons and concepts may be found in these examples: membership, communication, bonding, significance, responsibility, care, trust, loyalty, honor and dishonor, pride and shame: our paleo male social morality in the midst of combat in civilization. Dishonor, the betrayal of trust and honor, loss of membership in a social group for cause, destruction of bonds of friendship and significance, loss of social capital and care, and becoming nothing of value: driven off with tail between the legs, is worse than death. Fear of dishonor and shame is a social control on behavior and is generated spontaneously in the squadron room and the prisoner of war cells. Shame is the universal control and honor is an intensified control. I will return to both of these in another essay.23
The social group is founded upon bonding between individuals who may or may not be genetically related. Bonding is surrounded by the penumbra of significance which works in two ways. Bonding grants significance to another individual. The logic of bonding and significance also operates in the reverse direction: they function bi-directionally. Becoming significant to another individual by shared activities, by ‘breaking a sweat together,’ by helping, may generate bonding. It may also generate contempt and a refusal to bond. I will posit that in small-scale foraging hunter gatherer social groups, the social controls of individual behavior are sufficiently effective that individual interactions are positive. Generation of contempt and a refusal to bond will appear later in sedentism and civilization when the ancient social controls of mutualism have been replaced with individualism and legalization.
Serendipity has provided a superb example of the critical role bonding may play in human survival. Kiery and Brielle were born 12 weeks early and placed in separate incubators. Kiery thrived. Brielle nearly died. She was given all possible medical intervention but her heart rate was unstable and she was anoxic due to poor breathing. In desperation a nurse put Kiery into the same incubator with her sister, side by side, skin to skin and both face down. Kiery reached out with her left arm and cuddled her sister. Immediately Brielle’s breathing eased and her heart rate stabilized. She had been individualized by being placed alone in the incubator and medicalized by the rules of separate incubators – that was all that was wrong with her. Being socialized by being reunited with her sister revitalized the intense bond between them. Bonding and the continued experience of bonding may be critical to human survival.
What I find astounding is that Kiery ‘knew’ to hug her sister. While side by side skin to skin touch would probably been sufficient to restore Brielle’s physiology, it is the hug that resonates with viewers. But that raises an unanswerable question: was her hug to increase her own level of touch or, understanding her sister’s distress, to comfort her? Both are possible and probable. I find it difficult to not use the word ‘instinctive’ for the hug.
Nurse put the healthy Baby next to her dying twin and a real miracle Happened! – YouTube
The hug that helped change medicine – YouTube
I’ve used the concept ‘inherent’ in three places in the main body: ‘inherent controls on behaviors,’ ‘inherent behaviors,’ and ‘inherent in human nature. I deliberately did not use “instinctive” because of the difficult connotation left over from psychological behaviorism of the mid-twentieth century which asseverated that were nearly no human instincts. It was all learned or conditioned, and with the sub-text that the academics knew how to create new and better human natures. So, I used the word ‘inherent.’ But that begs the question of how does inherence generate human temperaments and behaviors.
The conversion of genes to neurochemicals to behavior is a serious problem. The type case that illustrates this problem is the Monarch butterfly24 that reproduces several times during its northward migration in the spring. The butterflies that arrive in their northern range are not the ones that left the southern winter refuge. There will be 3 to 4 generations between the butterfly that left the southern over-wintering site and the butterfly that arrives in the north. Each generation interrupts its northern migration to reproduce, and the next generation continues the migration. The final generation, the super-generation, will do something very different. It reverses the direction of migration. Environmental cues will begin its southward migration, and this is accomplished in its entirety by one generation which overwinters and begins but does not complete the new northern migration. How does each new generation know their direction and destination? How do they know north from south, east or west? How does the super-generation live so much longer? How they accomplish this, how the necessary information is encoded in their genes and the development of migratory and reproductive behavior from those genes is unknown.
But that lacunae of knowledge does not vitiate the many observations of inherent, and most certainly instinctive, human temperaments and behaviors.
The Internet is replete with examples of cross-species attachment and bonding, even between nominally predator and prey. A cat and a crow play together, and a lioness adopts an antelope calf in this short video: Unlikely Animal Pairs Defy Laws of Nature – YouTube Perhaps the contrast between the title of the video and the animal pairs portrayed therein is evidence that humans have, over a long time, misread nature’s laws. While these are very unusual examples, they may point to something quite important about life that we do not yet understand. If we look at predator and prey, as many nature films and videos do, and as evolutionary theory of the 20th century did, we see nature red in tooth and claw. If we look the other way, we see a fundamental cooperation overlain with the exigencies of the animal nature – we must eat other life. There is clear evidence of both plant cooperation and competition and likewise of animal cooperation, competition and predation.
This unusual cross-species pair illustrates a high level of bonding: Suryia & Roscoe: The Original Story – Orangutan Adopts Dog – YouTube. Suryia’s parents had recently died and she was suffering the loss of her bonds with them. There were no other orangs or other primates in the compound. Roscoe, a starving stray dog, just showed up one day. Suryia, riding on an elephant, climbed down from her ‘vehicle’ and wrapped her arm around Roscoe. It is no surprise that Suryia, a female, made the overture of friendship and bonding and that it was a lioness who adopted the antelope calf. Maternal care is not calculated solely on kinship, but also enacted on propinquity and perception of need.
I was doing the final editing and realized that while I had nattered about bonding based upon some interesting examples, I had not given a succinct statement of the types of bonds I had descried. Bonding by its very nature will not be specifiable by solid definitions, rather by indicative and suggestive concepts derived from examples. The more I think I about bonding, the more I tie it together with significance in a complex bilateral relationship: interpersonal bonding generates significance and the development of significance generates bonding. With that in mind, I’ll try this list to get going: first, falling in love – an emotional bond. Love creates an intense significance of the other. Then, propinquity – closeness – and the type case for this is the love developed between non-kin care relationships such as adoption and other alloparenting. Propinquity underpins the wider web of bonds in a small-scale social group. Next is the pair bond which develops in the context of the social group. The pair bond is a highly sexual bond, but sexual bonds may occur in other social bonds. The function of the pair bond is reproduction and this develops the bairn bonds – parent/child – maternal and paternal – and child/child. Bairn bonds, in particular maternal, may be more durable than pair bonds and bairn bonds may develop out of propinquity and alloparenting. Bairn bonds may extend to subsequent generations and the longer life spans of individuals in civilization will make grandparent and great-grandparent bonds possible. All of these bonds generate interpersonal significance.
It was a hot summer afternoon during my apprenticeship. We were modifying a traffic signal. Heat was radiating from the asphalt and concrete. Cars passing by filling the air with exhaust fumes – this was years before effective smog controls. The journeyman, Ed, turned to me and said “come on kid, let’s go get an ice cream.” I bonded, attached, with him: instantaneous, uncontrolled, and uncalculated. Later that year he was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer and I sat beside him in the shop through his radiation treatment. He would open his shirt to show the skin burns and how a finger touch would depress the dead flesh. Ed did not last long. Everyone but me went to his funeral. I could not go. I sat in the shop and cried.
Ed taught me a lot. Not so much about the trade, but about how to live and have a bit of fun, and how to die with dignity. He also taught me about care. His wife broke both of her collarbones in a fall. Both of her arms were tightly secured in slings. He had to dress and undress her, feed her and wipe her butt. He did this cheerfully. He became significant to me because he bought me an ice cream on a very hot day, and beyond that because he had temperaments that I admired and intended have for myself. Tears fill my eyes as I write. So long Ed, and thanks.
I have not thought of Ed for many years. There are many pathways to bonding and significance and I offer this as an example of how easily a bond may be formed and how durable it may be. A social group may be conceptualized as a web of bonds that generates Dunbar’s “…coherent, stable, coordinated social groups” out of individuals.
Membership, temperament, significance and bonding: a mélange of concepts that inform my understanding of social groups. They also inform my understanding of individual behaviors, many of which may be interpreted as intended and functioning to gain, maintain, or increase social bonds. I offer a single example: I share email humor with about six other people. This maintains bonds and significance saying I am here and I care enough about you to take time to send to you and to in turn read what you send.
I’ve been thinking about temperament for at least two year and over the span of several essays I have gone to some length to lay out the case that many temperaments were inherent or instinctive. Temperaments are “…a relatively fixed set of mental and emotional attributes that define major elements of personality. Temperament is an over-all, large scale pattern or tendency such as curious or fearful, credulous or suspicious, wild eyed or reasonable.25 I also posited that temperaments are functional with respect to the needs of both the individual and of the social group withing which the individual is embedded: “…temperament, while personal, is sociologically functional – that is, personality in some respects subsumes under sociology – the needs of a social group. Temperament, while basically individual, is more fundamentally sociological for it governs to a large extent how an individual functions within its group. I am willing to go one step farther to suggest that perception of the needs of the group will develop aspects of individual temperament.” Further, I posit that selection for a pair bond, formed within the social group, may be founded upon temperamental pairing and this confers reproductive success. I will divagate upon temperament within the pair bond in the next essay.
Roger Lerseth and the warrior temperament: I introduced the warrior temperament in The Sentinel, the Warrior, and the Social Group – Carl Wilson (jackofafewtrades.com). Christopher Scaife summed his 24 years in the British army:
“Being in the army is a strange life, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. In the army you work together, you live together, you grieve together, you celebrate together. The army was my family.” That was where he found his bonds, significance, social capital, and family.
The military historian, John Keegan opined “I am tempted, after a lifetime’s acquaintance with the British army, to argue that some men can be nothing but soldiers.” I’ve read accounts of Special Forces soldiers, in the middle of a hot fire fight, being aware that they are exactly where they should be and doing what they should do. I take all of this at face value and that raises the question ‘why is there such a specific temperament?’ I do not have it. Most men do not have it.
Honor and dishonor are quintessential warrior moral values: “There are a lot worse things than dying. Living with dishonor is one of them.”((Sherwood, op cit.) Dishonor and its cognate, honor, are both personal and social values. Why are there warriors and why would dishonor be worse than death to them? Why is shame such a powerful emotion for the rest of us? That is the story I wish to tell in this series of essays.
Conclusion and Thesis Statement
A social group must go in the same direction at the same time and for the same purpose. Humans have evolved hormones, temperaments and behaviors to coalesce individuals into a social group able to hold territory, extract its resources, enable individuals to survive to reproduce, and to successfully raise offspring. We have a bonding agent that glues these individuals into a social group. To be a member of the group requires a specific temperaments and behaviors, and being a member enmeshes the individual in a web of social behavior controls. Human social temperaments lie at the intersection of sociology, ecology and reproduction, and function to fit the individual into the constraints and requirements of these factors.
Suggested reading on bonding or attachment: Attachment theory – Wikipedia, Harry Harlow – Wikipedia, and Abraham Maslow – Wikipedia. Also a web search for a wider range of articles on attachment: attachment theory – Google Search.