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Purposive Social Selection and the Evolution of Human Altruism
Christopher Boehm Cross-Cultural Research 2008 42: 319 originally published online 11 July 2008 DOI: 10.1177/1069397108320422 The online version of this article can be found at: http://ccr.sagepub.com/content/42/4/319
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Purposive Social Selection and the Evolution of Human Altruism
University of Southern California
Cross-Cultural Research Volume 42 Number 4 November 2008 319-352 © 2008 Sage Publications 10.1177/1069397108320422 http://ccr.sagepub.com hosted at http://online.sagepub.com
Normally scientific evolutionary approaches eschew any element of teleology in theorizing about how natural selection processes work, but social decisions pose a problem for this position. This article examines both positive and negative social sanctioning by human groups to show that purposive social selection at the level of phenotype can have parallel effects at the level of genotype, and that social control has shaped human genetic nature profoundly. A small cross-cultural sample of Pleistocene-appropriate foragers is used to suggest that human groups have been favoring generous individuals, for at least 45,000 years, in ways that affect their fitness. The impact on gene pools could have been substantial, given that runaway selection is likely to have been involved. This type of explanation, which takes human purposes into account as part of evolutionary process, offers a new solution for the genetic paradox of altruistic behavior. Keywords: evolutionary theory; teleology; social selection; morality; social control
n the broader evolutionary debates about the ultimate causal forces that drive natural selection process, positions taken have been both predictable and highly disparate. Theorists who believe the “design” somehow to be “intelligent” include not only religious fundamentalists but many others, far less doctrinaire, who argue that some higher entity must at least have created the natural selection process and turned it loose to do its remarkable mechanical thing. On the scientific side, of course, are an array of mechanists, whose worldviews are based on the totally blind variation-and-selective-retention evolutionary paradigm characterized by Campbell (1965).
Author’s Note: I thank David Krakauer, Marsha Quinlan and Robert Quinlan, and this journal’s three blind reviewers for useful comments and guidance. I also am grateful to the John Templeton Foundation for two grants, which supported coding ethnographic materials, and to the Goodall Center at USC and USC’s Department of Computer Sciences, which also have supported the development of the hunter-gatherer database. 319
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Behind this controversy lurks the cosmological question of teleology (see van Woudenberg, 2004). Is the natural world basically self-organizing, or has it been shaped by some kind of purpose? In this context Ernst Mayr (1983) created a special term to describe how a system of natural selection can appear to be solving problems actively when, in fact, it is self-organizing. The process is not purpose driven but teleonomic, meaning that individual genetic competition supports gene pools that automatically adjust their members’ phenotypes to environmental change—and do so unthinkingly, even though there may be a striking appearance of ingenuity. Mayr’s position is accepted by the great majority of evolutionary scientists today, who defensively remain highly suspicious of any attempt to introduce teleological elements into evolutionary analyses. Keeping this polarization of opinion in mind, I shall examine some important patterns of purposive human decision making, to see whether they might have had a special “guidance” effect on certain aspects of the natural selection process as humans evolved socially. This question is of particular interest because a major focus in the pages that follow will be on altruistic generosity and how it could have evolved in humans, given that when social decisions become involved with natural selection processes, not only do these social decisions introduce an element of intentionality, thus providing some guidance, but in theory runaway selection could also be taking place (e.g., Fisher, 1930). Of course, these same scientists will readily acknowledge that modern humans, with their scientific understanding of heredity, can purposefully guide evolutionary process in some very special and insightful ways, such as genetic engineering, or, deplorably, in trying to implement policies of eugenics. But these were not part of our deep evolutionary past. It was only at the end of the Pleistocene that the intensive domestication of animals and plants first brought humans some real potency to shape the genotypes of other species under their control, and until Darwin their insights into the overall effects of these practices surely remained very limited. Darwin grew up in proximity to livestock breeding, and there is little doubt that his precocious insights into natural selection process sprang in part from this experience as well from what he absorbed as a descriptive naturalist. In The Origin of Species, when Darwin (1859) discussed the breeding activities of farmers, he came to the conclusion that they were practicing unconscious selection. By this he meant that they were unaware of the larger effects of their selective efforts, even though their immediate, deliberate decisions about which useful variants to preserve were having an impact on the course of natural selection.
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1991. 2007) believe that this model can be applied not just to selection in favor of secondary sexual characteristics. but to other aspects of mate choice. and sexual selection is an important subset of social selection. 1996. Stark. some “lower-level teleology” (Boehm. 1930). Social selection has been discussed in a wide variety of contexts (e. Nesse. 1982b) and also highly collectivized (Boehm. In fact. A number of scholars (e. 2005. as we examine in some detail the social biases of their small. Wolf. Downloaded from ccr. & Moore. culturally supported decision biases into a relatively powerful mechanism of natural selection. 2006. secondary sexual characteristics. in some species the females do instinctively choose males whose displays please the most. including preferences that favor altruistic behavioral traits in a mate. However.g. Here I will be examining several types of choice regularly made by human foraging bands to build the case that innate human altruism could have been supported by social choices that rewarded generous behavior at the level of phenotype. our adaptively significant. with humans such decisions are far from being heavily “instinctive” or based on thoughtless imitation. cognitively sophisticated decisions may become both highly patterned culturally (see Boehm. 1991. such as the tails of male peacocks. purposeful decisions? Subsequently. The argument will be made that a high degree of selective focus (i.com by Florina Pop on March 10. 1990. Frank.. Insofar as these decisions in fact are purposive. “The Evolution of Cooking.. Hodgson & Knudsen.sagepub. It is the highly patterned—and surely coevolved— social decisions of the females that hold such male traits in place. Indeed. The main descriptive thrust here is to ethnographically identify certain prosocial decision biases among Pleistocene-type foragers—biases that could have resulted in strong selection in favor of altruistic generosity. 1996).Boehm / Evolution of Human Altruism 321 Were humans the only species to influence natural selection by making focused.. 1961. 1978.e. Tanaka.” 2002. The argument is that because such selection can rise to a runaway rate. can evolve so decisively that they seem exaggerated in noteworthy ways that are costly to fitness. and the “runaway” power of such decisions as an agency of selection is remarkable (Fisher. Darwin (1871) took up the question of sexual selection in other animals. individuals or groups deciding to reproductively reward or punish certain specific phenotypes) can transform long-running. in contradistinction to peacock hens. Breden & Wade. 1991) would seem to be creeping into the process of gene selection. Simon. However. Brodie. Even though they obviously are not equipped to understand either the immediate or the ultimate genetic effects of their decisions.g. 2011 . 1999). substantial altruistic costs may be defrayed as both wiser choosers and the more altruistic individuals chosen profit from the interaction.
But first. 1986). as when Eskimos select dogs of a certain color for their teams. 1946). Furthermore.322 Cross-Cultural Research moralistic groups. As a result of having a warrior society. who were selected by height. After Ehrich measured these Serbian tribesmen anthropometrically.com by Florina Pop on March 10. 2011 .sagepub. However. in the course of 3 years’ cultural fieldwork in Montenegro. were the tallest “Caucasian” types in the world.” along with a few contiguous neighbors in Northern Albania and Southern Hercegovina. having sons to perpetuate the male family line was a major cultural preoccupation that often appeared obsessive to outsiders (e.. Techniques of cross-cultural research will be used to explore certain highly purposeful patterns of human social preference—ones backed by moralistic sanctioning—that seem likely to have been sufficiently consistent.. noting that these exceptionally tall men had exceptionally tall wives. Accordingly. Explaining Unusually Tall Serbs In On the Origin of Species. he had no good explanation for their outstanding height aside from a guess about superior nutrition. When I was doing fieldwork with quasi-literate Serbian mountain pastoralists in Montenegro in the 1960s.g. This has to do with group punishment’s impact on human genetic nature. tribal Montenegrins before 1850 were among the world’s most patrifocal people (Boehm. 1983). 1848). 1983. over enough thousands of generations. and who were significantly shorter in stature (Ehrich. they contrasted culturally with people in surrounding areas. I was intrigued by the fact that these “tribesmen. it will be instructive to look at one very suggestive mating-selection case in which human preferences appear to have shaped a gene pool in precisely the same direction as the preferences being expressed. In addition he surmises that nonliterate people may practice some culling. The physical characteristics of progeny were also of interest. which also involved “guided” social selection. to have affected human gene pools profoundly. and one informant told me that sometimes parents would marry a precious son—one Downloaded from ccr. I will undertake one other discussion on the side. I inadvertently obtained two small clues. mentioning the ancient Greeks’ choosing their wives with an eye to having healthy progeny and the Spartans’ practice of culling their own children. He also mentions Prussian grenadiers. Wilkinson. who lacked the very prominent historical warrior ethos of these tribes (e. Darwin (1859) states that humans sometimes apply unconscious selection to themselves. Boehm.g.
the virtuous but “ugly” females invariably turned out to be “short. My socially knowledgeable informant gave two reasons for a woman’s failing to marry in a culture in which marriage was very much the norm. Half were “old maids” (posidjelice) who. but also that they were likely to have affected the fecundity of tall females compared with other women. When the ratings for height were made.” whereas the women with problematic reputations appeared to follow a normal distribution for height (see Boehm. The numbers were small and the measurements intuitive. To this end. The other half were “loose” women (kurve) whose premarital affairs had become known in a patriarchal society that valued female virginity and had no mercy in “talking” about women and giving them bad reputations. there were almost a dozen unmarried and essentially unmarriageable females she could identify within her own fairly extensive social networks. 1991).sagepub. even though they were poštena (sexually virtuous). 1991). and in effect they composed a sterile caste. a list of men and women she knew of who were both unmarried and very unlikely to marry (see Boehm. I had noted that being stasita (tall) was considered a desirable characteristic in brides in general. Given that radical changes in the social genotype of domesticated foxes have been accomplished in only 40 generations (Hare et al. 80 generations for this pattern of unconscious selection to have some effect. But after I left the field I began to wonder if. 1848). but the patterns were certainly suggestive. 80 generations might have sufficed for the Montenegrins to Downloaded from ccr.Boehm / Evolution of Human Altruism 323 who was unusually short—to a very tall woman in order to have taller progeny. Written historical information about the warlike Montenegrin Serbs suggests that the tribal-warrior syndrome. goes back at least to the times of the ancient Greeks and Romans (see Wilkinson. 2005). Although there were no certain male examples. Milenka Vuksanovic to make ´. such intentions might have affected the regional gene pool in ways unrealized by the people involved. at the time I was not surprised to hear about parents seeking tall wives for their sons. or short in stature. which included perhaps a third of a tribe of 1800. over time. None of the short-but-virtuous women had given birth. 2011 . I asked Milenka to guess about why these women never married. Knowing that these pastoralists bred livestock in a purposeful way. minimally. medium. I asked a female informant from the tribe I had lived in. which even today distinguishes them from their neighbors. and subsequently I asked her to rank them as tall. failed to marry because they were “ugly” (grdna). To adequately test this unconscious-selection hypothesis..com by Florina Pop on March 10. so this shorter time frame would have allowed. First. it would have been necessary to show not only that such marriage preferences existed and were acted on. In addition.
who maximally have been around for only 12. If animal breeders can change major traits in a species within a few dozen generations when totally systematic selective breeding is being implemented. and these people already understood how to select variable traits in their animals and plants. to tell us whether the pattern of being extremely warlike and patrifocal has greater historical depth.000 generations). The outcome would have affected height in both males and females.000 years (almost 2. Unfortunately.sagepub. so we will not be looking for instances of “unconscious selection” precisely as Downloaded from ccr. 1997). Indeed. 1930) were operating. This Montenegrin hypothesis definitely involves Darwinian unconscious selection. of course. even though only one sex was targeted for culling. they simply married all their sons to the tallest (sexually virtuous) females they could find. but the cultural pattern of seeking taller progeny could in fact be much older.400 years (Diamond.com by Florina Pop on March 10. Such people evolved in the Late Pleistocene (Klein. and their direct descendants have been studied by ethnographers everywhere in the world.000 years (fewer than 500 generations). and it is useful for thinking more generally about the influence of purposeful decision patterns on natural selection process. and we cannot be at all sure whether it was deliberate culling that led to the domestication of dogs at least 15. several hundred generations might well have provided sufficient time for longterm. the obvious place to look is not at tribesmen like these. Balkan people appear to have been domesticating plants and animals for at least 7.000 years ago (see Vila et al. there are no historical data for still earlier times in Montenegro. particularly if runaway selection (e. 2011 . but rather than culling male progeny. 1997). but at hunter-gatherers of the culturally modern type who have been making their livings in bands for nearly 50. this pattern of choices could have affected an entire regional breeding population.g. 1999).. These people did not practice any intensive domestication of plants. and over the evolutionary long run. Widening the Scope of Unconscious Selection If one is interested in the human-evolutionary role of purposeful decisions. Fisher. culturally patterned biases in favor of gaining taller children to have affected the gene pool.324 Cross-Cultural Research significantly raise their average height. Their conscious intention was to have taller sons.. In this case there were perceptually obvious variations in the human phenotype. so potentially these Montenegrins could have been applying limited insights about the hereditary transmission of traits to patrifocal marriage choices for at least 296 generations.
the time frame needed might have been less. 1997. Natural selection proceeds at variable rates (see Eldridge. Excluded are foragers who practice domestication. but Wilson (1978) has estimated that “normally” a given selection pressure must operate on a species for at least 1. Our potential subject matter will be any case of purposeful social decision making that affects gene pools in ways that seem consistent with the intentions of the decision makers. 2000). people living part-time at missions.000 generations to introduce a new trait. Excluded are foragers who live in permanent. the time frame could have become shorter still.Boehm / Evolution of Human Altruism 325 Darwin defined it. etc. and if runaway selection process were also in force. such as those of the Pygmies or the Agta.. year-round settlements made possible by intensive food storage. Thus. 1997). they are economically independent. However.sagepub. For brevity I will be calling these contemporary huntergatherers Pleistocene appropriate. (This excludes fur-trade foragers.com by Florina Pop on March 10. such as mounted hunters in North and South America. 1971). even if the latter are not consciously trying to manipulate hereditary outcomes at all. and this cross-cultural sample will include only hunting-and-gathering bands that meet the following criteria: They are mobile. because I believe that such behavior can be confidently projected into our human past for at least 1. hunter-gatherers should have had sufficient time to evolve new or highly modified traits after they became culturally modern like us.000 years. Downloaded from ccr. Pleistocene-Appropriate Foragers The goal here is to assess certain patterns of individual and group decision making that could have had an impact on human gene pools over the past 45. through decisions. nor will the treatment be limited to mate choice. symbiotic adaptations with agriculturists. and probably earlier.000 years ago (Vila et al. or even those who practice a little horticulture.800 generations (see Boehm. Basically. so the preliminary cross-cultural analysis will be based on extant mobile hunter-gatherers. The type of decisions to be treated will be those involved with social control. because dogs have been domesticated since at least about 15. in the case of traits selected in a highly focused way. whose socioecological patterns most closely approximate those of culturally modern foragers who lived in the Late Pleistocene. 2011 . such as the Aché. One exception will be the use of dogs.) They are “pure” hunter-gatherers.
and when a common problem is faced. 2000). Fry. I have informally surveyed several dozen of these Pleistocene-appropriate foragers (see also Knauft. Marlowe. But first it will be necessary to describe briefly the ecological niche occupied by Late Pleistocene foragers to see how this constrained—and in effect standardized—much of their sociopolitical life. which is centered on sharing large game. 2005). 1955).g. 2005). 2002).. As will be seen. 2011 . I shall be operating on the assumption that if universals or strong central tendencies can be identified in the social behavior of Pleistocene-appropriate foragers today. For instance. which holds that environment and subsistence determine social organization (see Bettinger. 2002). I will be basing this reconstruction on the notion of a cultural core (e. and for logistical reasons needed to equalize their meat distribution. as long as they were culturally modern. By examining in some detail a cross-cultural corpus of 10 of these forager societies. 1997).com by Florina Pop on March 10. these same central tendencies may be projected backward in time to apply to prehistoric humans (see Boehm. Furthermore. 1991).sagepub. there is a highly predictable ethos that makes for a strong consensus about holding down dominance behaviors that affect the entire band. Steward. along with strong (but not absolute) tendencies to pair-bonded monogamy (Marlowe. their social preferences include not only a dislike of interpersonal domination and self-interested deception. but an active appreciation of those with generous traits. Wiessner 1996). see also Erdal & Whiten. I will try to pinpoint some widespread social preferences that could have had a major impact on the human behavioral genome. a strong concern for conflict resolution within the multifamily band (see Boehm. 1995). invested substantial energy in hunting large game. a number of important behavioral patterns appear to hold constant (see also Boehm. 1993. 1991). but show a preference for large game. Prehistoric Group Life In reconstructing Late Pleistocene social life. 1994. and as a result they are predictably and assertively egalitarian in their political life (Boehm. I have expanded Steward’s Downloaded from ccr. a capacity of entire bands to arrive at a decision consensus in spite of having very weak leadership (Boehm. a tendency to exhibit substantial homicide rates due to male competition over females (Knauft. There is also band-level cooperation. and in spite of their being adapted to an extremely wide diversity of environments (Kelly. 2000.326 Cross-Cultural Research Recently (Boehm. However. 1991. these people invariably combine hunting and gathering. 1997).
Boehm / Evolution of Human Altruism 327 concept to include also certain social and ideological factors that contribute causally to subsistence success and help to shape decision biases and influence the overall social organization. our direct ancestors. 2004b). 1982a). Winterhalder & Smith. and thieves (Boehm. more generally. with respect to vegetable foods and small game. 1993) even though actual conflicts over meat are rare. 2005). This theory is born out on the ground (see Kelly. And in fact. This overt psychological ambivalence fits with the fact that band members must “police” those who would seriously take advantage of the system. there would be the very rare feast and basically a meat famine the rest of the time. they are obliged to deal with the fact that meat takes effort to preserve. cheaters. and this includes not only people who might be stingy. It is in the interest of keeping the analysis conservative that only culturally modern humans are being considered here. 1995). 2004c) and not be impaired by serious social conflict (Boehm. who must transfer major portions of the meat they kill to the other families (see Winterhalder. Downloaded from ccr. 1997). 2011 . This means that if single families were to consume all the meat their own hunters provided. and. 1999. Whereas sharing food within the family is very strongly supported by innate nepotistic tendencies. so that this very important sharing system can both work equitably (Boehm. 1999). on a number of continents (see Stanford. To reduce this extreme variance in meat intake. for it is the “averaging” effect of having multiple hunters share nutritious meat that makes large game such a viable subsistence item. 1981). to cope with the nutritionally potent large-game carcasses they strongly prefer as food. However. This helps to explain a quarter of a million years of archaeological evidence for continuous large-game hunting by both archaic and modern Homo sapiens. calling it an egalitarian syndrome. in the wider context of band-level cooperation people sometimes seem to share quite ambivalently (see Peterson. 1995.sagepub. but also bullies. 1997). sharing among unrelated families is not (Boehm. in their bands mobile foragers basically subsist as independent families without much interfamilial sharing (Kelly. and in any event is hard to carry when camps frequently move. Today. 2001. laggards. I have described this ideologically supported core pattern in detail. in theory hunter-gatherers are obliged to live in multifamilial bands with at least five or six hunters. 2002). Large-game hunting has figured prominently in human social evolution (see Stanford 1999). Stiner. Marlowe. A prime challenge is to keep alpha-male bullying propensities under control. Elsewhere (Boehm. I did so because one of its central features is for people to deliberately hold down alpha behavior—both so that meat distributions can be efficient.com by Florina Pop on March 10. because dominance is predictably resented by egalitarian humans (Boehm.
2005). Decisions about where to go next sometimes are made at the family level (e. then the egalitarian practice of punishing such males should be affecting gene pools—an effect that has not gone unnoticed. When an individual departs too far from the egalitarian ethos. along with small game. Watkins. 2002). whereas an especially aggressive male’s being put to death. even at the midpoint of his reproductive career. and they always favor large game because it is fattier (see Cordain et al. so often provide the bulk of their calories (Kelly. not only were human skeletal remains the same as today. the earmarks of a consistent egalitarian syndrome having these features seemed to be pervasive.g. Cordain. 1999). 2002. and reliance on large game was comparable to today (Stiner.sagepub. and this seems extremely likely. Wrangham (“Evolution of Cooking. 1997). will seriously damage his inclusive fitness. in discussing the “moralistic aggression” of small human groups.” 2002) has referred to the effects of such punishment as “autodomestication. 1997). by 45. the entire group either turns against him and cuts him down to size.328 Cross-Cultural Research In quickly surveying almost a third of the approximately 150 foraging societies I have now identified as Pleistocene appropriate (see Boehm. we may be reasonably certain that an egalitarian syndrome very similar to what is found today had developed. 1995). and Otterbein (1988) has applied this insight specifically to capital punishment.com by Florina Pop on March 10. & Tilley. and they can make group decisions in response to social challenges as well (Boehm. even though vegetable foods. 2001). One type of collective decision stands out in such egalitarian bands (Boehm. 2011 .. If unusually dominant aggression has any basis in the genes carried by these political upstarts. These outcomes have reproductive consequences that ultimately can impact our gene pools. 1997). Some Special Effects of Punishments Today’s Pleistocene-appropriate people tend to move camp about 9 times a year (see Marlowe.. but entire bands often make collective decisions about where to relocate. Fredrickson. Trivers (1971). & Mann. for even being ostracized can tell on reproductive success. took note of how genetic behavior traits making for deviance could be suppressed by severe punishment. 2002). 2000. 2002). I make this assertion because.000 years ago. or else it simply does away with him by means of ejection from the group or through capital punishment (see Boehm. And by the time that prehistoric culturally modern humans arrived.” and he suggests that an originally Downloaded from ccr. but by then archaeological signs of cultural inventiveness and flexibility had become dramatic and “contemporary” (see Klein. Palmer.
will permit scholarly access to an enormous amount of published information relevant to social behavior. conflict resolution. band-level societies of this Late Pleistocene type that have been studied ethnographically. 1996) could have become “docilized” as a result. hunter-gatherer societies will be used to do this.sagepub. I will be concentrating on a different hypothesis that focuses on how altruism evolved. and hold back from deviant acts. morals. to explore the possibility that human dispositions to altruism could have been produced by totally unconscious sanctioning selection operating through social control at the group and individual levels. and the conscience-evolution hypothesis is currently under development. socialselection effects (see Boehm. The “Sample” My goal is to assess the likely social biases of hunter-gatherers over the past 45. as a way of generating hypotheses for future testing. and I also have proposed that the human capacity for “self-monitoring” (see Campbell.Boehm / Evolution of Human Altruism 329 more aggressive ancestral political nature (see Wrangham & Peterson. would have had a net gain in fitness by avoiding punishment. I have agreed that aggressive traits would have been reduced because of punishments meted out by groups.000 years and. 1990) a conscience (see Darwin.com by Florina Pop on March 10. evaluate their own behavior. In this article. 1999). when complete. and to date approximately 50 societies have been completely or partially coded. This preliminary sample has not been fully randomized. but again the agency of selection will be a prehistoric band expressing its predictable social preferences. and socially-sensitive consciences serve as internal testing grounds where individuals can think about mistakes they are likely to make and better desist from making them. The coding protocol is six pages long just for these types of behavior. We call the special type of self-appraisal that has evolved in conjunction with our brain’s large prefrontal cortex (see Damasio. and politics. Tranel. The specific hypothesis is that individuals better disposed to internalize group rules. cooperation. These theories about genetic effects of social punishment could help to explain the evolution of moral behavior. 1871). Downloaded from ccr. with the assistance of the John Templeton Foundation and the Goodall Research Center at the University of Southern California. 2011 . A cross-cultural sample of 10 extant Pleistocene-appropriate. for the scores of mobile. At present I am constructing a large database on Pleistocene-appropriate hunter-gatherers that. 1983) and self-control could have been augmented and transformed as a result of these special. & Damasio.
334) Downloaded from ccr. this cannot be taken as evidence that in fact it was absent. it was final. item 3. Asian foragers were omitted for logistical reasons alone. and they will not affect the analysis. All of these groups qualify as Pleistocene appropriate. and that there was varying descriptive quality. Because they were obviously oversampled. For instance. 2011 . ethnographically speaking. coded information has not yet been incorporated into a searchable database. !Ko Bushmen from Africa. but also on the basis of which of the societies were fully coded and had particularly rich or abundant ethnography available. partly on the basis of wanting to have a representative worldwide distribution. even though the Inuit societies relied unusually heavily on large game. but a useful portion of it can now be analyzed by hand. (text continues on p. Plateau Yumans from North America. Once I chose this list. however. Waorani and Yahgan from South America. If negative evidence must be looked at with some suspicion. very roughly.com by Florina Pop on March 10. the Andaman Islanders were not yet fully processed. how emphasized a given behavior was. if an attitude or a behavior is not being mentioned for a given society. murder would continue to appear on at least a very widespread basis as a specific category of deviance. Several dozen cultures have been fully processed now. and the standard procedure is to code every ethnography in the English language for each culture that is fully processed. Obviously. we may reasonably assume that were the sample size increased. of varying personal and theoretical perspectives. and to conduct this pilot survey I informally selected 10 societies. 1991).sagepub. Included are Murngin and Tiwi from Australia. for likely “universals” the positive evidence is all but indisputable. In Table 1 it should be kept in mind that different societies were described by varying numbers of ethnographers. and their dogs could serve as an emergency food source.00) as an indigenous category of moral deviance. Knauft’s (1991) research on “simple societies” bears this out (see also Brown. The eventual aim is to create an electronic multimedia database for use by scholars interested in forager behavior and human evolution. and four Inuit groups selected from different parts of the Arctic. when 10 societies sampled from most world continents all report murder (see Table 1.330 Cross-Cultural Research This raw. The societies are from all over the world. The table does indicate. I will note any possible pattern anomalies in their social preferences or antipathies. how widespread a given preference or sanction or prescription was in this sample of 10 societies. and. and an appropriate search-engine architecture is now beginning development. but these anomalies were few. given the nature of ethnography.
03 Incest 3.04 Adultery 3.com by Florina Pop on March 10.021 Trying to grab power or position 3.sagepub.020 Bullying 3.061 Cheating the group [as in meat sharing] 3.00 Murder 3.01 Beating someone 3.10 Failure to cooperate 3.08 Lying 3.07 Stealing 3.09 Taboo violation/other supernatural transgression 3.Table 1 Social Sanctions and Preferences Australia Africa Arctic North America South America Coding Category 9 25 16 1 5 3 11 11 4 2 2 3 7 77 8 1 25 15 1 11 10 1 11 8 3 3 8 4 9 Percentage Northern of Total Alaskan Greenland Netsilik Polar Plateau Societies Citations Murngin Tiwi !Ko Inuit Inuit Inuit Inuit Yumans Waorani Yahgan 1 34 2 3 38 12 1 17 28 3 2 1 1 1 Downloaded from ccr.2 Commits sorcery or witchcraft 33 95 45 378 10 118 25 4 6 3 70 6 14 2 1 23 9 26 15 106 7 13 19 34 1 6 4 26 2 2 3 1 1 10 4 36 2 10 7 80 100 60 100 3 1 1 8 4 19 3 17 40 100 21 4 331 (continued) .022 Leader’s trying to boss others around 3. 2011 100 90 70 0 10 90 100 70 50 30 30 2 5 3 15 18 4 1 1 1 1 11 11 4 7 3 1 5 2 1 12 4 7 3 13 4 21 59 235 79 12 0 1 65 102 15 24 9 9 6 14 2 3 6 19 1 1 1 Number of sources Moral deviance 3.06 Cheating 3.062 Failure to share 3.05 Man dishonors a woman 3.060 Cheating an individual 3.
1 Direct Criticism by group or spokesman for group 4.35 Permanent expulsion from group 4.3 Group Ostracism [social distancing] 4.21 Other shaming 4. total avoidance] 4.34 Temporary expulsion from group 4. 2011 100 30 40 90 50 50 Moral sanctioning 4.20 Ridicule 4.41 Group member selected to assassinate culprit 4.Table 1 (continued) Australia Africa Arctic North America South America 332 174 61 33 3 4 3 2 3 5 10 1 3 3 6 5 11 1 27 4 19 9 1 1 37 12 31 10 11 6 7 2 1 24 11 5 38 70 9 48 16 1 1 1 3 1 2 2 25 5 1 1 6 11 6 98 2 1 22 2 4 1 8 5 5 4 1 8 1 15 28 3 18 3 12 21 3 1 1 4 4 2 2 1 16 6 4 1 1 3 6 3 3 2 10 6 15 86 22 21 2 2 0 1 7 11 4 2 2 3 1 6 1 3 5 21 7 10 21 9 3 13 1 5 2 1 7 Coding Category Percentage Northern of Total Alaskan Greenland Netsilik Polar Plateau Societies Citations Murngin Tiwi !Ko Inuit Inuit Inuit Inuit Yumans Waorani Yahgan 100 100 90 60 90 50 70 70 50 50 Downloaded from ccr.32 Total Shunning [no speaking.com by Florina Pop on March 10.2 Group shaming 4.00 Gossip [as private expression of public opinion] 4.0 Public Opinion 4.4 Physical Punishment 4.33 Spatial distancing [move or re -orient domicile or camp] 4.30 Social aloofness [cool relations.sagepub.42 Conspire with enemies to have culprit killed 0 (continued) .40 Administer blows 4.31 Tendency to avoid culprit 4. reduced speaking] 4.
022 Aid to relatives favored 5.5 Supernatural sanctions 4.43 Entire group kills culprit 4.51 Belief that individual deviance harms entire group 60 50 66 225 219 296 59 64 48 6 21 19 5 3 3 5 4 3 1 1 14 24 23 1 11 1 49 12 32 6 1 1 5 8 5 7 3 27 13 30 4 5 1 18 5 1 1 9 27 63 59 92 15 26 29 2 4 31 45 57 21 14 6 8 8 8 4 1 11 10 9 1 1 2 7 11 23 23 1 1 5 Downloaded from ccr. 2011 4.024 Demand sharing 80 100 100 100 100 100 80 333 .021 Sharing favored 5.sagepub.52 People use supernatural to m anipulate deviants 4.com by Florina Pop on March 10.02 Cooperation favored 5.Table 1 (continued) Australia Africa Arctic North America South America Coding Category 13 157 155 3 2 3 3 24 9 9 39 2 6 1 8 10 1 9 9 3 12 12 6 70 67 1 31 31 Percentage Northern of Total Alaskan Greenland Netsilik Polar Plateau Societies Citations Murngin Tiwi !Ko Inuit Inuit Inuit Inuit Yumans Waorani Yahgan 1 1 1 60 90 90 14 14 1 4.50 Belief that supernatural powers will punish transgressions 4.023 Aid to nonrelatives favored 5.020 Generosity or altruism favored 5.7 Social control Social ideology 5.
70 or more of this reasonably representative sample should have quite a substantial distribution worldwide. It is likely that with less imperfect ethnographic descriptions. some of the latter would have been unanimously reported as well. Under social ideology. as was the case with direct criticism. Furthermore. all 10 societies agreed unanimously that murder. We now have an outline of potentially universal or very widespread moral concerns and social control practices of 10 mobile hunter-gatherer societies. as is some kind of social distancing—the types running from informal social aloofness. In addition. and sharing are preferred indigenously as desirable behaviors. It seems likely that decision biases mentioned unanimously within this small sample are likely to apply. all but one society mentioned either “physical punishment” or “capital punishment. in fact. taboo violation. failure to share or cooperate. oversampling the Inuit appears to have made no significant difference in the patterns that emerged. incest. 2011 . Under moral deviance.” which may be seen as a heavily overlapping but more specific category. say. In general. as deviant behaviors. it is no surprise that social-control techniques also are mentioned ubiquitously: For instance. whereas seven specifically mentioned executions—either by the entire group or by someone acting for the group. in at least a very widespread fashion. “failure to share. including the very few that remained in Asia. invariably cooperation. all but one society had shaming or ridicule mentioned. It is.” However. dishonoring a female. public opinion and gossiping are always reported. It also seems likely that empirically any pattern mentioned by. and sorcery were undesirable behaviors. and either cheating or lying.com by Florina Pop on March 10. to physical elimination by capital punishment. With respect to practices. The purpose of this preliminary survey was simply to look for potentially universal or very widespread moral beliefs and practices in band life and consider them as central tendencies that might be projected into the past.334 Cross-Cultural Research As Table 1 shows. theft.sagepub. to extant Pleistocene-appropriate societies in general. generosity. the overall distribution rises to 9 out of 10. and this included 5 non-Inuit societies. For that reason I am including all of the above-mentioned behaviors in the central tendencies Downloaded from ccr. whereas the majority of societies had mentions of bullying behavior or beating someone. certain prescriptions and proscriptions are so ethnographically salient that right across the board they are reported regularly and often with high frequency. If these two categories are collapsed.” as acts of social control. exclusively the four Inuit societies that account for the four condemnatory mentions of “failure to cooperate. to outright shunning or ejection from the group. was mentioned 8 times. adultery.
If we think about the probable long term genetic-selection effects of these group behaviors. To summarize. Ejection from the group can also be very dangerous to the ejectee’s inclusive fitness unless a safe haven is found. and varying degrees of ostracism or physical punishment. cheating. the fitness costs would have been significant for individuals unduly disposed to dominate others through physical aggression or sorcery. And within the band social distancing up to and including shunning will at least disrupt an unreformed deviant’s cooperative networks (e.com by Florina Pop on March 10. which precludes creating more progeny. and manipulative practices that mobilize public opinion and result in criticism. 1999) suggest that this is a widespread and probably universal concern of these mobile foragers—even though severe punitive sanctioning of serious political upstarts by outraged bands takes place rather rarely. Briggs. 1993. or for those disposed to engage in theft.g. The Evolutionary Effects of Punishment The argument for prehistoric negative sanctioning selection’s having an impact on gene pools is easiest to make where capital punishment dramatically curtails a younger male’s reproductive career. 1970) and reduce the chances of making an advantageous marriage. rules. as long as the culturally modern humans in question were fulfilling the socioecological criteria specified previously. or committing incest. 2011 . and also cuts off further support of existing progeny. ridicule. obviously they were likely to have suppressed the frequencies of traits that prepared dominantly aggressive violence or other ways of selfishly taking away the resources of others. and other close relatives. along with certain types of sexual misconduct. cheating or failure to share. These practices control not only recidivist murder and bullying. 1999).sagepub. in terms of punitive social control. and incest and adultery. but that small bands of potential victims are likely to strongly oppose such behavior (Boehm. this limited “sampling” provides some very strong central tendencies in values. Thus. In Downloaded from ccr. Although bullying behavior was condemned specifically for only 7 out of 10 societies. more broadly based surveys that focused on finding highquality ethnographies (Boehm. but theft. breeding partners. The fact that executions of political bullies have been reported on a number of continents helps to make the case not only that humans are innately disposed to dominate other people.. progeny’s offspring.Boehm / Evolution of Human Altruism 335 that I think can be confidently projected backward in time.
It was because of this enduring and widespread cultural preoccupation with controlling certain serious deviances that people were unwittingly guiding genetic selection process in complementary directions. which suggest that our genetic nature has been modified accordingly. it raises the interesting question of whether some type of runaway-type selection pressures (see Andersson. see also Boyd & Richerson. 1991. and we have a sense of shame (Piers & Singer. 1982. Thus.. but at the same time we have become much better at following rules in general. it is my ethnographic intuition that such behavior is widely condemned but not actively punished in many hunting bands and sometimes is even winked at. over the past 45. insofar as just a handful of antisocial behaviors were being regularly singled out and regularly punished over dozens of millennia. This can be considered a very special case of gene-culture coevolution (e. Let us return briefly to the conscience. Gintis. which translates into individually adaptive selfcontrol and submission. This complex. Fisher. 1930) may have been operating. which slowed down the expression of our deviant tendencies. because decisions were involved. 2011 . even though sexual selection was in no way involved. This was because punitive social selection was favoring the evolution of rule-sensitive consciences. 1871. 2004. 1994. and Wrangham (“Evolution of Cooking.” 2002). Simon. If we give a high probability to the hypothesis that this type of social selection has been operating for at least several thousand generations.sagepub. Durham. In referring to the group punishment that brought all this sanctioning selection about. The difference with humans is that we actually internalize our groups’ rules (Darwin.000 years not only have humans become less innately prone to commit certain types of crime. 1960). 1991)— special because it is possible to directly link decision biases with genetic outcomes (see Boehm. Downloaded from ccr. Boehm (1999).336 Cross-Cultural Research the case of adultery. on average. cognitively sophisticated emotional reaction helps us to fully assess in advance societal reactions to our own potentially deviant behaviors—and to our prosocial behaviors—before we express them. Campbell. make excellent sense. 1978). Thus I would suggest that in spite of its being morally condemned. however. Waddington. 1971). improving the individual fitness of adulterers and probably that of males in particular. I emphasize that such social processes were highly focused. 1990. 1983. 2003. In other hierarchical animals.g. this particular deviant behavior could be. and then Otterbein (1988). individuals keep themselves out of trouble with their superiors through simple fear of punishment. and.com by Florina Pop on March 10. This provides one major instance of sanctioning selection’s having had an important impact on gene pools. the arguments of Trivers (1971).
often enough it is most or all of the group that is involved—for instance. mobile. 1982).com by Florina Pop on March 10. 1987. Thus. both entire groups and individuals acting on behalf of the group serve as manipulators or enforcers. even though the actual payoffs to individuals mainly come from other individuals or families that show them favor...g. This takes place when a socially attractive person figures in a desirable marriage alliance or is otherwise preferred as a close partner in cooperation.g. Haviland. and it is guided by decision biases that can be highly consistent over space and time. Such opinion is based on careful mutual monitoring (e. when people are obliged to gang up to cope with truly dangerous deviants. The latter may come in collaborative hunting (Kelly. 2005. 2005). such social approval Downloaded from ccr. and generous individual. and sharing in general. 1977)—that actually arrives at these assessments of people’s personal reputations (Alexander. 1983).g. 1995). 2000). in setting up trading partnerships that also provide important safe-havens in case of localized scarcity (e. Alexander. unassuming.sagepub. wherever human foraging groups remain very small. In contrast to punitive group outrage. generosity. Burch. On the negative side. Turner. and in all 10 societies giving aid both to kin and to nonrelatives was ethnographically mentioned at least once as being desirable.Boehm / Evolution of Human Altruism 337 Positive Sanctioning Selection is Less Obvious We turn now to the stubborn evolutionary problem of trying to explain innate altruism. and also far more subtle positive manifestations. 2000) define social control as having both a very obvious negative (or punitive) aspect. In this context the type of group moralistic aggression Trivers (1971) talked about would appear to be universal among these foragers (Boehm. both negative and positive social sanctioning may be seen as results of public opinion being galvanized into group or individual action. the majority of social rewards would seem to come from individualized or familylevel reactions to someone’s having a good reputation (see Alexander. 1987).g. see also Wiessner. basically it is the band as a whole—as a tightly interconnected gossiping network (e. and independent. the social ideology section at the end of Table 1 shows that the behaviors that stimulate such approval include cooperation. Sociologists (e. 2011 . Although once in a while a foraging band as a whole may reward good behavior. 1987). Wiessner.. and when entire bands have to make difficult decisions about supporting band members who are incapacitated (e. However.g. as in consensually conferring an informal or formal leadership role on a wise. positive sanctioning takes place more at the individual level.. Campbell. However. in terms of political dynamics. In the context of positive sanctioning selection..
share meat very effectively (see Balikci. are becoming more widely accepted (see Wilson & Wilson. humans are capable of nepotism. even though mate selection. More generally interfamilial meat sharing. including most evolutionary anthropologists and many others. Indeed. 1971. 1987). 1995).sagepub. the evolutionary paradox of altruism that was so lucidly defined by Wilson (1975) has given rise to an enormous interdisciplinary academic industry the work of which continues strongly today precisely because the altruism-paradox challenge continues to be challenging. as one important component. but basically contemporary evolutionary theory holds this to be genetically “paradoxical” (e. In essence. but does not fit with generosity between unrelated families. and positive sanctioning very much favored tendencies to share and cooperate. positive social sanctioning was much less obvious. 2007).338 Cross-Cultural Research does not imply that the actual sharing between unrelated families is devoid of ambivalence. broader type of generosity does seem to come into play in human life. The decision biases were predictable and consistent. seems basically to be quite effective in equalizing meat consumption (see Kelly. As a matter of common sense we know that the latter. ethnographically speaking. is mentioned for eight societies. although often somewhat agonistic in its style. Genetic Effects of Positive Sanctioning Compared with punishment. This theoretical stance also holds for evolutionary scholars more generally. Trivers. Breden & Wade. sociobiologists (e. may present some special “runaway” possibilities (e. yet we know that to make their winter seal-hunting specialization work they must. 1970). which include group-selection possibilities. with a specific cultural focus on generosity both within and between families. and conceivably it was less drastic in its genetic effects. it is clear in everyday life that individuals who vary genetically in the direction of being unusually generous in their responses to the needs of others—including unrelated others—will Downloaded from ccr.g. genetically. This seems to be the case even though multilevel selection paradigms.. 1991)... the Netsilik account for 29 out of a total of 48 mentions for demand sharing. Alexander. 2011 . If we consider the genetic consequences of these strong hunter-gatherer decision biases that favor generosity. Curiously. which fits well with intrafamilial generosity. in fact. Indeed. 1972) have held that. 1993).g.com by Florina Pop on March 10. which involves badgering those who divide the meat to make them behave more generously (see Peterson.g. the aforementioned demand sharing.
Otterbein (1988). Williams. What punishment cannot do. The title states the position clearly: “Punishment Allows the Evolution of Cooperation (or Anything Else) in Sizable Groups. one alternative explanation has been as follows.” It follows that innate altruism is not necessary for altruistic cooperation to take place. 1983. 1999). myself (Boehm. 1974. Alexander. The idea is that there should still be a net fitness gain from carrying this “docility gene” because it is so very useful in other contexts. This is. These everyday punitive sanctioning forces were clearly identified at the social level by Durkheim (1933). This last explanation may not look to genes. 1975). If positive moralistic sanctioning selection becomes sufficiently robust in producing such effects. at the level of genotype.” 2002). and before him. Another way of explaining how altruistic cooperation can take place among selfishly nepotistic individuals is advocated by Boyd and Richerson (1992). a pleiotropic or “piggybacking” theory of altruism (see also Boehm. 1987). wellidentified by Trivers (1971).sagepub. Because for decades genetic group-selection explanations of altruism have been in doubt (e. For that reason. then for humans at least. more by implication. by Bowles and Gintis (2004). up to a point their altruistically generous genes can be favorably selected in spite of the individual fitness costs incurred. and. and the likely genetic effects of negative-sanctioning selection are. however. 1966. altruistic donations to others might be supported solely at the level of phenotype. people will cooperate simply out of immediate fear of group social pressure and reprisals (see also Bowles & Gintis. this same punishment can at least reduce genetic tendencies that favor selfish deviance. but it is based on the same negative social forces I discussed earlier.com by Florina Pop on March 10. 1985. because better culture learners gain higher fitness. is to select directly for altruism at the level of genotype. while over many generations. in fact. which applies only to a highly cultural species that moralizes to get others to behave altruistically (Campbell. Thus. by Maine (1861). 1981). and he holds that the large gains from carrying this trait can in fact be reduced somewhat because such individuals will be particularly susceptible to group messages that call for altruism. In a species that is innately limited to nepotism. Downloaded from ccr. 2004). and their fitness will benefit. Trivers. 2011 . see also Alexander. 1987.g. Wilson. punishment and the threat of punishment can immediately stimulate altruistic behavior at the level of phenotype. Wrangham (“Evolution of Cooking. Simon (1990) suggests that being unusually culturally “docile” is extremely useful to individual reproductive success. in effect.. there should be no evolutionary paradox.Boehm / Evolution of Human Altruism 339 be socially favored.
25). 1997). I have shown elsewhere that today’s Pleistocene-appropriate bands are quite good at discouraging free riders. 1987).com by Florina Pop on March 10. my ethnographic impression was that because people seem so susceptible to messages calling for altruism. Is Runaway Sanctioning Selection Likely? According to Andersson (1994.000 years. and what we are talking about here is a complex process of gene-culture coevolution that has kept cooperation around meat-sharing in place for at least 45. Of course. 1966). It is at least logical that it should be much easier to persuade others to be altruistic if both parties harbored some genetic altruistic tendencies. However. at the level of immediate cultural dynamics. if we turn to positive-sanctioning selection as a parsimonious and potentially powerful model for the genetic selection of altruistically generous traits. at the level of genotype to make humans better able to cooperate around meat. even though in terms of inclusive fitness it makes sense that humans should be evolved to exhort others to be more generous than oneself (see Alexander. In surveying some hunter-gatherer prosocial activities in an attempt to find clues about whether genetically altruistic traits might underlie them. However. 1975) in conjunction with free-rider problems (Williams. their willingness to be generous might. Thus. Likewise. At the same time.sagepub. we have an alternative that can easily work in conjunction with whatever group-selection forces may exist. positive-sanctioning selection and group selection could have been working in tandem. have some genetic basis aside from merely being culturally docile.340 Cross-Cultural Research There are at least some ethnographic “hints” that positive sanctioning in favor of wider generosity itself might have some genetic basis. it is the escalating interactions of preferences and preferred traits that can help natural selection to reach a runaway status: Downloaded from ccr. in fact. p. and when they fail to do so they usually can punish or eliminate them (Boehm. in theory group selection could explain such tendencies if it was strong enough. ultimately. both positive and negative social sanctioning were directly supporting such cooperation on an everyday basis. 2011 . The various types of explanation discussed above are far from being incompatible. The main concerns with group selection have been its apparent lack of robustness (Wilson. the fact that small human groups so very predictably come up with prosocial messages favoring altruistic generosity could offer further indirect evidence that people actually carry some innate traits favoring altruism (Boehm 2004a).
Downloaded from ccr. for if the pattern of social choice is both consistent and potent as a means of gene selection. which favored secondary sexual traits like male peacocks’ tails.sagepub. In defining this runaway process. and if both the decision makers and the individuals carrying favored traits are profiting reproductively. 2007). a new effect grows in importance: males with long tails are favored not only by better survival. Nesse. for example owing to improved agility. generated by female choice. What is distinctive about this runaway process is that the selection is not only social. and an equilibrium was reached. The processes are similar. It was suggested that these sexual-selection pressures. This brings the process to rest. When this process continues. and that males with.Boehm / Evolution of Human Altruism 341 Fisher (1930) suggested that “a sexual preference of a particular kind may confer a selective advantage. 1991.com by Florina Pop on March 10. Hence alleles that code for longer tails in males will spread. a longer than average tail have a slight survival advantage. At that point the intensive escalating genetic interaction between the choosers and the carriers of chosen traits could go no further. More recent runaway scenarios have been developed that focus on choosing socially attractive altruistic traits in a potential breeding partner (Breden & Wade. Fisher (1930) concentrated on mate selection. and therefore become established in the species. this was true up to the point that the traits became so “exaggerated” that costs began to mount up too much. he suggested that females will prefer tails of ever-increasing length. but also by higher mating success as the preference for long tails spreads among females. say. likewise. then the selection process might. and so will alleles that make females prefer long-tailed males. up to a point. and that there is genetic variation among females in their tendency to mate with males of different tail lengths. With his model.” He envisaged a two-step process. but interactive and—up to a point—escalating. as with higher vulnerabilities of the larger-tailed peacocks to predators. The higher mating success of long-tailed males helps carry the associated alleles for the long tail and the female preference to yet higher frequency. Assume also that females choose mates. and a feedback “runaway process” develops at accelerating pace. as opposed to responding to secondary sexual characteristics. Females preferring males with long tails tend to bear sons with high survival. 2011 . as the two types of alleles become associated in their offspring. Suppose there arises genetic variation in a male trait such as tail length. were so powerful that they might “carry” some noteworthy deleterious effects associated with the preferred traits. run away. Although Fisher did not explain fully how this would happen. until it finally becomes so long that higher mortality balances the mating advantage of long-tailed males.
1978). genes promoting that degree of altruism would not have increased in frequency and the runaway-selection process would have escalated as far as it could. Downloaded from ccr. not only in marriage but in other important types of association in which cooperation was involved. In the rare cases in which famine reactions have been well documented for other types of humans. it would be a mistake to assume that routine bickering and occasional cheating attempts mean that altruistic tendencies must be entirely absent. and among Netsilik Inuit speakers. if an individual was predisposed to behave so altruistically that the losses became greater than the gains. and altruistic traits would have been selected positively as long as.com by Florina Pop on March 10. In this context a stable cultural perspective would have informed a regular pattern of decision making. obvious—but limited. Empirically. However. With the help of moralistic messages and sanctions. However. people may even resort to cannibalism within the family (Balikci. which in its genetic basics is readily explained just by nepotism. Sharing within the family. All that was needed was for purposeful common sense to guide the choices of people in small bands in which personal characteristics of group members were well known because of gossiping. what Pleistocene-appropriate hunter-gatherers do in their groups fits quite well with a positive sanctioning–selection model that sees gene selection as being guided by decision biases that favor generosity. 2011 . Quite predictably. Overall. in humans culture is heavily involved. even intrafamilial sharing patterns can diminish or disappear if hunger becomes dire (see Laughlin & Brady. That is why demand-sharing patterns appear so widely and why cheaters sometimes have to be punished.342 Cross-Cultural Research Of course. in fact. A wise chooser would try to ally with people who were exceptionally reliable or industrious or generous. over time.sagepub. were gaining a net advantage over others. as choice magnets. However. the generosity of hunter-gatherers to genetic strangers in the same group is. is sufficiently unambivalent that it can take place strongly and without a great deal of social reinforcement. And in a cultural context it is not difficult to conceive how this type of selection in favor of more and more altruism might have started. 1970) as an indigenously abhorrent alternative to sharing. this extrafamilial generosity tends to be expressed actively whenever large game are being taken sporadically on a routine basis. the stronger altruists. when famine arrives this system of cooperation among unrelated families is prone to collapse as selfish nepotism wins out and does so long before the intrafamilial sharing system collapses. What one sees on the ground is in accordance with what this genetic model predicts. extrafamilial generosity involves much more ambivalence.
The latter has been discussed at length by Alexander (1987). 1987). More recent versions of group-selection theory do allow for significant trait-group selection in the absence of outright group extinctions (e. genetically speaking.Boehm / Evolution of Human Altruism 343 Individuals in their bands are innately generous enough toward nonkin to permit a culturally based system of indirect reciprocity to flourish (see Alexander. Could All Altruistic Behavior Be Dissembled? Table 1 suggests a great deal about the likely fitness effects of punitive sanctioning. though. This may be conceivable. At the same time. This is because benefits accruing to altruists as leaders or as economic or breeding partners are not nearly as obvious ethnographically. he believes that all generosity toward nonkin may well be of this dissembling type. Wiessner. 1987). 1959) is widely noted by ethnographers. However. Sober & Wilson. but in that epoch frequent outright band-level extinctions due to warfare seem less than likely (see Kelly. 2000).g. 1971) is extremely unlikely. and he sees such dissembling as an evolved trait that is useful to inclusive fitness and requires no genetic altruism. I would agree that we are likely to have been naturally selected to dissemble generosity. There is also another potential problem: that of trying to differentiate helpful behavior that is “genuinely” altruistic from helpful behavior that is merely expedient because it is aimed solely at reputation enhancement. so in fact it is quite likely that.. At that point. Indeed. 1998). for instance. especially capital punishment. 1982) positive payback very often comes from a different party than the one being helped (Alexander. 2006). and this does involve making donations to nonkin when exact reciprocation (Trivers.. in Alexander’s (1987) opinion. the process can go no further.g.sagepub. the self-serving presentation of self in everyday life (see Goffman. this remarkable generosity among nonkin is far more limited than is sharing within families. These patterns fit with a process of purposive social selection that is strong enough to support genetically altruistic traits to the point that the costs begin to get out of hand. and possibly significantly to our altruistic quotient. but relatively little about positive sanctioning’s direct effects. But it remains a challenge to estimate exactly how strongly such effects have operated (see Bowles. 2011 . and whether they Downloaded from ccr. the only (slim) hope for innately genuine (as opposed to dissembled) altruistic generosity’s having evolved would have been strong group selection taking place in the Pleistocene through band-level warfare and group extinctions. group selection has been contributing some. In fact.com by Florina Pop on March 10. in such “insurance systems” (e.
Thus. when Montenegrin Serbs arrange for their sons to marry the tallest women available.g.. When females of an animal species react favorably to the displays of certain males.344 Cross-Cultural Research alone could account for the rather striking (if limited) degrees of altruism we see in nonliterate foragers’ everyday behavior. What about dissembling. However. Thus. in fact. and to it alone. In contrast. 2011 . the immediate choices involve some limited insight into biological-evolutionary process.com by Florina Pop on March 10.sagepub. with no thought at all being given to manipulating heredity. this social-selection process would have been biased generally toward nondissembled generosity. Although such behavior may not be limited to humans. the mechanisms I have been discussing might be called totally unconscious selection. I believe that our capacity to develop an ethos at the group level. However. and in our own lives. in that decision biases are guiding selection process in the absence of any understanding of hereditary issues. with both positive. this does not mean that all evolutionary process is teleonomic from bottom to top. 1871) or mechanically imitating the choices of other females (e. this exploratory treatment suggests that the phrase intelligent design should be applied to modern genetic engineering. and to deliberately sanction Downloaded from ccr. Dugatkin.and negative-sanctioning selection. then? In my view it was obvious to group members that being seen as exceptionally generous would make others think better of them. Although this is not quite “unconscious selection” as Darwin defined it. The Question of Purpose With respect to the larger picture. the decision biases are simply aimed at improving group or individual social life. these purposeful decision biases are. social-selection processes would have favored innate. This makes the Montenegrins’ choices an instance of unconscious selection as Darwin defined it. 1992). so they put to work not only their genuinely generous impulses in this direction—but also a sly capacity to “showcase” such generous actions publicly and sometimes even to fake them. Both real and feigned generosity facilitated cooperation. they are likely to be either choosing instinctively (Darwin. I might add that to the extent that the choosers could make this discrimination. for in either case the behavior was helpful to others and to a large-game subsistence. nondissembled generosity at the same time that they were favoring a convincing capacity to showcase one’s generous acts in the interest of reputation enhancement. affecting gene pools in directions that are consistent with the purposes involved.
itself.Boehm / Evolution of Human Altruism 345 group members both negatively and positively. gossiping to evaluate people in this light. If runaway genetic processes have been involved.sagepub. and entire bands that reward such behaviors. is some more radical paradigmatic adjustment needed? A full exploration of these questions is beyond the scope of the present treatment.. Boyd & Richerson. It appears that such purposive sanctioning selection has had substantial effects on human gene pools. finally. But another result has been the generous behavior. focused.com by Florina Pop on March 10. 2005. for humans. 1998). families. has been a species that can individually showcase its altruistically-generous behaviors in a self-interested fashion. with its possible runaway effects.g. I have tried to show that a long-standing and purposeful cultural emphasis on generous behavior has affected both phenotype and genotype in very much the same direction. are quick to judge their fellows in this light. Our main focus has been on positive-sanctioning selection. Indeed. This wholly unconscious selection process should have had a consistent and powerful impact on our gene pools because presumably it was so deliberate. With respect to this coevolutionary dimension. Durham. 1991). with help from symbolic communication. However. 2011 .. Baldwin (1896. with respect to “cause” and “purpose. 1983). the complex interactions of genes and cultures that we have been discussing may provide a useful case study for further exploration.” as these are inherent in social decision processes. the impact would have been greater still. for people in bands care about their groups and discuss how well they are functioning (see Sober & Wilson. creates potent and highly “directional” selection forces. Campbell. scientific evolutionists may wish to admit some shades of grey into their analyses. but leave the rest of the standard paradigm unchanged? Or. Could we treat decisions as an “intelligent” type of variation (e. Surely one result of all this deliberate positive sanctioning. see also Ananth. and. 2003. which might also be called positive social selection. Downloaded from ccr. manipulative moralizing messages in favor of behavior that is generous or otherwise desirable. and consistent. but a purposeful and socially sophisticated mind that. Exactly how to incorporate these limited purposes into the usual teleonomic explanatory mode remains a question. Griffiths. and feel empowered to actively manipulate group life. This model involves not only gene-culture evolution (e. 1985.g. the choices made by individuals. and in this light it seems expedient to take a fresh look at the altruism paradox—as well as at the types of evolutionary “causality” we are willing to talk about. This involves group attitudes about what constitutes good behavior. is distinctive both in the degree to which it is cultural and also in its being elaborated symbolically. The cultural symbols involved carry not only meaning but intentionality.
which in modern terms may be considered under the rubric of epigenetic processes (see Lumsden & Wilson. Conclusions For decades.com by Florina Pop on March 10. Sterelny 2001) has looked to the impact of resident species on environments as well as vice versa. Odling-Smee. As a product of decision biases at both group and individual levels. 1988. & Feldman. with relatively little attention going to universals—many of which are so obvious that we simply take them for granted. it would appear that some truly unusual possibilities for social selection have arisen in our species. overall. and in this context the decisions we have discussed help to create social-environmental effects which in turn help to determine the course of natural selection. have been guiding natural-selection process in ways that were significant. 1991) provide a special arena in which the complex relations between cultures and gene pools can be explored. I have given certain hunter-gatherer universals some rather intensive scrutiny in the interest of seeing whether human social intentions could. it would appear that such “guidance” can.. 2003) made suggestions about the involvement of culturally involved developmental factors with natural selection process. select in favor of genetic outcomes that might not have come about otherwise. When species are highly social. and this results in potentially powerful social selection effects that have a strong and consistent “direction. This case history involving positive sanctioning may be useful for testing any of these theories. Brown. in fact. 1942). or perhaps canalization (Waddington. this limited but significant evolutionary “directionality” has provided genetic selection process with an influence that did not stem just from teleonomic selection pressures originating in natural environments—which. This is unfortunate because universals (e. 2001. In the context of both positive and negative sanctioning selection. are still the main past determinants of the content of our gene pools. niche-construction theory (Odling-Smee. In this article.” Because humans have moral communities and individual moral reputations. and in doing so it may be beneficial to raise the question of exactly how purposive minds may be articulating with evolutionary process.sagepub. Downloaded from ccr. and that the power of such selection may be sufficient to keep certain altruistic traits in place. see also Laland. of course. 2011 . in effect. In addition. cultural anthropology has been preoccupied with issues of cultural diversity.g. this means they are constantly making choices about with whom to associate.346 Cross-Cultural Research Weber & Depew. 1980).
New York: Aldine de Gruyter. If this type of lower level teleology is. In combination. and even though many of the decisions are collective. Alexander. Ananth. R. 2011 . Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics. Acta Biotheoretica. The evolution of social behavior. 325-384. even though it is aversions. rather than attractions. It would also be useful because socially rewarding altruists provides such a good example of how natural selection might be driven by long-standing decision biases. can impinge significantly on the process of gene selection. such exploration should be worthwhile. morally catalyzed social control. which were also modifying behavioral dispositions in similar directions—even though they were directed at phenotypic behavior. Punitive sanctioning selection also may be a candidate for applying Fisher’s model. 217-239. The reduction of antisocial traits and the evolution of a conscience are two very likely results.sagepub. This hypothesis requires some further development with more extensive and more rigorous ethnographic coverage combined with appropriate mathematical modeling and simulation testing. They can do so to a degree not expectable in any animal that lacks purposeful. The biology of moral systems.Boehm / Evolution of Human Altruism 347 This would particularly be the case when selection becomes “runaway. making a significant difference for selection outcomes. these two types of sanctioning selection can explain a great deal about the evolution of our human capacity to cooperate. Downloaded from ccr. (1987). (2005). biological altruism: Narrowing the gap with the Baldwin effect. Yet I would suggest that human social intentions. D. (1974).” and I have suggested that positive sanctioning selection in particular might fit quite well with Fisher’s process because mate selection is involved along with economic-partner selection. simply because human altruism and altruistic cooperation remain provocative and sometimes contentious evolutionary issues. that are driving decision processes. References Alexander. expressed in the form of group and individual decisions. which potentially introduces another level of selection. I believe this to be more than just a question for the philosophers. 5. whereas the positive social-selection hypothesis we have concentrated on can explain something very important about altruism’s evolutionary underpinnings. in fact. However. 53. Both methodologically and theoretically this article has been exploratory.com by Florina Pop on March 10. R. D. largely shaped by group mores. M. Psychological altruism vs.
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