Updated: Jan 22, 2022
Wolves 'R Us
Dogs are our best friends. Wolves made us what we are, 35,000 years ago .
How? That’s Part 2 of this essay.
First, we must ask why human evolution once upon a time is so important today. We are not hunter gatherers any more, right?
Wrong. We are what we were—it’s in our DNA.
That’s whyunderstanding how we moved from monkey to man is so important.
Lifestyles can change: human nature doesn’t. Your doggie may be house-trained – but you still need a pooper scooper.
Facing up to what we really are has never been more important than now, as we face cataclysmic climate change and the end of the Quartenary and the death of ice sheets. No more whiskey on the rocks.
Evolution is adaptation-- inextricably tied to ecology –the dynamics of relationship with the natural world and natural forces beyond us. And we will probably have to evolve once again -- after mostly becoming extinct.
Origins, origins, origins: as Wordsworth said, “the child is the Father of the Man”.
Rationales for Human Nature.
Throughout history, the rationales for almost everything human beings do have been based on some concept of human “nature-- sadly de-natured – to support the precepts of institutional religion and existing social hierarchies. It is no different today.
The work of Darwin in the 19th Century came as a shock but was quickly co-opted to support the further development of industrial capitalism and imperialism.
Later, “blank slate” behaviorism was used to support 20th Century consumerism and various forms of totalitarianism, both overt and subtle, framed, of course, by neo-Darwinism.
The Behaviorists preferred not to talk about “human nature”, only “nurture”. The beast within had to be tamed and trained but they did not want to look too closely at what kind of animal that was, only that it was...well... beastly. Forget instinct or drives -- can't change that -- don't even think it about it-it had to be about “habits”. Including sexual proclivities.
little conditioning, and “Poof”, you are no longer gay or need to jerk off.
No, putting an electric shocker on your kid’s wee-wee will not stop him or her from “doing it”. It is not a habit—it’s NATURE!
More recently, however, “human nature” has been resurrected -- defined by people such as Stephen Pinker, whose $1000 an hour stylist does his hair au natural and Richard Dawkins who doesn’t have much hair at all -- to justify neoliberal “progress” and social control.
We are not beasts they say – just brutes. The distinction is subtle. You might think of it as a kind of conceptual evolution. Pinker and Dawkins are quite clear that the path from beast to brute to…to something better—like Harvard Professor—is education. Which the behaviorists would agree with.
The Flintstones and Anthropology
A concept of human nature, whatever it is, is necessarily a priori to every area of social activity – including education, economics, politics – even entertainment-- but inevitably formulated a posteriori.
“A priori” means coming before; a posteriori—framing the past in terms of the present. Together you get a kind of teleology—a logical loop.
Hence, the “Flinstoneization” of prehistory, in which we assume that Stone Age people were really just like we are today -- with kids and families and money and education problems and a hard-to-house-train pet dinosaur--living in patriarchal hierarchical large-scale societies, somehow reminiscent of suburban LA, with social and sexual status determined by challenge, conflict and dominance.
In other words, anthropologists and their ilk want to believe that our ancestors are just like them – or, more correctly, like what they would like to be
This applies to most of the of the social “sciences”.
Take a look at papers on human relationships and you will inevitably see the assumption that women “naturally” have sex to form relationships to find a genetically fit Dad, with “fitness” defined in terms of social status, income, and dominance. There is quite remarkable convergence between the slant of Cosmopolitan Magazine and any number of Harvard theses. The Hunk gets the girl….a Barbarian in the Bedroom; Lord Greystoke in the drawing room.
Sorry Jane, ancestors were largely matriarchal or at least matrist – definitely egalitarian, with women hunting just like men and supplying as much as 70% of the food.
In addition, it is not clear that our ancestors thought that sex=babies.
Some indigenous peoples such as Australian aborigines still don’t think that that happy humping is all that important since women don’t get pregnant every day they have sex. In matriarchal and matrist cultures, women have a lot of partners: monogamy is not a thing.
Of course, today, thanks to the Pill and condoms, we are also realizing that sex doesn’t have to equal babies. Do we need it at all if we have PornHub?
The Boys (and Girls) in the Band
For most of our history, it appears that we lived in small bands – not even tribes – which were egalitarian and practiced “reverse dominance”, without “chiefs” or “leaders”—and no concept of war. This is what Marshall Sahlins called the “original age of affluence”.
The majority of majority of academics in the social “sciences do not agree with Sahlins: they follow the leading pseudo-anthropologist, the Universal Grammar Guy -- Stephen Pinker—who believes that we are really sapient chimpanzees in need of a firm hand, if not cages. If only he had stuck to nouns and verbs.
Should we believe Pinker just because he has wild hair and tenure at an Ivy League finishing school for the elites? Bill Gates does!
(SIGH!) Most academic writing on the subject of human evolution involves some degree of projection. “You are a brute”, says Stephen. “But I am evolved”.
So much for the “science” of social scientists.
When did we become human?
I am not sure when I became human-- or if. I think I am still working on it. A lot depends on your definition of “human”.
From an academic point of view, some say we “humans” arrived on the scene 3 00,000 years ago. Some say 100,000 years ago. I think about 50,000 to 35,000 years ago.
We still haven’t found that “missing link”. I am putting in my CV.
As with everything, the French have their own point of view. Did the australopithecines father “homo habilis”? Here’s a simplified view of the flow of evolution.
Clearly, something happened 3 million years ago that led to evolutionary pressure that produced homo habilis and other “human” species” .What was it?
Climate change, of course.
3 million years ago we entered the Quartenary period, a glacial period in which the earth developed a permanent ice sheet. This period is only now ending and includes climate epochs such as Pleistocene and the Holocene.
It is clear that changes in climate produce evolutionary pressures. So mammoths died out in Siberia—but we still have elephants. The saber tooth tiger died out and now we have tigers. Homo habilis, homo erectus and all the other homo’s disappeared with the exception of Homo Sapiens Sapiens .
Both Homo N(Neanderthalis) and Homo S (Sapiens sapiens). appear to have evolved from Homo erectus about 200,000 years ago-- the first proto-human with a more or less anatomically “correct” shoulder joint, better for throwing. But to take advantage of this development, we had to evolve a lot more.
... just because you can throw doesn't mean you can throw well. Anatomical adaptations like a tall mobile waist that decoupled the hips and thorax allowed for more torso rotation. A laterally oriented shoulder joint that better aligned the main axis of the upper arm with the action of chest muscles allowed for a greater range of motion. Both are necessary for high-speed throwing .
While Homo N and Homo S arrived on the scene more or less at the same time--N in Europe and S in the Middle East and North Africa--evolution continued with Homo S benefiting from the challenges of a shifting environment.
Late homo sapiens sapiens – call him Homo Sapiens 2.0-- arrived on the scene 50,000 to 35, 000 years ago.
The Neanderthal was like a pickup truck, not all that big, but heavy and clunky, including the brain. Built for work.
Homo S 2.0 was a touring car. Long, fast, smart… with loads of refinements, including what physical anthropologists call a ““gracile body”. This was particularly important for throwing, as you can see from the quote above. The Neanderthal could throw--but its shoulder joint was not as evolved as the of Homo S 2.0, nor did it have the mid and lower body flexibility.
What do babies of any species want most? Love!
What was most important in human evolution was the development of human neoteny – extended juvenescence—which enhanced human pro-sociality—along with the development of empathy and altruism, along with enhanced cognitive functions such as imagination and abstraction. In some sense we are babies lifelong.
We weren’t necessarily smarter than the Neanderthals – who had bigger brains—but we took longer to mature, lived longer, and were able to incorporate other selves in our own, including those of other animals—a cognitive-spiritual function. This auto-domesticative, prosociality enhanced cooperative collective action and reduced conflict – a natural force multiplier. It also allowed greater creativity in dealing with a changing environment. Yeah,all ya need is love! Not really more sapient, we were somehow better.
Of course, we are not the only animals with high levels of prosociality.
Enter the Wolf
One other is the Wolf, who, in so many respects, family animals who put human beings to shame.
So it should come as no surprise that one of the most important elements in our evolutionary success was our partnership with wolves, which led to dogs as part of the human family. Yes, your dog was your original best friend, to be followed later by the cat.
They helped us survive.
More about this in part 2.
The missing link in human evolution series :
2: https://www.ageingyoung.com/post/just-a-kid-and-the-dog (this article)