Saturday, March 20, 2004

Reverse Dominance Hierarchy

Gene Expression comments on the Reverse Dominance Hierarchy theory that has been proposed to explain why humans have been capable at times of avoiding the extreme dominance/submission social structures that are characteristic of other hominids and common in other mammals such as the hippo:

Explaining the theory:

"The gist of his idea is that a love of dominance was so bred into the human species (males above all) during their long, shared hominid past, that they developed an innate distaste of being dominated by others. Thus armed with a motive, and using the cooperative skills which language and their big brains conferred upon them, all the lesser males in a group who were in danger of being dominated by an alpha male, would band together (form a reverse dominance hierarchy) to put the would-be tyrant in his place. In this way, dominance behavior, while not eliminated entirely, could be moderated and dispersed."

Then considering its implications:

"Boehm's idea is interesting as a concept in evolutionary psychology, quite obviously, to say nothing of the contribution it might make, if it holds up, to the theory of democracy."

But finally asking why this did not work when civilizations first appeared. They were all characterised by all powerful alpha males which monopolized women with harems running into the tens of thousands, which would have been the envy of any male chimpanzee or sea lion.

Watching a programme on hippos last night on SKY it was clear that hippo males lack the ability to coordinate against the alpha male. If you make a challenge you are on your own mate. The tools required to make a coordinated challenge are exactly the tools required for cooperation - the ability to communicate goals and strategy and mechanism to determine such attributes as loyalty. Hominids developed such tools. For the chimps, males will gang up to overthrow an alpha male but one of the challengers will become the new alpha male - the cooperation ends.

Humans have a far more complex set of social skills that enable cooperation but its always tenuous, look at the present flair-up of ethnic hostility in Kosovo.

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