| CHAPTER TWO
WHY DO PEOPLE CREATE NATIONALITIES?
We turn now to dominance. In most groups of monkeys, dominance is clearly of enormous
importance. In multi-male groups, adult males fight, sometimes to death, for dominance. Losers who
survive, as is usual in such struggles, may leave the group. Dominant individuals take precedence in
feeding and breeding. They also receive frequent displays of deference and generally are the center
of the group's attention, especially in time of danger. They may perform both protective and policing
functions for the group, as well as exercising leadership. Subordinates accept instruction from them
readily, but they are much slower to learn from those of lower rank. In an interesting study, Michael
Nader, et. al have found that “dominant monkeys' enriched lifestyle- more treats, more freedom to
move about the pen, and more grooming from subordinate monkeys- boosts the number of dopamine
[italics added] receptors in the brain… [suggesting] that the increase in dopamine receptors makes the
animals less vulnerable to the reinforcing effects of cocaine” and possibly other artificial drugs
(Kuchin, 2005, 2953).
With females, status is less contested and frequently follows that of the mother. Subordinate females
are frequently prevented from mating and experience a relatively high rate of infant mortality,
sometimes from infanticide. In times of food shortage subordinates, whether male or female, are
usually the first to die. They are also the most likely to leave the group. For our purposes it is also
highly significant that larger groups generally assert dominance over smaller ones (see sources cited
above for monkeys).
Dominance among baboons is similar to that among other monkeys. The female dominance order is
normally quite stable, with status deriving from that of the mother. Her offspring take precedence after
her, in reverse of their birth order while they are young, and she intercedes to help them. As adults,
the young tend to defer to their elder siblings. Among males dominance is much less stable. The
frequent arrival of new males and the departure of old ones keeps dominance in flux, as do shifting
coalitions among individual males. Physical strength alone does not usually suffice to establish
dominance among males, unless reinforced by social skill. Social skill is important also in establishing
“friendships” with females, support within the group as a whole, and in forging alliances with other
males to achieve dominant status (see sources cited above for baboons).
Among gorillas dominance is quite pronounced. The silver-backed male exerts dominance over all
others, but also acts as leader, protector and policeman. Females often look to the dominant male for
protection against infanticide, whether by females higher in the dominance order or, much more
commonly, by males trying to take over the group. Among females seniority in the group seems to
exert strong influence on the dominance order. A female's offspring may also help her maintain her
position (see sources cited above for gorillas).
Concerning dominance among chimpanzees, Jane Goodall wrote that its benefits "seem… less
significant for… males than for the males of any other primate species" (Goodall, 1986, 442).
Nevertheless, her evidence shows that among males communication relating to rank is almost
constant, that rank reversals almost always involve violence, and that the losers of dominance
struggles sometimes disappear. Christopher Boehm (1999, 34) insists that both male and female
adults “must salute any higher-ranking adult male with a submissive greeting…” (I once learned from a
witness to such an event in England about a century ago that an employee who failed to tip his cap to
his employer might expect a whiplash in the face). As a male chimpanzee approaches maturity, he
gives high priority to establishing dominance over all the females of the group. Having secured that, he
then tries usually to work his way up the male dominance order. His success in doing so will depend
upon his physical strength and agility, but also on determination and ingenuity. Ingenuity can be
helpful both in charging displays designed to intimidate others and especially in creating social support
in the group as a whole. It can help as well in forming alliances with other males. Males who rise to a
position of dominance will be deferred to in feeding and breeding, although, as observed above,
usually all the adult males of a group will mate with any group female in estrus. Dominant males may
also exercise a policing role over disputing subordinates. Perhaps because group members are so
often dispersed, protective and leadership roles are not conspicuous.
Boehm (1999, 130-131) suggests also that the inability of subordinate males to leave their group
(because neighboring groups would kill them on sight) is a necessary condition for the existence of
dominance hierarchies among chimpanzees. The “danger of being male is reflected in the adult sex
ratio of chimpanzee populations,” as there are usually considerably less males than females (Waal,
For female chimpanzees, dominance is clearly less important. As with some other female primates, it
is influenced strongly by heredity. On the other hand, there seems to be a tendency for larger females
to dominate smaller ones (whereas larger males are not “significantly correlated” with higher rank)
(Pusey, 2005). Daughters often enjoy (hereditary) status just beneath their mothers. The chief
advantage of dominance for females is priority in feeding. However, high ranking females may
cannibalize the infants of subordinates. For this reason, in addition to their inferior access to food,
subordinate females are generally much less successful in reproduction.
Expressions of the dominant-subordinate relationship among chimpanzees require special notice. To
acknowledge subordination, an individual may "present" his or her posterior as if to invite mounting,
may crouch, bow, kiss, embrace, extend a hand, palm up, or the back of the wrist, touch, groom, and
utter soft vocalizations. The superior may ignore these expressions of deference, or graciously touch,
pat, kiss, embrace, or even groom the subordinate, as if to convey assurance of good will. Many of
these behavioral patterns relating to dominance relationships, especially the bowing and kissing, are
strikingly similar to those evident in many human cultures- ancient, medieval, and modern (see
sources cited above for chimpanzees).
Dominance among bonobos is atypical for primates. Affiliate behavior is highest between male and
female adults. Next in importance are the adult female-female bonds. This contrasts with chimpanzees,
where the male-male bond is paramount. Dominance relations between males and females are very
often unclear, or at least flexible and subject to changing coalitions (Paoli, et al, 2005, 116). Females
generally have prior access to desirable feeding sites. Males are rarely submissive to young females,
but behave submissively towards a female group, as indeed females may form alliances in order to
attack males who tend not to form coalitions. Unlike chimpanzees, male bonobos tend not to hunt.
Large foraging parties of females can and do cooperate regularly to control the distribution of prized
foods and to prevent individual males from abusing any females. Females are marginally smaller
dimorphically than are chimpanzee females (Fig. 2.2). Among females, seniority in the group seems to
confer status, while new arrivals suffer low rank for some time. Another salient feature of bonobos
society is that mothers and sons form a lifelong bond so powerful that a mother’s help is often
determinant in dominance contests amongst adult males. The male whose mother is infirm or has died
suffers a significant disadvantage, although dominance orders in general appear nowhere near as
important for bonobos as for other non-human primates (see sources cited above for bonobos).
Clearly dominance is enormously important among nonhuman primates, including even bonobos
despite their preoccupation with sex. Most of the communication within any primate group relates to
dominance. Except for bonobos, males dominate females; but each sex has its own specific hierarchy
as well. Males compete vigorously for status, but, particularly among baboons and chimpanzees, their
success often depends on social and political skill as well as physical strength. Winners in the
dominance struggle enjoy priority in feeding and breeding, but also have responsibility (at least in
larger species) for leadership, protection, and the maintenance of internal order or policing. Individuals
who lose dominance struggles may leave the group. Subordinates in general suffer inferior access to
food and breeding. They feel less loyalty to the group and may in fact abandon it. When groups of
nonhuman primates split, it is usually along dominance lines. Among females, struggles over
dominance are less pronounced; heredity plays a significant role and the hierarchy is more stable than
it is among males. Dominant females and their relatives take precedence over their subordinates in
feeding; they may also prevent subordinates from breeding or cannibalize the infants of those of
lesser rank. Larger groups exert dominance over smaller ones, even to the point of exterminating
males and infants in a group inferior in numbers (see below on territorial behavior in chimpanzees).
With social carnivores, dominance is also very important. Among lions its principal importance is from
its absence, except for the dominance of adult males over females. Because lions do not form
dominance hierarchies, intra-specific killing is far more prevalent among them than among other social
carnivores (Schaller, 1972).
Among hyenas, females are not only dominant over males, but, unlike lions, have a dominance order
among themselves. The dominant female exercises leadership and takes precedence in feeding and
in breeding (see sources cited above for hyenas).
Dominance orders in wild dogs, as has traditionally been reported for most social canids, are
separate for each sex, with each alpha attempting to monopolize breeding. The dominant male enjoys
the usual prerogative of dominance in breeding, but also decides when and where to hunt. The
dominant female usually monopolizes breeding, and the whole pack, minus a few (mostly females) who
have left the group due to such dominance arrangements, helps raise her pups (Creel, et al, 1997,
298) (see sources cited above for wild dogs).
With wolves, dominance is still more highly conspicuous. Subordinates, while part of the pack, are
very respectful and submissive to dominant individuals. Both male and female subordinates
experience harassment by the dominant alpha of their sex during breeding periods. They do not
usually succeed in mating. Both males and females of subordinate status will help raise the pups of the
dominant couple. While the dominant male and female are normally quite hostile to strangers,
subordinates are quite friendly. Subordinate individuals may ultimately leave the group and link up with
another individual of the opposite sex to start a new pack. Other subordinates will remain with or near
their natal group, awaiting an opportunity to become dominant (see sources cited above for wolves).
Wolves may also demonstrate resentment against extreme assertions of dominant authority.
Observers in Yellowstone National Park saw subordinates, including her own daughters, unite to kill an
overbearing alpha female (NY Times, July 22, 2003, D3).
Among early human hunter-gatherers, dominance hierarchies were with few exceptions
conspicuously absent. This striking departure from the pattern in both our fellow primates and most
social carnivores demands an explanation. Clearly both chimpanzees and bonobos, our closest
primate relatives, and presumably the little known common ancestor we share with them, formed
dominance hierarchies. So, except for lions, did the social carnivores whose environment we shared in
the formative years of our species. Why then were our hunting-gathering ancestors so different? The
explanation offered by Christopher Boehm (1999, 334 ff) is that our genetic heritage in this respect
has three parts, rather than merely the two characteristics long recognized: 1) the attempt to exercise
dominance, or 2) the tendency to submit to being subordinate. The third aspect, no less significant, is
to resent and to dislike those who exert dominance. “Where once a lion sat, there is now a pig,” was
how most of the women of Vugha, Tanganyika noted the political changes from German colonisation to
their traditional ways of life in the late 19th century (Iliffe, 122). It is Boehm’s contention that nomadic
hunter-gatherers act (and acted) within their groups to ridicule, shame, ostracize or perhaps even
murder individuals who show an inclination to set themselves above the others. Indeed Boehm cites
examples of such behavior among extant hunter-gatherers on four continents (cf .Price & Feinman,
1995, 6) (see also sources cited above for hunter-gatherers).
Reasonably representative of nomadic hunter-gatherers in marginal environments are the !Kung
San of Richard B. Lee’s 1979 study. He found them a "fiercely egalitarian people" (244), who helped
the least successful, curbed arrogance, and encouraged modesty. While no clear lines of authority
could be perceived, some measure of deference was observed toward senior members of large
families, male or female, native or immigrant, especially those considered "owners" of a water hole.
Deference to such individuals was not automatic, however, but depended in great measure upon
personal characteristics, including age. Historian John Iliffe affirms that “a ruler's authority grew with
age and declined with senility” throughout traditional African societies and small states prior to their
imperial conquest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Iliffe, 1979, 25). The !Kung San, desert
hunter-gatherers, were one of the relatively few groups spared this colonization. Their "leaders," Lee
and others have observed, were not more privileged, wealthier, or more assertive, but quite like others
of the group. To have been otherwise would have cost them their leadership and risked ostracism or
worse (343 ff).
The dominance phenomenon reasserts itself, however, among sedentary hunter-gatherer groups
and especially among the prehistoric agricultural peoples of the Neolithic era. Among sedentary
hunter-gatherers, there is little evidence that dominance struggles had become highly important, but
there was increased division of labor and greater social inequality. There were, in other words,
indications of incipient hierarchy. As agriculture increased production, groups tended to become larger
and to compete for possession of choice sites capable of affording secure subsistence. In this they
were quite like hyenas competing in groups for access to portions of an area particularly well suited to
hunting. Such circumstances, tending perhaps to produce a need for charismatic authority, fostered
increasing differences of status- especially for priests and warriors. Some tendency is evident also for
status to become hereditary for males- not just for females as in so many of the primate groups we
have considered. Hereditary status for males had become possible in hominids after the appearance
of the pair-bond, but it was probably not until several eras later that Holocene-era animal husbandry
practices made paternity much more evident and salient than it had been earlier.
Increased division of labor brought sharper differences in economic status. This was reflected in
individual burial sites. Women also suffered a marked decline in status. According to numerous
studies, the transition to agriculture affected the sexes differently: “mean age at death in the…[Levant,
circa 10,500-8,300 BCE] was higher for adult females compared to adult males, while in the Neolithic, it
was the reverse. One interpretation given… is that with the onset of the Neolithic period, maternal
mortality increased as a result of a concomitant increase in fertility” (Eshed, et al, 2004, 315).
Anastasia Papathanasiou (2005) chimes in that “consistent results” from several thousand years later
in Neolithic Greece reveal high child mortality, as well as increased labor loads and dominance-related
violence. The “most frequent pathological conditions” typical of Neolithic Greece were 1) anemia, “2)
osteoarthritis and musculoskeletal stress markers, indicative of increased physical activity and heavy
workloads” and 3) “elevated prevalence of healed, depressed cranial fractures, serving as evidence of
violent, nonlethal confrontations” (Papathanasiou, 377). Rick Schulting and Michael Wysocki’s recent
study of some 350 skulls from southern Britain (c.4000-3200 BCE) reveals that “Early Neolithic Britons
had a one in 20 chance of suffering a skull fracture at the hands of someone else and a one in 50
chance of dying from their injuries” (Rincon, 2006). Similar rates of cranial fracture were found earlier
for “late prehistoric” people in Ohio (Gat, 2006, 130-131). Still more ominously, whole groups often
became the victims of aliens who imposed themselves as a ruling elite, exacting tribute from or even
enslaving the conquered people whom they had not massacred (Price & Brown, 1985, 5, 10, 16;
Henry, 1985, 365; Knauft, 1991; Boehm, 1999; Fagan, 2001).
In small groups of nomadic herders, dominance was not at all conspicuous, but it became so when
larger groups had to form for military purposes. In small herding units, egalitarian practices reminiscent
of hunter-gatherers prevailed. On the other hand, the leaders of expeditions for plunder, extortion, or
conquest exercised authority that was charismatic in character. Even then, however, egalitarian
practices remained the rule within the kin groups at the base of nomadic society (see sources cited
above for nomadic herders).
Dominance among modern humans, in contrast to group formation and membership, has received
relatively little study. According to Taylor and Moghaddam, psychologists have been reluctant to study
elite behavior and the power relationships associated with it. The political implications which could be
drawn from such work, they asserted, "might jeopardize the fragile image of psychology as a science"
(1987, 131). Peter Rhode searched indices of books on animal behavior, general psychology, and
general psychiatry for references to hierarchy, territory, and dominance. He concluded that:
“Hierarchical and territorial behavior are widespread in both animals and humans, but are neglected in
textbooks of human behavior and mental problems” (Rhode, 2000). Whatever the reason, European
social psychologists have also given less attention to dominance relationships than the importance of
the topic would seem to warrant.
Some important findings have emerged, however, from the work of psychologists who have
considered dominance relationships among individuals. For example, children and adolescents tend to
form dominance relationships (Strayer, 1992; Pettit, 1990; Trawick-Smith, 1992). Males generally
dominate females (Melson & Dyar, 1987). Children need to learn when to assert dominance and when
to submit (Weininger, 1975). Physical manifestations of dominance relationships in children and
nonhuman primates are similar (Ellyson & Dovidio, 1985). Jim Sidanius and colleagues (2000)
questioned roughly 7000 respondents in six nations on social dominance orientation. They concluded
that “males were more anti-egalitarian than females, and that the male/female difference in social and
group dominance orientation tended to be largely invariant across cultural, situational, and contextual
boundaries.” Another study found that subordinates with superior qualifications are in some instances
unwilling to challenge dominant individuals, because to do so would involve dangerous risks (Jackson,
1988). As with nonhuman primates, dominant individuals tend to be a major focus of attention by
subordinates (Melson & Dyar, 1987). This can often contribute to the group think phenomenon-
wherein groups agree to pursue identifiably bad or irrational goals with which the individual members
may not necessarily agree, given serious scrutiny. In other words “rationalized conformity- an open,
articulate philosophy which holds that group values are not only expedient but right and good” (Whyte,
Studies of elites have also reached interesting conclusions. When an elite group is closed to
aspiring outsiders, the most ambitious of them "will mobilize the non-elite against the governing elite"
(Taylor & Moghaddam, 1987,130). Perhaps anticipating relative deprivation theory, Joseph Lopreato
(1968) found that junior executives enjoying a small taste of power and eager to increase it were far
more dissatisfied with their status than were those who had no power at all. Sidanius and Pratto (1999,
44) found that “Dominant groups will tend to display higher levels of ingroup favoritism than
subordinate groups will.” Thus they sow the seeds of their own eventual supplantation by more open
and adaptable groups. Or as Joseph Henrich would say, “by reducing within-group variation and
increasing between group variation, conformist transmission provides the raw materials for cultural
group selection” (2004, 23).
Generally, however, dominance relationships among groups have received much less study than
they have that among individuals. John Turner did find that groups are likely to compete more
aggressively than individuals in similar circumstances (Turner, 1981, 97). Hogg and Abrams found that
membership in a subordinate group confers a “negative social identity” and “mobilizes individuals to
attempt to remedy it” (1988, 27). Don Operario and Susan T. Fiske added that “people establish
positive social identities by comparing the ingroup favorably against outgroups” (1999, 42). Bertjan
Doosje and associates found that those in a low status group were more willing to affirm their
membership in it, if improvement in its status was imminent or had already occurred (2002). In all the
species we have considered, it also seems clear that large groups tend to dominate smaller ones,
sometimes even eliminating them. An intriguing question is how dominant status among groups affects
the performance of the obligations which often accompany dominance within a group: the provision of
leadership, policing, and protection. Although we have found no such studies of human groups,
primatologists Jeroen Stevens, et al (2005) have found that “when resources are distributed more
evenly” dominant or high-rank bonobos “may peer down the hierarchy” (255). It would seem that
egalitarian groups are usually more looked after and tight; whereas less equal groups appear set to
face still more centrifugal forces, at least over the short term.
Territoriality is quite evident among many kinds of monkeys. When it is, the group's territory is
normally a range of some size. The usual reaction of groups meeting in border areas is aversion
rather than confrontation. Smaller groups are likely, as noted above, to give way to larger groups.
Nevertheless border clashes do occur. The sudden appearance of a stranger is also likely to produce
considerable apprehension (cf. Edward O. Wilson, 1975, 249). Recent research has indicated that
macaques, like humans, have a “system for the processing of own species faces…. This specialization
is achieved through experience with faces of conspecifics during development and leads to the loss of
ability to process faces from other primate species” (Dufour, et al, 2006, 107).
Among baboons territoriality is not conspicuous. Their usual food is of low caloric value and is
normally quite widely distributed rather than concentrated. Consequently groups tend to wander rather
widely and do not usually compete with others for territory. However, they do have ranges. Shirley
Strum observed (1987, 80) that even in a food crisis brought on by a severe drought, a baboon group
was extremely reluctant to follow an immigrant male's lead out of their territory to a food source in a
new area. Generally baboon groups respect each other's core areas, and in open country often share
sleeping areas, usually cliffs or rock outcroppings, quite amicably (see sources cited above for
With gorillas territoriality does not seem important, probably because, as with baboons, their usual
foods are so widely scattered and of such limited food value. Fighting among males usually relates not
to territory, but to competition over females. Females do show preference for a silverback capable of
defending them and their offspring against infanticidal male intruders (see sources cited above for
Among chimpanzee groups, however, territoriality is very strong. Jane Goodall (1986) in her chapter
on “Territoriality” affirmed that chimpanzees seem to have an inherent aversion to strangers, that their
territories are usually large, and their borders not too clearly defined. Nevertheless she and her
associates observed that patrols went out every few days to check their borders. Such patrols always
showed a high level of anxiety in border areas. If they encountered a neighboring group of about
equal size, each group would threaten the other aggressively and then retreat. If one group were
larger, it would pursue individuals of the smaller group into its territory. The aggressors would then
fatally maul individuals they captured. The victors might then incorporate some of their neighbor's
territory and its females, after cannibalizing infant offspring, so that their mothers would become
sexually receptive sooner (see sources cited above for chimpanzees).
Although bonobos in the wild have been much less closely observed than chimpanzees, territorial
behavior appears to generally consist of "vocal contests" and avoidance of confrontation (San Diego
Zoo). Sexual activity, again, appears to be “the bonobo's answer to avoiding conflict… anything, not
just food, that arouses the interest of more than one bonobo at a time tends to result in sexual
contact” (Waal, 1995). Bonobos very rarely, if ever, bother to hunt vertebrates and usually experience
no problems with their food supply of fruits and plants. Aggressive displays, territorial or otherwise, are
much milder than with chimpanzees.
Territoriality thus varies considerably among nonhuman primates. It seems relatively weak in most
monkeys, baboons, gorillas, and even bonobos- probably because their feeding pattern is to forage
for material of relatively low food value which is widely dispersed. Chimpanzee groups, on the other
hand, are strongly territorial. The very reason for the existence of the male-bonded groups seems to
be to protect and, if possible, expand the group's territory and thus both its preferred food supply and
its access to females. Chimpanzees, by no means coincidentally, are the only primate groups in
addition to ours which engages in hunting other mammals.
Among social carnivores, territorial behavior tends to be stronger, but also varies considerably. Lion
prides are highly territorial. A principal function of the resident males in a pride is to mark off and
protect the pride’s territory against intruders. Females assist, some more eagerly than others, in this
role of protecting the pride’s territory (see sources cited above for lions).
In hyenas, the spotted hyena in particular, territorial behavior is especially intriguing. When prey is
widely dispersed, groups of spotted hyenas tend to break up and small groups or even individuals
forage independently over a wide area. However, when prey is locally concentrated in limited areas of
particularly lush grassland, groups become tightly organized and highly territorial. Rival groups mark
their territorial borders as a group, defend their territory against intrusion, and generally avoid
significant intrusion into the territory of others. Indeed groups have been seen to give up pursuit of
prey at their border, even to surrender prey killed outside their borders when the "owners" of the
territory show up. Jane Goodall observed, however, that hyenas confident of superior numbers
manifest no inhibitions whatsoever about intruding aggressively into the territory of another group
(Goodall, 1986, 526). Individuals however, especially males and juveniles, often traverse territorial
borders with impunity (see sources cited above for hyenas).
Packs of wild dogs appear generally to be nomadic rather than territorial, except in the den area
when there are pups (see sources cited above for wild dogs).
Wolf packs, like lions, are quite territorial. They mark borders and will defend a core area. Their
territories are so large, however, that it is usually not feasible to defend them against peripheral
intrusions. In following prey, especially migratory prey, they change their territories frequently. Such
border shifts and the departure of maturing individuals from the territory of their native pack make
territorial intrusions a leading cause of mortality. Territorial aggression is most likely to occur with
males, “however competitive aggression occurred more often with females… food deprivation
increases occurrences of competitive aggression”, although it also decreases incidents of territorial
aggression as well (Stiles, 2006, 4) (see sources cited above for wolves).
Territoriality was minimal among the desert !Kung San. Lee observed that neighboring groups
experienced "surprisingly little friction" (350). Indeed when drought dried up most water holes, a
number of !Kung San groups would camp together where one water hole was still producing. Each
group returned to its territory when rainfall renewed the water holes. Obviously the !Kung San did
have territorial ranges, but the borders were quite indistinct and neighbors who asked politely were
welcome to share a group's resources. This was done with the expectation that the favor would be
returned in the future. In an arid area where rainfall was quite spotty as well as sparse, territoriality,
Lee observed (360 ff), was not the best strategy. Rather the !Kung San maximized population density
by practicing "reciprocal access to resources." In very dry weather their groups congregated at the few
remaining water holes, and dispersed when rainfall renewed flow (337, 350 ff). In addition to
maximizing population, such policies also minimized bloodshed. Challengers to this idyllic and
consensual picture of life among hunter-gatherers have found that elsewhere (with higher rainfall and
population densities) such groups frequently engage in warfare, sometimes involving territorial
disputes (Boehm, 1999, 81; Gat, 2006). Among complex hunter-gatherers, the importance of territory
became much greater. As human groups became larger and heavily dependent upon exclusive
possession of a particular territory for a secure subsistence, they began to mark territorial borders and
to defend them against intrusion. As mentioned earlier, the first clear evidence of mass victims of
intraspecies violence, however, only dates back to around 14 kya.
After the widespread development of agriculture, territoriality became still more intense, especially in
those limited areas well suited to growing crops. Border conflicts multiplied exponentially. Preliterate
communities dug ditches or built walls, some of them massive in size, to protect their land and its
people from plunder or, still worse, from conquest by outsiders who coveted at a minimum their stored
foods, but often also their territory and labor (see sources cited above for early agriculturalists).
Among nomadic herders, territoriality was usually less intense. Herding groups often had only
vaguely defined territorial ranges within which, however, they often had well-established seasonal
patterns of migration. There could be violence if flagrant territorial intrusions occurred, but warfare
among nomadic herders generally took the form of raids upon another group's livestock. Its territory
was not usually at issue. In their attempts to conquer and impose their rule on sedentary farmers,
however, nomadic herders showed great interest in territory (see sources cited above for nomadic
Territoriality has received extensive study with reference to fish, amphibians, reptiles, insects, birds,
and nonhuman mammals, but in relation to the behavior of human behavior "serious scholarship has
only skirted its perimeters" (Sack, 1986, 1; cf Taylor, 1988). Even European social psychologists, who
have done much work on the behavior of human groups, have done little on territoriality. Those
researchers who have investigated territoriality, notably environmental psychologists, have tended to
do so with reference to individuals and small groups. They have concluded that territory is
psychologically important, especially so for mental patients and the elderly (Kinney, 1987; Altman,
1975). Geographer Torsten Malmberg in a wide-ranging book on Human Territoriality (1980) insisted
that it had a basis in instinct (305-306), that it was evident early in children, and especially strong in
mentally retarded boys (308). Recent international studies of college students, however, have shown
that although young men “tended to exhibit more nonsharing behavior”, they also exhibited “less
personalization of space than women” (Kaya & Weber, 2003). Perhaps clarifying the above
contradiction, Dolapo Amole concludes that women “make more use of territorial strategies”, whereas
males appear to "use withdrawal strategies more often” (Amole, 2005).
Cooperation and Sharing
Cooperation is more easily observable among monkeys than is sharing. Group members cooperate
in conflicts with rival groups, but in the wild they do not often share food among adult members of a
group. The plant foods which are their usual fare are typically quite dispersed, often of bite size or
smaller, and most importantly of low caloric value. Thus sharing is not so clearly practical for them as it
is for social carnivores. In the wild others of the group will usually not take on the nearly impossible
burden of trying to provide food for an adult unable to provide for itself. Monkeys do, however,
manifest concern for other group members. They give warning, even at considerable risk to the
individual doing the warning, of the approach of predators or other dangers. They show care also in
mutual grooming, although that practice may relate to expressions of dominance relationships as well
as caring (Bernstein & Smith, 1979; Dunbar, 1988; Mitchell, 1979; Poirier, 1972; Gouzoules &
Gouzoules, 1987; Cheney & Seyfarth,1981, 1982, 1990; Seyfarth & Cheney, 2003; Lawes & Henzi,
1995; Boinski & Campbell, 1995; VanSchaik, 1992; Gust, 1995; Kuester, 1994; Schuster, 1992;
Takata, 1994; Bernstein, 1993; Lyons, 1994).
Among baboons behavior relating to cooperation and sharing is similar to that among monkeys. The
most notable difference is in the protective role which individual males may take toward female
“friends” (Smuts, 1985) and their offspring (Kummer, 1968, 1995; Ransom, 1981; Smuts, 1985, 1987;
Strum ,1987; Stammbach, 1987; Melnick & Pearl, 1987; Pusey & Packer, 1987; Smith, 1992;
Cooperation and sharing among gorillas, as with baboons and other monkeys, is minimal and for the
same reasons. They have even less need to cooperate for defense (Fossey, 1983; Bourne, 1975;
Dixson, 1981; Maple, 1982; Schaller, 1963; Cheney, 1987; Stewart & Harcourt, 1987; Sicotte, 1993;
Watts, 1994; Robinson, 2001).
Chimpanzees cooperate and share more than do other nonhuman primates. Chimpanzees
cooperate, for example, in patrolling their borders as well as in intergroup conflicts. They sometimes
cooperate in hunting. Males who have captured and are eating an animal will usually share the
carcass with others when begged to do so. Males coming upon a loaded fruit tree, as noted above, will
summon others of the group by vocalizing loudly. Females in the same circumstance, perhaps
because of their subordinate status which would result in males taking the dominant‘s portion, typically
share the find only within the discovering group, usually an adult female and her offspring. Wild
chimpanzees, like other nonhuman primates, will not generally attempt to feed an adult individual or
even a weaned infant unable to feed itself. Captive chimpanzees, however, will sometimes share food
(Goodall, 1986; Ghiglieri, 1988; Waal, 1982, 1987, 1989, 1994, 1996, 2001a, 2001b; Wall & Tyack,
2003; Nishida, 1987, 1990a, 1990b, 1990c; Walters & Seyfarth, 1987; Hasegawa, 1990; Takahata,
1990; Uehara, 1994; Chapman & Wrangham, 1993; Clark, 1993; Wrangham, et al., 1994; Mitani, et
Male bonobos tend to be less like chimpanzees and more like gorillas and monkeys in terms of
cooperation. Females however (as noted above), regularly cooperate in forming their unusually large
and flexible foraging groups and coalitions, the basis of their distinctly un-primate-like power over
males (Parish, 1996, 61). Bonobos, moreover, generally share both meat and frugivorous food more
often than do chimpanzees, who only share meat. Again, female-female sharing tends to be the norm
with bonobos. In fact, great ape behaviorist Craig Stanford has noted that “hunting by bonobos may
be less frequent than hunting by chimpanzees because female bonobos have greater control of food
resources” (Stanford, 1998, 409).
As they are hunters, cooperation and sharing are much more significant in social carnivores. Most
adult members of a lion pride will take part, some with more enthusiasm than others, in defending the
pride’s territory. Females of a pride sometimes hunt cooperatively. They also share their prey with
other pride members, usually very grudgingly. Mothers may share nursing duty as well (Schaller, 1972;
Packer & Pusey, 1982; Packer, 1990; Pusey & Packer, 1994; Kruuk, 2003).
Cooperation and sharing among hyenas is much the same, with group cooperation in hunting even
more prevalent than among lions. Hyenas also cooperate closely, as observed above, in marking and
defending territorial borders. Feeding on prey is aggressively competitive, but some sharing may
occur (Kruuk, 1972, 2003; Frank, 1986; Mills, 1990; Henschel & Skinner, 1991; Jenks, 1995).
Wild dogs cooperate and share much as wolves do. They cooperate closely during the hunt and, like
wolves, will regurgitate food for the pups and for the ill or disabled of the group which were unable to
take part in the hunt (Lawick-Goodall, 1971; Sheldon, 1992; Creel, 1995).
Among wolves both cooperation and sharing are still more pronounced. They cooperate quite
closely in both hunting and in their frequent conflicts with neighboring groups. Although the feeding
order is set by dominance and there may be conflict at a crowded kill site, at the den hunters will
regurgitate food not only for pups, but also for adult members of the group unable to participate
(Mech, 1970, 1998; Klinghammer, 1979; Harrington & Paquet, 1982; Fox, 1975, 1978; Hall & Sharp,
1978; Altmann, 1987; Hoof, 1987; McDonald, 1987; Savage, 1996).
Cooperation and sharing were outstanding features of the humans who lived as hunter-gatherers in
the tens of thousands of years in which some of our ancestors moved out of Africa and spread over
nearly all the earth. This record, we should remember, affords a sharp contrast to our closest living
relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, who cooperate and share less and have remained confined
geographically to their original habitat in tropical Africa. Hunting herbivores much larger than they were
certainly required male hunter-gatherers to cooperate closely. Surviving groups of hunter-gatherers
still do so. Meat, the highly valued product of hunting, had to be shared among group members.
Indeed reluctance to share almost anything of great value was highly reprehensible behavior which
was likely, as observed above, to bring on punishments ranging from collective ridicule to community-
sanctioned murder. Decision-making for the group also involved sharing of authority, in that decisions
were usually made by consensus (see sources cited above for hunter-gatherers).
While conspicuous among hunter-gatherers and probably accountable in some measure for their
evolutionary success, cooperation and sharing seem to have diminished in importance among
sedentary farmers. In such groups, cooperation was still the rule in matters of group defense and for
public works. However, specialization of labor and individual/family ownership created differences in
status which became in some ways similar to the dominance hierarchies of nonhuman primates. As
with the primates, such differences in status tended to reduce loyalty to the group among those of
lower status, and lowered their rate of reproductive success as well. Recent DNA studies have found
that a typical woman through human history was about twice as likely to reproduce as was a typical
man, by a ratio of approximately 80 percent to 40 percent (Tierney, 2007). Those of higher status,
especially the priests and warriors classes, also tended to accumulate more and more material
benefits with agriculture, in addition to great authority.
Nomadic herders cooperated in tending and defending their livestock, despite the fact that
ownership of the animals was not communal, but with individual families. They often cooperated also in
offensive alliances, from raiding other nomadic groups for livestock, to attacking sedentary farmers for
plunder, “protection” fees, or for subjugation and acquisition of coveted territory (see sources cited
above for complex hunter-gatherers, early farmers, and nomadic herders).
In modern human society, cooperation is obviously essential, but sharing outside of the family,
whether nuclear or extended, is less widespread. It is also the subject of academic dispute.
Evolutionary psychologists (the former sociobiologists) have preferred generally to focus on what they
call “altruistic behavior” rather than sharing. They argued for some time that, from an evolutionary
standpoint, altruism is counter-productive, unless limited to genetically related individuals or to those
confident of reciprocity (Hamilton, 1964; Trivers, 1971; Dawkins, 1976, 1989; Alexander, 1987;
Perhaps they had not fully considered human norms of reciprocity and social learning, or human
sexual selection. Social psychologist C. Daniel Batson’s “empathy-altruism hypothesis” stipulates that,
when we feel empathy for a person, we will attempt to help them purely for altruistic reasons
(regardless of reward):
Whereas if we do not feel salient empathy for a person, only then do social exchange concerns (cost:
benefit analysis) come into play. Is there anyone watching? Do the potential social rewards of helping
outweigh the costs? (Aronson, Wilson, & Akert, 2005, 362-63).
The behavioural contrast between humans and animals is perhaps sharpest on this matter. There is
“little evidence so far that individual reputation building affects cooperation in animals, which contrasts
strongly in what we find in humans” (Fehr & Fischbacher, 2003, 785). For men, some of the presumed
social rewards for altruistic behavior appear to include being “perceived as more physically attractive,
more sexually attractive, more socially desirable, and more desirable as a date” (Jensen-Campbell, et
al, 1995, 437). Indeed, in modern US university settings at least, dominance appears “to have no
effect on the attractiveness of men who were low in agreeableness. For men who were high in
agreeableness, however, dominance did increase subjective physical attractiveness, sexual
attractiveness, dating desirability, general social desirability, and perceived wealth later in life” (438).
The team found “no evidence that female dominance affected attraction” from men (438).
Social psychologists have found abundant evidence that altruistic behavior is not merely reserved
for those perceived to be of close genetic similarity (as is typically the case with almost all social
animals), or even reserved for situations of expected reciprocity. Young children, for example,
spontaneously show helping and giving behavior, as well as empathic distress, towards unrelated
peers (Grusek, 1991; Kakavoulis, 1998). So powerful is human sociality that anyone, given the right
conditions, can feel powerful urges of empathy and compassion. Even rhesus monkeys prefer starving
themselves for several days to pulling a chain for food that would also deliver an electric shock to a
companion (Wade, 2007). Those with high levels of testosterone, however, are less likely to manifest
prosocial behavior, unless they are of high status (Dobbs & Morris, 1990). Those seen as leaders
were more prosocial than others (Ginsburg & Miller, 1981). David Barash, commenting on such
differing opinions, observed that while nature seemingly “abhors true altruism. Society, on the other
hand, adores it” (Barash, 2003). Indeed, few human institutions have been as euphoric through the
ages as the generous feast.
Closely related to the debate on altruism is that over the concept of group selection- an idea
repudiated in the 1960s that is now experiencing a revival, sparked in part by Sober and Wilson’s Unto
Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior (1998), which pointed out that groups as
well as individuals compete, and that as such altruists tend to make better parents than egoists.
Another study by Robert Boyd, et. al (2003) for the National Academy of Sciences argues that
altruistic punishment (the punishment of non-cooperators) helped the evolution of cooperation,
primarily by reinforcing altruistic cooperation (where individuals that cooperate pay a cost; but the
society as a whole benefits). Or in the words of anthropologist Joan Silk, “Humans are the most
cooperative species on the planet, and the most punitive. This is no coincidence” (Silk, 2007, 13537).
As Urs Fischacher, et al. explains, altruistic punishment has been a decisive force in the evolution of
human cooperation. Using brain scans, his team found that “Effective punishment, as compared with
symbolic punishment, activated the dorsal striatum, which has been implicated in the processing of rewards
that accrue as a result of goal-directed actions. Moreover, subjects with stronger activations in the dorsal
striatum were willing to incur greater costs in order to punish…. people derive satisfaction from punishing norm
violators” (Fischbacher, et al, 2004, 1254).
In a paleolithic family environment, or anywhere else "where altruistic cooperators and punishers
are frequent, within-group selection against altruistic punishers is very weak", simply "because
noncooperation rarely occurs and, hence, few punishment costs have to be born by the altruistic punishers
(a logic first pointed out by Henrich and Boyd 2001). They show that... in the absence of altruistic punishment,
within-group selection against altruistic cooperation is always strong. Thus, cultural group selection cannot
sustain altruistic cooperation without altruistic punishment" (Hammerstein, 2003, 77).
Social psychologists established long ago that individuals attach great importance to group
membership. We see it as important to our own well-being or even survival. Consequently we are likely
to try to maintain or to enhance our status within the primary or most important group(s) and above all
to avoid being expelled. Furthermore, the evidence indicates clearly that groups of primates, whether
human or nonhuman, nearly all compete, that stronger groups do at times take resources or territory
from weaker groups, and may even at times attempt to exterminate (not just subjugate) smaller ones.
Such competition among groups could hardly fail to influence the survival and reproductive success of
group members. It would seem also to have afforded an advantage to those groups in which many
members were genetically inclined to avoid selfish behavior, to conform to group expectations, and to
help others in their group unselfishly (see inter alia Sober & Wilson, 1998; Wilson, 2003; Axelrod,
1984; Sahlins, 1976; Dawkins, 1976, 1989; Scott, 1989; Buck & Ginsburg, 1991; Sesardic, 1999;
Nichols, 2001; Bahr & Bahr, 2001; Zahavi, 2000; Pergini & Galluci, 2001; De Cremer & van Lange,
2001; Krueger, et al, 2001; Kruger, 2001; Kelly & Dunbar, 2001; Pakaslahti & Keltikangas-Jaervinen,
2001; Boyd, 2003).
Conclusions on Behavioral Predispositions
In our search for greater understanding of human behavior as it relates to the creation of
nationalities, we have now looked at the behavior of a number of animals: 1) nonhuman primates with
whom we share nearly all of our genetic makeup; 2) social carnivores whose environment and dietary
habits we shared in the long period in which evolutionary adaptations made us significantly different
from those closest primate relatives; 3) both egalitarian hunter-gatherers and 4) the hierarchical
agriculturalists who succeeded them; and finally 5) modern humans as revealed in the findings of
social scientists. What insights has this inquiry afforded as to why humans form nationality groups?
Group membership is clearly of enormous importance for all the species we have considered.
Individuals in groups do much better in terms of survival and reproduction than do those without group
ties. One sex or the other generally remains in its native group and gives great loyalty to it. Those who
leave their native group, whether to avoid inbreeding or because their place in the group’s dominance
hierarchy is unacceptable, make great effort to win acceptance into another group. In all the species
considered, naturalization into another group is often difficult and time-consuming, but usually
successful. Naturalized members then give great loyalty to their new group, even when it is in conflict
with their native group.
The importance of group membership to humans in particular is evident in many ways. For example,
members usually conform to group expectations. We often sacrifice to serve group interests. We
punish deviant or antisocial behavior by others, especially if it threatens group unity or even survival.
We quite often exaggerate the virtues of our own group and the vices of others.
Worth noting also is that male-bonding has been fundamental to human groups. As with
chimpanzees and (to a lesser extent) bonobos, males tended to stay in their native group while
females often emigrate, as in the biblical story of Ruth. Thus it is that in human groups kinship is of
fundamental importance, but more so for males than for females. However, it is also clear that as
human groups grew larger following the advent of agriculture, exogamy and other transfers of
members between territorial groups fell sharply. The probable explanation is that groups were then
large enough so that inbreeding could easily be avoided without leaving the group. Furthermore,
intergroup relations had by then become poisoned by reciprocal fear of attack for plunder of stored
wealth, for tribute, “protection,” or territorial conquest.
The dominance phenomenon is rather more complicated. Except for lions, all the nonhuman groups
considered establish dominance hierarchies that are central to their social organization. Dominance
hierarchies tend generally to establish priority in feeding, in choice of location, and in breeding. In
many cases they also impose upon the dominant individual heavy responsibilities for protection,
internal policing, and leadership.
In groups of human hunter-gatherers, on the other hand, pervasive egalitarianism replaced the
traditional primate dominance hierarchy. Instead of a dominance hierarchy, such groups show
essentially consensual authority with minimum guidance from respected elders and equal sharing of
meat and some other properties. Christopher Boehm (1999) explains this by suggesting that our
genetic heritage includes aversion to being dominated, as well as the inclination to seek dominance or
accept subordination. He adds that in hunter-gatherers, the group as a whole had assumed
dominance and coerced individuals to conform to an egalitarian standard. The need for protecting the
group and policing its members also appear to be communal responsibilities in these smaller groups.
With the transitions to sedentary foraging and agriculture, however, dominance hierarchies return to
human groups. Priests and warriors in particular assumed privileged, sometimes even hereditary
status. Our own suggestion to explain, at least in part, the reappearance of the hierarchical
phenomenon is that prolonged exposure to conditions of extreme danger leads people to lessen their
identification with large groups. Instead they manifest individual dependence upon a charismatic
leader or institution. Early agriculturists confronted such conditions often as they competed for
possession of choice locations and confronted natural disasters and frequent famines.
Territoriality seems evident to some degree in all the species considered (least so perhaps in
gorillas). It seems to arise from competition among groups, especially for secure access to the means
of subsistence. Chimpanzees seem also to seek it for greater reproductive opportunities.
The role of cooperation and sharing is controversial. Among nonhuman primates, both are evident,
but at a rather low level relative to individual competition for dominant status. Both cooperation and
sharing tend to be more prominent in the behavior of social carnivores. Human adaptation to the
savannah environment and meat-eating, while growing significantly different genetically from our
closest primate relatives, clearly imparted within our species a greater inclination to cooperate and
share than is typical of nonhuman primates. Egalitarian cooperation and sharing were extraordinarily
prominent among our hunting and gathering ancestors. Those qualities, along with adaptability,
served hunter-gatherers well, as perhaps only a few thousand moved out of Africa to cover nearly all
the earth. With the advent of agriculture, however, dominance hierarchies more like those among
other primates returned. For many millennia competition tended to intensify, both within and between
increasingly endogamous and hierarchical groups.
The role of group selection and altruism in the evolution of human behavior is still controversial.
Group membership is so important to most humans that it impels them to do whatever the group
expects of them, and to avoid actions which might risk expulsion or still more extreme sanction.
Rescuing or aiding a fellow group member in distress would serve both of these purposes. Refusing to
aid a group member in distress would presumably weaken group solidarity and perhaps eventually put
one’s own membership at risk. This suggests that "interdependence of fate" (Lewin, 1948, 184) may
help explain not only how the basic ties of group membership can arise- with or without the existence
of ethnic ties- but also how cooperation and sharing became widespread within human groups. After
all, within a band there is no place to hide from one’s reputation.
Collectively these findings serve to recall the observation of William James (1890, II, 409): "As with all
gregarious animals, 'two souls,' as Faust says, ' dwell within his breast,' the one of sociability and
helpfulness, the other of jealousy and antagonism to his mates." To recast his point in the terms
employed in this study, human beings seem naturally inclined to be helpful and cooperative toward
members of their group. On the other hand, they often compete avidly with other members of the
group to attain and maintain the highest position they can reach within it. Frans de Waal made
fascinating observations on similar behavior among chimpanzees in Chimpanzee Politics (1982) and in
Peacemaking among Primates (1989).
Fig. 2:2 Summary Behavioral Predispositions of Primates and Social Carnivores
' GF & Membership Dominance Territoriality Cooperation Sharing
' (and dimorphism3)
Modern ethnic, civic, CHA/CHD understudied; understudied; high; high/complex;
* (76-88%) kids/group think w/populat. density normative institutional
Herders exogamy; patriarchal only in large, vaguely defined high; often high;
* (76-88%) charism. groups war/raids meat/land
Farmers endogamy; patriarchal hierarchical; vigilantly defined high; occasionally
* (76-88%) priests&warriors normative high; fests
H-G’ers exogamy/egalitarian absent/resented low (populat. very high; very high;
* (80-85%) density) constant constant
lions sisters-bond; w/ low or absent vigilant; high hunting;
* dom. or nomad males (73-80%) maintained nursing
wolves alpha pair conspicuous, vigilant; very high hunting;
* (80-82%) but resented maintained raising pups
wilddogs male-bonded; somewhat conspic; only dens high hunting;
* alpha pair (103-107%) female resented raising pups
hyenas sisters-bonded female hierarchy; flexi-vigilant high only hunting
* fusion/fission (120-125%) fluid and defense
bonobos male&female-bonded; female groups; weak n/a female female
* large groups; stable (77%) seniority groups groups
chimps male-bonded; small political, male; strong; irreg. high: male male;
* group loyalty (78-79%) some seniority maintained groups politicized
gorillas harems or only-male pronounced; inconspicuous inconspicuous minimal
* (50%) male seniority or absent or absent
baboons female-bonded; fluid unstable; inconspicuous in defense; minimal
* (less than 50%) maternal or ‘friends’
monkeys4 female-bonded; often-disputed; apprehensive; in defense minimal
* (63-100%) maternal larger group of group
' GF & Membership Dominance Territoriality Cooperation Sharing
' (and dimorphism3)
What ought we to conclude as to why we form nationalities? Five conclusions seem paramount. First,
individuals of the human species choose to live in groups because they are genetically programmed to
feel secure when they have strong ties to a group, and to experience nearly intolerable insecurity
when they do not. The family is of course the group which provides such security at the most basic
Second, human beings also feel a need for physical security beyond that which the family can
provide. People seem to be highly conscious that members of small groups tend not only to suffer low
status compared to those in large ones, but also that a small group is likely to be dominated by a
larger one and perhaps even exist at its sufferance. Consequently, individuals crave security against
dispossession, enslavement, or murder by members of a rival group. Protection against such dangers
and other threats requires membership in a group that is larger or presumably stronger than its
Third, individuals tend to behave in ways that meet the expectations or serve the interests of the
group upon which they depend. Doing so solidifies or enhances their status within the group. Failing to
do so risks punishment, loss of status, and possibly expulsion or even execution.
Fourth, when human groups become aware that they have differing social identities, they tend to
compete for superior status and, when circumstances warrant, for material advantage. The status
rivalry arises because we are all programmed genetically to seek dominant status for the group with
which we identify whenever it comes into contact with another group whose social identity is perceived
as different. Establishing such group dominance not only enhances our status as individuals, but also
improves the prospect that when real conflicts of interest do arise, that our group will prevail.
Fifth, a territorial group recognizing interests of great urgency common to its members will seek
sovereign power- the chief hallmark of a nations in the territorially-defined sense, and the usual
aspiration of nations in the ethnically-defined sense. Group members in such circumstances seek
sovereignty both because it enhances group status, and because it greatly facilitates the optimal
utilization of the group’s resources to serve their interests.
On what basis do people form new nationalities? Those of the ethnic variety form when groups
sharing ancestry, language, religion, other cultural features or some combination of these, grow
increasingly aware of an important rivalry with one or more groups that have different characteristics.
Nationalities of the civic variety form in either of two ways. The first is secession. Diverse peoples
previously part of one group or state may become dissatisfied and seek separation. One possible
explanation is that noted by Edward Shils (1960): distant authority tends to be perceived as alien
authority, regardless of ethnicity. A more general observation is that based on Sumner's distinction
between ingroups and outgroups. Any categorization of a previously unified group of people into
distinctive subgroups tends to produce bias in favor of the ingroup and against the outgroup.
Categorization may also produce the labelling phenomenon- groups taking on an identity attributed to
them. In so doing they become motivated to do whatever is required to raise the status and power of
the group with which they have become identified. Distinctions between or among such groups may
easily escalate into a status rivalry, potentially a dominance contest. If a conflict of material interests is
also present, the rivalry intensifies, and the demand for sovereign authority in any subgroup not
possessing it increases.
The second possible pattern for the formation of new nationalities of the civic variety is the fusion of
people who had previously belonged to different groups. As Sherif showed, the appearance of a goal
of extraordinary importance achievable only- or perhaps only most quickly and effectively- through
cooperation of previously hostile groups can blend them into a new group. Similarly the labelling
phenomenon, the mere attribution of identity by outsiders, can create a "social identity" among people
never previously conscious of any basis for unity, and perhaps even previously split into very hostile
Another observation on the formation of nationalities in the modern world concerns which of the
many groups with which people identify they choose to make highest or sovereign- that is with
exclusive right to exercise supreme political authority over a territory, or group of people. Should the
basis of sovereignty be ancestry, language, or religion; should it be exercised by the household, the
neighborhood, the city or town, the state or province, the region, an existing ethnic or civic "nation,"
the continent, or the planet? On what basis do people decide? The paramount concern in answering
that question appears to be which group is perceived as having the most important common interest or
the most important rivalry with outsiders. That group will be the one chosen to exercise sovereign
power, so that it can achieve optimal mobilization of resources to meet the perceived challenge.
Fig. 2:3: Modern Human Brain
The Seat of Social Intelligence?
“Unlike other animals, human cooperation varies in both scale and behavioral domains across social
groups… many social groups inhabit the same physical environment and possess the same
technology, but cooperate to differing degrees and in different domains. Standard evolutionary
approaches struggle with these uniquely human observations- in other animals, cooperation and
sociality do not vary much from group to group within a species" species.”
- Joseph Henrich, 2004 (30)
Finally we need revisit the human brain. The amygdala, as Jorge L. Armony observed, is “a critical
component of the neural system involved in learning about stimuli that signal threat.” That neural
system, he added, “has remained essentially unchanged throughout evolution” (2002). Because the
amygdala responds to signs of danger more rapidly and often powerfully than does the more rational
brain, there does appear to be reason to suspect that our impulsive behavior upon encountering
members of another group may resemble that of other animals. This calls to mind Edward O. Wilson’s
observation that: “The strongest evoker of aggressive response in animals is the sight of a stranger,
especially a territorial intruder.” Thus we need to consider the possibility that this primitive portion of
the brain may predispose us to react with fear or even hostility to those who are members of a group
other than our own. Furthermore this impulse from the amygdala may produce action before the
rational brain has had time even to consider the matter. The more basic point about the human brain,
however, must be that, to a much greater extent than have those of either nonhuman primates or
social carnivores, our brains have programmed us to be adaptive. We alone among the groups
considered here have adapted to virtually all of the world’s differing climatic conditions. Through
adaptation, and sometimes very quickly, to environments ranging from rainforest to desert, from tropic
heat to Arctic cold, we have proved ourselves capable of altering our behavior when survival requires
change. The question still open is can we change our behavior relating to the formation and the
competitive relationship of nationalities sufficiently (and in time) to avert disaster for our species and
Creative answers to the unprecedented challenges now facing humanity will likely come from a
region of the brain far removed from the reptilian amygdala. It has long been known that the human
anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is home to an unusual cell type, giant spindle-shaped neurons. Over
the past decade, neuroscientist John Allman and others have discovered that the ACC, “a hub from
which many circuits branch out- is almost always active when human subjects are experiencing
emotions or need to think about things that are difficult.” These relatively enormous spindle cells (also
called von Economo neurons) “collect information from one region of the brain and send it on to other
regions. They function like air traffic controllers for emotions. They seem to lie at the heart of the
human social emotion circuitry, including a moral sense” of what is socially appropriate (Blakeslee,
Anthropologist Mark Flinn adds that spindle cells “potentially link distinct components of the brain,
providing a mechanism for monitoring performance and rewarding success via the rich dopaminergic
cells of the ACC (Allman, Hakeem, Erwin, Nimchinsky, & Hof, 2001). These and other structures
provide the neurobiological bases for the remarkable human abilities of self-awareness, theory of
mind, empathy, and consciousness (Adolphs, 2003; Seigal & Varley, 2002)” (Flinn, 2004, 80). The
ACC is also “implicated in volition, the experience of intense drive states, self-awareness and control,
the discrimination of information from conflicting cues, focused problem solving, and error recognition”
and relays information about these functions to other parts of the brain (Allman, 2002, 341). "’The
main thing [spindle cells] do is to adjust your behaviour in a rapid real-time interaction in a complex
social environment’" (Phillips, 2004).
Thought to be unique to humans, whales, and great apes, spindle cells are embryonic in
chimpanzees, but must migrate into the ACC, beginning several months after birth in humans (Allman,
341), and are not fully in place and functional until age three or four. Adult humans have about 15,000
spindle cells in the Brodmann’s 10 area of the brain; Bonobos 3,000; Chimpanzees 2,150; Gorillas
2,000; Orangutans 1,900 (Allman, 2002, 338). In the words of neuroscientist Roger Bingham, we are
now able to “see how resentment, a sense of fair play, righteous anger and other complex social
emotions come into our everyday lives” (Phillips, 2004).
Perhaps spindle cells also provide an answer as to why humans have had remarkably different
cultures while other species have not; or as Liah Greenfeld might say “the empirical generalization that
humanity constitutes a reality sui generis, distinguished from the rest of the animal species by the
symbolic… transmission of its ways of life across generations” (Greenfeld, 2004, 1). “Human history, in
distinction to the development of other animal species, is… subject to the regularities of cultural, rather
than biological evolution…” (2). Cultural evolution means group selection, as opposed to individual,
and requires some degree of group cohesion and distinctiveness for lasting success. How have
groups achieved this necessary cohesion? According to Henrich (2004), intergenerational transfers of
specific cultural knowledge, or conformist transmissions, provide an “important reason why people in
the same social group tend to believe the same things and why these beliefs persist over long periods.
Without a conformist component to create ‘cultural clumps’, social learning models predict (incorrectly)
that populations should be a smear of ideas, beliefs, values and behaviors…” (23). Conformist
transmissions and observational learning (see chapter 3) have helped groups of people to focus their
minds and creativity on solving the social problems of their day- be they predominantly environmental
or political in nature.
We are genetically programmed to conform to (and hence ourselves propagate) group norms over
the course of our lives, as well as to seek out more efficacious and pleasant ways of doing things. The
combination of intergenerational ‘conformist transmissions’ and spindle cells’ regulation of their
expression would seem to indicate that our ancestors, as far back as the complex hunter-gatherer
societies in the late Paleolithic (c.25-10 kya), were forming proto-national groups of distinctive identity
and culture. These groups- to the extent that they were populous enough to be ‘imaginary
communities’ (with corresponding imagined ‘others’ and foreigners) and trophically insecure- were
almost certainly rivalrous, whether or not such rivalries turned to organized violence, as is first
evidenced from approximately 14 kya.
We create nationalities, and the requisite national rivalries to keep them going, because they work.
They have worked to provide us with ever-larger and more complex forms of economic
interdependence, and the gradual extension of societal trust and decency that accompany it-
essentially a great process of turning strangers into (de facto) extended family and friends. These are
men and women of the cultural nation- those whose brothers, sisters, and resultant social networks
(imaginary or otherwise), are countless. Nations and national rivalries had grown so large and powerful
by the 20th century, however, that they are now increasingly being called into question.
National rivalries underlie and aggravate all the major terrestrial threats to human well-being and the
survival of species on earth, perhaps even our own. War, economic breakdown, environmental
devastation, terrorism, and climatic crises- each is a threat made greater by rival nations seeking a
competitive advantage. We need to adapt now to the circumstances that have made competing
national groups (and multi-national corporate organizations often competing in the name of national
groups) such a threat to life on this planet. Improving our understanding of how competing nationalities
originate might help achieve that goal.
' text copyright 2008 Philip L. White and Michael L. White
|Ch.2-Sect.A- Evolution & Group Formation
pp. 51-83 (33)
pp. 83-104 (21)
pp. 104-133 (29)
Chapter 1 Chapter 3
Return to Index
Ch.2-Sect.A- Evolution & Group Formation
pp. 51-83 (33)
pp. 83-104 (21)
Chapter 1 Chapter 3
Return to Index