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Violence, Baboons, Republicans and Social Signals

We have to manage the Baboon level of our society in a way that decreases the effectiveness of violence as a tool for achieving social rank and control. Male baboons use violence to establish rank within the male hierarchy of their baboon troop. The highest ranking male then gets breeding rights with any female he chooses, all of them basically, and the female part of the troop is subjugated through that social structure. Females establish their own hierarchy partly by currying favor of powerful males, often needing that protection to ensure that a powerful male who is not her baby’s father will not kill her baby while it is a vulnerable child.

Part of the evolution of humans was the development of a pair bonding social structure that brought mothers and fathers into a closer working relationship. There was also a decrease in the average size differential between male and female to about 15% difference as opposed to the much larger differences in the various primate species. In primate society culture change has been studied. It has been documented that individual and organized group violence occurs within primate troops. It has been further demonstrated that changes in the level of violence, independent of genetic factors, do occur in response to cultural change.

Robert M. Sapolski’s article, A Natural History of Peace , in Foreign Affairs magazine, describes a primate troop that undergoes a cultural transformation that results in dramatically decreased levels of violence. There were two cultural changes that occurred in the baboon troop, one was a change from a very rigid and highly abusive, from superior to subordinate, male hierarchy, to a looser and less abusive male rank structure. The other cultural change was in how new males were welcomed into the troop. Females, who don’t migrate out of their birth troop as adolescent males do, were much more affectionate with new males more quickly than in other baboon troops, and males were much less punitive toward these new males as well. The new males initially entered the troop displaying aggressive behavior that was typical of their troop of origin, but within hours they became socialized to the high affiliation, low aggression culture of the troop they were entering.

The Republican appeal to violence as a social control mechanism reminds me of the baboon social strategy that is part of our genetic history but is a social structure that we have evolved away from and continue to need to move away from. The snarling, threatening, Bill O’Riley, Glen Beck, Anne Colter, types of media personality provide social signaling in support of relying on this part of our genetic potential. Republican presidential debate audiences going ape in response to the candidate who talks toughest about torture, Bush and Cheney making tough talk about Iran, are all strategies to stimulate this aspect of our collective ancient genetic inheritance. We need to put out social signaling that counters that so that our troop can calm down and effectively deal with the real issues that face us all, regardless of our current socio-economic rank.

I am beginning to see abortion rights as not only correct because the pregnant woman is the person most effected by birth, the fetus lives inside her body and is part of her until born, but also correct because it runs counter to the baboon level of our human nature where male violence is used to secure expanded male breeding rights within the troop. In a way this explains why the religious right is so focused on abortion, it is male control of female reproduction, a social proxy for extended dominant male breeding rights on a mass scale that subjugates women.

We see the social use of threats of harm in subtle ways each day and this has become a staple of Republican politics lately. Remember the last time someone in a meeting at work tried to dominate the agenda and discussion through veiled threats that establish their rank above the others in the meeting. Anyone who challenges them is threatened and forced toward assuming a stance of lower rank. This is the way bullies work. If no one in the group/meeting signals that the bully has not succeeded in assuming top rank, the group sends a social signal that the bully is right, we should be afraid and assume the role of subservient rank so that none of us are hurt. If someone stands up to the bully in the meeting, not by threats but by refusal to concede rank, they send a social signal that the bully really shouldn’t be feared, but should be challenged. By the simple act of not assuming a subservient social position in response to the aggressor

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