[Part 2 of 2]
Continuing on Sapolsky's lecture, see this video:
Robert Sapolsky: Stress, Neurodegeneration and Individual Differences
About 50 minutes into this lecture, Sapolsky changes slightly the subject and describes his stress research on baboon monkeys in Africa, describing their society's structure and detailed habits. This was discussed in the context of biochemistry and stress hormones (glucocorticoids), with blood samples taken and analyzed, correlated within the context of the social interaction. Over 20 years of solid experimental and observational research, really impressive piece of work!
Baboons in the reserve (Serengeti) need only about 3 hours a day to gather their food. They live in baboons' paradise, their health is good and infant's mortality is lower than among neighboring human villages. They spend the rest of the day, 9 hours every day on average making each other miserable and stressing each other to the limits of their adrenal biochemistry, using social interplay, emotional and physical harassment. They follow a very elaborate and rigid social hierarchy with a strong male gang leader and a score of lesser levels. At each position within the gang, a member is continuously subjected to harassment and being picked on by higher member, while at the same time, they are compelled by their biology to release their own stress by picking, incessantly upon the weaker members of lesser position.
I strongly recommend to watch this video to give you a better idea what it is really like. I have to admit I couldn't help by noticing how similar is their structure to the structure of the human subculture in:
- criminal gangs
- government institutions,
- large corporations
- armed forces and paramilitary organizations,
- large religious institutions
- academic institutions
Comments and thoughts
If one ever wondered about any of the above cultures, then watching Sapolsky's video will neatly illustrate what is that all about. In contrast, one wonders what kind of culture would rather protects the weaker members and work creatively to build tools, shelters and grow food rather then spend all their time on social warfare? I think, it can't possibly be a culture solely focused on social interplay, with a rigid hierarchical structure. I think the pattern is the same, regardless whether we are dealing with intelligent humans or monkeys. The main dichotomy is I think clear: a group either focuses most of their free time on perfecting the social interaction and learning practical social manipulation skills to the detriment of other skills, or it follows a decentralized model allowing their members to develop and use individual skills in creating technology, art and science (individuals being free to keep the results of their work!). This dichotomy can be seen in both individual characters and on the scale of the herds, tribes, societies or countries. This dichotomy is expressed in two different approaches towards problem-solving. For example, take a lack of something like food: one approach is to steal food from others. The second approach is to search or grow more food - to fix the actual problem! Another example that we keep hearing so often is energy and resources' shortage. The "monkey" way would be for Mr. Leader to make me and you use less energy, while conserving what is left for his elite friends and his electorate. The other less fashionable but natural human way is to use technology to tap into a source of energy that is thousands of time more abundant than oil or coal. One mindset is about controlling the people; the other is about controlling the environment.
Coming back to the title of this note: I think there is a snowball-in-hell chance that any society behaving along the pattern described in Sapolsky's lecture on baboons, would ever develop technology, art or science. It is also doubtful, if they ever managed to capture the fruit of modern civilization by force, that they would be able to keep and maintain those achievements!
The fact that humans did achieve a highly developed technological civilization means that the periods of herd-like rigid hierarchical social structures must have been a rare anomaly rather than the rule! Otherwise we probably would never evolve creative skills and would be living today in a tropical "paradise" living off wild fruit and spending our time plotting how to became "herd-managers".
No it is not the society and the social skills that made us human, it was the lack of it! Those who spend their time partying and socializing create no wealth and no value. Those who tinker, build, experiment and learn science - do! It was the "nerddom" that drove us forward while social skills held us backwards towards social competition, stress, warfare and death.
[see also Dozent's comment underneath]
(Style and grammar edited 7/02/2011)
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