Re: Anthropology and Religion

Gerold Firl (
23 Oct 1995 13:21:40 -0700

In article <468vk4$> (Scott Sellers) writes:

>For the human species, biological survival becomes social survival. I
>don't think we disagree here. The unit of survival is no longer the
>biological individual, but the social group.

Until a high-mortality event comes along - famine, pestilence, war. Then,
the biological individual, along with the kin group, once more becomes the
survival unit.

Here's an interesting thought: imagine a measure which compared the status,
power, and social position of members of a given society during stable
periods of relatively low mortality with the survival probabilities during
high-mortality periods of stress. That is to say, do the social mechanisms
which select for social status correspond to the qualities which are
important for survival during the expected high-stress conditions found in
that environment? I would suggest that a society which rewards individuals
for the kinds of qualities which are advantageous during selection-events
(famine/pest/war) have a stability-advantage over societies where a
disharmony exists between the abilites which lead to biological survival
and those which lead to social prestige and power.

Point being, that the relationship between old-fashioned biological
survival and social survival, along with the social-status selection-
process within the society during "normal" times, is very intimately
linked. If it is not, if there is a decoupling, then the society is sick,
and probably will not survive.

But that goes way beyond any sociobiological analysis of human society that
I've ever seen. There is much fertile ground to cover in the area of
understanding animal societies, linking their social structure to their
instincts, and then comparing the similarities and differences between
human society and the animal societies. Enormous insights wait to be
discovered in this area alone, before the science will evolve towards more
sophisticated analyses of culture.

>I think my simplification is justified, in a way. Consider that my
>original entry into this thread was in response to a poem of an Evangelical
>Christian bent which held up sociobiology (and evolution) as a basis for a
>worldview. As something to build a system of ethics on. The poet held a
>dim view of the outcome.
>It is just this kind of unwarranted extension of the meaning of
>sociobiology that I oppose. We have both made the point that when
>sociobiology is discussed, the discussion is rarely about hard science, but
>more often bleeds into what I consider the political sphere.

Agreed. I am trying to clarify the necessity of distinguishing between
misapplications of the science, and the science itself. Any science can be
misused; I believe that sociobiology has much more potential for improving
the quality of human life than for harming it. For example, consider the
propensity we have, as human beings, for societies organized into political
structures with an all-powerful charismatic ruler. I suggest that this
tendancy is latent in our social instincts, and special cultural training
is required to avoid lapsing into such a political system. It is very easy
for people to get swept-up into mob-type support for a Duce/Fuhrer/Big Man
society; by casting a bright light on such tendancies, sociobiology has the
potential to give us more conscious control over our political systems.

>The popular interest in sociobiology stems from its perceived power to
>explain and justify behavior. In giving certain behaviors the imprimatur
>of "instinct," sociobiology offers a sense of order, a "human nature,"
>which is every bit as deterministic as the one proffered by Christianity.

And yet, we find an enormous variety of social systems. It seems to me that
sociobiology teaches just the opposite: that humans are extremely flexible,
and can adapt to any environment. Our various cultures reflect varying
adaptations to different conditions. In this era of rapid change, any tool
which helps us adapt more quickly and successfully should be welcomed.

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf