Re: culture as gene-flow regulator: the arunta

Robert Snower (
Tue, 17 Sep 1996 23:13:48 GMT (Gerold Firl) wrote:

>Subincision, in this view, would be a method by which the incidence of
>marital impregnation would be minimized. Since semen is not ejaculated
>against the cervix, birth control can be achieved very reliably. In
>female-superior positions, fertilization can be easily avoided.

I am a fan of the sociobiological approach to hypothesizing about the
nature of prehistoric culture, using as empirical data the items of
culture which give evidence of very ancient origin. I think the most
successful effort of this kind was that of Shapiro's _The Sociobiology
of Homo Sapiens_(1978).

It is his thesis that mutilation of male genitalia is one one of these
items of ancient culture. The specific kind of mutilation is not all
that important. To try and give a different interpretation to each
brand--circumcision, piercing, etc., misses the saliency of the
general phenonmenon, which is so widespread, and survives today in so
many metaphorical forms--ritual, mythological, literary,

Equally universal as an ancient item of culture is totemism. What the
totem happens to be, and other specifics, are relatively unimportant.

A third almost universal item of prehistoric culture is the worship
of their dead--ancestor worship.

The adaptive value of all of these is the same, i.e., they show the
same teleology: the origination of society itself, the creation of
the cooperative group from out of a precedent competitive situation
where cooperation was limited to the nuclear family. Cooperation on a
larger scale is enormously adaptive because of the potential it holds
for the specialization and division of labor, and the practical
consequences thereof.

Cooperation (altruism) automatically changes selection on the
individual level to selection on the group level, and that was the
result of, and the significance of prehistoric culture. The ancient
tribes were very collectivist, each being itself a unit of selection,
in competition with others. Collectivism yielded great competitive
advantage over its alternative.

So totemism, worship of the dead, ritual circumcision were the
primordial devices of social collectivism.

Totemism: kinship is the sociobiological construct which generates
altruism--cooperation. Totemism is a "fictive kinship:" extending
kinship to those who are not necessarily even related, as is in fact
the case in many "ancient" kinship systems. Totemism is thus a social
construct--an imaginary kinship. With great adaptive value. It, and
an alternative device, ancestor worship, are the bases of kinship
systems, whose adaptive value is in their expansion of the
cohesiveness of kinship.

Ritual circumcision, etc: the competition of natural selection on the
individual level is, in the final analysis, a sexual competition,
that for reproductive success. Thus, the process of natural selection
in the conventional mode renders cooperation beyond the nuclear family
impossible. Altruism, group selection, was a great problem for
Darwin. Sociobiology, with Hamilton's inclusive fitness, solved that
problem in the case of insects. For insects it was solved by a
biological infertility (of the workers). In Homo sapiens it was
solved by an imaginary infertility--a social construct: ritual
circumcision. It doesn't matter that you are not really infertile, or
really not kinfolk. That is the amazing thing about social
constructs. Sexual competition became bad, collectivism became good.

The markers of prehistoric culture are the above. As prehistoric
culture represents the denial of selection on the individual level;
historic (literate) culture, in turn, represents a denial of
prehistoric cultural. A rebirth of individualism. Western culture
is its main exponent. But Western cullture is not a return to natural
selection on the individual level, to the old sexually based
competition, obviously.

Best wishes. R. Snower