Re: Biocultural Evolution

John A. Giacobbe (Catalinus@AOL.COM)
Thu, 28 Sep 1995 20:02:44 -0400

To Mr. Ascione and the list folks,
Hello. I apologize for the delay in responding, but I have been out in
the field for
several days. Mr. Ascione recently mentioned several excellent questions
about the
place of altruistic and homosexual behaviors in a cultural evolutionary
theory. First, I
would have to start by saying the two would have to be dealt with separately.
role of altruistic behaviors has been considered extensively by the animal
bevahioralists, and my take on their work is that these apparently selfish
that seem to lack any value in fitness, can be ascribed some level of fitness
their benefit to the local gene pool, in which one would be likely to have
ones own
genes in. That is, if I was a member of a group of early humans, while my
may not be my direct descendants, they will very likely have a good portion
of their
genes in common with mine. So if I help them out, and they prosper and
then some part of my selfish genes will succeed. This is a bigtime
paraphrase, but
the idea should be clear.
While I am not overly excited about this position, it does make
intuitive sense,
and I find it easily extended to the human cultural situation. In humans,
the adaptive
strategy appears to focus around the group, and fitness may be largely
measured as
the success of the group, in that if the group is successful, the individual
will generally
be successful enough to pass on their genes. Altruistic behaviors, like
other human
communal behaviors such as large-scale agriculture and water control systems,
function to increase the fitness of a group. If the group succeeds, then the
majority of
that groups genes will continue to persist in the gene pool, even as an
individuals may
not entirely do so.
I think we must consider that culture has moved the unit of selection
from the
individual to the group. While this does not appear to apply to modern
systems, in that their extreme population mobility and the overall size of
the practically
accessible gene pool may act to obviate typical selection processes.
With regard to homosexual behavior, that is a tricky one. To ascribe
any fitness
benefit to this is purely speculation, but we may look to one of our cousins,
Bonobos (Pan paniscus), to see that they appear to use all sexual behaviors,
homosexual ones, to act as a form of societal glue. That is, sexual
expression of any
kind is a positive influence on a community, certainly as opposed to violent
aggressive behaviors, and that this may also be a form of behavioral
amelioration of
the tension developing from sexual competition. Homosexual behavior may act
release sexual tension (and other societal tensions) without interfering with
pecking order of reproductive access. This may be totally off the wall, but
again it has
some intuitive appeal to me, anyway.
Mr Ascione also mentioned the place of tolerance to variation as a
successful adaptive strategy. I think this is an excellent point to
consider, and one
that I had not previously. One of the attributes of a successful
progression is a lineage that is genetically flexible. That is, if a lineage
variation, when the time comes for the need for alternate forms, that lineage
may have
access to them. An overspecialized lineage which tolerates little variation
will not be
able to access the needed variation when the environment changes, as it
always does
if you wait long enough. I realize this argument is a might anthropomorphic,
and I am
not suggesting that lineages access variation on a conscious basis, but, post
this is the way it appears to occur. I would invite more comment on this

Thanks for your time,

John A. Giacobbe
Western Archaeological Services, Inc.