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1995 Dark Nature,
Hodder & Stoughton, London. ISBN0-340-61788-8
NOTE: This extract is included as an essential reading for transforming the world. You are requested to purchase the book yourself as it is, without question, essential reading material.
Extract from: The Ethology of Evil
The first knowledge we gained from that tree in the garden was carnal knowledge, and this more than anything else has made us what we are. What we are is human. And professional students of humanity, anthropologists, make much of the differences between the customs and rituals of various races and tribes. But what strikes a biologist most forcibly is how much alike we all are, how closely we conform to patterns typical of our species.
Zoologist Matt Ridley, in his comprehensive and elegant summary of the role of sex in human evolution, puts his finger right on this crucial pulse with the observation that: 'Human culture could be very much more varied and surprising than it is. Our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, live in promiscuous societies in which females seek as many sexual partners as possible and a male will kill the infants of strange females with whom he has not mated. There is no human society that remotely resembles this particular pattern. 321 Why not? There easily could be. Our intellect and versatility could probably find ways of justifying it. We can talk ourselves into almost anything, and are particularly fond of solutions for which there is historic precedent. But the fact is that we are also strangely constrained. Part of this is purely anatomical. We are ill-equipped for rampant promiscuity, having testicles far smaller than most chimpanzees.
Polygyny, a social arrangement in which dominant males gather more than one breeding female, is the usual solution to reproduction in most of the animal kingdom. It remains the norm for three-quarters of the human species, but it has had to be modified for our use because of the relatively small difference in size between our sexes. A 600-pound silver-backed male gorilla can hold up to a dozen 150-pound females in respectful thrall. But a 150-pound human male has to compensate for his lack of physical presence by other subterfuges. A lucky few build harems based on wealth and position. Atahualpa, Sun King of the Incas, is said to have retained 1,500 women at his pleasure in each of several houses set up at strategic points in his kingdom. Any man who challenged his hegemony and exclusive access to these women was punished by being put to death, along with all his family, friends, fellow villagers and llamas. Such excess, which condemned most other Inca men to celibacy, was obviously highly unstable. The usual human solution has been a more restrained one. One sanctioned by tradition and tribal custom and given sanctity by law. Polygamy is our answer, an arrangement in which some males still gather more than one breeding female, but give each one formal protection by a contract of marriage. Such agreements have come to be questioned, but continue to thrive wherever each wife of a rich and successful man is going to be better off, more likely to reproduce well, than if she were the single wife of a poor and unsuccessful man. Which woman, it has been suggested, would not rather have been John Kennedy's second wife than Lee Harvey Oswald's first? In Africa, polygamy is so common still that many states even recognise a first wife's primacy, giving her legal right to seventy per cent of her late husband's wealth. But in most of the first world, where it is now illegal to have more than one wife, such statutes arrived on the books not so much to protect women's rights as to protect men, the majority of men, who might otherwise be unable to find a mate themselves. The institution itself is not un-biological and not even necessarily unattractive, even in the twentieth century. In Mormon Utah, where polygamy is still practised by complicity, without automatic interference from the law, there are said to be compelling social factors not least of which is the possibility of reliable home help with child care that make plural marriage 'very attractive indeed to the modern career woman'.157 One of our close relatives has gone to the other extreme. Gibbon groups are confined to two adults, a pair practising monogamous fidelity in isolation from others of their kind, keeping contact with, but at the same time maintaining distance from, the rest of their species by elaborate defensive songs or duets. 'We are the Hoolocks, and this is where we live, but we would rather you didn't drop by.' We could have made the same choice, but we didn't, and this time the constraints were largely social and psychological.
Our peculiar history does invite pair-bonding and territoriality, but we were also once pack hunters, vegetarians turned carnivore, foragers who shared food and mounted a collective defence, and this cooperative experience, which has filled ninety-eight per cent of our human history, has left its marks on our minds and in our genes. Our human culture continues to be directly affected by our animal origins. We value our privacy, but also share our private spaces with family and friends. We have a natural tendency to be gregarious, even outside the home and the important part this plays in our lives, the degree to which we still take every opportunity to join groups, clubs, societies and other associations, shows how new and artificial we find the advertiser's dream of the nuclear family in a 'single-family home'. The human mating system is complex. As individuals, and more commonly in the last few generations, we tend to do more or less what we want. But collectively, there is still a pattern. There is a disposition towards monogamy and long-term bonding, which leans on a tendency we have to pair, even if only 'for the sake of the children'. There is also, however, a tendency, particularly amongst males, to stray beyond the confines of the bond, taking additional wives where this is allowed or can be afforded; and to indulge in adultery as frequently as custom and circumstances will permit. Such behaviour obviously can be disruptive, but it has very deep biological roots.
Sex, like life itself, is assymetric. There is a basic inequality involved in it which begins with the relative size and value of the sperm and the egg. A man produces several hundred million sperm a day. A woman just one egg a month, perhaps 400 in a lifetime, fewer gametes than her mate makes every second. A sperm is just one five-hundredth of an inch long, and most of this is tail. The business part, the head which contains twenty-three chromosomes with 75,000 genes, is an order of magnitude smaller, perhaps one five-thousandth of an inch in diameter. The volume of the egg is 85,000 times greater, holding its twenty-three chromosomes in greater safety, and with astonishing patience. A woman's lifetime supply of eggs are poised, stacked up in the ovaries from the moment of her birth, ready and waiting for their turn to travel to a rendezvous in the Fallopian tube. In the economic language of genetic fitness, women may be described as living on capital. Sexually speaking, they have no income. While men are entrepreneurs, starting each new enterprise with nothing, producing what they need, taking risks or taking out loans, as necessary. Women spend an average of 266 days internally nurturing babies that are enormous and highly invasive compared with the offspring of most other primates. Men become biological fathers in as many seconds. Men can increase their fitness by having additional mates and many children. Women are tied, usually, to having one child at a time and in a more restricted period of their lives. But women also enjoy the advantage of knowing for sure who their offspring are, and can engage all their energies in the process of child-rearing with absolute confidence. Whereas men are far less likely to know without doubt who their closest kin may be, and therefore find it that much more difficult to bond with them. 198 These differences alone are sufficient to have produced a distance between our sexes, who necessarily now have very different interests and genetic strategies. One sex has a large investment to protect and looks for quality and stability. The other has little to lose and tends to be far more interested in quantity and variety. So it pays males to be aggressive, hasty, fickle and undiscriminating. They pounce, they generally make the first moves and are more ardent in them. While it is more profitable for females to be coy, to find out as much as possible in advance and to wait and see what happens. They play hard to get and play for time by flirting. All moves with a sound grounding in evolutionary psychology. Genes which allow females to be less inhibited leave fewer copies of themselves than genes which persuade them to remain highly selective. Amongst males, the best strategy is exactly the opposite one. The maximum advantage goes to those males with the fewest inhibitions. 'Love 'em and leave 'em' is not so much a nasty piece of male chauvinist piggery as an accurate reflection of biological reality. In a very real sense, each sex still finds it pays to use the other as a vital resource.
Men are a little like selfish genes, looking for convenient vehicles to carry their inheritance into the next generation. Women are more cautious, like canny investors or developers, seeing men as inconvenient sources of a seminal substance that is nevertheless necessary to realise the potential of their precious nest eggs. These bald descriptions sell both sexes short, but the two who differ so widely in interest and intent are bound to have different agendas and a conflict of interest. The fact that they manage to agree on anything at all is miraculous. Yet they do. Naked apes fall in love, form pair bonds and become sexually imprinted on a single partner largely thanks to a radical change in the duration of female receptivity. Women still only ovulate at one point in their monthly cycles, but they can become sexually aroused at any time. The vast majority of matings in our species now have little or nothing to do with reproduction and everything to do with sociality and bonding. We are the sexiest of all the primates and though this may sometimes seem like a recent, decadent development, it is worth remembering that it has been this way for millions of years. It has had time to give rise not only to a splendid variety of courtship and pre-copulatory rituals and ceremonies, but to a mind-boggling array of sex-linked aberrations and pathologies. The forbidden fruit was one of the sweet-and-sour variety, filled with the flavours of good and evil, sex as well as sin. And one of the consequences of having come up with something so, pleasant and rewarding has been that some people will do almost anything to get more of it. Agriculture helped. Farming introduced a new factor into a society of happy-go-lucky foragers. It produced what Lionel Tiger and Michael Fox (wonderfully apt names for a pair of life scientists concerned with our carnivorous heritage) have called 'the great leap backward', separating us from the symmetries and satisfactions of the hunting-gathering way of life. 379 Cultivation created a surplus of food, storable food, and this opened the way for one man, rather than the whole group, to gain control of such a store. And all of a sudden, over a relatively short span of time in historic terms, instead of being democratic sharers, some humans became autocratic owners. They accumulated sufficient resources to buy the favours of others, and if these resources were reliable enough, they came to need no favours in return at least of other men. Wealth, even of seeds or sheep, produced power. Power made it possible for some men to practise simple politics, to get others to do their bidding. And power, as Henry Kissinger once observed, is a great aphrodisiac.
Men throughout human history have certainly been quick to treat power, not simply as an end in itself, but as a means to sexual and reproductive success. Laura Betzig, one of a new breed of Darwinian historians, set out to discover whether human sexual adaptations have been exploited to give individuals a selective advantage - and discovered that this is one of our most predictable traits. 36 In all six of the great independent civilisations of early history, the rulers, always men, were despots who translated their power directly into extraordinary sexual productivity. That word 'productivity', usually used in an industrial sense, is totally appropriate here. Each emperor established a carefully controlled breeding machine, designed and dedicated to nothing more than the rapid spread and dominance of his own genes. Hammurabi of Babylon had thousands of slave 'wives'. Akhenaton, Egyptian pharaoh and husband of the gorgeous Nefertiti, was driven nevertheless to recruit at least 317 concubines. Montezuma, the last Aztec ruler, enjoyed the favours of 4,000 young women. Several of the Tang dynasty emperors in China demanded access to a minimum of 10,000 teenage girls. Udayama of India kept 16,000 consorts in palaces ringed by fire and guarded by eunuchs. And all of these rulers ran their gene machines in much the same way, recruiting pre-pubertal girls, pampering them under heavy guard, and servicing them as often as possible - sometimes even complaining of such onerous 'duties'. 'Me measures adopted certainly seem to bear out the claim of duty rather than pleasure, but in a survey of 104 other societies, Betzig found that even when such super-polygamy was not being practised, there was always a direct correlation between power and sexual activity. She noted that: 'In almost every case, power predicts the size of a man's harem.' One hundred women for a small king, 1,000 for a great one. It is tempting to wonder where in this major league table -to put American Presidents. Roman emperors made no secret of their prowess, though their biographers often rendered token disapproval. Julius Caesar's affairs were described as 'extravagant', those of Tiberius as 'worthy of an oriental tyrant'. The wives of Claudius and Augustus collaborated in finding virgins to satisfy their husband's 'criminal lusts'. But Nero had to cater to his own peculiar desires, setting up a row of temporary brothels along the shore whenever he had occasion to leave home and travel on duty down the Tiber. And whenever there was an epidemic of young male slaves freed in Rome with surprisingly large endowments, it was widely accepted that these were the offspring of female slaves recognised as illegitimate sons by noble fathers forced to pay the price for following the example of their rulers. 37 And if such practices are only to be expected of the 'decadent' Orient or seen to be symptomatic of the decline and fall of ancient Rome, it is interesting to learn that sex and power were just as firmly entangled in Christendom. Census reports from France and England in the Middle Ages show a very heavy bias in favour of women working as employees in manor houses, chateaux, castles and even monasteries. Nominally, these were serving maids of various kinds, but contemporary accounts make it quite clear that they formed a loose sort of harem, in some cases even living in apartments affectionately known as gynoecia, a term now more commonly used to describe the female parts of a flower. 38 The consequence of sexual despotism in all these instances is precisely the same. The genes of a minority, self-selected by wealth and position, spread rapidly through the population. Male power was being traded for female reproductive potential, giving each child the possible advantage of genetic friends in high places. There is even a name for it: hypergyny, the practice of mating upward on the social scale. It is usually limited to women, because they are more often treated by men as a limiting resource, as valued property. Men pursue and acquire, while women are protected and bartered. And powerful men can afford the most energetic pursuit and the sometimes high cost of acquisition. Those who have, get ... The result for poor, lower class, working men or people of peasant stock, however, was disastrous. In the Middle Ages they seldom married before middle age and sometimes never at all. And even when they did marry, it was often the right by custom of the lord of that manor to spend the wedding night with the bride. Droit de seigneur was a cunning, cost-free and biologically totally appropriate way of enhancing the lord's fitness. No community, as far as I know, ever practised droit de la madame. Sleeping with the groom could only harm the lady of the manor's fitness. It was disastrous for Lady Chatterley and her lover. If a poor man ever had any premarital or extramarital sexual experience, it was more usually with a prostitute, or in other circumstances which carried the danger of disease and a further reduction in his health and situation. A 'vicious' circle indeed - in the true sense of being both morally evil and injurious. Female prostitution is a special kind of polygyny. An honest one in the sense that payment is made directly for an acknowledged service. When sex is sold, it is usually men who do the buying. The judgements which are made of the sellers, the ones vilified as 'whores and harlots', are harsh, but not unexpectedly so from a biological point of view. One can almost hear the genes speaking in condemnation of those who abandon their valuable reproductive investment to strangers - unless the price is right.
Female chimps are less likely to be fickle. Their coalitions are long lasting and relatively independent of status and kinship. They seem to be more concerned with establishing and keeping a set of solid relationships with a small, selective circle of friends, and a few more clearly defined enemies. They make friends and forgive enemies less easily than the males. 'Over the years,' says de Waal, 'I have gained the impression that each female in the Arnhem colony has one or two absolute enemies, with whom reconciliation is simply out of the question.' He points out that, in many instances of apparent male aggression, which were once scored that way, closer examination of the context reveals that the action was actually instigated by a female in pursuit of a long-standing grudge of her own.
Franz de Wa'al Peacemaking among primates, Harvard University
(The world renowned ape sociobiologist and investigator of the Bonobo)