If someone you love has tuberculosis, you can’t prevent her death by treating the symptoms.
You can give her suppressants to prevent the bloody coughing fits; you can give her ice baths to keep her fever from reaching the point of delirium. You can do dietary analysis to determine the nutrients her body is losing and give her supplements, to reduce the amount of ‘consumption’ of her body’s resources the disease causes.
But the coughing, fevers, and consumption are not diseases and treating them won’t cure her. These are only signs, symptoms, that tell us that there is something wrong with her body. If you leave the underlying cause in place, she will die. The disease will kill her.
The symptoms are not diseases. They are the signs that tell us that we need to look for the disease. Destroying them has no more effect on the disease than tearing down a road sign that ways ‘cross traffic ahead’ will have on the traffic. It will still be there, you will won’t know it is there until it kills you.
If you want to save your loved one, you need to understand the difference between a ‘disease’ and ‘symptoms.’ You need to understand and accept that there is a disease. You need to figure out the exact structural differences between her diseased state and the state she was in before the symptoms appeared, so that you can restore that state.
We were born into societies that have incredibly serious problems, including war, rape of the world around us, toxins pouring into the atmosphere in high enough amounts to change the climate, and immense poverty in the face of such incredible overproduction that governments around the world pay farmers not to produce and buy food, put it onto barges, and sink them to the bottom of the sea to balance supply and demand. The problems seem like they are separate diseases. They cause pain for the human race and will eventually cause death for our race. But they are not diseases at all. They are symptoms, signs that tell us that the ‘modes of existence’ or ‘societies’ now in place can’t meet the needs of our race.
The Game of War
Consider the most pressing problem: war. War is a not an unusual event that shocks us when it comes. We don’t say things like ‘this society was functioning totally smoothly and without a problem until this crazy event happened; how could such a wonderfully designed system have such activities?
War does not shock us. We expect it. We can see it coming years and, in some cases, decades in advance. The events that lead to it are normal and natural parts of the systems we have around us. Because war is so common, we follow events in ongoing wars almost as if they are plays in a giant team sports event. The planet is divided for game play. The teams are the entities we call ‘countries.’
How many teams are in this game? Different record keepers have different numbers. One widely respected keeper of statistics on the different teams is the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States (the CIA), which keeps a database on all of the entities the CIA considers to be ‘countries.’ The list contains 234 entries as I write this, but the number changes almost daily.
Many of the entities the CIA recognizes as countries, with recognized rights to play in the game of war, are not considered to be countries by most of the other record keepers. Kosovo, for example, is on the list and recognized by the CIA. This country is entirely inside of the borders of another country, ‘Serbia.’ The Serbian government considers this land to be part of Serbia and claims it is not a country at all, but is an occupied part of the sovereign territory of Serbia.
The Serbian government has never recognized Kosovo as a country, and more than 100 other countries, including the great powerhouses of the world—India, China, Russia, and Brazil—do not consider Kosovo to be a country either.
There are a lot of examples like this. In many cases, the teams are recognized, but the official league statistics that determine how much land each has conquered are in dispute. Of the 234 entities the CIA recognizes as countries, 190 of them have border disputes: they disagree with each other about which team has won certain territory. In many cases, there are wars inside their countries (often called, ‘civil wars,’ as if organized mass murder events could ever be called ‘civilized activities’) to resolve these disputes.
There are also a very large number of groups—estimated to be about 3,000—that claim to be unique nationalities with national identities and legitimate rights to be countries and play in the leagues. They are fighting in various parts of the world to carve off the land that they claim belongs to their teams. These teams will become ‘countries’ as soon as they have gained military control of land and official ‘recognition’ by the key keepers of league records.
Usually, these nationalist groups fail in their attempts to take land. They are overpowered by the nation that currently controls the land they are trying to take. The groups protecting the land call these groups ‘terrorist groups’ and try to destroy them, often using brutal methods.
Sometimes, the nationalist groups win. They become new ‘countries.’ They then have to muscle themselves into the leagues with established players. Brutality can give teams an advantage in this sport and the new teams are sometimes so brutal that they can stun established players. Some of them eventually become major players in the global sport called ‘war.’
From one perspective, it all seems arbitrary, like a bunch of gorillas fighting over rights to a patch of banana trees. From another perspective, however, it is deadly serious: these gorillas have nuclear bombs, ‘forever’ toxins that are far more deadly than any natural poisons and will kill and kill until nothing is left alive, and DNA altering weapons that can kill every living thing that has a certain protein. They have billions of different kinds of bullets, each designed for a specific killing task, rockets that can send nuclear bombs into space to orbit the earth until needed, and submarines that can hide under the waves for years, each with the capability to destroy entire continents.
Organized mass murder is the strong suit of the ape-men that you see around you. We understand it very well. But there is giant hole in our understanding. We don’t understand why we are drawn to this sport and why it is an all consuming obsession. We don’t seem to have devoted any real thought to the aspects of the world that push what otherwise seem like intelligent beings to divide into teams, identify ‘territory’ that will be that team’s territory, then fight the members of other groups using the most powerful weapons and most deadly tactics they can find over silly things like the locations of the imaginary lines.
Perhaps if we knew how the system that the human race has now came to exist, we might be able to understand this. What was the first time that people divided themselves into teams to fight over which team had the rights to each square inch of land on earth? What were the forces that pushed them to do this?
Did certain people—at one point in the distant past—analyze different ways to organize society, decide that the team-based competitive model was the best option, and vote it into place? If so, who were these people and why did they decide on this option?
If not—if there were no human engineers for this system—how, exactly, did this conflict based team sport that uses mass murder as its primary play come into existence?
I propose that we evolved from lower animals. These animals organized their behaviors a certain way to adapt to the environmental conditions around them. In some cases, nature needed these conflicts and created social organizations that were built on them. I propose that we evolved from beings that had these social organizations. The societies that we have around us now are not intentional creations of any being. They are animal systems that are appropriate for animals but not appropriate for technologically sophisticated thinking beings with physical needs.
We inherited them. So far, we don’t seem to have taken the time to question whether we wanted this inheritance.
Let’s consider this issue now.
Let’s start with the basic operating principles of these societies, see why nature needs some animals to have societies with these principles, then look at the way it got passed down to us.
The Principle of Group Territoriality
All animals have instincts that make them want to survive.
This has to be true: if a species came to exist that didn’t have these instincts, it wouldn’t care for itself or do the things necessary to perpetuate its species. It would disappear almost immediately.
In practice, some species survive, some perish. Nature determines which will survive and perish by a kind of trial and error. The animals try different things to get the things they need and to create conditions that will allow them to reproduce and perpetuate their species.
Other animals (other than humans) don’t use logic, reason, and scientific analysis to figure out how to make this happen. Humans are the only animals that have the capability to organize thoughts intentionally. The other animals have to use trial and error. Certain behaviors get them food but expose them to danger. Others leave them safe but hungry. They must find a balance. Nature is not going to guide them through the process. It rewards those who succeed with full bellies and babies that grow up to replace them, and punishes those who fail with death.
Different things work in different conditions. Animals face different environmental conditions. They must adapt their behaviors to their environment or they perish. In some environmental conditions, well-organized aggressiveness and murderous violence provides advantages. If the environmental conditions favor these behaviors, eventually some animals will for mass murder and violence. Nature will reward them with the grand prize: they can continue to exist. They will have a niche in the environment as long as the environmental conditions remain the same and they remain the same.
Wolves provide a good example here. Wolves live in areas where prey is abundant. They organize t kill prey that are much larger than they are. Normally, they isolate their prey, chase them to weaken them, and then send in specialized killers (who have been kept in rested condition while the others prepared the victim for death) for the kill. Then, they can all share in the feast. The pack is large and a kill only lasts a single feeding. They need to do the same thing every day. They perfect their techniques over time and get very good at their jobs.
Wolves don’t just kill the species that they intend to eat.
They kill other wolves too.
Each territory can only support a very limited number of predators. Each wolf pack has its own territory. If the pack members let wolves who were not from their pack hunt in their territory, their territory wouldn’t have enough food to support their pack.
They need to keep outsiders out.
They do this in a highly deliberate and well organized way. They create borders and mark them with scent markers from a special gland that has evolved to help them identify their territory. (This tells us that the system required a very long time to develop; it takes a long time for new glands to evolve.) The scent markers fade over time, so the members of the pack have to walk the borders constantly and replenish them, so outsiders can identify the places where they will be attacked if they enter. If the wolves on border patrol detect outsiders (members of their species that are not members of their pack) that are moving in ways that indicate they may want to violate their borders, they organize attacks.
When they attack, they are fanatically aggressive and show no mercy whatever. They kill and kill and kill. They love their own puppies and will often give their own lives to protect them. But they tear the puppies of their enemies to pieces if they find them. They aren’t fair in their battles, attempting to create equal strength on the two different sides so have ‘proportional responses.’ They use any strategy they can to kill every last member of the packs that they see as threats.
They are doing battle against trained, skilled, and very well organized enemies. They may not win. If they lose, they will be killed and their bodies torn to pieces and scattered around the battlefield. Of course, we don’t know what feelings and emotions wolves have, but we may anthropomorphize a little and speculate that there must be come chemicals their glands produce that cause them to have something similar to what we call ‘feelings.’ They don’t want to die. (All animals must have a survival instinct.) They don’t want to feel pain. (Dogs clearly feel pain.) They have worked their entire lives to gain social status in their packs. If they die, all the effort they put into gaining status, preferential feeding and breeding rights, and preferential rights for places to sleep, will be wasted. They have loved ones, sisters, brothers, mothers, and others who depend on them for support. If they are killed, they can’t hunt and provide for their pack members, including those they cuddle with at night. All these feelings tell them to protect their own lives.
But another feeling tells them to make the sacrifice. We might call this feeling ‘loyalty’ or ‘love of pack’ or ‘the dog equivalent of ‘patriotism.’ This feeling conflicts with their fear of pain and death. Nature resolves the difference over time. If animals can’t or won’t sacrifice their lives to protect the territory of their pack (if they aren’t patriotic enough), their pack won’t have a territory and will disappear. Self sacrifice is a requirement of survival for wolf packs. They must put the needs of their pack above their own needs, or the pack will not survive.
Nature creates this loyalty (or patriotism or whatever we may call it), and makes sure it is strong enough to allow the pack to destroy its enemies, even if the great majority of the members have to die in the process.
It is important that you realize that there is no intention behind any of this. Wolves don’t discuss their situation, decide that they need to go to war and make sacrifices, then talk among themselves to determine which of them will die and which will live. Only humans have the capability to use intentional analysis and reason.
Wolves don’t do this. They do form into packs that are tightly knit and loyal. They do divide themselves in ways that allow them to carry out different roles in a complex attempt to wipe out other packs in order to take their territory. They do sacrifice themselves for the good of the pack. But they don’t do this because they have discussed the options and decided its what they want to.
Evolutionary researchers use the term ‘group territoriality’ to refer to the principle discussed above. The animals divide their population into groups, each of which has a territory. Each group then secures the territory so the group can have exclusive rights to all the food and other resources it contains and produces. (In human societies, we use the term ‘sovereignty over land’ to refer to the exclusive rights to it. You could say the wolves are fighting to get sovereignty over land.) Its members treat that land as if it belongs to them. They treat it as if the some being above them (a god perhaps) made it for them and then gave it to them.
Evolutionary science is a young field. We do know that societies evolve, but we don’t know much about the way this process works. This is important information and I think it makes senses to get some ideal why our information on the way societies come to exist and change over tim—and information about evolution in eneral—is so limited.
Until very recently, the organizations that ran important events on earth and determined the things people were allowed to study didn’t want people to study or even think about evolution. The people who run nations want their people to devote their time and attention to meeting the needs of the nation, including the need to gain advantages over other nations. The people who run nations want people to be emotional about certain issues, For example, they want them to accept that the people inside of other nations they want to fight are different than they are and don’t deserve rights or respect: they only deserve the most horrible death the good people of their nations can impose on them.
Logical analysis would tend to make people question these ideas. If people were allowed to accept scientific information regarding where humans came from, the scientific perspective might spill over into the rest of their analysis. The governments that need people to hate with white-hot passion and be willing to support organized mass murder will find it much harder to keep people from questioning the messages that are designed to create these feelings.
The government strategists prefer that people keep their hatred pure. This is much harder to do when people use science regularly to answer important questions, including ‘how did we get here?’.
Many of the people who ran the entities that ran the nations simply banned all books in the field. These same entities, governments, determine what schools can teach children. They didn’t allow this field to be taught. Some went farther than this and put teachers in jail if they told young people that the field even existed.
Teachers didn’t like these rules . If people were doing research that gave us solid and scientific answers to key questions about how the world works, they wanted to be able to pass this information on to their students. They fought the bans and eventually managed to get most of the laws against teaching the field overturned.
But they didn’t win a total victory. The leaders of the governments could still do a great deal to limit the way the field was taught. Schools couldn’t teach it the same way they taught fields like chemistry or physics, where students had to accept the scientific conclusions as facts to pass the tests and weren’t able to question them and still pass and get credentials.
. When I went to school, I was told that evolution wasn’t really a science. It was a ‘a highly controversial theory about how we may have possibly come to exist.’ I was told that there was a traditional view that had been accepted for thousands of years. The traditional scientists studied these things and understood them. New people come up with new theories all the time. The term ‘theory’ is another word for ‘guess.’ Some people are guessing that the traditional ideas are wrong. We need to consider their criticism very carefully before we reject it (This is like saying ‘we need to give the spy a fair trial before we shoot him;’ his guilt is presumed in advance and the trial was never anything but a sham to convince outsiders we are fair. The premise is that the ‘theory’ was a silly agues by some outliers that has been reected by all trustworthy scholars.)
Even in the 1800s, the science behind evolution appeared to be rock solid. (Read Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’ and ‘Desent of Man’ and you will see what I mean. It is hard to find a single sentence in either of these books that might be classified as ‘controversial.’ Darwin presents fact after fact after fact, all of which confirm the premise. His many critics could not present any facts to support their case, they could just read out of religious texts.) During the 1900s, the evidence kept piling up. Every new finding confirmed the premise. None contradicted it.
In the 21st century, new technologies allowed scientists to read out the codes in DNA and print them out. They could do these tests on people, animals, plants, bacteria and viruses, including those that were currently living and those that had been dead for any time up to several hundred thousand years.
Scientists began doing research determine exactly how different members of the same species that lived at different times had changed genetically. They determined there were very clear links that were obviously sequential. This provided totally objective information about how different genetic variants built on one another to create change from one species to another.
This was mathematical evidence that evolution was working. Scientists could apply standard mathematical tests to determine how likely it is that his data was caused by something other than evolution. In other words, they can determine the odds against evolution being a ‘theory’ that might be wrong. They did these tests. (For one example, see a formal test of the theory of universal common ancestry.) They found that it is simply not possible to explain the things we see in any way that is even remotely likely to be ccorrect unless evolution was happening.
The evidence mounted that verified evolution. But the pressure to pretend this was simply a ‘theory’ that might pssibly be wrong, not a real science, remained until about the beginning of the 21st century.
At that time, the military became involved. That changed everything.
Military planners thought that it might be possible to make weapons that could kill only certain designated individuals (those with specific DNA profiles) if the weapons makers understood genetics well enough. This might not be possible. But if it was, they couldn’t afford t let their enemies get these weapons first. They had to make sure thehir own countries had well-traind scientists who could look at DNA analysis with the same objectivity that designers of nuclear bombs look at the quantum forces needed to understand nuclear fusion They would have to be objective to make this happen They have to accept that there are certain laws that determine how genetic changes happen over time, and these laws are just as solid as the laws of chemistry and quantum mechanics. If they had been educated in schools that left them thinking that the prp0osed laws in this field were actually just silly theories, they wouldn’t have the right mindset to do this research.
People started to take the field seriously. People can now look for relationships between animals and humans and study them objectively. They can publish the data in respectable peer-reviewed journals. If the results meet scientific standards, they are considered to be facts, not ‘controversial theories.’
All this happened very recently and, as I write this in 2024, is still in progress. But new research is showing that the relationships between humans and other animals are not only not theoretical, they are extremely strong. Roughly 99% of our DNA is a perfect mach with the DNA of chimps and bonobos, our closest surviving evolutionary ancestors. The DNA determines our mental wiring and the way our brains work. Our brains work similar to theirs.
A great deal more than our DNA comes from these animals. We share many aspects of our societies with other animals. We can see evidence of the transfer of societal structures between species the same way we see evidence of the transfer of DNA. If we accept that these societal structures were transferred, we can understand a lot about the realities of human existence that are very hard to understand if we reject this evidence.
We can gain an understanding of ourselves by studying other animals.
Many animals organize themselves around the principle of group territoriality. Some higher primates organize their societies around this principle. Those that do have extremely complex systems to determine which individuals will lead and which will follow, how they will organize their patrols, how they will mark and defend their territory, how the battles will take place, and who will benefit from conquests of territory when their group makes them. People studying these activities in other primates are finding remarkable similarities to the way the same activities work in human societies.
Two Different Types of Primate Societies
Group territoriality societies actually need very strict conditions in place for them to exist. The can’t exist everywhere. If the conditions aren’t right for them to exist, nature doesn’t let them exist. Other societies will evolve that are better suited for the conditions. The beings that organize to adapt to the environmental conditions will have advantages over those that use the unsuitable systems. Their societies may not be territorial or form into the tight-knit loyal groups that group territoriality societies need in any way. In fact, they can work in ways that are basically the opposite, with the individuals sharing and caring and cooperating, all without conflict.
The group territoriality societies work best in what we may call ‘Garden of Eden conditions.’ Chimpanzees live in the most productive lands of tropical Africa. They don’t have to work for their food. It is all around them. They simply reach above them and a ready-to-eat meal appears in their hands. This land is clearly worth fighting over. Animals that don’t fiht over it will be removed by aggressive animals. These animals will compete with others to control the territory and those that are better at fighting will win. They will have the best areas. Groups that don’t fight will not perish, but they won’t get the right to live in the best areas.
In the end, this led to a split in the species that are our closest evolutionary ancestors, called the ‘chimp-bonobo species.’
Lets look first at the way members of this species live in areas that favor the group territoriality societies. The following quote is from a research study by the Institute of Human Origins at the Smithsonian Institution.
When male chimpanzees of the world’s largest known troop patrol the boundaries of their territory in Ngogo, Uganda, they walk silently in single file.
Normally chimps are noisy creatures, but on patrol they’re hard-wired. They sniff the ground and stop to listen for sounds. Their cortisol and testosterone levels are jacked 25 percent higher than normal. Chances of contacting neighboring enemies are high: 30 percent.
Ten percent of patrols result in violent fights where they hold victims down and bite, hit, kick and stomp them to death. The result? A large, safe territory rich with food, longer lives, and new females brought into the group.
Territorial boundary patrolling by chimpanzees is one of the most dramatic forms of collective action in mammals. A new study led by an Arizona State University researcher shows how working together benefits the group, regardless of whether individual chimps patrolled or not.
The team — led by Assistant Professor Kevin Langergraber of ASU’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change and the Institute of Human Origins — examined 20 years of data on who participated in patrols in a 200-member-strong Ngogo community of chimpanzees in Kibale National Park, Uganda. The study was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Chimpanzees are one of the few mammals in which inter-group warfare is a major source of mortality. Chimps in large groups have been reported to kill most or all of the males in smaller groups over periods of months or years, acquiring territory in the process. Territorial expansion can lead to the acquisition of females who bear multiple infants. It also increases the amount of food available to females in the winning group, increasing their fertility.
Chimpanzees are highly intelligent, but they aren’t capable of what’s called “collective intentionality,” which allows humans to have mutual understanding and agreement on social conventions and norms. “They undoubtedly have expectations about how others will behave and, presumably, about how they should behave in particular circumstances, but these expectations presumably are on an individual basis,” Watts said. “They don’t have collectively established and agreed-on social norms.”
Humans can join together in thousands to send men into space or fight global wars or build skyscrapers. Chimpanzees don’t have anywhere near that level of cooperation.
“But this tendency of humans to cooperate in large groups and with unrelated individuals must have started somewhere,” Watts said. “The Ngogo group is very large (about 200 individuals), and the males in it are only slightly more related to one another than to the males in the groups with which they are competing.’
“Perhaps the mechanisms that allow collective action in such circumstances among chimpanzees served as building blocks for the subsequent evolution of even more sophisticated mechanisms later in human evolution.”
The field of primate research in vivo (in a natural setting) is new. For most of history, researchers sent hunters to capture primates, put them in cages and move them to the research facility, then studied them in cages. The first researcher to do any significant ‘in vivo’ studies was Jane Goodall. She was the first to show that primates live a lot differently in nature where they have to adapt to their conditions to survive than they do if they are put in cages and fed every day.
Dr. Goodall has a website where she posts her important research and discusses issues related to in vivo studies of primates. She focuses on chimpanzees. She says that these animals need to be left alone if they are to survive. Even traveling to watch them (as ‘eco-tourists’ do) changes the way they live in ways that place them more at risk.
She was the first to describe the behavior of the chimps in vivo, and the first to show how closely their behavior resembles the warlike behavior of humans. When she first published this information, other researchers didn’t believe her. (She had no letters after her name at the time, and credentialed researchers generally don’t take non-credentialed people seriously.) They thought she was projecting: she saw wars in human communities and wanted to make it appear they took place in chimp communities also, to attract attention to her work. So, she made up stories of their wars. Credentialed researchers started doing work to discredit her findings. They tried very hard to do this but couldn’t: They found that her analysis was scientific and objective and she was describing things that were actually happening.
Goodall showed that the chimps live in what she calls ‘monopolizable patches’ of land in tropical Africa. These lands are very rich and productive. In these areas, the days are the same length and same temperature all year long: there are no seasons. Fruit ripens each day. The areas where chimps live are the richest of all. They don’t have to hunt for areas where food may be and then gather it. If they get hungry they reach out and dinner will be there, hanging on the tree beside them.
Chimp troops ‘monopolize’ their territory, which means they don’t allow any members of their species that are not members of their troops to benefit from the existence of anything in their territory. Not all land can be monopolized, for practical reasons. One example from her research shows why this is true:
The troop she has studied the most has a territory of about 2,000 acres. There are about 150 chimps in this troop, including immature individuals (children). The territorial border is about 7.5 miles long. It takes the border patrol chimps about 4-5 hours to compete a circuit, if they don’t encounter any problems that delay them. This leaves them enough time to go back to their homes, feed, groom, and even to take a bath if they want (chimps do this commonly). If they live in a territory this size, they can do this every day.
Chimps are ‘homebodies’ as the Smithsonian quote points out. They are comfortable when they are ‘at home.’ The land outside of their territory is unknown. It is full of dangers (That is where their enemies live.) They are not comfortable when they are not at hime.
The chimps wouldn’t be go home every night if they lived in a larger territory. If it takes more than ¾ of all daylight hours to do a patrol, there won’t be time to get back home, to feed, to take care of their personal grooming, and then sleep where they feel comfortable and safe. They need to eat and keep themselves clean to remain healthy. If they don’t have time to do the things they need to remain healthy, they aren’t going to be healthy and won’t be as good in fights as healthy chimps. If they can’t win fights, they will be torn to pieces in the conflicts with their bodies scattered around the battlefield They would be less likely to keep their territory if they tried to control a larger territory. Nature balances it out. A certain territory works. They have found the balance.
This 2000 acre territory produces enough food, all year long, year after year, to support 150 chimps. This is how many are in their troop. (The exact number changes of course, over time, but this is the average.) The troop is at war constantly and a great many chimps die in these battles. (This is one of the highest, and often the highest, cause of mortality in the subspecies.) A lot of their members die.
But this works out for them. They make just enough healthy babies to replace those killed in war and that die by other causes. Over the long run, the birth rates inside the territory (the chimp ‘country’) match the death rates, allowing the population inside that county to remain stable. Nature has found a way to create a subspecies that can live in a stable and sustainable way in these rich areas. The organized mass murder keeps their population stable.
The Other Kind of Society (Bonobo Societies)
Bonobos have a different habitat than chimps. They don’t live in areas they most fight to keep They are cowardly: If they find evidence of a border that might indicate a protected area, they run away. They live entirely differently than chimps. In fact, they live so differently, that scientists never even considered that they might be the same species as chimps when they first studied them. The chimps were murderous, politically and socially hierarchical, territorial, and organized for violent wars. The bonobos were generous, kind, tolerant, and didn’t have any tendency to form into loyal groups or mark territory at all.
The following quote is also from the Institute of Human Origins at the Smithsonian. It deals with the societies of bonobos:
Humans display a capacity for tolerance and cooperation among social groups that is rare in the animal kingdom, our long history of war and political strife notwithstanding. But how did we get that way?
Scientists believe bonobos might serve as an evolutionary model. The endangered primates share 99 percent of their DNA with humans and have a reputation for generally being peace-loving and sexually active—researchers jokingly refer to them “hippie apes.” And interactions between their social groups are thought to be much less hostile than among their more violent cousins, the chimpanzees.
Some, however, have challenged this because of a lack of detailed data on how these groups work and how they separate themselves. A new study led by Harvard primatologists Liran Samuni and Martin Surbeck on the social structure of bonobos may begin to fill in some of the blanks.
The research, published in PNAS, shows that four neighboring groups of bonobos they studied at the Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve in the Democratic Republic of Congo maintained exclusive and stable social and spatial borders between them, showing they are indeed part of distinct social groups that interact regularly and peacefully with each other.
“It was a very necessary first step,” said Samuni, a postdoctoral fellow in Harvard’s Pan Lab and the paper’s lead author. “Now that we know that despite the fact that they spend so much time together, [neighboring] bonobo populations still have these distinct groups, we can really examine the bonobo model as something that is potentially the building block or the state upon which us humans evolved our way of more complex, multilevel societies and cooperation that extends beyond borders.”
Bonobos have been far less studied than chimps due to political instability and logistical challenges to setting up research sites in the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the only place where the primates are found. In addition, studying relationships among and between Bonobo groups has been further complicated by the fact that subgroups appear to intermingle with some frequency.
“There aren’t really behavioral indications that allow us to distinguish this is group A, this is group B when they meet,” Samuni said. “They behave the same way they behave with their own group members. People are basically asking us, how do we know these are two different groups? Maybe instead of those being two different groups, these groups are just one very large group made up of individuals that just don’t spend all their time together [as we see with chimpanzee neighborhoods]
The chimp-bonobo species is one species.
But its members live in different environmental conditions. They adapt to these different conditions and live in entirely different ways.
In one way, this makes sense. All animals must adapt to their environmental conditions or they perish. The practical realities of their environment make it impossible for members of the chimp-bonobo species that live in unproductive areas to act the same way they do in highly productive areas. It costs a lot, in lives and resources, to mark off borders, patrol them, and then engage in wars to defend them. If the resources aren’t there, they can’t afford to live this way and must find some other way to live.
The bonobos themselves didn’t figure anything out.
They didn’t have bonobo scientists evaluate the different ways primates could live, come up with the generous, tolerant, and cooperative systems described above, have an election, and decide to put it into place. Humans are the only animals on earth that are capable of using intention to alter the realities of our societies. Bonobos don’t have this ability. There was no scientific analysis of options. Different members of the chimp-bonobo species tried different things. Nature then selected the members of this species who had successful strategies for survival in each area It allowed them to live, while selecting those that chose wrong for death.
In conditions where tolerance, generosity, benevolence, and cooperation work better for a species than organized warfare, they developed tolerant, generous, benevolent, and cooperative societies. In places where war was appropriate, they organized for war.
You and I were born into societies that were not designed for technologically sophisticated thinking beings with the ability to manipulate nature and change the way key variables of the world work. They were designed (if we can even use this word) by nature in accordance with evolutionary pressure.
Our ancient ancestors evolved and gained intellectual abilities very slowly, over the course of millions of years. At one point, they became smart enough to chip rocks to make axe heads and attach them to sticks. At some point, they became smart enough to take advantage of fires that lighting or some other force started around them. They eventually became capable of making fire and tending it. At this point, the animals were so different than members of the chimp-bonobo species that they either couldn’t mate with them. They were not in the same species.
In fact, once they got to this point (able to intentionally build and maintain fires) they lived so differently than their evolutionary ancestors that scientists didn’t even think they should be in the same genus. They put them into the genus ‘homo,’ the same genus that includes modern humans. They were our primitive ancestors.
They adapted and spread. Their societies adapted along two lines. On line started with the animals used to being ‘homebodies.’ They wanted to have a territory that belonged to them. They found areas they could defend and lived much like the chimps had lived: they built borders, patrolled the borders, and had armies waiting in reserve to wipe out any threats to their territorial rights.
In other areas, the early members of the homo genus faced entirely different conditions. They couldn’t mark off territory and defend it: it wasn’t practical. They had to adapt to these conditions to survive. The people researchers call ‘denisovans’ are clearly well adapted for the lands that didn’t produce enough to the group territoriality societies. We find their remains in remote areas of Siberia, Mongolia, and find their DNA in the genetic profiles of the people who came to be called the ‘Indians’ of the Americas.
The denisovans and their descendents (including the ‘Indians’ of America) lived under and adapted to different conditions than the groups that eventually conquered their lands on behalf of the entities called ‘countries.’
They built entirely different societies that had entirely different rule systems. The systems they built are not perfect. We would not expect them to be perfect, because, like the fanatically territorial systems that eventually took over, they evolved according to evolutionary principles.
Why Does This Matter?
This book, Reforming Societies, is about societal change. It is the first book in a three book series called the Preventing Extinction Series. It explains the first steps that we must take if we are to avoid the fate that we can all see lies ahead of us: extinction.
Reforming Societies explains how we, the members of the human race and inhabitants of this little blue speck of dust called ‘earth’ can change from the kind of society that dominates the world now to a different kind of society.
We need to do this.
These societies are built on the principle of group territoriality. Group territoriality societies are animal societies. There is a place in nature for these societies. Animals that band together into groups, mark territorial borders, and use violent conflicts to prevent members of their species that are not members of their territorial group from sharing in the food supply of that territory, fill an important niche in the ecology of this world .
But group territoriality societies are not suitable for technologically sophisticated thinking beings.
We are a changed species, entirely different than the very first members of our genus that had these societies. Nature does not allow species that can’t adapt to their changing circumstances to continue to exist. We need to adapt or we will suffer the fate that nature has for all species that can’t adapt to changes: extinction.
Other animals would have to simply start trying things Those who guessed right can survive. But don’t have to use trial and error. We can think through our situation and come to understand why we are here. We can figure out the different paths through time that our ancestors (including the chimp-bonobo species) took to get us here. We can figure out what paths we would be on now if our ancestors had gained self-awareness earlier and figured out a plan earlier. We can figure out which paths through time can lead to healthy and sound societies. We can figure out how to get from the path that we are on now to one of these paths. Then we can use the tools that we have that no other animals have to get onto that path.
This chapter has two points that I want to get across:
First, I want you to realize that problems that threaten us now, and will soon destroy us if they continue, are not separate aliments or diseases in and of themselves. They are symptoms, signs that are flashing at us in great big neon letters that tell us ‘SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH THE SYSTEM WE LIVE IN.’
It is not possible to prevent our extinction by dealing with wars and destructive activities one at a time, while ignoring the underlying cause. To try to do this will be as fruitless as trying to save a loved one with tuberculosis by treating each cough as a separate event and leaving the leaving the bacteria in place to consume their lungs and other key tissues. If we want to save ourselves, we have to understand that there really is something structurally wrong with the system we live in. We need to figure out how it would work if it were healthy and how to change its form so that it works that way.
Second, I want you to realize that certain things that we are raised to believe are cast in stone are not cast in stone at all. The system that we live in was not created by Jehovah, Allah, God, or a Great Spirit, something that would, if true, make it unalterable. The system around us developed under the influence of forces that we can understand.
If we understand these forces, we can use them to make changes that will cause these dangerous societies to evolve in ways that eventually lead to healthy societies.
Our destiny is not in the hands of invisible beings with magic powers.
It is not in the hands of fate or karma.
It is in our hands.
Other societies are possible.
They can exist.
Our history tells us this is true.
How many different types of societies are possible?
How do they all work?
Are any of them able to meet all of the needs of the human race?
The information we get from the past doesn’t tell us this. We need to figure it out for ourselves. The information that we get from the past does tell us something important however: it tells us that, if we do try to figure it out, we won’t be wasting our time. The answers are there if we look for them.
The next chapter starts explaining different societies so you can see the difference between the societies we inherited and sound societies.
A Look Ahead
If you want to plan an journey, the first thing you must have is a destination. You must know where you want to end up.
We need to plan a journey.
We need to get from ‘the conflict-based animal societies we inherited from our evolutionary ancestors’ to ‘societies that are organized so that they meet the long-term needs of a technologically sophisticated species of intelligent beings with physical needs.’
We can figure out ‘the best place to head toward’ using fairly objective criterion: We can do an analysis of the different kinds of societies that are possible for beings in our category. We can lay them out in a logical way so we can tell which are destructive and which are not. We can then choose a system that is in the ‘non-destructive’ range as a ‘potential destination society.’ We don’t have to get this perfect because, as we are traveling, we can make minor course changes if we decide that a few differences will better meet the specific needs we have here on earth. We need to understand this before we can even take the first step on our journey for a very simple reason: We want to make sure, that when we head out on the voyage, we are not heading in a direction that will take us even deeper into trouble.
If your town is covered with ash from a volcanic eruption, you don’t want to run in a random direction, because that may take you directly into the volcano.
That is the first step.
We need to have at least a general idea of where we want to end up before we can start planning a journey.
Starting with the next chapter, we will look at the basic elements of a type of society called a ‘socratic.’ Socratic societies are built on alignment of alignment of interests: They are designed so the interests of the individuals within society are naturally aligned with the interests of the human race as a whole. If people act in their own personal best interests (trying to get the most wealth they can for themselves) they do things that advance the interests of the human race as a whole (increase the total wealth available for the human race as a whole).
I propose ‘socratic societies’ as what you may think of as ‘preliminary destination societies.’ I propose we head in the general direction of societies built on principles that Socrates worked out and discussed several thousand years ago. They are designed to meet the basic minimum requirements that sound and healthy societies must meet.
The journey will take time.
I will show that we can identify certain waypoints that can help us measure our progress. The first of these is a type of society called ‘minimally sustainable societies.’ Minimally sustainable societies are societies that meet the minimum mathematical conditions for sustainability. This does not mean they are sustainable, only that all societies that we pass through before we reach them are not sustainable and can never be made sustainable. When we reach the ‘minimally sustainable societies,’ we are at systems where it is possible for us to create conditions that lead to sustainability. In all societies we pass through before we get there, this is not possible.
When we get to the part of the book that deals with the journey we take from the societies we inherited to socratic societies, we will have to consider the pace of travel.
How fast should we go?
Whenever you are on a voyage, you have to decide what I more important to you: do you want to get there as fast as possible, regardless of the cost? Perhaps you want to get the maximum enjoyment from the trip itself, or keep the cost to the lowest possible level, regardless of how long it takes. Most people trade these things off. They don’t want the fastest possible trip (they can’t afford to hire a private jet, although it may be faster) and don’t want the cheapest or most scenic trip either. They want something that gets them there in a reasonable amount of time at a reasonable cost.
The trip speed I will discuss is one that is fast enough to get there in a reasonable period of time but not so fast as to make the hardship of the travel greater than the rewards we will get from moving toward sound societies. In other words, it is designed to make us all better off (or at least not any worse off) not just at the end of the trip, but at every stage along the way. If it turns out that we decide, after we have started, we want to go faster, we can accelerate the changes. (In the above sentence, the term ‘we’ refers to the human race, acting together as a Community of Humankind using the tool discussed later.) If it turns out that we decide we are moving too fast, we can slow down.
The pace discussed will get us to minimally sustainable societies in about 30 years after we take the first steps. Once we get there, we will be in a position to evaluate our situation.
We can look around us. Do we want to keep our destination the same? Do we want to continue along the relaxed pace, or move faster or slower?
As time passes, we can consider these matters. But before we will ever be in a position to consider them, we need to know there is a destination that can meet our needs (that a sound and healthy society is a possible society) and that it is possible for us to get from where we are to that destination in a reasonable way.
The next part of the book explain how a sound and healthy society works. It starts out by explaining a hypothetical situation where a group of people is in the best possible circumstances to form such a society. You the reader will be in this group and I will be there too. We will start from scratch, with no existing structures that restrict our decisions. We don’t have to work within any rule structure: we can make our own rules. We also have all of the knowledge, skills, technology, background information, and tools that exist in the 21st century at our disposal.
We will be in the best possible condition to form a society, with all advantages and no disadvantages.
After we have examined the way such a society would work if it existed, we will change perspective. We will come to the 21st century, where we are now. We can choose our destination, but we can’t choose our starting place: it was chosen for us. We aren’t in perfect conditions. Structures are already in place that do things that have to be done, but do these things in highly destructive and dangerous ways. Some of these structures are not going to be part of our societies when we get to the end. We need to build new structures that do these same things, but do them in ways that do harm the community of humankind.
You will need a lot of information to really understand all of these things. The basic ideas are entirely different than the things you learned in schools (which focus on teaching skills that help people advance the interests of their territorial groups, rather than the interests of the human race as a whole). We are basically starting from scratch here in our understanding of the world. We are changing our perspective: Rather than look at the word as animals that join together into groups to defend territory, we are looking it as thinking beings trying to create sound and healthy societies for our future race. It is a long and hard road to get there.
The ancient proverb goes: the longest journey starts with a single step. If we want to get there, we need to accept that we want to be on that journey and take that first step.