Gene Expression

War, rape and group selection

Fortune favours the brave; but the brave are motivated by favours of another kind:

If courage makes it significantly more likely that small bands of tribes-men will win military confrontations with their neighbours, its overall advantages can easily outweigh its risks, a mathematical model has shown.

Some men who carry genetic variants that promote bravery might perish because of them, but the ones who survive may win more battles through their greater daring. The resulting opportunities for rape and pillage can create a net evolutionary benefit.

The study is published in The Proceedings of the Royal Society, but it doesn’t look like it’s online yet. So I’ll have to wait on the details, but it what they’re describing seems like group-level selective events which might be vulnerable to “cheaters” who attempt to hold back and allow others to “bite the bullet,” so to speak, and reap the glory that goes to victorious tribes. Multi-level selection theorists such as David Sloan Wilson would make the argument that the way humans work against these “cheats” is through complex cognitive adaptations which allow for the policing of these anti-social traits, as well as the conventional rise and fall of groups who go through a life cycle of vigor, decline and dissipation.

I am still skeptical of higher than individual level selection in general, but, I am becoming less and less skeptical in terms of humans. I think in many ways our complex sociality is atypical enough to warrant the explanations of higher level selection and dynamics. Peter Turchin, Robert Boyd, James F. Crow and L. L. Cavalli-Sforza have also convinced me that we need to take these ideas more seriously for humans.

Related: Cooperation and multilevel selection, W. D. Hamilton & group selection & ideology and Selection on many levels…..

Comments

  1. #1 deadpost
    August 28, 2008

    They live fast and die young, … In fact, I propose r-ape stands for “r-selected ape”.

  2. #2 windy
    August 29, 2008

    Multi-level selection theorists such as David Sloan Wilson would make the argument that the way humans work against these “cheats” is through complex cognitive adaptations which allow for the policing of these anti-social traits

    No, everyone would make that argument, not just multi-level selection theorists. In fact, if group survival is what drives the process, would such adaptations be necessary? (Since, if individual fitness doesn’t matter, a group can consist of “trusting chumps” if it only reproduces faster)

    From what you describe, it sounds like the model is about individual selection in a social setting, not differential survival of groups. But let’s see what the paper says.

  3. #3 Art
    August 29, 2008

    Less violent is the chance that bravery, physical or mental, is seen as more attractive trait for selecting a mate.

    ‘Women dig men in uniforms.’
    ‘Faint heart never won fair lady.’

    Both the lines suggest that there is a more willing component on the female side in the mix. Even in times of peace a man willing to put himself out there and risk humiliation and being slapped is much more likely to get laid than a male unwilling to take risks.