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The Social (Human) Animal


Date: August 16, 2009

Last update: March 2020.

How to cite: Barata, R. (2009). The Social (Human) Animal. Human-Animal Science.


Around 20,000 years ago, humans possessed innate hunting skills. When they transitioned from the old world to the new, their traits were not vastly different from present-day humans. In the new environment, our ancestors utilized sophisticated hunting tools, erected shelters, and fashioned clothes, affirming their adaptability and quick-wittedness for survival.


Humans lived in tiny tribes that relied on hunting and communal food distribution. With humans' physical and behavioral evolution, the food quest evolved to a new level: agriculture. The "old" hunter gave up their roaming lifestyle and began working more closely with their tribe.


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Humans began domesticating animals such as sheep, goats, and others due to farming, which was most likely lured by the plantations. Horses were used for agricultural labor and transportation (later as a weapon of war), while dogs were used for hunting and tribe protection.


As agriculture advanced, communities who had previously been mobilized for planned, arduous searches for food could now produce food in enormous numbers, resulting in the formation of new, modest, unexploited jobs.


This was the start of the so-called era of specialization, in which the hunter and now farmer led an "urban revolution." The need to expand and divide tasks led to the emergence of cities (supertribes) due to the necessity to develop and divide tasks.


The growth of these towns and their populations (which initially ranged from 7,000 to 20,000 people) and the introduction of writing, which facilitated inter-communal communications and coordination, reduced humanity to simple numbers. Humans reached a new stage in their evolution, responding to a surge in population and the imposition of societal laws and restrictions.


The need for more meaningful interpersonal relationships, which we were not biologically suited for, resulted in several tensions. Meanwhile, the heads of subordinates were defined, resulting in a sudden increase in the size of these supertribes and the formation of groups of superheads and super-subordinates.


These new social conditions developed an "artificial atmosphere" with restrictions and hierarchies, where moral and ethical conceptions were constructed, and laws banned humans from acting on their inclinations. Humans had now established a conundrum in which they could become a "different species" if they were excluded from their group (tribe), as each supertribe had distinct features such as behaviors, cultures, and language.


Because of supertribes' different alterations and adjustments, social identities such as language, culture, and religion have greatly affected human social behavior, increasing the complexity of human adaptability: Dogmas and the need or obligation to belong to a specific group increasingly imprisoned humans.


Despite the drawbacks of this social boom, people have responded in various ways, employing their exploring tendencies in various social settings as a survival reaction. Human creativity has been used in communities through gardening and architectural art, among other events that were (and continue to be) a manner of adapting to the existing environment.


However, this adaptation led humans to seek power and control over others. Hierarchies and groups engaged in struggles reminiscent of those in nature, but this time, adapted to a "social standard" known as the Ten Commandments of Power. These commandments govern the exercise of power, reflecting the dominant instincts of a wild species that acts on instinct but has adapted to tremendous social evolution:


  1. Show clearly the insignia, postures, and gestures of the dominator; 
  2. In times of active rivalry, aggressively threaten subordinates;
  3. At times of physical threat, the chief (or his delegates) must be able to subdue subordinates;
  4. If the threat is directed more to the brains than to the muscles, the boss must be able to overcome the subordinates; 
  5. Suppress the struggles that arise between subordinates; 
  6. Reward the subordinates immediately, allowing them to enjoy the benefits of their elevated position;
  7. Protect the weakest members of the group from all undue;
  8. Make decisions about the social activities of the group;
  9. From time to time, strengthen the trust of lower subordinates;
  10. Always take the initiative to put away threats or attacks from outside.


However, the growing complexity of social behavior made life difficult for leaders because it increased the risk of their prevailing attitudes and behaviors in specific settings. As a result of the leader's responsibilities and power in managing subordinates and the entire supertribe, super-situations emerged. However, the necessity for structure resulted in a series of "arbitrary inventions" between groups and subgroups, resulting in a more specialized and competitive social hierarchy, finally giving rise to different social classes. Through education and adaption, these classes grew more robust over time, leading to a focus on the traditional system of domination and subordination through meritocracy.


Research Recommendations: Rosenthal Rats; Prisoner’s Dilemma; Principle of Savannah.


Propitiatory gestures and appeasement frequently direct our daily interactions and agonistic behaviors, allowing the gregarious life of a species that is highly aggressive, suspicious, and commanded to follow hierarchies. Hierarchies are essential in sustaining social homeostasis by providing a healthy foundation for a species rather than through imposition or conflict.


In highly developed societal environments, the position of chiefs and superheads is frequently filled by "specialists" who remain concealed and are only summoned in times of conflict. As each side defends its own, these units dominate inner and exterior groups, justifying increased aggressive activities between groups.


However, fights within groups are also common, with subgroups arising due to differences in viewpoint, racial tolerance, and power. Distinctions between internal and outside groups can be used to legitimize abuses like slavery, which has historically been a source of contention between monogenists and polygenists. Idiosyncrasy is still a reality today.


Conflicts inside and between subgroups and groups can be explained by the evolution of social behavior and the rational management of civilization's problems.


Desmond Morris (1969) proposed a framework to understand better and scrutinize the circumstances that prepare us for intergroup violence:


  • Development of fixed human territories;
  • Dilation of tribes in crowded supertribes;
  • The invention of weapons that kill at a distance;
  • Removal of the heads of the battlefronts;
  • Creation of a class of professional killers;
  • Growth of technological inequalities between groups;
  • Increased aggression in frustrating situations within the groups;
  • The demands of situation rivalries between heads of different groups;
  • Loss of social identity within the supertribes;
  • Exploration of cooperative instinct to assist the friends attacked.


These situations are exacerbated by overcrowding and resource rivalry, allowing our species to engage in violence without fully comprehending the causes behind it. This is not limited to humans; overcrowded zoo animals exhibit similar behavior.


As our population has grown exponentially, some have called for population control methods such as abortion, homicide, and suicide. However, appropriating and redefining biological terminology to culture, such as 'hierarchy,' 'dominance,' 'property,' and 'territory,' has resulted in anthropomorphism and anthropocentrism, generating confusion and incoherence. This has led to incorrect labeling and interpretations of other species' behavior phenomena, propagating human ignorance, assumptions, and fallacies.


Using anthropomorphic language, such as "You are a donkey," reinforces human superiority over other species and maintains preconceptions from a young age. It generates a false reality regarding the demands and well-being of many species. Scientific research has clearly distinguished between intra-species communication (intra-group/intra-group) and interspecies communication in monkeys and other animals.


Humans naturally need to defend themselves, their families, and their tribes biologically. When confronted with a threat, the group automatically rallies to defend itself. This collective defense is embodied in modern society by permanent formations such as the police, military, or other protective forces.

Humans have evolved at an astounding rate in comparison to other animals. We have transitioned from natural environments to an artificially produced and massive world, which has changed how we interact and live, our customs, and other survival modes.


Is this need for control and protection, however, unique to humans? Are we simply avoiding war by depending on nuclear or chemical weapons? Subgroups arise inside bigger groups as diverse groups mix, raising the challenge of dealing with differences humanely without resorting to technology that may potentially wipe us out.


What is the yardstick by which we judge our species' superiority? What societal benefits justify our conduct if we are absorbed by virtual reality and live for the moment? How do we reconcile societal requirements with logical reasoning?


Humans have evolved to seek social connections, but the rise of social media has created a new species: Homo sapiens virtualis. 


Social networks allow for expressing primitive instincts, resulting in disorganized and incoherent groups, paranoid states, systematized illusions, and perfect lives. The territorial struggles of our ancestors are now fought with the defense of a virtual shield, where all individuals can demonstrate their power and prominence.


We live more intensely in the virtual world than in the real world, where reality is based on a primitive man's illusory freedom transmitted to us. We accept these "truths" without questioning or conducting deep research. Emotions rule our decision-making, leading us to try to prove something we do not know.


Today, groups are created, and laws limit or demand without regard to individual needs. It creates stereotypes and a moralistic view, continuing tribal battles. Modern humans struggle to handle the social risks of an impersonal community in the name of culture. It is surprising how primitive our tribal hunting instincts remain.


Culture can be seen as a biological adaptation of the human species, with traits subject to evolutionary mechanisms such as variation, retention, and transmission. It is constrained by human nature and reciprocally dependent on society as a functional unit.


Our society has improved upon certain primitive instincts, such as curiosity and the desire to search, find, and verify. However, we still exhibit loss aversion and a tendency to focus on the negative due to our instinctual fear of danger.


As we evolve and adapt, we enter a retroactive natural selection phase, where social and sexual selection is based on natural selection. The evolution of governance in human societies is an example of this process.


Despite our evolution, we share a cruel heritage with other species, such as dogs and horses, and we are confined by the structures and rules of the supertribe we live in. Fear is a common thread that binds us, even if we are unaware. Therefore, fostering interspecies understanding and respect is vital as a model for intraspecies relationships.


Modern humans have had to adapt to survive in an often impersonal and overwhelming society. Yet, we still retain our primal hunter instincts and social ritualizations, navigating this concrete jungle like a modern primitive hunter with new tools and paradigms.


We must acknowledge our evolutionary past and understand how it has shaped our present behaviors and society. Only then can we hope to navigate the complex and ever-changing cultural landscape that we inhabit, called the "Human Zoo".


References

Anderson, C. & Kilduff, G. (2009). Why dominant personalities attain influence in face-to-face gourds? The competence-signaling effects of trait dominance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96(2):491-503.


Barnard, A. (2011) Social Anthropology and Human Origins. Cambridge University Press.


Baumeister, R. (2005). The cultural animal. London: Oxford University Press.


Blank, R. & Hines, S. (2001). Biology and Political Science. New York: Routledge.


Buss, D. (2001). Human nature and culture: An evolutionary psychological perspective. Journal of Personality, 69,955-978.


Darity Jr., W. (2008). International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 2nd edition. The Gale Group.


DeMello, M. (2012). Animals and Society: An introduction to human-animal studies. Columbia University Press.


Greene, J. (2013). Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them. New York: Penguin books.


Henrich N. (2007). Why humans cooperate. New York: Oxford University Press.


Morris D. (1967). The Naked Ape: A Zoologist’s Study of the Human Animal. Delta(1999).


Morris, D. (1969). The Human Zoo. Kodansha America, Inc.


Morris, D. (2002). People watching. Vintage Books.


Scott, J. P. (1975). Violence and social Disaggregation. Aggressive Behavior, 1, 235-260.