Essays and Theories

Evolutionary Psychology And The Origin Of Eugenics
Reflections about Group Selection and Rejection
by
William A. Spriggs
June, 1994

If our evolutionary history is correct, then before our ancestors began to domesticate animals and cultivate agriculture 10,000 years ago, our social fabric was woven by our grouping together into herds. If the timeline from Australopithecus afarensis (Lucy, with the identifying knee joints), to our own Homo sapiens is approximately four million years, then it is logical to assume humankind has spent only 10,000 years away from this herded, hunting and gathering social formation. Mathematically then, humankind has spent 99.9975% of its time in these herded hunter-gatherer social groupings, which developed a culture unique to the herd as well as the human emotions that evolved from these cultures. It is from this vast timeline that humankind solidified emotions concerning themselves as individuals; their immediate families; their clans, and the possible conception of the tribe. If genes and culture coevolved, as Edward O. Wilson of Harvard (Genes, Mind, and Culture: The Coevolutionary Process, Harvard University Press, 1981 and the companion book, Promethean Fire: Reflections on the Origin of Mind, 1983), has theorized, and conventional wisdom appears to agree, then the majority of our human emotions were forged by culture and genetic codes solidified during this long time period.

Our ancestors most likely traveled in large social groups for protection and companionship, the sheer size of which scared away most smaller flesh-eating predators. And, without a doubt, it was here our social relationships with others began to form with the likely emergence of a crude sign language to facilitate these particular social interactions. It was here that life was divided into a simplistic life-and-death struggle. It was a violent period; filled with many dangers; it truly was survival of the fittest. The avoidance of death must have become as much a problem-solving activity for our emerging brains as finding food and seeking shelter for ourselves and for our families. Battles for territory, food and mates were constant. The reproductive process was dominated by males, because of their strength and stamina over females, and the fights that males fought between themselves concerning access to the women has formed much of our present day courting and mating habits.

Throughout our ancestors past, there must have been times of famine and drought. Our early practice of group gossip must have brought the message of food sources located at great distance. It is my theory that driven by hunger, group decisions were made to seek food. Since our ancestors were already at the meat-eating stage, I believe that they perhaps first followed hoofed animals while they migrated; then took up the annual practice themselves in search of their acquired tastes. What is important here is that our ancient kin managed to initiate the practice of migrations in search of new food sources. This is a significant development, because migrating an entire herd of animals takes organization; and that shows conscious intelligence. It also gave rise to new social cultures of a moving herd; the behavior needed to adapt to them, and new genetic codes.

I surmise that there was one major problem following hoofed animals out onto the African plains; there were four-legged hunters there also seeking the same prize. As we close our eyes and visualize our bipedal ancestors migrating across the plains, the terrible image of a stalking predator following them becomes a distinct possibility. (See the dramatic reconstructed illustration of a leopard predator dragging away one of our ancestors, pg. 201, The Fossil Trail, by Ian Tattersall, Oxford University Press, 1995.) We must also visualize the horrible reality of the chase, attack, and kill of one of our ancestors as well. As the human herd runs away from the predator, a logical chain of events occurs: the old, the sick, the deformed, the very young who were orphaned, the handicapped, and the unfortunate injured ones, fall inevitably behind those more fortunate and lose the race of life. How long did this period in our evolution last? Did it last for one million years?; two million?; three? In fact, it lasted until the outcome of occurrences -- both positive and negative --- became part of our genetic makeup. The winners of this race were of course the opposite: the young, the healthy, the physically fortunate. As a species, we began to notice the cause and effect and began to form the conceptual idea of comparisons between ourselves. From this was born the notice and selection of the physical attributes of the winners as naturally selected preferred mates. Our ancestors picked those whom they thought would be able to win the race. Are the characteristics of the winners similar to physical preferences in a mate we desire today? And the "losers," do we shun them? I could be wrong about the four-legged predator, and our ancestors could have just selected mates on their potential abilities to survive a harsh environment. But, this I know for sure -- they were not picked on their abilities to choose a drapery pattern at the mall or skill at playing chess.

In either case, I theorize, that today we "view" others in our social groups as either winners or losers in an unconscious, innate way. We begin to evaluate these people in terms of being able to win or lose the race against the predator. We tend to flow toward those we think of as "winners," and we tend to shun those whom we think are "losers." This, I speculate, was the origin of ranking which leads to the behavior mechanism we know as eugenics -- the judging of who is, or not, worthy to carry on the genetic line within a particular cultural context. There are no cultural People magazines devoted to "losers" or the "poor." I know that this sounds like I am simplifying life to its barest, but that is what evolutionary psychology does -- It is the language of our DNA. Thirty thousand years ago, there were no philosophers, no scientists, no psychologists, no crystal balls to consult to solve our "problems" -- just our emotions adapting to our harsh ancestral past. All is open for speculation.

Speaking of which, I want to end this behavior presentation with something that I consider to be highly speculative. I theorize that perhaps toward the end of this hunter-gatherer period, and before the domestication stage, there arose the possibility of our ancestors grasping the conception of "animal" or "human" sacrifice in order to "keep the predator at bay." The possible use of a small domesticated dog as a sacrifice to "feed" the predator, as the group "escaped." The practice could have then developed further into a "giving thanks" as a group made a safe passage to a designated area. Another form of "celebration" could have evolved from the "self-sacrifice" of one individual, (or a faithful dog fighting off a predator to protect its master's family), giving up his or her life in order that the predator would find its fill and leave the remainder group alone. Ultimate altruism: the giving up of one's own life in order to save others of one's group or clan. It could begin to help explain religions developing animal and human sacrifices. The dark side of our animal past may very well be that there also could have been a "shunning" of potential "losers" and even "choosing" a "loser" for the hungry beast, all done collectively in the name of survival of the herd. In order to do this a ranking, comparing method must have been established. No wonder we do not want to admit that we evolved from the lower animals. Like any "problem," let's get it out, examine it, and then focus on a "solution."

However, the sooner all the peoples of this great planet become aware of our biological animal emotional beginnings, the sooner we will no longer allow anyone to "fall prey to the predators" of bigotry, prejudice, injustice, hypocrisy, low self-esteem, and blocked opportunities. It is doable.

Origin: June 1994

Updated: April 1997

Former Title: The Shun Principle

Copyright, Evolution's Voyage 1995 - 2011