The Evolution of Social Control

Authored by: Christopher Boehm

Handbook on Evolution and Society

Print publication date:  January  2015
Online publication date:  November  2015

Print ISBN: 9781612058146
eBook ISBN: 9781315634203
Adobe ISBN: 9781317258339


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Social control is of interest to many disciplines, but its evolutionary provenance is just beginning to receive attention. Here the origin of group sanctioning is described, based on a cladistic analysis, and the role of moralistic group sanctioning of deviants is accounted for prehistorically and in contemporary hunter-gatherers. The database is composed of fifty contemporary foragers chosen to accurately represent humans as they hunted and gathered in the late Pleistocene. It is hypothesized that group punishment acted as a force of natural selection that was social, rather than environmental, and that social selection could have shaped human gene pools in two ways. One was to promote genes associated with altruism and cooperation and to suppress genes that prepared aggressive, predatory behaviors such as bullying, thievery or cheating on a cooperative system of meat sharing. The other involved the evolution of a conscience as a means of individual self-control, which protected some deviants from being punished socially and thereby losing fitness. Quantitative data demonstrate that recent prehistoric foragers' punishments range from criticism, ostracism, and shaming to group ejection and capital punishment, while the behaviors being outlawed focused on bullying and thieving. These details provide major insights into the natural history of social control over the past 150,000 years.

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