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There are now 14 comments... what are your thoughts?
  1. “Let’s call it a…” “Larry?” (rolls eyes)

    So… I’ll take it on faith that the key innovation is the lineage clan [citation needed]. That’s only part of the story, and not the interesting part. Where is the dialectic driving innovation? In other words, where is the selection pressure? What is being selected for? Why clans “now” instead of 10 or 20,000 years earlier? Why clans instead of gods or race or some other arbitrary story? If the story were different, if the mechanism were different, how would the resulting social organization have been different?

    • (WILD speculation)
      One could imagine a sequence along the lines of:

      1. People who help their immediate blood relatives make their genes more likely to survive (because your immediate blood relatives have a lot of the same genes as you)

      2. Natural selection breeds an instinctive desire to help everyone related to you (remember, natural selection doesn’t pick the theoretical best adaptation, it picks the first beneficial one to randomly show up)

      3. Someone shows up in your area and claims to be a distant relative

      4. The people here execute their “help relatives” adaptation (with no knowledge of WHY that’s a thing they do, and therefore no ability to reason about whether it should or should not apply in this case)

      5. People with an interest in genealogy (real or fictional) are more likely to make claims of being related, and more likely to be believed when they do, and therefore tend to receive more help

      6. Natural selection breeds an instinctive interest in genealogy

      Notice this does not require any human being to be AWARE of this happening. This isn’t a strategy, it’s just a series of consequences.

      But I also don’t personally have any actual evidence that any of this happened; I’m just making up a story that would be roughly consistent with the comic.

      • (WILD speculation) . . . I’m just making up a story . . .

        Indeed. It’s always possible to make up a just-so story. However, it’s often important which story is actually true, because the true story can constrain the further evolution of the system.

        Evolutionary psychology is full of these just-so stories, and as a result, its scientific relevance at best suffers greatly and at worst lacks any validity.

          • Maybe development of children or well recorded history starting in ?1600’s? would have been more accurate. Follow narrative of single individual growing up in medieval times and today so the explanations can be structured with evolving story.

    • I suspect that the selection pressure driving this social innovation was composed of two things that the rise of agriculture caused: 1. Agriculture made it more advantageous to stay in one spot than to move around all the time 2. Agriculture made sustained labor, especially cooperative labor in groups, more advantageous. So, element 2. was selecting for the groups who had a way of convincing large numbers of individuals to cooperate on shared agricultural projects. Element 1. made lineage the easiest way to make that happen. We know that our ancestors exist in an agricultural society, because their bodies are still buried in the place that we live, we can go dig them up if we really want to. So, agriculture selected for groups bound together by common ancestors, by lineage. Once you need a group too large to bind together with common ancestors whose bodies are in known, accessible locations, then the pressure switches to groups bound together by mythical figures. Sure there might be other better ways of getting large groups to cooperate. But evolution is a sufficing process, not an optimizing process. Lineage doesn’t need to be the best in absolute terms to dominate. It just needs to be better than any competing ideas available at the time. Now that actually is a just-so story. I have no evidence to back it up besides the fact that it is supposed to explain: lineage based groups of people. But it seems to fit in with the logic of everything else that Nathan laid out.

  2. Also, the story is a little too pat.

    “I don’t trust you, stranger!”

    “Oh, we’re distant cousins!”

    “All right then! Here’s some food!”

    • Here is one that I suspect is closer to the truth.
      “I don’t trust you, stranger.”
      “We are distant cousins.”
      “That isn’t ideal. But its better than nothing, and I need help plowing these fields. So for now, I trust you.”

  3. eric seiler says

    hate to be a downer, but assume you want accuracy. shouldn’t the equation be: n x (n-1)/2, as opposed to: n + (n-1)/2?

  4. Bahnapa says

    I thought tribe was the larger unit, comprising various clans? Here, “clan” is the larger unit, comprising various tribes? I’m confused by a use of the word “clan” different from how I’ve always known it.

    • Different fields of study use the terms differently. Depending on who’s talking, a “tribe” could be an egalitarian unit of agrarian segmentary lineage-based political organization (my usage), or it could be a stratified chieftain-led society that could be either agrarian or nomadic (what is often the colloquial usage of the word), or it could be a non-lineage-based political subgroup within a large polity (as in the geographical tribes of classical Rome, or the ethnic tribes of Judea), or it could refer to small hunter-gatherer societies (as in the Amazon, sub-Saharan Africa, etc.), or it could refer to large ethnic nations (as with Native American Indians), etc. In some anthropological fields, you’ll sometimes see the unit of segmentary lineage as the “clan,” while the “tribe” isn’t lineage-based but rather refers to a larger linguistic group or ethnicity.

      I’ve encountered all of these usages and more in my research, and I’ve simply adopted the usage that I’ve found in sources coming from a similar approach. I’m certainly not trying to make things more confusing than they already are, and I apologize if I did!

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