Pleistocene Thought Experiment

Imagine you’re living 100,000 years ago together with a small group of individuals much like yourself. This is the late Pleistocene Epoch, also known as the Era of Evolutionary Adaptation (EEA), the time period and environment in which human genes are being selected for based on their fitness to survive in that time and place. By this point in human evolution you are a member of a fully-evolved human species, but racial differences are just starting to appear, and culture is relatively rudimentary and so cultural differences between neighboring groups are relatively small by today’s standards. You live with a group of 30 or so individuals, some of whom are known to be related to you, some not. You participate in common hunting/gathering parties but have meals and sleep in a separate area with your extended family. Your band is essentially egalitarian, with all important decisions being made by the group as a whole. There are extensive social controls to encourage sharing, prevent free riding (slacking off to take advantage of the work done by others), and prevent strong leaders from becoming established, particularly if those leader-wannabes start displaying aggression toward other members of the band. Indeed, in most hunter/gatherer societies repeated violations of these policies can result in expulsion or even a death penalty being imposed on the offender (all of the above as described in Boehm’s 2012 Moral Origins).

Life is not easy: You are constantly having to battle the elements, the local wildlife, and diseases that you have no idea the cause of. But even more threatening is the constant competition from other groups of humans living nearby, humans that are somehow different from you, either in the way they look, the language they speak, or maybe just having different customs. Although both bands have common ancestors and there is some drift of individuals between them, the bands themselves have been separated for generations, and most or all of the members of those other groups are strangers to you.

There are no rules and no referee in when a conflict with this other band develops and so you have only your own moral code to guide you, perhaps in combination with an innate fear that you or one of your band-mates may get seriously injured or killed if the conflict escalates to violence. Such fear may even be the original basis of that moral code: If you didn’t have it, you’d be a lot more likely to get yourself killed or otherwise removed from the gene pool, either by other bands or maybe even by members of your own. So, you try to avoid these kinds of conflicts, and especially skirmishes with other bands, whenever possible.

In some cases your ancestors may have made this easier by working out an agreement with this other band establishing a geographic boundary between the two groups which you and they know not to cross. But what happens if it’s a new band that has moved in next door, or if your band or the other suffers some calamity like a flood or fire and loses a significant portion of their resources, or maybe just outgrow the resources available on their side of the boundary? How will your band survive, other than by putting aside your fear of injury and your morals and resorting to violence?

If you delay and debate and listen to your conscience your group may eventually be attacked and wiped out by the other group. But what if there were individuals within your group who had intense feelings about the conflict and who characterized the other band as being immoral or even evil and so unworthy of your concern? Even better, what if these band members were willing to fight, risking serious injury or death to protect you and the other members of your band? Would you be willing to look the other way and let them take action to ensure the survival of your band?

As this scenario plays itself out over thousands of generations, those bands with the right percentage of these “born warriors” would have a clear evolutionary advantage over those with too many (in which case they would become immune to the normal social controls and end up directing their aggression at each other or at harmless members of the band), or too few (in which case they would not have the numbers necessary to goad the band into taking violent action). And individuals who lack these attributes would still eventually be bred to defer to these Social Dominators and Authoritarians when they sound the alarm. They may even defer when they know there’s a good chance that things will get out of hand and heinous acts will be committed, acts that they find morally disgusting including the rape and murder of women and children, mutilations, and maybe even human sacrifice (all of which were quite common throughout human history, perhaps to the point of being universal).

Unfortunately, in the modern world, this tendency toward aggression and even violence is maladaptive, as is the inclination of “Neurotypical” people to allow these types of individuals to run the show. The term “Neurotypical”, borrowed from the autism community, will be used in this document to refer to those whose personalities do not contain high levels of the characteristics that distinguish authoritarians, social dominators, psychopaths, autistics, or any other easily distinguishable class. The term “normal” might be used except that this would mean these other groups are somehow “abnormal”. Which is not really accurate because such individuals should more accurately described as “specialized”, although in the case of Authoritarians specialized to perform a role their band (which is now the human race as a whole) no longer requires.

Next: Psychopathy and SDAPs