In the past, egalitarian foraging societies depended on in-group cooperation and outside social networks for survival, while food abundance seems to have decreased the need for total cooperation and sense of group equality, leading to rank, hierarchical and achievement-based societies. The stress of low resources may have triggered the realization of group stability and far reaching social networks. The lack of stress from the security of accumulated food may have helped push societies away from equity and into elitist groups.
Instead of going back in time, I could have simply looked at the biology. Oxytocin has been called the “cuddle hormone” because it is released in embrace, sexual encounters and strengthens social bonding. It is also released during stress. Like the stress of not having enough to eat or having to support a family on limited resources.
Interesting read and video: The Two Faces of Oxytocin TED Talk: How to Make Stress Your Friend
I think you could argue that egalitarian behaviour and resource accumulation are simply social strategies for survival, not reproductive strategies per say. With better food security, whether obtained by cooperation or selfishness, humans could live to reproductive age and support their offspring. The social behaviour could be changed by individuals or groups depending on the economy or resource scarcity.
My argument is that this could very well be related to two reproductive strategies:
- In times of low food security or widely experienced stress, cooperation is encouraged by a greater amount of oxytocin in individuals. There is low competition in immediate groups as this trait evolved in a time our ancestors were more successful in obtaining food as a unit. Social networks aid in food security and eligible (i.e. non-related) mates. With low resources but an abundance of eligible mates, low sexual exclusion may be favoured.
- In times of high food security or in situations where cooperation is no longer a behaviour necessary for survival, those with accumulated wealth do not experience the release of oxytocin as much as those who are not secure. There may be low ranking individuals who cannot afford to reproduce due to external competition. Sex becomes more regulated by hierarchies and external social values.
Whether social or reproductive, these strategies most likely involve the release of oxytocin or a lack thereof. We are wired up to be social and even altruistic creatures. However, if you are Ebenezer Scrooge and not stimulated by a lack of resources, a ghost or another kind of stress, you are more unlikely to feel a deep connection to your fellow human beings.
Related past entries: