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 8. The Savanna Model Lifestyle

We have seen how our ancient environment conditioned our bodies—and our very natures—for life on the savannas of east Africa. We called this lifestyle the “Savanna Model” and outlined how our ancient ancestors fed themselves for thousands of generations. Now, we look at aspects of the Savanna Model lifestyle: physical activity, social well-being, and living arrangements. Our modern lives, in all their aspects, are at variance with the way nature designed us for life. The Bond Effect is learning to live in harmony with the way nature intended. This manner of looking at who we really are elegantly resolves many enigmatic lifestyle questions. It cuts through much humbug to reveal fundamental, if uncomfortable, truths.

Over the millions of years of evolution, what were the patterns of physical activity practiced by our species? What will that tell us about the amount of exercise we should be getting today? Surprisingly, we can work out a lot about the physical activity of our Pleistocene ancestors. We know how they must have foraged for food, how far they traveled, how fast, and even their muscular development. Our study of contemporary forager tribes like the San shows how they organize themselves on a daily basis.

A typical African Pleistocene group would camp in one place for a few days and then move on to make another camp 10 to 20 miles away. They carried very little with them, but they still had to walk all the way. They moved, not for the fun of it, but because they had to. The terrain was open, savanna-type grassland.

While camped each day, the group would split up to forage for food. The women, children, and old men went off in one party, foraging for roots, fruits, tubers, berries, and easily caught bugs and animals. This party on average covered about 5 miles, they leisurely walked and rested from time to time, and after about 4–5 hours they were done. It is estimated that the average adult female energy expenditure on physical activity was 600 kilocalories (kcal) per day. This compares to 230 kcal for today’s sedentary female office worker.

The able-bodied men went off chiefly looking for small game, but would

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  also be collecting other edible matter on an opportunistic basis. This party would cover more ground during the day—9 to 12 miles on average. Part of the time, they would be running or jogging, to chase and trail potential game. Most of the time, they would be finished after about 4–5 hours. Less frequently, they might be away for as much as 48 hours, tracking a wounded animal. It is estimated that their daily expenditure of energy was over 1,000 kcal. Compare this to the 306 kcal of the average sedentary male office worker.

There are therefore two patterns, one for each gender. Females would pass their lives exercising to a moderate extent and with low intensity. Males started their lives with the female pattern, graduated to the male pattern (vigorous and more sustained physical activity) for most of their lives, and then tapered off to lesser levels again in old age.

How does this fit with what we know about human biology today? Evidence is that women do not need to exercise as long or as hard as men to maintain their health. Men need more vigorous physical activity to remain healthy. What happened to our ancestors in old age? What is striking is that old people stayed physically active until their very last days. They were athletes right to the end.

Exercise and Your Health
So, what are we to make of this? Everything we know about individuals who get this amount of physical activity demonstrates that, as a result, they have better health than they would otherwise have had. The big question is, are there any vital body functions that depend on physical activity? Studies, whether on bedridden people or on astronauts, all point to a number of conditions brought about by a lack of physical activity.

Bone Demineralization and Fractures. The absence of exercise is one of the factors that undermines bone health. Regular physical activity improves bone structure, volume, and its resistance to fracture. Elderly women can benefit from as little as one hour per week of low-intensity activity—a 42% lower risk of hip fracture and 33% lower risk of vertebra fracture. [1]. The rhythmic jolting associated with walking or jogging excites the bone-building cells (osteoblasts) into raising their tempo. In young people, the bone-builders work faster than the bone-strippers (osteoclasts) and their bone mass increases. Even in older people, the bone-builders will work harder and maintain pace with the bone-strippers.  

Syndrome X. Syndrome X is a metabolic disorder that represents a cocktail of “diseases of civilization” that occur simultaneously. The main conditions are high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. They all have a common link—high insulin levels. Low exercise levels mean that more insulin has to be secreted to handle a given glucose load. The result is more insulin floating around creating mischief. Exercise is essential to maintaining optimum resistance to diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and heart disease.  

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The Process of Bone Remodeling
Our bones are continuously being broken down and rebuilt. It is estimated that our entire skeleton is completely rebuilt at least three times in a lifetime. Our bones are like a girder bridge whose struts are removed one by one and replaced. There are specialized cells that do the strut-removal called osteoclasts. The cells that put in new struts are called osteoblasts. The process is known as bone remodeling. The cells speed up or slow down in response to stress placed on the bones, various hormonal instructions, and the body’s need for calcium. Trouble occurs when struts are removed but not replaced, leading to osteoporosis. This is a dysfunction caused by many different factors, one of which is the absence of stress (such as physical activity) placed on the bones.

 • Arthritis and Joint Stiffness. Regular activity of the kind practiced by our Pleistocene ancestors encouraged cartilage maintenance, lubrication, and renewal of the wearing surfaces in joints. Dysfunctional joints are due in large part to not giving them enough to do. It is a cliché, but true: if you don’t use it, you lose it.

 Lower Leg Circulation. There is an artery that passes through the ball of the foot. As you walk or run, this artery is alternately compressed and released, and the general effect is that of a pump. Walking or running helps pump blood through the lower leg. Without it, the lower leg gets poor circulation and is prone to deep vein thrombosis. Are you one of those people who, after a little while sitting at a desk or table, find their knees jogging up and down? This, too, is a natural reflex helping to maintain lower leg circulation.

Lymphatic Circulation. As handmaiden to blood circulation, we have a secondary system of circulation known as the lymphatic system. This is responsible, in part, for transporting the products of digestion to other parts of the body, bringing immune system cells to parts of the body under attack, and flushing away debris and toxic matter. Unlike the blood, which is pumped around the body by the heart, the lymphatic system does not have a pump of its own. It relies on the general flexing of muscles to do the job. Lack of physical activity means sluggish lymphatic circulation and a host of potential maladies.

Longevity. Studies on identical twins conducted over many years have demonstrated what many people have long suspected—that physically fit people live longer. In one study, it was found that in any given period, sedentary people were 1.3 times as likely to die as the “occasional” exercisers and nearly twice as likely to die as the “conditioning” exercisers. The figures were the same

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for both men and women. The use of twins, often brought up apart, was particularly useful: it meant that genetic factors could be eliminated as possible reasons. [2]. We do not know the effect on longevity if we raised our physical activity to the level of our prehistoric ancestors, but it would no doubt be further improved.

Stress, Depression, and Mood. Physical exercise has a beneficial effect on a whole range of hormones that regulate mood. Exercise restores the way the brain chemical serotonin functions, helping to lift depression. Physical activity puts a brake on the production of stress hormones (such as cortisol and adrenaline), which calms feelings of panic and stress and reduces damaging insulin production. Finally, endurance athletes can reach a “high,” where their bodies are producing morphine-like substances, giving them a tremendous feeling of well-being.

Physical activity is not an option but a necessity. Our bodies are shaped by our ancestral environment and their proper functioning relies on a particular kind and amount of exercise. Without it, the rest of the body’s systems cannot work properly.

The way we live our lives today puts us under tremendous psychological pressure. In a great many ways, our savanna-bred natures are not made for modern, industrialized society. In the rest of this chapter, we bring forward new ways of thinking about what it means to be human in terms of our social environment. Some of these ideas might seem surprising: rather like going round the back of a Wild West film set and discovering that the saloon is just a plywood facade held up by ropes and stays.

Bear in mind that we are talking about the deep undercurrents in human nature. The purpose of the rest of this chapter is to make you aware of our deeply buried instincts. You will see how our choices, often made with the best of intentions, sometimes run counter to these savanna-bred instincts. However, bear in mind that all social interactions are highly complicated affairs: we are constantly balancing a Pandora’s box of conflicting desires, postponed gratification, calculation, and social conformity. The insights in this chapter will help you make better choices within the framework of this rich and challenging context.

The social sciences deal with the social and cultural aspects of human behavior. Regrettably, these sciences were hijacked in the early part of the 20th century by academic theorists such as the German-born American anthropologist Franz Boas. They built on the romantic notions of the 18th-century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who asserted, without any evidence, that man is good by nature but has been corrupted by society and civilization. If only, stated Rousseau, we could return to the state of the “Noble Savage,” we would

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all live happily ever after. Boas went further and asserted that humans have no inherited instincts, abilities, or feelings. He declared that all humans are born as a “blank slate” and behavior is purely the result of social and cultural conditioning. Thus, we are all born with identical potentials to become anything. In other words, there is no such thing as “human nature.”

We now know that this is quite wrong: humans inherit, with their genes, very deeply programmed desires, feelings, and instincts. They cannot be “conditioned” out of existence. But the social sciences are still riddled with false notions. In consequence, we are under pressure to change our behaviors in ways that social theorists consider desirable. Often, these pressures cut across our savanna-bred natures, causing distress, unhappiness, and ultimately mental illness.

Social engineers wanted to believe that human behavior is “infinitely malleable.” If necessary, they faked scientific studies to fit their prejudices. The most celebrated case was that of Margaret Mead. An anthropological student of Franz Boas, Mead became famous for her doctoral research in 1925 that allegedly showed that Samoa is a paradise in which sex is unrestricted; where jealousy, rape, and adolescent adjustment problems are unknown. But none of it was true. Mead never learned the Samoan language and she interviewed only two schoolgirls who, only in their old age, admitted that they had deceived her for their own amusement. [3]. She wrote a book about her “research” entitled Coming of Age in Samoa. It became a best-seller and required reading as “a classic of universal truths” in university courses.

In the book, Mead claimed that adolescent behavior in humans could be explained only in terms of the social environment. Human nature, she declared, was “the rawest most undifferentiated of raw material.” It wasn’t until 70 years later, when anthropologist Derek Freeman unearthed the truth about Mead’s sloppy studies, that her theories were finally debunked.4 In the meantime, Western thinking—and societies—have been distorted for several generations. We now know that deep-seated urges and instincts underlie and direct human behavior.

Anthropologists and other researchers have studied the huge range of different cultures around the world. From these studies, they have teased out the characteristics that are common to all human cultures; they call them “human universal values.”[5]. In other words, they are features that are hardwired into human behavior and not affected by cultural conditioning. We will now examine the main features and show how the San shape up to these features, then we will see how they compare with common practice in our Western culture. This will throw into relief any discord with our savanna-bred natures.

Every normal human on this planet has fundamental feelings of pain, fear, happiness, and physical attraction. These are emotions that manipulate our bodies for basic survival and reproduction. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine how any

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species can survive if it does not have a similar impulse system to signal when, for example, to fight for vital space, to flee from danger, or to mate.

Hardwired Behavior
All creatures are born with a set of instructions wired into their brains, mostly simple “rules of thumb.” For example, a newborn duckling’s tiny brain is wired with the instruction, “Attach yourself to the first moving thing you see.” In nature, this would be the mother duck, so this works fine. However, if the emerging duckling first sees a balloon, it bonds with that instead. Psychobiologists call this process “imprinting.” This phenomenon is of the utmost importance in understanding how early experiences, if they are not what nature expects, can program our brain’s computer incorrectly. Not surprisingly, today our lifestyles often program modern infant brains inappropriately.

Humans’ hardwired instructions are the first level reflexes, which occur subconsciously. Typical examples are blinking, swallowing, and the knee-jerk. Others invoke emotions, which have an evolutionary and survival purpose—to make the brain give instructions to the body. A clear example is when a lion attacks. Our body’s sensors, chiefly the eyes and ears, send signals to the brain. The brain speeds up the heart and puts the muscles in overdrive. We feel this cascade of activity as fear. All this happens subconsciously—it is an automatic, hardwired reflex.

Antonio Damasio, a neuroscientist at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, specializes in finding out how the brain detects emotion and feeling. The brain is receiving billions of reports every second from every cell in the body. The brain then integrates these reports and we perceive the result as an emotion. [6].  “Background” emotions work at a subconscious level and only surface to our consciousness vaguely: we can feel “under the weather” or we can have an instinctive dislike of someone. “Primary” emotions are basic ones such as fear, sadness, and happiness. Yet another category concerns “social” emotions, which evolved to make us behave in appropriate ways in society and in personal relationships. They are genetically programmed feelings such as conscience, self-respect, remorse, empathy, shame, humility, dignity, rejection, humiliation, moral outrage, sorrow, mourning, and jealousy.

When we talk about “programming,” “hardwiring,” and “genetically programmed emotions,” where do these features come from? The answer, quite simply, is in our genes. In the words of evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, genes “are the replicators and we are their survival machines.”[7]. Down through the eons, genes in bodies that failed to reproduce died out. We are all carriers of genes that succeeded in getting into the next generation—millions of times over. To do that, they had to make sure that the bodies they found themselves in were fit for survival. In this regard, we still inhabit bodies honed to perfection for successful gene transmission in the savannas of east Africa.

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Genes can aid their reproduction more subtly too, by helping copies of themselves that are in other bodies. They manipulate the body they are in to help other bodies survive if they are likely to contain copies of themselves. We perceived this manipulation as instincts, emotions, and feelings. Human mothers feel more like risking their lives to save their own baby than they do for an unknown person; it is a phenomenon that we call, quite naturally and innocently, maternal instinct.

Instincts, Emotions, and Feelings
Instincts, emotions, and feelings are the genes’ way of ensuring their self-preservation. There is a powerful lesson to be drawn: nature designed this mental life to work in forager groups in the African savanna. Our lives today are so far removed from these conditions that we are continuously stressed by emotional signals occurring in inappropriate ways.

For example, humans are programmed with instructions that say, “If you see tasty food, eat it until it is all gone.” This worked fine in our ancestral homeland as food was not abundant, was largely bland in flavor, and required work to obtain. Today, that hardwired instruction is self-defeating. Food is abundant, food companies are experts at making it appealing and tasty, and we have lost the link between obtaining food and the work required to get it. Our emotions are crying out “eat”!

Humans, as well as many other creatures, have mechanisms that can override the hardwiring. We can still choose to not eat even if the food is there, even if we are hungry or if the food is tasty. But this requires two things: the recognition that there is a good reason to override our instinct and the exercise of willpower to carry it out. This process is unpleasant and stressful.

The culture we grow up in provides the “reason” to override our instincts. It imposes a set of behavioral values that are commonly accepted by society, often strongly bound up with religious doctrines that have developed over centuries. Frequently, cultures impose behavioral patterns that are quite at variance with human nature. Taboo is from a Polynesian word (tapu) that means a prohibition imposed by social custom against a particular behavior. Humans seem to be hardwired to adopt taboos in general. However, the nature of the taboo can be whatever the culture programs into the brain circuits. For example, to Western culture, cannibalism is taboo, whereas it was common practice in many peoples from the Polynesians to the Aztecs. Taboo, and especially its breaking, arouse incredibly deep, visceral emotions. There are many taboos that seem to be common to all cultures; they are “human universal values.” An example is the taboo against incest, which is the result of imprinting, a device by which our genes maximize their survival into the next generation. Taboos that have arisen for this reason are good for well-being; most others are not necessarily so. We must, therefore, make fundamental distinctions among those

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notions that come to us because of our hardwiring, those imprinted at an early age, and those that are programmed into us as “ideas.”

Ideas and Indoctrination
Ideas float around in the environment waiting for a susceptible brain to colonize. We all carry a baggage of ideas, opinions, beliefs, and prejudices that have taken up residence in our minds, usually in a haphazard way. New ideas have to fight the current incumbents for a place to be heard. If they are successful, they in turn take up residence and modify our behavior. If these ideas are really successful, they multiply by getting us to tell other people about them. Richard Dawkins has likened the behavior of ideas to that of viruses. He even coined a name for them: mind-viruses or “memes.”[

The Vienna-based founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, had a remarkable nephew, Edward Bernays, whose family migrated to America when he was a baby. In 1919, Bernays opened a marketing agency in New York. He offered techniques using Freud’s psychological principles to “influence people to buy products they don’t need or want.” Bernays coined the term public relations for this technique. Bernays used these psycho-techniques with remarkable success; for example, in the 1920s, to persuade women that it is acceptable to smoke in public. His delighted client, the American Tobacco Company, saw cigarette sales soar. Bernays “engineered” public opinion in many other celebrated cases, including the idea that bacon is a breakfast food.

We have all been indoctrinated from the earliest age: by our family, schools, health professionals, sociologists, our cultural belief system, and much else. In matters to do with food, for example, we are under constant, sophisticated, and persuasive assault by the food industry. For generations, they have provided, free of charge, attractive yet self-serving propaganda in the form of educational materials to schools. They take charge of food supplies in schools, hospitals, and other institutions. Various lobbies, including dairy, snack-food, sugar, fast-food, processed food, and cattlemen, deploy the most sophisticated psychological techniques to seduce us into buying their products.

We have the challenge of understanding how our minds are being manipulated. When we have done that, then we have the next mental challenge— changing our habits.

We have to remind ourselves that the way we live today is light years away from our naturally adapted pattern in the tropics of east Africa. Our ancient ancestors (and forager tribes like the San) slept according to the rhythms of light and dark. In the tropics, whatever the season, dusk comes around 6
P.M. and dawn around 6 a.m. For a few hours after dusk, the San huddle around the campfire talking

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quietly and doing tasks by the firelight. Sleep would come around 9:30 P.M. and they would wake up with the sun.

The creatures from whom we are descended, Homo erectus, discovered fire at least one million years ago. We can imagine the nights with strange unknown rustlings in the dark; the campfire must have been a great comfort. We all feel, even today, the fascination of a fire: gazing reflectively into the flames is a pleasure deeply anchored in our psyches. Campfires constitute a flickering island of reassurance going back to the beginning of human existence. This is our naturally adapted prelude to sleep.

Up until the beginning of the 20th century, populations, even in the West, did not have the luxury of much light after dark. They just had flickering whale-oil lamps and beef-fat candles; people still followed ancient ancestral sleep rhythms. Since 1900, light at night gradually became more common, first with gas lighting and then with electric light. The net result is that we do not prepare our brains for sleep in the way nature envisaged. Today, the average American sleeps two hours fewer than in the 1960s. He or she certainly sleeps less—and less well—than the ideal for which our naturally adapted sleeping pattern has programmed us. Some of the consequences are predictable: loss of concentration, lowered resistance to stress, and a depressed immune system. An unexpected consequence is that sleep deprivation reduces appetite-suppressing hormones such as leptin and it increases hunger-inducing hormones such as ghrelin—the less we sleep, the more we overeat 

Sunlight as Human Food
In contrast to too much light at night, we are not getting enough sunlight by day. Our African Pleistocene ancestors spent all their time unclothed and out-of-doors. With the spread of humanity to all parts of the globe, it is indicative that human skins have adapted to soak up sunlight more easily the more people distanced themselves from the tropics.

Years ago, we never used to worry about how much sun we got. Parents would even urge their children to play outside and “make some vitamin D.” This was a key insight: sunlight is an essential piece of nutrition for humans. The scares over sunburn-induced skin cancers have caused a hysterical overreaction. The modern denial of sunshine has led to a surge of diseases that are connected to sunlight deficiency, including cancers, rickets, and depression.  

Cancer researcher E.M. John found that cancers are much more prevalent in the northern cities of the U.S. than in the southern rural states. In particular, the risk of breast cancer is increased by three times. [9]. Researcher William Grant estimates the yearly toll from cancers caused by lack of sunshine at 100,000 cases and 40,000 deaths; this is four times the mortality from skin cancer. [10]. The vitamin D deficiency disease, rickets, thought to be vanquished long ago, is resurging in cities. We all need to get adequate sunshine; just be sensible and avoid burning.

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Population Density
Pleistocene humans had a very low population density. While 50 persons comprising a band of foragers lived in close proximity to each other, the nearest neighboring band would be 20 to 30 miles away. At various times of the year, groups would meet up for a festival. It was the occasion to find mates, trade artifacts, overeat, and have a good time. Even so, those humans did not meet more than a few hundred different people in a lifetime. There is no doubt that, in the wandering band of 50 or so people, life could seem dull compared to the excitement of the festival. Today, the excitement, anonymity, and opportunities of living in crowded cities operates on our minds like a recreational drug. Is there a downside to living in such crowding?

Researcher John Calhoun published a pioneering animal study 40 years ago and found that crowded female rats had low fertility rates and high rates of miscarriage and death in childbirth; they also had poor nesting and poor parenting behaviors. Male rats had high rates of sexual deviation, homosexuality, aggression, violence, cannibalism, pathological depression, and withdrawal. There were high rates of social disorientation, infanticide, and infant mortality. Calhoun finished his report with the observation that we might advance our understanding “about analogous problems confronting the human species.” [11].

Does this have the ring of truth to it? Today’s high population densities have put us on a treadmill requiring industrialized, intensive forms of society. Many of us are worn down by congestion, crowds, and lack of time to even think. We dream of lives in closer contact with natural surroundings. There is no doubt that our mentalities are best adapted to much lower population densities.

Human beings have evolved, over a very long time, to live in bands of 40 to 50 people. All band members are close relatives by marriage or birth—in other words, each band forms one extended family. This was the pattern for millions of years of human evolutionary history, with the extended family as the basic survival unit. It is only in the last few thousand years that we have broken with this deeply programmed existence.

Each band had its vital space or territory of some 200 square miles. We use the term vital space deliberately: this territory provided everything vital for survival, especially food. But it was also the land where their gods, heroes, and spirits dwelt, where their dearest dead were laid. Even though they were nomadic within this territory, every nook and cranny of it was familiar to them—it was “theirs” and the feeling of ownership is desperately important. In contrast, should they venture onto adjacent territory, they would feel uncomfortable and out of place because they were trespassers. The band had to hang together for survival and to protect their vital space from adjacent bands. This pattern of existence has molded deep characteristics into the human psyche.

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In particular, band members strongly identify with, and give their loyalty to, their own band. In other words, humans have a strong genetic predisposition to identify with their own “in-group” and to be suspicious of “out-groups.” The need to have a feeling of “belonging” to a group is a human universal value.

In-Group, Out-Group
A stranger (by definition, from an “out-group”) is a threat. If a stranger is on your territory, he is probably up to no good. He might be out to capture a mate, steal honey, or take murderous revenge in a long-running vendetta. Primal societies around the world demonstrate a similar mistrust of strangers. Jared Diamond describes in
Guns, Germs, and Steel how when New Guinea tribesmen meet, they strive to discover “some reason why the two should not attempt to kill each other.” [12]. In Polynesia, two strangers recited their memorized genealogies in order to find a common ancestor. [13]. The San Bushmen would stop 40 feet from a stranger, both sides would lay down their arms, and then they would approach each other with caution to find common purpose. [14]. Of course, often the stranger was not well-intentioned and a battle would ensue.

Genes, Relationships, and Conflict
The biologist Robert Trivers derived an elegant explanation of the way human relationships operate. It explains how we feel toward our parents and children, siblings, lovers and friends, and in-group and out-groups. [
15]. The answer lies in our genes.  

We all possess genes that work to help copies of themselves lying in other bodies. Of course, we cannot know precisely which bodies contain copies of our genes. Trivers insight was to see that creatures help other members of their species in proportion to their degree of relatedness. In this way, a child gets 50% of his or her genes from the mother and 50% from the father. A mother has 50% of her genes in each child, and 25% with each grandchild. By the same token, a child shares 50% of his or her genes with siblings and 25% with maternal aunts and uncles.

In the forager society, everyone was related to one another in some way, so there would be “gene pressure” to help and cooperate with each other and to refrain from feuding with and killing each other. [16]. Even in modern societies, the more closely people are genetically related, the more likely they are to come to one another’s aid, especially in life-or-death situations—”blood is thicker than water.” Genetic relatedness feeds directly into in-group/out-group conflict: such conflicts are really battles between gene groups manipulating their host bodies for supremacy in the struggle for life.

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 Humans are not the only creatures to be hostile to out-group members. Male chimpanzees patrol the borders of their territory, and if they find a strange male, they kill him. [17]. According to Frans de Waal, a leading authority on the social intelligence of apes, “Sometimes a small group of chimpanzee males stealthily enters a neighboring territory to overwhelm a single male that they viciously beat and leave to die.” [18]. Likewise, if a lone chimpanzee becomes aware of out-group males intruding on his territory, he becomes worried and his hair stands on end. [19].

Buried in these accounts is the assumption that out-group hostility is a male phenomenon. However, females had every reason to fear strangers too: they could be raped, abducted, or murdered, and the same fate could happen to their children. Women who allowed that to happen did not pass on their genes to the next generation. Women who survived are therefore those programmed with successful survival responses.

A landmark study led by Shelley Taylor shows that women respond to extreme danger with a cascade of brain chemicals, including one called oxytocin. These hormones drive women to tend children and gather with other women. Dr. Taylor dubs this the “tend and befriend” response. [20]. This is in opposition to the men’s “fight-or-flight” response. It is interesting to reflect that, in an emergency on the African savanna, the women were programmed to round up the kids and get everyone into a huddle, while the men, pumped up on testosterone and adrenaline, battled off the danger.

We all, therefore, are deeply programmed to mistrust strangers. However, with the rise of farming and the concentration of multitudes of humans into cities, how is this mistrust managed? In the words of Jared Diamond, “People had to learn, for the first time in history, how to encounter strangers regularly without attempting to kill them.” [21]. Every person in the world has to learn how to manage relationships with strangers. This is a process of indoctrination designed to paper a veneer of “civilized” behavior over innate, mistrustful insecurities. Society manages this at two levels: as individuals, we are taught to suppress our natural tendencies and become self-effacing. We avoid eye contact, we stoop our shoulders, we look at the ground, we scurry along with small steps, we avoid confrontation, we are taught “courtesy” and polite manners. At the level of the state—through institutions such as the police, military, and the legal system—it alone enacts laws and it is the final arbiter in the settlement of disputes. Social idealists add a third pressure: the theory that humans ought to want to live in “diverse” communities.

Here we see a number of divergences from our naturally adapted instincts. Our human natures are telling us that we are most comfortable when we are living and working with people “like us”; that we need to “belong” to a group, give it our loyalty, and reject outsiders; that we should take personal responsibility for protecting our in-group, and its territory, from out-groups; and that

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males have different reactions to females when danger threatens. However, all these deep instincts are frustrated by modern living arrangements.

From these insights, we can predict that multicultural societies are likely to be more neurotic and stressful. By suppressing, even denigrating, normal roles for male aggression, societies will suffer increased levels of unorthodox activity: violence, hooliganism, gang warfare, and criminality. The frontier defenses of Western countries, protected with razor wire, harsh deserts, and armed patrols, are an open invitation to a Third-World youth to test his mettle. It is normal for the defenders to feel viscerally opposed to the invasion of their in-group territory by such outsiders.

We have given the impression that each forager band operates in hostile isolation from its neighbors, but this is not entirely true. Neighboring bands also needed to cooperate at many levels. Wives would almost always be brought in from an out-group. Potential husbands from one group had to visit the other group to find mates and negotiate terms. There would be exchanges of gifts and other obligations. Everyone thus had uncles, aunts, cousins, and other family members in nearby bands whom they would visit on occasion. In extreme situations, such as those of the San who live in a particularly hostile natural environment, bands contracted understandings for emergency access to resources, notably water, in times of distress.

The “natural” size of an in-group is therefore the extended family as denoted by the forager band. With the rise of agriculture and the concentration of populations into larger units such as towns and cities, the size of the in-group had to increase. This was not always easy—somehow people had to sink their differences and invest their loyalty into a grouping that included other extended families. The rise of a charismatic leader who inspired everyone’s loyalty was part of the answer. Another part of the answer is provided by the need to cooperate to fight off an external threat.

As George Washington said to his fractious and jealous state-loyal armies, “Either we hang together or we shall surely hang apart.” The Normans welded together the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England by deploying another, long-term strategy—that of instilling a sense of national patriotism. They used the tools of pageantry, flags and foreign wars. In this way, one of the earliest nation states was born. It grouped together peoples who had the same language, culture, and religion and gave them a national identity. This, it seems, is about as good as it gets.

Political entities that group together peoples of different languages, religions, or sharp cultural differences are inherently unstable. We see this all over the modern world. Yugoslavia and Somalia broke up in bloody conflict. Rwanda, Congo, and Sudan suffered genocidal massacres of one ethnic community by another. In yet others, low-level conflict continues like a running sore: India (religious conflict), Sri Lanka (out-group Tamil settlers against indigenous peoples),

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Chechnya (indigenous peoples against out-group Russian occupiers), Northern Ireland (indigenous Irish against out-group occupiers), Spain (Indigenous Basques against out-group occupiers), and Palestine/Israel (indigenous people against out-group occupiers). We draw the uncomfortable conclusion that the notion of a multicultural society is a contradiction in terms.

“The story of the human race is war. Except for brief and precarious interludes there has never been peace in the world; and long before history began, murderous strife was universal and unending.”

At the time Churchill wrote that (1925), the world was still reeling from the carnage of World War I. It had been so traumatic that politicians (but not Churchill) billed it as “the war to end all wars.” Churchill had a layman’s pragmatic and unromantic opinion of human nature. Meanwhile, the experts—social anthropologists— were turning their misty eyes to the ideal of the Noble Savage. They thought that warfare was the result of bad upbringing.

So, is there any truth in the idea that humans are naturally warlike? We have the archaeological remains of Stone Age battlefields and everywhere we look are signs of humans killing humans in murderous conflicts. The American anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon extensively studied the Yanomamo, a tribe of the Amazon rainforest, for over 30 years and he estimated that 30% of males died violent deaths from warfare.

Our model forager tribe, the San, frequently warred with neighboring groups: they had a murder rate greater than America’s inner cities. In one account, one band avenged a killing by sneaking into the killer’s camp and murdering every man, woman, and child as they slept. [22]. The Australian Aborigines had a similar pattern—jealousies, vendettas, and revenge killings were frequent features of aboriginal life. Neighboring camps would be raided and bitter fights would be fought to the death. American anthropologist W. Lloyd Warner lived among the Aborigines of Arnhem Land from 1909 to 1929. He estimated that 200 men died in organized warfare during that period. [23]. The total population was only 3,000, so this was a colossal rate of casualties.

Archaeologist Lawrence Keeley has summarized the proportion of male deaths caused by war, even today, in a number of primal societies. [24]. The proudly independent Jivaro tribe in Peru is notorious for their use of poison-dart blow-pipes and head-hunting. Keeley estimates that some 60% of Jivaro males die in battle. Half a world away, the Mae Enga of the New Guinea highlands lose 35% of males in murderous conflicts. In contrast, European and American male battlefield deaths in the 20th century (which included two world wars) averaged less than 1% per year.

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It seems, then, that for most of human evolutionary history, human males have been involved in bloody conflict. There are a few other species that also do this—chimpanzees, gorillas, and wolves are examples. A common thread is this: the killing is of “them,” the out-group. The fact that there are indeed other species that seek to exterminate their own kind, albeit from an out-group, forces us to recognize the possibility that this trait is, in some way, evolutionarily advantageous. Richard Wrangham, professor of anthropology at Harvard University, says that evolution favored humans and chimps who warred because “this makes grisly sense in terms of natural selection.” Successful males, the ones that survive, enjoy high status among other males. High-status males are strongly attractive to females and have more matings, so they generate more offspring. The genes sitting in successful warriors become more common, while the genes in wimps don’t get into the next generation in the same numbers. We are all descended, on average, from males who were better-than-average murderous warriors.

A second consequence of early male death in battle is highly important yet little remarked: adult males were in a minority. Females sometimes outnumbered them by two to one. Most men had at least one “wife” and many had two or more. There was competition among women to “get a man.” Warfare, then, was a way for males to get rid of some of the competition. Genes in males who promoted warfare and who were successful warriors spread throughout the population.

We cannot hope to deal with modern conflict if we do not recognize the hardwiring in young males that drives them to risky activities and violence. Of course, the violence is only a means to an end. It leads to high status, which is an important staging post on the way to the end. However, the only end that counts is getting the genes into the next generation.

In chapter 1, we talked about “women’s work” and “men’s work.” The women would go off in a group with the small children on their backs and forage for food. For safety, they stayed within “hailing distance.” To do this, they kept up a steady chatter. If they sensed silence, they got uneasy and tried to reestablish verbal contact. The women were foraging in a largely cooperative way; they would be giving constant advice to each other. They would call each other over if they found a particularly rich resource. They had a fine eye for the little signs of food and a delicacy in harvesting it. The women moved in a group, slowly and along familiar paths. They decided where to go and knew the way back.

The men, meanwhile, would go off in ones and twos on their hunting trips. Stealth was of the essence and so talking was kept to a strict minimum, just enough to convey facts about their quarry. Often, communication was simple signs. The men would follow prey along all kinds of unpredictable paths. The prey decided “where to go” and the men had to somehow keep track of where they were.

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Laurens van der Post describes how he followed a band of Bushmen while they chased an eland for several days: “The trail twisted and turned so much that I had no idea where we were or in which direction our camp lay. But Nxou [chief hunter] and his companions had no doubt. That was one of the many impressive things about them. They were always centered. They knew, without conscious effort, where their home was, as we have seen proved on many other more than baffling occasions.” [25]. He should not have been so surprised. Many studies have shown that men today still have remarkable powers of “way-finding” compared to women. [26].

The men had a fine eye for the signs of suitable quarry—they were expert trackers. When they hunted down a quarry, the result was brutal: it was bludgeoned or stabbed to death. The spoils were hacked up as necessary and carried back to the camp. The men’s occupation was largely competitive and their status with other males depended on their success.

When there was the chance of a really big kill, like a one-ton eland or a giraffe, all the men would go off in a hunting party. They might even team up with men from an adjacent band, especially if the quarry was roaming over both territories. In this case, the men would temporarily settle their differences in the interests of the wider objective. In either case, there were complex rules about who got credit for a kill and who received what portion of it afterwards.

On return to the camp, each hunter would distribute the spoils in a particular way: his wives and children received the largest part and other portions were distributed to more remote relatives and people who were owed debts. The actual details might vary with circumstance and from tribe to tribe. However, there is one aspect that is a human universal value and of fundamental importance: wives, and sometimes other recipients, would receive more than they could consume, so they would have a surplus they could use to endow gifts and return favors. The wives and the rest of the man’s entourage would therefore derive status from the exploits of “their” man.

The women could easily collect enough food to feed the whole family. However, a woman is vulnerable to someone stealing that food. Higher-status women and other men were lying in wait to bully and browbeat that woman out of her hard-won resources. The reason that this rarely happened is simple: she had “her man” who would protect her against any aggression. In chapter 1, we asked “Why would a woman need a man?” Here, we have most of the answer: without a man committed to her physical protection, the chances that she and her children would survive were reduced. On average, women who were not driven to seek a male bodyguard were less likely to get their genes into the next generation.

So, the women went out foraging every day and they took their babes-in-arms (up to 4 years old) with them. Men were not invited to, and did not volunteer for, the working party. The total working day was 4–5 hours and a woman could find enough food to feed the family. What pointers are there for

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us today? We might tentatively suggest that it is normal for a woman to go out to work, but that she has her small children with her. It would be normal for a woman to work with other women and not with men. It is probable that women have different inborn talents and ways of working compared to men. They probably find comfort if their working environment allows them to talk freely.

In contrast, the men went hunting at irregular but frequent intervals. Their activity was often dangerous, required strength, violence, subtle reading of animal tracks, and ingenuity. They were excited by the challenge and tended to underrate the risks. Mostly, they worked alone and in silence and often their efforts were unsuccessful. Sometimes, they formed teams that worked closely together to achieve a kill. It was work that women could not do. The results of a man’s work would decide his status with other men. If done well, it would buy him gift-giving power and bring admiration and appreciation from his womenfolk. What lessons might there be for us today? Again, this is sensitive territory. However, we might tentatively suggest that men have innate talents different from women’s talents. They prefer to work alone or in a project-focused team with other men. Their way of working would clash with women’s way of working if they had to work together. A man needs to feel that his work is important and something women could not do. He works hard for success, proudly anticipating the admiration of his womenfolk.

Until recent times, working patterns often fit quite closely to this specification. Even in the upheaval of industrialization, most occupations were segregated

Male Hierarchy
The concepts of status and status-seeking are human universal values. For men, and particularly the genes they carry, status is of prime importance. In our Pleistocene past, genes that found themselves trapped in a low-status body were condemned to oblivion. Hence, the gene-driven competition to make “their” body the dominant male. By a mixture of strength, hunting skills, and force of personality, one male would emerge in the forager band as “chieftain,” “headman,” or “honcho.” Whether it is humans or some other species, biologists refer to this individual as the “alpha male.” All the other males are lower status. By the very nature of things, very few men make it to the top. A few others are candidates on the way up, others are on the way down. In the forager tribe, many men are none of the above: they are “low status.” Modern “Blank Slate” policy directs that there should be more women in top positions, but it does not admit that there is no genetic, status-seeking drive to be there. The irony is that while males do indeed predominate in boardrooms, politics, and so forth, the vast majority of men are not in top positions. In today’s society, most men are nobodies.

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The women worked in large groups in factories, concentrating on the finer work such as cotton and lace-making. The men did the perilous and dirty jobs such as those in coal mines, shipbuilding, or blast furnaces. The men took pride in their daily wrestle with danger; they had a sense of fulfillment, of purpose, and of camaraderie.

The Modern Workplace for Men and Women
For several generations now, the “Blank Slate” philosophy has permeated policy- making in the workplace. The attack has been on at least three fronts. The first is the theory that any work that men can do, women should do too. The second is the drive for women to get the same pay as a man for the same work. The third is that women should be educated to the same level as men. All these proposals seem reasonable on the face of it. However, they cut across some fundamental, genetically programmed, gender drives and needs. As we saw earlier, women have different personalities and work in a different way. When both genders are expected to work together, the result is rather like a badly coordinated pair in a three-legged race. Each has much to contribute, but each is frustrated by the stumbling induced by being out of sorts with the other.

There is, however, a deeper and more potent source of distress. A man’s work (hunting) was where he went to get his sense of identity, where he found prestige and a sense of self-worth. A woman did not go to work (foraging) to find her identity—she got that by being a mother to her children. Modern ideas of work destabilize this major asymmetry. We can expect a man to feel diminished if a woman does the same job; at the least, he will not feel special or important. Here, we lose an important prop to self-esteem, especially for a male of low status. The situation gets even worse if, in the hierarchy, he is subordinate to a woman. In these circumstances, the man’s workplace, instead of being his main source of self-respect and status-enhancement, will be the opposite—an unhappy place that reminds him daily of his mediocrity. An unplanned consequence is that such men will seek their identity, status, and prestige outside the workplace. Some might do it in innocent ways, through pastimes, hobbies, and sports. Many others will find it in street gangs, violence, and organized crime.

A similar problem arises with equal pay. Until recent times, men and women mostly worked in different occupations, so there was nothing to compare. It gave a sense of responsibility and purpose for the man to be the “breadwinner”— he took pride in it. He brought home more pay than his wife and this gave him status. He was important to the prestige of the family and the sharing out of his wages had direct parallels with his forebears’ sharing out of meat. In recent years, the workplace has become feminized. Coal miners, steelworkers, and ship’s stokers have had to learn how to stack supermarket shelves and flip hamburgers. Most occupations have women doing the same work as men and they expect the same pay. This has an unexpected consequence: men’s pay

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trended down to the level of women’s pay. The man’s salary is no longer special. Indeed, in many situations, the woman can support herself and her children on her own.

As a hunter, a man would take pride in being quick-witted, ingenious, and a master of solving the clues left by his quarry. A man would feel his self-esteem swell as he recounted his exploits to the other men. These exploits deployed a combination of hardwired talent and intelligence. It was the kind of smartness that had no parallel in the world of women. In our modern society, this aspect of human endeavor has morphed into the process called “education.” Authorities have made an immense effort to promote female scholarship: they bias teaching methods to favor the way girls learn best. Boisterous boys are treated as behavior problems and, under pressure from the schools, their parents dope them with Ritalin to make them docile. [27].

The policy has worked. By the year 2003, 60% of American college graduates were women. This sounds good, but it means that, for every four women with a degree, there are only three men. One man in four will find himself paired with a woman who is more educated than he is. This is a third area where a low status male will be reminded daily of his inadequacies. [28].

The “natural” order of things in the workplace has been upset by social engineering. The irony is that most women will not see any problem. If they earn more than their man, they will say, “I don’t mind. What I earn is for both of us and I am happy to share it.” If they are more educated than their man, it is a similar reaction. Women in this situation are puzzled that their man is not consoled by such generosity. For women, these matters are not central to their identity and they cannot imagine the devastating feelings of inadequacy that a man experiences.

Many women today can now have their cake and eat it too. A woman’s chief source of self-esteem and identity—her ability to have a family—will never go away. At the same time, she can pursue an occupation in ways that were unimaginable just a generation ago. Her problems are the mirror image of the man’s. She will find it harder to find a suitable man and when she does, her relationship with him will be bedeviled by his crises of esteem and identity. If indeed she pursues a high-powered, all-consuming career at the expense of developing a family life, she might find that the harvest is bitter.

Genes never let the majority of women ignore their true priority: family and quality of life. This translates through to the money-earning scores of women. If there is a sex-gap in pay, it is because women make a clear trade-off between career and family. Social economist Satoshi Kanazawa, who has carried out pioneering and detailed scientific analyses in this field, states, “My conclusion is that the sex gap in pay exists because women have better things to do than to earn money, reproductively speaking.” [29]. He makes the point that money-earning for men is the route to getting more genes into the next generation. This is not the case for women—their route is through nurturing their offspring.

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Within the band, everyone had a basic understanding that they must all pull together to survive. That is to say, the balance was tipped in favor of cooperation with other members of the band. Conflict and rivalry, while always present under the surface, were kept within tight limits. The forager band had a body of unspoken laws, some of them human universal values and others particular to their culture. The band members constantly juggled self-interest, gift-giving, obligation, jealous watchfulness, and anger with a fear of hostility and rejection. In modern foragers, the San have not been observed to show much altruism, gratuitous kindness, sympathy, or genuine

Suckers, Cheats, and Grudgers
Evolutionary biologists have found that almost any population, whether pigeons, puffer fish, or chimpanzees, is composed of three main personalities. There are those that abide by the rules, but have no instinct to protect themselves against rule-breakers. Evolutionary biologists call these “sucker” populations. There are those who find it easier to scrounge off the suckers—these are known as “cheats.” This type of asymmetric situation is neatly summed up by the American writer of humorous poetry, Ogden Nash:

Pale Ebenezer thought it wrong to fight,
But Roaring Bill—who killed him—thought it right!

There is also a third category dubbed “grudgers.” These are the ones who see the cheating, or have been cheated once, but refuse to be cheated a second time. They still have the other qualities of the suckers, but this time they learn to resist the cheats and carry a grudge against them for having been cheated. The proportions of grudgers, cheats, and suckers is constantly changing. Professor Richard Dawkins had this to say about it:

“The first thing that happens is a dramatic crash in the population of suckers as the cheats ruthlessly exploit them. The cheats enjoy a soaring population explosion, reaching their peak just as the last sucker perishes. But the cheats still have the grudgers to reckon with. During the precipitous decline of the suckers, the grudgers have been slowly decreasing in numbers, taking a battering from the prospering cheats, but just managing to hold their own. After the last sucker has gone and the cheats can no longer get away with selfish exploitation so easily, the grudgers slowly begin to increase at the cheats’ expense. In due course, the proportion of Suckers increases and the cycle starts all over again.”  

This is a lurid analysis of the social dynamics in many species, including humans. Forager society was organized with checks and balances such that the tendency to cheating was swiftly recognized and then punished.

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 generosity. [30]. The San band members give, receive, and exchange gifts in a way that has strict unspoken rules: a gift must never be refused, even if the recipient doesn’t want to be beholden to the donor; and a gift must always be reciprocated, not the same object but one of equal value. The reciprocal gift should be made only after a “decent” interval, which can be from a couple of weeks up to several years.  

Wrongdoing to the San is not always what might be expected. They don’t think lying is particularly bad and stealing is so certain of discovery that it rarely happened (“it would only lead to trouble”). [31]. On the other hand, breaking of respect for ownership of a resource is severely sanctioned. The furious “owner” killed the man who took honey from the tree where he, as “finder,” had made his mark. Other disputes arise over the share of a major kill. There are no formal institutions for enforcing rules, contracts, or obligations, so individuals or little groups have to take matters into their own hands. Squabbles break out for all kinds of reasons but, unlike those with neighboring tribes, they have to find ways to resolve them internally.

We now understand that human society (and even chimpanzee society) operates on a transactional basis. Favors are given and received, deals are done—society can only function if these understandings operate properly. In this way, humans (and chimpanzees) are programmed with social feelings: of obligation to someone for a favor received, of rightful dues for favors given, of outrage against cheating and injustice, of revenge against cheaters, and of retribution to redress a wrong. People who are emotionally driven to retaliate against those who cross them, even at a cost to themselves, are more credible adversaries and less likely to be exploited.

One of the most powerful drives is the feeling of loyalty to the band and to its members. The feeling of “us” and “them” is a deeply programmed emotion. One of the worst fates that can befall an individual is to lose the support of other members of the band, so it is normal to be sensitive to the feeling of rejection and want to do whatever is necessary to avoid it. Today, we live in a world where each of us is a member of a number of in-groups: our family, our world of work, and our co-adherents in a belief-system. Overarching all these are our countrymen and our country, the final conditioner of our lives.

One of the curses of human nature is the vendetta: a grudge by one group is avenged, which in turn provokes a new revenge. The cycle continues seemingly without end. The 16th-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes recognized that to break the cycle an independent law enforcer was needed. In his major work, Leviathan, Hobbes proposed that people should be prevented from taking the law into their own hands. Rather, they should entrust the redressing of grievances to a third party, the state, that would impartially decide the case and carry out any retribution. The state acts as intermediary, prevents revenge, and makes punishment a neutral act. In this spirit, states around the world have

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instituted systems of justice and punishment on which they have the monopoly. This system has proved to be remarkably successful in reducing tit-for-tat punishments and the overall level of violence in society.

In most mammal species, males are bigger than females. This is true of elephants, reindeer, lions, and elephant seals. Of our close cousins, the gorilla is at one extreme: the male is twice the size of the female. At the other extreme, chimpanzee males are about the same size as females. Biologists have discovered that this difference between male and female (known as “dimorphism”) is a reliable indication of the amount of physical male competition for females. The biggest gorilla (or reindeer stag) is the one that fights off the male opposition to mate with females. In this way, genes that build large males in these species are more likely to multiply into the next generation.

In humans, males are, on average, 20% bigger than females. This is a strong indication that human males have been hardwired over millennia to physically compete with other males for access to females. This competition has a number of consequences. Males who are not up to success in physical combat might use other strategies. They will form alliances with other males who act as their sidekicks. (Chimpanzees, who do not benefit from physical superiority, deploy this strategy frequently.) So, some males get to their objective by being good at doing deals with other males. All males will be careful to avoid revealing their weaknesses. In this way, males that are genetically programmed to avoid showing their emotions, to avoid signs of distress (such as crying), and to not talk about their feelings will all do better in competition with other males. When males do talk, it will be mainly to convey factual information that reveals nothing about their degree of insecurity.

In contrast, the female of our species is generally physically weaker, less violent, and programmed to cooperate with other females in the foraging workplace. However, they were also in competition with others for resources and favors from “their man.” In this regard, human females have developed two strategies: the first is physical and aggressive, but the second is more prevalent and subtle. This is the use of indirect means to obtain their objective—females who are good at reading moods, analyzing motives, and probing for weakness, and who can use these skills to undermine their rivals, will do best. More of their genes will get into the next generation. Girls begin to show these traits as young as three years old. [32].

There is a fundamental, and decisive, biological difference between the sexes. The female can only have one pregnancy at a time, while males can impregnate many females at a time. This asymmetry applies throughout the animal kingdom. In the numbers game, genes that get their host male to mate with many females rather than just one will spread faster. There is, therefore, a strong

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selection pressure for males to mate with as many females as possible. In contrast, there is no selection pressure for females to mate with more than one male. She can still have only one pregnancy at a time and the number of partners makes no difference. In humans, a female’s success in child rearing depends on the commitment of a male to protect her, so she will do even better if she can stop the male from diluting his commitment with other females.

We are all descended from males who, on average, impregnated many different women. Geneticists estimate that an astonishing 8% of the Mongol population is descended from Genghis Khan, who had many concubines. [33]. In contrast, we are all descended from females who were good at getting male commitment, were clever at stopping the male from committing to other women, and ruthlessly fought other women for a major share of the male’s resources. Herein lies a strong source of male/female conflict—the genetically programmed male agenda is diametrically opposed to the female one.

Sexual Selection
We have seen that women are attracted to mate with high-status men. How is this status perceived? One powerful criterion is the status that the man has with other men. Other men will accord high status on qualities that appeal to them, not what appeals to women. One of these qualities is futile risk-taking: men will admire another man who indulges in reckless or dangerous behavior. Women are not impressed by the exploits in themselves, but in the importance other men give to them.
34 A second criterion is choosing a male who will give them sons who, in their turn, will be attractive mates and provide lots of grandchildren. That means mating, if possible, with a male who is attractive to other females right now. In other words, she might only find him attractive because other females do.

Males are in strong competition to attract a woman. Those who are not naturally endowed might try another tactic—bluff. A man might give outward appearances of being strong and with good commitment potential, but how is the female to be sure? How many of his stories about his exploits are really true? Some males might be good at deception on this score, so the female has to develop finely tuned antennae to detect it.

How do truly meritorious males convince a female that they are not bluffers? One interesting evolutionary strategy is handicapping. The peacock trails a long cumbersome tail behind him, which makes him more vulnerable to predators. So, why do cumbersome-tailed peacock genes persist in the gene pool? The probable answer was first formulated by Israeli researcher Amotz Zahavi. [35]. It is a way for a peacock to show a peahen that he really is strong: he can carry this burden around and still survive. In modern terms, it is like the man who drives a Hummer rather than a sensible car—he is showing to the females that, in spite of the immense burden of monthly payments and gas costs, he is fully functional and a magnificent source of good genes.

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Here, we have a powerful mechanism to explain why “keeping up with the Jones’s” is a ubiquitous preoccupation: status is relative. As soon as Hummers become common, males are driven to take on yet more onerous commitments and habits. They must progressively strive for a higher-status job, move to a better neighborhood, eat at expensive restaurants, and wear pricey designer clothes. Even if the man is married, he cannot step off the treadmill: his wife gets her status from her husband and she will be pushing him just the same. There is a huge irony in all of this. Evolutionarily speaking, the only purpose of a male striving for high status is to get more matings than average and so more genes into the next generation. In modern Western society, the process of acquiring status symbols becomes the end in itself. The reason? The Western concept of marriage.

Just about every tribal society on Earth practices an arrangement where a man and a woman become contractually bound to each other. The fundamental terms of the contract are straightforward: the woman provides sex for the husband; food for herself, her husband, and their children; and nurturing for the offspring. The man provides commitment, protection, status, security, and hunted status-food for gift-giving and sharing; he accepts any offspring of the woman’s previous marriages. San women enjoyed the “sweetness” of the sexual dimension just as women do today. [
36]. The contract is cemented by rituals and oaths made in front of witnesses, notably close relatives.

How do the man and woman find each other? The woman’s first marriage is usually when she is very young. In San society, a girl’s first marriage is between 13 and 15 years of age, before she has reached puberty.38 The parents will negotiate a marriage with a carefully selected man. They try for the best status they can find—someone who will bring security, reflected glory, and some

Female Puberty and Fertility
In forager populations, a girl’s first period (known as menarche), on average, occurs between the ages of 15 and 17. This is followed by two or three years of “adolescent sterility” before she begins ovulating and can therefore conceive. Thus, a woman does not bear her first child until she is between 18 and 22 years of age. The first pregnancy is followed by four to eight others spaced 3–5 years apart, until menopause occurs sometime after age 40. In today’s Western society, girls reach menarche three years earlier and have only 12 to 18 months of adolescent sterility.
37 Seemingly, this is not how nature intended. A number of factors contribute to this abnormality, including lack of hard physical work, lack of feeling hungry, and too much body fat.

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 meat-sharing for the parents too. In the words of developmental psychology professor David Geary, “Culturally successful men have more reproductive potential than other men, and women’s mating and marriage preferences suggest that they are motivated to capture and use this potential for their own reproductive ends.” [39]. The husband will usually be much older, by 7 to 15 years. Often the daughter’s preferences, feelings of attraction, and affection might be taken into account. First marriages in the San are unstable and many break up within a short period. [40].

 In forager societies, women get married several times in a lifetime. By the time she is a little older, and maybe already a mother, parental influences diminish and emotional preferences play a greater role. Often, it is the woman who puts an end to an unsatisfactory marriage. Even though women outnumber men, there is still fierce male competition for access to females, so she is unlikely to remain without a protector.

 Almost always, the man stays in his own band and seeks a bride in an out-group, a nearby band. In this respect, the human species is what anthropologists call “patrilocal”—that is, the woman marries into the husband’s family. This is a strong source of asymmetry in the relationship. The man is on home territory, among his close family and allies. In contrast, the bride is entering a world of people with whom she has little prior affinity and she is ignorant of “their ways.” The successful wife is one who learns quickly how to assimilate into this culture. She must be skillful at detecting the dynamics in relationships, be good at adapting her behavior to “fit in,” and transfer her loyalty to the new group.

 Over the eons of evolution, we might expect that genes would evolve to make such skills instinctive, and indeed this is the case. We find that women (compared to men) have greater ability to sense atmospheres, to feel undercurrents, to detect ulterior motives, to conduct intrigue, to ingratiate themselves, and to manipulate their new environment. They will be especially sensitive to rejection by the new family and group. They are good with words and know how to use them to trigger powerful reactions. Women more easily move their allegiance to different groups, often several times in a lifetime.

Earlier, we saw how women outnumbered men and that some men were attractive partners and some were not. It all adds up to some men having several wives and some getting only one or even none. This was a source of strife. Mateless males would be constantly on the prowl: they might be “losers,” but they still had the mating drive. That is why the mated males had to be both powerful and vigilant. They had to protect their women from rape by out-group males or from the discreet attentions of an in-group male. [

In our discussion so far, we have avoided stating the obvious: that human societies are by nature polygamous, or more precisely “polygynous.” That is,

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they are societies where males (but not females) have more than one mate at a time. In other words, polygyny is a human universal value. Most populations of the world today practice it—the only major exception is Western culture, where monogamy is the socially imposed rule.

This was not always the case. The doctrines associated with monogamy were adopted by the Christian church in the early Middle Ages. Up until that time, even popes and priests had wives and concubines. Then, an ancient Greek mind-virus known as “asceticism” took hold. Asceticism takes the view that true spirituality can only be obtained through abstinence of earthly needs, including sex. According to the ascetic doctrine, celibacy is the ideal that we should all strive for. However, being practical, the church recognized that humans need to reproduce. It adopted a compromise doctrine that allowed ordinary folk to make babies but kept the sexuality to a minimum. A man could marry just one woman, provided he entered an indissoluble contract to stay with her for life. The Christian sect was determined to regulate the marital and sex lives of its adherents. By various means, it got kings and parliaments to adopt monogamy into law and make it virtually impossible to divorce.

However, the instituting of monogamy has some interesting consequences. It intervenes massively in a delicate balance, the one where men strive for several mates and women strive for an exclusive deal. This intervention hands women the exclusive deal. To make sure that there is no back-sliding, the marriage contract is shored up with legally enforced sanctions. In practical terms, the male’s evolutionary drive is subordinated to the satisfaction of the female’s evolutionary drive.

Secondly, it has the effect of distributing the females almost equally among the men. This is good for low-status males, for even they will find someone to pair up with. It is even more important in modern societies, where the proportion of males is equal to females. The limits to this were illustrated in the aftermath of World War I. During that time, the major combatants, France, England, and Germany, lost young men at the same rate as in hunter-gatherer times. As a result, there was a dearth of young men after the war. With the rigidities of monogamy, many young women stayed in spinsterhood for the rest of their lives.

We saw earlier that in Pleistocene times, high-status men would have many offspring and low-status men few or none. The kinds of genes that make for high status in Pleistocene times included those for risk-taking, bravery, strength, aggressivity, heroism, female protection, ingenuity, and hunting skills. In the Western world, for over 1,000 years now, genes in low-status men have been spread at the same rate as those for high-status men. No one knows what this means for the future.

Mating Games
We mentioned earlier that women could rightfully fear a husband’s involvement

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with another woman. But why would a woman be interested in taking a lover? After all, she only needs one man at a time: a second man contributes nothing to the number of children she can have or the protection that the husband provides. The main answer, unsurprisingly, lies in the genes. A woman might be attracted to another man if her genes sense that he will give her offspring a better start in life. A woman may well have a husband, but does he have the best genes in the barnyard? If she has a low-status husband, her current genes will do better if she can mate with a man whose genes are better than her husband’s. She will be attracted to mate discreetly with high-status males. Whence the excessive insecurity of a low-status male when a high-status male is hovering around his wife.

Conformity of individual members to the norms of the group is shored up by social emotions such as moral outrage, revenge, remorse, and guilt. The emotions themselves are human universal values, but the norms to which they are applied are not. In the West, we are conditioned to the idea that monogamy is the social norm. It is interesting to notice how the social emotions are expressed when confronted with norm-breakers, particularly males. The full weight of moral outrage is unleashed against them: they are called “cheats,” “two-timers,” “home-breakers,” and “cads.”

The husband has only given his commitment to the raising of his own genes. One of the worst things that can happen to a gene is that it finds itself in a body which, instead of promoting further copies of itself, is promoting someone else’s copies. Such a case can occur if the wife has been sexually active with some other male. The husband could find himself raising another male’s genes. Males are therefore descended from a line of males who did a better than average job of ensuring that they were raising their own genes. How did they do this? There are several gene strategies and the most powerful is that the gene is coded to provoke feelings of sexual jealousy. The male, once he has made a commitment to the female, will be jealous, almost insanely so. He will get violent if he senses that his woman is attracted to another man and if higher-status men are interested in her. Jealous violence also has a preemptive role in deterring infidelity. These effects are strongest if the woman is in her prime for childbearing and if the male is low status. [42]. Even so, no man is exempt from these emotions— they are part of the hardwiring.

This brings us to one of the fundamental worries for a woman, an emotion deeply programmed from our Pleistocene past—fear of neglect and abandonment. On average, the genes of women who allowed themselves to be neglected or abandoned did not survive so well. She will be constantly seeking reassurance that her man is not planning any changes. She has sensitive antennae trying to second-guess his thoughts. A woman will be jealous of a rival mainly because she fears dilution of his commitment, resources, and status, even abandonment.

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So far, we have been talking rather mechanistically, but what about love and affection? These are powerful emotions, a kind of madness even. Nevertheless, it is a human universal value that, in the matter of marriage, they take a secondary role. The vast majority of societies (outside the Western middle class) see marriage as a contract, best arranged by those who have a cool understanding of the issues. They see the addled states of lust and romantic love as an unreliable basis for such an important commitment.

In forager societies, women are more focused on keeping their children alive than on developing intimacy with their husbands. [43]. Love is the icing on the cake: all other things being equal, women still prefer men with whom they can develop an intimate and emotionally satisfying relationship, [44] although this appears to be more of a luxury than a necessity. [45]. Women also prefer men with whom they feel physically safe and who are physically capable of protecting them should the need arise. [46].

Sexual jealousy is not the only reason why domestic situations turn to violence. We have seen that there is asymmetry in the way women and men handle problems. Women are good at using words and they use this ability to pursue their argument by indirect means with elaborate emotional verbal tactics. Men, on average, are not good at handling emotional verbal cut-and-thrust. The female ability to exquisitely torment their dignity and self-esteem maddens them. They feel impotent, frustrated, and outmaneuvered, faced with the seeming irrational, unjust, and slippery nature of the argument. In contrast, men are made to pursue their arguments by simple, direct means: physically. In other words, men are best at physical warfare, while women are best at psychological warfare.

There are several reasons why domestic conflict in forager societies was low. First, women and men were thrown together less—they simply did not interact in areas where they were psychologically unsuited. Also, in modern society, both women and men have heightened expectations of the other, expectations that are unrealistic and frustratingly unrealizable. Finally, should a dispute arise in a forager society, the man had no hesitation parrying the woman’s psychological aggression with some low-level physical aggression. In the modern world, the use of physical aggression is thoroughly condemned, which has the interesting consequence of disarming men in domestic disputes, leaving the female verbal and psychological weaponry intact. Many men can cope with this, but all have to suppress their natural inclinations.

In 95% to 97% of mammal species, the males take no part whatsoever in parenting.
47 This includes our closest cousins, the chimpanzee and gorilla. (Chimpanzees never even know who their father is: the female mates with all males in the group.) In the remaining 3% to 5% of mammal species, male parenting exists but in a weak form. Seemingly, the human species falls into this second category.

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Fertility Assessment
Evolutionary psychologists and biologists are painstakingly demolishing the Blank Slate doctrine that beauty is purely a matter of cultural upbringing. Men down through the ages who were not good at selecting fertile women had fewer offspring on average. It follows that today’s men are descended from a long line of men who were good at picking fertile women.

How does a man tell if a woman is fertile? He has no way of directly measuring it, however, his genes have an indirect way—he detects “attractiveness.” Women rated attractive by men consistently have higher levels of reproductive hormones and fertility. On average, a woman who looks young, has a curvy hourglass shape, [48] taut and vibrant skin, [49] good muscle tone, a pleasing voice, [50] and exudes a mysterious aura of sexuality [51] is probably fertile. These signals might only be a crude guide, but on average a man would do better to mate with a woman like that than one who did not display these signs.

 In forager societies, direct male involvement with their small offspring is minor. Indirect involvement has to do with the “social” context, for example, meat-sharing to enhance status and forceful protection from bullying and aggression.

A male can never be totally sure if he is the father of the children borne by his wives. This uncertainty plays itself out in many ways. One of them has to do with nephews and nieces. In many societies, men develop stronger relationships with their sister’s offspring than with the ones that purport to be theirs. He and his sister have the same mother with total certainty. In other words, he is bound to share some genes with his nephews and nieces by his sister. Many societies such as the Romans and Anglo-Saxons worked this out, even if they did not know about genes—they talked about being “blood relations” and sharing “bloodlines.”

All this is not to say that forager fathers ignored children totally. He will happily dandle a small child on his knee for a bit, but the child is part of the women’s world and his role, at this stage, is to be protective of his child’s safety and interests. Only when a boy is approaching his rite of passage to manhood does the father take on a responsibility for his daily instruction—he becomes his buddy. In modern times, do not expect a father to change a diaper with any sense of warm, nurturing love. In contrast, expect him to intervene forcefully if his child is bullied in the park, and he will be right there when it is time to take his son to a ballgame.

Child Rearing 
We will first look at what happens in our typical hunter-gatherer society, the San Bushmen. It is highly likely that our Pleistocene ancestors practiced their form of

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child rearing for all of our evolutionary past. It is therefore likely that parents and children are genetically programmed for this child-rearing pattern even today. In forager populations (typified by the San), on average, women had their first child at 19 years old and the last by the age of 49. The mother usually goes off into the bush alone to give birth. [52]. Australian Aborigines followed a similar pattern. If the group is on the move, the woman pulls off to the side to give birth, tie the umbilical cord, and wash the baby if there is water nearby. If she is in camp, she will go off into the bush with another woman for companionship.  [53]. It is a human universal value that childbirth is treated as an entirely female and private matter. Men are not invited to, and show no interest in, its mysteries.

Infant mortality is high: 20% die within the first year of life. On occasion, the mother practiced infanticide on the newborn for one or more reasons: if the child is born too soon after an earlier one; if it is physically defective; if twins are born (in which case one is killed); or if the woman feels too old to breastfeed another baby. [54]. The Aboriginal women gave birth to six to eight children in a lifetime, of which estimates suggest that nearly half were killed at birth. [55]. There is no suggestion that there is any gender choice in these life-and-death decisions.

Babies and toddlers are breastfed until about three to four years old. The mother then introduces easily chewed, solid foods after the first teeth have broken through. Children tended to be spaced at least four years apart. That is, a new child is not allowed to compete with an older child for the mother’s breast milk.

The San believed that breast milk was for the fetus, so a woman stopped breastfeeding a child as soon as she became pregnant again, not when the new baby was born. At this point, the current child is weaned and has to manage entirely on solid foods. Weaning is never an easy time and children often suffer depression that lasts a long time.

During the day, the mother carries her baby in a light sling on her hip. The baby is facing forward and has unfettered access to the breast. The child suckles at will, even if he is not getting any milk. The sucking reflex appears to be an

Natural Family Planning
According to Richard Lee, nursing in San women is “vigorous, frequent, given on demand, and spaced throughout the day and night.” It has been known for quite a while that the stimulus of round-the-clock sucking suppresses ovulation. We make a distinction here between sucking and feeding. It is sufficient for there to be 24-hour, on-demand sucking to suppress conception. American mothers who follow this breastfeeding pattern experience a similar effect. [
56]. A decrease in the frequency of sucking/feeding results in the reappearance of menstruation and then ovulation. [57].

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  important aspect of what is called “contact comfort.” Our close cousins, the chimpanzee and gorilla, exhibit the same behavior.

 Carried on the hip in this side position, the child is looking at what the mother is seeing and has eye-level contact with other children. He has access to play with the ornaments and beads that are hung around the mother’s neck. The total body contact time is much higher than with Western infants—75% of the time in the first few months, dropping to 40% at two years. Researchers note that boys get less contact time, dropping from 75% to 30% after one year. [58].

Almost as bad as weaning from mother’s milk is the process of “weaning from the back”—when the mother ceases to carry a child once a new baby is born. From then on, the older child is not carried again. But children love to be carried, they delight in the physical contact with their mothers, and they hate the pressures imposed by toddling to keep up with the mother’s foraging. Weaning from the back gives rise to similar kinds of behavior as breast weaning: temper tantrums, refusals to walk, demands to be carried, and refusal to be left in the village while the mother goes gathering.

Sibling Conflict
Squabbles between siblings have been a trial since the dawn of time. When the first child is born, he has the parents to himself. He has undisputed access to all his mother’s resources. When the second child is born, he finds a rival already in place. This older sibling is bigger, smarter, and well-established. In the younger ones, being weaker genetically switches them to a subtle, indirect mode of operation. They tend to be better at provoking the older one into trouble and in playing one parent off against the other. The eldest child is bamboozled by this newcomer’s magical ability to manipulate his parents against him. He is bigger, and the only weapon he knows about is violence. But violence, unlike needling, is readily visible to his parents. As he brings their reprimand down on his head, he feels the injustice keenly.

At another level, genes sitting in a child will try to improve his survival chances by restricting competition from newcomers. For a baby suckling at his mother’s breast, the worst thing that can happen to his genes is if the mother gets pregnant too early. She will stop breastfeeding him, thus increasing his chances of dying. Hardwiring makes small babies ultra-sensitive to their mother becoming intimate with a man. If there is the slightest suspicion, the baby becomes demanding, tries to divert attention, cries, and bawls. The distraught mother drops any amorous intentions and seeks to find out what can be ailing the child. There is nothing wrong with him, but she is not to know that. This is one reason why young children want to climb into their parents’ bed. Their chief, pre-programmed drive is to keep their parents apart. In other words, we are all descended from a succession of infants who were successful at slowing down the arrival of new, competing siblings.

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Parent-Child Conflict
In a similar way, we can look at how mother genes and child genes have different agendas. At weaning, a child at the breast is leading a healthy, trouble-free, comforting existence. Quite reasonably, it could go on for a long while yet. The 3-year-old’s genes are saying, “Survival is better assured by staying with breastfeeding.” But the mother’s genes are saying, “Wean the 3-year-old and start another baby.” That is why weaning is always a battle. The San suffer from it just as much as Westerners. The important point to register is this: it is natural for there to be this conflict. The child is programmed for it: the mother must play her part properly and resist the child’s demands. It is perhaps easier for a San woman, because she lives at a subsistence level and does not have the luxury of trying out trendy child-rearing theories.

With the San, infants and children found themselves in an environment where they are rarely out of contact with adults and older children. They moved easily from one group of adults to another. They were all related in some way and the adults were fond of indulging the infants. Adults rarely reprimanded the children and they are only corrected when necessary to teach them to avoid danger. Infants are encouraged to sit up, and then stand up, as early as possible, and they develop motor coordination early. They are also advanced in cognitive development thanks to the high intensity of social contact and stimulating play opportunities.

Although a forager child circulates freely, he nevertheless has an acute sense of his place in the family tree. From an early age, he knows his mother and then identifies his father, brothers, sisters, and other relatives. He seems to have an instinct that immediately fixes the degree of genetic relatedness and therefore the degree of genetic investment that can be expected.

Children, once weaned from the woman’s back, stay behind in the campsite with the older women and the men who were not hunting that day. The children were mostly left to play among themselves, but the grandmothers kept a watchful eye on them. Not many species have lifespans that cover three generations, so there must be an evolutionary reason why this should be—something about having grandparents around that promotes survival of their genes in their grandchildren. Researchers believe that grandparents, and in particular grandmothers, played a vital role in the survival of humanity. [59]. Grandmothers are strongly programmed to nurture their grandchildren.

Both boys and girls would sometimes accompany the women on their foraging expeditions and thereby learn some foraging skills. However, they were not expected to forage on behalf of the family. From the age of about 11, boys were inducted into hunting with the men; girls never went on the hunt. [60].

There were not many children in the typical band, perhaps 20 or so from

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infancy to 14 years old. [61]. Unlike in modern societies, where children of the same age are put together, each forager child found himself with only one or two others in a similar age group. Older children helped younger children and taught them what they knew, and younger children were dragged upwards in games by having to compete with older children.

Researcher Marjorie Shostak recorded the life histories of eight San women. [62]. According to her account, older children were involved in sex play, including sexual intercourse. The adults regarded this as unexceptional, but scolded the children if they were not discreet. There is an innate prudery at all levels and no one likes to be observed. This may explain why daughters were married off before puberty—that is, before they get pregnant without a man to take responsibility. In this regard, it is interesting to consider the question of incest avoidance. Normally, children grow up with an aversion to having sexual relations with their close kin. This is a product of childhood “imprinting,” the phenomenon we mentioned earlier in the section on taboo. Our brains are hardwired with an instruction that says: “If you have grown up with this person in your family, don’t even think about being intimate with him.” On the other hand, if a child is separated from his or her close kin at birth, there is no such imprinting.

An Indulgent Upbringing
With the San, a child is in intimate contact with the mother during the working day. Back at the camp, the child was never more than a few yards from its mother and other close relatives. At night, the child slept next to its parents around the family hearth. The same pattern is found in just about all forager societies. Is there any significance to all this close mother/child contact? Indeed, there is: the worst fate that can befall a small child is to be lost, overlooked, or abandoned. Children who allowed that to happen were less likely to survive into adulthood. On average, every child today is good at detecting being left alone and has a noisy panic attack about it. Looked at in this light, some modern ideas about leaving a child to cry himself to sleep in a nearby room seem misguided.

Children mostly stayed within the circle of the camp. The adults taught them about dangers, but, in reality, the risks of their life in the encampment were few. The adults kept a wary eye out for the children if they strayed out into the bush. On the whole, in their simple lives, there was little need for the adults to nag and scold the children. No worries about the children messing something up, being dirty, breaking valuable objects, or running into traffic. The general picture is of a carefree childhood with few responsibilities and the comfort of being surrounded by a benevolent community of relatives, leading to a well-adjusted existence.

When we look at both our ancient history and our understanding of genetic biology, we can identify some suggestive pointers for today. Ideally, it looks as

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though a woman should allow at least four years between births. She should allow breastfeeding/sucking for at least three years. She should provide plenty of intimate body contact and avoid giving the baby the impression that it is forgotten or abandoned; the child sleeps with her. The family would live in convenient daily contact with a large extended family of grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Grandmothers are on hand all the time and have a vital child-care role. The environment should allow an indulgent upbringing with little need for scolding.

These are apparently the desirable goals, but they are a long way from modern life. Perhaps only the first one—four-year birth spacing—would be simple to implement today. Nevertheless, once a mother understands these goals, she has a chance of steering her life in a helpful direction. She can avoid fighting harmful battles and focus on the necessary ones. Sibling rivalry is a genetically programmed feature of existence and parents have to battle it even-handedly as best they can. Parent-child conflict is normal in many areas: weaning is always a difficult time with tantrums and tears and the mother has to resist them in a sensible way. Weaning from the intimate body contact is also a difficult time: it is normal for the child to be depressed. Parents have to resist manipulation by the child’s psychological warfare.

In every culture, people lead intense spiritual lives expressed through dance, song, stories, rituals, and deep emotional attachment to the land. All peoples find their identity in tribal stories and myths. The primitive bands had no writing, so they passed down their cultural heritage by intensely disciplined repetition. The older members, who had memorized the entire folklore, would train the younger members to be word-perfect. This was how tribes preserved, with remarkable accuracy, events and stories going back thousands of years. Storytelling was a favorite pastime around the campfire. The children would listen in rapt attention as the tales unfolded, laughing in glee at the antics of some ancient trickster or gasping in dread at some tragedy. This time together, sharing the communal folklore, is at once a powerful release and a strong force knitting the members of the band together.

Many males were killed in battle, so there were not so many living well into old age, but one would be designated as the headman. He was the successful survivor of many life-and-death battles, the high-status “alpha-male,” and he had many wives and children. The remaining elders were also venerated in some way, and they were the repository of know-how and tribal memory. Old men were indispensable sources of survival expertise and entertaining stories, the precious guardians of the tribal heritage. In contrast with today’s society, old people were not only useful, they fulfilled an essential role in the well-being of the band.

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People cluster in little groups during the day, often talking as they make artifacts or perform other tasks. At night, families talk late by their fires or visit other family fires with their children. Frequently, the men and women form their own groups. The subjects of discussion are quite distinct. “The men’s imagination turns to hunting. They converse musingly, as though enjoying a sort of daydream together, about past hunts, telling over and over again where game was found and who killed it. They wonder where the game is at present, and say what fat bucks they hope to kill. They also plan their next hunts with practicality.”  [63]. The women talk about who did or did not share food with them as well as their anxieties about not having food. They also complain about their arduous foraging day and the long trudge home. They talk at length about their lovers, husbands, sexual experiences, or the time they went into the bush to give birth. They would not dream of discussing such matters when a man is in earshot, because men had “their talk” and women had theirs. [64].

All primal peoples, whether we look at the San, Australian Aborigines, or Hadza, are deeply attached to their land and feel deeply connected to the nature that surrounds them. In tests made on people from all over the world, they consistently picked out a picture of blue sky, rolling parkland, and the occasional animal as being the most pleasing. [65]. Other studies show that American children are less likely to suffer distress if they live in natural surroundings of greenery rather than in concrete buildings and asphalt-lined parking lots. [66]. The closer we are to natural surroundings, the more comfortable we feel.

The San dance on many occasions. Both men and women dance, often all night long, working themselves up into a delirium. This kind of behavior is a human universal value and it does not require much imagination to see Western parallels with the atmosphere in nightclubs and discos. People everywhere like doing it and clearly there is some kind of healthy mental relief to be found from the experience. About once a week, the San adult males indulge in a sacred “fire dance” that goes on from dusk until dawn. [67]. All the members of the band are present and the women sit in a tight circle singing and clapping and helping to raise the state of dancing frenzy. The men dance in a circle around the women until they go into a trance-like state, where they have mystical, hallucinatory experiences. In this state, and foaming at the mouth, they literally play with fire, skipping through the embers or even scooping up them up. The men describe their experience as a process of death and rebirth. “You give up what you are, give up your identity, enter the unknown, willingly going into fundamental mysteries and so enter the state of transcendence.” [68]. The American professor of comparative mythology, Joseph Campbell, describes this as the classic tale of the hero’s journey into the unknown. The boy becomes a man and the man becomes a hero. After the dance, the Bushman is reborn as an ordinary, fully functioning man. These are deep themes, found all over the world and in all societies.

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Rites of Passage
The need to turn boys into men is found in all societies. At some point, the boy, who has been attached to his mother, has to be removed from the world of women and incorporated into the world of men. It happens when the men believe that the boy has reached a suitable level of maturity (not necessarily puberty), probably around 10 to 12 years old. The process takes place over several months as the boy is instructed in behavior appropriate to the status of an adult male. It covers matters such as dress, speech, deportment, and morality.

Up to now, the hunt has been a mysterious activity of the mature, initiated males. They disappeared into the bush for hours or days on end and, on their return, related proud tales of valor, ingenuity, and derring-do. Often, they came back with the meat-prize, something which raised their status in the eyes of those who depended on them. It is a big moment in the life of a boy when he is allowed on his first hunt. This immediately separates him from his sisters and mother—this is something that the womenfolk will never experience.

In a similar way, many spiritual matters have been surrounded in mystery. “It is forbidden to talk of these things except by men who have been initiated in the mysteries of the dance,” reported a Bushman to Laurens van der Post.69 Now religious secrets are revealed. As part of this process, the initiate is required to commune for the first time with the “supernatural,” which he does in trances induced by frenzied dancing, fasting, or the use of mind-altering plants. Often, body parts are modified as part of the ritual: penises are circumcised, noses are pierced, teeth are filed, or faces are tattooed. Without them, the male is not a fully-fledged adult. Finally, the boy has to undergo an ordeal. The manner of the ordeal varies enormously from society to society, but they all have one thing in common: the boy has to show bravery worthy of a man. When he has finished, he knows in his soul that he is now a man.

In Western culture, there was, up until recent times, machinery that reflected similar processes, albeit in a much weaker form and with patchier coverage. Traditionally, these were provided by military academies, boarding schools, and various quasi-military cadet organizations. Civilian examples include the Boys’ Brigade and the Boy Scouts. They all had their rituals, traditions, and ordeals. Now, the Boy Scouts have had to eliminate rough, body-contact games and, after a Supreme Court ruling, military academies are obliged to admit women. In many areas, initiation ceremonies have been driven underground and often take dysfunctional forms. Thus, clandestine university fraternity “hazings” and military initiation ordeals occasionally give rise to scandal, accusations of bullying, and even death of the initiate.

In many ways, we have dismantled male initiation rituals. We are raising a population of boy-men, in touch with their feminine side but hesitant in their masculinity. It should not be surprising, then, if some young men prefer life in a street gang or criminal activity. There, they find the excitement, danger, challenges,

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and combat that their souls crave. Of course, many men are able to divert their primitive instincts into ones that are more socially acceptable. For example, low-status males might find an outlet in competitive sports by becoming a star player at basketball or football. Schools used to understand this very well and made sure that every boy developed himself in competitive games; this is not necessarily the case anymore. Other men find satisfaction in intellectual pursuits, such as a fulfilling career as a doctor, journalist, or architect; these are the lucky ones. Most men still end up as bank clerks, assembly-line workers, and shop assistants. Males experience a midlife crisis when it dawns on them that they will never make it to the top—their fate is to join the ranks of the also-rans.

In our Pleistocene past, men were daily presented with opportunities to be heroic. This heroism was driven by the rewards: the admiration of the womenfolk and the opportunity to win a new woman. It is a theme present throughout all folklore right up to the present day. Now, if a young man goes up to his sweetheart and says, “I want to prove myself to you, give me something dangerous to do,” she is most likely to say “Don’t be silly, you might get yourself killed.” Most men today will live their lives never having been heroic. It is remarkable how many men now in their eighties, having led uneventful adult careers, revert to reminiscences of their youthful exploits in boot camp. It was the episode that defined their identity, just like an initiation rite, which in a way it was.

Heroism, of course, is a high-risk activity and the hero could lose his life. How did our forebears cope with the early deaths of young men? Part of the answer lies in the initiation rite. At this time, the mother experiences the brutal wrenching of her child away from her—she loses her “little boy” to the world of men and feels a sense of loss and bereavement. Today, we fight death at every turn and refuse to “go gentle into that good night.”

We have gradually built up a picture of what life must have been like for our Pleistocene forebears. The basic survival unit was the band of about 50 people, a grouping of people who were all related to each other by blood or marriage. They all socialized and supported each other and the children freely mingled among them.

Within this group, there were sub-groups, notably the family, consisting of mother and children plus father. A significant feature of the family grouping is that it is much more loosely knit than our so-called nuclear families of today. The ancient fundamental or nuclear family unit was the mother and child. This has been a special relationship down through the ages in all cultures. Fathers floated around in the inner circle, but were not part of the nucleus. It is to the chagrin of many husbands when they find that, as soon as a child is born, they are no longer the center of their wife’s attention, which is now focused on the baby.

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As soon as the child was weaned from his mother’s back, he was brought up in large part by the grandmother and other relations. The father played only a small role. In her daily life, the mother had long conversations with other mothers while foraging and with all women when back at the camp. The father was chiefly solitary while on the hunt and indulged in “man-talk” with the other men back at the camp. The husband interacted with his wife for short periods of the day, mainly to discuss factual matters and arrange the food sharing, most of which had been contributed by her.

In other words, the women mostly found their companionship with other women. The men found their companionship in their solitary communion with nature on the hunt and with the other men back at the camp. Even so, we must visualize these separate gatherings going on within the close confines of the encampment. The groups were only a few feet apart and, even if they had separate conversations, they would feel close to one another. The children would wander freely from one to the other.

This picture contrasts sharply with how Western society has evolved, in just the last 50 years. Not only today’s mother but also the father are expected to be round-the-clock parenting machines. In fact, they are victims of the “Blank Slate” philosophy, bamboozled into believing that their children are amorphous lumps of putty who would stay that way unless they spend every moment of the day shaping them with constant entertainment, instruction, and “quality time.” Parents are made to feel guilty for every misfortune and inadequacy that befalls their children. However, a host of studies, including those on identical twins brought up in different environments, show that they grow up with the same personalities. A parent can ensure that a child learns the piano where another does not, but as people they grow up just the same.70 Mostly, the child’s genes orchestrate how he or she turns out, even down to political affiliation and degree of religiosity. [71]. In the words of cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, “All those differences among parents and homes have no predictable long-term effects on the personalities of their children. Not to put a fine point on it, but much of the advice from parenting experts is so much flapdoodle.” [72].

In a similar way, there is an expectation among middle-class Western parents that they should be companions for each other. In one sense, they are: they operate as a team to ensure the survival and well-being of the genes lying in their offspring. However, in almost every other way, metaphorically speaking, men and women are from different planets. John Gray, in his book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, confronted head-on the doctrine that men and women should have identical drives and personalities. [73]. As we have seen, they have different desires, objectives, ways of talking (and of not talking), ways of working, parenting, interests, innate talents, and physical attributes.

The relationship between husband and wife in middle-class Western society is one of the most vexed. It plainly is not working and has to be constantly

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maintained and repaired by a massive industry of marriage guidance counselors, self-help books, and talk show therapists. Many of them identify the symptoms quite accurately. However, no one outside evolutionary psychology draws the obvious conclusion: that the way we structure family life today is excruciatingly dysfunctional. It is as though we put a cat and a dog—both excellent creatures in their own right—into a sack and expect them to get along.

Men and women need to structure their joint lives differently. Today, we expect a man and a woman to coexist in intense proximity in a little box. However, as we have seen, although a husband and wife might have concern and affection for each other, they do not make natural round-the-clock buddies. And if the reader feels we have focused more on the male predicament than the female one, this flows naturally from the state of affairs today. The Western world has become feminized to such an extent that the male qualities mentioned earlier—risk-taking, bravery, strength, aggressivity, heroism, female protection, ingenuity, hunting skills—have no place or role.

In forager society, each individual had a much higher degree of “social connectedness,” a phrase sociologists use to describe the number and quality of links a person has with other members of the wider family. Husbands and wives had less intensity of contact with each other but a much richer and developed suite of contacts with everyone else in the band. This looser arrangement is the “natural” state.

In this chapter, we have explored the way our ancient ancestors lived their lives for eons. We have seen how many factors, such as the power of our genes, quite naturally lead to conflict in many situations and to harmony in others. This overview has brought out the major themes controlling our feelings, which in turn control the way we behave. In a great many ways, they operate at cross-purposes to the way our modern society demands. Since the farming revolution, humans, without realizing it, have been forced to pioneer new manners of living. In the process, many natural checks and balances have been removed and artificial ones have been instituted.

We have mostly avoided making formal recommendations and instead we lay out the issues for you to think about. Our society is structured with such rigidities that in many respects it is hard to change your own life within it. However, examine the issues and question how they relate to your own circumstances. You may find that you can make adjustments, subtle or otherwise, that help you get in touch with the naturally adapted heritage that makes you most comfortable.

Our evolutionary psychology illustrates how our current lives are out of sorts with our savanna-bred natures. This discord is adversely affecting our health just as our nutritional habits are. We must remember, too, that there is no going back. We have become so numerous that our prosperity and survival depend on structuring society in new, complex, and unproven ways.

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