Conflict and the evolution of social control

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Abstract:

With an interest in origins, it is proposed that conflict within the group can be taken as a natural focus for exploring the evolutionary development of human moral communities. Morality today involves social control but also the management of conflicts within the group. It is hypothesized that early manifestations of morality involved the identification and collective suppression of behaviours likely to cause such conflict. By triangulation the mutual ancestor of humans and the two Pan species lived in pronounced social dominance hierarchies, and made largely individualized efforts to damp conflict within the group, exhibiting consolation, reconciliation, and active pacifying intervention behaviour. It is particularly the active interventions that can be linked with social control as we know it. It is proposed that when this process became collectivized, and when language permitted the definition and tracking of proscribed behaviour, full-blown morality was on its way. Because early humans lived in egalitarian bands, a likely candidate for the first behaviour to be labelled as morally deviant is not the incest taboo but bullying behaviour, of the type that egalitarian humans today universally proscribe and suppress.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90007, USA.

Publication date: January 1, 2000

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