Chutes and Ladders

December 28, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Social, Uncategorized

Integral to an understanding of how humans are evolving is recognizing the many variables that influence social structure. Sexual selective forces inform social structure, and environmental effects influence hormonal levels that influence social structure. Demanding that natural selection is the cause of our evolution is a little like watching the railway tracks to guess what kind of locomotive will be passing by. Of course, any social structure-related evolutionary development has to pass the test of progeny surviving to procreate. That railroad they have to travel. What exactly passes down those tracks has far more to do with selective forces related to society and the environment than mere survival. The train is not the tracks.

My favorite game when I was small was Chutes and Ladders. I think I was as powerfully moved by the game board imagery as I was by the dynamic of the game. The player could observe at any time during the game the potential pathways that the game could take. Playing the game was to act out the manifest ups and downs characteristic of this chunk of life.

This theory of evolution offers two evolutionary trajectories and two social structures, each social structure enhancing or compelling a specific evolutionary direction. Like Chutes and Ladders, human procreative bodies (bands, tribes, societies) work their way across the game board, wiggling one way and then the other as they pass through time.

Matrifocal bands or tribes exhibit commanding, often domineering, females mating with cooperative males seeking to please. This is the bonobo paradigm. These are highly sexualized societies with progeny not knowing who the father is. Descent is matrilineal. Describing human matrifocal evolution, a number of additional features can be hypothesized, including male exhibition, runaway sexual selection, dance, song, rhythm and the dynamics of neoteny growing brains.

Patrifocal bands or tribes feature cooperative, often docile, females mating with commanding, hierarchically-inclined, status-seeking males. A dominant male or males often control access to fertile females. Often, the father can be fairly easily discerned.

As in Chutes and Ladders, a band can sometimes be matrifocal, at other times patrifocal, climbing or sliding its way across the game board. These transitions don’t usually occur quickly, but they can.

A band or society can oscillate between social structures impacted by surrounding societies, environmental impacts, intramale competition, access to resources, female infanticide and cultural innovations.

The result of these various impacts drives evolution. In a matrifocal society, cooperative males, neotenous, low-testosterone males, are highly valued along with commanding, high-testosterone females. Two trajectories are established, yanking in opposite directions. In humans, this specific dynamic was encouraged by runaway sexual selection resulting in exponential brain growth as that embryo and infant feature–rampant brain growth–prolonged itself into later and later ontogenetic stages.

Patrifocal societies select for neoteny in cooperative, low-testosterone females, and neoteny’s opposite, acceleration, in commanding, high-testosterone males. Here you still get a demand for neoteny, but there is no runaway sexual selection driven by female choice. Neoteny in females does not drag both sexes and society into larger brains because males are choosing females and their criteria are unambitious.

On one hand, the chutes, for example, you get quickly advancing neurological, physiological and hormonal change following a bigger brain trajectory that is horizontal and matrifocal. The ladders reveal hierarchical, male-dominant patrifocal society, more stationary societies, societies that tend to exhibit an evolutionary status quo.

If females aren’t choosing, the dynamic tends to be about marshalling resources, achieving status, manifesting control. These features can drive evolution. But it’s less about creativity, the hallmark of matrifocal culture, and more about domination.

Patrifocal-society intramale competition can create extreme physiological features, sexual dimorphism and a larger male relative to female size. A changing environment may compel a society to exhibit specific male-dominance patrifocal traits if those traits are suitable for the new milieu. In humans, if intramale competition becomes fierce, female infanticide becomes highly valued so that males without keen competitiveness find no mates.

If a warrior people begin impacting a gentle folk, the gentle matrifocals might feel compelled to kill its female infants to quickly reduce the number of males procreating, males that could produce cooperative, rather than commanding, adults, which could end the tribe. In less than a handful of generations a society might reverse direction to climbing ladders rather than taking slides.

The reverse can occur. A large and established matrifocal culture might compel a smaller patrifocal society to relax. If patrifocal females can exhibit choice, male domination will quickly wane. Patrifocal females, provided models, might choose a male that would enhance their life, not dominate it. These males are often innovators, not dominators. We can trace the emergence of matrifocal cultures over the course of history by noting surges of innovation within a society. Where there is innovation, there is female choice.

America, the nation of immigrants, exhibits exponential innovation in large part due to the complete breakdown of sexual selection criteria. There is no perfect mate. The patrifocal dominance model has become increasingly eroded as females choose mates according to their own criteria based on their experience and observations of the many ways other women choose mates.

In a human band, tribe, society, or mega society like the U. S., all cooperate with the demands of hormonal-driven social structure, sliding and climbing their way across the generations. Whereas the advocates of natural selection would prefer that our path be clearly defined by a railway-like, straight and narrow, long-term direction, I would suggest adjusting the metaphor. Even today there are still left on the railways seesaw-like rail cars, two-person units, which allow one person to pump down on one side as the other side leverages up. While one man stands, the other crouches, as they up and down each other clicky clack down the tracks. Indeed, natural selection is the foundation that we move upon. But getting from one place to another involves far more than if we survive to procreate.


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