Today, the BBC’s science section reported a new finding published in Nature on the origins of social behavior among primates. The report includes a few excerpts from an interview with the lead scientist on the study, Dr. Suzanne Shultz of Oxford University.
The geniuses at the BBC conclude the article as follows:
Human societies likely descended from similar large, loosely aggregated creatures, Dr Shultz explained, but the key difference, she pointed out, is that our closest cousins’ societies do not vary within a species, while humans’ do.
“In human societies we have polygyny… we have monogamy, and in some places we have females leaving the group they were born in, and in others males leave,” she said.
Why this difference exist [sic] is still unclear.
“Why this difference exists is still unclear.” No, sorry, but that is simply not the case. Differences in the family structures of various human societies are not a mystery. They can be explained quite clearly, and, in fact, one of the best theories on the topic is now over 100 years old. The differences have to do with the division of labor within those societies. It’s quite simple, really.
Furthermore, if Shultz cannot explain the difference between an ape and a human, then how can she explain the fact that she has a job at a university where she studies apes? Did this contradiction never occur to her?
We, the editors of Selecting Stones, advise the employees of the BBC as well as Dr. Shultz herself to read up a little bit more on the topics that they discuss, lest they make absurd claims. We suggest, first of all, the works of prominent nineteenth-century American anthropologist Lewis H. Morgan, and then, much more importantly, an excellent extended review of Morgan’s work by a man named Frederick Engels. Go look up a little book called The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, and you might learn something. A short little article called “The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man” might prove quite enlightening, as well.
Much of the factual information that Engels was working with is now out of date, but the important point is not what Engels argues, but how he argues it. Evolutionary biologists, to this day, still make the basic error of assuming humankind (and, indeed, other animals, too) to have only a passive relationship to nature. In fact, however, there is an active side, too, as everything from the stone axe to the space shuttle immediately attest. Evolutionary biologists would do well to look at the whole picture, rather than only half of it. And, outdated as he may be in places, old Frederick Engels might nevertheless be of some help here.
But, then again, there are many other reasons, as well, why a professor at Oxford might choose to overlook the writings of Frederick Engels, and why she might choose to remain ignorant of the fact that the origin of science lay in the primitive selection of stones.