Society write large and culture in specific, is the result of a myriad of social contracts written into our biology. As is the justice they need. The arc of our evolution has long bent towards the justice of “laws” fittest for team survival. We bred ourselves, by artificial selection, to internalize and feel strongly about social rules. This is the primary mistake of social darwinism which purports “survival of the fittest” under the vaneer of indidivdualism.
Christopher Boehm in Moral Origins concludes, after intensive analysis of 50 representative hunter-gatherer cultures, that our ancestors likely experienced a “radical political change,” evolving from a hierarchic “apelike ‘might is right’…social order,” to become more egalitarian. About 250,000 years ago, their survival became a team sport because chasing big-game toward teammates was much more productive than solo hunting. But only if profit-sharing was sustainable. Even with fit teammates hunting needs luck (e.g. 4% success today). Then, as now, the logic of social insurance solved team problems by sharing profits and risks. This is the same process that transformed wolves into dogs. Productivity gains in interdependent teams radically changed our evolution. Cooperators thrived. As did teams with the best adapted sharing rules, provided they were well enforced.
Boehm says all surviving hunter-gatherers enforce law-like social rules to prevent excessive egoism, nepotism, and cronyism. They use rebukes, ridicule, shame, shunning, exile and execution (typically delegated to close male kin of the condemned, to avoid inter-family feuding). For example, meat isn’t distributed by the successful hunter but by neutral stakeholders. Excessively dominant alpha-male behavior—like hogging more than a fair share of meat—is punished by “counterdominant coalitions.” If the strong abused their power they were eliminated, in a sort of inverted eugenics. Resisting injustice and tyranny are universal traits in today’s hunter-gatherers. They likely run 10,000 generations deep in our prehistory.
Social punishment created powerful selection pressures. Self-control becomes the lowest-cost strategy for avoiding social penalties. Shame and guilt likely evolved as mechanisms for internalizing the logic of team rules—a social contract written into our biology. We intuitively recognize what is considered punishable. And often punish ourselves. Cultures configure shame and guilt system triggers differently. But rules balancing short term individual selfish gain with longer-term or team interests are more evolutionarily productive. Thinking of our evolved urges as irresistible is a deep error, since self-control, especially relative to social rules, has long been needed for survival (see “evo-irresistible error”)
Our ancestors bred themselves to be team players. They used intelligently directed artificial selection of good cooperators as mates (“auto-domestication”). Bad cooperators were less likely to be selected for, or successful at, the hugely costly and highly collaborative business of raising long helpless offspring.
Justice, wrote Hesiod, poet of the ancient Greek masses and Homer’s rival, was “Zeus’s greatest gift” to us. Greatest or not, without it human nature wouldn’t be what it is. And we wouldn’t exist. This same process that gives rise to justice also gives rise to Altruism and I will even go so far as to suggest that, it is so powerful as to overcome what richard dawkins calls “the selfish gene” and in doins so, gives rise to homo-sexuality.
If viewing evloution through the lens of “survival of the fittest” it is possible to calculate the relative fitness of certain genes, such as the occurence of altruistic gene within and among groups. Consider a group of relatives that are socially interacting with each other. Some are altruistic and others are not. We don’t keep track of genes that are identical by descent. Instead, we calculate the effect of the altruistic act on the frequency of the altruistic gene within the group of relatives. The altruistic gene is at a selective disadvantage within the group. The only way for the altruistic gene to evolve in the total gene pool is if groups with more altruists contribute more to the gene pool than groups with fewer altruists. Because both altuism and variations in non-reproductive sexuality result in pro-social behavior, there would be stronger coheasion in groups that exhibit these behaviors which results in higher evolutionary sucess under harsh conditions over long periods of times, which are common during ecological disasters such as ice ages, or doughts and other causes of food scarcity. There is certiainly something to be said for behaviors being evolved by culture first and biologically second.