The Evolution of Societal Patriarchy (Discussion Seminar)

Thu March 3rd 2022, 10:00am
Event Sponsor
McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society and the Office of the President
Denning House, Room 201. 580 Lomita Dr, Stanford, CA 94305

Our March 2022 Tanner Lectures were given by Richard Wrangham, the Ruth Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology in the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University. The overall title of these lectures is: "The Evolution of Societal Patriarchy."

A unique and puzzling feature of human behavior is that individuals routinely sacrifice their own selfish interests for the sake of a wider good. Conventional theory has failed to explain the evolution of this “groupishness.” Wrangham argues that human groupishness evolved as a result of a novel ability: unlike other species, Homo sapiens could use language to conspire against resented rivals and kill them. Victims of these executions tended to be domineering bullies, nonconformists and other kinds of selfish personalities. Socially approved executions meant that antisocial behavior was selected against, while groupishness became positively favored. This evolutionary process led to the domination of social groups by coalitions of breeding males, a system that continues today in the form of societal patriarchy.

This discussion seminar focuses on both Lecture 1 ("Human Groupishness" - Mar 1, 5:00pm) and Lecture 2 ("The Origins of Societal Patriarchy and its Moral Consequences" - Mar 2, 5:00pm). Comments were given by Richard Klein (Anthropology and Biology, Stanford) and Ian Morris (Classics, Stanford).

Richard Wrangham's major interests are chimpanzee and human evolutionary ecology, the evolutionary dynamics of violence and non-violence, and ape conservation. He has been President (2004-2008) of the International Primatological Society, and an Ambassador for UNEP/UNESCO’s Great Ape Survival Project (GRASP). Wrangham was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1987, and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the British Academy. His most recent books are Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human (Basic Books, June 2009) and The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship Between Virtue and Violence in Human Evolution (Pantheon, January 2019).

Richard Klein, the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Anthropology and Biology at Stanford, researches the archeological and fossil evidence for the evolution of human behavior. He has done fieldwork in Spain and especially in South Africa, where he has excavated ancient sites and analyzed the excavated materials since 1969. He has focused on the behavioral changes that allowed anatomically modern Africans to spread to Eurasia about 50,000 years ago, where they swamped or replaced the Neanderthals and other non-modern Eurasians.

Ian Morris is a historian and archaeologist and holds the Jean and Rebecca Willard Professorship in Classics at Stanford. He has excavated archaeological sites in Britain, Greece, and Italy, most recently as director of Stanford's dig at Monte Polizzo, a native Sicilian site from the age of Greek colonization. He began his career studying the rise of the Greek city-state, then moved on to ancient economics, and now works on global history since the Ice Age.