The Elements of Evolution (64) Culture


Culture is not causeless and disembodied. It is generated in rich and intricate ways by information-processing mechanisms situated in minds. These mechanisms are, in turn, the elaborately sculpted product of the evolutionary process. ~ Jerome Barkow, Leda Cosmides, & John Tooby

Culture represents shared symbolic expression: an exhibition of abstraction in a social context. The earliest hominids had culture; just as other social animals do.

Culture shaped hominids. Early on, hominids shed the sharp, pronounced canine teeth which apes use as a threat signal. Faces became more expressive.

Humans are the only primate with easily seen sclera (whites of the eyes). When this happened in hominin evolution is not known (as no fossil record exists of such soft tissue), but is indicative that subtle, nonverbal communication became significant in the cultural repertoire.

Spontaneous smiling – an expression of joy – is a universal human expression with cultural implications. Typically, too much smiling is interpreted as a sign of shallowness or dishonesty. As something of a mask, Japanese sometimes smile when angry or confused. Other Asians may smile when embarrassed or to cover emotional pain.

Another universal look is a face contorted by anger. Despite never having seen one, even blind children can make an angry face. Lowered brows, flared nostrils and a piercing gaze define the face of anger. 7 key muscles groups work in concert to produce the look.

Anger evolved to motivate effective bargaining behavior during conflicts of interest. Humans are exceptionally good at assessing fighting ability just by looking at someone’s face. The explanation for evolution of the human anger face is surprisingly simple – it is a threat display. ~ Australian criminologist Aaron Sell

The anger face evolved as a show of power. People with angry faces appear more formidable.

Stronger men anger more easily, fight more often, feel entitled to more unequal treatment, resolve conflicts more in their own favor and are even more in favor of military solutions than are physically weak men. ~ John Tooby

When push comes to shove, human sociality comes down to might makes right. It is the most archaic evolutionary rule of conspecific relations and shows how human culture has not strayed from it biological base.

People who are judged to be stronger tend to get their way more often, other things being equal. ~ Aaron Sell

The emotional stature of apes and humans is identical. Simians have an innate capacity for empathic kindness, as do many other animals. Conversely, when provoked, chimpanzees have a capacity for savagery that is positively manly.

A significant aspect of culture is self-control, and the degree to which its loss is tolerated by others. This facet of culture strongly influenced the sociality of hominids, especially regarding social cohesiveness and conflict.

Cooperation among apes is impeded by male social intolerance. This same lack of comity would haunt hominids, as is apparent in the pettiness of modern politics.