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Posted April 15, 2012
HIGHLY TOXIC! I grew distressed when I read a novel written by
I grew distressed when I read a novel written by my erstwhile hero, E. O. Wilson, called Anthill (2010.) In it religion is clearly a malignant force, but most upsetting is that he clearly draws parallels between ants and humans in depicting colonies of ants in a state of chronic war at the end of which the victorious colony decimates the vanquished one down to the last individual. The theory behind this transparent allegory is expounded this book the authority of which is largely based on the mathematical formulas of a younger colleague at Harvard named Martin Nowak. Dr. Nowak has written a book for the layman, called Super Cooperators (2011), in which he waxes grandiloquently on the transcendent, Platonic status of mathematics.
Based on Nowak’s God-like math, Dr. Wilson now thinks the super-cooperation of eusocial insects resulted from defending their nests and speculates that similar human cooperation arose mainly as a result of defending campsites as a result of controlling fire. This is an image of human nature in which the deepest expression of who we are is Caesar avenging Hannibal by completely annihilating the civilization of Carthage down to the last person and flattening all their dwellings.
Dr. Wilson’s abandonment of the well established genetic science of kin selection, and his embracing of the defense of camp sites as the wellspring of human nature amongst warring groups (read races) has an eerily familiar ring to it. This is an old poison in a brand new bottle, and its name is Social Darwinism, and this time around, it comes with mathematical “proof.” The main issue is the degree that competition between pre-human groups was the essential ingredient of our cooperative nature. This is a warning to the gullible readers of this book that Wilson is disinterring a highly toxic ant myth about human nature.
For a very different vision of human nature, also with plenty of evidence, visit Apes, ants and ancestors.
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