I concede that there must be an equilibrium point at which a group of humans is large enough to ensure survival, but small enough that every member depends on the others for survival and simply can’t afford to behave badly. We must assume that a few people will behave badly no matter what, but in a small group, especially in early human history, violent behavior could not be tolerated and “troublemakers” were promptly removed from the group. Exile was serious: it meant death.
It’s numbers; it’s mathematical – based on a complex set of variables: geography, climate, resources, culture, climate – “the neighborhood” And also unpredictable. One individual can set the “tone” for millions of humans who value conformity above independence, behavior that can be fatal in the midst of brutal culture. “Flight” or migration has also expanded human dominance over the earth’s life forms and resources.
As is documented in many animal species, when territory that is sufficient for a group becomes scarce – the group becomes too numerous to be sustained by their territory – juveniles will be obligated to leave the family, or colony, into which they were born, and must head off to establish a new family group.
The usual candidates for exile are young males, for whom there are no reproductive prospects at home, who also present another challenge: They are strong and reckless and tend to be aggressive toward older males, who certainly see the danger in keeping them around. The resolution of a biologically tense situation serves to both physically extend the genetic territory of a family, while maintaining relative peace. The “wisdom” of elders may confirm an established instinctive knowledge that “kicks in” when the number and mix of gender and age within the group approaches or exceeds the natural limit of compatibility – when competition consistently exceeds cooperation.
Finding the lower limit of group viability.
Origin myths from cultures worldwide include a common occurrence, usually in the children of the founding ancestors or gods and goddesses: brother-sister marriage. This artifact is overlooked or avoided by modern people because it is incestuous, but it may be a valuable clue to a time (or many times) when the human population was so small and scattered that there was no alternative. The Ancient Egyptians incorporated this act of physical survival into the active mythology of royal godhood and backed it up with magical beliefs. The Pharaohs expended enormous resources and energy on creating rituals, objects and structures to ensure that the power of contagious magic would keep the populace working century after century to one end: the belief that “blood” carries power (immortality), and incest increases that power, by preserving the purity of the bloodline. They were not alone in their dedication to a dangerous “blood” obsession – rulers throughout history have doubled down on inbred aristocracy.
People in the U.S. today are obsessed with family genealogy, often looking for a famous or powerful ancestor or bloodline that magically “confers” a special status for themselves in their imagination. The myth of “bloodline” (genetics) is as likely to confer negative health traits; modern humans are not examples of a “superior” animal, but a species with great physical and mental flaws which has spread like an invasive species, by means of “external” technical adaptation and timing of development in offspring. One “genetic tactic” of invasive species is the triggering of neoteny and progenesis, when it moves to a new environment, by overwhelming existing species through massive reproduction by juveniles.
Finding the upper limit of group viability. Human groups have been unsuccessful in establishing this number during all of agricultural – urban history. We passed this threshold long ago.
If we look again to mythology and history, the Ancient Greeks provide many examples for the upper limits of group size; cooperation was usually invoked when an external threat was imminent, such that no single state could prevent disaster. Even so, it was a messy and monumental task to coordinate a response. Although individual states are often characterized as enlightened and cooperative, trust and generosity dissolved into deadly competition. We see this behavior in that of gods and goddesses and their superhuman favorites, whom they often punished for being too godlike; these demigod stories reflect real social conditions. A great conflict existed between what the Greeks desired – humans idealized in art, and actual human behavior: this “longing” for the perfection of human and animal forms seen in nature has provoked one of the great questions of western thought; How can humans live up to the creative force of nature that we can see perfectly well all around us? How did this original state of awe devolve into an obsession with destruction and control?
“In the world of epic, heroes live out their lives by living the myths that are their lives.”
Gregory Nagy, Center for Hellenic Studies, Harvard
As do the common people, who live out a collective cultural myth by default. This is true for each of us, and especially true for minorities, so know your society’s myths. If these are not your myths, but stories concocted and imposed by someone else, consider letting them go. Too many social myths are about the inevitability of destruction and hatred as “normal” human qualities.
Case in point: “Anti-female mythologies” are entrenched in American culture. This outrageous prejudice is false due to a simple truth; females are not inferior in Nature. GEE WHIZ! THIS SHOULD BE OBVIOUS.
Excerpt: Geography and the Population of City-states, by Thomas Martin
The geography of Greece greatly influenced the process by which this radically new way of organizing human communities came about. The severely mountainous terrain of the mainland meant that city-states were often physically separated by significant barriers to easy communication, thus reinforcing the tendency of city-states to develop separately and not to cooperate with one another. A single Greek island could be home to multiple city-states maintaining their independence from one another; the large island of Lesbos, for example, was the home for five different city-states. Since few city-states controlled enough arable land to grow food sufficient to feed a large body of citizens, polis communities no larger than several hundred to a couple of thousand people were normal even after the population of Greece rose dramatically at the end of the Dark Age.
Elephants are family oriented. Herds are made up of adult female groups and their offspring. Older, more experienced females lead elephant families. They are called dominant females or matriarchs of the herd. Each herd consists of mostly related females (mothers, aunts, grandmothers, and cousins) and their calves, including young male offspring and occasionally non-related individuals. Herd sizes range from 20 to 100 individuals. Female family members stay together for life.
Young males entering adolescence leave their family groups to join bachelor herds, but at times lead a solitary life due to a natural condition called “musth”. Musth in adult bull elephants is characterized by a significant increase in reproductive hormones (specifically testosterone) that results in strong changes in behavior. Bachelor herds are important for teaching young males how to become strong, adult bulls. Adult bulls associate with female herds for breeding purposes only.
One of the most important functions of the female herd is to raise calves. A female usually has her first calf while in her teens. A male becomes reproductively mature on average at age 13 but usually won’t breed with females until his late 20s when he is large and strong enough to compete with other bulls for the opportunity.
Once a female is pregnant, gestation lasts about 22 months. She will give birth to a calf that weighs 150 to 300 pounds and stands two to three feet tall. At birth, a calf is almost helpless and does not have full use of its trunk yet, but will quickly get to its feet and stand on its own. The new calf begins nursing within a few hours of standing and quickly gains the strength and coordination needed to keep pace with its mother as she moves around in search of food. Elephants have a very long adolescence, with a developmental rate similar to humans, and a long life expectancy.