“Men to boys; Women to girls” from my blog How I Fell in Love with Homo erectus
Paedogenesis: reproduction by young or larval animals; the animal reaches sexual maturity while remaining otherwise immature.
Paedomorphosis: retention of juvenile characteristics in the adult animal. This includes behavior.
Neoteny: retention of juvenile traits in the adult animal due to some aspect of the physiological (or somatic) development of an animal being slowed or delayed. Neoteny is a factor in paedomorphosis.
Domestication: the manipulation of genes by humans in order to make a wild species tame. Since genes are linked, unexpected changes in physiology and behavior can occur, many of which are detrimental to the animal. This type of manipulation has been applied to humans, by humans.
How do you turn a hunter-gatherer into an urban dweller? Domestication.
Genetic mutations and changes in the timing of human development, from conception to maturity, have taken place during human evolution. Both natural selection (environmental factors) and selection by humans (infant survival and sexual selection) act to exploit and retain these changes. We may imagine the birth of a helpless human infant in a time when the parent(s) had no ability to ensure its survival other than the nutrition of the mother’s milk, provision of some form of shelter, perhaps, but little means to protect the infant from injury, disease, danger in the environment, or predators. The development of the fetus to term and a successful birth depended on the health of the mother – her stress levels and nutrition – and her association with competent adult females who had survived to reproduce and were experienced in childbirth and childrearing.
We know that infanticide has been practiced until very recently as a negative process of selection, either due to infant abnormalities, or for cultural purposes: this includes the killing of female infants in preference for males, or the exposure of infants perceived to be have physical defects or judged to be aesthetically substandard. Males have traditionally killed or enslaved the children and females of rival groups; some were utilized in religious sacrifice. Indeed, if we believe stories in mythology, it was the most beautiful and perfect individuals were selected to be killed. Cannibalism cannot be ignored as a motive for infant death.
As distasteful to modern humans as these circumstances and practices may be, early humans operated on instinct and necessity. We cannot impose moral judgment on nature, and in fact, the advent of standardized tables of laws, and the accompanying punishments, as well as moral and ethical codes, can be seen as a response to the increasing density of people living together in villages and cities who came from diverse groups and cultures. Law and its means of enforcement were also needed to compensate for adult traits that were lost in the process of domestication, and to “weed out” individuals judged to be antisocial or a threat to the new hierarchical social regime.
As relatively tame individuals survived the new social environment, and reproduced, and wilder individuals were expelled or killed off, fewer and fewer individuals developed into true animal adults: competent leaders were scarce and violent predatory males took over. The increasingly “tame” humans were easy game for Pharaohs, kings, generals, dictators and other ruthless individuals who permitted themselves a wide range of violent behavior. This system predominates today.
The externally imposed structure of sports and military life can be effective at shaping and controlling the juvenile brain, which is stuck in excitement mode: high risk behaviors, delusions of invulnerability, acute awareness of status, an obsession with attention, and the need for compensatory power, can make cooperative social behavior nearly impossible. Many societies exclude adolescent males from participation in the group until they have been tested by ritual and prove submission to the rigors of adult responsibility. This doesn’t work of course unless the culture makes adulthood desirable: traditional societies restrict the rewards of status, marriage, sex and participation in community rituals to adults. In cultures where children and adolescents are freely given these rewards without earning them, gaining adult status holds little appeal. This is where American culture departs radically from tradition.
Human choice has helped to shape our present physical and mental state and thus our behavior. Whether or not these juvenile results are beneficial in the long term is unknown, but our choices have resulted in severe problems in the present. Ignorance as to how the world works is perpetuated by magic-based religions that promote childlike dependence. The assertion that rational intellectual processes guide human behavior is simply not the case, and increasingly “rational” refers to a limited sphere of activity: mathematics and technology. Common sense ‘concrete’ thought is absent from the fields of government policy, education, social sciences, law, healthcare and the use of military action, that means that high technology is applied to adolescent goals.
Case in point: Whether the brains of modern Americans are impaired by extreme domestication-juvenalization or by inadequate preparation for adult life, rational (or common sense) decision-making is dwindling. Contrary to the hype of media gurus and advertising agencies, advanced technology cannot compensate for a lack of adult leadership.