- Paperback: 714 pages
- Publisher: BookSurge Publishing (November 17, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9781439254127
- ISBN-13: 978-1439254127
- ASIN: 1439254125
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 19 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #432,102 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Death from a Distance and the Birth of a Humane Universe: Human Evolution, Behavior, History, and Your Future Paperback – November 17, 2009
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About the Author
Paul M. Bingham earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, where he also continued to develop his fascination with fundamental unanswered questions about how humans evolved. During his 27-year career on the faculty of Stony Brook University, he has continued to explore human origins while also contributing to fundamental cell and molecular biology, including the discovery of the P element transposon and new approaches to cancer therapy. Joanne Souza is currently a research psychologist and a faculty member at Stony Brook University. She also was a successful business consultant in communications in the health and education markets. In the last seven years she has continued to pursue her life-long research interest in human behavior, evolution, and history.
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What is especially interesting is that the book addresses concerns that our country is dealing with right now, even though it primarily focuses on what has happened in the past.
If you are interested in human evolution, in evolutionary psychology, in sociobiology, or in contemporary issues like gun control or the size and scope of government, you need to read this book as soon as possible. Even if you think you are not interested in any of those topics, you still need to read this book.
The Bingham-Souza argument is simple and powerful: "...ancestors of the first humans evolved, inadvertently, the capacity to kill or injure conspecifics...from a substantial distance. .... This ability arose, in turn, from the evolution of human virtuosity at accurate, high-momentum throwing. No previous animal could reliably kill or injure conspecifics remotely...For the first time, natural selection could now "reward" individuals who actively suppressed conflicts of interest in others and responded to this suppression from others." ... Ancestral humans evolved a new ability that brought these enforcement costs down drastically, and uniquely human economic systems (kinship-independent social cooperation) became possible. ... Everything else that distinguishes us from other animals flows from this utterly simple trick of enforcing social cooperation in spite of conflicts of interest.
Lethal weapons have played such a key role not only in prehistory, but through our modern history as well. Souza and Bingham write "Moreover, it produced a long sequence of ever more sophisticated adaptive revolutions in the two million years since the evolution of the first humans. These revolutions represent all the major transitions in human history including the behaviorally modern human revolution, agricultural revolutions, the rise of the archaic and modern states, and the currently ongoing consolidation of pan-global human cooperation. Each of these adaptive revolutions has precisely the same underlying logic on our new theory--the self-interested application of relatively inexpensive coercion resulting in sustained social cooperation. This fundamental logic is merely applied at ever-larger scales with each historical transition."
The notion that the technology of warfare determines the political structure of a society was argued long ago by Aristotle, who said: "There are four kinds of military forces---the cavalry, the heavy infantry, the light armed troops, the navy. When the country is adapted for cavalry, then a strong oligarchy is likely to be established [because] only rich men can afford to keep horses. The second form of oligarchy prevails when the country is adapted to heavy infantry; for this service is better suited to the rich than to the poor. But the light-armed and the naval elements are wholly democratic... An oligarchy which raises such a force out of the lower classes raises a power against itself.'' (Politics IV). Souza and Bingham argue, correctly, I believe that "Modernity emerges from the barrel of a gun... artillery stabilizes the hierarchical state," and "handguns democratize the modern state." The second of these is perhaps controversial, but it was defended admirably by Samuel Finer in Charles Tilly's excellent volume The Formation of National States in Western Europe (1975).
The authors' basic thesis on the importance of lethal weapons on human affairs is thus correct and systematically understated in the standard literature on human evolution and politics, in my view. However, they make three mistakes. First, they believe that lethal weapons alone explain human society. This may be true, but it is likely one of a few key factors, other including collective child-rearing, long-distance trade, and the invention of fire, each of which has huge implications for the nature of Homo sapiens. Second, the authors insist that human nature is basically self-interested, which is demonstrably false. A reasonable model of gene-culture coevolution [Herbert Gintis, "Gene-culture Coevolution and the Nature of Human Sociality", Proceedings of the Royal Society B 366 (2011)] explains why humans have evolved other-regarding preferences. The notion that society could work without this is flat wrong, however much vaunted by the "selfish gene" group. Third, the authors insist that they were the first to have these ideas. This is just flat wrong.
I suspect Souza and Bingham really believe this. Consider the following tale. A couple of years ago Robert Boyd, Samuel Bowles and I improved our model of costly altruistic punishment by showing how collective punishment could work when uncoordinated punishment is too costly because, for instance, the offender's family might retaliate against lone or uncoordinated punishers. This appeared in Science as "Coordinated Punishment of Defectors Sustains Cooperation and Can Proliferate When Rare", Science 328 (2010). Paul Bingham and Joanne Souza were very critical of our paper, despite the fact that our ideas are very close. They wrote a letter to Science which said "We have two serious concerns...First, these investigators continue to rely on models dependent on doubtful group selection processes...[Second, ] the authors invoke ''increasing returns to scale'' for coercion here for the first time in their long association with group selection models. This approach to modeling coercion is apparently borrowed (without attribution) from our earlier analysis..."
In our reply (Science 30 April 2010), we held that our model does not depend on "group selection," (by the way, gene-culture coevolution has nothing to do with group selection) and that the notion of increasing returns to scale in conflict is well-know and goes back to antiquity. Specifically, we wrote their claim that we failed properly to attribute their contribution "misstates the novelty of their contribution to this literature; the commonplace idea that a group's probability of success in conflict may be subject to economies of scale is as old as the expression "divide and rule" and has been formalized using "contest success functions" developed by Jack Hirshleifer and other economists prior to and independently of Bingham and Souza. The mathematical modeling of these relationships goes back to Lanchester's work in 1916, which we cited in our supporting online material, and such models were used in evolutionary biology prior to Bingham and Souza's work. What was novel about the valuable contribution of Bingham and Souza was their exploration of the important role of projectile weapons in human evolution, not the observation that economies of scale might govern the outcome of conflicts. But economies of scale do not require the use of projectile weapons. Ethnographic evidence suggests that many forms of punishment in band-level societies do not involve projectile weapons (for instance, shunning, ostracism, and enforcement of penalties), and there are good reasons to think that increasing returns apply to these forms of punishment as well." I bring this up because the interested reader might want to follow up this literature after reading Bingham and Souza's fin book.
By the way James Woodburn, "Egalitarian Societies", Man 17,3 (1982) argued the Souza-Bingham position many years ago, but not as successfully, I believe. For my own recent contribution, see "The Origins of Human Hyper-Cognition," on my web site.
Bingham and Souza have a complete theory of human social interaction that is based almost purely upon the human ability to create, as the title suggests, "death from a distance." At the risk of inaccuracy, I will attempt to summarize: Basically, it's all about weapons. The spear, the atlatl, the bow and arrow, swords and armor, the flintlock rifle, etc. The invention of each created a new human paradigm; a new form of society that allowed for certain advancements to take place. Where many would suggest, for example, that the Agricultural Revolution was just that, this theory suggests that it was a Bow and Arrow Revolution which created larger-scale social interaction, that then allowed for larger-scale agriculture, or whatever else was advantageous for the particular society (Native-American cultures in the Pacific Northwest, for example, created large-scale fisheries instead). It is the weapon, then, that is the Sine Qua Non; the essential ingredient, and not the agriculture.
...and that's basically the human story. When we had spears, we organized one way. When we had guns, we organized in another. It can't be that simple, can it? This is the question Bingham suggests he asked himself when he first conceived of this theory. You may ask yourself the same question, only to find that this stunningly simple theory makes a stunning amount of sense. This may force you to challenge certain assumptions you have made with regard to society. For example: If you're not a big fan of guns or gun rights, prepare to have your beliefs in that area hit pretty hard. Bingham and Souza are also not kind to those who may have a creationist slant. They suggest that evolution not only exists, but that it is a blind, heartless, and purposeless process based solely on a few bio-chemical principles, and nothing more.
One of the very first things remarked on in the book's introduction is the essential need for challenging, questioning, and doubt in order to test the veracity of any scientific theory. In accordance, this book welcomes our doubts, as did the aforementioned college class on which it is based. Prof. Bingham not only invited, but required his students to hammer at his theory with all of our might, attempting to find any crack whatsoever in its facade. We were unable to do so. The throngs of 'converted' former students, such as myself, who continue to spread the word about this work, and who maintain contact and give input to Bingham and Souza long after graduation, are a testament to both the power of the theory, and the presentation given to it. Read this book...it might change the way you think about everything.
Highly recommended to anyone seeking a greater understanding of their place in the universe.