Friday, December 24, 2010


There is a study summarised over at Live Science suggesting that being bullied has evolutionary benefits, and shows some heritability. Given the considerable caveats of relating human social behavior to marmot social behavior, it is nonetheless intriguing to wonder whether there might be any such mechanisms involved in us at all.

The idea seems preposterous at first, with our mindset that evolution encourages survival of the fittest and produces only the strong and persevering. But a moment's reflection brings the reminder that there is some survival advantage to those who say Enough. This dude's crazy. Just get out. Given the long record of tyranny and domination in human history, it is probably some advantage for most of us to have that mechanism kick in eventually. Further, tyrants themselves were often those who rose up through the ranks during the reign of other tyrants. So bullies may in fact be those most likely to possess any be-bullied genetic leanings.

It's easy to see the abuses and rationalisations such knowledge could elicit. We already blame victims more than we should, and this looks fair to increase that. But shouldn't we want to know? If there are people who more readily elicit aggression and bullying - who may even invite it from others who would not normally be aggressive - won't attempts to solve problems of violence be forever futile if we ignore that?

I am greatly simplifying complicated things, and it is best not to speculate too far. Yet our tendency is to study criminals, bullies, and control freaks, trying to find if there is something amiss in their genes (and upbringing, and current condition) so that we might make modifications in how we organise ourselves. What if that is only half the story, or less?

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