Humans are mammals, that is to say we are warm, hairy animals who give birth to live young that feed on milk from mammary glands. Most mammals (and birds) are, to a greater or lesser extent, social animals. Social animals live in communities larger than their immediate family. They have a level of organization that goes beyond the mother/offspring bond, with permanent groups of adults and youngsters living together throughout their lives. A social group exhibits special behaviour such as defending territory and establishing social dominance – a pecking order.
The largest mammalian social groups are called herds or flocks. These are made up of grazing mammals such as Zebra and Wildebeest and sometimes hundreds move together in a swarm or stampede. The large herd size is based on the ‘safety in numbers’ principle. Females can give birth in the security of the centre of the herd. Predators may kill one or two weak individuals on the outside while the, fitter, majority escape. This is selection of the fittest in action.
Carnivore pack size is not so large, consisting of up to about twenty animals. Hyenas use a small group of co-operating hunters to bring down much larger prey such as Wildebeest. Our own nearest relatives, the apes, tend to form even smaller groups – from five to ten individuals, like an extended family.
Humans show strong signs of social dominance; we are the most hierarchical animals on planet Earth. Any group we form has to have a leader and followers. Military services are the most obvious example, with their complicated ranking systems from privates to Generals and Field Marshals, but hierarchies are evident in schools, hospitals, commercial companies, political parties, religious organizations, in fact, any field of endeavour.
Human pecking orders are more flexible than is the case in other animal societies. In civilized communities it is not just the oldest, largest, strongest individual who leads in everything, although this was true back in history when the warlord was simply the one with the biggest muscles, or who had a gun. Nowadays, we are usually more prepared to accept that some of us have skills suitable for certain tasks and, on other occasions, someone else should lead. This is the collegiate approach to organizing.
We also show territoriality, which reveals itself even in young children; they develop possessiveness about their territory as soon as they can voice the words, ‘This is my home, my Dad, my computer. Keep out of my bedroom!’ It can lead to territorial disputes.
Most human societies include ‘domesticated’ animals such as cattle and pets. Dogs have been bred from wolves. Humans have domesticated many wild animals, producing tame individuals with softer appearances and more docile temperaments.
A new study suggests that one of our primate cousins, the African ape known as the Bonobo chimpanzee (Pan paniscus), may have domesticated itself without human involvement! Anthropologist Brian Hare, of Duke University's Institute for Brain Sciences, noticed that the Bonobo looks like a domesticated version of its closest living relative, the common chimpanzee. The Bonobo is less aggressive than the chimp, with a smaller skull and shorter canine teeth and it spends more time playing and having sex. These traits are very similar to those that separate domesticated animals from their wild ancestors. They are all part of a constellation of characteristics known as the Domestication Syndrome.
Humans have taken self-domestication to a new level – we have civilized each other! http://tinyurl.com/7uymemk