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The Evolution of Societal Patriarchy (Discussion Seminar)

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Our March 2022 Tanner Lectures are given by Richard Wrangham, the Ruth Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology in the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University. The overall title of these lectures is: "The Evolution of Societal Patriarchy."

A unique and puzzling feature of human behavior is that individuals routinely sacrifice their own selfish interests for the sake of a wider good. Conventional theory has failed to explain the evolution of this “groupishness.” Wrangham argues that human groupishness evolved as a result of a novel ability: unlike other species, Homo sapiens could use language to conspire against resented rivals and kill them. Victims of these executions tended to be domineering bullies, nonconformists and other kinds of selfish personalities. Socially approved executions meant that antisocial behavior was selected against, while groupishness became positively favored. This evolutionary process led to the domination of social groups by coalitions of breeding males, a system that continues today in the form of societal patriarchy.

This discussion seminar focuses on both Lecture 1, "Human Groupishness" and Lecture 2, "The Origins of Societal Patriarchy and its Moral Consequences."

Comments will be given by Richard Klein (Anthropology and Biology, Stanford) and Ian Morris (Classics, Stanford).