Home Page
Fiction and Poetry
Essays and Reviews
Art and Style
World and Politics
Montreal
Archive
 

| BEST OF 2012 |

***

SOCIAL & SCIENCE

***

ORIGINS OF THE HUMAN SOCIAL MIND

By Mark Pagel

What makes us human? It is a question that invades nearly every aspect of our lives, our psychology and our behavior. Who are we, and why are we the way we are, so utterly different from other animals? The answers to these questions form the great themes of literature, theology and philosophy. To some our uniqueness lies in the mystery of consciousness, morality, or our capacity for shame, kindness or empathy. For others it is that we have language, a free will, that we are responsible for our actions, or that we possess a soul... | read |

THE CREATION OF INEQUALITY

HOW OUR PREHISTORIC ANCESTORS SET THE STAGE FOR MONARCHY, SLAVERY, AND EMPIRE

By Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus

Some 15,000 years ago, our ancestors still lived in small-scale foraging societies whose members were treated as equals. Slowly but surely, however, some of them created larger societies with greater levels of social inequality. By 2500 B.C. virtually every form of inequality known to mankind existed somewhere in the world.

How did our ancestors convert the original level playing field to a stratified society? This book addresses that question by synthesizing two sources of data: archaeological information on prehistoric societies and anthropological information on analogous... | read |

HUMAN HIERARCHIES

A GENERAL THEORY

By Melvyn L. Fein

We human beings are hierarchical animals. Always and everywhere, we have ranked ourselves in comparison with others of our species. While many contemporary social scientists seem to believe that equality is our default status, all societies, ranging from hunter-gatherer communities to modern techno-commercial civilizations, have sorted people by their relative power.

Far from inequality having been imposed upon us by unscrupulous elites, we all participate in drawing invidious distinctions. To put the matter baldly: all of us seek to be winners. And all of us hate being losers. Yet if some of us are to win, others of us must lose. This is a nasty truth that is recognized even by little leaguers who are not fooled when adults insist on awarding trophies to all players on the grounds that... | read |

WHY WE COOPERATE

By Michael Tomasello

As we read the newspaper each day, most of us ask ourselves why people can't be nicer to one another, more helpful, more cooperative? And indeed, one could phrase the central normative question of the social sciences as what can be done to encourage people to be more cooperative: to work together against war, against the degradation of our climate, and for economic security for all?

But in direct contrast to this basically humanistic question, the central biological question in the study of human evolution is why humans are so inordinately cooperative as compared with our nearest primate relatives. In most primate groups, competition is the norm, and cooperation occurs mostly among kin, who share genes and so have a biological stake in one another's well-being, or else among a few individuals who cooperate... | read |

A COOPERATIVE SPECIES

HUMAN RECIPROCITY AND ITS EVOLUTION

By Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis

Cooperation was prominent among the suite of behaviors that marked the emergence of behaviorally modern humans in Africa. Those living 75,000--90,000 years ago at the mouth of what is now the Klasies River near Port Elizabeth, South Africa, for example, consumed eland, hippopotamus, and other large game. The rock painting of hunters and their prey on the jacket of this book is from the nearby Drakensberg Mountains. The Klasies River inhabitants, and their contemporaries in other parts of Africa, cooperated in the hunt and shared the prey among the members of their group. Even earlier evidence of trade in exotic obsidians extending over 300 kilometers in East Africa is another unmistakable footprint of early human cooperation... | read |

MIRRORING PEOPLE

THE NEW SCIENCE OF HOW WE CONNECT WITH OTHERS

By Marco Iacoboni

Imagine you are out and about, perhaps doing some shopping, or planning an evening at the movies with friends. Lots of people are around you, coming and going, all busy with their own plans. You look at them, they look at you. Where do you think they are looking, when they look at you? And where do you think you look, when you look at them? Their clothes, their shoes, their handbags? Not at all. We do register those things, of course. For the most part, however, when we look at other people, we look at the face and hands. Our eyes seem glued to those body parts. What is so special about them?... | read |

THE SCIENCE OF EVIL

ON EMPATHY AND ORIGINS OF CRUELTY

By Simon Baron-Cohen

When we try to explain acts of human cruelty, there is no scientific value in the term 'evil' but there is scientific value in using the term 'empathy erosion'. The key claim in my book is that when people commit acts of cruelty, a specific circuit in the brain ("the empathy circuit") goes down. This might be temporarily (for example, when we are stressed) or in a more enduring way. For some people, this empathy circuit never developed in the first place, for reasons of environmental neglect and/or for genetic reasons. Whatever the reason this circuit in the brain did not develop in the usual way, or is not functioning in the usual way, it is the very same circuit that is involved... | read |

LESS THAN HUMAN

WHY WE DEMEAN, ENSLAVE, AND EXTERMINATE OTHERS

By David Livingstone Smith

Less Than Human is a book about dehumanization. It is widely recognized that dehumanization plays an important role facilitating acts of violence in genocide, war, and other forms of atrocity. Given this it is surprising to learn that scant attention has been paid to it in the scholarly literature. Scholarly literature on dehumanization is shockingly thin on the ground. I wrote Less Than Human to set this right, and to urge others to take the investigation of dehumanization seriously... | read |

CULTURAL EVOLUTION

By Alex Mesoudi

Charles Darwin is rightly celebrated for providing, in The Origin of Species , the first workable scientific theory to explain the stunning diversity and complexity of life on earth. His theory of evolution by natural selection comprised three principles. First, individuals vary in their characteristics (the principle of variation ). For example, individual finches, to take one of Darwin's favourite species, may vary in the size and shape of their beaks. Second, not all individuals are equally likely to survive and reproduce, and their chances of survival and reproduction are tied to some extent to their characteristics (the principle of competition , or in modern biological parlance differential fitness ). For example, finches with large beaks might be more likely to survive and reproduce because they can open a wider range of seeds, and thus obtain more food, than small beaked finches... | read |

HOW DID I BECOME "ME"?

By Mel Thompson

When I meet someone, I know them to be a person. I can start to get to know them, learn their history, their views, their aspirations. I may immediately sense whether or not they are a potential friend, someone I shall like and find interesting. I am encountering more than just another body, and I know that they are similarly encountering "me". But what is it that makes me "me"? Is it possible for someone else to know me completely, or is there always going to be a "real me" accessible only to myself? How did I become who I am? Can I opt to change in a fundamental way, or am I stuck with what my childhood made me? And can I every fully know "you"? These questions are absolutely central to our lives... | read |

***

 
 

Subscribe
Submissions Guide
Letters to the Editor
pdf
RSS

 
 
home | past issues | world & politics | essays | art and style | fiction and poetry | links | blog
The Montréal Review © 2009 - 2015 T.S. Tsonchev Publishing & Design, Canada. All rights reserved. ISSN 1920-2911
about | contact us | advertsing | newsletter | copyright | user agreement | privacy policy