Groups and Groupwork
We confess to a piece of cheeky editorial licence with the introduction of the sociobiology of Edward O. Wilson into a series on groupwork. But, on the one hand, the Wilson's Ladder concept does relate to groups, even though this is stretching a point in the context of this groupwork series; and, on the other hand, it provides a neat introduction to our next intended Main Theme of Nurturing Ecological Potential.
Edward O. Wilson has been described in many different ways and by many differing terms, from flattering to vitriolic. A world-famous biologist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, he has been hailed as the natural successor to Darwin by some and condemned as sexist, racist, and fascist by others.
He was undisputedly the world's foremost authority on ants, but controversy derived from the new field of science developed in his book Sociobiology in the 1970s. It argued that social animals, including humans, behave largely according to rules written in their very genes. The theory which seemed to hark back to racist ideologies produced the charge that he was suggesting that some human groups were biologically superior to others.
Over the years sociobiology has been refined and is now a dictionary word, and most of the new generation of so-called evolutionary psychologists have adopted it wholeheartedy.
Here then is the theory of Wilson's Ladder, in essence, with some comments. The "wrapover" into our next main theme will be provided in our The Last Word section.
Wilson's Ladder (Kitcher, 1987) proposes the following thesis:.
1. IF a behaviour maximizes fitness, then the behaviour will exist in virtually all members of a group.
2. IF a behaviour exists in virtually all members of a group, then the behaviour came about by natural selection.
3. IF a behaviour came about by natural selection, then there were once individual differences in the group's genetic makeup.
4. IF there were once individual differences in the group's genetic makeup, then there are differences in the genetic makeup of the present group from its prehistoric ancestors.
5. IF there are differences in the genetic makeup of the present group from its prehistoric ancestors, then the genetically adaptive behavior will be difficult to modify by social engineering.
6. THEREFORE, IF a behaviour maximizes fitness, THEN the genetically adaptive behaviour will be difficult to modify by social engineering.
Wilson's ladder basically explains the climb from "nature to human nature" (Kitcher, 1987, 63). First, a group of people in a particular environment will exhibit a particular behaviour. This behaviour is reinforced via variables in the environment, and as the behaviour become more and more prevalent, it soon becomes genetic and is passed on from generation to generation through the genes.
Kitcher, P. (1987). Précis of Vaulting ambition: Sociobiology and the quest for human nature. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 10, 61-100.