Did we domesticate ourselves?

You’ve doubtless heard of the work of Russian geneticist Dmitry Belyaev. Belyaev is best known for his work domesticating Siberian foxes in the 1950s. He would find the friendliest foxes in a litter and breed them together. He quickly bred the aggression out of the animal. This breeding also resulted in specific physical traits – the bred foxes had floppy ears and upturned tails, like cute doggies.

In fact, this sort of process is presumed to have been what led to the domestication of dogs. When men first started living in permanent encampments (what would evolve into cities) they would leave their garbage at the outskirts. This attracted wolves, the bravest and friendliest of which would approach these cities of man and eat. They mated with similar wolves which led to friendlier and friendlier wolves which led to dogs.

But where does this all lead? Today I came across an argument that such similar breeding occurred in man! No, we’re weren’t bred for friendliness by space aliens; the theory goes, as stated in Michael Gazzaniga’s book “Who’s In Charge?”,:

Hare and Tomasello think that humans may have undergone a self-domestication process in which overly aggressive or despotic others were either ostracized or killed by the group. Thus, the gene pool was modified, which resulted in the selection of systems that controlled (that is, inhibited) emotional reactivity such as aggression… The social group constrained the behavior and eventually affected the genome.

Why are we nice? Because we killed the meanies eons ago.

Of course, not everyone is nice. Psychopaths and sociopaths often play upon the trusting nature of regular folks. But the thing about psychopathy is that it’s only advantageous if the psychopaths are in the minority. If everyone is out to screw everyone else then no one trusts anyone and it becomes impossible to take advantage of people. It’s only when most people are decent that being indecent has an advantage.

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