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5. The ethics of peace: why sustainability must be the basis

by John Ward


Is there a real risk of human extinction?
The third chimpanzee
The norm of extinction
The contingency of human evolution
The brevity of human existence
The myth of "progress to complexity"
The anthropic cosmological principle
Is there intelligent life elsewhere?
Carter's doomsday argument
The risks of extinction

Why have we failed to modify our behaviour despite the awareness of these risks?
The myth of rationality
The true nature of humans
The myth of the cultural basis of human violence
The failure of existing ethical svstems

Is there as scientific basis for a new ethics for peace?
Human evolution will not occur again
This planet is all we have
All species have a purpose
Does natural selection operate at the species level?
Is there a cultural evolution in addition to genetic evolution?

What are the implications from science for a new system of ethics?

Some other possible implications of a system of ethics based on evolutionary biology



It is still legitimate to say that an acceptable scholarly interpretation of the basis of human conflict is the most urgent first step in the elimination of war (Burnet M., 1971)

After more than two decades of involvement in the peace movement, I have become increasingly convinced that we have been dealing with the symptoms of the disease (warfare) rather than with the disease itself or its causes. The medical part of the peace movement has been, surprisingly, as guilty of this error as all other groups. Getting rid of one class of weapons of mass destruction will do little to reduce the risk of human annihilation unless we eliminate the underlying causes of conflict. As a biologist, my particular interest is human behaviour, particularly those aspects of behaviour which are causing destruction of other humans and also of the environment. In this essay I am trying to begin to answer the following questions which I will discuss in turn:

1. Is there a real risk of human extinction in the near future?

2. Given that there is a considerable awareness of a threat to human civilisation, why don't humans modify their apparently suicidal behaviour?

3. Is there a scientific basis for an ethical system that would facilitate peace and sustainability?

4. Would such an ethical system be useful as the basis of bio-ethics?


Is there a real risk of human extinction?

The third chimpanzee

There is nothing special about the species Homo sapiens that will protect us from extinction. We evolved from our common ancestor with chimpanzees about 4.5 million years ago into Australopithecus, known as woodland apes, from which developed Homo erectus about 2 million years ago, Homo sapiens about 200,000 years ago and modern humans about 100,000 years ago. We now know from DNA studies that we differ from chimpanzees by only about 2% of our genetic material and that we are closer to chimpanzees than they are to the other great apes (Wrangham, 1996,p.42; Diamond,1991, pp 16-18). We are certainly made more in the likeness of chimpanzees than in the likeness of God.

The norm of extinction

Of all species that ever lived on this planet, more than 99% are now extinct. There is, therefore, no reason to believe that this isn't the fate in store for humankind. The difference between humans and other species is that we are the first to be aware of this possibility and theoretically could take steps to delay it. Paradoxically, we look likely to be one of the species with the shortest evolutionary appearance if we continue our current suicidal behaviour.

The contingency of human evolution

An understanding of the process of evolution suggests that human extinction on this planet would almost certainly mean the end of Homo sapiens. From cosmology, we now know that our sun, about 8 light minutes away from the earth, is one of 400 billion in a galaxy 90,000 light years wide. Despite the 100 billion galaxies in the universe, the highly improbable chance of human evolution means that it is extremely unlikely to ever be repeated. The universe has been in existence for 20 billion years and our planet for 5 billion years before the evolution of humanity, which came about only because of a freak combination of chance events. These include:

  • the combination of amino acids to form molecules able to replicate.

  • the fact that our ancestors were among the few survivors of the radiation of multicellular life in the Cambrian explosion 530 million years ago. This was an extraordinary period during which all the phyla now in existence, the chordates, annelids, arthropods, echinoderms, etc, evolved within as little as 10 million years in what E.O. Wilson, describes as a "period of wild experimentation during which basic body plans never seen before or afterward were invented and discarded" (Wilson E.O., 1992 p.180).

  • the sudden extinction of the dinosaurs, without which mammals probably would never have developed beyond rat sized. Mammals and dinosaurs had coexisted for 100 million years prior to this extinction, which is thought to have been caused by the impact of an extra-terrestrial body.

  • the evolution of consciousness.

The brevity of human existence

It is hard to comprehend our irrelevance in the history of the planet which began 5 billion years ago. Multicellular animals appeared only in the last one-sixth of this evolutionary history, while Homo sapiens appeared in the last 0.004% of this period. Gould tells a lovely story which he attributes to the American writer John Mcphee (Gould, 1990, p.5) which dramatically describes the brevity of human history. If we consider the history of the Earth to be as long as the old measure of the English yard, which is the distance from King Henry the Eighth's nose to the tip of his outstretched finger, then one stroke of a nail file on the third finger would wipe out human history.

The myth of "progress to complexity"

As a species, we behave as though we are at the pinnacle of an evolutionary process that is progressing in a direction of ever increasing complexity, but in fact the process has been both chronologically patchy and chaotic, marked by numerous mass extinctions. Moreover, there is little evidence of any progression towards complexity (Gould, 1996).

Most evolution has involved simple organisms, with bacteria being the most diverse, the most numerous and the ones least likely to become extinct (there are more E. coli in the gut of one person than there have ever been people on the planet).

The anthropic cosmological principle

It is difficult to understand how unlikely is the possibility of human evolution occurring again on this or another planet. The argument is commonly made that the complexity of human anatomy and physiology, together with the narrow margin of environmental conditions required for human life, suggest that human evolution is the end result of a grand design. This is the fallacy known as the anthropic cosmological principle, which is complex but worth the effort to understand. Invented by the mathematician Brandon Carter, the anthropic principle can be defined as " what we can expect to observe must be restricted by the conditions necessary for our presence as observers" (Leslie J., 1996, p.189). Basically it is the fallacy we incur by not realising that our evolution and, therefore, our ability to ask these questions has no relationship to the chance involved. The fact that we are here means that certain environmental and other highly unlikely circumstances occurred. It doesn't mean that they are ever likely to occur again.

Is there intelligent life elsewhere?

What about other solar systems and other galaxies? Is there a likelihood of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe? This seems unlikely for several reasons. Firstly, there is simply the enormous complexity of environmental conditions required and the impossibly low chance that a similar combination would occur again or that evolution would take the same path, much of which occurred by chance. Secondly, we have received no radio or other evidence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Some argue that this suggests that civilisations destroy themselves as soon as they reach a certain complexity, at which point their technological development has gone beyond their moral development. Along with the radio goes other technology, including the means of mass destruction and environmental degradation.

Carter's doomsday argument

Brandon Carter points out that even on probability grounds alone it is unlikely that human civilisation has an extended life. In his "doomsday argument" (Leslie J., 1996, pp 192-7), Carter points out that if human extinction were to occur in the next generation, we would be among the last 10% of humans who ever lived. If, on the other hand, human civilisation were to continue for another thousand generations, we would be amongst the first 0.01% of all humans who would ever live. On probability grounds, it is much more likely that we are among the last 10% than the first 0.01%.

The risks of extinction

All this would be merely theoretical, however, unless there were real threats to human survival. Some of the issues that seem to represent a significant risk of extinction are:

  • Continuing population growth: We already use about 40% of the Earth's net productivity i.e. the net energy captured from sunlight. With the world's population doubling every 40 years, we will soon reach the biological limit to growth.

  • The rising inequality between rich and poor, which will increase the desperation of both groups. The rich will increasingly live in walled enclaves protected by private militia, while the poor live in their ghettos, increasingly involved in the drug trade and organised crime.

  • Deforestation and land degradation: Tropical forests cover 6% of the world's surface but contain about half the species that exist. Each year we destroy rainforest equivalent to the area of Florida. By the middle of the next century, the only remaining large tracts of tropical rainforest will be in parts of Zaire and the Amazon Basin.

  • Nuclear war: In 1982, WHO predicted that a major nuclear war would kill half the world's population. While there has been some progress towards nuclear disarmament, the world's plutonium supply has increased to 2000 tonnes, ten times as much as that tied up in warheads.

  • We have been on the brink of nuclear war at least a dozen times, including the Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam war, Israeli threats in the Middle East and clashes between India and Pakistan (Leslie, 1996,pp 31-2.)

  • Biological warfare/terrorism/criminality: In 1994, the US claimed that 25 nations were developing biological weapons despite the 1975 Convention. Now with genetic engineering, harmless bacteria can be made to produce lethal toxins. Verification is almost impossible given the small size of the production plants required.

  • Atmospheric pollution. Including the greenhouse effect and ozone layer destruction

  • Species extinction: At the current rate of extinction, most of the world's species will be extinct or endangered within the next century. We depend on many of these species for our life support.


Why have we failed to modify our behaviour despite the awareness of these risks?

The standard answer to this apparent conundrum is to question the extent of general awareness of the perilous state of human civilisation . There is undoubtedly a high level of denial and also a widespread belief that technology can solve any problems that arise.

The myth of rationality

I believe that there may be biological reasons for our inability to translate our knowledge of our predicament into sensible behavioural change. I have argued above that our position on the evolutionary tree is not as we have come to believe it to be. We perceive humanity as a highly evolved species with a highly developed cognitive capacity. The real position, however, is that our primitive brains , the seat of our emotions such as fear and hate which have provided survival value throughout evolution, continue to influence our behaviour, often overcoming rational decisions. The relative sizes of the limbic system (the source of the emotions) and the neocortex are the same for apes, monkeys and humans (Armstrong, 1991). No differences in cellular architecture or neural connections have been observed between humans, Old World monkeys and apes.

It has also been shown that the same paralimbic areas, and presumably the same neural connections, are involved in normal human emotions as in pathological emotions (Reiman et al.,1989.) Stimulation of the same areas in non-human primates produces a syndrome consistent with an emotion apparently identical to that in humans.

The true nature of humans

In any attempt to analyse the causes of human violence, it is vital to realise that much of modern human behaviour reflects our evolutionary history. We now know that human violence is not an aberrant behaviour but a manifestation of our nature that has evolved over the last four million years. Chimpanzees, our closest species, demonstrate the same intraspecies violence, with death as a goal rather than an unfortunate consequence as it seems to be in other less closely related species. Chimpanzee violence towards other neighbouring groups is different from that of other primates in that the aim is to kill, whereas other primates are content to see the other group flee. It is clearly not a coincidence that humans and chimpanzees seem to be the only two species who fight to kill.

In addition, chimpanzees and other apes practice rape, infanticide and battering as means to gain and maintain power and to ensure maximum fertility. Rape is particularly common among chimpanzees and orangutans, and among the latter accounts for between one third and one half of all copulations. Rape seems to be the way in which smaller males, who could not otherwise compete with the larger males, have a chance to spread their DNA.

Male gorillas kill infants so that the mother will become fertile again. About one infant in seven dies in this way. Lions also carry out infanticide on a large scale for the same reason.

It is clearly no accident that most violence is committed by males, mostly young males at the height of their fertility. In the US, men are 9 times as likely to murder, 78 times as likely to commit rape and 10 times as likely to commit armed robbery as are women. Overall, males are 8 times more likely to commit violent crime, but similar gender differences occur in non-violent crime, with males exceeding females by a factor of 13 in cases of fraud, 10 in burglary, 8 in vandalism and 7 in drunk driving.

The myth of the cultural basis of human violence

One of the most unfortunate mistakes we have made in the search for peace is to maintain the myth that humans are not by nature violent. The Seville Statement prepared on behalf of UNESCO by an international group of scientists in 1987 pronounced warfare to be a "peculiarly human phenomenon", that "does not occur in other animals". Warfare, therefore, is a "product of culture" having only a minor biological connection. "Biology does not condemn humanity to war" which means that we can unlearn our propensity for violence.

Human history and anthropology suggest that violence is very much part of human nature. In his book, The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee, Diamond lists some of the genocides that have occurred throughout human history. The pattern has varied little in the last 500 years, but the means of genocide have become more powerful. Violence is not a phenomenon that has been introduced into human culture by urbanisation. Global assessment of the ethnographies of 31 hunter-gatherer societies found that 64% engaged in war once every two years, 26% less often and only 10% rarely or never.

Lorenz says that the problem is that we did not develop powerful instinctive inhibitions against killing because throughout most of human evolutionary history, we did not have the tools for easy killing and there was no survival value in such an inhibition. Weapons of mass destruction have upset this balance. The fact that we can kill people without facing them also removes any weak inhibitions.

The failure of existing ethical systems

The final problem that I wish to discuss is that we profess loyalty to a system of ethics and behave in an almost diametrically opposite way. The Bible says we must not kill, but to turn the other cheek, yet we kill in the name of God. The Koran says that the killing of one man is equivalent to the killing of all mankind, yet the Islamic jihad is genocidal. Buddhists are meant not to harm any living creature and yet almost one-third of Cambodians have been slaughtered this century.

It is difficult to know whether the Judeo-Christian religions are losing adherents, but what is clear is that even those who still profess belief lead lives based on motives that bear little relationship to the teachings of Jesus. Despite massively increasing inequalities of wealth, there is little doubt that compassion is diminishing for the meek, the poor, the disadvantaged, and other "failures" in the greed and growth economy. There is now not even a pretence towards reducing inequalities, and socialism has been officially declared "dead".

The religions which are clearly gaining adherents are the fundamentalist sects and other cults that benefit from the emptiness of the lives of the "haves" and the desperation of the "have-nots". This growth has occurred despite the blatant greed, corruption and occasional mental illness of their leaders and gurus.

It is my thesis that there is an urgent need for a new system of ethics based on principles that can gain universal support. I think there may be a scientific basis for such a system.

Is there a scientific basis for a new ethics for peace?

If we examine the scientific evidence from cosmology, evolutionary biology and ethology, it seems to me that we can conclude the following:

Human evolution will not occur again

If human extinction is allowed to occur, it is highly unlikely that our species would ever evolve again, either in our solar system or elsewhere in this or other galaxies.

This planet is all we have

Discussion of colonising another planet ignores the problem of what we would do when we reached there. We may be able to harness enough energy and even grow enough food but what would we do for work, for leisure and for all the other things that are essentially human?

All species have a purpose

It seems, therefore, a matter of the greatest urgency to persuade humankind that there is a scientifically valid purpose for our species, which is both our biological responsibility and our unavoidable fate to pursue and fulfil. This purpose must offer an alternative to the religious view that this life is a preparation for an afterlife and to the existential view that life is absurd and has no inherent meaning.

Evolutionary biology tells us that the purpose of life is genetic replication and that the force behind natural selection can be best defined as inclusive-fitness-maximisation. This means the perpetuation of the organism's DNA, either by the reproduction of that organism or by the reproduction of a related organism sharing all, or a proportion, of the DNA. To provide the scientific foundation for a purpose for Homo sapiens, however, we need to prove that natural selection operates at species level.

Does natural selection operate at the species level?

The currently accepted wisdom is that natural selection operates basically at the level of the gene, despite the fact that evolution has clearly selected genes that have formed into organisms, and organisms that have formed into groups of animals and plants. The question is whether inclusive-fitness-maximisation operates at species level as well as at the individual or small group level. Although natural selection operates mostly at the level of the individual organism, there are animals such as the Portuguese man-of-war, where the individual is a colony of animals. The social insects are another variant on this theme.

Most animals live in groups because it facilitates survival by reducing the risk of predation, because it is unprofitable for individuals to harvest their food source, and because the localisation of some resources forces animals to group together. Humans similarly live in groups because of the resultant increased prosperity and protection against invaders. These human groups are cemented together by cultural adhesives called beliefs, values and laws.

Now that humans live in groups of largely unrelated individuals who have a common purpose and who have gained the capacity to manipulate the environment, one can argue that there is a cultural evolution (or cultural change) that has superseded genetic evolution. Dawkins calls the cultural unit of replication a "meme." One example of a meme is God, a concept which has flourished, although in many mutated forms, because it offers survival value. There is clearly a cultural "evolution" operating in human societies which is absent from most animal groups. Human culture evolves rapidly when compared with the complex behaviour of social insects, which has persisted unchanged for millions of years.

Is there a cultural evolution in addition to genetic evolution?

Comparing cultural evolution to genetic evolution, it can be argued that:

  • culture is inherited through learning

  • culture is mutable through mistakes, discoveries, inventions and planning

  • some aspects of culture survive while others do not

  • there may be a correlation between cultural change and inclusive-fitness-maximising

Culture can be seen also as a vehicle for genetic replicators by providing the climate for survival. For example, the basis for the incest taboo has changed from genetic relatedness to the fact of being reared together. Evidence for this may be found in the kibbutz, the communal settlements of Israel, where the marriage of unrelated children reared together is almost unknown. In Thailand, marriages between betrothed infants who are raised in the same household do not fare as well as marriages between infants who are raised in different households.

Now that humans can manipulate the environment, one can reasonably argue that genetic selection has been almost entirely replaced by cultural evolution. In view of the fact that successful management of the environment requires the co-operation of all nations, this cultural evolution can be said to operate at species level. Moreover, environmental control is vital if we wish to prevent mutations which would displace us (and our DNA). We clearly have an interest in preventing the development of an environmental niche which would favour the survival of a genetic variant. This would be likely to occur if there were a major environmental disruption such as a nuclear war or climate change.

The school of evolutionary biology, called Sociobiology, pioneered by E.O. Wilson, has promoted the hypothesis that human behaviour has an evolutionary basis and that this has ethical implications. In his book, On Human Nature, Wilson argues that behaviours and cultural beliefs as diverse as altruism, religion and hope can be explained by evolutionary biology. Many of the examples of altruistic behaviour where one animal seems to sacrifice itself for the survival of others is now thought to be due to "kin selection", a variant of natural selection. This is the term given to the behaviour of an animal which favours the survival of another animal that shares a proportion of its DNA. Thus, a parent may sacrifice for an offspring "knowing" that the offspring shares half the DNA and has only to have two children to make the sacrifice genetically worthwhile. Similarly siblings share 50% of their genes, nephews and nieces have 25% and so on.

Kin selection seems to explain much of what Wilson calls "hard-core altruism". This includes the song-call of birds to warn others of the presence of predators, that would seem to put the singer at risk. It includes the curious stotting of gazelles, whereby one will jump into the air to warn the troop of an approaching predator. Colonies of the social insects which are divided into one reproducing queen, reproducing males and non-reproducing worker females presumably also rely on the fact that the queen's DNA is identical to that of the non-reproducing females. Closer to home, the adoption by chimpanzees of orphans of near relatives is the prototype of much human "altruistic" behaviour.

In addition to this " hard-core altruism", Wilson argues for a "soft-core altruism" on the basis of reciprocal advantage. This explains behaviour that seems to offer little immediate genetic survival value but seems more like an insurance policy against later possible risk.

Such reciprocal altruism seems to be evident in the behaviour of apes but becomes most significant in the behaviour of humans. Blood donations are the classic example. Human sacrifice for others not genetically related does not always occur in circumstances where the deed will be recorded so that praise and status will be accorded to the family of the altruist.

It is my view that, despite the above discussion of a possible biological basis for altruism, evolutionary biology has poorly prepared us for the problems we face on an overcrowded planet, on which technological developments seem to have outstripped our moral development. Evolutionary biology does, however, offer an insight into human nature which must be understood if social systems are to be established to reduce aggression, greed and nepotism.

What are the implications from a science for a new system of ethics?

We can argue from evolutionary biology, cosmology and palaeoanthropology that:

1. The early extinction of humans is a real risk if we continue our current behaviour.

2. Human extinction on this planet would mean the end of Homo sapiens.

3. The biological "purpose" of any organism is the perpetuation of its DNA.

4. The increasing importance of cultural evolution for Homo sapiens suggests that the "purpose" of humans is now the perpetuation of the species rather than of the individual.

5. Aggression, nepotism and greed are not aberrant, culturally derived, human behaviours but rather are inherited from our evolutionary past. Rapacious dynastic families and murderous inter-clan wars are not aberrations; they are just examples 0f the way our ancestors have behaved for four million years, behaviour which has been genetically transmitted because of its survival value.

The problem is that we now have the technology to cause mass genocide and environmental destruction. Behaviour which previously offered survival value to individuals and families is now threatening the survival of the species and the Earth's ecosystems. Any ethical system must take into account the true nature of humans and provide appropriate outlets for aggression, such as sport, and appropriate sanctions against socially unacceptable aggression, consumption and nepotism.

6. Sociobiology may indicate that altruism is also a part of inherent human nature, bequeathed from our evolutionary past.

7. If the purpose of humanity is the perpetuation of the species, then sustainability must be the basis of a new ethics for peace. This means the preservation of the ecosystem on which the existence of Homo sapiens depends. I distinguish this system of ethics from deep ecology, as proposed by Arne Naess and reflected in the philosophy of Peter Singer, which is based on the equal rights of all species. Such a view has no basis in evolutionary biology and, realistically, seems unlikely to obtain the support of more than a tiny minority of people. I believe, therefore, that the development of a system of values based on the sustainability of the planet is the most urgent social need we have today. Some cynics may argue that Earth will disintegrate in ten billions years or so anyway but this seems hardly a rationale for acquiescing in our imminent extinction.

Any successful ethical system will need to accept the natural biology of humans. Natural passions, which facilitate the survival of our species, such as sexuality, need to be acknowledged and not denigrated or forcibly sublimated. Natural passions such as violence and self-interest, that do not facilitate the survival of the species, need to be acknowledged but controlled by social programs. Successful control programs will never be developed if we continue to pretend that the propensity to violence is an aberration.

We need to stop oppressing the weak and minorities, not because each person is of equal value in the eyes of some mythical higher power, but because people fighting for survival are unable to care for the environment and have no concern for sustainability. Moreover, they may become desperate enough to wreak major environmental damage through the use of nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction.

Sustainability will require concessions from both developed and developing countries. People in affluent countries will need to reduce their consumption of energy which will require a change, if not a simplification, of lifestyle. In poorer countries, people will need to curtail some of their consumption aspirations, particularly those involving increases in the use of fossil fuel and environmental pollution. This level of global cooperation will only be possible with a major reduction in world tension and an increase in true aid and technology sharing. The arms trade must be radically curtailed, not only because it is a major cause of tension but also because it is extremely wasteful of energy, natural resources and human potential.

In Australia, land regeneration and sustainable land use ought to be accorded the highest priority, while the growth of urban areas needs to be controlled so that food growing land is not further alienated. The elimination of wasteful consumption will remove the need to clear our old growth forests and allow massive replanting.

It is useful to compare the basic principles underlying the ethical systems of green capitalism (sustainable development), deep ecology and sustainability:

Green capitalism Deep ecology Sustainability
Natural diversity is valuable as a resource for us Natural diversity has its own intrinsic value Natural diversity is essential for the ecosystem
It is nonsense to talk about value except as value for humankind All species have the same value as humans Human depends on acknowledging the common interests of all species
Plant species should be saved because of their value as genetic reserves for human agriculture and medicine Plant species should be saved because of their intrinsic value Diversity of plant species is essential for planetary survival
Pollution should be decreased if it threatens economic growth Decrease of pollution has priority over economic growth The rate of production of pollution should not be greater than the rate of removal
Third World population growth threatens ecological equilibrium World population at present level threatens eco-systems especially those in developed countries. Everybody has the right to live at the same level of resource use that is globally sustainable
People will not tolerate a broad decrease in their standard of living People should not tolerate a broad decrease in quality of life but in the material standard of living in over-developed countries The desirable standard of living for all humanity is one which is globally sustainable if practised by all.
Nature is cruel and necessarily so Man is cruel but not necessarily so Violence has been part of the evolutionary struggle but now needs to be suppressed


Some other possible implications of a system of ethics based on evolutionary biology

1. Evolutionary biology may suggest that there is an optimal size for human cohabitation. This is likely to be considerably less than that of a major city.

2. Of all the many human civilisations throughout history, one of the few that have lasted for more than 1000 years is that of Australian Aborigines. They are clearly the most successful in terms of living in harmony with their environment. Lessons for us here?

3. Evolutionary biology suggests that much of our behaviour is instinctive or learned during our formative years. The implication is that parents and other role models need to provide children with clear values and guidelines for behaviour. If we fail to teach children the values of a compassionate, sustainable, peaceful global community then, in their confusion, they will turn to other sources of values available in modern society. These sources include television, with its diet of violence, greed, self-interest and exploitation. They include the messages of the Far Right, fundamentalist religions, cult leaders and the growing mass of gambling operatives who exploit the vulnerable.

4. Acknowledging the tendency inherent in the (male) human animal to be aggressive, one essential component of all communities is the provision of an adequate range of facilities to allow all young people to give expression to their natural need for physicality and aggression. At present communities in the Western suburbs of Sydney lack such facilities, the cost of which is manifest in intra-community violence and self-destructive behaviour.

5. Evolutionary biology suggests that young people (including most politicians, given the global trend towards younger people in politics) are unlikely to be motivated to provide the solutions and guidance we need. Younger people are preoccupied with finding a mate (or spreading their DNA more widely) and with chasing goals of status, power and material acquisition. Some older people understand that these goals are both illusory and dangerous and have the wisdom, motivation and time to provide leadership. This author believes that there is an urgent need in our society to reconstruct the "council of wise elders" that our ancestors would have had throughout evolutionary history.


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Burnet M.,1971, Dominant Mammal: The biology of human destiny. Penguin Books. Victoria

Diamond J.,1991, The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee. Random House, London

Ember C.R., 1978, "Myths about hunter-gatherers". Ethnology, 27: 239-448

Gould S.J., 1990, The Individual in Darwin's World. The Second Edinburgh Medal Address, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London.

Gould S.J., 1996, Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin. Harmony Books, New York, NY

Leslie J., 1996, The End of the World: The Science and Ethics of Human Extinction, Routledge, London

Lorenz K., 1963, On Aggression. Methuen, London

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Wilson E.0.,1992, The Diversity of Life. Penguin Books, London

Wrangham R. and Peterson D.,1996, Demonic Males: Apes and the origins of human violence. Bloomsbury, London

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