In a New York Times science article this morning is a superb reason for being nice to your tribe of fellow co-workers (and even to the people in the competing tribes around you):
A team of anthropologists led by Kim S. Hill of Arizona State University and Robert S. Walker of the University of Missouri analyzed data from 32 living hunter-gatherer peoples and found that the members of a band are not highly related. Fewer than 10 percent of people in a typical band are close relatives, meaning parents, children or siblings, they report in Friday’s issue of Science.
Michael Tomasello, a psychologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, said the survey provided a strong foundation for the view that cooperative behavior, as distinct from the fierce aggression between chimp groups, was the turning point that shaped human evolution. If kin selection was much weaker than thought, Dr. Tomasello said, “then other factors like reciprocity and safeguarding one’s reputation have to be stronger to make cooperation work.”
In other words, not just family cooperation, but non-family cooperation with completely unrelated others, is the secret to your species’ spectacular success.
Isn’t that mind-blowing? This is Paleolithic Facebook before Facebook (and probably explains the brush-fire takeover of the Internet by Facebook). And it was under Paleolithic conditions that our species evolved:
Modern humans have lived as hunter-gatherers for more than 90 percent of their existence as a species.
And those groups that were highly cohesive increased probabilities for success:
[T]ribes with highly cooperative members would prevail over those that were less cohesive, thus promoting genes for cooperation.
I wonder, however, what this means for creative and critical thinking? I believe it was George Patton who said,
If everybody is thinking alike, somebody isn’t thinking.
But if critical thinking can be put under pressure by group-think, perhaps social learning makes up for it. So long as somebody is thinking independently, well, and clearly, it appears that the rest of the group can ride piggyback:
The new data on early human social structure furnishes the context in which two distinctive human behaviors emerged, those of cooperation and social learning, Dr. Hill said. A male chimp may know in his lifetime just 12 other males, all from his own group. But a hunter-gatherer, because of cooperation between bands, may interact with a thousand individuals in his tribe. Because humans are unusually adept at social learning, including copying useful activities from others, a large social network is particularly effective at spreading and accumulating knowledge.
And insular groups actually regress:
Knowledge can in fact be lost by hunter-gatherers if a social network gets too small. One group of the Ache people of Paraguay, cut off from its home territory, had lost use of fire when first contacted. Tasmanians apparently forgot various fishing techniques after rising sea levels broke their contact with the Australian mainland 10,000 years ago.
So I suppose the take-home message is this: you increase your probability for success in life if you are nice to those you identify as part of your tribe, get tight with the creative and critical thinkers in it (befriend them, learn from them, imitate them), and try to get in win-win trading situations with the competing tribes around you.