Phylogeny of social beasts

Ahmed Shafee
Published : 4 August 2013, 06:45 AM
Updated : 4 August 2013, 06:45 AM

News: A family in Kushtia is recently feeling very insecure as the police are not showing interest in arresting a teacher named Helaluddin who took indecent video pictures of his female student and fled. Instead they spread the videos in public ( Victims harassed over lewd videos).

* * *

In 1967 Desmond Morris, the zoologist, published his blockbuster best-seller — The Naked Ape. It compared the behavioural patterns of human beings and their nearest relatives – the apes. The biological close relation was known for ages. Morris tried to show how akin the tree-living animals were to the civilized cousins in terms of sexual and other habits and traits. In 1967 people knew about the double helix, how they replicated, and how the DNA and RNA coded for the proteins, which effectively controlled the traits by releasing or not releasing the appropriate chemicals, in the brain and at all other parts of the body. People also knew that though all cells in the body contained the same genetic information, cells of different tissues expressed some of the genes and inhibited others, creating the differentiation needed to form various organs that united in action to form a single self-contained independent living being. But many details were missing, and hence Morris had to adopt an observational stance and not try to explain everything using molecular structural analysis. The enormous computational power available now as well as the requisite math and bioinformatics techniques has cut down drastically the effort needed to proceed on a truly scientific framework.

So, not everybody agreed with the claims of Morris. He said the human female breast developed principally as a sexual attractor, and lactation was of secondary importance. He also suggested that the size of a certain body part of the human male, compared to that of the apes, was meant to make men sexually more attractive.  If my namesake at Hathazari had read Morris (it is polite to give everybody the benefit of doubt, if not ruled out entirely), or a little of Freudian libido-based psychology, he would have shouted in joy – "See,  men and women were created to be attracted to each other in  a physical sense." That leaves mundane people who spend hours and days working out problems in physics or math with nary a thought of seeking comfort at hard times in female company, wondering if they are abnormal Sheldon Coopers.

The human chain sprung out from the chimps about seven million years ago according to present-day analysis using fossil records, advanced lab techniques, math and computing. After some faltering efforts, involving Australopithecus, Homo erectus, Neanderthals, etc. due to rapid genetic changes, interbreeding, and possibly environmental alterations, the Homo sapiens stands where he is now, still bearing 2.5% Mediterranean Neanderthal blood in all parts of the world except some areas of Africa, where the true human began its journey. The difference in genetic material between a human and a chimp is only about 1.5%. But the consequences have been very significant. The size of the human brain grew larger, with more folds to make the active effective surface bigger still. The thumb came to a position that allowed tools to be handled more easily and vocal cords began to talk.

Civilisation began, as knowledge passed on from generation to generation, always accumulating. A quantum leap indeed! Within a few thousand years there were  hierarchical social systems, agriculture, commerce, books of law, carefully planned cities, science and technology that allowed the great pyramids to be built, astronomical predictions — virtually most of pre-twentieth century civilisation.

More than 200 regions of the DNA have been discovered where such accelerated human changes took place (HAR). The variations may be quite small chemically, but the effects have brought about radical evolutionary progress. Apes were never particularly peaceful. They spent three times as long teasing and frightening each other than gathering food. There was fierce competition among males for winning conjugal rights by force. As a result, they became stronger and bigger than the females. But in the human race, in a modern survey it has been found that the qualities the female finds most attractive in the male, across all cultures surveyed,  is not brute strength, or a handsome figure, or the ability to afford the luxuries of life, but kindness and intelligence. Human evolution has made the last two traits more important, possibly for the care of the newborn and the very young. They have multiplied more successfully.

However, statistical surveys concentrate on the majority. In any population distribution there are deviants. And when different races met in the past, with little breeding overlap, it is possible that ape-like aggressive behavioural pattern re-emerged, and the male with the higher physical power tried to snatch favours from the weaker female. Even within the same society, the less favoured, stressed and frustrated baboon-man keeps resorting to violence in an effort to compensate for his humiliating position in society.

In Bangladesh, or India, or elsewhere, the perpetrators of crimes on women belong to a psychologically mutant class. The boss who forces his female employee probably has an unhappy home life and envies normal people. The cleric of "Pak sar jamin", converted from a leftist background and rampaging minority villages, feels lost with an identity crisis. The teacher who takes advantage of his student is the most heinous of all, defiling an image that he never believed in and for which he does not feel qualified. Taking and keeping of video accounts of such incidents are not only to blackmail the victim, but also to satisfy the ego of the aggressor with an inferiority complex.

Many such cases go unreported, either because of a feeling of shame or of insecurity felt by the victim or her family unleashed by the criminals and their friends. It is necessary to realise that there is no reason why the girl should feel any stigma, for a violent attack on her person, as in the case of a man. The shame is that of the beast evolved from a human. People with the power who show reluctance or lenience in caging the monsters belong to the same class.

Ahmed Shafee is a physicist.