Furthest Right

Group conflict: and evolutionary residual? (Alan Mcgregor)

The problem of conflict regulation in multiracial societies can only be clearly understood if we realize that the emotional tensions generated when members of diverse but coherent ethnic groups find themselves obliged by circumstances to live in close daily relationship with each other do not derive merely from conflicts between contrasting cultural systems, but may also have a deeply ingrained biological significance. ‘They are thus by no means of modern or even recent origin in the history of our species.


Like other animals, man is little more than a pawn on the chessboard of evolution. The basic patterns of human behavior and of human emotions had already been determined by evolutionary forces long before the appearance of Multi-ethnic or plural societies. It is consequently necessary for us to examine the biological role of the emotional tensions associated with “in-group” and “out-group” relationships – including racial relationships – in the evolutionary history of man. We must identify the evolutionary purpose of ethnic consciousness and of the sense of ‘racial distance’ that has tended to keep individuals of diverse racial background socially and physically separate through hundreds of thousands of years of evolutionary development.

What do we mean by “evolution?” Evolution is customarily defined as a process of organic change by which new forms arc constantly arising and replacing others less suited to survive in a state of competition. It is the study of the cosmic process as applied to the history of living organisms, both from a structural or biological point of view, and also – in the case of social evolution – from a behavioral or sociocultural point of view,. The new concept of bio-social studies properly embraces and integrates both those fields, showing how the evolution of biological and social behavior combine in a single process, shaped by similar forces, with one function: the survival of the species.

Evolution reveals two major trends, the first of which is a trend from the simplicity of unicellular life forms to the appearance of highly complex living organisms, such as are represented by mammals, primates and men. The second is the trend from the primitive uniformity of early life forms to the rich variety of diverse species, sub-species, or, in the case of man, of the living races which today inhabit the earth. Both trends – the trend towards increasing complexity and the trend towards increasing diversity of life forms – readily arise from the process of adaptive radiation as a result of geographical isolation which, in the case of simple or less mobile life forms, leads inevitably to genetic isolation and the formation of new subspecies. However, these trends can only be maintained, among the higher and more mobile forms of animal life which practice sexual reproduction, by the continued genetic segregation of each separately developing sub-species. Evolution would be frustrated among the more advanced, more mobile animals if every new biological or evolutionary experiment, each new phylogenetic continuum, sub-species or race, were to lose its new and specific combination of distinctive genes and supergenes by interbreeding and genetic admixture with neighboring populations, or by the reabsorption of divergent populations into either parental or sibling stocks. While new sub-species are often created by the intermingling of members of two or more already diversified sub-species, even the resultant hybrid populations must then become genetically isolated if a new homogeneous racial type or sub-species is to emerge and remain distinct.

To prevent the negation of Nature’s work of species-creation, we find that all higher, more mobile animals living under feral (natural) conditions not only evolve a sense of territoriality, whereby they become isolated or at least semi-isolated genetically on a geographical basis in what are known as demes, but that they also develop what zoologists call “feral restraints,” that is a marked unwillingness – amounting often to a positive refusal – to interbreed with members of other sub-species.

While the simple geographical isolation of separate populations, each steadily evolving under diverse environmental pressures into disparate sub-species, will effectively protect the evolutionary process from negation by the genetic intermingling of the new “experimental” varieties before they have become sufficiently divergent to lose the physical ability to cross-breed, “feral restraints” act to prevent the negation of nature’s work by discouraging cross-breeding on those occasions that individuals from divergent populations do chance to meet. Feral restraints therefore serve a vital evolutionary process. Zoologists have identified two types of such constraints, the first of which are called “built-in” constraints, based upon physical sign stimuli. “Built-in” physical restraints may take the form of distinctive shape, color, smell, or even patterns of movement, common to animals of the same sub-species, but absent from other populations. Such distinctive characteristics serve as a warning to members of related but disparate subspecies not to attempt sexual relationships. They are like a sign that reads “Danger! a new biological experiment is in progress. Do not approach!” But in addition to these built-in constraints, the distinguished zoologist, Peter Klopfer, has shown that “acquired” constraints exist among feral animals due to behavioral imprinting. These may be equated with the culturally-inspired prejudices associated with learned “in-group” and “out-group” behavior among human beings. (1)

Domestication, by breaking down territorial restrictions and destroying patterns of feral or natural activity, brings about many kinds of perverted, or misdirected, unnatural and antievolutionary behavior. The innate drives of domesticated animals generally express themselves in a confused, and evolutionarily useless, variety of patterns, while the behavior patterns of caged animals become even more extensively deranged. Not only do they often refuse to eat, but those that do eat often attempt masturbation, homosexuality, and show a willingingness to mate with animals of a different sub-species(2) – an activity which, regularly and consistently repeated would necessarily prevent any further speciation or racial diversification. Man’s culture, particularly in urbanized societies, in effect perverts his natural instincts by imprisoning him in a cultural cage, thereby suppressing his natural feral constraints and inducing various abnormal patterns of behavior, such as homosexuality and the search for unusual erotic experiences, including those associated with interracial sexual experimentation. The significance of an evolutionary approach to the problem of inter-group accommodation in plural societies becomes even more apparent when we realize that evolution arises not solely from individual competition. Team spirit and group cohesiveness have a high survival value for those mammals and primates which have adopted a pattern of group life. Furthermore, the concept of the survival of the fittest among social animals, such as Nlan, refers less to the survival of the fittest individual than it does to the survival of the species or sub-species. Indeed evolution is not concerned with individual organism but only with what we today call the phylogenetic continuum. Evolution is concerned with species and sub-species, or what Darwin and the general public refcr to as races – not with individuals as such, except in so far as these are links in the continuing intergenerational chain of life. Evolution is specifically concerned with the preservation and modification of the gene pool within predominately in-breeding Niendelian populations. Evolution is in no way concerned with the welfare or well-being of any one individual organism except to the extent that the death or survival of that organism may affect the gene pool of the group. (4)

Fitness also must not be misunderstood. In the evolutionary context (by which we mean the living reality), fitness means only the ability of any breeding population, sub-species or race to reproduce itself, and at the more complex, mammalian, primate and human levels, the abilities of the adults or parents to protect their offspring until the offspring can in turn successfully reproduce themselves. Biologically, individuals are little more than a link in the chain of generations, except in so far as small disparities in genetic inheritance may exist between the carriers of genes in the same gene pool, and in such cases the future of the gene pool will be affected by the determination of which individuals will survive to reproduce – and to reproduce more prolifically. Thus it is not necessarily the meek, nor even the brave, nor even the most intelligent, who are destined to inherit the earth. The future belongs to the more prolific. It is their descendants who, will inherit the earth: this is the evolutionary reality.

What does the study of social evolution reveal to us about the nature of inter-group, inter-ethnic and inter-racial conflict? As we have said, evolution is concerned with breeding populations not with individuals, and biological social evolution at the primate and human level is really more a matter of group survival than one of individual survival. Social cooperation in the primate troop and in the primitive human band arose as an evolutionary necessity to ensure the survival of the group as a distinctive phylogenetic breeding population. At the same time, the survival of a primitive human band was sustained not merely by bonds of cooperation and love within the band, but also by suspicion, fear, antagonism, and even hatred, where necessary, of other groups which might appear on the scene as territorial competitors for the available material resources necessary to sustain life. In their earlier, more feral existence, at the level of the primate troop, the human band, and the human tribe, man’s forebears developed a capacity to distrust and repel those they perceived of as alien, as well as to love and to assist those whom they identified as allies. Every member of every human group has ever since experienced two different sets of reactions when dealing with others: one of loyalty towards members of the in-group, the other of caution and competitiveness towards members of the out-group. Ludwig Gumplowitz referred to these two separate sets of behavior as syngenism (attachment and loyalty) and ethnocentrism (suspicion of aliens). He further suggested that the pressure of competition from other groups tended to reinforce the feelings of loyalty and cooperation heightening the consciousness of ethnocentrism and suspicion of “outsiders.” It has thus been said that people at war experience – at least in the initial stages – a sense of exhilaration, as they cooperate together for the survival of their own group in defense against alien groups.

These attitudes of in-group loyalty and out-group suspicion, which appear to have evolved at the level of the primitive human band and to have developed more consciously identifiable form at the level of tribal society, reflect a clear-cut evolutionary purpose, and explain the persistent national and racial consciousness still so widespread in the modern world. Patterns of in-group loyalty and out-group suspicion have served an effective evolutionary purpose over the long history of primate and human biological evolution, and still reinforce the acquired constraints already referred to above. The evolutionary message is clear. Human groups which lose their internal sense of identity and cohesion in respect of other groups eventually cease to exist as discrete realities. Such groups may become absorbed in neighboring populations. On the other hand, when a distinctive population or gene pool, such as is reflected by a minority population in a modem multi-racial society, retains its identity and persists in practicing endogamous marriage – showing a sense of “brotherhood” – it may well expect to survive as an identifiable biological group far into the foreseeable future. Two decades ago many observers of humanity foresaw the genetic amalgamation of the diverse races of man at a relatively early date. ‘today, while genetic amalgamation is widespread in the western democracies, it remains very rare among the more prolific peoples of Asia, Africa, and even less common than formerly in Latin America. Indeed, in the great totalitarian states, such as China and among the various nationalities of the LSSR and Eastern Europe, genetic universalism, although favored by Marxist theory, seems to have little if any appeal. Further studies would seem to be called for to explore the degree of correlation that may exist in modern human societies between mating patterns (and, in consequence, evolutionary directions), political philosophy, and systems of government and social organization.


Calhoun, J. B, 1962 Population Density and Social Pathology, Scientific American 206;2:139 ff

Klopfer, Peter M., 1965 Imprinting; a reassessment, Science 7:302-303 1970 Behavioral Ecology. Belmont:Dickenson Publishing Co.

Lorenz, Konrad E., 1967 Evolution and Modification of Behavior. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Nlayre, E., 1963 Animal Species and Evolution. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press

Morris, L.N., 1971 Human Populations, Genetic Variation and Evolution. San Francisco: Chandler Publishing Co.

Simpson, G.G., 1964 This View of Life. New York: Harcourt Brace & Co.


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