Of Badges, Bonds and Boundaries:
Ingroup/outgroup differentiation and ethnocentrism
by Johan M.G. van der Dennen, Center for Peace and Conflict
Studies, University of Groningen, The Netherlands
At the fifth Annual Meeting of the European Sociobiological Society
(ESS), St. John's College, Oxford, U.K. (January 5-6, 1985), I presented
the following paper:
"I present a literature review of theories and research concerning the
phenomena of ethnocentrism, ingroup/outgroup differentiation,
moralistic aggression, xenophobic aggression, collective intolerance,
and intergroup violence, all of which are regarded as parts of one
complex and composite syndrome. An attempt to interpret the
ethnocentrism syndrome as a symbol-system-cum-sentiment-structure
is offered, and its value as an explanatory category for the causation
of 'primitive' warfare is assessed" (The paper was published as
"Ethnocentrism and in-group/out-group differentiation" in: V.
Reynolds, V. Falger & I. Vine (Eds.) The
Sociobiology of Ethnocentrism: Evolutionary dimensions of
xenophobia, discrimination, racism and nationalism,
1987, pp. 1-47).
In this paper I intend to revisit this literature and research, and especially
what has been added since that time (in particular the important Shaw
& Wong (1989) Genetic Seeds of Warfare
monography and Anne Katrin Flohr's (1994)
Fremdenfeindlichkeit: biosoziale Grundlagen von
Ethnozentrismus. I shall also attempt to assess the value of
sociobiological or evolutionary ethnocentrism theory to account for the
origin of warfare and intergroup violence in general.
In order to appreciate what is so special about human group phenomena
and ethnocentrism, I start by presenting some observations on human
(collective) violence generally.
Violence in and between human societies, with the exception of
some forms of domestic, criminal and pathological violence, is virtually
always a collective activity or committed in the name of a collectivity.
Collective violence is covered with a thick patina of self-justification, ratiomorphic
nonsense and pathos. "Men will die like flies
for theories and exterminate each other with every instrument of
destruction for abstractions" (Durbin & Bowlby, 1938). The most
extensive, quixotic and disgusting violence is justified with the invocation
of a utopian ideology, a paradise myth, a superiority doctrine, an
eschatological or millenarian ideal state, or other highly abstract
political/ethical categories, metaphysical values, and quasi-metaphysical
mental monstrosities: National Security, Raison d'Etat, Freedom,
Democracy, God, Volk und Heimat, Blut und Boden, Peace, Progress,
Empire, Historical Imperative, Sacred Order, Natural Necessity, Divine
Will, and so on and so forth. The human being as the 'most ferocious of
beasts' as William James called him, is only a beast in the name of some
superhuman ideal, which serves as a 'sanction for evil' (Sanford &
Comstock, 1971); divine or diffuse permission for large-scale
destructiveness. The purity and sacredness of our cause, and the divine
sanction of our actions ('with God on our side') is guaranteed by the
wickedness of the enemy, who is envisaged as the incorporation of evil,
the devil incarnate.
This moral double standard leads to the masquerading of the
violence committed in the name of one's own in-group as justified self-defense, or as a
well-deserved punishment for transgressions of mores,
laws, or ideological orthodoxy. The violence may range from sanctions
against a dissenter or potential renegade within the group, to punitive
expeditions, and even genocide, between groups.
Total identification with the group makes the individual perform
altruistic acts to the point of self-sacrifice, and at the same time behave
with ruthless cruelty towards the enemy or victim of the group. As
Koestler (1967) observed: the self-assertive behavior of the group is based
on the self-transcending behavior of its members. The egotism of the
group feeds on the altruism of its members.
Erikson's (1964) concept of cultural pseudospeciation denotes the fact that
while Man is obviously one species, he appears on the scene split into
groups which provide their members with a firm sense of distinct and
Man is the cultural animal par excellence.
All members of the (sub)species Homo sapiens
sapiens share the characteristic of being capable to create,
and be created by, culture. At the same time, however, culture is the great
unbalancer, the great catalyst of diversity and reinforcer of differences,
underlying universal human cultural
pseudospeciation. Owing to this process, human
groups (be they ethnies, tribes or nations) tend to differ from one another
to such a degree that the groups come to perceive each other as though
they were totally different species (e.g, Willhoite, 1977).
Especially Tinbergen (1968, 1981) has pointed out how violence
changes in character from intraspecific
aggression to interspecific predation the more
the enemy is dehumanized and 'pseudospeciated'. No holds are barred in
hunting down a foreign species.
MacCurdy (1918) foreshadowed this valuable concept of
pseudospeciation in his Psychology of War.
According to him, early tribal warfare had fixed the idea that strangers
were another species, and thus was overcome the natural inhibition against
killing conspecifics. Humans by their "herd nature" were doomed to split
into groups, and these groups behaved biologically like separate species
struggling for existence. During times of war, he suggested, humans still
felt vestigial emotions of hostility to their enemies as species other than
themselves (Crook, 1994).
Due to his elaborate cognitive capacity Man has the ability to create
psychological 'distancing devices', to dehumanize, diabolize, to
exterminate his enemies like vermin in fantasy and in reality; and to
generate Weltanschauungen in which only a
small portion of humanity fits, and social paradises from which the
'misfits' have to be expelled.
Together with the concept of cultural pseudospeciation,
dehumanization (the perception or definition of other people as less than
human or even nonhuman) is probably the most important proximate
concept for understanding malignant (mass)violence phenomena, including
'ethnic cleansing', war atrocities, massacres and genocide, in humans (and
probably as 'dechimpization' [Goodall, 1986] in chimpanzees as well).
There is a profound paradox involved in the process of dehumanization in
the sense that one can only dehumanize what is recognized and
acknowledged to be human in the first place.
Volkan (1992) and Galtung (1994) identify, besides dehumanization, two
more elements in the group dynamics toward violence and war: the
'Chosen Trauma' and the 'Chosen Glory' of the group, leading to the
intergenerational transmission of historical enmity.
Ethnocentrism is considered to be a schismatic in-group/out-group
differentiation, in which internal cohesion, relative peace, solidarity,
loyalty and devotion to the in-group, and the glorification of the
sociocentric-sacred (the own cosmology, ideology, social myth, or
Weltanschauung; the own 'godgiven' social
order) is correlated with a state of hostility or permanent quasi-war
(status hostilis) toward out-groups, which are
often perceived as inferior, subhuman, and/or the incorporation of evil.
Ethnocentrism results in a dualistic, Manichaean morality which evaluates
violence within the in-group as negative, and violence against the out-group as positive,
even desirable and heroic.
This is, admittedly, a rather extreme definition. The usual dictionary
definition of ethnocentrism is "the tendency to regard one's own group
and culture as intrinsically superior to all others" (Webster's
Dictionary). Superiority of the own group and culture,
however, (psycho)logically implies inferiority of other groups and cultures. And viewing
other groups/cultures as inferior empirically appears to
imply some degree (however small) of contempt, stereotyping, discrimination and
dehumanization of, and at least a modicum of hostility toward,
members of those other groups/cultures. Ethnocentrism and its canonical
variants (tribalism, nationalism, etc.) also appears to be intimately connected with
xenophobia, a complex attitude system-cum-sentiment structure involving dislike, distrust,
aversion, revulsion, fear and antagonism
vis-à-vis strangers/foreigners/aliens and everything the stranger/foreigner/alien
represents (though, as Van den Berghe (1997) pointed out,
"ethnocentrism does not automatically and invariably imply xenophobia").
Two forms of the ethnocentric syndrome must probably be distinguished: (1) A
belligerent, megalomaniac, superiority-delusional form
(Chosen People complex), and (2) a relatively peaceful, self-conceited,
isolationist form (e.g., the Han Chinese vis-à-vis the peripheral
Hardin (1972) introduced the related concept of tribalism: "Any
group of people that perceives itself as a distinct group, and which is so
perceived by the outside world, may be called a tribe. The group might be
a race, as ordinarily defined, but it need not be; it can just as well be a
religious sect, a political group, or an occupational group. The essential
characteristic of a tribe is that it should follow a double standard of
morality - one kind of behavior for in-group relations, another for out-group".
Other authors use terms like 'group egoism', 'groupism', etc. in a
There are two prevailing views of the fundamental nature of ethnicity. One emphasizes the
ascriptive, or primordial, nature of ethnic group
membership and the importance of kinship, early socialization, and strong
emotional ties. The other insists that ethnicity is situationally defined, that
ethnic group boundaries are malleable and permeable, and that ethnicity
may be acquired or divested at will (Richmond, 1987). This has been
called the instrumentalist position. Van den Berghe (1981) has attempted
to show that the primordialist-instrumentalist controversy is based on a
simple-minded antinomy, and that the two views complement rather than
contradict each other.
Ethnocentrism: Brief History of the Concept
In 1767 the Scottish philosopher Adam Ferguson published an
Essay on the History of Civil Society, probably
the first attempt at an empirical investigation of the origins of war using
ethnographic data. His analysis seemed to confirm Hobbes (1651): the
primitive state was indeed a state of war (status
hostilis): "We have had occasion to observe, that in every
rude state the great business is war; and that in barbarous times, mankind,
being generally divided into small parties, are engaged in almost perpetual
hostilities" (Essay 3.5).
In addition to maintaining the balance-of-power
between societies, Ferguson ascribes to warfare
the function of maintaining solidarity and morale
within societies. In-group amity depends upon
out-group enmity and vice versa. This idea could
also be found, in primordial form, in classical authors (Dawson, 1996),
but Ferguson probably offers the first analysis of the phenomenon of
ethnocentrism in history.
Though the term 'ethnocentrism' was to be coined a few decades
later, the concept was by no means unknown among 19th century
anthropologists such as Tylor (1871), who viewed ethnocentrism (as well
as the obligations of the blood feud) as making sense within a framework
of primitive concepts of law and justice.
Also Darwin (1871) had noticed that contemporary 'primitive'
peoples as a rule confined their sympathy to the own tribe and generally
did not regard violence against other tribes as a crime. He clearly saw the
correlation between intergroup competition and intragroup cooperation,
which is the core of the ethnocentrism syndrome, in human evolution. So
did his contemporaries such as Comte (1869), Spencer (1850 et seq.),
Bagehot (1872) and Gumplowicz (1883).
Spencer (1892) discovered that evolution, as seen to work in human
communities, spoke with two voices, each enunciating a separate code. He
called the one the 'Code of Amity' (conducive to harmonious within-group
cooperation), and the other the 'Code of Enmity' (conducive to constant
between-group enmity and revenge).
Sumner (1906; 1911), who later coined the term 'ethnocentrism' for
this dual code of conduct, heavily implicated ethnocentrism, and its
collateral xenophobia, in the evolution of warfare. In his
Folkways, Sumner (1906), echoing Spencer and
Bagehot, writes: "The exigencies of war with outsiders are what make
peace inside, lest internal discord should weaken the in-group for war.
The exigencies also make government and law in the in-group, in order to
prevent quarrels and enforce discipline".
Subsequently, Sumner (1911) notes that "Perhaps nine-tenths of all the
names given by savage tribes to themselves mean 'men', 'the only men',
or 'men of men'; that is, 'We are men, the rest are something else'...
Religion has always intensified ethnocentrism; the adherents of a religion
always think themselves the chosen people, or else they think that their
god is superior to all others, which amounts to the same thing (Sumner,
In his Folkways, Sumner (1906) had already
emphasized this superiority-delusional aspect of ethnocentrism, which he
regarded as universal, in describing it as "this view of things in which
one's own group is the center of everything, and all others are scaled and
rated with reference to it... Each group nourishes its own pride and
vanity, boasts itself superior, exalts its own divinities, and looks with
contempt on outsiders".
The next author, after Sumner, to elaborate the theme of
ethnocentrism in relation to primitive warfare was Davie (1929), who
sketched a truly Hobbesian picture of the 'savage' world, pointing out that
the relation of primitive groups to one another is one of isolation,
suspicion, hostility and war; a status hostilis, if
not a regular status belli. Yet within the tribe the
common interest against every other tribe compels its members to unite
for self-preservation. "Thus a distinction arises between one's own tribe -
the 'in-group' - and other tribes - the 'out-group'; and between the
members of the first peace and cooperation are essential, whereas their
inbred sentiment toward all outsiders is one of hatred and hostility. These
two relations are correlative".
Thus Davie did not add much to Sumner's arguments in terms of
theoretical sophistication. He did, however, summarize the then available
ethnological evidence from all over the world. In the accounts of
contemporary anthropologists, the theme or
Leitmotif of ethnocentrism, whether implicit or
explicit, is clearly recognizable (e.g., Murphy, 1957, 1960; Rappaport,
1968; Koch, 1974; Huber, 1975; Chagnon, 1977; Herdt, 1981; Paula
Brown, 1982; Knauft, 1983; among many others).
The Yanomanö fierceness, for example, derives, at least in
part, from their belief that they were the first, finest and most refined
form of man to inhabit the earth, and that all other peoples are a
degeneration from their pure stock (Keegan, 1993: 97). Another
Amazonian people, the Mundurucu (who waged headhunting raids against
all of their neigbors) , consider other people to be on the same level as
their principal game food, the peccary. Their word for enemy
(pariwat) merely meant any group that was not
Mundurucu (Murphy, 1957, 1960).
Such a state of affairs has resulted in the isolation of many primitive
peoples, their ignorance of one another, and the great variation in their
mores and languages. As Bigelow (1972) suggests: "When they cannot
understand one another beyond the level of smiles and grunts and blatant
gestures, people rarely achieve deep cultural bonds and common
Sumner's thesis has, by now, been supported by a substantial body
of evidence (e.g., Murdock, 1949; Catton, 1961; LeVine &
Campbell, 1972; Van den Berghe, 1981; Reynolds, Falger & Vine,
1987; Shaw & Wong, 1989; A. Flohr, 1994).
Ethnocentrism and Nationalism
Ethnocentrism is not a monopoly of primitive peoples. It is also a common
theme, in the guise of nationalism, in the history of civilization.
Bauer (1907) defined a nation as a community shaped by shared
experiences. The nation is a
Schicksalsgemeinschaft - a community united by
a common fate. This is, psychologically, a much more sensible conception
of the nation than the formal definitions of the political scientists.
The cognitive approach to nationalism, as exemplified by Hobsbawm
(1990), regards it as a historical phenomenon concomitant with the rise
and decline of the nation-state. This approach would deny any primordial,
individual human propensity to one form of ethnocentrism or another. The
rational choice, marginal utility, and transactional theories of ethnic and
nationalist identification do not, however, take into consideration the often
irrational, passionate animosities, equally passionate loyalties, strong
affective attachments to sacred symbols and myths, threat perceptions, and
other emotional aspects involved. All too often in human affairs passion
overrides reason, and ethnophobias turn into hatred, hostility, and
violence (Loewenberg, 1994; Richmond, 1987). As Falger (1991, 1994)
reasoned, the view of nationalism as a recent historical phenomenon is
valid only for those who are insensitive to its underlying ultimate
dimension. The association of nationalism with the nation-state is indeed
relatively recent, but it is only one phenotypic expression of the deep in-group/out-group
structure inherited from human prehistory.
In a recent perceptive contribution to the problem of (ethnic)
nationalism, Ignatieff (1994) notes that nationalism is everywhere
characterized by a deeply insincere and unauthentic rhetoric functioning as
an excuse for excesses and atrocities. Everywhere historical truth is the
Wilson & Daly (1985) and Daly & Wilson (1987) noted
the preponderance of young males in all kinds of criminal violence. They
called it the "Young Male Syndrome". Ignatieff noticed that most
nationalist violence, too, is committed by a small minority of young males
(some of whom may be psychopathic; most, however, are perfectly sane).
Apparently not everyone abhors or fears violence. Presumably, it is
deeply pleasurable and satisfactory for young armed males to have the
power of life and death over other people; to fanatically assert themselves
at the cost of others and to escape from insignificance; to rebel against and
disrupt the deeply resented order of the state; to massively rape; to
psychologically and morally and phylogenetically regress (see Bailey,
1987, for the theory of phylogenetic regression).
Wrangham & Peterson (1996) note that the underlying
psychology is no different for urban gangs, pre-state warrior societies, and
contemporary armies: Bands of males "sight or invent an enemy 'over
there' - across the ridge, on the other side of the boundary, on the other
side of a linguistic or social or political or ethnic or racial divide. The
nature of the divide hardly seems to matter. What matters is
the opportunity to engage in the vast and compelling drama of belonging
to the gang, identifying the enemy, going on the patrol, participating in
the attack" (italics added).
Tiger (1969) had already formulated a similar idea: "Put a group of
males together and, once dominance order is established, the group will
either split into competing coalition units or seek some exterior object for
collective 'masterful' action... While legal systems deal with the
individual as the unit for guilt and innocence, it is really the group which
is at the heart of all but a small proportion of criminal
The special blend of militant nationalism, pugnacious patriotism, and
expansionist imperialism is called jingoism. In his The
Psychology of Jingoism, Hobson (1901) attributed it to
man's 'ancient savage nature' lurking somewhere in 'sub-conscious
depths', under the superstructure or thin veneer of civilization. He spoke
of the "animal hate, vindictiveness, and bloodthirstiness" that lurked in the
The Adaptive Significance of Xenophobia
There is an analogy, according to Rosenblatt (1964), between
immunological reactions of the body and the ethnocentric reactions of the
individual or of a society.
Just as the body is better prepared to avoid destruction by foreign
substances as a result of a generalized tendency to resist the
impingement of foreign substances, so an individual or a society may
be better prepared to avoid destruction by aliens as a result of a
generalized tendency to distrust, avoid, or reject apparently foreign
individuals. The disadvantage of severe damage or destruction,
whether likely to occur or not, is so much greater than whatever
advantages contact with things alien confers on one, that a
psychological or biochemical paranoia is the preferred strategy for
survival. Where one failure to anticipate the malevolence of an alien
person or substance may be fatal, organisms that must acquire
defensive reactions to each specific harmful person or substance are
less likely to survive during a given period of time than organisms
prepared to be defensive against all alien persons or substances
Also Lumsden & Wilson (1983), Barash & Lipton (1985), H.
Flohr (1987), and Shaw & Wong (1989) postulated an adaptive
significance of (mildly) paranoid thinking. In situations of strong
intergroup competition, they explain, the payoff for vigilance and
suspiciousness could be substantial. "A genetically coded aversion toward
strangers would have enabled individuals to avoid attack more readily or
immediately than would learning alone, and by avoiding injury and death,
survival would be enhanced, leaving more offspring from these
individuals. Over time, those with the genetically coded aversion toward
strangers would come to prevail in the population" (Shaw & Wong,
MacDonald (1992) has probably explained the rationale underlying
the paranoid stance most clearly. From an evolutionary perspective, he
says, it would appear to be adaptive to exaggerate negative stereotypes
about a genetically segregated group, or accept negative information based
on minimal evidence, or to develop a generalized negative belief about an
out-group which is based on the behavior of only a small minority of the
out-group. Such a perspective can be seen to conform to a simple cost/
benefit analysis: members of Group A benefit by erring on the side of
preventing the error of rejecting a negative proposition regarding members
of group non-A, when it could be true. In the language of statistics, people
are proposed to behave as if attempting to minimize the probability of a
Type II error: if the hypothesis is "Members of Group A are disloyal",
people appear to be greatly concerned about making the error of rejecting
this proposition when in fact it could be true. They place less emphasis on
making a Type I error, which is the probability of accepting the
proposition "Members of Group A are disloyal" when in fact they are
loyal. The cost/benefit reasoning is that making a Type II error could be
extremely costly, while making a Type I error costs little or
The general principle here is that if one knows that at least some members
of a group are deceivers, but does not know exactly which ones, the best
policy it to assume that all are deceivers if this policy has no negative
Such a strategy also makes good evolutionary sense for the
explanation of the overperception of threat. An organism contemplating
sine ira et studio every new situation arising in
its immediate environment probably would not survive its first encounter
with a predator. An evolutionary strategy of being overcautious - jumping
to conclusions given the slightest indication of danger - thus pays off in
terms of survival and reproductive success, and may therefore be expected
to be selected for.
Xenophobia is a widespread trait throughout the animal kingdom,
according to Southwick et al. (1974), but it is by no means universal.
Among vertebrates, xenophobic aggression has been demonstrated
experimentally in a great number of species, especially those with
prominent territorial and/or relatively closed social groups, which are
organized on a hierarchical basis (e.g., Holloway, 1974; Southwick et al.,
1974; E.O. Wilson, 1971, 1975; see Van der Dennen  for a
review). The introduction of unfamiliar conspecifics to such groups (e.g.,
rodents and many primate species) may release massive attacks and even
killing from the resident animals. Xenophobia has apparently evolved in
those species where discrete, bounded social groups are adaptively favored
(Southwick et al., 1974).
Also Hebb & Thompson (1968) cite the evidence in favor of the
mammal's xenophobia; the fear of and hostility towards strangers, even
when no injury has ever been received from a stranger. The enmity
aroused by conspecifics which are different (in anatomy, in coloration, in
behavior, in language use) or by strangers, may easily lead toward
discrimination, ostracism and cruelty in animals as well as man.
Markl (1976) deduced the following general rule from observations
such as these: Species with highly cooperative social behavior
within the group are particularly apt to be very
aggressive towards conspecifics that are not members of their
McGuire (1969), among others, discussed the possible genetic
transmission of xenophobia. On the other hand, Hebb & Thompson
(1968) argued that fear or dislike of the stranger is not innate, since it
depends on certain prior experiences, yet it still does not have to be
taught. "If, therefore, man is not born with a dislike for those who differ
from him in habits or appearance, he can still pick up the dislike with no
help or encouragement" (Hebb & Thompson, 1968).
Also Hamilton (1975) and Alexander (1979) argue that social
interactions of an individual with his close relatives can provide all of the
experiential background necessary to produce xenophobia. We tend to
react negatively to countenances which are uncommunicative, and which
convey contradictory or paradoxical messages.
It is not clear whether the transient phenomenon of the fear of
strangers in infants - which predictably develops between 6 and 9 months
of age - has any impact on adult xenophobia (See e.g., A. Flohr, 1994).
Such infantile fear of strangers is also reported in other social species
(e.g., canids), and its development does not depend upon aversive
experience with strangers (the ancestors of contemporary dogs, wild
wolves, were and still are - like humans - highly social, group-territorial,
and intolerant toward 'outsiders'). Furthermore, fear of strangers also
develops in congenitally deaf and blind children (e.g., Eibl-Eibesfeldt,
Although the expression of these predispositions varies, Emmert
(1984) and Shaw & Wong (1989) conclude, it seems that initial
distrust of social strangers is universal among humans and nonhuman
primates. Also H. Flohr (1987) concludes that xenophobia seems to be
universal, i.e., it seems to occur in all cultures. This is no proof, he
states, but strong evidence in favor of a biological basis of xenophobia (cf.
Markl, 1982; A. Flohr, 1994). The biological basis concerns, of course,
the tendency towards xenophobic prejudices, not
their specific content.
Peck (1990) has shown through formal models that mechanisms of
outsider exclusion can be favored by evolution.
Theories of Ethnocentrism
Several theories have been proposed to explain the phenomenon of
ethnocentrism. LeVine & Campbell (1972), whose work on the
subject is a classic, listed the following: Realistic group conflict theory;
reference group theory; sociopsychological theories (including group
narcissism theory, projection theory, protest masculinity theory, and
frustration-aggression-displacement theory); cognitive congruity theories;
transfer theory; and reinforcement theory. The most relevant of these
theories will be briefly discussed.
Realistic Group Conflict Theory
This theory assumes that group conflicts are rational in the sense that
groups do have incompatible goals and are in competition for scarce
resources. Such 'realistic' sources of group conflict are contrasted with the
psychological theories that consider intergroup conflicts as displacements
or projective expressions of problems that are essentially intragroup or
intraindividual in origin.
"Real threat causes in-group solidarity" is the most recurrent explicit
proposition of the theory. A parallel mechanism is the rejection of
deviants and vengeance against renegades, apostates, revisionists, and
heretics as a solidarity-promoting mechanism. Leaders may also seek out
an enemy or create a fictitious one just to preserve or achieve in-group
solidarity. This is certainly one of the most ubiquitous observations in the
In Group Psychology and the Analysis of the
Ego (1921), Freud regarded ethnocentrism as a form of
narcissism at the group level. Later, in Civilization and Its
Discontents (1930), he stated explicitly that the social
function of group narcissism lay in its facilitation of the displacement of
aggression from in-group to out-group.
The various human pseudospecies also exploit what Freud called the
"narcissism of minor differences" to exaggerate their own distinctiveness
and, by implication, their superiority.
Perhaps no concept has been more consistently applied to group
stereotypes by psychoanalytic observers than that of projection, that is, the
attribution to others of unacceptable impulses within one's self.
Pseudospeciation may be understood - at least in part - as an
expression of one group's projection of its demonology and displacement
of its self-generated aggression onto another. Undesirable characteristics
will turn up attributed to an out-group (projection) which will then serve
as a rationalization for violence against the out-group (aggression
displacement) (Erikson, 1964).
Compensatory or Protest Masculinity
LeVine & Campbell (1972) speculate "that it is protest masculinity [a
compulsive masculinity which is really a defense against feminine
identification], with its heightened group narcissism, its hypersensitive,
proud, prestige-conscious belligerence, that lies behind the ethnocentrism
syndrome in its most extreme and irrational forms, not only in fighting
gangs and feuding warriors but in the contemporary nationalistic
leadership of competing states".
Social Identity Theory and Group Animosity
Social identity theory - which was largely developed after the appearance
of LeVine & Campbell's classic opus -
proposes that individuals engage in a process in which they place
themselves and others in social categories. There are several important
consequences of this social categorization process:
(1) Similarities between self and in-group members, and dissimilarities
with out-group members are exaggerated (the
(2) The stereotypic behavior and attitudes of the in-group are positively
valued, while out-group behavior and attitudes are negatively valued.
Individuals develop favorable attitudes toward in-group members and
unfavorable attitudes toward out-group members
(3) The result of these categorization processes is group behavior which
involves discrimination against the out-group; beliefs in the superiority of
the in-group and inferiority of the out-group; and positive affective
preference for the in-group and negative affect directed toward the out-group (MacDonald,
Tajfel (1970 et seq.), and many other social psychologists, provided
experimental support for the hypothesis that an individual will discriminate
against a member of an out-group even when (a) there is no conflict of
interest; (b) there is no past history of intergroup hostility; and (c) the
individual does not benefit personally from this behavior. Mere (random)
categorization is sufficient to produce intergroup discrimination and
prejudice (cf. also Rabbie, 1982, 1992; R. Brown, 1985; Hogg &
Abrams, 1987, 1993; Tönnesmann, 1987; Vine, 1987; Abrams
& Hogg, 1993; MacDonald, 1992, 1996; among many
Furthermore, people very easily adopt negative stereotypes about
out-groups and these stereotypes possess a great deal of inertia (i.e., they
are slow to change and are resistant to countervailing examples).
Social identity theorists propose that it is the need for high self-esteem which drives the
entire process (MacDonald, 1992, 1996). Also
Horowitz (1985) posits the quest for the affirmation of 'personal worth' as
a central motive of human behavior: "self-esteem is in large measure a
function of the esteem accorded to groups of which one is a member".
Hence, "the sources of ethnic conflict reside, above all, in the struggle for
relative group worth".
Anthropological evidence indicates the universality of the tendency
to view one's own group as superior (e.g., Davie, 1929; Vine, 1987;
Shaw & Wong, 1989; van der Dennen, 1995; MacDonald, 1996), and the empirical
of social identity research are highly compatible with an evolutionary basis
for ethnocentric group behavior. A. Flohr (1994) similarly concludes her
extensive review that there is a biological disposition toward
ethnocentrism. Lopreato (1984), Irwin (1987, 1990), Shaw & Wong
(1989), and Wuketits (1993) provide some compelling arguments why
humans are genetically predisposed to ethnocentrism: in the EEA
ethnocentrism and xenophobia enhanced individual reproductive success
and survival. It can thus be considered to be a (bio)rational
In addition to the suggestion of universality, an evolutionary
interpretation of these findings is supported by results indicating that these
social identity processes also occur among 'advanced' animal species such
as chimpanzees (e.g., Goodall, 1986).
Moreover, as MacDonald (1992, 1996) points out, the powerful
affective component of social identity processes is very difficult to explain
except as an aspect of the evolved machinery of the human mind.
Within the framework of social identity theory, there is clearly no
requirement that the beliefs regarding the in-group or the out-group be
true. Bigelow (1969) notes that "each group requires something intimate,
unique to itself, around which its members can cohere. Irrational beliefs
serve this purpose far better than rational ones; they are not only easier to
produce, but also less likely to be confused with enemy beliefs. Irrational
fantasies produce a continuous supply of 'group uniforms', promoting and
maintaining internal cohesion within each group, and segregation between
Dynamics of In-group/Out-group Differentiation
Many authors have suggested that the separation of ethnic, racial, or social
groups fosters hostility by blocking off communication. Without
interaction between people or groups, it is easy for autistic spirals of
hostility to develop. Especially, Newcomb (1947) pointed out the vicious
circle by which an individual or a group once ready for hostile responses
gradually reduces the channels of communication with the potential
enemy, thus preventing rectification of the early impression of hostility
and redress by friendly actions. Hostile isolation or autistic hostility is
likely to make hostile tension more enduring (which does not necessarily
mean that contact reduces hostility and prejudice between individuals and
Simmel (1904, 1955) and Coser (1956) proposed that conflict serves
to establish and maintain the identity and boundary lines of societies and
groups. According to the 'safety-valve theory' of conflict, conflict also
serves as an outlet for the release of hostilities which, without it, would
sunder the relation between the antagonists.
Sherif and his coworkers (Sherif, 1956 et seq.; Sherif & Sherif,
1953; 1966; Sherif et al., 1961) have been particularly interested in the
experimental production and reduction of friction, conflict and negative
stereotypes between groups. All the field experiments verify the
hypothesis that conflict between two groups tends to produce an increase
in solidarity within the groups. In the first experiment, the introduction of
a common enemy (another competing group) was successful in reducing
conflict between the original two groups. This set of studies substantiate
the point that the external threat that increased internal cohesion must
involve an achievable superordinate goal (Stein, 1976).
One of the few attempts to replicate the Sherif experiments was that
of Diab (1970). This experiment had some frightening consequences for
the subjects as well as for the researcher who had to be hospitalized for
exhaustion after the experiment was abruptly terminated. He had been too
successful in arousing intergroup hostility. The conflict got completely out
of hand; some boys knifed each other and the police had to evacuate the
camp to prevent further violence (Rabbie, 1982).
Some of the intricate dynamics of the process of in-group/out-group
antagonism, escalating into downright 'warfare', may be grasped from the
accounts of McNeil (1961, 1962), living with a group of 70 "aggressive,
anti-social, anti-adult boys" in a therapeutic summer camp. At once, the
boys began a pattern of militant probing of one another in their individual
and group relations seeking to establish a basis for dominance and
submission. The camp's aggressive pecking order was established through
a number of interpersonal devices which resemble those used by primitive
communities as well as civilized states to establish their position in the
world: saber rattling, recounting past glories, the role call of allies, and
deterrence by attack.
The Logic of Ethnocentrism: The Duality of the Human
The particular logic of ethnocentrism, its Manichaean duality which
dichotomizes the world into A and non-A, self and other, in-group and
out-group, us and them, friend and foe, seems to spring from the cognitive
capacity of Man to classify, categorize, differentiate, dichotomize and
discriminate, but also his ability to generalize.
The human tendency to think in binary categories or oppositions has
often been noted, ever since Boole in his Laws of
Thought (1854) made a strong case for its inevitability. It is
part of our phylogenetic substrate of basic problem-solving strategies and
The world view of many peoples seems to be made up of a number
of binary opposites or antinomies (self/other; order/chaos; safety/danger;
friend/foe; peace/war; clean/dirty; human/nonhuman; good/bad; familiar/alien, etcetera),
which, furthermore, tend to cluster together at the positive
and negative poles, such that the self (and, by extension, the in-group) is
good, clean, and associated with order and safety; while the other (and, by
extension, the out-group) is alien and strange, and associated with chaos,
danger, dirt, and potential violence.
Meyer (1987) pointed to the phenomenon that members of primitive
groups frequently take their traditional enemy group as a kind of negative
The human being has a powerful urge to dichotomize, E.O. Wilson
(1978) states, and "We seem able to be fully comfortable only when the
remainder of humanity can be labelled as members versus nonmembers,
kin versus nonkin, friend versus foe".
Possibly ethnocentrism operates as a primordial psychological
mechanism which brings about a distinction of 'us' and 'them', in-group
and out-group, and it may be hypothesized that 'advanced' species like
chimpanzees and humans have extra-strong needs for group boundaries,
demarcations or delimitations, the strength of which must somehow be
related to the species' affective systems.
Our way of thinking has evolved as a response to the practical
problems of living and reproducing in the Environment of Evolutionary
Adaptedness, and not to solve academic puzzles. We tend to think more in
terms of categories or classes than in terms of individuals. Using these
generalizations we form schemata. These schemata are extremely useful,
but at the same time they enable us to form stereotypes. With regard to
this regrettable side-product one could say with Anderson (1980):
"Stereotyping reflects the dark side of schema abstraction".
All organisms have to rely to a considerable degree on
extrapolations based on their experiences, i.e., they have to make
inferential judgments, so to speak. As long as these are more likely than a
random search to lead to correct judgments, thereby protecting the
conditions of survival, they are functional (Flohr, 1987).
Riedl (1980, 1985) has pointed to the enormous role that pre-judgments play in the
behavior of all living systems. As he puts it: "The
algorithm of living systems is not founded on the apparent contradictions
of our inductive logic, but on probability". In order to perceive and to
evaluate, we have innate pre-judgments at our disposal, a whole system of
phylogenetically acquired orientations that has been called 'ratiomorphic
Reification ('ideas-become-real'), also called 'hypostatization', refers
to the human capacity to treat an abstraction as a real thing, substance or
entity. It may even be anthropomorphized, taking on human or quasi-human form.
Reification is critical to human action. It imposes familiarity
and order on an otherwise chaotic environment (Peterson, 1981; Lumsden
& Wilson, 1981, 1983). Examples are the anthropomorphized and
personalized representations of the mother- or fatherland in nationalistic
hymns, patriotic battle songs, and national anthems from all over the
world. Such images are almost always employed as powerful mobilization
devices in warfare.
The leader as the reification of the group is perhaps the most
powerful form of symbolization. As Ike (1987) observes: "An individual
person cannot identify himself with a large number of people; he needs a
small group, a reference group, a peer group. Or he wants a symbol, a
leader as stand-in for the larger mass of individuals with whom he cannot
identify. The leader is the symbol, and the larger and stronger the number
of individuals he represents, the better qualities are attributed to, or
'projected' on him".
Humans have a deep-rooted propensity to respond emotionally to
symbolic representations of their in-group. These emotional qualities may
include spontaneous joy, a sense of pride, and the security of belonging.
The in-group becomes emotionally integrated into the individual's self-system or identity
(Isaacs, 1975; Tönnesmann, 1987). In the
expanded group context, emotions are typically aroused and reinforced
through the language of kinship and the use of rituals, flags, anthems,
drums, marches, and various kin-related heuristics (sacrifice for the
Motherland) that have proven highly effective in promoting group
solidarity (e.g., G.R. Johnson, 1986).
This strong emotional aspect is a rather neglected part of the dangers
human groups constitute for each other, Elias (1987) observed. Human
groups seem to take a strange delight in asserting their superiority over
others, particularly if it has been attained by violent means. The feeling of
group superiority appears to provide its members with an immense
narcissistic gratification. People in power can usually count on a warm
response of approval and often of affection and love from their
compatriots whenever they praise or add to the glory of the social
All these phenomena can be understood, in the last analysis, as
pertaining to our finite time-and-energy budgets, and consequently our
limited capacity to sympathize with, identify with, and be emotionally
involved with more than a very limited number of conspecifics (Warnock,
1975; Ike, 1987). "Being a limited resource, affectivity in man favors
interaction units where this resource may be invested in the most
economical manner: it can be bestowed on a limited number of persons
only" (Meyer, 1987). Hence the individual's limited niche in the nexus of
cross-cutting human configurations. Human affectivity is of major
importance in the establishment of social boundaries. Any social system
requires boundary maintenance and mutual identification of actors (Meyer,
1987; Ike, 1987; a.o.).
The human sympathy group seems to be limited to about 11
individuals (Buys & Larson, 1979). These authors suppose that this
magnitude possibly has co-antecedents in the human social-biological
evolution, i.e., in the small hunting bands of our ancestors.
For most of our evolutionary history group identification was
essential to the survival and well-being of the individual (Wallace, 1864;
Darwin, 1871; Alexander, 1974 et seq.; Corning, 1983; Barash &
Lipton, 1985; Dunbar, 1987; Flohr, 1987; Slurink, 1994; Caporael, 1996;
a.o.). Thus we see that an important element in the psychological make up
of human beings is a profound inclination to
belong, to be part of a group, and the bigger and
more powerful the group, the better. For our ancestors "security came in
large part from the defense of the tribe against other tribes" (Barash
& Lipton, 1985). Survival depended on the cooperative assistance of
one's fellow group members.
Alexander (1974 et seq,), Slurink (1994) and Caporael (1996),
among others, argued that during hominid/human evolution individuals
better adapted to group-living (even to the point of hypersociality and
obligate interdependence) would have been selectively favored.
At all times we had to rely on support by the group, and also on being
accepted by the group. For this reason we had to adapt to the group; we
had to adopt its modes of behavior and its value orientations. High respect
for one's group more or less (psycho)logically implies devaluing out-groups. A tendency to
form prejudices can thus be derived from our
striving for group identity (Flohr, 1987).
Stereotypes and prejudices are, unmoralistically considered,
heuristics or cognitive templates which work most of the time,
and which prevent the stimulus overload of the
cognitive system, and which provide some
degree of self-esteem by creating a simple order out of chaos and
uncertainty. "We love our prejudices, because they not only provide us
with cognitive, but also with social stability" (Bergler, 1976).
Also Van den Berghe (1997) reasoned that, far from being
inflexible, irrational, resistant to experience, and situationally insensitive,
stereotypes are, for most people most of the time, low-cost statistical
guides to action in situations where transient encounters between strangers
make better information costly, unavailable or risky.
Ethnic and racial prejudices are not necessarily based on personal
experiences and they do not necessarily have to reflect private interests.
Instead they can be acquired early in life along with other values and
attitudes that are normative in their social environment.
Anne Flohr (1994) lists the following cognitive mechanisms:
selective perception and perceptual distortions (double standard in judging
the same behavior of members of ingroup and outgroup), avoidance of
dissonant information, 'boomerang effect' (Jervis), 'confirmation bias'
(Peterson), 'availability heuristic', 'halo effect', and 'evoked sets'.
Evolutionary Theories of Ethnocentrism
Ethnocentrism is a major explanans in
contemporary theories of primitive warfare. The founding father of
modern sociobiology, E.O. Wilson (1978) regards it as a culturally
hypertrophied biological predisposition:
The practice of war is a straightforward example of a hypertrophied
biological predisposition. Primitive men cleaved their universe into
friends and enemies and responded with quick, deep emotion to even
the mildest threats emanating from outside the arbitrary
The force behind most warlike policies is ethnocentrism, the
irrationally exaggerated allegiance of individuals to their kin and
Also Meyer (1977 et seq.) regards ethnocentrism and xenophobia as
cultural hypertrophies. He argues that the extreme ethnocentrism of
primitive peoples sets preconditions for violent interaction, while specific
conditions serve as triggers. Meyer suggests that the basic motivation in
violent encounters between members of distinct groups is not 'aggression'
impelled by some sort of drive, instinct, or appetite, but 'fear'. Fear
generated by the position of the cultural 'we-group' in a threatening
universe made up of 'they-groups', endangering the social cosmos by their
Kin Selection and Inclusive Fitness
Evolutionary and sociobiological explanations of ethnocentrism and
xenophobia are for the most part rooted in kin selection, inclusive fitness,
and altruism theories. Inclusive fitness, as Alexander (1979) explains, is a
simple idea. As social organisms we tend to lead our lives embedded in
networks of near and distant kin. The concept of inclusive fitness simply
tells us that not merely our offspring but any genetic relative socially
available to us is a potential avenue of genetic reproduction. Altruism
toward relatives is of course not really altruism at all, but rather the
tendency of individuals to maximize the reproductive success of their
genes via their relatives, that is, via the other bodies in which copies of
these genes reside.
Alexander & Borgia (1978) argued that nepotism to
nondescendants and distant descendant relatives is an extension of
(evolutionarily) earlier altruism in the form of parental care. Alexander
(1979) argued that reciprocity (or 'selfish cooperation' as Corning 
called it) is in turn largely derived from nepotism. Vanhanen (1992)
considers tribalism, casteism, nationalism, etc. as forms of nepotism
adapted to large societies).
In the small bands in which humans are generally presumed to have
lived during most of their evolutionary history, virtually all social
interactions were among relatives. The same is probably true for
contemporary hunter-gatherer societies.'Generalized reciprocity' involves
mostly one-way flows of benefits because it is largely nepotism (the return
is genetic), and 'negative reciprocity' involves one-way flows because it
consists of one-time interactions accompanied by a great deal of social
cheating and/or exploitation and coercion.
'Balanced reciprocity', on the other hand, tends to occur between distant
relatives or nonrelatives that are likely to interact repeatedly, and therefore
involves balanced flows of benefits (see also Masters, 1964; Service,
1966; and Shaw & Wong, 1989).
The moral gradient and the vector of violence and dehumanization
running through these concentric circles (see diagram) was already clearly
seen and eloquently formulated by Marett (1933): "[T]here stand out in
sharp contrast to each other three spheres of conduct, to which entirely
separate commandments apply as follows: to the first, Thou shalt commit
no murder; to the second, Thou shalt compound with thy neighbor on the
principle that a life for a life is fair give-and-take; and to the third, Thou
shalt utterly destroy the destroyer".
In discussing the absence of war in some Inuit tribes, Irwin (1987)
predicted (in contrast to Hamilton, 1975) that social behavior can be
polarized at all population boundaries where there is some variation in the
coefficient of relatedness between adjacent demes. In other words, Irwin
said, rivalry between closely related human populations is as predictable a
phenomenon as sibling rivalry. If the humans in these populations stopped
making war then something must have happened to the coefficient of
relatedness, or the cost/benefit ratio, or both.
Cultural Badges and the Proximate Mechanisms of Kin
What features will be chosen as ethnic markers or badges? There are many
possibilities, tending to fall into three main categories of traits (Van den
First, one can pick a genetically transmitted
phenotype, such as skin pigmentation, stature, hair texture, facial features
or some such 'racial' characteristic.
Second, one can rely on a man-made ethnic
uniform. Members of one group are identified by bodily mutilations
and/or adornments carried as visible badges of group belonging. These
markers range from clothing and headgear to body painting, tattooing,
circumcision, tooth filing and sundry mutilations of the lips, nose and
Third, the test can be behavioral. Ethnicity is
determined by speech, demeanour, manners, rituals, ceremonies,
etiquette, esoteric lore or some other proof of competence in a behavioral
repertoire characteristic of the group. Language is the supreme test of
ethnicity (e.g., the shibboleth), because it is
almost absolutely 'fake-proof'. Many, including non-ethnic groups, use
particular attitudes or idiosyncrasies as litmus tests of group
Some criteria seem to have more staying power than others, and the
ones with high heritability appear to have an edge (Van den Berghe, 1981,
Shaw & Wong (1989) consider as recognition markers, taking
on potent heuristic and emotive value in demarcating in-group/out-group
boundaries, to include language, religion, phenotype, homeland, and myth
of common descent.
To deal with the problem of in-group membership recognition,
natural selection has repeatedly evolved a proximate mechanism known as
badging. Badges can be learned and may be one of the simplest, most
rudimentary forms of culture presently known (e.g., bird song
Irwin (1987) suggested that many aspects of culture which vary
dramatically from tribe to tribe could be understood as learned and
culturally transmitted ethnocentric expressions of a genetic predisposition
to group bonding and badging, rather than as adaptations of tribe to tribe
differences in immediate ecology. Differences in dialect, dress, art,
symbol, ritual, scarification, tattoos and/or body paint symptomatic of
group membership could fall into this class of culture traits. Most cultural
differences may be assumed to be of the badging variety.
Association/familiarity is a very likely candidate for kin recognition
among humans. But it seems probable that phenotypic matching is another
and supplementary mechanism (Alexander, 1979; Michod, 1982).
From a sociobiological perspective, as Tönnesmann (1987)
points out, one should not expect a human being to be willing to cooperate
indiscriminately with any other conspecific, but to apply criteria such as
similarity in physical appearance in order to assess the possibility of a
genetic relationship. Thus one could say with Barkow (1980) "that we
should most readily learn distrust and hostility towards those who least
resemble us, and towards those with whom we have no personal
relationship, that is, strangers" (Barkow, 1980). In fact, similarity seems
to be related to empathic responses, and, more generally, liking between
individuals is increased when they perceive each other as similar (e.g.,
Rushton (1986, 1988) and Rushton, Russell & Wells (1984)
developed 'genetic similarity theory': "If a gene can better ensure its own
survival by acting so as to bring about the reproduction of family members
with whom it shares copies, then it can also do so by bringing about the
reproduction of any organism in which copies
can be found... It can be expected that two individuals within an ethnic
group will, on average, be more similar to each other genetically than two
individuals from different ethnic groups" (Rushton, 1986; see also Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1989).
Kenrick (1989), on the other hand, argued that "people
are not so much attracted to similar others, as they are repulsed by those
who are not similar". The consequence, however, a biologically based
disposition toward ethnocentrism, would be the same (A. Flohr,
Ethnic markers, such as skin color, clothing, or behavioral
peculiarities, could be used for the purpose of making an ethnic group
appear to be a group of genetically related individuals. Altruistic acts on
behalf of non-kin can be elicited by taking advantage of the cues produced
by evolution for kin recognition. According to G.R. Johnson (1986),
patriotism in contemporary large-scale societies is a brand of manipulated
altruism. Large-scale human societies have evolved processes of
socialization which exploit the cues by which altruism originally came to
be elicited in the course of several million years of hominid
Kin Selection, Nepotism and the Genetic Seeds of
In The Ethnic Phenomenon, Van den Berghe
(1981) formulated the first theory of ethnocentrism as extended kin
selection. Van den Berghe's basic argument is quite simple: ethnic
sentiments are extensions of kinship sentiments. Ethnocentrism is thus an
extended form of nepotism - the propensity to favor kin over
Ethnicity is a matter of degree of relatedness. People typically form
both alliances and cleavages, and grade the violence and destructiveness
they inflict on each other on the basis of their real or perceived degree of
relatedness. That is, both cooperation (nepotism and reciprocity) and
conflict (coercion and exploitation; negative reciprocity) in and between
human societies follow a calculus of inclusive fitness.
An ethnic group (or ethny) can be
represented as a cluster of overlapping, ego-centered, concentric kin
circles, encompassed within an ethnic boundary. The ethnic boundary is
seldom completely closed. More typically, there is some migration,
principally of women, among groups.
Ethnicity is defined, in the last analysis, by common descent. Ethnic
boundaries are created socially by preferential endogamy and physically
by territoriality. The prototypical ethny is thus a descent group bounded
socially by inbreeding and spatially by territory.
We have evolved, Van den Berghe argues, the kind of brain to deal
with small-scale, Gemeinschaft-type groups, the
prototype of which is the ethny, the 'we-group', the 'in-group' of
intimates who think of each other as an extended family. Ethnicity can be
manipulated but not manufactured.
Furthermore, he argues, ethnocentrism does not automatically and
invariably imply xenophobia. Being for one's
own group does not, of necessity, imply being
against all other groups. Unqualified exclusion
of vast categories of potential partners in reciprocal exchanges is not the
Shaw & Wong (1989) present an elaborate theory of kin selection,
ethnocentrism, and the evolution of human warfare. They propose that
inclusive fitness considerations have combined with competition over
scarce resources, intergroup conflict, and weapon development, to
(1) reinforce humanity's propensity to band together in groups of
genetically related individuals;
(2) predispose group members to act in concert for their own well-being;
(3) promote xenophobia, fear, and antagonism among genetically related
individuals towards strangers.
Shaw & Wong interpret these responses as 'emerging' or
reinforcing proximate causes which shaped the structure of social behavior
in hunter/gatherer groups for 99 percent of humanity's existence. Their
model rests on three premises: that individuals have evolved not only to be
egoistic, but to be nepotistically altruistic; that
individuals in nucleus ethnic groups, are predisposed to mobilize for
resource competition in ways that will enhance inclusive fitness and
reproductive potential; and that intergroup conflict/warfare has been
positively functional in humanity's evolution.
The considerations raised above interact to make mobilization for
conflict or warfare a more viable, cohesive strategy if pursued among
related kin. From an evolutionary perspective, these considerations are the
bedrock upon which Shaw & Wong link ethnic mobilization and the
seeds of warfare.
Since failure to maintain a balance-of-power (Alexander, 1979,
1987) could have resulted in extinction, groups and their expansion figure
as forces of selection in Shaw & Wong's
theory. Motivated by resource competition, conflict, and warfare,
struggles to maintain balances of power gave rise to more complex societal
units (e.g., chiefdoms, states) which continued the legacy of intergroup
warfare. Groups as forces of selection must have reinforced suspicion and
intolerance of out-group members as well as war proneness during a long
period of humanity's past.
If resources are defendable, and if conflict is inevitable, as
McEachron & Baer (1982) have explained, it makes better
evolutionary sense for groups to compete to resolve ownership of the
resources as groups rather than being submitted
to both the internal conflict and decreased inclusive fitness that would
accompany a merger.
As Hamilton (1975) observed, to raise mean fitness in hunter-gatherer groups either new
territory or outside mates had somehow to be
obtained. Capture of out-group females through successful warfare, Shaw
& Wong continue, serves three functions: (1) it reduces inbreeding
depression by increasing the number of available partners for
reproduction; (2) it increases variation in the warring group's genetic
stock; and (3) it contributes to group size. The latter consideration would
have been especially important in environments where groups were
effective forces of selection. The practice of taking females for loot would
undoubtedly have set rival groups on edge and reinforced xenophobia and
out-group enmity in the process.
In the evolutionary long run, larger groups would have displaced
smaller groups and their members would thus have staked out a larger
share of humanity's gene pool. This implies that behavioral
predispositions that facilitated group expansion would have been retained
and incorporated into the more permanent repertoire of individual and
group behavior (see also Bigelow, 1969, 1972).
A perspective very similar to Van den Berghe's and Shaw & Wong's
theories has been presented by Vanhanen (1991, 1992) and A. Flohr
Van den Berghe (1997) posed the question: "ethnocentrism: in our genes
or in our memes?". It may now be understood that the answer must
inevitably be: in both.
This paper is based on the chapter "Of badges, bonds and boundaries:
xenophobia, and war" in: J.M.G. van der Dennen (1995) The Origin of
War. Groningen: Origin Press.
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