Ingroups and Outgroups: All Things Old are New Again

According to an article I just ran across on the World Science website, scientists have just “discovered” that “Human prejudice may date back 25 million years or more.” On closer reading, one finds that what they have just “discovered” has been obvious since the days of Darwin; that we humans group others of our species into ingroups and outgroups. Sir Arthur Keith summarized earlier work on the subject and put it on a firm theoretical basis well over half a century ago. As Robert Ardrey, who called it the Amity/Enmity Complex, wrote of it a couple of decades later, it was, “the resolution of a paradox posed by Darwin, solved by Wallace, explored by Spencer and Sumner, revived and extended by Keith, and for the last twenty years cast aside (by the “Blank Slaters”, ed.) under the pretense it does not exist.”  Ardrey went on to say, “What seems to have occurred to no one, excepting possibly Keith, is that the animal is a moral being, and that human morality is a simple evolutionary extension of a form of conduct which has existed in nature for many hundreds of millions of years.  But unless we inspect both the history of the falsehood and the history of the truth, we shall not in least part grasp our contemporary predicament.”

In this “enlightened” age, when an increasing stream of books like Wild Justice:  The Moral Lives of Animals by Bekoff and Pierce and Primates and Philosophers:  How Morality Evolved by Frans de Waal et. al., are rolling off the presses, one would think that brilliant thinkers like Ardrey and Keith, triumphantly vindicated, would receive the tardy recognition they deserve.  If so, one would be very mistaken.  You see, Ardrey was a mere playwright, guilty of the unpardonable lèse-majesté of challenging the entire establishment of behavioral scientists of his day and proving them wrong, and Keith was presumptuous in writing down such ideas before the official “beginning” of Evolutionary Psychology as set forth in the mythical histories of the science set forth in the modern textbooks on the subject.


Author: Helian

I am Doug Drake, and I live in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. I am a graduate of West Point, and I hold a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. My blog reflects my enduring fascination with human nature and human morality.

Leave a Reply