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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Human Complex Systems




In this article, I critique Edward O. Wilson’s (2019) Genesis: The Deep Origin of Societies from a perspective provided by David Christian’s (2016) Big History. Genesis is a slender, narrowly focused recapitulation and summation of Wilson’s lifelong research on altruism, eusociality, the biological bases of kinship, and related aspects of sociality among insects and humans. Wilson considers it to be among the most important of his 35+ published books, one of which created the controversial discipline of sociobiology and two of which won Pulitzer Prizes. Big History is Christian’s recent attempt to graphically depict the history of the universe in a massive, sprawling, well-documented volume that opens with the Big Bang and terminates now, about 13.8 billion years later.

I take four disparate approaches to enhance the strengths of Wilson’s and Christian’s important books. Part 1. Expanding the past examines 1. contextual data for numerous transitions in sociality in the distant past, and 2. ethnographic data pertaining to kinship and warfare in Australian Aboriginal hunter-gatherer societies in the recent past. Part 2. Imagining the future speculates about 1. predictive applications of sociality research as we approach another mass extinction in the near future, and 2. social research concerning globular star clusters in the remote future. Small scale case studies feature, among other things, two species of colonial microorganisms, the Alyawarra speaking people of Central Australia, and social insects as a background for all else. Although Wilson’s extensive quantitative research deals mainly with kinship and related topics among ants, bees, wasps and termites, it is not limited by time, space or species.

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