Robert Ardrey: The Social Contract: A Personal Inquiry into the Evolutionary Sources of Order and Disorder

The Social Contract: A Personal Inquiry into the Evolutionary Sources of Order and Disorder:

by Robert Ardrey published in 1970


As detailed in The Social Contract: A Personal Inquiry into the Evolutionary Sources of Order and Disorder, by Robert Ardrey: A significant number of animals are capable of ecologically literate procreation; i.e. animal-cultural-consciously or genetic-unconsciously choosing to practice family planning: control or restrict their breeding with regard to abundance or scarcity of their resource environment; such as Norway rats, red grouse; Australian magpie; Uganda kob antelope; wildebeest, waterbuck, Grant’s & Thomson’s gazelle; southern springbok, hartebeest, topi, puku, oribi, dik-dick, steenbok, lion, kittiwake; etc.

Yet throughout all the natural sciences the definition of a domesticated animal is one that is the product of controlled breeding, which man — aside from a few temporary and unsuccessful efforts in the periods of slavery – is not.

In terms of the social contract, we may say that just as society must furnish the young with freedom to develop their genetic potential, so the breeding adult must not provide society with more young than the group can handle. The propositions are poised in equity, and the neglect of one must result in the nullification of the other. Fifty-one guppies, controlling their numbers through a blend of cannibalism and infanticide which we must assume seems quite normal to guppies, can scarcely be regarded as furnishing a sufficient case for the toppling of a Malthus, the indictment of a Pope, or the elaboration of a social contract. But other evidence exists.

..[..].. In the following section of this chapter I shall explore the self-regulating devices which in many species prevent a buildup to such numbers that only a population crash can provide natural limitation. The species we have been considering — in a sense, the freaks — lack such mechanisms and so are subjected to cyclical control. And while there must remain a temptation to equate man with the lemming and the snowshoe hare, we had best defer our consideration of men until we know more about animals. And we had best defer too those questions facing the new devotees of population dynamics in the 1950’s: How, when density reaches a certain point, does a form of birth control take place so that fewer young are born, or are even conceived? And why — a more difficult question — do the elders drop dead?

..[..]..  Norway rats form stable societies when nomore than a dozen adults share a territory and jointly defend it. Within this little world adults form a hierarchy led by an alpha male. The amity-enmity complex which I described in The Territorial Imperative turns hostility outward and preserves peace within the group. Calhoun wrote that the territories, and the buffer zones between, “seemed essential to the maintenance of group integrity.” But they likewise divided up the available space into.homesteads for groups of limited number. So population control was achieved.

Up to ten adults defend as a team a property of five to twenty acres. And these are the only birds that successfully breed. Carrick’s study area was about five square miles of savanna, broken here and there by eucalyptus clumps, supporting thousands of magpies. Both food supply and nesting sites were unlimited. A few non-territorial groups nested in trees, but never succeeded in raising young. The crow-like flocks in the fields never tried. Successful breeding was confined to that 20 percent of the total population within the territorial bands. What, precisely, prevented normal reproduction in any but the propertied bands? Carrick made a surprising discovery. While all males in the total population produced motile sperm, only the hens in the territorial groups ovulated normally.

..[..].. This was the Uganda kob, a species in which males occupy an arena of territorial competition to which females are attracted for copulation. Females will accept no other than the successful, and the masses of surplus males amuse themselves in their bachelor herds. In the few short years since I published my review, territorial systems of breeding have been described in the wildebeest and waterbuck, in the Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelle and the comparable southern springbok, in the harte-beest and topi and puku, and in the smallest of them all, the oribi and dik-dik and steenbok. Systems vary, from the modified arena competition of the wildebeest and puku, to the bird-like family territories of the steenbok. But, in all, the main propositions hold true: The female will be attracted only by a territorial male; the male who has failed in the territorial competition will retire into the careless existence of males in groups.

..[..]..  The lion, preyed on by none, not too susceptible to disease or parasites, could in a few generations be a victim of overpopulation. The lioness produces her several cubs in a short period of gestation, and, should she lose them, comes into heat again at once. Yet in the Serengeti a stable population of about a thousand lions varies little in number from season to season. The area’s immense numbers of prey animals, such as wildebeest, Thomson’s gazelle, and zebra, could support far more lions. What keeps their numbers down? A subtle combination of behavior patterns, foremost among them maternal neglect, provides that only so many lions will reach a breeding age and situation.

..[..]..  The first control is territorial. As with the Australian magpie, only those females who are part of a permanently resident pride breed successfully. The second control is a dominance order like those of few other species. The young eat last ..[..]..  Infant mortality in the lion runs to about 50 percent. And we may contrast that with the quite opposite behavior of the adult hunting dog, which I earlier described, who will touch no food till the young are finished. One may deplore the lion, praise the hunting dog, but either judgment would be anthropomorphic. The behavioral contrasts are expressions of population control. The hardy lion, once he reaches maturity, will be around for a long time. Control must fall on the young. But the delicate hunting dog, so susceptible to disease, must do all in his power to keep adult social numbers replenished.

..[..]..  The controversy that has arisen around Wynne-Edwards’ work expresses far more than the reaction of the unsophisticated to a highly sophisticated hypothesis. The opposition is to his concept of group selection, and it has enlisted as fastidious a scientist as David Lack. The fundamental problem facing any theorist attempting to relate clutch size or territorial competition or social rank to population control is how to explain the willingness of the individual to accept certain rules and regulations that exist not in his interest, but in the interest of the whole population. The nesting habits of seabirds provide a clear illustration. A final limitation on the numbers of the kittiwake is offered not by food supply but by a scarcity of cliff-hanging nesting sites which the species favors as a defense against predators. The kittiwake pair can easily raise three young to maturity, yet three quarters of all nests in a colony will show an egg clutch of two. The population is thereby kept within reasonable bounds. But if you are a kittiwake and you have a nest, then why not three? What process of natural selection has induced this self-imposed birth control?

Early in his career, when Wynne-Edwards was working as a biologist in Canada, he took a superb photograph of a large gannet colony on a Newfoundland headland. The photograph, published in Scientific American, required the shortest of cap tions to tell its enigmatic story. One bump of the headland is white with breeding gannets on their nests. An adjacent headland is just as white with “unemployed” birds, those excluded from breeding because they have no nesting territories. But nests can be built anywhere. Why are only a limited number of sites acceptable as breeding stations? We may of course immediately skip to the consequence, that the arbitrary limit placed on nesting sites arbitrarily limits the population. But why do the unemployed birds, having competed and lost in their efforts to gain territories, accept the rules and regulations? They resemble nothing so much as human children in some game who have been declared “out” by the umpire and have been relegated to the sidelines. And we may ask, also, what processes of natural selection could evolve and enforce such a natural treaty between a population and its members?

..[..].. The controversy will be resolved one day by the specialists involved. If Wilson was right at Washington, and competition occurs only when overcrowded numbers struggle for a scarce resource, then Malthus is confirmed. And humanity has little to look forward to but that chaotic day when in unlimited number we assassinate one another in our pursuit of inadequate resources. But if Wynne-Edwards is right, any population, human or non-human, has within its power the limitation of numbers through conventional rules and regulations and the capacity to abide by them.
Robert Ardrey: The Social Contract.