This form of capital punishment domesticated us

Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

Rob Henderson explains the self-domestication hypothesis, discussed by Harvard anthropologist Richard Wrangham in The Goodness Paradox:

The idea is that humans domesticated each other. Within hunter-gatherer communities, whenever aggressive or disagreeable males attempted to exert unwelcome dominance, other males would conspire to kill them.

Early human communities selected against reactive aggression: arrogance, bullying, random violence, and the monopolizing of food and females.

Over time, early humans eliminated those who were overtly aggressive. They killed or ostracized upstarts hungry for power; men with aggressive political ambitions. Other men would quietly conspire to collectively murder troublesome males.

They were good at this, because they were well-practiced at killing large-bodied mammals during a hunt. Humans are large-bodied mammals.

This form of capital punishment domesticated us.

Wrangham compared the level of within-group conflict among hunter-gatherer humans to that of chimpanzees. Chimps are 150 to 550 times more likely than humans to commit violence against their peers.

Humans are far gentler to members of their own community than chimps are, thanks to our ancestors and their ability to plan organized murder.


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    This is the analogue to Turchin’s hypothesis that war civilized us.

    Specific to Wrangham’s theory, this doesn’t mean there are no hierarchies in foraging groups. There are a least three: the elder males, the elder women in parallel, and the warriors.

    Moreover, foraging societies are slave societies, and the warriors typically capture children and young women from other groups for slaves. The Plains Indians exemplify all of this.

    I think it is Charles Sykes (no relative) who pointed out that when the Celts took over southern Britain they eliminated 90% of the native males, but basically kept the females.

    This seems to be a common pattern in human conquest. It is also the strategy used by male lions when they take over a pride.

  2. Leon says:

    I read somewhere that this ability to eliminate the overly aggressive was made easier with the adoption of missile weapons. You could kill at a distance and not have to chance a hand-to-hand encounter with a physically larger opponent.

  3. McChuck says:

    Strong men rule to this day. Gangs of their subordinates eventually conspire to kill and replace them.

    Blacks are notably violent and dumb, because Africans had little need to plan for the future. When it’s always summer, there is no need to plan for winter. When malaria killed hordes of people randomly, there was little incentive to develop the self control to ensure a future that you probably wouldn’t have.

  4. Michael van der Riet says:

    From my home office window I can see Northcliff, where Mzilikazi used to take pretenders to the throne to give them flying lessons. This followed the Mfecane/Difeqane when population pressure first occurred in Southern Africa as the southward-migrating Bantu people ran out of land. It’s my politically incorrect theory that the elimination by execution of the brightest and the best in a tribe led to selection for average or low IQ. This also happened a lot in European socialist societies from 1789 onward.

  5. Phileas Frogg says:

    Michael van der Riet,

    That has some fascinating implications. How often have societies entered into behavioral death spirals that actively culled their best and brightest? Are we living through such an era at present? What causes those spirals?

    If such a theory is true, then Dark Ages are ended by a resurgence of High IQ Aristocrats dominating the Low IQ Masses, and brought about by Low IQ Masses slaughtering High IQ Aristocrats. Perhaps the latter part selects for only violent/socially capable High IQ individuals, which compounding over several generations would create the raw material needed for an Aristocratic Warrior caste, while the less violent, less socially capable High IQ genes would be weeded out by the, “Murderous thieving hordes of peasants.”


  6. Pseudo-Chrysostom says:

    Long story short, nations die when their natural elites lose the ability to reproduce.

    Longer story shorter, all dead civilizations in history died of feminism.

  7. Jim says:


    I hope this helps.

  8. Harry Jones says:

    If the high IQ aristocrats are so smart, they should be able to figure out how not to get slaughtered.

    Survival is the main function of intelligence, after all. No need for Stanford-Binet when you’ve got Darwin.

  9. Pseudo-Chrysostom says:


    *unzips dick*

    I hope this helps.

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