A topic of perennial discussion in our home, is whether we should be more social than we are generally inclined to be. Our teenage son has now joined the back-and-forth, eschewing our desire to flee late night parties and Superbowl gatherings, berating us for being “antisocial loners.” Over 20 years of marriage, this argument has never been laid to rest, and we usually end by concluding regardless of the demands of society, and the latest studies on the benefits of social gatherings as we age, or our occasional desires for social contact, we are happiest alone, with a book or a kindle.
And yet, it would appear that loners is perhaps not who we are meant to be.
A recent New York Times article by the evoluntionary bioligist E. O. Wislon looks back at millenia of human history and considers what has made us successful, or at least for the moment, more successful than other species. It turns out that we have a lot in common with ants, insects and bees.
Successful groups are social ones, and there exits altruism within groups. Just consider the last time someone did something really giving for you. For me, the day shines clear and bright in memory as the day it actually happened. We were at a birthday party for a 4 year old with my younger son; there was a pinata, my younger son did not get any of the candy and two kids, from this congregation, willingly reached into their loot and shared with my son their candy. There was no reason for them to do so; they did not choose any candy to try and get rid of the pieces they did not want – they were simply, purely, altruistic.
Beyond altruism, another primary characteristic of successful species (insects included) is Eusocialitiy: “roughly, “true” social condition. The members of a eusocial group cooperatively rear the young across multiple generations.” Even though we might pay for them with our taxes or through private fees, schools are joining with us in rearing our young. Parents and educators are partners in this process.
And just to make things more complicated, eusociality is not something that just “happens” – it has a precursor – the building of nest from which foraging trips are undertaken. ”The original nest builders can be a lone female, a mated pair, or a small and weakly organized group. When this final preliminary step is attained, all that is needed to create a eusocial colony is for the parents and offspring to stay at the nest and cooperate in raising additional generations of young. Such primitive assemblages then divide easily into risk-prone foragers and risk-averse parents and nurses”.
This, then, is what we have inherited through the millenia, each one of us nested by perhaps a lone mother, a mated couple or loosely structured group. It struck me that our church is exactly this – a nest to which hopefully the next generation will return to join together in raising yet another generation. It is what our teachers are doing in RE, and some of them were raised in this church. Again, parents and educators are partnering together in the building of a nest and in creating a eusocial group. Some of them might be loners like my husband and myself, but they too were nested by others and are in turn nesting themselves. And within that nest, we tend to be altruistic.
And this our legacy – we come from those who nested us, and work together to nest those who are with us and those yet to come. Through it all, our very existence is linked to that of the earth. That too, is our legacy.
As E. O. Wilson says:
We will also, I believe, take a more serious look at our place in nature. Exalted we are indeed, risen to be the mind of the biosphere without a doubt, our spirits capable of awe and ever more breathtaking leaps of imagination. But we are still part of earth’s fauna and flora. We are bound to it by emotion, physiology, and not least, deep history. It is dangerous to think of this planet as a way station to a better world, or continue to convert it into a literal, human-engineered spaceship. Contrary to general opinion, demons and gods do not vie for our allegiance. We are self-made, independent, alone andfragile. Self-understanding is what counts for long-term survival, both for individuals and for the species.
May be recognize, honor and celebrate our place in human history and our part in nature’s journey.