Ask A Genius 208 – Dominance Behaviour
Scott Douglas Jacobsen & Rick Rosner
June 24, 2017
[Beginning of recorded material]
Rick Rosner: In earlier sessions, we were talking about dominance behaviour in species. It started when I saw a finch or a sparrow in a park in New York. I decided that that animals’ consciousness was less worried about the individual birds’ position in bird society as much as humans are about their position in human society.
I did a little reading. I found out that that is not as true to the degree that I thought it was. There are dominance hierarchies and pecking orders in many, many species. There is always the potential for those dominance hierarchies to form.
They provide efficiencies that prevent spending too much energy fighting amongst themselves, by giving them social structure. Some fighting takes pace initially, and then everyone else decides they’re cool with where they are.
Then you don’t have members of the species battling with each other. This saves energy for other aspects of survival.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You don’t need much extra to put more towards cognitive and behavioural flexibility. Also, estrus is year-round for our species.
Rosner: Things get weird when you get a hyper-fit species, as we are. The natural world is not as much of a threat to individual species member survival, for humans as it is for almost every other species.
Most humans survive to reproductive age, and most of our displays of dominance aren’t directly related to reproductive fitness. Things are more complicated, more baroque, and so displays of fitness and dominance hierarchies in humans are just a lot weirder than they are—less straightforward than they are for other species.
Within my lifetime, I have seen displays of fitness and dominance change from what can be seen as a more basic demonstration of physical vitality to more of a demonstration of hipness. When I was growing up, things felt more straightforwardly like jocks vs, nerds with jocks being cool and nerds being uncool.
That became more explicit in 1976, when Pumping Iron came out and made Arnie a star and weight training not a niche activity, but a widely accepted activity in America and people strived for that trim and muscular V-shaped torso, men did, and clothes and shirts were tight with shirts being tucked in.
That was 40 years ago. Now, physical fitness is overall de-emphasized compared to that era. People have the bodies they have. Clothes are not tight. Demonstrations of dominance, I think more in terms of Brooklyn hipsters; it has become—the stereotype when I was growing up or the thing that people were told was that “you’re nerdy in high school and junior high, but when you grow up you’ll be in charge. Everyone who is cool and a jock will be working in a gas station.”
[End of recorded material]
American Television Writer
Scott Douglas Jacobsen
Editor-in-Chief, In-Sight Publishing
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