Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Keeping step and equality

Nicholas Wade, building upon William McNeill's Keeping Together in Time: Dance and Drill in Human History writes,

"Rhythmic activity, such as dancing or marching, can induce strong feelings of togetherness in members of a group, as is discussed further in the next chapter. And humans for some reason have acquired the ability, not possessed by chimpanzees, of entraining their movements to a common beat. It seems quite possible that this ability emerged because communal dancing fostered group cohesiveness. If so, some kind of wordless community dancing may have been the first element of religious behavior to have been favored by natural selection."  [Wade,  The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures (Kindle Locations 1285-1288)] 

Comment:  I mentioned in an earlier note that I had no recollection that "marching" built esprit-de-corps; however I do recall that two members of Platoon 444 (my bootcamp platoon) like chimpanzees, apparently, could not keep step.  Our drill instructor told us that unless we could coerce these two into being able to keep step, we would never be able to do well against the other platoons during the graduation competition (I don't recall the exact terminology, but that is what was meant).  So two especially aggressive members of our platoon were assigned the task of marching behind the inept two in order to keep them in step.  One managed.  The other however was big and fat and defied his "keeper."  As a consequence the "keeper" challenged (ostensibly without the drill instructor's knowledge) this large inept to a fight.  Most of the platoon witnessed it.  At the end of the fight the inept had a broken leg and was sent off to sick bay.  He did have drilled into him the "Sir, I fell over my locker box, sir" mantra so there were no repercussion in Platoon 444.   But the mission was accomplished and he was dropped from our platoon.  The rules indicated that after he healed he would complete his training with some subsequent platoon, but I don't know whether that happened.

Perhaps if McNeill or Wade heard my anecdote they would re-explain it in their terms and assert that cohesiveness had been attained through our marching.  And the sort of "survival of the fittest" marchers who got rid of the one who couldn't march was perhaps very like what went on amongst the Protohumans. 

Did something very like the modern conception of "equality" emerge amongst the Protohumans, or even amongst Platoon 444?  Probably, but only if the Protohumans and humans could meet minimum standards.  They had to be able to at least keep step (Protohumans) as well as be able to do a few other things like obtain a respectable score at the rifle range (Platoon 444).  For those who could not meet minimum standards, "equality" did not apply. 

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