David P. Barash. The Hare and the Tortoise: Culture, Biology, and Human Nature

Despite the implicitly biological foundations of both Jungian and Freudian theory, analysts of both schools have given meager attention to sociobiology.

(New York, Viking, 1986)

Reviewed by Donald Williams


Despite the implicitly biological foundations of both Jungian and Freudian theory, analysts of both schools have given meager attention to sociobiology. When the core paradigm of biology evolution by natural selection—is applied to human social behavior, it is not hard to find compelling evidence for a revised view of human instinctual dispositions, and this has been the sociobiologists' contribution. As a consequence of their insights, we need to reconsider Jungian archetypal theory and Freudian drive theory.

Although human behavior is not characterized by the automatic "rigidly stereotyped" responses found in other species, human beings (as Jung liked to point out) do not enter the social world as a blank slate. We have our own set of "adaptive predispositions." In an earlier work, Sociobiology and Behavior, David Barash set out the principles and methods of sociobiology, building a case for the "biological universals that may underlie human social behavior." (New York, Elseveier, 1977, p. 278) In the present volume Barash presents the theses of sociobiology more concisely and devotes his major attention to the relationship between culture and biology. In his metaphor a culture takes our set of biological inclinations (the tortoise) and runs with them (the hare). We face the danger, as in Aesop's fable, that our rapid cultural and technological evolution will be overturned by the slow but persistent effects of our biological nature. For example, if we do not culturally attend to our biological urge to reproduce, we will face overpopulation, famine, ecological degradation and the eventual eclipse of our cultural achievements. Since sociobiology is concerned with universals in human behavior, it has obvious bearing upon our understanding of drives and archetypes.

Biology was bedrock for Freud and Jung. In classical Freudian theory the id, the "seething cauldron" of wishes, desires and urges, arises out of instinct; instinct is biological and inaccessible while the id is mental and can become conscious. The ego then civilizes the id, which is "inherently impersonal." (Morris N. Eagle. Recent Developments in Psychoanalysis. New York, McGraw Hill, 1984, p. 123) Although Jung expanded the biological base beyond just the sexual and aggressive drives and included nutritive, creative, and reflective instincts as well as archetypally based feminine, masculine, heroic, nurturing and religious behaviors, he maintained a view of psychic structure that is close to Freud's. His archetypes, like the id, are psychic while the instincts are psychoid; his image of the spectrum of light to convey the range between instinct and archetypes applies equally well to the relation of instinct and id. At the infrared end of the spectrum we find the instincts (the biological bedrock) and at the ultraviolet end we find the mental representations of the instincts ("self-portraits of the instincts," Jung called them) and this is the spectrum of id and instinct that Freud saw in the unconscious.

A similar relationship in biology pertains between phenotype and genotype. The phenotype "is any actual, directly observable characteristic of an organism," while "the genotype is the genetic makeup of an organism" and "is discernible only by its influence on the phenotype." (Soclobiology, p. 13) Instinct in Freudian and Jungian theories can be seen to occupy the same position as genotype in biology; the behaviors, thoughts, emotions and fantasies associated with the id and the archetypes of the collective unconscious are phenotypic.

Jung's archetypes are universal. They are "inherently impersonal," incompatible with consciousness because they are collective and archaic. Freud's drives are universal, also "inherently impersonal" and also incompatible with consciousness because they are primitive and indiscriminate. However, the drive theory of Freud was narrowIy conceived—sex and aggression only—and so it has more readily evoked attempts at modification. Jung's archetypal theory, being broader, has been more resistant to theoretical modification; as an "open" system, it has tended to co-opt revisions.

Within psychoanalytic thought the emphasis upon impersonal drives soon yielded to an increasing recognition of the importance of the psychic imprints of personal relations. Yet even as internal object relations have come to dominate psychoanalytic theory, many psychoanalysts have attempted, sometimes clumsily, to accommodate the initial drive theory. Kohut, for instance, attempts to maintain drive theory alongside self psychology in a complementary relationship, even though he considers the erotic vicissitudes culminating in the oedipal complex and the parallel development of destructive aggression to be secondary, fragmentation phenomena, consequences of self-breakdown brought on by the infliction and reactivation of narcissistic deficits and injuries. For Kohut, psychological bedrock is "the threat of the destruction of the nuclear self"; sexual and aggressive drives emerge as disintegration products with restorative intent when the stability of the self is threatened. (Heinz Kohut. The Restoration of the Self: New York, International Universities Press, 1977, p. 117) Other analysts, like Sullivan and Fairbairn, have simply abandoned drive theory. In a recent review of contemporary psychoanalytic thinking, Jay R. Greenberg and Stephen A. Mitchell characterize the theoretical strategy they exemplify as follows: "The creation, or re-creation, of specific modes of relatedness with others replaces drive discharge as the force motivating human behavior." (Object Relations in Psychoanalytic Theory. Cambridge, Harvard Univ. Press, 1983, p. 3) Whatever the strategy, the theoretical move is the same: biology clearly has been removed from the driver's seat to the back seat in contemporary psychoanalysis. For psychoanalysts, the unconscious is far more personal than it was in Freud's day. Jungian theory, by contrast, continues to rest upon a notion of impersonal archetypal "drives"; to the extent that it does, it seems old-fashioned, out of place with current psychoanalytic and evolutionary theories which emphasize the human being's pliability rather than our drivenness. Yet is there a way in which the tortoise of archetypal theory will yet catch up with the hare of object relations?

To ask this question is a way of reading David Barash's The Hare and the Tortoise. Dr. Barash is a professor of zoology and psychology at the University of Washington, and the theme of his work is the problematic relationship between culture and biology when they are out of phase: "While our biological nature remains shackled by genetics, lumbering along at a tortoise's pace—never faster than one generation at a step, and typically much slower even than that—our culture has been sprinting." (p. 4) We have culturally created a world for which we are biologically unprepared. In the process of exploring this conflict between nature and culture he reviews evolutionary theory, makes observations on the process of cultural evolution and discusses the biological components of such important human issues as sexuality, male/female differences, feminism, kinship ties, altruism, aggression, war, nuclear weapons policies, population, the ecological ethic, and technological evolution. Rather than attempt to cover the highlights of this book, I would like to direct my attention to two specific areas where psychobiological evolutionary theory impacts Jungian and psychoanalytic thought: gender differences and aggression.

Let's look first at gender differences. There we see that evolutionary theory does seem at first to confirm Jung's assertions on the archetypal/instinctual dimensions of sexual differences, only to then challenge the relevance of these differences for contemporary culture. Since our evolutionary inheritance goes way back, we can imagine natural selection working on a group of gatherers and hunters hundreds of thousands of years ago on the savarmahs of Africa. If we imagine our women and men in small nomadic groups, with ample leisure time and no dreams yet of alphabets, assembly lines or shopping malls, we can state the argument more bluntly. There on the savannah everyone's biological goal was to be represented, as amply as possible, in the next generation. Then, as now, there were two biological commandments on the savannah: survive and reproduce. ("Pass it on," according to evolutionary biology, is the name of the compulsion that encompasses all others, the one that makes women and men keep an eye on each other.) "Fitness" in the game on the savannah was measured by one's success in passing on genes to the next generation. Women and men, however, had different reproductive strategies for passing on their strands of DNA. Women are limited in the number of children they can bear and nurture and failures are costly. Women, therefore, have the best chance of passing on their genes if they make wise choices about when and with whom to copulate. Since they are the ones to bear the consequences, it is adaptive for women to wait, to resist courtship, and to evoke stronger competitive displays artiong the men. Biologically, it is women, not men, who make the choices. The competitive displays that the men make help the women distinguish the fit from the unfit; and usually the fittest males are chosen.

Men, on the other hand, are the ones to court, woo, proposition, seduce and give gifts; and it is generally men who rape. (See Donald Symons. The Evolution of Human Sexuality. New York, Oxford Univ. Press, 1979, p. 253 ff.) Men, though not limited in the number of women they can impregnate or in the number of children they can produce, can also never know if they have successfully passed on their genes, no matter how often they copulate. Frequent sexual activity, and its attendant free-floating lust, are adaptive for men, just as they would be maladaptive for women in their roles as careful choicemakers. Women, in this sociobiological analysis, have the best chance of passing on their genes if they mate selectively and wisely, whereas men have a better chance of passing on their genes if they impregnate as many women as they can.

The postulatcd differences in reproductive strategies lead of course to psychological conclusions, and beyond the hoary "Higamous Hogamous, woman monogamous, Hogamous Higamous, man is polygamous" women will have a keen awareness of the consequences of their actions, the most portentous being copulation. Women not only choose (men), they take responsibility for the consequences (children) of their actions. Women, Barash argues, personify the human psychological impulses toward discrimination, choice, the acceptance of limits, nurturance and cooperation. Men, in contrast, seem more naturally programmed to represent the human tendencies of risk taking, aggressive competition and restless longing (all tied up with their roles vis a vis women). Barash states the differences this way: "the biology of male-female differences predisposes males of most species to sexual aggressiveness, advertisement, and availability, while fernales are selected for discrimination and sales resistance." (Sociobiology, pp. 292-293)

Barash notes that the sociobiological understanding of male/ female differences supports and clarifies Carol Gilligan's view of male and female moral preferences: The biological evolutionary task of both males and females is to succeed in projecting copies of their genes into the future, to maximize their fitness. . . . Male success is typically achieved by effective competition, female success, by relationship, especially with their own offspring and other relatives. Thus, for boys and men, morality is at its most ideal and alluring when it is a morality of justice, of theoretical principles that place restraints upon aggressive, competitive, self-serving tendencies; for girls and women, on the other hand, morality is suffused with images of relationship, of caring, and of taking care of others. Male morality, as Gilligan describes it, is an ethic of inhibiting one's nasty self; female morality, in contrast, emphasizes releasing of the caring self. (Gilligan, quoted in Hare, p. 110).

Barash's presentation of our biological inheritance helps us to appreciate the validity of various psychological attempts to differentiate feminine and masculine instinctual dispositions such as Gilligan's (responsibilities/rights), Jung's (eros/logos), and Guntrip's (being/doing).

The problem, however, is that these differences are neither necessary nor necessarily good in contemporary culture. Furthermore, it is doubtful that instincts or archetypes have caused the differences we see and more likely that male/female differences today are cultural exaggerations of instinctual inclinations. Barash calls this phenomenon "cultural hyperextension"—"the hare's tendency to run for miles in a direction that the tortoise has just taken a single step." (Hare, p. 59) Of course there are biological universals, and yes, women and men are different, but the goddesses and gods we study as archetypes are cultural, mythological mouritains made "out of what may, in essence, be biological molehills." (Hare, p. 106) Barash's conclusion is: "Men and women are indeed different, but in most cases they are less different than human social traditions have demanded them to be." (Hare, p. 106)

The differences between the sexes on the savannah do not necessarily pertain today, although we anachronistically retain them not only in the way we think about our supposed gender roles but also in our very slow-to-change neurobiology. Our instinctive behavior, our sexuality and related emotions are adapted to a way of life that virtually no longer exists. We are genetically adapted to a life characterized by small groups, low population densities, nomadism and division of labor by sex, even though this gatherer-hunter way of life began to change significantly about 10,000 years ago. With agriculture, the domestication of animals, and the growth of cities, a lot has happened in that 10,000 years. Physical evolutionary change, however, is slow by contrast to cultural change, and 10,000 years has not been enough time to generate substantial physical changes. Since biology (unlike Aesop's tortoise) cannot catch up, we are at once limited and free to define our gender identities. To a surprising extent, sexual differences today are largely what we make them. The conservatism of the tortoise ensures that there will always be differences between women and men, but biology is not destiny, archetypal or otherwise. What we do with our differences and our possibilities is really up to us. Viewed in this soclobiological context, there is a nostalgic, if not regressive, cast to the contemporary Jungian evocation of neolithic goddesses and gods as role models for the lives of postmodern women and men.

If the issue in sexual roles is an anachronistic biology, the problem of contemporary aggression is how cultural evolution has hyperextencled this instinct. When we were still gathering and hunting on the savannah, we could settle group conflicts by going somewhere else. When we began to plant crops, store food, domesticate animals, and build cities, this time-honored solution moving on did not work. Prior to the rise of civilization, the limit to growth was environmental scarcity. With the spread of civilization there appeared new limits to expansion—other people. It was at this point in human history that power became an inexorable force in social evolution. This is the argument of Andrew Schmookler in The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution:

The new civilized forms of society, with more complex social and political structures, created the new possibility of indefinite social expansion: more and more people organized over more and more terrirory. All other forms of life had always found inevitable limits placed upon their growth by scarcity and consequent death.... Civilized societies, therefore, though lacking inherent limitations to their growth, do encounter new external limits—in the form of one another .... With no natural order or overarching power to prevent it, some will surely choose to take what belongs to their neighbors rather than to accept the limits that are compulsory for every other form of life....

As people stepped across the threshold into civilization, they inadvertently stumbled into a chaos that had never before existed. The relations among societies were uncontrolled and virtualIy uncontrollable. Such an ungoverned system imposes unchosen necessities: civilized people were compelled to enter a struggle for power. (Berkeley, Univ. of California Press, 1984, pp. 19-20)

"The parable of the tribes," SchmookJer says, "is a theory of social evolution which shows that power is like a contaminant, a disease, which once introduced will gradually yet inexorably become universal in the system of competing societies." (p. 22) The lesson of the parable is: "no one is free to choose peace, but anyone can impose upon all the necessity for power. " (p. 21) Obviously, this need for power has gotten out of hand. Wars grow deadlier as we hyperextend our capacity for aggression to meet the rising social and political demands for power. This does not mean, however, that biologically we are an unusually aggressive species.

Barash's theory of "cultural hyperextension" helps us to understand how what instinctual aggression we have has been exploited by nations who want to protect themselves as they expand. Warfare appeared as a consequence of social evolution, and when it did, men, being taller and more muscular and aggressive than women, were chosen as the fighters, with full consent of the women. Men then hyperextended their aggression by devoting their intelligence to the development of weapons from spears to cruise missiles. Cultures at the same time have hyperextended "kinship libido" to create binding attachments to an abstract "motherland" or "fatherland" for which the men would be willing to fight with the full support of the women.

It is interesting to realize that from the sociobiological perspective human beings do not seem to possess an especially powerful aggressive drive. (One is reminded that C. G. Jung spoke only of an instinct to activity, not of an aggressive instinct.) Barash says specifically: "Human beings may possess an instinct for spontaneous aggressive behavior, although it seerns unlikely. Conceivably, all human violence results from particular environmental factors such as poor rearing conditions, frustration, social disorganization, personal neuroses or psychoses, etc." (Hare, p. 159) This position is far from Danwin's biological determinism that influenced the dual drive formulations of Freud, with his notion of life and death instincts. It also undercuts Jung's idea of a dark side of the Self archetype and the view of some ethologists who see existence as an "aggressive, life and death competition."

Culturally hyperextended aggression is not the only sociobiological factor contributing to the dilemma of modern warfare; another contribution is made by our lack of innate social instincts that are so characteristic of lower organisms. "As is so often the case..." Barash says, "the problem derives not so much from the instincts we have, but rather, from those we lack." (Hare, p. 159) First of all, we lack a biological inhibition on intraspecies killing: "We lack genetically mediated killing inhibitions because natural selection didn't have much reason to endow us with any. After all, a naked, unarmed human being really isn't a very dangerous adversary to another, similar human being, unless he or she has had special (modern) combat training." (Hare, p. 182) Secondly, we lack an instinct for social organization, in short, an instinct for peace. There may be genetic underpinnings to compassion, cooperation and caring—at least for those biologically close to us—but not so far as anyone can see a precise instinct for social harmony. This sets us apart from species which are clearly territorial and do have the genetic inheritance to solve territorial disputes. If we were truly territorial, fighting over space would be greatly reduced, especially once the boundaries were established. It is precisely because we lack much biological respect for territory that we fight so often over it. In most of the Western world we commonly stake out spatial claims, using picket fence, stone wall, barbed wire, printed sign, or locked door, all of which are themselves testimony not so much to territoriality but to its absence. And in doing so, we are following our culture, not our genes. Because these artificially inspired boundaries lack the support of biological evolution, they are rather insecure and subject to constant dispute. When cultural evolution presents situations for which biological evolution has not prepared us, look for trouble. (Hare, pp. 166-167)

It appears that natural selection has favored in our genetic makeup adaptability over strict instinctual regulation. Presumably, the absence of a territorial instinct worked well in the nomadic small groups for whom our biological make-up was selected; this genetic legacy survives, however, in the unnaturally large groups in which we now live, constrained by jobs, bills, and national boundaries. We lack an innate territorial boundary, and yet we are immersed in complex economies, technologies and social arrangements which are tangent upon other social collectives of similar complexity. Our adaptability and intelligence are our only instinctual resources to resolve our disputes and avert the hot, cold, or covert wars that so undermine us.

The absence of a human instinct for social harmony in groups is a reasonable explanation for why peace is elusive and why it is so difficult to imagine in emotionally and intellectually convincing terms. Aggression is enough in our genes while peacemaking is not. Common experience shows that we are not stimulated, excited or troubled by peaceful thoughts in the way that we are by sexual and competitive thoughts, even though a longing for peace may come over us. Certainly we do not wake up erotically aroused or in an anxious sweat from our dreams of peace, eager to pursue the goal of peace. Other species have a genuine instinct for social harmony; whether they be wolves or wombats, you can't miss it. By contrast, our attempts at a harmonious social order are as varied and unstable as the ideologies we espouse. And now notoriously, we face an unnatural world with unnatural weapons, knowing that only through a newly peaceful way of thinking, feeling and acting will we create a naturally humane world. We are challenged to create a peace for which we have few divine role models and no biological preparation.

In a previous book on nuclear weapons, The Caveman and the Bomb, Barash has asserted that, to the extent that our thinking follows instinctual paths, it is stone age thinking, since we share the same genetic make-up as our forebears on the savannah. Barash cites the predicament of the musk-ox as a metaphor for our condition today:

Consider, then, the musk-ox. Unlike our own species, muskoxen are not particulariy bright, but they are nonetheless formidable creatures in their own right, great shaggy buffaloes of the northern tundra. When threatened by wolves they have always acquitted themselves well, forming a rough and impenetrable circle with heavily armored horns facing out at any predator foolish enough to press home the attack. For millennia their defensive behavior has worked.... But now the musk-ox faces a new danger, something for which natural selection has not prepared it—hunters with guns. The new predator appears, and the hapless animals respond as they always have to old danger in the past: they form their trusty circle ... and they are easily shot.

For musk-oxen, the invention of the rifle has changed everything but their way of thinking [paraphrasing Einstein on nuclear weapons], and hence they drift toward catastrophe which, for them, is unparalleled. (David P. Barash and Judith Eve Lipton. The Caveman and rheBomb. New York, McGraw-Hill, 1985, p. 3)

Our own stone age thinking leaves us as vulnerable as the musk-ox, particularly when we approach peace and war as a survival issue. We are forced to turn to our more helpful biological legacy, our adaptability and intelligence, to rescue us from extinction. Barash suggests that we employ culture to resolve the problems culture has created, and he is even guardedly hopeful:

We are, after all, the rnost adaptable species on earth. We have given up slavery, the divine right of kings, human sacrifice and dueling, all of which were at one time considered indelible reflections of human nature.' (Hare, pp. 213-213)

Now, we have the capacity—indeed, the obilgation—to make our own environments. When we begin doing this seriously, and not simply with an eye to economics, we may find ourselves feeling less like strangers in a strange, artificial land. (Hare, p. 284)

Barash's position reminds us of Jung who claimed that the myth of our time is "that man is indispensible for the completion of creation; that, in fact, he himself is the second creator of the world. . . . " (C. G. Jung. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. New York, Vintage Books, 1965, p. 256) or, as the alchemists say, "'What nature Ieaves imperfect, the art perfects."' (Jung, Memories, p. 255) But Barash's work importantly challenges Jung's assertions about the underpinnings of archetypal theory. Archetypes, like Freud's drives, imply universals of biology, and psychobiology emphasizes that the universals seern to direct less of our behavior than we thought. It becomes clear that psychology needs to direct its attention more to what we do with our biological dispositions as a cultural species. Jung described the analytic process as a dialogue with the unconscious and ultimately a dialogue with the Great Man (or Great Woman). In his often-quoted 1958 comments to Zürich students he said, "Think of your problem. See what you dream. Perhaps the Great Man, the 2,000,000-year-old man, will speak.... Analysis is a long discussion with the Great Man (C. G. Jung Speaking. Princeton, Princeton Univ. Press, 1977, pp. 359-361) If the "Great Man" is our instinctual inheritance from our savannah forefather, and if we accept psychobiology's understanding of this instinctual bedrock, we have to face the possibility that the two million year-old man or woman is not as wise as Jung and the native traditions Jung accepted have wished. It is even possible that the greatest possibilities for wisdom in the psyche come from its immediate aliveness to new, current, and contemporary sources that take advantage of its innate adaptability and resourcefulness.

Most certainly, the male/female differences described by Freud as biological bcdrock—castration anxiety in men, penis envy in women—appear in the light of sociobiology to be blatantly cultural. And while sex and aggression are major currents in human affairs, they are more readily adapted to cultural ends than Freud originally imagined. Indeed, they are only two among many other motivating forces.

Barash's work therefore challenges analysts to reformulate both archetypal and drive theory, and above all to reflect upon their persistent attachment to universals in accounting for human behavior. Analysts—both Freudian and Jungian—need to think further about the nature of the unconscious creativity and unconscious intelligence that they have so well documented, and that they depend upon for therapeutic movement. Sociobiology encourages further reflection, as well, on what was once an Adlerian concern, the social evolution of ideas and behaviors. Here an archetypal theory that is related to culture could be especially helpful. (See Cultural Attitudes in Psycbological Perspective, by Joseph Henderson. Toronto, Inner City Books, 1985.)

Finally, analysts of whatever persuasion need to think as effectively about the future as they have about reconstructing the past and understanding the present. Whether we conceive it in terms of individuation, social evolution, or the individual's role in the unfolding of creation, the future needs a much more clearly defined place in our theory and clinical practice. A colleague of Barash's, the sociobiologist Donald Symons, makes a brief but suggestive observation on the nature of consciousness: "Psyche becomes important precisely where the external environment is unpredictable or complex.... In short, mind is usually about the rare, the difficult, and the future; the everyday becomes unconscious habit." (Symons, p. 167)

The future has never been so difficult; we have never had to worry so much about the short and long range consequences of our actions; and we have never had so much knowledge as to what these may be. If future threats impinge upon us now—threats like nuclear winter and the greenhouse effect—future promises are with us too, promises like an end to illiteracy and starvation and a widespread openness to psyche. A different future engages our consciousness, yet it holds as well the promise that we mav learn how to hope as specifically as we dread.


© Donald Williams. 1988.

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. This essay was originally published in The San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal, Vol. 8, No. 1, 1988.