Friday, September 28, 2007

Joseph, Ants, and Meme Stability (part 2)

Denizens of a detritus domain—social soldiers, wholehearted workers, decadently-desirous drones, and the quintessential queen—all strive in altruistic service to the collective. Never lacking in work to be done nor wanting in survival needs, they more than merely exist—they expand, branching out with imperialistic ambitions. Colonized, helpless plebeians, unable to resist, the aphids yield their milk to the harvest of the imperial force in exchange for symbiotic protection. Concealed crop, forgone fruit of fungal yield, the cultivated fungi of the leaf cutter grows underground—owing its existence to the agrarians who garner its pre-digestive work on arboreal reapings. Trapped in the collective river and torn to shreds by its tide, the ground beetle is carried away piece by piece by the tropical army of red.

Communists, socialists? – No. Ants—highly social invertebrate animals. “Go to the ant, you sluggard!” enjoins the biblical writer. The writer observes that the ant diligently works in communal commitment and is never lacking. In this way the ant is proposed as a model for human emulation: Man is at his best when he works in conjunction with commitment social sustainability.

Human morality is a product of evolutionary development in the primate and later hominid taxons. Primates and hominids are social creatures. We make use of social relationships to better our individual chances for survival and to improve our ability to distribute genetic potential. Societal success is hence critical for the occurrence of sexual selection (aka, “natural selection’) in social creatures, and societal success cannot be removed from a commitment to societal norms (e.g., morality).

Behaviors that threaten social sustainability encounter the combative pressures of sexual selection. However, more than just genes are at risk when human behavior defies accepted norms. Deleterious behaviors themselves and the collective cognition of the civilization are threatened by asocial or anti-social behavior.

Humans generally reproduce through sexual intercourse between a male and female of the same species. In an ant colony, only a select drone and one queen have this “privilege.” The worker and soldier ants do not reproduce—they are all females without developed gonads. How then does their behavior contribute to the distribution of their genes? How is it that the behavior of the one ant effects the potential for her genes to be favored for dispersal.

In the next installment, the relationship between collective cooperation and reproductive dispersal of genes and memes will be explored in ant societies. This will further concretize the survival benefit of altruistic behavior in social taxons as the end-product of evolutionary developmental pressures.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Joseph, Ants, and Meme Stability (part 1)

The heroine in exile, the hero in a foreign land—both distanced from the familiar. Foreign tongues, ideas, ritual, customs…life is relearning, relearning the profane while cognizant of the holy.

A recurrent theme in Israel’s scriptures is that of the hero/heroine in exile. The heroic protagonist finds herself in the midst of circumstantial promotion. Joseph becomes the authority over Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh. Daniel is exalted in the palaces of kings. Esther and Judith receive honor in the royal courts of Persia and Susa. The heroes gain prominence through dream interpretation—recognized as an indicator of God’s spirit. The heroines aspire through their beauty and cunning. All bring success to their people in the midst of settings that threaten identity cohesion.

The similarities between the exilic-exaltation epics are evident. Why, though, does this theme repeat in Israel’s scriptures? What explicative exigencies can be proposed for the exilic-exaltation epics?

The recurrence of the exilic-exaltation theme is suggestive of the settings in which they were composed. It is likely that the communities which benefited the most from these stories were those either already in exile or under foreign dominion. While in exile and under foreign dominion, Israel lacked centripetal identity cohesion in the aftermath of the 586 BCE destruction of the Temple. Where the tide promoted identity diffusion, the zealous maintained identity through community identity markers—observable rituals or behaviors that reinforce identity cohesion.

Identity markers such as Sabbath observance (אוֹת הִוא בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵיכֶם), dietary restrictions (e.g., Daniel’s recourse to pulse), and circumcision assumed added import. The importance of these three observances cannot be overstated as they became the sin quo non identity markers of 2nd Temple Jewry. Critical scholarship posits that priestly works such as Leviticus (especially the Holiness Code of chapters 17ff) and Ezekiel (the Temple vision) are evidence of settings that jeopardized the integrity of Israel’s identity. In the face of threat to identity, a greater emphasis was placed on ritual and legal minutia.

The epic of Joseph, the story of Daniel, the exaltation of Esther, and the justification of Judith together speak succor to the exiled and oppressed. The Joseph narrative and the book of Esther were most likely penned while Israel was in Babylon and Persia. The stories of Daniel and Judith, though, herald to post-Exilic times when Israel was under harsh foreign dominion.