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"family Man" by Will Hively

Autor:   •  July 9, 2012  •  Essay  •  381 Words (2 Pages)  •  2,238 Views

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The article "Family Man," by Will Hively is about biologist Stephen Emlen's research into the families of white-fronted bee-eaters. At first glance it seemed these birds were altruistic, sharing food when it was scarce, couples were faithful, and grown children rather than leaving home to start their own families would stay to help their parents tend to younger siblings. After extensive observation, however, Emlen discovered that the birds' motivations were selfish, that they were willing to help close family members, less likely to help more distant relatives, and definitely not likely to help unrelated birds, based on percentage of shared genes between them and the baby birds. He also discovered that beneath the myriad of interactions were, like humans, tales of love, deceit, harassment, and adultery.

While the article goes into deeper depth about the mathematical aspect of predicting whom and when a bird would help out or not, what was interesting to me was the similarities between these bee-eater's family dynamics and our own human family dynamic. For example, families with a new step-parents have the highest probability of violence and sexual abuse occurring, both with humans and bee-eaters. Interestingly, our closest ancestors, the primates, do not share similar family traits at all, even though it would seem obvious that primates and human families would have evolved in similar ways. So while it is true that human families are very similar to those of the bee-eaters, I am curious as to how evolution came to create such similar circumstances between two very different species. It seems fortunate that Emlen found such a species in Kenya. I was also a little concerned from reading that apparently altruism, or self-less behavior, is actually bad for a person, that it hurts someone to not be selfish according to Darwinian thinking. It is a little disturbing that in a world where selfishness reigns supreme, that this behavior is


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