We live in a world where social norms are seemingly more important than biological ones. We have to adapt ourselves according to the social norms of society. We can’t make a single move without following the social norms, even if we intend to fulfill any biological need for example sex, food, or anything else. Because we know that if we are going to break the social norms and rules, we are going to be punished as a penalty.
Historically, these social norms and rules were written most famously during the reign of Hammurabi, the sixth king of the First Babylonian dynasty of the Amorite tribe, reigning from 1792 BC to 1750 BC but the history of their implementation is much older than our imagination. In this article, I’ve tried to found the evolutionary pattern of social norms, crime (focusing on Stealing), and punishment in different forms of life.
Honesty is one of the main and important social norms. If someone breaks this norm by stealing the belongings of other persons, we declare him a thief, a criminal. No matter, what he steals, he is considered a criminal and nearly everyone believes that he should be punished for his behavior/act.
Most of us think, that stealing and punishment is a special type of behavior found only in homo sapiens and so did I for a long time. But when I carefully observed the social behavior of other forms of life, present on Earth, I’d like to change my mind.
In this regard, I’m going to discuss three cases. The first one is the case of a special type of Cichlid fish which is found in abundance in Africa’s Lake Tanganyika, the second one is the case of Chimpanzees and the third one is our case, the homo sapiens.
In the first case, the male Callipterus Cichlid has to collect a lot of shells to impress the females, to convince them to breed. The female-only mates with the male who has a larger collection of shells. And collecting a large number of shells from the whole lake to the home is not so easy. So, intense competition starts among male Callipterus Cichlids.
Seemingly or theoretically, the one who is most hardworking in finding shells from the whole lake should be rewarded. But it doesn’t seem to occur always. Many male Callipterus Cichlid compares their collection of shells with their neighbors and when they realize that their collection is smaller, instead of finding their own, they start stealing the shells of their neighbors (when the neighbors go for searching more shells). The stealing continues, until the collection of thief becomes larger as compared to its hardworking neighbor. As a result, success is devoted to the thief, not to the hard worker and the thief succeeds inbreeding. The hardworking male Callipterus Cichlid, normally, can’t notice the phenomenon of stealing so no punishment is observed among them.
In the second case, the chimpanzees mostly steal food but they are not less vigilant like Cichlids. They are intelligent enough to identify and catch the thief. And so they have developed the concept of punishment for stealing also. However, their definition of a thief is different from ours. Anyone who steals, either he steals our belongings or any stranger’s belongings, is considered a thief by us but the Chimpanzees don’t believe in this definition. According to Katrin Riedl from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, the chimpanzees will punish only those individuals who steal food from them, they don’t punish those individuals who steal food from others. Even if the victim is a close relative, the third party never sought to punish the thief.
Now, If we carefully look at both cases, we found that the Callipterus Cichlid (fish, being our old ancestor) has a lesser ability to identify the thief. The Chimpanzees (being closer ancestors) have a greater ability to recognize and identify the thief but the concept of a thief and its punishment is not well developed, so a thief is only punished if it is identified by the victim.
This is not with the 3rd case; us, the homo sapiens. We have the greatest ability to find the thief than all of our ancestors and we punish the thief, no matter who is the victim; our family, our neighbor, or a stranger. It is the best possible behavior to provide justice to the hard workers, to the deservers, and this behavior evolved in billions of years, modified, and developed in each evolved species. So the court of nature has given its verdict in our shape which has the maximum possible ability to provide justice to the whole community of life. Now it’s up to us, that to how much extent, we use this ability to provide justice.