Friday, March 3, 2017

Building The Great Great Wall

"We will soon begin construction of a Great Great Wall along our southern border." - President Trump, inaugural address to Congress.

When I think of serious walls, two walls come to mind: The Great Wall of China, and the Berlin Wall. President Trump says that he is building a “Great Great Wall”.   This could lead to another diplomatic incident, inadvertently clashing with China's "One Great Wall" Policy. The Chinese will not take kindly to their Great Wall downgraded to something less Big.   

Nevertheless, these two historical examples  are instructive.  One wall was built to keep people out.  The other wall was built to keep people in.  Both were truly audacious projects, but in the end, neither worked out as planned.

The Chinese definitely win the prize for hubris for the sheer scale of their enterprise, in fact it is the largest man made object in the world.  No doubt their wall cost a lot of money, but it employed a lot of people and helped their economy grow, didn’t it?  And it employed lots of workers for hundreds of years.   And the people it kept out:  we’re talking pillagers and rapists, we’re talking bad hombres.  

The problem only came hundreds of years later when the worst pillager and rapist of them all -  Ghengis Khan - circumvented the  wall and conquered China and all of Asia Central,  and, this is documented, there is evidence in our DNA, this bad hombre sired more children than any other individual in history.

 So much for building a very big wall to protect your country.  China has been there, done that.  Now it’s their biggest tourist attraction.  This shows that with sufficient time, you too can recover from bad hombres running your country.  

In 1961 the East Germans, a client state of the now defunct Soviet Union, built a wall that followed the dividing line between East and West Germany through the city of Berlin.  They built this wall, topped with barbed wire and manned with machine guns, in order to stop East Germans from leaving the Communist East to go to the Capitalist West.  

Then in 1989 the Soviet Economy collapsed, probably because of chronically low oil prices, and very soon after that people tore down the Berlin wall, brick by brick, and within a few years Germany re-united.

Now, in 2017 the new Wall-Builder-In-Chief has officially  passed the baton of "the leader of the free world" on to Angela Merkl;  and this shows that you can recover and heal your nation after a particular ugly wall has been built, and even become the leader of the free world.  

 If you want to know why Trump wants to build The Great Great Wall, you can get a hint from Christian Evangelist David Barton, who runs an internet Website called "    “WallBuilders is an organization dedicated to presenting America’s forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious, and constitutional foundation on which America was built – a foundation which, in recent years, has been seriously attacked and undermined.”   So says David Barton, who calls himself - “America’s Premier Historian.”

 You see: “In the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, the nation of Israel rallied together in a grassroots movement to help rebuild the walls of Jerusalem…”  On this point I beg to differ with “America’s Premier Historian.”   If memory serves me well, the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls was no grassroots event.  It was overseen and funded by the Persian Empire.  It even says so, right there in the Bible. The Persian Empire was the new kid on the block at that time, and unlike the Babylonians and Assyrians before them, they actively supported subject peoples’ keeping their ethnic religious systems intact.

The new Nehemiah is going to build a Wall.  A “Great Great Wall” that will protect all the faithful against “Them”  -  the Coloured, the Muslims, the “Extremist Islamic Terrorists.”  

Nor will the Great Great Wall that is to come  be a grassroots movement,  because the Great Great Wall also requires a great military buildup, and a great new partnership between Industry and Government. That’s OK with Evangelical Christian, David Barton, because he sees Donald Trump’s new administration and I quote him: “I’m loving what I am seeing.”

To build a Great Great Wall  it was necessary  to pass the baton of "the leader of the free world" from America,  to the leader of the nation that managed to break down the last big wall.  This will be a point of interest to future Historians, if there are any.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The New Wizard of Oz

To paraphrase a great American work on the subject of American Politics:  "Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore."  

In my opinion, the most appropriate guide to what is going on today, south of the border is The Wizard of Oz.  Toto, Dorothy's little dog, had the right impulse - to pull back the curtain on this spectacle.  We are getting so distracted by a train of spectacle, but all along the important stuff is happening behind the curtain.  

Rwanda isn't the U.S., but for weeks before the Rwandan Genocide, the radio in Rwanda broadcast a message in code over and over again.  The message amounted to the de-humanisation of one ethnic group,  calling them"cockroaches" and calling for their elimination.  In the United States we are seeing a dangerous polarization between Trump supporters and everyone else.  Trump, "The Great and Powerful Oz”  is creating spectacle after spectacle;  His followers are listening to him, not to the real press who are now "enemies of the state".

Trump started his campaign with the Birther Lie, then Mexicans, then Muslims.  He's building a "Wall" , but it is like the Wizard’s curtain, one that hides one reality from another.   The more this wall is internalized the more effective the de-humanization becomes.

Meanwhile, behind the curtain, America is being deconstructed - democracy, the social safety net, education, and scientific knowledge are being jackhammered out of existence by extremist Republicans.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Human System


I have an ongoing joke with my wife Candace about my “system”.  It’s the way I like to heat the rooms of our little  house in the winter, and it involves turning in-room heaters on or off and opening or closing certain doors at various strategic times. Candace smiles at the arcaneness of my “system”.  Here, where I am  referring to my “system,”  I mean “a way of doing things” that I repeat each day when the outside environment calls for it.  

We can call the local weather a system in another way.  It is certainly a regular way of doing things, but, unlike my opening and closing doors,  it is not a goal-directed process.  It is a natural, self-organized, physical process that begins in the Pacific Ocean and sweeps across parts of North America, eventually dissipating over the Atlantic.  

There are many other regional weather systems around the Earth, and these together make up an evolving Global Climate System that is presently warming, but that  last wrapped most of the Northern Hemisphere in ice sixty thousand years ago and then melted away over tens of thousands of years. The global Climate System has profound effects on Earth’s surface geology, and on the evolution of living ecosystems.

Here’s how I see things:  The Universe is a system, and it’s  a hierarchy of systems all the way down to the finest detail.  Here on Earth we are a part of the Solar System, which is, of course, a ridiculously tiny part of the Universe.  But we are in an orbit around the Sun that has afforded the Earth a temperature range that has kept most of its water in a liquid state for four billion years, and this is what has made the continued existence of life possible.

We humans are part of the Earth’s biosphere, or Life-system.  
Living systems are different from non-living physical systems because living systems purposively maintain themselves and reproduce, spreading until they reach every corner of our planet.  Since life took over it has been the determining factor in furnishing Earth’s global atmosphere of oxygen, carbon-dioxide, and nitrogen, it has, through preserving the oceans, kept the Earth itself alive and volcanically active over billions of years.  How is this possible?

Living things are so coupled to the Earth that ecosystems have changed both the atmosphere and the climate over aeons.  Indeed, the presence of life itself is also part of the reason that life has had almost four billion years to evolve from bacteria to humans.  Our very oceans have existed for this long time because photosynthetic bacteria and green algae have produced enough oxygen that it has, in the form of high-altitude ozone,  shielded the oceans from too much of the Sun’s ultraviolet light.  Without ozone, over billions of years, the excess ultraviolet would have split enough water molecules to empty the Earth’s oceans.

If you find this hard to believe, consider Mars:  Mars does not have a Life System, and so far, we see no evidence of there ever being one.  There is no water there now, not even a puddle, and very little atmosphere, but they say, that there used to be water there...  Life cannot maintain itself without water;  Water cannot maintain itself without life.  

The Universe is systems all the way down.  Life is a planet-wide system.  Humans are biological organisms, which means that each individual human is a single biological system made of skin, bones, muscles, specialized organs and consciousness.  All biological organisms, including humans, are systems entirely made of cells, and each cell is a tiny system of molecules, membranes, and organelles, containing a genetic blueprint that can direct the building of any cell in the body from scratch.    
The very long, from our perspective, timeline of natural systems, such as the Earth’s global climate, demonstrates this rule of thumb:  the bigger the system,  the longer the time frame that’s involved in that system.  Human systems occupy a middle ground, between microscopic systems that grow and die in minutes or days, and planetary, star, and galaxy systems that grow and die in the space of billions of years.

But here's an exception to my rule - hydrogen atoms. In relation to humans they are submicroscopic systems. And as for age they are the oldest of all, the same age as the Universe. Our bodies are made up of molecular systems that contain a significant proportion of hydrogen atoms in relation to other elements. And wait - there's more! Just about every atom in the Universe is either Hydrogen or it was made from Hydrogen by nuclear reactions deep inside of countless stars. They make up the most plentiful thing in the Universe and they just happen to be the oldest systems around.

Each one of those tiny systems is the basic building block for all other systems. Each hydrogen atom is directly connected by origin to the birth of the Universe. This is what it means, in systems theory, to say that everything is connected.

Let's go back to my rule of thumb: The bigger the system the longer the time-frame. I keep saying that humans occupy the middle ground. The reason is because it took the universe seventeen billion years to produce us. We are young, we are infants compared to almost everything else but our own artefacts.  Some say humans evolved one half million years ago.  I mark the dividing line at two million years, with the first evidence of Homo Erectus.  

Homo Erectus is more than just an ape man.  Hominins - that’s our evolutionary precursors - start to look more like modern humans with homo erectus.  And in the time space of one and a half million years after Erectus appears in the fossil record, humans evolved bigger brains, longer childhoods - thus greater potential for learning - and the abilities to cook, to make stone tools, to control fire, and to migrate out of Africa.

Should we claim for human systems the possibilities inherent in billions of years when we have only been around for scarce two million? Can we grow as big or bigger than the Earth’s life-system? I believe that these two  questions are really  the same question.

The fact that the human race is only two million years old, and it took  four billion years for the Earth’s Life-system to  reach that point, indicates nothing robust about humans.  We are delicate, precarious, particular beings.  We couldn’t have evolved eight million years ago, let alone four billion years ago.  Imagine a world without flowers, which evolved 160 million years ago, or mammals, who celebrate their 250 millionth birthday today.   We are contained in the Earth’s biosphere and cannot escape it because we utterly depend on it for our survival.  

What is the human system, that we believe that it could surpass the Earth’s Life-system?  Is it our technological systems that would make this possible?  The evidence of the last three hundred years decisively contradicts this hope.  We are now in the midst of an Extinction -Event, something that happens about once every hundred million years.  Scientists call this latest event The Anthropocene age, for the unmistakable fact that humans are causing this latest collapse in biodiversity.  And we are causing it because our advanced technologies give us access to fossil fuels.

When it comes to systems, size matters.  Large systems can  utilize more energy and have more powerful effects.  The Pacific Ocean has a greater effect on the Earth’s weather patterns than the Atlantic Ocean.  The Earth’s plate tectonic system has an even  greater effect through its access to the tremendous heat in Earth’s Core and Mantle, changing the shape of the continents and the seas over a time frame of hundreds of millions of years.

The human system cannot grow beyond the bounds of Earth’s Life-system.  We cannot grow bigger than a system that we totally depend on  without fatally undermining ourselves in the process. In point of  fact, one could ask, how is it even possible to do this?  How can humans, who must derive their nourishment from the biosphere, surpass the biosphere?

The human system has tapped into The Earth’s tectonic system to extract energy from fossilised carbon.  We have grown in numbers and power as a result.  We are using up the energy that was stored in the Earth for hundreds of millions of years in the space of only three hundred years.

It is because we have tapped into an ancient form of accumulated energy from the Earth that we humans have been able to build  global systems in the past three hundred years: systems of transportation, economic systems, communication systems,  legal systems, administrative systems.    When we start decreasing our use of fossil fuels our systems will have to get smaller too.  With less access to energy what the system can do will be less.

The best scenario I see is to gradually stop the extraction of fossil carbon and replace it with a more decentralized system of renewables.  Society will then have to run on a smaller scale because we will lack the concentrated energy of fossil fuels.

Or we can opt out of a future for humanity altogether.   We can continue to burn more and more fossil fuels and allow our systems to grow bigger and bigger, until the entire  human system, in all its power and glory, smashes into the wall and breaks apart into countless shards.
  Global Warming is a sign that we have already grown too big and gone too far, but why not push the envelope that much further, and risk our very future for the sake of greater financial rewards and bigger and faster cars?  

Size matters.  The Earth cannot sustain a population size of six billion humans or larger.  We have reached this size by using fossil fuels.  This increased usage of energy  is changing the Earth’s Climate System.  Remember, this system usually works on a time scale of tens of thousands of years or more.  Human civilization is less than ten thousand years old.  The use and extraction of fossil fuels only started in earnest about three hundred years ago.  The Climate is warming in the space of one hundred years. Each new year brings  more and bigger  Floods, Forest Fires, Droughts, Hurricanes;  it is like something out of the Bible.

With energy comes power, and power allows us to do more things. Having more power means having a bigger effect on other systems.  Eventually the effect of this power will alter the behaviour of the larger system in a way that undermines our survival as a species, because we cannot escape being dependent on the larger system.  When the Global Climate System works against us our human systems can quickly become overwhelmed.  When we have grown big enough to effect this system, we cannot escape the effects of altering it.  These effects will not be benign.  

Humans have been living in ignorance of these larger systems for  two million  years, with differing consequences.  When the Climate cooled, as it did a hundred thousand years ago, human systems shrunk dramatically.  When the Climate has been favorable, as it has been for the last ten thousand years, humans have prospered and human systems have grown exponentially.

Each system has an optimum size.  Too small and it loses too much access to energy.  Too large, and it undermines its own existence.  A star that grows too large destroys itself in a massive supernova.  A Galaxy that is too large becomes full of black holes.   A living population of organisms that grows too large, runs out of food and drowns in its own waste.

Our Solar system is four and a half billion years old, roughly a quarter of the age of the Universe.  The Earth’s Life-system is somewhat younger, at roughly four billion years old.   

At approximately two million years old humans are a young species.  Many species have been around longer than us - most species of birds and insects, for instance. The human system is young.  But it has the distinction of being  the first system that can identify and understand  all  or almost all other systems.

 Some human systems are very young. The internet is less than half a century old.  Writing, as a communication system is about three thousand years old.  Printing, in the West, is about five hundred years old.   Language as a general system of communication could be anywhere from one hundred thousand years to five hundred thousand years old.

On a smaller scale,  human systems, such as particular languages, nations,  and cities, have lasted for hundreds to thousands of years, families last from several to thousands of generations.  Economic systems grow and die over the space of hundreds of years.  Some  institutions  like marriage, have lasted thousands of years.   All these human systems grow and die, change and evolve, competing and sharing with other human systems.
Most non-human systems that we can observe are far older than any human system.  The geographic features that we live in can be anywhere from tens of thousands to tens of millions of years old or more.  

In the area that I live in, Northwestern BC, the geography was mostly the result of an ice-cap that covered the northern half of North America for most of the last hundred thousand years.  And for the first eighty-five thousand of those years, there were no human footprints here.  

The scale of many natural systems dwarfs the scale of human systems.  The only place that this is not true is in our imaginative systems.  We imagine that we are important because that’s how imagination works.  It always starts with our own experiences and generalizes from that.  

Our imaginations are self-contained.  They have their own rules, they run by their own logic.  But most natural and human systems are open to the influence of the environment.

One knows a system by observing its behaviour and its boundaries. In order to better understand the Human System, we ought to know as much as possible about when it began and how it began.  Then we can better distinguish it from other  kinds of living systems.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Oil Power

The Political and Economic Forces in AnteBellum America that supported slavery were very powerful.  They encompassed all of Southern White Society from the Carolinas to Texas:  the plantation owners, the merchants, the politicians, as well as businessmen in the North who benefitted from the cotton and slave trades. The nineteenth century American Abolitionists called these political and economic forces: “The Slave Power”

During the 1850’s “the Slave Power”  gridlocked American government.  It ensured that only judges who favoured slavery were nominated to the Supreme Court.  The Court’s Dred Scott decision forced citizens from free states to assist in returning escaped slaves to their owners.

Now, let’s imagine that instead of the Civil War, the Slave Power had actually prevailed. Imagine that  Stephen Douglas defeated Abraham Lincoln in 1860 and slavery spread to the Western States, where it continues to this day.  

It is very difficult to believe that that could have happened;  not the election, elections can be very close; it is difficult to believe that slavery could have survived intact today, because it is hard to imagine living in the kind of morally degenerate universe that that would entail.   

It took a bloody Civil War to defeat “The Slave Power”.  A momentous moral change, like that of abolishing slavery is not something that can be fixed in one election, or through one government policy.  It takes a mass movement, like a war, a revolution, or a religious movement.   

Societies are relatively stable.  It is not an easy or simple thing to change  the moral direction.  First, people are used to custom and tradition as well as convenience.  We don’t like to change our ways.  Secondly, many people have a stake in keeping things the way they are.  These wealthy owners stand to lose valuable capital if the system changes.    Even if one can make a good case for a moral change, people who have a strong financial interest in the status quo, such as the slave owners, will fight back hard to keep their privileges.  

A month ago there was another momentous American election.  This election went off like an atomic bomb.  We bid goodbye to Barack Obama, the first Black President, and shield our eyes from the brilliance of Donald Trump, the billionaire with the brightest orange hair imaginable.  

Why did I keep thinking about 1860 and the difference that that election would have made if the outcome had been reversed?  It is because of the power of fossil fuels, that I see this connection.   The Slave Power had a stranglehold on the American government, and only Lincoln’s election made it possible for America to break free of the chains of slavery.

If there were any doubts, it’s now official - Big Oil is back in power, ready to drill and frack everywhere, in America’s national parks and in the Arctic.   Trump’s  pick for Secretary of State is Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon, a company Tillerson has faithfully worked for for forty-one years.  Tillerson also has been friendly with Vladimir Putin and has been on record opposing sanctions against Russia because it interferes with Exxon’s interest in promoting oil exploration in the Russian Arctic.  

Trump has picked former Texas Governor Rick Perry, a man who promised to abolish the Department of Energy, to head the same agency.   He has picked Scott Pruitt a politician with deep ties to the Oklahoma oil industry to head the Environmental Protection Agency, an agency which Pruitt has been suing in order to get its regulations on pollution and CO2 emissions thrown out.  

Trump famously stated that Global Warming was a hoax invented by the Chinese.  Exxon, the corporation that Tillerson has been at the Tiller for the last ten years has spent tens of millions of dollars funding fake grass-roots organizations attacking climate science.  Fake scientists have even been  borrowed from the tobacco industry.  These fossil fuel front organizations have been largely funded by Exxon and the Koch brothers, billionaire owners of the largest privately owned oil company in the world.  

Deceptive PR, creating a fake scientific controversy by financing climate skeptics and paying internet trolls to harass and intimidate legitimate climate scientists has been  and continues to be a clandestine oil industry tactic.  

When you think about it, Putin’s Russia and the Big Oil companies are all using similar tactics to pollute the internet and create an atmosphere of chaos and confusion so that they can do their dirty-work out of the public eye.  

Trump’s team will waste no time in jettisoning anything that could possibly impede the oil industry in its triumphant return.  This will include the purging of climate scientists, and ecologists from the EPA, the Department of Energy, NASA, and other government organizations.  This will include eliminating all scientific efforts to measure and track the effects of CO2 emissions.  

Renewables?  I’m sure they can tweak the laws and regulations to put them out of contention and favour the maximum extraction of fossil fuels.  It’s all about getting it out of the ground as fast as possible before the Climate takes over the tiller permanently.  

Make a deal with Putin.  America needs Oil, and Russia has got it.  Oil is more important than freedom, it is more important than Science, it is more important than the Truth, it has the most money behind it and it can do the most good for our economies.  It is worth it to sacrifice Scientific Knowledge, a liveable Climate, and our collective health for bigger and faster cars and more military weapons.   We need to show the rest of the world that we are boss as long as we are able.

This is the sociopathic logic of The Oil Industry.  Money tells us to drill and frack to get more oil, it doesn’t tell us to save the planet.  The job of the Oil Industry is to plunder, rape, and pillage the earth, until everything is stained with its foul and toxic essence.  This is the Power that has taken over half the earth and yearns for the rest.   This is the Oil Power.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Ten Commitments

When life first formed, a little less than four billion years ago, it only formed because it first made the commitment to multiply. This may remind you of a certain book, but unlike the account in the Bible, this form of life we now call Bacteria.  Bacteria and their allies are single celled organisms that multiply by splitting into identical copies of themselves.   

One and a half billion years ago is our next milestone, when plants and animals become separate creatures and both abandon splitting in favour of  commitment to sexual reproduction.  Lets call this the Sexual Reproductive System,later to become - “the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees.”  

 As for us animals, unlike most plants,  we commit to eating Food and this leads to both the Digestive System and the Predator/Prey System
Food is important to this story and we will visit it again when we get to Cooking  But, for now, let’s note that ever since it came into being, the Predator/Prey System is one of the main drivers of evolutionary change.  

Nothing much happens for one and a quarter billion years, and then 250 million years ago smallish creatures that we call the first mammals arrive.  The mothers of these furry little critters stop laying eggs and instead give birth live.  These mothers commit to the care, protection,  and feeding of their infants.  Baby mammals are warm and cuddly and they cry when they are in distress.  Baby snakes and lizards are not so cuddly and they are silent, because nobody is going to protect them once they’re out of the egg.  

The Maternal Caring System  is a very important player in this story as I hope to make apparent to you. Mammal mothers have mammary glands that produce milk.  The hormones that are involved in the release of milk - prolactin and oxytocin are triggered by close physical contact between mother and baby.  These hormones contribute to the sense of pleasure and attachment between babe and mom.  

The close contact, the period of helpless infancy, the attachment bond between mother and child - these are all important, because they will help facilitate development outside the womb, making possible larger brains, greater learning capacity, and more behavioural flexibility than would ever be possible by a creature that comes out of an egg.  

The next commitment that mammals make is to the group.  Growing up and living in a group helps protect individuals from predators, and, just like having a mother, it makes longer infancies and more social learning possible.

65 million years ago a group of mammals called primates committed to living in trees.  Why live in trees?  To get away from predators and to facilitate access to fruits and other goodies.  By living in trees, primates, such as monkeys, evolved better hand-eye coordination compared to other mammals and this will be important when we get  to tools

20 million years ago Apes have evolved from monkeys.  Apes are bigger and stronger than monkeys.  Male apes are noted for being committed to the collective defence of the group against predators like boa constrictors and big cats, and to male outsiders.

About six million years ago our ancestors broke with the trees and committed to standing on their own two feet.  Being primates they had already benefited from improved hand-eye coordination,  so it wasn’t long before they learned to walk long distances, and then to make stone knives, and axes.

Now, you may or may not have noticed that for the last 250 million years, all this time that mothers were caring for their infants, there is little or no evidence of fathers’ commitment to care.   2 million years ago this would all change when the first humans - homo erectus come on the scene.  And here’s why:

Do you remember those maternal hormones that worked so well to create a mother child bond - prolactin and oxytocin?  These are produced in male bodies as well, because males and females share most of the same genetic material.  And you may have noticed that humans don’t have nearly as much body hair as apes.  In fact we look kinda naked beside them.  That’s why we wear clothing. 

 Anyway, my point is that skin-to-skin contact can lead to the release of oxytocin in both males and females and this can facilitate falling in love and pair bonding.  Pair bonding is rare in primates, and doesn’t happen when apes live in groups.  It is usually prevented by the dominant male who will try to monopolize all the females.  

Homo Erectus, our hominin precursors, looked a lot more like us then previous hominins.  It was during their two million year stay on Earth that they were the first to control fire, and the first to walk out of Africa.

Remember those stone tools we talked about.  They were first used for preparing food, just as knives are today.  They were also used as weapons.  And here’s where it gets interesting. We note, that in human history, when better weapons are first developed they sometimes have a powerful effect on social systems. 

 Stone knives  would have had a leveling influence, undermining the rule of the strongest male. They would also have led to social disruption, because now there  would be a continual free fight over women. Previously the dominant male would have controlled this problem, but stone knives may have eliminated his role.

Easy access to knives would have made it a free-for-all until the group as a whole agreed to a system that limited violence and provided stability.  That agreement was the basis for human nature.

 Two million years ago agreements were not about peace, order, and good government.  The agreement had to be simple, it had to be comprehensive, with no exceptions, and it probably had to do with access to females.  Our ancestors had the right hormones to facilitate pair-bonding, but they didn’t have the right social systems until the invention of stone knives forced their hands.

 Because the dominant male kept order,  that function needed to be filled by something else.  That function, of allocating women and resources,and controlling violent behaviour, had to be replaced by a special type of collective commitment.

Today, in almost every human society most men and women live in monogamous relationships, which means that somehow, and I think it was two million years ago, we established  monogamous social systems.  Thus males and females committed to living in and supporting long-term relationships.

Animals do most things from self-interest, or because they are forced to by submission. Humans choose to follow rules that can directly oppose their own self-interest.   This is most obvious in morality.  In morality we have lists of dos and don’ts.  We all internalize these rules and we often judge those who break them harshly. Justifying your behaviour by saying that you acted in your own interest doesn’t cut it morally.  Everyone is on the lookout for people who violate moral rules, and if they are  caught, they are punished.

We all can and do feel judgmental about people who have affairs. We realize that they are doing it out of powerful desires, but judge these people for not constraining their desires. The fact is that if people didn't actively constrain themselves, monogamy would be a joke. The only thing natural about monogamy is that it reflects the pair-bond, the deep mutual attachment that can form when two people fall in love. But the trouble is that, in many cases, love doesn't last, and it can be overridden by new attractions. That's why the group had to come together and make a collective commitment, simultaneously creating the social institution of monogamy and the first moral system. My guess is that initially it was simply an agreement to control violence, and allow for pair-bonding and social stability, and the initiators had no idea of the positive consequences that would ensue.

In a single stroke monogamy would have led to fathers being more assured of the paternity of their children, the inclusion of in-laws, and thus, the effective enlargement of groups, the division of labour between males and females, and the sharing of resources amongst the nuclear family.  In effect, monogamy led to camp fires, cooking, and fatherhood.

At some unknown time, perhaps 100,000 years ago, by increasing social stability and encouraging sharing, monogamy made language, the tenth commitment, possible.

Female mammals committed to maternal care; most mammals committed to living in groups; male baboons and apes committed to collective protection of the group; humans first committed to a monogamous social system and then committed to using language.  The trend in all of these commitments is towards the facilitation of longer childhoods, greater learning flexibility, bigger brains,  and more effective and complex forms of cooperation.  Humans have the longest period of childhood, the greatest ability to learn new things, and are by far the most cooperative.  

Remember the camp fire:  Sharing stories, sharing food, singing songs together, facing the darkness together.  Almost everything we do as humans involves sharing: talking, singing, eating, playing, working, building, caring, and loving.  This is what separates us from the animals.