Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Evolution and politics?

I believe this is the discipline known as evolutionary psychology.

According to evolutionary thinking when our genetic structure was finally composed 40,000 years ago it embedded a number of behavioural imperatives in our psyche and coded the mechanisms through which we respond to basic life necessities. Those impulses and mechanisms can operate against the interests and mores of a highly developed civilisation with its more transient and dispensable political ideas.

It's interesting to watch the nature shows and see how evolutionary imperatives shape the behavior of cats, for example. In the case of lions, when a male takes over a pride, the first thing he does is kill any cubs. Natural selection has favored males that eliminate the competition's offspring and replace them, where possible, with his own.

Seeing this behavior in a lion, it should not astonish us in a house cat.

One of the barriers to the acceptance of evolutionary theory is that we humans are most uncomfortable with the notion that we have anything in common with the rest of nature. It seems the closer science has gotten to an understanding of what makes us tick, the more resistance we put up. Biology is fine and nice. Even evolution is perfectly acceptible. The evidence for common ancestry is so wide-spread through the world of living things that even the creationists have been forced to accept that new species form by evolution. (They divide evolution into "micro" and "macro" evolution, but never spell out where the division is.)

A real hot topic is the notion that our thoughts, our feelings, and our innermost being can be boiled down to chemicals and wiring. It's one thing to see love blossom in mammals with a dose of oxytocin, but the notion that a well-timed shot of the hormone could have the same effect in humans is quite another. The controversy surrounding The Bell Curve is a case in point. If intelligence can be traced to anything physiological, and if physiology depends to any extent on heredity, it follows that intelligence would have an inherited component, and that different groups would have different endowments of the requisite genes. If it's true, though, there are lots of people who don't want to hear it. Intelligence, like insanity, is supposed to be "all in one's head".

The problem is, if evolutionary psychology is real, it has profound policy implications. For example, what does it say about step parents and adoption when:

Consider childcare. It is almost a decade now since the Darwinists demonstrated that non-genetic parents are a hundred times more likely to kill or seriously injure the children in their care. >snip< ...there are stepparents and casual spouses out there who feel aggressive impulses without knowing why. The difficulty of a non-genetic parent making an adequate investment in a non-genetically linked child could require policy responses in areas of adoption and marital and divorce laws.


Current dietary advice is based on research from the past fifty years. The time-frame is myopic. Based on a review of evidence from early examples of the human species, he concludes that our bodies are structured for high fat consumption as well as substantially more exercise than Government guidelines currently recommend. Our wandering ancestors would have prized not the lean meat but the fat on an animal carcass. And about an extra 12 miles walking a day would just about satisfy our evolutionary needs.

Twelve miles? Darn!

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