Friday, November 17, 2006

Evolutionary Psychology

Evolutionary psychologists speak of survival strategies of individuals being bound up in the survival strategies of the group. Over hundreds of generations of hunter-gatherers, belonging to a group that survives to pass on its genes is worth more than being a person able to obtain resources within the group. While both are ultimately necessary, it is thought to be better to be any member of a high-resource clan than the most powerful member of a low-resource clan.

Parallel to this are the social strategies that keep the individual from being excluded from the group. The group has necessary resources.

The Rules, then would be:
1. Promote tribe survival
2. Don’t get kicked out of the tribe
3. Get resources from the tribe. (Resources meaning food, mates, child protection.)

Is it true? Let's ignore that for the moment. If you believe in a telescoping or time-compression Genesis, there's no reason it couldn't be. (Quick summary: Bible narrative is in real time, with exceptions, back to Genesis 14; Genesis 4-14, time is 10x; Genesis 2-3, time is 100x; Genesis 1, time is 1,000,000x)

It’s one way to look at human behavior, and does seem to explain some near-universal values. Plus, it’s just fun to think about, imagining your wily ancestors outwitting all the other poor schmoes whose Bright Ideas didn’t lead to grandchildren (Note: gene-survival requires not just offspring, but offspring that grow to maturity). Interestingly, males tend to focus imagination on the strategies of their male ancestors, females on their female ancestors, though less exclusively so. Perhaps we are hoping for some intuitive advice about our own lives when we imagine such things.

Part of the fun in this way of looking at the world is to disparage the survival strategies which brought us to this point. They were successful in hunter-gatherer societies with precarious resources, but create problems now because we have different economic and social organization. This POV also provides convenient explanations for sins and rules against them: adultery, thievery, assault, lying – these can all be explained as good strategies for individuals that tend to be bad for the tribe, and so are punished. We keep these strategies, but keep them under control.

Thus, getting all the guys in C Building at Lakeview Apartments and raiding one of the buildings over at Elmwood Estates for cattle and wives (while the guys in B Building protect our stash of cattle and wives) is what we are bred for, but is now officially discouraged, because it screws up people’s leases and deposit refunds. With all this in mind, let’s look at political events in America, and describe them in terms of tribal survival.

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