When are people going to come up to speed on evolutionary psychology? Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene was first published in 1976! Yet people just ignore the whole idea that our behaviour is driven by the overriding aim of passing on our own genes and the expense of our next door neighbours’ genes. We (taking the male point of view) do not fight the communists or the capitalists to further the interests of democracy or equality (respectively) but to jump on a bandwagon that we instinctively feel that will provide us with the aura of the hero, high social status at a (hopefully) young age, and thereby into bed with the most beautiful women.
My point is illustrated by Rory Stewart’s documentary on Afghanistan. In Afghanistan the Great Game (Part II) he says he cannot imagine how Charlie Wilson, a US official who funded the Mujaheddin in their fight against the occupying Russian army, could think that Afghanistan was like Gettysburg or that Afghanistan ‘threatened the very survival of the United States’ (Stewart’s words). Wilson might have liked those ideas as a way of furthering his own interests, but the driving force behind his mission to fund the Afghans was not to avenge the Americans’ loss in Vietnam — where the Soviets funded the Communists that drove the Americans out — or those other ‘big picture’ items, but to get into bed with Texan socialite Joanne Herring, whose campaign it was. Indeed, Stewart points out that this was the case (illustrated by the movie Charlie Wilson’s War, apparently) yet he then reverts to puzzling over the ideas of capitalism versus Communism or one religion versus another as the cause of war.
Wars, just like every construction of mankind, deliberate or accidental, result from our instinct to compete with the guy next door in attracting women, so that we pass on more of our genes than do our competitors. Our competitors for women are not Afghan or VietCong fighters, but other males in our circle.
However, old men make wars while young men fight in them. The ‘old men’, naturally, use a different route to genetic success, typically positioning their offspring in government or industrial positions likely to profit monetarily from the war effort. (If you cannot be a hero, at least you can be rich.)
Note: If we can prevent the guy next door from passing on his genes, that is almost as good! Biopolitics…
Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes, we must go to war. You cannot just stand by while an industrial society routinely sends people to be executed on spurious racial or ethnic grounds, like the Nazis that were voted into power by the poorly educated and semi-literate provincial people of rural Germany in the 1930s. That argument has no impact on similar people here in Britain, I know. They just shrug. Who cares what happens to other people? That is why offering them genetic rewards for fighting was the only way, in 1939, of getting them to fight. The British government (via newspapers and radio) kept silent about the massacring of the Jews because making such information public would have made the common man in Britain less inclined to fight the Nazis.
In the early 1980s, Helen Fisher brought to readers of popular science a unique view of behavior that combined brain biology and evolutionary pressures. (I felt then and I still feel that she sometimes gives too much causal weight to the former. Brain biology is just a mechanism for generating behavior forged by our selfish genes.) See the link farther down.
Despite Fisher’s research spanning many societies world wide, she fails to mention that it does not apply to provincial self-styled ‘working class’ types, who simply do not have the emotions on which her research focuses. Being largely unconscious and without any individual drives (they are psychopaths like the replicants in Blade Runner) they breed just to conform. As Fisher implies, the agricultural revolution, which as far as we know caused them to come into being as a human sub-species, was the greatest disaster to ever afflict humanity. If we can somehow set up a convention that such people are not expected to reproduce, that conformist pressure might help eradicate them from the gene pool. Ironically, spokespeople for ‘the working class movement’ in Britain in the early 1970s demanded free contraception to limit their own reproduction. Clearly, they do not mind being excluded from the future of humanity. (That is possibly because they have no such concepts.) Their instinct is only to conform. They don’t care what they conform to. Machine-gunning Jews, Muslims, and gypsies, drinking beer and watching football — soccer — on the telly, it’s all the same to them.
Maybe there is a less drastic way out of the genetic mess we are in than the one I envisage, but without them (that is, without those genetic traits, which will be difficult to separate out because we are unfortunately genetically mixed together nowadays) we can then resume humanity’s progression towards becoming a race of proverbial brave men and beautiful women living in similarly proverbial sunny uplands. Why else are we here?
Blank slate syndrome: a critique of an evolutionary psychology talk by Johan Nayar
Why we love, why we cheat | Helen Fisher TED talk on YouTube