A year ago, I took an evolutionary psychology course at Arizona State University — in part because I was interested in the topic and in part because it seemed like a course that would be scientific enough not be corrupted by political ideology. As it turned out, however, political ideology was (is) capable of corrupting any course, topic, or domain, so my efforts at avoiding it were futile.
My professor was a subscriber to and proponent of left-wing identity politics, a fact that I learned immediately simply by listening to her speak. She used words and phrases such as “gender identity” and “lived experience” — telltale signs of ideological possession, especially given their irrelevance in the context of an evolutionary psychology course. For example, on the first day of the course, we students were each given a three-by-five notecard and asked to write on it our name and a question. Our name, however, was not to be our given name (per se) rather that which we “preferred to be called,” and the question was to be that which we sought to answer by taking the course. I found the language of the first part to be, in my case, fitting for the second, as the question I decided then that I would seek to answer was, “Why do humans insist on being validated?”
What follows are attempts at answering this question — not outright, but with abstractions and through the lens of evolutionary psychology. One of our assignments in the course was to record observations of the world in a diary, similar to the diaries of Charles Darwin, and connect the observations to course concepts. I used this assignment as an opportunity to explore thoughts and ideas related to my question, recording observations of humans seeking validation, explicitly or implicitly. I should tell you now, though, that I was never able to answer the question; I started losing points for my entries and thus had to switch to trivial topics to preserve a decent grade in the course. My professor appreciated that I was “thinking deeply” about course concepts, but she dismissed my observations as irrelevant to the assignment; she was looking for straightforward observations, such as “siblings fighting over how to share a dessert at a restaurant,” demonstrating genetic conflict theory, or “cooperation at a campsite,” demonstrating fitness interdependence. Nevertheless, the first five entries that I managed to write were promising, and I hope you find them interesting and useful.
Disclaimer: The following writings are diary entries — meaning, the words constitute thoughts, not assertions. For my thinking to be effective, I make no requirement that my words be correct, only that they be true. Thus, although I can and will defend my thinking in these entries, I make no claims about the correctness of my thoughts; they’re just thoughts. Cool?
Cooperation — Monday, September 9, 2019
I am amazed (albeit not surprised) by the degree to which students consider the world and their experience in it to be socially constructed — especially in an evolutionary psychology course. Take these two examples from our first week of classes:
- “Menopause is a social construct.”
- “Intelligence is a social construct.”
Worse, however, than these silly conjectures is the structure that enables, encourages, and supports them — the one in which bad ideas like these are validated by default in the absence of refutal — for such a structure must be built, not on cooperation, rather compliance masquerading as such.
Entropy — Friday, September 13, 2019
It is fashionable now to declare life, or Being, as meaningless. But we must recognize that those who do so simply have yet to discover meaning in their lives, for why else would they make such a declaration? That things end is not an indication of their meaninglessness or irrelevance; endings are precisely that which give value to beginnings. How else would we know the joy of hello if we did not also know the misery of goodbye? The two act as bookends to all that lies between — indeed, to all that is meaningful.
That the universe may end does not necessarily mean that the universe never should have been. Although it is true that the pleasure of life does not always justify the pain of such, is it not better to have lived and died than it is never to have known the world? Perhaps the answer to this question depends on the life (and the world). Barring extreme cases, though, it appears that it is in fact better, for that which one receives in exchange for knowing the world is not merely the pain of experience but also experience itself — indeed, the experience of having lived. And why else would dying be a problem if not because living mattered?
What do we care that what is may not always be? What do we care that the universe may expand, freeze, and disappear? What do we care that the lights may go out? Such are indicators of meaning — cosmic declarations that things, though they no longer are, once were.
Fitness — Wednesday, September 18, 2019
On the topic of child-rearing today, our professor mentioned how, although humans throughout history have participated in infanticide, our society today is disapproving of such behavior. In response, a student raised his hand and said, “No we’re not: abortion.” And of course the class went nuts. And our professor said, “Let’s have this discussion without being political.” And I said, “I don’t think that’s political; I think that’s perfectly valid.” And many students scoffed or rolled their eyes. And then our professor began a speech about how “we’re going to address difficult subjects in this class, and if ever you need to talk about them, please come see me; I’m happy to help, or there are many resources available to you through the university.”
There were a number of problems with this interaction. The first was our professor’s failure (or unwillingness) to recognize the student’s argument as anthropological. The second was the notion that students can be traumatized by facts and ideas — by hurt feelings and self-induced offense. (Sidenote: on Monday, we spent the class period discussing apocalypses — nuclear destruction, horrific diseases, the heat death of the universe, etc. — without invitations to recourse, and everybody was fine.) And the third — and worst of all — was the belief that protecting students from such facts, ideas, hurt feelings, and offense does them any favors; it doesn’t. In fact, it impairs them; it makes them ignorant and weak, and afraid of the world as a consequence.
How is this useful? The relevance of this interaction to evolutionary psychology is, to me, self-evident. And that it occurred during a discussion on child-rearing is, to say the least, ironic. Such thinking places emphasis on survival, sure, but it fails to consider that both humans and genes require more than mere survival to maintain life; we also require thriving. But sheltering humans from the world is not conducive to thriving; it is conducive to suffering, misery, and death, for how can anyone move about a world they refuse to enter? Indeed, what fitness is preserved in protecting such people is lost in assailing them with fear; what virtue is gained in enabling them to survive is lost in disabling them from living.
Sex — Monday, September 30, 2019
Our topic of discussion in class today was sex in humans. We spent the majority of the discussion, however (and of course), talking about intersex conditions in humans. What follows is thinking on this topic.
Intersex is a condition — both one physical and one human. It is not rational to regard the condition as a sex itself, as, by its own nature, it is not one sex or the other or both or neither; it is as its name describes: between. Such a condition (in all of its forms) is a consequence of the frailty of nature, not nature’s design. Normalizing abnormalities erases the notion of abnormalities such that all things become normal, thus erasing normal things. It is of no use to the mad to label them sane, nor to the ill to label them whole, for how will they ever be so? (This is a comparison, not a conflation.) Nobody makes rules based on outliers and exceptions; doing so leaves too much room for manipulation, and you may as well have anarchy.
Selfishness — Wednesday, October 9, 2019
The ability to predict and plan for the future is necessary for human survival. To genes, however, there exists only the present — which is to say that our genes need us as much as we need them, for how could they survive to replicate without inhabiting something capable of surviving? And how could we survive without being predisposed to do so?
The trouble, however, is that the gene is absolutely selfish, which selfishness is a consequence of the gene’s condition: the gene is blind, aware of only itself, and independent in its functioning. The human, in contrast, is sighted, aware of the world (including the gene), and dependent in its functioning. This means, fundamentally, that the gene will forever defect, whereas the human must learn to cooperate.
But what happens when the human begins to behave like the gene? Surely, it is the conflict between the human and the gene — and the balance that this conflict yields — that enables both of them to survive. But what happens when this balance tilts? What happens when the human, behaving like the gene, becomes blind, aware of only itself, and absolutely selfish as a consequence? In such a context, is it so irrational to predict and plan for a future of conflict? For what else could a blind, absolutely selfish mode of being produce if not widespread, absolute, at-all-costs defection?