I haven’t updated the Hard-wired blog series for a long time. That’s partly because I’ve been busy doing other things, partly because I’ve been learning more about the subject of evolutionary psychology and partly because I’m actually a little reluctant to put what I’ve been learning ‘out there’ in an easily accessible blog.
That’s because I know what might happen. I may well find myself under attack from a range of ideological groups (some radical, some not) who may well react defensively to the insights I’ve learned over the last year or so. Ironically I even understand more fully than before why that might happen in evolutionary terms – not that such insight will make the attacks, should they happen, any easier to deal with.
Nevertheless – the series really can’t progress without some understanding of these basic principles of universal human nature and the less than pleasant realities of many of societies most treasured institutions and ideological assumptions. So I’m going to rely upon the relative lack of comments that my blog usually attracts (or indeed doesn’t attract) and press on anyway. Who knows – I might just get away with it!
In any event I’m about to attack many of the underlying principles of morality, social organisation, the judiciary, political systems, religion and the family unit. Don’t expect it to be pretty. It will, however be sincere.
The universal emotion
Much of our ‘morality’, our sense of right and wrong is driven by emotions. Emotions are the sticks that natural selection used to drive us to take particular courses of action in particular circumstances. And those behaviours won out in the natural selection ‘race’ because they increase reproductive fitness. That’s it. That’s all natural selection ever responds to. The greater your genes’ chances of reproducing, the greater will be those same genes’ chances of being selected in the ongoing process of evolution. That’s why all humans experience the same set of emotions – they’re universal because they’re hard-wired. Indeed they’re so hard-wired that most people never even consider the possibility that they might have been different.
We’re all familiar with frustration, guilt, anger, sadness, anxiety and the many incremental emotions leading directly to sexual intercourse from simple lust and the urge to possess to more complex feelings of love, protective urges and jealousy. We all know and understand these emotions because we have all experienced them – and we know that other humans experience them too. What we rarely consider is the idea that there might be other emotions that we don’t experience but that others do.
Of course there aren’t any variations here. Human animals experience the same emotions across all races or cultures. Even the occasional aberration (sociopaths for example) remain the same from race to race and culture to culture. For emotions to be different from what they are is unthinkable. That’s because they’re genetically determined – they evolved in our DNA and they have been as they are for a very long time indeed. And they exist not to help society as a whole, nor are our emotions (and the behaviours they prompt) there to ensure the survival of other people or animals, although that may well be their immediate effect. Our emotions evolved purely to help increase out reproductive fitness. That is all.
Have you ever stopped to wonder why you feel empathy or sympathy, for example? Have you ever asked yourself what feelings of guilt are for or why guiltiness increases when the likelihood of discovery also goes up? What is the purpose of sadness or depression and why is it a good thing to be paralysed with fear like the stereotypical ‘lamped rabbit’?
Why do we feel moral indignation and what’s the purpose of gossip? For that matter why on earth would hostility be more common when there’s an audience to witness it? And why do humans get so wound up about ‘the principle of the thing’ when they feel slighted?
Perhaps more significantly, why is it that extremist ‘street movements’ like the far right ‘English defence League’ and ‘Britain First’ draw so much of their support from single young men who seem to have such limited ‘reproductive potential’? Why are some young women attracted to promiscuity and polygamy whilst others hold out for lifelong commitment with a single man instead?
For that matter why is that lifelong commitment so hard to maintain? What’s the real cause of the ‘7 year itch’ and why can’t we believe even our own protestations of undying love? To put it another way – have human beings more in common with Gibbons or with Bonoboes?
If you’re interested in the answers to these and other questions then read on – but prepare to be offended. This is far from a politically correct blog series but it will be a sincere (and I hope scientifically sound) one.
Filed under: Evolution, Hard wired | Tagged: behaviour, emotion, evolution, evolutionary psychology, moral, morality, natural selection, psychology, self serving | 2 Comments »