Sunday, August 14, 2011

Mismatched - From African Savannah to Concrete Jungle

 We're cavemen living in suburbia.  Time and technology have changed, but we're still left with a brain designed for life in an extinct past.  Times changed, but we've remained the same.  So, what exactly has changed?  Where are we the most mismatched?  Where do our weaknesses lie?

  • Monogamy/Polygamy
    • Why is it that if men supposedly rule the world that polygamy is nearly completely eradicated in the world?  Seriously!!  This is a great question!  If for the complete history of humanity we've been polygamist why is that now we've chosen to reject it?  Well, author Robert Wright says that it might be the first evidence of the the democratization of the world and that it wasn't women that fought for monogamy, it was the men.  Here's why: women in a polygamist society are better off--all the women get a mate and the mates are typically all high quality (that's how they get more than one woman).  The men on the other hand don't have equal results--some men get a lot of women and some men get none.   There came a time in history, though, where the lower class men wouldn't take not having a  woman.  Through coalition these lower class men could oust the women-hogging upper class men.  It is possible that one woman per man was the first inalienable right (for men).
  • In-Group/Out-Group or Tribalism
    • "It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. Did you ever stop to think that you can't leave for your job in the morning without being dependent on most of the world? You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach over for the sponge, and that's handed to you by a Pacific islander. You reach for a bar of soap, and that's given to you at the hands of a Frenchman. And then you go into the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning, and that's poured into your cup by a South American. And maybe you want tea: that's poured into your cup by a Chinese. Or maybe you're desirous of having cocoa for breakfast, and that's poured into your cup by a West African. And then you reach over for your toast, and that's given to you at the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. And before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you've depended on more than half of the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren't going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality." Martin Luther King 
    • There was a time that it paid to mistrust your neighbor.  40% of neanderthal skulls found have signs of being bashed in by blunt trauma suffered by their fellow man.  In that reality evolution built in to us a mistrust of outsiders and a loyalty to the group.  As MLK so well put above, though, the days when that was acceptable have long passed.  Trade and interdependence are the essential characteristic of today's life.  This evolved mistrust, however, is the reason of so much of the bigotry, racism,  and nationalism that plague our world.  How much blood has been spilled because we can't learn to trust each other because several hundred thousand years ago it paid to not trust each other?  It makes my heart break...
    • Could be that the invention of 'evil' comes from this source--mentally label people in such a way that you can justify killing/mistrusting them.
  • Technology
    • I have only a couple of pet peeves (I like to think I'm pretty chilax).  One is getting lost.  I go bazonkers.  Another is technology that isn't doing what I want it to.  Recently I was down a lap top and had to use a back up 12 year old lap top.  There were times when I wanted to beat the thing into a fine powder it was so slow.  And who hasn't hit a piece of technology (Car?  Computer?  Jammed printer?) at some point?  Why do we do that?  Because we're evolved to work with volitional agents that respond to power, threat or pain.  Technology doesn't--another example of being mismatched.
    • Speaking of which, I think one of the sources of a lot of our conflict is lack of face time.  Throughout our evolutionary history we've fought and made up face to face.  Now email, enclosed cars, phones, etc obscure a vital means of 'humanizing' people--seeing the facial expressions of another person.   I've noticed this in my self when I'm furious with road rage at someone in front of me in traffic.  I'll speed around them and finally be able to see their face, I immediately calm down and suddenly find other explanations for their driving foibles other than their pure evil nature.
  • Emotions
    • We're evolved to survive and reproduce, not be fulfilled and happy.  Much of our paranoia, mania, insecurities, complexes, anger management issues, depression and emotional irrationality is now quite counter productive.  But, we're stuck with expired phenotypes.
  • Agency
    • We're evolved to process enormous amounts of data to compile heuristic and predictive explanations of why people do the things they do--agency, personality, soul, spirit.  To navigate the social realm with any modicum of success we must do this.  We also do it with other realms--we infuse humans, things, technology, objects, the universe with personality, volition, agency, a soul.  Not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, but it is a relic of evolutionary history.
  • Single Motherhood/Gone Are the Villages
    • One in four kids in America is raised by a single mother (and 72% of black kids).  While something similar might have happened in our evolutionary past, yesteryear we undoubtedly had something we largely lack today--strong networks of cooperative women, villages.  It may be that there have always been dead beat dads, but coalitions of women--cousins, aunts, sisters, mothers--would raise children together.  The villages are all but gone.  Single mothers are the "widows and orphans" spoken of in scripture that we ought to support and care for. 
  • Food
    • It used to pay to pig out on fat, salt, sugar and carbs.  Now, not-so-much.
  • Drugs
    • Hallucinogens coopt a system not evolved for them.   We aren't evolved to know how to moderate ourselves to their power and excess and addiction often ensue.
  • Porn
    • It's kind of funny to think about.  Why should a picture arouse someone?  You can't exactly reproduce with a photo.
  • "We find genocide boring."--Sam Harris
    • Clearly we're not evolved to think of millions and billions of lives.  We're evolved to care about a small hand full of genetically related individuals.  The fact that we can yawn at the suffering, plight and death of millions, but crave news on celebrities is a testament to this fact.
  • Money
    • We just don't know how to use the stuff.   We don't know how to save, to spend, to give, to make it.  So many simple studies show this--we'll take a pay out now over a higher yield later (in our evo. past there's no point in saving if you starve to death) and we fear loss more than we like good prospects (better to keep what you have than risk it).
  • Short Term vs. Long Term
    • There were times in our evolutionary past that it paid to screw people over in the short term--rape, theft, lying, etc.  It's our goal to create a society where that doesn't pay, but the programming is still there.
  • Who are the people that we ought to focus more effort on caring for since our evolutionary programming doesn't facilitate that?  For example, we're programmed to care for kids, relatives, close friends, etc., but who are those that we're morally obliged to, but we often don't have that emotional spur to care for?
      • The elderly
      • Those different from us
      • Those distant from us
      • Those not well known by us
      • Nonrelatives

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