I caught a clip of a Joe Rogan podcast with evolutionary biologist Bret Weinstein on Youtube, recently, where Weinstein went into the underpinnings of “beautiful” vs “hot” from an instinctual/genetic coding basis. Weinstein went on to detail male reproductive strategies. Excluding force (i.e. rape), there are two:

The first caters to the needs of human babies (which take years to reach an age of survivability/self-reliance), and the evolutionary instincts that women have developed to ensure their survival during pregnancy and child-rearing, and the survival of those babies, and thus prompts male behaviors that show women they are worthy mates.

The second is a “hit-and-run” strategy, where a male attempts to mate with as many women as possible without committing to caring for those women and their children until the children are old enough to survive (and pass on his genetic code).

The latter is, as Weinstein put it, the “genetic lottery,” if it can be accomplished. Evolution is ultimately about propagating genetic code forward, and the most successful strategies are those which are relatively more likely to produce offspring that survive to adulthood. Millennia of evolution have instilled in men the predilection to seeing to a mate and offspring, because without that protecting and nurturing, the chances of genetic success are reduced. The hit-and-run or scattergun strategy is one that relies on numbers and on a version of the brood parasite strategy exhibited by cuckoos and some other birds, where eggs are snuck into another bird’s nest so that bird raises the parasite’s hatchlings.

Evolutionarily, the hit-and-run strategy offers some degree of success, but since it’s a parasitic strategy, many (most?) societies have developed countervailing cultural norms to discourage it. Religions demand and stress marriage, whether it be monogamous or polygamous, which contractually obligates a male to his mate(s), and also discourage pre-marital or extra-marital sex, to reduce the risk of women left alone to raise children. Societies typically also obligate men, often via force of law, to care for their offspring, further discouraging a hit-and-run strategy.

Our biological imperatives and the fact that it is women who bear and nurse babies (simple biological facts, only recently ameliorated by technology e.g. the development of baby formula) are certainly factors in the near ubiquity of paternalistic/male-dominated societies throughout most of history. Technology (e.g. modern medicine, e.g. The Pill) and wealth (i.e. the rise out of subsistence living) have been huge liberators of women from their traditional roles and encumbrances, and have given them a lot more power over their genetic propagation. Unfortunately, that power has also mitigated the natural pressure on men to conform to the first reproductive strategy i.e. monogamy and protection of mate/children.

This is manageable, because women can choose to manage it. Despite the caterwauling of some progressives, birth control is cheap, easy, and freely available (and would be even cheaper and more freely available if it were made over-the-counter instead of requiring a prescription), and women who don’t manage their fertility risk being left to raise a child alone. But, even managed, it remains that the evolutionary pressure that favors monogamy is reduced.

More problematic is the “safety net” societies have created for poor mothers. This offsets the penalties for evolutionarily reckless behavior by those mothers, i.e. putting less priority on whether a mate will stick around and be a protector/provider. If the State will defray the cost of raising a child (babies are expensive, in money, in time, in opportunity cost, and in other ways), a mother doesn’t need to be as discriminating in her mating choices, or as careful in her use of birth control. This, in turn, both mitigates the pressure to pursue the first reproductive strategy and incentivizes the second.

In other words, by helping poor mothers as we currently do, we risk undoing the instincts that we’ve developed over tens of thousands of years of human evolution.

So what? A wealthy society should be able to rise above base biological programming, and it can afford to be less callous than evolution itself is. But, societies don’t have infinite wealth. Moreso, the wealth they have was created in no small part because of the genetic programming that favors and rewards the first reproductive strategy.

Human societies grew out of the basic tribal form that ensured greater chance of survival, and therefore of genetic propagation. Those tribes looked after their own – whether it be widowed mothers or orphaned children. Family structures did and do the same. Where things start to break down is when societies get big. Humans aren’t wired to feel affinity to very large groups, with one researcher suggesting the upper limit is as low as 150 at the individual level and 2500 at the tribal level. It’s not hard to see that our societies of tens of millions of members sort, organize, and differentiate themselves rather than embrace a monolithic nature, and when we lose a sense of tribal affinity to the whole, it’s easier for us to seize the opportunity to offload our burdens on “others,” i.e. those not of our tribe, even if they’re members of our society. Tribes of “natural” size can keep up the pressure on members to behave in a way that’s best for the tribe, including adherence to the first reproductive behavior. When they get too big, brood parasite behavior, where the host is the nation itself, is far more likely to succeed.

We find the same problem in the broader context, and it’s most obvious in societies that have attempted collectivism in its various forms. It’s the tragedy of the commons, the free-rider problem, and various other difficulties associated with socialistic governance. All these problems are far more likely to get worse, no matter how hard (and, more to the point, because) we try to offset some of the hard realities of evolution with broad governmental actions, mandates, and safety nets.

What’s the solution, then? Obviously, we are not going to return to the relative savagery of pre-civilizational tribes, nor to the cold heartlessness of evolution and Darwinian selection. We’re better than that, and human success fosters and enables human compassion.

The answer lies in size and proximity. It should come as no surprise that private charities are more efficient than public welfare, and it should also come as no surprise that charities that have the closest connection to their charges (and less in the way of elite management) are more able to discern who needs help from who is looking to exploit largesse. Moreso, each of us is, as an individual, perfectly capable of deciding who and how to help, either via secular charities, religious organizations, or directly. Offloading the problem onto government is itself akin to brood-parasite behavior. It’s not charity when you give away someone else’s money, and you’re far less likely to care about it being used effectively when it’s not money you earned yourself.

Human evolution typically happens on much larger time scales than we can individually witness in our threescore and ten years on this Earth, but I fear that we are rapidly accelerating a departure from behaviors and instincts that took millennia to form. Two evolutionary behaviors are in competition. The first one makes for a better society, but the second one is easier. If we artificially shift the odds of evolutionary success from the first to the second, we incentivize the second and undermine the first. While any individual may have the strength of will to resist engaging in anti-social behaviors such as hit-and-run procreation, tragedy-of-the-commons, and free-ride, the fact that all these are enabled by what we mistakenly think is “help,” that is to say, support for big-government safety nets, means that they’re going to continue to happen.

Unless we wake up to the damage we’re doing, and stop incentivizing devolution.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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