Problems with Evolutionary Psychology: 01

This post is likely to rankle some readers, because they see that concept as gospel. But then again, I am the Devil’s Advocate. The methodology and concept behind many such “studies” will be attacked in later posts, but let us start with the most obvious problem. Even if we assume that the concept is true, it runs into major problems:

1. Throughout most of human history we lived in groups with sizes between 100 and 2,000. So how can behavior ‘optimized’ for that group size scale upto much larger groups. You may still behave that way, but the consequences will be very different.

2. Most people through most of history had very few personal possessions. How do you factor in the effect of material possessions and opportunities opened by such possessions on human behavior. Feedback loops.

3. Do we really have an accurate understanding of the social milieu, opportunities and constraints that supposedly shaped our behavior. We analyse history and other cultures through our viewpoint, but is that reasonable?

4. Were older societies and tribes as adversarial as ours? While they were just as stupid, vain, cruel and murderous as us, why did they not kill each other more? Lack of technology is not a good explanation, because the numbers involved were also much smaller. Why are primitive cultures generally more hospitable than ours? Why was assimilation more common than outright genocide?

5. Why is it so hard to find sexually deprived men or women in primitive cultures? Why are “losers” not shunned. They may not get the most attractive partners, but it actually takes effort to remain celibate in primitive cultures. Why?

6. Can you really be an arrogant guy in a tribe and not suffer an unfortunate “hunting accident”. Can you screw over others in small groups and not suffer consequences? So why were such men not selected out?

7. Do you actually believe that technologically lacking cultures are stupid or dumb? Could you survive and prosper if you were placed in a bountiful tropical paradise? Ever tried working it out, even mentally..

8. Do factors such as geographical mobility, communications, ability to have a non-subsistence level lifestyle alter the calculations. Is there any similarity between most of human history and the world we live in today?

Maybe the real issue is something else, namely:

People are just trying to use a made up “science” to justify their behavior. It is much easier to kill infidels if your respected priests can come up with a clever sounding justification.

  1. Lee
    January 24, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    You sound like your talking about culture psychology. I think evolutionary psychology goes back further than your looking.
    ___
    In human beings, culture and evolution are interlinked as in no other living species.

    • Lee
      January 24, 2010 at 10:22 pm

      Theres no doubt about that. still, i think evolutionary psychology goes back further than your looking.

  2. Lawful Neutral
    January 24, 2010 at 11:40 pm

    “why did they not kill each other more?”

    They did. And they do. Sure, they can’t muster the same kind of mass slaughter we can manage, but violent death was much more common per capita.
    __________
    Yes, but the balance tended towards cooperation, otherwise human civilization would have never existed. Ever considered that?

  3. January 28, 2010 at 12:22 am

    Regarding, “Why was assimilation more common than outright genocide?”

    Perhaps it is as Conan says in regard to the question “what is best in life”… “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of the women.” (I.e., assimilation.)

    Not… “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and CRUSH THE women.” (I.e., not genocide.)
    ___________
    Hmm.. I have a feeling that you cannot think. Let me explain:

    Consider two possibilities:

    1. You assimilate most of the conquered, so that you have extra men and women on your side. In any case, most of the younger men in the conquered side never liked their old leaders to begin with. You get instant foot soldiers, after bribing them and giving them better positions. You now have potential allies instead of another group to constantly worry about.

    2. You go genocidal on them or try to enslave them. They will fight back very hard, and you will loose far more resources. Plus the ones that got away will never forgive you, and try to get back when you are weak. This is a recipe for disaster! The short term gains are good, but there is no long term.

    It is easier for a conqueror to be magnanimous (Cyrus the Great, Alexander the Great, Douglas MacArthur) than to be blindly genocidal.

  4. January 28, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    Regarding, “Hmm.. I have a feeling that you cannot think. Let me explain:”

    It was meant to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek. (Maybe I should have added a smiley face to make it clear.)

    Although that Conan-style has played itself out before in history before. (For example, the Mongols. Although they did amount of crushing the women too.)

    Not tongue-in-cheek here though, regarding, “[i]t is easier for a conqueror to be magnanimous”. People aren’t always motivated by what’s “easy”. (People aren’t always even objectively rational.) But it does seem to be “better” in terms of stability to be magnanimous. You can see this, say, if you compare the ancient Persians to the ancient Assyrians.


    While people do not always take the easiest path, evolution and time will correct those “mistakes”.

    BTW, the mongols were only barbaric to those who refused their overlordship. They used very selective genocide to terrorize other cities into submission. Hardly irrational..

  5. January 28, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    Regarding, “While people do not always take the easiest path, evolution and time will correct those “mistakes”.”

    A bit nitpicking, but there might be multiple “easy” paths. (I.e., it’s not “THE easiest path” but “A easiest path”).

    Regarding, “BTW, the mongols were only barbaric to those who refused their overlordship. They used very selective genocide to terrorize other cities into submission. Hardly irrational.. ”

    I didn’t mention the Mongols to be an example of irrationality, but an example of genocide.

  6. May 4, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    As has been pointed out, people in the past had few personal possessions. Social bonds were a much stronger form of capital than they are now, the accumulation of resources much weaker. In a society not completely defined by currency or banks, your neighbors are your safety net. Thus, people living in subsistence communities are going to be more egalitarian and magnanimous.
    Cooperation offered a higher payoff. A zero sum approach was not as attractive for the people on top.

    Incentives shape the character of human groups far more decisively than edicts.

    The Mongols butchered cities that refused to surrender. After awhile, cities and empires were reluctant to fight back. Better to be a client state and pay tribute instead. This strategy served the Mongols well because the consequences of failed resistance were so far out of proportion to the relatively mild results of surrender. A panoptic approach allowed a small group of nomads to rule over a continent.
    Even when they slaughtered, the Mongols were careful to preserve the skilled craftsmen and desirable young women. They weren’t stupid.

  7. P Ray
    April 20, 2020 at 3:56 am

    Women want men to stick to the attractive physical and behavioural traits of evolutionary psychology,
    despite the fact that we don’t live in pre-historic times anymore
    AND
    they want to be excused being for not being slim and frigid (only when the guy is not the one she wants, but she will excuse it by saying “I am not a sexual person”)

  1. August 24, 2013 at 2:56 pm

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