Inherited Behaviors in Evolutionarily Novel Environments: The Fixity of Human Social Structure and the Flexibility of Its Manifestations

January 28, 2012

I will not lie; exhaustion dims the light in the margins of my field of vision and makes my body heavy. Under other circumstances, I might have a great deal of commentary to present in conjunction with this writing. But, after a lifetime of vehemently priding myself on having no formal academic structure in my life, after scoffing for 33 years at the notion of paying for someone to tell me to read a book I would just read anyway, I have begun college courses. This, in conjunction with my existing schedule, leaves little time, and my inclination is thus to simply publish this now, exhausted or not.

The one thing that I want to say about it is that it was initially born out of a completely unrelated impulse; it is the product of an extensive program of research I began slightly over a year ago on the behavioral effects of domestication in nonhuman animal species, with the intention of comparing them to the behavior of civilized, as opposed to hunter-gatherer, peoples. My general assumption was that I would be able to find a clear-cut pattern of similar and widespread behavioral pathology in civilized humans and domestic animals. I am not even certain that I am ready to say this is not the case; most assuredly, domestic animals and civilized humans behave in ways that could be reasonably classified as pathological. However, the results of methodical inquiry began to form a picture that was too complex to really adhere in a meaningful manner to my broader ideological framework.

I feel this point is important to make because I do not think what I did occurs as often as it should. My convictions were not entirely, or even largely, born out of methodical observation. They were born out of intuition and my own emotional inclinations; a paradigm condemning civilization is amenable to many aspects of my personal psychology, which is so terminally at odds with much of the group behavior I am exposed to and which finds an acre of forest to be infinitely more valuable than entire cities I have visited and even lived in. If I had chosen to, I strongly suspect I could have taken all this research, which so frequently contradicted my assumptions, and fastidiously toiled away on shaping pieces of information into some kind of supporting basis for the arguments I started out with. But I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in doing such a thing. I sincerely doubt there is really anything as important to bettering our world than contributing to an understanding of it, and we live in far too critical an era not to make as valiant an effort as possible in this direction, even if it involves discarding notions we value.

In any case, at some point I stopped reading exclusively about domestic animals and started looking into the broader matter of how behavior is generated by a structured cognitive architecture interacting with a given environment. Thus, after much reading, most of which is not cited in the present work, I found myself writing a paper called Inherited Behaviors in Evolutionarily Novel Environments. It advocates nothing more than the furtherance of knowledge. With respect to any of the subjects it discusses, I do not claim to be offering anything comprehensive, nor anything totally novel. However, I am convinced that if I stumbled on this writing a year ago, I would have considered it valuable, and so, hopefully, someone else will as well.

Here is my one paragraph summary:

This paper is an overview of some of the key elements of evolutionary psychology. It is particularly focused on the theme of innate behavioral protocols, shaped by natural selection, responding to the recent innovation of modern human society. It also discusses the greater behavioral rigidity animals exhibit interacting with other members of their own species than they do in interacting with the external environment at large, and how this is reflected in familiar social structures emerging in different human groups living in vastly different relations to their environment. Finally, it discusses the manner in which the existence of innate behavioral tendencies has been a subject of controversy. While acknowledging an inherited basis to phenomena like war or rape is disheartening, the very fact that we find such things so disturbing must also have some inextricable role in the psychological structure natural selection has created, and this should be a basis for hope about the human condition. Ultimately, there is no meaningful way we could even define anything as universally adverse or unacceptable if we did not all share a highly structured, evolved perceptual framework about how the world works and what is desirable within it.

I decided that 22,000 words would be somewhat ponderous for HTML viewing, and so am presenting this file as a PDF:

Inherited Behaviors in Evolutionarily Novel Environments

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