In 2000, Randy Thornhill, an evolutionary biologist, co-authored a book called “A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion.” Needless to say, an academic- and activist-fueled storm was unleashed, and the theory was soon discredited by respected biologists, psychologists, anthropologists, who pretty quickly found that in fact, the evolutionary costs of committing rape far exceed any possible evolutionary benefits.
Yet, we hold onto rape. I mean, clearly, despite what popular mythology tells us about rapists being rare and marginal members of society, we, as a collective, hold onto rape. Anyone can tell we hold onto it because it happens all the time, all over the world. So does hunting. We hold onto hunting. We hold onto ownership of land and people. We hold onto clannishness, proudly proclaiming family first, neighborhood first, state first, country first, race first. We hold onto our alienation from the rest of the planet’s creatures, doing everything possible to avoid connecting with LIFE. And we hold onto these things NOT because of a few vocal, conservative biologists, evolutionary psychologists, and religious nuts but because, in fact, they are who we are.
Really? Could that be true?
Let’s take a moment to entertain the possibility that the evolutionarists are correct, although in quite a different form than they think. After all, homo sapiens sapiens — the ones we are — most likely genocided the Neanderthal (one of the most peaceful hominids to exist; hominids with culture, language, and art). We invented mining (and metal tools and weapons) pretty quickly. We developed more systematic forms of hunting prey, forms which gave us an “unnatural” advantage over everyone else. Soon after (or concurrently, depending upon which version you read), finding that too much trouble, we “domesticated” animals, and developed systems of land ownership. Shall I go on? And which of these are we not still doing today, and worse, all over the planet?
So possibly these things ARE evolutionary. We DO seek to destroy, to conquer, and to own, and it might well be the case that this seeking is built into our genetics. This would mean that what we hold onto — what we claim the right to do with fervency and ardor, in everything from factory farming to enslaving women — is not, as more left-leaning progressive folks would claim, done only by a particularly regressive faction of humans (read: “that clan of bad people”), but in fact by most of us, in one form or another, hidden under protective stories that give a convincing narrative claiming that really, we are not like this at all.
We are holding onto ourselves. And it’s time to let go.
Let’s stop valorizing Mozart or Alice Walker as a way to deny the fact that as a species we are genetically corrupt. Let’s stop pretending that a few good examples of the “generosity of humans” prove that we, as a whole, do not do our best to ensure that most of its creatures (including ourselves) lead tormented lives. Let’s stop congratulating ourselves for being something we’re not and accept the reality that we are a flawed version of hominids who, thanks to our destructive nature, has basically owned the planet for 10,000 years and run it into the ground in that short amount of time.
But what next? What can be done about it? Surely, the danger in thinking this way is a slide into serious hedonism? a narcissistic embrace of what we are, at base? Could we not then justify and explain all sorts of heinous behaviors, from eating flesh to raping women and children, by saying it is simply who we are — surely this would be the result of accepting that so many of our behaviors are, in fact, evolutionary?
Well, if that’s the case, we’d be looking at status quo. Humans, with few exceptions, are going to continue to do these things in full ignorance of what a few random whackjobs like myself have to say about their behaviors. And not to get personal, but if you know me, you know that I’m big on personal accountability: the older I get, the more I don’t give a shit about intentions or explanations, just the actions that follow or precede them. In other words, I’m not giving carte blanche to assholes.
What I AM saying is just that, in fact. That we may have all sorts of evolutionarily-endowed drives and urges, but we don’t have to give into them. Of course most of us aren’t strong enough to resist them. But those of us who are must continue to do so, and must continue to find other people who are similarly strong enough to overcome our genetic heritage, forming as large a force as possible to resist those who are cannot, or will not, do so.
If it really is true, as I believe, that humans are evolutionarily “programmed” to be horrible people, then we can, and must, hold the line until we are eased off the evolutionary stage and either replaced by a better model or not at all.
We can avoid flesh, eggs, milk, and all other animal-derived products if we want to. We can avoid fossil fuels if we want to, far more than we do now. We can limit or eliminate our use of plastics. We can avoid breeding, because the sooner a new hominid appears on the scene to replace us, the better. There’s lots we can do.
Lately I’m also been entertaining the thought that possibly, working to achieve so-called higher states of consciousness — in a purely non-deified form — is also something we can do to help usher in a new hominid: one who doesn’t have to fight her genetics just to to live properly, in harmony, without devouring tendencies aimed at the rest of the world. But I’m still in the very beginning stages of these thoughts, in completely uneducated form, and so I have nothing of real import to say on the matter.
Possibly most importantly, though, we can remember that we are not genetically meant to be “good,” which means that it’s not something we’re born with. And so if those of us who have overcome some destructive urges and work to overcome others can do it, surely others can as well. Not all of us, but some of us. We must therefore continue to urge our fellow humans to resist who they (we) are. Who knows — perhaps that’s evolutionary as well, to have a species designate some of its cells to oppose other of its fellow cells. [Now I sound like “The Matrix,” saying that built into our species are “bugs” that the program itself created and inserted for its own purposes. So let me assure you this is not what I mean.]
What I mean is that all of us can choose to be strong. This means I can choose to be as good a human as I humanly can, or I can choose to be exactly what I am, at base. I choose the former; I hate to be thought of as weak.
[Dear lord, do I sound like Ayn Rand? I’ve never read her but I suspect that might be the case. I’m not implying that strength — personal strength — means everyone out for herself. Quite the opposite: strength — personal strength as I see it — means resisting the urge to idolize the more domineering among us, as well as any such urges that exist within ourselves.]
Who are you? Can you be strong? Have you learned to be strong? What other areas can you work on to increase your strength? These are questions I ask myself all the time. Let’s start asking more such questions, of ourselves and each other. It’s the least we can do given what we have unleashed — and continue to unleash — upon the world.