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Turi: We are thrilled to be talking to Hector Garcia who joins us from the U S today. Hector is professor in the department of psychiatry at the university of Texas and a clinical psychologist. Working with veterans is the author of sex, power and partisanship, which you’ll find a link to in our author notes and the book which forms the basis of our conversation today.
Hector, thank you so much for joining us.
Hector: Delighted to be here. Thanks for having me.
Turi: So to your approach to, um, understanding the world around us, from the politics of the world around us, the opinions that we make is an evolutionary one. Can I ask you just as a starting point, what is this field called? Evolutionary psychology. Uh, and how can it help us?
Hector: Evolutionary psychology. Um, I guess a broad and sweeping definition. It’s just the study of. How our, um, opinions, how our likes, our dislikes, how our passions, um, how our religions, how our politics are rooted in our evolutionary history. Um, and you know, we evolved in these small groups of Hunter gatherers, living, um, very different lifestyles and the ones in which we, most of us currently live.
Uh, for, for most of our, our, our evolution for most of our history as a species and, uh, our brains are adapted for those environments. Um, the modernized industrialized world that we live in today is it’s just a, for most of minute fraction of our history. So, um, we carry forward a lot of the adaptations that we evolved for our ancestral environments into the modern day.
And, uh, so what I think it can help us answer is a lot of the, a lot of the human behaviors that are perplexing that seem irrational to us. Like, like, like politics, for example.
Turi: So you were saying that that, um, lots of the, um, lots of the most behavior, which seems to ask the most irrational can and can be explained in part by evolutionary psychology. Is that right?
Hector: I think, I think it offers explanations that have not only, not only incredible explanatory power, but they’re so parsimonious. That makes sense. Um, and so oftentimes when you’re toiling to understand something like, like a political stance or a religious behavior, um, the evolutionary explanations, you have these aha moments like yes, of course, how come I didn’t see this earlier.
And, um, I think one of the reasons for that is like most of our instincts, you know, we’re not aware of them. They, they operate underneath the radar of our conscious awareness. What, uh, Evolutionary psychologists have called instinct blindness. So getting cited to, to our instincts. That’s that’s I think, uh, I think, I think it’s an invaluable, uh, process.
Turi: I love that, um, instinct, blindness, um, it’s sort of on the premise that if we don’t know why we feel a certain way, we flail about and have no signals for action. As a result of it, we’re slave to our feelings. You have this.
Hector: upon our impulses without thinking, right.
Turi: Yeah. Without, without direction. Understood. Yes. You have this nice phrase. You say, um, instinct, blindness sets up barriers to rationally examining our choices, um, barriers, which can turn a functioning society against itself.
That that is, is that prompted by politics today as a comment.
Hector: Well, uh, the current book was certainly was prompted by politics today. You know, I wrote this book, it, you know, um, right after I started writing, you know, right after the 2016 election, as I saw, you know, the fabric of society in the U S start to unravel. And so that was kind of the impetus.
Turi: That makes sense. We’ll come on to, um, the application of evolutionary psychology to today’s politics in the U S and elsewhere in a minute. Um, but I wanna front-load. Um, the fact that evolutionary psychology has in certain circles got a bad name. Um, It’s considered essential list. It’s considered to be, I think somebody, some people describe it as just a series of just so stories like how the whale got its hump or how a crocodile got its teeth or whatever it is that these kinds of gestures into the, into the past, which are difficult to test out.
Can we address this issue of the validity of evolution? Evolutionary psychology. Head-on.
Hector: Well sure. I mean, a lot of that, especially in the U S a lot of that opposition comes from. From, you know, religious fundamentalists whose, uh, ideas of creation, uh, so strongly, you know, um, clash against,
Turi: If you don’t agree with evolution, evolutionary psychology is never going to fly. That makes sense.
Hector: And that may sound kind of more foreign to somebody in the UK, but believe it or not, it’s, it’s a, it’s still a giant debate in the U S absurdly into my, in my opinion. But, but yeah, so there, there are, there is such a thing as just so stories, because it sounds logical, you know, somebody might say, well, it’s just evolutionary, but. The idea is to back it up with, uh, with, with the data, to look at the empirical literature, to conduct, um, research for your hypothesis. And, and there are, uh, many testable theories in evolutionary psychology, falsifiable theories.
Turi: Gotcha. Um, you talked specifically about, uh, sort of a dual misreading of, of evolutionary psychology, the moralistic. The fallacy and the naturalistic fallacy, they seem to cover both bases super well. Can you help us understand those?
Hector: Absolutely. So, so there are definitely some logical fallacy surrounding, um, Uh, evolution. And I think what’s interesting to me is that they tend to, um, they tend to get expressed differently depending on, on your political orientation. So, um, one misread or one, one fallacy, one cognitive error would be that, um, for example, on the left, we might hear something like, well, um, gender inequality is undesirable.
Therefore there can’t possibly be differences between the sexes, um, and on the right you might hear. Well, there are differences between the sexes, so that that justifies, uh, gender inequality. And so, um, we have our biases. There are based on, uh, our evolutionary psychology and the strategies we employ for, for our evolutionary fitness. That’s one of the things I write about in the book.
Turi: Gotcha. Um, that makes sense. I like the fact that you’d turn it, but in fact, the moralistic fallacy and the naturalistic fallacy can both be explained by evolutionary psychology. And that feels like a win for Evo psych. Um, okay. Jumping in, straight into our politics, help me understand how evolution explains our politics.
Hector: Well, one of the biggest questions I sought to answer was where partisanship comes from, where political partisanship comes from. Because I mean, as the whole world has been watching. Our, our evolutionary, well, our, our political orientations or political behavior can, can be irrational. It can be so heated.
It can be so fuming. I mean, it will send people who were otherwise, um, you know, countrymen getting along fairly well to fighting each other in the streets. And, and oftentimes that, that division happens across. Partisan lines. Um, so my endeavor was to say, to figure out, okay, what, what is, what is political partnership?
Where does it comes from? Um, so there, there are many ways to answer that question. Um, political parties themselves, uh, you know, they can shift and realign. Uh, but they shift and realign, uh, top of base of psychological processes that are, are far more, more stable. Um, personality correlates, uh, reproductive strategies. And what I have focused on most is the evolutionary pressures that helps shape our political orientations. And the ones I focus on the most are, are the pressures of, of germs in our evolutionary, past the pressures of outside tribes, uh, hostile outside tribes. And a veering human offspring into, into maturity, which is a, a monumentous evolutionary task. Um, given how much time human infants spend in a dependency. So those are the, those are the, uh, the main domains that I cover.
Turi: So I wonder whether they’re a nice place to start is to ask if you can help us understand the evolutionary basis of both variants, let’s start with conservatives and what are, what’s the evolutionary explanation for our conservatism?
Hector: So, and this gets into, um, the pressures of, of germs and outside tribes. So for example, we all have traits that fall along the natural curve. Right. And,
Turi: Natural political curve.
Hector: the bell curve and, and some of that is, is our political orientations. So, but, but before we even go there, let’s look at the tendency to fear outside people.
Um, if you can imagine the, the natural curve on one end, you have, it’s a, it’s like a small wing. So some people fear, outsiders, very, very strongly. They’re suspicious of people who are not from their group. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle. And there are people who are highly attracted to outside people, um, which we would call xenophilia. So on one end xenophobia on the other end, xenophilia.
Um, and the idea is that in our evolutionary past, there were, there were benefits and drawbacks to, to being drawn to outside people or conversely being suspicious of outside people outside people could be hostile. They could spear you if you walked over the mountain to talk to them.
But on the other hand, uh, they may have had. Uh, goods technologies, um, mates, you know, um, resources that that could benefit our evolutionary fitness. So the interesting thing, and this is a very robust research finding across the globe, is that when you use, uh, where somebody falls on this continuum of xenophobia xenophilia, It predicts pretty strongly where you fall on in, in terms of political orientation, the more xenophobic you tend to be, the more politically conservative you tend to be in vice versa for xenophilia, uh, and, and political liberalism.
So that’s, that’s one of the ways, um, that. Our evolutionary, uh, history, uh, explains, uh, can help us explain political party partisanship and, and, you know, all the, all the tendencies that we see, uh, therein.
Turi: So that’s, I suppose there’s a, there’s a germ element there. There’s an opportunity element, et cetera. But, so why would w is the suggestion that we can’t be one on the other? We have to be one or the other.
Hector: And that’s a great question. I think, I think people, um, worry that if we start to understand, if we start to give up any, any ground to our, you know, our evolutionary tendencies, our instincts, our genetics, that, that we are beholden to them. But I, I would argue just the opposite.
The more we understand the better we are able to make. Free or choices and, and, um, you know, we’re not genetic automaton. It’s not like if, if you have a tendency to fear outside people, you can’t develop a trust for outside people and vice versa. You know, we, we are incredibly adaptable. So when we, when we look at these trends, we have to think probabilistically, right?
So in general, there are these tendencies. Always exceptions and there’s there’s, you know, with, with some limitations there’s, there’s there’s room to adapt and to learn and to, and to change.
Turi: Okay, so on the one hand you’ve got, so let’s, we, we start with. Germs, uh, opportunities disadvantages of engaging with, with others is that the only key pieces it all is, it is the split between conservatives conservatism and liberalism, as it’s understood by evolution only really about openness to new experiences or is there also, I think there’s also perhaps also another element, which is around hierarchy versus equality.
There’s a difference there as well. Isn’t that? Hector: There certainly is. And since you’ve mentioned germs, let’s just for your listeners. Let’s go back and describe what we’re talking about. So another, another, um, trait that falls on the natural curve is fear of germs. There’s some of us who fear germs very strongly. And some not so much that also predicts where you fall on, on in terms of political orientation.
So the more fearful you are, the more politically, politically conservative you are, um, generally speaking and vice versa for people that don’t fear germs as much. Um, and it’s, it’s no surprise that fear of germs and fear of outsiders, uh, are correlated because in our ancestral past. The biggest vectors of disease were those outside our tribe who carried pathogens for which we may not have a genetic immunity. And you know, something as simple as the common cold could wipe out an entire population,
Turi: So, so just so just to repeat that, um, if conservatives, and it’s not just fear of germs, it’s fear of lots of things, isn’t it. So conservatives tend to be motivated more by fear, um, of outsiders, of germs, et cetera, that has served a tremendously valuable, um, function. Throughout our history in protecting and sort of inhibiting the instinct to run out and greet the forerunner with their Spears and their smallpox, um, and therefore protecting those, those, those communities. So that’s the function of fear sort of embedded in conservatives in which we see historically through
Hector: Well said. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Yeah. Thank you. You explained that summarize that nicely.
Turi: What’s the correlate on the liberal side, therefore around. So what if, if conservative, if, if fear is a determinant of conservatism or heightened fear, what’s the, what a, what a heightened, um, tendencies on the liberal side.
Hector: Um, well, a, a psychological trait, another psychological trait is openness to experience. Um, so, um, and an openness to outsiders, um, you know, humans have have, um, Have emigrated across the whole world. I mean, we’ve, we’ve managed to spread across the entire globe. Um, And that being openness to outsiders, being openness to outside experiences, to leaving the natal group to exploring, um, that’s, what’s what has driven that, and there are benefits to that as well.
You know, um, like we talked about, you know, novel genetic material, new environments, new resources. So, so that’s one of them, um, One of, one of the traits that sort of facilitates that is, uh, understanding other people’s minds, like having a good theory of mind, which, uh, means like understanding other people have thoughts and tensions desires, which tends to be more pronounced in people on the, on the liberal end of the spectrum.
Um, greater empathy. Because that is a function of understanding other people’s minds. And then you can see, you know, uh, I think a pretty stable, um, character of liberals is that they tend to prefer, you know, support policies that, that, that help the poor, the disenfranchised. And, and that’s, I think one output of that.
I have that tendency too, to be able to mind read, to understand other people’s thoughts and then have them, you know, compassion for them. And that’s not an, any way to say that people on the conservative end, you know, can’t understand other people’s minds or aren’t compassionate, they are, but, uh, You know, it’s a matter of, of degree.
And, and even though that we share far, far, far, far, far more similarities than we do differences across, across the political spectrum, those, those slivers of difference. Explain a lot about what divides us. And that’s why I focus on them.
Turi: So, um, just briefly help me understand how, um, an advanced theory of mind would help in exploring new things, discovering new land, engaging with new, uh, experiences.
Hector: imagine if, if I, uh, if you’re somebody who’s, who’s traveling in a small group across, across an unknown landscape and you come across, uh, You come across a foreign people who speaks a different language, who may have different customs to be able to understand their, their thoughts, their intentions, to be able to extrapolate from their, from their, uh, body gestures and tone of voice, you know, to understand other people’s minds would facilitate.
And, um, you know, indeed that’s a key, you know, the, one of the things we see in people who are seeing a Philip is, is. More likely to engage in world, travel more likely to explore other cultures, um, more likely to eat food at a, at an ethnic restaurant. Um, um, so, you know, understanding other people’s minds would, would help, um, engaging with, with people who you don’t share, no genes or language, common language.
Turi: It’s both positive and negative. On the one hand, understanding people’s minds, um, helps you, helps you empathize with them and therefore renders them. Human makes you less frightened of them, but also, um, it’s probably also a skill in not getting into very dangerous arguments with them too. Is that Hector: Absolutely. Absolutely. I would
Turi: So it works positively and negatively. I understand. Okay. So we’ve talked about one key difference between liberals and conservatives, which is I suppose, the fear instinct, Conklin conservative side, the openness to experience on the liberal side, xenophilia versus xenophobia.
But there’s another key differentiator between conservatives and liberals today, which is on the conservative side, a respect and support for hierarchy and authority and on the liberal side, much more interesting. I suppose he got Atari aneurysm. What can evolution teach us about the causes of those cleavages?
Hector: Yeah. So that is that those are definitely, um, Great predictors of, of where one would fall on, on the continuum. Um, so there are a couple of, uh, kind of foundational instruments used to measure the underlying psychology of, uh, of our, of our political orientations. And one is called social dominance orientation.
And that’s the extent to which you wish for your group. To be dominant over another group to have an advantage. Um, and w what I find very interesting is that across the globe, across religions, across cultures, across socioeconomic status, it’s it’s by far men score far higher on that. Um, and. One of the things that I point out in my book is how our political orientations are based on our reproductive psychology, our reproductive strategies.
So I’m David buss, who is a, uh, evolutionary psychologist at the university of Texas has done some fascinating worldwide research that, that by this point may be a truism in all of our minds, but, but what he has found that was that, um, Again, across every culture, men on average prefer, uh, more, more mates than, than women.
Women tend to prefer quality in their mates, um, where men tend to take a quantity strategy. Men are far more willing to engage in casual sex, um, and tend to express a preference for more partners. Um, and this is based on just our, our potential reproductive output. Um, so. When you think about it, it, it, it would benefit men far more than it would benefit women to think in inegalitarian terms to want more than their competitors. Uh, and so, um, you know, we see some of these, some of these tendencies embedded in and, uh, Just our own physiology. So, so for example, men in, uh, in laboratory settings who are administered tests , or who have higher endogenous testosterone tend to share less in laboratory games, they tend to share less. Um, so men with a bigger upper body muscularity with more upper body muscularity.
Tend to share less. And that really ties back to a time where we were physically competing for resources on, on, on our ancestral savannas. So, um, you know, we can, we can trace a lot of our political preferences and stances to these evolutionary struggles to, to survive and reproduce. That’s what I find so fascinating.
Turi: Okay, so just, I’m going to stick with this, um, upper body strength. Strong test. Yeah. Filled male refusing to share therefore sort of incentivized against egalitarianisms because they’re in a dominant position. That’s the, is that the, is that the conservative? Is that the conservative bent that you’re describing there?
Hector: bent. That is the conservative masculine bent.
Turi: Okay. And therefore what’s the, yeah. So what’s the counter to that. Where do we get, why do we get liberalism from where do we get an attempt to? Isn’t an attempt to.
Hector: That’s that is, that is what I, that’s the idea that I developed an attempt to constrain men from rising up and accumulating too much power to, to, to right. Power and balances and, you know, research across the globe tends to, tends to find that, um, you know, people who are. Who come from marginalized, social groups, ethnic minorities, religious minorities, women tend to support more egalitarian party, uh, policies, um, which also tend to be, you know, tend to associate with liberal political parties.
So, um, you know, I, I, one way of framing, all of this is that we are at our core social animals that who live in. Dominance hierarchies. So, um, our political psychology can help us rise up a dominance hierarchy, prevent from falling too, down on a dot on a dominance, higher falling too far down on a dominance hierarchy. Um, maintaining our position, maintaining the status quo, maintaining our dominance position. Um, and so, uh, So the, where we, where we lie on the dominance hierarchy has great implications for our access to resources, whether they be mates or wealth or money, or even food.
Turi: So across this split, which is the calling, I suppose. Yeah. Commitment to hierarchy on the conservative side and commitment to equality. On the more liberal side, we’re seeing two survival strategies at play for those, uh, strong males in P who could potentially achieve, uh, top of the hierarchy status.
That’s the conservative line. They are primed to want that. And the liberal strategy is the strategy of those who would find it harder to get to the top of that, of that, uh, of that dominance hierarchy and therefore what club together to reduce the power or to, or to dampen the power of those alpha males.
Hector: Absolutely. Absolutely. That’s the idea.
Turi: So that’s fascinating because you’re gendering politics again, which is, which is, which is, I think one of the. Let me start that again. So what’s happening here, Hector is that you’re gendering politics to that. On one level you have conservatism as male and liberalism as more female with all the provisors around the essentially ization of gender, which I think neither of us are interested in, um, uh, You’ve done research linked to Simon Baron Cohen’s research on autism, which suggests that actually that is scientific justification for seeing conservatism as essentially maleness. Is that right?
Hector: Yes. And that was a very tricky thing for me. To say those that was kind of dangerous terrain because I, I don’t, I didn’t mean to imply Simon Baron-Cohen has done research on autism and studying the, uh, you know, the essential male brain. He argued that, you know, people who suffer from autism have an extreme form of the male brain tend to be really good at, at things like engineering and math, um, rotating objects in three dimensional space in their mind. But, um, tend to have poor theory of mind, which we talked about earlier, poor language skills. Um, so it, it, it is also, uh, a disorder that is predominantly male. Um, so, um, so across so many of the indices that is outlined by Baron Cohen and his developmental research, um, Liberals and conservatives and men and women reliably differ on.
So liberal men and, and women tend to have better language skills, liberal men and women, uh, tend to have better theory of mind, tend to empathize more. So, um, there’s all these, all these, um, clues. About, uh, our gender psychology that we can extrapolate from, from the research literature, such as that. And then the, the effort of evolutionary psychologists to map, map those clues on to, you know, a coherent idea of how, how we got there. I hypothesis to be tested.
Turi: Gotcha. Okay. . So, um, So we’ve spoken quite a lot about these, the theories of evolutionary psychology as they apply to our politics today. But let’s go jump into a hard story. Donald Trump, um, is no longer, uh, is still president of the United States. He just gone at 70 million votes. He is a political phenomenon. I want you would like you please to, um, explain the political phenomenon, the manifestation of Donald J. Trump as if. Without meaning any disrespect. He was a chimpanzee.
Hector: Well, okay. Fair, fair, fair question. So I think to understand that we have to understand the pressures of our evolutionary past. Um, it may be hard to imagine those fully from the seat of comfort that we have created for ourselves in the modernized world, but our ancestral past was. Very dangerous for one swarming with predators, swarming with pressers that could take us out very easily swarming with outside tribes.
And now there’s a lot of research showing that, um, that inter-tribal warfare was, was, uh, far, far, far more common than, than it is today. We, we, we were, we were often, um, uh, conducting raids on one another. Um, Killing all the men taking the women as their prizes of war was, was a common practice among, among tribes.
So in that environment, it paid to a lot. Yeah. By oneself with big allies, right? The big strong man who’s going to protect you. Who’s going to protect you against outsiders. Um, whether we talk in terms of, you know, proto humans, chimpanzees, or, um, Or even, you know, just, just modern humans living in, in a, in a very dangerous world.
There’s a draw to big testosterone filled strong men. Um, and so we can, we can see that draw that draw. Um, when we do research on, uh, preferences in our political leaders, So one study, for example, looked at, um, over 200 years of, uh, presidential elections in the U S and found that in the vast majority of cases, the taller of the two candidates won the election.
And in every case, um, both candidates were taller than the average, uh, us male citizen. So, um, why is that? Why, why would that matter? You know, today there’s no possible way that our elected leaders would represent us in an actual physical fight, but it’s no surprise it’s, it should be no surprise. Then how leaders talk about their role and their ability to protect us. You know, when, when, uh, during a political campaign. So Donald Trump, for example, often talked about how big he was relative to his political opponents.
Hector: little Marco Rubio. He called, uh, he called Jeb Bush week and, uh, Ted Cruz pussy, um, little rocket man. It was so incredibly primitive and, but he often talked about him himself and how, how big he was, you know, he’s big at this. He’s big at that.
Turi: He has the biggest crowds. He has the biggest middle sorts of things. Yep.
Hector: um, so I, I think, uh, if you remember Ben Carson, he was, he was running for on the, uh, he was running F uh, during the, uh,
Hector: Um, Ben Carson, for example, talked about how in the past, he, he used to go after people with, uh, uh, backs and bricks and rocks and stuff. Which when his schoolmates were interviewed, nobody seemed to remember that, but, but not, not hiding something like that, but intentionally broadcasting, how violent you were in your and your past.
I mean, this is very primitive. It’s a very, it’s a very primitive, um, uh, appeal that Donald Trump has and, and, you know, the loud, brash chest thumping leader.
Turi: He’s triggering a kind of prime, evil. Well, let me say that again. Um, he’s active 18, a kind of primeval trigger in his supporters, which, um, which is deeply inciting, deeply exciting. And it also explains why he is so revolting to, um, via Galatarian is because he’s the very opposite. He’s exactly the kind of thing that egalitarian liberals were designed evolutionary to protect against.
Hector: Absolutely. But, and, and, you know, keep this in mind. I mean, if you, if, if half of the population or, you know, wait, let me, let me say that again. Keep this in mind. If political conservatism is associated with, with greater fear. Not only fear of germs, not only, not only fear of, of outsiders, but all kinds of fears. In fact, there’s research showing that that highly partisan people on the right tend to have a bigger amygdala. And that is kind of the fear center of the brain, those tactics, those loud, brash chest thumping tactics. I’m bigger than my opponents. Um, that’s going to resonate and that’s going to get you to, I can protect.
I can and, and, and he, he was also claiming he was going to protect against Mexican rapist against ISIS, you know? Um, so oftentimes political leaders will manufacture a threat and, and offer protection,
Turi: in fact, just both those examples, right? Protection against rapists, um, talks to. Perhaps the deepest, one of the very deepest fears of, of societies, of primitive societies, which is that I’m from, obviously from a women’s perspective, that’s clearly obvious, but from a male perspective, also the idea that their, that their women would no longer be there for them to reproduce with.
So that’s talking to a very, very deep sort of primeval fare and then the wool idea as well. It’s keeping the outsider out. That’s also talking to a very profound, psychological. Need that we’ve had since the D bred bred into us by evolution.
Hector: Large males have always had a role in protecting them. Our territory, you know, and, and protecting against outsiders, helping us to secure resources. Um, Trump’s game is just being incredibly concrete about it all. So, yes, for example, saying, I’m, I’m literally going to build a wall to keep out the Mexicans, the Mexican rapists, the Mexican drug dealers and murderers.
I mean, that’s, that’s, that’s exactly how he phrased that. Um, and. Of course you take a step back. And male may competition has driven those fears across millennia, because like we mentioned, just a moment ago, a very common practice was to raid the neighboring tribe, kill all the men, take their women.
Turi: Deeply embedded in us. Does Trump’s language, his tone also play at an evolutionary level or is that just accidental?
Hector: Aye. Aye. I don’t know if it’s accidental. I don’t know if the language he uses is, is just him. It’s just his limited vocabulary or. Or if it’s intentional, but it certainly has an appeal, but what do you, what do you mean about his language? You mean like using simple terms, which he often
Turi: I want exactly that weather. Yeah. Simple terms. The bombast, um, the denigration. The CA as you described it quite pure, I’ll denigration of opponents, um, what else called it qualifies? What else is, is a feature of his language? Actually. I mean, this, the simple language does talk to, um, something core that you and Simon Baron-Cohen have identified, which is that linguistic skills tend to be found more on the left and on the right. Is that right?
Hector: Yes, that’s abs I hadn’t, I hadn’t actually thought of that before, but, but sure. I mean, it’s, uh, the general populous who may not be very politically savvy, um, you know, and he came in promising to be different than, than, than the. You know, then the political establishment. And so by using really common language, I think he appeals to the appeals to, um, you know, a general sense of mistrust about the political process.
But, uh, that’s, I hadn’t thought of that, but that’s, that’s a good point. It may be that, um, that, that speaking in really simple terms, um, using simpler language appeals to his base in a way that’s, uh, That’s more about ultimately about our neurology.
Turi: Um, we would just anchoring, um, the manifestation of Trump in a, an understanding of how early. Humans, perhaps even chimpanzees organize their social groups. There’s another lovely parable that you talk to, um, in your book about the difference between chimpanzees and Bonobos.
And as I understand it, chimpanzees are much, much more aggressive, much more male in the terms that you’ve described it much more conservative. They are frightened. They are extremely aggressive. They kill, um, any outside group that they come across and Bonobos are on the other hand. Much more liberal in that sense, much more, um, much more feminine they engage with in sex for pleasure.
They are constantly meeting outside of, of, um, fertility cycles. They are open to other groups of Bonobos. It’s sort of like if you want, if conservatives are from Mars and liberals are from Venus, chimpanzees are from Mars. Bonobos are from Venus and, um, All the separates chimpanzees and Bonobos is a river.
The fundamental difference between their habitats is that chimpanzees share their habitat with the very threatening gorilla species. And the, um, the habitat itself is less rich, whereas on the other side of the river, but no bows are kind of, uh, far less threatened by external predators and the environment, the habitat in which they live. Is rich and fertile and provides them with their needs. What, this is not even a metaphor, what there’s examples sort of points as to what it would be to suggest that as our societies get richer and healthier and safer societies also become more liberal. Is that right?
Hector: Well, um, Steven Pinker certainly makes it a beautiful case for that. And, um, And, and both of his recent books, uh, better angels of our nature and the enlightenment, uh, uh, enlightenment now. Um, so, um, but w uh, again, we, we still carry over these instincts to compete with one another, uh, for scarce resources.
I mean, one of the things that, that we, we can have come to understand more and more is that scarcity in our evolutionary past has. It’s driven inter-group conflict. We can look at the strata and, and, you know, tell whether there were droughts during a particular area where there were more massacre sites found or evidence of starvation and, and the, the bashed up skulls and bones that we see in and massacre sites.
Um, so you know, that, that I think prompts, um, an important question. That I always try to ask, you know, to, to what extent do our instincts continue to serve us in, in the worlds that we have created for ourselves, because, um, you know, uh, much of our, much of our, how can I put this much of our, our tendency towards intergroup, into inegalitarianism to competing violently without side groups, to turning inward to the tribe and. Uh, being hostile towards outsiders was much of that was driven by, uh, by, uh, Savage struggle to survive when we were much, much more at the mercy of nature than we were than we are today when we were using stone tools, when we were following the herds around, um, and, uh, migratory patterns could change and we’d be in big trouble. Now, nature is at our mercy and we can feed the world in excess. So, how does it still benefit us to be that way? Does it still benefit us to be close to other groups? Um, we’re moving towards a, uh, a community of, of nations, uh, interfacing on so many levels whether we want to or not, and we carry this ancient psychology forward.
So that’s why I think it’s so important to understand our evolved psychology.
Turi: Hector just reading between the lines. Are you suggesting that we use this nice term, sort of the idea of an evolutionary mismatch that we have certain evolutionary hangovers that no longer applicable to, um, the today’s society? Are you, are you. Suggesting that conservatism is somehow an evolutionary mismatch for today’s globalized world. Is that, is that sort of the gesture that you’re making?
Hector: I don’t necessarily think conservatives mess up. Whole, but certain features of conservatism like xenophobia. I, yes, I do think that that’s a mismatch. I mean, how much bloodshed has our, have our xenophobic tendencies led to over the centuries? How much destruction? Um, Fear of germs. I mean, um, back when we had no such thing as antibiotics back when we were blind to this, this Miko micro biologic world around us, um, uh, didn’t have vaccines, fearing outsiders was, was healthy.
You know, like you said, it was advantageous, but now we, we. We do have vaccines and antibiotics. We do understand what basic yeah. Washington does. Does it still serve us? I mean, it’s an open question. It’s a complex question, but I think we need to ask difficult questions.
Turi: Yeah, of course we do. Um, what would a conservative say in response to your suggestion that they are an evolutionary hangover that they’re sort of the missing link? What would the, what would the conservative response be to that?
Hector: Um, well, I can tell you what the responses have been, that, that liberals are naive about the world, that the world is real. You know, that, uh, the world is far more dangerous, that that liberals are just, and, you know, it’s probably obvious now, you know, that I’m, I’m, I’m more, uh, left leaning in my political orientations, but like so many other scholars, but you know, probably that. Liberals are naive. They’re not aware of the dangers of the world. They’re, they’re weaken the feminine that’s that’s that are some of the criticisms that I’ve heard. So.
Turi: That a conservative would say, um, we still live in a version of the jungle or step where we evolved Nicole tendencies. That would be their argument. We still that whether it’s ISIS or the Soviet union, China or something else, um, we need, we need conservatives to lead us against, um, against external threats
Hector: Against those threats and see the thing is. That powerful moneyed interests will prod these tendencies to get what they want. You know, they understand our evolved psychology. They understand how fear motivates us to do certain things like, like our voting behaviors. You know, I’ll give you an example.
During the, during the, the 2018 congressional elections in the U S there was this migrant caravan marching up from South America to the U S Mexico border.
It was in the news and spectacularly time to coincide, uh, with the congressional elections and not to get too conspiratorial, but I just, I’ve never heard of usually when people try to cross the border, it’s under the darkness of night, under the cover of night, they’re trying to sneak across, not this big obvious caravan marching towards border, but either way, whatever the impetus was for that caravan to start.
Fox news was all over it. They were covering it and they were saying, these people are coming they’re dangerous. Um, uh, and that right when the 2018 elections, uh, happened coverage just evaporated. But before then they were saying things like they’re bringing disease. These foreigners are bringing disease and they’re. The oldest trope there, they even said, I saw this one segment where they said they were bringing smallpox. Um, and you
Turi: are the ones who brought them smallpox.
Hector: right. Well, true. Uh, that is true. But on the other hand, smallpox has been eradicated since about 1980. So, I mean,
Turi: Very good point.
Hector: so, so you know, that undoubtedly was used to get people to vote in a certain direction.
Um, and, and often when that happens, it’s, you know, people vote against their own interests spurred by their fears and that’s the problem.
Turi: That is indeed a problem. Okay. So, um, this has been, Oh, sorry. I was just, I put, put myself on mute. This has been absolutely fascinating. I want to wrap with a question for you. Um, John Stuart mill, who is, is. Hero who wrote everything before everybody and sort of wrapped it all up. Um, you quote, in your book, you say that that this is John Stewart million on Liberty, right?
A party of order or stability, and a party of progress or reform are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life. So that’s one view, which is to get, to keep a state of polity healthy. It requires this tension between the conservative. Aggressive male, less empathic, competitive drive on the one hand and the liberal egalitarian, uh, open to experience.
Um, the, the liberal open to experience more feminine, uh, alternative to keep this polity running. There’s another example that you’ve given your book, which is of the Iroquois. I think that’s how you pronounce them. Um, a native American tribe who had one governing system for times of peace and another governing system for times of war, which is your preference.
How, what’s your sense of the ideal way to balance these opposing pools in our nature?
Hector: Well, I, I, it’s a great question. And it’s the simple, the simple version of the simple version of my answer to that question is that I, I don’t think we can do a way with, uh, completely with those who. Who have Marshall tendencies, you know, are there because we, we haven’t done away with that in humanity.
There they’re there. There are outside threats, you know, do we dispense with militaries altogether? I think not. You know, I think that has to be an element of society. I think competition, um, drives growth and, and, and, and free market enterprises. You know, I think that’s important, but how much do we, how much do we give the acquisitive? Um, uh, aggressive. Males who, uh, kind of are operating by an evolutionary driven winner, take all philosophy. How much do we give them control? I do you know, how much do we have them in the foreground? Um, I think if we give them unfettered control, that causes problems, you know? And so, so do we holster them?
So the Iroquois, what they did is they, they would have different, um, Different leaders for peace time and for war time. And in war time, the, the wartime leaders would, would have more control, but then they would be pulled back. And the peace time leaders who were often elected by women, they were given control.
And I think there’s an important lesson to learn there. You know, we need to achieve balance. Definitely societies just can’t survive, divided, you know, we’ve seen over and over what happens when societies divided along. Along political lines, along the lines of our, our, uh, the psychology of our political orientations.
So we have to find some way, um, to interface that’s that’s healthy.
Turi: We thought the answer was democracy. I wonder whether there are, that that itself is being contested.
Hector: I think democracy is, is, is the answer, but it’s, it’s a, it’s an experiment that often needs, um, tuning and we’re learning as we go along.
Turi: We are indeed Hector. This has been fascinating, um, deeply instructional, um, and, um, and at times terrifying, which is exactly what a podcast should be. Thanks so much for joining us.
Hector: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.