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Why has America elected a president adapted to a Stone Age way of life?

Malcolm Potts, professor of population and family planning | November 9, 2016

There are a lot of unhappy, surprised people in Berkeley today. I am in the minority who are deeply unhappy but in no way surprised.

The interpretation we make of yesterday’s events depends upon the paradigm we adopt for understanding human nature. The majority of my colleagues are still influence by the 19th century standard social-science model going back to Emile Durkheim. “Collective representations, emotions and tendencies are caused not by certain states of the consciousness of individuals but by the conditions in which the social group, in its totality, is placed.”  It is a paradigm that totally fails to provide insight into the election results

Stone Age humans

Stone Age humans

Over the past half-century the standard social-science model has been challenged by a dazzling, informative and continually rewarding series of testable scientific insights generated by evolutionary psychologists. Evolutionary psychology posits that the human mind is a set of information-processing mechanisms that, like the rest of evolution, have changed slowly over time. We are not robots, but we are subject to certain universal predispositions related to survival, access to resources and reproduction.

While my standard social-science colleagues often emphasize the plasticity of behavior — even seeing the human mind as a blank sheet —  my starting point is that human beings are competitive, extraordinarily violent creatures who evolved in hierarchical and patriarchal societies.

Trump is a narcissistic, lying, racist, misogynist. So why have over 50 million Americans in a free election voted him into office? Stone Age predispositions run deep. Every U.S. president, save two, has been of above average height. I don’t know of any correlation between height and making good decisions in tough situations, but in a Stone Age society a tall, physically strong leader was the best choice to defend your clan against attacks by its neighbors. Interestingly Trump is 6 foot 0.5 inches tall, but he likes to claim he is 6 foot 3.

One study of American college students found that one-third said they would rape a woman if they knew if they were certain they would never be prosecuted. This is a terrible statistic. But no doubt significant numbers of men secretly identified with Trump’s admission that he used his perceived status to grope women and engage in non-consensual kissing.

We are social animals evolved to lie. I suspect that many who voted for Trump envied his stellar ability to lie consistently and with conviction to tens of millions of people.

As Copernicus discovered, many people don’t like to change the paradigm they were taught. Much of the intellectual leadership in evolutionary psychology comes not from Berkeley, with its central position in the UC system, but from Leda Cosmides, John Tooby and Donald Symons and others in UC Santa Barbara.

We don’t have to live out our Stone Age predispositions, but we won’t cure the social maladies that distress us, or elect the best leaders, unless we begin with the correct diagnoses. For what is worth, I place my copies of my favorite academic journals — Human Nature and Evolution and Human Nature  — in the Sheldon Margen Library in University Hall. If you want an evidence-based insight into the Nov.  8 debacle, glance at some copies.

I hope that when an FTE appointment arises in the social sciences, in public health or in anthropology that my colleagues will have the courage to encourage intellectual diversity and select an evolutionary psychologist. I suspect that there are some talented post-docs at UC Santa Barbara, We may need their insights as the new president of the United States makes an already dangerous world significantly more dangerous.