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Ah, the humanity February 7, 2007

Posted by Johan in Evolutionary Psychology, Off Topic.
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Found near Mantua in Italy. The remains are estimated to be roughly 6000 years old (Source, in Swedish).

The other year I got into a long debate with a guy who firmly believed that humans generally behaved worse to one another a few hundred years ago and back: his argument was that because resources were scarce, people generally had to be more selfish in order to survive. He felt that there must have been more violence, more betrayal, more exploitation and opportunism.

I’m not so sure. Humans are social animals, so in true evolutionary psychology-style, I would argue that it is generally more adaptive to stick together in hard times than to see to yourself first. There are obvious short-term benefits to cheating the system, but I don’t think these would be substantial enough to make up for the consequences of social exclusion – which would naturally affect the reproductive fitness of your offspring in turn.

I tend to think that we live in one of the most individualistic societies that have ever existed. In modern society, you have perfect anonymity, and thus perfect irresponsibility. In the bad old days, people lived closer to one another. You couldn’t pack up and move if you fell out with the neighbours. So by necessity, people must have acted in more socially desirable ways.

I know I read a paper where someone argued that the incidence of antisocial personality disorder (aka ‘psychopathy’) is on the rise for this very reason.

Anyway, I think that’s enough evolutionary psychology musings for today.

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