Through Darwinian Lenses

This post makes two points about evolution, a general point and a specific point.

The general point:

Organisms have the features they have because individuals that lacked those features were not reproductively successful. More precisely, over time were not as reproductively successful as individuals that had the feature. Yes, this is the supposedly well-known core of evolutionary theory, but I get the sense that the average person still hasn’t fully absorbed the implications.

For example, some species of eagle can see a small prey animal like a rabbit from two miles away. Consider what this astounding fact implies: Individual eagles who didn’t have such good vision were out-selected. At worst, they starved to death because they couldn’t feed themselves. At best, they had fewer surviving offspring than those with better vision, because good nutrition is required to create healthy eggs and good hunting is needed to feed the hatchlings. So over time their genes became less common until they disappeared in that species.

So when you observe a feature, like astoundingly sharp eyesight, in nature, understand what you are seeing: The imprint of death.

One way or another, individuals who lacked that feature didn’t get their genes into successive generations. This is the same outcome as simple death, evolutionarily speaking. Note, not metaphorically the same outcome, but actually the same outcome.

So, speaking in an evolutionary sense, we can say:

Eagles have good eyesight because eagles without it died.

Bats have good sonar because…

Gazelles can run fast because…

Organisms’ features exist because those features matter. They affect the organisms’ reproductive success.

If you look through Darwinian lenses, you can see the imprint of death all around you, in every organism you observe. Every feature implies the evolutionary death of individuals who lacked that feature.

Once at a zoo I saw a male lion pounce on a large plastic bucket that had been left in his cage. His teeth dug into it and he lifted it into the air. There was something startling and a little scary about seeing 500 pounds of muscle launching a set of teeth at something. But of course I should not have been surprised, because evolution didn’t endow lions with huge sharp teeth and lots of muscle so those features can not be used.

(By the by, why do male lions have armor— manes— around their necks?)

Now, the specific point:

What does human females’ obsessive preference for dominant men say about our species’s evolutionary history?
.
Just mull that over for a second.
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Ponder it…
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Let it sink in…
.

What it says is grim, and alarming. Women have an intense preference for dominant men because women without that preference were less reproductively successful in our species’s evolutionary past. That is, to put it plainly, either those women didn’t reproduce, or their offspring didn’t survive.

But why should that be? The obvious guesses are that such women’s children were killed outright, or starved during periods of scarce food. The children of women who preferred dominant men didn’t starve. (Obviously, since their female descendants are here, all around us.) E.g., because their men could take food from less formidable men. Or, slightly less horrifyingly: “I’m hunting over here in the best hunting grounds; you go hunt over there, where the hunting isn’t as good.” So the implication is unavoidable: The powerful men killed, directly or indirectly, the children of less-powerful men. Again, it might not have been that direct. It might have been a matter of differential reproductive success over time.

Now there are some questions to be answered about this. E.g., if you try to directly take food from Joe’s kids, Joe’s going to fight you, and stands a good chance of doing you significant injury even if you win. So it’s not obvious that it’s worth it to you. E.g., why didn’t the subdominant males simply gang up to kill the dominant males and/or their children? I don’t care how dominant you are; you have to sleep some time. (And alphas are a minority of men, by definition.) So we’re talking about… what? An effect that didn’t kick in until kings, palaces, and palace guards were established? So there are blanks to fill in, but the basic mechanism is not in doubt. It’s not in doubt because we observe its immediate consequences, in the reality of current human female sexual behavior.

Closely related point: Why do men have more muscle mass than women? Not so they can not use it. Men have it because they fight each other and the losers weren’t as reproductively successful. That is, they died, or at “best” were prevented from producing as many (surviving) children.

Human beings, like other animals, are red in tooth and claw. Yes, we are wired for both cooperation and conflict, but in western society we tend to underestimate the conflict because we are particularly good at things like feeding ourselves, so that life-and-death conflict over food doesn’t happen any more. But the hard wiring is still there. Summarizing: Chicks dig jerks with big pecs, and that tells us that plans for world peace are doomed to failure. No, we are not all going to sit around the campfire singing Kumbaya.

Obiter dictum: It’s important to get this perspective into our mindset as our political situation moves from “dress rehearsal” to “it’s showtime!”

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3 thoughts on “Through Darwinian Lenses”

  1. > why didn’t the subdominant males simply gang up to kill the dominant males and/or their children?

    Because the most dominant subdominant males answered to the dominant male, and in return received their share of the women. That has been the evolutionary deal between the dominant and subdominant males, and is reflected in the evolutionary fact that while all women get wettest for alpha males, they will pair bond with beta males.

    Like

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