Slightly Educated
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Slightly Educated

Joe “Not an Evolutionary Psychologist” Rogan

Joe Rogan has really evolved over the years as an interviewer, becoming a pretty rigorous interviewer of academics and scientists. However, Rogan fails to use a basic evolutionary framework and has a strange affinity for the word “natural”.

In podcast #1201, Rogan says, “There’s many people that make the argument that our monogamy is socially reinforced and it’s not natural.” This statement, which to Rogan’s credit he is trying to play devil’s advocate, does not really make sense. For one, what can be more natural than norms enforced by social creatures that sprung out of nature?

How do we extract a behavior from the environment it arose in? You really can’t. You can claim that a behavior, polygamy, emerged in a majority of pre-modern human societies as the predominant mate selection structure, but you can’t extricate examples of past behavior and with that evidence alone say it is preferable to any other behavior pattern. Another claim entirely is that evolution pressured certain behaviors to dominate in pre-modern human societies — which again indicates neither that it is “good” or evolutionary advantageous today.

The famous question of what is more influential of traits, genes or environment, is a lot like asking what has a bigger effect on the area of a square, the length or the height?

Nobody Likes Balls

The two forms of evidence brought to bear against humans being polygamous by William von Hipple in the podcast is that humans have fairly small testicles in comparison to tournament mating species, like chimps, but fairly large testicles in comparison to pair bonding species like Gibbons. Why? When sperm have to compete for insemination because of promiscuous partners, more sperm is always more advantageous evolutionary, so larger testicles do better on average in promiscuous prime apes.

This is really the only way to predict how pre-modern humans acted — besides looking at current hunter gathers — , look for correlates of behavior and biology in other prime apes, and compare human biology to that and predict the behavior.

Why Prefer Pre-Modern Human to Modern Humans?

If Rogan is saying that pre-modern humans had a behavior pattern, polygamy, that evolved as the way humans were meant to, then by the same token our behavior pattern that is currently in place writ large, serial monogamy, is just as natural because they both are the norm. I understand what he is getting at, perhaps polygamy is a better way for humans to mate, maybe it results in higher levels of wellbeing and caring for our fellow men and women, but the last place I would look for that is past patterns of evolution.

Evolution is a Fucking Savage

Capitalism and evolution have one thing in common: they only care about one thing, GDP, and propagating genes, respectively. You probably are seeing how fruitless finding out what WAS the norm in pre-modern humans is. It is interesting, but it has no bearing on what we should do. Many modern people have a strange attachment to this idea that pre-modern humans lived in a place without jealousy, anger, property ownership, and just generally lived a good life integrated with nature. There is no evidence for this, besides that property, since there was no surplus of things was distributed fairly egalitarian — which changed as soon as agriculture was adopted. Even if humans did live at one with nature, they certainly did not have any qualms about driving animals extinct or shoving a sharp stick into a defenseless hunter gatherer neighbor.

Rogan then trips into the next conversation about testosterone, in which he says that poor health via lack of sleep or low testosterone cannot be evolutionary beneficial. Rogan seems oblivious to the fact that evolution does not care about optimal health, especially when it pertains to animals who have secured a mate. By this logic, sacrificing health by being awoken at 3 am to go calm YOUR baby, or giving quality food to your child over yourself is not evolutionary beneficial. Any mother can attest that you are paying in health to be able to propagate your genes. If having low testosterone contributed to behavior that kept the father around the home to help with child rearing, which resulted in more children or better fitted children as a result, that is evolutionary beneficial.

Hormones are Levers

Far from evidence of monogamy but none the less interesting, in Robert Sapolsky’s Behave there is a study where an attractive researcher talks with a straight male volunteer. Two groups interacted with the attractive female, and one group received oxytocin via nasal spray. Males who were in a relationship and received oxytocin increased their distance from the woman an average of four to six inches. Single males happened to not move closer — because the study noted that the males were already in very close proximity. So, we have a behavior being manipulated by a neurotransmitter to promote monogamy.

Evolution is pulling levers on behaviors with hormones, and whatever lever pulled propagates genes into the future, is the lever pulled, health be damned.

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Brandon Long

Brandon Long

Writes about science, politics, philosophy, and the spaces that separates us as as species — and occasionally in story form.