Mind Hacks

Minds Designed For Murder?

The notable evolutionary psychologist David Buss thinks that Murder is in our blood. Specifically that homicide isn’t a rare pathology, or the product of social forces, of culture, poverty or poor parenting – but is an evolutionary adaptation that we all share. He’s saying that in the right circumstances we will all kill, because ancestors of ours who killed had greater reproductive success.

Emotive stuff. I’d be interested to hear what readers of mindhacks.com have to say on it. Here are a few of my first thoughts:

As an observation, this is as old fashioned as original sin. What would make this interesting to me, is detailed, rigourous, demonstration of the psychological mechanisms behind murderous behaviour. Self-styled ‘Evolutionary psychology’ tells a plausible story about the context of murder, but I don’t think there’s much content to disagree or agree with until the experimental work has been done.

Related to this, Buss maligns theories that social forces/parenting/culture/poverty are behind killing while at the same time (in the penultimate paragraph) using them to explain why the rate of murder is so much lower in modern society compared to stone-age civilisations (“Among the Yanomamo of Venezuela and the Gebusi of Africa, for example, more than 30% of men die by being murdered” remember that next time someone trys to force a declension narrative about the collapse of society upon you). The thing about, say, the theory that parenting style produces murder is that at least it is a specific theory – both with regard to the factor and the mechanism. You may not agree, but at least you have something to disagree with (maybe it isn’t that particular style of parenting? maybe it isn’t parenting at all but peer group involvement? etc).

Evolution is an essential theoretical background to psychology, but it only provides hints and allegations – the real work still has to be done. Alas, you can’t derive your answers from the calculus of reproductive success, but need to go collect data to test your each hypotheses against.