Ten Points of Evolutionary Irony
How Darwin’s ideas could make our world a whole lot better.
Posted Dec 23, 2019
The emerging field of Positive Evolutionary Psychology seeks to use Darwin’s big idea to help shed light on the positive aspects of the human experience.
From the vantage point of Positive Evolutionary Psychology, many problems of society today result from a large-scale lack of understanding of evolutionary principles and how they relate to all facets of the human experience. Obesity in the modern world is the result of the food industry not seeing how mismatched modern processed foods are from the ancestral foods that our ancestors evolved to eat, for example (see Cordain et al., 2005; Wolf, 2010).
In many instances, this lack of evolutionary understanding leads to ironic outcomes. Here is a list of 10 such outcomes, along with some guidance for how we might, as the human community, work to help rectify some of these problems.
- Cosmetics designed to make women look relatively healthy can have adverse health effects, including adverse effects on a woman’s reproductive health (see Faber, 2019).
- Natural foods are difficult to come by in poverty-stricken areas, leading to disproportionate health problems among the poor. Eating food that simply grows off the land is reserved for the privileged (see Wolf, 2010).
- Gyms based on principles of natural living with an understanding of human evolution, such as CrossFit, cost a ton of money. Modern hunter-gatherers around the world get the same fitness regimen for free (see Wolf, 2010).
- Private education based on natural human living conditions, such as the Sudbury Schools, costs more than $7,000 a year per student. If you’re poor, you are not given the opportunity to be educated in private schools that simply try to mirror natural human education systems (see Gray, 2013).
- Pharmaceuticals, which ultimately use modern technology to provide evolutionarily novel solutions to health issues, such as pain, kill thousands of people a year. In the U.S. alone in 2017, more than 70,000 deaths occurred as a function of opioid overdoses.
- Under ancestral conditions, when drought and starvation were common, easy access to food led to health benefits. These days, it leads to obesity and often results in “diseases of civilization” such as Type-II diabetes (see Wolf, 2010).
- While Darwin’s ideas on evolution serve as the foundation for the biological sciences today, modern medicine is slow to catch up. The MCAT, which is the entrance exam for medical school in the U.S., only started to include questions related to evolution in 2015. There is a good chance that your doctor has little understanding of how evolution works (see Nesse, 2017).
- You would think that the larger one’s community is, the more connected to others he or she would feel. In fact, mental health problems and feelings of isolation are more prevalent in large cities, across the world, than they are in small communities. This is probably because humans evolved to live in small-scale communities (see Srivastava, 2009).
- Darwin’s ideas on evolution have been out since 1859. In spite of this fact, modern colleges and universities have been found to do a dismal job of educating students about evolutionary principles (see Bleske-Recheck & Donovon, 2015; Wilson, Glass, & Geher, 2012).
- While resistance to evolution is famous for coming from the conservative and religious right, within colleges and universities, in fact, resistance to the teaching of evolution, especially as it relates to the human experience, actually is much more likely to come from the political left (see Geher & Gambacorta, 2010).
With the publication of Darwin’s (1859) On the Origin of Species, our understanding of what it means to be human changed in an instant. This said, ironically, modern education regarding evolutionary principles is, in many ways, still in the dark ages. And this fact leads to all kinds of adverse outcomes in such areas as physical health, emotional health, and the structuring of societies around the world. I think we can do better.
Want to help make the world a better place? Make sure to brush up on your evolution.
Bleske-Rechek, A., & Donovan, B. A. (2015). Scientifically Adrift: Limited Change in Scientific Literacy and No Change in Knowledge and Acceptance of Evolution, Over Three Years of College. The Journal of the Evolutionary Studies Consortium, 7(1), 21-43.
Cordain L, Eaton SB, Sebastian A, Mann N, Lindeberg S, Watkins BA, et al. Origins and evolution of the Western diet: health implications for the 21st century. Am J Clin Nutr (American Society for Nutrition). 2005a;81(2):341–54
Darwin, C. (1859). On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1st ed.). London: John Murray.
Faber, S. (2019, April 3). The Toxic Twenty Chemicals and Contaminants in Cosmetics.
Geher, G., & Gambacorta, D. (2010). Evolution is not relevant to sex differences in humans because I want it that way! Evidence for the politicization of human evolutionary psychology. EvoS Journal: The Journal of the Evolutionary Studies Consortium, 2(1), 32-47.
Glass, D. J., Wilson, D.S., & Geher, G. (2012). Evolutionary training in relation to human affairs is sorely lacking in higher education. EvoS Journal: The Journal of the Evolutionary Studies Consortium, 4(2), 16-22.
Gray, P. (2013). Free to learn. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Srivastava, K. (2009). Urbanization and mental health, Industrial Psychiatry Journal, 18, 75-76.
Wolf, R. (2010). The Paleo Solution. Victory Belt Publishing.