I have been looking at events of this past week with an eye toward evolution. There was my ten-year-old granddaughter’s holiday program where I saw her class on an evolutionary timeline and wondered what positive outcomes and challenges lay ahead of them. I noted a sprinkling of ethnic diversity in her class and also children differently able both physically and emotionally. I recalled the NPR program I heard earlier that day that featured Paul Salopek who has embarked on a seven year project to walk around the world on a route that would have been traveled by our pre-agrarian hunter-gatherer ancestors. Salopek said his slow paced foot travels is giving him a heightened presence to people, their significant problems, and to the landscapes he is encountering. I wondered if the ease my grandchildren have with electronics, and which allows us all to accomplish so much more in much less time, also contributes to what I see as hurry sickness that leads us to be less present to what matters. And I let myself get rattled as I was beginning to back out of my parking space at the Post Office, and another driver darted into the parking area, laid on his horn, and then shot past me to make a sharp right into an adjoining parking space. I thought of David Sloan Wilson’s depiction of the less than social water striders and felt like I had just bumped into one. And I attended the funeral of a Caucasian family friend, a kind and gentle man whose children intermarried and gave him beautiful grand children mixed with Black heritage, another with Hispanic heritage. And then there was Nelson Mandela’s death this past week and his beautiful legacy of forgiveness—true liberation, and his deep concern for continuing widespread poverty throughout the world. Looking with evolutionary eyes has seemed to facilitate reflection and that is a good thing.
We are so very young as a species. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors began leaving Africa 60,000 years ago. (The age of our earth is approximately 4.54 billion years old.) Agriculture began 10,000 years ago and the first cities appeared only 6,000 years ago. Wilson tells us in his book, “The Neighborhood Project--Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time,” that human nature does go beyond self-interest, and that reason needs to be the basis of our actions. To that end an interdisciplinary effort to look at how nature regulates, and apply that regulation to economics, became the focus of a conference titled the “Nature of Regulation. “ The conference brought together highly respected individuals from animal behavior, anthropology, business, cognitive psychology, economics, ecology, evolutionary psychology, finance, history, law, neurobiology, peace studies, political science, prevention science, social-insect biology, sociology, and theoretical biology to consider the following:
- Rethink the theory of human regulatory systems from the ground up.
- Learn from other biological systems about the nature of regulation.
- Reach a consensus on what constitutes human nature.
- Appreciate the importance of environmental mismatch.
- Take cultural evolution seriously.
What if we all looked with evolutionary eyes that go beyond self-interest; eyes that respect and highlight diversity, and search for ways to end global poverty.