I was introduced to Evolutionary Psychology by Jordan Peterson who clearly got some of his best ideas from this branch of psychology. I was watching his videos because he is one of the few public intellectuals still talking about Jungian Psychology. Jordan Peterson has gone on to become a very controversial figure and I don’t suggest getting your information from him because he can be a bit of a misogynist. He misrepresents Evolutionary Psychology to support a conservative agenda.
Evolutionary Psychology itself has become a bit controversial because it contradicts what many people want to believe about human nature. In our polarized political climate, to be a rationalist is tantamount to being a Nazi. This is due to the denial of human nature in progressive circles. Unfortunately, a playwright cannot afford to be neutral on the subject of human nature since plays are essentially meant to illustrate human nature in action. A playwright’s attitude towards a tragic fate will be influenced by the extent he believes bad behavior can be attributed to society or the human condition and human nature.
The book that convinced me that human nature is not socially constructed was The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker. Steven Pinker makes a convincing argument that evolution does not just apply from the neck down. In other words, the human mind evolved just as the human body evolved and some aspects of human nature are fixed. In the social sciences it is believed that just about everything is socially constructed which leads to the conclusion that human nature can be fixed and that there is infinite progress to be made in “doing better”. There has been a war waging in academia between the social scientists, if you can call them that, and evolutionary psychologists.
To say that the human mind evolved is not to assert strict evolutionary determinism. We are not fated to act only as evolution dictates. Human beings are very adaptable and we have some freedom in how we respond to situations. But even this adaptability is determined by our evolution so we cannot hope to permanently change human nature. For example, we evolved to form small tribes in which we cooperate with each other for mutual benefit. However, human beings did not evolve to form vast civilizations so we don’t really know how best to organize ourselves into this kind of super tribe. Human beings are highly adaptable so we have managed it but the controversy over communism or capitalism indicates that we have no innate sense of what is right. I suspect the ever present anxiety over the direction society is going is based on our innate sense that we should not be forming such large tribes. You can also tell by how people argue over politics with their neighbors that we are geared towards managing small communities and not vast civilizations. Isn’t it kind of pointless to argue with your neighbor over how the nation is run? Neither of you have the power to implement any changes in how the nation is run. However, such arguments would be appropriate if you both were members of a small tribe. I think this illustrates how human behavior is geared towards how humans evolved to meet conditions in the past and not towards how we live today.
Personally I am leaning far to the notion that human beings are like clockwork oranges. We think we have way more control over the human condition than we do. For example, war has always been part of the human condition because tribal warfare is part of human nature. It is futile to seek a permanent end to war. The best we could do is to understand how human nature leads to wars and how to cause it to happen less often. But no amount of finger wagging, scolding, or lectures is going to make human beings “do better”. You will never write a play that will show people the folly of war and thereby ensure that peace lasts forever. The ancient Greeks wrote anti-war plays and these plays have been preformed for hundreds of years with no effect on the history of human warfare. Even our science fiction stories are rife with space wars, think Star Wars, even though it would make no sense to fight a war in space. We seem to be unable to conceive of an intelligent species which is not prone to warfare even though this is definitely not how things have to be. Our species evolved to be warlike but other species do not engage in war.
It is important to realize that mankind is not responsible for its own evolution. We are not responsible for human nature and we have no ability to fix it. You cannot ask somebody to evolve past the bad behavior typically shown by their gender. In the past, people were realistic enough to accept this but decades of inspirational messaging in movies has encouraged people to be overly optimistic. People argue over politics as if they had the power to determine “how things are going to be from now on”. I say let your opponent win the argument and then ask when things are going to change. The reality is that some things can be changed and some things cannot be changed. We have been encouraged to believe that each of us can change the world but clearly that is not possible. We are not gods and we cannot fix human nature now and forever.