The fitness of friendliness

President* Trump,

Remember I told you I was overwhelmed yesterday morning by having read a whole bunch of news articles and editorials about you? Well, the one bright spot was a WP article by Marlene Cimons about the idea that Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” natural selection theory wasn’t referring to an alpha male, might is right, sort of fitness, but rather to friendliness and the capacity for cooperation, communication, and partnership (https://www.washingtonpost.com/science/friendliest-not-fittest-is-key-to-evolutionary-survival-scientists-argue-in-book/2020/07/17/). Cimons describes the work of Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods (evolutionary anthropologists at Duke) who posit that it’s really our ability to form constructive relationships and connections that enables us to not only survive as individuals, but to reproduce and keep things going.

Really, this is pretty darn sensible and isn’t hard to see if you step back from the brainwashing the patriarchy has perpetrated over the ages. I get that when we’re looking at individual situations we can be grabbed by the flashiness of the “He-Men,” the ones who go on rampages (or threaten rampages) and terrorize people and from there conclude that because they’re threatening other individuals’ immediate survival, they must be the strongest and fittest and ergo this is what Darwin meant by “survival of the fittest.”

But really, even though aggressive assholes do sometimes “win” and we humans have learned to not cross you all to support our own longevity and sanity (if we can avoid you – though you all do hunt and terrorize some of us for sport and show), aggressive assholes are generally not very popular and they aren’t likely to get most of the social bennies that friendly people get from each other. Thus, aggressive assholes are not as likely to be ensconced in mutually supportive social groups that do a good job of supporting family units and children’s growth and potential. In other words, assholes are probably evolutionary blips whose lines are destined to die out quickly even though other individual assholes will blip into (and then out of) existence through genetic die rolls and misguided cultures that glorify these blips.

Seriously, if you think about it – how could a species persist if fitness was really predicated primarily on dominance and alpha male strength? Maybe there needs to be some of that energy in the mix (maybe, though I think I’m being generous here), but clearly if we were whittling everything down to alpha male dominance as THE sign of fitness, we’d have killed each other off eons ago. It’s just not a sustainable model. Rather, as Barnes and Woods postulate, nurture and friendliness are the qualities that allow for growth and sustained intergenerational life.

We haven’t done a thought experiment in a long time so let’s give one a whirl – let’s try and imagine what the world, the whole world would be like here in the year 2020 if instead of having cast “selection of the fittest” and natural selection around an alpha male model we had instead looked at it holistically and focused on what constitutes the glue that allows humans to survive and thrive. I posit that absolutely everything would be different from the way that we understand ourselves and how we fit into our families, communities, and the world to how we treat ourselves, each other, and the planet. The implications are vast. Just think what things would be like if it was a given that cooperation and care were prized and valued above “individual” achievement and profit – for everyone, not just who we tend to see as the traditional care-takers and care-givers. Rad, huh?

Actually, it’s so rad for someone like you that I’m 99% sure you can’t go there with me at all. But with or without clever evolutionary anthropologists, our dependence on one another and the need for friendliness is becoming ever more clear and I think before too long, the mythologized “He-Man” is going to go the way of the dinosaurs. At least he better since we can’t survive much longer if we continue to idolize him – he is bad news now and he’ll be way worse news tomorrow.

May we be safe to change the narrative.
May we be willing to let go of what does not serve us all.
May we radically reclaim true strength.
May we see that we have to let go of toxic masculinity in all its forms.

Sincerely,
Tracy Simpson

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