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Sex, Murder And The Meaning Of Life


DesertBob
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The subject of this thread is the title of a book by research psychologist Douglas T. Kenrick. His thinking about how to understand the conflict between religion and areligion, between conservatives and liberals, intrigues me, and I'm interested in the reaction of others here.

 

His basic thesis, which he supports with research, is this. People frequently act contrary to their short term interests -- for example, they may sacrifice their own retirement to subsidize their children or grandchildren. Kenrick views this as a strategy for optimizing the outcomes of one's mating strategies, or of spreading one's genes as far and wide as possible, if you will.

 

When it comes to the current political climate in the US or the conflicts we see all the time in this space between believers and non-believers, Kenrick's research suggests that this, too, is ultimately a mating strategy. Here's the reasoning:

 

1) Religion, generally speaking, puts strict limits on extramarital sex and has strong protections against infidelity, as well as encouragements to procreate or outright prohibitions against contraception. The natural outcome of this is that people tend to marry younger and stay with one partner for life and have more children. Because of that resource and energy expenditure, they also tend to be less educated. In exchange, the strictures of the faith protect their mate from being poached by rivals.

 

2) The areligious, generally speaking, marry much later, after they have finished their education and stabilized their career. Since it's hard to be asexual that long, they tend to have more sexual partners in the meantime and inherently resent the intrusion of people who wish to control their private behaviors. They tend to have fewer children. They tend to value independent thought and being fully informed.

 

3) Ergo, the real conflict between the godly and the godless, the conservative and the liberal, is really just a difference in mating strategies. The religious have "slippery slope" fears of the loss of a way of life that protects their "all eggs in one basket" investment, and the areligious resist moral dictates that are contrary to their personal lifestyle choices and which would tend to limit the value they can get from extended education and career flexibility, as well as optimal intimate relationships with like minded persons.

 

It is tricky to condense his thinking into a few sentences and I hope I haven't misrepresented or over-simplified it, but his thinking resonates with what I have observed and it explains a lot to me. It helps me understand the concerns and fears on both sides. Of course it flirts with over-generalization but I think the whole point is to come up with the broad-stroke overall strategies behind both worldviews, not to attempt to ignore the messy complexities of particular examples.

 

Thoughts, reactions, anyone?

 

--Bob

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I think it's as accurate as a generalization can be. People will point to exceptions, but generally that's the way it seems to work in our current society.

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I'll have to look up Kenrick. I'm not 100 percent in agreement with the sociobiological perspective prominent within psychoolgy and social sciences, though. I do think that bronze age sexual ethics of many monotheists are byproducts of reproductive strategies (lets face it, the Old Testament is pretty explicit about what the meaning of life is, obey God and live to see your seed fill the earth, not at all incompatible with Darwinian evolution), but it doesn't follow that a secularist more tolerant of non-monogamy is in fact motivated by a different reproductive strategy. He's more likely influenced by modernism; Descartes, Kant, and Locke, and their views of the self, autonomy, and personal freedom- issues of personal genetic immortality weigh less in importance than the pursuit of truth, beauty, goodness, creativity for its own sake.

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