Is Natural Selection To Blame For The Current Political Landscape?

A new book suggests an evolutionary explanation for contemporary political division.

By Joy DiazFebruary 19, 2019 7:15 am,

When it comes to how people perceive politics, it’s possible that evolutionary science and biology play a larger role than we think.  Hector Garcia explores this idea in his book “Sex, Power, and Partisanship.”

Clay Smith is the editor-in-chief of Kirkus Reviews based in Austin. He says Garcia’s thesis is that there is a biological reason for some of the nation’s current political turmoil, and why people choose sides as they do.

“He’s really investigating how natural selection has left us with political desires or preferences that originally took hold in early human history because they afforded our ancestors certain survival advantages,” Smith says.

So, natural selection makes us either MSNBC or Fox News viewers? Not quite, Smith says.

“This is the problem with using evolutionary science as a framework for analyzing contemporary politics. . . if you take that point of view it really leaves us as atavistic robots, creatures of our ancient desires,” he says.

But this book does stand apart from other contemporary books on politics.

“In a publishing landscape where there are a lot of partisan books from the left and the right about what is wrong with the other side… this book doesn’t get into that, it really takes a step back,” Smith says.

Psychological traits like fear of disease may be partly to blame for contemporary political tribalism and polarization.

“In early human history, we didn’t have antibiotics or sterilization, obviously, so we avoided human vectors of disease… that could be entire groups of people who were different from ourselves,” Smith says. “The way that translates to nowadays is… xenophobia and fear of others. You can see that playing out in the immigration debates that are going on with the border wall.”

What can we do to move beyond fears and insecurities that might be biologically based?

“[Garcia] calls it going from blindness to sight,” Smith says. “It involves self-awareness. The contemporary media landscape reinforces tribalism very much so. Reading outside the news sources you are used to might also help.”

Smith says that Garcia has both a practical and theoretical background in psychology.

“He’s studied a lot about PTSD and male psychology,” Smith says. “In addition to being an assistant professor of psychiatry at UT Health Sciences Center in San Antonio, he is a practicing psychologist. In my other role, as the literary director for the San Antonio Book Festival, we are having him talk about this book.”

The San Antonio Book Festival will be held April 6 and is free and open to the public.

Written by Brooke Reaves.