The Ghost World of Liberals and Conservatives   - March 2011


The Verhulst Equation


The Application of the Theory of Island Biogeography to Political-Religious Affiliation





Chapter 2


Back to the Verhulst Equation. The conservatives, especially the religious conservatives, exhibit behaviors and attitudes that correspond with higher rates of reproduction, which is closely related to the variable r. The liberals exhibit behaviors and attitudes related to high density populations, where N is close to K. As such, they are highly resistant to two of the most common periods of extinction across species: when populations are small; and, when populations have reached the carrying capacity of the habitat.

And this leads us to the work of Robert MacArthur and Edward Wilson. In 1967, they published the Theory of Island Biogeography, one of the most important works in the field of biogeography, and by pure accident, human political behavior. The Theory of Island Biogeography is a theory of species population distribution. At the core of this theory is the desirable habitat, the island, surrounded by a less desirable habitat, the ocean. What makes this interesting is when these island habitats start out with no species.

As species migrate to the new island, there is a distinctive choreography. First, MacArthur and Wilson noted that a a species that is able to establish populations on more than one island in an archipelago greatly reduces the risk of extinction. This is relevant to the study of conservatives and liberals, because it is founded upon two behaviors that improve species viability: the ability to increase habitat range; and the ability to create genetic diversity.

Second, island area varies directly with the number of species. From this, one can make a corresponding argument that geographic area and habitat variation induce greater variations in political-religious disposition. In other words, nations that occupy large and diverse geographic areas and genetically diverse populations are likely to be nations with wide political and religious differences across the population.

Third, cohesiveness is necessary for the survival of new colonists. This cross-species phenomenon noted by MacArthur and Wilson is best observed in humans among the very religious. Their social cohesiveness and their elevated reproductive rates are no coincidence. In new territories, social cohesion improves reproduction, income redistribution, defense, and the survival of small breeding populations, which is why the history of emigration prominently features coordinated religious emigration.



Indeed, this is corroborated by the Sosis and Bressler study of 83 religious and secular communes, which found that the mean longevity of religious communes was 35.6 years, while secular communes lasted an average of 7.7 years. As we have mentioned before, the cognitive coordination of the religious conservatives is remarkable, and this tendency of animal social behavior, adopted faithfully by humans, is phylogenetically ancient.

Fourth, the average survival time of a founding population increases exponentially with r. From MacArthur and Wilson’s findings with other species, we can presume the survival time of human colonies is also exponentially increased by the rate of population growth, be it from reproduction or immigration. The strong orientation of religious conservatives against abortion and gay marriage is the echo of this evolutionary pressure for species to withstand low population density.

Fifth, in a habitat with no crowding, genotypes that can harvest the most food will have the most offspring; in crowded areas, genotypes that can reproduce with the lowest amount of food will displace the less efficient forms of reproduction. This has direct implications on the thermodynamic characteristics of conservatives and liberals. Conservatives increase the amount of energy a habitat devotes to reproduction, while the liberals promote a greater tendency to reducing entropy in their environments. The larger and older the urban population, the more efficient it is in energy use.

Sixth, a new colonizing species favoring high reproductive rates will tend to change back to K selection, that is, reduce reproductive rates and maintain the population near the carrying capacity of the habitat. The applicability of this phenomenon to human behavior is certainly of great interest, as it implies a two-tier process of human dispersal and the occupation of new territory. The first phase is colonization and the rapid conversion of the energy into reproduction, with the second phase being a decrease in the energy devoted to reproduction and subsequently, population stability.

Of course, conservatives are more inclined to increase the habitat energy devoted to reproduction, while the liberals are more likely to promote population stability in the habitat. Concurrent with the human migration out of Africa is the formation of urban population centers slightly lagging behind the initial waves of modern human migration. This two-tier process seems to be symbiotic, and has increased the rate of human dispersal across the planet.

Besides the problems of extinction due to small breeding populations and habitat depletion, humans are exceptional in their ability for waging warfare. This has placed our species under considerable evolutionary stress, and curiously, conservatism and liberalism are central to the Darwinian adaptiveness of human conflict.

Conservatives organize for warfare quite effectively, and swell the ranks of both military and policing organizations. They maintain an eternal state of vigilance when it comes to potential threats from outgroups. They are forever communicating these threats to others, and respond more strongly to verbally communicated threats.

The liberals are less likely to join military organizations, less suspicious of strangers and outgroups, and more likely to avoid violent conflicts. In a species that has evolved in the specter of constant warfare, these liberalistic attitudes would seem to be at the mercy of the more militaristic conservatives. However, the rate of violent death has plunged considerably from prehistoric times to present day. There are several reasons for this.

Let's go back to the Vietnam War, which would have the unexpected result of assisting in the development of evolutionary game theory. In 1972, John Maynard Smith would connect game theory to the theory of animal conflict. Smith was a leftist, and in a poorly veiled social commentary about the Vietnam War, he invented the Hawk-Dove game that would pit his resource-stealing and war-mongering Hawks against his resource-sharing and peaceful Doves.

In Smith's initial model, when a Hawk encountered a Dove, the Dove fled, leaving all the resources for the Hawk. This was a pretty good situation for the Hawk, except for one slight problem: other Hawks. When a Hawk encountered another Hawk, this confrontation led to mutual destruction. After assigning evolutionary "values" to the permutations of Hawk and Dove confrontations, the evolutionary survival value of Hawkish behavior was equal to that of the Dove.



Smith had proposed the idea of the evolutionary stable system, as in the Hawk-Dove case where competitive strategies could not drive out cooperative strategies. However, evolution and stability are not very compatible, and Smith's line of reasoning was more designed to explain why both cooperation and competition would coexist among the same species.

Indeed, we are engaged in the constant state of competition and cooperation at every level of social organization, which reflects the fundamental competition and cooperation waged by our genes. More on this later. But there are indeed military advantages to liberalistic attitudes, and these lie in the survivability of large populations. Small populations are especially susceptible to extinction due to chronic warfare, and the liberalistic attitudes that stabilize large populations provide resistance to warfare-initiated extinction.

Further, liberalistic attitudes promote the formation of military alliances, while conservatives are more likely to go it alone. While counterintuitive, liberalistic attitudes indeed provide for advantages in the execution of human warfare. Arguably, a population reaches peak defensive efficiency with a wide spectrum of political disposition across the population.

Thus, the evolutionary pressure for conservatism and liberalism has been very strong. This raises a fundamental issue of political and religious disposition: is it shaped by genetics or environment? The answer to this question is both, and support for this viewpoint comes from several studies of homozygous and heterozygous twins reared apart.

To say that evolution did not plant the seeds of human political and religious disposition is to say that evolution didn't happen at all. Social organizations are fundamentally energy systems, that is, they all facilitate some form of energetic adaptation to the environment. This has left its mark on both the human genome and culture. This adaptiveness has led to the development of the socially specialized brain.

We are more energy efficient as a population if our brains are specialized. It seems that gregarious social life has taken full advantage of the cerebral lateralization of the brain, and improving a population's chances of survival. This has been noted Giorgio vallortigara, which led him to argue that the direction of behavioral asymmetries at the population level arises as an “evolutionarily stable system”.

Conservatives and liberals are the most cognitively divergent of the political cohorts, and are quite symbiotic when filling the diverse economic roles in a modern economy. While cognitive diversity has substantial advantages for species, the cost in humans is seen mainly in the political and religious conflict it induces.

So here we are, stuck forever in the parallax world of conservatism and liberalism, which are two of the great evolutionary advantages of our species. The conservatives extend habitat range and rapidly convert energy into reproduction, while the liberals increase the amount of human biomass a habitat can sustain. Together, they have made the human species fantastically successful, elevating us with the status of monarch species of the planet earth.

We have also created another mechanism for evolution: synthetic biology and the circumvention of the ordinary processes of natural selection. The long-term impact of this new era of evolution is unclear, and will be guided by this eternal conflict between conservatives and liberals. But one thing for sure, it's going to get done, our way.



Written and Narrated by Charles Brack, March 2011



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