A friend of mine is a psychologist, and in a recent conversation, she expressed a dislike for evolutionary psychology. In her view, it justifies a cynical and sometimes brutal view on humans.
As any story, the story of evolution is a tool, and it can be used in many different ways.
It is true, some have used a particularly distorted versions of Social Darwinism to justify brutality and injustice. The Nazis are probably the most extreme example.
And yet, the story of evolution can also be used with great wisdom and compassion, as a support for ourselves and others, and even for non-human species and future generations. And more and more scientists, psychologists and others are catching on to this.
For instance, through DNA studies we recognize the close relationship between all humans, and really all life, and this deepens a sense that we are all in the same boat. It broadens our sense of “us”. Humanity is quite literally one family, as is all life. As this sinks in, and we not only know but feel this at a deep level, our choices and actions naturally change to reflect this perspective.
The Epic of Evolution can also give us a deeply felt sense of belonging to the Earth and the universe, recognizing that we are – in the words of Carl Sagan – the local eyes, ears, thoughts and feelings of the Universe. Our lives are deeply meaningful, simply because we are part of this amazing and evolving Earth and Universe.
And becoming aware of our evolutionary predispositions, and its sometimes mismatch with modern life, can give us compassion for ourselves and others, and strategies for creating conditions for ourselves and others that can minimize these problems, and even turn them into a support for our lives. Knowing that we are predisposed for eating fats and sugars, and that we owe our survival as a species to just that predisposition, we can have a little more compassion with ourselves when we succumb to the desire to eat more fats and sugars than we know is healthy for us. And that mental distance and disidentification can help us find and apply more effective strategies for working with it.