In just my own circle of acquaintances, I am aware of three similar instances which have occurred in the last few years. In each case, a single woman of around 30 years old has married a man, had three kids with him, and then in her mid-40s, announced to her husband that he isn’t her type and has ended the marriage. This damaged her own children but for some reason, each one thought it was worthwhile.
It was all a puzzle until this video in which Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson talks of research which details the types of male protagonists women like to see in the porn they watched. Women watching porn are attracted to five types: vampire, werewolf, billionaire, pirate, and surgeon. So, it seems that these women upon turning 30-odd were aware that their biological clock was ticking and married whoever was available to have children. Then, when that was done, they went back to the search for the elusive pirate or werewolf.
This goes against millions of years of the biological and cultural evolution of our species. Modern society, having conquered scarcity for the moment, has been running on cultural inertia. We have cultural norms that evolved to maximise productivity in our society. That culture then interacted with our genome. For example, one thousand years ago the Western judicial system started rinsing out the genes for violence in a positive feedback loop.
But we aren’t really aware of why we have those cultural norms. And to a large extent modern politics is about trying to avoid the embarrassment of human biology. It is now thought that just because some single women are too lazy, unattractive or inept to attract a mate, they shouldn’t miss out on having babies. So the community is taxed to pay for their chosen lifestyle. And because the children themselves are quite labour-intensive to look after, government-funded childcare has been expanded – and the demand for that is infinite.
The people now being taxed to pay for the chosen lifestyles of others are themselves so well fed that they are complacent about it all. That is compounded by a problem in Western democracies that single women tend to vote for left-wing candidates and policies. If they get married and have children they start voting conservative, instinctively realising perhaps that taxes to pay for the fatherless children of others is taking food out of the mouths of their own children. But, if never married, they vote for redistributive policies that suppress individual productivity. They are a scourge on our society.
This tendency will ratchet up until it is no longer tenable. And that moment may be coming soon. Sydney-based prophet Richard Fernandez senses that we are approaching a discontinuum:
Once you break the precedent and dash the old political paradigm to pieces you really can’t stop short of establishing a new one. There is no pausing in the middle because there is no middle. This is the iron curse of every revolution.
Breaking symmetry can lead to collapse when it disrupts an equilibrium necessary for the stability and functionality of a system. Many complex systems rely on a certain level of balance and feedback to maintain stability.
Disrupting complex systems can lead to unforeseen consequences because they are typically composed of many interdependent parts that interact in nonlinear ways, and even small changes in one part of the system can have far-reaching effects.
That new world coming will require a new political system and this provides the opportunity to make society happier and more productive. This will be achieved by re-aligning societal norms with our biology. The less discordance there is between our culture and our biology, the less societal friction there will be. Individual productivity will rise and so will our standard of living.
Humans are only 400 generations from our past as purely hunter-gatherers. Before that we had 80,000 generations of pair-bonding of which at least the last 12,000 generations had the adult males hunting in groups. We are still largely hunter-gatherers from the plains of Africa.
Why that all is important is detailed in a study by Richard Skoyles entitled “Human metabolic adaptations and prolonged expensive neurodevelopment: A review”. Humans are the most intelligent species. Cats and dogs have IQs in the 30 to 40 range, Australian aboriginals 60, black Africans 70, Saharan Africa 80, China, Japan and Europe are about 100, and Ashkenazi Jews 115.
To get to that IQ, children, compared to the young of other species, have an extended childhood during which they have reliable food provision from the family and the tribe. A high proportion of this food provision is to support brain function and development. In children the brain consumes about 60% of the basic metabolic rate, compared to the adult rate of 20%, and 40% of total energy expenditure versus 10% in adults.
The metabolic expensiveness of the pediatric brain is due to synapse activation combined with synapse numbers up to double that of adults. Among mammals, humans have a unique pattern in which very slow skeletal body growth is followed by a marked adolescent growth spurt whereas other primates have a sustained fast juvenile growth with only a minor period of growth acceleration in puberty. This has been shown to date back to 160,000 years ago.
Between the ages of four and nine, a child’s brain consumes 50% more energy than the adult brain. A child’s liver produces glucose at near the adult rate despite being a third of the size. The brain uses 12% more glucose during problem solving.
The energy cost of the brain in children is much higher per unit of volume than in adults due to a continuing high rate of synapse formation. Across adult vertebrates, the mean energy consumption of the central nervous system is 5.3%. This rises to 10% in primates and 20% in humans.
Figure 1: Female energy production and consumption in hunter-gatherer bands
Figure 2: Male energy production and consumption in hunter-gatherer bands
Figure 3: Hunter-gatherer energy production by age
Energy production only comes to equal energy consumption for men at 18 years-of-age, while for women this is delayed until 45 years-of-age when they cease to be mothers of dependent children. This is based upon human data averaged for the Ache tribe of Paraguay, the Hiwi tribe of Colombia, and the Hadza hunter-gathering band of Tanzania.
Figure 4: Makeup of energy expenditure by age
Brain energy consumption peaks at 70% of the basal metabolic rate at age 4.
This high investment greatly enhances the capacity of humans for complex thought. One key innovation is that while lactation is gradually replaced with weaning foods, as in many other primates, these foods are to a large extent not gathered by the juvenile but provided by adults including tribe members not directly related by blood.
Several factors interlink with this shift by humans to the highly prolonged adult provisioning of juveniles. One is the dietary change that occurred in the genus Homo to foods that require highly specialized adult skills.
The australopith (4.1 To 1.4 million years ago) diet like that of other hominoids was predominately vegetarian and so required few adult-specific skills. But with the Homo diet, this changed to one that depended upon proficient complex forms of expertise since it included high-energy foods, such as meat and tubers, that were acquired by adults in a wide territory using socially cooperative-based hunter-gathering.
Further, at some stage, the energy and nutrition content of such foods was enhanced by adult skills in cooking. Cooked meat requires 25% less energy to digest than raw meat.
A further key behavioural innovation––because it radically changes the reliability of energy provision and its support for juveniles and mothers––is group food pooling behaviour.
In studies of hunter-gatherer tribes, group food pooling behaviour has been found to occur in a substantial proportion of the high energy foods collected by the tribe.
Group food pooling behaviour minimizes differences in the individual capacity to acquire food resources. Importantly, it also makes food availability more reliable for any individual band member since its buffers them against daily variability in their own foraging success.
This is crucial to survival since the high-energy foods exploited by human foragers cannot be relied upon on a daily basis as they are environmentally patchy.
A consequence of food pooling is that hunter-gatherer foragers lack within-group variations in body mass index and percent body fat and exist in what anthropologists call “nutritional homogeneity”. This equal access to resources across the forager band has the effect of equalizing the growth of its children irrespective of the hunting ability of their parents.
This situation contrasts with wild hominoids such as chimpanzees which show marked individual differences in mass related to their own or their mother’s ability to gather food.
The extra weight gain in human juveniles provides for tissue energy banking. Human newborns are 15% fat rising to 25% at 18 months. This human energy banking generally enhances survival since mortality in primates occurs mostly during the first year of life.
Another problem specific to humans is the greater vulnerability of human infants to such energy shortages due to the exceptionally high energy consumption, relative to the rest of their bodies, of their very large brains.
A major cause of early death is the very high energy demands of illness. Every one degree C rise in body temperature increases basal metabolic rate by 13%; infections can raise resting metabolic rate by 15-30%, and cause a 15-30% loss in body weight.
Children spend two to three years after they have weaned (2.3 to 3.2 years of age) without adult dentition (acquired 5.5 to 6 years of age). As a result, instead of lactation, they rely in this critical period upon food ingested with temporary teeth, in place by 24 months that has thin enamel and short roots, and so is easily broken and worn.
Thus, for two to three years, unlike other primates that receive a much longer lactation, they are totally dependent upon ingesting high energy adult foods for which they are not evolved, and for which they have inappropriate teeth. This requires that adults not only provision them but that they also can select and prepare appropriate types of food.
Unlike other body organs, the brain does not scale up through cell addition during
development but is formed in the fetus with most of its adult cell mass of neurons (and to a lesser extent also that of its glial support cells). In humans, the peak of neuron production is 15-20 weeks gestation and that of glial cells from 30 weeks to the end of the first year.
No significant numbers of new neurons are created after birth, though there is a continual turnover in glial cells. This initial cell mass is created with an initial exuberance of components (neurons, axons, synaptic junctions) that is pruned with maturation.
The existence of prolonged, energy-expensive neurodevelopment in children suggests that this is as important to human evolution as increased brain size. Brain size within modern human range was achieved several hundred thousand years ago. Neanderthals, for example, have similar or greater cranial volume than modern humans even though the two species of humans separated from a common ancestor 311,000 to 435,000 years ago. Why brain size hasn’t increased is an open question.
One theory is that it could link to the difficulties of passing heads of larger size through the birth canal, in the context of obstetric problems, and limits upon further pelvis expansion due to the biomechanics of efficient bipedality. Put another way, if women’s legs were any further apart, they would have difficulty walking, let alone running. Another factor could be that white matter increases as a proportion of the brain as brain size increases.
As a result, any increase in brain size produces a larger increase in white matter than grey matter, a situation of diminishing returns. Total brain size only moderately correlates with IQ.
Given that human brains had already arisen several hundred thousand years ago in the modern human brain size range, it seems that a further increase in size was not necessarily of much advantage.
This implies that additional evolutionary increases in cognitive ability could have come about through some other change to the brain such as an increased period of superabundant synapses during childhood.
Childhood is a unique stage characterized by nonlactational dependence that has been inserted into human development between infancy (dependent upon lactation) and juvenility (capable of independent feeding prior to the onset of reproductive maturity).
Human childhood is metabolically notable as a period during which body growth is extraordinary slow—half that of juvenile chimpanzees. Indeed, the body growth of human children is on the growth rate line of reptiles, not mammals nor other primates.
Final human adult size and stature occurs not because of childhood growth, but a rapid height spurt that peaks at 14-15 (males) and 12-13 (females).
Human brain development is linked physiologically to body growth due to the competitive allocation of energy between the brain and the body. The childhood brain, indeed, due to its size and high energy consumption dominates the energy budget of the entire body.
The brain and body are in particular competition for energy when skeletal muscle requires energy during prolonged strenuous activity. This energy cannot be drawn from muscle reserves. This puts the child’s brain and its skeletal muscle into conflict in regard to hepatic (liver) generated glucose. Importantly, the extent and intensity of this competition will relate to the quantity of the skeletal muscle that exists in juveniles and so their body size.
Together with the above noted glucose competition, they might have acted to advantage the evolutionary selection of slow growth and the smaller body size that
characterizes modern children.
Metabolically adult skeletal muscle can consume 40-fold more energy—24 Watts per kg —than at rest—0.6 Watts per k, and so considerably exceed the activity of the brain (a five year-old child has 5.6 kg of skeletal muscle, a male adult, 29 kg, and female adult, 17.5 kg).
By three to four years of age, the human brain is near adult size with the range of hepatic glucose production approaching that of adults. However the liver at 0.57 kg is substantially smaller than in the adult male at 1.8 kg or adult female at 1.3 kg.
The glucose regulation in children shows evidence of lacking the reserve margin found in adults to provide additional plasma glucose when there is heightened physiological demand. The half life rate of turnover of plasma glucose in a 15 kg child is 26 minutes, but 78 minutes in an 80 kg adult.
The quantity of glucose at any particular time in plasma in children is thus very limited – four grams of glucose equivalent in weight to all the sugar in two tablespoons of Coca Cola.
Consistent with this, children who engage in sports show reduced spontaneous activity that afterwards results in them having no greater total energy expenditure than children who do not engage in sports. The pediatric brain reacts to intense and prolonged exercise with behavioural motor fatigue.
It is notable that human food pooling also acts to buffer food resources but at the group bonded level. This benefits adults as much as dependent young and pregnant/lactating mothers, and so allows foraging humans to exploit more patchy but higher energy food sources.
Central to these processes is the capacity of humans for making and sharing richly detailed accounts of other peoples’ behaviours that can affect their social reputations. Of 308 conversations studied in one hunter-gatherer band, 171 involved criticism linked to enforcement of norms. Of these, 22% involved mocking, joking, or pantomime; 41%, outright complaint or criticism; 35%, harsh criticism; and 2% actual violence.
Group food pooling behaviour gave us our big brains. The downside is that working hard is discouraged. The death rate in hunting groups is proportional to how far they have to go to bring back game. Once you were fed you stopped work because that only got you killed with no benefit to your own family. If it took a while for the tribe to eat a carcass then it would start going off. Rather than waste the rotting meat, humans adapted to that by developing stomach acid with a pH of 1.2, equivalent to that of scavenging animals such as vultures.
Group food pooling also meant that we had 12,000 generations of enforced communism – from each according to his ability, and to each according to his needs. Then along came the adoption of agriculture. The first dental caries seen are in skeletons 15,000 years old, showing that our diet had started changing. Wheat growing was in full swing by 10,000 years ago. This turned the tables. Instead of extra work getting you killed, the harder you worked the more grain you could store and the more likely you would survive a drought. Civilisation took off as individual productivity was maximised.
The implication of all this is that socialism is reactionary, based on a system of human organisation that went out of date 10,000 years ago. And shedding that reactionary mindset makes better people. It is well known that conservatives are happier than socialists and also have a greater sense of meaning in their lives.
Now is the time to ask Lenin’s question: What is to be done? Even older than group food pooling behaviour is pair bonding, 80,000 generations of it. All human societies evolved a form of marriage and the reason for that hasn’t changed. Human babies and infants are so labour-intensive that it takes more than one adult to look after them. Trying to pretend otherwise results in discord, anxiety and disappointment.
In the coming cathartic event alluded to by Richard Fernandez, everything will be on the table. To make a better society by re-aligning cultural norms with our biology, voting by females should be restricted to those who have produced two infants in wedlock. This will remove the problem of single women voting left-wing. This can and should be done.
David Archibald is the author of The Anticancer Garden in Australia
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