According to this guy, our biology is too ancient for our cultural innovations.
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The Hare, the Tortoise, and the Aurora Madman
By David Barash
I’m not so naïve as to think that the Aurora tragedy will cause any change in the stunning U.S. refusal to engage in anything that even approaches minimally common-sense gun control. (How crazy is it, for example, that people on terrorist watch lists are still permitted to purchase assault rifles?) The Republican Party is besotted with the NRA, while the Democrats are scared silly of it. And of course, following every massacre, the claim will be made, as it has been before, that if only the populace were more armed—not less—we would have witnessed a classic Gunfight at the OK Corral, with citizen Wyatt Earp blowing away the bad guy(s) … just like in the movies.
Nor am I so egotistical as to think that my biological argument for gun control will likely persuade those self-styled “gun nuts” who are probably beyond any logical argumentation. Moreover, I’ve made this particular argument before... But I nonetheless remain persuaded that (1) it applies and (2) it offers what might for some people be a new and useful way of looking at the wider problem of violence—toward the environment as well as each other—more generally. So here goes, in summary form:
Far more than any other critter, we Homo saps are stuck between two worlds, biological evolution and cultural evolution. The former is a Darwinian, genetic process, necessarily slow because it cannot proceed more rapidly than the replacement of genetic alleles by alternatives; hence, it is limited by generation times as well as selection coefficients. The latter is Lamarckian, a process of cultural change that occurs via the non-genetic “inheritance” of acquired cultural/technological characteristics; hence, it is several orders of magnitude more rapid, with dramatic changes often occurring during one lifetime....
...Although I believe that the hare-tortoise discrepancy shows itself in many aspects of modern life..., the issue is especially joined, I believe, when it comes to violence. In short, our ancestors are biologically ill-adapted to inflict violent death on each other, what with our recessed jaws, laughably small teeth and absent talons, lethal poisons, etc. We are, however, inordinately capable of doing just this because of our cultural “advances.” Accordingly, we are more threatened by the evolved adaptations we lack than by those we possess: especially, by our relative lack of inhibitions (appropriate to a biologically non-lethal species) combined with our extraordinary technological “advances” when it comes to killing, at distance, and with very little physical effort....
...But the argument applies, as well, to the recent Aurora tragedy, and to gun violence generally: Although it is possible, I’d imagine, to kill someone with a ping-pong paddle or a fly swatter, it is much easier to do so with a gun. Thanks—no thanks!—to weapons technology, we have armed ourselves with inordinate force multipliers, capable of transducing a fraction of an ounce of pressure into an immensely lethal outcome. And doing so again and again....