Tuesday, October 23, 2007

My Latest Evolutionary Quandary

A strange thing happened last week and it has raised this question for me:

How much of a persons personal situation should be taken into account when judging how to react?


Studies have shown that humans are far more likely to remember faces of those who cheated them than those who did not. This "cheater detection" makes evolutionary sense: If I wish to protect myself from further damage, I better remember their face. Maybe this is also why people hold grudges, are unable to forgive and developed such emotions as frustration, anger as well as the ability to plan ahead.

This need for protection must have also lead to loyalty and perhaps even the tool that so many dictators use: mob mentality. Mind, I am not referring to group selectionism, because it doesn't exist. Mob mentality would be beneficial because you are raiding or attacking a different group together and there is safety in numbers especially when you all receive similar advantages upon being successful. You go and steal women, adding to your gene pool. Chances are, you are already related to everyone in your group* so this has many advantages. New blood introduced into the group and your brother might find a mate, thus passing at least some of your genetic material, not to mention the chance to spread your own genetic material around some, with the women you don't steal.

People search for these mobs, false groups are created, people are constantly looking to belong to something or someone. No one stays in their home towns any more and home towns are much bigger than they ever used to be. It' s no wonder that things like facebook and MySpace are so popular - in the old days, you knew your ex-boyfriend was still working at the soda fountain because you saw him there. Nowadays, the curiosity is still there, but how to go about satisfying it, seeing as you can't just walk passed the shop window? What about Second Life? All the ease of belonging to something with none of the pressure that goes along with it.


So how do identify cheaters when you can't actually see their face or really know anything about them beyond what they have chosen to share with you (which may be a baldfaced lie from them, entirely misinterpreted on your part, half truths, whole truths, mostly truths, believed to be truths but in actuality false, preconceptions, misunderstandings and what is reality anyway?).

All these questions exist in face to face interactions but, true to form, the internet magnifies, aggrandizes and intensifies to absurd proportions. Take for example, written word. It both allows for complete descriptions of emotions and feelings but leaves the door wide open for any interpretation the reader chooses. For the purposes of this examination, let's say the email replaced the letter. It not only replaced it, it created it's own purpose, it's own language, it's own set of etiquette rules. But people write emails now instead of letters. Letters take a long time to be written, sent, read and replied to. They have to be drafted, reread and let's face it, having to find a stamp, an envelope and an address is much more time consuming than hitting the send button. So what we have is a magnification of misinterpretation, simply by reason of the fact that email is faster. This misinterpretation is augmented by the short, sharp nature expected of emails. The composition form of a letter, the use of descriptive language and lengthy material is inappropriate. To borrow from Orwell, we are developing a form of Newspeak.


This brings me to my own issue. How do I feel about a person who may or may not have undisclosed personal issues who has expressed, via several emails, deep and venomous disapproval the decision that Ryan and I have made to get married? Through the email that she may or may not suspect me to have read, she questions Ryan's true intentions and suggests that he has made a very unwise and rash decision for no reason other than his wanting to inflict intense pain on everyone he is close to. She uses members of his family as examples of people he has made miserable and by doing this she avoids any culpability.

In short, she sounds prideful, hurt and angry, but mostly tremendously unhappy and not necessarily because of Ryan. I think about her particular situation: cold, in a trailer, up north, with few friends. The winter is drawing near, it must just be getting colder. She doesn't drive, so she must take the bus to school. It's much wetter up north so that means standing in the rain. She is an older undergraduate student. She has no one to really commiserate with besides her husband and perhaps alienates herself as a matter of principal. She perhaps has made some mistakes and is too proud to admit them, to afraid to appear fallible for some reason.

None of this is revealed in any of her emails: it is all secondary information and conjecture. She doesn't mention herself being miserable at all in the email, her displeasure is expressed instead by her incense and moral outrage at Ryan's behaviour.

It almost feels dishonest and unfair that she is not revealing more of herself in the email. To me she has left the impression of a "cheater" to use the evolutionary psychology sense of the term. Her only mention of herself and her own experience is to assert that she was indeed a much more emotionally mature person as well as much more prepared for marriage at 19 than Ryan is at 26. She is also angered that he brought her experience up at all - claiming that the discussion was not about her, it was about him.

As much as I give people the benefit of the doubt, second chances, third chances, 50th chances, especially when I think about their extenuating circumstances or even just regular circumstances, I can't shake this feeling of dislike for her. I think I regard her, innately, as a "cheater" and someone not to be trusted. Someone who holds values that I find unattractive. This bothers me because is singularly uncharacteristic of me to abjectly dislike someone for not attacking me directly. Especially someone who's opinions bear little or no effect on my own life. Most especially someone I haven't even met. I consider it immoral and against my principles.

So I am in, once again, an evolutionary quandary. My genetic programming is telling me to be annoyed, mistrustful and to dislike her and yet my education, principles and culture are telling me that not only is it a waste of time, it's mean and unfair. How do I reconcile this?

*you're probably related to the next tribe over too, just not as closely - and beyond 1st cousins, the danger of deleterious recessives is as negligible as breeding with a stranger on the street

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