I decided to read this book because as a human being with a strong emotional environment, I wanted to find out about how this relates to my animal self. It is my belief that human beings contain an animal self and a human self, mostly interconnected, there are times when one has to choose between the two. Overcoming instincts and passions is how we manage to stay secure and part of the community in many instances.
The book takes us through a series of interesting sections of evolutionary psychology. From Darwin to Goodall, a variety of sources are drawn on to show that animal behaviour demonstrates some kind of social conditioning in which behaviour is governed. On certain levels in lower lifeforms such as fish, we see that genetics play a role in which behaviour traits individuals express. In higher life such as apes the behavioural traits are created by nurture and circumstance as much as what they inherit from their parents.
It's when the author goes into gender specific behaviour that I find myself at odds with the rhetoric. It is in my understanding that male and female individuals have personality bell curves that flow across all possible personalities. It's true that personality traits often come in groups, each complimenting and validating the other. The male and female personality bell-curves overlap and it's only at the extremities where strong differences can be quantified. The book doesn't see it like this. Robert Wright subscribes to the Mars and Venus model which places men and women on completely different worlds. This may be true on one level, particularly emotionally, however in society as a whole it's clearly not true. Forcing people to choose between distant planets based on their personality may not help those who struggle with identity issues.
There are times when I catch myself thinking “Is this guy a psychopath?” when describing the most evolutionary proper male type. The author goes into great detail about monogamous relationships are the bane of a male's desires and in less sociologically advanced groups, men are permitted many wives as along as they can prove their worth. It seems to me that Robert Wright undertakes a degree of posturing and male-centric chest-puffing through the means of poorly defined argument. Maybe I'm strange, but he doesn't talk about the kind of man I am. He's also dismissive of women's empowerment at times. I find it difficult to accept, even if it's written with clarity.
The author provides a cold and scientific analysis of why we have morals. It's what I should have expected, and for the same reasons I left the science field, in that the work is completely left brain. The two hemispheres are what give us a rich human experience. Connected on many levels but unable to translate each other's signals, it's the combination of the two perspectives that give us our consciousness. Linear and holistic thought combine. Science is linear, it discredits symbolism and metaphor in favour of fact and statistic. This is good for finding the truth out there but bad for understanding us as people. Turning this idea onto consciousness itself is a mistake.
The book is worth reading as in between the glaring issues, that some may not notice or may interpret differently, there is a lot of interesting information in there. When reading between the lines of opinion, we can gain a proficient understanding of how emotions and feelings has become essential for survival. However, as an antidote to the dry and uncaring style in which it is written, I've now turned my attention to The Master and His Emissary by Ian McGilchrist. It's about the two hemispheres and how putting them both to use is essential.
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From the author of Alternative Fruit
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