Why bother with evolutionary explanations? We are all Leggo stacks of complex adaptive systems, formed by contests of varying intensities and durations. Goodness knows how long serotonin has been in us, elaborated perhaps from digestive regulation and through fractal events assuming regulatory functions for sleep, temperature, and the lavender masterpiece of guilt and rejection sensitivity. Psychological Adaptations are thought to be sturdy, tested in many ways and by many adversaries. The implication is that we don't have to worry about transient memes, whether mismatch, Islam or managed care. Evolution will proceed regardless of our explanations. (1)
I wish I believed things were so simple, that the acceptance mode was the safe one. There is still too much r-selection in my spirit, the K-selection ethics of Buddha do not satisfy me, however adaptive they may be when population approaches environmental limits as it has in California.
I also fear the social repression that occurs in Islam or Buddhism; regardless of the different levels of arousal associated with each of them, the outcomes for my conduct, for my thinking, are intolerable. (So says an r-selection type!). Likewise, for the social repression that can occur in a small town, whether in Pennsylvania or Iowa. Again, when resources are limited, it's important to cooperate so that all survive, that is, all but the disruptive and the impatient. It's important in K-selection to have lower serotonin levels (and whatever other chemicals are associated with compliance). Although there is supposed to be no "group selection," groups consisting of individuals who do not conform to alliances do not survive because few of the individuals in them survive. (Drive out enough people and r-conditions again prevail? Gosh, an evolutionary foundation for being obnoxious!)
Unfortunately, Evolution's modern caricature plays the villain in a Saturday morning bout between Power Rangers and Evil. Tennyson and Spencer likely helped the rendering, whether in protest or inadvertently. Richard Dawkins is seen currently as the mean guy alongside that nastiness E.O. Wilson.
Someday, these polarities may be seen as another instance of competition spurring diversification. Of similar creeds emphasizing differences in order to retain adherents. The Judeo-Christian ethics system is consistent with evolutionary theory; otherwise, the former would not be in its present form and the latter would have to be revised. The contest, to the death on one side, between Islam and Judaism or between Islam and western science are likely another such product. Sagan's Martian, with more than an Olympian perspective, would see the common origins of either faith. The Old Testament and the Koran are sprouts from the same root. Islam once nurtured science; now science is an expression of the Great Satan competing with Allah for souls. Behaviorism nipped Freud in the ankles only to be embarrassed by Chimpsky. Religion quarrels with Science and mental health is overrun with squabbling flocks.
So, what is to be done? Hamlet couldn't make decisions and is not an admirable character for all his pathos. He didn't survive, he didn't reproduce. His traits were eliminated from the gene pool. He, by obsessing, made the decision to die. Ambivalence and acceptance have the same behavior outcome --- no action. Imagine Hamlet on a bale of St. John's Wort! He decks his uncle, stockades his mom, and gets Ophelia pregnant.
Mounds of supernormal organizations grow, fed by population, by our superb organizational skills, and by our ability to forage every scrap of useful anything. We have a lot of Band-Aids for the resultant Mismatch, whether television, QA audits in health care, or Adult Barbies. McDonalds gives us known icons that signal acceptance, respite, and refueling. The computer will eventually recognize all of us even when our physicians do not. Our kids, perhaps adaptively, are becoming more feral. Moms are missing but hurt that Junior "cares less" about her directions. But, mom works to pay for daycare and her leftover change supplies electronic toys. Or she works to pay for an automobile designed to keep even the most unadapted alive in rush hour traffic, a vehicle she needs because she works. We are trapped by immediacy and lose the longer term.
This evolution stuff, the labored descriptions of adaptations and EEA, the tension about missing links, the hypothecated mechanics of Mismatch, should give us a survival edge in the contemporary meadow, the field of ideas as well as those of goods, services, and organizational structure. Our times are promising for evolutionary concepts, perhaps because of so many social changes now occurring. Larger organizations are breaking up (while those in more level fitness landscapes such as the Middle East, remain large and rigid) for reasons perhaps best understood by Stu Kauffman (1995). (Change the fitness landscape and Islam will erode, downsize, and mutate just as Buddhism or western values will.) There now are openings for explanatory schemes that are quiet, effective, and (therefore? consistent with our Psychological Adaptations.
The concept of "mismatch" seems ever more relevant and we feel an obligation, because of our training as well as our evolved natures, to do something about it in even in a small way in the domain of clinical practice, that of tuning our psychological adaptations. For example, alliances and families once had continuity through lifetimes. The erosion of alliances (across our lives from day care through senescence) has significant implications for all of our patients.
a) A consistent issue is that of managed care networks and their impact on alliances between people. Given the recurrent and formal nature of the contacts between healers and managed care, one could expect substantial reciprocity and mutual monitoring in a Tit-for-Tat strategy. (Some of us may have other thoughts about ESS for "Sucker/Cheater" as well!)
b) Our patients tend to be more transient and alliances less formal, especially in managed care environments.
c) The conflict arises in that one of our evolved, psychological adaptations is that for forming alliances with each other. Our patients expect the alliance to be with them and most of us reciprocate; however, that alliance can be in conflict with other alliances we professionals may have with insurance organizations and those organizations, in turn, with the stockholders.
However, public acceptance of evolutionary approaches is likely better now than in our country's past. (Although I drew stares from one older couple at Staples when reproducing the course flyers, my talks are usually enjoyed and accepted positively at the local Rotary Club in rural Pennsylvania.) The "Discovery Channel" and similar outlets share evolution with the public. I hope the effect is that all of our children and more of us adults see ourselves as part of a fabric with other living and non-living events.
There has been a change in the tides of opinion about nature-nurture. Even though most of us have abandoned this polarity, it still is a part of our client's world. More people than ever accept the notion of biological foundations for their conduct. They are seeking good information about their feelings in the ancient dilemmas of courtship, childrearing, family life, and grieving as well as the issues of social dominance, rejection, and fear.
If the concepts of psychological adaptations and of evolution have merit, they should enhance the survival and reproductive fitness of those carrying them (so says Dawkins!). I think it's worth a shot, now, to integrate sociobiology into clinical practice. To give close scrutiny to our treatment of one another and to design organizations, whether schools or health care in smaller modules, with greater local autonomy, and with greater allegiance to the people coming through them. It will happen eventually. Perhaps some of us can ease the transition while there remain some degrees of freedom in our outcomes.
Kauffman, Stuart (1995) "At Home in the Universe." NY: Oxford. As always, Brian Goodwin (1994, "How the Leopard Changed Its Spots: The Evolution of Complexity," NY: Simon & Schuster) and some of Lynn Margulis' indignation (1997, Margulis L & Sagan D, "Slanted Truths: Essays on Gaia, Symbiosis, and Evolution," NY: Springer-Verlag) and imagination are important mind-stretchers.
1) There was little data but interesting debates between the operant types in regard to the influence of oral-instructed vs. trial and error learning. It's still a relevant point. I can train most white rats to pull a string to turn on a light and to press a lever for water whenever the light is on. Leave the light off, the rat hangs on the string. Leave the light on, the rat never bothers with the string but presses the lever constantly, drinking water whenever it's presented. At no time have I lectured the rat, yet it "understands" the relationship between the light and reinforcer availability; it has a skill for managing the light. Rats can learn up to 200 such links in a response chain (and probably more; I suspect the psychologist ran out of ideas before the rat stopped learning).
Mothers lecture their 3-35 yo children (so do dads!) instead of applying consequences. A simple 3-5 minutes time-out, done without lectures and emotionality, has transformed a dozen 4 year old, budding tyrants in the past year. The mom's say, uniformly, "I want him/her to UNDERSTAND." I ask the child, "tell me mom's rules." Mom is usually surprised when the tike easily recites the local Maternal Creed for respecting siblings and parents. Mom is routinely happier when she applies consequences without the lecture. She climbs in the family pecking order; she has "control" and greater respect from her husband and her own mother.
None of us is, or will be (I hope) in a position to dictate mismatch solutions. Kauffman (and the Darwinists) suggest things always evolve to meet local demands anyhow regardless of lectures. Still, I'm like that mom, the one who wants everyone (including that rat) to UNDERSTAND. I also want to feel like I've done something, that like moms, I'm important in the pecking order.