Unexpected Love In My Sixties
In my long and varied life I’ve found that much human behavior is easily predicted by taking an evolutionary psychology approach. This is hardly surprising, as our behaviors have been shaped as much as (perhaps even more than) our bodies by millions of years of selection pressures that were, for much of this time, relatively constant. Although we love to deceive ourselves with all manner of fantasies about gods and souls and free will, the reality is that we’re actually quite simple organisms that merely lack sufficient self-awareness and the necessary intellectual framework to recognize how profoundly we are limited in our repertoire of behaviors and how rarely we ever exercise anything even remotely approaching free will.
I’ve found that at least nine times out of ten, I can accurately predict behavior — especially the behavior of large groups of people — simply by asking myself what hunter-gatherers living fifty thousand years ago would have done. As all of our behaviors are in some way devoted to staying alive and maximizing our reproductive potential (even though we rarely if ever understand this is what we’re doing, preferring instead all manner of amusing tales about why we’re “really” doing something…), it follows that we’re hardwired to love our genetic offspring because we are at base DNA reproduction machines. Feeling great love for our children promotes behaviors that on average result in better outcomes for them, and so half our DNA gets passed into the future. Thanks to the fact we evolved within the context of small kin-groups, we also feel (on average) love for our siblings, strong affection for nephews and nieces, and some measure of affection for cousins. This is why the biologist J.B.S. Haldane quipped that he’d lay down his life for two brothers or eight cousins.
It follows from this that we’re unlikely to feel intense protective love for children who have inherited none of our DNA. For myself, having experienced the astonishing love I feel for my biological children, I assumed I could never feel the same for anyone else’s offspring.
Yet, because of a curious combination of factors, it turned out I was wrong.