If lying evolved as a fitness strategy, can we believe anything an evolutionist says?
In his blog entry “The Evolution of Lying” on The Conversation, Rob Brooks, a professor of Evolutionary Ecology and Director of the Evolution & Ecology Research Centre at University of New South Wales, gave half-hearted credit to a new theory on deception as a by-product of the evolution of cooperation. The open-access paper by two Irish evolutionists, Luke McNally and Andrew L. Jackson, was published by the Royal Society this week. It posits lying as an evolutionary strategy:
Our results suggest that the evolution of conditional strategies may, in addition to promoting cooperation, select for astute cheating and associated psychological abilities. Ultimately, our ability to convincingly lie to each other may have evolved as a direct result of our cooperative nature.
Brooks agrees that lying evolved, but feels the model of McNally and Jackson is too simplistic. “I would like to see if it can help us understand the fine-scale tensions between cooperation and dishonesty in human affairs,” he said. “There is a lot more to lying than simply misrepresenting the world.” The liar can deceive himself as well, for instance, in order to make the lie more believable.
From there, Brooks considered Sam Harris’s short e-book Lying, in which Harris advocates we all try to do better at overcoming our evolutionary tendencies, “arguing we can both simplify our own lives and build better societies by telling the truth in situations when we might be tempted to lie.” Here’s how Brooks concludes all this discussion about lies and truth (bold added, italics in original):
Harris gets bottom-up processes and the conflict between individual benefits and group functioning. His book is worth a read for his impassioned argument that each of us, as individuals, would benefit from resisting the urge to lie.
I’m not convinced. What would help right now is some theoretic and empirical evidence that showed the conditions under which Harris’ prescriptions might work. And that’s the beauty of papers like today’s one from McNally and Jackson.
Irrespective, a better understanding of how lying evolves, no matter how simple, might do enormous social good.
For one thing it might help constrain the worst dishonesties in politics, public relations and propaganda.
The question none of them are considering is, if lying evolved, and if self-deception is possible, and if deception can be very convincing, how are the readers to know who is telling the truth?
Imagine a liar so skilled, he convinces his listeners that he is 100% against the worst dishonesties in politics, public relations and propaganda. He tells you he wants to achieve enormous social good to provide a better understanding of how lying evolves. Now, add to it that he is self-deceived. Doesn’t his credibility implode? How could one possibly believe a word he says?
Brooks has the Yoda complex. So do McNally and Jackson. They believe they can look down on the rest of humanity from some exalted plane free of the evolutionary forces that afflict the rest of humanity. No; they need to climb down and join the world their imaginations have created. In the evolutionary world, there is no essential difference between cooperation and deception. It’s only a matter of which side is in the majority at the moment.
To see this, consider a majority of humans in a population that are self-deceived and believe that by giving magic Kool-Aid to the defectors, laced with cyanide, they will help them become cooperators. The few defectors in that situation who try to stop them would be perceived by the majority as the real liars and non-cooperators. By what standard would anyone in this Darwinian world know the difference between truth and lies?
Having no eternal standard of truth, the evolutionary world collapses into power struggles. The appeals by Brooks and Sam Harris to try to “resist our temptations to lie” are meaningless. How can anyone overcome what evolution has built into them? How can either of them know what is true?
Since all these evolutionists believe that lying evolved as a fitness strategy, and since they are unable to distinguish between truth and lies, they essentially confess to lying themselves. Their readers are therefore justified in considering them deceivers, and dismissing everything they say, including the notion that lying evolved.
An even stupider notion came out of the Association for Psychological Science. This is the evolutionary story that “political motivations may have evolutionary links to physical strength” (see also Science Daily with its photo of a guy flexing his bicep). A group of Darwine-drunk psychologists are trying to convince the world that “Men’s upper-body strength predicts their political opinions on economic redistribution.” According to them, “an evolutionary perspective may help to illuminate political motivations, at least those of men.” Strong men oppose redistribution of wealth, namby-pamby men and women support it, they claim. It’s not clear if they intended to impugn Obama’s masculinity this way, and those of all his staff, but it doesn’t really matter how many biceps they measured in their survey of political opinions. (Exercise: list exceptions to their “rule” from world history.) You know their whole premise is false from their comment, “This is among the first studies to show that political views may be rational in another sense, in that they’re designed by natural selection to function in the conditions recurrent over human evolutionary history.” OK, their point is? If physical strength is a measure of fitness “designed” by natural selection, then anti-redistributionism is a measure of fitness, too. Get the wimps out of the way! They’re impeding evolutionary progress. Isn’t “self-interest” the highest good in Darwinism? We won’t belabor the misconception of conservatism they presented, because they already defeated their credibility by calling natural selection “rational.” Readers are justified in dismissing everything these quacks say, too, if they had any inclination left to trust the word of “evolutionary psychologists” about anything.