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Our Political Nature: The Evolutionary Origins of What Divides Us Hardcover – September 3, 2013
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"Think of this book as the next step after Jonathan Haidt."
"Political pundits on the left and right are rushing to grab pieces of Our Political Nature to substantiate their own biases, and this is understandable enough: this is a book of stunning scope and importance. The canvas here is global, and to put it bluntly I've never read anything this fascinating or compelling. I suspect this book will be a cause for heated debate in political and intellectual circles for a long time to come."
"The first book I've read that credibly attempts to present a unified view of political science, anthropology, genetics, neuroscience, and primatology. ...offers a penetrating explanation for why Americans (and the rest of the world) vote on a left-right spectrum, even against self and economic interest."
"At the same time disquieting, stimulating, and hopeful in its observations about humankind's evolutionary heritage and future. ...this book may provide the starting point for the political equivalent of the American Psychology Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by allowing citizens to identify extremists on both sides of the political spectrum. And sadly, this may be an increasingly necessary tool."
"Best book I've read on [the topic]."
"Our Political Nature shows us that there are evolutionary underpinnings to our political attitudes, and that being liberal or conservative may reflect much deeper tendencies than we are inclined to think. This book is important reading for anyone trying to understand the sources of our present-day political world."
—FRANCIS FUKUYAMA, New York Times bestselling author of The Origins of Political Order
“At a time when unexpected political turmoil and economic crashes have exposed how feeble is our understanding of the forces that drive these crises, Our Political Nature provides a welcome respite from the intellectual confusion now reigning. In these pages Avi Tuschman offers a fascinating perspective on the deepest roots of the clashes that are changing our world.”
—MOISÉS NAÍM, author of The End of Power and former editor in chief of Foreign Policy
“In a remarkable interdisciplinary tour de force, evolutionary anthropologist Avi Tuschman integrates findings from social psychology, genetics, and neuroscience to provide a rich understanding of the polarization in politics throughout history, and of man’s inhumanity to man. In Our Political Nature he makes clear that be it vote choice or the decision to go to war, our politics are the product of the passions that drive us, which are deeply rooted in humanity’s evolutionary origins.”
—JERROLD M. POST, MD, Director, Political Psychology Program at George Washington University, and author of Leaders and Their Followers in a Dangerous World
About the Author
Avi Tuschman (Washington, DC) is an expert on the hidden roots of political orientation. He began his career in politics as the youngest advisor in the government palace in Lima. While serving as the Senior Writer to President Alejandro Toledo (Peru, 2001-2006), Tuschman produced numerous articles and speeches designed to shape public opinion. In 2009, Dr. Tuschman joined hands with Toledo and seventeen other former presidents to co-write a regional policy agenda on democratic governance. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon lauded the document and called it historically unprecedented. Tuschman holds a B.A. and a Ph.D. in evolutionary anthropology from Stanford.
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Top Customer Reviews
The book contains a lot of information and is split into 6 major sections. The introduction starts with the beginning of the Arab Spring and details stories of behaviour that sparked waves of protest across the region. It uses the example to illuminate how different political classes see things differently, how sometimes small incidents can catalyze major political responses and how some political actions despite being personally detrimental might be biologically beneficial. The author then goes on to discuss studies done on following children through their lives and seeing how their political preferences evolved from the ages of 4-24 and twin studies on political nature (both identical and fraternal). The examples set the stage for exciting reading.
The first section of the book deals with tribalism. This is a cultural category of course but the author looks at ethnocentrism vs xenophilia and how that impacts politics. The author also discusses religiosity vs secularism and also attitudes towards homosexuality and gender roles. The author analyzes these scales using the Altmeyer test. The results are pretty intuitive in that the more ethnocentril/religious/traditionalist for sexuality, the more politically conservative they are. Tea Party politics are used for confirmation. I think some would take offense to the categorization but this is more probably around what actually defines the political spectrum, there are many who are economically conservative but ideologically liberal when it comes to personal freedom (libertarian). Nonetheless the author argues how conservatism helps predict which side of the scale people will tend to fall on the categories above.
The author then discusses the biology of tribalism. This is fascinating and far more interesting- it discusses the differences in fertility by breeding with closer kin vs more distantly related people. It discusses that analysis on a multigenerational basis as well. It effectively gives a context of how from a purely selfish genetic perspective there are competing forces that help stabilize excessive inbreeding but having robust fertility. This is an apolitical analysis where the stenghts of the content emerge. The author also discusses how certain trends have changed over time like fertility and gender roles. The author also gives a biological analysis of war and genocide and as horrifying as it is, the similarities in behaviour of people in these times is a telling sign of some deeper biological strategies that humans implicity have in such situations.
The author moves on to analysing attitudes towards authority and how that is indicative of political nature. It makes the argument that deferring to authority tends to be a conservative political disposition and being anti-authoritarian tends to be a liberal disposition. The political spectrum aside there is some very interesting analysis in the chapter. It discusses attitudes of people toward inequality; some believe the outcomes that evolve in the world are the fair consequence of the reality of the world while others focus on the initial conditions and context for being the reason for unequal outcomes which ought to be remedied. The author also discusses the differences in politics within the family. This is far more interesting. It discusses the difference in politics of siblings due to the order of their birth and how that might arise. In particular first born children tend to believe more in deferring to authority vs second/third born children tend to be more anti-authoritarian. The author describes plausible reasons for this. The author introduces cross sectional analysis of supreme court judgements and the propensity of judges to be in or out of the majority has been dependent on whether or not they are first born children. In addition the propensity to steal bases in baseball has a relationship with the order in which one is born. These kinds of interesting studies are very telling and give much food for thought.
The author then describes the biology of sibling rivalry. Within the context of people, it is much less relevant than it was. The author puts forward biological arguments about survivability under scarce resources and how child mortality rates will impact sibling rivalry. But such is much less relevant today in the developed world. It goes through some interesting studies of various species though to articulate the points. There are species of birds who share food with siblings until their body weight drops below certain thresholds in which cooperation turns into competition. Such biological examples give concrete examples of how embedded biology might emerge in behaviour but this section is less relevant than the previous in terms of defining politics.
The author then describes political philosophy through time and how the same concerns and perspectives on the nature of man have been articulated throughout history. There is much history of political thought and a reminder that the left right presumptions about the nature of man have been argued through time. Both western and easter philosophy is used. The author also discusses how the nature of our political self changes over time. In particular human brains take a long time to mature and the author argues the brain continues to develop until mid 20s and integrates that fact into a discussion of the migration of politics at an individual level.
The author ends with a discussion of altruism and how it can exist from a biological fitness perspective. The author discusses kin selective altruism as well as altruism when there is a social structure that creates reputations. This analysis is pretty straightforward to follow if one is "mathematical" about genetic overlap and about how reputational generosity has clear spillovers. The author discusses how the changing nature of our environment and dependency structure (from family at first to society at large) impacts our world views as well as our means of practicing altruism. The author then discusses how self deceipt in politics can emerge and how at the far ends of the political spectrum the practical reality is both right and left corrupt are close. The author finally discusses how selfless altruism exists and discusses lightly why it might.
All in all there is a lot of fascinating material. For content, i love this book. There is so much to think about. From a politics perspective I am less amazed- the left right political spectrum is not a 1 dimensional line and that certain behavioural traits pre-dispose people to vote conservative or liberal is indicative but incomplete. Most will get a lot of info and a lot of science out of the contents of this book and it frames a good discussion about things like immigration, cultural cross polination and environment.
The fact that this kind of division is universally present in all cultures hints at a deeper grounding in human nature. The author presents plenty of evidence that this is indeed the case, from twin studies to MRI brain scans that show differences between liberals and conservatives. It is also shown that children as young as preschool age already display personality traits that correlate well with later political orientation.
He first shows how political orientation correlates with three main personality trait clusters: tribalism, tolerance of inequality, and perceptions of human nature. He then uses evolutionary arguments to root these traits in biology. The biology of tribalism is based on tradeoffs between inbreeding and outbreeding, and can help us understand gender inequality, warfare, and genocide. The biology of family conflict includes parent-offspring conflict, sibling rivalry, and the importance of birth-order. For example, it turns out that first-borns tend to be more conservative. And finally, the biology of altruism and self-interest, which explains differences in how we perceive human nature. It turns out that conservatives tend to view people as inherently competitive, whereas liberals see people as more cooperative.
Books on human nature usually cover topics such as cooperation, morality, religion, economics, etc. Human political nature has been somewhat neglected, but this book now fills that gap brilliantly. I've read many books on human nature, but I've still learned a lot from this one, and I can say it is one of my favorites now.
The book is well written and structured, and contains a good mix of historical accounts, scientific studies, and evolutionary explanations. I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in a deeper understanding of human nature and the consilience of the social sciences with biology.
Tuschman gives many biologic examples to explain the origins of a conservative (right, inbreed) mindset vs a liberal (left, outbreed) mindset, and discusses the biological payoffs associated with each strategy. For example, one can increase one's genes by breeding with relatives. However, that strategy, reduces the viability of decedents. Which means biological drives in both directions (left, right) are innate in the population.
OUR POLITICAL NATURE is the best social psychology (political biology?) book I have read.