Speculating about Darwinian Russia
An interesting article appeared last week the the Economist magazine. It reported a theory attempting to explain why women dominate men in the lifespan contest -- which could arguably be the most important single contest human beings ever wage.
The theory, advanced by Tim Clutton-Brock of Cambridge University and Kavita Isvaran of the Indian Institute of Science in Bengalooru based on some research studies among birds, is that Darwinian evolution selects men for their ability to attract women. Since this ability is largely based, because of men's inherently violent nature, on physical confrontations that, at least in the distant past, often led to fatalities, evolution found no use for the capacity for long lives among men (they'd be killed off fighting over women anyway, so what would be the point). Instead, evolution vested them with the ability to collect women by possessing such things as "antlers, aggression and alloy wheels" and, having done so, to live long enough for a few key breeding seasons before perishing. With no such obligations, women could focus on longevity, and have done so to great effect. The study found that in certain species where competition over females does not occur and monogamy is the rule, the difference in lifespan between male and female was far less pronounced.
In another article, which we publish today, the Economist asks what the affects of Stalin's purges and famines, which murdered tens of millions, have been on the modern Russian man -- an speculates that today's Russian may have become genetically afraid (another word would be cowardly) as a result of such systematic attacks. There are two great ironies in such a theory. First, one of the most bizarre features of modern Russian life is the country's xenophobia, now rendered totally irrational in this light (its own leaders have been far more dangerous to Russians than all the imperially-minded depots of other lands combined). Second, Russians routinely depict themselves as a heroic nation, bravely defending themselves against outside invaders. How is that to be squared with such craven cowardice towards their own rulers?
Note, too, that a vicious circle is created: Genetically cowardly Russians will not stand up to their rulers, who then, free from supervision, murder and torture even more brutally, giving rise to even more deep-seeded paranoia.
If one then reflects upon the Clutton-Brock--Bengalooru thesis, one can't help notice that if Russia is viewed as an inherently violent society where mass murder is common, we shouldn't be surprised to see the country's average lifespan suffering in comparison to that of other countries -- and Russian men, still beset by the standard need to compete for women, would receive a double whammy. This would explain, of course, why the average Russian man does not live to see his 60th year.
It's another vicious circle. The more violent Russians allow their government and their society to be (today's Russia has the fifth-highest murder rate in the whole world, and that's based on the data the Kremlin will admit; Russia's true rating could well be even higher), the less Darwinian evolution feels they need longevity. But the less longevity they have, the less time they have to make babies. A population-crushing vortex could result.
But under that thesis, evolution should vest Russians with extreme fertility. Russian should breed like rabbits in the short term, and Russian men should be particularly potent. Mother Nature always looks to achieve a balance. Yet what we actually see in Russia is the opposite, Russians are getting less and less interested in having babies, to the extent that the Kremlin has actually decided it needs to bribe them to do it.
Because the human brain is a very powerful thing, maybe even powerful enough to overcome evolution. Possible Russian parents look at the society into which they are being asked to bring children, and they balk. They ask themselves if it would be fair to bring children into a neo-Soviet state. They ask themselves if they want to take on an additional responsibility in a dog-eat-dog world where many don't know where their next meal is coming from. Having a child is an optimistic act, and Russia, especially these days, is a fundamentally pessimistic place.
So even if they have the fertility bug, they choose not to use it.
And what if they don't have it? Who says Darwian evolution is perfect? The dinosaurs went extinct, didn't they?
Gulp. Maybe the Russians will too.