One of the major problems our society has is that social rules do not acknowledge the reality of what human beings are, a mammal, a primate, that sexually reproduces and has all the drives that served to make us a successful species which evolved over millions of years to the point where we’ve now changed our environment so radically that we’re maladapted to the environment we’ve created.
We have jailed 2% of our population and in my view this is wrong. Instead, what we should be doing is trying to find a way to adapt to the environment we’ve created, or alter our environment to be more suited to that which we’ve adapted to over the last several million years. We have people in jail for drugs, sex crimes, theft, and various violent crimes among other things.
Over millions of years we developed the most complex brain of any land mammal on the planet. Our brain developed over a period of time when generally food was scarce, consequently where food is plentiful, we tend to be fat.
Our brains evolved reward feedback loops where if a given action lead to a reward, doing this got us food, sex, comfort, whatever, then that behavior was reinforced. It’s not something we are consciously aware of yet it had survival value because it reinforced the behaviors that got us food, shelter, and propagated our genes. Of course this adaptation happened before we had the ability to chemically create rewards.
Enter the modern era where we can make all sorts of chemicals or cultivate plants that make them, that affect this reward circuit and now what used to be an adaptive behavior becomes a destructive behavior. Snort this, shoot that, smoke this, swallow that and the reward center is chemically stimulated, and the behavior that lead to that is reinforced, addiction. And now that is what the majority of our jail population is there for, addictions. Many secondary crimes, theft, violent crimes, are related to addiction.
Is it their fault that an adaptive mechanism is now being presented with a situation for which it is now maladaptive? No, and yet rather than treated, most are punished for it. As a society, we really need to find better ways to deal with this whole addiction thing, whatever the addiction might be it involves that same reward-feedback mechanism that prior to artificial stimulation used to enhance survival in an environment that proceeded the artificial one we’ve created only recently.
Sex crimes are another area that largely represents a maladaptive response to our present environment, but several thousand years ago when we were living in small tribal groups without religious convictions that tried to tell us we’re not animals, behaviors which are now criminal were at the time adaptive.
In the last hundred years we’ve gone from a situation where it was routine to marry someone off as soon as they reached puberty, to a situation where they’re not allowed to consent to sex until they’ve actually passed their physical reproductive prime. Life expectancy has also dramatically changed in that time but better nutrition and artificial chemicals in our food and water supply that mimic hormones, particularly that mimic estrogen, have advanced rather than delayed puberty. This really creates a situation that is much different than we were adapted to even a hundred years ago.
Laws which regulate such things as sodomy and prostitution even among consenting adults, are influenced by a couple of forces. Religious ideas that suggest that we are different from other animals, that we have a soul and animals don’t and that we are imbued with original sin and animals are not, have been reflected in laws that frankly do not reflect the physical reality of our nature.
These religious beliefs are codified into laws because if we are allowed to act upon our nature it threatens the believes of those that hold those religious views and by extension their immortality. No matter what your religious convictions, biologically we are still animals, primates, that reproduce sexually, and religious views do not change the brain wiring, hormone system, and the drives that result, which developed prior to religion. If someone’s religious faith isn’t strong enough to be maintained in the face of physical evidence to the contrary they should deal with it rather than trying to impose laws to hide the physical aspects of our nature.
As a society, it is OK to decide some behaviors which were adaptive in the past no longer are adaptive in the present, but I think we also have to acknowledge that we can’t discard millions of years of evolution overnight and jail everyone who fails to do so.
Rather I think we need to change the environment we’ve created to more closely match that to which we’ve evolved and we need to provide help for individuals who are having difficulty adapting to our changed environment.
To do otherwise is really no different than Hitlers proposal of Eugenics, just kill everyone who does not possess the genetic makeup that society deems proper. By jailing 2% of the population and preventing them from participating in society, this is effectively what we are doing.
But then the one thing you can say about the Nazi’s, what they lacked in compassion they made up for in efficiency and given what we’re doing in Iraq perhaps we are simply in an era where efficiency counts, greed, money, power count, and compassion, love, freedom, life, do not. Our big developed brain has allowed us to invent an incredible set of tools for repressing and killing each other.
I’ve really had these feelings about society for a long time but when I was younger, as I saw the new millennium approach, I thought, an irrational thought I know, but I thought, 2000 would be a new era. When we enter the new millennium, people will look back at what we’ve done, all the people we’ve slaughtered, all the people we’ve repressed, and see that it was bad, and decide collectively to make the new millennium better.
It has not happened yet, instead, we’ve used our technological prowess to maim, kill, and repress far more effectively than we could before. It is time to put the dark ages behind us.