The Biology of History – And Why It Matters for Politics


By Melvyn Lurie, M.D. for The Political Insider

History has so often been repeated for the worse that a different perspective is needed. That perspective is biology, genetics to be more specific. As with so many studies of human biology, a look at lower species is needed. That is the only way to eliminate the broad overlay of culture that makes sifting out the very basics if not impossible, then subject to endless argument.

That is, whatever behaviors of lower species are passed down from generation to generation must be determined by genes and the environment, not culture.

Next, what species should be studied? Well, starting with the basics, species that carry out survival and reproduction like we humans do. Here, I focus on the entire process of reproductive development from birth to adulthood. As we humans reproduce dependent offspring in a place, call it a nest or house, what species do the same?

Not to be trite, but the two are the birds and the bees.

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In these species, survival functions are carried on outside the nest. They are selected for passing the most copies of their genes from one generation to the next. First is most essential. It is the gathering of food and other essentials by the outside the nest parent for the inside the nest parent to process for their dependent offspring.

Gender is irrelevant in birds, for example, as there are species in which the traditional gender roles are reversed, while in others they are shared — as with today’s humans. The second outside the nest (OTN) function is protecting the nest against intruders. Some species divebomb would be intruders.

Inside the nest, ITN, the parent is, of course, also selected for traits that make for the survival of as many of its offspring as are survivable. These functions include a focus on the most vulnerable. If not, whichever of the offspring that is most vulnerable at any time will have nil chance of surviving.

Another inside the nest/reproductive function is converting adult food, brought in by the outside the nest parent, into a form that is digestible by the dependent offspring. A third function inside the best is keeping it clean. This is most easily seen in eliminating the fledglings’ waste from the nest. This is done by removing fecal sacs excreted by the fledglings.

Now that some fundamental functions of survival and reproduction are described, we can see that they occur in humans, though in the wide variety of forms humans are capable of. So, what are they, especially as they are relevant to today’s political divide, see below.

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The gathering of food and other essential resources for the nest/family can be seen as manifest in the making of money, to various degrees. There is, thus, a genetically determined drive to gather/make money, to be concerned about the economy, and so on. What about keeping the nest clean? The obvious manifestation in humans is concern for a clean environment.

Remember, this concern, though it varies in intensity in each human, is derived from a genetically determined drive.

In any case, the political divide today is so extreme, that these functions are easy to see. In fact, when one runs down the list of political issues on each side of the divide, it becomes clear that, at its base, the divide is not between Republicans and Democrats.

It is not even between the Right and the Left. Rather, it is between the genetically determined drives of Outside the Nest functions and Inside the Nest functions.

Dr. Lurie is a Harvard Medical School faculty member for over 20 years. His books include PsychePolitics, How to read the political mind, Sex in Politics, A simple, science based description of politics, and, in process, Paths to Political Peace, Using an understanding of human genetics to re-establish political balance.


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