This is a new section, added for the next edition of the book. It contains some early thinking about sexual selection while I was working in a prison.


A RunnawayPpassion for JusticeDuring this period in prison, I discovered a book written in 1930 by a brilliant English polymath named Ronald Fisher, who updated Darwin’s idea of co-evolution in sexual selection. Darwin knew nothing about genes. Fisher recognized the significance of the fact that the offspring of the union between the peacock and the peahen, whether male or female, possessed both the genes for desiring fancy tails and the genes for the tails themselves. So in successive generations, the selection of the genes of each are continuously linked together, as fancier tails spawned more refined tastes for even fancier tails. This creates a powerfully self-sustaining feedback loop that can rapidly spin off in its own willful direction regardless of any earthly adaptive advantage. Fisher called this “runaway” evolution. This process would only end when the peacock’s tail becomes so large as to prevent survival before mating.

————–Sir Ronald Aylmer Fisher—————-  

What allows the runaway effect of evolution in sexual selection is the fact that animals exist in two different forms, male and female, and, by their very nature, these two different forms are engaged in a reciprocal yin-and-yang dynamic with one another. The general term for two such interacting forms in a species is a “dimorphism,” and I had been deeply focused on another such dimorphism in the mental and emotional sphere of primates, i.e: the mentalities of dominance and submission.

Why couldn’t a phenomenon exactly like sexual selection take place between the dominance and submission mentalities transforming them into obedience and authority? A plausible first step could have been: for an incremental survival advantage, female apes in a submissive mode could acquire  a desire for males pursuing justice instead of dominance over their small subgroup. A shift in male motivation from dominance to justice would then evolve in response to the female motivation to select it. The genes for both dispensing and obeying justice would be passed down together within each of the male and female offspring of successive generations, and thus attain the same runaway one-way-street effect as in sexual selection. The burgeoning passion for justice would, in a locked-in and self-sustaining manner, select ever deeper and more elaborated branches of sweet justice.

Peacock's tailThere are several key distinctions between these two forms of inter-selection—for beauty and for justice—to note. First, the appreciation of beauty takes place in the interior, subjective sphere of experiencing the pleasure produced by it; but the object of beauty, that which is beautiful, has physical properties and can be seen or listened to by the senses. By contrast the product of the runaway evolution of justice does not take the form of a self-contained physical object or performance, but is something that also dwells in the interior subjective and felt arena of contingent emotion and motivation, and, in possession of agency. It was in the contemplation the wholly subjective and interior nature of justice existing as an agency in the platonic sphere that I conceived that it could fit into the category of spirit—the human spirit. With fondness I recall the euphoria that lit up the darkness of my prison days—a glorious vision of the human spirit ascending from the shackles of dominance swept aloft by a runaway passion for justice.

A Runaway Passion for Justice
Laws of Life

The second distinction between these two evolutionary mechanisms is the nature of the motivations involved. In the case of beauty, the peahen is motivated by the increment of increased pleasure obtained by beholding and (therefore) selecting the most beautiful peacock tail over the others. But why are peahens wired to respond to beauty with pleasure? Following Darwin, I had rejected the notion that the nature of beauty could be reduced an evolutionary function (other than, perhaps to generally cause life to cohere). The same process of sexual selection for beauty seen in birds also exists in us, and this is surely a case of “parallel” evolution, meaning that it occurred independently because our common ancestor with dinosaurs, from which birds are descended, is very remote. I suppose that there could exist bio-mathematical laws integrating form and color, among other factors, that are common to the evolution of bird and human beauty, but, again, why would pleasure be associated with the execution of those laws? Unless, of course, these are the sweeping Laws of Life that counteract entropy. I also suppose that another possibility is that our human sense of beauty has been wholly based on imitating nature. But this just moves the “why” issue back in time. So at least for now, I am defaulting the nature of beauty into a provisional category of a platonic (or at least cosmic) reality in response to which the means to give it physical expression have evolved here on the planet earth

Human motivationsWith respect to the motivation for justice, as I entered into the clinical world of psychiatry, I recognized that the social emotions that were at play during most of human evolution were not goal-oriented desires as those for beauty, but aversive motivations, the goal of which was to diminish high levels of fear. So the motivation for a female to mate with a male that dispensed justice would have been to convert the adversarial anxiety of dominance and submission into the fear-free (if not stress-free) collaboration of obedience to the evolved authority of justice . . . and this leads into to the most important distinction between beauty and justice.

A Runaway Passion for JusticeConceiving of justice (or truth for that matter) as a platonic reality is much more familiar territory. Since Plato’s Republic, legions of philosophers and pundits of all stripes have wrestled and continue to wrestle with this possibility. As just stated, I had recognized back then that both the inclination to dispense and obey justice take place in the subjective realm of contingent feeling. However gradually over subsequent decades I began considering justice as a social system, one that has been naturally selected for its fitness in any physical environment—so much so that I concluded that an operational definition of justice is: that social structure that most optimizes the productive coordination of the individuals within it.

Cordination of divided laborThe co-evolution of justice and the just, which resembles sexual selection, need not be limited to sexual mating, but equally pertains to selective decisions as to with whom to functionally associate, which then results in disparities of justice among one subgroup of bonded pairs compared to others. The most important eventual insight is that it is not the fitness of individuals but the functional fecundity of relationships that are naturally selected in humans.  So, while this runaway evolutionary justice mechanism operates in the ethereal subjective realm of feelings, justice is also continuously rooted into our ever-shifting physical environments by the primary adaptation of our hominin tribe, which, again, is the coordination of divided labor. It is the connection between this runaway passion and the organismic productivity released by justice that binds the spiritual to the physical in human nature.

The Spirit of Justice
A Runaway Passion for Justice










Therapy for Liberals
Ape Social Structure


Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: