If you’re not familiar with r/K theory it is well worth picking up Anonymous Conservative’s book on the subject. Viewing politics, or many aspects of life for that matter, through this prism can be helpful. This may alleviate some of the frustration you may have when trying to understand why the other “side” does not understand your position at all. This is a small sample of the theory as laid out in chapter 1 of his book. His blog is worth checking out too. He posts daily examples of this linked to news stories.
The theory of this book is that there is a simple explanation for the origins of political ideology. Put most simply, our two main political ideologies are merely intellectual outgrowths of the two main reproductive strategies that have been described in the field of Evolutionary Biology for decades.
Biologists have long recognized that two different psychologies exist in nature. These two psychologies each guide the organisms which hold them to pursue behaviors which will be most likely to yield survival and reproduction. These psychologies are referred to as reproductive strategies, but they are really deeply imbued psychologies. They frame how an organism views the world, how it views its peers, and how it behaves as it moves through life.
The study of these psychologies is often described using the shorthand “r/K Selection Theory.” Both the “r-strategy” and the “K-strategy,” as they are referred to within the field, are psychologies which yield behavior that is custom tailored to a specific environment. In humans, as in nature, the r-psychology is primarily an adaptation to the presence of copious resources, which do not require out-competing peers. This is a condition which reduces the advantages of producing fit offspring, in turn favoring the fastest and most prolific reproducers, regardless of offspring quality. By contrast, the K-psychology is an adaptation to a relative scarcity of resources, where only the fittest compete and survive. This produces an increased selective pressure favoring the survival of more advanced and fit specimens. It also reduces the advantages of producing copious numbers of less fit offspring.
Although the presence of absence of resources may vary within a population over the short term, over the long term these two environmental conditions will usually accompany either the presence or absence of a constant, high mortality, most frequently predation. Predation lowers population numbers and prevents overcrowding, thereby increasing the per-capita resources available to each individual. This prevents the onset of resource shortage due to overpopulation.
It is for this reason that the r-strategy, which is the evolutionary origin of liberalism, is most often seen in nature within prey species. Meanwhile the K-strategy, which underlies conservatism, is most often seen in species which are not preyed upon. This is in fact, the biological “Conservatives think like lions, liberals think like lambs.” Lions are a K-selected species which exists sans predation. As a result, each new lion must compete with its peers to acquire a share of the limited resources available to the population. As a result, lions evolved to exhibit a K-type, competitive/aggressive psychology that intensively rears offspring to compete. Sheep, by contrast, are a more r-selected prey species, surrounded by fields of grass they will rarely, if ever, fully consume. This is reflected in their less belligerent, more pacifistic, more freely promiscuous nature.
One species exhibits a psychology which is belligerent, competitive, and sexually restricted and selective, so as to compete for limited resources and produce the fittest offspring. The other exists as the exact opposite, simply trying to turn resources into offspring as quickly as possible, regardless of fitness. Each is perfectly designed to compete with peers in their respective environment.
The r-strategy entails five main psychological traits. Each trait is designed to help an organism out-compete peers in the r-selected environment of free resource availability. This psychology exhibits a psychological aversion to both, competition with peers and the competitive environment. It also exhibits a tolerance for, or embrace of, promiscuity, low-investment single-parenting, and early onset sexual behavior among offspring. It will also tend to not exhibit any group-centric urges, such as loyalty to in-group, or hostility to out-group.
Of these five traits, (competition aversion, promiscuity, single parenting, early onset sexuality, and aversion to group-centrism/ethnocentrism), political leftists exhibit a tolerance of, or an embrace of, all five. Indeed, as we will show, these five urges explain the entire liberal platform of issue positions.
Liberalism seeks to quash competitions between men (from capitalism, to war, to citizens killing criminal attackers with privately owned firearms). Liberalism also adopts a lax attitude towards rampant promiscuity, if it is not actively embracing it. Liberals tend to support single parenting, such as was seen in the debate over the TV show Murphy Brown’s glorification of single motherhood. Liberalism exhibits a tolerance for, or an embrace of, ever earlier sexual education for children as well as an ever more serialized media environment to which children are exposed. Liberals tend to rejecte ethnocentrism, and view a tendency towards a pack mentality as an odd and foolish evolutionary throwback.
On top of all of this, at the heart of most liberal policy is a fundamental perception that resources exist in limitless quantities, and that any shortage is not inherent to the finite nature of the world. Rather, any shortage must be due to some specific individual’s greed altering the world’s nature state of plenty, which would otherwise be able to easily provision everyone with a comfortably high level of resources. This is a psychology designed to avoid danger, and focus the individual on reproducing as fast as possible. In our ancient evolutionary environment, absent birth control and abortion, this would produce large numbers of offspring, beginning early in life, and it would be perfectly adapted to r-selection, where every offspring would have food and survive.
The K-strategy entails an embrace of five opposite psychological traits. K-selection favors an aggressive embrace of competition, and the competitive environment, where some individuals succeed, and others fail, based on their inherent abilities and merits. It tends to reject promiscuity in favor of sexual selectivity and monogamy, and it will strongly favor high-investment, two-parent offspring-rearing. The K-strategy also favors delaying sexual activity among offspring until later in life, when maximally fit. Finally, in its most evolved form, K-selection will tend to imbue individuals with a fierce loyalty to their in-group, to facilitate success in group-competitions. Competition, shortage, and conflict are the evolutionary origins of the pack mentality, and they are ever present in the extreme K-selected environment.
Clearly, conservatives favor competition, from capitalism, to war, to armed citizens fighting off criminals with personally owned firearms. Conservatives accept that such competitions will produce disparate outcomes which will be based on inherent ability and effort. Conservatives favor a culture of monogamy over promiscuity, and they tend to desire a culture which favors high-investment, two-parent child-rearing, as evidence by the conservative uproar over Murphy Brown, as well as the growing debate over “family values” within our culture. Conservatives also tend to want to see children protected from sexually stimulating themes or sexual education until later in life, so they will be more likely to delay the onset of sexual activity until they are mature. Of course conservatives have always viewed liberals as exhibiting diminished loyalty to their nation and its people because to a conservative, patriotism, and support for “one’s own,” is a vital moral quality in peers and its expression can never be too exaggerated.
Again, this is a psychology, designed to house one’s genes in carefully reared, highly fit, competitive machines. It is perfectly adapted to confront conditions of resource limitation, where one’s only means of acquiring resources is to be better at competition than your peers, and to do whatever it takes to not be the individual who failed to succeed.
Why do the r and K reproductive strategies exist? How exactly does each strategy offer advantage to the individual who exhibits it? Let’s take a closer look at r and K in nature. Suppose you have a field, and it produces enough grass to support 100 r-selected rabbits. A group of owls moves in however, and keeps the rabbit population at only 20 rabbits, in a field which produces enough food to support 100.
Now this environment offers specific advantages and disadvantages to each rabbit. The owls will shorten each rabbit’s average lifespan. As a result, Darwinian selection will favor rabbits which reproduce fast and early. If a rabbit waits to mate, it will be eaten, and that sexually procrastinating trait will be culled. As a result, those rabbits that produce the next generation will have no compunction about mating as early as possible. In this environment, “teenagers” and “children” mating is simply normal, as anyone who feels otherwise is eaten prior to reproducing. Mating earlier also offers a numerical advantage in offspring production, which is advantageous when the competition is about producing as many offspring as possible.
Conflict is an unnecessary risk, since each rabbit already has vastly more food than it can eat. Those who compete will waste time and energy fighting for something which is already freely available elsewhere. Those who fight will risk injury and death, while those who do not fight will enjoy the same freely available food, absent any risk, simply by fleeing to another green pasture. The fighters and competitors will produce fewer offspring than those who avoid competition’s risk and will find themselves numerically out-reproduced by the more prolific individuals who avoid conflict and competition.
Under r-selection, monogamy is disadvantageous, since to impregnate only one mate, and then see the few offspring you have with her eaten, is to see yourself fail, in Darwinian terms. Monogamy will only produce so many young. Thus in this environment, one is best served by producing as many offspring as possible, by as many mates as possible, beginning as early as possible. IN that way, it becomes likely statistically that come of your numerous children will survive to reproduce. Since under conditions of r-selection, these are the traits Darwin rewards, these are the traits which will emerge within a species placed within an r-selecting environment.
Since producing high numbers of offspring is the goal, it is also advantageous to not waste too much time on rearing any one offspring. The goal in r-selection is mass production, as early and as often as possible. Those who produce more offspring, even less fit offspring, out-compete those who do not, since fitness is unimportant when resources are free and there is no competition. As a result, high-investment parenting for extended periods will give way to investing as little as possible in each offspring’s rearing, so one may dedicate oneself to the actual act of reproduction, and produce as many offspring as possible. Since resources are freely available, and aggression an competitions are rare, offspring do not require much education or protection anyway, and they may be turned out of the home relatively early to fend for themselves. Males will also abandon impregnated females with offspring so as to pursue their highly promiscuous mating strategy. You see how free resources can actually devolve a population, reducing greatness.
Since there is no competition, there is no need to ally with anyone else to compete for resources. As a result, these rabbits will not evolve any group-centric urges, or emotional connections to their peers. Indeed, the very notion of in-group or out-group would be puzzling to them, if you could communicate the concept. Each rabbit is wholly on their own – at most a part of a global rabbit warren.
As a result of all of this, in this environment a population will evolve to avoid conflict and competition, mate with as many partners as possible, mate early, and not invest highly in any one child, while feeling loyalty to no one. The emphasis, as so many biology textbooks will assert, is to produce quantity over quality when producing offspring in an r-selective environment.
Now supposed we zoom out from the field, and zoom in to a nearby forest. There, several packs of K-selected wolves exist in harmonious balance with a deer population. Once these wolves reproduce, there will not be enough food to support the entire population of wolves, so some wolves will die due to starvation. This creates a different selective pressure entirely. Here, to survive, a wolf must aggressively compete with his peers for a share of the limited food available. Those who avoid conflict and competition, in hopes of stumbling on non-existent food elsewhere, will die from starvation. The wolves who survive will be those who go after any food they see, even if they have to try and take it from another wolf by force of violence. Thus, such a K-type psychology will evolve to exhibit a more aggressive, competitive nature, more accepting of violence, and more accepting of inevitable disparities in competitive outcomes between individuals.
Of course a wolf’s success, in Darwinian terms, will revolve not just around surviving and mating, but also around producing offspring who survive and reproduce themselves. From a Darwinian perspective, if a parent survives and mates, but all of their offspring die due to competitive failure, the parent may as well have no bothered reproducing at all. As a result, K-selected wolves will evolve a psychology designed to invest heavily in a few, highly competitive offspring. This will produce a small number of offspring that are likely to outcompete their peers, rather than a larger number of lower quality, competitively incompetent offspring. Those wolves who mate randomly and often, with any mate they happen across, will see their numerous haphazardly produced offspring killed off by the fitter offspring of those parents who carefully sought out the fittest mate possible, and then competitively monopolized their mate’s genetic fitness through monogamy. As a result, this K-trait of careful mate selection, and competitive monopolization, will emerge spontaneously as Darwin works his magic.
Young wolves will evolve to wait before entering the competition for a mate, so as to make sure they are as competitive as possible and are not simply killed by their older competition due to their immaturity. Parents will also evolve to discourage such early sexual precociousness in their young, so their young will be maximally mature (and maximally attractive to highly fit mates) when pursuing their own lifetime mate. Likewise, parents will evolve towards high investment, two-parent (or even pack) rearing, so as to better protect their offspring until they are ready to compete, and to carefully prepare them for the rigorous competition with peers which awaits them.
Intense K-selection often evolves into groups of individuals competing with other groups, since this is a more effective way to acquire limited resources than working along. As a result, K-type organisms will tend to evolve into groups of individuals who exhibit pro-social traits, such as loyalty to in-group and disregard for out-group interests. This is why K-selection produces packs of wolves, family groups of elephants, pods of dolphins, and prides of lions, all of whom care deeply for each other, while mice, antelope, deer, rabbits, and any other r-selected species will not exhibit any sadness should one of their ranks fall prey to a predator.
Since rabbits exist at the bottom of the food pyramid in nature, and are preyed upon fairly consistently by a wide range of predators (from owls, to hawks, to foxes), rabbits never truly experience the K-selected environment for any extended period. As a result of eons of fairly consistent r-selection pressures, they express a consistently r-type psychology throughout their species. Other species, which have existed for long periods under conditions of limited resources, will be highly K-selected in their psychology and behavior. Still other species can exhibit a mix of r and K-type psychologies, due to a variety of unique environmental conditions, among them having a history of living in varying environments with periodic resource abundances and resource shortages.
Man is a higher level species on the r/K spectrum, but it is easy to see historically how groups and individuals could shift on the spectrum depending on the conditions of the time. Looking through this filter, it is easier to understand the shift towards r-strategy for some when we introduced the welfare program into the United States, for example, which in some ways acted like the “unlimited resources” spoken about specific to r-type selection. Once you understand the theory you will start to see examples of it all over the place. I highly recommend checking out his book. As always, people will point out exceptions to the rule and think they’ve somehow debunked an entire area of study that on the macro generally works out very well. Think of it as a useful heuristic. If nothing else you may become less frustrated if you can ascribe one’s behavior to a deeper biological mechanism.