What Biology Tells Us About Politics
The Dutch-born biologist Frans de Waal has chosen to study not what makes humankind vile and mean but rather what causes us to rise up in support of others, i.e. our moral potential.
What's the Latest Development?
Throughout Frans de Waal's carreer as a biologist, he has sought to explain the cooperative tendencies of the human species. His new book, The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society, is a synthesis of those efforts. He looks to animal biology, for example, to explain why we feel outraged at the recent failures of Wall Street: "If you are a cooperative animal you need to watch what you get. If you, or even a whole community, invest in something but then a few individuals receive a much larger return, it's not a good arrangement."
What's the Big Idea?
De Waal has always had a keen interest in how our animal behavior relates to the functioning of our political institutions. He has influenced the likes of Newt Gingrich and President Jimmy Carter, who each read different books of de Waal's. "If you want to design a successful human society you need to know what kind of animal we are," he says. "Are we a social animal or a selfish animal? Do we respond better when we're solitary or living in a group? Do we like to live at night or in the daytime? You should know as much as you can about the human species if you have a hand in designing human society."
Science and the squishiness of the human mind. The joys of wearing whatever the hell you want, and so much more.
- Why can't we have a human-sized cat tree?
- What would happen if you got a spoonful of a neutron star?
- Why do we insist on dividing our wonderfully complex selves into boring little boxes
Progressive America would be half as big, but twice as populated as its conservative twin.
- America's two political tribes have consolidated into 'red' and 'blue' nations, with seemingly irreconcilable differences.
- Perhaps the best way to stop the infighting is to go for a divorce and give the two nations a country each
- Based on the UN's partition plan for Israel/Palestine, this proposal provides territorial contiguity and sea access to both 'red' and 'blue' America
A guide to making difficult conversations possible—and peaceful—in an increasingly polarized nation.
- How can we reach out to people on the other side of the divide? Get to know the other person as a human being before you get to know them as a set of tribal political beliefs, says Sarah Ruger. Don't launch straight into the difficult topics—connect on a more basic level first.
- To bond, use icebreakers backed by neuroscience and psychology: Share a meal, watch some comedy, see awe-inspiring art, go on a tough hike together—sharing tribulation helps break down some of the mental barriers we have between us. Then, get down to talking, putting your humanity before your ideology.
- The Charles Koch Foundation is committed to understanding what drives intolerance and the best ways to cure it. The foundation supports interdisciplinary research to overcome intolerance, new models for peaceful interactions, and experiments that can heal fractured communities. For more information, visit charleskochfoundation.org/courageous-collaborations.
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