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Home arrow History arrow Life History Evolution and Sociology: The Biological Backstory of Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010

Aggregating the Biological, Psychological, and Sociological

Abstract Readers come to the fourth section prepared by prerequisite knowledge, both concerning Murray’s findings and life history theory. Serving as the central chapter, a subsection is devoted to each major variable studied by Murray: (1) education and intelligence; (2) community and religiosity; (3) industry and honesty; (4) marriage and parental investment. Each of these four sections open with a review of Murray’s data, which is followed by relevant biological explanations culled from the life history literature. The fifth and final section then emphasizes the unity among all the variables studied in the first four sections; unity only comprehensible within a life history framework.

Keywords Executive function • intelligence • education • future orientation • Embodied capital • altruism • social capita • Conscientiousness • virtue • industriousness • Marriage • parental effort • reproductive effort Meta-theory • inter-correlation • time-relevant investment

Coming Apart documents the formation and sequestration of a new cognitive elite. Intelligence begets education, and jointly they engender isolation. This has always been the case. Intelligence at once seems to confer an interest in, and capacity for, education. These putatively genetic associations are then strengthened by cultural norms of learning and education within intelligent families.1 Nevertheless, the increased strength © The Author(s) 2016

S.C. Hertler, Life History Evolution and Sociology, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-48784-7_4

of these correlations nearly renders them different in kind. Within the 50 years under scrutiny, the market pressure for intelligence and the efficiency of the college sorting machine accentuated long-standing association between intelligence and education, so that intelligence more reliably brought education. With these forces in full effect for half a century, it would be difficult to argue with Murray’s assessment (2012, p. 61): “The children of the well-educated and affluent get most of the top scores because they constitute most of the smartest kids. They are smart in large part because their parents are smart.” Intelligence and education therefore jointly form the fault line across which contemporary America is dividing.

This stance is consistent with a life history perspective. To understand this, consider first how emblematic human intelligence is of the slow life history (Kaplan et al. 2000; Wenner et al. 2013). The human brain is rare in its abilities, yes; but also in its liabilities. Rapid action potentials enabling neurotransmission require biochemical disequilibria maintained by sodium-ion pumps, pumps which use masses of glucose and oxygen (Laughlin et al. 1998). When compared to other primate species, excesses of gynoid fat on the hips, and in the breasts, have been evolutionarily selected to the end of supporting brain growth in utero and during nursing (Thornhill and Gangestad 2008). The brain is grossly disproportionate to the newborn body, shows significant postnatal growth (Bogin and Smith 2012), and then only full maturity in the twenties (Gogtay et al. 2004). Thus, the human brain is hard to grow and costly to maintain. Our investment in such a costly organ with such a distant future payoff marks humans as a highly K selected species (Wenner et al. 2013). The human brain is like the efficient factory, in that it requires excessive startup costs with a commensurate, but long deferred, payoff. One should recognize the future-oriented nature of such a developmental course; it presupposes a long life and the opportunity to reap what was long ago sown. This lengthened timescale is the essence of the K-selected life history.

Nonetheless, within the human species, there remains some variation in both brain size and the cognitive ability it brings (Galton 1869; Evans et al. 2005; Witelson et al. 2006; Pol et al. 2006; Deary et al. 2010); and this variation was discussed in the context of life history evolution by Rushton (Rushton and Ankney 1996). It was Rushton’s (2004) contention that variation in intelligence can only be fully understood within a life history evolutionary framework because of its relationship with “brain size, longevity, maturation speed, and several other life-history traits.” These assertions rest on his analysis of 234 mammalian species wherein “brain weight, longevity, gestation time, birth weight, litter size [negatively], age at first mating, duration of lactation, body weight, and body length” were all highly intercorrelated, as would be predicted by a life history perspective. Later research among humans pointedly confirmed this, showing that criminality, early sexual behavior, divorce, illegitimate birth, and promiscuity all correlate negatively with intelligence (Griskevicius et al. 2011; Wenner et al. 2013). The slow life history is especially relevant to the form of intelligence “captured under the category label Executive Functions” (Wenner et al. 2013; Rushton et al. 2008). Executive functioning is a particularly human form of intelligence enabled by enlarged frontal lobes, which allow planning, delay of gratification, goal setting, and inhibition (Suchy 2009); all of which are in some sense future oriented and enable one to work toward future ends (Goldstein and Naglieri 2013). Consequently, items from the Self-Control Schedule, the Self-Control Questionnaire, and the Barrett Impulsivity Scale are used to capture variation among human life histories (Figueredo et al. 2006).

As encephalization is a biological investment in the future, education is a cultural investment in the future. Having made the first investment, as Murray points out, one is better able and more willing to make the second. In the life history literature, education, like the accumulation of skill and knowledge generally, is taken as a human marker of the slow life history in that it is an investment in embodied capital (Brumbach et al. 2009; Griskevicius et al. 2011). Education becomes comprehensible as a sort of culturally relevant somatic investment. Situating it within the life history framework, education is positively correlated with delayed reproduction and delayed gratification (Griskevicius et al. 2011) and negatively correlated with addiction, HIV infection, violence, crime, and infant mortality (Chisholm 1999). In conclusion, the life history perspective concurs with Murray’s pairing of intelligence and education, while also pairing intelligence and education with the remaining variables studied in life history evolution. The cognitive elite of Coming Apart should then be understood more broadly to represent the K selected elite.

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