Expressly Biological: An Introduction to the Evolution of Governance

The Evolution of Governance program at One Earth Future is a peculiar thing. As with the other research tracks at OEF, the aim is to develop a cohesive theoretical “blueprint” for good governance structures—ones that foster peace rather than foment conflict. Furthermore, much like the other tracks, this blueprint will be empirically tested (with both laboratory and field data). The key distinction, however, lies in the approach: the work of the Evolution of Governance program is expressly biological.

Biology is at the root of everything we, as living, breathing organisms, have built. Human institutions—be they political bodies, economic markets, security forces, or courts—are the products of our psychology for better or for worse. Our psychology, in turn, is the product of our brains (well, our nervous system, but “brains” makes for good shorthand). And our brains are the products of many, many successive generations of evolution by natural selection.

If it sounds as if I’ve oversimplified terribly and have forgotten important causes like culture or free will, don’t fret: I haven’t. In future posts, I will address these and other issues that crop up in discussions about the evolution of behavior. For now, let me assure you that they are not what they (usually) appear to be.

My background is in psychology and evolutionary biology; with a little bit of economics, anthropology, and criminology mixed in. I even did a stint in a math department. So, yes, it can all seem a bit peculiar. To get you started, here’s a talk I gave at McMaster University in September of 2011 (when I had substantially less grey in my beard than I do now) on the evolution of kin recognition—our ability to identify genealogical kin—and its effects on human cooperation. The ideas I presented in that talk have sharpened considerably in the two years since I gave it but it should nonetheless give you a taste of things to come.