Hunt, Gather, and Be Merry

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

John Durant (The Paleo Manifesto) had some obsessive readers and book hoarders on both sides of the family, and he was an obsessive reader growing up:

I would spend a few years plowing through a genre before moving on to the next one: Greek myths (ages 6–7), fantasy (8–17), science fiction (15–18), economics and government (16–22), evolutionary psychology (17–23), biology and health (23–28), Judaism (29–30), and men and masculinity (29 to present). One day I’ll do something similar to John Cusack’s character in “High Fidelity” and arrange all my books in autobiographical order.

I guess I never made that swing through Judaism…

Durant says he’s less interested in Paleo and Libertarianism than evolution and politics:

For example, try watching a political debate with no sound — it makes it easier to focus on the candidates’ body language. I’m fascinated by the influence of factors like height, posture, and facial shape on how we select our “tribal” leaders.

Evolution also offers some perspective on deep political divides on social issues. A theme in my book is the tight relationship between religion and infectious disease (see chapter 4, “Moses the Microbiologist”). It seems fairly clear that many traditional, conservative religious values are heuristics for surviving in a habitat with a high disease burden. For example, pretty much all traditional sexual values — lifelong monogamy and edicts against sex before marriage, promiscuity, bestiality, prostitution, and men having sex with men — would have limited the spread of STDs back before antibiotics, latex condoms, and knowledge of the germ theory of disease. The people who engaged in sexual behaviors that led to STDs would have been more likely to be sick, sterile, or die — and it would have looked like they were punished by God (since people didn’t realize germs were to blame). So I can understand how pathogens may have led to the emergence of these cultural values, and why there may be political and cultural conflict as the need for them is obviated by modern hygienic practices and technology.


  1. …the need for them is obviated by modern hygienic practices and technology.

    Has he seen what STD rates have done in the last 30 years? Not so obviated, I think…

  2. Robb Seaton says:

    +1. If condoms “solve” the STD problem, but people refuse to use them, the problem remains.

  3. Faze says:

    Some researchers expect we will eventually find that way many more diseases than we now know have a sexual transmission angle, including many more cancers and movement disorders. This could explain some of the demographic health disparities in the US, where the same population that has the highest rates of venereal disease also has disproportionate rates of prostate cancer, kidney disease, diabetes and other conditions.

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