There’s a motif from philosophy about the human condition that our nature exists everywhere from the basest carnality and desire to the loftiest reaches of intellect and morality. How the two exist in the same creature has caused not just debate but considerable tension in relations from the familial to the geopolitical.
The idea behind Douglas Kenrick’s Sex, Murder and the Meaning of Life is that the wildly varied mind states and drives we occupy are closely connected. For a long time after Dawkins introduced and galvanised a new generation to Darwin’s ideas it was fashionable to consider us essentially selfish, the smooth running of society arising organically out of mass competition. More recent theories claim altruism’s actually been as successful a survival strategy as rivalry.
Sex, Murder and the Meaning of Life sketches a picture of those connections, how our behaviour in our own interests has combined on a global scale to produce everything from animal skins to electron microscopes.
His thesis is the result of a shift in the study of psychology in the 1970s. Traditional Freudian psychoanalysts subscribed to dark, seamy storms of conflict in adulthood as a result of our relationships in infancy, but a number of rogue researchers thought psychology was more connected with the same biology that made us leave the trees and walk upright.
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