Below is a quick look at the most-read posts that were written in 2012, with a brief summary, in case you’re interested.* Thanks very much to everyone for visiting, and to those who have shared these writings and commented on them.
This was the most viewed post written this year. It looked at the variety of intimate romantic relationships that humans have negotiated into various socially recognized structures. I tried to go beyond looking at humans as naturally monogamous or promiscuous, which I think are overly simplistic arguments, taking a look at how this complexity may have arisen. There’s also a nice graphic, borrowed from David McCandless.
“We obviously have a lot of cultural diversity in humanity with substantive differences in worldviews and which behaviors are deemed acceptable, but cultures – and individuals – are tasked with how to balance sex, love, intimacy, and commitment, as well as reproduction and parenting. I think this interplay between individual drives and cultures provides an alternate model of looking at things rather than trying to discern what humans ‘are’ in terms of our sexuality.”
2) Human Nature, Humility, & Homosexuality. Feb 10
A pointed response to one conservative’s argument about homosexuality being against human nature, and the need for tolerance and the need to avoid making overly confident claims about human behavior. “I would recommend that if we have a choice, then choose humility. Choose tolerance. Choose love.”
“A love triangle is better than a hate rhombus.” This was a poll on whether it is really possible to love (romantically) more than one person simultaneously, how this might work in a biological sense, and the role of culture here. The overwhelming consensus is that it is possible, and that it is even desirable. I acknowledge the limits of an internet poll, and am pretty sure that members of the polyamory community notified each other about the site, which would skew results. However, I would agree that it is possible. Why that would be, from an evolutionary perspective and whether it is desirable, are more complex questions.
4) Cosmically Connected Primates March 8
A look at humans as an obligatorily social species and our need for connection, even if that connection is with something other than a fellow human. Inspired by Neil deGrasse Tyson’s viral video on our connection with cosmological events. Includes a look at epidemiologic studies on how this need for connection affects our health and longevity. Oh, it got some praise from Barbara J. King, while Ed Yong called it ‘ace,’ which was nice of them. Our connections are among life’s highlights.
5) Empathy in Flux. Jan 14
On the need for a longitudinal perspective – for both quantitative epidemiologic data and for how we understand individual lives. It presents a thought experiment in empathy and the need to go beyond making snap judgments based on cross-sectional observations. “single slices of a person’s life are never enough to fully understand the complexity of a person. In our time lapse photography, there are many frames missing.”
6) Egalitarianism & Arrogance. June 8
A biocultural take on the evolutionary tug-of-war between the individual and the group. This post takes a look at the perception of arrogance, sharing, and inequality among the !Kung San hunter-gatherers, as well as non-human primates. A brief mention of my own arrogance and why it may be there.
7) Adversity, Resilience, & Adaptation. June 26
Some ruminations on the evolution of pain, particularly the pain of grief that comes with severed relationships. I speculate on why pain has to be so painful, and whether nature went overboard. “Nature did not half-ass our emotions.” It ends on a hopeful note, with some ideas from Melvin Konner on how, despite the frequent pains we encounter in life, resilience usually wins the day.
8) The Evolution of the Audacity of Hope. September 14
Personal reflections on reaching tenure, overcoming fear, the importance of anthropology, and reasons for optimism about humanity (despite our flaws).
Thanks again for reading.
* Technically, I had other posts that were read more often than some of the ones on this list, but they were written in previous years. These include some of my favorites (War, Reconciliation & the Second Indochina War; Lessons from the Christmas Truce of 1914; Life is Beautiful).