Year in Review: Top Posts of 2017

Looking through the 5 most frequently read essays of 2017, I see few themes. They are mostly attempts to find reasons to be hopeful (even though that has been hard at times). Humans are adaptable and flexible, and we aren’t fated to any single behavioral way of being. That means we can always make a better world. Light up the darkness.


1. The Conditions of the Game: It’s Not a “World of Eternal Struggle” (Sept 2)

This was by far the most read post on this site, which I wrote after the violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia. This was upon seeing a photo of a man with a t-shirt that quoted Hitler in which he wrote that ours is “a world of eternal struggle.” I found it disturbing, but also just wrong. In evolution, adaptations are context specific, and they depend on the conditions of the game. This is also true for cooperation and conflict.

“How we view the world matters. If we see it as zero-sum, as an eternal struggle against other people where only one party can win, then we will act accordingly. Norton and Sommers (2011) found that many white people see racial relations as a zero-sum game: that if other groups are making progress toward equality, that this progress comes at their expense. But remember that non-zero-sum relationships are widespread. With cooperation so prolific in nature (genes, cells, organisms, groups, human societies), it just seems odd to declare that life is solely a contest of struggle. Nor does it make sense to say that cooperation is impossible between groups. Or we can see it as a chance for coalitions, that the success and well-being of others around us does not require us to lose. We make a niche for the others around us, as they do for us, and we all decide whether the costs that come with building up our armor are worth it. They may be, depending on how we perceive the conditions of the game.

I don’t know about you, but I think my life would be better if I was surrounded by healthy, fulfilled, cooperative people over those who feel distrustful, held back, and resentful. Of course, some people may feel differently. There are many strategies one can use. But don’t argue that nature gave us only one hand to play.”

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2014 in Review

These were the ten most read posts of 2014, with #1 being the most read. As I look for patterns, I think they fall into three categories: War, cooperation & conflict; Evolution & plasticity; and Sex, love & relationships. You know, easy uncontroversial topics. 🙂

As always, nothing on this site would be read if not for you all. Thanks to everyone who visits here, particularly for the regular readers (you know who you are), and for your comments and sharing these posts. Happy New Year!  

10. The Kindness of Strangers (Nov 27)

An in-class academic exercise suggests that we are always somewhat dependent on the kindness of others, regardless of our own disposition as cooperators or defectors.


9. Civilian Casualties Are a Feature, Not a Bug, of War (Jul 20)

Although we often think of war as a contest between competing militaries, data suggest that since the Second World War, 67% to 90% of casualties occur among non-combatants. I wrote this to help contextualize some of the conflicts occurring in the summer of 2014.

War deaths 2

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