Monday, August 29, 2016

Applying r/K Theory to the Book of Mormon

The Cycle of Righteousness and Wickedness, sometimes referred to as "The Pride Cycle" (Source)
I've found the Anonymous Conservative's r/K theory as described in his book, The Evolutionary Psychology Behind Politics: How Conservatism and Liberalism Evolved Within Humans, and at his blog to be a useful analytical tool to help explain the decline and collapse of civilizations. Basically, it explains social and moral issues of decline that Tainter does not address in his treatise The Collapse of Complex Societies and which, although described by Spengler, is not fully explained by him. (I would note that Gibbon's also describes the moral decline of the Romans in his The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire but did not have a clear model to explain it).

I highly recommend that you read the Anonymous Conservative's book. However, he does provide a brief overview of key points at his blog which describe the basics of the theory. Essentially, however, "r and K come from evolutionary ecology, where they describe two fundamental psychologies seen in nature, designed to adapt an organism to either a glut or a shortage." Basically, r is a reproductive strategy for times of plenty that focuses on producing as many offspring as possible, with little or no concern in the quality of the offspring and minimal conflict with others of your species. The Anonymous Conservative (AC) refers to those that tend to follow the r strategy as "rabbits," since it is an animal that accurately reflect that strategy. K is reproductive strategy that focuses on quality over quantity, with the result there is more parental investment in offspring, and long-term pair mating. Because it is a strategy designed for environments where resources are scarce, K-strategists are highly competitive. AC refers to those following the K strategy as "wolves."

The different strategies produce very distinctive differences in social behavior. AC sums up the differences:
Rabbits are r-strategists, designed to exploit free resources, like fields of grass. The five psychological traits inherent to the r-strategy are docility/conflict-avoidance, promiscuity/non-monogamy, single-mom'ing, early sexualization of young, and no loyalty to a competitive in-group. All help this glut-exploiting psychology to out-reproduce everyone else. 
Wolves are K-strategists, designed for when resources are too limited for everyone to survive. The five traits of a K-strategist are competitiveness/ aggressiveness/protectiveness, competitive mate monopolization/ monogamy, high-investment two-parent rearing, only mating when mature, and high loyalty to one's competitive in-group. All these traits either help you win, or produce fitter offspring, so they will win.
AC's basic thesis is:
Our political battle is one between a glut-exploiting reproductive strategy of rabbits and a shortage-surviving reproductive strategy of wolves. The swings between conservatism and liberalism at the societal level are not the result of logical argument or reasoned debate. They are the result of psychological shifts produced by perceptions of K-stimuli in the environment such as conflict, danger, and shortage, or r-stimuli, such as safety, pleasure, and abundance. These perceptions trigger ancient mechanisms in the brain that adapt psychology to environment. All of politics and much of history are r vs K.
 As an initial matter, I would note that while not a perfect match, many of the traits that are ascribed to K-strategists are the same or similar to traits ascribed to someone that is "righteous"; while the traits of the r-strategist represents that of the wicked. For instance, in Matthew 22:37-38, Christ indicates that the greatest commandment is to "love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind." This is a perfect embodiment of the K-strategy in-group loyalty--particularly owed to the head of the pack. (For instance, if you have a loyal dog that looks to you as the alpha, think of the love and devotion expressed by that dog). Then, in Matthew 22:39, the Lord states that the second great commandment is "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Yet another expression of the intense in-group loyalty we are supposed to have.

Many of the 10 Commandments follow a similar patterns. Many of the commandments, such as having no other god, honoring one's mother and father, the prohibition against bearing false witness, the prohibition against murder, are representative of the protectiveness and in-group loyalty of the K-strategist. Similarly, the commandments against adultery (in fact, the whole slew of commandments against sexual immorality) and coveting a neighbor's wife tie in with the K-trait of monogamy.

On the other hand, the traits of rabbits--early and extreme sexualization, multiple and frequent sexual partners, impulsive behavior (which is at the root of sexual immorality, crime and violence), betrayal of one's religion and country, careless attitude toward resources and finances (manifested by incurring debt, lavish spending and taxes), and inability to deal with stress or conflict--are hallmarks of the wicked.

This is not to say that r/K exactly equals wickedness versus righteousness, but it is close. While it is possible for a K-strategist to be wicked, I would suggest that it is impossible for an r-strategist to be righteous.

Another aspect of r/K theory is a cycle between r and K dominance in a society. During times of scarcity, societies are K dominant. In such times, r is not a helpful strategy, and those that possess the r traits must hide their true natures. However, the competitiveness and societal trust that arises in a K-select society give rise to the strength, innovation, and prosperity that produce an abundance of resources. As the society becomes more prosperous, r rises in dominance (while the lack of loyalty and trust, promiscuity, selfishness, etc., weaken the society over time) until some event occurs (war, natural disaster, disease, etc.) that weeds out the r-select and re-introduces a period of resource scarcity giving rise, once again, to K dominance.

Those familiar with The Book of Mormon will see same similar cycle described in terms of wickedness and righteousness (see the illustration above). Time and again, Mormon recounts from Nephite history a period of righteousness that leads to great prosperity. But the period of prosperity eventually produce a period of increasing pride and growing wickedness. In some cases, the wickedness is seemingly general among the Nephite people until nearly all the Nephites become wicked. Thefts, violence (i.e., crime), and whoredomes increase, just as would be expected in a time of high r. At other times, the wicked group will dissent from the body of the Nephites, and seek to overthrow the government or, in many cases, go to rival governments (the Lamanites) to convince them to attack and overthrow the Nephite government. In all this, we see the lack of loyalty and honor that is the hallmark of the r-strategist. In fact, AC makes a point in his book of discussing how r-strategists will go to great lengths to try and get one group of K-strategists to fight and destroy the K-strategists of their own people or nation, whether it is using the law and law enforcement to attack K-strategists, importing immigrants that will fight with and destroy K-strategists, or even assisting foreign powers with invading and destroying the in-group K-strategists. This is an example of the extreme disloyalty that lies at the heart of the r-strategist.

Of course, the usefulness of r/K theory does not end with The Book of Mormon, but can be applied to much of the scriptures. In doing so, it provides additional insight into understanding the scriptures and the purpose of the Lord, including why we are subject to such an intense test as our mortal existence.

Additional Reading: "Lesson 34: How Could You Have Forgotten Your God?"--Book of Mormon: Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, (1999).

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