Adam Smith, Charles Darwin, and gay marriage. The wisdom we take from evolution is the same that a good economist takes from the Invisible Hand: absent really good reasons, let things be. Don’t be hubristic; don’t interfere too much with markets or an individual’s inherited characteristics. Make room for people’s sirens (their inner calls); for expressions of novelty and experiment.
Our temperaments, our sexual preferences, our energy levels, etc. all have important biological components; they all occur along inherited continuums. Twin studies attest to this. Let them be.
If we live in a society that values the individual and freedom, then we’ll have a bias against hastily putting the kibosh on biologically inherited behavioral variation; we’ll be reluctant to force individuals into conformity absent very, very good reasons to do so.
This reluctance is grounded in our knowledge of how evolution works (by variant gambits). It’s not because we imagine ourselves helping evolution along or taking moral cues from evolution. It’s just deriving wisdom from the way things are and the way they change, Grasshopper.
Plato against the individual. If we don’t value individuals qua individuals or freedom qua freedom, then we won’t care what biology and evolution tell us about variation. The facts on the ground won’t matter. We’ll run roughshod over individuals on our way to achieving our version of an ideal society (as Plato did in the imagining of his perfect republic).
But once we say we value individuals and freedom, our quest for the ideal society relaxes a bit. We see the individual’s autonomy as a competing good with our utopian schemes, and we want to be informed by biology in making decisions that impact people with variant behaviors.
Biology and evolution help us to see the individual; to wisely and compassionately recall that, just as we don’t want our own biologically influenced and contingent siren calls of conscience, reason, or passion blocked by social coercion, so we shouldn’t want to block these calls in others absent very compelling social reasons for doing so.
Evolution and private v. public. No “is” needs to dictate your personal bucket list of “oughts.” Given that evolution plays every gambit–cooperative to selfish, etc.–what generalization could you make from it in any case?
As a contingent and variant creature, you may surmise that your own inner logic and private sirens are calling you away from any Golden Mean or evolutionary strategy adhered to by the herd.
That’s you on the private level.
But on the social level, in the weighing of competing goods, we should use biology and evolution to inform public policy.
How so? By letting evolution function as a source of wisdom. It reminds us that individual siren calls exist along a continuum, and they frequently have a significant biological basis. This ought to bring us to greater empathy in our decision making.