I wanted a light read for a few days, so I picked up James McManus’ Cowboys Full expecting a history of poker. But little did I know that first I would have to submit to a painfully twisted Darwinian fairy tale in which the writer attempts to show how his version of standard modern behavior in complex society began in prehistoric days and/or our genetic code.
Let’s let McManus speak for himself:
Our urge to compete and take chances developed along the following lines. Pleistocene hunters risked life and limb for the best opportunities to slaughter ferocious but protein-rich animals. The closer they got with a chipped-stone spearhead to a scared, angry buffalo, the more likely they were to be trampled or gored, but the better chance they had of actually killing the beast. Courage and aggressiveness counted. Hanging back from the fray may have helped a risk-averse male survive the day’s hunt, but it wouldn’t have served him well otherwise. Hunters who took down fresh meat were lionized within the tribe. They received larger portions of protein and more opportunities to mate with nubile females. Meanwhile, the females were competing among themselves-painting their faces, displaying their breasts and genitalia-for the chance to mate with the best food providers. Once copulation took place, protection became even more vital to the families who might become pregnant, so the sexual bounty was even more lavish for the hunters-turned-warriors who killed the most enemy tribesmen. By this means and others, a taste for bold risk taking was efficiently bred into our species. Perhaps the most obvious example today occurs when the prettiest cheerleader dates the star of the varsity team.
When constructing these Darwinian fantasies or fairy tales, in virtually every case the behavior that the writer wants to validate is part of the package of traditional Victorian values. In the past few months I’ve pointed a number of examples of Darwinian fairy tales, all of which uphold traditional ideas about men and women; for example, see the blogs for November 17 and September 1.
In the McManus book, he is trying to connect good hunters getting the best women in the caveman days with varsity stars getting the prettiest cheerleaders today.
But it’s all made up out of the very thinnest of air; maybe it’s made of phlogiston, that imaginary stuff in the air that Lavoisier proved did not exist. It does not even exist in popular mythology much: The classic movie plot is for the cheerleader to start with the star and then mature to the point that she ends up with the dancer, singer, political activist or hood. And as I remember reality, the prettiest cheerleader usually dated a college man.
My point is that McManus is trying to impose a personal observation on us as social reality and uses a fairy tale he either mistakenly or cynically calls scientific to do so. The fact that this excursion into Darwinian fairy-telling was extraneous to the rest of the book, which is supposed to be about poker, makes it all the more irritating. Let’s hope he takes it out of the paperback edition.
Every time I critique a Darwinian fairy tale, I make sure I write that I believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution, I just don’t buy into these elaborate explanations based on little or no evidence.