by Brian McInnerny

Certain segments of the Alt-Right/Conservative political sphere have discovered and appropriated the r/K selection theory which was a concept introduced to Biological Science in the 1970’s. The theory was popularised, and subsequently partly supplanted by the Life History Strategies model over 20 years ago. The application in right wing/conservative politics can be traced back to J. Philippe Rushton, who used the theory to explain some elements of racial differences. It has now enjoyed a resurgence with conservative pundits such as Stefan Molyneaux and “Anonymous Conservative” expanding the idea further, using the r/K selection theory as an explanation of modern politics and the liberal/conservative divide. The problem is that the application of r/K selection theory to individual humans and human psychology is wrong, a misuse of the theory, and worse, their own interpretation of the r/K theory contradicts the conclusions they themselves draw. That is to say, even if we were to consider r/K selection as having merit as a theory explaining distribution of psychological traits within a population, those people they identify as ‘K selected’ are more likely to be ‘r selected’ and vice versa.

Anonymous Conservative describes the theory thusly…

Biologists have long noted that species will tend to evolve behaviours which best aid them to effectively exploit their environment. Among these behavioural life history traits are reproductive strategies. Reproductive strategies are, as the name implies, the strategies individuals will use to reproduce. Here we will focus upon the two strategies demonstrated in r/K Selection Theory in Evolutionary Biology.

The science behind r/K Selection theory was hashed out decades ago. It emerged as biologists pondered why some species reproduced slowly using monogamy and high-investment parenting, while other species reproduced explosively, using promiscuity and single parenting. At the time this science was developed, the researchers were wholly unaware of its relevance to our modern ideological battles in the world of politics. The terms r and K came from variables in equations which described how populations would change over time. r represented the maximal reproductive rate of an individual, while K represented the carrying capacity of an environment. 1

The more likely reason why biologists were “wholly unaware of its relevance to our modern ideological battles” is probably the same reason as to why physicists were wholly unaware of the theory of relativity’s relevance to the price of eggs. That is as we shall soon see, because there is no relevance at all.

The Good

A good overview of the theory can be found here. In summary, the r/K selection theory describes the kind of traits that an animal or plant would have, given a particular relationship between that animal/plant and their environment. r/K selection theory concerns itself with density and is related the the following equation which models the rather simplistic Verhulst model of population

8ecdd930969407c6b71b1e6bed468dd7a7554730

The left side of the equation is the rate of population change over time. The right hand side contains the constants r and K. r is the rate of growth and K is the carrying capacity. As a population grows, it gets closer and closer to the carrying capacity (the maximum number of individuals that the environment can support) and K becomes a limiting factor. When the population has plenty of room to grow because of abundant resources, r is the limiting factor, that is to say, the size of the population is limited by how fast that species can

If that population is close to carrying capacity and there isn’t much more room for the population to increase, then K, the maximum number of individuals that can be supported, is the more important factor with respect to how much that population can grow. We therefore call this population ‘K selected’. If that population isn’t close in size to what the environment can support, then r is the most important factor with respect to how much that population can grow, and we call these populations ‘r selected’. In short, the more of a role that r plays in the change of population size over K, the more r selected that species will be, and likewise, the more of a role that K plays in the change of population size over r, the more K selected that species will be.

Why does this theory use the term ‘selected’? Because when r is the most important factor, then natural selection will favour strategies which allow that population to grow faster. When K is more important, natural selection will favour strategies which allow better use of existing resources.

To use the example of rabbits, rabbits often live in environments where food and space is plentiful, and therefore are an example of an r selected species. The limiting factor as to the size of the population is how fast and often they can grow and consume, not the carrying capacity. What benefits an individual rabbit more, to be able to produce lots of progeny to consume and occupy the free space and food, or to better compete with existing rabbits for food and space? Logically, the former is the better strategy. Rabbits COULD evolve weapons to combat each other to fight over food, but what would be the advantage? That effort spend in competition is of little value as extra resources can be obtained for ones progeny with faster breeding. More offspring with less parental input is a better strategy because of low density. Likewise for wolves, if there isn’t an abundance of food, spending energy raising many young only to see them die is not an efficient use of resources. Behaviours which better utilise existing resources, such as specialisation and group hunting behaviours are more advantageous.

So animals and plants don’t “choose” their strategies, but are the result of natural selection and what reproductive group strategies happen to produce the best results with respect that those organisms replicating their genes.

To use another analogy, imagine a competition where 10 players are on an Easter egg hunt and there are 1,000 eggs to obtain. What is the more effective strategy to maximise the number of eggs? To compete with other plays and fight them for eggs and find ways to keep them out of your territory, or to be as fast as possible in taking eggs? Those who are faster and quicker at getting the eggs will obtain more, and therefore, evolutionary speaking, be more successful. Those who try to compete with others won’t be as well off as those who simply grab eggs quickly. These people will pass their genes on and these traits will become more prevalent. On the other hand, if there are 100 players and 100 eggs, then one can imagine the more effective strategy is to be able to out-compete others. Cooperative group strategies may develop.

There are other factors which influence whether a species is r or K selected. An unstable environment pushes towards r selection and a stable environment pushes towards K. So a species which may breed to the point of reaching carrying capacity, but live in an unstable environment where the population falls and then later has opportunity to recover, is likely to be r selected.

In general, r selected organisms will have shorter lifespans, shorter gestation periods, produce many offspring with low parental input and individuals may only reproduce once. K selected organisms will have longer lifespans, longer gestation periods and put more parental effort into raising offspring. Time to sexual maturity may also be longer and the survival rates are higher. r selected species have high mortality at early stages of life and K selected species are far more likely to live their full potential lifespan.

Humans are K selected, having a high level of parental care, long gestation period, long lifespans, relatively low fertility and having evolved in environments where more often or not, the population was not far off carrying capacity. Pacific Islander communities are among the most K selected, as they live in a very limited environment, and developed cultural customs and practices with a few to limiting population growth.

The r/K spectrum is a continuum, where you have a range from highly r selected species all the way to highly K selected. It is not an either or.

The Bad

The first issue is that r/K selection theory is an attempt to create a heuristic, it is not a hard and fast rule. Species which should be r selected according to the theory may not show all the typical r selected characteristics, or may show none at all, and vice versa. Some species may show both r and K characteristics, such as trees, which have long lifespans and are often, especially in the case of forests, at carrying capacity but produce a high number of progeny with no parental investment with a very low survival rate. For the theory to be useful, it has to be able to predict characteristics that a species will have depending on the Verhulst model. r/K selection theory does provide a useful generalisation, however empirical evidence and observation finds cases where K selected traits arise where the species is r and vice versa. There are also observed cases where the r/K selection theory fails in its predictions completely.

Evolution doesn’t always follow our notions of common sense, as there are many other factors which can influence evolutionary direction and which can cause evolutionary adaptations which seem counter intuitive. The Conservative/Right Wing tendency to use Evo-Psych to explain everything often leads to erroneous conclusions, as many pop Evolutionary Psychologists fail to factor that evolutionary pressures don’t always lead to adaptation or remove maladaptations. Also, the evolutionary benefit or evolutionary cost of a particular trait may not be well understood yet.

The second issue is that Anonymous Conservatives version of the r/K theory is pseudo-science which seems to serve no other purpose than to subtly pathologise Liberal psychology and paint Conservative psychology in a good light.

Our political battle is one between a glut-exploiting r-reproductive strategy of rabbits designed to produce raw numbers and a shortage-surviving K-reproductive strategy of wolves designed to produce quality. 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.[^2]

This theory attributes positive traits such as “high loyalty”, “protectiveness” and a desire to produce quality to Conservatives, and considers Liberals as glut-exploiting people with no loyalty and who are endangering our civilisation. We therefore need noble K selected “Wolves” to protect us from civilisation destroy r selected “Rabbits”. This is little more than the Right Wing version of those studies that the Left use against the Right which purport to provide scientific evidence that Conservatism is just a reactionary position by those with lower IQ’s. These theories the Left occasionally promote also suggest, or are interpreted to suggest, that these traits are inborn and that we just have people who are predisposed to being “Right Wing Racists” who are just born defective. It stands to reason that Conservatives would want to adopt a counter science which uses the same strategy, but one that considers Leftists as the defective part of humanity. Even if there is truth that some people may naturally be more “xenophobic”, there may be benefit from trait, namely in-group protection. The fact that Nationalists may be more predisposed to this behaviour doesn’t automatically de-legitimise it or debunk it.

Although there does seem to be growing evidence that political inclination may have some physiological correlations, these are not well understood, and certainly not understood well enough to draw rich, detailed theories such as the r/K selection theory described here.

Why this Conservative interpretation of r/K selection and politics is incorrect

The impossibility of both r/K selected humans in a single society

r/K selection works on local populations, and almost always is a population or species wide adaptation. The r/K theory as used by Anonymous Conservative would require individuals /within/ a population having vastly different selective pressures applied to them than others within that population. Throughout the evolution of the human species, this has not happened. As r/K selection itself works on groups, there is no mechanism whereby some people can be ‘r selected’ and some ‘K selected’. In The Truth About Gene Wars Stefan argues that r and K selection have occurred /within/ a human population as adaptations to welfare! Civilisation, he claim, starts with K selected people and then flourishes and leads to excess. r strategists then take advantage of this and create an unstable environment which is a breeding ground for the r gene-set. The K in-group preference has died and made r in-group preference dominant. He uses Francis Heylighen and Centrum Leo Apostel paper From Quantity to Quality of Life: r-K selection and human development to substantiate his claims, but the only claims that Stefan was able to claim using the one sole paper, which only notes that stressful conditions lead to people to typical r-traits and and safe, prosperous environments lead to K selection. We know from human history, that as the population become wealthier and more stable, birthrates drop. Stefan however stops quoting the paper (presumably because nothing he says from here on in is supported by any science), and goes off making completely baseless statements about “r” and “K” people being to two species.

It may be possible if there was prolonged division between the rich and the poor, that is one group of people in society having plenty of resources, and others few, but even then, such wealth disparity is relatively modern in human history and wouldn’t necessarily lead to people taking different evolutionary paths. This would imply two separate breeding populations, which just hasn’t happened within any single society to any degree worth noting.

There is no biological evidence of r selected people

Simply put, humans show K selected traits, and there is no biological evidence that some are r selected. Anonymous Conservatives theory focuses on psychological traits, but if these traits are to be a result of r selection, then this means these psychological traits must be the result of generations of natural selection. As we’ve established, the improbably of natural selection working so differently WITHIN a population, let alone within a single family means we shouldn’t expect this. At best, we can find some r-selected traits emerging in times of high instability or stress, but there is insufficient evidence to conclude that some respond to stress by exhibiting r-selection behaviour and others done.

But let us consider that there is a possibility that some people perhaps are more likely to be loyal, or more likely to look after children, or less likely to have lots of children, or more likely to be Conservative due to inbuilt traits. These traits may superficially be similar to r/K selection strategies, but don’t necessarily have to be. Without the physical adaptations (shorter gestation periods, faster time to sexual maturity) we only have psychological differences which are tenuously linked to r/K strategies due to superficial similarities. A very long bow has to be drawn to observe subtle differences in attitudes and conclude that this is the result of r/K selection. If there were corresponding physiological metrics which one could correlate with politics, than this could serve as data supporting this theory. Further study would have to be done whether the different political views co-evolved, or are simply to be expected because they are of more benefit to that person, logically speaking. After all, Aboriginals didn’t “evolve” to want land rights. The correlation between support of land rights for Aboriginals and Aboriginality has more mundane, obvious explanations.

The attributed r and K psychologies are derived without reference to empirical studies

The statements that Conservatives are more loyal, don’t breed as much and so forth seem to be formulated from a priori judgements, rather than empirical evidence. For a theory to be taken seriously, any correlations or data that this theory relies upon should be well documented. The attributed psychological states, assertions of r strategists “deviating from normal human behaviour” and many of the claims made are made without reference to studies or data. That is not to say there isn’t some or much overlap with the truth there, only that evidence that this conclusion was reached after study is missing.

The attributed r and K psychologies run counter to what one would expect

In some cases, Anonymous Conservative’s assertions run contrary to evidence, assuming the theory has merit. If Conservatives are K selected and have fewer children, one should expect that they have fewer children, but they don’t. Republican voting states seem to have more intermarriage. Wouldn’t Capitalists who seek to expand and grow the economy as quickly as possible, who want unrestricted development and consumption exhibiting r strategies? Wouldn’t those who seek sustainable population and to limit growth be examples of K strategists?

If r selected people are seeking to live off others and not work, would this mean that Liberals would have lower incomes? What does this theory have to say about Capitalists who make a living from rent seeking? Are landlords who speculate and draw rental income and work without producing r strategists or K strategists?

The theory presumes that conflict avoiding r-strategist Liberals are for open borders, but how do we explain open borders Conservatives? The Liberal Party did more to increase immigration than Labour and Gina Reinhart and Harry Triguboff, two people who fit this theories K selection criteria, are among the biggest cheerleaders of mass immigration into Australia. In fact, big business in general are for open borders and mass immigration. Is big business in Capitalist society a Liberal thing?

While it is true that poorer communities have more children, this difference in birth rate is nowhere near significant enough to change the K characterization. After all, only several generations ago, it wasn’t unusual for Europeans to die of starvation, and for Europeans to have large families with a high rate of infant mortality. If there is a psychological switch which bring out ‘r strategies’, then this appears to be universal and environment dependent. 220px-mouse_litter

wolf-rabbit

r/K strategy is not the origin of our political divide

To my eye, it is inherently clear that this r/K divergence is the origin of our political divide. Indeed, while policy proposals from Conservatives are predicated upon the premise that resources are inherently limited, and individuals should have to work and demonstrate merit to acquire them, Liberals advocate on behalf of policy proposals which seem to be predicated upon an assumption that there are always more than sufficient resources to let everyone live lives of equal leisure. To a Liberal, any scarcity must clearly arise due to some individual’s personal greed and evil altering a natural state of perpetual plenty.

This is baseless, and the notions of “Liberal” and “Conservative” being used are specific to American 20th century politics. Is there evidence of parallel Liberalism and Conservatism in hunter gatherer societies? In prehistoric societies? Through the quarter of a million of years or so of human development and evolution? Stefan’s video serious is over three hours long, and consist almost of purely speculative guesses as to what has happened in history. There is little genuinely scholarly work behind this theory.

No one can decide who is a Liberal or Conservative reliably anyway. On who’s metric? Some consider New Limited newspapers Conservative, others Liberal. Some consider the Liberal Party of Australia not Conservative, others consider it too Right Wing and Conservative. Are Nationalist Bolsheviks Liberals or Conservatives?

It seems for this theory, Conservative and Liberal is defined how the narrow band of followers of this theory have decided to define it.

For this theory to have merit, some hind-casting should be performed, where previous political ideology in history is linked with different reproductive and lifestyle strategies. Without this information, such a statement cannot be made, as it is merely speculative.

Some will ask, why would we have evolved both of these psychologies, within our species, instead of trending totally r or K. This can occur for a number of reasons. Obviously an organism which inhabits an environment where resources surge in availability, and then become scarce can see its r-types surge in number during times of plenty, only to die back once resources become scarce. Indeed, such a population may eventually see its individuals adapt to change their strategy with the availability of resources. Or, as time goes on, the r-types may evolve strategies designed to see a few members persist during times of scarcity, so they may explode again once resources become plentiful.

This is an interesting idea, however it is unsupported by any evidence. Where did in history “r types” within a population die off leaving the “K types” behind? This is making the claim that people who are naturally prone to one type of political thought have in history, faced death rates far higher than the other type (and for a period prolonged enough to change genetic frequency). When did this actually happen?

At this point, the competition was fierce. One group adopted the K-selected psychology, stayed put, and slugged it out for resources, in free, merit based competition. They formed into groups, battled for territory and resources, and adopted a competitive, K-selected reproductive strategy. They became the K-type cohort of our population, embracing freedom and self-determination, free competition, monogamy, strong family values, loyalty to in-group, and sexual chastity in the youth.

Again, when did this happen? We know that history is full of group competition, but this is making the claim that one particular political type engaged in this competition, and that this competition was merit based.

The idea of r selected humans has little merit

If we are to grant a large concession, and consider that there may be some people are more more “K selected” than others, does this mean that those slightly to the r end of the spectrum are “r selected”? No. It juts means they are still K selected, but perhaps not quite as much. r and K selected are absolute categorisations, not relative. Hamburg is still in Europe, even though it is closer to Asia than Amsterdam. As stated before, there are no fundamental differences between human races which warrants considering some more r selected than others. There are no significant differences in gestation periods, potential lifespans or time to sexual maturity, given similar environmental factors.

The Ugly

The biggest problem with promoting this theory, is that it just serves as evidence that “The Right” engages in pseudo-science and has to resort to misinformation and false characterisations of people in order to push its agenda. This is one of the case where Liberal accusations are correct, and instead of people reappraising the value of this theory and considering whether it is scientifically valid, they are doubling down and using this criticism as further proof that the theory is correct. The theory “predicts” that Liberals would oppose this theory as they are competition averse.

If we are to claim to protect the West, then we have to do this by preserving and practising Western culture. The scientific method, an adherence to truth and honesty are elements of Western culture, and it doesn’t behoove us to claim to represent Western values by perverting the scientific method. The argument against mass immigration stands on its own without the need for complex and manufactured justification. No identifiable group should be subject to conditions which threaten its existence and to advocate policy which undermines the existence of an identifiable group is morally wrong.

There is good reason that theory has not spread outside of the narrow Conservative Libertarian niche that it appears confined within it. It is a baseless manufactured narrative, using disparate biological theories and observations to create a complex, confused theory which can be used to argue against the “welfare state”, Liberalism, taxation, Socialism and anything else that their audience doesn’t like. Rather than increasing understanding of why Liberals and Conservatives are different, it raises more questions than it answers as it seems to poorly match what we observe.

If Stefan or Anonymous Conservative found in their scientific research that at least ONE of their views was perhaps wrong, or they are mistaken in at least ONE aspect of their ideology, then we may have reason to think that they engaged in objective research. But this r/K theory justifies their preconceived political ideology /perfectly/. This theory miraculously vindicates every single one of their political positions. Every single one. If you’re a Libertarian who hates paying tax, thinks the welfare state is why you can’t get laid, want a simplistic model for why the West has mass immigration, and don’t care if it is 90% bulldust, then this is the theory for you.

 

One Response to r/K selection – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

  1. nineofclubs says:

    Yep.

    r/K, Liberal and Conservative, even Left and Right are inadequate descriptors of the primary philosophical differences which will define politics in the early 21st century.

    The fault line of the (near) future is communitarian vs cosmopolitan. Or, in laymans terms, nationalism vs globalism.

    The longer Australian nationalists try to conform to a conservative or right-wing identity, the less effective we will be.

    .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please enter CAPTCHA *