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sibling rivalry in the Bible, and other such conflicts

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  • Joseph Carroll
    I just received a note from someone asking about adaptationist discussions of the Bible as literature and about discussions of sibling rivalry. I couldn t
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 7, 2005
                  I just received a note from someone asking about adaptationist discussions of the Bible as literature and about discussions of sibling rivalry.  I couldn't think of a single instance either of study of the Bible or of sibling rivalry.  I said I'd post a notice to the listserve to see if anyone else had information on studies about these topics in literature, from an adaptationist perspective.
              A few days ago, I finished drafting another survey of work done in adaptationist literary study, updating the survey done for Buss's Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology.  The updated survey is for another handbook of evolutionary psychology, this one edited by Robin Dunbar and Louise Barrett.  The survey for Buss's handbook was organized more or less chronologically, by main contributors; the updated survey is organized by topics in literary theory and specific periods and genres.  If anyone would like a copy, let me know and I'll send it to you as an attachment.
                  In looking around for items to include in this updated survey, I found a fair amount of work done on epics, fairy tales, science fiction, realist novels, and Shakespeare.  Most studies so far have focused on mate selection issues. 
                  I've been reading a few articles lately on the evolution of family life (there is a whole section on that in the Buss handbook, with some fine articles; and the Bjorklund & Pellegrini book *The Origins of Human Nature: Evolutionary Developmental Psychology* has a long chapter on the evolution of the human family), and these articles remind me that evolutionary psychology isn't just about mating.  Evolutionary psychology generally concerns itself with the way fitness interests have shaped proximal human motives, and it gets at that topic most incisively by looking at areas in which humans share fitness interests but also have conflicts.  No one's fitness interest is exactly identical with that of their mates or of their closest family members--parents, children, siblings, other kin.  Along with all the conflicts arising out of mating, standard topics in evolutionary psychology include conflicts between mating effort and parenting effort, parent-offspring conflict, and most generally between "somatic" (resource acquisition) and "reproductive" efforts. 
              In her essay on Edith Wharton's The Children, Judith Saunders talks about parent-offspring conflict.  In the initial analysis of some of the data from our big website survey of Victorian novels, we found that there is a fundamental shaping principle in the opposition between characters dominated by resource acquisition and characters who are more attuned to love and family--antagonists and protagonists.  And then too there is the whole social field, with the opposition between dominance behavior and affiliative behavior structuring social and political dramas like Richard III (there is a good essay on that by Daniel Nettle, published in a Hungarian journal that is, unfortunately, hard to get; I have a pdf copy, if anyone would like to see it.) 
                  I'm mentioning all this now just as a means of suggesting possible topics of inquiry or angles of approach for adaptationist critiques of specific works.  Literature usually deals with plots that involve the deepest passions and motives.  Often, those are the passions and motives in which close ties are sharply challenged by conflict--so, mating, parenting, childhood, kin relations, and the conflict between bonding and ambition in social life (Macbeth).  Evolutionary psychology gives a means of analyzing those relations in a systematic way.  The systematic reduction to elemental conflicts provides a key to many a plot structure.
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