Darwin gave us hope, not God. We have an inbuilt Pandora’s box that enables us to deceive not only others but ourselves. Deception is clearly linked to neural complexity and a positive perception of our environs is a deep-rooted drive. Without this, we cannot accomplish what we set out to do. Moreover, we have a tendency to deceive ourselves and deny the truth, since the alternative is depression and despair.
Evolutionary Psychiatrist Randolph Nesse of the University of Michigan is a great believer in hope as a evolutionary strategy.
According to Nesse, all emotions have an evolutionary basis, and for every negative emotion, there is a balancing positive one. Hope arrives on the coattails of despair, and without hope, we’d all be lost. Since everyone experiences bad stuff, and feels it deeply, our brains have adapted by also delivering hope. And without our inborn measure of hope, we fall into depression, where someone like psychiatrist Nesse has to remind us to be hopeful.
The rhetoric of hope adopted by Barack Obama and other politicians becomes more understandable as a strategy that draws upon deep seated biases within human societies. It is noteworthy that hope has formed a strong component of many religious messages: thus rendering the satirical embodiment of the Messiah in the President-elect more accurate in Darwinian terms.
Darwinian explanations add to the complex mix of our understanding of human action. They do not replace or simplify this complex cultural mosaic.
This small point does give us an insight into power: for those who truly love terror would deny hope to all. The true totalitarian states of the twentieth century tried to deny hope to all of their victims and even then, failed in their torture. Yet, the same horizons are also eroded and extinguished over the longer term by other systems, such as welfare. There is no comparison between the terror of the prison camps and the grey anomie of incapacity benefits. But both, I suspect, through different means, overturn this need for self-deception, acknowledging the primacy of politics and society over the weak orientation of our evolved psychology.