October 20, 2005

Flu Shots and Murder

With the kind help of Tamara, Laura and I got our flu shots today. Mommy went first, trying to demonstrate good technique, but I don't think Laura paid much attention. She did do better than in the past, though; the tears stopped pretty quickly, and she accepted the proffered sticker from the nurse with good grace. The best part is--I have to check this with our doc, but it's probably true--that since she got two shots last year, she only needs one this year. Yippee!

Another of the books I recently finished was The Murderer Next Door: Why the Mind Is Designed to Kill. It was pretty fascinating, and well written to boot (though there are a few things that the author repeats too often). Although he says he was not thrilled about the subject, and in fact had nightmares over the course of the seven years it took him to complete, he felt it was very necessary to examine why murder exists across all human cultures.

His conclusion is that there are evolutionary advantages to murder. (NB: He is very careful, and in fact, states in several places, that he is neither encouraging or condoning murder, but merely trying to figure out why it is so prevalent). Basically, those advantages go beyond "Dead men tell no tales," and have to do with the struggle to pass on our genes. He theorizes that in the not-so-distant past, you bumped off the other guy so you could have access to his mate (who had already proved her worthiness by managing to have a mate, and probably her fertility by having kids; you'd probably want to bump off the kids, too.) This is not, obviously, cheery stuff, but there are an awful lot of parallel examples in the animal kingdom to support his thesis. Regardless of whether one accepts his conclusions, he picked up some pretty awesome "gee-whiz" stats along the way, and has some good advice. To wit:

-If you think you're in immediate danger, you're probably right. Since murder's been around so long, we have also evolved ways to try and avoid it. (Just as with diseases, our immune systems are always changing to defeat the next challenge). The main one of those ways is the ability to recognize murderous signs in others: blind rage, creepiness, "otherness." As a side note, he takes a stab at explaining why racism is so prevalent; in early times, someone who looked different was probably attacking your tribe on a raid, and nothing good was going to come of that. Again, it's not an excuse, but a viable explanation for origination. Anyway, try not to ignore that creepy feeling if you have it; odds are good it is NOT "nothing" or "your imagination", especially if it's coming from someone you know, but your primitive brain trying to tell you something. This is, of course, separate from a more vague sense of doom such as that experienced after 9/11. It's more like, your brother-in-law seems to have finally slipped his lid; it's probably best to get out of his way.

-Deterrents work. Over and over again, survey respondents in the author's study explained that, although they had experienced murder fantasies (most everyone has--some more detailed than others. Personally, I've only ever gotten as far as wishing someone gone, not me being the actual agency of their demise; your mileage may vary. And if it does, now you know you're not a freak!), the fear of getting caught and punished prevented them from "going over the edge." There was no specific analysis of types of punishment--this is not an argument having to do with the death penalty--but the idea of punishment itself. Loss of social status is also one of the big reasons behind murders, ironically.

-Men are criminals. Only about 3% of murders involve women killing other women. About 10% of murders involve women killing men. All the rest have male perps...and that is *across cultures*. Hmmmm....is there some medication we can put you chaps on??? Actually, the author has a rational explanation for this; in the mating game, men have much more to lose. As he says (several times), a woman is really never in doubt about whether a child is hers or not; it came out of her body, and short of modern anesthetics and bizarre childbed switches, she was THERE when it came out. She knows for sure. Men don't have that same assurance, so they spend/spent a great deal of time and energy making sure that it was THEIR genes being passed on, not the mailman's. This accounts for a hefty percentage of murders: Murders to eliminate the courting opposition; murders to achieve or maintain social standing, making one worthy of a mate; murders to achieve a better mate; murders to dispose of a "cheatin' heart." One interesting point he made here was that women are more likely to forgive a sexual escapade on the part of their partner, AS LONG AS THERE IS NO EMOTIONAL ATTACHMENT (no, Matt, that does not apply to you--we're talking about human evolution and generalities, here! :-)). An emotional attachment could mean a loss of resources for help in raising the kids. Men, on the other hand, tend to be less forgiving in the same circumstances because they could end up pouring their resources into raising some other guy's kids, thus making him a loser in the evolutionary game.

-Love the one you're with. A number of his most gruesome case studies involved jilted lovers, married or not. Women killed men who wanted to break up. Men and women killed the "other" who had stolen their love away. Men killed women who left them. That's another reminder about the first lesson: If you think your ex is stalking you, be very, very, very careful. Another aspect of "love the one you're with" had to do with step-children:

-A child is something like 100 times more likely to die of abuse if there is a step-parent (male OR female) in the picture. Ouch. There are many fine stepparents in the world, of course....but geez, what odds! That one makes a better argument than 'most any I've heard for making divorce with kids involved more difficult than it is (absent an already abusive situation, obviously). This is where he makes one of his (repeated) points; in a world where we're not fighting over the last huckleberry in the woods to feed our child, a lot of people have the resources to raise their own kids plus some other guy's; but, the biological drive to pass on one's genes urges the elimination of any possible competition. I'm not sure those of us with stepparents should rush out to thank them for not killing us, but it is surely a sobering statistic.

-The most danger is from those you know. Even though we seem to have built-in "other detectors", most of the danger in current times comes from friends and relations. A particular insidious point was about why friends can turn on each other: if you are friends with someone, you probably have something in common. As a result, there are good odds that you have somewhat similar taste in mates, making your mate and your friend mutually attractive to each other. In too many cases, somebody ends up dead because of this--either you (as the obstacle), the friend (for betrayal), or the mate (for threatening to drain your gene pool). I hope I still get invited to parties, especially since...

-He postulates that the reason people flirt is to ensure "back up mates", in case something happens to the current one, or, conversely, somebody decides it's time to "trade up" for a mate with higher status. I may have to cut back; I always thought I was just having fun!

So. It was a good read, though not exactly bedtime story material. Give your spouse an extra hug tonight...but not from me. ;-)


Tami said...

She needs the initial shot and the booster in a month if you want full immunity from the most common forms of the flu this year, sorry! :( Of course, that won't protect you from other forms floating around, but it might boost your immune system overall, depending on whom you ask...

Have you read _Protecting the Gift_ yet? It's pretty good and is along the same lines...it's about keeping your kids safe in this nutty world. And *gulp* yes I knew about the stepparent connection. Sucks, eh?


Ginger Ogle said...

Thanks for your all your comments...sorry I'm so bad at responding to them. I find most of my spare time gets devoted to the blog...a definite down side!

I have not read that book...I'll add it to my list. :-)

Tami said...

Oh gosh, don't even think about being worried for not responding to comments! LOL! I forget all about the blogs for a week, then think, "hmm I wonder what Ginger's up to?" Then I go read yours and think, "gosh, I should add to my blog..." And on and on it goes. Heh. I add something when I feel I can be useful or have something important to say and when I don't add anything, well...I just don't have anything to say! ;)

Hey, I think I may have bumped into your bro and his crew at Bauman's this last Saturday but I wasn't totally sure it was them (the only one I vaguely recognized was his wife...and I couldn't even remember her name, I feel ooooold *sigh*), so I didn't say anything. I should have been more friendly but my kids were self-destructing in the middle of the corn maze and we were lucky to get out of there without any HUGE meltdowns....