Strategic and necessary

I finally watched Everything Everywhere All At Once last night and I have never cry/laughed as much as that before. But there was a line in the movie that struck me:

When I choose to see the good side of things, I’m not being naive. It is strategic and necessary.

That reminded me of a question that Rutger Bregman asks in his book Humankind that still haunts me months after reading it: what if we got the theory of human evolution all wrong? What if it wasn’t the survival of the fittest that made us into who we are and what if our intelligence wasn’t what helped us survive?

There’s an interesting tale in the book about the source of animal and human intelligence where studies have shown that when animals are domesticated they not only get fuzzier—think wild pig’s tails curling over generations or wolf hair fluffing up as they Poké-evolve into dogs—but when you select kindness in animal breeding, there’s another side affect: animals also become more intelligent.

This implies that intelligence is a side-effect of kindness and not the other way round! If that’s true, then our smarts isn’t why we’re successful and intelligence is simply a biological afterthought.

I have read zero studies about this but, generally, from my limited experience, most folks tend to believe that they’re successful because they’re smart. They know how to wield financial markets in the same way that our ancestors knew how to wield fire and feather arrows. Likewise, every discussion about the early history of humans brags about how smart we are, how we tamed the wilderness with our super macho brains, but that always implies that the kindness of a community is just a thing that happens. It’s not as important as our genius, world-building smartness.

But that’s all wrong, Rutger argues convincingly. Instead, and from evolution’s point of view, kindness is strategic and necessary.