Sunday, July 18, 2010

Why biology should inform social policy

LEFT-LEANING politicians have traditionally blamed the structure of western society for the feckless and antisocial behaviour of its "underclass". Now biologists are chiming in.

Animals that live shorter, riskier lives tend to reproduce early, and that applies to humans living in tough circumstances, too. So teenaged mothers and wayward fathers may be an evolutionary response to deprivation, and many of the problem behaviours that plague western societies could be put down to a biological "die young, live fast" strategy.

The solution is to improve the health and wellbeing of the poorest in society and give all young people the prospect of a good job and a stake in their future. But that looks unlikely, given the economic downturn.

In recent years, though, we have gained considerable insights into the prerequisites for human fulfilment. Health and security may be top of the list, but we also thrive on community, fairness, bonding, altruism, playfulness and celebration. Hard-pressed politicians seeking inspiration would do well to look to these biological principles.

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