r/K Selection Theory


Someone who reads my posts is keen on applying r/K selection theory to the liberal/conservatives divide. This theory has it that animals have different strategies for surviving and reproducing and while r strategists are adapted to having lots of offspring and hope that at least some of them will survive without almost not parental care, Ks have only a few offspring which they put all their time, energy and resources into protecting, feeding and raising. Their offspring are often helpless and need a long period of learning. Ks are often more intelligent than r strategists. Oysters and turtles are classic r strategists while humans and elephants are Ks, with rabbits somewhere in between.

The late, great J.P. Rushton applied this theory not to different species of animals but to human populations. He believed that while humans are generally all heavily K selected, black people are slightly less so than whites and whites slightly less so than east Asians. You could say that the black strategy lies somewhere between that of whites and rabbits!

Rushton put forward some convincing evidence to support the idea that blacks are more r selected. For example, he found they are more fertile than whites, producing more twins and triplets, have shorter gestation periods (39 weeks as opposed to 40), mature more quickly both physically and sexually, engage in sexual behaviour earlier and with more partners, put in less parental care, the father often leaving and the mother often letting her other children look after each other. This is true both in Africa and in Detroit. They are on average less intelligent, as measured on IQ tests and in school achievement.

Why are there such differences between races? The most likely reason is an r strategy was more suitable to life in hot countries where survival is not so hard and food relatively plentiful while a K strategy was more successful in the cold wastes of Siberia and northern Europe that people moved into tens of thousands of years ago. Only the children of clever two-parent families survived in such a demanding climate. Today’s east Asians beat whites on IQ tests and their divorce rates are lower simply because north-east Asia was a colder ancestral environment than northern Europe. This all strikes me as extremely plausible.

More recently Stefan Molyneux, Bill Whittle, Dave Cullen and someone called the anonymous conservative, all non-scientists, have tried to apply this r/K split not to different races but to the political divide between liberals and conservatives, liberals being the r strategists and conservatives being the Ks.

From the start I found this implausible. After all, if liberals are r strategists then they should resemble blacks in their behaviour, which they don’t. I watched both Stefan Molyneux’s and Dave Cullen’s videos on the topic but found the talk of socialism, the carrying capacity of environments and allegiances between alleged r liberals and r immigrants confusing. Where was the biological disposition towards r in all this? Yes, progressive liberals believe we are all the same and should share what we have and basically live according to John Lennon’s Imagine but this is just an idea that has been forced into their heads at school, not a genetic predisposition.

Had I wanted to believe the idea that liberals are r strategists I suppose might have glossed over the things I didn’t understand as I used to do when I was younger and came across an idea that took my fancy. The Aquatic Ape Theory was one of those. I believed it for years before bothering to read ideas that contradicted it. I now find it extremely unlikely, though not impossible. It was actually that theory that first got me interested in evolution, which took me to Richard Dawkins, to anti-religion, to evolutionary psychology, to politics and to all the rest. Until I read Elaine Morgan’s The Aquatic Ape Theory at the age of 36 I only ever read novels. To find that I had been so easily misled about a subject I knew almost nothing about was salutary. It taught me to read more widely before nailing my colours to a mast.

These days I have imaginary arguments in my head and if I can’t defend a position then I drop it. I found I just couldn’t defend anonymous conservative’s idea. I felt that if there was really something to it then it should be as easy to understand as J.P. Rushton’s theory, which even a child could grasp.

Even so, I looked into it a little more and found that r/K strategy was heavily criticised a couple of decades ago and has now been replaced, or perhaps subsumed, by the more general Life History Theory, which to me looks remarkably similar. Life History Theory says that animals are variously adapted on 7 traits:

  1. size at birth
  2. growth pattern
  3. age and size at maturity
  4. number, size, and sex ratio of offspring
  5. age- and size-specific reproductive investments
  6. age- and size-specific mortality schedules
  7. length of life

While black versus white/east Asian differences fit this pattern, liberal babies are no bigger or smaller than conservative babies, are not born earlier or later, grow at the same rate, don’t reach sexual maturity any earlier, have the same number of siblings, die at the same age, are neither more nor less intelligent and are otherwise biologically identical in every way. Only their ideas differ, according to how they were indoctrinated. I therefore can’t subscribe to anonymous conservative’s idea.