Rushton’s use of this ‘simple model’—the r/K continuum—and its application to human races are wrong because 1) the three races described are not local populations; 2) the r/K continuum as described by Pianka (1970) is a poor representation of multidimensional ecological processes; and 3) cold weather is normally an agent of r-selection while endemic disease in Africa—as described by Rushton—is an agent of K-selection. Simple models are not always best—especially for organisms as complex as humans—so attempting to reduce complex biological and environmental interactions into a linear continuum is mistaken (Boyce, 1984). The simpler the ecological model, the more complex ecological sophistication is needed to understand and apply said model. So, although Rushton prefers simple models, in this context it is not apt, as complex biological systems interacting with their environments should not be reduced to a ‘simple model’.
If the r/K model were applicable to humans, then Caucasoids and Mongoloids would be r-selected while Negroids would be K-selected. Endemic and infectious disease—stated by Rushton to be an r-selected pressure—is actually a K-selected pressure. So Negroids would have been subjected to K-selected pressures (disease) and r-selected pressures (drought). Conversely, for Mongoloids, they migrated into colder temperatures which act in a density-independent way—hence, cold winters (temperature extremes) are an agent of r-selection.
The author is right about Rushton being too broad. Combining all African and all European populations probably dulls the degree to which certain populations are r and K. Take European royal bloodlines and I will bet you would find a lot of r. Take the most r populations in Africa and you would also see highly obvious differences deviating from normal human behavior. In mixing populations you dull the obviousness of the aberrant behavior of the rabbits. Goal number one should be to get people forced to acknowledge that some humans are exhibiting the r-strategy compared to others. Mixing chimps and bonobos would blunt the obviousness of the behaviors of each subpopulation, and make it harder to force that conclusion on the individuals who will naturally be emotionally resistant to it.
I get the impression the author is a pot-stirrer ginning up debate, which I can respect. But I would counter that I think this argument requires a slightly more complex view on a few points, and it seeks to cite the established literature on r/K a little too much.
Most of the literature on r/K is incredibly shallow in its analyses. I suspect nobody really cared about the theory on an emotional level, so nobody really bothered to look too closely at it, or tried to understand why some arguments would seemingly violate simple common sense. One person would assert things that would make no sense in certain contexts, and nobody would ever try to highlight the complexity required for a fuller understanding of the issue. It is either that, or the more powerful minds gravitated somewhere else in the sciences with more practical application.
As an example, the author cites papers that say drought is an r-selective pressure. Drought can be r or K, depending on the abilities of the organisms confronted with it. Mice will die in a drought, and have short enough life cycles to reproduce in the wet periods following it. So with mice, after the drought, there will be free resources and that makes drought a huge r-selection pressure.
But suppose you have an organism with the intelligence to envision how to survive the drought, and which thinks in terms of long time frames. Now that drought will cull the relatively r-selected individuals who are designed to exploit a glut with no thought of the future, while favoring those who planned for the drought and stockpiled water, or organized a way to acquire it. Is the drought still an r-selective pressure? Being human, with a high IQ and an ability to plan for the future changes a lot of these rules.
On the issue of colder climates being K, the author cites research which makes the case that cold climates kill back the population in the winter, and then allow explosive growth in the summer, and thus are r-selecting.
This will be true in things like insects with short lifespans and no ability to plan for the winter. But in humans, this will favor those who can defer pleasures in the summer, looking forward to the winter and sacrificing by setting aside resources to get themselves through the colder period. It will also favor groups which can work together in pursuit of common goals.
In short, as in the story of the grasshopper and the ant, in humans this will favor the K-selected worldview, with its longer time perspectives, because the K-selected are focused on sacrificing in the short term to survive trials of shortage and harshness in the future.
This will be true of most hardships to some degree. Where they kill back the population massively and randomly, and then allow explosive regrowth, they are r-pressures. But where they are challenges that select for those who can prepare and overcome them, they will tend to favor K, even if they may, strictly by the numbers, appear to be r.
He also speaks of aggression. There the question is, is aggression borne of a competitive psychology that embraces risk innately because it evolved to embrace risk in a competitive environment where resources are scarce, or is aggression an opportunistic seizure of free resources from the weak and helpless.
A criminal who sees an old lady and pushes her to the ground to steal her purse is not the same as a Marine who proceeds to selflessly storm enemy lines and kill fifteen men with his bare hands simply to try and save his fellow Marines in battle. The criminal will seek out the weak and vulnerable to victimize safely for personal gain, while the Marine would find that in conflict with his nature. The Marine will sacrifice himself for his group and nothing more, while the criminal would view that as pointless and stupid. Those are two vastly different forms of aggression.
Aggression and violence can be principled and daring, or opportunistic and cowardly. Each is driven by a different psychology, and you can see this difference extend to sexual drive, promiscuity, and even rearing investments. I think there needs to be a difference cited there. One aggressive psychology is r and one is K. One is designed to take free resources in a world with no consequences, while the other is programmed to fight with anyone to try and get a share of scarce resources, because if they didn’t they would starve.
Then there is disease. Disease can be r or K, depending on epidemiology. If a disease is sexually transmitted, it is going to take out those with a high sex drive, promiscuity, and reduced disgust. That doesn’t means the disease is K-selecting, so much as it preferentially kills those with an r-selected psychology, and fosters the rise of K.
On the other hand, if a disease infects and kills randomly, such as one transmitted by mosquito, then it will open up free resources by killing the population back below the carrying capacity. That will favor the rise of the r-selected psychologies.
These misapprehensions are not the author’s fault. He accurately cites papers on r/K. But this is why I do not spend time on this blog citing the papers on r/K Theory. I have found the vast majority are written by individuals looking to create quick rules of thumb for much more complex variables that can only be looked at in the context of the mechanisms they are a part of. In many cases, I see authors claiming something is always r or K, when the truth is they are more often the opposite for reasons which the authors seem strangely blind to.
r and K are simple adaptation to either free or limited resource availabilities. To understand how the environment affects the evolution of r and K psychologies, you have to understand that those adaptations to free or limited resources imbue certain psychological predispositions. Once imbued, all other selective pressures have to be examined with an eye to how they either confer advantage or disadvantage on those who express those psychological traits.
A sexually transmitted disease that savages a population will open up resource availability and reduce the population well below the carrying capacity, and thus could be mistaken for an r-selecting pressure. But if it wipes out every promiscuous r-strategist, and leaves behind only the monogamous K-strategists, then it is not an r-selective pressure at all. It is favoring the K-psychology, even as from a raw numerical standpoint it would appear an r-pressure. (Indeed, I suspect a golden age in the context of human history will be found to often be such an unusual circumstance, where a population is K-ified, even as it is placed in an r-selected environment of free resource availability. The opposite, an r-ified population placed in a grossly overpopulated environment of shortage will be found to reliably be Hell on earth. Guess which one we have coming.)
The complete absence of that type of detailed understanding of the effects of selective pressures in the literature about r/K Selection Theory is why I don’t waste extensive time here quoting the source texts on the subject. Most seem strangely shallow in their analyses.
I am amused to see the author mention r/K Selection Theory has been linked to ideology, without any mention of where. My greatest hope has always been that r/K Theory would become so ever present in the dialog that nobody would remember where it first arose. When that happens, r/K will be everywhere, and nobody will have any idea who to blame.
Clearly we are already on that path.