A Bit about the Founding Editor of The Evolutionary Review.

I recently had a chance to do a Q & A with my long-time editor, colleague, and friend Alice Andrews. Alice teaches psychology at SUNY New Paltz and is the author of Trine Erotic—the first and, to my knowledge only, novel that so prominently features evolutionary psychology as its subject matter.

Alice is also the founding editor of The Evolutionary Review, one of the few journals to have adopted E. O. Wilson’s call for consilience between the sciences and the humanities. Now on its third volume (May 2012), the series publishes “evolutionary critiques in all the fields of the arts, human sciences, and culture,” including “essays and reviews on film, fiction, visual art, music, dance, and popular culture.”

The journal is a great venue for researchers and scholars across many different disciplines to review, critique, and respond to each other. For the moment, I’m calling it “Alice’s Evolutionary Restaurant,” because her menu always offers a tantalizing mélange of art, psychology, pop culture, and social theory—all served up with heaping doses of evolutionary science.

In this Q & A, I ask Alice what led her to start this project, and what drives her to keep creating these interesting and fertile “intellectual spaces” for cross-disciplinary dialogue.

Jiro Tanaka: How did you get interested in evolution?

Alice Andrews: When I was growing up (in the 60s and 70s) my parents—and especially my dad—taught me about Marx, Lenin, and Darwin! Really. But it wasn’t until the mid- and late-80s that I started to see a way to use evolution to understand human nature. I think reading Nietzsche, Jung, and Freud opened my eyes to this approach—long before I knew about “sociobiology.” As an undergraduate I was thinking neurobiologically, imagining I’d one day write a book about the science of the soul—reducing Nietzschean ideas and principles to brain areas and chemicals. The Churchland’s book Neurophilosophy likely contributed to this idea. As a graduate student, I began reading about sociobiology. (I was consumed by the nature-nurture debate—it was actually a debate back then). But my interest in evolution per se is secondary to my fascination with our psyche/the human mind and behavior.

JT: What inspired you to write your novel, Trine Erotic, and what did you learn from that process?

AA: The story began as three very short stories and grew after that as a result of some difficult times in my life that I needed to process. I also had a very deep and real need to teach people about the new science of the mind. Back in 1999/2000, very few people I met had ever heard of EP, and I wasn’t teaching, so this was my way of doing that—very unconventionally, that’s for sure. I also had a need to document some things lest I forget them, to be creative and to create, and to reorganize other things.

I was often writing about my ‘possible selves’, and many times those possible selves became a reality. I don’t think this happened for a mystical reason, but I do think there’s something very exciting and strange going on when one writes something that is not true of oneself in the present, but which becomes true in the future. Writing is really powerful for me in this way. Indeed, adaptive!

I’m also excited to share the news with you and your readers that Trine Erotic is going to be re-released with a foreword and afterword, new blurbs, and possibly some notes. I don’t know when this is happening, but I hope within the year.

JT: I know you’re passionate about environmental issues. Can you tell us about your involvement in that domain?

AA: My two main passions (though I’m passionate about the environment generally) are pesticides and nukes. I worked to get two local laws passed to ban the use of lawn-care pesticides on public property, and I’m still working on banning them on private property. It’s a very, very difficult thing to do, given the terrible laws backed by powerful lobbyists and chemical companies that make it nearly impossible for us to protect our own citizens.

If we pass a law that bans pesticides on private property, we are at the mercy of potential lawsuits from chemical companies. But if we don’t keep fighting, we’re in trouble: exposure to lawn pesticides is associated with increased risks of cancer, neurological and developmental problems, endocrine disruption, asthma, reproductive harm and birth defects. It’s a big deal—and currently we’re helpless to do anything about it. I’m hoping the New York DEC commissioner, Joe Martens, will help us, but only time will tell.

This is my group:
Beyond Pesticides in Ulster County

The other passion is shutting down the Indian Point nuclear power plant 50 miles from my home. Among other environmental groups, Riverkeeper and Clearwater are working hard toward this effort.

I organized a large rally last year called “Mothers and Others United to Shut Down Indian Point.” Here’s our FB page

And, by the way, I want to shut all 104 of them down. I plan to be at an anti-nuclear convergence in Washington DC on September 20-22. See: http://coalitionagainstnukes.org/

JT: Given your activism, do you also have some evolutionary ideas about politics?

AA: I do. I’m fascinated by the divisiveness between the left and right in this country. Some of the differences between liberals and conservatives are likely related to individual dispositional traits (the “Big Five” personality dimensions: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism), which have been shown to have a genetic basis. Liberals, for example, tend to score higher in “Openness,” while conservatives tend to score higher in “Conscientiousness.” These dispositional traits (also called characteristic adaptations) likely inform the attitudes and responses of the individuals in these groups to the fundamental problems of our evolutionary history: survival, mating, parenting, and groups.

But the two groups also perceive and conceptualize America very differently. I was struck the other day by the real difference in the response to the Colorado Theater shooting from Obama and Romney. Obama said: “But this morning, we woke up to news of a tragedy that reminds us of all the ways that we are united as one American family.” Romney mentioned America, but not as family.

The left views Americans as part of the in-group and as kin; they wish to ‘parent’ and care for their survival. The right just doesn’t. They don’t feel morally obligated to parent or take care of people not in their group. In fact, they want to protect those in their own in-group from the many out-groups. If we pay for everyone’s healthcare, so they seem to think, then their own ‘extended kin’ will suffer costs. The conservative view that people in real need ought not to receive handouts from the government, and that they need to be self-reliant, I don’t think is a primary evolved impulse. But it’s related to an ancient issue for human social groups: the freeloader problem. We have a tendency to be sensitive to it. But a thoughtful person recognizes that at the mass level we are dealing with (over 300 million people), we punish too many if we fear rewarding the few “freeloaders.” We evolved in groups of between 50-200. It’s easy to care for 150 friends and family; it’s much harder and more evolutionarily novel to care for, and want to care for, millions.

I’d be remiss not to point the reader to Jonathan Haidt’s thrilling work in this area. See http://righteousmind.com/ and http://bit.ly/QAOZ58

JT: Are there any current or future projects that you’re eager to get to work on?

AA: There is a project I’ve just begun: a film project, but I can’t say anymore than that for now. When things have progressed a little, I’d love to tell you all about it! It’s got an evolutionary theme.

Thanks for the questions, Jiro! It’s always great to talk with you!

Published On: July 24, 2012

Jiro Tanaka

Jiro Tanaka

Jiro Tanaka received his Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton (2002) and his bachelor’s degree from Harvard (1993). He has taught at Clark University and Vassar College, where he served as Woodrow Wilson Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities. In 2008, he was a Visiting Scholar in UCLA’s program for Human Complex Systems. Dr. Tanaka has published widely on topics in literary theory, German intellectual history, second language acquisition, and “bio-cultural” approaches to the humanities.

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