Yesterday I am talking with my friend Rachel in the gym. It seems she doesn't really believe in human nature.


I guess I don't get out much. But this amazes me. I asked her about parental love, and she comes back at me with parents abusing children, and then Chinese parents selling girls into prostitution. It is true that some children do get abused. But somehow I don't think think these things are as universal as she seems to. If some particular abuse happens in 1% of cases, can't we say that 99% of humanity acting in some way, regardless of culture, is a pretty strong bit of evidence that there are human universals?

In any case, parents who abuse their children may not love them, but it seems to me that mostly they do. It is possible to abuse what you love. And as child murder statistics suggest, a lot of abuse comes from non parents -- exactly those who evolution would predict would not love a particular child.

I brought my digital camera to the gym to lend to Rachel, as she had a couple stray cats she had taken in that she wanted to give away. But I told her to go crazy; take pictures of her boyfriend, other cats, whatever she wants. Digital pictures are cheap. Then she starts telling me a story about one of her other cats. It seems this cat has 15 little mice-cat-toys. Why 15? Seems she loses them under the sofa sometimes. (Um... and who bought these toys for her because the others are out of reach? And why?) And the cat does things that are "sooooo cuoooote"! Yes, as she told me this Rachel adopted the universal tone of maternal love, the "ooo"-noise often heard near strollers. The same woman who was earlier disputing the idea that humans might universally love children.

(I wonder if the word "cute" in other languages usually contains the "oo" noise? Is that just a coincidence? Is not the "ooo" itself genetically programmed? Don't all human coo over babies?)

Rachel is not a mother and I think perhaps not interested in being one, which probably informs her weird idea that loving children might be cultural or individual or familial, or anything other than an instinct. Yet she, herself, is reacting to the cuteness she perceives in her cat in a instinctual, programmed manner!

Indeed, it seems to me a large part of the reason people have pets is exactly to trigger their own parental instincts. Why? Because such instincts are pleasureful. It is rewarding for us to see our loved ones prosper and be happy. This is an evolved mental faculty, evolved for the very good reason that genes for it prosper in humans.

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