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crossposted to Nextdoor

abortion and r/K reproduction strategy

So, let's talk about abortion, because it's such a fun subject[1]! ...and also because it came up, once upon a thick blue line, as the first item on a list of objections to the Dem Party and more recently because of DB's somewhat baffling comments on 2/14 and 2/17, and the conversations around all of that.

My thesis: It seems to me that much about the way people disagree over abortion can be seen as an expression of the way r/K selection strategy varies within individual humans.


In case you don't know what r/K selection strategy[2] is (it's not something that gets a lot of press), it has to do with the amount of care given to individual offspring within a given species:

- An r-selection strategy emphasizes high quantity and low investment: many fish, for example, will lay hundreds or thousands of eggs at a time, and leave the hatchlings to fend entirely for themselves. It is almost inevitable that the majority of any brood will not survive to adulthood.

- a K-selection strategy, by contrast, produces a very small number of offspring, and lavishes attention on each one until it is able to survive on its own. Whales and elephants, for example, often produce only one offspring at a time, and engage in a highly nurturing long-term relationship with that offspring.

Humans are generally thought to be K-strategists, since the default is to produce only one offspring per pregnancy, and parents are expected in most cultures to provide for their children until they reach adulthood -- a span of time lasting well over a decade, a substantial portion of a human life.

The Connection

When "pro-choice" progressives look at laws advocated by abortion prohibitionists, aka "pro-life"/"right-to-life" (PL/RtL) advocates, we often comment that they seem obsessed not with saving lives, but with maximizing reproduction. We also note how they seem to be against measures which would actually reduce the thing they claim to be trying to reduce – abortions – while supporting measures which do nothing towards that goal (and indeed sometimes work against it).

This seems hypocritical to us. How can you be "pro-life" when you're bombing abortion clinics, or demanding that abortions be denied even to save the mother's life? How can you claim to be against abortion when you prevent kids from having access to contraceptives?

Maybe it's not as hypocritical as it seems.

Maybe the main problem is that we place slightly different value on different stages of life – and those small differences leave the door open for outrage-farmers to polarize the issue still further.

If you're thinking more in terms of maximizing reproduction for the good of the species – many kids, left to fend for themselves, so that only the strong reproduce – it makes a certain amount of sense[3] to care more about a fetus than the fetus's host, or to maximize the opportunities for childbirth (wanted or not) than to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

This obviously fits in with the tendency of PL/RtL adults to have more children, and to be in favor of large families in general (not to mention extreme examples like the Quiverfull[4] movement, which seems designed to turn women into little more than breeding stock and caregivers).

Note that I'm not saying this necessarily represents some kind of wired-in differences in human thinking, much less suggesting that it actually has anything to do with optimizing reproduction; the point is more that we do have differences in our thinking about these political issues, wherever those differences come from, and the pattern of those differences seems very consistent with placing emphasis on the value of life at different phases: is it most important to get babies pushed out the door as rapidly as possible, or to give those babies the best possible life, maximizing their chances of thriving, from that point forward?

Extrapolating Further

...and actually, when you think about it, this could explain a *lot* of the differences between Right and Left political views.

The right-wing dislike of safety-nets or public services can be seen through the lens of reproductive strategy as a dislike of cheating in the race for genetic improvement. Their tendency to reward "winners" and punish "losers" – which we on the Left see as increasing economic disparity and leading to a less-just and therefore less-free society – can be seen through that same lens: as an effort to maximize the gains from breeding the most "successful" individuals so as to increase the amount of "fitness" in the gene pool. You can almost imagine an r-strategy species thinking out loud: "I actually don't want too many kids to survive, because lower-quality genes will dilute the pool; allowing only the very best to survive to breeding age leads to a stronger gene pool and hence a better future for humanity."

If this line of reasoning reminds you uncomfortably of things said by certain people in World War II, I'd say that's entirely appropriate.


1. this is wry sarcasm
2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R/K_selection_theory
3. ...in a eugenic kind of way, I guess
4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quiverfull