Sometimes I’m asked about my view of the adaptation (or “social”) drive and its role in raising a family. “Other teachers put this in the self-preservation domain”, someone said recently. “But you see it as a feature of the social instinct. Can you say something about this?” So here, I will.
The short answer is yes, I can say plenty 😉. I’ll try and keep to this specific topic here, though, and my take on it. I would also like to give credit to Russ Hudson, whose insightful work on the instinctual drives spurred my fascination with them in the first place and has strongly influenced my own understanding over the years.
Nature is not big on fluff, and our instinctual drives, or “instincts” for short, are no exception. They evolved with specific proposes, or in response to specific needs, in the evolution of life on earth. Thus, the purpose and the scope of each instinctual realm is quite clear. When radically new prospects emerged, calling for new functionality, the scope and purpose of an established instinct would not change to cater to those. Rather, a new instinct would emerge. An example is when the arising of sexual procreation brought about the evolution of instinctual attraction. The existing self-preservation instinct didn’t cover the new needs, so it had to be complemented by as second drive. Thus, the sexual instinct evolved.
Purpose and scope
I started talking about purpose and scope to differentiate between two phenomena:
- an instinct expanding to cover emerging aspects within its set parameters (which happens)
- an instinct updating those parameters (which does not).
Option 2 would allow the instinct to start covering completely new areas, which might in some cases be in direct conflict with its original purpose. This, in my opinion and understanding, doesn’t happen; neither does it make logical sense.
Instincts expanded within their purpose
So of course, there was some expansion of the original, basic features of each instinct. They got more diverse — within their respective purpose — in accordance with expanded conditions. For example, amoebas had no need for the “domesticity” aspect of self-preservation. That would require some sort of home, whereas these single- cell organisms float about in the ocean. But then life forms evolved beyond this stage and actually started choosing or building ”homes” for themselves. At this point, self-preservation expanded to include caring for living quarters as well as the physical me-organism. New feature, as it were — but within the same purpose and scope.
So, even at this more advanced level, the purpose of the self-preservation drive is still survival of the organism and the creation of optimal prospects for this survival. Regardless of the surrounding structures, the self-preservation instinct is about the survival of the self. It is geared towards upholding conditions that will contribute to that survival. The scope is still, clearly, “me”. It does not extend to a “you”. At this level of functioning, I’m like a tortoise. I bury my eggs in the sand, an then I go on my merry way. My hatchlings are left to fend for themselves when their time comes.
The scope of “us”; the purpose of co-existing
In the book Aspects of you, I call the adaptation instinct — a k a the social instinct — “the only true we-instinct”. Here, we find the drive to care about others. We find the instinctual knowledge that they are all their own “me”. We understand that others have their own perspective, experiences and wishes. All this arrives along with the adaptation drive. Caring about you start making sense for me to thrive.
By contrast, when the purpose and scope of the self-preservation drive came about, families, partnerships or co-anything didn’t exist. It does not make sense for it to have been geared towards caring for babies — or anything else in the domain of relating and adapting to others. (I’m no expert on evolution, but I’d also hazard a guess that the time window between the propose of the self-preservation instinct being set and the appearance of the impulse to care for offspring stretches millions of years.)
We-awareness as us-preserving
Obviously, the needs we care for with our babies or do for our families can be of a self-preservation nature. (Also, nothing stops us projecting whatever sp needs onto others, babies or not. But to even be capable of such projection, we’d something resembling an adaptation instinct.) We use (self-)preservation skills, one might say, for the benefit of another. A baby’s own tools for securing its survival are, as we know 😊, rather limited, so mothers and fathers instinctually connect, watch for distress, interpret needs, and protect their child.
This means that baby-care uses a lot of the practical skill-set provided by our own self-preservation instinct. (If our own sp is strong, even more so.) But that which prompts us to do so is found in the realm of social adaptation. We could not do it without the abilities to read others and establish bonds with them.
So are the baby and its mum in a “social” relationship?
The hallmark aspect of the adaptation instinct is reciprocity. Does this mean that the baby already developed the adaptation instinct and is having a reciprocal relationship with its caretaker? I’m willing to bet any mother would reply with a firm NO 😊. And in my understanding, she would be correct. The parents’ care comes out of the adaptation drive. But the instinct that has the baby turning to mummy for sustenance is still self-preservation. This, however, might need its own blog post — or not 😉❤️️
The difference between “instincts” and “people”
We tend to, sloppily, refer to ourselves as self-preservation Ones or sexual Fours. What we actually mean is a One leading with the sp drive, et cetera. Usually, this lingo works fine. But if taken too literally, it gives the impression that we only use (or even possess) one instinct. This is obviously not the case. We have all of them (and use them at least to a passable extent). If we did not, we would have a really hard time functioning and likely be given some kind of diagnosis. So, what I’m saying here is that the self-preservation instinct doesn’t it itself cover caring for offspring. But you, regardless of your instinctual preferences, can do that just fine.
Rest assured that no one is completely devoid of one instinct; that is the point of having them be biological drives, after all. However bad you are at paying your bills or exercising, you won’t starve to death because you forgot to eat. However your people-reading skills are abysmal, you will be able to take care of your baby just fine. If we didn’t remember to eat, or failed at basic baby-care, our species would have died out. This is the reason why these drives were hard-coded into our systems in the first place ❤️️😉
Hopefully, this clears up any confusion as to families, baby-care and the role that instinctual adaptation plays in these areas. Do you have more thoughts and/or questions on the matter? Please comment, or get in touch via e-mail or facebook.
PS ~ I’m planning to do a revision of my book, likely later this year, with some more clarifications and explanations. If you have bought the book already, you will get the revised version for free, and a link will be sent out to you automatically.