Human Affairs — Oh no, not another book review!

Rui Vale
3 min readOct 17, 2021
Make way! Make way for Evolution!

A book by Paulo Finuras, published by Edições Sílabo last week, Human Affairs: Evolution & Behaviour — Selected Papers.

I’ve been following Paulo’s work for a couple of years now since I’ve bumped into him on LinkedIn, and we became sort of virtual pen friends. I was looking forward to this one. Given my mixed feelings towards the extent to which evolutionary theory explanations of human experience fit the bill of simplicity, logical consistency, falsifiability, and most importantly, if and where they refrain from explaining everything as a byproduct of an aloof, blind watchmaker.

I liked this book. Short, incisive, siliceous, and punitive (as in all puns intended). I wouldn’t call it a selection of papers but a set of insightful vignettes titled “Why do we do what we do?” followed by an orderly sequence of legal briefs, of polemic but balanced views on culture, leadership and trust, all under Paulo’s own evolutionary perspective.

In the introduction, Paulo vows to integrate the social sciences under a shared paradigm, much like an Ionic Enchantment, an expression coined by Gerald Holton that embodies the belief that a few natural laws can explain the world[1]. To be clear, not by reducing the social sciences to a prior level of explanation, but to encapsulate those laws and keep them at arm’s length as a starting point.

I can’t help agreeing on that. We can’t just sweep it — our evolutionary heritage — under the rug. Still, we can try to transcend it, under the assumption — also spoused in the book — our savannah brain has been falling behind the pace imposed by this new Anthropocene.

So, let’s unleash social theory, allow the creation of a self-made species, one rid of scarcity, fear, lies, loss aversion, conspiracy theories and, most of all, anxious sex. A “Demolition Man” kind of world where one gets to have stress-free sex with whatever thing with a head that fits a helmet.

Oh Yeah! No?! Ok, since you’re not getting rid of those things, you’d better read about them in the book. As I’ve mentioned above, the vignettes in the book’s first part will get you started, like having an intellectual nut and fruit energy bar.

There are quite a few questions in the book about women and how different they are from men. Paulo answered them the best he could, given that ordinary men live and die without even acquiring the rudiments. Methuselah, who took nine hundred and sixty-nine years, only got so far[2].

The second part follows a similar script, with answers to some intense questions framed under culture, leadership, and trust.

The one I liked most featured the “Queen Bee” syndrome. Coming from the general trend that the share of women voluntarily occupying positions of power is below 5%, Paulo advances that they are just not up to it as much as men, and those who are, tend to suffer from the said syndrome. They’re known to throw boiling olive oil at their fellow Sheelas who are trying to climb the power ladder, metaphorically of course. I’m much more into the “Warrior Princess” syndrome, giving guys wet dreams and ending beating them up very nicely.

The last brief in the book answers the following question: what is wrong with us? I, therefore, summon here my answer, which I believe attuned to the whole book’s gist.

We’re running our “business” on old hardware that makes us as much biased and uninformed as convinced of otherwise, and since we can’t change our hardware (yet), we must compensate by starting with knowing what to compensate for.

I bought the ebook version, readable through a clunky reader — on par with the Kindle Cloud Reader — with the added plus of copying and pasting text.

Time and money well spent, or so I tell myself.

[1] Wilson, E. O. (1998). Consilience: The unity of knowledge. New York: Knopf.

[2] Burgess, G. (1907). The Maxims of Methuselah — Being the Advice given by the Patriarch in his Nine Hundred Sixty and Ninth Year to his Grandson at Shem’s Coming of Age — In Regard to Women.

--

--

Rui Vale

Cherubinic debunker on business, life, and technology