The four survival strategies: splitting, merging, offensive and defensive

Have you ever noticed that liberals tend to want to leave the country when conservative politicians like Trump are elected? The reverse isn’t true. No conservative ever said they would leave the country if a liberal like Obama is elected. Why is that? We all have certain tendencies according to our evolved temperaments and survival strategies. Conservatives tend to be highly patriotic and very attached to kith and kin. Liberals on the other hand are often interested in far-away cultures and love spending time abroad, they are the quintessential ex-pats of the past or today’s digital nomads. These are very opposite tendencies that most likely come from our ancestral subsistence and survival strategies. How did evolution program us to react when resources become scarce or when our survival is threatened?

Hunter-gatherers have a split and merge pattern that allows them to avoid conflicts and rapidly move into new areas with locally savvy people when resources become low. Low resources and conflict make them leavers. , a British think tank, calls this pattern “pioneer”. Foreign bands are seen as opportunities for merging and mating. This pattern is quintessentially xenophile and most likely to help strangers/non-ingroup members (altruism selection) Both hunters and gatherers are splitters and mergers, however, I have assigned merger to the prosocial gatherer evolutionary profile as they would initiate merging more often and splitter to the providing hunter profile as they would initiate splitting more often. Hunters are analysts in Keirsy’s temperament sorter and in the DISC system, gatherers idealists/diplomats and inspirators in the DISC system. Cultural Dynamics

Farmers have an expanding and defending survival pattern. When resources become rare they will try to increase productivity and take more arable land. If it is other farmers who try to take their resources they will defend them by building walls and fighting. They rely on a close network of kith and kin (kin selection) as allies. I will call this pattern “defensive”. Foreign tribes are often seen as potential aggressors or thieves. This pattern is therefore potentially xenophobe , especially when threat is perceived. Farmers seek stability (stability in DISC) and are aptly called guardians (Keirsey) and settlers (Cultural Dynamic).

Pastoralists have an explorative/opportunistic pattern that can become a raiding and retaliating aggressive pattern (offensive ). When resources become low they will try to raid neighboring herder or farmer tribes. Pastoralists are often in a precarious situation as meat and milk alone do not provide all required nutrients, so they have to resort to trading and raiding. When attacked by other pastoralists they have a violent retaliatory culture that serves as a deterrent. Being opportunists pastoralists can have different attitudes towards foreigners, they may be xenophobes, perceiving the foreign tribe as challengers, or they may be xenophile, perceiving possibilities for trading or alliances. Pastoralists have evolved a social dominance orientation that makes them want to be better than potential competing tribes (group selection). This survival pattern is variously called artisans (Keirsey), explorers (Fisher), Dominance (DISC), and Prospectors (Cultural Dynamics).

In his novel Ishmael Daniel Quinn called farmers takers and hunter-gatherers and pastoralists leavers. Pastoralists are certainly not as territorial as farmers, but they can’t be leavers because of their codependency on agricultural produce. To my knowledge, Steven Kessler is the first person to have described survival patterns. As he uses five patterns they are hard to map onto my system, but the best correspondences would be leaving for hunter, merging for gatherer, aggressive for pastoralist and rigid for farmer.

We get four basic political orientations, with hunter-gatherers being the most liberal/libertarian and farmers being the most conservative. Of course, these are all generalizations, but they do explain why liberals feel the urge to leave a country when illiberal politicians get voted and why conservatives never do. Farmers, on the other hand, do feel the need to build walls when feeling threatened and pastoralists may become aggressive towards immigrants when feeling challenged. In economic uncertainty farmers and pastoralists fear that their jobs are taken by immigrants; hunter-gatherer types generally fear them much less. Does this constellation ring a bell? It should. It’s the very reason why Donald Trump got elected president in 2016.

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Originally published at on November 16, 2021.