04/19/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Understanding Why Peacocks Have Sex Can Change the World

A major reason for global political and personal problems is our misunderstanding of and blind conformity to cultural codes of attraction that reinforce insecurities, fear and social Darwinism. Sex is not the problem; the biological urge is harmless but problems are underneath it and on top.

The cultural trappings of evolution are detrimental to our connectedness as full human beings and our capacity for change if we continue to view evolution as indifferently cyclical. This drives us to chop logic as we do not question the social facades that scientists say symbolize the ability to sustain a large brood and common sense says are superficial. They make others who abjure the cultural status quo repress their feelings, resulting in fear and at times violence and perversion. In reality surface attraction is beyond our control. The chances of having an appealing body, a lot of money, a large home, a fine education, or a privileged status are influenced by so many factors that cannot be isolated. More so, these signs are the equivalent to the arbitrary tails of peacocks. It doesn't make sense to us why fancier tails are more attractive to potential avian mates except that they have come to signify a better bird -- and better lives for future birdies. Stick a human in a flock of peacocks and they all look the same: symmetrical in the Aristotelian sense--some a bit bigger or more evenly patterned. Deeper than the eyes' surface desire for symmetry is the heart-and-mind's deep desire for a mathematical concept similar to symmetry: equality.

In her discussion on the disillusioning opening of this year's TED conference, Mariane Pearl notes that greed seems to be the indomitable force eroding the progress of hope for a fairer political and economic world. It whips up the winds of fear. When viewed from the peacock perspective, we can see that greed is the result of an inherited cultural misunderstanding the world over. Influenced by so many enduring outside forces, primarily the pattern of interacting now justified by social Darwinism, we assume it is natural to believe that having a good job means getting paid in high figures and having a pretty figure and face means scoring the favor of the wealthy. We assume more endearing qualities are mush.

The Toltec mystic don Miguel Ruiz believes the media pass down standards of beauty. I think Helen of Troy existed before the Achaean Post. Anti-religion activist Richard Dawkins believes evolution favors certain body types in order to pass down genes. This motivates selfish actions like greed, violence and surface judgments in order to propagate with these bodies. I doubt that harmless reality favors human misunderstanding. The Ruiz clan and Dawkins's legion do not see eye to eye. But paired together, they make sense. Physical attractiveness is most likely the result of an arbitrary value of symmetry propagated since ancient times and promoted today by an unthinking media that weighs attractiveness so much so that it presses to death aspects of the ethos; this whole mess is passed down through genes to lucky and unlucky recipients of delusion. In reality, we have always been good and inherently equal. This flowers more when we see each other as more important than any philosophy we adopt to try to map the lives we live.

Today's harsh evolutionary dogma needs to be analyzed as much as religious "truisms." There is fact and there is factoid. While I personally do not think evolution is guiding us in any coherent direction besides the cock-and-bull inchoate state of violence and ambition, De Chardin thought evolution had an intelligent goal (one that does more than favor the right of might). This vision is worth more review, as is LaMarck's much-maligned theory; both could replace the dominant focus of religion and science of cold cyclical creation and destruction instead of the possibility of warm existence in between the ends. If evolution is real, it is more of an opening than a growing up. The Patagonians (5'11") Magellan met in Chile were ten inches taller than the Spaniards (5'1"). Since then our average heights have grown--but we have not grown or opened up.

If evolution is merely padding a few inches throughout the centuries, one has to ask what the point is. If one sees evolution as assisting intelligently and practically aiding humans with local environmental restrictions, the picture becomes much clearer. The Dalai Lama has speculated on spiritual evolution. I do not think the spiritual and material planes are separable. And against self-abusive religious clamor and random scientific thinking, I aver that we never had anything "wrong" with us physically or spiritually. I am suspicious of any fish story that attempts to explain everything. I also am suspicious when we look to the animals for models of ourselves instead of setting the example.

Most people do not explicitly plan families after considering the origin or destination of the species. (Some forge families accidentally, which can be as successful.) In fact, the conscious reasons for having kids are often noble. The optimistic George Bernard Shaw wrote that, "Perhaps the greatest social service that can be rendered by anybody to... country and to mankind is to bring up a family." He knew about the possible joys of raising a family, of instilling values and sharing space, and its patriotic purpose. Children are not perfect and a lot of work, but their candor, kindness and sense of fun represent the best of humanity. Our hopes for them keep us going.

Undercutting this endeavor are the lingering traces of ancient psychological and cultural peacock motivations. We must teach ourselves, others and our children not to buy into them. To truly understand this phenomenon, we must relate it to our defensive feelings about our world. In addition to raw biology, the threat our ancestors felt from the unknown and unpredictable social and natural worlds caused them to populate the Earth with people like them. This good idea of crafting a helpful support network regressed into tribalism and territorialism over time. We need to return to the heart of our desire for family: our emotional, physical and spiritual need to feel a part of others and not so alone in a big world.

With a perceptual shift, such doubts can be allayed and better social, political and economic living can be achieved. The perceptual shift is twofold. First, we can begin to view reality, "God," the universe, etc. as essentially harmless and naturally easy. It is a big world but not a scary one. We can deal with what life lobs at us. Seeing this can open us up to the notion that most unbearable human suffering such as cancer and war is caused by unbearable human suffering such as pollutants and violence. The fear of ourselves, our fellows, the outside world and our confusion over our relation to each create problems we attribute to a hostile outside being or judgmental benevolent being. Second, we can begin to notice cultural influences that promote standards of attraction -- which lead to families in the first place -- and see those that we know to be arbitrary and false as mutual misunderstandings and inherited accumulated errors in apprehension. We can then begin to value real, heart-inspired connection.

The complementary practical approach is freedom in family planning and more even resource distribution. Government and cynics must not lay a hand on our sons and daughters. The chilling effect Chinese Cultural Revolution programs and birth restrictions had on that society are enough caution against this tactic. Many proponents of the tragedy of the commons-esque overpopulation theory think social justice outlays reinforce poor decision-making among low-income people. The problem is not overpopulation but unequal resource distribution. If low-income people are prone to making poor decisions (although I believe the elite do much more harm) it is because they are poor -- and have less options. If wealth sharing substantially increased through serious social justice programs, society would more quickly learn to respect the common humanity of all people regardless of their differently speckled tail feathers.

Human beings, even more than peacocks, deserve a world that welcomes them. We want others to experience life. It is not perfect but it is not against us -- and it is precious. Through changing our perceptions and expanding practical social efforts, instead of making more suffering bodies, we can birth a more soulful way to be alive.