Posted by: N.S. Palmer | August 7, 2018

Neither to Praise Shakespeare Nor to Bury Him

It’s called “kin selection:” Evolution has programmed animals to help and cooperate with their genetic relatives (i.e., their kin).

Conversely, they tend to fight or flee their genetic competitors.

Kin selection applies to people, too. We are biological creatures who tend instinctively to help our genetic relatives and fight our genetic competitors.

But how do we decide who those people are?

We unconsciously look for the same cues as lower animals do: appearance, behavior, familiarity, and location. [1]

Why is it important?

Because it’s a major cause of social conflict, from racial or religious bias to war and mass murder.

We are intelligent beings, but not only that: we are also animals. Both intelligence and animal instincts affect how we feel, how we think, and how we behave.

Animals assume that other members of their species are genetic relatives if they:

  • Look like them,
  • Act like them,
  • Are familiar, or
  • Are in certain locations.

Humans use all of the same cues. Unlike lower animals, however, we also have language, culture, and history. Those affect our appearance and behavior, so they affect how we react to other people.

That came to mind when I recently wrote an article for the American Greatness website. In the article, I wrote:

“I come neither to praise Sarah Jeong nor to bury her.”

Most readers probably didn’t know the origin of that line. But to those who did know, it’s a powerful instinctive cue that they and I are genetic relatives. As a result, we will be inclined to help, trust, and cooperate with each other.

The line comes from William Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar.” After a coup has assassinated Caesar — much like the unhinged fantasies of leftists about President Trump — Marc Antony gives a speech at Caesar’s funeral. He begins:

“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.”

The line in my article — “I come neither to praise Sarah Jeong nor to bury her” — reminds those readers of Shakespeare’s play, part of our shared literary heritage. In turn, Shakespeare’s play reminds them of the Roman Empire, of our shared Western history and civilization. Those resonate with us both intellectually, at the human level, and instinctively, at the animal level. They help promote social harmony and cooperation among the people who share them.

That’s why schools and universities have so completely failed to help create social peace and a good society.

Instead of teaching our shared heritage and civilization — the things that unite us — they teach crackpot theories of identity politics that sow division and hatred.

Every day, we see the tragic results of our failed educational system.

[1]: If you want details, see “Kinship and Altruism” in the book Behaviour and Evolution edited by P.J.B. Slater, Cambridge University Press, 1994.


  1. I grew up blue collar. There is a set of life rules in that class. One of them is that directness, even bluntness, is not just valued but lauded. Tell it like it is. Don’t beat around the bush. Pull no punches.

    I have a white collar job. It wasn’t until about ten years ago when a boss coached me on tact that I started to see why I wasn’t moving up. Yes, tact. Apparently in my speech I kept essentially throwing fastballs at people’s foreheads. He taught me how to lob verbal softballs that my peers could catch. When I learned that they then saw me as one of them and it unblocked my career. It still feels weird to me but I do it and it works.

    • I never noticed any fastballs coming at my head, but maybe it’s because we have similar personalities. You were a great boss, and since you no longer have any influence on my paycheck, you know that I really mean it. 🙂

      • My problem really manifested itself with my management peers and superiors. I could say pretty plainly that I thought that the thing they just said was the dumbest idea I’d ever heard. In my father’s world, that kind of talk was considered honest. In the white collar world I found myself in, it was considered rude.

  2. Every now and then I read something that has 1) never occurred to me and 2) makes such perfect sense that I wonder how I could have missed it. This was one, and what a great point.

    • Thanks! I’ve had that experience many times. It just proves what my grandfather used to tell me: “Every person you meet knows something you don’t know.”

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