SocraticGadfly: Is Evolutionary Psychology the new sexism, or the new Social Darwinism?

July 27, 2008

Is Evolutionary Psychology the new sexism, or the new Social Darwinism?

Note – per a blog post earlier this week, I once again have clearly explained the difference between Evolutionary Psychology and scientifically investigatable evolutionary psychology.

Here’s the link to my evolutionary psychology label; a few of the more illustrative individual posts. Several of these are especially illustrative of how Ev Psych approaches, if not goes beyond sexism … and no, you Ev Psychers, not just beyond a social construct called sexism, but, beyond sexism.
Women’s improvement in gaming refutes Ev Psych;
Ev Psych claims for sarcasm are “stretched” (mainly by ignoring cultural evolution);
The stereotypical male-female math gap can be reversed;
Susan Pinker plays wrongly plays down workplace sex discrimination;
Definitional questions EvPsych, and, to a lesser degree, ev psych, leave undefined;
The core of the differences between Ev Psych and ev psych.
Some serious snark about Ev Psych riffing on Leibnitz’s “best of all possible adaptationist worlds”;

And,finally, David Buller’s seminal article on the subject at Scientific American. (To you Ev Psychers who dismiss him as “just a philosopher, what do you do with Dan Dennett, then?)

Read his book, too.

Or, a decent but not really good read is Richard Francis’ “Why Men Won’t Ask for Directions.”

On the flip side, in this post about behavioral economics, among several posts, you’ll see how I praise evolutionary psychology. Just not Evolutionary Psychology.

Do NOT e-mail me, or comment to this post, that I am against evolutionary psychology, lowercase, until you’re read that post, at least, and perhaps others on my blog in general.

That said, I do propose that capital-letter Evolutionary Psychology does threaten to become the new Social Darwinism, and with a political bias to it, too, at least in some cases.

Steve Pinker admitted as much, near the end of “The Blank Slate.”

He told political liberals that they needed to accept the reality of what he said was “evolutionary psychology” (and what I say is Evolutionary Psychology), deal with it as best they could, and adjust their political prescriptions accordingly. Pretty political to me.

The other reason I think that threatens to be Social Darwinism is its focus on sexual differences. By arguing that men have dominated societies in the past (not true, as far as I can see, before the invention of agriculture), capital-letter Ev Psychers give the appearance, at least, of telling women today to accept the glass ceiling, accept secondary status in society, and deal with it – because it’s all normal.

And, if you’re not prepare to describe why you personally, if you do, focus so much of your ev psych discussion, or especially, your Ev Psych discussion, on sexual selection issues, move on. Because that WILL be part of the dialog and investigation from my end.

A book with a few thoughts on that is Robert Sapolsky’s “Monkeyluv: And Other Essays on Our Lives as Animals.”

In fact, let me excerpt a few sex-specific comments from my Amazon review of Sapolsky, by page number:
63. In a study with ducks, with attractive males, it actually appears that the female invests more energy in the egg, laying a larger egg when impregnated by an attractive male. (The egg size is under female control.)
Both of these should put some question to old stereotypes about peacock tails being signs of fitness and so increasing mating, etc. At the least, they should caution us to look for more nuanced explanations.

177. In many species, females in some way manipulate alpha-male type males into fighting over them, to go off and mate with more "nice guy" types.

Some more food for thought.

And, I’m not going to even bother linking to the recent story showing girls do as well on math as boys, which undercuts one of Ev Psychers’ favorite male-female difference talking points.

Beyond that, with true, lower-case ev psych, there’s plenty of things to talk about in the evolution of the human mind, not the “male” or “female” mind.

I mean, look at Scott Atran’s “In Gods We Trust.”

There’s books on behavioral economics; the effect of evolutionary psychology on Homo economics is certainly not small. (Don’t forget to allow for cultural evolution here, too, though.)

Enough said.

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