Monday, April 1, 2013

Politically Correct Darwin

At least since the publication of Edward O. Wilson’s Sociobiology, the American left has had an ambivalent reaction to Darwinian biology.  The left likes Darwinism in so far and because religious conservatives don’t like it.  When it is a question of the Bible vs. The Origin of the Species, the left thinks that anyone who questions Darwinism is a retrograde fool.  The left hates Darwinism when it is applied to human social and political behavior, for they think that any conception of human nature is a threat to the promise of social reform. 
These days the issues are rather more complicated than they were when Wilson was denounced in The New York Review of Books.  The ambivalence remains, however.  The New York Times recently published a defense of homosexuality from a biological point of view by David George Haskell.  Here is a taste:
The facts of biology plainly falsify the oft-repeated notion that homosexuality is unnatural. Every species has evolved its own sexual ecology, and so nature resists generalizations. Does humanity’s natural inheritance include homosexual bonds and behaviors? Certainly. This conclusion is reinforced by the growing evidence that our sexual orientation is influenced by both our genes and the environment that we experience in the womb.
This strikes me as plausible but very provisional.  We hardly have a good understanding of the natural causes underlying homosexual orientation.  It is far from clear whether homosexual behavior is in some way biologically functional, let alone whether gay marriage is a good idea.  Haskell’s piece doesn’t bother with the ambiguities. 
On the other hand, the Times doesn’t much like evolutionary psychology.  If the latter tells us anything, it is that male and female sexual behavior and instincts are robustly dimorphic.  What it tells us is wrong, according to journalist Dan Slater.  In “Darwin was wrong about Dating,” he explains that:
Lately a new cohort of scientists have been challenging the very existence of the gender differences in sexual behavior that Darwinians have spent the past 40 years trying to explain and justify on evolutionary grounds.
Wow.  Maybe all those gender differences that evolutionary psychology has painstakingly documented don’t really exist.  Slater offers us a small selection of studies that seem to deny gender differences.  VoilĂ ! 
The only problem with this is that it flies in the face of the most obvious facts.  Consider pornography, for example.  Walk into an adult bookstore (purely for research purposes, of course) and ask yourself: to whom is all this stuff being marketed?  I predict (having done my own research) that virtually all of it is marketed to heterosexual or homosexual males.  Unless someone can show me that I am wrong (I am intrigued by the possibility), I submit this as a very robust fact. 
Consider also prostitution.  Allow me to suggest that virtually all prostitutes, both male and female, service males exclusively.  That men frequently pay for sex while woman almost never do strikes me as another robust fact.  There are solid Darwinian explanations for why these differences are so pronounced and so universal.  These explanations ground human behavior in the general biology of animals.  Across a very wide range of organisms, males produce more offspring when they obtain access to more mates.  Females do not. 
The New York Times likes Darwin when he is politically correct.  When he is not, they usher in someone to usher him off the stage.  It is a quixotic charge.  As long as science is allowed to progress, nature, as Anthony Hopkins says in The Wolfman, will out.  If the Church could not prevail against Darwin, neither will the church of The New York Times. 


  1. I did a piece a long time ago using Darwinism as a means to explain progressive thought as natural selection and thinning out the human species by removing the genes covering the will to survive. It was not well received but not one person would or could contest any of the facts based on their own "science". Maybe I should write that one again. It is amazing how much selective faith is put into "hard science".

  2. I'm not sure what your point is. A tiny part of the left may have a less reductionist view of how evolution works, or doesn't, in areas of behavior, but they aren't outright deniers like a large section of the right is. In all the controversy over sociobiology, the major problem was mostly over how much of human behavior was influenced by genes and how much by culture. That's always going to be a question. After all, sexual dimorphism is expressed for biological and cultural reasons, and teasing out what is and is not biological is a subject of immense complication. Culture may obscure the fact that there may be far less biological dimorphism in certain sexual matters, and other matters, than is the culturally accepted fact.

    It is probably not a wise idea to suggest that because you are not aware of how pornography is marketed to females, that female directed pornography doesn't exist. In my city, there are several successful emporiums marketing smut and sex toys to females. Indeed, the traditional male porno shops, I'm told, have over the last 10 years been remodeled to appeal to females as well as males. Marketing to females also involves Mary Kay-style house parties.