Evolutionary Psychology, Politics, and Bad Science

Came across a Slate XX article from last week on evolutionary psychology.

The article essentially boils down to: evolutionary psychology research that supports my preconceived biases is good, evolutionary psychology that argues against my ideology is bad.

The article starts with the author complaining about evo-psych, leading into this:

There’s nothing inherently wrong with evolutionary psychology—our thoughts and behaviors have been shaped by millions of years of hominid evolutionary history, and it’s worth studying how natural selection acted on traits that we still express today. But too often, evolutionary psychology is a force for social conservatism.

The reason evolutionary psychology is usually a force for social conservatism, is because social conservatism is the inherited wisdom of thousands of years of adaptation by human society to biological reality.

Evolutionary psychology will inherently be socially conservative, because (true*) social conservatism is inherently about man controlling its biological nature so society can function. (Religious conservatives will refer to man’s “fallen nature” and political philosophers will refer to the “state of nature”, which are the same thing for all practical purposes).

Left-liberalism (from which most of feminism springs) is not about managing the biology of man, it is about using reason and/or morality to overcome the “state of nature” for the benefit of all.

Left-liberalism usually derives from either (or a combination of) Rousseau’s amoral, self-interested, animal-like state of nature or from Marxian ideology where human nature does not exist as a fundamental concept, but comes from social relations and man’s relations to his work. (Conservatives usually work off Hobbes’ violent and warlike state of nature; libertarians and classical liberals generally work off Locke’s  anarchic, fully free state of nature and of war.)

From the Rousseauian state of nature, men come together in cooperation and submit to the general will as designed through a social contract for mutual benefit. By uniting under the social contract a man can be ennobled, and his corruption comes only through failures of the social contract. By bettering the social contract, man may be further ennobled. Under a human nature based on social relations, the improvement of social and economic conditions will lead to an improvement in human nature and behaviour.

Left-liberal thought is essentially about the perfectibility of man through changing social conditions so he can better himself beyond the limitations of human nature.

In social conservative thought man cannot be perfected and will always be controlled by his human nature. His nature can only be constrained by social instructions, but never altered.

This is the essential and primary difference between the two ideologies.

This is political theory 101. If our education system even remotely resembled a traditional classical liberal education, the author would know this.

If she knew this, she would not be arguing against evolutionary psychology (when it supports social conservatism) or for it (when it supports feminist ideology). She would know that her ideology is one where social and economic relations are shaped through cooperation (the general will ) to create a society based on the common good, overcoming the limitations of man in a state of nature.

Know this: evolutionary psychology will always support (true*) social conservatism, because social conservatism is simply the attempt to control the state of nature so society can function.

To the liberal or leftist, this should not matter. Whatever evolutionary psychology will say, it can neither support nor discredit left-liberalism, because left-liberal ideology exists independently of human nature. It exists as an ideology of social relationships overcoming the limitations of human nature (or it simply rejects human nature, and therefore evolutionary psychology outright).

The only way evolutionary psychology can matter, at all, to left-liberal ideology is if it eliminates the possibility that changing social relations can possibly be used to improve mankind’s lot. If this occurs, the entirety of liberal-leftism will be intellectually unsustainable and void of any claim to truth.

In other words, the only way evolutionary psychology can have any impact on the truth claims of left-liberalism is to entirely overthrow it.

By even considering evolutionary psychology’s impact on the truth of ideology, the author is fundamentally undermining her own.

****

Researchers identify a pattern of behavior, usually some stereotypical sex difference (in part because it’s easy to measure whether men and women score differently on a standardized test), construct a scenario in which that behavior would have been adaptive in the distant past, and say the behavior is therefore evolutionarily selected and encoded in our genes.

It’s tricky to disprove the notion that some human trait is the result of evolution. The logic is circular: if some trait exists, it must not have been fatal to our ancestors and it may have helped them reproduce. To critique a claim of evolutionary privilege, you have to show that the trait has no genetic component and therefore can’t be inherited, or demonstrate that the trait is instilled by culture, not necessarily biology.

Partially correct: it’s impossible to disprove the notion that some human trait is the result of evolution (if it’s genetic in origin).

To show that a trait is not a result of evolution requires that the trait is not genetically based.

If a behaviour is genetic in origin (and is not a random mutation or transcription error, such as Down’s Syndrome, or exceedingly rare/recessive, such as Tay–Sachs) it must have not have been fatal to humans prior to reproduction and, in highest likelihood, either is beneficial to reproduction or is linked to a trait that is beneficial to reproduction.

Any genetic trait is a product of evolution and therefore, evolution must have produced said genetic trait. Any genetic trait evolution produces must have been adaptive; the explanatory reason of why it is adaptive may not be correct, but it is impossible that the trait was not adaptive (or at least not harmful).

It may be somewhat circular, but, if you hold to Darwinian evolution, it is logically necessary. The only way to not accept evolutionary psychology is to deny Darwinian evolution.

****

You’re supposed to want someone stronger, smarter, and richer than you. Someone who would sire healthy offspring and protect them from saber-toothed cats on the Pleistocene Epoch savanna.

Not “are supposed to”: “do”.

Evolution (and evolutionary psychology) is not prescriptive, it is descriptive of the large statistical trends of human society.

Just because evolutionary psychology says that something evolved in most humans does not mean you have to follow it (although, you statistically will) and it does not mean it applies in every case (some individuals will always be genetically aberrant and display behaviours and traits outside of what is statistically normal).

This is the kind of logic used by fourth-tier intellects arguing creationism in Youtube comments (IF EVALUTIAN IS RONG, Y U NOT SUPPORT HITLER AND SURVIAL OF TEH FITIST!?! HIPOCRIT!!!… durr). How a middle-brow publication like Slate allows this kind of stupidity through is beyond me. If it was somebody from the Discovery Institute arguing like this, he’d be laughed out of the room.

****

The first few paragraphs of her post are complaints about what she believes to be “bad” science in evolutionary psychology. So, what does she list as the study that redeems evolutionary psychology:

And that’s why my favorite paper of the week is “Stepping Out of the Caveman’s Shadow: Nations’ Gender Gap Predicts Degree of Sex Differentiation in Mate Preferences.” Marcel Zentner and Klaudia Mitura of the University of York, U.K., asked more than 3,000 people in 10 countries what they valued in a mate. On a four-point scale, people rated the importance of various qualities: chastity, ambition, financial prospects, good looks, etc.—all identified by Buss and his likeminded peers as being qualities that only men or only women are evolutionarily predisposed to seek out.

Wonderful. A self-selected internet survey based on self-identified preferences somehow overturns all the carefully designed studies using brain scans, monitoring of biological functions, priming, and so on that support the conclusions of evolutionary psychology. That’s some good science.

The researchers used a World Economic Forum measure of gender equality to rank the 10 countries as (a) relatively gender-equal, (b) backwards but improving, or (c) screamingly sexist (my  terms, not theirs). And the results were clear: The more egalitarian the country, the less likely men and women were to value traditional qualities that Buss and co. believe to be innate. In Germany, women said they’d very much like a man who is a good housekeeper. In Finland, men were more likely than women to prefer a mate a bit smarter than themselves. In the United States, women ranked chastity as more important than men did. At the other end of the scale, in Turkey and South Korea, women wanted mates with good financial prospects and men valued good cooks.

Essentially, the survey finds that when asked about sensitive and potentially controversial topics over the internet, a self-selected group of people will give strangers the socially-approved answer. Thank you Slate for pointing out this stunning observation.

In case your sarcasm detector is malfunctioning, the study is complete and utter crap and drawing any conclusions about evolutionary biology from it is idiotic.

As the manosphere says repeatedly and consistently, look at what people do, not what they say.

****

So, in conclusion, this article is mostly bunk. It’s a mishmash of a person’s ignorance of her own ideological underpinnings, wishful thinking, fourth-rate logic, and a person determining “good” science based on her own ideological biases.

In other words, it’s typical feminism.

****

* I say true social conservatism, because a fair amount of what we call social conservatism now, is simply the repackaged liberalism of the last century. Actual social conservatives would generally be called paleo-conservatives. ie: Being against gay marriage, but believing in marriage for love does not a social conservative make, it only makes a liberal who doesn’t like homosexual marriage; to be a social conservative requires a traditional view of marriage as an economic, sexual, and (possibly) religious relationship based around the creation and raising of children.