EvoPysch and “natural” attraction.

I’ve been stewing up an FAQ for FF101 for a while, and it hasn’t come together as well as I’d like. I want to take on EvPsych, basically, and look at some of the crap on offer that claims that somehow evolution has forced men to be attracted to (totally coincidentally highly physically vulnerable) young waifs in the pursuit of propagating their genes rather than strong healthy buttkicking women offering a genetic propensity to muscularity such as, say, Serena Williams.

Serena Williams

From a comment at Pandagon’s thread about Britney being shamed as “fat” (unprofessional and unentertaining, yes, but fat?), the discussion got derailed by some EvoPsych rubbish, and a shaft of light was mercilessly shone upon the bullshit by Doctor Science:

Crikey. As an Actual Evolutionary Biologist I get really frustrated with Ev-Psycho rationalizations because they make so little biological sense. I’m going to use Godmonkey as an example, here, but he’s hardly alone.

Both logically and biologically, male humans *can’t* be both naturally unselective (willing to fuck anything) *and* picky (only interested in certain types of women). That the rules of patriarchal society require this contradiction is IMO ipso facto proof that those rules are not based in natural evolution, because evolution is not illogical (at least, not in that way).

Not every natural sexual system is the same. male Mallards are pretty much as Godmonkey described men: willing to stick their dicks into anything that holds still long enough. Swans mate until death do them part.

But what you should notice is that male Mallards are strikingly beautiful and the females are dull & camoflaged; both male and female Swans have display plumage and behavior. How the species looks is a sign of how it acts.

So, if humans *naturally* acted like Mallards, we wouldn’t *naturally* care how Britney looks. If we *naturally* care about her looks, then we must be *naturally* more like Swans “” though we’d also be likely to be looking at Justin Timberlake in a sparkly thong, too.

My conclusion? Human sexual behaviors incorporate features that are not only un-evolved, but which are directly contrary to what we expect in a naturally-evolved system.

I am saying “naturally evolved” because I’m coming to suspect that humans are domestic animals “” that is, that we have a long history of not always choosing our own mates, which has given us some of the biological features of pets or livestock.

This neatly encapsulates so much of my own less expert understanding that I’m thinking of having it bronzed.

I’d love some suggestions on other great posts on the arsehattery that is EvoPsych. I may already have bookmarked some of them, but I have the feeling I’ve missed out on some of the best ones. Hit me!

Categories: culture wars, gender & feminism, history, Science, Sociology

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11 replies

  1. This is indeed great, very neatly explianed.
    However I don’t know of any posts about EvoPsych.
    I can suggest this:
    * Focus on the circularity of the argument. How we take the way we act today, extrapolate it to the past, come up with circumstances in which said way of acting would come handy and then justify the way we act today with that “handy-ness in the past”.
    * Uncover how “highly coincidental” it is that EvoPsych justifies those actions that men indulge in, fucking young and beautiful girls, and condemns that which women “have to do”, giving birth and raising children. Particularly how it all is taken as a way of life, he spends his life spreading his genes, she spends her life with the burden of childrearing.
    * End it all with the overwhelmingly lack of evidence. No one has, so far, been to the past and, when it comes to sexual practices, no fossil can tell us anything.
    Hope it helps!

  2. Have you scoped out Echnide of the Snakes? She’s usually good with the evopsych smackdown. I’ll see if I can find something good.

  3. This sounds like a GREAT FA@ idea! I’ll keep an eye out for stuff.

  4. Thanks, everyone. I do have some links from a while back from Echidne, but not recently. Violet Socks did a nice one las week: This ev-psych bullshit must stop.

  5. SO glad to hear you’re taking on this ludicrously popular strand of intellectual charlatanism (and thanks for the introduction to Violet Socks, or the disembodied spirit thereof). What peeves me right off is that the concept is pretty fascinating, as long as you keep a strict eye on the limitations of what can be deduced. It’s just been abused for too long by people without the least grasp of methodological thought.
    I don’t have weblinks for you, but can I be old-fashioned and recommend a couple of books? Jared Diamond’s The Third Chimpanzee is just great for knocking us out of our human-as-centre-of-world complacency. Anything by Konrad Lorenz is excellent for pointing out, rather than colluding with, the fallacies of anyone subscribing to a sense of cultural superiority. Especially good is the (sadly out of print) Waning of Humaneness. Season with a little Elaine Morgan (I know another of your posters has mentioned her). Some of her discussion of physiology is inaccurate, but that’s just cos we know more about the structure of the clitoris now than when she was writing, it doesn’t damage her broader argument. These are the good guys who prove we don’t have to be against all consideration of the influence of evolution on behaviour, what gets my knickers twisted like the soul of a Tony Abbott are the guys who haven’t even tried to understand the forces at work, but just saw permission for revelling in every privilege they’ve been handed, and seized it.
    Two points to focus on:
    The impossibility of controlling the variables involved mean that nothing can be properly tested. That is, we can’t get rid of all our cultural influences in order to see what is left, and therefore innate.
    The unacknowledged leaps constantly being made between tested outcomes and speculation on the causes of those outcomes.
    Sorry for length, but this is pet topic.

  6. The main objection people offer to Evolutionary Psychology is that it’s unfalsifiable. No test can be proposed which would disprove it; as such it’s not really a scientific discipline. It’s a bunch of “just so” stories.
    However, there’s a danger in going too far in the opposite direction. We are not cartesian beings. The mind is bound to the body and the body to the mind. Biology matters and we know biology comes from the evolution of the species.
    The best work is done by geneticists and the mathematicians who develop population models. Evolutionary psych is awfully hand-wavy and tends to over-generalise. The maths shows that instead of “winner takes all”, many genetic strategies will coexist in the same population and be can be expressed differently under different conditions.
    A lot of people recommend The Selfish Gene as a good introduction to both sides of this world, and it is. But make sure you go on to the next book Dawkins wrote called The Extended Phenotype, which more clearly outlines the hard, messy bits of the science which don’t get into the popular press.

  7. Good points, Jacques. What amazes me with biological reductionism apart from the oversimplifications you note, is that people who are wearing clothes and eating cooked food using utensils rather than fingers treat sex and gender dynamics as somehow more fundamental and rigid than our drive for food and shelter from the environment.
    Our success as a species is due to our innovation, adaptability and diversity, both individually and collectively. We can and have altered our behaviour in the face of basic biological drives, which has enhanced our species’ survival and reproductive advantage many times over the history of our species. It is certainly possible to alter gender dynamics as part of the range of human expression, and it will be arguably advantageous for highly industrialised information economies to do so in terms of promoting full practical, not just legally permissible, female equity in the means of production.
    I suspect a large part of the backlash against true gender equity is the consumerism-driven cult of individuality: full gender equality does threaten men with a reduction in status and preference from society simply by virtue of being men, so what’s in it for them? is the perception.

  8. On a pragmatic note:
    A male acquaintance from my alma mater who refuses to acknowledge the existence of the patriarchy and -loves- the evo psych crap — sent me this article: http://www.livescience.com/health/070917_men_age.html
    I told him that in light of all the frightening problems that can arise in the prostate, which can be avoided by massage, perhaps there is evidence to suggest that men are evolved to be fucked in the butt?
    That shut him up, and I have yet to hear a peep from him on the subject, which is much better than I had hoped for. Of course it wouldn’t work in most social situations, and it only worked in this case because I knew he’s ragingly homophobic to the point where he would get upset about the idea of a woman owning a strapon. But whether or not it made him a little green in the face, I think it is a good illustration of how easy it is to come up with a theory to say whatever you want it to say, and how silly it becomes to structure our lives around (or rationalize our actions with) biological speculations.

  9. Terrific FAQ and here is another neat article criticical of biological determinism.
    “Had they left it at that, Dr Spence and his colleagues might have concluded that they had uncovered yet another evolved difference between the sexes, come up with a “Just So” story to explain it in terms of division of labour on the African savannah, and moved on. However, they did not leave it at that.”


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