The Worst of Sociobiology

This article represents, to my mind, the worst of sociobiological bumf.  It says that “our thoughts, feelings, and behavior are produced not only by our individual experiences and environment in our own lifetime but also by what happened to our ancestors millions of years ago”.  True enough.  But supposedly what follows from that is that human nature is static and human “choices” are largely a product of our biological inheritance, not any thinking we might happen to do. So, for example, men prefer young women (greater reproductive success), blondes (because blonde hair meant, in the past, that the woman was young), long-haired women (because long hair indicates several years of a woman’s health), and big breasts (because big breasts will droop with age, so, if not droopy, they indicate that the woman is young).   This seems to me to be mostly invention.  It also suggests that men are the dupes of their biological drives.  And that men who like short-haired, dark-haired, small-breasted, or even (goddess forbid) non-young women are reproductive dead ends.

7 thoughts on “The Worst of Sociobiology

  1. Sorry about that, Nandini! Introvertica found it on her own and didn’t realise you’d mentioned it in comments. Our new ‘contact’ system should help prevent this from happening again.

  2. Peter Singer is willing to accept sex-based hierarchies in business and politics as the expected social result of biology, and describes a “Darwinian left” that posits:

    “Since women are limited in the number of children they can have, they are likely to be selective in their choice of mate. Men, on the other hand, are limited in the number of children they can have only by the number of women they can have sex with. If achieving high status increases access to women, then we can expect men to have a stronger drive for status than women. This means we cannot use the fact that there is a disproportionately large number of men in high status positions in business or politics as a reason for concluding that there has been discrimination against women.”

    Reference: Peter Singer, A Darwinian Left: Politics, Evolution and Cooperation (1999), at 17-18 (citing with approval another book in the “Darwinism Today” series, Kingsley Browne, Divided Labours: An Evolutionary View of Women at Work.

  3. Thanks, Lee Hall, for this interesting quotation from Singer. Here’s what shocks me about the whole approach: It assumes that human beings’ major motivation in life, whether conscious or not, continues to be reproduction. And, moreover, that virtually all of our behaviour, especially with regard to members of the “other” (main) sex category, can be explained in terms of that drive. I just don’t buy it. I think the explanations are shockingly ad hoc. Here are some examples.
    Let’s say that women are indeed motivated to be selective in their choice of mate. Why wouldn’t that lead to WOMEN’s being highly motivated to achieve, so that they would have the power and freedom to make their own choices of mate, rather than having a mate forced on them by a patriarchal father or a rapacious conquerer? Instead, the assumption is that if men achieve “high status,” then doing so will increase their access to women. What happens to women’s choice then, and their tendency to be slective? I know, I know, women supposedly then fall for corporate executives. But if women are genuinely motivated to be choosy for reproductive reasons, why wouldn’t women be looking for young, healthy, glossy-haired men? The corporate executives are less likely to have healthy sperm, after all.
    Conclusions: 1) Women are selective, but, on this theory, selective for the wrong reasons, choosing “high status” older males when they should be choosing young healthy ones. 2) Maybe women don’t even get to be selective, because the high status men use their status to gain cohersive access to the women.
    See, I can make up this stuff too. But where are the empirical limits on this pie-in-the-sky speculation?

  4. Okay, Jender, no problem.

    By far the most ridiculous part of this article was the authors’ insistence that “polygamy is good for women”, just like that, no qualifiers attached. They obviously meant women TODAY as well as through the ages. Polygamy is good for women TODAY because it’s better for a woman to share a wealthy man than to marry a loser. AARRGGHH.

  5. Oh, I don’t know. I find it very difficult to figure out what’s worst about that article.. E.g. there’s the very racist and deeply implausible claim that a preference for blue eyes is universal, there’s the amazing Islamophobia, the claim that sexual harassment is an instance of equitable treatment…. Lots of competition!

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