Jezebel’s Lindy West on the National Review

Sometimes, my desire to blog about sexist cultural commentary is frustrated by my desire to avoid driving further blog traffic to a column obviously approved by editors in order to “trend” online.  But this week, Lindy West does all the hard work for me over at Jezebel, as she explains why a recent column in the National Review is over the top with the “Obama might as well have fallopian tubes” thing.

4 thoughts on “Jezebel’s Lindy West on the National Review

  1. In regards to the Evo Psych stuff:

    I know there is a smart, sophisticated way to approach Evo Pysch, but holy fudging crap I wish we would stop with the These-would-be-hilarious-if-people-didn’t-sincerely-accept-it explanations that follow this formula:

    –We see people (in our society) act out behavior X.
    –We think up a possible explanation for why behavior X would have been beneficial to prehistoric people.
    –We conclude that people currently do X b/c it is hard-wired into our psychology/biology.
    –We imply that behavior X is natural, and thus we should not try to criticize and/or change it.
    –We never bother to consider whether cultural traditions, mores, or values could also explain the existence of behavior X in our current society.
    –We also never bother to consider whether this hard-wired explanation would apply to all people (it often presumes we’re all hard-wired to be het.)

    You know what’s underneath a lot of this: cowardice. Jumping immediately to the “Evolution makes us do it!” excuse is a cop out; if it’s hard-wired, then we don’t have to take a good look at ourselves and consider whether we should try to change some of our behavior.

  2. I’ll add to the foundation that where it’s not cowardice, it’s complacency. With privilege can come quite a bit of comfort with never having to check one’s ding-dong assumptions. (Especially if editors then publish them.)

  3. Stacey G.’s comment #1 above nicely characterizes, I think, a criticism of evolutionary psychology that several others seem independently to have developed and converged upon, such as Paul Sheldon Davies, Todd Grantham and Shaun Nichols, and Richard Boyd (references provided below). These authors discuss two different methods/approaches to research that evolutionary psychologists explicitly use. The first of these two methods focuses on using evolutionary considerations and historical speculations about past selection pressures to predict the existence and nature of mental modules and psychological capacities/dispositions. Stacey G. briefly but importantly clarifies above, I think, how many explanations based on or reached by this method are arguably both flawed and dangerous. In contrast, the second of the two methods focuses on independently identified mental modules and psychological capacities/dispositions discovered and confirmed by nonhistorical sciences/studies, and then proceeds to provide evolutionary explanations for them (if appropriate/if we can find good reasons for accepting any). The authors listed above concede, and even argue, that we can have in certain cases compelling arguments for using/accepting the second method, from which we can learn a great deal. On the other hand, these authors argue, I think like Stacey G., that the first method/approach is prone to develop unjustified inferences and Panglossian forms of adaptationism. Interested readers may wish to see:

    Davies, P. S. 1996. Discovering the functional mesh: On the methods of evolutionary psychology. Minds and Machines 6: 559–585.

    Grantham, T. & Nichols, S. 1999. Evolutionary psychology: Ultimate explanations and Panglossian predictions. In Hardcastle, V. G. (Ed.) Where Biology Meets Psychology: Philosophical Essays. MIT Press, 47–66

    Boyd, R. 2001. Reference, (In)commensurability and Meanings: Some (Perhaps) Unanticipated Complexities. In Hoyningen-Huene, P. & Sankey, H. (Eds.) Incommensurability and Related Matters. Springer, 1–63.

    – David Slutsky

  4. On page 30 in section 2.3.1 (and also on page 36) in his paper referenced in comment #3 above, Boyd converges on the same point about cowardice that Stacey G. makes in comment #1 and the related point about complacency that beta makes in comment #2 – especially as regards Boyd’s account of the influence of social ideology in scientific practice and how the (alleged/argued) depth of malignant embedding of ideology in the conceptual meanings of terms in evolutionary psychology (perhaps more so in the sociobiology literature pre-1987 or so?) “is often so substantial that the normal internal workings of scientific methodology prove insufficient to overcome the malignancy or to establish commensurability between mainstream scientific research traditions and those which are formed by ideological critiques”.

    Readers can find the parts of Boyd’s essay that address reasoning in evolutionary psychology as an example of “incommensurability in the making” on pages 23-41. However, in order really and fully to understand Boyd’s charges of fallacious reasoning/inference patterns, and malignant meanings (with respect to commensurability), in evolutionary psychology, readers will certainly not waste their time by reading the entire paper – including, for instance, Boyd’s “benign” conception of scientific meanings.

    Readers can find arguably good examples of (variations on) the cowardice and complacency charges in, for instance, Randy Thornhill and Craig T. Palmer’s A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion, on the one hand, and in contrast to the essays collected in Cheryl Brown Travis’ volume on Evolution, Gender, and Rape, on the other hand.

    Readers can find previous posts on related matters here:

    Prinz on social VS evolutionary explanations for male violence

    Prinz responds to critics

    Evolution produced monogamous women, but men

    Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism

    In case anyone wants some additional/decent introductions to, and references for, these matters, I provide some here:

    – David Slutsky

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