Monday, January 28, 2013

January 28, 2013

Here is the first page and a half from today's entry in my Sex Journal. It continues my thoughts on the Nature vs. Nurture Science Wars between femnists and reactionary male evolutionists.
The most interesting development(s) in work on sex-and-gender today seems to me the acrimonious debate between feminists and evolutionary psychologists. I will attempt to present the various issues and their protagonists and explain why this is as important as it is interesting. I have found the most useful and objective overview of the problems and situations in an 2007 issue of Politics and the Life Sciences.*
*Laurette T. Liesen, "Women, Behavior, and Evolution: Understanding the Debate Between Feminist Evolutionists and Evolutionary Psychologists," Politics and the Life Sciences 26:1 (March, 2007), 51–70. If you are as interested in this subject as I am, but limited as to time, read pages 52-54 of Ms. Liesen's essay and the footnotes on pages 66 & 67.     Liesen gives a combined historical and analytical introduction.

As you know, feminist scholarship began in earnest in the 1970s. By coincidence, or perhaps not by coincidence, there simultaneously began in the 1970s a big shift in the way men began investigating Charles Darwin's evolutionary theories. This male development brought about a new academic discipline called Sociobiology, and focused attention not just on species but more on how natural selection affected individuals and our behavior. For example a lot was made of a new belief among male academics that altruism was much more than it appeared, it was no less than an evolutionary device for the replication of an individual's genes.

      Looking back, the big breakthrough for these conservative gentlemen biologists and evolutionists was Robert Trivers, still carrying on at UCSC's Sinsheimer Laboratory, whose 1972 publication in Bernard Campbell's anthology, Sexual Selection and the Descent of Man (Chicago: Aldine) was entitled, "Parental Investment and Sexual Selection." As recently as last Sunday, a gentleman in the New York Times "Review" section used Trivers to begin a discussion much like I am doing here.**        
     Trivers' work is sometimes referred to as "sperm expenditure theory," wherein males practice a "mixed strategy" seeking extrapair copulations, i.e. polygynous males.
     You can see how a disagreement was in the works. For might not the Trivers idea be seen as an "excuse" or "justification" by women for what doesn't seem very nice behavior? Moreover, entire programs and disciplines were built from such 1970s Darwinian investigations, for example Edward O. Wilson's Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, biological basis of social behavior!
     As you know, I believe our individual behavior is not genetic but socially constructed. In thinking this way, I am influenced by feminist theorists as well as by their many philosopher allies, such as Michel Foucault. In fact, I believe sociobiology has long been discredited; but new more sophisticated offspring have evolved from these 1970s reactionaries.
* I find the hundreds of articles on altruism and these new ideas about it uninteresting and unconvincing, but it is impressive how male biologists and the scientific establishment have embraced these ideas. It all began with George Williams, Adaptation and Natural Selection (Princeton University Press, 1966).

** Dan Slater, "Darwin Was Wrong About Dating," NYT (January 13, 2013), page 1, continued on page 6.Slater helpfully reduces the evolutionary psychologist proposals to three: that men are less selective than women about whom they sleep with; men like casual sex more than women; men have more sexual partners than women during their lifetimes. No doubt, if you are a man reading this, you agree wholeheartedly in these stereotypes.

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