How can we explain human behavior?

I have previously divided explanations of human behavior into three very general categories: anti-causalism (the belief in some non-material explanation, like a soul or free will/agency), adaptationism (the belief that evolutionary adaptations mold behavior), and constructionism (the belief that social conditioning, especially social constructs, mold behavior). I have done so because positions that fall under each category do share a lot in common, and so it is instructive to discuss about them in general terms before we get into the specific. I have gone into specifics, mostly against adaptationist beliefs, in other entries, but in this entry I want to talk about the general categories again.

So one question that adaptationists often raise about my constructionist position is, how would YOU explain why people do what they do? The trouble with adaptationist theories is that they offer a solution that is clear, simple, and completely wrong. It omits all the complexity of human life and turns it into a simple and abstract mechanism of genetic propagation which can be easily understood by thinking about what you imagine hunter-gatherer societies to be like. This is basically a Flintstones view of evolution used as a nice story that explains why people do what they do: they are compelled by their genes, and the genes seek their own “self-interest” (whatever that means for inanimate objects).

My constructionist view is more complicated, because human motivations are more complicated. To fully understand any behavior, we need to fully understand the person first, which is impossible. Anyone who claims to completely understand the motivations for a behavior is lying. We can talk about general incentives that are given to the individual in this or that context, but these are generalities which do not apply to everyone. The specific circumstances of subcultures one is raised in, education, personality, social networks, and so on, change everyone’s response to incentive systems, although those incentive systems are still the dominant influence. Basically, we all either follow, or react against, incentive systems and prevalent belief-systems.

Adaptationism also has its exceptions, but they don’t make much sense. When confronted by the many ways in which non-Western societies break their “evolutionary imperatives,” they say that this must be due to culture. But according to their own theory, culture is constructed by biology, and it makes no sense for certain cultures to somehow push people into doing things that go completely against our very DNA. So there’s really no explanation to be found along these lines.

Let’s just take one simple example, one that is supposed to be one of evolutionary psychology’s strengths: the double standard. They claim that it is genetically advantageous for men to sleep around and for women to seek stable monogamous relationships. However, they have little to reply to examples of non-Western societies, or even some Western examples, where men do not sleep around (or do not have sex at all) or where women do sleep around. From a constructionist perspective, culture is primary, and therefore does not suffer from these problems. Whatever the culture says the role of sex and gender are, most people will follow. In our societies, we are raised to believe that men should be virile and have sex, and that women should want to get married and have children, so that’s what we tend to do. Other societies, with different frameworks around sex and gender, entail different behaviors.

Does that mean that everyone will follow cultural principles? No, clearly not. There are many reasons for that. For instance, we’re all raised in different subcultures and social classes, which influences how we see ourselves and the parts of the culture we adopt or reject. A white boy from the upper class will have a different relation to the culture, to sex, and to gender, than a black girl from the lower class. Also, some small portion of our personality is of genetic origin.

Genetics are not completely irrelevant from the constructionist perspective, they just don’t provide most of the explanatory power needed. Because of the fact that we have human bodies, we generally want to eat, to socialize and share kinship, have sex, have status and admiration, and so on (although these things are not true for everyone). But this does not explain behavior. Human behavior is never simply “to eat” or “to share kinship,” it consists of eating specific things at specific times and in specific ways, of a kinship that is constructed in specific ways. Both of these things are a result of culture, which nearly completely erases the genetic factor.

Social constructs are an important part of constructionism, which is why I call it “constructionism,” because they constitute our identity. Everything that you see as uniquely “you” is a result of social constructs being imposed (or in some cases, not being imposed, like in non-religious families) on “you,” mostly through childhood socialization, but also from other sources such as the mass media and the education system.

The prevalent view about identification nowadays is a view related to adaptationism, in that it posits that our most important identifications are innate (although they would not call it adaptationist at all, and they do not seek evolutionary explanations). Race, gender, sexual orientation, intelligence, are all supposed to be innate, fixed attributes of the individual. Many, although they tend to be more right-wing, also equate social status as being innate.

The problem with this view is that all these things are social constructs, and that ignoring that fact makes it impossible to understand why people identify they way they do. Take a controversial example, that of gender. If you ask a liberal feminist or an SJW for an explanation of why people are the gender that they are, the answer will be: because that’s what their “innate” gender is, it’s what they really are.

Not only is this impossible (because gender is an extremely mutable concept, not just between societies but within the same society at different times), but it also doesn’t explain anything. All it does is transpose the previous uncertainty to another, equally uncertain concept (what that person’s “innate gender” is). An explanation is supposed to start from known data and use that data to show the cause and effect relationship that one is asking about, usually involving the word “because.” For instance, “we had to close down the theater because there was a small fire there.” On the other hand, “they are a man because they are innately a man” helps specify what they think gender is but it doesn’t explain it.

From the constructionist standpoint, gender is a social construct. That includes the gender roles, the gender stereotypes, the gender hierarchy, everything. We are all assigned a gender at birth based (arbitrarily) on our sex. We (for most people, if not all) have parts of our personality, or beliefs, which clash with the stereotype of our assigned gender, but we go along with it anyway. Some people refuse to go along with it to some extent (mostly due to being homosexual, which goes against both gender roles in the West), and they become gender rebels of one kind or another.

This view provides us with a basic explanation. If you know the gender stereotypes in their culture (or subculture, if their family is part of a subculture that has views on gender), and you know someone’s personality and beliefs to some extent, you can, to that extent, figure out how comfortable they would be with their assigned gender.

In general we can say that the categories through which people identify themselves are based around the kinds of social constructs that exist in their culture or subculture, and the way they identify comes as obedience to, or reaction against, those social constructs. Gender is only a point of identification because gender is an extremely important kind of social construct in our societies, and people identify as one gender or the other, or as no gender at all, depending on their reactions to the gender stereotypes they are taught.

I’ve mostly talked about constructionism and adaptationism. However, as readers of my blog know, I don’t think much of anti-causalism either. Religious anti-causalists blather on and on about how one’s soul can be saved or wicked, depending on what religion one “chooses” (how one comes to “choose” a specific religion over any other is never explained), and how people who do things they disagree with are demonic. Secular anti-causalists usually deploy the concepts of free will and agency, which are unfalsifiable and don’t explain anything either. But that’s to be expected, because the concept of the soul and the concept of free will are used to bury the truth in unnecessary verbiage, not to actually explain anything. Until someone proves that some non-material entity or process can somehow be measured and be shown to effect material bodies, I see no reason to believe in either of them.

Do lesbians date people with penises?

Akimbo Comics on: “sex work,” suicide.

From Akimbo Comics (1, 2).

A couple new items in my store…

I’ve added a couple new items to my store: an ironic inspirational wooden block, and a poster. Check it out if you like antinatalist stuff, buying antinatalist stuff, or just looking at antinatalist stuff and not buying it.

The joys of existence.

parents: Congratulations, little boy or girl! You’re going to exist!
embryo: Oooh, what does that entail?
parents: So many things! You’re going to be sentient, first of all. You will experience pleasure and pain. You will feel a wide variety of emotions, some of which will be augmented by your human intelligence!
embryo: That sounds complicated.
parents: It will be! The human experience is such a complex one, due to our high intelligence combined with our primitive instincts! We are probably the only creatures on the planet that have existential woes!
embryo: ….
parents: In fact, we’re creating you to help alleviate some of our existential woes! You will make us feel immortal and significant in the universe, even though we’re not. You will give us a illusory sense of purpose in life!
embryo: Gee, parents, I’m not sure I like the sound of existence. Do you think you could just abort me?
dad: Tough shit, kid. We want a baby.
mom: God wants us to choose life!
embryo: God?
parents: God is one of our many coping mechanisms. You’ll need some of your own to deal with how incompatible the universe is with human needs. We also use positive thinking, distractions, and logical fallacies such as the just world hypothesis.
embryo: Please, I don’t want this!
parents: Your animal instincts will take care of that after you’re born. You’ll want to live even if you’re miserable. Suicide will be extremely difficult to carry out even if you’re in constant agony.
embryo: Holyshitholyshitholyshit! Abort mission! Abort mission!
mom: There are puppies here. You’ll like them.
dad: And rainbows.
mom: We have your life almost entirely planned out for you; we just need to figure out your sex.
dad: You will have a gender identity that matches your sex, and you will marry someone of the opposite sex and reproduce with them so that this cycle of madness may continue for eons.
mom: You will have our political beliefs and religious beliefs.
dad: You will need to have a high-paying job to survive our country’s economic climate. You’re going to be in school for a very loooooong time.
embryo: School?
parents: So you can work for the rest of your life!
embryo: Look, this isn’t right. You wouldn’t make a decision this major for someone who already exists, would you?
parents: But you don’t exist yet. That makes it a-okay.
embryo: This is so pointlessly selfish!
mom: No, not having kids is selfish. That’s what people say, for some reason.
dad: Stop being a baby!
embryo: I haven’t even started yet…
parents: Life will be pretty fun while you’re still little and cute. Look forward to that.
embryo: How long will I not be little and cute?
parents: For most of your life.
embryo: What am I going to spend my life doing, besides what you planned out for me?
parents: We can’t tell you exactly, but you will basically pursue pleasure and avoid suffering.
embryo: Every day for my entire life?
parents: Yes! You must always be doing something to maintain an emotional homeostasis! You will be a reaction machine! You will be pulled by the puppet strings of your physical and emotional needs!
embryo: Whyyyyyyyy?!
parents: Life is beautiful!
embryo: I already disagree!
parents: Stop being a pessimist. Remember what we said about positive thinking?
embryo: This is insane! This is so pointless!
parents: If you hate life so much, you’re just going to die anyway.
embryo: ……………………………………………………….”

A masterlist of transwomen’s violence against women.

There are too many links for me to transcribe it here, but here is the link.

Antinatalism vs adaptationism.


Apparently this is some ideology called “bionatalism.” It’s like natalism except more hateful.

When you argue against adaptationism as applied to human behavior, the first attack you’re likely to receive is that you are against evolution, and therefore anti-science. The unspoken assumption in such an attack is that adaptationists are following scientific rigor and that their process is in harmony with other scientific disciplines. But that’s not true at all. The most popular example of adaptationism right now, evolutionary psychology, is profoundly flawed in its approach and is mainly a political tool to justify the status quo.

Obviously other forms of adaptationism may get closer to the scientific model, but adaptationism itself is based on a false premise: that we can analyze human behavior in the same way that we analyze the function of an organ or a protein. But human behavior is highly molded by socializing and indoctrination in a way that our organs or proteins are not. We know from other primate species and anthropology that the structure of societies is highly variable and dependent on external factors to a great extent. The reasons for human behavior cannot be directly deduced from genetic selection. Selection operates on the brain (which is why the brain is a flexible, robust system, not the fixed, outdated series of discrete, rigid modules that evolutionary psychologists think it is) but not on the social environment which dictates the ways in which our psychological needs can be expressed.

This brings to the fore one point which seems to elude opponents of antinatalism: that ideas are not propagated because of some mystical genetic transmission of complex abstract ideas, but because we are socialized into them during our childhood or we learn about them later in life. No one is born an antinatalist any more than they are born Christian, or Hindu, or humanist, or communist. We are born in families where the parents push certain positions on their children, and we are also born with a personality type that may tend to be more attracted to certain kinds of ideologies, but we are not born believing them.

Also, people do not believe in ideologies because they give them an evolutionary advantage. There are many reasons why people believe any given ideology, but “evolutionary advantage” is not one of them. I really doubt there’s anyone out there busy calculating which political position gives them more ability to find a mate and reproduce, unless they’re sickoes or perverts or something.

I am of course referring to the (surprisingly common) argument that antinatalism is doomed to failure because everyone was born from breeders, therefore no one is born antinatalist. For one thing, some antinatalists have procreated earlier in life, and now regret doing it. But besides that, the fact that there can be no “antinatalist gene” is no more relevant than the fact that there’s no “Christian” gene or “atheist” gene. And equally importantly, with the instantaneous and massive availability of information on the Internet, we, of the younger generations, no longer mainly acquire beliefs through our parents. Although socialization is still crucially important in enforcing conformist attitudes, our beliefs are mainly molded by our peer groups online.

My main problem with adaptationism, however, is that it posits that all human behavior has some evolutionary, “survival of the fittest” justification. Since they don’t actually care about evolution, their justifications are mainly just-so stories, narratives which are based on cartoon versions of humanity’s past and which are not quantified in any way. But the result of this, whether deliberate or not, is that adaptationist narratives inevitably serve to normalize gendered violence.

Take the example of rape, about which evolutionary psychologists make up the stupidest stories. Stupid or not, though, the point of any just-so story about rape would be to justify, from the standpoint of evolutionary success, why rape exists. If you already believe in evolutionary success, then it’s only one step to believing that rape is justified. If you don’t already believe in evolutionary success, it provides a rationale for the existence of rape and makes it a meaningful act.

Now I know evolutionary psychologists profess to resent these implications and argue that their goal is to provide the facts about rape so we can prevent it. But no one has ever explained how an adaptationist story about rape provides us with any means to prevent rape. Suppose, for instance, that we find (scientifically, not as a just-so story) that the male rape of females is justified by the fact that the male rapists’ genes propagate more. According to their caveman cartoon story, women’s genetic role only extends so far as giving birth and caring for children, and it is men’s sexual behavior that determines which genes will propagate the most. Therefore, men who rape will be more evolutionarily successful than those who don’t.

So how does knowing this help us prevent rape? Suppose we find that men will seek out certain types of women to rape, and we try to dissuade women from appearing to be like these types. All we’re then doing is setting up some other women to get raped instead. If we tell men not to rape, they will rape anyway. Keep in mind that, if we believe the story, men cannot help but rape. Almost by definition, it cannot tell us how to fight rape. What it does tell us is that rape is an innate part of human life. Once that premise is accepted, all that can be done is change who is victimized by rape (from “good” women to prostituted women), or simply exterminate all men in order to stop rape. I’ve already commented that masculinists are extremely misandrist (to borrow their stupid term), and their belief that men are innately brutal and evil leaves no other clear solution but complete man-hatred.

I foresee some inevitable trolls pointing out the absurdity of me wanting to kill all men (especially since I am one). No, I don’t think we should kill all men. What I am saying is that it is the only clear conclusion, if we accept masculinist/adaptationist premises. I definitely do not accept these premises. I do not believe that men are innately brutal or evil, because the human brain is far too malleable to make such pronouncements about it. There is no “male brain” or “female brain,” and if women are not innately brutal or evil, then there’s no reason for men to be either. The reason why many men are is because they have been socialized into masculinity. Insofar as gendered behavior is concerned, socialization is key, not the body, the brain, or any “innate” gender supposedly hardcoded in the brain (whether it’s the “right” gender according to religious dogma or according to transgender dogma).

My general point here is that adaptationism is an ideology which necessarily supports the status quo, because its approach is to justify observed human behavior through stories about genetics. When they see any human behavior, their first question is not “how were people socialized to act in that way?”, their first question is “how did this behavior evolve?”. So this leaves no space for a moral critique of behavior: that which was made by nature cannot be morally evaluated, it just is. So rape just is. “Murders of passion” just are. War just is.

This also includes breeding, of course, since breeding is absolutely necessary for evolutionary success. Not only is the inequality between men and women encoded in adaptationism, as well as inequality between “races,” but also the inequality between parent and child. The child is not an end in itself, it exists in order to ensure its parents’ reproductive success, further the parents’ interests, and extend their legacy through time. In order to justify this, we’ve been taught all sorts of adaptationist just-so stories about children: that children are innately gullible and must be indoctrinated, that children are naturally amoral, that children are selfish and manipulative.

Keep in mind that, in the world of adaptationism, genes can only be selected in one of three ways: natural selection, kin selection, and “reciprocal altruism,” the latter being basically a euphemism for repeated trade, and really having nothing to do with altruism, at least not as we commonly understand altruism. None of these provide a way for actual altruism to develop, and therefore, if we follow adaptationism, there can be no such thing as altruism altruism (only trade or feigned altruism). This explains why they are obsessed with the question of where actual altruism could possibly come from (for most of us, this is not a particularly puzzling question, because we’re not fucking sociopaths).

Even though they wouldn’t admit it in those terms, in practice the adaptationist is stuck believing that humans are innately selfish and has to explain away any actual altruism in selfish terms (I’ve lampooned this belief before). So the fact that they cannot really fight against things like rape is not really surprising. If humans cannot be altruistic, then why should we expect them to get beyond rape?

I think there’s a strong relation here with the insanity of free market logic, like the Invisible Hand rhetoric. Free market advocates try to portray the free market as natural and innate, and the Invisible Hand portrays the market as the sum of selfish actions adding up to an altruistic effect, permitting them to pretend that they support altruism while not actually supporting any concrete altruistic action or policy.

The same sort of sleight of hand is also seen in natalist rhetoric. We are told that a sum of procreation, which is a profoundly selfish act, can somehow amount to a good effect for society in general, whether it’s uncontrolled economic progress, more pointless innovation to make more gadgets we don’t need, more people slavishly paying for social security to keep the whole diseased system going, or whatever. I think you can already tell what I think about those supposed good effects. An altruistic whole is not going to spring magically from profoundly selfish acts, or vice-versa. Procreation is selfish and can only lead to a worse outcome for the children and for everyone else. Even if some parents benefit, in the long term everyone loses.

Natalism is part and parcel of the program of evolutionary psychology, not just in the way that it portrays life as a game that you “win” by constantly reproducing, but in the way that it turns all human behavior into a contest for the best mates or the best way to ensure that children bear one’s DNA and no one else’s. For example, men killing their cheating wives is justified by the proposition that no man would willingly want to spend resources raising a child that has been made with another man’s DNA. This does not seem even remotely plausible, but because it “makes sense” from their twisted “evolutionary” perspective, they are willing to propagate that story to the public. The end result is that gendered violence is codified and made “logical,” in that it follows a definite logic from point A to point B. It’s also reflected in evolutionary psychologists’ belief about mate selection, where men are said to subconsciously look for bodies that can withstand pregnancy and bear healthy children. Again, this is ridiculously not plausible, but it does feed into the natalist belief that having children is a necessary and inevitable part of human life.

Does “FEMINIST PORN” really exist? What do YOU think? – Can PORNOGRAPHY ever REALLY be FEMINIST?

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