From ebbits (click to enlarge).
The “results” of evolutionary psychologists (which has nothing to do with either actual evolution or actual psychology) are full of just-so stories referring to a Pleistocene era about which they know very little in order to justify their belief in the naturalness and immutability of the traditional Western and neo-liberal values they enshrine. They start with an imaginary hunter-gatherer society out of the Flintstones, make up an imaginary solution to a problem they assume these imaginary people might have had, and call that scientific evidence.
But those are not the most important stories they tell. Here are what I think are the two greatest stories made up by evolutionary psychologists:
1. They are dispassionate scientists looking for the truth about human action, and they are the only ones who can do it because they wield the “cold light of scientific realism.”
2. Their opponents are evil socialists or “blank slaters” who want to inject their corrupt and unrealistic values in what should be the “cold light of scientific realism.”
These two stories are woven together into one conclusion: the evolutionary psychologist is the light of reason, science triumphant, and his opponents are demagogues who, deep down, hate science.
Evolutionary psychologists characterize themselves as a beleaguered minority. In language that resonates with that of the conservative right, they see themselves victimized by what Harvard Professor Steven Pinker calls “an establishment” of “elite” “intellectuals.” Evolutionary psychology is the “real” science, seemingly the only real human science that is capable of dealing soberly with the obvious and cold hard facts of the human situation. Pinker contrasts evolutionary psychologists with their opponents, who are “biased by politics” or “romantics” in the thrall of “feel-good moralism.”
Susan McKinnon, Neo-Liberal Genetics
Edward Hagen, after answering the criticism that evopsych cannot explain change in human societies:
[E]volutionary psychologists are keenly interested in the cognitive abilities that underlie the rich political behavior of people everywhere. The considerable research on ‘cheater detection modules’ represents the first baby steps in this direction. Further, the ‘politically incorrect’ assertions of evolutionary psychologists (e.g., that youth is a component of female mate value) are based on considerable empirical evidence. Critics are welcome to challenge the evidence or provide testable alternative explanations for it.
The founders of evopsych, Cosmides and Tooby:
Three decades of progress and convergence in cognitive psychology, evolutionary biology, and neuroscience have shown that this [social constructionist] view of the human mind is radically defective. Evolutionary psychology provides an alternative framework that is beginning to replace it. On this view, all normal human minds reliably develop a standard collection of reasoning and regulatory circuits that are functionally specialized and, frequently, domain-specific. These circuits organize the way we interpret our experiences, inject certain recurrent concepts and motivations into our mental life, and provide universal frames of meaning that allow us to understand the actions and intentions of others.
The little problem with these grandstanding assertions is that the scientific inquiry done outside of evopsych’s little domain, like anthropology, neurology, sociology and evolutionary biology, all stunningly disprove evopsych’s foundational premises. Anthropology tells us that the traits that evopsychs take as universal and immutable (such as the sexual double standard or kinship as genetic closeness) are actually non-existent in many non-Western societies. Neurology tells us that the brain does not have fixed “circuits,” but is highly plastic. Sociology tells us that social constructionism is the correct view, and that the evopsych assumption that gender, race and class are “natural” is incorrect. Evolutionary biology disproves the evopsychs’ spurious analogies between humans and other (carefully selected) species.
But there is something more here beyond pseudo-science; there is a sort of bravado that evopsychs take when their conclusions are found aberrant (e.g. when they try to justify spousal murder, rape or racism as healthy adaptations). They get in your face and tell you that they’re scientists and have the reputation of science behind them, so if you find them “politically incorrect,”
what are you going to do about it, punk? Provide better evidence? I don’t think so (although it doesn’t seem hard to provide better evidence than no evidence).
[Gender essentialist writers] are fond of presenting themselves as latter-day Galileos, braving the wrath of the political correctness lobby by daring to challenge the feminist orthodoxy that denies that men and women are by nature profoundly different. Simon Baron-Cohen, the author of The Essential Difference, explains in his introduction that he put the book aside for several years because “the topic was just too politically sensitive”. In the chapter on male-female differences in his book about human nature, The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker congratulates himself on having the courage to say what has long been “unsayable in polite company”. Both writers stress that they have no political axe to grind: they are simply following the evidence where it leads, and trying to put scientific facts in place of politically correct dogma.
Evolutionary psychologists argue that, however tough it is to acknowledge the darker side of that nature, someone has to do it, and their job is to shed the cold light of scientific realism on human nature, including its more unsavory bits… The “disturbing side of human mating [jealousy, rape, incest, violence, etc.] must be confronted,” Buss argues, “if its harsh consequences are ever to be ameliorated.”
Susan McKinnon, Neo-Liberal Genetics
Buss views evopsych not only as a “candle in the dark” against the harshness of the unsavory part of human nature, but as the only real possible solution to human woes! Take note of the mental contortion now; the way to end sexism is not to attack the social construction of gender and how it creates a hierarchy which hurts the people who aren’t on top. No, that’s a naive “blank slate” view, because gender is engraved in our brains. Instead, we must naturalize jealousy, rape, spousal murder, male promiscuity and the female virgin/whore paradigm, the double standard, and so on, and doing so will…
Will what? What’s the game plan here? Alcoholics who join AA have to believe they’re powerless and that they can’t be cured, which is self-defeating. Making the silly argument that evopsych is the only solution to the social woes that evopsych itself naturalizes and justifies is equally self-defeating. Having a just-so story on why men kill their wives does not help us stop men from killing their wives. There is absolutely nothing that one can do with this fabricated “information.”
What we can do to help eradicate social woes is to change the social context: mentalities, ideologies, institutions, laws, and yes, armed conflict. Those methods, while still fallible, do occasionally work in bringing about social change. No social change has ever been brought about by evopsych, which only started in the 1970s as a reaction to the sexual revolution and mainly persists as a way for older professors to con their students into fucking them; if evopsych is necessary for social change, then how did all that change before the 1970s happen? As I’ve also pointed out before, the biggest change in the history of human societies, the agricultural revolution, took place after the Pleistocene era: this fact alone is enough to prove the ultimate absurdity of this dogma.
My main point, however, is not that evopsychs are hucksters, but that they are bullies. Every single failure of evopsych is a reason for them to get in people’s faces and gloat that they don’t care about the “politically correct,” only about pure, hallowed science. And their pretensions about being scientists mean they don’t even have to address mainstream criticism, because after all those critics are not scientists and therefore cannot possibly know anything about how to disprove such a scientific field as evopsych.
But most importantly, they bully women, people of color, poor people, and everyone else whose exploitation is “explained” by evopsych as a human adaptation, but this bullying is done under the guide of science and cloaked in scientific lingo.
In this and other ways, it reminds me of Creationism, who are also bullies who use pseudo-science to dazzle and confuse uneducated people. And Creationism supports the ideologies which state that God created men and women to form a gender hierarchy, that God creates the human races to form a race hierarchy, and so on. A pitiless god is replaced by an imbecilic natural process, which is about standard for non-religious whackjobs.
Creationists also use just-so stories. They tell us, for instance, that before the Fall animals were made to chew grass, and that the Fall somehow changed their DNA so they’d develop pointy teeth, digestive systems, and so on. Well isn’t that convenient. God, like imaginary conceptions of the Pleistocene era, is a slot machine of stories that just happen to exactly fit what you believe.
But this is not the only similarity between evopsychs and Creationists. Creationists also accuse their opponents of being afraid of “real science” (which they call “observational science”). Creationists also follow ridiculously invalid fundamental premises. Creationists are also, by and large, right-wing bigots who seek to naturalize their bigotry.
But even if there are many similarities, Creationists are motivated primarily by religious beliefs, and their bigotry is secondary. In this way, Creationists are actually morally superior to evopsychs.
Despite their claims to be on the side of “real science” and of their ability to confront uncomfortable facts, neither of them are really able to confront the truth, and they both confuse bullying for confront. Evopsychs are unable to confront the real science which disproves their cherished beliefs, they are unable to confront that their just-so stories are the products of their imagination, and they are unable to confront the fact that their work is political in nature and, like all other human activities, value-laden.
Like all intellectual bullies, evopsychs have to paint their opponents as disingenuous agents of a conspiracy to suppress the great truths they are “discovering”: Creationists have “scientific materialism” (see the Wedge Document) and evopsychs have the “blank slaters” and “feel-good moralists.” Like all crackpots, they rail against the “orthodoxy” and the “scientific establishment” because science is not on their side.
Over the years, the technological metaphor used to describe the structure of the human mind has been consistently updated, from blank slate to switchboard to general purpose computer, but the central tenet of these Empiricist views has remained the same. Indeed, it has become the reigning orthodoxy in mainstream anthropology, sociology, and most areas of psychology.
Also like many crackpots, they use the “they laughed at Galileo!” argument. Of course they think they’re Galileo fighting the evil establishment (no one to my knowledge has ever claimed to be like the Catholic Church, except I guess the Catholic Church).
In 1632, Galileo’s Dialogue concerning the Two Chief World Systems, Ptolemaic & Copernican was published in Florence. The Dialogue effectively argued that Copernican theory was the factually superior theory of cosmology. Because the major moral/political power of the day, the Catholic Church, had grounded its authority in a Ptolemaic (i.e., Aristotelian) view of the physical world, Galileo’s Dialogue was obviously quite threatening…
Today, apparently, a number of thinkers have, like the Catholic Church, also grounded their moral and political views in certain scientific assumptions about the world. In this case, these are scientific assumptions about human nature (mainly that there isn’t one). Consequently, any body of theory and research which calls these assumptions into question will be seen as quite threatening.
You may notice the heavy projection; they portray their opponents as a sinister cabal threatened by the rise of real science, but this is an accurate description of evopsychs themselves. They accuse their opponents of lacking confront, but evopsychs are unable to confront reality.
Bullies are bullies precisely because they are unable to confront reality or dealing with others; in the case of ideological bullies, they are unable to gain respectability because their ideology is fundamentally irrational, therefore they use non-intellectual arguments (like projection, playing the victim, ad hoc replies, just-so stories, claiming they have the “real truth,” and so on and so forth ad nauseam) and use intimidation in order to appear stronger than they really are. Again the comparison with Creationists comes to mind here.
Just so I’m clear, my point in this entry was not to refute evopsych (I have done a summary of the case against it in a previous entry). I don’t think evopsych is worth refuting because it is not scientific and demonstrates a complete ignorance of actual science. I think evopsych needs to be analyzed at the level of its motivations and techniques, because it is a right-wing movement which leads (whether unconsciously or consciously, but their intent does not concern me at all) to the naturalization of neo-liberalist and traditional Western social constructs, and therefore supports institutional tyrannies, the Patriarchy, racism, capitalism, and so on.