Apart from the general yuckiness
of Kass's aspartame-tainted nostalgia, I wouldn't
mind terribly if such self-styled neo-Darwinists restricted
their pontificating to insisting that men are, on
average, more sexually rapacious and prone to philandering
than women. I don't believe that claim, and in fact
some evidence indicates otherwise: while performing
routine prenatal screening tests for the presence
of disease genes, genetic counselors have found incidentally
that anywhere from 5 to 15 percent of babies are fathered
by somebody other than the mother's husband -- and
surely not all these women were forced against their
"inborn nature" into adulterous copulations.
Nevertheless, I can keep my erotic
longings to myself, and if it makes a fellow feel
better to insist that his are bigger and more unruly
than mine, he can insist away. What is far more disturbing,
and what I cannot accept without mounting my soapbox
for a lusty rant, is the tendency of the evo-psycho
crowd to attribute to men not only greater sexual
ardor, but greater ardor for life. Kass writes that
men are not only innate sexual "predators,"
but are also "naturally more restless and ambitious
than women; lacking women's powerful and immediate
link to life's generative answer to mortality, men
flee from the fear of death into heroic deed, great
quests, or sheer distraction after distraction."
Others are even more presumptuous.
On a computer list populated by academic sex researchers,
one member recently asked for commentary about the
following quote from an unnamed source:
As a consequence of differential
evolutionary histories, human genetic males, on average,
differ from genetic females in fundamental behavioral
ways. Males are more competitive, aggressive, creative,
and inquisitive than females. These behavioral characteristics
are evident throughout human societies to one degree
or the other, and in aggregate are irrefutable. These
average differences are clearly reflected in the dominance
and achievements of males over the course of human
history in politics, architecture, science, technology,
philosophy, and literature, among other areas of human
activity and intellectual concentration. It is reasonable
to posit that these average differences between human
males and females are functions of the differential
environmental demands human males encountered over
tens of thousands of years in human evolution. Today
these differences are founded in the genetic and hormonal
constitution of the human male.
My reaction on reading this was,
Huh? Are you joking? Men by their "genetic and
hormonal constitution," are more "creative"
and "inquisitive" than women? Sez who? Sez
what data? To my dismay, other members of the list
were unperturbed. "It is pretty standard evolutionary
psychology of sex differences," shrugged one
professor, referring to various popular books about
evolutionary psychology, including the bluntly titled,
Why Men Rule: A Theory of Male Dominance. Woe to this
professor's female students if he conveys to them
his settled opinion that males have a hardwired advantage
in exactly those traits necessary to excel in his
class. Well, every trait except cleavage.
I don't mean to be flip and sarcastic.
OK, I do. But I also want to express my frustration
at how readily and arrogantly so much evolutionary
blather can be bandied about, with hardly a whimper
of complaint or an attempt at alternative interpretation.
Remember, I'm a big fan of Darwinism, convinced that
by considering the deep roots of our past we can enrich
our lives now, if only because understanding always
trumps ignorance and denial. I also believe that evolutionary
biology is a growth industry, and that we will be
seeing ever more effort, inside and outside of academia,
to examine contemporary human behavior from a Darwinian
perspective. Fine. But maybe we shouldn't leave the
analysis to a small, self-referential cabal of evolutionary
psychologists, who attempt to reify the status quo
with a few sweeping, simplistic, binary formulations.
Maybe we should seek to use Darwinian
principles to our own nefarious ends -- beginning
with a fresh understanding of feminist impulses. Many
mainstream neo-Darwinists try to dismiss feminism:
"We're scientists! We seek the truth about human
nature, however unpleasant," they self-righteously
maintain. "We must resist the forces of 'political
correctness' and get at the truth."
But what this smug dismissal fails
to address is the fact that feminism and its attendant
egalitarian impulses are very much part of human nature.
Hence, any system that purports to explain the primal
origins of our desires must also explain why any of
us want to be feminists in the first place. I would
argue that feminism is an evolved trait -- part of
the puzzle to be solved, not a distraction from it.
If it takes evolutionary biologists who double as
feminists to tackle this particular puzzle piece,
they can fairly be said to be at their most "scientific"
just when evo-psycho critics are pooh-poohing them
for being driven by "political" motives.