I posted a few things a while back analogizing the biology of human behavior
to the biology of animal domestication. In domestication certain features
that breed true and appear to be "genetic" (e.g., differing from nondomestic
forms, or between distinct domestic varieties, because of mutations) are
actually based on paramutations and are reversed when the animal becomes
feral. After reading all of Pinker's arguments for why language must be
genetic because it has been subject to selection, is based on biological
capacities, etc., I still haven't seen anything that indicates that it is
based on genetic change. If behaviors with a biological basis are subject
to remolding by conditions of nurture, not one implication of Evolutionary
Psychology (as opposed to the evolution of psychology during human history,
which is undeniable) would hold up. So, my response to Josť is: let's learn
more about the biology of domestication.
From: "Josť F. Morales" [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Tuesday, November 12, 2002 11:54 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: social analysis of evolutionary psych
OK, so I got a question. Lets assume that the various forms of
reductionism, biological determinism with their attendant political
economic underpinnings of evolutionary psychology are in play. Lets
assume its part of the continuum from sociobiology etc. Lets assume
all that's true.
Lets also assume that human beings are biological entities. As such
they possess a multi-leveled biological structure, one of the layers
of which are cells which contain a genome.
My question is ...What is the role of biology in human behavior from
a progressive perspective?
Presumably, there is one. I would hope that we can do better than
just saying its complex and we can't say much about it now. I would
like to believe that progressives can do more than just complain
about other peoples activities. What is our, presumably, "better"
perspective? Can we do this?
If not, it seems to me that we are relegated to reacting to the
rights initiative. In the greater struggle for liberation,
especially on the theoretical-ideological -level, ONLY responding to
the rights initiatives seems to me to be a losing strategy.
How 'bout it?
>> 1. The sociology and economics of evolutionary psychology: why is it
>> popular now?
>This question seems to me to break down into two parts. (a) Why is
>one more version of biologism popular now? (By "biologism" I mean any
>attempt to defend the status quo or reject the possibility of radical
>social change on the basis of biology. Biological determinism is one
>version of biologism, but one doesn't have to be a determinist to
>argue that a more egalitarian society is impossible. Biologism is to
>biology as scientism is to science.) (b) Why has contemporary
>biologism taken the form of evolutionary psychology?
>I think the answer to the first question is that biologism is nearly
>always popular-it's been a staple of bourgeois ideology since at
>least the first half of the C19th. The one time that biologism went
>out of favor was in the 25 years or so following WW2, when the
>excesses of Nazism for a time discredited all versions of biologism.
>But it came roaring back in the late 1960s as a response to the
>various social movements. The fine work done by Science for the
>People and other radical scientists in the 1970s and early 1980s
>helped expose the scientific bankruptcy of the claims of Jensen,
>Herrnstein, Wilson and others, and for a time in the early to
>mid-1980s it seemed that biologism was a spent force. I remember
>thinking when Philip Kitcher's demolition of sociobiology, Vaulting
>Ambition, was published in 1985, that there was only mopping up work
>left to be done. In retrospect that was rather naive. Biologism never
>disappeared in the 1980s, but it was forced to retreat in the face of
>numerous powerful criticisms. Then it reemerged in a new form in the
>That takes us to the second question-why has the main strand of
>contemporary biologism taken the form of evolutionary psychology? The
>quick answer to that is that cruder versions of biologism have been
>exposed and that evolutionary psychology is, in Val Dusek's words,
>"sociobiology sanitized". There may not be a more satisfactory answer
>than that. Reductionism is another staple of bourgeois ideology-we
>can expect new reductionist theories to find favor as long as the
>bourgeoisie remains around. But why a particular reductionist theory
>finds favor at a particular time generally depends on a host of
>specific details (including quirks of psychology and accidents of
>circumstance) which may in the end not be very illuminating. In other
>words if the question is why biologism rather than non-biologism,
>there may be an interesting answer, but if the question is why this
>version of biologism rather than some other version, there may not be
>much of interest to say.
Jose Morales Ph.D.