Hello everyone. I'm new to the list.
I'm working on an article intended to introduce young
progressive activists to the history of (to varying
degrees) biological determinist ideologies (especially
in the U.S.), including sociobiology, evolutionary
psychology, and racist and sexist science. The SftP
archives have been of great use to me in this task.
I'd now like to ask for some input from list
The history of scientific racism, eugenics, etc. in
the earlier part of the last century has been gone
over in many other places before. I'm more concerned
with such movements from around the 1960s to the
The sociobiology wars, as I've come to understand
them, could, I think, be summarized as lines from a
E. O. Wilson: Because genes make the brain, and the
brain is the mind, then our basic desires, emotions,
etc., and by extension, our society, are shaped by
evolutionary forces. Thus, women are predisposed to
be congnitively and behaviorally different from ne in
a manner different from men; and so feminism is
hopeless. Further, humans may be inherently racist,
aggressive, etc.; and the welfare state may have a
Gould, Lewontin, etc.: Your pronouncements are overly
informed by the dominant ideology. In this way,
they're dangerous in the same way that racist
pseudoscience is dangerous. Further, they'd
scientificially dubious: what about spandrels and
neutral traits? Further, you seem ignorant of
history, ethnography, and archaeology. And besides,
you misunderstand the relationship between genotype
Wilson, Dawkins, Barash, etc.: You're Communists!
It's an oversimplification, of course. But it's much
closer to the truth, I think, than the mythical
history of the wars we usually hear: Wilson declares
the sacred Truth of Objective Science, and lefty
scientists respond with strawman arguments.
The following are some of the arguments I've
encountered against sociobiology. As I'm no
scientist, I'd appreciate it if someone could tell me
if I misunderstand any of them. I'll also raise some
of the objections put forth by sociobiology's
proponents, where applicable (to which I'd appreciate
1. Problems of interpretation and methodology.
Scientific observations, hypotheses, experiments, and
conclusions are frequently products are colored by
personal bias and the dominant ideology. One
objection made to this point is that opponents of
sociobiology also have their (left-wing) biases.
2. Just-so stories. This one's pretty
self-explanatory. Of course, one objection that could
be made is that it's easy to evade by labeling
something just as well backed up as any
paleontological or archeological theory or hypothesis
a just-so story.
3. Spandrels. Some traits are not adaptations, but
byproducts of adaptations -- the human chin, for
example. An organ as complex as the human brain could
have many spandrels, thus allowing for maladaptive
4. Some traits are not adaptations developed to fit
the environment of past foraging societies, but in
fact are leftovers from forms from even longer ago.
5. The inadequacy of kin selection as an explatory
principle (argued by Sahlins).
6. The (at least partial) autonomy of the cultural vis
a vis the biological (also argued by Sahlins).
7. The misunderstanding of the relationship between
genotype and phenotype.
And more recently:
8. Gene shortage. The human genome contains only
about 30,000 genes, far less than the 100,000+ that
was previously predicted. These aren't nearly enough
to account for all the varieties of human behavior.
Paul Ehrlich has been the foremost proponent of this
argument (indeed, I can't find anyone else who makes
it). It's been addressed in Pinker's book and in the
Evolutionary Psychology FAQ. I lack the scientific
knowledge to address the validity of these arguments.
9. Neural plasticity. Again, I don't really know
enough to address this one. I haven't seen this
argument outside of Pinker's book.
Anyone have anything to add?
I'd also like to ask: if the sociobiologists are
wrong, what do you think motivates them to continue
making such grandiose claims about human nature?
Money? Politics? Sincere belief?
Finally, some questions about race. That "race" as it
is traditionally defined is not really a useful
category is, I think, beyond dispute. That said,
there are certainly difference between populations.
But the question arises: if 85 percent of human
variation can be found in any local population, what
about the other 15 percent? Assuming the human genome
contains 30,000 genes, and humans generally are 99.4
percent the same, that leaves around 300 genes that
are found in different proportions in different
populations. It's been said that physical apperance
only accounts for about a dozen genes -- so what about
the other 288? Couldn't they account for cognitive
and/or behavioral differences? (Please note that I
don't actually buy this argument. I'm just looking
for a counter-argument.)
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