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Category Archives: science

Ten Politically Incorrect [sic] Truths [sic] about Human Nature [sic]

“Politically incorrect”? Has any other soundbite become quite so tedious as this phrase?

Found this doozy of an article via Klintron’s Technoccult. It well represents the stupid uses to which the air of science is put in the service of ideology. It is not science but a mix of speculation on and interpretation of human and animal behavioral science, biology and cultural trends. I’m not against speculation, but this is being passed off as scientific “truth,” which it ain’t.

Many of the speculations in this article are without clear source.

1. Men like blond bombshells (and women want to look like them)

Evolutionary psychology is emphatically not science. It is a genre of speculation based on a mix of other peoples’ science and observation of cultural trends. EPs, like the sociobiologists before them, are notorious for rationalizing status quo culture as being rooted in biology. They are not researchers but armchair theorists (just like me). Thus when Frank Marlowe contends something, he is not dispelling a “mystery,” just giving his opinion.

Women may have been dying their hair blonde for millennia, but they’ve been dying it other colors for the same period of time.

Full disclosure: I find some young blonde women with small waists and large breasts to be attractive. But “Men also have a universal preference for women with a low waist-to-hip ratio”? [Emphasis mine.] I’ll open this up to the readers: Should I even bother to provide evidence that this isn’t the case?

2. Humans are naturally polygamous

I’m reading Born Cannibal right now. James Miles points out that there’s no known gene for monogamy. Or for polygamy. Or heterosexuality or homosexuality or sexual preference at all.

Sexuality is biologically open-ended. What allowed reproduction to work for millions of years is that creatures–including, historically, humans–have a lot of sex. Taboos are cultural, not biological.

In fact, there are very few if any known “behavior genes.” Most of the discoveries of genetic underpinnings to certain behaviors–gambling, homosexuality, alcoholism, criminality, religiosity–have been announced to much fanfare in the media, which then ignores subsequent contradictory science. In fact a few of these genes–like the so-called “God gene,” which is supposed to predispose people to having religious experiences and therefore believing in (the Christian) god–were announced before any science was done at all.

But back to the article at hand: “Inequality tends to increase as society advances in complexity from hunter-gatherer to advanced agrarian societies. Industrialization tends to decrease the level of inequality.”

Wow. What are they smoking? We are currently living through the largest wealth disparity in the history of mankind. The biggest issue with this is that industrialization does not occur in a vacuum. The biggest disparities happen at the borders of industrial society, precisely where industry takes resources away from nonindustrialized regions and the populations they have traditionally supported. It may be true that there is a relative lack of disparity within industrial civilization compared other types of societies (though I’m not even convinced of that). But this relative lack of disparity within industrialized society is directly dependent on deepening the disparities between industrialized nations and the rest of the world.

3. Most women benefit from polygyny, while most men benefit from monogamy

I can never tell if the largely male population of Evolutionary Psychologists are trying to invent and rationalize some class-based stratification of sexuality because they have a little extra money and need come up with an excuse to get with multiple partners or because they are trying to come up with an excuse for why they can’t get a date at all.

I suspect it’s the latter. So here’s my advice, you armchair theorists of the world. Lighten up with all the “women act this way, men act that way” talk and get out there and talk to people you actually want to have sex with as though they were people and not aggregate collections of statistically observable behaviors interpreted through the lens of your personal bias. It’s not sexy.

BTW, 100 years ago, similar genetic behavior theorists were trying to convince the populace at large that polygamy was a sign of the inferiority of the poor (they’re having all the sex, which we know because they make so many babies) and trying to get them sterilized because of it.

4. Most suicide bombers are Muslim

I’m not sure what this point has to do with “human nature.” Period. Is religious affiliation genetically coded? No.

As to the claim that most suicide bombers are Muslim: Christianity has a long history of martyrdom, but they got most of their dramatic suicides in before the invention of explosives.

“Father of sociology” Emile Durkheim claimed that “altruistic suicide”–suicide for a cause–was observable in a broad array of societies.

5. Having sons reduces the likelihood of divorce

No comment. Don’t care.

6. Beautiful people have more daughters

Ditto. Actually, I slept through the rest of these until…

10. Men sexually harass women because they are not sexist

Look, if ever there was a phrase that was designed to bait the political opposition, it is “political incorrectness.” It serves as a umbrella term meant to signal that the author is setting out to offend people, then act as though he is surprised when people get offended. Then he points the finger at them, saying, “You’re too easily offended.” Some people are too easily offended; that doesn’t make these guys any less asinine. It is always an indication that the author is trying to start some very public drama. Which is probably why the authors saved their best effort for last.

Sexual harassment isn’t sexist: I think what’s going on in this notion is that the authors are simply redefining “sexism” just enough to not include sexual harassment. Likewise, sort of, with the word “discrimination”:

Abuse, intimidation, and degradation are all part of men’s repertoire of tactics employed in competitive situations. In other words, men are not treating women differently from men—the definition of discrimination, under which sexual harassment legally falls—but the opposite: Men harass women precisely because they are not discriminating between men and women.

Your new breed of conservative likes to endlessly play these sorts of bullshit word games to rationalize something or other–usually their snoringly predictable “political incorrectness.”

So let me break it down for them. The legal definition of discrimination doesn’t have any bearing on situations where there is no victim. None. Just because I say hello one person I know doesn’t mean I’m legally obligated to say to everyone that I encounter. If I was a doctor, would I be legally obligated to treat every patient the same way regardless of their symptoms? Under the authors’ redefinition of “discrimination,” if one of these boys-will-be-boys boys had sex with one of their female coworkers, wouldn’t they likewise be legally obligated to have sex with all the rest of their coworkers, male and female alike?* It sounds ridiculous because it’s a distortion not only of discrimination law but of the intent of discrimination law, which is to give people redress when they are being treated in ways that are unwelcome on the one hand and not being recognized for the fruits of their labor on the other.

* Which, come to think of it, in a consenting situation might actually relieve some of the tensions of workplace competition and promote solidarity.** But these guys aren’t talking about consenting situations. They’re trying to come up with a science-y sounding excuse to exceed consent.

** Workers of the world unite!

Nina Planck: Death by Veganism

Crown Shakur died of starvation, he was 6 weeks old and weighed 3.5 pounds. His vegan parents, who fed him mainly soy milk and apple juice, were convicted in Atlanta recently of murder, involuntary manslaughter and cruelty. This particular calamity — at least the third such conviction of vegan parents in four years — may be largely due to ignorance. But it should prompt frank discussion about nutrition. I was once a vegan. But well before I became pregnant, I concluded that a vegan pregnancy was irresponsible. You cannot create and nourish a robust baby merely on foods from plants.

[Article continues at link. As the Vegan Society states: “B12 is the only vitamin that is not recognized as being reliably supplied from a varied whole food, plant-based diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, together with exposure to sun. […] Some vegans to suggest that B12 was an issue requiring no special attention, or even an elaborate hoax. Others have proposed specific foods, including spirulina, nori, tempeh, and barley grass, as suitable non-animal sources of B12. Such claims have not stood the test of time.”]

Science Gets It Wrong

The best thing about science isn’t that it finds the truth. The problem with finding the truth is we can think we’ve found the truth but be wrong and not know it. The best thing about science is that it identifies its own errors and abandons them. As an example of how very wrong science can be, here’s what some trusted voices had to say about humanity’s role in climate change in the recent past…

“Screened [by air pollution] from the sun’s heat, the planet will cool, the water vapor will fall and freeze, and a new Ice Age will be born.” – Newsweek 26 January 1970.

“If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder by the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us in an ice age. […] We have about five more years at the outside to do something.” – Ecologist Kenneth E. F. Watt, Earth Day 19-22 April 1970.

“An increase by only a factor of 4 in the global aerosol background concentration may be sufficient to reduce the surface temperature by as much as 3.5 deg. K. If sustained over a period of several years, such a temperature decrease over the whole globe is believed to be sufficient to trigger an ice age.” – S.I Rasool and S.H. Schneider, Science v173, p138, 9 July 1971.

“The continued rapid cooling of the earth since WWII is in accord with the increase in global air pollution associated with industrialization, mechanization, urbanization and exploding population. – Reid Bryson, Global Ecology; Readings towards a rational strategy for Man, 1971.

“This [cooling] trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century” – Peter Gwynne, Newsweek 1976.

“This cooling has already killed hundreds of thousands of people. If it continues and no strong action is taken, it will cause world famine, world chaos and world war, and this could all come about before the year 2000.” – Lowell Ponte, The Cooling 1976.

The second best thing about science is the freedom that comes from knowing any argument that begins with “you cannot question the fact that… ” is automatically false. In science, you can question anything and everything. You may not get any answer, or the answer you expected, or the answer you preferred, but you can ask any question you care to ask. And that’s you as in you, because everyone is invited to play. Experience and expertise and equipment help but are not required. Science is waiting for you to show us all how wrong it is!

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