I’m sure there’s all kinds of wonderful things about evolutionary psychology, but at times its adherents sound a lot like glibertarians. I’ve always liked this quip from Noam Chomsky:
You find that people cooperate, you say, ‘Yeah, that contributes to their genes’ perpetuating.’ You find that they fight, you say, ‘Sure, that’s obvious, because it means that their genes perpetuate and not somebody else’s’. In fact, just about anything you find, you can make up some story for it.
This can all dovetail with the kind of brave contrarianism that brings knee-jerk liberals to our knees. Here’s Will Wilkinson on the idea of an evolutionary basis for homophobia:
At his Scientific American blog, evolutionary psychologist Jesse Bering discusses the hypothesis that a negative attitude toward homosexuality is a product of natural selection. The argument that it is, due to Gordon Gallup of SUNY-Albany, is basically that parents who actively discourage or stigmatize homosexuality in their kids will have more grandkids, and so on. “In its simplest form,” Gallup conjectures, “parents who showed a concern for their child’s sexual orientation may have left more descendants than those who were indifferent.”
So, okay. This is a fine hypothesis. Is there any evidence for it? Well, no. There isn’t. This is not to say that Gallup conducted no studies in the attempt to test his hypotheses. He did a bunch of them fifteen or so years ago. Bering lays these out in detail, resurrecting what had been a dormant line of argument in the hope that “it might spark new research.” Noting that Gallup’s “studies are imperfect, ” he goes on to praise Gallup for his courage willingness to do science that is “exceedingly rude—unpalatable, even,” implying, it seems, that there has been little follow-up on this question due to the weak-kneed liberal fear that experimental confirmation would help “antisocial conservatives to promote further intolerance against gays.”
A graduate student summarizes the lack of evidence:
If you’ve noticed that this doesn’t mention evidence of heritability or a fitness benefit to homophobia, that’s not because I left it out—that’s because Gallup’s work contains no data to support either.
What this amounts to is arguing that homophobia is an adaptation favored by natural selection because homophobia is a thing that exists.
I write about this, because, you guessed it, of Bobo. The point of his new fascination with what he calls neuroscience is to show readers that there are hard, scientific truths about the awesomeness of conservative values and that liberals have to accept them, or they’re no better than flat-earthers. His argument will generally be: a) there is a social order, b) since there is a social order, there is a scientific reason for it, and c) if liberals want to change the social order to be more fair, they are going against nature. David Koch’s primal scent is why he is more powerful than you; you mock him at our species’ peril.
Of course there are a few things about our current society for which there is no good scientific reason: unions, public schools, etc.