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08/23/2004 Archived Entry: "American Spectator critique"

It is almost cool to be personally attacked by the American Spectator, not only because it raises the profile of the FOX News column but also because I am generally criticized for being a "conservative." I guess some conservatives want to weed out the libertarian element. The attack is a bit strange in that it seems to springboard off a rather mild column as a pretext for a lot of personal comments. Fine with me but I wonder 'why?' and I always prefer to deal with the ideas.

The most interesting point raised in the Spectator piece was the one about evolutionary psychology: that is, the idea that women have evolved to "marry up" -- marrying up being the subject of the column under examination. I think EP is more misused than correctly applied these days, with this application being one example. I say this for several reasons. For one thing, general comments about evolution indicate little about the prudence or incidence of specific behaviors today. Human beings have evolved to eat as much calorie-rich fatty food as possible to store as energy. That doesn't mean it is a recommended or even a much pursued behavior in our culture. Indeed, much of our culture is organized around eschewing that evolutionary tendency. Even significant genetic tendencies are just *that* -- tendencies or dispositions, such as a disposition to war and violence. As significant a facotr as this is in human affrairs, it is not a blueprint for recommended behavior.

I am also very skeptical of taking general evolutionary indications and translating ghem into a statement such as "a woman in NYC today will be genetically driven to marry a lawyer rather than a carpenter." Even if there is an evolutionary force urging e.g. aspiring or current mothers to seek safe circumstances for children, this does not translate into "marrying up", especially for the women referenced in my column who are already in safe circumstances economically. It could as plausibly translate into marrying a real "he-man" type who can protect her, or a nurturing father, or a man for whom society has regard, or ??? In each case, the choice is influenced as much, or more by societal attitudes than by evolution. For example, if carpenters were esteemed by society more than lawyers, then more women would probably marry them despite their lower incomes, etc.

The culture and circumstances of life have simply changed too much for us to directly apply a model that comes from the "hunter/gatherer" times. I do not dispute that we have tendencies -- and very strong ones such as the fight-flight impulse -- that come from these primitive times. But culture also is a strong and sometimes defining factor in our behavior. And the culture is no longer hunter/gatherer. Those who apply evolution psychology to modern man living in a skyscraper and working at a computer lead us wrong as often as they provide insight.

Best to all,

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