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08/24/2004 Archived Entry: "Gordon on evolutionary psychology"

Cartoons! Tom Tomorrow's "Out of touch"; Mark Fiore's "Live and let leak"; and, Molly Ivins' column "Tough sledding" humorously captures the Canadian attitude toward the upcoming Presidential election;

Gordon P. responds to the American Spectator's critique of my FOX News column on "marrying up"...specifically on the application of evolutionary psychology. (See yesterday's blog for links to the AS attack and the original FOX News column.)

He writes, Just read your latest blog. It doesn't surprise me that "conservatives" would _selectively_ embrace "Evolutionary Psychology" --- but only when it provides them with a "Just So Tale" having a "Moral" that supports one of their basic theses.

The essence of "conservatism" is "Tradition is a better guide than Reason as to how things _ought_ to be," [e.g., Hayek, "Why I am not a conservative" Pournelle, "All ends of the spectrum"]. Conservatives try to indefinitely preserve the "Status Quo," and whenever possible to "Turn Back The Clock" to the "Status Quo Ante," on the theory that "What Worked In The Past" is "The Norm," i.e., "The Way Things OUGHT To Be." (Indeed, the title of "El Rushbo's" first book was "The Way Things Ought To Be"!)

Now, evolution is a fundamentally _conservative_ process, rather than an innovative one, because mutations are fairly rare, and most of them die out. The result of an evolutionary process is basically the cummulative legacy of the various things that at least _sort_ of worked in a given species' past (albeit often in at best rather half-assed fashion at the time (e.g., the bass-ackwards design of the mammalian retina makes it prone to detachment), and often held onto long after they have become irrelevant (e.g., the appendix, wisdom teeth). The "gene pool" is mostly composed of mere _survivors_, rather than "innovators."

Despite how much "religious" conservatives decry Darwinian Evolution as an "athiest's religion," I suspect that the rank-and-file conservatives have somehow grokked the fact that at its heart, Evolution is "conservative," in the sense that by its nature, evolutionarily stable strategies tend to preserve the "Status Quo." The conservative's mistake, as you point out, is in attaching a "normative value" to the "Status Quo," and falsely
concluding that "The Way Things Were" is "The Way Things _OUGHT_ To Be" --- even long after "The Way Things Were" have become totally irrelevant to the way we live now.

In this respect, quite ironically "Conservatives" and "Greens" have at least _one_ thing in common, despite disagreeing on nearly every other issue: Both ideologies blindly worship "Nature" and "The Past" as an Infallible Guide to "The Way Things OUGHT To Be." Thus, to the "conservative" way of thinking, of the various personal attacks against you in the _American Spectator_ article, I expect the one its author felt was most damning was his accusation that you were a "progressive" (oh, the horror! The horror! :-T)

(Now, what might be quite interesting might be to see how "conservatives" might respond to some "prediction" of "Evolutionary Psychology" that would go _against_ their "traditional" conservative values, e.g., a proposed "evolutionary basis" for the hypothetical "Gay Gene," or the recent claims that evolution has predisposed humans to "dualism," or to attributing "supernatural" and "magical" properties to inanimate objects and to "nature;" I expect they would once again begin loudly decrying EP as "Secular Humanism," "Godless Atheism," "A Threat To An Organized, Decent, Moral, and God-Fearing Society," etc...)

P.S. --- Haven't read either of them, but two "EP" books that, from the reviews I've read, I expect conservatives might find rather appalling are: "Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People" by Joan Roughgarden; and, "Descartes' Baby: How the Science of Child Development Explains What Makes Us Human," by Paul Bloom.

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