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Sunday, February 16, 2020

How science is slowly demolishing the myths of woke ideology

Evolutionary psychology is identifying popular falsehoods using empirical science

F alse beliefs not only lead to bad policy; they put ideologies that embrace them on a course of self-destruction: a belief system based on a falsehood is guaranteed to crumble the minute it comes close to achieving its goal.

Male deer rutting behavior
These males are engaging in a highly aggressive form of intrasexual competition known as head-butting. These are often battles to the death; the victor gains increased access to females, but risks breaking an antler. From Evolutionary Psychology, 6th ed. by David M. Buss. Note: not 100% sure this is the correct picture

Science has little to say about ideology. Science and ideology are diametric opposites and have no points of intersection. But ideologies depend on half-truths and falsehoods to survive, and increasingly science has quite a lot to say about those.

Now, it may be unfair to criticize feminism now that many of its greatest achievements, notably its fight to legitimize women's sports, are crumbling under their feet. Feminism has had some positive accomplishments. But like other ideologies, many of its ideas were based on popular myths—in this case, about how men and women behave. Anthropologists studying sexual selection have found that many of those myths are false.

Over the past twenty years, anthropology has joined forces with social psychology and mathematical genetics to create the new field of evolutionary psychology. Researchers have quietly been collecting empirical data to help understand why men and women behave as they do. They've discovered that many widely held beliefs are factually incorrect.

Evolutionary psychology is still in its infancy. It is still not known, for the most part, how these pre-programmed behavioral traits are encoded in our DNA, but what is clear is that they are not cultural in origin. So far, the field has relied on empirical measurements and psychological testing. Despite the limitations of these techniques, it is clear that many common myths aren't holding up.

This doesn't even touch the statistical errors and half-truths—things that are true for both men and women, but described as if only women suffer from them—found in some feminist writing. Phyllis Chesler's interesting 2018 book A Politically Incorrect Feminist (reviewed here) contains many examples of these.

Hopefully it's not necessary to reiterate that culture plays a role as well. There is nothing in evolutionary psychology that implies genetic determinism. But by basing its conclusions on empirical research instead of ideology, it undermines the old idea that all behavior is culturally constructed.

Of course, there will be some who refuse to accept that genes influence behavior. Even now they are trying to smear evolutionary psychology as “dangerous,” claiming it promotes a fatalistic view that “calls into question free will itself.” This is an unscientific viewpoint. If it is true that aspects of our behavior are influenced by our genes, we need to know about it, not deny it out of fear.

As the saying goes, the truth will set you free. It follows that believing a falsehood will do little to release you from your chains. It doesn't matter whether you're left or right, if you want to convince people, your ideology needs to be based on empirically verifiable facts.

The puzzle of homosexuality

Some evolutionary psychologists profess bafflement over the existence of homosexuality, which should be strongly selected against by evolution. Several theories have been proposed, but none is fully accepted. Popular explanations like hormone deficiencies in utero are unsatisfactory.

But if the evolutionary psychologists are right, the existence of homosexuality is easy to explain in terms of the decreasing availability of higher-status mates due to the increasing wealth of women. Unfortunately, in today's repressive environment, it is not safe to discuss such topics. Research into this phenomenon, in the event that anyone was interested in it, will have to wait until science regains its academic freedom.

Many of these examples have been drawn from the 6th edition of Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind by David M Buss, which contains citations to peer-reviewed studies whose results are mentioned above. The literature is extensive, and far too vast to put into a blog post. Buss's book is a highly readable textbook. It's totally apolitical, fact-based, and highly recommended. If this book had been available earlier, we could have been spared a half century of chaos produced by misinformation about sex.

feb 16 2020, 8:31 am. last edited feb 20 2020 5:24 pm

Thumbnail on index page adapted from photograph by Brian Stansberry; cropped, resized, and colors altered. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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See Also

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Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class by Charles Murray

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