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Evolutionary Psychology: The Really Dangerous Idea Is That It's Wrong

Kevin MacDonald

June 21, 2009

Sharon Begley is at it again, flailing away at evolutionary psychology because it doesn't fit well with her feminist, liberal agenda. This is ironic because evolutionary psychology owes its very existence to political correctness.

I remember the excitement when, as a graduate student, E. O. Wilson's Sociobiology came on the scene. People talked about nothing else. Because of my background in philosophy and in leftist politics, I was a skeptical of sociobiology. But I was converted finally by Robert Trivers' evolutionary theory of sex. The basic idea is that reproduction is very costly for women because of the huge amount of time and energy involved in pregnancy, lactation, and child care. On the other hand, the basic act of reproduction for males is quite inexpensive, requiring only a small amount of time and energy. This means that in the same time period that a female could raise one child, a male could sire a huge number of offspring. Males benefit from having multiple mates because that raises the probability of their leaving many offspring, i.e., of having reproductive success.

E. O. Wilson

It follows, theoretically, that a principal male motive for seeking wealth and power is gaining access to multiple sexual partners. And this has indeed been the pattern throughout the world.  From Chinese emperors to African chieftains, males at the top of the social hierarchy were able to mate with many females. Most famously, Sultan Moulay Ismail (the Bloodthirsty) of Morocco sired 888 children with his many wives and concubines. This is an enormously powerful theory, and it continues to be the workhorse in the field of  evolutionary psychology.

Once one starts to see the world as shaped by our evolutionary history, it's impossible to go back. And it was impossible not to notice that sociobiology was being viciously attacked by academics like Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin, both of whom were Harvard professors associated with the far left and both of whom, as I later thought significant, were Jewish.

The Book That Changed It All

The vicious assault on sociobiology by the left was a sight to behold—culminating in a woman pouring a pitcher of ice water over Wilson's head at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

But the left succeeded. Evolutionary psychology became ensconced as the heir of sociobiology. The word 'sociobiology' was virtually expunged from the lexicon, and the most important academic journal in the field changed its name from Ethology and Sociobiology to Evolution and Human Behavior. I heard it on good authority that Wilson described those who carried out this coup as acting like "beaten dogs."

Without the baggage of the term 'sociobiology,' the field was free to reinvent itself.  The trick was to loudly proclaim the idea that evolution did indeed sculpt the mind, but that all humans were alike because we all evolved in the same environment. This takes issues like race differences completely off the table.

And since we were all the same, the only source of differences between humans was that people were exposed to different environmental contexts. Why is one person more aggressive than another? The evolutionary psych answer is that some people are exposed to contexts that bring out aggression, such as poverty and low social status — explanations that fit well with a leftist zeitgeist. The  fact that some people have genes that predispose them to be more aggressive than others was out of bounds.

Evolutionary psychology also posited the "massively modular" mind — the idea that the mind was nothing more than a set of mechanisms each designed to solve a specific problem in our evolutionary past: a mechanism for falling in love, a mechanism for finding someone sexually attractive, one for fearing snakes, etc.

This neatly avoids talking about IQ — the one measure that is most feared by the left. That's because differences in IQ are powerfully associated with success in modern societies, because IQ is strongly genetically influenced,  and, most importantly, because we don't have any environmental interventions capable of getting rid of race differences in IQ in developed societies. IQ doesn't fit well with evolutionary psychology because intelligence was not designed to solve any particular problem from our evolutionary past. Rather, it was designed to integrate information from a wide range of areas and use this information to solve novel problems. Humans can solve a whole lot of problems that were not around in the environments we evolved in. That's why it's important  for success in school — and modern life.

But despite doing its best to stay in the good graces of the  left, evolutionary psych never quite succeeded. For the left, any hint of biological influence must be resisted at all costs. Hence people like Begley.

The real irony is that taking the power of culture seriously is something that is a double-edged sword for the left. The reason is that if culture can control human behavior, then becomes important for biological fitness. And then we must begin ask ourselves how the culture of the left affects the biological fitness of different groups of people — such as White people in America.

For example, in thinking about the history of sociobiology, we would ask questions like the following:

  • How did the Jewish leftist background of Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin figure into their critique of sociobiology? Did they think of themselves as Jews and see their work as advancing the interests of Jews?

  • Was the demise of Darwinism in the social sciences the result of Jewish intellectual activists like Frank Boas who saw themselves as Jews and thought that destroying Darwinism would be good for Jews?

  • How did the triumph of the culture of the left leave Western societies defenseless against massive non-White immigration so that in the long run Whites will suffer an enormous loss of biological fitness?

  • How does leftist control of the media make White people feel guilty for having positive attitudes about their own group and negative attitudes about non-Whites? Do Jews have any particular influence on the media that conflicts with the interests of European-derived people?

  • Is ethnic conflict over the construction of culture between Jews and formerly dominant Anglo-Saxons the key to understanding the decline of Whites in America?

This, of course, is the direction that I have taken, most notably with my book The Culture of Critique, but also more recently with my academic papers on the theory of cultural control at the psychological level and with elaborating my  conflict  theory of culture.

Obviously, it is massively ironic that I am  being hounded as a “racist” by organizations such as the $PLC and the ADL. My background as a cultural leftist led me to interpret human behavior as very much influenced by culture. My early work showed how culture could shape the behavior of men in ways that contradicted the predictions of the evolutionary theory of sex. And if culture can contribute to making men monogamous (or nearly so), it can also cement humans together into cohesive groups. A group evolutionary strategy,  such as Judaism in historical societies, is only possible because people can monitor other group members and punish those who violate group norms (such as marrying outside the group) — and that's culture, not biology. A viable group strategy requires a belief system in which the aims and practices of the group are rationalized — Judaism as the Chosen People, the Light Unto the Nations, etc.

That's fairly innocuous and unlikely to get people riled up. But the more I read about Judaism, the more I realized the Jewish role in developing cultural movements that have been so influential in controlling human behavior in recent times and for the decline of Whites throughout the Western world: ideology and culture as ethnic competition. And that is a very dangerous idea indeed.

Kevin MacDonald is a professor of psychology at California State University–Long Beach.  Email him.

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