John Tooby on Coalitional Politics in Science

John Tooby (1952–2023) died on November 10. Hearing about this brought back a whole lot of memories, many none too pleasant. As will be obvious, we disagreed about pretty much everything. But I have to say that in my experience he was an affable enough guy even after he attacked me publicly, and even after I was being shunned by the good people at the Human Behavior and Evolution Society. I wrote this originally in 2017.

John Tooby was a professor of anthropology at UC-Santa Barbara and, along with his wife Leda Cosmides, prominent in the field of evolutionary psychology. For a whole lot of reasons, we do not see eye-to-eye on pretty much anything related to evolutionary psychology, but Tooby has also criticized me for my work on Judaism and for around ten years they had a note on their website that they were going to refute me—since removed. But I am happy to say that I finally agree with him about something. But first a little background.

Our differences long predate my study of Judaism and go to the heart of how to conceptualize evolutionary psychology. At a time when E. O. Wilson’s sociobiology was still under fire from the left, Tooby and Cosmides designed an evolutionary psychology that would fly under the radar of political correctness. 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 essentially alike because we all evolved in the same Pleistocene environment. This takes issues like race differences completely off the table, and individual differences, as in personality and intelligence, become mere “noise.”

And since we were all the same, the only interesting source of differences between humans was that people were exposed to different environmental contexts in their lifetime. 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, or their muscular build makes aggression have greater payoffs — 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, along with the entire field of behavior genetics.

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, as discussed in my 2013 paper (my last statement on the topic), it was designed to integrate information from a wide range of areas and use this information to solve novel problems and create imaginary worlds. 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.

There are other differences as well, on the theory of learning (here, p. 29ff), as well as prefrontal control of evolved modules sensitive to cultural input, and the theory of culture generally. My theory of culture emphasizes that intellectual endeavor and quite a bit of what passes as science is actually the result of coalition of interest. My book, The Culture of Critique, essentially argues that strongly identified Jews formed the backbone of intellectual coalitions that were intended to advance Jewish ethnic interests. Seems like a natural thing for an evolutionist to think about. So I was pleased to read the following from Tooby’s Edge article on “coalitional instincts.

Coalition-mindedness makes everyone, including scientists, far stupider in coalitional collectivities than as individuals. Paradoxically, a political party united by supernatural beliefs can revise its beliefs about economics or climate without revisers being bad coalition members. But people whose coalitional membership is constituted by their shared adherence to “rational,” scientific propositions have a problem when—as is generally the case—new information arises which requires belief revision. To question or disagree with coalitional precepts, even for rational reasons, makes one a bad and immoral coalition member—at risk of losing job offers, her friends, and her cherished group identity. This freezes belief revision.

Forming coalitions around scientific or factual questions is disastrous, because it pits our urge for scientific truth-seeking against the nearly insuperable human appetite to be a good coalition member. Once scientific propositions are moralized, the scientific process is wounded, often fatally.  No one is behaving either ethically or scientifically who does not make the best-case possible for rival theories with which one disagrees.

All of the intellectual movements reviewed in The Culture of Critique involved shared adherence to doctrines that had a flimsy grounding (if any) in scientific research, and questioning the doctrines brought shame and ostracism. The fact that a century passed without any evidence for the Oedipal Complex had no effect on Freud’s followers, any more than research on ethnocentrism or race differences would influence the Frankfurt School or the Boasians.

In the intellectual world, group cohesiveness has facilitated the advocacy of particular viewpoints within academic professional associations (e.g., the Boasian program within the American Anthropological Association; psychoanalysis within the American Psychiatric Association). Rothman and Lichter (1982, 104–105) note that Jews formed and dominated cohesive subgroups with a radical political agenda in several academic societies in the 1960s, including professional associations in economics, political science, sociology, history, and the Modern Language Association. They also suggest a broad political agenda of Jewish social scientists during this period: “We have already pointed out the weaknesses of some of these studies [on Jewish involvement in radical political movements]. We suspect that many of the ‘truths’ established in other areas of the social sciences during this period suffer from similar weaknesses. Their widespread acceptance . . . may have had as much to do with the changing ethnic and ideological characteristics of those who dominated the social science community as they did with any real advance in knowledge” (Rothman & Lichter 1982, 104). Sachar (1992, 804) notes that the Caucus for a New Politics of the American Political Science Association was “overwhelmingly Jewish” and that the Union of Radical Political Economists was initially disproportionately Jewish. Moreover, as Higham (1984, 154) notes, the incredible success of the Authoritarian Personality studies was facilitated by the “extraordinary ascent” of Jews concerned with anti-Semitism in academic social science departments in the post– World War II era.

Once an organization becomes dominated by a particular intellectual perspective, there is enormous intellectual inertia created by the fact that the informal networks dominating elite universities serve as gatekeepers for the next generation of scholars. Aspiring intellectuals, whether Jewish or gentile, are subjected to a high level of indoctrination at the undergraduate and graduate levels; there is tremendous psychological pressure to adopt the fundamental intellectual assumptions that lie at the center of the power hierarchy of the discipline. As discussed in Chapter 1, once a Jewish-dominated intellectual movement attains intellectual predominance, it is not surprising that gentiles would be attracted to Jewish intellectuals as members of a socially dominant and prestigious group and as dispensers of valued resources. Group cohesiveness can also be seen in the development of worshipful cults that have lionized the achievements of group leaders (Boasian anthropology and psychoanalysis) (Chapter 6, 224-225)

Real science is individualist, not a product of coalitions:

I propose that a minimal requirement of a scientific social system is that science not be conducted from an ingroup-outgroup perspective. Scientific progress (Campbell’s “competence-of reference”) depends on an individualistic, atomistic universe of discourse in which each individual sees himself or herself not as a member of a wider political or cultural entity advancing a particular point of view but as an independent agent endeavoring to evaluate evidence and discover the structure of reality. As Campbell (1986, 121–122) notes, a critical feature of science as it evolved in the seventeenth century was that individuals were independent agents who could each replicate scientific findings for themselves.  Scientific opinion certainly coalesces around certain propositions in real science (e.g., the structure of DNA, the mechanisms of reinforcement), but this scientific consensus is highly prone to defection in the event that new data cast doubt on presently held theories. (Chapter 6, p. 235)

And as Tooby notes as a general rule, there were indeed strong moral overtones to being a coalition member in the movements reviewed in CofC. As I noted in Chapter 6 (p. 213)

Collectively, these movements have called into question the fundamental moral, political, and economic foundations of Western society. A critical feature of these movements is that they have been, at least in the United States, top-down movements in the sense that they were originated and dominated by members of a highly intelligent and highly educated group. These movements have been advocated with great intellectual passion and moral fervor and with a very high level of theoretical sophistication.

Dissenters were expelled and vilified as moral cretins (and intellectual morons). To dissent was to place oneself outside of polite society. These coalitions had access to the moral and intellectual high ground of the society — prestigious university presses, academic departments able to turn out compliant graduate students, and the elite media. Under these conditions, the coalitions become immune to criticism.

Finally, Tooby might want to think about the extent to which evolutionary psychology itself became a coalition of like-minded people able to marginalize dissenters and ignore unpleasant findings — findings that conflict with the leftist zeitgeist that dominates universities today. Coalitions are indeed the death of science, and prima facie,  designing an evolutionary science able to fly under the radar of political correctness is not a great strategy for discovering scientific truth.

10 replies
  1. Tim Folke
    Tim Folke says:

    It is always a bit frustrating when one tries to have an intelligent conversation with the ‘Nurture trumps Nature’ people.

    Oddly enough, the Nurture trumps Nature people apply their conviction strictly to humans. When it comes to animals, they sing a different tune.

    With guardian dogs, they’ll always pick a German Shepherd over a Chihuahua, and when it comes to horse races they will always opt for the Thoroughbred over the Clydesdale.

  2. Pierre de Craon
    Pierre de Craon says:

    Thank you for this critical outline of John Tooby’s thinking, Kevin. Although my knowledge of his work was nil prior to his death, I took it for granted from the expressions of formalized regret that turned up everywhere that his brand of evolutionary psychology could not possibly have been, so to speak, tainted by association with yours. Evidently he was forgiven for the minor fall from grace exhibited in the passages quoted from the 2017 “Edge” article.

    (Anent that journal, the hipness of the overarching titles of the annual “Edge” collections inspire in me neither confidence in the editors’ and contributors’ scientific and general intellectual gravity nor any especial desire to explore their output further.)

    To the extent that, aside from this website, there is anything left in today’s United States for which it might be appropriate to thank God, I sincerely wish you a Happy Thanksgiving, Kevin.

  3. Mark Engholm
    Mark Engholm says:

    Ernst Niekisch’s self-description could also apply
    to Kevin MacDonald: “I am always so far ahead
    of my time that I can never take my place in it.”

  4. Mark Engholm
    Mark Engholm says:

    The exclusionary mechachisms of these institutions infiltrated by Jewish collective norms are comparable to what “radical individualist” Sprenger describes as self-damaging factors that inhibit creativity in (not only) companies. There, systemic subordination, conflict aversion and “supervised thinking” are the order of the day, even if the organism as a whole perishes. This is what Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann defined as the “spiral of silence”.

    Activate (the sadly only very pooly translated) auto-
    subs, here about his book “The Magic of Conflict”

    • Mark Engholm
      Mark Engholm says:

      Sprenger about Trump:

      In Europe in particular, there is a great lack of understanding as to why Donald Trump is still his party’s most important candidate. People overlook the strong emotional connection between Trump and his voters – it is not about It is not about Trump the person, but about values and traditions.

      Donald Trump is ahead in the race for the Republican presidential candidacy. Far ahead. In this country, people are rubbing their eyes. How is this possible – given everything he has been accused of and is still facing? Why does his popularity ratings rise with every new accusation – when you would expect the Grand Old Party (GOP) to finally drop him?

      New Mexico has always voted blue, Democratic. Today, this state is not yet red, i.e. Republican, but it is “robin country” – the little bird’s throat is rather orange: more and more voters are switching to the Republicans. The change in West Virginia is even more impressive. The population is 93 percent white, massively ageing, with many war veterans and churchgoers among them and few academics. In the 1990s, West Virginia was won twice by Bill Clinton with a light hand. Today it is deep red.

      Such a turnaround within a generation can only be explained by powerful movements in the deep currents of society. The mistake made by many observers during Trump’s election in 2016 is illustrative of this. They were blinded by the person of Donald Trump. They primarily discussed his business interests and were outraged by his inadmissibility in terms of civilization.

      From today’s perspective, this was naive. The strong emotional connection between Trump and his voters was completely overlooked. When I talk to self-confessed Republicans in private, Trump symbolizes honesty and authenticity. He is the only one who is trusted to clean up the political system, which is perceived as arrogant and corrupt, and to defend God, the flag and the nation.

      And the more Trump is accused, the more the corruptness of the ruling elites becomes apparent to them. A few more indictments and Trump will no longer have to fear an opposing candidate.

      These voters are by no means overlooking Trump’s individual idiosyncrasies. For them, he is not a “cult”, as is often commented on in the USA. And they are certainly not anti-democrats. But they feel alienated from the present. For them, the social consensus of normality is eroding in a way that is no longer comprehensible. To put it simply, everything is happening too fast for them, it is too fragmented and therefore difficult to cope with.

      This exhausts their ability to cope. As a result, they develop an immense longing for the end of ambiguity. It is precisely this feeling that Trump is cultivating. And if his personal deficits did not stand in the way of this, he would also be electable for far larger circles. This is because the fear of the disappearance of normality extends far into the Democratic camp.

      It is doubtful that it is sufficiently understood how fundamental and widespread this fear is among the population. When Trump said in Iowa in January 2016: “I could shoot somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue and I wouldn’t lose a vote”, it was not a monstrosity that could be brushed aside with reference to Trump’s erratic psychodynamics. It hit the nail on the head.

      Trump energizes an America whose values and traditions are devalued by blue and rainbow opinion leaders as backwoods, reactionary and overly religious. This is why people like to say that the left makes the right strong. This may be true, but it remains electioneering ranting.

      If, on the other hand, we look at the people who voted for Trump and will probably vote for him again, then we should take their feelings seriously. “In politics, emotions are facts”, the former CDU politician Heiner Geissler could be quoted as saying. And all intellectual cleverness, whose incarnation is still the fine-talking Barack Obama, bounces off this.

      In this respect, Trump stands for the reintroduction of romanticism into politics. You can despise that. But elections are not a test of intelligence. Not even in Switzerland. But here we don’t have a candidate who has to constantly deny that he can’t deliver what his voters expect of him.

      • Adam Gryph
        Adam Gryph says:

        Sadly Trump is the main agent of an even deeper entrenchment of Zionist fascism and the destruction of America and its Christian and European backbone. So begins a very dark age is Zionists take over, war, oppression and privation for all except Jews.

  5. Some Viewer
    Some Viewer says:

    A book about the Nazi era, “translated” by
    a Jew, this promises fundamental enlight-
    enment about the facts of world history!

    “Nazi quotes slip into school settings”!
    An extremely frightening development
    that can only be counteracted by fun-
    damental Jew-centered enlightenment
    about the only real and correct truth!

  6. Some Viewer
    Some Viewer says:

    “In May 2019, a Green Bay Area Public Schools high school
    senior in Green Bay, Wisconsin, used” ‘If you tell a big enough
    lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.’ – Adolf
    Hitler” as his yearbook quote. The quote is a paraphrase of
    a statement by Hitler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels.”

    As far as I know Goebbels in truth just quoted Jew Bernays.'s_description

    “The Jews and their Lies” (Martin Luther). Pro-
    bably the Jewish lie about Goebbels’ “Big Lie”
    is (next to Holo hoax) one of their bigges lies.

  7. A Visitor
    A Visitor says:

    The Jews sought refuge mainly in Christian societies and expanded their position of power precisely there. The more I think about it, the clearer it becomes to me that those infected by Abrahamic superstition are deformed individuals and societies.

    This is most obvious in Islam. The white man was able to defend himself against this and usher in something like an age of enlightenment, to which we ultimately owe all the scientific, technological and civilizational achievements of the modern world.

  8. Alan
    Alan says:

    Kevin is a verified objective realist,a pioneer of stringent clarity.Whether overly humble and perhaps too self effacing ,his researched substantive commentary is ,in actual fact, a lightning bolt of truth in this current, perilous stalinistic jewish academic era of technocracy..Jewish censorship,Jewish obstructionism,.We said elsewhere previously… alienated solipsistic Jews seek theosophistic
    and theofacistic pretexts to disembowel and paralize intelligent speech..Sociologists of the future,if any will will exist ,should look back and denounce the repression Prof.Kevin endured,..hopefully the future will elevate not denigrate his great body of works .Great article Kevin.

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