THE EV PSYCH WARS….The Crooked Timberites have a series of posts up about evolutionary psychology (here, here, and here) that are, almost inevitably, critical of the whole idea. As Kieran Healy jokingly notes in the third post, “It seems most of our commenters are more enamored of it than some of our contributors.”
I can guess why: it’s because practitioners in the various fields related to (or opposed to) ev psych have been engaged in a death match for years in which the goal seems to be the utter annihilation of the opposite side. I’ve read enough history of the sociobiology/ev psych movement to understand where this comes from, but surely it’s time to put a stop to it?
It’s pretty obvious by now that human personality and human culture are partly the result of hardwired reactions built into the brain and partly the result of learned reactions to our environment. Both of these things interact with each other in complex ways that are hard to tease apart.
But they both exist, and it’s hardly disputable that the hardwired part resides in the brain and is a product of evolution, just like all the other organs in the human body. E.O. Wilson might be the guy who’s famous for making this case in recent history, but Charles Darwin believed it as well, so it’s hardly a radical new idea.
But the ev psych guys are convinced they’re fighting a pitched battle against social science folks who believe the brain is a blank slate and biology has nothing to do with personality and culture. Likewise, the social science crowd locks onto every silly ev psych speculation that comes down the pike and trains their guns on opponents who supposedly think that culture is meaningless and our genes explain everything.
If these straw men ever existed, I doubt they do anymore. But both sides, while unctuously claiming that of course they themselves take a middle course and believe in both genes and culture, seemingly remain convinced that no one on the other side does. And so the Hatfields and McCoys continue fighting for decades over disagreements that no longer exist and most people can’t even remember.
Which is too bad. The interaction of genes and culture is a genuinely fruitful field of study with genuine consequences. It really does matter how much and what kind of influence genes and culture have on different kinds of behavior. Can’t we all just get along?
(Answer: no, of course not. You see, back on the veldt competition between academic disciplines ? say, the “run and hide” school vs. the “stay and kick butt” school ? was extremely adaptive from an evolutionary point of view. Let me explain…..)