LIBERALS AND SOCIOBIOLOGY….In an effort to further annoy Atrios on the subject of nature vs. nurture, here’s an article by Melvin Konner that appeared in The American Prospect a few years ago on the subject of liberals and sociobiology. It does a very good job of summarizing the 25-year debate on the subject and, I think, hits just the right tone in explaining both the strengths and weaknesses of biological and evolutionary explanations for human behavior.
As an added bonus, he even works in references to Thomas Hobbes and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom have influenced my thinking on the subject of human nature and the purpose of government. (Someday I’ll tell you my Jefferson story, but not today….) And he explains why, far from rejecting sociobiology on ideological grounds, liberals might very well embrace it:
Personally, I favor political economies like those of northern Europe over the one we have now in the United States, and I have voted that preference to whatever extent possible for more than three decades. Around halfway through that period, I concluded that the neo-Darwinians had a very useful way of looking at evolution, and I accepted it. Why didn’t it change my vote?
First of all, because my political views are based as much on “ought” as on “is.” I support liberal economic programs because I want to live in a decent community. My definition of “decent” doesn’t depend on one or another theory of evolution. But in addition, because I do see human nature as an obstacle to decency, I support programs that buffer us against the loss of it. Newt Gingrich and Milton Friedman must have a far more sanguine view of human nature than I do, or they would surely not be heartless enough to want to give it the free rein of an unalloyed market economy.
Atrios is quite right that sociobiology should not be used as an excuse to justify pseudo-scientific racist theories, but it can provide insights into why we do the things we do. The whole article is well worth your time.