A Gathering of Straw People

There are a couple of discussions of Evolutionary Psychology at Twisty Sticks: one here and the other here. They’re interesting because of what appears to be a fairly unshakable assumption that all evolutionary psychologists have a right-wing agenda and that the agenda determines their conclusions. That’s probably true of some evolutionary psychologists – I think I’ve read one or two of those – but it’s not true of all of them. It’s a bit puzzling. It’s not easy to figure out why people are convinced that thinking natural selection might have played a part in making human nature what it is requires being a free marketeer. I’m not a free marketeer, and I think natural selection played a part in making human nature what it is. I don’t quite see how it could be otherwise, really. How could natural selection not have played such a part? How could we have evolved over millions of years in complete independence of selective pressures? How exactly would we go about doing that? With a little help from the God of the Gaps? Is that it? If not, then what? It would be a pretty good trick.

But, then again, maybe I just don’t understand the points that are being made. But I can’t help thinking I detect a good deal of rhetoric in play, a certain amount of deck-stacking. Though maybe I’m wrong. There’s a very interesting archived discussion of related issues among Steven Pinker, Janet Radcliffe Richards and John Gray on In Our Time in November 2002. Anticipating this discussion at Twisty Sticks, I happen to have re-listened to it a few days ago. And the email interview B&W did with Steven Pinker about a month before that is also relevant and worth a read.

Update. Our old friend the Anonymous One has made one of his classic comments, where the retort is so obvious it would be too cruel to make it. Too like aiming projectiles at a piscid in a water-containment device, as Chris said (using other words) of the sweet bit of Lacanian profundity I gave you the other day. So I’ll make it here, instead, where it’s not quite so cruel. He does have (Anonymous, not Chris) such a way of saying things that apply to himself better than they do to the people he’s saying them of. It’s quite hilarious really. A few weeks ago – this is really funny – he called Scott McLemee a talentless ankle-biter! I nearly fell onto the floor laughing at that one. Yo, dude, if you’re going to pee, don’t do it upwind because – oh too bad, too late. I’d run home and take a shower if I were you.

You should check out the wonderful passage from Higher Superstition where they argue that—just hypothetically, mind you—the science faculty at MIT could do a better job at teaching the humanities classes than vice versa, if it came down to that somehow…I certainly would feel better about the future with an English professor teaching differential equations than with Pinker teaching literature or philosophy. At the least the former would be humble enough to try to learn something about what they were doing beforehand, which Pinker rather plainly would not.

Right. Uh huh. And if the English professor is someone like, oh, say, you, which I’m afraid it all too probably is – well, I know which of the two I would rather be taught by. But I won’t say which one that is; it would be too cruel.

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