Sociobiology

This is several years old now, but I came across a good article here from The New Atlantis on the rise and fall of sociobiology. A couple of themes stood out for me. The first had to do with the discussion surrounding the use of Darwinism for a conservative political ideology of the Right. People such as Larry Arnhart, Steven Pinker, and others tell us how Darwinism is actually the scientific foundation for “family, moral limits, social duties, and personal responsibility.” I find this interesting when considering the evidentialist justifications of those on the Right and Left when it comes to a supposed objective “science” and how we should “see” things as they do, based upon the “evidence.” It seems clear, as noted in the postmodern critique, that what we bring to the “evidence” determines how we will “see” or interpret that evidence and thus the reason that both the Left and the Right can always claim they are only using “science” and looking at the “evidence” even as they (Gee, that’s funny) come down on different sides of many of the same issues.

Both the Left and the Right’s bluff needs to be called here. They need to be told that their standard mantras such as, “I’m just citing the evidence” or their appeals to “evidence” are nothing more than evasions (It is really a strategy to stifle debate)–and what we really need to know is why the evidence has to be imagined or interpreted the way they say it must. Of course, they never want to answer those questions because at the end of the string we always find a simple assertion of faith.

This leads to the other point of interest in the essay. In the concluding paragraph, the author writes, “Fundamentalist creationism and rigidly atheistic evolutionism are both pretty implausible.” In many ways, these two “Fundamentalisms” are the fathers of our modern political fundamentalisms of both Right and Left. So the author’s statement also sums up the problem with the modern Left and Right, in America at least. Both are modern creations of the Enlightenment birthed from heretical theological moves from within the womb of the Christian narrative. The author correctly connects the two movements and sensibilities, since they are more like cousins fighting over a family will than the strangers they suppose the other to be.

As noted in other posts, it is these two sides (Fundamentalisms of the Left and Right) to the same modernist coin who still hold sway, one in academia and the other at a popular cultural level. Both claim they have the “evidence;” and both are, indeed, no longer plausible, if they ever were to begin with. And therein resides the more interesting features of the modern/postmodern conversation.

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2 Responses to Sociobiology

  1. Burk Braun says:

    <>“For the sociobiologists, human social behaviors came into existence as unintended and unconscious results of various natural threats to our species.”<>This is a poor way to state natural selection. Sociobiologists see most of our social behaviors, insofar as they are encoded and inborn rather than socially constructed, (sociobiologists have no problem with the social construction of many behaviors, but simply observe from twin studies that there is a great deal of inborn human nature that underlies that behavior), as the result of evolutionary adaptation, such as the continuing importance of child care and so forth. This is not only a matter of natural threats, but of success in the real world, especially including the intimate social group. Adapting to those settings is a top priority, through all stages of life, and through evolutionary time. The process of adaptation is unconscious, but is far from confined to threats, let alone “natural” threats. Threats from step-parents, for instance, are a classic problem, immortalized in folklore of all kinds- is this natural or social? And “unintended” is a bizarre locution- (and sign of misunderstanding, or attachment to ID)- Nothing in evolution is intended, or conscious.I have not read Arnhart, but sociobiology is not a prescriptive program, but a descriptive one, about human nature and its evolutionary origins, now more commonly understood as evolutionary psychology, hardly a dying field. Whatever various pundits may want to make of it, the field itself drew basic controversy simply from its proposition that we have a human nature, and are not the blank slates that the Marxists and feminists, etc of far-left academia wanted to believe. That war has, as Lawler mentions, been won, and he says nothing whatever that indicates that this aspect of sociobiology is in any way dead. Far from.One observation of sociobiology/evolutionary psychology is the < HREF="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedonic_treadmill" REL="nofollow">hedonic treadmill<>– our homeostatic mechanism of generally resting at a medium level of happiness. The desire for more happiness keeps us going and reaching for more, but our natures are to quickly discount what we have achieved and thus keep us reaching for yet more again. That is why the eternal longing to transcend our existence, to win a final triumph over mortality, to get < HREF="http://www.theonion.com/content/node/38673" REL="nofollow">67 virgins<>, etc., are so poignant, as well as (hopefully) unfulfillable.<>“We cannot tell in advance how free we can be—perhaps because sociobiology itself cannot account for the willful freedom from nature that is uniquely characteristic of our species. Where there is no explanation there can be no prediction.”<>Again, here the author goes beyond the facts… this willful freedom is undefined. We have natures that demonstrably channel our lives and limit our freedom. What freedom we have comes from imaginative ideas, whether communal or individual, by which we imagine altered realities from those granted by our natures alone. These ideas have their own causes, so it is hard to call them “free”, but that aside, whatever future we can imagine is something we can aim for, and sociobiology, while not concerned with high culture as much as evolutionary history, has no problem with the plasticity of human imagination. It is another bequest of our evolutionary development-this time of general cognitive tools.So the fight is over which imaginative vision of the future is more worthy- a religious one tied to imaginary divinities and their semi-divine lieutenant clergy (which often seems more at home in the past than in the future), or a vision that gathers the best of our historical experience, combining cosmopolitanism, respect for verifiable knowledge, and critical ethics that incorporate the best of what humanity has experienced to date, summed up as humanism.“Sociobiology … cannot explain why our species cannot live well without blind hopes, even as it claims to show that the hopes we place in social constructionism and religious belief are untrue. It makes the individual human life seem so hopeless that we cannot help but focus our hopes on biotechnology, even while acknowledging the limits of biotechnology to remake human nature.”But the fact is that we can live well without blind hopes, otherwise known as utopianism. If the last century has taught us anything, it is that blind hopes are not good hopes. Europe is well on its way to living very well without blind hopes, and sociobiology, while it observes the human tendency to supernaturalism, can not say whether it is essential or not. I believe it is not.<>“… And it is unlikely to halt or limit our desperate turn to biotechnology in pursuit of the happiness that nature by itself does not seem to give us.”<>As explained above, happiness is not, and can not, be a perpetual part of human nature. You can do the experiment yourself by taking cocaine. It can make you happy for as long as you are on it, but what is the worth of such a life? And what is its length?<>“We are the beings with genuinely complex language and speech; we have been given the capability to seek and partially understand the truth about our souls and perhaps the truth about God.”<>Oh- I see- this article was not about science at all, but stalking for religion. Well, if one takes evolution seriously, as you say you do, then this would be a non-sensical statement. We have as much of a soul as a flea does, being descended from a common ancestor by evolutionary means. What we do have is a huge cognitive capacity, with which to survey our condition and figure out how to improve it, in the somewhat vain hope that we will end up happier. I appreciate and share Lawler’s unease with the project of tinkering with human nature, but obviously his project of injecting soul and god into a “more natural science” lacks the least scintilla of evidence, other than our yearnings, bootless and wishful as they are. The rehabilitation of Santa claus is not going to make a “more natural science”.

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  2. Heresiarch says:

    Whatever you make of the science of sociobiology, there is an inescapable dark side: < HREF="http://www.starlarvae.org/Star_Larvae_Addendum_Sociobiology_of_the_New_World_Order.html" REL="nofollow">politics of sociobiology<>

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