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July 20th, 2008

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03:32 pm - update on evolutionary psych post
my post yesterday on evolutionary psychology resulted in several comments on facebook, and several replies by me. so i'll post them here for people who aren't friends with me on fb:

Krystle: "the men that theorized this bullshit must really have a really poor opinion of themselves. they're basically making themselves out to be uncontrollably raging with hormones and "biological" criminals. do these men live up to their theory by going out and raping women? honestly, now."

Farzan: "I'm trying to catch up on this "evolutionary psychology so bear with me...
"One problem I see with your analysis is that you assume that when men are committing rape they’re doing it out of a specific and calculated sense of wishing to reproduce when really the male sexual drive isn’t as discriminating as you make it out to be. It’s really not a rational thing, more of a vague urge. I forget what the exact term is, but there are many human behavioral and biological traits (such as rape for example) which at some point (10s of thousands of years ago) may have been necessary for reproduction but are no longer needed. Regardless of their… obsoletion?... they continue to persist because evolution as current science describes it is a very slow process taking sometimes millions of years before we see significant changes, although my brother’s the bio/nano expert.
"Also, it should be acknowledged that while Men and woman may be equal before the law, there are biological and physiological differences; we’re not the same. The male faculty to control aggression is much weaker (err… sorry for the poor referencing, but whichever part of the brain moderates aggression is smaller and less developed in males). Our physiology leads us to be more aggressive and competitive… Most men learn to control themselves, but in situations when rape becomes socially acceptable (i.e. mainly during wars or internal conflicts) instances of rape increase astronomically among conscripted troops who in their normal social situation would be considered decent men.
"I've done some experimental neuroscience but this really isn't my field so I would need an hour or two to come up with something good, but your rant is all rhetoric and dogma and lean on analysis... you have it in you to do much better. I think your conclusion is as about as valid as saying that all gays have a choice about their sexual orientation; I think many gay men are biologically predisposed to be the way they are. In the same way aggression may not be a choice for many males, simply the way they are. Do you think something like 93% of violent crimes are committed by males because we've chosen to be violent? I'm not saying conditioning isn't important, but at a certain level its our biology.
"'if men are as awful as the theory suggests, wouldn't men be better off killing themselves off?' Why would we kill ourselves off? Its our priority to survive. Its like if you were a vampire, even though your prey might consider you evil it doesn't mean you hate yourself, you're just trying to fulfill one of your most basic needs, in this case the lust for human blood.
"You should read a piece by William S. Burrough's titled Woman: A Biological Mistake, I think it gives some good insight on why woman aren't necessary for the continued survival of the human species."

Lauren: "I agree with Farzan. I don't think explaining the evolutionary process that leads to an instinct should be misconstrued with justifying it. Trying to understand the complexities of human actions, even those we don't like, is a necessary part of the process of putting a stop to those actions."

Farzan:  "Well taken Lauren - the point hear isn't to justify the behaviour but understand it. I think to a large degree we can control and curb this particular form of aggression through conditioning and environmental factors. I don't think rape is an inevitable condition of our evolution and needs to be combated vigilantly, but this can't be done by accusing men of being evil but by understanding both the social and biological root causes of sexual crimes."

Winnie (aka demonista):

ok, i think sexuality is a social construction. i certainly am not arguing that men rape out of a need to reproduce--i'm arguing that evolutionary psychology is wrong in part because rape has so LITTLE to do with men's wish to reproduce. evolutionary biology makes the claim that rape exists to increase men's chances of reproduction. but wouldn't a woman be more likely to carry to term and not kill a fetus then potential child who was created out of a great, willing sexual experience with a man than rape?

i think men rape out of sheer enjoyment of it, power-tripping, belief in rape myths, belief in male superiority, because male approval matters in patriarchy, the low chance of being jailed, etc.

the view that men are biologically programmed to rape does nothing to explain why it was men who were so programmed. why weren't women? if a woman repeatedly forcibly enveloped a man (fear can cause erection), she'd probably get pregnant, thereby helping to continue the species. the counterargument is that women are "naturally" monogamous. that is also never actually explained. again, if a woman raped only one man repeatedly, that would have her remain monogamous. and if monogamy in women is natural, why have so many women not been so, throughout history? so, the argument may turn to women's natural nonviolence. what about the amazons? they were very well-known for their prowess in battle, and there were stories about them torturing, raping, and killing the men they captured. those latter were largely false, but they did create a female-supremacist tribal system.

also, if men are biologically more violent, why are there female sex abusers (remember they are 15-20% of the sexual abusers of boys), abuse in lesbian relationships, female guards in nazi concentration camps, women who abuse their children, etc, etc

if men are innately rapists, why do so many men report never wanting to rape women? why are men raised by single moms and lesbians less violent, having better relationships with women, etc? why do so many young boys feel a revulsion to violence, eg the boy, with his dad on his first hunting trip, who sees that a duck is still living, wants to bring em home and nurse em back to health, and starts to cry when his dad's friend bashes the ducks brains out an a rock? why did jean piaget find that children, including boys, instill life like their own into all other humans, trees, the earth, dogs, etc? why some men are absolutely repulsed by rape?

men are violent to the extent they've been conditioned to be such and to the extent they do not reject such training.

shere hite, andrea dworkin, and john stoltenberg provide some of the best explanations on how men become violent. i advise reading hite's the hite report on male sexuality, and the hite report on the family, andrea dworkin's pornography--an online excerpt is here: http://www.nostatusquo.com/ACLU/dworkin/PornMen&Boys1.html, and stoltenberg's refusing to be a man and the end of manhood.

to quote dworkin:

"How does it happen that the male child whose sense of life is so vivid that he imparts humanity to sun and stone changes into the adult male who cannot grant or even imagine the common humanity of women?
"...the boy has a choice: remain loyal to the mother who is in reality degraded, without authority against the father, unable to protect the child from the father's violence or the violence of other adult men, or become a man, one who has the power and the right to hurt, to use force, to use his will and physical strength over and against women and children. Be the mother--do the housework--or be the father--carry a big stick. Be the mother--be fucked--or be the father--do the fucking. The boy has a choice. The boy chooses to become a man because it is better to be a man than a woman.
"Becoming a man requires that the boy learn to be indifferent to the fate of women. Indifference requires that the boy learn to experience women as objects. The poet, the mystic, the prophet, the so-called sensitive man of any stripe, will still hear the wind whisper and the trees cry. But to him, women will be mute. He will have learned to be deaf to the sounds, sighs, whispers, screams of women in order to ally himself with other men in the hope that they will not treat him as a child, that is, as one who belongs with the women."

in respect to your vampire comparison, there are vampire slayers. so i suppose their should be women to be "rapist slayers."

in respect to burroughs, that man was a misogynist, racist, homophobic pedophile. of course he would argue women are a mistake--he wants to justify the creation of a world without women, and the presence of "lesser" males only to the extent they provide fodder for male orgasm and otherwise serve the "supermen."

if one or the other is superfluous, men are. their contribution to reproduction is miniscule--sperm. women could freeze a few thousand men's sperm, kill all the men, and then keep reproducing for millenia. it is a male phantasy/phallacy that women are the mistake, that women are the one's not needed for survival.

for example, take our differing relationships with blood. most women and pubescent girls bleed for several days each month. this blood is not the blood of injury, but of life, strength, artistry, etc. boys are taught by men to see menstrual blood as ugly, poisonous, dirty, and the women who bleed but do not die as untrustworthy and malignant. they are told to worship the blood that men can bring forth: the blood of suffering and death. in war, hunting animals, murder, rape, and so on blood is rendered. a boy's first kill is an initiation into manhood, crossculturally. what does that say about manhood (as opposed to being male-bodied), that it can only fully realise itself by causing another's destruction?

this was not to say that men are redundant, or that men are doomed to remain in such a state, or that they cannot cultivate a more women-centred relation to blood, but to say that men can be different. if i didn't think so, my politics would not be what they were; feminism would have no chance of ever changing things.

Komal: "The thing is, even if a theory is patriarchal, made by upper class white men etc. that doesn't make it false. It can still be true, in spite of being hegemonic or whatever.
"Secondly, to describe an evolutionary basis for rape is not to justify it. Rape could be biologically ingrained but still morally wrong. Aggression has an evolutionary origin (it's in our genes) but nobody describes that finding as an attempt to justify aggression.
"Also, having sex with dead bodies could be a release for sexual frustration or an expression of psychopathology. There could be more than one reason for deviant sexual behavior. The desire to reproduce may not even be at play here, it may the genes' 'desire' to reproduce, but the individual animal (in this case human) may not desire to reproduce at all, but simply to rape.
"Interestingly, though, from a radical feminist viewpoint (which I have) there is a symbolic space of narratives, themes and archetypes that show themselves in our symbolic expression, for example language, fiction, music videos etc. This is systematically connected to physical reality, including socioeconomic and biological reality. Where radical feminism is superior to liberal feminism is the recognition of this connection. That being said, how do you reconcile the fact that in the patriarchal imagination rape is a tool of domination (e.g. in the documentary Dreamworlds 3 men say they want to 'fuck women' as a way of keeping them down) and the plausible hypothesis that there could be an evolutionary imperative to rape? I can think of two ways:
"1. There can be more than one motivation to do the same act at different times, and
"2. It could originate as a biological drive, but recognizing that it is humiliating could lead to its usefulness as a tool of domination."

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(41 comments | Leave a comment)


Date:July 21st, 2008 03:28 am (UTC)
You know what I never get about all these biological essential arguments.

Okay. Men are naturally more violent. Men are naturally less able to control their temper. Men are naturally programmed to rape, kill, beat the crap out of each other.

Okay, so...why are they the ones running the world? If this is really the 'natural' state of men, then, for the good of the entire world population and the planet, in the interests of world peace, don't men have a moral obligation to give up their power to women, who are 'naturally' more level-headed, less violent, more able to negotiate, not programmed to be sexual predators etc.

And, you know, men can spend the rest of their lives in la-la land on tranqilisers, and reproduction can work by women harvesting sperm from men in order to impregnate themselves. Works for me.
[User Picture]
Date:July 23rd, 2008 07:24 pm (UTC)
that is an excellent response. but you get farzan's vampire analogy in response. so, do women then have a right to force men to behave, or else? ;)
Date:July 21st, 2008 03:31 am (UTC)
That should be tranquilisers.
Date:July 21st, 2008 03:22 pm (UTC)
Hm, I hope you'll pardon me but I just came across your journal. I've taken a couple of courses with an evolutionary psych researcher and I've not once heard it stated or implied that the mechanisms we discussed were the sole determinant of human behavior. It was more like a discussion on why humans have the capacity or tendency for certain behaviors across cultures, when our biology has finite resources and external pressures to contend with. Not all men become actual rapists, presumably because of both intrinsic and extrinsic mediating mechanisms, or a . Just the same, not all women commit infanticide, though it is also seemingly built-in to our behavioral potential. What seems undeniable is that rape does result in the copying of one's genetic material - it appears that 0.5% of the world's men have Genghis Khan's Y-chromosome. I think the coexistence of a reproductive strategy and sociopathic violence is pretty apparent there. Part of the reason why this isn't the Social Darwinist hack science it sometimes looks like is an outright rejection of the naturalistic fallacy. Unfortunately, when it comes to newer branches of science, what becomes commonly known is the most outrageous aspects of it. Obviously, I understand why talking about rape in the abstract seems abhorrent for some in and of itself, but the sooner we can get a more accurate perspective on the table, the better off we all are.
[User Picture]
Date:July 23rd, 2008 07:02 pm (UTC)
I'd strongly disagree that rape is the result of reproductive strategy and sociopathy/psychopathy. eg, why don't women rape? that increases reproduction. why is almost no rape reproductive? only 5% of convicted rapists are diagnosed as sociopaths or psychopaths, so the actual presence of them in rapists is even lower, because only the "worst case scenario" rapists are generally convicted. not to mention, jane caputi in the age of sex crime, disputes the label sociopathology and psychopathology, viewing them as simply extremes of masculinity.
Date:July 23rd, 2008 07:09 pm (UTC)
I should have been more clear - I subscribe to a distinction between psychopath and sociopath. "Psychopath" has been used to describe a person with a particularly unrestrained and sadistic antisocial propensity while "sociopath" is sometimes used to describe persons for whom sadistic behavior has been instilled as a cultural norm of sorts (e.g., organized crime). I do think "rape culture" to a large extent works the same way in the broader cultural context.
Date:July 23rd, 2008 07:48 pm (UTC)
Women do rape but obviously at a much lower frequency. One cultural exception is a Papuan culture in which females rape out-group males seemingly as an act of humiliation. That aside, one hypothesis could be that a female who rapes is more likely to fail at reproduction or endanger her own security. We know males who rape in most cultures are likely to get away with it, right? Differences in inherent parental investment (the costs of depositing sperm vs. pregnancy, birth, etc.) are probably also a factor. I know some men use condoms and well, the assertion that males who rape have reproduction in mind would be clearly absurd.

I should note that while I'm quick to defend serious evolutionary psychology from the wider image/conflation with 1970s sociobiology, I don't subscribe to any such thing 100%, but rather treat it as food for thought that turned out to be really interesting for me. So far, most of the critiques I've read (understandably) attack these superficial perceptions of an essentialist, biologically reductionist, geno-anthropomorphic psuedo-science, and there are evolutionary psychologists who have not been cautious enough in anticipating how abstracts will be read, writing books for a popular audience, talking to news media, etc. But those I have become familiar with simply are not Social Darwinists or gender-essentialists, and haven't come across as though they're deluded or conceited enough to think their area of interest is THE KEY to understanding all human behavior.

And of course it doesn't follow that an institution isn't misogynistic- but not all of them are men, although it is disproportionate to other subfields of psychology, for what I think are understandable reasons.
Date:July 21st, 2008 06:54 pm (UTC)
Yay I got quoted! :D

So what do you think about my comments?
[User Picture]
Date:July 23rd, 2008 07:10 pm (UTC)
I think Paul is commenting on them really well. I think that human and animal behaviour is interpreted by white men to benefit human hierarchies. for example, females killing their male partners after mating is ignored or interpreted as "womenz are dangerous so if we let them have equality, they'll take brutal revenge!" several lionesses being involved with one lion is interpreted as him having a harem when it could be females realising the superfluousness of males, keeping males in line, etc. I think it's very suspect how acceptable biological and evolutionary theories are in regards to sex, sexuality, rape, etc, including in people who would call out racist ideologies in bio and evolutionary theories, eg the mythology around brain and skull size in men vs women white vs black, etc
[User Picture]
Date:July 23rd, 2008 02:48 am (UTC)
"the men that theorized this bullshit must really have a really poor opinion of themselves."

That is the problem: They don't.

OK, I am going to go on a long rant about this that possibly is not very coherent but I will do my best.

It's a good idea to try to have cultural perspective in examining all these arguments. Things taken for granted in one place and time seem strange in another and viceversa. Comparing attitudes across cultures is useful: any significant differences indicate culturally-driven, rather than biologically-driven, phenomena. It is no use to universalise one's own cultural experience.

The problem is that normally people do not leave their cultural context and simply assume that essentially their categories, associations and concepts are universal. This is something I wrote about in my entry "Amor de madre: ¿sólo química?" People who argue that women have a maternal instinct that causes them to love their children inconditionally universalize as this "motherly love" a modern, Western ideal. They do not take into consideration other constructions of love that have existed.

That is to say, it is argued that there exists a maternal instinct that causes women to love in a special, ideal way, when the very definition and implications of love itself are not fixed and are known to vary extremely even from individual to individual.

For another thing, we find that the less complicated the society or sense of self of a species, and the more instinctual the members of that species, the higher the probability that the mothers of that species will eat their own offspring. Whereas in species with complicated social relations and big brains, infanticide is much less common as it is only in these species that mothers even seem to recognise any kinship. How is this possible if motherly love is instinctual? You would expect to see exactly the opposite. This seems a strong indicator that love is a socially constructed concept.

As far as male aggression, it is similarly complicated as well. First, genes do not desire. Genes do not think. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of genes. The only thing that genes do is code for chemicals, which upon creation react with other chemicals in certain circumstances and chains, creating, sometimes, complex, self-sustaining carbon-based organisms. Genes do not directly cause anything, they provoke reactions which create things which sometimes create other things which affect other things which create, on a scale many, many, many, many orders of magnitude larger, a whole picture. And that is just an ant.

Regarding rape: Rape is not a simple violent outburst, it's a very specific kind of calculated violence that requires some degree of social conditioning. It is known, for example, that if a person is never taught what "sex" is then they lack the concept. There are documented cases of couples in their twenties not knowing how to have children. There are also cases of male chimpanzees raised among humans who, when introduced to a troop of chimpanzees, do not react at all, or react with confusion or fear, to sexual advances from their female friends. They, too, appear to lack the appropriate concept. They have no instinctual knowledge of what is 'required'. That is to say, there is no such thing as instinctual knowledge of coitus nor instinctual heterosexuality at all; for that matter, it is known that young boys don't even know that vulvas or vaginas exist at all until told. So it is absolutely ridiculous to talk about a "rape instinct". For there to be an instinctual drive in men to rape there would need first to be an instinctual understanding of coitus and what it implies (the only way this could be evolutionarily useful, since it leads to pregnancy). But there is no such instinctual understanding. Any male who had not been taught what coitus is would of course not even know how to try to force it on anyone. So a "rape instinct" is not at all even remotely plausible. This is like arguing that Soviet engineers may have had a Sputnik-building instinct or that I am instinctually driven to type this. It stands to reason that men who claim to be instinctually driven to rape are lying or misinterpreting the origin of their impulses.
[User Picture]
Date:July 23rd, 2008 02:51 am (UTC)

second part

Not even flight is instinctual in birds. It is known that if birds are not taught by their parents, or by someone, how to fly while still chicks they will never learn. The biological possibility is there, but there is no flight instinct. Mammals and birds are this way. Breathing seems instinctual, but even THAT has been subject to debate. It is not altogether impossible that newborns learn to breath, with only the discomfort produced by not breathing as their guide. Honestly people seem ready to believe that anything can be "instinctual", it's a horrible abuse of the term. In general we can agree that only basic reflexes or involuntary reactions can be said to be instinctual, or partially instinctual. It seems when you sneeze you instinctually close your eyes, for example. Mammalian babies seem instinctually to suck on things.

BUT if males were more prone to feelings of hatred, superiority or bloodlust whatever exactly it is that is associated with comitting atrocities of this kind, maybe through chemical or hormonal imbalances, once given an understanding and a social context for rape it becomes another weapon. This would be much more consistent with observed behaviour in complex societies and would not require magical concepts such as "instinctual knowledge" (all knowledge comes from experience). This is maybe plausible, though I hope it's not true. I would like to believe it is not true. But it is still very different than a specific, biologically impossible "rape instinct", or "rifle shooting instinct". It also allows for the fact that not even all violent men are rapists as well as for female rapists through ordinary biological variance. It also allows for the diverse sexualities of mammals in general. In short, at least it fits.

It's not necessarily easy to counter arguments that men are biologically prone to be more violent because examples of males who are not violent do not prove anything, just that there is a variance - which is possible chemically as well as socially. It is evident to everyone that both males and females are violent at times, and statistically males are more often, but it is hard to account for the statistical difference. Obviously social conditioning favours it. But it does seem common, although by no means universal, in mammal societies. And in human societies it does also seem very common. (Note, however, that in contrast, rape is or was not universal in human societies, though those societies where it did not exist have been mostly destroyed in the past few centuries.) So I will admit that there is a theoretical possibility for an increased predilection to violence, maybe chemically or hormonally-based, in males. But I don't think it is any more or less convincing than Dworkin's social explanation.

If it were true I think we'd need to set limits and develop drugs to suppress violent urges at least in convicted offenders (male or female, of course). Because a biological cause for "male violence" would be a biological cause for all violence. But though everyone speculates about biological causes for violence, no one knows anything. Androgens seem to be the most commonly cited culprits, but there are many types of androgens each with different effects, so that is not a real answer. Which androgens? How? Which receptors? Which neurons are affected? Also, setting social limits to violence does not necessarily mean feminine limits. Most feminine standards for violence are still very brutal and frightening.

In any event, the most pressing issue is to stigmatise violence in general in society and the biggest opponents are these machistas (not sure what the term is in English). Whatever our class, sex or biological predisposition, we should morally be opposed to and promote the disappearance of violence. Anyone who feels unable to control their temper to the point where they put others in danger should seek help. That they do not feel impelled to seek help or to change or even a tinge of guilt because they feel that their violence is perfectly acceptable and normal, is, we can all agree, entirely the fault of society, independently of the source of the violent urges. No genes are responsible for that. All violence should be stigmatised and misogynist violence is actively encouraged.
[User Picture]
Date:July 23rd, 2008 08:03 pm (UTC)

Re: second part

mikie! you're here! well, i know you've been here--you've posted in your lj, but i've not been able to read (only know spanish a little bit). thanks for commenting :)

i agree with you.
[User Picture]
Date:July 23rd, 2008 11:59 pm (UTC)

Re: second part

hey thanks. i'm trying to come out of myself and be more communicative in general. when my grandmother died i had some unexpected reactions, my sleeping became very erratic and i've realized i got very withdrawn. it's nice to read you again, you are a great person, you know?
Date:July 23rd, 2008 06:49 pm (UTC)
i think men rape out of sheer enjoyment of it, power-tripping, belief in rape myths, belief in male superiority, because male approval matters in patriarchy, the low chance of being jailed, etc.

Damn right, Demonista! And pornographic culture isn't helping either, 'cause it encourages belief in rape myths.
[User Picture]
Date:July 23rd, 2008 07:22 pm (UTC)
thanks! agreed. we just got into a debate about this loast night, in my philosphy of gender class based on our reading mackinnon's "pleasure under patriarchy". the pro-porn side was all about "proof"--where is the proof that porn CAUSES rape. the prof, who really likes mackinnon, tried to explain that there is not a linear way one could prove that. eg you can't possibly prove that man watches porn, 1 hr and 17 min later, he rapes a woman. that isn't the relationship we are claiming AT ALL.

another issue is that the clear in the sand line they drew between child and adult porn. eg, "you can't compare a 10 year old in porn to a 18 yr old done up like a child" i didn't say this but i should have said, how a lot of (maybe most?) child porn is of adolescents--14-17 years old--and how this is almost never prosecuted because they are regarded (viewed) as adults pretending to be kids or adults being adults.

do you have any info on men being busted for filming adolescents and selling it? i know of traci lords, but that was in the 80s. i heard that joe francis of girls gone wild has filmed underage girls, but couldn't find charges filed, news articles, etc.

another issue is the erasure of women who have been in porn and who now oppose it, eg jersey jaxin, sierra sinn, shelley lubben, carol smith etc. and that fact that not even these women can get the images, film, etc of themselves out of circulation. not to mention that some pro-porners comment on the utter replacability of them, eg 'there are always women to take their place" and how most women only do one film. their experience is so awful they never do it again, yet waivers, contracts, etc are signed beforehand, so that document of is out there, being bought and sold of their outright abuse, or at least, what they thought would be one way, and it turned out differently, or they bought the pr lies and thought they'd be in control, etc only to find they were in way over their heads.

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