Postmodern Conservative

Learning from Evolutionary Psychology

So I’m back in town. I will treat you to another little essay on my travel experiences, just so I can deduct them from my taxes in a way that will even survive an IRS audit for my anti-administration thoughts and deeds.

On Ralph’s thoughts on marriage: One educational danger, of course, is that not only he may he be, at this point, pretty much preaching to the converted but that his deep and reasonable thoughts might not even have a place these days in so-called mainstream, elite higher education.

So, let me introduce a point of discussion: Is it possible to to avoid “homophobia” (a deliberately imprecise term) while preserving “heteronormativity” (which at least sounds more scientific)? Well, that is what E. O. Wilson actually tries to do in his evolutionary psychology. I’m not saying that the following is as scientific as Wilson thinks, but:  Some people have been given a homosexual orientation by nature. We should assume that there’s a reason for that, and that gays offer society particular gifts that aid in the flourishing of our species. That means that gays shouldn’t be oppressed or marginalized and compelled to stay in the closet. Being gay is not a choice, and it’s a natural good.

But, it’s still the case that the general purpose of members of our species is to pair-bond, reproduce, and raise their young. It’s the job of a woman to use her sexual attractiveness to attract a mate that will aid her in raising the kids. Nature points strongly in the direction of the of the two-parent family with more than two kids to keep the species going and getting better. Evolutionary psychology show us that our characteristic error is to exaggerate how much we can ingeniously free ourselves from natural inclinations and natural imperatives from the point of view of either social and biological sustainability or personal happiness. Wilson doesn’t address, as far as I know, the issue of same-sex marriage and all that, and this scientific account doesn’t definitively address the issue as it presents itself to us today. It does compel us at least to think about possible social pathologies that we eusocial yet rational (and so somewhat selfish) animals have introduced to a world with lots of single moms and superfluous men. It also allows us to consider the possibility that we can’t reasonably abstract the issue of what marriage is from “nature” understood in Mr. Darwin’s way. I explain in much greater detail here why the evidence from evolutionary psychology presented so ably by Wilson and Jonathan Haidt should be regarded as having moderately conservative public-policy implications.

It is really true, after all, that sophisticated Americans are often caught in a contradiction: They’re all for maximum conceivable liberation from nature and politics in order to be an autonomous being – that is, a being who doesn’t take orders from God, nature, or anyone other person. But they also say anyone who thinks that Mr. Darwin doesn’t teach the whole truth and nothing but  a fundamentalist rural idiot. My thoughts in this paragraph are close to those of the Darwinian political philosopher Larry Arnhart, except that I think that the autonomy freaks (including the Sartrean existentialists) and the whole-hog Darwinians should really listen to each other, because they each teach part of the truth about who we are. There is also some important stuff they both miss.

It’s very possible and reasonable to introduce more relational baggage into the picture, remembering that we persons are both free and relational or way more different from the other cute, smart, social mammals than the evolutionary psychologists imagine. And there’s what we know through faith, which perhaps can’t be law in in a country such as ours.

But to begin at the beginning: Too many ecologists – even, truth to tell, Wilson – are too focused on what we can do to extinguish and screw up the other species and not attentive enough to what we can do to our own. And our Porcher friends remind us of the interdependence of the two forms of reasonable ecological concern. I want students and professors at every college and university in our land to divide up into small groups and discuss.

Peter Augustine LawlerPeter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College. He is executive editor of the acclaimed scholarly quarterly Perspectives on Political Science and served on President George ...


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