"sociobiology" -catchy title, eh?

Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Mon Apr 10 19:05:33 MDT 1995


On Mon, 10 Apr 1995, Lisa Rogers wrote:

> Justin,
> Now you're starting to speak my language - evolution is my favorite
> thing.  It thoroughly informs my view of nearly everything about
> living things.  It is explicitly used as a foundation for
> theory-building and hypothesis-making in my anthropology.  In fact, I
> was feeling tempted to identify with your phrase "good sociobiology"
> (except I'm not entirely sure what you mean by that) until I read the
> post that contained the indictment of "The Bell Curve".

Good sociobiology seeks serious, testible, non-apologetic explantions for
behavioral traits by appealing to evolutionary biology. Much work in this
are is fairly nonidseology--inquiry into linguistic capacity, quality
spacing, and other cognitive traits. Much good SB is carried out on
nonhuman animals.

Bad, vulgar, ideological SB tries to justify the existing order, or its
most objectionable features, by appeal to crackpot pseudoscience. From
what I gather The Bell Curve is in part an instance. I haven't read it,
but I have read some earlier work of one of the coauthors--Richard
Herrnstein's IQ--and it is clearly bad SB.

The classic historical account of bad SB is Gould's Mismeasure of Man.
Kamin has a great book onn The Science and Politics of IQ (1974) from an
earlier round of the IQ debate.  For the scientifically minded the
distinction between goods and bad SB is painstaking made in Philip
Kitcher's brilliant and elegant Vaulting Ambition.

>
> One of the fall-out side-effects from "the debate" {on the Bell Curve) is
that an > evolutionarily-informed understanding of human behavior (such as
> mine) continues to be unfairly and inaccurately associated with
> genetic-determinist bullshit.

This is nothing new, as Gould shows.

  Biology and evolution also do not
> support or justify capitalism (even though I do think individual
> lifeforms generally pursue their own interests and their relatives').
>
> I disagree with Justin that people "act mainly on group interests,"
> and I disagree that such behavior should be expected on evolutionary
> grounds.  And I thank him very much for his replies to my posts.
> Let's do it some more.

Well, what do you think people act on? Merely individual interests apart
from any group membership? Or universal interests people share with all
humans/rational/sentient beings? And why? Why shouldn't group interest be
expected as the default on evolutionary grounds? Please explain.

--Justin Schwartz




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