Sociobiology in the Nation Magazine

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Nov 4 17:32:33 MST 2002

(received from Steven Johnson, the Nation Magazine reviewer of Pinker's "Blank Slate")

Louis, thanks for letting me see your reply to my piece. Obviously, I
disagree with a lot of what you say here -- I'd love it if you would forward
the last few paragraphs of my piece to your lists as well, just to make my
argument clearer, and to separate it from Pinker's politics.

To me, it comes down to the fundamental question of whether you think
evolution shaped our brains in ways that still affect our behavior. If the
answer is yes, then anyone interested in shaping human society should be
interested in finding out what those ways are.

If evolutionary psychology has been dominated by the right, that's partially
because the left has expended all its energy denouncing the very premise
that natural selection has had an impact on who were are and the social
relationships that we gravitate towards. That seems foolish to me, and I
think it would have seemed foolish to Marx as well. (I think his 'species
being' is not far from what the ev psych folks are talking about.) It seems
much more productive for the left to make sure that the science is sound,
and then see if there's something to learn from what it finds. As I
suggested at the end of my piece, we are a mix of nature and nurture, and a
progressive politics should be able to build on that mix in productive ways
-- dialectical might in fact be a very nice way of describing that
interaction. I would love to see some examples of Marxist writing that
incorporated Darwinian models of the human mind, but my sense is that there
aren't many out there... Almost everything I read sounds like your post:
Sociobiology is the enemy! How dare we even think about learning anything
from these people!

Finally, do you really think that humans are not inclined to treat their
immediate kin preferentially? In other words, the only reason that people
love their children more than they love total strangers is because culture
has taught them to?

At any rate, those are my thoughts. Perhaps they make the piece seem
slightly less objectionable? <grin>

thanks again for the response,


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