Monday, July 09, 2007

Ten Politically Incorrect Truths About Human Nature

Psychology Today has a wonderful article that some people will dislike: Ten Politically Incorrect Truths About Human Nature.
"The implications of some of the ideas in this article may seem immoral, contrary to our ideals, or offensive. We state them because they are true, supported by documented scientific evidence. Like it or not, human nature is simply not politically correct."
So here they are, folks. Read 'em and weep. (These would have qualified nicely on the earlier dangerous ideas list.)
1. Men like blond bombshells (and women want to look like them). "Men who prefer to mate with blond women are unconsciously attempting to mate with younger (and hence, on average, healthier and more fecund) women."

2. Humans are naturally polygamous. "Polygamy creates greater fitness variance (the distance between the 'winners' and the 'losers' in the reproductive game) among males than among females because it allows a few males to monopolize all the females in the group... In societies where rich men are much richer than poor men, women (and their children) are better off sharing the few wealthy men."

3. Most women benefit from polygamy, while most men benefit from monogamy. "Women can share a wealthy man, but for most men who are not extremely desirable, polygamy means no wife at all, or, if they are lucky, a wife who is much less desirable than one they could get under monogamy."

4. Most suicide bombers are Muslim. "Muslim suicide bombing has nothing to do with Islam or the Quran (except for two lines). It has a lot to do with sex, or, in this case, the absence of sex... Islam tolerates polygamy and so creates shortages of available women and increases competitive pressure on men, especially young men of low status who have little to lose and much to gain compared with men who already have wives. Across all societies, polygamy makes men violent."

5. Having sons reduces the likelihood of divorce. "A man's mate value is largely determined by his wealth, status, and power—whereas a woman's is largely determined by her youth and physical attractiveness—and so the father has to make sure that his son will inherit his wealth, status, and power. In contrast, there is relatively little that a father (or mother) can do to keep a daughter youthful or make her more physically attractive."

6. Beautiful people have more daughters. Sound bizarre? The hypothesis has been documented around the globe. [Edit: This one may be wrong. See the link provided by Stephen Carlson in comments.]

7. What Bill Gates and Paul McCartney have in common with criminals. "Both crime and genius are expressions of young men's competitive desires."

8. The midlife crisis is a myth—sort of. "Many middle-aged men do go through midlife crises, but it's not because they are middle-aged. It's because their wives are. A man's midlife crisis is precipitated by his wife's imminent menopause and end of her reproductive career, and thus his renewed need to attract younger women."

9. It's natural for politicians to risk everything for an affair (but only if they're male). "Men strive to attain political power, consciously or unconsciously, in order to have reproductive access to a larger number of women. Reproductive access to women is the goal, political office but one means."

10. Men sexually harass women because they are not sexist. "The quid pro quo types of harassment are manifestations of men's greater desire for short-term casual sex and their willingness to use any available means to achieve that goal. Feminists often claim that sexual harassment is 'not about sex but about power', but it is both—men using power to get sex. 'To say that it is only about power makes no more sense than saying that bank robbery is only about guns, not about money.'... Men are not treating women differently from men—the definition of discrimination, under which sexual harassment legally falls—but the opposite: Men harass women precisely because they are not discriminating between men and women."
I think more people would be comfortable with this stuff if they could just keep science and morality distinct. What is biologically true has nothing to do with what is morally right. For instance, homosexuality is biologically unnatural (an objective truth), but there's nothing immoral about it (my subjective belief). Rape is perfectly natural, but (most would say) immoral. Polygamy is either moral or immoral depending on what groups of people you listen to. Sexual harassment isn't sexist (just the opposite) -- and it's certainly not "just about power", contra feminist wisdom -- but it's wrong in any case.

So don't worry if you're a deviant fellow who likes brunettes or redheads instead of blondes. (If you're a suicide bomber, on the other hand, you may have some problems.) Just because you're a deviant doesn't mean you're bad. The problem with the PC crowd is they don't like deviance labels; they don't like stereotypes; they can't accept that free will is overrated, and that we're largely slaves to nature; and they despise any scientific truths that oppose social morality.

16 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is such a weak post, I'm not sure its even worth the time to critique. Let me tell you - pop-science mags are not where you go for the hard and fast "scientific truths" that you are looking for while you are so leisurely sitting on the john. Behind these so-called facts lie a myriad of debates, the end of which no cognitive psychology journal will soon see. This isn't the kind of stuff you can casually really read into from the outside. The issues go much deeper than can be addressed in the one or two watered down popular science books you may have read. And those books usually will take this or that side, sparing you all of the tedious but essential details of the debate.

To address one specific comment - how the hell are you defining "nature"? If you're defining it in terms of fitness, the problem you'll run into is that everything in the biotic world isn't always aimed at fitness, regardless of how it got to where it is. Homosexual behavior exists in nature, thus it is as natural as the next thing, unless we're imposing a normative framework onto nature itself.

David Anderson

7/09/2007  
Blogger Stephen C. Carlson said...

Loren, alas, number 6 may have been debunked: Problems in a study of girl and boy births, leading to a point about the virtues of collaboration.

7/09/2007  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

A touchy David Anderson asked:

How the hell are you defining "nature"? If you're defining it in terms of fitness, the problem you'll run into is that everything in the biotic world isn't always aimed at fitness, regardless of how it got to where it is. Homosexual behavior exists in nature, thus it is as natural as the next thing, unless we're imposing a normative framework onto nature itself.

Alas, I knew I should have been more careful on this point. Homosexuality (though not bi-sexuality) is unnatural in the sense that it prevents one's genes from being passed on; it cuts against every species' need to reproduce. I agree there is nothing unnatural about homosexuality per se, rather the complete abstinence from heterosexual activity. But again, that doesn't mean there's anything morally wrong with it.

7/10/2007  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Stephen, thanks for that link. That one did strike me as peculiar. I also question #8, for the simple reason that I seem to be on the road to a mid-life crisis, and I'm not even married!

7/10/2007  
Blogger Stephen C. Carlson said...

Yeah, no. 8 suffers from focusing on only one kind of a midlife crisis.

7/10/2007  
Anonymous Greg DeLassus said...

I am not sure that I have an objection to the text of #2, but I think that it is mislabeled. It should read "humans are naturally polygamous in circumstances of social stratification." In other words, it is not that humans are "naturally" given to polygamy, but rather that they will (bearing in mind the problems about this word which Mr Anderson mentions) "naturally" resort to polygamy in response to certain other pressures (the which are not necessarily "natural" at all).

In other words, if we could go back in time to the first human populations wandering the African savanah, I am not sure that they would be practising polygamy. Moreover, I am not sure that it would tell against the real import of claim #2 if it turned out that they were not.

7/11/2007  
Anonymous Greg DeLassus said...

Re#4: the logic of this claim strikes me as somewhat counterintuitive. Has it been shown that unmarried Muslims are more likely than married Muslims to volunteer as suicide bombers. I was under the impression that this was not the case.

7/11/2007  
Anonymous Greg DeLassus said...

This is nothing like a hard science statistical analysis, but I notice that Googling "suicide bombers wife" produces a lot of hits on stories about married suicide bombers. There are even charities set up to care for the widows of suicide bombers. This would seem an odd sort of institution to emerge if only the unmarried Muslim men (the ones losing the polygamy competition) were signing up to be bombers.

7/11/2007  
Blogger Stephen C. Carlson said...

I've doubts about #4 as well. For example, what the Tamil Tigers?

7/11/2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loren wrote: Homosexuality (though not bi-sexuality) is unnatural in the sense that it prevents one's genes from being passed on; it cuts against every species' need to reproduce.

David: Its not that I'm touchy, Loren. It is that this is just the kind of linguistic twisting and misuse of scientific authority that causes confusion. Just don't use the word "unnatural" and you won't create the problems. Just say homosexuality prevents the propogation of one's genetic information. But then you wouldn't have anything controversial. It would just be very tame and obvious. So the politically incorrect part is just the imprecise and misleading language you are using, not the actual nature of the scientific facts. That's why this is all very silly. The "scientific facts" are not politically incorrect.

Look at your definition of unnatural. Something is unnatural if it "prevents one's genes from being passed on." When my wife and I decide to stop having kids after 3, this is unnatural. My friend made a rational decision not to have children, in order to pursue other time-consuming interests in life. This was unnatural of her. If I abstain from sex for a short period of time for religious reasons, I'm apparently being unnatural. Separate dorms for male and female college students? Unnatural. When I encourage my 18 year-old daughter to practice safe sex, I'm doing something unnatural. In fact, when I encourage my 12 year-old daughter not to have sex at all, I'm also doing something unnatural. Fidelity in mating is, of course, very unnatural, even though we see it in some non-human species.

You'll need to come up with a much better definition of "unnatural". This is much too imprecise, and renders so much of human activity "unnatural", that it is a most unnatural use of the word! And this only gets worse when we use this definition for the rest of your list.

Let's look at #1: "Men like blond bombshells (and women want to look like them). "Men who prefer to mate with blond women are unconsciously attempting to mate with younger (and hence, on average, healthier and more fecund) women."

My wife is a natural blonde. She likes to die her hair red, which apparently reduces her ability to appear "healthier and more fecund", thus decreasing her chances of attracting males. This too, is unnatural. Wouldn't you feel silly listing this as unnatural on your list? Well, you'd have to if you stick with your definition.

You say "Humans are naturally polygamous." Well, if naturally polygamous only means that the males pass on their genes to a greater extent in polygamous relationships, then this, like #1., is just a truism. Of course, assuming that the male is mating with his many wives, this is going to be the case.

What do you think about applying #9. to the Papacy? Surely the Pope, throughout history, has had some political clout. Please please please show me, beyond mere correlations of political powers with infidelity (which prove nothing), how #9 is established.

The last thing that I will say is that, on your definition of "natural", our moral codes oppose the "natural" in so many instances, and there are just such an abundance of examples of unnatural behavior, that the claim that we are "largely slaves to nature" is rendered highly implausible.

David Anderson

7/11/2007  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

David wrote:

Look at your definition of unnatural. Something is unnatural if it "prevents one's genes from being passed on." When my wife and I decide to stop having kids after 3, this is unnatural.

No it's not. You've had three kids.

My friend made a rational decision not to have children, in order to pursue other time-consuming interests in life. This was unnatural of her.

Yes, just as my own decision not to have kids is unnatural.

If I abstain from sex for a short period of time for religious reasons, I'm apparently being unnatural.

I don't know about that. Depends on how short a period we're talking.

Separate dorms for male and female college students? Unnatural.

Could be. (But college students are going to hook up and bang each other anyway, regardless of antiquated regulations.)

When I encourage my 18 year-old daughter to practice safe sex, I'm doing something unnatural. In fact, when I encourage my 12 year-old daughter not to have sex at all, I'm also doing something unnatural.

You better believe it. But you're also doing something responsible.

My wife is a natural blonde. She likes to die her hair red, which apparently reduces her ability to appear "healthier and more fecund", thus decreasing her chances of attracting males. This too, is unnatural. Wouldn't you feel silly listing this as unnatural on your list?

Not at all, especially if she's blond to begin with. Dying her hair red would be very unnatural in this case -- as unnatural as a man using condoms or getting a vasectomy. (Speaking of the latter, I'm getting one in a couple of months; there's nothing silly about me acknowledging how unnatural it is.)

You'll need to come up with a much better definition of "unnatural"

I actually never defined "natural" anywhere. Just because the term encompasses reproductive success (which I did claim) doesn't mean it's exhausted by it.

What do you think about applying #9. to the Papacy? Surely the Pope, throughout history, has had some political clout. Please please please show me, beyond mere correlations of political powers with infidelity (which prove nothing), how #9 is established.

Well, David, I'm as skeptical as you are in some places. I think evolutionary psychology has something to offer, but it has its limitations too. Trying to explain everything in terms of one thing is its chief liability, as perhaps in the case of #9.

The last thing that I will say is that, on your definition of "natural", our moral codes oppose the "natural" in so many instances,

That's precisely my point: what's natural has nothing to do with what's moral. And that's what many people (like the PC crowd, and apparently you) are uncomfortable with.

and there are just such an abundance of examples of unnatural behavior, that the claim that we are "largely slaves to nature" is rendered highly implausible.

It takes a lot of effort to overcome our natural inclinations in many cases (the bad ones, that is). Some of us do it better than others. That's one of the reasons why I think it's hard to be good.

7/12/2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loren,

First - let me get this straight. On your understanding, it is natural to die your hair blonde, but unnatural to die your hair any other naturally occuring color?! That makes me chuckle, especially given the fact that the majority of the women of the world have always had hair colors other than blonde.

Since you say that you haven't defined natural (which is what I thought you were doing in saying "Homosexuality...is unnatural in the sense that it prevents one's genes from being passed on" immediately after I asked you how you were defining "unnatural"), can you please define the term properly (giving the necessary and sufficient conditions) so we can actually understand what you're talking about? I'm not asking for anything exhaustive. Apparently obstructing the goal of passing on one's genes is a sufficient condition for being "unnatural". Do you have any other sufficient conditions? And is this a necessary condition - e.g. can something be natural if it prevents the passing on of one's genes, for example? Might there be something else besides this one thing that makes a behavior or trait unnatural? So far, you've determined what is "natural" solely by picking out one particular tendency of the biotic world, and the biotic world is a very small portion of what is normally considered the "natural" world. Very very odd....

Lastly, your statement that "what's natural has nothing to do with what's moral" is simply an overstatement. What you should say is that the natural does not determine the moral. "Is" does not entail "ought". But surely the natural, even on your understanding, is relevant to what is moral. For instance, if we found out that there was a "gay gene" that genetically predetermined homosexual dispositions or preferences, surely this would have to be factored into the ethical debate, particularly among Christians who embrace libertarian free will.

David

7/12/2007  
Anonymous Jacob Levine said...

Hey David, I can't help but think you're missing Loren's general point in obsessing the details. Too many people equate "what is natural" with "what is good or desireable". And that's not only misleading but dangerous - Loren's right, they have nothing to do with each other. The question of naturality (however precisely we define it) is a scientific one and should be kept completely distinct from social/political/moral spheres. So on the assumption that any of the above ten claims are true, and to whatever degree (I think all of us who have commented are skeptical of at least a few), they needn't be seen as threatening in the other spheres, because we should be basing ethics on something else entirely. Whether or not gay genes "genetically predetermine homosexual dispositions or preferences", as you say, this should have no bearing in the ethical debate, because there is nothing immoral about homosexuality or homosexual behavior - period.

7/13/2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apparently my comments are getting deleted now for disagreeing.

Jacob, you write:
Hey David, I can't help but think you're missing Loren's general point in obsessing the details. Too many people equate "what is natural" with "what is good or desireable". And that's not only misleading but dangerous - Loren's right, they have nothing to do with each other.

David: You're making the same mistake as Loren. This is very inaccurate. Of course the natural has a lot to do with what is desirable. The Darwinian reason we have developed a desire for sexual intercourse is because it propagates our genes. What you should be saying is "desires are not completely determined by the natural." See my last paragraph in my last comment to Loren.

David

7/13/2007  
Anonymous Jacob Levine said...

You're making the same mistake as Loren. This is very inaccurate. Of course the natural has a lot to do with what is desirable.

I meant morally desireable, and I'm making no mistake. Loren's point that "what is biologically true has nothing to do with what is morally right" is correct. And since I know Loren doesn't delete comments for disagreement, your last (which I saw) probably vanished for the snotty overtones.

7/13/2007  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Jacob wrote:

Since I know Loren doesn't delete comments for disagreement, your last (which I saw) probably vanished for the snotty overtones.

[chuckle] Poor "David" has posted and been banned on this blog before. In any case, this thread is closed.

7/13/2007  

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