Steve Jones on anarchism and marxism

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Dec 12 2007 11:04

Wikipedia
Genetic determinism is the belief that genes determine physical and behavioral phenotypes. The term may be applied to the mapping of a single gene to a single phenotype or to the belief that most or all phenotypes are determined mostly or exclusively by genes.

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Dec 12 2007 11:07
Anna wrote:
choccy wrote:
Well what's wrong with it is that behaviours can't reduced to a single determinate like genetics.

This is not what 'genetic determinism' means though.

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Why do you have such a hard-on for EO Wilson and Steven Pinker? ;)

Haha. I think that for the most part they cut through the crap pretty well. They and others have been pretty much vilified by 'left-wingers', but I'm trying to illustrate that the fear and opposition to neo-Darwinism is 99% misplaced.

I'm not "afraid" of neo-Darwinism at all, although i despise the term "Darwinism" because it makes evolution sound like a personality-cult which plays into the hands of detractors.

I think stuff that's useful in "neo-Darwinism" but I've only read bits of Wilson's Sociobiology and Pinker's Blank Slate.

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Dec 12 2007 11:25
choccy wrote:
Wikipedia
Genetic determinism is the belief that genes determine physical and behavioral phenotypes. The term may be applied to the mapping of a single gene to a single phenotype or to the belief that most or all phenotypes are determined mostly or exclusively by genes.

That's essentially correct, but 'determine' is in the soft, statistical sense, not the hard, ineluctable programming sense.

I attempted a definition in the other thread:

"Genetic determinism is the idea that genes build bodies and minds (through an incredibly complex spatio-temporal process regulated by environmental factors), and that inherent structures, learning mechanisms, biases and predispositions (which therefore have a genetic root) influence behaviour. This is not the same as saying that the genes control us, it is saying that all other things being equal, the possession of gene X has a statistical influence on expressing trait Y."

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Dec 12 2007 15:35

Driven by our genes, we are simple selfish beings.

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Dec 12 2007 22:57

I think the progress being made towards a scientific understanding of human nature by people like Pinker is quiet encouraging. There is evidence that ethical behavior, conflict resolution skills, and empathy stem from our genetics and are not just social constructs. This challenges one of the main justifications for the state and hierarchy, the idea that humans are inherently evil and need to be policed to enforce moral behavior and hold society together.

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Dec 12 2007 23:49
revol68 wrote:
genetic determinism is fucking straight up retarded, it either stays within it's appropriate limits and so can offer such profound insights as "Brazil produces such excellent footballers as it's human population has two legs." or oversteps the mark and ends up making crude reductionist just so stories. Occam's razor is pretty good for hard sciences like physics it's bullshit for complex cultures of conscious agents whp produce their own circumstances. Anything of interest in human society requires a much more nuanced approach than anything offered by evolutionary pyschology or genetic determinists.

You are basing this assertion on the work of which evolutionary psychologists / genetic determinists?

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Dec 13 2007 00:20
revol68 wrote:
i laying out the argument that their work is pointless shite. I mean nearly everything i read is just coming up with just so stories for how things we are well aware of could come into being. I mean even your stuff about how co operation and language could evolve, so what? We know those things exist what interest is their in weaving neat little narratives as to how they exist? Afterall there must be a evolutionary explanation for the potentiality of every human behaviour, from murder, rape, nuclear war, painting, singing, playing football et, anything that has ever happened or been done in human society is 'natural'.

The fact is that looking for the reasons for behaviours, institutions and social formations in mechanisms evolved thousands and millions of years ago can only produce the most vague bullshit that flattens all human history and culture, afterall we haven't evolved biologically for thousands of years. Any meaningfull understanding of human behaviour and societies has to work on a far more micro scale than evolution, anything that evolutionary has to say is either blandly generic or oversteps it's mark, seeking to legitimise certain practices and social relations (all the while claiming niave fact and value seperation roll eyes).

You must be reading the wrong stuff. Evolutionary psychology combines cognitive neuroscience with evolutionary biology to reverse engineer the mind, analysing how it works, and why it works in the particular way it does. It is not about coming up with unfalsifiable 'just so stories'. If you show me some concrete examples to back up your assertions, or mention some scientists, maybe we have something to discuss. At the moment it is like trying to discuss Marxism with someone who thinks that communism = the USSR. You are so far off the mark I don't know where to start.

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Dec 13 2007 01:24
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and what can this reverse engineering tell us about the mind

A hell of a lot. It is a very powerful tool which leaves regular psychology by the wayside. For starters, I suggest 'how the mind works' by Pinker.

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or rather tell us about behaviour in a specific society or historical epoch?

Why the hell would you use evolutionary psychology for this? We are obviously suffering from a huge disparity in our perspectives. Those in the social sciences tend to be very anthropocentric, they study society from a micro level and are zoomed in so close that the variation between different human individuals/societies appear huge and all encompassing. You end up with these wacky ideas about the mind being a tabula rasa, there being no inherent human universals, and everything being some 'social construct' or other.
A biologist, who looks at the whole spectrum of life from bacteria to bryozoans to baboons, is more interested in humans as a unique species. Evolutionary psychology examines the traits that every person shares. It analyses what it means to be human.

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It will either reveal vague generic things about the mind ie why we experiance fear or say how it is we come to feel sad etc but because it is working from an evolutionary viewpoint it can't offer us any answers in relation to specific concrete circumstances. Yes it can tell us why we have developed the ability to fear, it doesn't tell us Jack shit about the specific nature of our fears, how someone can come to fear the young kids on their corner, the myhtical 'scarey blackman', the secretitive 'other' or the conspiratol 'jew'. It can perhaps suggest reasons as to why we fear the dark (evolutionary spekaing going into dark places willy nilly ain't good for increasing your chances of survival), but even then the fact that most people grow out of it and how darkness can become something of comfort or reassurance.

This is all akin to criticizing a calculator by pointing out it can't do spellcheck. It misses the point of evolutionary psychology, which is to examine and explain the 99% of traits which humans share, rather than the 1% in which we differ. It is about understanding who we are and our shared humanity.

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I'm not saying it's necessarily wrong or reactionatry i'm saying it's just abit vague and pointless,

Thus speaks the old social sciences myopia again. Understanding our evolutionary heritage and unlocking human nature is 'pointless',

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like i said every human behaviour is 'natural' and I see little use in looking to weave sweeping narratives reliant on hundred thousand year old plot devices to rationalise them.

Evolutionary psychology is not about making up 'evolutionary' explanations for clubbing, literature, cars, television, myspace, whatever - this rubbish is usually cod-science hyped up in newspapers. It is not just about 'just so stories' either. It is about looking at how the mind actually works, and explaining why it works the way it does.

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I can't remember specific theorists or studies but i'm always coming across scoial biologists busting out shit 'just so stories' for shit like male infideility, why women go for older men and men younger women and such shite. Likewise all this shit about 'gay genes' (obviously not meant literally in terms of a single 'gay gene' but as shorthand for locating sexuality in biology) what does it tell us of interest? Do we need to find some evolutionary narrative for homosexuality to legitimise it, the fact that it exists is the only thing relevant to me, why try and find reasons for it on the flat plains of the west african landscape? Basically what does it tell us beyond the banal?

So basically you are saying that trying to understand scientifically the basis and nature of any human trait is 'banal'? This has nothing to do with legitimising anything, it has to do with understanding what we are and why we are. Seriously, your passing off of the history and science behind humanity as irrelevances astounds me.

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Dec 13 2007 03:03
revol68 wrote:
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It misses the point of evolutionary psychology, which is to examine and explain the 99% of traits which humans share, rather than the 1% in which we differ. It is about understanding who we are and our shared humanity.

So like I said it ends up making banal statements that doesn't deal with human difference

Sorry, any statement that doesn't deal with human difference is 'banal'? Humans are 99% banal? How do you reach this assumption?

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or it oversteps it's mark and end ups claiming certain universals of what shared humanity is.

How is this overstepping the mark? This is what evolutionary psychology does. It's not concerned with the minute variation, it's concerned with the universals. Here are a few, in case you start disputing their existence.

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And of course evolutionary psychology sticks it's nose into the micro level, it is afterall about psychology, it isn't simple biology, it seeks to explain real concrete humans responses to specific concrete variables and environments, it looks for these explanations in evolutionary mechanisms going back thousands of years and so embraces simplistic ahistorical narratives that brush over rich and complex histories and social relations.

Biology is simple now? At the end of the Origin of Species, Darwin proclaimed, "Psychology will be placed on a new foundation". This is what evolutionary psychology does, it places psychology on a solid biological foundation.
For thousands of years, humans have had the same brains. Cultural variability can shape brains to some degree, but they all retain the same fundamental structure, and are probably 95% functionally identical. We have to a large extent the same brains as cavemen, and we thus exhibit to a large extent the same behaviour as cavemen. Our minds are not a tabula rasa - our every action is influenced in some way by our evolutionary heritage.
Evolutionary psychology is anything but ahistorical. It embraces history as the sine qua non to explain all aspects of our behaviour and minds. Just the history we're talking about here has a longer reach.

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Like I said evolutionary psychology can either remain at the level of banality, explaining football in terms of us having two legs or it oversteps it's lines and starts trying to find evolutionary explanations for why we developed the spefics of the game, more often than not this will move into finding evolutionary reasons why Germans always win penalty shoot outs (of course as we all know fact doesn't equal value roll eyes) or explain Total Football as an elaborate mating dance the product of sexual selection.

This is a straw man. Evolutionary psychology has to deal with mind/behaviour created by the rigours and demands of hunter-gatherer society. We still have that same mind/behaviour.

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I mean what do we share as humanity? That we breath air? That we laugh, cry, smile and mourn?

See the list of 200 odd universals linked to above.

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Yes but what interest is that alone? What use is a frame without content? What is interesting is what makes us laugh, what makes us cry, why do some mourn whilst others celebrate? Anything else is like I said banal.

This is your (pretty blinkered) opinion. Evolutionary psychology deals with questions such as, what the hell are laughing/crying/mourning for? What function do they serve in increasing inclusive fitness? How and why did these behaviours evolve? (Think about it...rather than taking 'laughing' for example as a given, try and fathom what the final cause of it could be. Why on earth should some high energy expenditure convulsive noisy breathing have evolved in response to things that are 'funny'? What makes things 'funny'?) I for one do not find these questions 'banal' in the slightest.

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Of course even these universal traits are themselves 'discoverers' and categories and concerns of a specific historical epoch and culture, what is deemed universal, of interest is itself the product of human culture and takes place within that 1% difference.

No, what makes a trait universal is that it is in some way hard wired into the genome and expressed by all members of the species regardless of cultural variation.

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Dec 13 2007 03:17
revol68 wrote:
andsorry there is no human nature to simply unlock or indeed if such a nature coudl be said to exist it certainly couldn't be located on the level of evolution, afterall human socieities and history are as part of our nature as anything else, our ability for abstract thought, our politics, wars, crimes and acts of kindness are all part of our 'nature' and as such the only universals you would unlock on an evolutionary level would be essentially banal, like I keep saying it would be like claiming to have unlocked the 'essence' of football by pointing to the universalism of players having two legs (and of course quielty brushing aside any one legged players as anomalies irrelevant to your universal).

Human nature is that 99% of traits that we share regardless of cultural variation, you know, that portion you think is so insignificant and banal. All those shared predispositions and behavioural biases coded into our genome. In the final analysis, society is a result of human nature, not the cause of it, as are abstract thought, politics, wars, crimes and acts of kindness. They all have their root in the genes (though of course the phenotype acts reflexively on itself). [insert about 5 paragraphs of caveats about 'genetic determinism' and the influence of cultural evolution that I am bored of writing]
And please quit with this football metaphor, it is worse than useless.

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Dec 13 2007 03:29
revol68 wrote:
and no i don't think evolutionary biology is banal shit, i don't think explaining the developmet of the eye or our ability for abstract thought is banal either, I find it fascinating. What I do find banal is any attempt to enage with human psychology and the mind from the distance of ten thousand years, the brain might me an organ, a product of evolution, unchanged in thousands of years but the mind which is what psychology studies is not simply conflatable with the biological brain, the mind is not the blank biological structure, it is instead an active product of environment, of experiance, history and language, it is not a simple 'object' for scientific study but dynamic, fluid and self reflective, infact 'science' is a created, limited and articulated by it.

No dichotomy between the brain and the mind please, smacks of 'ghost in the machine'. But I see what you're getting at:
the mind = the brain + cultural memes
This I agree with, but I absolutely disagree that it is off-limits for scientific investigation. It's the last great mystery in the universe, let's get to work unravelling it. Everything you mentioned is what makes the brain so interesting.
I think the crux of the matter is that you consider the brain to be 'blank', ready to be written on by culture. My main point is that, although culture does influence behaviour to a large degree (behaviour being the most labile of genetically influenced traits), the brain really isn't blank at all. Rather than a tabula rasa, it is scribbled all over with hallmarks of our evolutionary heritage, and we cannot escape their influence, because they are what make us human.

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Jan 3 2008 00:45

Sorry revol, totally missed your replies, hence the delay in responding

revol68 wrote:
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No, what makes a trait universal is that it is in some way hard wired into the genome and expressed by all members of the species regardless of cultural variation.

again you haven't addressed any of my points. Yes we essentially have a brain that has changed next to nothing since hunter gatherer times and yes there are certain behaviours found across cultures but the studying of these on such a level is not real psychology because psychology is not the simply a study of the brain structures but an understanding of the mind, of how we think and process our experiances, it is about the micro structures, patterns and connections we build within the macro structures of the brain.

You cede that the brain has inherent structure, but where we diverge is on whether the brain has inherent content. You assume it does not, but this is decidedly false. Biology has a huge influence on 'the mind, how we think and process our experiences'. If you want to contest this I can point you towards some relevant books / evidence.

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Psychology doesn't simply ask 'how we laugh or how it evolved' just as it doesn't ask 'how we cry and how it evolved', the physiology of the tear duct and it's evolution is a question for biology, it is not one of psychology, psychology is 'what makes us cry'

And biology doesn't simply ask 'how we laugh/cry or how it evolved' or limit itself to physiological questions. Biology also asks 'what makes us cry, and why?' and what is the function of grief occuring after particular events but not others? Unless you suppose that particular behaviours and responses (and thoughts and emotions etc) are completely arbitrary, then to find their final cause you will have to look at evolution. Psychology without biology has to limit itself to proximate causes, and hence circular reasoning. If, when asking why something makes someone cry, one responds with 'they find it sad', and 'sad' is defined as 'something apt to make someone cry', then nothing really is explained. This is the 'virtus dormitiva' fallacy.

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and that means having to throw ourselves into a complex social world, of language, signs, essentially culture,

Undoubtedly. But where does society come from? Of course, the individual society is shaped to some extent by historical specificity, but, when looked at objectively, societies do not differ very greatly. Each and every human society shares with all others a huge mass of common traits - is this coincidence? And most examples used by anthropologists to illustrate culturally moulded minds and behaviour are simply false. Among these we may count Margaret Mead's erroneous claims of sexual promiscuity in Samoa (she credulously repeated what was told to her as a practical joke by a witty native). And then, of course, there's Whorf's completely false claims that the Hopi have no conception of time, and his 'Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax' (Inuits don't have 400 words for snow, they have four).
The reach of the gene is long. Not merely responsible for physiology, genes determine such remote effects as the shape of a termite colony's nest, or that of a beaver's dam. Among all animals, social structure is predominantly determined (ultimately) by the genes, and humans prove no exception. (However, social structure, as the phenotypic effect farthest removed from the genotype, is a very labile trait, and it is useless to try and correlate it to particular genes).

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any attempt to understand the mind, motives and behaviours of individuals and societies from the distance of ten thousand years or so is as I said as useful as trying to grasp the working of a football match from an indepth knowledge of the human leg.

Again, you falsely assume genetic effects are limited to physiology. However, the mind (and society) have their root in the genes. Another point, evolutionary psychology is not mainly concerned with the historical human, as you assume, but the brain, which, having been shaped by that history, is present in all of us, and influences our behaviour every bit as much as it did our ancestors.

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of course the fac tis that evolutionary psychology can't help but stick it's nose into shit it should stay out of. Infact the introducing Evolutionary Psychology book i borrowed off choccy is packed with bullshit about human sexual behaviour, of how woman are attracted to older men because of evolution, or female's being more careful about who they sleep with blah blah.

Haha, if anything's bullshit it's the ass-backwards theories of people like Freud and Reich. But let's treat the examples you cite.

Women being attracted to older men: Among all animals, sexual dimorphism is proportional to male competition for mates and polygamy, and inversely proportional to paternal investment in offspring. In humans, sexual dimorphism is not half so marked as it is in a lot of other species, but it is still significant. Where there is sexual dimorphism, the male (or in some species, the female) develops later and grows to a larger size. In humans, a species with moderate sexual dimorphism, males on average develop later than girls and are usually larger. The extra energy expenditure on growth is repaid by mating success (think about huge old 'silverbacked' gorillas obtaining a harem of females).

Females being more careful about who they sleep with: Due to the difference in parental investment and gamete size, males and females (in pretty much most species) have very different mating strategies. The male makes millions of tiny sperm every day, which are very cheap energy-wise, and seeks to minimise parental care and maximise the amount of females he inseminates. On the other hand, females have only a few, large, energy-costly eggs, and have larger parental investment, and so seek to only be fertilized by males of the best genetic stock, in order to maximise their number of grandchildren. Anywhere where there is this divergence in mating strategy the females are more picky about which males they copulate with, and males compete for mates. There's no reason why human's should have bucked the trend. Also, when females employ a 'coy' strategy, they force males to increase their parental investment, hence reducing their exploitation and so increasing their number of offspring. Hence coyness will tend to evolve in females.

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It can't help but take existing social relations and reify them, placing their origins as deep seated and innate instincts honed by evolution

But more often than not, these existing social relations are hypertrophied outgrowths of the biologically determined behaviour. You're getting you causation backwards - society itself evolves out of biology. Where do you suppose culture comes from exactly?

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and cnveniently allowing contemporary social relations, hierarchies and ideological apparatus off the hook.

It doesn't. Of course these are all important, and shape the fine details of social behaviour, but not its broad thrust.

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Yes, of course fact doesn't mean value but if one see's the root of the facts in something as old and essentially ahistorical (from a human perspective), stable and unchanging as evolution rather than constantly produced and reproduced socially contingent institutions and power relations it will obviously have a massive affect on the construction and articulation of one's values, and most importantly how we seek to transform these values into action.

And here is the crux of your line of argument. You fear that if some objectionable behaviours are characterised as innate then either they are immutable, or people may perceive them as being immutable and cease trying to alter them. This is a legitimate fear, and reactionaries having been committing the old naturalistic fallacy throughout history. However, this is to draw the wrong conclusions from the premises. Obviously existing social relations are predominantly determined by social institutions and power relations, and anyone who seeks to justify these by appealing to biology are talking complete shite. I actually wish there were more revolutionaries working in evolutionary fields, since seeing as most Marxists and people on the Left have steered well clear (and made plenty of unfounded accusations and misrepresentations, and vilified honest scientists as 'fascists') then occasionally some reactionary conclusions can creep in which don't follow from the scientific facts presented.
My opinion of sociobiology is that it is a very exciting discipline that is extremely useful in an examination of human nature. Marx stressed that the starting point of any theory should be empirical facts rather than ideology, and for one interested in the potential of humankind I think it is imperative to study what humankind actually is. We shouldn't make out that humans are infinitely malleable into angels out of service to ideology, since as Spinoza's maxim goes, 'neither laugh nor cry, but understand', and wrong facts will only result in bad theory. When one is considering the type of society one strives to create, one has to deal with real, concrete men. Violence and disagreement will never be eliminated, but one can look for the type of environment that brings out the best in humans, that will minimise this type of discord, and allow the maximisation of voluntary cooperation. Humans are moderately territorial and private animals, and hence everyone should have a right to their own personal space, but we should seek an environment that curbs the hypertrophic expression of this tendencies in antisocial activities like war. (See the discussion of 'behavioural scaling' below). Sexual differences will similarly never disappear, but why should one try to make them? Men and women, on average, prefer and excel at different things, so who's to stop them pursuing the individual paths they enjoy? We shouldn't be surprised or worried if more women than men want to be linguists, or more men than women want to be mathematicians, so long as every individual gets a chance to do what they're good at, with no stigma attached.
One more point. A study of human nature is also useful as a strategic tool. For example, racism, a divisive tool fostered by the ruling class in order to 'divide and conquer' and fracture working class unity, appears entirely irrational, but is often more easy to inspire than solidarity. If we recognise that racism is a hypertrophic outgrowth of simple tribalist tendencies inherent to humans, then it goes some way towards explaining why it is so pervasive, and aids us in overcoming it. Knowledge is knowledge and facts are facts, and they should never be suppressed, since it is how we use them that determine whether they serve revolutionary or reactionary ends. By ignoring evolutionary psychology and sociobiology, radicals are shooting themselves in the foot.

revol68 wrote:
i'm not saying the brain is blank at all, it's patently obvious for us to have develop such language skills, the ability for abstract thoguth etc there must be structure to the brain. What I am saying is that the mind is can't be reduced to that, it requires stimulus, environment, socialisation and all those are culturally and socially contingent, the mind therefore creates it's own structures within the macro structures ie word associations, that also shape how we think. Like Chomsky's universal grammar, it says there has to a certain structure for language to develop, just as there has to be a certain shape/constrain to the growth of any other muscle or organ, afterall the leg has to be a certain way for us to walk. But what that doesn't dictate is what is done with the leg, whether we play football (you love it really), rugby, kick the cat, or have it tatooed, likewise the rules of grammar or any language do not dictate what we write about and they do not stop the existance of micro structures within the text either.

But the crucial point is that evolutionary history to a large extent determines the content of thought as well as the structure. It certainly places large constraints on what we can conceptualise, the way we frame our ideas, and the ideas that appeal to us. The social environment shapes the mind, but only within relatively narrow confines. Another point to reiterate - society didn't just drop from the sky, it developed in parallel with our evolutionary history, and genetic and social evolution acted reflexively on one another.
Anyway, as regards the constraints set on thought by the structure of language and the evolutionary hallmarks on our brain, I'm about to read a book on the subject so I won't discuss it further until I'm done with that. But to give a simple illustration of biology constraining the direction of socialisation, here's an example from the non-human world:
A chimpanzee learns to fear snakes by seeing another chimp go apeshit in the presence of a snake (or just by watching a video recording of this). If a chimp does not witness this behaviour, it displays no fear at the sight of a snake. From this, it appears that social conditioning causes fear of snakes. However, if (due to splicing video images), a chimp observes another chimp going apeshit at the sight of flower, it will not itself show fear of flowers. This internal discrimination of inputs has obvious evolutionary advantages. We can see that the behaviour of showing fear of snakes is genetically caused, but relies on a social stimulus to be expressed.

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Evolutionary psychology is to psychology what a grammar textbook is to an English literature class, utterly banal. As I said every behaviour or act ever carried out by a hum or collection of humans or a robot under the control of a human is natural, so at most all evolutionary psychology can do is hope to weave a narrative that rationalises all these actions or even the potential for them. Whether a person rapes, murders or sacrifices their life all evolutionary psychology can explain is how any of those three outcomes (and everyother outcome in human history) is inkeeping with our evolutionary heritage and that is what i would call the pinnacle of banality from a psychological viewpoint.

Again, you make these blanket assertations about evolutionary psychology when you really aren't well enough acquainted with it to properly judge, but I'll leave that aside. Instead, I'll raise one aspect of sociobiology which is pertinent to what you wrote above. Asserting that human nature is inherent does not imply that it is monolithic and inflexible, far from it. In biology we have the concept of 'behavioural scaling', in which the behaviour expressed is determined by the particular nature of the environment. (This is not environmental determinism, since the scale is determined by the genes, and the environment merely provides the input to calibrate it). As an example, a lot of species display behaviour that is density dependent. Some rodents, for example, are more or less aggressive and territorial depending on how dense the population is. Often, once a particular density threshold is reached, the scale breaks down and you get irrational behaviour like cannibalism and homosexuality. (I hope I don't need to say this, but just in case, I'm am not implying homosexuality is 'wrong' or anything, I'm just relating some scientific facts about stuff mice do).
My point is that sociobiology is well equipped to take social environment into account. And it must do, seeing as humans are the most flexible of all species. Sociobiology can explain how different social and cultural environments produce different temperaments and shades of human nature, without posing a blank slate model or an infinitely malleable human nature. There are constraints on how far humans can be moulded by society - you're never going to get a society of women who enjoy being raped, for example. If human nature was entirely arbitrary and totally socially constructed, then there would be no reason why they could (or should) not be conditioned to this state.
Similarly, if one was to biologically explain why a person 'rapes or murders', once psychopathy is ruled out then the most plausible explanation would be irrational and brutish behaviour stemming from intolerable social conditions and the effect these have on the psyche.
I hope this dispels some misconceptions.

revol68 wrote:
also if you don't want people to snigger don't use bullshit cod concepts like 'memes', that shit is just foolish.

Why? It's a very useful conceptual tool that avoids one of the major pitfalls sociobiologists are liable to, that regarding mode of transmission of a trait. Evolution regards the differential success of replicators. In genetic evolution, the replicators are genes and the target of selection are the bodies they build out of organic molecules. For evolutionary purposes, the definition of gene is merely functional, and just refers to a unit of hereditary information. (This is a conceptual definition in contrast to more technical definitions such as the length of DNA required to code for one polypeptide etc).
In cultural evolution, the replicators are ideas rather than genes, and their substrate is the brains (and books and libraries) they inhabit, rather than organic molecules. These ideas are labelled 'memes' which is just a functional label for a unit of culturally transmitted information and is not supposed to correlate with anything physical like a particular brain state or whatever.The fundamental point is that the success of an idea in permeating a society is dependent on the replicating fitness that idea itself has, rather than the reproductive fitness it confers upon its host. Of course, most successful memes do confer some advantage on the individual, but there are many that are detrimental, and it is therefore imperitive when examining a trait to determine whether it is genetically or culturally transmitted. Only if it is genetically transmitted would we automatically assume it to increase fitness. Bad sociobiologists think that every single trait must have some evolutionary explanation, and hence come up with a load of hogwash when they try and 'explain' phenomena like people volantarily taking vows of chastity and joining a monastery/convent.

revol68 wrote:
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Human nature is that 99% of traits that we share regardless of cultural variation, you know, that portion you think is so insignificant and banal. All those shared predispositions and behavioural biases coded into our genome. In the final analysis, society is a result of human nature, not the cause of it, as are abstract thought, politics, wars, crimes and acts of kindness. They all have their root in the genes (though of course the phenotype acts reflexively on itself). [insert about 5 paragraphs of caveats about 'genetic determinism' and the influence of cultural evolution that I am bored of writing]

so human nature is what human nature does?

What makes's us humans isn't some bullshit set of quantitive biological criteria, that might be what marks us out as a seperate species but it's not what makes us human, what makes us human is our conciousness, our ability for abstract language, for actively shaping and changing our environment to our needs and desires, to actively shape our own means, ends and purpose. Yes it's our biology that makes it possible but just as a footballer isn't defined simply by having two legs but by what they do with them, what defines being human is what we do with the potential our large brains have given us. Human nature is that open ended potentiality, it is that ability to change the world and ourselves, human nature is self producing.

I think you'll find that "human nature" actually is "what marks us out as a separate species". And among these biological criteria, along with 'bipedal gait', 'hairlessness', 'lack of a penis bone' etc, are included exactly those criteria you cite - our consciousness, our ability for abstract language, our ability for praxis. All of these have evolved and increase our fitness, and nothing you write above is contradicted by sociobiology. As I said before, throughout the evolution of our brains, cultural and genetic evolution have acted reflexively upon one another, and culture has impacted on the physiological structure of the brain just as much as the brain has shaped culture. There has never been a selection pressure in favour of 'large brains' per se, as having a huge head is a massive impediment. What has been selected for over the aeons has been what we have done with our brains, and hence our past actions have literally created our present incarnation. We've basically bootstrapped ourselves very rapidly to unsurpassed evolutionary heights, by an advanced version of a process known in biology as the 'Baldwin effect'. I entirely agree, 'human nature is self-producing'.

capricorn
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Jan 15 2008 09:13

Rev68 is right.
And Pinker the "Evolutionary Psychologist" is a declared opponent of everything we here stand for.

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One of the fondest beliefs of many intellectuals is that there are cultures out there where everyone shares freely. Marx and Engels thought that preliterate peoples represented a first stage in the evolution of civilization called primitive communism, whose maxim was 'From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs (How the Mind Works, Penguin, 1998, p. 504).
Quote:
Those who believe that communism or socialism is the most rational form of social organisation are aghast at the suggestion that they run against our selfish natures (The Blank State, Allen Lane, 2002, p. 161).

So is EO Wilson the "sociobiologist":

Quote:
The perception of history as an inevitable class struggle proceeding to the emergence of a lightly governed egalitarian society with production in control of the workers is ( . . . ) based on an inaccurate interpretation of human nature (On Human Nature, Penguin, 1995, p. 190).

These people have nothing useful to tell us. They are on the other side in the battle of ideas.

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Jan 15 2008 13:04

I expect Anna will invoke the naturalistic fallacy in defense of Wilson and Pinker.

powertotheimagi...
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Jan 15 2008 15:38

I haven't read much on evolutionary psychology but its safe to say that 99.9% of humans care 99.9% of the time just about themselves and those immediately near them in a genetic/friend sense.

capricorn
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Jan 15 2008 16:21
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I haven't read much on evolutionary psychology but its safe to say that 99.9% of humans care 99.9% of the time just about themselves and those immediately near them in a genetic/friend sense.

Maybe (except 99.9% seems a bit exaggerated and I'd rather say "family" than "genetic"), but that's not the point. The point is does this preclude the establishment of a society "whose maxim [is] 'From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs'" (as Pinker claims) or "the emergence of a lightly governed egalitarian society with production in control of the workers" (as EO Wilson does)?

powertotheimagi...
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Jan 15 2008 16:41
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Maybe (except 99.9% seems a bit exaggerated and I'd rather say "family" than "genetic"), but that's not the point.

I would of said 100% but nothing is ever really 100% when discussing human behaviour, esp. over such a large time and cultural expanse. I said genetic to mean (close) family to distingush from other 'close' people such as the neighbours, work colleges and members of social/hobby clubs.

Quote:
The point is does this preclude the establishment of a society

In one word, yes. Its a trait shared by most creatures on earth (certainly mammals). It dosen't have to be a bad thing (people can cooperate to advance themselves within the cooperative relationship) or it can be bad (in the way people totally descend into the 'loving of self' such as someone like Ted Bundy). Its also were I think alot of the bloody events of the history come from (religion being a grouding and blanket for these murderous acts). I cant think all of the people in, say, the Holocaust or Rwanda were just propelled to their acts by the socio-political situation (and even if they were it was to satisfy self, in a bigger wage, bigger job promotion, more power etc), its something deeper in humans that comes out at times like that, infact it trancends religions, cultures, sexuality and race, and at the risk of sounding totally pessimistic it is in such times that the various social groups (inc. the issue of race being discussed) break and the human nature at its fundamental is exposed.

capricorn
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Jan 15 2008 16:53

In that case, what's the best sort of society you think your view of "human nature" permits? Would it require a central coercive and repressive apparatus to hold "human nature" in check?

powertotheimagi...
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Jan 15 2008 16:55
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In that case, what's the best sort of society you think your view of "human nature" permits?

It would be a serfdom. With me at the top.

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Would it require a central coercive and repressive apparatus to hold "human nature" in check?

It would be limited as possible, but human nature as such can never ever be kept in check.

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Jan 15 2008 18:14

Selfishness is no obstacle to egalitarianism. Surely it is its motivating force? Why should the other guy get more than me? Why should the other guy be in charge of me? The problem with contemporary socieities is not that people are too selfish, but that they are not selfish enough to stop letting themselves be ordered about and exploited.

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Jan 19 2008 13:55
capricorn wrote:
In that case, what's the best sort of society you think your view of "human nature" permits? Would it require a central coercive and repressive apparatus to hold "human nature" in check?

A lot of the theoretical foundations of sociobiology were laid by Robert Trivers (building on work by W.D. Hamilton, Ronald Fisher etc).

Steven Pinker wrote:
The insinuation that Trivers was a tool of racism and right-wing oppression was particularly galling because Trivers was himself a political radical, a supporter of the Black Panthers, and a scholarly collaborator of Huey Newton's. Trivers had argued that sociobiology is, if anything, a force for political progress. It is rooted in the insight that organisms did not evolve to benefit their family, group, or species, because the individuals making up those groups have genetic conflicts of interest with another and would be selected to defend those interests. This immediately subverts the comfortable belief that those in power rule for the good of all, and it throws a spotlight on hidden actors in the social world, such as females and the younger generation. Also, by finding an evolutionary basis for altruism, sociobiology shows that a sense of justice has a deep foundation in people's minds and need not run against our organic nature. And by showing that self-deception is likely to evolve (because the best liar is the one who believes his own lies), sociobiology encourages self-scrutiny and helps undermine hypocrisy and corruption.

So to answer your question, I actually think that sociobiology undermines state-worship and Benthamite characterisations of humans as rational fools (an inherent curbing of short-term self-interest allows us to reap the benefits of cooperation and furthers our long-term self-interest). I find no contradiction between being a sociobiologist and a communist, except insofar as there is a huge bulk of unbiological notions held by other communists that I think must be combated.
However, I do think that human nature prescribes certain constraints on social organisation, but these constraints only rule out certain outdated utopian conceptions of 'communism'. Humans are territorial animals and require some degree of privacy and personal space - this rules out communal mess halls and phalansteries. The differences between males and females (which, it must be noted, are only statistical differences in bias) cannot be eradicated by conditioning (and we shouldn't wish for them to be) so the sexes will always tend to specialise in slightly different areas. Humans form meaningful pair bonds, and 'free love' in the depraved and anti-social '60s sense is thankfully not something that will ever be universally adopted. The positive aspects of family will survive its liberation from the patriarchal form. Communism, although freeing humanity from most of the sources of crime will not eradicate human aggressiveness and crimes of passion will remain, and certain mentally ill psycopaths will never be 'cured' by conditioning. Hence, some form of militia force would be required to protect the majority from the anti-social impulses of a few. Communism, rather than transforming humans into something they are not, will provide the circumstances most conducive to the expression of the most laudable forms of humanity.

Gilles Dauve wrote:
Communism organizes its material life on the basis of the confrontation and interplay of needs - which does not exclude conflicts and even some form of violence. Men will not turn into angels: why should they?
capricorn
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Jan 19 2008 15:45

I thought that, as an adept of sociobiology, that's how you would have to reply, but the following claim intrigues me:

Quote:
'free love' in the depraved and anti-social '60s sense is thankfully not something that will ever be universally adopted.

I don't know whether "free love" (sex outside of marriage or a "meaningful pair bond"?) will ever be universally adopted, but neither will (or ever has been) sex confined to marriage or a "meaningful pair bond". In any event, I don't see what's "depraved" or "anti-social" about it. Except, I suppose, from your point of view as a sociobiologist, it should never happen as the function of sex is seen as being merely to ensure that genes get passed on. The fact that humans can and do have sex for fun (and why not) is itself a refutation of genetic determinism, showing as it does that other, cultural factors enter into our behaviour. In fact the choice of a partner for reproduction has never conformed to what the sociologists preach but has always been governed by cultural and social norms.

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Jan 19 2008 16:52
capricorn wrote:
I thought that, as an adept of sociobiology, that's how you would have to reply, but the following claim intrigues me:
Quote:
'free love' in the depraved and anti-social '60s sense is thankfully not something that will ever be universally adopted.

I don't know whether "free love" (sex outside of marriage or a "meaningful pair bond"?) will ever be universally adopted, but neither will (or ever has been) sex confined to marriage or a "meaningful pair bond". In any event, I don't see what's "depraved" or "anti-social" about it.

By 'free love' I was referring to the practise of sexual promiscuity towards an end of purely personal pleasure, without regard for the feelings of the other person/people involved. There is ample anecdotal evidence to the effect that 'free love' invariably just produces jealousy and resentment.

(Forget that it is Lenin saying this): "You must be aware of the famous theory that in Communist society the satisfaction of sexual desires, or love, will be as simple and unimportant as drinking a glass of water. (...) I think this glass of water theory is completely un-Marxist, and moreover, anti-social (...) the social aspect is most important of all. Drinking water is of course an individual affair. But in love two lives are concerned"

Quote:
Except, I suppose, from your point of view as a sociobiologist, it should never happen as the function of sex is seen as being merely to ensure that genes get passed on. The fact that humans can and do have sex for fun (and why not) is itself a refutation of genetic determinism, showing as it does that other, cultural factors enter into our behaviour. In fact the choice of a partner for reproduction has never conformed to what the sociologists preach but has always been governed by cultural and social norms.

Here you quite clearly have no idea what you are talking about. (It seems a lot of criticisms of sociobiology are derived from distorted and inaccurate conceptions of it.) Let me acquaint you with the 'sociobiologist view' of sex, and rectify your misconceptions:

Edward O Wilson wrote:
Sex is central to human biology and a protean phenomenon that permeates every aspect of our existence and takes new forms through each step in the life cycle. Its complexity and ambiguity are due to the fact that sex is not designed primarily for reproduction. Evolution has devised much more efficient ways for creatures to multiply than the complicated procedures of mating and fertilization (...) If multiplication were the only purpose of reproductive behaviour, our mammalian ancestors could have evolved without sex (...)
Nor is the primary function of sex the giving and receiving of pleasure. The vast majority of animal species perform the sexual act mechanically and with minimal foreplay (...) Pleasure is at best an enabling device for animals that copulate, a means for inducing creatures with versatile nervous systems to make the heavy investment of time and energy required for courtship, sexual intercourse and parenting.
Moreover, sex is in every sense a gratuitously consuming and risky activity (...) Thus sex by itself lends no straightforward Darwinian advantage. (...)

The most distinctive feature of the sexual bond, one of overriding significance for human social organization, is that it transcends sexual activity. Genetic diversification, the ultimate function of sex, is served by the physical pleasure of the sex act and outranks in importance the process of reproduction. The sexual bond is also served by pleasure, and it fulfills other roles in turn, some of which are only remotely connected to reproduction. These multiple functions and complex chains of causation are the deeper reason why sexual awareness permeates so much of human existence. (...)

Human beings are unique among the primates in the intensity and variety of their sexual activity. Among other higher mammals they are exceeded in sexual athleticism only by lions. (...) Women are extraordinary in lacking the estrus, or period of heat (...) Why has sexual responsiveness become nearly continuous? The most plausible explanation is that the trait facilitates bonding; the physiological adaptation conferred a Darwinian advantage by more tightly joining the members of primitive human clans. Unusually frequent sexual activity between males and females served as the principal device for cementing the pair bond. It also reduced aggression among the males. (...)

Human beings are connoisseurs of sexual pleasure. They indulge themselves by casual inspection of potential partners, by fantasy, poetry, and song, and in every delightful nuance of flirtation leading to foreplay and coition. This has little if anything to do with reproduction. If insemination were the sole biological function of sex, it could be achieved far more economically in a few seconds of mounting and insertion. Indeed, the least social of mammals mate with scarcely more ceremony. The species that have evolved long-term bonds are also, by and large, the ones that rely on elaborate courtship rituals. It is consistent with this trend that most of the pleasures of human sex constitute primary reinforcers to facilitate bonding. Love and sex do indeed go together.

The biological significance of sex has been misinterpreted by the theoreticians of Judaism and Christianity. To this day the Roman Catholic Church asserts that the primary role of sexual behaviour is the insemination of wives by husbands. (...) The Church takes its authority from natural-law theory, which is based on the idea that immutable mandates are placed by God in human nature. This theory is in error. The laws it addresses are biological, were written by natural selection, require little if any enforcement by religious or secular authorities, and have been erroneously interpreted by theologians writing in ignorance of biology. All that we can surmise of humankind's genetic history argues for a more liberal sexual morality, in which sexual practices are to be regarded first as bonding devices and only second as means for procreation.

capricorn
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Jan 19 2008 18:38
Quote:
By 'free love' I was referring to the practise of sexual promiscuity towards an end of purely personal pleasure, without regard for the feelings of the other person/people involved. There is ample anecdotal evidence to the effect that 'free love' invariably just produces jealousy and resentment.

This is not normally what "free love" means, especially as you've added "without regard for the feelings of the other person/people involved". Free love originally meant simply living together without the formal sanction of the church and state, which some anarchists and socialists made a point of doing. But i still don't see that "the practise of sexual promiscuity towards an end of purely personal pleasure" can be described as "depraved". Or that it "invariably" produces jealousy and resentment.
OK, I was wrong about EO Wilson but I'm not sure his arguments support your view of "free love" as "depraved". Unless, that is, he is saying that sex not engaged in for social bonding purposes (but for instance "for purely personal pleasure") is somehow unnatural. As he may be, since sociobiologists to tend to draw silly conclusions from their false premises.
In any event, the point I was trying to make is that human sexual practises and choice of sexual partner(s) , though of course having a biological basis, are socially conditioned.
As to Lenin, he was a prude (and perhaps also a hypocrite, as most prudes are).

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Jan 19 2008 19:03
Anna wrote:
(Forget that it is Lenin saying this): "You must be aware of the famous theory that in Communist society the satisfaction of sexual desires, or love, will be as simple and unimportant as drinking a glass of water. (...) I think this glass of water theory is completely un-Marxist, and moreover, anti-social (...) the social aspect is most important of all. Drinking water is of course an individual affair. But in love two lives are concerned"

You nicely edited that to take out the most reactionary bits.
Devrim

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Jan 19 2008 19:30

Turning to a crusty old varnished dude for sex advice. Nice one, Anna!

But seriously, like Devrim I don't think you can forget who it was coming from in this case, because in all Lenin was probably more reactionary when it came to discussing sexuality (or anything creative) than he was as a Bolshevik counter-revolutionary. If that's possible.

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Jan 19 2008 19:36

The last stuff I've read into sociobiology is from Susan Blackmore and her memetic stuff. It made me like Dawkins more, because she argued against him (after basically repeating him) by interpreting the idea of the selfish gene (and meme) in a very literal and fundamentalist way. For example, whereas Dawkins says that whilst we're determined by our biology we can to extent rebel against it she completely disagrees. I wonder who she votes for?

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Jan 19 2008 21:08
Volin wrote:
But seriously, like Devrim I don't think you can forget who it was coming from in this case, because in all Lenin was probably more reactionary when it came to discussing sexuality (or anything creative) than he was as a Bolshevik counter-revolutionary. If that's possible.

I don't get your point here at all. I said that she had edited out the most reactionary bits. The missing bit reads like so:

Lenin wrote:
Thirst must be satisfied - but will the normal man in normal circumstances lie down in the gutter and drink out of a puddle, or out of a glass with a rim greasy from many lips?

Lenin had shockingly reactionary positions on sexual questions. That didn't make him a counter-revolutionary. The fact that he ended up heading the counter-revolution made him that.

Devrim

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Jan 19 2008 21:17
capricorn wrote:
Quote:
By 'free love' I was referring to the practise of sexual promiscuity towards an end of purely personal pleasure, without regard for the feelings of the other person/people involved. There is ample anecdotal evidence to the effect that 'free love' invariably just produces jealousy and resentment.

This is not normally what "free love" means, especially as you've added "without regard for the feelings of the other person/people involved". Free love originally meant simply living together without the formal sanction of the church and state, which some anarchists and socialists made a point of doing. But i still don't see that "the practise of sexual promiscuity towards an end of purely personal pleasure" can be described as "depraved". Or that it "invariably" produces jealousy and resentment.

If you look at what I originally wrote:

"'free love' in the depraved and anti-social '60s sense

You'll see that I qualified my use of the phrase 'free love'. Rather than asserting that all notions denoted by the term 'free love' were 'depraved', I criticised only the 'depraved' form of 'free love'.

Quote:
OK, I was wrong about EO Wilson but I'm not sure his arguments support your view of "free love" as "depraved". Unless, that is, he is saying that sex not engaged in for social bonding purposes (but for instance "for purely personal pleasure") is somehow unnatural.

The point is not what is natural or unnatural, but that sex for sex's sake is antisocial and unsatisfying, and the documented phenomenon that excessive promiscuity tends to lead to resentment and jealousy. Biological reasons can be given for this, but the same conclusions can be drawn from looking at the aftermath of the 'sexual revolution'. To be honest I just don't see much of value in a bunch of hippies fucking in a field, except insofar as it has a purely negative role in demolishing harmful proscriptive traditions.

Quote:
As he may be, since sociobiologists to tend to draw silly conclusions from their false premises.

You just admitted you were wrong about one of your conceptions of sociobiology, so maybe you'd like to acquaint yourself with it a little more before you throw around statements like this.

Quote:
In any event, the point I was trying to make is that human sexual practises and choice of sexual partner(s) , though of course having a biological basis, are socially conditioned.

To some degree, of course, but not as much as you think. The criteria of sexual attractiveness are broadly the same throughout all cultures. Sexual practices, though to some extent determined by social structure, do not differ hugely from culture to culture.

I wrote a few posts up:

"But where does society come from? Of course, the individual society is shaped to some extent by historical specificity, but, when looked at objectively, societies do not differ very greatly. Each and every human society shares with all others a huge mass of common traits - is this coincidence? And most examples used by anthropologists to illustrate culturally moulded minds and behaviour are simply false. Among these we may count Margaret Mead's erroneous claims of sexual promiscuity in Samoa (she credulously repeated what was told to her as a practical joke by a witty native). And then, of course, there's Whorf's completely false claims that the Hopi have no conception of time, and his 'Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax' (Inuits don't have 400 words for snow, they have four)."

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Jan 19 2008 21:18
Devrim wrote:
You nicely edited that to take out the most reactionary bits.
Devrim

Haha, yes, you got me. My point was not to praise Lenin's attitudes, but merely to isolate the portion of what he said that I agreed with. The missing bit:

"But will the normal man in normal circumstances lie down in the gutter and drink out of a puddle, or out of a glass with a rim greasy from many lips?"

(Although, in a period before contraception this advice is not totally unsound.)

Volin wrote:
Turning to a crusty old varnished dude for sex advice. Nice one, Anna!

But seriously, like Devrim I don't think you can forget who it was coming from in this case, because in all Lenin was probably more reactionary when it came to discussing sexuality (or anything creative) than he was as a Bolshevik counter-revolutionary. If that's possible.

My aim was not to laud Lenin, and I take your point. But that quote came to mind because, when I read "the Irrational in Politics" a couple of years ago, I thought it was the one thing in the whole essay that made any halfway decent sense at all wink

Lenin says: "Although I am nothing but a gloomy ascetic, the so-called 'new sexual life' of the youth - and sometimes of the old - often seems to me to be purely bourgeois, an extension of bourgeois brothels. That has nothing whatever in common with freedom of love as we Communists understand it."

I think this has something to be said for it, in that freedom should be something positive and social, rather than merely identified with the type of actions permitted by the removal of prohibitive barriers. Just as I think that freedom shouldn't be identified with the license to go around killing people, but should be the possibility for creative, co-operative social activity, so 'free love' should be about the possibility of loving whomsoever one chooses, rather than anti-socially using people as a means towards the satisfaction of a purely selfish desire. Beyond the negation of the negation and all that.

But I didn't mean to start preaching morality lessons. People can obviously do what they like. My original point was merely that the kind of impersonal 'free love' advocated by some utopians is unworkable in practise.