The Hydra

Advocates of genocentric models seek to supplant what Tooby and Cosmides derisively identified in the early 1990s as the Standard Social Science Model (or SSSM). Scholarly positions they attribute to the SSSM are cultural determinism and social constructionism. I hasten to add the materialist conception of history (that paradigm with which I associate my scientific outlook) to that list.

The basic premise of the SSSM, which they regard as false, is that human behavior and the mind are the result of cultural forces and social relations. In contrast, genocentric versions of behaviorism and cognition argue that human behavior and the mind are the result of unidentified behavioral genes, the product of adaptation, the variation under which is expressed by inherited and differential constitutions playing out epigenetically.  Since there is no evidence to support the speculation that human behavior is gene-driven or really even gene-influenced, and since the SSSM has for well more than one hundred and fifty years produced compelling theories that explain human behavior and the mind, there is no rational reason to supplant the SSSM with the sociobiology (or whatever cover it operates under). To do so would be to reject theories built on social scientific theories employing valid concepts and enjoying sound empirical observation in exchange for speculative assertions that have more of a theological character than a scientific one. Indeed, the “just so” stories of sociobiology are little different in spirit to those surrounding intelligent design, steeped in tautological reasoning and illegitimate teleology.

Why evolutionary psychology and why now? The SSSM is a threat to power because it demonstrates that the deprivations and social problems that human beings experience – poverty, racism, rape, genocide, domination and hierarchy – are the results not of natural history but of social-historical conditions imposed by men seeking to exploit and oppress other people for their own wealth and privilege. If our oppressors can root just some of the injustices of the world they created, sustain, and benefit from in our evolutionary history, in our biology, then they can claim that attempts to change our circumstances are folly. If we buy it, then they will have a powerful ideology with which to justify the status quo.

Sociobiology, and its neo-Darwinian manifestation evolutionary psychology, are central to the project to code social Darwinism in scientific jargon, so that the ruling class will have alongside the deception of religion a religious-like faith in scientism. One also sees this trick in economics, where markets are naturalized and thus placed beyond human agency. It is no accident that these reactionary pseudoscientific models are coming to dominate in the period of neoliberalism. In the previous social democratic period, that period associated with the emergence of the SSSM, such theories were seen for what they were. For the world experienced firsthand the aggressive application of Darwinian principles to human social life, the construction of technologies of eugenics and extermination.  Now in the shadows of dying democracy amid rising totalitarian capitalism, social Darwinism re-emerges in a new guise, well-funded, with academic programs and journals dedicated to legitimizing its “theories,” “methods,” and “findings.”

The popular and academic appeal of evolutionary psychology reveals the depth of authoritarian thinking that currently pervades mass consciousness. This also explains tolerance for drone murder, extrajudicial killing, and indefinite detention. Thus we are witnessing a greater degradation in rational sensibilities with the decay of late capitalism. Sociobiology is a reoccurring head on the reactionary hydra.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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