I recently read that six percent of scientists consider themselves Republicans.  Geoffrey Miller, in his recently released book, Spent, observed that a very small minority of evolutionary psychologists support a conservative agenda.  Miller takes deep exception to the disparagement of the disciplines of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology as the science representatives of contemporary, conservative social movements.  Miller targets Stephen J. Gould as a prime fabricator of what Miller sees as this inappropriate fiction.

Frankly, I was shocked to have it proved to me that evolutionary psychologists were not almost universally conservative.  The foundations of evolutionary psychology and conservative politics seem so alike.  In both cases, the prime mover of the system is reduced to the simplest premise with an emphasis on individual or gene motivation, not relationships or the impacts of larger systems.

I can easily see how these scientists don’t share many beliefs of social conservatives.  Evidently most scientists are atheists or agnostics.  This makes them liberal compared to a fundamentalist or evangelical Christian.  However, to me, atheists like Richard Dawkins seem as close-minded as any ethnocentric, Bible-thumping minister.  I don’t really get the evangelical atheist frame of reference.  The strident atheist is still aggressively claiming he or she has a better belief.

For better or worse, Dawkins has ended up as the representative of sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists, which is probably partly why I was confused to find out most of those in his discipline are liberals.  Dawkins is a classic “true believer.”  He behaves like he has little respect for competing theories of evolution and seems to expect that behaving like he has little respect should result in his beliefs being accorded more respect.  He is an aggressive reductionist fighting opponent theories as he is an aggressive atheist fighting belief structures that evidence reliance on an interconnected whole whether or not that belief structure is accompanied by a mythology.  Dawkins is an opponent of overt or covert belief in connection, religious or scientific.

Aggressive true believers occupy both ends of the political spectrum.  There are the poor listeners on both sides.  They often only have friends that agree with them, a passionate devotion to a particular point of view and a difficulty recognizing that subtleties in context have everything to do with the conclusions that are drawn.

Context is everything.

I assumed that a narrow-minded scientist must be conservative just as a pluralistic scientist must be liberal.  It’s all relative.  Scientists view themselves as astonishingly pluralistic relative to society as a whole.  Generally, they are highly intelligent, according to scientific definitions of intelligence.  They form conclusions based on evidence, and the gender and/or ethnicity of another is irrelevant if that person shares their ideas.  Many receive funding from government institutions, so they don’t have a problem with reliance upon, and making contributions to, the commons.

It confuses me that scientists subscribing to reductionist models (like evolutionary psychology) that place almost all focus on the behaviors of individuals (or genes) in the context of procreation opportunities oppose social reductionist models that heavily focus on the support of corporations or wealthy individuals.  In science and society, one can find those who have a belief in “survival of the fittest.”  Evidently, in science they are liberals; in society they are conservatives.

Personally, I find evolutionary psychology a very powerful and potentially useful model in the context of a larger whole of evolutionary theories that take into consideration evolution at scales higher up than the gene or the individual.  Evolutionary psychologists, for the most part, eschew larger contexts.  To me, this has felt conservative.  Liberals, for the most part, embrace larger contexts and exercise, almost compulsively, a desire to examine context, thus proliferating possibility.  I imagine evolutionary psychologists must feel particularly isolated as behavioral conservatives within this liberal group.  Geoffrey Miller evidences frustration when describing his experience of being assigned conservative tendencies.  In Spent, Miller offers no explanation of why evolutionary psychologists are believed to be conservative except to say that such opponents as Stephen J. Gould are wrong about their science and thus poor judges when discussing related issues.

As someone with the deepest respect for Miller and Gould, it feels a little bit like parents arguing, though Gould, dead for several years, has little to say.

It feels paradoxical that evolutionary psychologists are liberal.  They believe they are on the cutting edge of behavioral science.  From where I sit, they mostly offer highly refined explanations of a significant and important slice of biological and societal evolution.  It’s a slice that’s been used to explain the fact that genes, individuals and social elites control all resources.  Evolutionary psychologists share their experience of being so profoundly open-minded that they are willing to countenance this offensive-to-liberals idea:  selfishness is central to existence.

There is a difference between being open-minded and being in love with an idea.  Aggressively in love with an idea, evolutionary psychologists have difficulty seeing past their liberalism.


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This entry was posted on Thursday, October 1st, 2009 at 7:32 am and is filed under Society. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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  1. Curt Babonis on March 29, 2011 8:32 pm

    Wow! Thank you! I continuously needed to write on my website something like that. Can I include a portion of your post to my website?

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