Wednesday, June 20, 2007

NYTimes promotes evolutionary psychology - yet again

Richard Conniff is the Times' latest evolutionary psychologist, along with Tierney, Brooks, Dowd, Merken, and scores of others. Conniff has important news for the masses - humans live in hierarchies. Egalitarianism doesn't exist, and if it did, it would be a recipe for disaster.

Well who on earth is promoting the idea that humans don't live in hierarchies? Who do you think? The rightwing's usual suspects - Academics.
A long line of academic thinking says the opposite: that hierarchy is a modern imposition on free-spirited, brother- and sisterly human nature. The traditional tribes to which we belonged through almost all of human history were fiercely egalitarian, according to anthropologists.
But the academics go wrong, I think, on several counts.
Note that Conniff can't be bothered to cite examples of these crazy academics. But we all know that those crazy academics are always coming up with insane shit that those of us with common sense know is wrong.

One of the commenters says:
The sociobiologists would have a ball with this piece.

Duh - Conniff IS a sociobiologist - or as we call them nowadays, an evolutionary psychologist, a hugely popular fad in pop psychology because it tells people that everything that everybody with common sense knows is true, IS absolutely true, in spite of the dastardly efforts by the Academics to sow confusion.

So humans live in hierarchies. Does that make hierarchies the ideal - the more hierarchical the better? He seems to think so. I guess the Allies beat the Nazis because they were just so much more rigidly hierarchical than those goose-stepping egalitarians.

What bugs me as much as his evolutionary psychology is the fact that Conniff is probably getting paid for his blog posts. I mean, really, how hard is it to write his entries? They are as well-researched and thoughtful as any rant about pointy-headed intellectuals from your crusty old grandpa. The Times really does like to promote mediocrity.

At least Stanley Fish seems to put some effort into his blog posts, although he is pretty massively wrong in his belief that religion and science are more similar than different. I'm definitely ambivalent about Fish, since he penned one of the most sensible responses to the Larry Summers controversy ever. Summers' remarks reflected his beliefs in evolutionary psychology, which he shares with Stephen Pinker, and also Richard Dawkins - who wrote one of the books about religion that Fish argues with in his column.

I am a stone-cold atheist myself, but I have a problem with Dawkins for his evolutionary psychology leanings, and with Christopher Hitchens for being an all-around asshole. Sam Harris I don't know too much about. Based on his web site, his entire career seems to be about debunking religion, which, if limited, is nevertheless dandy with me.

So although I am not a Fish-hater, I certainly do disagree with his statement:
Mine is not a leveling argument; it does not say that everything is the same (that is the atheists’ claim); it says only that whatever differences there are between religious and scientific thinking, one difference that will not mark the boundary setting one off from the other is the difference between faith and reason.

This only works if you make the word "faith" mean whatever you want it to mean. Or as commenter Bevan Davies remarked:
I “believe” that the sun will rise tomorrow, but I do not “believe” that I will go to heaven when I die.

But believers v. atheists is mostly a false dichotomy. Most believers are skeptical of faith - all faiths except their own. Atheists simply think more logically and coherently than religious types.