There’s quite a bustle among my colleagues about the deficiencies of recent studies about whether X female thingie evolved as a strategy to prevent rape. My favorite such study is one that seems to think that the only critical thing that happens when women ovulate is that they might get raped. The (probably bullshit) increase in strength, for example, one study showed couldn’t be part, say of making sex more fun, could it?
Mike the Mad Biologist as always makes a cogent analysis of the general limits on that study while Greg Laden critiques speculation about tears being used to limpify rapists.
Generally speaking, I agree with my fellows here that evolutionary psychology is pretty much a load of hooey – of course our evolution affects the way we think and act, but any claims made on that subject are a. totally unfalsifiable and b. operate as basically mythological stories about how we came to be who we are. Despite that, I’m friendlier to evo psych than most people here, because I think stories are good, and we’re going to keep telling stories whether they are true or not. The question is how to get better stories, and how not to coat them with a veneer of scientific credibility.
It may well be the case that actual science never does have much to tell us about portions of the details of how we came to be – and I’m ok with the idea that we need a mythos of our past, one that suits our engagement with actual sciences. I think an emerging mythology of who we are is probably a necessary cultural development, and it being false doesn’t really bother me as long as we don’t try and vest it with credibility it doesn’t have.
The real problem I have with evolutionary psych is that the stories are boring – really boring. How Raven hung the clouds or the story of the Sphinx looks awfully good in comparison to “how we came to like tasty food, rather than icky food.”
We also have an obligation to make our just-so stories not more sexist, reductionist and stupid than the ones they actually replace. But once we’ve acknowledged that Evolutionary Psych is a mythology, we ought to be writing creative just-so stories, the kind one would actually want to hear. I’m mostly joking in this post, obviously, but I am genuinely interested in the ways new mythologies are part and parcel of cultural narratives – I actually think many of my colleagues here miss the ways that science itself contributes to the mythologies that inform our worldview. To my mind the continual complaining that people don’t understand science is true, but even if everyone understood science perfectly, we’d still use stories and science in ways that didn’t lead to truth.
In the interest of contributing less boring just-so stories, I offer up my own contribution: “How Guys Came to Dangle” in which we see that rape prevention, far from limiting itself to shaping evolution by crying or occasional bursts of ovulatory racism, actually did something cool and reshaped the male body.
In this story, our heroes, the testicles, live comfortably and happily in recessed body cavity, never descending into the cold, cold air. “Primitive Dude” is happy and his sperm love their cozy, extra-warm spots and thrive happily on higher temps than at present. Some few men have testicles that stick out a little bit, and while women secretly think those things look weird, they do not discriminate, kindly tolerating the odd bits.
However, early humans discover something – sexual dimorphism permits males to go around making females have sex with them. This is bad, as Greg Laden points out, because males are less likely to invest resources in children they don’t think are theirs, and thus the children are less likely to live. This is bad from a non-evolutionary standpoint as well, since females probably didn’t like it much better then than they do now.
Then one heroic pre-historic woman realized something. Those testicles that stick out are excellent for kicking hard when some asshole comes to rape you. Males kicked thus tend to moan and be immobilized, while clutching themselves. “Primitive woman” who was not stupid, came to strongly prefer to mate with males who dangly bits meant that a potential rape victim had at least one avenue of recourse. It didn’t always work, of course, and you were still stuck with those silly-looking dangly bits, but at least they gave you a shot at getting away and not being raped, and this was good, because not only were your offspring more likely to survive but you didn’t waste time you could be spending hunting and gathering on flashbacks and anger. The males with recessed testicles eventually were selected against (since rape was the only way they got any), and since the most fertile dangly males had more offspring, we evolved so that spermies like it cooler. And that, my dear grasshoppers, is how the house-ape came to have hairy balls – as a rape prevention method.
I’m expecting a study to come out supporting my hypothesis any day now.