How quickly it all boils down to debates on evolutionary psychology

Quite often, I’m amazed how discussions of some topic become discussions of evolutionary psychology and (d)evolve into soci-odicy vs bi-odicy. Being Millian on these things, I think that these fights are by and large good, save the ad hominem attacks that spring up regularly.

Kieran Healy over at Crooked Timber has a post on explanations of why one is more likely to find older and richer men married to younger women than older rich women married to younger men and on evolutionary psychology. The post evolved, so to speak, from a back and forth with David Bernstein at The Volokh Conspiracy on gender and stereotypes.

“Relations between the sexes provide the most fertile soil for the proliferation of the MSU [Make Shit Up] branch of EP [evolutionary psychology]. Gender roles are deeply institutionalized — that is, they are highly scripted and chronically reproduced — and we like nothing better than to think of our institutions as inevitable or natural. I can see how very widespread trends — such as men being slightly older than women at first marriage, for instance — might be traced back to very ancient social arrangements, though even here there’s enough variation to make it a difficult sell. Neither am I opposed to the idea that there are very basic drives or predispositions that go back very far which might reliably generate patterns of social organization or culture. But it also seems obvious to me that ideas about the appropriate relations between the sexes — or races, classes, nations, or whatever you like — thrive best if they appear to be emanations from the mind of God or the structure of DNA.”

Read the whole thing, threads included.

At heart I think is the periodic reconsideration of something else, the reductionism (of values and value terms to physical properties) that G.E. Moore sought to refute (by the ‘naturalistic fallacy’ argument). (Yes, I’m reading into all this my own thought and interest on intellectual, cultural zeitgeists.) Now seems to be such a moment; for example, Abbas, to out him on this, thinks that the naturalistic fallacy is itself wrong, at least globally on various stability criteria. (I’m skeptical.) In either case, the very open question nature of these positions make them reoccuring.

But read around back to the original piece, and you’ll get a sense of how far EP has come in the popular consciousness.