Sex, Evolution and the Secrets of Consumerism

Dylan Evans in The Guardian:

ScreenHunter_01 Aug. 14 23.22 It is hardly surprising that the latest popular book about evolutionary psychology has caused another rumpus. Nor are the responses to Geoffrey Miller's new book, Spent, particularly original. First came a lengthy piece in Newsweek by Sharon Begley entitled “Why Do We Rape, Kill and Sleep Around?” in which the usual straw men were lined up and decapitated: disregard of culture and context, genetic determinism, and – paradoxically – ignorance of recent genetic discoveries. David Brooks followed up with an equally misinformed opinion piece in the New York Times, in which he excoriated Miller for stating that “listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd is a sign of low intelligence”.

Miller should have known that some reviewers would completely miss the humour in his whimsical remarks (example: “Play The Sims 2 for a couple of weeks, and consider whether your life as a consumer has any more meaning than that of your Sims”). The rest of us should be grateful, however, that he chose to write in such a playful fashion. I lost count of the times his book made me hoot with laughter.

It is particularly ironic that the critics have hurled all the conventional accusations at Miller, since his version of evolutionary psychology is so different from that of Steven Pinker and other key thinkers in the field. His theory, eloquently advanced in The Mating Mind (2000), that the evolution of human intelligence was shaped more by sexual selection than by natural selection, sets him apart from the mainstream. In this book Miller advances an equally original thesis – that our purchases are driven by the desire to display personality traits that have been shaped by our evolutionary history. When viewed through this lens, puzzling aspects of consumer behaviour suddenly make sense.

More here.