How to Avoid the Conflict Between Feminism and Evolutionary Psychology?

post by diegocaleiro · 2012-12-04T22:22:17.382Z · score: 10 (36 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 97 comments

I don't mean to claim that there should be a conflict.

Most likely the conflict arises because of many things, such as 1)Women having been ostracized for much of our society's existence 2)People failing at the is-ought problem, and committing the Naturalistic Fallacy 3)Lots of media articles saying unbelievably naïve evolutionary statements as scientific fact 4)Feminists as a group being defensive 5)Specially defensive when it comes to what is said to be natural. 6) General disregard by people, and politically engaged people (see The Blank Slate, by Steve Pinker) of the existence of a non Tabula Rasa nature. 7) Lack of patience of Evolutionary Psychologists to make peace and explain themselves for the things that journalists, not them, claimed.  and others...

But the fact is, the conflict arose. It has only bad consequences as far as I could see, such as people fighting over each other, breaking friendships, and prejudice of great intensity on both sides.

How to avoid this conflict?  Should someone write a treatise on Feminist Evolutionary Psychology?  Should we get Leda Cosmides to talk about women liberation? 

There are obviously no incompatibilities between reality and the moral claims of feminism. So whichever facts about evolutionary psychology are found to be true with the science's development, they should be made compatible. Compatibilism is possible.

But will the scientific community pull it off?

 

Related: Pinker Versus Spelke - The Science of Gender and Science

http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/debate05/debate05_index.html

David Buss and Cindy Meston - Why do Women Have Sex?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KA0sqg3EHm8

97 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Eneasz · 2012-12-05T19:00:23.253Z · score: 17 (25 votes) · LW · GW

If there was a scientific field (Evolutionary Sociology) that declared rationalism is harmful for humanity and the pursuit of rationality should be shunned or persecuted, I suspect that the vast majority of us would not accept these claims at face value and would look to see if their research was flawed, or their conclusions didn't follow. And if we found such evidence, we'd probably shout it from the rooftops.

(PZ links below, as I read him daily)

Evo-Psych is, not infrequently, used as a weapon against women.

The case made for these claims is often very bad.

Every hunting man had a gatherer mother; every gathering woman had a hunting father.

This is the problem for the evolutionary psychology of sex differences: for each trait that you want to claim is a product of selection for a behavior that is different between sexes, you have to postulate a Plus that restricts its expression to a single sex.

So, sure, tell me that humans evolved cognitive mechanisms to aid in navigating by landmarks for better fruit and tuber searching, and I might well believe it to be reasonable; now tell me why you think it would only operate in women, and how it would be actively suppressed by genetic mechanisms in men. Then you can tell me why navigating by distance and direction is actively shut off in women. You’re the ones who like purely adaptive explanations: why would there be an advantage to individuals having each only half the suite of potential genetic navigation tools switched on?

If Evo-Psych is used by sexists the same way that Eugenics was used by totalitarians, it will suffer the same stigma and be abandoned for decades the same way. Seeing as this is a self-defense move by a traditionally oppressed group, I don't blame them. Unless the crap is weeded out quickly the whole field will be disgraced. The victims are currently only pointing out all the crap, they didn't allow it to get in there in the first place. The gatekeepers need to stop sleeping on the job, rather than trying to defend their prior shoddy performance.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2012-12-06T16:56:48.749Z · score: 18 (18 votes) · LW · GW

The "It must be “Let’s all beat up Evo Psych” Day!" article seemed very convincing when I read it, but now that I had some time to think about it, it seems much less convincing. Please tell me whether I am wrong...

The article essentially says that there are no "male genes" and "female genes", because everyone in every generation gets their genes from their father and their mother. So even when there is an evolutionary pressure only on one sex to evolve some skill, the other sex gets the skill automatically. When we find an evolutionary explanation why men have genes for some skill or trait, at the same time we found an explanation why their daughters have the same genes and the same skill or trait, too. And vice versa, when we find an explanation why women have genes for some skill or trait, we also have an explanation why their sons have the same genes and the same skill or trait, too.

A trait which would be different between sexes, would not only need genes benefiting one sex, but also some special genes to actively turn it off for the other sex. Otherwise, both sexes would have it. Even under assumption that a trait is helpful for one sex and irrelevant for the other sex, our default expectation should be to find the same genes and the same trait in both sexes. To develop otherwise, the trait would have to be actively harmful to the other sex.

For example it is useful for a man to have a penis, and it would be harmful for a woman; this is why both sexes remain different in this aspect. But we cannot use the same logic for things like color perception. Even under unrealistically generous assumptions that historically women always gathered plants, and men never did, and the color perception is useful for discerning plants, and completely useless for anything else... still, we should expect the color perception to be the same for both men and women. To expect a different result we would have to claim that color perception is actively harmful for men, which obviously is not the case.

Did I understand it correctly?

If yes, then...

Reality check: According to Wikipedia, 5-10% of men, but less than 1% of women have some form of color blindness. What?! We have just proved that this should not happen, unless men get some huge evolutionary penalty for not being colorblind, which is obviously not the case. But this information about color blindness is not some evo-psych story; it is measured data. So how is that possible?

Oh yes, there is this pesky little detail that men and women have the same chromosomes, except for the sex chromosome. Women have XX, men have XY. And the X chromosome happens to contain some data not directly related to reproduction, for example the genes for the color perception. Women get two version, men get one. It means that when something goes wrong with the color-perception genes, women have a backup copy, and men don't. Therefore the difference.

As far as I know (but I don't really know much about this), the Y chromosome does not contain much useful information besides specifying the male sex. So this mechanism alone could explain why men can be on average worse than women in some tasks (if the genes necessary for successfully doing the task happen to be located on the chromosome X), but not the other way around! -- By the way, which specific gene happens to be on which chromosome, that is partially a historical coincidence. There is no logical reason why the color-perception genes must be on the chromosome X. It just happened. It could have been on some other chromosome; and perhaps in some other species, it is.

But there is a more general problem with our assumption that men and women, as members of the same species sharing the same genes, must be the same in everything except reproduction (with some disadvantage for men if the genes are on the sex chromosome) -- the genes do not operate independently on each other. The results of a gene can be influenced by the internal environment, which in turn can be influenced by other genes. Different level of sexual hormones can make the same genes produce somewhat different results. Men and women do have different levels of sexual hormones, even during prenatal development. So even the same genes can work a bit differently for men and for women.

Please note that even a small difference can be noticed by people, because we observe each other a lot, for various reasons; we are a social species. You don't need to have all men go completely blind, just to notice that there is perhaps some difference between visions of men and women. A few more percent of partially color-blind men is enough for people to eventually notice. (A possible alternative explanation, that Patriarchy spread the myth of inferior male color perception for its evil purposes, and it just randomly happened to be true, does not make a lot of sense to me.) Also, we compare humans with humans, not with other species. Even if men and women both have verbal skills tremendously superior to other species, people still notice that women have these skills somewhat better than men.

So my alternative explanation is that the same gene can produce slightly different (but still observable) results in the male and in the female body, because of a presence of sex hormones. So if there is a greater evolutionary pressure on one sex to develop some trait, as a result the whole humanity may get a gene for this trait optimized for the given sex. Both men and women will have it, and it will do the same thing; it will just do the thing a little bit better in presence of hormones of one sex than of the other sex. It could be a difference between 100% and 99% efficiency. Just a tiny difference in verbal skills, or math skills, or navigation skills, or whatever. But in the context where these skills are critical, people will notice.

Of course this does not make every evo-psych hypothesis automatically true. But neither does it make a hypothesis automatically false just because it explained a difference between sexes by greater evolutionary pressure on one of them with regard to the given trait... as the linked article seems to suggest.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-12-07T07:58:35.498Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

So my alternative explanation is that the same gene can produce slightly different (but still observable) results in the male and in the female body, because of a presence of sex hormones.

Sex hormones are actually a huge factor in human developmental biology and the interaction with genes is interesting; the overall contribution of chromosomal differentiation to sex differentiation is pretty minor in humans (note that this is not a generalizable statement about other living things; birds might be considered to have rather more definitively-linked chromosomal sex traits, and some species don't depend on chromosome structure directly, often using outside factors like temperature during development to influence this). Trivial example: this is why when a person assigned male at birth doses with exogenous estrogen during puberty, their breast development will tend to resemble that female-assigned relatives -- testosterone vs oestrogen during the pubescent phase is the big regulator of mammary tissue growth and clustering sites for subcutaneous fat; genetics influences the potential range of that growth.

Even if men and women both have verbal skills tremendously superior to other species, people still notice that women have these skills somewhat better than men.

Yes, but why? There's not a gene for verbal skills; there's not even a gene for language use, nor any single smoking-gun neuroanatomical correlate of it. The ones you may have heard about -- Broca's area, FOXP2 -- are pretty broad in function and do a bunch of things, a failure of any one of which would clearly impair the ability to perform spoken language.

Is it possible that the trait we think of as verbal skill is rooted in some ultimately-genetic factor? Sure, it's possible -- but that idea isn't particularly rigorously-supported by the available evidence, either. Meanwhile there are all these other possible contributing factors that could influence such a trait. So a well-reasoned evolutionary scenario, no matter how compelling it might sound, shouldn't be taken as a firm foundation on which to start making overconfident, connotationally-loaded statements like that and then billing them as science.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-12-08T03:11:00.587Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, but why? There's not a gene for verbal skills; there's not even a gene for language use, nor any single smoking-gun neuroanatomical correlate of it. The ones you may have heard about -- Broca's area, FOXP2 -- are pretty broad in function and do a bunch of things, a failure of any one of which would clearly impair the ability to perform spoken language.

Is it possible that the trait we think of as verbal skill is rooted in some ultimately-genetic factor? Sure, it's possible -- but that idea isn't particularly rigorously-supported by the available evidence, either. Meanwhile there are all these other possible contributing factors that could influence such a trait.

I'm not sure what position you think you're arguing against. The ev-psych position is that the presence of a Y chromosome ultimately causes the difference in verbal skills (along with a lot of other things) between men and women. (Most of this influence probably passes through the SRY gene and the presence of sex hormones, but that's less certain than the effect itself.)

Your counter-argument appears to be that there isn't a single node in the causal diagram that corresponds to just the the effect on verbal skills. I agree that there probably doesn't exist such a node but fail to see why we should expect it to exist if ev-psych explanation is correct.

comment by Zack_M_Davis · 2012-12-06T22:07:05.871Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I agree denotationally but object connotationally. So, yes, it's true that people seeking to justify social practices that we-socially-liberal-people strongly disapprove of often make poorly-reasoned appeals to evolutionary psychology, and that this is not only bad because it's bad reasoning, but it also damages the credibility of evopsych as field, but ...

I don't know, correct me if I'm misreading your intent, but to me it seems like your comment is engaged in a mode of reasoning about conflicts between contemporary social groups, rather than reasoning about reality, and that in this venue of all places, we can actually do better. The mindset which dubs an entire area of inquiry "disgraced" because many of the thinkers working in that area are systematically biased in identifiable ways is a common one, but it's a mistake. There's absolutely nothing contradictory about simultaneously believing that many scholars whose work is labeled as "evolutionary psychology" have important insights about human nature, and also that many of their critics also have important insights, for the same reason that very different-looking maps can both usefully model different aspects of the same territory. Of course, this is not to say that "everyone is equally right"; rather, I'm saying we can talk about the actual observations and inferences under dispute, rather than getting distracted with irrelevant side issues like whether Satoshi Kanazawa is a bad person.

I think that there's so little rationality in the world today, that on the current margin it's more important for those of us who know better to explicitly say things like what I'm saying now (Social Reality Is a Strict Subset of Actual Reality; the Facts Really Aren't on Anyone's Side), rather than trying to apply social pressure in favor of our preferred ideology. I say this not because it's wrong to have ideologically-derived values (I don't like gender roles, either), but because lots of other people are already working on politics, and not very many people are working on epistemology, so that almost anyone in a position to notice this choice should take the latter. You write that "[t]he victims are currently only pointing out all the crap[;] [t]he gatekeepers need to stop sleeping on the job," but without necessarily denying that the victims are in fact victims and that the crap is in fact crap, this really seems like a distraction from the real issues.

You quote P. Z. Myers arguing that in order for a sex difference to be evolutionarily favored, there needs to be some reason why the trait in question would be adaptive in one sex but actually maladaptive in the other. To someone in the mindset of "discrediting evolutionary psychology", this might seem like a crushing objection, but to someone in the mindset of trying to understand human evolution, there's no reason to be thinking of objecting to anything; it's just a good line of reasoning that stands on its own merits. And, in fact, competent evolutionary psychologists already know it; Eliezer makes the same point (which I would imagine is standard and familiar to people who really know the literature) in his post "The Psychological Unity of Humankind":

Note, however, that in the absence of actually opposed selection pressures, the species as a whole will get dragged along even by selection pressure on a single sex. This is why males have nipples; it's not a selective disadvantage.

So I think a lot of the apparent disagreement between Myers et al. and (well-done) evolutionary psychology is illusory, as should not be surprising because Bayesian reasoners cannot agree to disagree; reality just doesn't care about our culture wars.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-12-07T07:41:16.923Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know, correct me if I'm misreading your intent, but to me it seems like your comment is engaged in a mode of reasoning about conflicts between contemporary social groups, rather than reasoning about reality, and that in this venue of all places, we can actually do better.

"In this venue" is part of the problem. Getting down the fine details of how evolution has influenced human brains and behavior, and the signatures of that in contemporary populations, has obvious value in its own right; however, that is a tricky process, and it is carried out by biased human beings who exist in social and political contexts. Sure, a bunch of people who wanted to make an honest go at it and were good enough at filtering or sidestepping their own systemic biases could probably reach some meaningful insight into the problem, given time and the right methodology.

Doesn't change the fact that the moment they released any of it into the wider world, it being used to further harmful and oppressive ends (including rampant spin where necessary) would be a pretty much foregone conclusion. Science, Bayescraft, what have you -- they do not occur in a vacuum.

it's just a good line of reasoning that stands on its own merits.

The problem with biology is that reason only gets you so far. The problem with discussing evolutionary psychology on LW is that biology is not particularly well-understood here; both the general contents of the field and its history, current open questions, controversies, and cutting-edge are barely even touched on, in favor of a relatively narrow slice of pop-evobio, and a bit of "Dawkins good; Gould bad!"

comment by Zack_M_Davis · 2012-12-07T08:05:35.310Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

biology is not particularly well-understood [on Less Wrong]; both the general contents of the field and its history, current open questions, controversies, and cutting-edge are barely even touched on, in favor of a relatively narrow slice of pop-evobio, and a bit of "Dawkins good; Gould bad!"

I believe you. (Is there any way we can recruit more biologists? Or maybe there should be subject-specific "Please only comment if you've read at least X textbooks" threads?)

comment by CellBioGuy · 2012-12-25T06:09:04.121Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You've at least got one now (though one with significantly lower free-internet-time once he returns to work from vacation).

comment by [deleted] · 2012-12-07T09:29:22.666Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

No idea how to go about doing that. Given what LW is, they'd kinda have to want to be here.

comment by ChristianKl · 2012-12-07T15:14:59.485Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know, correct me if I'm misreading your intent, but to me it seems like your comment is engaged in a mode of reasoning about conflicts between contemporary social groups, rather than reasoning about reality, and that in this venue of all places, we can actually do better.

Conflicts between contemporary social groups are part of reality.

The topic of this debate is "How to Avoid the Conflict Between Feminism and Evolutionary Psychology?". This debate is inherently about reasoning about conflicts between contemporary social groups.

If you want to reduce that conflict it makes sense to reason about the conflict.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-12-08T03:13:49.532Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Resolving conflicts is not an end in itself. The goal is to find the truth, in the process conflicts are likely to be resolved, but we shouldn't attempt to resolve conflicts by agreeing to believe a "compromise position" at the expense of seeking truth.

comment by ChristianKl · 2012-12-08T11:41:42.997Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The goals set out in the opening post are to reduce certain bad consequences of the conflict:

But the fact is, the conflict arose. It has only bad consequences as far as I could see, such as people fighting over each other, breaking friendships, and prejudice of great intensity on both sides.

Those goals are valid ends in themselves. Especially for those people who are autists or have otherwise weak social skills, communicating their truth in a way that doesn't destroy some of their friendship is very valuable.

we shouldn't attempt to resolve conflicts by agreeing to believe a "compromise position" at the expense of seeking truth.

I don't think anybody argued in this debate that one should agree to believe in a "compromise position".

I understood Eneasz in a way where he argued that proper evolutionary psychologists don't spend enough public effort on debunking incorrect and sexist evolutionary psychology.

As a sidenote, evolutionary psychology predicts that few people have the goal of finding truth. Knowing "the truth" is not very useful for a hunter gatherer. It is more important for the hunter gatherer to have a high social status in his tribe.

Humans might publically profess that finding truth is their motive but they don't act accordingly. Most people care a lot more about getting approval from other people. They care about feeling like they are in a priveliged position where they know more about the way the world works then other people.

There a good Dilbert cartoon: http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2012-10-07

If people would really care about being truthful, they would be less confident that their overconfident positions are true. Holding to an overconfident position on the other hand make it easier to feel like you know the truth while other people don't.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-12-09T19:03:57.077Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There a good Dilbert cartoon: http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2012-10-07

The cartoon confuses scientific evidence with rational evidence.

comment by ChristianKl · 2012-12-09T22:20:18.078Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In the cartoon Dilbert doesn't really provide rational evidence for his claim either.

In this case there clear rational evidence that evolution evolved human's to try to show their high status by debating. There's little rational evidence that evolution gave people the goal of finding truth.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-12-11T00:12:14.102Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In the cartoon Dilbert doesn't really provide rational evidence for his claim either.

That doesn't mean he doesn't have any.

In this case there clear rational evidence that evolution evolved human's to try to show their high status by debating. There's little rational evidence that evolution gave people the goal of finding truth.

If the only point of debating was status, people would evolve not to listen to what anyone else says. Furthermore, the results of debates and human reasoning (flawed as it is) is correlated with truth; if this wasn't the case, we'd still be on the savannah getting chased by lions.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-12-08T23:10:26.370Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

But the fact is, the conflict arose. It has only bad consequences as far as I could see, such as people fighting over each other, breaking friendships, and prejudice of great intensity on both sides.

This is a universal argument against debating any controversial topic.

I understood Eneasz in a way where he argued that proper evolutionary psychologists don't spend enough public effort on debunking incorrect and sexist evolutionary psychology.

In my experience, the typical feminist complaint is that the evolutionary psychologists don't debunk correct but "sexist" evolutionary psychology.

comment by ChristianKl · 2012-12-09T00:50:45.738Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This is a universal argument against debating any controversial topic.

I don't think anybody argued here that one shouldn't debate whether evolutionary psychology is correct. The only thing that's argued is that this debate isn't primarily that claim.

On LessWrong I also consider it a bit strange to claim that the question of whether evolutionary psychology is correct is a controversial claim. In this venue it's a quite boring consensus claim.

"There a way that would allow evolutionary scientistis to be better at communicating their science to the public" is a controversial claim on LessWrong.

In my experience, the typical feminist complaint is that the evolutionary psychologists don't debunk correct but "sexist" evolutionary psychology.

So? I don't see how that negates anything anybody argued here.

comment by TimS · 2012-12-08T03:38:52.015Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sure. But "reducing the conflict" can also mean taking steps to reduce the significance of the undesired social dynamic / cognitive bias known as the halo effect.

comment by ChristianKl · 2012-12-08T11:44:57.345Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Could you elaborate about how exactly you think the halo effect could be reduced in this case?

comment by TimS · 2012-12-11T18:52:37.620Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

First, we could recognize the limitations of attempting to apply cutting edge Ev. psych to daily life. In terms of practical effect, ev. psych is behind nutrition science in terms of relevance to individual decision-making.

Second, more hostility to what Eliezer might call blogosphere ev. psych would clearly improve the quality of discourse.

comment by Jabberslythe · 2012-12-06T09:59:01.190Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I read the first of those two articles posted awhile and took issue with it for making statements like this:

Here’s an easy indicator. If it’s a paper that presumes to tell you the evolutionary basis of differences between the sexes or races, it’s bullshit.

But I didn't read any of his other stuff and the second article has good arguments that I had not heard before. And quippy articles are okay, sometimes, if there they are backed up.

Who are the people that are using evolutionary psychology to cast aspersions on women? Heartiste doesn't seem like a representative pick-up artist, he is the most misogynistic and "bad" to my knowledge.

comment by ILikeLogic · 2015-12-10T03:47:05.056Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

He's a jaded cynic. He's also the most insightful and intelligent PUA writing in the blogosphere. But don't forget how cynical he is.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2012-12-05T10:21:31.970Z · score: 16 (26 votes) · LW · GW

There are obviously no incompatibilities between reality and the moral claims of feminism.

Feminism as an ideology that makes both factual and moral claims, with the moral claims being the primary motivation, and the factual claims serving as rationalizations for the moral claims. It's a matter of indifference whether the factual claims are true - they're just tools in the service of furthering the moral claims. Opening the factual claims to alternative explanations that don't support the moral claims undermines the power of the ideology, and so is resisted.

comment by Oligopsony · 2012-12-06T14:15:07.383Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Predictive implication: antihereditarian beliefs among political egalitarians will cease when eugenics, genetic engineering, or pharmaceutical personality sculpting become technologically (not politically, since we're talking about beliefs in support of already politically implausible interventions) plausible. (You may or may not believe such conditions have already been fulfilled.)

comment by buybuydandavis · 2012-12-06T22:29:46.511Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think so.

I don't know that they have "antihereditarian beliefs" in the first place, though some might. It's not that heredity doesn't matter, it's that the distributions must be the same for all groups that they have egalitarian impulses about.

No, I don't think that's right either. Or at least it's not true in the long term. And I should amend my original comments on Feminism as well.

It would be true if egalitarianism were the true motivation, and not a rationalization of a will and claim to power. But wasn't Eugenics once a Progressive cause? Increasingly, I've concluded that power if the fundamental motivation. If it's just about power, the switch from Pro to Anti Eugenics shouldn't be a surprise.

And it's the same with my comments on Feminism above. Is the motivation really sexual egalitarianism, or is that just a rationalization for a claim to power? It's the difference between people and ideologies. The Pro Feminists of today could easily morph into the Anti Feminists of tomorrow. The details of the current Feminist ideology isn't really the point - power is.

comment by Emily · 2012-12-04T22:39:07.040Z · score: 14 (22 votes) · LW · GW

I clicked on this title with hackles slightly raised, prepared to point out that feminism is a normative set of beliefs, evolutionary psychology is a descriptive set of theories, and therefore there is no such conflict. Fortunately the content of your actual post makes it clear that it's unnecessary to point this out, but you might like to know that your title may come across as inflammatory!

I think the problem you describe, to the extent that it does exist, is part of a more general problem in (some communities in) feminism that has to do with a vague general suspicion of "the establishment", including science. Some of it's there for good reason, e.g. the history of medicine contains some pretty bad atrocities against women, but it's definitely taken too far in some circles.

My opinion is that there's no quick fix for this. Getting more women into science is the long-term fix. Scientifically-inclined online communities incorporating friendly behaviour towards women and embracing feminism is a small step that can help!

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2012-12-05T03:17:14.471Z · score: 14 (16 votes) · LW · GW

Some of it's there for good reason, e.g. the history of medicine contains some pretty bad atrocities against women, but it's definitely taken too far in some circles.

The history of medicine contains some pretty bad atrocities full stop.

comment by Emily · 2012-12-05T11:51:32.878Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed, but some of them were directed specifically at women.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-12-05T14:49:57.564Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

This would only be relevant if some of them were directed specifically at women while less or none were directed specifically at other criteria.

I do have a high prior that this is the case, and would like to see data either way. Though I don't think any of this is relevant to the main point: Are there other ways we can improve or fix the situation?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-12-07T08:03:23.582Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

This would only be relevant if some of them were directed specifically at women while less or none were directed specifically at other criteria.

No, it only requires that there be some directed at women. Winning at oppression olympics is not a precondition for being oppressed in a given context.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-12-07T14:46:33.546Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The preferred interpretation is that focus on women is misplaced if women are not being particularly targeted by atrocities - instead, the whole atrocities (preferably their source) should be tackled on directly in most cases. Singling out anything that "happens to also oppress women" seems to me like an even worse knee-jerk response that will only aggravate the MAN VERSUS WOMAN cultural and memetic superconflict. I'm told this is all basic Feminism 101 stuff.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-12-07T17:33:13.002Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

The preferred interpretation is that focus on women is misplaced if women are not being particularly targeted by atrocities

"Ones particularly targeting women" is not an empty set, so that takes care of that, surely?

instead, the whole atrocities (preferably their source) should be tackled on directly in most cases.

Except in the real world, existing groups and their situations are exploited to get those atrocities a pass; most of these incidents (I'm tabooing "atrocities" here as the effect of repeated reference seems to be to make my words sound more emotionally-laden than is the case) happen in the first place because ofexisting attitudes on the part of the perpetrators, and majority/marginalized power imbalances etween them and the target population.

When a senior surgeon at their own clinic a wealthy area with a mostly-majority, mostly-wealthy clientele starts sterilizing people who come in for other procedures, it's a bunch of lawsuits and a media frenzy just waiting to explode -- malpractice charges are the best-case scenario. When it's a bunch of doctors in Indian Health Service hospitals on reservations all over the country doing it to Native American women, basically nobody outside those women and their families ever hears about it or takes it seriously. It may take decades to get a public acknowledgement from any of the relevant parties that it happened at all.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-12-08T01:00:52.555Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

When it's a bunch of doctors in Indian Health Service hospitals on reservations all over the country doing it to Native American women,

Please, tell me you're making this up.

[googles for native american sterilization]

OMG OMG OMG OMG...

comment by [deleted] · 2012-12-08T02:18:11.728Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, it's worse than that -- many consent forms were often filed under duress (claims that benefits would be withheld, or handing the papers to a patient in under emergency conditions and having them sign, sometimes while under anaesthesia, claiming they were papers for other, often lifesaving procedures.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-12-07T18:05:03.764Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Heh, now that you've spelled it out like this, I think it was mostly an interpretation problem. What I was referring to was, suppose a particular group of Mad Doctors is performing retroviral experiments in secret:

25% of them target LGBT people¹
25% of them target low-IQ people²
25% of them target public figure individuals³
25% of them target women.

In such a case, I don't see why everyone should focus on the women-targeting and only or specifically or specially or with more effort try to get rid of the ones targeting women. Exactly 25% of the effort should be on the ones that target women, ceteris paribus. In other words, the efforts should be directed at the group and all the bad things they're doing, not freezing in place at the word women.

Unfortunately, this seems to be exactly what some "Feminists" are doing wrong, and the popular media is obviously going to get a lot of stuff wrong anyway (for any cause in almost any situation - I'm still disgusted by the articles on SIAI). That's why I was saying that the fact that they also target women is only relevant if there's some particular, additional reason to care about them specifically - if the above toy group were 75% targeting women, now I'd say yeah there's good reason to worry about those in particular. Or if the women were somehow suffering a hell of a lot more, or if there was higher utility in saving the women than the other groups.

Also, the footnote "reasons" are there as illustration that there may be some mundane reason why women were targeted, such as genetics or maybe 25% of those Mad experimenters just happen to be gynecologists. I really wouldn't be surprised if some Mad Gynecologists were to target women practically exclusively. What would surprise me is if it turned out that nearly all the people prone to become Mad Experimenters all for some reason decided to become gynecologists, to experiment on women.

====

  1. Possibly because they work in an "LGBT reform clinic" in Africa or the Middle-East, e.g. Lesbian Rape Camps... which is very horrible anyway in its own right.

  2. Possibly because as part of their functions they treat or test people with mental deficiencies or somesuch.

  3. Possibly because they're insane and subconsciously try to give themselves an excuse for failing, because really, who the hell would be that stupid? You're doing secret experiments! Heh.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-12-07T18:49:38.296Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Ahh. Yeah, I'm thinking about real cases rather than a thought experiment here. I don't know of any such group of Mad Doctors who divvy up their brutality in nice, even fractions purely for the lulz, but I do know of rather a lot of perfectly ordinary doctors who focus their brutality on specific populations, and may be enabled to varying degrees by outside parties or ideas.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-12-08T01:03:12.984Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

25% of them target LGBT people¹

25% of them target low-IQ people²

25% of them target public figure individuals³

25% of them target women.

Note that (assuming the threshold for “low-IQ” is less than 100) the last target group is the largest, in terms of population. (I'm not sure this should matter, but it's not obvious to me that it shouldn't.)

comment by Gust · 2012-12-09T23:12:48.946Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's 25% of the Doctors, not of the population of potential victims. If the Doctors at each group take victims at the same frequency and quantity, the number of victims will be the same. Actually, depending on what kind of social impact you think about, maybe the largest group suffers the least.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-12-09T23:24:09.601Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I was thinking about the fact that, if doctors are known to target members of $group, all members of $group might feel worried. (I'm using “worry” to mean ‘psychological discomfort’.) Of course ceteris paribus the probability that a given member of $group will be targeted will be inversely proportional to the size of $group; but since humans are biased, I guess the amount of worry an individual will experience won't be directly proportional to the probability of being targeted, so the total amount of worry will increase with the size of $group.

comment by Gust · 2012-12-20T14:46:38.405Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I see your point. Agreed.

comment by timtyler · 2012-12-05T03:16:45.646Z · score: -1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I clicked on this title with hackles slightly raised, prepared to point out that feminism is a normative set of beliefs, evolutionary psychology is a descriptive set of theories, and therefore there is no such conflict.

Wouldn't that just be the non-overlapping magasteria argument, though?

comment by JoshuaZ · 2012-12-05T03:22:16.228Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Wouldn't that just be the non-overlapping magasteria argument, though?

No. The problem with NOMA type arguments isn't because of an attempt to separate normative and descriptive statements about reality. The problem with NOMA is that it is a pathological system deliberately constructed to avoid paying rent while still claiming that ontological entities exist which in their usual constructions have their rent checks bounce.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-12-05T06:22:16.056Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

The problem is that feminists generally don't restrict themselves to making normative claims. Furthermore, many of the arguments for their normative claims rely on descriptive claims.

comment by Emily · 2012-12-05T11:56:53.775Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

But if their normative claims rely on descriptive claims relating specifically to evolutionary psychology, that's just an is-ought fallacy. Like most humans, a lot of feminists commit that. Unfortunate, but certainly not a problem that's specific to feminism.

comment by timtyler · 2012-12-05T12:09:39.698Z · score: -6 (10 votes) · LW · GW

The "is-ought fallacy"?!? Where are people supposed to get "ought " from if not from "is"? "Is" is all we have! Morality had better come from reality somehow! It does - and science explains how.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2012-12-05T12:56:54.512Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Of course the morality comes from the reality somehow. But we often don't know how exactly. But there is a pressure to provide an explanation. So people invent wrong explanations for their morality.

Later, when the official explanation is proved wrong, people are generally bad at understanding difference between "the specific explanation E of the moral norm M is wrong (but there may be some other explanation why M is good)" and "the moral norm M is bad". So the proponents of M are typically reluctant to admit the mistake in E.

Also, it's not just about truth, but also about politics. Perhaps E is wrong. But for a long time it was successfully used to defend M. Not all explanations have the power to convince people. It may be politically wise to keep a wrong, yet convincing explanation, instead of replacing it with a less convincing one, or even admitting that you don't have a good one.

EDIT: The political aspect is complicated by the fact that convincing explanations must have short inferential distances (for their target audience). The true explanation may be too difficult for this. The long-term political solution to this problem is to change education, to make the desired inferential distances shorter.

comment by Emily · 2012-12-05T12:27:45.380Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Doesn't the "is-ought fallacy" normally simply refer to the fallacious inference that because something is the case, it therefore ought to be the case? Maybe I meant the naturalistic fallacy.

comment by timtyler · 2012-12-05T12:05:56.665Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Checking back, the idea as presented was: "feminism is a normative set of beliefs, evolutionary psychology is a descriptive set of theories, and therefore there is no such conflict". I think the example of religion shows where that argument comes unstuck. Beliefs additionally have to be of a particular kind - in order to avoid clashing with facts.

comment by NReed · 2013-01-05T10:32:40.085Z · score: 12 (20 votes) · LW · GW

I'm a feminist. I started reading this blog because I like Methods of Rationality and the overlap between rationalists and nootropics nerds intrigued me. I studied sociology, gender studies and cultural studies in college, so that's where my background is.

In discussions I've been a part of, evolutionary psychology ends up being sort of a pariah viewpoint because it's constantly used to reinforce social norms that are tied up in patriarchy. We also tend to, for various reasons, believe more in nurture over nature. Here's my reasons why I do that, and why I am dismissive of evolutionary psychology by default.

The idea that evolution has driven men to be a certain way and women to be otherwise is generally really hard to prove because it's pretty much impossible to find people who are outside of the social structures that exist. However, historically ideas of how men and women evolve are tied up in ideas of hunter-gatherer cultures, many of which are being regularly proven wrong (the recent evidence found on the proportion of gathered food vs. hunted food eaten by hunter-gatherer societies, for example). These assumptions are based on how we view gender as a society and how we perceive "primitive" (scarequotes used because of the social baggage around the word "primitive", which is both judgmental and inaccurate) cultures.

Historically, the sort of people who use arguments based in biological determinism are creating arguments for the status quo. You see this in the history of the relationship between race, biology and evolution and in the history of how women have been perceived by "science" (scarequotes used both in self-awareness that science is hardly a monolithic entity and because a lot of this was bullshit spouted by people in labcoats more than actual science). As this stuff is proven to not only be wrong, but to be extremely harmful, I've looked at the arc of history and decided that when an argument is made for something that reinforces the current social order (particularly patriarchy, but other social structures too) and it uses biological determinism as it's basis, I usually take it with a grain of salt the size of a glacier, because historically those arguments have tended to be wrong, and the context in which I've seen them used is almost always one in which people with privilege are circling the wagons in an attempt to defend their privilege as biologically just. It's also something I see used by people who are determined that their relationship with the opposite gender is because of some biological reason and that default to biology as the reason for that when it's really easy to find extremely blatant examples of how social conditioning controls how people think and behave and/or their issues come from treating any group of people as a monolithic entity.

Also, I've seen a lot more sociological studies and research from that perspective than most people doing the evopsych side of the argument, and when given the science behind evopsych as I've seen it and weighing it against the sociological stuff that I know fairly well, the sociological evidence tends to be more compelling and obvious. Sociologists, of course, are likely to have the same issues as scientists do with their biases influencing their data, but because it's the sociologist's main job to understand culture, I give them more of the benefit of the doubt than most "hard" scientists for the same reason I would give a linguist more credit in understanding, say, connotation and denotation-- it's easier to break out of society's box, even when you were raised in said box, if you have more knowledge of what the box is and where it's edges are.

TL;DR: Evolutionary psychology tends to lead to biologically deterministic arguments and biological determinism has historically not only been wrong but has been actively harmful to marginalized groups. I generally choose to take any argument involving evolutionary psychology or biological determinism with a grain of salt, particularly when that argument supports the social status quo, because historically biologically deterministic arguments about marginalized groups (the big ones being women, racial minorities and sexual minorities) have turned out to be wrong. Because it's impossible to separate scientists from the society that they work within, I assume that biases are reflected in data, and I also know that the way that evolutionary psychology studies are reported in the media tends to exaggerate findings, so I particularly have to take reports of evopsych findings with a grain of salt unless I or someone I trust has run the data. Even if I can trust the data; I can't always trust the interpretation of the data because the person doing the interpretation is from a culture with a vested interest in preserving the status quo.

I hope that gives you guys some insight on the whole thing. The other thing you might want to know is that the majority of people on the internet arguing for evolutionary psychology are gigantic assholes, so you have to get over the initial bias against you that's brought on by, you know, reddit comment threads you can play evolutionary psychology bingo in. In the same way that "state's rights" can be a codeword for racism, "evopsych" can be a codeword for "I am a misogynist douchebag, and also probably a pick-up-artist, who is into harassing feminists on the internet as, you know, a hobby".

comment by SPLH · 2013-01-05T12:53:27.379Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

For me, the strongest argument in favor of evolutionary psychology is how well it works for explaining social behaviours of non-human animals. I think this is important background material to understand where evolutionary psychologists come from. I recommend parsing through the following textbooks:

Animal Behaviour, Alcock

An Introduction to Behavioural Ecology, Krebs and Davies

(Disclaimer: I have only read Alcock, but Krebs and Davies is supposed to be stronger and better organized from a theoretical point of view - Alcock has wonderful examples.)

Of course, human social behaviour is orders of magnitude more diverse and complicated than in any other species - and even for other primates, one already needs to adopt the point of view of sociology and social psychology to get a good picture. But the premise that culture somehow freed us from all this background of behavioural adaptations is very strange, especially given the tendancy of the evolutionary process to recycle everything in sight into new shapes and patterns.

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2013-01-05T11:13:25.412Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I wonder if "evopsych" and "the patriarchy" are some sort of mirror image words that make people from the other side stop listening whenever they get brought into the argument.

If humans having any behavior differences by gender that are not culturally constructed is a suspect viewpoint, what do you make of humans having evolved from animals that don't have culture to construct things but do have behavior differences by gender?

comment by NReed · 2013-01-05T11:32:29.569Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I could see that being the case, yeah.

I assume that those differences are slighter than one would assume, that society may necessarily point us in directions in which the evolutionary "purpose" of our traits are harmful (and so we should not privilege those evolutionary traits as inherently good or excuses for behavior which is societally harmful). I know that working from the viewpoint in which all of gendered behavior is culturally constructed will have me wrong sometimes, but the trend of history makes me think I'll be less wrong by keeping that viewpoint as opposed to the contrary one.

Also, you probably mean sex, not gender-- gender is between the ears, sex is between the legs. (It's more complicated than that, obviously, but that's the pneumonic that's been useful for me.)

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2013-01-05T12:26:10.141Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I know that working from the viewpoint in which all of gendered behavior is culturally constructed will have me wrong sometimes, but the trend of history makes me think I'll be less wrong by keeping that viewpoint as opposed to the contrary one.

I'm not sure how stable this strategy is. Right now, personal genomics and big data informatics might be making biology smarter at a surprising rate, while sociology has no similar tool ratchet to boost it up. I mean, you're not up against some caricature from the 19th century spouting about God-ordained moral order, but people who are intent on actually looking into the one billion moving parts that make a human come together and make sense of them.

Also, you probably mean sex, not gender-- gender is between the ears, sex is between the legs. (It's more complicated than that, obviously, but that's the pneumonic that's been useful for me.)

Well, you do decide how to behave with what's between your ears, not what's between your legs.

comment by NReed · 2013-01-05T12:49:56.630Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm. I'm getting a bit of what you're getting at with biology, and you might be right. But sociology doesn't become less true when it's harder to study it, and I'm throwing in my chips with the side that is guessing that most of the time genetics matter less than most people think on issues that can also be effected by societal conditioning.

The sex/gender thing was a correction, you were talking about gendered animals, and animals don't have genders, they just have sexes. Gender is the societal construction, sex is biological. It's just a definition/clarity issue-- sorry to sidetrack with it!

comment by diegocaleiro · 2013-01-05T18:59:51.217Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I'd like to point out the falsity that animals do not have gender. Perhaps crickets and pigeons do not have enough complexity within their psychology to either 'feel like a male' being a female or 'behave in stereotipically male ways' being a female (which I understand as two ways of being cross-gendered. I'm not sure this is how the term "cross-gendered" is used, but it is what I'm meaning here, having sex A and gender B)

But I'll bet all my money in that a lot of more complex animals (I"ll go with Lions, Bonobos, Dolphins and maybe Baboons) are obviously possibly cross-gendered as a personality trait. That would mean that behaviors usually pertaining to males activate in females (especially triggered ones) with strong stimuli for instance. And some specific animals (say Joe and Mimi) might be so prone to that that actually they behave more like the opposite sex than their own.

Other than that I'm happy with the above clarifying discussion.

comment by NReed · 2013-01-06T00:56:53.027Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I had a bit about how it was possible that some animals had gender but decided that was probably nitpicky detail that overcomplicated the issue, which was that the original response to me was confusing sex and gender. Though it's also possible that some of the animals that you're discussing actually are just intersex, or that the entire issue is just us anthromorphizing animals, attributing personality traits to be gendered at all because we're so entrenched in biological determinism that we're willing to spew that social baggage on everything we touch.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-01-05T11:29:59.579Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for explaining your point of view. I agree that if you don't know anything about a person other than that they are talking about evolutionary psychology, that is good evidence that they are a misogynist douchebag who is using it as an excuse to be a misogynist douchebag.

However, reversed stupidity is not intelligence. The fact that there are despicable people using a particular branch of science to justify their behavior is not strong evidence for or against the truth of the results in that branch of science. Lots of people have very silly ideas about quantum mechanics, but that doesn't mean that quantum mechanics is broken.

I think I am not too far off the mark when I say that generally speaking, on LessWrong we aspire to judge ideas based on how right they are and not based on how much we dislike the people who have historically held ideas superficially similar to those ideas.

comment by NReed · 2013-01-05T11:38:15.162Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I wasn't saying I was basing my opinions based on that, but that the context that people are coming from-- being treated like shit by people on the internet who profess to be using evolutionary psychology but are really using pseudoscientific bullshit to defend the fact that they are misogynist and/or racist asswagons-- often is why people have such an emotional reaction to evolutionary psychology when brought up, particularly when it's brought up in discussions of sex, gender, race, and sexuality. It's not something against evolutionary psychology as a whole-- these people aren't really even using good science of any kind-- but a warning that using the term evolutionary psychology tends to get hackles up. I meant it as a sideline so people getting into discussions of evopsych with feminists know the connotations that evopsych and biological determinism have with a lot of people.

comment by Ghatanathoah · 2012-12-11T11:12:22.684Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I believe that a large portion of people who think feminism and ev-psych conflict are making some form of the mistake Eliezer describes in The Evolutionary Cognitive Boundary.

When someone says, "People do X to signal Y", I tend to hear, "People do X when they consciously or subconsciously expect it to signal Y", not, "Evolution built people to do X as an adaptation that executes given such-and-such circumstances, because in the ancestral environment, X signaled Y."....

....All that should matter for saying "The parent truly cares about the child" is that the grief in the parent's mind is cognitively real and unconditional and not even subconsciously for the sake of any ulterior motive....

.....Of course the emotional circuitry is ultimately there for evolutionary-historical reasons. But only conscious or subconscious computations can gloom up my day; natural selection is an alien thing whose 'decisions' can't be the target of my cynicism or admiration.

To be more explicit, many feminists probably get upset at many of the ideas that ev-psych proposes because, if one does not keep the evolutionary-cognitive boundary in mind, those theories make women (and men too, come to think of it) look like calculating, manipulative sociopaths.

For instance, if an evolutionary psychologist says "Evolution caused women to be attracted to certain types of men in order to increase the odds of them obtaining good genes and support for their children," someone who isn't keeping the EvCog Boundary in mind will probably hear "Women are cold, calculating, conniving monsters who manipulate men and string them along so they can get good genes for their kids and then trap men into raising them."

Now, that's obvious nonsense. The vast majority of women are not manipulating anyone, they are not making some secret calculations about how to obtain good genes for their kids, and are not trying to trap men. They are just executing adaptations. The attraction they feel is totally genuine and sincere. It is natural selection that did all the cruel, amoral calculation. No one should be held personally responsible for the actions an amoral natural force took when it designed them.

And just to be clear, I'm certainly not claiming that all women are attracted to certain types of men or anything like that. It was just the first relevant ev-psych theory that came to mind.

It doesn't help, of course, that there are large groups of men who are dedicated to insulting and condemning women; and that these men have realized that holding women personally responsible for the "motives" that natural selection had when it "designed" them is a great way to give their unpleasantness a scientific veneer. That's basically what Roissy (or Heartiste, as I think he's called now) does. For instance, that whole "cuckolding is the same as rape" nonsense of his is based on the (dead wrong) belief that people consciously desire to spread their genes.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-12-12T07:42:36.800Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

It doesn't help, of course, that there are large groups of men who are dedicated to insulting and condemning women; and that these men have realized that holding women personally responsible for the "motives" that natural selection had when it "designed" them is a great way to give their unpleasantness a scientific veneer. That's basically what Roissy (or Heartiste, as I think he's called now) does. For instance, that whole "cuckolding is the same as rape" nonsense of his is based on the (dead wrong) belief that people consciously desire to spread their genes.

Your comment is mostly correct, except this is a total stawman of Roissy's position.

comment by Ghatanathoah · 2012-12-14T10:50:58.856Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Your comment is mostly correct, except this is a total stawman of Roissy's position.

I was under the impression that Roissy's position was:

  1. People want to spread their genes.
  2. People want to choose who they spread their genes with through sexual reproduction in order to increase the odds that the other person's genes will be good.
  3. Rape is bad because if it successfully impregnates the victim it causes them to spread genes that they don't want to spread.
  4. Cuckoldry also results in an individual spreading genes they don't want to spread.
  5. Therefore, cuckoldry is as bad as rape.

Have I gotten this incorrect in some fashion?

Now, of course I don't deny that cuckoldry is a truly awful thing to do to someone. But that particular chain of reasoning as to why it is awful is really, really bad.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-12-15T20:48:51.719Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't read Roissy, but Robin Hanson's argument for why cuckoldry is as bad as rape was based on a survey of men showing that most would rather be raped than cuckolded.

Furthermore, the fact that Roissy isn't interested in having children shows that he's not confusing evolution's motives with those of humans.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-12-16T18:31:34.866Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Robin Hanson's argument for why cuckoldry is as bad as rape was based on a survey of men showing that most would rather be raped than cuckolded

And I guess most women would rather be cuckolded than be raped. So?

comment by SecondWind · 2014-02-25T19:38:16.625Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Being cuckolded (in this context) means unknowingly raising not-your-genetic-offspring while believing it is your own. A male partner's infidelity can't cuckold a woman.

But I imagine most mothers would be horrified to discover, ten years after the fact, that their newborn was stolen and replaced with someone else's, and the child they've devoted so much to is not actually their genetic offspring. A brief bout of Google indicates that hospital baby swaps can spark multimillion dollar lawsuits, sometimes successful...

comment by MugaSofer · 2012-12-14T12:47:51.615Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

For instance, if an evolutionary psychologist says "Evolution caused women to be attracted to certain types of men in order to increase the odds of them obtaining good genes and support for their children," someone who isn't keeping the EvCog Boundary in mind will probably hear "Women are cold, calculating, conniving monsters who manipulate men and string them along so they can get good genes for their kids and then trap men into raising them."

Well, more like "women are secretly obsessed with kids", give the stereotypes involved.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-12-07T11:46:14.161Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Relevant comment by EY.

comment by aaronde · 2012-12-05T07:50:22.146Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

All the possible reasons for the conflict you listed suggest that the solution is to help feminists understand evolutionary psychology better, so they won't have a knee-jerk defensive reaction against it. This could come off as a little condescending, but more importantly, it misses the other side of the issue. In order to leave itself less open to criticism, evolutionary psychology could be more rigorous, just as other "soft" sciences like medicine and nutrition could be more rigorous. This would make it harder for critics to find things to object to, increasing trust in the field over time, and would probably be a good thing in itself anyway.

So I would add to your list: 8) Concerns about lack of rigor in the field of evolutionary psychology.

comment by ChristianKl · 2012-12-05T14:15:03.183Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe it would also help if the evolutionary psychologists folks would understand feminism better to communicate in a way that reduces conflict.

As we are on LessWrong it would make more sense to focus here on evolutionary psychologists folks understanding feminism than the other way around.

comment by diegocaleiro · 2012-12-05T12:32:30.062Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, also disentangling social scientists notion of what used to be called evolutionism in the social sciences, back in the 1920-1940s and what was once sociobiology applied to humans, from the actual evolutionary psychology of our time.

comment by diegocaleiro · 2012-12-04T22:23:22.420Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Is the standard for writing '[Link]' on a topic applicable here? The links are only recommended, not the bulk of the post. Thanks

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2012-12-05T08:43:22.256Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think it's applicable, for the very reason you gave in this comment.

comment by boni_bo · 2014-02-06T04:14:13.488Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Just to update this thread with recent discussions on EP: the list of all commentaries and responses to SWT's 'The Ape That Thought It Was a Peacock: Does Evolutionary Psychology Exaggerate Human Sex Differences?' is here and most of the papers are available online freely by googling them. Very easy:

http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/hpli20/24/3#.UvLJIzJdXkU

comment by Jabberslythe · 2012-12-05T07:31:16.120Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I remember this course being an example of pulling it off.

comment by higurashimerlin · 2016-06-16T00:43:45.533Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The problem with these kinds of debates is that human have political type thinking, even when we are trying not to. So we tend to interpreted things through the lens of our politics.

This debate is one example alone others. Like have inter-sex people are considered to be something to fix, rather than just sexual features not being set in stone.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-09-19T07:06:20.020Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Feminism is epistemically irrational but potential instrumentally rational for both women (obviously) and men.

Consider factual claims about domestic violence. Domestic violence costs around 50,000 dollars per person AUD according to this paper.

The foremost authoritive Australian source summarises the matter as such:

eminist researchers have long identified ‘gender asymmetry’ in domestic violence, arguing that women are the primary targets of abuse and that men comprise the large majority of perpetrators. On the other hand, family conflict researchers typically find ‘gender symmetry’, arguing that women and men experience and perpetrate violence at similar rates. > Feminist and family conflict researchers also differ in their data collection methods. Feminist researchers tend to favour qualitative approaches commonly used in clinical studies, as well as quantitative information collected via officially reported data and community sample surveys. Family conflict researchers tend to favour quantitative approaches, relying predominantly on acts-based surveys (such as the Conflict Tactics Scale).

Somewhat contradictingly, the paper concludes:

From the real life examples presented in this paper and in many other studies canvassed, practitioners and advocates should have confidence in claims of gender asymmetry in domestic violence.

Another one of their papers ironically concludes that the data confirms it is clear females are the predominant victims while conceding that data on male victims doesn't get collected at any comparable rate.

comment by gjm · 2015-09-19T09:51:28.226Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It seems to me that we could get results a bit like that without anyone being grossly dishonest or incompetent, if (1) men and women are violent about equally often but (2) men tend to be substantially more violent than women when they are violent. And #2 seems a plausible-enough just-so story; even if intentions are exactly equal in each case, men tend to be stronger so will do more damage.

(Why would this lead to such results? Well, e.g., officially reported data will tend to focus on violence serious enough for the police or social services to pay attention, whereas if you survey people and ask "have you ever been violent?" or "has your partner ever been violent?" I would expect them to include more-minor violent acts too.)

... OK, I just looked at the paper and behold, that does in fact appear to be the case, and is a large part of why the author says that there is gender asymmetry in domestic violence. (And no, it isn't "somewhat contradictory" to say that one group of researchers finds X, another finds Y, and that on the whole Y is more accurate. The paper goes into quite a lot of detail about the actual evidence each way. The last sentence, aside from acknowledgements and bibliography, is this: "The severity of physical injury and levels of coercion from all forms of violence in relationships appear to be greater for women than for men.")

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-12-07T13:41:38.786Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Your 1 to 5 could do with expansion.

comment by mwengler · 2012-12-05T14:44:20.909Z · score: -3 (21 votes) · LW · GW

First off, I think you may be a few decades late to worry about feminism as a sufficiently disruptive power that we need to devote any energy to placating it. The feminists have won. Young women in the west have sex with whom they want when they want, dress the way they want, bare ankles be damned, compete for the jobs they want, and have kids if and when they want. Whatever residual disagreement with my above sweeping declaration of victory is weak enough that it need not be dealt with by interest groups in which it is not particularly central.

In any case, the "resolution" between feminist concerns, and evolutionary psychology is to understand that evolution does fine by itself, and hardly needs help from law or custom to get its job done. The fact that evolution biases many women towards child-rearing is enough, the laws don't have to push on this as well. The evolutionary fact that men feel a conflict between attraction to women and needing to not act like assholes (a technical term describing a male who performs actions that make him less attractive to females) doesn't require laws to hide women away from men so that they can at least pretend to go about their business without sex on their minds all the time.

There is evolution in cultures as well, and natural selection. The west with its increasing abandonment of codifying differences between males and females is, production wise, kicking the butts of cultures that want to limit things. Western ideals leak at a flood rate into these cultures because of western domination of all production, including entertainment, information and education.

If even 95% of males are heterosexual, those who would ban homosexuality as unnatural need to answer this evo psych question: why are 5% of males not heterosexual? Evolution tends towardss great efficiency. We don't have a 5% blindness rate or deafness rate. If we have evolved to have a significant population which is homosexual, one would screw with evo psych's result at one's peril: there is probably an advantage to having homosexuals. Of course the same reasoning would apply to women who want to be engineers or CEOs or whatever, they got here by being descended from a LONG line of ancestors ruthlessly culled. To put legal and/or cultural barriers in the way of evolution's decision is to entirely miss the point of how optimization works.

In summary, feminists yelling angrily at evo psych results are not enough of a current phenomenon to require any special plan to deal with any more. And evo psych only supports oppression if really poorly understood, if looked at through a remarkably blurry lens. Rather, evo psych is more reasonably understood to have produced distributions of characteristics in the highly social human population, distributions which should be consciously adjusted only for compellingly logical reasons, and not merely from a misunderstanding between the value of 90% and 100% participation in some endeavor.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-12-06T02:55:53.848Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

evolution does fine by itself, and hardly needs help from law or custom to get its job done.

The problem is that evolution is perfectly capable of evolving things to extinction.

comment by mwengler · 2012-12-06T17:06:19.448Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Species may come and go, alleles may come and go, but since neurons first showed up they have gotten a lot better, a lot better organized, to the point where mammal brains are pretty happening. Eyes, wings, tooth and claw all seem to be "winners" from evolution. We may evolve things to extinction, but evolution on the whole appears to be a winner at constructing marvelous things that persist across alleles, species and individuals.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-12-07T02:02:54.575Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, but it's under no obligation to give those things to us.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-12-05T21:42:50.960Z · score: 8 (14 votes) · LW · GW

assholes (a technical term describing a male who performs actions that make him less attractive to females)

This would be closer to true if negated.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-12-05T18:54:40.258Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

If even 95% of males are heterosexual, those who would ban homosexuality as unnatural need to answer this evo psych question: why are 5% of males not heterosexual? Evolution tends towardss great efficiency.

Yeah, you probably need to read more books on evolutionary biology. While technically correct the latter sentence is a misleading generalization when thinking about certain traits. I recommend you start by familiarizing yourself with genetic load to see an example of how evolution can end up relatively inefficient at doing some things. Also note the role of path dependence in the natural world.

We don't have a 5% blindness rate or deafness rate.

A noisy figure, we have estimates going from 1% to about 6% for all non-heterosexual people depending on country and methodology. Statistics vary but about 2% of men are totally infertile. We also have infectious diseases and parasite infection rates for some organisms above 5% in human populations that get in the way of spreading genes as much as homosexuality. This is considered a plausible explanation too:

A related hypothesis is that the proximal cause of homosexuality must be an infection. Cochran does not suggest that an infectious agent that causes homosexuality is spread by homosexuals. The premise is that homosexuality reduces the number of offspring and would lead to the genes carried by a homosexual person to be progressively eliminated over generations. Cochran maintains that the observed level of prevalence of exclusive homosexuality (3 to 4 percent of men and 1 to 2 percent of women in the United States) means genes cannot be the cause of homosexuality. This argument is based on natural selection, the fitness cost of genes 'for' homosexuality being too great for its occurrence at a frequency above that of random mutation (~ 1 in 50,000). The argument assumes that evolution would have largely eliminated homosexuality related to non-infectious environmental causes, except novel ones

comment by [deleted] · 2012-12-06T11:50:23.908Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This argument is based on natural selection, the fitness cost of genes 'for' homosexuality being too great for its occurrence at a frequency above that of random mutation (~ 1 in 50,000).

What if the allele for homosexuality is recessive (you need two copies of it to be homosexual), and having one copy of it has some advantage (the way having one copy of the sickle-cell allele makes you resistant to malaria)?

comment by JoshuaZ · 2012-12-05T19:07:27.738Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

In any case, the "resolution" between feminist concerns, and evolutionary psychology is to understand that evolution does fine by itself, and hardly needs help from law or custom to get its job done

Evolution doesn't have a job to do. It just is, Moreover, our ancestral environment doesn't look much like modern cultures, but seems at this point pretty clear that culture can influence evolution.

assholes (a technical term describing a male who performs actions that make him less attractive to females)

If you think this definition of asshole captures your intuition about the meaning of that word then something has gone drastically wrong.

f even 95% of males are heterosexual, those who would ban homosexuality as unnatural

They have much more of an is v. ought problem before one gets to whether or not it is unnatural. But it also isn't helpful in this regards in another way: whether something is or is not natural is distinct from whether it is evolutionary advantageous (either now or in our ancestral environment). Note also that there quite a few hypotheses giving potential explanations for why homosexuality would evolve.

one would screw with evo psych's result at one's peril

This is essentially an argument that we should reside in a hunter-gatherer or subsistence agriculture society and also shouldn't try to address cognitive biases and shouldn't do any math that wasn't easy in our ancestral environment, etc. etc. I don't think this argument does what you want it to do.

comment by ChristianKl · 2012-12-04T23:26:48.767Z · score: -5 (21 votes) · LW · GW

There are obviously no incompatibilities between reality and the moral claims of feminism.

That's false. The moral claim of feminism is that man and woman should be treated equally. Reality is that they aren't treated equally. The goal of feminism is to change reality.

In the last decades feminist were quite successful in doing so. Given the success of the feminist movement they don't have a real incentive to chance the way they try to create social change.

Most humans have biases on a subconscious level. Scientists are humans. A person that's well trained in deconstructivsm can find gender bias in a lot of gender related writing by scientists.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2012-12-05T13:35:57.260Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

A person that's well trained in deconstructivsm can find gender bias in a lot of gender related writing by scientists.

Maybe that's because a person well trained in deconstructivism can find anything in anything. :D

More seriously, maybe a person can more easily find the biases they don't share then the biases they share. And maybe being interested in feminism and being interested in deconstructivism correlates positively.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2012-12-04T23:37:39.242Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

There are obviously no incompatibilities between reality and the moral claims of feminism.

That's false. The moral claim of feminism is that man and woman should be treated equally. Reality is that they aren't treated equally.

I think you are misinterpreting what was meant here. What seems to have been meant is that there's no conflict between what normatively feminism claims and the description of how reality actually behaves, not whether the feminist ideals have been accomplished. This is in contrast with for example how classical marxism makes claims about the nature of reality that are just demonstrably false about the nature of economics, and that's independent from any descriptive claim about how economies currently work.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-12-05T06:25:05.343Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

What seems to have been meant is that there's no conflict between what normatively feminism claims and the description of how reality actually behaves, not whether the feminist ideals have been accomplished. This is in contrast with for example how classical marxism makes claims about the nature of reality

Yes, they do. See for example all the comments talking about 'patriarchy'.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2012-12-05T14:28:13.907Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, they do.

It may help to reread my comment. I'm not arguing that there aren't such conflicts- I was discussing what OP meant. In fact, I'd agree that to some extent the claim being made is wrong. I can easily for example find self-identified feminists who claim that all aspects of gender are not biological. Since one has things like male babies having on average larger birth-weight than females, this is trivially false. At the same time though, one of the serious problems with this sort of discussion is that one can construct many definitions of the terms in question, since in any movement, many different people will use different notions of what they mean by a given ism. Interpreting OP as saying that for many self-identified feminists, feminism doesn't conflict with descriptive aspects of reality is a distinct claim, which should be taken seriously.

See for example all the comments talking about 'patriarchy'.

So that's a pretty broad category, and doesn't seem to support your claim. Such comments have included observations that a) not all societies are patriarchal and some classical small societies have had strong matriarchal elements b) many aspects of gender roles in classical Western civilization were far more restrictive of the formal power given to women than men. Given inheritance laws favoring sons over daughters (male primogeniture wasn't just for nobility, and even classical inheritance laws pre-feudalism often gave an extra large portion to the eldest male heir (look at the Talmudic laws for example), the many forms of higher education that were denied to women (most of the Ivy League schools for example didn't let women in as undergraduates until the late 1960s), restrictions on married women's economic rights (in the United States until the 1970s, it was difficult for a married women to even write checks to pay utility bills), and many other aspects this is difficult to see.

That's not to say that all comments about patriarchy are true. Claims that science is inherently patriarchy run the gamut from incoherent to demonstrably false. Similarly, claims that fluid dynamics have been less extensively studied than general mechanics because of a mental association between fluids and female menstruation as opposed to male genitalia which involves erections, are generally not even worth addressing. But such claims are rare, and aren't necessarily representative of feminism as a whole. Indeed, even on a college campus in a left-wing city, it will often take effort to find feminists who actively argue for these sorts of positions. So overall, any claim that this somehow applies to "all the comments talking about 'patriarchy'" is inaccurate.

comment by ChristianKl · 2012-12-05T00:30:59.475Z · score: -2 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I think you are misinterpreting what was meant here.

No, I do understand well what diegocaleiro intended to communicate. It's just that what he intended to communicate isn't the only thing that he communicates.

When it comes to discussing gender the goal of most feminists is to change social realities. It's not to make claims that explain reality. Whenever people who have different goals interact there will be some conflict.

In science you can often interpret a fact in multiple ways. If your goal is the search of truth within the scientific community it makes sense to have different people argue for the merits of all possible explanations for the data that you have. If your goal is social change than you profit from blanking out possible explanation that go against your social goals whenever there's a possible explanation that's more benefitial for your goal of social change.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2012-12-05T00:35:21.296Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

No, I do understand well what diegocaleiro intended to communicate. It's just that what he intended to communicate isn't the only thing that he communicates.

Are you saying that you are deliberately interpreting his statement in a way that you know wasn't intended?

comment by ChristianKl · 2012-12-05T13:45:56.202Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

diegocaleiro stated goal is about understanding that conflict.

I'm interpreting his statement in a way that shifts the attention towards the reason there's conflict between evolutionary psychology and feminism. I don't think it's useful to address the statement in a way that doesn't help with understanding the conflict between evolutionary psychology and feminism.

There's also the meta level. You won't understand the whole conflict between evolutionary psychology and feminism as long as you think that the only part of communication that matters is the part that the sender intends to send.

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2012-12-05T10:54:50.799Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

A person that's well trained in deconstructivsm can find gender bias in a lot of gender related writing by scientists.

It feels only sporting to tell you that a lot of people on this site have been trained to have alarm bells go off when reading this sentence.

comment by ChristianKl · 2012-12-05T13:17:12.878Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

It feels only sporting to tell you that a lot of people on this site have been trained to have alarm bells go off when reading this sentence.

That doesn't change the fact that this is the reality. This is why it's hard to have no conflict between evolutionary psychology folks and academic feminists.

I describe reality and because of their training for alarm bells LessWrong folk doesn't like my post. Evolutionary psychologists describe reality and because of their training for alarm bells feminists don't like it.

There no substantial difference. Few people care about understanding reality for it's own sake. I don't see LessWrong as a sport that's about maximizing karma.

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2012-12-05T13:32:40.122Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

That's not what I mean. I am talking specifically about the statement:

A person that's well trained in deconstructivsm can find gender bias in a lot of gender related writing by scientists.

If I were feeling less sporting, I would make a jibe about how well-trained in deconstructivism (deconstructionism?) a person would have to be to find gender bias in the list of ingredients on a box of cereal. Literary textual analysis is not seen as a particularly credible method for deducing facts around here.

The wording of the statement is also worrying, in that it's reminiscent of confirmation bias and Type I errors.

I am not making any kind of comment on any gender-politics issue in my response to you. I am simply informing you that the argument you have chosen to use in this case is an extremely poor match for the audience.

comment by ChristianKl · 2012-12-05T13:57:07.635Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Literary textual analysis is not seen as a particularly credible method for deducing facts around here.

My argument doesn't rest on the claim that literary textual analysis is a credible method for deducing facts. It rests of the claim that feminists use literary textual analysis as a method for deducing facts.

It rests on the claim that the fact that feminists find their facts that way is one of the main reasons for the conflict between feminists and evolutionary psychology.

Your problem is that you can't distinguish a descriptive statement about the truth that some people use literary textual analysis to find facts from a value judgement about whether it's good that they do.