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Comment by nreed on How to Avoid the Conflict Between Feminism and Evolutionary Psychology? · 2013-01-06T00:56:53.027Z · 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 nreed on How to Avoid the Conflict Between Feminism and Evolutionary Psychology? · 2013-01-05T12:49:56.630Z · 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 nreed on How to Avoid the Conflict Between Feminism and Evolutionary Psychology? · 2013-01-05T11:38:15.162Z · 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 nreed on How to Avoid the Conflict Between Feminism and Evolutionary Psychology? · 2013-01-05T11:32:29.569Z · 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 nreed on A Fable of Science and Politics · 2013-01-05T11:26:22.853Z · LW · GW

In that case, feel free to substitute any issue in which there is a technical definition for a word that varies distinctly from culture to culture, can change dramatically over time, and discusses issues of subjectivity as applied to rationalist koans.

Comment by nreed on A Fable of Science and Politics · 2013-01-05T10:42:00.075Z · LW · GW

If that's the case, then they should be the approximately 450-495s and the approximately 520-570s, but there are lots of languages where green and blue are one color. See also history of blue; for anecdata see the link I posted in my original post in which the child who wasn't taught the sky is blue regularly calls it colorless or white.

Comment by nreed on How to Avoid the Conflict Between Feminism and Evolutionary Psychology? · 2013-01-05T10:32:40.085Z · 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 nreed on A Fable of Science and Politics · 2013-01-05T09:45:45.565Z · LW · GW

I've been consistently bothered thinking about this story and I think the biggest issue I have with it is the idea that there is a right answer at all. I know this just puts me in the same category as the people at the college who teach everyone that Green and Blue are equally valid viewpoints, but it seems to me that the truth of the matter is that perception is so subjective and societally constructed. The other people in this thread have discussed this as a matter of the Greens rationalizing, hypothetically "seeing" the wrong color because they want to, but I think that argument is fundamentally wrong because the way we view color has changed so dramatically over history and is different among cultures. It's like the base system for numbers, or even language, to an extent-- once you learn it, it's really hard to snap out of it and think in a different way. I feel like the entire story, and the idea of the rightness of the Blues being confirmed, is just privileging a particular point of view as "right". Maybe this is just me arguing for a less objective reality, but even though I read this a few days ago it's been tickling the edge of my mind, bothering me.