Re: Suppression of Sociobiology

omar shafey (
16 Dec 1996 21:12:12 GMT

In article <58ssoo$>, (Bryant) wrote:

> In article <>,
> omar shafey <> wrote:
> >Sociobiology is alive, well and as dangerous as ever because it is used to
> >mask social injustice by attributing social inequality to natural biology.
> >Note the popularity of the _The Bell Curve_.
> Here, for your information, are the questions currently addressed by
> sociobiologists where I work:
> *Do parents invest discriminatively in offspring?
> *Under what circumstances would infanticide be adaptive (that is,
> enhance long-term reproductive success)? What cues might
> lead to child abuse? How can they be countered?
> *Are mate choice mechanisms favoring arbitrary traits ('run away
> selection') or traits which advertise health and
> developmental integrity ('good genes selection')?
> *Do offspring solicitation signals advertise reproductive value as
> well as nutritional need?
> *Does father absence during childhood affect sexual strategies
in women?
> *Under what circumstances can we expect non-reciprocity-based
> acts of altruism toward non-relatives?
> *What environmental parameters correlate with (and may cause) post-
> partum depression in women? How might PPD be mitigated
> without psychotropic drugs?
> *Why do women in some cultures mutilate their daughters' genitalia?
> What social and economic correlates for this behavior exist?
> *Might animals honestly advertise their resource holding power with
> urinary territory marking or vocalizing?
> ...Now, these might not be *interesting* questions to you, but
> they are far more representative of the field you assail than the book by
> Herrnstein and Murray (authors of the Bell Curve). These two are not even
> sociobiologists.
> Bryant

I find tail-wagging-the-dog theory-driven formulation of the above
questions more interesting than the questions themselves and I am
disheartened to imagine that anthropologists study the behavior of animals
marking their territory in the same manner in which they study post-partum
depression in women. Animals differ from people precisely because people
have culture and culture is the subject matter of anthropology. There are
many other approaches in anthropology including but not limited to
symbolic interactionism, phenomenology, ethnomethodology, hermeneutics,
structural-functionalism, neo-Marxism, conflict theory, exchange theory,
and critical theory which may be used to generate different questions and
answers in response to the cultural features described above.

Sociobiology is the study of the biological bases of behavior in the
context of neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory. Applying genetic theory to
societies and cultures presupposes the relevance of biological concepts
such as the gene being the basic unit of selection; the concept of
inclusive fitness and the role of relatedness; models of reciprocal
altruism, the concept of evolutionarily stable strategy, and the theory of
optimal reproductive investment. I contend that these biological models
are too reductionist and are largely inappropriate in cultural analysis
because complex human behavior and cultures are not determined by genetic
complement and evolutionary theory. Sociobiology is a politically
convenient way for anthropologists and others to explain cultural features
as having a genetic, evolutionary or biological basis precluding or
ignoring a critical assessment of the actual social, political, and
economic forces at work. I assail the _The Bell Curve_ because its wholly
fallacious pseudo-scientific sociobiological explanations for social
inequality (genes=race=IQ) are popular and dangerous for obvious reasons.