the biosocial "phobia"

Mike Lieber (U28550@UICVM.BITNET)
Thu, 8 Dec 1994 14:30:39 CST

I have gotten offline comments, one now on-line, accusing me and other unnamed
cultural anthropologists of being opposed to biosocial aapproaches because I
have no use whatever for sociobiology. Each off-line comment used the same
terminology, raising my suspicions that accusation of opposition to biosocial
approaches is a standard rhetoric that sociobiologists use for their
anthropological (and possibly other?) critics. I have maintained a very
strong interest in biology and its connection to human activity over the years,
partly because of my commitment to a cybernetic framework, which is about
evolution if it is about anything. I have done some "biosocial" sorts of
research in the field, principally my work on leprosy epidemics in
Micronesia, involving both field and laboratory research. I am fascinated by
the promise of biomechanics in explaining aspects of both fossil and archy
data, and I am particulaly intrigued bythe possibilities of tracing the
connections between genetic information, the sorts of nerve pathways that that
information makes possible, and the ranges of somatic flexibility that those
pathways permit. I am hardly opposed to biosocial approaches. It is
sociobiology that I have no use for--not because it connects genes with
behavior but because I consider it to be bad biology.

My reasons for my thinking are, briefly stated, as follows. First, the premise
on which the subdiscipline is founded is teleological--an argument by purpose:
the organism is the genes way of making more genes. That sort of teleology is
considered unacceptable in any scientific argument, so why should biologists or
anthropologists buy it? Second, the population genetics on which sociobi
argumentation rests is inadequate to account for the complexityof mammalian
behavior, so much of which is based on polygenes. The best that population
genetics can do is 2 loci at a time. Third, I hjave been less than impressed
by the misrepresentation of such studies as Rothenbuler's studies of nest
cleaning in honeybees, whose results are the opposite of of what Wilson,
Dawkins, and others have claimed for them. I have also seen data on Oceanic
adoption, my own data included, misrepresented in sociobi analysis. Fourth,
sociobiology, in my estimation and based on a coule years' worth of immersion
in the literature, is a rewrite of Thomas Hobbes's _Leviathan_ with genetic
and economic jargon replacing Hobbes's older terminology. I think that
biosocial approaches can doa lot better than this. Having said that, I will
add that the sociobio. framework has stimulated a good deal of interesting
research that might not have gotten done without it. Even fundamentally
flawed frameworks can still generate interesting data.

I have written this statement for one purpose--to make clear that sociobio. is
ONE biosocial approach, not THE biosocial approach. It is the specific
version represented by sociobiology that I do not subscribe to, not the
idea of biosocial approaches. I did not intend this to kick off a sociobiology
thread, and I am not interested in specifying any further my discontents
with it or defending my position on the matter. I wasted two years on this
stuff as it is. I do not intend to waste any more time on it.

Mike Lieber