Re[2]: Is sociobiology dubious?

Mon, 6 May 1996 15:03:06 CDT

I share some of J. Langton's reservations about sociobiology. I admire
its striving for scientific rigor, but see it as misguided whenever it
presents itself as *explaining* cultural phenomena. One sociobiologist
I know went to the Caribbean to study "mate-guarding behavior," which I
believe occasionally included bar-room brawling. Now it is pretty clear
that "mate-guarding" among humans can take diverse forms: a millionnaire
may guard his mate not by knifing the competition but by buying the lady
a fur coat. Cultural anthropology is concerned to describe and explain
such differences, rather than to argue the case that both can be
considered reflections of our genetic endowment due to natural
selection. On the positive side, I can imagine that if sociobiology
progresses, it will help us delimit with greater accuracy the sphere of
culture. That is, to the extent that something we thought was socially
acquired can be shown to have been genetically acquired instead, we then
can shift it from culture to our pan-specific biogram. I don't see, by
definition, how we can ever say "Oh! We thought this cultural phenomenon
was socially acquired; but sociobiology has shown it is not!" --Bob