Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Why is there more X despite Y

We see this formulation over and over again. You get a false correlation that is so strong in people's minds they just will not see that the evidence contradicts it. A perennial favourite of mine is the "X is getting more pronounced despite feminism". Thus an op-ed that appeared in the local paper a few years ago wondering why, "after having fought long and hard for equality", were women "happily displaying themselves as sex objects". The obvious hypothesis ought to be that perhaps this is happening because of and not despite feminism but no one wants to go there. So they don't.

This ideological blindness reached a finely distilled form in a piece by Mark Regnerus I was picking on last month:
If women were more fully in charge of how their relationships transpired, we'd be seeing, on average, more impressive wooing efforts, longer relationships, fewer premarital sexual partners, shorter cohabitations, and more marrying going on. Instead, according to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (which collects data well into adulthood), none of these things is occurring.  
What Regnerus can't see, and he is hardly alone, is that these things are happening precisely because women are more fully in charge of how their relationships transpire. In other words, it is happening because of feminism. Why can't people see this? Well the short answer is because they want to believe that women are morally superior beings, especially when it comes to sex. When the facts directly contradict their fond beliefs they make stuff up to try and sustain their beliefs.

But Regnerus pales next to Satoshi Kanazawa. I was picking on him yesterday but I left one of his claims for today because it is so fantastical it deserves special consideration. The question he was asked was "So intelligent people do not behave better than less intelligent people?"
No, sometimes they do stupid things. What intelligent people prefer is not good or bad, right or wrong, but it is always evolutionarily novel.  More intelligent boys (but not more intelligent girls) are more likely to grow up to value sexual exclusivity. This is because humans are naturally polygynous. Sexual exclusivity is evolutionarily novel for men but not for women, so more intelligent men are more likely to value sexual exclusivity than less intelligent men. There is also some evidence that intelligent people are more likely to be vegetarians, because humans are evolutionarily designed to be omnivorous.  
Human beings probably are naturally polygynous. But even if you dispute that follow the logic, or try to for it is just crazy. Here is the first step:
More intelligent boys (but not more intelligent girls) are more likely to grow up to value sexual exclusivity. This is because humans are naturally polygynous.
Kanazawa's claim is that more intelligent people will do the evolutionarily novel thing and will therefore tend towards exclusivity in contradiction to evolution which led to polygyny. But here is a question, in whom do men value sexual exclusivity?

I ask because there is nothing novel in men valuing sexual exclusivity in women. To the contrary, it is the obvious evolutionary move. What would be unusual, if Kanazawa is right, would be for more intelligent men to value sexual exclusivity in themselves.

Men, keen to pass on their genes, have always preferred women who did not have other sexual partners. And it's not only to pass on their genes but also to avoid the possibility of expending resources to raise children that are not his. When a new male takes over a pride of lions his first act is to kill all the cubs that are not his.

Why would men have begun experimenting with just one partner? If we trust Kanazawa it is sheer perversity that comes with being more intelligent and seeking novelty. Is that likely? No it isn't. A far more likely explanation would be that limited availability of partners led some low-status males to settle for just one partner. The practice began to stick because these men were able to devote more time to raising their children of this one woman and this produced stronger, more adaptive children. Their children, in turn, carried on the practice.

And it is worth lingering on this a moment because it is important to note that evolution is not a predictive science. A lot of things that seem to us like they shouldn't happen do happen. The race does not always go to the swiftest et cetera. There are weird animals that look to us like they shouldn't be adaptive that are. My favourite is the sloth an animal that is weak, slow and stupid but adaptive in its natural environment precisely because it is slow and stupid (if it moved quicker or was more intelligently curious, it would be far easier prey for hawks). Similarly, someone around 400 million years in the past probably would not have picked the horseshoe crab as more adaptive than most of the other animals around at that time. But it was.

People do what they desire. They don't do what makes evolutionary sense. And it doesn't matter what you do, evolution doesn't care. The survivors will survive and pass on their genes and that is all that matters in evolution. In the long run even that doesn't matter as life on earth will certainly come to an end some day. In the short run, certain trends become manifest and we, in our arrogance, call this massive fluke "evolution".

Okay, but let's get back to women's"odd" behaviour "despite feminism" for Kanazawa has the answer right in his hands but lets it slip through his fingers.
More intelligent boys (but not more intelligent girls) are more likely to grow up to value sexual exclusivity.
Why wouldn't women value sexual exclusivity? Because their genes will get passed on regardless of whom impregnates them. They have incentive to pick a high-status partner to do so (although what they see as high status may not actually be adaptive, witness groupies). They also have a powerful incentive to find a partner to help them raise their child. But it doesn't have to be the same man!

That last bit rubs us men the wrong way and thus all of us, regardless of intelligence and contrary to what Kanazawa imagines, value sexual exclusivity.

Traditional marriage and traditional sex roles constitute a working compromise between men and women. Men have a strong interest in sexual exclusivity from women and women have a strong interest in having a man form a partnership with them for as long as it takes to raise her children. If she can make him feel comfortable that her children are also their children everything works.

Of course, this compromise doesn't remove the tensions between men and women.  A man with his far more consistent and persistent sex drive will always feel the temptation of multiple partners. A woman left alone with a desirable man who is not her partner will often feel tempted to have sex with him but maintain her current commitment. Keeping these powerful temptations restrained is a full time job requiring both individuals and society and large to play along.

Take that away and all hell breaks lose. Convince women that men have no right to expect sexual standards from them while telling women to implicitly trust and honour their own desires and you get what we have today.

No one saw this coming* of course. The thing about unintended consequences is that they are unintended; you can be pretty certain there will be some but you don't know what they will be or else you would have done something about them. Take a video of the way young women dress now and take it back to 1970 in a time machine and both feminists and male porn fans would be equally incredulous. No one would believe that such a thing was possible. But it makes perfect sense in retrospect.

*Actually there was one person. I can't remember who wrote but I read an essay back in the eighties where the author predicted that the combined effects of feminism and AIDS would produce widespread exhibitionism in women. I remember I told all my friends about it because I thought it was funny that anyone could be so wrong. I lost my only copy years ago so I can' apologize to the author now.


  1. Was it Camille Paglia?

    1. No. I remember it being a man.

      That said, I wouldn't be surprised to find that Paglia had also predicted. She was very sharp in those years.