Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sex, violence, and evolution

This is going to take quite a while, so I may have to do it in more than one blog. That's cause a blog should be fairly short, in order to suit one's electronic attention span, which is short.
Anyway, I remember a question asked in the sixties that has followed me for a long time: Why is it that sex, which is lovely, should be kept secret, and violence, which is ugly, should be out in the open?
Remember that this is a sixties question, loaded with sixties assumptions about sex, love, openness, flowers, war, and police.
Nonetheless, it's an interesting question. Why are we so secretive about sex? I remember a mock editorial by comedian Pat Paulson, who said, about sex, "It's time to come out in the open and speak forthrightly and openly about . . . you know what."
At the same time, how is it that we can tolerate extreme violence?
As always, when faced with a problem like this, I always ask, "WWDD?" That's, "What would Darwin do?" That is, can we look at this problem in an evolutionary perspective, to see if these two traits had any survival value for our ancestors.
The first thing is, of course, to determine if these two traits are in fact human, or are simply Western, American, Puritan, or somehow or another culturally determined.
And, for purposes of this blog spree, I'm going to assume that they are in fact human rather than cultural. That is, they are part of our genetic makeup. I'm going to assume this based on information gathered from, in part, Pinker's book on the way the mind works. Note, mind you, that he never said this, but it's kind of extrapolable from what he did say.


Jacqui Binford-Bell said...

I am looking forward to this series. Good beginning. I just lean toward the cultural base because in social Anthropology we learned about a tribe in Africa that survived on very limited food resources. So limited that when it got really scarce mothers would not share with their children.

The tribe was very open about sex. But very, very, very secretive about eating. Rather like me and dark chocolate when I have guests. If they find the dark chocolate we get to the violence part.

Taboos Professor Baca maintained had to do with scarcity. No scarcity of violence in our culture. But then that is also true of sex. Now.

On both your houses said...

Sociologists will find a social explanation for everything. Biologists will find a biological one. I once took a sociology class followed immediately by a genetics class. I got conflicting evidence on everything. I'm in the camp of the evolutionary biologists. What I believe is that the activities of people under significant stress are not typical. Also -- how can I say this -- many of the interpretations of human behavior made my social anthropolocists are based on data the just ain't so. I'm not pooh poohing the effects of socialization, but I tend to minimize it as a source of human behavior.

On both your houses said...

One more thing. It is certainly true that scarcity is certainly a driving factor in much of human behavior. Because of scarcity of wood, we got the wonderful Asian quick cooking. Scarcity of water gave us the desert attitude. What happens, though, when the scarcity is gone? I think the taboos would quickly wither. But I could be wrong.

bekkieann said...

Re scarcity and taboos, I would think sex would be the exception. Sexual taboos remain though sex seems to be quite prevalent and readily available.