One of the worst books, I think, in evolutionary psychology was a book on the natural history of rape [A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion] that suggested that since men occasionally rape – but of course it’s not all men but a minority of them – it must be a natural phenomenon and it must have adaptive significance.
In other words, maybe by raping, people spread their genes and so there was some sort of evolutionary story of how rape could have come about. My problem with that kind of view is not everything that humans do needs to have an adaptive story. So humans smoke and humans masturbate. Maybe there’s no adaptive story for that. For example, male pattern baldness has been argued it must be an adaptive characteristic and maybe men attract women that way because it is genetic.
So why do many men hide their baldness. Think of Donald Trump, for example, if it is such a great characteristic. Not everything that is genetic needs to have an evolutionary story. So, for example, breast cancer is genetic. Schizophrenia is genetic – at least it has genetic components. And so we would not make that argument for every characteristic. And I also don’t see a reason why we would make that argument necessarily for rape. For example, one-third of all rapes in the world are committed with individuals who cannot reproduce. They are committed with young girls who cannot reproduce or with old ladies who cannot reproduce. Men rape men on occasion. So a lot of rape actually doesn’t do anything for reproduction.
So I feel this tendency to come up with an evolutionary explanation for basically everything under the sun is not needed. I’m not saying that evolutionary psychology is not a good thing. I think it is very good to get into a Darwinian frame of mind when we look at human behavior. But not everything humans do needs that kind of explanation.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think’s studio.
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