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February 21, 2012

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My 2 cents..
His article is too long and seemingly unworthy of the time as the beginning itself is flawed.

A historical explanation of male violence does not eschew biological factors, but it minimizes them and assumes that men and woman are psychologically similar
why should it minimize the biological factors right away? and more importantly whats the basis for the assumption of psychological similarity? That goes completely against common-sense and experience. This writer setting us up for more of the "blank slate" kind of stuff in the Nature vs Nurture debate.
In hunter-gatherer societies, this strength differential doesn't allow men to fully dominate women, because they depend on the food that women gather
True.. but lets not forget that the psychology of humans is forged over the millions of years spent by hominids in the african environment. The 10K years spent in agriculture-based civilization is just a teeny bit in terms of psychological development.
The economic dependency allows men to mistreat women, to philander, and to take over labor markets and political institutions. Once men have absolute power, they are reluctant to give it up. It took two world wars and a post-industrial economy for women to obtain basic opportunities and rights.
This historical story can help to explain why men are more violent than women. The men who hold power will fight to keep it, and men who find themselves without economic resources feel entitled to acquire things by force if they see no other way
What?? This is turning out to be a "oppression of woman" narrative. bullshit historical narrative. Men were violent even before civilization, and the violence is coming down over time due to great civilizations innovations such as trade, monopoly on violence by state, democracy. Steven Pinker has written an elaborate book on it.. 'the better angels of our nature'. For the record, lets not forget that violence is an essential part of all animals.. and it is what sustained both men and women in its earliest times..for e.g the ability to hunt animals and get protein. Concepts of sexual dimorphism is well understood in evolutionary biology, and male or female usage of physical strength to achieve its goals is best understood there. The cultural narrative can only be layered on top of that. "Taking over labour markets or political institutions" has nothing to do with women's economic dependency. Nature is wild and dangerous, and the effort to tame nature was a massive physical undertaking best suited to men's physical capabilities and came at great costs to individuals involved.. a concept called 'male disposability' well explained by Dr Warren Farrell. Once modernity was achieved and soft-jobs (a.k.a tertiary sector of economy) was created, it has opened up all kinds of possibilities for women.

I read the whole article.. Damn.. it is a 'nature vs nurture' argument, and concludes thus

Of course, men still hold most of the power in the world, and it is no surprise, then, that they perpetrate most of the violence. But that too is a historical fact, not a biological given. If we focus on biology instead of economic and historical variables, we will miss out on opportunities for progress.
Really? violence is committed by men in power only? Not people of lower classes (economic and social) who lash out in frustration due to their lack of power?
This guy really seems to want positions of power to be shared equally between men and women.. some kind of affirmative action, rather than those individuals who are best suited to the task, irrespective of race, gender, etc. Thats his agenda. More social engineering stuff based on ideology instead of realities of human nature. Readers might find the below article interesting
HELENA CRONIN: Philosopher, London School of Economics
http://www.edge.org/q2008/q08_10.html#cronin

astro.nj,

I read this piece more as an argument against biological determinism. I don't see it promoting the blank slate or calling evolution irrelevant. I think it is saying that biological explanations for modern behavior are overvalued today and, as he states in the opening para, "evolutionary explanations of behavior are often worse than competing historical explanations ... There are simpler historical explanations of male violence, and understanding these is important for coping with the problem." Notice the word "often".

Don't you agree that to posit a historical explanation (rightly or wrongly) is to "minimize" the biological explanation? Prinz then adds that a historical explanation "assumes that men and woman are psychologically similar." I think you are interpreting "similar" to mean "same". Of course men and women are psychologically similar. I can't imagine females of another species with whom I have more of my psychology in common. :-) Rather than explain the leading behavioral differences visible today (as with violence) mainly through biological dissimilarities (which surely exist but it's not clear where the lines are), Prinz is proposing explanations that he considers simpler and no less plausible.

It's not evident to me what the "realities of human nature" are. Every idea of "realities" itself depends on the observer's theoretical and metaphysical framework. Further, cause and effect are rather convoluted in human affairs. Many theories have tried to explain what their proponents take to be the "realities of human nature" — and Cronin's is yet another one. None can explain it all. Evolutionary explanations often degenerate into Darwinian storytelling, just as exclusively historical/cultural explanations can have shortcomings. Prinz is calling for "biocultural" explanations and adds in the comments, "yes [biology] contributes to violence, but, for us, culture may have an even greater impact." This essay isn't going to settle the debate for sure, but I feel you have drawn some overhasty conclusions from it.

Namit,
There's an argument against "biological determinism" everywhere! Thats why Steven Pinker wrote that book (that Allen Orr portrays as "Darwinian Storytelling"). Explain to me when biological determinism has determined public policy in the world.. I know of only two from a century/many decades ago.. Social Darwinism (not supported by science or scientists.. promoted by Herbert Spencer, a philosopher) and eugenics. On the other hand, the blank slate'ish policy has dominated public policy in the west for the last 50 years at least, and communist govts/socialist policies before that. If you look at the article by Helena Cronin, it is actually valid biological determinism which explains why men dominate the top positions of the world. These are fiercely competitive positions, well suited for male characteristics and there really isnt any oppression preventing women in this day and age. But any mention of biological determinism here is fiercely met with VAST OPPOSITION and punished.. as happened to Larry Summers of Harward circa 2005. i.e just for voicing the theory. Now.. what does that tell you about the Nature vs Nurture debate?
http://www.psy.fsu.edu/~baumeistertice/goodaboutmen.htm
I’m sure you’re expecting me to talk about Larry Summers at some point, so let’s get it over with! You recall, he was the president of Harvard. As summarized in The Economist, “Mr Summers infuriated the feminist establishment by wondering out loud whether the prejudice alone could explain the shortage of women at the top of science.” After initially saying, it’s possible that maybe there aren’t as many women physics professors at Harvard because there aren’t as many women as men with that high innate ability, just one possible explanation among others, he had to apologize, retract, promise huge sums of money, and not long afterward he resigned.

I understand that there is always a mix of nature and nurture.. and thats what Steven Pinker's argument is.. its very explicit. And his whole book is about figuring out the mix issue by issue.

I take issue with Pritz's explanation because his historical narrative is wrong.. not backed up by facts at all. for e.g

These three psychologists imply that male violence is natural and inevitable, but all the evidence they offer can be explained by the simpler assumption that farming technologies allowed men co-opt power over the course of human history.
1) This power-explanation just doesnt make sense. Like I said earlier, even in pre-farming history men have been violent.. much more than later. Papua New Guinea is a great example where such non-farming lifestyles are living till very recently .. the terrain is absolutely inhospitable, as described by Jared Diamond in 'The Third Chimpanzee', and it is occupied by hundreds of tribes pretty much antagonistic to neighbours, and one can get killed for venturing into neighbouring tribes' terrain. Its just a matter of access to resources, and doing your best to get that.

2) The Warrior Male Hypothesis being negated by effeminate 'David Bowie'.. nonsense. I am sure the Evolutionary Psychology theiory is that of 'alpha males'.. those who ooze status and thereby resources.. which can be a combination of warrior'ness and leadership. All rock stars ooze status and thats why they are attractive to plenty of women. In fact, recently Chris Brown was in the news recently after the Grammys, and apparently 25 women tweeted to the effect that '[the bad boy] can beat me up any day and I will be with him'. Thats the alpha male effect, and feminists are scratching their heads in disgust as to why this still happens.

People say that they are for bio-cultural explanations, but the moment biology steps in, the politically correct brigade goes nuts.

Here is another interesting take on why human males are more violent from Lloyd deMause. This is a chapter from his book "The Origins of War in Child Abuse" which is online.

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Books by Namit Arora

  • “Namit Arora does for Silicon Valley what Tom Wolfe did for Wall Street in The Bonfire of the Vanities: with keen eye and sharp wit, he captures the culture and mores of the place. But Arora is funnier. And sweeter.” —S. Abbas Raza, Editor, 3QD.

  • The Lottery of Birth reveals Namit Arora to be one of our finest critics. In a raucous public sphere marked by blame and recrimination, these essays announce a bracing sensibility, as compassionate as it is curious, intelligent and nuanced.” —Pankaj Mishra

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