Libertarianism, Current Events

Explanation is not Justification

The reaction to Sarah’s post on why libertarians don’t seem to put outrage about rape and the institutions that facilitate it and cover it up higher on their priority list triggered a great deal of interesting and disturbing commentary, much of it in the comments on Facebook links to the post.  My own reference on Facebook to the need for male libertarians to speak out on this issue, especially against the “rape culture” that still exists, led to a subset of commenters to do everything from denying that such a culture exists (while simultaneously demonstrating that it does), to accusing me of engaging in moral posturing and “status-seeking,” to suggesting that having forced sex with inebriated women is fine because it’s all about “personal responsibility.”  As icky as all of those are, and as much as I just want to tell the deniers of rape culture that they don’t see it because, in the words of an old commercial, “you’re soaking in it,” they are not what I want to address here.

I will also not address the repeated claim that feminism has nothing to do with libertarianism, which is so ignorant of the history of libertarian ideas, not to mention the variety of feminisms out there, that it reinforces my belief that there is this subset of libertarians who think it’s more important to be anti-left than pro-liberty. Instead I want to talk about something else.

One of the other sub-themes in those responses was for a group of commenters to invoke ideas from evolutionary psychology to criticize the concerns of feminists.  Let me start by saying that I like evolutionary psychology a lot.  It’s a way of understanding behavior that is very congenial to economists, with its emphasis on explaining the functionality of certain behaviors in terms of evolutionary costs and benefits, and its broad spontaneous order orientation.  As an explanation of a variety of human behaviors and attitudes, I think it can be very useful, though one has to watch out for “just so” stories.  However…

There’s a lot of bad evolutionary psychology out there, particularly in the hands of popularizers.  It can easily be turned from an explanation of why we do the things we do into a justification for all kinds of behaviors that we might like to discourage.  As a very simple example, it’s easy enough to provide an evolutionary explanation for why men might like polygyny.  Just because men have evolved to desire a large number partners to spread their genetic material, however, that is not a justification for adopting polygyny as a social institution.  But to read some of the comments about the gender and rape issues, there seems to be a subset of libertarians who think that because we evolved behavior or disposition X, then engaging in that behavior or acting on that disposition is just fine.  (Side note:  I suspect many of these folks are on the paleo diet for similar reasons!)

This sort of position is ironic for libertarians for two reasons.  One, it seems strange at the micro level for people who generally tend to believe people make free choices and should be held responsible for them to argue for a kind of evolutionary determinism.  Whatever our biological and evolutionary dispositions might be, and no matter how deep they are, have we no ability to say “this is not how I think a civilized person behaves?” or “I think it’s good to encourage kids to adopt more flexible gender roles?”  Have we no ability to develop moral rules that put the brakes on our evolved dispositions?  If our evolutionary past gave us reason to believe that violence was successful in the past, that would hardly justify it today.  Yet the way this group of commenters argues seems to accept biology as destiny in a way that I would think most libertarians would reject.

Second, we have a more macro-level example of the same phenomenon.  Hayek argues in Law, Legislation, and Liberty, and even more clearly in The Fatal Conceit, that one reason people are inclined toward socialism and have difficulty accepting the market order and its rules is that we spent a long evolutionary past in small, face-to-face, kin-based groups in which broadly collectivist and altruistic moral rules held and were effective.  That is, we have evolved moral instincts that are disposed to collectivism and socialism.  We evolved in a world where top-down or collectivist distribution of goods according to need was more the norm and could work thanks to the limited size of groups, which allowed for face-to-face, intimate knowledge of others.  For Hayek, the challenge of modernity is learning to live in a world of abstract rules of just conduct that bind us by agreement on means rather than ends.

The fundamental problem of civilization is how to generate social coordination and cooperation in a world of anonymity.  We are not equipped by evolution to do this very easily.  In fact, our dispositions are to resist the constraints on our behavior such a world requires.

As Hayek wrote:

The prevailing moral traditions, much of which still derives from the end-connected tribal society, makes people often regard [the lack of a common concrete purpose] as a moral defect of the Great Society which ought to be remedied.  Yet it was the very restriction of coercion to the observance of the negative rules of just conduct that made possible the integration into a peaceful order of individuals and groups which pursued different ends…Though the conception that a common scale of particular values is a good thing which ought, if necessary, to be enforced, is deeply founded in the history of the human race, its intellectual defence today is based mainly on the erroneous belief that such a common scale of ends is necessary for the integration of the individual activities into an order, and a necessary condition of peace. (LLL II, pp. 110-11)

In other words, the extended order of the Great Society and all the benefits it has brought with it are the product of our learning to put aside our evolved moral dispositions and accept the abstract rules of just conduct of the extended order that enable us to coordinate in anonymity.  Evolutionary psychology might explain why we are attracted to socialism, but it doesn’t justify practicing it.  In fact, the demands of social cooperation are precisely that we push back against our evolved moral instincts and accept restrictions on our conduct that we might not fully understand, but nonetheless produce highly beneficial outcomes.

So, my libertarian devotees of evolutionary psychology, you can’t have it both ways.  If feminism is wrong to think we can and/or should resist the dispositions that evolution has given us, then why is it wrong for defenders of the classical liberal order to think we can and/or should resist those dispositions when it comes to our evolved instincts toward the morality of socialism?  Or put the other way around:  if resisting our evolved moral instincts and obeying the rules of just conduct work to generate a civilized, cooperative economic order, why should gender issues be any different?

That evolution explains why people sometimes engage in certain behavior, especially with respect to gender, does not justify such behaviors.  If we think those behaviors are problematic, the point is to recognize their harm and adopt rules of just conduct that avoid it.  From that angle, the classical liberal case for feminism is just a version of the classical liberal case for the market and the rest of the extended moral order that defines liberalism.

  • Thank you! We hold ourselves and others to personal responsibility precisely because we are free to choose and choose otherwise. Thanks for your courageous stand.

  • Lucas: The Trench-Coat Guy

    Some libertarians need to understand the distinction between “is” and “ought”. They also need to understand that there is no logical justification in deriving an “ought” from an “is”, but I am sure you are already aware of this. 🙂

    • I agree that “is” != “ought”, but I think it’s quite possible that our evolved predispositions put certain constraints on the sorts of moral systems to which most people could be persuaded to conform, ditto for the sorts of social arrangements they could consider to be justified.

      As an example, I’ve argued previously that no-strings-attached
      guaranteed basic income schemes (as advocated by some libertarians and classical liberals) would likely be politically impractical because many people are loath to see perceived “moochers” receiving “undeserved” rewards. To the extent that this is an evolved predisposition difficult to impossible to overcome
      (which I think likely), such schemes to be generally acceptable would have to be structured in a way to avoid triggering this reaction–for example, by tying them to people doing at least some work (as in the Earned Income Tax Credit).

      • “I agree that “is” != “ought”, but I think it’s quite possible that our
        evolved predispositions put certain constraints on the sorts of moral
        systems to which most people could be persuaded to conform, ditto for
        the sorts of social arrangements they could consider to be justified.”

        Some how this very important point is lost whenever anyone raises the “naturalistic fallacy” to discount an evolutionary explanation for some observed behavior.

        • Steven Horwitz

          For the record, I agree with Frank that evolution does create limits, but that’s different from saying its deterministic. We can’t be socially what nature will not permit.

          • “…that’s different from saying its deterministic” For the record, that’s my position as well. There are certainly lots of historical examples of moral views changing over time in response to advocacy and/or changing circumstances, e.g., attitudes toward slavery.

      • TracyW

        Or, more simply, consequentionlist morality is limited by people’s cognitive limits, in terms of how many consequences they can be expected to take into account.

    • I disagree. I think the gap is bridgeable. we can infer the ethics of what we ought to be doing from the realities of collective human behaviour and values.

  • Nice post.

  • Bill

    I feel like the reason why libertarians don’t fucus on issues like this is because it doesn’t come from centralized power. It’s the same reason why we don’t really focus on child abuse. We tend to put more energy into how macro-level intervention into healthcare, the economy, education, culture (drug war), etc. causes major problems. Rape is certainly a problem, but it’s more up to each of us in our daily lives to do what we can to go against it.. e.g. shame our friends who think taking advantage of drunk women is okay, raise our children to respect women, etc.

    • alcibiades

      > shame our friends who think taking advantage of drunk women is okay, raise our children to respect women

      Why do feminists think that we can stop rape without sacrificing our hyper sexualized culture? A lot less rape would take place on college campuses if it were less common for members of the opposite sex to get drunk and friendly together. Read some confessions from men who commit rape and you see a lot of sadness and regret. Many of them were never planning to become rapists.

      This is called “blaming the victim” in feminist parlance. But the fact is that feminists have gotten about as much mileage as they can from shaming men. Men who do commit rape are often either unshameable or not in a state to feel shame when they do so.

      But feminists can’t bring themselves to critique the libertine culture, to the detriment of women. This shows their true values. Why not do what works? I bet a lot less rape happens per capita at dry schools, like Brigham Young.

      • Chris Ahlbrandt

        I’m sure most were not planning to become rapists, but no one forced them to become rapists either. The victim didn’t hold a gun to their head and say, “rape me.” The rapists made terrible choices and are to blame for their poor decisions. End of story.

        Additionally, please explain to me how it advances the cause of liberty to deny people their right to socialize and consume legal goods because someone else makes poor decisions when they do so? Once again, the person who was raped is not at fault. Non-consent and “she was asking for it” are mutually exclusive.

        • alcibiades

          I never said that we should use the law. But men should take responsibility for the prevalence of rape and do what works to prevent it. This includes acknowledging the fact that intoxication makes you, yes you, more likely to commit a crime which you’ll regret for the rest of your life.

          If we didn’t have laws against drunk driving, I would still suggest you don’t drive drunk.

          • People(not just men) not respecting another person’s(not just women) right to say no to sex or sexual acts. That is what causes rape.

      • ben

        I don’t buy the conservative argument of blaming the “libertine culture” for rape.

        What about the catholic church, the military, India, Saudi Arabia?

        You won’t find anything remotely like a “libertine culture” in those institutions/places, yet rape is very common.

        • alcibiades

          I critique the problem in the culture that I grew up in because that is what I know best. Yelling at other people that I know little about seldom seems to do any good. But I am sure that they have problems too.

          • ben

            My objection is not to your choice of the problem, it’s to your choice of the solution.

            Before prescribing a more conservative, sexually inhibited culture as a solution it is sensible to comparatively look at places where a culture with that properties already exists.

            It’s not about “yelling” at them, it’s about learning from them (in this case, in the negative).

          • You just completely ignored one of ben’s points that totally ruined your “hyper-sexual culture” argument.

            Does the Catholic Church support a “hyper-sexual culture”? No, in fact its one of the most sex-negative organizations on the face of the earth. Child rape is endemic in the Catholic church, and high ranking officials (including the last pope) have been implicated in protecting child rapists from prosecution to preserve the Churches image.

            Forget “Libertine cutlure” and “dry colleges”, the catholic church requires its priests to be celibate, yet that doesn’t stop a significant percentage from fucking kids.

            The idea that since most rapes involve alcohol, that if we ban alcohol there’ll be less rapes is the same kind of faulty inductive thinking that makes people support the war on drugs (drugs = bad, ban drugs = less drugs = less bad)

            “As a thought experiment, suppose that I had data that showed that the rate or rape at dry colleges was substantially less than at colleges which allow alcohol.”

            Then that would be strong evidence that less rape happens at dry colleges than ones that allow alcohol. Do you have that evidence? If not, why do you believe something without evidence? Gut feeling? Cause that’s always been reliable.

      • j_m_h

        “Read some confessions from men who commit rape and you see a lot of sadness and regret. Many of them were never planning to become rapists”

        Can you elaborate on this statement? Are you talking about men who did take advantage or women who were drunk or otherwise unable to express their willingness or unwillingness to engage in sex that got caught or those who were never charged or even accused?

      • How many people do you know who think that “taking advantage of drunk women is okay”?

        Not many. If you have two people who are impaired that decide to have sex neither one is ‘taking advantage of the other’ or both are. Individual women are just as capable as individual men of making decisions.

        What gets to me is why someone would be surprised that rapes take place in the military. After all, this is an institution that participates in undeclared wars and teaches its members that it is OK to kill innocent civilians because they are little more than collateral damage. It gives medals to people who sit in front of game consoles and kill people by pushing buttons. It is a culture of violence. The fact that some of its members kill, assault, or rape others is not at all surprising because the membership is made up of many not very intelligent naturally violent individuals who have all kinds of psychological issues that they are dealing with. A woman who joins an organization that says is all right to kill innocents should not be all that surprised when she also becomes a victims to some of the more vicious members of the military.

  • ben

    “But to read some of the comments about the gender and rape issues, there seems to be a subset of libertarians who think that because we evolved behavior or disposition X, then engaging in that behavior or acting on that disposition is just fine.”

    What “behavior or disposition X” are we talking about here?
    And how did you arrive from what those (alleged) libertarians actually wrote, to the conclusion that they “seem” to think about evolutionary disposition regarding “X” in the way you describe?

    I’m rather suspicious of opinion articles that go to great lengths to slam what other people “seem to think”, while leaving the readers in the dark about what those people actually argued. It screams “straw-man argument” to me.

  • Though I have a personal distaste for evolutionary psychology, I think this post is right on. Great piece, Steve! 🙂

    • Sean II

      The distate you feel for evolutionary psychology is no doubt a product of how you evolved. You see, 10,000 years ago it was profoundly maladaptive to go around asking questions about where we came from, how we developed, or even who our creepily consanguineous parents were, etc. For this reason, you naturally find it offensive when people try to explain your behavior in terms of its pre-historic roots.

      That, or maybe…it’s just because evolutionary psych is pure bullshit.

      • Sean, you really had me going there for a second. haha. Reminded me of Nietzsche.

        • Sean II

          Hey, thanks! People are always saying I remind them of Feuerbach, but I think that’s just because we look so much alike. I like your way better.

  • Sean II

    “As an explanation of a variety of human behaviors and attitudes, I think it [evolutionary psychology] can be very useful, though one has to watch out for “just so” stories.”

    Unfortunately, this boils down to a declaration that: “Just so stories I like are great and wonderful sources of insight, just so stories I don’t like are…just, you know, just so stories.”

    Much as we might all be drawn to Hayek’s account of how the collectivist leopard came to acquire its spots, we have absolutely no evidence that he was right. It’s a superficially plausible account, with no possibility of being verified or falsified, ever.

    A hardcore statist could just as easily look into our past and see the very opposite of what Hayek say. He could say: “Obviously socialism is the way people should organize themselves. But sadly, evolution has geared us toward capitalism because early man spent his formative years living in a world of scarcity, competition, exploitation, etc.”

    Both claims have the same amount of evidence in their favor, which is none. Both claims are totally untestable. Both, in other words, are just so stories.

    • “Both claims are totally untestable. Both, in other words, are just so stories.” If you mean that we’ll never have a definitive account of how human social arrangements evolved, including how natural selection might have contributed to that evolution, I agree. But I think it’s certainly possible that within our lifetimes we might acquire a fairly good understanding of how our current genetic architecture (including genetic variations within and between populations) combines with environmental factors to influence human social behavior.

      I think the problems are that a) as research in the area proceeds, people will prematurely jump to conclusions based what they want to be true; and b) people will assume that there’s a unique and unchanging human archetype (e.g., that we’re still and always will be Paleolithic hunter-gatherers inside) that in turn dictates the ideal forms of human social arrangements for ever and ever.

      • Sean II

        Unfortunately, I’m also saying that research in the area isn’t really proceeding, because other than making up an endless series of new just so stories, evolutionary psych has no method. It has no way of sorting the good from the bad. All theories are equal in its eye.

        For example. Let’s see how easily one can play at their game, by taking a silly question: “Why do people love reality television so much?”

        (Please read this part in a German accent) “Ah, it is for no less a reason than that we are hard-wired by nature to do so. For thousands of years, you see, man’s only way of learning was by the costly method of trial and error. His only way of economizing on the process was to learn from the mistakes of others, rather than from his own. And so he evolved to become a voyeur, or, if you will, a connoisseur of other people’s folly! Und das is the reason why he now delights in watching the antics of Flavo-Flav and Kim Kardashian. Everytime someone gets voted off the dance floor or the island, he himself is learning a better way to adapt and survive!”

        The dead giveaway of pseudo-science is when anyone can play.

        • You’re fighting a caricature (EP in its original form, especially as popularized) with a caricature. EP as originally envisioned is like Darwin’s theory of blending inheritance: a first draft attempt that failed and was/will be discarded. But just as discarding blended inheritance didn’t invalidate the overall theory of evolution via natural selection, discarding EP likely won’t invalidate the idea of human behavior as being partially genetically influenced based on evolutionary mechanisms (including gene-culture co-evolution). I think this paper does a good job of indicating the problems of EP (echoing criticisms in the material Sharon Presley linked to) without the authors throwing up their hands and concluding that therefore the overall project of explaining human behavior in evolutionary terms is hopeless and should be abandoned.

          But in any case, to go back to my exchange with Steve Horwitz, I think the value in this stuff is *not* in helping us figure out what the “one true morality” (or “one just system of social arrangements”) is or should be. Rather it’s in engendering a healthy skepticism about the possible forms moral systems and social arrangements could take in practice.

          • Sean II

            Well, if you’re talking about accepting certain natural limits on morality, I’m no opponent of that. Clearly we don’t just get to make things up any way we wish.

            For example, one of the things that makes Catholic sexual teaching so grotesque is that it asks the impossible of people, and seeks to build up its rules in plain defiance of an overpowering urge.

            But that’s a different thing, innit? If I say “you can’t go and make masturbation a sin, because everyone does it, a lot”, I don’t need the pseudo-science of evolutionary psychology, because I’ve got an empirical fact to prove my point (that is, if you can forgive the wild epistemological leap of assuming we know what’s really going on with all those teenagers hiding behind locked doors).

            That’s not evolutionary psych, that’s just – how do you call it? – evolution, biology, actual science.

            I think you’ll find that anything which “engenders a healthy skepticism about the possible forms of moral systems” has the same origin – it comes from real science, not from psychology.

            But as always, I’d love nothing more than to entertain an example meant to show me wrong.

          • I really don’t think we’re disagreeing here, at least not in any deep way. In the example I gave earlier re the political feasibility of no-strings-attached guaranteed basic income schemes, my skepticism is based on the way people behave in the here and now vis-a-vis perceived “cheaters”, and not on a particular evolutionary explanation of why people came to behave that way. Simulations based on evolutionary game theory make it plausible that better “cheater detection” could increase fitness, but whether these simulations accurately model reality is an open question.

            Another example is the theory of “moral foundations” developed by Jonathan Haidt and his colleagues, e.g., that (modern) liberals place most stress on issues of care vs. harm, while conservatives also emphasize sanctity vs. degradation, authority vs. subversion, and so on. The fact that different people operate from different moral perspectives is readily apparent, and the various foundations identified are plausible (though Haidt have revised them somewhat over time). However Haidt also offers evolutionary explanations for the foundations based on group selection arguments, and with a couple exceptions (e.g., E.O Wilson) evolutionary theorists are pretty unanimous in holding that group selection can’t work in practice.

          • Sean II

            As an aside…

            Haidt’s major problem is that he’s constructed a theory to explain the deep moral difference between groups who agree on about 90% of policy preferences. Not being a libertarian really is a huge disadvantage when it comes to understanding politics.

          • gcallah

            “If I say “you can’t go and make masturbation a sin, because everyone
            does it, a lot”, I don’t need the pseudo-science of evolutionary
            psychology, because I’ve got an empirical fact to prove my point…”

            Well, if we are so dull as to think that anything common must not be sinful, you’d be right on target! Lying, it turns out, isn’t sinful either: people do it even more than they masturbate.

          • Sean II

            Lying isn’t sinful, schmuck. It’s natural, it’s necessary, and in some circumstances it’s quite clearly the only decent thing to do.

  • Sean II

    Steve, the early part of this post includes something I find very troubling. You wrote that Sarah’s piece “led a subset of commenters to do everything from denying that such a culture exists (while simultaneously demonstrating that it does) to…”

    At first blush, it really sounds like you’re saying that to doubt the existence of rape culture (or its relevance when applied to America 2013) is proof of one’s complicity in that culture.

    As I am fond of pointing out in other contexts, that’s just grotesquely unfair. When “denial” is treated as a confirmatory symptom of alcoholism, for example, you end up with a guaranteed injustice, since people who are not alcoholics are sure to deny that label, when it is wrongly applied to them. The denial concept then becomes a perfect excuse for ignoring those people and finding them guilty in absentia.

    The mere fact that someone disagrees with you about rape culture – including whether or not it really exists – cannot itself be evidence of rape culture. The fact that people don’t agree with you (or Sarah) could just mean you’re wrong.

    • Steven Horwitz

      I was not saying that to doubt the existence of it is to prove one’s complicity. Many, but not all, of the specific comments doubting its existence that were on my Facebook page, however, are accurately described that way.

      • brandonberg

        I haven’t seen the comments to which you’re referring, so I can’t say for sure that you’re wrong about this. But I am fairly confident is asserting that this didn’t happen:
        “to suggesting that having forced sex with inebriated women is fine because it’s all about ‘personal responsibility.'”
        I saw the specific comments to which you addressed that accusation, and it simply isn’t an accurate characterization of those comments. Which, frankly, leads me to doubt your characterization of other arguments made.

      • Sean II

        I’m a conscientious objector to Facebook so I have no way of reading those comments, but I’m certainly relieved to discover you didn’t mean that the way it sounded.

        May I suggest – and please don’t be offended by this – that you are taking on only the easiest part of your opposition. If someone on FB really said that a woman who drinks fails the test of personal responsibility and deserves whatever else happens to her, then that guy is just a garden-variety asshole. He barely deserves the minimal effort it would take to crush his head in a debate.

        Meanwhile, you’ve got people like me who simply think the concept of rape culture lacks for clarity and rigor, and explains very little (by the usual dead giveaway of explaining everything far too well). If you walk past your better opposition to deal with Mr. Personal Responsibility Facebook Asshole, aren’t you just giving your viewpoint a bye into the next round?

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  • Those eager to embrace evolutionary psychology might want to be aware that contrary to the claims of its popularizers like Steven Pinker, it is highly controversial within academia. He would have us believe that it is now “the” accepted academic doctrine, both in general and in regard to gender. Nothing could be further from the truth. Its critics include biologist John Dupre in his book Against Maladaptationism: or What’s Wrong with Evolutionary Psychology, neuroscientist Steven Rose, co-editor of Alas Poor Darwin: Augments Against Evolutionary Psychology; British intellectual Kenan Malik (whose background is neurobiology and the history of science) and philosopher David Buller in his book Adapting Minds, just to name a
    few of many.

    In my own field of psychology, it is equally controversial. You will be hard-pressed to find a psychology textbook—whether intro, social, or any other category that gives it more than a brief mention. For thoughts on why it is so popular in spite of rapidly growing academic criticisms, see this article at Slate:
    Speaking about Buller’s book, the author of this article points out
    that “much of the work of pioneers like Buss, Steven Pinker, John Tooby,
    Leda Cosmides, Martin Daly, and Margo Wilson turns out to be vulnerable on evolutionary grounds.”

    For brief excursions into the critics’ views, I recommend the following:
    “Darwinian Fallacies” by Kenan Malik at

    The Debate between the Two
    Steves (Pinker and Rose) at

    Here is an excerpt from Rose’s comment in that debate:
    “Which brings me to another crucial point-that I emphasize again and again in Lifelines-that is finding the right level of explanation for any phenomenon, the fundamental point of scientific method-and here I mean not just natural science, but all science. Steve’s agenda is grandiose, taking on in his last chapter the meaning
    of life, but his answer is I think slightly less relevant than 42. Take human
    love, for example-Steven explains love, and he did so again on Start the
    Week-as resulting from the shared interest of partners in the genes of their
    offspring. No possibility here for homosexual, same-sex love, no possibility
    here for the love which goes between-for people who are not-and infants who are
    not one’s own genetic offspring, and so on. It’s just this impoverishment of
    thought, which occurs again and again in the ways in which these terms are
    used, by people of Steve’s persuasion in this context, that I find, both as a
    human and as a biologist, distinctly troublesome. Sure, as a neuro-scientist I
    can talk about the firing of cells in the hypothalamus; hormone surges,
    cortical representations, all the things that go on in the brain when one’s in
    love. Neither those, nor the genes, tell us anything about the feeling of what
    it’s like to be in love-what it means to be a person in love, two people in
    love, and their interactions.”

    “Now finally, what I find very odd about all this macho evolutionary talk,
    with its wild speculative finale on the meaning of life, is the extent to which
    in the last analysis it wants to have its cake and eat it. We are, evolutionary
    psychology argues, mainly the deterministically driven products of our selfish
    genes and their sole interest, that of replication. All our deepest desires and
    emotions, our abject selfish failures, as well as our most selfless ambitions
    to create a more beautiful world, these are all simply shadow-play. Yet at
    times Steve, quite rightly, like Richard Dawkins and others, recoils from this
    bleak vision. He is in some unexplained way free; as he puts it, very clearly,
    in the book, if his genes don’t like what he does, they can go jump in the
    lake. Now, what I find very puzzling is to understand where this freedom comes
    from. Does it fall from the sky? Are we suddenly to invoke some new deity to
    enable him to escape from the deterministic trap into which he’s painted
    himself? I simply can’t go with this Cartesian split. This is why I want to
    claim that I’m talking a deeper and a richer materialism than Steve is in his
    account. It’s a materialism that takes account of dynamism, and isn’t
    statically frozen into the past. And it’s this richer understanding of biology,
    the mechanistically driven approach, which helps us to understand that for us,
    like all living creatures, the future is radically unpredictable.”

    When EP wanders into the field of gender research, the results are laughable. I am far from alone in criticizing it. One of its major flaws: it cherry-picks its research, for example, on the issue of rape. Most EPers only cite other EPers when in fact the vast majority of actual research on rape is done by social psychologists and anthropologists like Peggy Sanday. Sanday did a study of over 180 cultures, past and present; it was published in the prestigious academic psychology journal: The
    Journal of Social Issues. She found cultures where rape was virtually nonexistent, which of course flies in the face of EP theory. The difference between rape-prone and rape-free societies was their attitudes toward women. In the latter, women were held in equal value with men and violence was disapproved of for both men and women. This shoots major holes in EP gender theory but, funny thing, you will not find this study cited by the EPers.

    Here is but one online article commenting on other problems with EP’s view of gender:

    Feminist biologists weigh in with the book Feminism and Evolutionary Biology:
    Boundaries, Intersections, and Frontiers edited by biologist Patricia Gowaty

    A review of another set of similar articles can be found here

    I taught Psychology of Women for many years and read hundreds of academic articles and dozens of books on the subject of gender research. The evidence against the simplistic view that EP has of gender is overwhelming.

    In spite of the fawning popular media, EP is not warmly welcomed by many academicians over many disciplines. Its simplistic,deterministic view of human nature simply does not hold up. EP is playing an academic shell game, pulling in the naive suckers. Or to put it another way, Steven Pinker has no clothes. 😉

    • Evolutionary psychology only remains “controversial” because many people don’t understand it and then proceed to straw man it. EP is hardly a “simplistic, deterministic view of human nature.” See this paper for an alternative perspective:

      • Yes, of course. Well-educated scientists like Steven Rose and John Dupre are just fools and don’t know what they are talking about and are just using strawmen. All those biologists, neuroscientists, and psychologists who are skeptical, hey, what do they know? They couldn’t possibly understand it, right? No, on the contrary, they understand it very well.

        And I’m sure that everyone here will be very impressed with how you just insulted and dismissed hundreds and hundreds of critical scientists with one fell swoop… It’s one thing to say that one disagrees with a theory; it’s another to say that all the critics are not intelligent enough to understand it. You better find a better argument than that.

        • TracyW

          Now you are strawmanning Alex. Alex said that many people don’t understand it, nothing in there about not being intelligent enough to understand it.

    • Sergio Méndez

      Thanks Sharon. Interesting resources.

    • In my own field of psychology, it is equally controversial….

      That is because phycology pretends to be a hard science and its practitioners pretend to know far more than they do. Human beings are not bullets shot out of cannons or balls dropped from a great height. They actually respond to stimulus and are hard to study with any degree of certainty. Most of the claims made by psychologists are no more true today than they were 30 years ago when the field was held in much higher regard among academics and the general public.

    • InfinityBall

      While specific claims of evolutionary psychology might be wrong, the idea that the field is nonsense is simply insane. Literally, insane, like you’d expect people to randomly come out thinking like fish, or trees, or ants. Not just maybe wrong. So silly, only an insane person could think it through and decide “that makes sense”

    • TracyW

      Reading as a non-specialist, I went straight for the debate on the basis that that would have the best defence of both sides of the views.

      I’ve read the debate between Steven Pinker and Steven Rose and I don’t see how you get to your conclusion. I wish the debate had gotten to go on longer, but it strikes me that Steven Rose rather misses engaging with Steven Pinker’s arguments. For example, he doesn’t present any empirical reason to disbelieve Steven Pinker’s arguments that the mind is modular (the strongest evidence for this strikes me as being the results from brain-injured patients.

      Rose criticises Pinker for not mentioning non-parental love, but this strikes me as reasonably explainable by space constraints. (Steven Pinker’s books are already long and dense).

      Rose says:

      His [Pinker’s] mind, like a computer, deals with information. By contrast-and this is what I want to emphasize-real brains transform dead information into living meaning-the making sense of the world around us.

      But Pinker, previously, said:

      We obviously don’t just see the world, but actively INTERPRET it.

      So how does Rose’s statement contradict Pinker’s? Rose doesn’t say.

      Rose says:

      Each module, he [Pinker[ argues, is evolved separately, and operates autonomously, although in the interests of the genes that created it.

      But Pinker stated earlier an explicit denial of this thesis that:

      The reductionism I embrace simply states that the elementary units at one level of analysis can be translated into complicated interactions at the next level of analysis.

      Presumably Rose prepared his remarks before the talk, and was not flexibile enough to adjust them in response to Pinker’s initial statement.

      Rose says:

      The fact is that Steve’s mind isn’t a unified, coherent center of conscious thought, or emotion, or action-it’s not a product of the inextricable interplay of biology and culture. It’s a sort of Swiss army knife-it’s modular.

      I thought the first point had been obvious long before Pinker, Jane Austen for example wrote some 200 years ago about characters being influenced by unconscious thoughts and emotions. And has Rose never personally been torn between two options?

      As for a linguist believing that the mind isn’t a product of the interplay of biology and culture, well, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence but Rose presents none for this remarkable claim about a linguist. And how a modular brain contradicts in anyway a mind being a product of the interplay of biology or culture is beyond me, Rose certainly mentions no contradiction. Instead he makes an argument from ignorance, that because we don’t know how consciousness develops from the assemblance of modules, therefore implicitly it can’t come from modularity. But Rose presents no alternative argument as to how consciousness occurrs. No wonder Pinker responds that he doesn’t understand how Rose’s points have to do with evolutionary psychology.

    • Please don’t cite Rose on anything. Him, Gould & Lewontin formed “Science For the People” on explicitly Marxist grounds to hound out folks like E. O. Wilson (who’s more concerned with collecting bugs than anything else) who commit thought-crime. This effort included one of their goons disrupting a talk from Wilson by dumping a pitcher on water on his head. Gould of course was recently revealed to have been guilty of the sins he accused Morton of in “The Mismeasure of Man”. It’s not like their political motivation to dissemble was that well hidden.

      If evolutionary psychology conflicts with liberalism (whether in the form of libertarianism or feminism), then that’s tough for liberalism. Should we attempt to design institutions to ameliorate the undesirable inheritance of evolution? Certainly.

    • mantispid

      I suspect that as the field of behavioral genetics continues to advance, it’ll shore up many of EP’s claims, and also thoroughly discount many others.

  • Voldy

    I think humans’ natural proclivity for socialism is something just fine and best expressed by a sort of collective racial/nationalist unity. Furthermore, the market does not prevent anyone from exchanging gifts/helping family members and fellow countrymen.

    Liberalism is silly.

    • Voldy

      Oh yeah: polygamy means that a lot of men will never get a woman, unless one is living in a highly promiscuous society, in which case love (a human instinct) is sacrificed.

    • I will see your natural proclivity for socialism and raise you a natural proclivity for selfishness and acquisitiveness, and a natural desire not to be told what to do by others.

  • PS Thanks, Steve, for standing up to the boy bullies. You’re one of my heroes. 🙂

  • J D

    Perhaps someone interested enough in correcting me will link to the least ideological and hyperbolic account of “rape culture” available. In every social sphere I’ve ever participated in, Rape has been universally reviled to the point of many wondering whether to have raped is worse than to have murdered. In my limited experience, ideological feminists habitually employ the language of violence (Rape culture, verbal rape, etc) to describe things that are obviously not violent. To psychologize, I think they do this because it’s the easiest way for them to sidestep the concerns of liberals and move directly to their real goal: the legal imposition of their moral opinions (against pornography, against Johns but not prostitutes, against male comedians, etc).

    • I think such a thing as a rape culture may exist, for instance within criminal gangs. But not broadly in society. and certainly not in left wing academic society. What I have seen is mostly a lot of people quick to take offense and even quicker to question the motives of those who dissent from their views.

      • J D

        I think that’s right on both counts. Otherwise civilized people take offense and search for a rhetorical trump. The trump is describing nonviolent behavior with violent vocabulary. The aim is to inspire the law to treat nonviolent behavior they don’t like as if it were.

      • good_in_theory

        Knowing academics who have been raped by their colleagues, I’d have to say this is wrong.

        • InfinityBall

          Why? Were they gang-raped by the entire physics department or something?

          • good_in_theory

            Were you under the idiotic impression that what you wrote was funny?

            How about, because the department was more concerned about keeping things quiet and not changing the status quo and telling the vitcim to just shut up about it already than, you know, getting rid of the rapist – ostensibly left wing feminist female faculty included..

          • Sean II

            GIT, you and I may have a point of agreement here.

            I can easily imagine that faculty in such a case would behave like a bunch of tenured mandarins, determined to raise no alarm and make no disturbance against the order which provides them so much privilege and comfort. And since I’ve never believed that left wing academics care about anything other than centralization of power, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them showing little or no concern for an individual victim made of flesh and blood.

            I know of a woman who was raped during her medical residency by a senior faculty member. Both she and her attacker belonged to the same still fairly insular ethnic group, so she ended up with two incentives not to report the crime: 1) Don’t divide the mosque, and 2) Keep quiet and don’t risk your progress toward a medical license worth $350,000+ a year. She chose to keep quiet, and to continue working with her assailant for nearly two more years.

            I’m also aware of some blatant sexual harassment committed by science faculty (also typically left-wing, in a lazy, muddled sort of way) against grad students who were helpless with five or six years sunk into a Ph.D, to be completed at the sole discretion of their harasser or one of his close friends.

            As a libertarian, I have to remember that occupational entry barriers always give some people undue power over others – whether its the fairly weak barrier of undergrad, or the mightier ones like medical and grad school. It must be expected that some people will use that power to pursue sex by rape, harassment, and anything which may lie between them. And it follows even further that the privileged class to which such men belong will defend itself as a class, before it takes up the cause of some powerless victim.

          • InfinityBall

            And yet, you yourself just identified how that is not a “rape culture”
            ” the department was more concerned about keeping things quiet and not changing the status quo”

            That’s A) a status culture and B) a culture where rape costs status, not a rape culture.

          • good_in_theory

            Well, if you operate under opaque, inscrutable definitions of what differentiates a “rape culture” from a “status culture where rape is valued in a certain way,” or whatever arbitrary distinctions one would like to make, then sure, I guess I “identified how that is not a rape culture.”

  • brandonberg

    “But to read some of the comments about the gender and rape issues, there seems to be a subset of libertarians who think that because we evolved behavior or disposition X, then engaging in that behavior or acting on that disposition is just fine.”

    It’s hard to evaluate whether your analogy to socialism is valid without knowing what specific claims you have in mind. The statement above is not valid in general. but I can see someone incorrectly describing certain valid claims in this way.
    For example, a valid evopsych argument against feminism is that because men and women have evolved to have different preferences, we should not necessarily conclude that sexism is to blame when men and women make different career choices, and consequently end up with significantly different average incomes. This is the chief quibble that libertarians have with modern feminists—their eagerness to attribute virtually all differences in outcomes between men and women to sexism, and demand government intervention to address it.

    “(Side note: I suspect many of these folks are on the paleo diet for similar reasons!)”

    No. The argument for the paleo diet is that the human body has not yet evolved to handle certain evolutionarily novel foods well–that there are specific, observable negative consequences to eating those foods.

    In fact, part of the argument for the paleo diet is that we should not just eat whatever we’ve evolved a taste for (e.g., large amounts of sugar) because in the past sugar was fairly rare, and we haven’t evolved the ability to handle large amounts of it without becoming insulin resistant.

    The counter to the evopsych argument for socialism is similar: Indulging our evolved capacity for envy and desire for plunder has specific, observable negative consequences, and should thus be avoided.
    That said, maybe I’m just a mutant—maybe all libertarians are—but I don’t actually envy people who are better off than I am, or have any particular desire to take what they have. Or to rape, for that matter. It’s not really something I have to fight.

  • Right-Wing Hippy

    I like this post. Philosophy/politics/economics are blind without psychology, and a lot of people like to pretend that does means should.

  • CT

    Prof. Horwitz,

    Perhaps it is simply my misinterpretation, but I didn’t get the same read from the fb comments section as you did. I didn’t see anyone saying the following: “a woman who drinks too much, essentially loses control over her actions and is raped by some asshole who thinks it’s ok to have sex with a woman who is barely conscious should just accept responsibility for her actions”. This would indeed by a vomit inducing opinion. I did, however, see a few saying something along these lines: “a woman (or man) who has a few drinks too many and consents to sex with someone they normally wouldn’t have sex with when sober should accept responsibility for her (his) actions”. To be fair, I don’t believe that anyone ever accuses another person of rape in these instances (this seems to be a typical conservative fairy tale). I do concede it is possible I misinterpreted …

    As to the question, many men need to change their attitudes. Rape is never a woman’s fault. I wish more men were taught that from a very young age.

    I believe another angle libertarians should be taking which would hypothetically lead to less rapes in our society is that of underage prohibition. In my opinion (I’d love to see some studies if they exist – perhaps I am mistaken), kids just aren’t ready to handle alcohol because of stupid laws and attitudes regarding when people should start drinking. If kids were introduced to alcohol at an earlier age by their parents (as is often the case in European countries), I think we’d have far fewer problems of young adults not knowing how to deal with booze in a responsible manner. In other words, less inebriation should lead to less rape. Now to be clear, I am not blaming the victim. Rape is never the fault of the victim no matter how drunk or what said victim is wearing. The problem definitely lies with the men doing the raping. I am simply advocating a change in attitude and laws which I believe may lead to a drop in rapes overall.

    • Sean II

      The trick with that suggestion is you’d have to establish two things:

      1) That American kids aren’t already being exposed to alcohol well ahead of the legal age. For all we know, kids here have more experience of drinking sooner than kids in Europe. The mere existence of a stricter law proves nothing about actual behavior.

      2) That early exposure to alcohol does indeed engender responsible drinking later on in life. Why should we suppose this is true? There’s just no reason to think a glass of beer in the hands of a nine-year works like a polio vaccine to immunize him against late-adolescent binge drinking.

      • CT

        1) I agree we’d need stats regarding that, which is why I was careful to characterize my thoughts as a ‘hypothesis’.

        2) No, but we all know what kids do when something is forbidden. They go and do it in stupid ways. Furthermore, a bit more experience earlier on could lead to a young woman having a better idea of her limits later on. It won’t completely prevent binge drinking, but perhaps it would avoid a few mistakes. Anyway, as I said, ‘hypothesis’.

    • jdkolassa

      Upvoted for the underage alcohol prohibition comments. Half the problem I see with alcohol is that kids don’t know how to deal with it because they’re not allowed to even try…and then they get it all at once and it just blows their brains out their ears. (Source: My experience on a college campus just a few years ago. And living in DC.)

      Some kids do have experience drinking at a younger age, but not everyone, especially in dry towns, and they don’t do it under supervision. A system where we allowed limited drinking for teenagers under adult (preferably parental) supervision, and probably with food so it mitigates some of the alcohol, would be a far better system than the bingefest we have today.

    • TracyW

      Rape is never a woman’s fault. I wish more men were taught that from a very young age.

      While I generally agree with this sentiment, I think it’s important to explicitly state the glaring exception: when a woman is the rapist, be that of another woman or of a man, it’s her fault.

      • CT

        “it’s her fault”
        Agreed. But from what I understand, this situation is rather rare as compared to the other.

  • DerekATC

    Well, everytime bleedingheart makes me want to rethink my position that american libertarianism can only appeal to empathy lacking assholes… something happens to justify my closemindedness.

    • ben

      Right, because anecdotal hearsay evidence is a perfect justification for absolutist claims (“can only appeal to…”) vilifying whole groups of people who dare to have different political opinions that you.

      I’m sure you’re an exemplary paragon of empathy yourself, but maybe you should also invest a _little_ in your deductive reasoning skills and intellectual integrity.

    • shesalive

      because a few idiots on FB make some dumb comments? that’s all it takes? 🙁 They’re just the ones with the time to do so. *le sigh* and I return to studying childhood disorders for my nursing license..

    • Funny how it’s the guys who have all the empathy who always put their hand in my wallet.

  • j r

    From that angle, the classical liberal case for feminism is just a version of the classical liberal case for the market and the rest of the extended moral order that defines liberalism.

    This is true, but it also begs the question of whether there is a classical liberal case for feminism. And that itself leads us further, to ask what we mean when we say feminism.

    If this conversation is to proceed meaningfully, then the proponents of a more vigorous libertarian embrace of feminism have to define exactly what they mean and exactly what form that libertarian embrace would take. I am seeing a lot of status signalling, but very little in the way of actually defining what constitutes feminist ideas. Call me cynical, but I think there is a reason for that.

    Adopting feminism’s own taxonomy I would say that first wave feminism is absolutely indistinguishable from classical liberalism. If you’re a libertarian who doesn’t support full legal and social equality for women, you’re doing it wrong. However, to borrow from the cigarette ad, feminism has come a long way, baby. I contend that classical liberalism is not amenable to third-wave feminism. Maybe maybe I’m wrong, but that debate has yet to happen.


      Totally agree.

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  • My own reference on Facebook to the need for male libertarians to speak out on this issue, especially against the “rape culture” that still exists, led to a subset of commenters to do everything from denying that such a culture exists (while simultaneously demonstrating that it does), to accusing me of engaging in moral posturing and “status-seeking,” to suggesting that having forced sex with inebriated women is fine because it’s all about “personal responsibility.” As icky as all of those are, and as much as I just want to tell the deniers of rape culture that they don’t see it because, in the words of an old commercial, “you’re soaking in it,” they are not what I want to address here.

    Which individuals that you consider ‘libertarians’ are, “suggesting that having forced sex with inebriated women is fine?” Libertarians that I know stand against the initiation of force of any kind. What some feminists object to is that these libertarians are against women in cases where an attempt is made to redefine a consensual act as rape. When women consent they need to take responsibility. End of story.

  • Socialism isn’t innate. *Pretending* to want whatever the guy who is threatening to harm you in innate. If desire for socialism was innate, violence wouldn’t be required to implement it.

  • Ian Maitland

    “I just want to tell the deniers of rape culture that they don’t see it because, in the words of an old commercial, ‘you’re soaking in it…'”

    This move resembles the ploy of conspiracy theorists who triumphantly point to the lack of any evidence of a conspiracy as proof of the success of that conspiracy.

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  • AE Hall

    Long boring red herring/straw man. Claims people use EvoPsych to justify ‘rape culture’, fails to explain why ‘rape culture’ is any worse here than in, say, India, or many African nations. 2/10

    • good_in_theory

      Speaking of boring red herrings…

      What a joke.

  • Rocinante

    “So, my libertarian devotees of evolutionary psychology, you can’t have it both ways. If feminism is wrong to think we can and/or should resist the dispositions that evolution has given us, then why is it wrong for defenders of the classical liberal order to think we can and/or should resist those dispositions when it comes to our evolved instincts toward the morality of socialism? ”

    Because, by resisting socialism, you stand to gain so much wealth in absolute terms that it compensates for how badly you might feel for a time. (I think some versions of feminism do this as well. If not wealth, other kinds of happiness).

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