Tuesday, July 03, 2007

That whole Y chromosome thing

It seems much more likely to me that he was worse hurt by the breakup than he can admit, and is too weak to face the additional pain of conceding that [the relationship had been] real and good, so he protects himself by cutting you down. The limbic system is in control: the fight-or-flight reflex has taken over and since he can't flee physically he "must" fight you. It's a guy thing: we attack that which threatens us, so that it can't attack us first.
We do. The reason is simple: our—homo sapiens—genetic structure was formed a half-million years ago when there were immediate, physical risks to be fought on a daily if not hourly basis. "The best defense is a good offense" was always true, even when talking about a bunch of stick-carrying proto-humans facing a proto-tiger. If you all stand still and let the tiger attack, it will injure many of you and kill at least one. On the other hand, if one of you attacks it, his tactical advantage will mean that he can probably injure the tiger before it kills him; with luck it will be so badly wounded that the second attacker can kill it without himself suffering injury. (Not to mention the possibility that your willingness to attack might scare it off.)

This is pretty tough on whoever goes first, of course, but the tribe as a whole is much better off that way. A dead hunter is grieved over and buried, but an injured one is a drain on the tribe's limited resources until he recovers—if he does recover. And the fact is that males are disposable, genetically speaking. The tribe only needs one healthy male to maintain its population, but without females it will die out instantly. (Consider the Old Testament and the habit of the tribes of Israel of abducting the women of enemies defeated in battle. They weren't just fodder for a slave economy: no women = no children = no enemy. Simple, really.)

All well and good, but fast-forward a half-million years. The genetically-inspired reaction is still there, but is not appropriate to a time when the threats are largely verbal and emotional. We try to put a leash on ourselves with count to ten and transactional analysis and all that stuff, but when the feathers start flying we "see" razor-sharp teeth and reach for the biggest damned stick we can find.

As you might have inferred, I believe in the selfish gene theory, because it does simply explain much behaviour that would otherwise need complex explanations (Occam's razor).

(Incidentally, this is related to my theory of why men are filthy slobs and women are clean and orderly. A half-million years ago, the tribe was divided by gender and activity: the women stayed put, tending to children and crops, while the men went off hunting for days on end. The effort of maintaining a clean environment is worthwhile to people who live settled lives, because it keeps their children healthy, whereas it is a waste of energy to wanderers who might never stand beneath this particular tree again.)

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12 Comments:

Blogger JoeinVegas said...

U, please don't tell us you visit the trees in the park.

July 3, 2007 at 4:20:00 p.m. GMT+2  
Blogger zhoen said...

And the boys raised to be tidy? We carry most of the same genes, society nurtures or extinguishes traits. I know many slobby women, despite tidiness being a valued virtue, and some amazingly orderly men, despite the lack of societal rewards.

I'm with you that men are both predisposed to and encouraged to express frustration and confusion through violence. Women tend to vent verbally, leaving deep emotional wounds. The jury seems to be in on the nature/nurture argument, and it's a tie.

July 3, 2007 at 11:54:00 p.m. GMT+2  
Anonymous antonia said...

come now, udge, you don't really want to look in my kitchen, do you?
I deeply mistrust evolutionpsychology.

"It's all a goddamn fake. Like Lenin said, look for the person who will benefit. And you will, uh, you know, you'll, uh, you know what I'm trying to say--" Big Lebowksi

July 4, 2007 at 8:14:00 a.m. GMT+2  
Blogger Udge said...

Joe: but yes, of course. Gotta keep up with one's friends.

Zhoen: OK, I'll grant you that training and personal inclination play a part in this :-) But you would not agree that most women are neater than most men?

Antonia: was that Lenin? I thought Sherlock Holmes said it? ;-)

July 4, 2007 at 2:03:00 p.m. GMT+2  
Blogger antonia said...

oh yes, sherlock? But i have a real argument, too. True there are biological differences, but this does not mean that only because things are biological they are genetic or immutable. Society/nurture causes physiological changes, too, for instance people who work lots with their hands will have developed some part of their brain stronger.
And to the people who benefit: the dudes who come back into the neatly cave. Who'd want to change that, if you're a dude, [and who promotes evolutionpsych, mostly dudes, too] let's not pretend there is not a deeply strain of reinforcing great old stereotypes in evolutionpsycholgy, because it a) conveniently supplies one with simple yet plausible - and normative - explanations and hence b) why not getting rid of all women right's stuff for come now, face it, it's in the genes and you better stay at home and pick blueberries...

July 4, 2007 at 6:11:00 p.m. GMT+2  
Blogger zhoen said...

My best example is the people who scrub surgeries. Most women have generally better ordered tables, and most men have generally chaotic set-ups. But the men who are neat, have the most organized fields, by far. There is much more overlap, most of both genders falling in the middle.

Engineers pay great attention to detail, and are overwhelmingly men. When women are messy, they are utter slobs. And where do you get your traits from? Boys don't only get it from dad, after all. Sex linked traits, and of course hormones, do have an effect, but not as much as the whole rest of our genes, and that shares space with social conditioning. It does have an effect, but it's significance is minimal compared to training, personality and experience. We are more alike than not.

No excuses. If you are messy, it's your personal choice and predilection, no blaming testosterone.

July 4, 2007 at 9:24:00 p.m. GMT+2  
Blogger Udge said...

I guess I should have flagged that last paragraph <tongue in cheek>, or better still: left it out.

Early training, role models, personality, habits and nurture are of course important, and there are of course exceptions, and we are of course personally responsible for our actions and inactions.

July 5, 2007 at 3:16:00 p.m. GMT+2  
Blogger CarpeDM said...

I am messy. But I am much better than my mother who is the type of person 20/20 specials are done about - those of the garbage house. So, while I don't know where the floor in my bedroom is have the time, at least it is not covered with dog poop (of course, I don't have a dog but that's not the point).

July 6, 2007 at 7:02:00 p.m. GMT+2  
Blogger Pacian said...

The Selfish Gene tack promotes genes rather than individuals as the chief currency of evolution, so, as Zhoen pointed out above, given that men and women share all genes except for the Y chromosome, surely this view should emphasise our similarities?

July 7, 2007 at 2:13:00 p.m. GMT+2  
Blogger Udge said...

We also share over 80% of our genes with broccoli. (Perhaps that's why we fall for politicians and other confidence tricksters.)

July 7, 2007 at 2:26:00 p.m. GMT+2  
Blogger Lioness said...

Uhmm, I know that paragraph - and I agree with it. This is the sort of subject i'd normally love to discuss but am still... adjusting, yes, good word. Oof. So maybe some other time. Hell.

July 7, 2007 at 7:10:00 p.m. GMT+2  
Blogger Pacian said...

If you wanted to make the point better, you needed only to mention that a butterfly shares 100% of the genes of a catterpillar.

My point was that I don't see that the general thrust of your argument is from a Selfish Gene perspective, just from an evolutionary standpoint. Although I think that EvoPsych is usually on shaky ground. We hardly have a good idea of what our psychology is like in the present (eg. what is nature and what is nurture), so trying to figure out how it evolved seems foolhardy to me, especially without anything like the equivalent of the fossil and DNA records that we have to corroborate (or refute) ideas concerning the evolution of our bodies. In a million years, EvoPsych may have better luck, because they can read our blogs and get an idea of how we thought, but it's much harder to get inside the mind of an australopithecus, the internet being much, much slower in those days.

You do touch on something that is interesting from the Selfish Gene perspective, tho. This hypothetical hunter that goes first and dies, is likely to share genes (in the familial sense) with the hunter who goes second and kills the beast, and indeed the other people there who are protected by the two of them. The genes that they share may well include the genes that encouraged the first hunter to sacrifice himself. In this way, a genetic predisposition to giving up one's life for one's loved ones in a time of crisis can propogate throughout a population. But this only makes sense when we consider the genes in question. As a trait in an individual self sacrifice (deceptively) seems like an evolutionary no-go.

(Or were you just joking with the brocolli comment? Sorry, I couldn't resist a little text-dump. :-P )

July 8, 2007 at 1:36:00 a.m. GMT+2  

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