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on 18 November 1997
Though well written and at times entertaining, the authors of this book seem to imply that the behavior of such diverse species as insects, bluebirds,and elephant seals are clues to human males with primate antecedents. Evolutionary psychology is more an interpretation of scientific evidence than a scientific field -- hence more art than science and therefore littered with more assumption, opinion and analogy than concrete, measurable results.
What is most disappointing in the field, as found in this book, is the conclusion that males of all species bear universal and compulsive characteristics towards violence, aggression, dominance, promiscuity, and a desperate need to reproduce. Women are complimentary -- being passive, fearful, timid, and willingly reproductive. Rape is mentioned in a reproductive sense, more so than as an act of violence that is non-sexual but personally abusive or as the result of a society that devalues women.
The authors (and it is apparent that David Barash, the evolutionary biologist, has the stronger voice in this book) nearly dismiss social influences despite data in psychology, psychiatry, and neuroscience that is demonstrating that early childhood experiences, particularly trauma, are instrumental in forming the neuro-network and thus the behaviors of an individual. They also dismiss social restrictions that historically provided men and women with their adult roles (whether or not men and women actually liked these roles).
Differences in sexual expression, and additional social or anti-social behaviors, may be influenced by hormones, genes, etc. They may also be influenced by instinctive behaviors, although I find it difficult to compare a man to a bluebird, or even to a primate, since we are many millions of years away from the jungle. I find it difficult also to reconcile the good-humored, non-violent, sexually responsible, constructive and intelligent men I know to this picture of a hormonally and instinctually driven individual prone to aggression and masculine displays.
The book is nicely written. It is technical but easily understood. Portions attempt to explain concerns like why men are not as nurturing as women (although the explanation is not successful), why domestic violence is almost solely perpetrated by a male, and why women are more discriminating about their sex partners. Some due is given to feminist theories, although I wish there was equal time for male objections to evolutionary psychology. Additional credence to the methods we use to raise young men and our traditional expectation for male behavior should also be more thoroughly represented.
Is the book worth reading? As a source for ideas in evolutionary psychology, it is above average. The authors' knowledge of and commitment to their field(s)is worthy of respect. The writing and organization is excellent. But as an explanation for the differences in the sexes and for different mating behaviors, I think we are better off making our own unlearned observations.
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