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The New York Review of Books MAY 31, 1979


Letter

THE POLITICS OF SOCIOBIOLOGY


By Bertram Bruce, Edward Egelman, Freda Salzman, Hiro !i Inouye, "on Bec#wit!, "o e$! %l$er, Lila Lei&owitz, 'ic!ard C( Lewontin, 'o&ert Lange, 'o&in Crom$ton, 'ut! Hu&&ard, Ste$!en "ay Gould, )al *u e#, 'e$ly &y Stuart Ham$ !ire In response to The Illusion of Socio iolo!" To the Editors( )e were ple*se+ to re*+ Stu*rt ,*-pshire.s review of On Human Nature #NYR, $cto er 1%' in which he shows the cruci*l philosophic*l fl*ws which un+er-ine the entire structure of hu-*n socio iolo!"/ ,owever, in restrictin! hi-self purel" to the philosophic*l pro le-s inherent in On Human Nature, ,*-pshire ne!lecte+ the soci*l *n+ politic*l issues which *re *t the he*rt of the socio iolo!" controvers"/ Three "e*rs *!o -*n" of us wrote * letter #NYR, Nove- er 13, 1970' in response to * review of 1/$/ )ilson.s e*rlier ook, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, in which we pointe+ out the politic*l content of this new fiel+/ )e e2presse+ concern *t the likelihoo+ th*t pseu+o3scientific i+e*s woul+ e use+ once -ore in the pu lic *ren* to 4ustif" soci*l polic"/ The events of the intervenin! "e*rs h*ve full" 4ustifie+ our initi*l fe*rs/ Nu-erous *rticles in the popul*r -e+i* h*ve use+ socio iolo!ic*l theories to 4ustif" the status quo/ In *n *rticle entitle+, 5A 6enetic 7efense of the 8ree M*rket,5 Business Wee #April 19, 197&' st*te+( 5Bioecono-ics s*"s th*t !overn-ent pro!r*-s th*t force in+ivi+u*ls to e less co-petitive *n+ selfish th*n the" *re !enetic*ll" pro!r*--e+ to e *re preor+*ine+ to f*il/5 Newswee *n+ Time h*ve oth run *rticles on socio iolo!" which co--ent upon the inevit* ilit" of -*le +o-in*nce/ :onsi+erin! the upsur!e over the p*st ten "e*rs in wo-en fi!htin! for e;u*lit", it is no coinci+ence th*t the press h*s sei<e+ upon theories th*t c*n e use+ to perpetu*te *n+ 4ustif" the su or+in*tion of wo-en/ 8ortun*tel", hu-*n socio iolo!" h*s not !one unch*llen!e+/ ,*-pshire, in his review, points out how )ilson.s theor" foun+ers when he *tte-pts to e2pl*in -ent*l st*tes such *s in+octrin* ilit" " * c*us*l ph"sic*l theor" *se+ upon !enetics *n+ neuroph"siolo!"/ ,*-pshire *r!ues th*t onl" those hu-*n processes th*t c*n e +escri e+ entirel" in ter-s of o 4ective o serv* le eh*vior, without recourse to +escriptions of -ent*l st*tes, *re *-en* le to * proper socio iolo!ic*l *n*l"sis/ The #$cto er 1%, 197&'

e2*-ple of * tr*it *ccessi le to proper stu+" chosen " ,*-pshire is -*le +o-in*nce/ )e +is*!ree/ Since we live in * societ" th*t is rife with se2is-, the +efinition *n+ -e*sure-ent of -*le +o-in*nce, " necessit", +epen+s upon the outlook of the o server/ In its entire tre*t-ent of se2 roles *n+ se2u*l selection, On Human Nature reve*ls the se2is- of our culture/ 8or e2*-ple, )ilson c*su*ll", *n+ without su st*nti*tion, -*kes such st*te-ents *s( 5In !ener*l, !irls *re pre+ispose+ to e -ore inti-*tel" soci* le *n+ less ph"sic*ll" ventureso-e/5 Bec*use hu-*n eh*vior such *s -*le +o-in*nce is inti-*tel" connecte+ with politic*l concerns, socio iolo!" h*s een * le to *chieve * pu lic pro-inence tot*ll" inco--ensur*te with its intellectu*l worth/ It is precisel" *s * result of this link to politic*l ;uestions th*t * purel" philosophic*l criti;ue, even one which *-pl" reve*ls the e-ptiness *n+ illusion of * hu-*n socio iolo!", +oes not un+er-ine the *ccept*nce of this new +iscipline/ Th*t On Human Nature is politic*l, th*t it cont*ins prescriptive *n+ proscriptive conclusions for soci*l polic", is *pp*rent/ )ilson st*tes without *n" scientific evi+ence( 51ven with i+entic*l e+uc*tion for -en *n+ wo-en *n+ e;u*l *ccess to *ll professions, -en *re likel" to -*int*in +isproportion*te represent*tion in politic*l life, usiness, *n+ science5 #p/ 133'/ ,e !oes on to s*" th*t societ" coul+ co-pens*te for this inn*te ine;u*lit", ut *t * price( 5=the *-ount of re!ul*tion re;uire+ woul+ cert*inl" pl*ce so-e person*l free+o-s in 4eop*r+", *n+ *t le*st * few in+ivi+u*ls woul+ not e *llowe+ to re*ch their full potenti*l/5 There is no evi+ence th*t e;u*lit" ent*ils such costs/ An+ on * ro*+er politic*l front, )ilson *lso is confi+ent, without evi+ence, in +ecl*rin! th*t cert*in soci*l or!*ni<*tions *re in*ccessi le to us( 5)e *lre*+" know, to t*ke two e2tre-e *n+ opposite e2*-ples, th*t the worl+s of )illi*- 6r*h*- Su-ner, the * solute Soci*l 7*rwinist, *n+ Mikh*il B*kunin, the *n*rchist, *re biologically i-possi le5 #p/ %9&, e-ph*sis ours'/ At the present ti-e, -*n" technic*l criticis-s of socio iolo!" h*ve co-e frowithin *nthropolo!" *n+ iolo!"/ A-on! the issues th*t h*ve een r*ise+ *re the -isuse of *ni-*l *n*lo!ies, the -etho+olo!ic*l fl*ws in stu+ies cl*i-in! to show evi+ence for the !enetic *sis of hu-*n soci*l tr*its, *n+ -isre*+in!s *n+ +istortions of the *nthropolo!ic*l liter*ture/ 7espite the socio iolo!ists. +is*vow*l of Soci*l 7*rwinis-, the science th*t st*n+s ehin+ socio iolo!" h*s *s little ri!orous st*n+in! in its *pplic*tion to hu-*n societ" *s Soci*l 7*rwinis- +i+ in its *tte-pt to e2pl*in the soci*l or+er/ >nfortun*tel", there *re those who h*ve een *ttr*cte+ " the spurious pro-ise of re+ucin! such +isp*r*te fiel+s *s econo-ics, !overn-ent, *n+ ps"cholo!" to * iolo!ic*l science/ 6iven the l*ck of scientific 4ustific*tion, this h*s onl" een -*+e possi le " cert*in in!r*ine+ cultur*l eliefs in iolo!ic*l +eter-inis-/ Inste*+ of ;u*int historic*l notions * out in+ivi+u*l hu-*n tr*its 5runnin! in the loo+,5 we now h*ve 5spite,5 5co-petitiveness,5 *n+ 52enopho i*5 runnin! in the !enes, *n+ with *s little e-piric*l evi+ence *s h*+ the out+*te+ notions/ The *pplic*tion of socio iolo!ic*l re*sonin! to the stu+" of hu-*n eh*vior h*s -et with controvers" wherever it h*s een intro+uce+/ Since socio iolo!" h*s such politic*l un+erpinnin!s, philosophic*l *n+ scientific criti;ues *lone will not +en" it * receptive *u+ience/ ,u-*n socio iolo!" will rise *n+ f*ll *s one ele-ent in the

politic*l conflicts th*t surroun+ the soci*l institutions it tries to le!iti-*te *n+ +efen+/ ?oseph Alper, professor of che-istr", >niversit" of M*ss*chusetts, Boston@ ?on*th*n Beckwith, professor of -icro iolo!" *n+ -olecul*r !enetics, ,*rv*r+ Me+ic*l School@ Bertr*- Bruce, scientist, *rtifici*l intelli!ence, Bolt, Ber*nek, *n+ New-*n, Inc/@ Ro in :ro-pton, !r*+u*te stu+ent, io*nthropolo!", ,*rv*r+ >niversit"@ A*l 7usek, professor of philosoph", >niversit" of New ,*-pshire@ 1+w*r+ 1!el-*n, !r*+u*te stu+ent, ioph"sics, Br*n+eis >niversit"@ Stephen ?*" 6oul+, professor in the Museu- of :o-p*r*tive Boolo!", ,*rv*r+ >niversit"@ Ruth ,u *r+, professor of iolo!", ,*rv*r+ >niversit"@ ,iroshi Inou"e, rese*rch fellow, ,*rv*r+ Me+ic*l School@ Ro ert C*n!e, professor of ph"sics, Br*n+eis >niversit"@ Cil* Cei owit<, professor of *nthropolo!", Northe*stern >niversit"@ Rich*r+ Cewontin, professor of iolo!", ,*rv*r+ >niversit"@ 8re+* S*l<-*n, professor of ph"sics, >niversit" of M*ss*chusetts, Boston
Stuart Ham$ !ire re$lie +

In their letter * out the politic*l i-plic*tions of socio iolo!", which the" think I ne!lecte+ in -" review of Drofessor 1/$/ )ilson.s On Human Nature, "our correspon+ents o 4ect to -" -entionin! -*le +o-in*nce *s *n inst*nce of * pheno-enon +escri * le entirel" in ter-s of o 4ective o serv* le eh*vior/ The" s*", 5the +efinition *n+ -e*sure-ent of -*le +o-in*nce, " necessit", +epen+s upon the outlook of the o server/5 Not so@ not necess*ril"/ I chose this e2*-ple precisel" ec*use in the stu+" of *ni-*l eh*vior it is o viousl" possi le, *n+ it h*ppens, th*t repe*te+ p*tterns of o serv* le eh*vior shoul+ e picke+ out which, " *!ree-ent within the science, *re to count *s inst*nces of -*le +o-in*nce@ *t the s*-e ti-e it is o viousl" possi le, *n+ it h*ppens, th*t -*le +o-in*nce shoul+ e +efine+ or interprete+ *s involvin! * set of eliefs, *ttitu+es, *n+ st*tes of -in+, *n+ th*t t*lk of -*le +o-in*nce shoul+ therefore f*ll within *n intention*l conte2t/ The e2*-ple w*s chosen to illustr*te this *- i!uit"/ $f course I *!ree th*t socio iolo!" h*s i-plic*tions for soci*l polic" now, *s it +i+ in ,er ert Spencer.s ti-e/ It is one of those ol+ chestnuts th*t one c*n e2pect to e t*ken out of the +r*wer occ*sion*ll" *n+ +uste+ *n+ polishe+ until it looks *l-ost *s !oo+ *s new/

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