Rape Prevention 101

Rakesh Bhandari bhandari at phoenix.Princeton.EDU
Tue Jan 18 08:29:23 PST 2000

There was a report on Thornhill and Palmer's book in the NYT last Saturday. One Univ of Chicago evolutionary biologist was quoted as lambasting the book as the worst effort he has ever read in evolutionary psychology. Univ of GA (I think) biologist Patricia Gowaty was quoted as pointing to the evasion of scientific controls. E.g., Thornhill and Palmer claim as evidence for their theory the fact that the overwhelming number of women who are raped are in their peak child bearing years. Gowaty notes that since the majority of rapists are also between, say, 18-25, this is hardly surprising, and in no way proof that 'coerced sex' is a reproductive strategy. She argues for the importance of scientific controls exactly at the point a theory seems to enjoy some intuitive plausibility. I don't share this intuition, nor does Gowaty I think. But the point is indeed a valid one. Again, this is from my memory of the NYT article (which was juxtaposed to one on the psychology of hate and prejudice); the article is worth consulting as is Gowaty's ed. book Feminism and Evolutionary Psychology.

Here is an excerpt from Richard Lewontin's review of Michael Ghiglieri's "The Dark Side of Man: Tracing the Origins of Male Violence" Nature vol 400 19 August 1999 (perhaps available at web site www. nature.com; extended version of the argument in a recent issue of Jim O'Connor's Capitalism, Nature and Society):

"The first problem is in the tension between Darwinism as a variational theory of evolution and the typological description of a species' nature...Human males are described as being by nature rapists, murderers, warriors and perpetuators of genocide, one chapter for each. I begin to doubt my own speices identity, having never genaged in, or fantastized about, any of these activities whether drunk or sober, asleep or awake. And on reading the evidenced discussed by Ghiglieri I discover that in the psychological studies only some men reported such activities or fantasies. Only a small fraction of men have, in fact, committed rape or genocide or mudrer, so what does it mean to say 'men are...'? For every Kosovo there is a Switzerland.

"A typological description has been substituted for an immensely variable phenomenon, a typology that turns out to describe only a minority of the organisms. Biologists are always using typological descriptions to describe species that they believe have evolved, nevertheless, by a variational mechanism. They get away with it because the differences between speices are usually very large compared with the intraspecific variation. But that is not true for human behavior.

"In this respect, human behavior may be an evolutionary novelty, which raises the second big problem of evolutinary reconstruction. We depend on similarity for evolutionary sotries and when faced with the threat of a novely we either throw up our hands or like Ghiglieri and other evolutionary psychologists, we assert a homology and bolster the cliam by using the same words for different things. Orag-utans do not engage in 'genocide.' Only human beings do that.

"The real question about human social and individual behavior is not why men belong to some type, but why they are so extraordinarily variable in time and space."

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