Of Evolutionary Psychology and Diet Books

Times have changed!  The behavioral sciences have done a full intellectual double back flip.  Evolutionary psychology, once anathema to all right thinkers in the field in its various earlier incarnations as ethology, the new biology, sociobiology, etc., has finally banished the blank slate obscurantists and gained acceptance, even among the most pious leftists in academia.  So complete has been the paradigm shift among the orthodox gentry of the field that the stunning recognition that there actually is such a thing as human nature has appeared in – a diet book!

This is no ordinary diet book, mind you.  It’s a diet book, entitled The Six-Week Cure for the Middle-Aged Middle, whose authors, Michael and Mary Eades, write and co-produce Lo Carb CookwoRx, a nationally televised show on PBS, a staunch bastion of the Blank Slate no more than 15 years ago.  Allow me to quote a few lines:

According to (Naomi) Wolf and others of her opinion, there is no universal standard for human beauty.  Were we not programmed by advertisers and the entertainment industry, we would find a fat man or woman just as attractive and desirable as a thin one.  We disagree.  Years of serious scientific study, across numerous disciplines, prove otherwise.  Our attraction to a pretty face and a flat belly is in our genes and is an atavistic throwback to a time when such features represented health and the ability to reproduce.

Our ideas of beauty are not driven by Madison Avenue, but by the microchip in our DNA, placed there by Mother Nature using her most indispensable tool:  natural selection.

About forty years ago researchers started applying the laws of natural selection, not just to physical adaptations, but to mental adaptations as well.  Evolutionary psychologists realized that animals born with instinctive fears – for example, fear of falling or fear of snakes or fear of the dark – had a greater likelihood of surviving and passing on those inbred fears to their progeny.  In the same way, desires were genetically hardwired.  Those who developed the instinct to search for mates using looks and/or body size and shape as indicators of good reproductive health were more likely to populate the world with their offspring who carried those same genes.


It’s really stunning to read stuff like this, in a diet book no less, if you’ve been following developments in the field that is now known as Evolutionary Psychology since the day that Robert Ardrey published African Genesis.  It comes complete with an allusion to the quaint historical mythology today’s evolutionary psychologists have created to restore some semblance of academic gravitas to the field, epitomized by Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate.  According to this mythology, referred to in the third quote above, the universe was once void and without form, ruled by the chaos of the Blank Slate.  Then E. O. Wilson said, “Let there be light!” and, lo, there was light!  And E. O. Wilson saw the light, that it was good, and he called it Sociobiology.  And “just so,” dear reader, Evolutionary Psychology emerged from the outer darkness like Athena from the mind of Zeus.  That’s what the authors mean with their reference to “40 years ago.”  I’ve got news for them.  They’ll find it in the pages of Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, or Carveth Read’s The Origin of Man and his Superstitions, or in the essays of Sir Arthur Keith, or in the books of the “mere playwright,” Robert Ardrey, or in the pages of On Aggression by Konrad Lorenz.

You see, Drs. Eades, human nature isn’t really a discovery of the last 40 years at all.  Indeed, it’s not out of the question that a “Happy Few” speculated about its existence, even before the time of Darwin!

Author: Helian

I am Doug Drake, and I live in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. I am a graduate of West Point, and I hold a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. My blog reflects my enduring fascination with human nature and human morality.

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