Sad Hominid Arguments

by Henry on April 3, 2004

Via “Tyler Cowen”:http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2004/04/evolutionary_th.html , a rather wonderful example of the absurdities of gung-ho evolutionary psychology. Edward H. Hagen, Paul J. Watson and J. Anderson Thomson Jr. “propose”:http://itb.biologie.hu-berlin.de/~hagen/HWT.pdf that severe depression is adaptive – it serves a functional purpose. It compels others to help the victim and thus redounds to his or her long term advantage. In short, depression is “an unconsciously calculated gamble to gain greater long-term benefits.”

This is a near-perfect example of what might be dubbed (with no apologies whatsoever to “Cosmides and Tooby”:http://www.psych.ucsb.edu/research/cep/primer.html) the Standard Evolutionary Psychology Model. First, take some human trait or behaviour. Bonus points if it’s something weird like “slash fiction”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/000398.html that’s likely to attract the interest of the Sunday supplement editors. Second, construct an “ad hominid argument”:http://homepage.mac.com/jholbo/homepage/pages/blog/blog19.html#201 claiming that this trait or behaviour served some functional need for hunter-gatherers on the veldt. Third, use your findings to justify some right-wing shibboleth or another, showing that hunter-gatherer societies hardwire us for perfectly competitive markets or the like (in fairness, Hagen, Watson and Thomson jr. don’t do this). Fourth, write article. Repeat as often as necessary to get tenure and/or the attention of the popular press. Of course, at no stage of the process need you deign to provide convincing empirical evidence that might sully the clarity and vigour of your argument. It’s wretched stuff, that doesn’t do any favors to Darwinian theory. That our minds are undeniably the product of evolutionary forces doesn’t and shouldn’t provide a license for half-baked functionalist explanations of the psychology of everyday life.

Fiction Mash-Ups

by John Holbo on April 3, 2004

Via scribblingwoman, who heard it from Maud, this is indeed a beguiling pastime.

Here are my hasty contributions:

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Sharing fingerprints

by Chris Bertram on April 3, 2004

The UKs’ slowness in bringing in passports with biometric data means that Britons (along with quite a few others) will be “routinely fingerprinted and photographed on entry to the US”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/3595221.stm under the “VISIT program”:http://www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/interapp/editorial/editorial_0333.xml . Clicking a few links got me to the “Privacy Impact Assessment: Executive Summary”:http://www.dhs.gov/interweb/assetlibrary/VISITPIAfinalexecsum3.pdf for this (pdf file), which reveals the comforting information that

bq. If necessary, the information that is collected will be shared with other law enforcement agencies at the federal, state, local, foreign, or tribal level, who are lawfully engaged in collecting law enforcement intelligence information and who need access to the information in order to carry out their law enforcement duties.

… at tribal level?

US political debate as seen from outside

by Chris Bertram on April 3, 2004

Whilst I was in the US, people kept asking me about Tony Blair and his future. My response usually involved some speculation about Gordon Brown coupled with noticing that the bookies are still giving “long odds on the Tories”:http://www.bluesq.com/bet?action=go_events&type_id=850 (much longer than on “Kerry defeating Bush”:http://www.bluesq.com/bet?action=go_events&type_id=2670 ). The subtext here was about the war though.

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Get Along Kid Charlemagne

by Belle Waring on April 3, 2004

There is an interesting article in Slate today about how no one is taking acid anymore. “In both the 2000 and 2001 surveys, 6.6 percent of high-school seniors reported that they’d used LSD in the previous year. In 2002, the figure dropped to 3.5 percent. And in the most recent survey, from 2003, only 1.9 percent of high-school seniors claim to have dropped acid.” The explanation seems to be a really big bust in Kansas, where the nation’s LSD was apparently being manufactured (um, Kansas?). The entrepreneurial Kansans were sitting on 400 million 100 mike hits when busted. Dude, they could, like, turn on everyone in America! Wouldn’t it be wild if they put it in the water supply of Washington, D.C., and all the warmongers were totally tripping? Also noted in Slate: the death of Jerry Garcia and subsequent halting of Grateful Dead tours knocked the market hard. Fair enough; if the chances that you’re going to hear “Dark Star” plummet to zero, what’s the point? That must have been a sad day for acid dealers everywhere. Given the logic of supply and demand, prices are up to $20 a hit. Not noted in the article: if you have to shell out $20 you might just as well take Ecstacy and not spend 13 out of 14 hours wishing you hadn’t taken that goddamn hit of acid.