Following up on Henry’s post, I wanted to look slightly differently at the appeal of evolutionary psychology. As I said in Henry’s comments thread the ev psych analysis is essentially “realist”. This is the kind of style of social and political analysis that purports to strip away the illusions of idealistic rhetoric and reveal the underlying self-interest. The only question is to nominate the “self” that is interested. In Ev Psych the unit of analysis is the gene, in Chicago-school economics the individual, in Marxism the class, in public choice theory the interest group, and in the realist school of international relations the nation.

All of these realist models are opposed to any form of idealism in which people or groups act out of motives other than self-interest. But, logically speaking, different schools of realists are more opposed to each other than to any form of idealism. If we are machines for replicating our genes, we can’t also be rational maximizers of a utility function or loyal citizens of a nation. Clever and consistent realists recognise this – for example, ideologically consistent neoclassical economists are generally hostile to nationalism. But much of the time followers of these views are attracted by style rather than substance. Since all realist explanations have the same hardnosed character, they all appeal to the same kind of person. It’s not hard to find people who simultaneously believe in Ev Psych, Chicago economics and international realism. One example of this kind of confusion is found in Stephen Pinker whose Blank Slate I reviewed here, back in 2002.

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