Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Mysterious East

The Far East rightly gets a lot of credit for being interesting. It also gets saddled with a lot of hocus-pocus nonsense from people who invest the region with mystical and supernatural powers.

Let me give you three for-instances from an otherwise Seriously Smart Guy, Geoffrey Miller:

For-Instance 1: In comments that forecast the future of evolutionary psychology lying to the East, Miller says (quoted from Human Nature Review in a forwarded e-mail), among other things, "We realize that the U.S. is morphing into a fascist-fundamentalist plutocracy that will never seriously support Darwinian research."

I can see that. But he also says that "Asians" have:

"sophisticated views of sex: in contrast to sex-negative European monotheism, many Asian cultures are more sex-positive, more urbane, and more sophisticated (consider the Kama Sutra, Tantric Buddhism, Hindu temple carvings, Thai sex tourism, geisha culture, etc.)"

Oh? OK, Mr. Anecdote, if they're so positive and sophisticated, why did the Global Study of Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors (fittingly enough, carried out by Pfizer) find that people in the West - mostly - find their sex lives more satisfying than people in the East?

For-Instance 2: Miller assumes aggressive growth for India and China and forecasts both will surpass the gross domestic products of the United States and Europe by 2050, a prediction he uses to state that China will become the world's most prosperous country.

Maybe Miller thinks GDP is a better measure of a country's prosperity than per-capita, or median, or mean (for Christ's sake), income, but I do not.

I'd certainly rather live in Bermuda than Sierra Leone, for example, even though Bermuda checks in at No. 167 on the CIA World Factbook's GDP list and Sierra Leone stands at No. 159. Hell, Afghanistan, North Korea and Russia all have Bermuda beat, and its per-capita GDP is the highest on Earth!

The latter measure is misleading, too. Would you prefer the United Arab Emirates or Japan? Well, UAE soars above Japan, so by Miller's reckoning, it must have an edge.

For-Instance 3: Miller says China will soon be the world's most "progressive" country. He doesn't back that up, except to say that "China is an officially atheistic state; most other
advanced Asian countries are fairly secular, with very low rates of creationist monotheism. ... Daoism and Buddhism embrace perpetual change as the cosmic norm."

If by "progressive" Miller means to say "amenable to evolutionary science" then maybe. But I take progressive as having implications that reach far beyond the realm of the privileged. China may be headed toward Miller's vision of a "prosperous and progressive" future, but for whom?

Miller's predictions above and at the recent Human Behavior and Evolution Society conference could sound reasonable at first blush, but I fear this otherwise worthy member of the resistance has given up far too early on the rest of us.


Holly said...
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Holly said...

Kanazawa, in his response to Miller, suggests that US/Euro researchers (i.e. ME) should present their research in such a way that it does not remind people that we share a common descent with chimps. What good is that going to do? He extols a maverick Japanese scientist, but says we shouldn't make waves at home. If there's ever going to be a revolution in the social sciences it's not going to come by sitting quietly by so that you don't piss anyone off.

Kanazawa also proposes that we keep fundamentalist-leaning 'outsiders' ignorant, that we should let them teach our kids intelligent design hocus pocus, and that those students who are smart enough to see through the subterfuge will naturally gravitate toward evolution. Who cares about the others he says.

Kanazawa, like so many EPs, asserts that the real enemy of EP is not Christian fundamentalism but the "politically correct feminist and social constructionist colleagues [who] control our recruitment, tenure, and promotion processes" and those who control research funding.


If they have the power to sanitize course descriptions for the college handbook, imagine what else thay can do.

At least the war between the constructivists and essentialists isn't quite so bleak as the one going on in the "holy land."

So long as the dialogue stays mutually respectful, though I doubt it is in all circles (just read Evolution, Gender, and Rape for a taste of what feminist constructionists think of EP), then I think we can avoid the sort of internecine struggle that will keep us all steady going nowhere.