Religion, Atheism and The Evolution of Symbolic Thought.

In a break from the usual, this is an informal short philosophical essay (attempt!)  on some things I have been thinking about lately. This is not an attack on atheism or religion.  Disclaimer – I’m agnostic.

Stone tools provide the first evidence of the evolution of symbolic thought and began to emerge in our hominid ancestors around 2.5 million years ago  (our species, Homo Sapiens, emerged a mere 120,000 years ago). The cognitive architecture in the brain had to be in place before the first spark of creativity occurred, before the hominid looked at the crude lump of rock and saw the refined handaxe within it.
hand axe .jpgJust as millions of years later, Michelangelo  looked at a lump of marble and saw Pietà.

Michelangelo's_Pieta_5450_cut_out_black.jpg

The evolution of symbolic thought very likely enabled the evolution of language and technology. The same mechanism also gave rise to art and spirituality, two elements which some together in pre-historic cave paintings and depictions of shamans.

Religion might be said to be  codified human spirituality just as science is codified human innovation and curiosity and ethics is codified morality. They come from the same wellspring  – symbolic thought – and are deeply embedded in evolved human nature.

To call for the end to religion, as many atheists who follow the lead of Dawkins and Harris, is to say you are going after human nature. You then, however, find yourself in bed with social constructionists and postmodernists who deny human nature. This isn’t a rational position. We cannot erase spirituality without also erasing everything else symbolic thought gives us.

I can’t be sure, but I don’t think that’s where Dawkins or Harris would want to be. Yet it’s where the argument takes them. (Edit: this is not a criticism of these individuals. I admire and respect both – and I know Harris doesn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater with respect to spirituality and symbolic thought. This is just a discussion of the premises of the atheist argument, which Dawkin’s and Harris’ have popularised.)

I agree with them that religion and science should be kept separate. Religion is not science. That is true. Many people also assert that it’s not rational. I don’t agree.

Many of our instinctive biases help us stay alive on a daily basis. To use Jonathan Haidt’s elephant/rider metaphor, the elephant will instinctively take fright at the small thing rustling in the long grass, which could be a mouse, a snake or a tiger. The point is, the elephant doesn’t know until the mouse or tiger reveals itself. This is what we call common sense. Our instinctive biases have functions in terms of fitness. How ever much we scorn them now as intellectuals and rationalists, they helped our ancestors succeed – which is why we are now here, looking at this magic screen, reading words and thinking about abstract things such as symbolic thought. Meta!

But great as it is for helping us not get run over by a bus or eaten by lions, common sense isn’t great for science. Which is why we created the scientific method in the first place. We don’t need a subjective method. That’s already our state in nature. Science is not common sense, it is uncommon sense.

The very natural fear we have of jumping out of our comfort zones, also hampers us taking that further risky step, which might end up in total humiliation and social ostracism; there is no greater fear for a social animal, as humans are.

But getting back to religion; has it actually hampered the progress of science? I can’t see that it has.  The Enlightenment still occurred after the dark ages and in the midst of murder, mayhem and religious zealotry. We still have that of course but, since the beginning of recorded history, when have we ever not?

Would it be possible to erase spirituality and religion from human nature and also not take symbolic thought with it? I can only see that, if it were ever possible to trace that thread along the tangled bank of evolution to cut it off at the source, it would only render us less complex and less human.

I agree, science and religion are two discrete areas, but who am I to deprive a person who has lost loved ones of the hope they will meet them again in another life? It’s none of my bloody business. And it isn’t illogical of them to believe in an afterlife, if it helps get them through the night and look after their surviving loved ones.

I understand that, because atheists do not approve of an unreformed radical Islam and see it as a threat to hard won Western freedoms, they feel the need to go after all religion so as to be logically consistent and not seem bigoted. But the premises of this are flawed. The atheist argument, which denies religion is a part of human nature appears to me to be just as woolly as their opponents, who think God made man in his image. I think we can do better.

If atheists want to go after religion as a political force, then just be honest about it. Argue for a separation of church and state – argue for the continuation of that separation in the West and against religious mission creep into scientific realms. I would agree with them on that.

Science and religion are two separate areas, and both vie for expression; of curiosity on one part, and comfort in the face of certain death on the other. I don’t think that’s a glitch, I think it’s a feature.

In the same way that I think religion should stay out of science, I think science should stay out of religion. Fight to keep that separation distinct yes, but not to erase one or the other. That’s as illogical as postmodernists denying the biological basis of human nature.

MP’s report on sexual harassment in schools ignores female intrasexual competition

I had to rattle this off quickly  as a counter-point to the media frenzy today about this report.  Apologies for typos – there will be many!

Toxic masculinity or female intrasexual competition?

“MPs seek better plan to fight school sexual harassment

Sexual harassment and abuse of girls are too often accepted as part of daily life, according to a Commons Women and Equalities Committee report.”

Key findings are:

stat2

The committee chair, Conservative MP Maria Miller, is popping up on my radio every hour on the news bulletins and is explicitly pointing the blame at boys and pornography. She repeats the most shocking and salacious findings as if they were the most prominent findings in the report.

The report had already piqued my interest so I have been looking at it today. Here are some pertinent points from the list of conclusions and recommendations from the report itself

“1.Sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools is a significant issue which affects a large number of children and young people, particularly girls, across the country. Evidence shows that the majority of perpetrators of this abuse are boys, and the majority of victims are girls. However it is essential that the negative impact on both boys and girls is recognised and addressed.”

“2.There is insufficient data to conclusively demonstrate that sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools is a growing problem. It is true that such behaviour has occurred in schools for many years, as in wider society. However, significant qualitative evidence suggests that increasing access to pornography and technological advances, including online platforms, can facilitate harassment and violence and thus exacerbate the problem.”

(Yet somehow, in light of this lack of evidence, the government should non-the-less…)

15…create a statutory obligation in the forthcoming Education Bill for all schools, primary and secondary, to develop a whole school approach to preventing and tackling sexual harassment and sexual violence. We also recommend that the Department for Education remind all school Governors of their legal obligations to address sexual harassment and sexual violence in school. Guidance and support on how to achieve this most effectively should be provided to Governing Bodies.”

(Echos of Title IX, anyone?)

24.By the time they reach secondary school children often have entrenched views about gender norms. It is therefore important that children are educated about gender equality, consent, relationships and sex in an age appropriate way starting in primary school.”

(In other words, an entrenched political and  ideological organisation wants government funding to go into schools to teach young and impressionable boys and girls how to interact)

“30.Too often, SRE ignores the position of boys and young men. It must be broadened to challenge harmful notions of masculinity and reflect boys’ experiences. It should also support boys to challenge and reduce sexual harassment and sexual violence.”

“31.We welcome the Government’s interest in supporting boys and young men to be part of the solution to the problem of sexual harassment and sexual violence. We recommend that the Government fund research to establish the most effective ways to achieve this.”

You get the implicit picture; girls are victims, boys perpetrators of sexual harassment. In case this wasn’t clear enough, they included a visual signpost.

Girl, interrupted by sexism

Girl, interrupted by sexism

Of course the feminist Twittersphere is going nuts. If there was a flag representing “the patriarchy”, they’d be in the streets gleefully burning it.

So lets review:  the report itself states there is no evidence to support the problem is a growing problem, yet the rhetoric I’m hearing on the radio makes it appear out of control and endemic. Which is nothing new:

endemic

And indeed further down the page we find this statement:
tip-of-iceberg
I’ll come back to this later.

Firstly, I was particularly interested in the following claim, number 1 on their page of findings and recommendations:

major-girls

Further down this page it states:

major-girls-2

Note the reference. I followed it. It took me here:

cross-2

Lets just be clear. The cited reference is to support the claim that “Evidence shows that the majority of perpetrators of this abuse are boys, and the majority of victims are girls.”

It took me a while to find a break down of the sex of the harassers – in all graphs they are referred to in sex and gender neutral terms – but when I did, it revealed something very interesting:

harasser-sex
The findings here clearly state that even if girls are more harassed in total, they are not more harassed by boys, they are harassed by other girls.

Spending more money on teaching kids about consent, as is in the recommendations, will not help victims. Demonising boys, toxic masculinity or “laddism” – all deemed problematic in the report – will not help anyone. The claim they want to help boys is hollow.  The claim they want to help girls even more so. Who commissioned this report? How much were they paid and was it from the public purse?

Note above boys appear to “harass” other boys more than girls. This is a finding because in their definition of sexual harassment they include name calling and banter as harassment. “Calling someone “gay” or “lesbian”…was the most frequently mentioned type of sexual harassment”

The numbers on female abusers here appear to be in line with the findings of a 2014 Demos report on internet misogyny which found that 50% of online abuse came from females.

demos

Lets revisit this comment in Crossing the Line…

“Because girls reported higher rates of sexual harassment than boys did, this finding raises questions. Why didn’t boys or girls admit to sexually harassing girls when more girls than boys said they had been sexually harassed? Why does it seem to be more acceptable to sexually harass boys? These questions are critical to developing new strategies”

Now read this again in light of this new information:

tip-of-iceberg

Indeed.

I research female intrasexual competition, something I frequently call the pink elephant in the feminist room. Female competition and rivalry exists but takes a very different form from male competition, which is more open. What these reports are uncovering is not the tip of the iceberg of endemic male chauvinism but of endemic female passive aggressive bullying of their female rivals.

The main strategies of female competition are well documented; targets are socially ostracized, she is the subject of pernicious gossip, her character attacked, her sexual history discussed, her reputation ruined and crucially, boys are recruited by the female bullies to join in the attack. This is the well documented anatomy of how females compete – by stealth. The effects on the target are utterly devastating. It is this phenomena that feminists should be looking into if they genuinely wish to help young girls thrive at school. It is this research that needs more government funding not feminist sex education.

Logic dictates that if there actually is such a thing as toxic masculinity, there must also be a female analogue. And there is. There is also evidence that it is feminists, not “the patriarchy”, who seek to suppress and control female sexuality, especially in the West. (See Baumeister & Twenge, 2002).

The recommendations in this report do NOT support the papers findings. Feminists want access to young women in schools, to police their sexuality via fear – when the main negative effect on their self esteem is their female peers. These are all questions I am working on as a researcher, but many people have come before me. Female intrasexual competition is not new. It’s just taboo.

In spite of the feminist insistence that toxic masculinity is the problem, as a society, we need to widen the debate to include discussion about toxic femininity. If you want to see everyday evidence of female enmity in action, just look online at the bitter rivalries between feminist sects.

Orwellian Feminism

Orwellian Feminism

How can a movement with so little insight into itself or female competition be of any help to us?

If feminism is a humanitarian movement before a political one, it will face up to its own shortcomings.

The question needs to be asked: does feminism exist to help women and girls, or do women and girls now exist to help feminism?

Shoddy reports like this make me suspect the latter.

I am an egalitarian because I believe in the equality of the sexes. I am not a feminist because I do not support feminisms central aim which is to dismantle a fictional Western patriarchy, not, as many people believe, to promote sexual equality. For more in depth analysis on this issue see When is a Feminist Not a Feminist? 

More reading on female intrasexual competition:

The development of human female competition: allies and adversaries
Joyce F. Benenson
http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/368/1631/20130079

Female competition and aggression: interdisciplinary perspectives
Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2013 Dec 5; 368(1631): 20130073.
Paula Stockley1 and Anne Campbell2

A Mind Of Her Own: The Evolutionary Psychology of Women
Anne Campbell
https://global.oup.com/academic/product/a-mind-of-her-own-9780199609543?cc=gb&lang=en&

Warriors and Worriers: The Survival of the Sexes
Joyce F Benenson
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Warriors-Worriers-Survival-Joyce-Benenson/dp/0199972230/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1473767339&sr=1-1&keywords=warriors+and+worriers

Come see me speak in London 7th April at an Empirical Sex event

sexy isnt sex londonThursday 7th April: “Sexy isn’t Sexist” Paula Wright
@ The Clarence , Whitehall (Nearest tube: Charing Cross)

TIckets about £4.00 – check link below

“Paula Wright left Shotton Hall Comprehensive at 16 with zero qualifications and a recommendation from the carers advisor to do a YTS on the cheese counter at her local Prestos. She became an actor instead and some years later discovered she was actually an Aspie with a Mensa level IQ. Today Paula is an independent scholar in evolutionary theory. Her area of research is a consilience of the natural and social sciences and includes, but is not limited to, evolutionary anthropology, palaeoanthropology, psychology, biology, ecology, population genetics, economics, primatology and empirical gender studies. For brevity’s sake, she refers to this as “Darwinian Gender Studies”.
Paula has published in the Journal of Evolutionary Behavioural Sciences, writes, blogs, Tweets @SexyIsntSexist, speaks, performs and runs a popular academic discussion forum on Facebook. This evening Paula will be discussing the evolution of the human female breast and why evolutionary logic and feminist theory are such incompatible bed fellows. Trigger warning: includes boobs – audience participation may be requested.”

http://empiricalsex.com/upcoming-events/

When is a Feminist Not a Feminist?

This essay was first published as a guest blog on Lee Jussim’s  Psychology Today Rabble Rowser blog here 

Feminism: The advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of the equality of the sexes.”

Egalitarianism: The doctrine that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities.”

The two quotes above are sourced from the Oxford Dictionary. On the face of it, feminism and egalitarianism appear to converge. Indeed, it is not unusual to hear feminists appeal to this dictionary definition whenever they are challenged. I will call this the “reasonable person” defence, e.g., What reasonable person could possibly disagree? The point being, they can’t. Not if they want to remain reasonable in the eyes of others.

But similarly, what reasonable person could disagree with egalitarianism? Both premises are highly reasonable.  But as numerous studies and surveys have demonstrated, a majority of people support egalitarian values but do not identify as feminists.[1] [2] [3] [4] What’s going on? Are these people confused, ignorant, or both?!

Neither.

It seems the non-feminist (not anti-feminist) egalitarian majority either know or intuitively suspect a crucial difference between the goals of egalitarianism and feminism. Unfortunately, looking to dictionary definitions does not help us articulate what these differences are.

A visit to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy gives us a more detailed description of both concepts. The opening preamble to the egalitarian chapter[5] dovetails nicely with the dictionary definition above. The feminist chapter, however, quickly diverges from the dictionary definition, running off into various strands where the key theme is internal disagreement within feminism about what feminism is.  It takes just over 3,000 words before the term patriarchy first appears but when it does, it is neither problematic nor contested.

Feminism, as liberation struggle, must exist apart from and as a part of the larger struggle to eradicate domination in all its forms. We must understand that patriarchal domination shares an ideological foundation with racism and other forms of group oppression, and that there is no hope that it can be eradicated while these systems remain intact. This knowledge should consistently inform the direction of feminist theory and practice. (hooks 1989, 22)”[6]

Here is the first hint of what differentiates feminism from egalitarianism. You will note there is no mention of equality by hooks; the goal is “liberation” from “patriarchal domination.”

Ask an orthodox (social constructionist) feminist what feminism means and you are likely to get one of two responses. The “reasonable person” defence is one, while the other, is what I will call the “atomistic dodge”. This entails the feminist stating that feminism is not a monolithic movement, its aims being too complex to pin down[7]. This position personifies intersectional feminism. Note how the descriptions contradict one another. It is easy to get lost in this equivocal maze.

So, rather than trying to discern the differences between feminist factions, I asked what they had in common. The results help us see the difference between egalitarianism and feminism.

In 1963, the liberal feminist Betty Friedan published a book about a “problem with no name.” Seven years later, radical feminists named it “patriarchy.” Patriarchy was conceived of as the underlying structure which facilitated men’s oppression of women; “a system characterized by power, dominance, hierarchy and competition, a system that [could not] be reformed but only ripped out root and branch.”[8]

This moment marked a fundamental change in strategy as feminists shifted from a liberal policy of achieving equality through reform, to a radical strategy of trying to dismantle patriarchy. Around this time, Friedan was unceremoniously kicked out of the organisation she had founded because she wasn’t radical enough[9].  Since this time, patriarchy has remained central to all subsequent waves of feminism. While it is true that the different factions of feminisms have slightly different conceptions of patriarchy, they all agree on the following 3 premises: [9a]

  • Patriarchy is a socially constructed phenomenon which enforces notions of sex and gender that equate to male supremacy and female inferiority[10] [11].
  • Patriarchy is the mechanism by which all men institutionally oppress all women[12].
  • All feminisms are united in the fight against patriarchy (if little else)[13].

That these founding premises might be false is never addressed. They are. What is patriarchy? Does it even exist? There is a dearth of research on orthodox feminist premises which values critical thinking over critical theory, though this is starting to change.[14] Both the existence and origin of patriarchy are assumed by orthodox feminists rather than explored, yet the flawed, circular logic of the three premises above represent the ideological bedrock of all orthodox feminisms—from radical to intersectional—and social ‘justice’ activism today.

The orthodox feminist concept of patriarchy is embellished from the anthropological observation that in many cultures men appear to hold more social, economic and political ‘power’ compared to females.  Orthodox feminists assume men grasp for power and resources to dominate women because they hate them (misogyny). My research suggests patriarchy is vastly more complex than orthodox feminists have ever imagined and that women have just as much influence in its structure and maintenance as men. As Mary Wollstonecraft noted;

Ladies are not afraid to drive in their own carriages to the doors of cunning men.”[15]

Patriarchies exist on a continuum from malign to benign. I call these two sides ‘reformed’ and ‘unreformed’ patriarchy. Reformed (Western democratic) patriarchy appears to facilitate female choice; unreformed (of the type which appears in theocracies) appears to suppress it. More crucially, reformed patriarchy also appears to protect against unreformed patriarchy. Were orthodox feminists ever successful in their goal of “smashing” the patriarchy in the West, the unintended consequences could be catastrophic for civilisation as we know it.

Patriarchy is a large adaptive system which can both oppress and liberate, both male and female. It is largely determined by local ecological pressures, which is why we see so many different versions of it. At its centre is the fact that humans are a sexually reproducing species. Men and women have shaped one another, both physically and psychologically, over millions of years, via the process of sexual selection and mutual mate choice. In turn, we create culture as our fitness landscape. 

And here lies the rub for orthodox feminisms today. Heterosexual men and women are attracted to one another precisely because of their stereotypical sexual traits. In fact, they are not stereotypical, they are archetypical.  There is a simple dynamic to this: Men want power and resources because women want men who have power and resources.

This isn’t because (as many MRA’s insist) women are selfish gold diggers or men (as feminists assert) are shallow aesthetes. Sexual dimorphism and the sexual division of labour are not patriarchically imposed tyrannies. They are an elegant and pragmatic solution for a species who have uniquely helpless infants with unprecedentedly long childhoods. This dynamic between the sexes, of team work and strong pair bonds, is one of the foundations of our success as a species. The survival of offspring is at the centre of this—whether we choose to have children or not. The sexes simply cannot be understood except in light of one another and the reason we evolved to cooperate; offspring. It will continue to be so for as long as we remain human. These are our lemons and they make both bitter and sweet lemonade.

The orthodox feminist legacy of social constructionism and patriarchy theory has taken the capricious, delightful and, yes, sometimes cruel battle of the sexes and turned it into a war of attrition. The circular logic also has feminism devouring itself from within.

This year, one of the the most iconic women of the 20th century, the radical feminist and intellectual, Germaine Greer, was denied a platform to speak at a UK university.[16] Her crime? Greer does not reject biology wholesale and, while she respects the egalitarian rights of men who want to identify, live and love as a woman, she insists this doesn’t actually make them biologically women; they remain trans-women. For this she was stripped of the right to speak, verbally abused and labelled a bigot. The middle class, socialist feminist Laurie Penny went so far as to cast Greer in the same light as people who want to murder homosexuals. 

Why should women mind? In 2014 a trans-woman in the US was awarded “working mother of the year” despite neither giving birth or being primary carer to her children.[17]  This year, Caitlyn Jenner, who has been living as a woman for a few months, will be awarded “woman of the year” ahead of countless women of substance who have made extraordinary accomplishments while facing actual selection pressures unique to their biological sex. Trans-activists are lobbying for a change of language by midwives to refer to people giving birth as “pregnant persons” not women.[18] At a time when people debate whether a woman drinking the odd glass of wine in pregnancy is child abuse, a trans-woman took powerful (and certainly not socially constructed) hormones to stimulate lactation[19]. A discussion of the nutritional value of the milk extends to the trans-mother reporting the milk is thick and creamy, which seems to identify it as something other than human breast milk, which is highly dilute and low in fat.

Orthodox feminists frequently claim that we live in a rape culture, even though rape and all violent crime in the West is in steady decline and rape prosecution statistics are on a par with other crimes at over 50%.[20] [21] In the US there is a feminist movement on college campuses to lower the threshold of proof in rape prosecution trials. It is staggering to think these educated people have forgotten terrible lessons within living memory; the bitter crop of strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

To balk at this is not hatred or phobia but healthy scepticism. We are all equal before the law under egalitarianism. This is not the case with orthodox feminism. It places ideology before people.  Individual rights and choices are “problematic”.[22] Women like myself who point out the logical inconsistencies and totalitarian mission creep of feminism are labelled anti-feminist and anti-woman; as if “feminist” and “woman” were synonyms. They aren’t. Orthodox feminists are identified by their politics, not their sex or gender. They do not speak for women or the majority of egalitarians in society; they speak only for themselves. The dictionary definition of feminism is in serious need of a rewrite.

The egalitarian quest for equality is tangential to orthodox feminism. So…which are you?

[1]http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/10/feminism-reproductive-rights-la…(link is external)

[2]http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/16/feminism-poll_n_3094917.html(link is external)

[3]https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolutionary-entertainment/201205/g…

[4]https://www.google.co.uk/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&es_t…(link is external)

[5]http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/egalitarianism/(link is external)

[6]http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-topics/(link is external)

[7]https://archive.is/Dv71r(link is external)

[8] Tong, R. (1989). Feminist thought: A more comprehensive introduction. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

[9]http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/16142596/the-lavender-menace-…(link is external)

[9a] Kruger, Daniel J.; Fisher, Maryanne L.; Wright, Paula Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, Vol 8(1), Jan 2014, 3-11 Patriarchy, male competition, and excess male mortality http://psycnet.apa.org/index.cfm?fa=buy.optionToBuy&id=2014-01458-002

[10] de Beauvoir, S. (1949/1986). The second sex. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

[11]Cudd, A., & Holstrom, N. (2011). Capitalism, for against: A feminist debate. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

[12] Gamble, Sarah (ed). The Routledge Companion to Feminism and Postfemnism. Routledge: 2001

[13]Gamble, Sarah (ed). The Routledge Companion to Feminism and Postfemnism. Routledge: 2001

[14]http://psycnet.apa.org/index.cfm?fa=search.displayrecord&uid=2014-01529-004(link is external)

[15] Mary Wollstonecraft. A Vindication of the Rights of Women. 1792.

[16]http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-10-27/lehmann-greer-and-the-no-platformi…(link is external)

[17]http://www.huffingtonpost.com/meghan-stabler/transgender-mother-responds…(link is external)

[18]http://www.breitbart.com/london/2015/09/29/transphobic-midwives-must-say…(link is external)

[19]https://archive.is/oEfQg(link is external)

[20]http://www.theguardian.com/society/2010/mar/15/stern-review-rape-less-fo…(link is external)

[21]http://straightstatistics.fullfact.org/article/how-panic-over-rape-was-o…(link is external)

[22]http://feministing.com/2015/05/07/choice-feminism-time-to-choose-another…