Biological Determinism and Empirical Evidence

Reason commented in the thread below:

Many norms have developed more or less universally because humans are fundamentally wired that way - for example, feminism has not led to equality in the workforce because women, in the aggregate, value children more and career less than men.

I asked how we know that this is a result of biology and not conservative, socially constructed norms. Constant answered: "You look across societies for constants."

I look across societies throughout history and see the constants of slavery, genocide, disease, and abusive governments. What does this observation tell us about the biological necessity of these things? What does it tell us about their adaptiveness or desirability?

One of my favorite pieces by Anthony de Jasay comes from chapter 5 of Justice and Its Surroundings:

Throughout its history, humanity has permanently displayed a physical condition classified in ordinary language as “illness” or “disease.” There has always been what Hume would call a “constant conjunction” between human life and illness.

The Hobbesian hypothesis that illness is a necessary condition of the survival of the human species has strong empirical support. It has never been falsified.

Throughout its history, humanity has permanently displayed a social condition classified in ordinary language as “the state” or “government.” There has always been what Hume would call a “constant conjunction” between human society and government.

The Hobbesian hypothesis that government is a necessary condition of social life has strong empirical support. It has never been falsified.

Arguments in favor of the prevention or eradication of disease are evidently misguided and may be dangerous. They are often put forward by naïve persons with little understanding of reality.

Arguments in favor of fostering society’s capacity to evolve anarchic orders and live with less or no government are evidently misguided and may be dangerous. They are often put forward by naïve persons with little understanding of reality.

Be careful with claims of biological or historical determinism. You may prove far more than you intend.

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It HAS been falsified, actually

Throughout its history, humanity has permanently displayed a social condition classified in ordinary language as “the state” or “government.” There has always been what Hume would call a “constant conjunction” between human society and government.

The Hobbesian hypothesis that government is a necessary condition of social life has strong empirical support. It has never been falsified.

I dispute this affirmation based on the significant body of historical evidence to the contrary, as listed in "Is government inevitable" by Peter Leeson. We're talking about millions of people and centuries upon centuries of stateless societies.

Seems that, it HAS been falsified.

What really is unfalsifiable

What really is unfalsifiable is the claim that "culture" or "society" is responsible for any group differences (the equality-of-outcome argument.) I can cite the fact, for example, that women, once many societal restrictions on working were lifted, still gravitate towards less time-demanding fields, but it can always be argued that culture accounts for the entirety of this difference (though evidence of a cultural phenomenon producing the correct effect size is nowhere to be found.)

It's anti-individualistic to think that people shouldn't be given freedom to make life choices, but it's equally anti-individualistic to think that if perfect freedom were attained, then people will conform to some ideal blank-slate distribution of behavior, far from the current norms. It is dangerous to restrict people's freedom of choice, but it's equally dangerous to assume that unless all groups are identical in all ways, it must necessarily be because of some sinister cultural plot that must be foiled.

"Culture" explanations also

"Culture" explanations also conveys no information. Biology explain the phenomenon, culture merely describes the phenomenon and add useless information : "it's cultural".

That's curiously similar to

That's curiously similar to what critics say about memetics.

Memetics remove prevalence

Memetics remove prevalence from the description.

culture merely describes the

culture merely describes the phenomenon and add useless information

Information such as morality?

*ducks*

Hum, I don't quite see where

Hum, I don't quite see where you're going.

I am of the opinion that

I am of the opinion that morals are arbitrary and cultural, having no basis in anything other than culture norms. Information held over from long ago, an opiate to ease the human condition.

What's the connection with

What's the connection with the epistemological point I am making in nature/nurture?

Using your own words below,

Using your own words below, we can come to the conclusion that morals are a useless phenomenon. I would say this is certainly relevant to epistenology, and the original question of determinism and falsifiability.

Morals can be tested. They are arbitrary and frequently superstitious, by all scientific account. The adherents may give an excuse for the information being arbitrary (god says so, it prevents STD's, its bad, etc) but in the very end they are trying to justify something they believe whose original premise is arbitrary and/or fraudulent in nature or intent.

Yeah, I suppose religion applies too.

Biology explain the phenomenon, culture merely describes the phenomenon and add useless information : "it's cultural".

Yes, after all of that I do indeed have a question. :)

I believe I see some inconsistency. To the point: How can someone dismiss cultural explanations as being unfalsifiable, yet continue to maintain a consistent moral code?

Libertarianism provides the

Libertarianism provides the best compression of the morality of justice I can imagine, through the axiom of non aggression. I hardly think the critic applies.

Ah, so if I understand you

Ah, so if I understand you correctly; Small moral code means a small margin for error, it is minimal and just.

The problem with that is, the NAP is voluntary. So, it cannot consistently mete out justice. Which I believe makes it morally ambiguous, no wonder I like it!

Wrong

Morals are embedded deep within our biology for various reasons.

FYI

Don't mind me. I just want to note that the last line of this post was fantastic.

Not a problem for me

I expect both disease and government to remain with us. I recall Ben Franklin saying something witty about that. Either that or beer.

Constant's constants

"I look across societies throughout history and see the constants of slavery, genocide, disease, and abusive governments. What does this observation tell us about the biological necessity of these things? "

It tells you that probably at least some humans are fundamentally wired that way. At least there is a powerful enough minority wired that way to generate those things. Constant wasn't talking about biological necessity, that was about you pushing him into a harder position to defend.

The wiring doesn't need to be specifically for "slavery" or "genocide" but only for desires or lack of inhibitions that lead to those things.

Is it surprising that at system, natural selection, that fundamentally operates on the principle of self interest should generate such things? Hardly. Sometimes things aren't about biological necessity but merely about the difficulty of creating and maintaining something better using the underlying building blocks.

There is no necessity that self interested beings should act selfishly but it's hardly surprising when they do.

I'm back

Constant wasn't talking about biological necessity, that was about you pushing him into a harder position to defend.

It's been a while since people based blog entries on straw man misconstructions of my own statements taken out of context. They used to do this with some regularity, but not so much lately. I thought I was losing my touch.

Looks like I'm back in business!

Okay, so you believe that

Okay, so you believe that some humans are fundamentally wired for the creation of slavery, genocide, and abusive governments. What does this belief tell us about the desirability of slavery, genocide, or abusive governments? Does it tell us, perhaps, that there is no use trying to fight against these things because this is what some people want? Does it tell us that alternative social norms are futile, because humans are just the way they are, and human behavior cannot be changed?

Social conservative libertarians often argue, as Reason did, that "Many norms have developed more or less universally because humans are fundamentally wired that way - for example, feminism has not led to equality in the workforce because women, in the aggregate, value children more and career less than men." If equality in the workforce is desirable (not necessarily in outcome but in treatment), then perhaps alternative social norms are desirable. The socially conservative norm, "a woman's place is in the home, not the office," is actively harmful to women's economic prospects. It needs to be replaced with a new social norm, in much the same way that social norms in support of slavery, genocide, and abusive governments need to be replaced with new social norms.

Maybe

The socially conservative norm, "a woman's place is in the home, not the office," is actively harmful to women's economic prospects.

I'm not sure that's quite what Reason was talking about. The specific statement which you quoted was that women (in the aggregate) value children more and career less than men and that this has prevented equality - what equality is he talking about? Since he is talking about the preference of the worker he seems to be talking, not about unequal treatment by employers, but about unequal outcomes even in the case of equal treatment by employers. Ceteris paribus (i.e. with the employer treating all equally), if women value children more and career less, then there will be inequality in areas in which these differences in preference are relevant.

This inequality of outcome is not the same as somebody saying "a woman's place is in the home, not the office." The inequality is, moreover, a statistic, and does not prevent any particular woman from doing anything - it is the effect, really the observation, of women making the choices they make, not the cause - at least, as far as it is described in what you've quoted.

It could be that he is going further, but it's not clear from what you've quoted. One might add the following: what we observe comes to seem to us to be normal, and this can in turn reinforce what is done. People who are out in the tail of the statistical distribution might find themselves the object of quizzical stares or even hostility, and thus feel pressure to move toward the median. He might be taking it that far, but not in the material quoted.

It needs to be replaced with a new social norm, in much the same way that social norms in support of slavery, genocide, and abusive governments need to be replaced with new social norms.

I'm not sure these are alike, and so I'm not sure that one can draw lessons from some to the others. Compare the following questions a person might ask themselves:

1) "Should I stay at home or not?"

2) "Should I enslave someone or not?"

3) "Should I commit genocide or not?"

4) "Should I oppress my neighbors or not?"

Questions 2 through 4 morally must always be answered, "no", and so the bell curve of action should ideally have its median well in the "no" range and very little if any tail in the "yes" range.

But neither side of Question 1 is wrong. Morally, it is not true either that Question 1 must be answered "yes" or that it must be answered "no".

Thus while I am very much in favor of combating any tendency people might have to enslave, genocide, and oppress, I simply do not see any right or wrong answer to question (1), and so I am not particularly inclined to combat a tendency to answer (1) either "yes" or "no".

Of course, we can go further. You might argue, for example, that while it is perfectly fine for an individual woman to choose to stay in the home, nevertheless if too many women make this choice then those few women who would like to choose otherwise run the risk of being ostracized - and so on and so forth. Okay - maybe that's so. But my point remains I think, that the comparison of this with enslavement, genocide, and oppression, confuses the issue, because in those cases the primary problem is not that, say, someone who would like to choose not to enslave runs the risk of being ostracized. The primary problem is not the potential ostracism of would-be non-slavers. The primary problem is the enslavement itself. Whereas, in contrast, the primary problem with the ostracism of women who choose not to stay at home (if they are ostracized) is the ostracism, and is not the decision of most women to stay at home.

Norms, Wiring, etc.

"Okay, so you believe that some humans are fundamentally wired for the creation of slavery, genocide, and abusive governments."

Some people are wired that they have no problem taking advantage of such systems if they exist, or coming up with them, etc.

"What does this belief tell us about the desirability of slavery, genocide, or abusive governments?"

Not sure why you think it tells you anything about the desirability. Some humans are hardwired with poor eyesight.

"Does it tell us, perhaps, that there is no use trying to fight against these things because this is what some people want?"

No. Since when do other peoples wants, hardwired or not, determine what I should fight against?

Does it tell us that alternative social norms are futile, because humans are just the way they are, and human behavior cannot be changed?

No. It tells us that certain "alternative social norms" won't work for some people. That's why communes don't work.

"If equality in the workforce is desirable (not necessarily in outcome but in treatment), then perhaps alternative social norms are desirable."

I never took Reasons meaning to be treatment. Not sure why you do either. The structure of his sentence is "..., feminism has not led to X because women, like Y". He never indicated that he thought women liked bad treatment and it's unreasonable to assume that's his position.

Thomas Sowell would be a much better source for reading on the viewpoint that "equality of outcome" in the workplace is mostly not the result of "inequality of treatment". He backs it up with statistics also.

"The socially conservative norm, "a woman's place is in the home, not the office," is actively harmful to women's economic prospects."

Do you have any evidence that that particular norm has the power you think it does in a free market? Does mere result prove anything? I've never heard that norm expressed by anyone in my field of software engineering, if they did verbalize it they would be laughed at were I live, and yet, there are very few female programmers and they tend to be less capable, and tend to make less money, on average.

As Sowell says, in a free market if women's economic prospects were truly being harmed by bigotry then a woman (or man) who set up a business that employeed only women would make a killing.

Perhaps causation ran the other way round with that norm. Perhaps historically the experience with women in the workplace led to the norm. We didn't always have public schools and day care to ship the kids off to, ya know.

In prior societies were there were no police, no street lamps, no guns, etc. it's probable that women had a harder time defending themselves out and about in the workplace.

The norms have changed because of these other changes, not because they were necessarily wrong when they originally arose.

It needs to be replaced with a new social norm, in much the same way that social norms in support of slavery, genocide, and abusive governments need to be replaced with new social norms.

Needs? It has been replaced in some areas where it makes sense.

I'm sure there have been plenty of societies that had social norms against slavery, genocide, and abusive government that have been invaded and subjected to all three. You can't just pick norms willy nilly out of a hat without regard to environment. Norms need to evolve together in a way that works.

Bringing up boys to play with dolls, and girls and play with guns doesn't neccesarily lead to a society that can maintain it's norms against outsiders.

I mean you are going to start forcing boys to play with dolls, right? But that still might not result in what is "needed". Doing the same and forcing boys to inject estrogen and girls to inject steroids might. That is, if you are going to get to an actual environment where when a woman gets pregnant there is a equal likelyhood of her or her husband having the desire to care for the kids, and having strong enough women in an army so that it is likely to defeat the enemy.

Of course, you then might have problems actually getting the he-women and she-males to actually be attracted enough to each other to want to get married. I guess you could turn to forcing people to reproduce in test tubes or something.

I think when norms become feasible they can change. I think some of the norms that are desired by hard line feminists and marxists just are realisitic, nor desireable.

Often, they've got the exact wrong notions. Take for example the hard line feminists total misunderstanding of male sexuality. They predict that pornography leads to increased rape, and abuse. Yet, as far as can be told the opposite has occured. That's just one aspect they got wrong. Some feminists want the norm to be that any sex by a man and a woman within a relationship of marriage be considered rape because of some notion of power differential. Heck, given their belief about societies norms and misunderstandings of how inequality of results occur that would make every consentual act an act of rape.

Not sure why I would even bother wanting to change my beliefs in order to make them more attractive to such people. In fact, I've lead my whole life on the premise of NOT compromising my beliefs for others. My actual values are completely at odds with your entire premise.

If group X is not attracted to my beliefs then so much the worse for them where those beliefs would be beneficial to them. I also recognize that I am different than others and that in many cases there is good reason for them not to be attracted to my beliefs.

Note also that hardwiring has nothing to do with whether something should be a norm or not. Individual people might be hardwired sociopaths. Doesn't mean they should be allowed to violate others.

I'm getting a feeling you have absorbed something wrong about the "homosexuality" is hardwired argument.

Depending on your moral beliefs the idea that homosexuality is hardwired may mean different things. My beliefs about morality have a subjective component which would say to the hardwired homosexual that morality is contengent on your desires, do as you want as long as you are not harming others. Whereas, some guy who believes and infallible diety says that homosexuality is punishible by death, might take that to mean genetic testing for everyone, and execution of those with the wrong genes.

Some feminists want the norm

Some feminists want the norm to be that any sex by a man and a woman within a relationship of marriage be considered rape because of some notion of power differential. Heck, given their belief about societies norms and misunderstandings of how inequality of results occur that would make every consentual act an act of rape.

This is myth and slander.

I'm not sure how you derived my beliefs about which toys children should play with or whether or not homosexuality is genetically determined. These seem like strange leaps for you to make.

Absolutely Wrong

It is not "myth and slander".

I didn't say that she viewed all "sex as rape" which is what she denies. She says it's rape in context. The context being her man-hating psychologizing of men, the norms she thinks exist, and power differential. Just as I've said.

From your own article, in the act of denying that she views all sex as rape, she says and I quote, "Under the circumstances, I said, it was impossible to view sexual intercourse in marriage as the free act of a free woman." Which is just the same as saying that no married woman can consent to sex and therefore all sex in marriage is rape.

She paints a false image of society, blurs the line between rape an intercourse , and then claims that all intercourse, given the environment is in fact coerced. What a load of crap. She is a twisted individual who claims that men, that means you, view violation as identical to intercourse, which is absolute baloney.

There are other sick puppies in the feminist movement out there with her, like Susan Brownmiller. She wrote: "Rape is a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear
Against Our Will." Yeah, her racist alter ego probably thinks muggings are a means by which all blacks keep all whites in a state of fear. This is pure unadulterated bigoted man hatred.

"I'm not sure how you derived my beliefs about which toys children should play with or whether or not homosexuality is genetically determined. These seem like strange leaps for you to make."

They weren't leaps. They were hypotheticals if you want to get to a place feminists are comfortable, and where norms are untethered from reality.

Read a book or two

Example: The Blank Slate.