In Moral Combat, Sikivu Hutchinson provides a searing indictment of... well, the list would get extremely long fairly quick. Hutchinson provides an inIn Moral Combat, Sikivu Hutchinson provides a searing indictment of... well, the list would get extremely long fairly quick. Hutchinson provides an informed critique of the role of the black church in American society, noting its role in the civil rights movement as well as its more recent footsie-playing with the religious right. By exploring the intersection between religion, class, race, gender, and sexual orientation, Hutchinson manages to simultaneously keep her focus on a narrow and understudied topic while also touching on broad themes that will be relevant to a wide variety of readers. While she traces the recent rise of black secularists and atheists, she also excoriates the "new atheism" and current secularism for its scientism and failure to challenge class, racial, and gender hierarchies both internally and within society at large. She uses the history of eugenics and "scientific racism" to demonstrate how supporting science and church-state separation, while a laudable goal, is incomplete without an additional focus on social justice issues. The tone manages to be fiery and polemic without becoming hyperbolic. Hutchinson is a much-needed gadfly in secularism and the book provides something far more fresh in this arena than the zillionth debunking of creationism....more
This book is notorious for having helped to launch the recovered memory therapy (RMT) craze, which played into the spate of alleged incidents of SatanThis book is notorious for having helped to launch the recovered memory therapy (RMT) craze, which played into the spate of alleged incidents of Satanic ritual abuse of the late '80s and early '90s. Neither author has credentials or expertise relevant to psychology, therapy, or sexual abuse. The book was not based on any solid experimental evidence or psychological studies. Some of the case studies included have been discredited, such as the one taken from Michelle Remembers. Memory psychologists such as Elizabeth F. Loftus and Carol Tavris have refuted the notion of repressed memories. (Though memories may be recovered, there is no special mechanism that keeps them repressed or any way of determining their validity without corroborating evidence.) RMT is currently considered patent quackery in the psychological disciplines. This book has caused irreparable damage to many people's lives.
Not in a million years should The Chalice and the Blade be considered a work of feminism or competent scholarship in general. (Indeed, it is, in fact,Not in a million years should The Chalice and the Blade be considered a work of feminism or competent scholarship in general. (Indeed, it is, in fact, widely rejected by even feminist archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians.) Many of Eisler's arguments are recycled from the later work of Marija Gimbutas, who claimed that Paleolithic and Neolithic "Venus" statuettes and figurines were representations of a "Mother Goddess." The speculation is plentiful, but the evidence is not. There is no consensus as to what the figures represented, but the claims reiterated by Eisler are just about the least likely explanation. It would require a near-monolithic religion to be present over tens of thousands of years, multiple continents, and through the agricultural revolution. This is more than an extreme stretch, especially if you're talking about Paleolithic hunter-gatherers and early Neolithic peoples. Furthermore, many of the figurines are of indeterminate gender. Even worse, many of the "Snake Goddess" statues and other artifacts from Crete were either forgeries or tampered with during restoration.
Shoddy scholarship such as this works to undermine legitimate revisionism, which may then be more easily written off as New Age crackpottery. It has certainly provided many anti-feminist writers with an easy straw woman to knock down.
Sutton is an unapologetic female supremacist, literally. Maybe something of value can be mined from her accounts of BDSM sessions, but I don't see theSutton is an unapologetic female supremacist, literally. Maybe something of value can be mined from her accounts of BDSM sessions, but I don't see the point. Large chunks of the book are dedicated to pushing her pet theories about BDSM and femdom. They also happen to be chockablock with pseudoscience and bunk in general, no surprise. Sutton touts her psychology degree, but she probably slept through most of her courses. In fact, I hope she did because she seems not to have even a basic grasp on psychology or neuroscience. Most of her claims are either completely undocumented or taken from newspaper clippings and press releases. It really unnerves me that this may be taken as representative of female domination. Avoid it at all costs -- if you're looking for an intro to BDSM, pick up Jay Wiseman's SM 101: A Realistic Introduction or Mistress Lorelei's The Mistress Manual: The Good Girl's Guide to Female Dominance for something from a dominant woman's perspective....more
Humans were made for free love (and rock 'n roll)! Well, maybe. I have mixed feelings about this book, as it effectively debunks a number of misconcepHumans were made for free love (and rock 'n roll)! Well, maybe. I have mixed feelings about this book, as it effectively debunks a number of misconceptions but replaces them with some new ones. I've yet to come across any books on sex that shouldn't be taken with at least a little grain, if not an entire shaker, of salt. When it comes to "sexology" or scientific attempts to study sexuality in general, there are always to major limitations. One is the obvious cultural bias that tends to run rampant when it comes to sex. The second is the difficulty in gathering data as we humans prefer to keep the hanky-panky in the bedroom and so observations in an experimental setting are difficult to do for quite a variety of reasons. Thus, so much research in this area relies on questionnaires and surveys, which are nearly worthless if you want anything approaching accurate and objective data.
With that disclaimer out of the way, Sex at Dawn dispatches with a plethora of popular myths, such as the idea that monogamy is the "natural" state of humanity, that women are "naturally" inclined to be less sexual, that men are "naturally" violent, horny beasts. A common criticism seems to be that the tone is polemical and incredibly snide and sarcastic at times. I'd agree, but I think anyone approaching this expecting a scholarly work is barking up the wrong tree. Frankly, after hearing the baseless tropes they deconstruct parroted so many times even by "great minds," it's admittedly cathartic to see said nonsense getting torn to shreds and spat on. Contrary to the way the authors seem to portray themselves, there is nothing new or revolutionary here to anyone with some background in psychology, anthropology, and biology, especially work done in these areas from feminist and queer perspectives. They are, after all, actually citing findings in these fields and their references point to other classics on this subject such as Sarah Blaffer Hrdy's Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species. Big and juicy targets for the authors' snarking include pop evolutionary psychology of the David M. Buss school of thought and the projection of neoliberal economics onto pre-historic hunter-gatherer societies with their intuitively plausible, but ultimately unfounded "rational actors" and game theoretical models.
While the above aspects of the book are a welcome corrective to the myths of monogamy, Mars and Venus that clog up the media, there are substantial flaws. There are some oversimplifications and misinterpretations of evolution in some places. However, the most irritating are the treatment of paleoanthropology and the normative tone that creeps in at some points.
Anyone who's studied a bit of paleoanthropology knows that even the scholarly literature is littered with examples of authors who can't resist a bit of mythologizing and pushing pet theories and the popular literature is almost always little more than someone pushing a Hobbesian or Rousseauian agenda, to adopt Ryan and Jetha's terms. Because we in fact know so little about the social dynamics of pre-historic hunter-gatherers, Ryan and Jetha have to rely on a lot of circumstantial evidence and speculation to make their case for "the way things really were." This is a fatal mistake -- human pre-history covers thousands of years and multiple continents. With the diversity we see even in contemporary hunter-gatherer societies, it's very likely that there was a wide range of social arrangements and behavior in pre-history as well. "The way things really were" probably varied wildly from place to place and time to time. Paleoanthropologists and archaeologists have generally abandoned the search for a singular narrative because the data (and lack thereof) simply does not fit into simplistic Hobbesian or Rousseauian morality tales, no matter how much some people would like them to.
Ryan and Jetha are clearly pushing a neo-Rousseauian line and, while social arrangements they describe probably did exist, there's no way to tell how typical or widespread they were. We simply don't know, and as a result, the book crosses into "noble savage" territory a bit too much. They also recycle Jared Diamond's "worst mistake" argument about agriculture. The terms "hunter-gatherer" and "agriculture" mask a lot of social complexity. The Living Anthropologically website, a good resource in general for the lay person, has a concise deconstruction of Diamond's argument: http://www.livinganthropologically.co...
Some of the other evidence they present doesn't hold up. They claim bonobos are a better model for human behavior, but we are separated from both chimps and bonobos by millions of years of history and evolution. Their evidence simply doesn't justify using one or the other as a superior model. They also include the "kamikaze sperm hypothesis," which was based on flimsy evidence to begin with and has been thoroughly discredited.
Their slide into normative suggestions toward the end of the book is disappointing. It's nice to see a corrective to all the regressive tripe that gets pushed in the popular media, but they come off as pushing way too hard to establish their own view of "human nature" (whatever that may be) as the definitive truth on the matter. The idea of one true unitary "natural" human sexuality belongs on the ash heap of history.
I guess I would say this is recommended with the above qualifications. It proves to be fun, easy, and mostly informative reading for the lay person, as long as it isn't taken as scientific gospel....more
Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer's A Natural History of Rape represents the worst excesses of evolutionary psychology. Contra the authors framing of tRandy Thornhill and Craig Palmer's A Natural History of Rape represents the worst excesses of evolutionary psychology. Contra the authors framing of the controversy, the book was critically panned in scientific journals and resulted in a book-length response edited by Cheryl Brown Travis, Evolution, Gender, and Rape. (Elisabeth Lloyd's excellent chapter is available online: http://joelvelasco.net/teaching/2890/...)
Thornhill and Palmer argue that rape is either an adaptive behavior or the by-product of adaptation. Both positions ultimately fail as they hinge on the veracity of David Buss's Sexual Strategies Theory (SST). SST boils down to a mis-application of Bateman's Principle to humans and has invited refutation from a number of fields, including biology, psychology, and anthropology (refer to Travis' volume or Buller's critique in Adapting Minds: Evolutionary Psychology and the Persistent Quest for Human Nature). Much of the other "evidence" presented is arbitrarily analogized from animals such as scorpion flies and overgeneralized, shoddy one-off studies.
I have no compunction about investigating humanity's more unsavory aspects from a biological perspective -- we see violent behavior (as well as altruistic behavior) all throughout nature. The authors rightly note that to object would be to commit the naturalistic fallacy. However, they forfeit the right to use this as a defense when they use their own "science" to support policy prescription. Shouting "naturalistic fallacy!" does nothing in that case.
It is impossible for me to know what resides in the minds of the authors, but if they wanted to be seen as the impartial investigators they attempted to portray themselves as, they did a god-awful job of it. A good deal of the book is taken up by uninformed screeds against feminism and the social sciences in general. Their policy advice includes such gems as reminding women not to dress like sluts, in slightly gussied up language. The framing of the "debate" smacks of old sexist tropes such as the image of the rational and objective male scientists against the emotional and "politically correct" feminist women. Though it would still be hack science, they could have easily written the same book without it reeking of misogyny. One wonders why they didn't do so if they wanted to be taken seriously. (Although it must be admitted that what they have to say about men could have come from the pens of the most radical of radical feminists, so it could be said that the work smacks of equal parts misandry and misogyny.)
This book is highly recommended as an example of how not to do science....more
This is a scatter-shot but nonetheless vital little collection of essays. The fact that it came out of an interdisciplinary anthropological conferenceThis is a scatter-shot but nonetheless vital little collection of essays. The fact that it came out of an interdisciplinary anthropological conference may explain its hodgepodge nature. In any case, the volume generally seeks to deconstruct overly simplistic and reductionist applications of biology to the study of humanity. Evolutionary psychology and genic selectionism come in for a good bit of scrutiny here. At times, the book oversteps its bounds in service of contrarian arguments where I don't think current research supports any definite conclusions. However, this is a welcome counterbalance to pseudo-biological reasoning and frankly silly ideas (I'm looking at you, waist-to-hip ratio "research"). The essays give the reader a taste of the true complexity of both biology and culture and how the study of both yield few easy answers. Anyone in the social sciences or humanities looking to apply biological theory should read this as an inoculation against seductive evolutionary just-so stories that are all too often targeted at and uncritically cited by those in said fields....more