Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sexual Selection and Conservative Politics

There is a close connection between sex and conservative politics. Not the one you would first think of, namely, that many conservative politicians are boastful of their sexual infidelities, and remain proudly in office proclaiming Republican family values. Mark Sanford, Newt Gingrich, and David Vitter are names that come quickly to mind. (Check them out on a website I found.) Rather, Darwin’s theory of sexual selection helps to explain the very existence of conservative politics. Here’s how.

Sexual selection is a process that rewards organisms for characteristics that allow them to mate more successfully—even if those characteristics are otherwise dangerous or wasteful for the organism. The example that is most often used is the bright feathers of birds. Colorful feathers do not help a bird get more food, or to be better adapted to its climate. The feathers serve only to attract mates. Most evolutionary biologists agree that the color feathers are indicators of the health and strength of the bird—only a healthy bird could afford to make them. A female bird cannot judge the quality of a male bird’s hidden genes, but the colorful feathers are indicators of underlying genetic quality.

Health, and bravery. A male deer with big antlers (some Irish elk, an extinct species of deer, had antlers a fathom wide) is healthy, and a male deer that can push aside another male deer with his antlers is brave. The female deer want to benefit from the resources and territory of the dominant male. In many animal species, males compete with other males and females choose from among them.

As Geoffrey Miller points out, many human characteristics have been sexually selected as fitness indicators. For example, hunting and sports are activities that contribute little to domestic economy, but allow males to show off how brave and strong they are to females. (The women do not usually see the hunt itself, but see the big animal that the triumphant hunter brings home.) And women often show off their abilities to men as well. In humans, both men and women compete with members of their own gender and choose members of the other.

I will take Miller’s idea one step further. I admit this is a speculative hypothesis. If any readers have an idea of how my hypothesis can be tested, let me know.

Conservative politics is a fitness indicator just like big antlers or the instinct to fight. As a matter of fact, conservative politics mostly consists of fighting. A fiercely conservative man will nearly always speak in warlike terms, and even in the complete absence of information he is extremely decisive. His sword is always at the ready. Nearly all of them, in my experience, say “I don’t care what anyone else thinks, but this is the truth.” This is a nearly exact quote that I frequently hear from them. We shoot first and ask questions later, says the sign posted outside of many conservative houses. Many women find this attractive, because they feel that the opinionated man would be a good fighter and defend the home from being attacked by Democrats. Likewise, many conservative women who spout off warlike ideals may do so, even subconsciously, in the hope that a strong fighter will be attracted to them.

In most cases, reason and the search for evidence is not as sexy. The stereotypical Democrat wants to reason, reach consensus, and do what is best for everybody. This is why true conversations cannot take place between far right conservatives and anyone else (even moderate Republicans). Conservatives spout their talking points and shift immediately into abuse. For a progressive to engage a conservative in conversation is like a medieval Irish monk trying to reason with a Viking who is pissing in the Eucharist grail, or like a dull bird trying to explain to the chicks how he really does have good genes, really.

Conservatism is not really a political position. Conservatives claim to be pro-family and opposed to big government. But many of them are pro-adultery and want as big a government as possible in order to start wars and pay contractors a lot of money for little work at taxpayer expense. They have talking points, not principles. And this is exactly what an evolutionary explanation would predict: the talking points are intended to intimidate, not to prove anything. Conservatives seem to have a deep psychological need to be hypocrites. Nearly every conservative I know is a hypocrite. Hypocrisy is a display of power—“I’m lying, and you can’t do anything about it,” they seem to say.

This idea came to me when I saw one of my students—a meek and gentle girl—wearing a T-shirt with an image of Rosie the Riveter. The shirt read, “Up yours, Obama.” During the Bush Administration, a liberal wearing a T-shirt that deliberately offended Bush would have at least been questioned by authorities as being possible terrorist sympathizers. But if a conservative insults Obama (who, I remind you, is commander in chief of a war against terrorists, just as Bush was), it is hallowed free speech. Even though the Al Qaeda terrorists believe just as strongly as this girl in “Up yours, Obama,” no one will call her a terrorist sympathizer. No one will threaten this girl with death, as I heard my fellow Okies threaten the Dixie Chicks in 2002. Now, I could simply have been offended (although, as a professor, it would be inappropriate for me to confront the student in anger). Instead, I reflected that this was the product of ongoing human social evolution. This girl, who seems so gentle, may not herself be mean, but may be seeking the protection of a strong, mean man. (And, of course, there are many strong, mean conservative women who have male admirers.) Conservatives are mean, and it is a sexual turn-on. That’s the way it has always been, at least since the days of Athens and Sparta, and probably since the days when Og bragged around the campfire about how he was more glorious in war than Zog as the listening villagers ate auroch meat. Conservatism has nothing to do with reason and evidence, and conservative voters cannot be swayed by either.

Conservatism is the product of evolution by means of sexual selection. This is rather humorous, given that they pretend to be sexually modest and they hate evolution.

1 comment:

  1. This is stuff I have been saying for years. Nice to finally know there really is somebody out there (ESPECIALLY a fellow Okie) who sees things pretty much the same way I do.