Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Missing Link

According to an article I read yesterday at Psychology Today--if anyone has any suggestions on other websites I could add to my visiting repetoire, please, by all means, leave 'em in the comments--from the standpoint of evolutionary psychology (controversial, I know), a woman will never be truly happy if she doesn't have children.

I have a lot of questions for these people.

At the most basic level, evolutionary psychology provides theories that on their face make sense. The problem comes in when we start looking at specifics. When we talk about genetics, we hear a lot about the desireability of genetic variance. This is why it's better to make babies with a stranger than our own brothers and sisters--we end up with more genetic varience, and this creates healthier humans. However, when I'm reading the theories of the evolutionary psychologists, it appears that we're all motivated to want the same things and to do the same things to get those things. Case in point: I read another article about why men like big boobs. Problem? What about men who DON'T like big boobs? This theory, while plausible (that men like big boobs because they sag more with age, making it easier to spot the young ladies of best childbearing age), is based completely on the assumption that men like big boobs. But when I consider the variance in booby preference, I end up feeling like the explanation isn't really all that helpful or interesting within that larger context.

It's hard to trust a social science field whose theories use words like "always" and "never". I'm NEVER going to be truly happy if I don't have babies? Before anyone thinks this is a knee-jerk defensive move on my part because, in case you haven't heard, I do not want babies, I fully anticipate that I will probably spend at least one Saturday afternoon when I'm, oh, 45 bed ridden and crying because it's suddenly dawned on me that I HAVEN'T HAD ANY BABIES! People who do not have any children by choice often do experience some regrets around that choice at some point in later midlife. But doesn't everyone experience moments like this about some choice or another they've made at some point in later midlife? Absolutely no one is doing any and every thing they want to all the time, and we're all making choices everyday in favor of one thing at the exclusion of another. Those of us who aren't are even worse off--at later midlife, those people will be regretting having done NOTHING. But to make the oversimplified argument that because I'm a woman I will never acheive any "true" happiness if I don't have babies seems a little short-sighted, even if it does fall completely in line with evolutionary logic. It is, from an evolutionary standpoint, the only reason I exist.

But, then, what does evolutionary psychology contribute to the conversation if all it can tell me is that, yup, it's exactly as it's always been.

Actually, I think evolutionary psychology does contribute something to the conversation about meaning, making meaning, and finding actualization (assuming we believe such a thing exists and that it's possible). What evolutionary psychology can tell me is about some of my most basic impulses and motivations. A lot of people get off track when they take evolutionary psychology as an explanation of the way things should be. Even evolutionary psychologists will tell you that. People go, "See? These people are saying we're motivated by sexual impulse and mating and therefore we're built to cheat!" The truth is that understanding these impulses allows us to then outsmart them. I read about a study wherein they showed one group of men a rather small number of Playboy photographs (8) and another group of men the same number of pieces of abstract art. All the men rated their girlfriends' attractiveness before looking at the images. As you can guess, after looking at the images, the men who looked at the Playboy photos rated their girlfriends as less attractive than they had before. Our views on this are heavily influenced by comparison. A man's girlfriend may be attractive, but she may not be "as attractive" as that other lady. Her attractiveness doesn't set its own standard, and it isn't a static, objective rating. This is why porn could conceivably be damaging to a relationship. If a man doesn't understand this basic phenomenon, he might beging to have a lower opinion of her girlfriend even if nothing about her has changed. However, if he understands this phenomenon, he can do things to avoid it. He can look at images of other women less often. He can remember that if his girlfriend is suddenly seeming a little less sexy after a particularly enjoyable session with an issue of a spank mag, it's probably just a trick of the mind. And if he REALLY understands evolutionary psychology, he'll know that we live in a society where sex is based on female choice, so he's better off sticking with what he's got then taking his chances that another woman will even say yes. According to evolutionary psychologists (and evidenced in bars and marital beds all across this land), the woman decides if sex is going to happen. Just because you can see her doesn't mean you've got a shot in hell of getting her to get it on with you, hot stuff.

This is the true purpose of evolutionary psychology. Otherwise it's just so much mental masturbation. Taken as evidence that "boys will be boys and girls will be girls", it seriously short-changes us and flies in the face of the things we see played out around us every day. It doesn't even makes sense in light of the fact that most people act in opposition to the way our ancestors acted. According to statistics, for example, most men don't cheat. They may, however, be less satisfied with their partners just from looking at a few pictures. By understanding these most basic impulses, we can increase satisfaction with our choices.

And that, in and of itself, would be an evolution.

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