May 31, 2005

DARWINISM UNMOORED:

Natural Selection Killed Desdemona: Jealousy, hate, fear -- human biology beats in the heart of good literature. (David P. Barash and Nanelle R. Barash, May 31, 2005, LA Times)

That's how we like our literary figures: real, believable, true to human nature. Like us, they must be gooey, breathing, eating, sleeping, defecating, reproducing, evolving and evolved Homo sapiens, shaped by genetics and evolution, and then twisted and gnarled by life itself.

This is what lies behind Beowulf's foolhardy courage, Heathcliff's obsessive passion, Jane Eyre's spunkiness, Huck Finn's mixture of naiveté and wisdom, Augie March's antic yearning for self-realization.

There is something instantly recognizable about such basic, obviously natural traits as Romeo and Juliet's hormonally overheated teenage love, Hamlet's intellectualized indecisiveness, Lady Macbeth's ambition as well as her remorse, Falstaff's drunken cavorting, Viola's resourcefulness, Lear's rage.

Take Othello. Evolutionary scientists know that males are especially vulnerable to sexual jealousy simply because of their biology. Whereas women can rest serene in the confidence that they are genetically related to any offspring that emerges from their bodies, men have to take their mate's word for it. Othello, as a perfectly good male mammal, is therefore susceptible to suspicions of marital infidelity by his wife, Desdemona. Add the fact that sperm-makers are selected (naturally) to compete (often violently) with other sperm-makers for access to egg-makers, and Shakespeare's tragedy makes biological sense.


Think Othello might have known whether the kids were his or not?

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 31, 2005 10:30 AM
Comments

You kind of wonder if they have read any of the cited works. Of course "evolutionary psychology" is the purest BS, made to order for undergraduates with 6 hours left before the paper is due.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at May 31, 2005 12:50 PM

"hey, this kid looks tunisian!"

Posted by: cjm at May 31, 2005 2:33 PM

Like us, they must be gooey, breathing, eating, sleeping, defecating, reproducing, evolving and evolved Homo sapiens, shaped by genetics and evolution, and then twisted and gnarled by life itself.

Yes, that captures Juliet perfectly.

(Actually, I'm kind of glad to see sexual selection re-surface here. All that focus on random mutation and natural selection was getting me down. It's much more umm...stimulating...to argue about Darwin's theory of hot babes.)

Posted by: Peter B at May 31, 2005 3:00 PM

Take Othello. Evolutionary scientists know that males are especially vulnerable to sexual jealousy simply because of their biology.

Yeah, because before the advent of "evolutionary psychology" it wasn't clear that men can get really jealous about women. Good thing modern science has cleared that up for us. If only Shakespeare could have read Dawkins -- think how much better his plays might have been.

Posted by: Shelton at May 31, 2005 5:05 PM

I am thankful to Orrin for posting excerpts like this one. It reminds me why I do not read newspapers and reassures me that I have made the right decision not to subscribe to one.

Posted by: Pontius at May 31, 2005 11:54 PM
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