National Review‘s blog The Corner posts (presumably with approval) some truly heroically stupid thoughts from a reader in reply to a New York Times piece on genetics and politics that’s generating a lot of discussion. Sez he (and you may rest assured it’s a he):
But perhaps the best evidence is the gender divide in voting patterns– Women in the U.S. vote generally vote for Democrats. What would cause that pattern to occur, unless it was biology?
On a more general note, when someone says “culture plays a role”, my
instinct is always to ask whether biology may have played some role
in shaping the culture. For example, if there is sexism about women
in the hard sciences like physics, could that not reflect something
real about the world? Its not as though someone, a long time ago,
flipped a coin and decided that women, not men, would be the victims
of discrimination based on their spatio-analytic abilities.
Yes, and African Americans regarded the Republican party very favorably in the late 19th century, but had become overwhelmingly Democratic voters by the mid-20th. Surely the only explanation is that the genetic stock of the race mysteriously changed during that span.
The point in the second paragraph gestures in the direction of a coherent point—the prehistoric division of labor from which later gender hierarchy emerged was obviously responsive to biological realities having to do with, for instance, child rearing vs. hunting—but it gestures with a ham fist. Reality has a funny way of changing faster than our responses, whether hard-wired or culturally inculcated, and there’s a clear enough feedback loop, often pernicious, between the reality and the social response reinforcing it. Assume men’s “spacio-analytic abilities” are slightly better on average than women’s. If that cashes out into a cultural decision not to bother educating women in science and math much—indeed, creating a norm that exhibiting too much interest in Bunsen burners is un-feminine—how seriously are we supposed to take the reassurance that, after all, the resulting differences in participation or aptitude in those fields just reflect facts about our different biologies?