Forced Birth from the Perspective of Evolutionary Psychology

Evolutionary psychology, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “is one of many biologically-informed approaches to the study of human behavior”:

Along with cognitive psychologists, evolutionary psychologists propose that much, if not all, of our behavior can be explained by appeal to internal psychological mechanisms. What distinguishes evolutionary psychologists from many cognitive psychologists is the proposal that the relevant internal mechanisms are adaptations—products of natural selection—that helped our ancestors get around the world, survive and reproduce.

Two evolutionary psychologists argue that the real reason people oppose abortion (i.e. insist that pregnant women give birth) is that they find casual sex threatening:

It’s common to hear religious, political and other ideologically driven explanations – for example, about the sanctity of life. If such beliefs were really driving anti-abortion attitudes, though, then people who oppose abortion might not support the death penalty (many do), and they would support social safety net measures that could save newborns’ lives (many don’t).

The evolutionary coin of the realm is fitness – getting more copies of your genes into the next generation. What faraway strangers do presumably has limited impact on your own fitness. So from this perspective, it is a mystery why people in Pensacola care so strongly about what goes on in the bedrooms of Philadelphia or the Planned Parenthoods of Los Angeles.

The solution to this puzzle – and one answer to what is driving anti-abortion attitudes – lies in a conflict of sexual strategies: People vary in how opposed they are to casual sex. More “sexually restricted” people tend to shun casual sex and instead invest heavily in long-term relationships and parenting children. In contrast, more “sexually unrestricted” people tend to pursue a series of different sexual partners and are often slower to settle down.

These sexual strategies conflict in ways that affect evolutionary fitness.

The crux of this argument is that, for sexually restricted people, other people’s sexual freedoms represent threats. Consider that sexually restricted women often get married young and have children early in life….

Other women’s sexual openness can destroy these women’s lives and livelihoods by breaking up the relationships they depend on. So sexually restricted women benefit from impeding other people’s sexual freedoms. Likewise, sexually restricted men tend to invest a lot in their children, so they benefit from prohibiting people’s sexual freedoms to preclude the high fitness costs of being cuckolded [and their wives having other men’s children].

According to evolutionary social science, restricted sexual strategists benefit by imposing their strategic preferences on society – by curtailing other people’s sexual freedoms.

How can restricted sexual strategists achieve this? By making casual sex more costly.

For example, banning women’s access to safe and legal abortion essentially forces them to endure the costs of bearing a child. Such hikes in the price of casual sex can deter people from having it….

No one would argue this is a conscious phenomenon. Rather, people’s strategic interests shape their attitudes in nonconscious but self-benefiting ways – a common finding in political science and evolutionary social science alike.

An evolutionary perspective suggests that common explanations are not the genuine drivers of people’s attitudes – on either side of the abortion debate.

In fact, people’s stated religious, political and ideological explanations are often rife with awkward contradictions. For example, many who oppose abortion also oppose preventing unwanted pregnancy through access to contraception.

From an evolutionary perspective, such contradictions are easily resolved. Sexually restricted people benefit from increasing the costs of sex. That cost increases when people cannot access legal abortions or prevent unwanted pregnancy.

An evolutionary perspective also makes unique – often counterintuitive – predictions about which attitudes travel together. This view predicts that if sexually restricted people associate something with sexual freedoms, they should oppose it.

Indeed, researchers have found that sexually restricted people oppose not only abortion and birth control, but also marriage equality, because they perceive homosexuality as associated with sexual promiscuity, and recreational drugs, presumably because they associate drugs like marijuana and MDMA with casual sex. We suspect this list likely also includes transgender rights, public breastfeeding, premarital sex, what books children read (and if drag queens can read to them), equal pay for women, and many other concerns that have yet to be tested.

No other theories we are aware of predict these strange attitudinal bedfellows.

This evolutionary perspective can also explain why anti-abortion attitudes are so often associated with religion and social conservatism.

Rather than thinking that religiosity causes people to be sexually restricted, this perspective suggests that a restricted sexual strategy can motivate people to become religious. Why? Several scholars have suggested that people adhere to religion in part because its teachings promote sexually restricted norms. Supporting this idea, participants in one study reported being more religious after researchers showed them photos of attractive people of their own sex – that is, potential mating rivals….

There are multiple answers to any “why” question in scientific research. Ideological beliefs, personal histories and other factors certainly play a role in people’s abortion attitudes.

But so, too, do people’s sexual strategies.

This evolutionary social science research suggests that restricted sexual strategists benefit by making everyone else play by their rules. And just as Justice Thomas suggested when overturning Roe v. Wade, this group may be taking aim at birth control and marriage equality next.

Unquote.

I don’t know how applicable this explanation of forced birth attitudes is, but it sounds like a factor. One way to test the idea is to consider whether those who favor forced birth feel the same way when they have relationships with the woman who’s pregnant. Do anti-abortion men feel different if it’s their wife or daughter who’s pregnant? What if the wife is pregnant by another man? Do anti-abortion women sometimes decide they really don’t want a child or one more? My guess is that conservative opponents of abortion are much more accepting of abortion if the pregnancy is close to home and/or they don’t feel threatened by the sex involved (the example making news now is the Republican running — very badly — for the Senate in Georgia).

Religious Liberty and Same-Sex Sex

Marriage isn’t an obscure practice. I bet you know married people even if you aren’t married yourself. Since marriage (the monogamous kind anyway) has always been defined as a relationship between a man (the husband) and a woman (the wife), it’s understandable that many of us are having trouble with the new definition. 

It’s also understandable that some people, including blinkered members of the Supreme Court, are resisting same-sex marriage, arguing that it’s just too weird or that the Constitution doesn’t require legalizing it (their argument being that “equal protection of the laws” doesn’t necessarily mean equal protection of the laws). 

But there’s another reason being offered against same-sex marriage that I’m having more trouble understanding. Here’s the relevant language from Justice Thomas’s dissent (which begins at page 78 of this file):

… the majority’s decision threatens the religious liberty our Nation has long sought to protect….In our society, marriage is not simply a governmental institution; it is a religious institution as well….Today’s decision might change the former, but it cannot change the latter. It appears all but inevitable that the two will come into conflict, particularly as individuals and churches are confronted with demands to participate in and endorse civil marriages between same-sex couples….

Religious liberty is about more than just the protection for “religious organizations and persons . . . as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths” …  Religious liberty is about freedom of action in matters of religion generally, and the scope of that liberty is directly correlated to the civil restraints placed upon religious practice [pp. 14-15 of the dissent].

Thomas’s concern is that religious liberty includes “freedom of action in matters of religion” and that legalizing same-sex marriage will lead to lots of situations in which people won’t be allowed to practice their religion as they wish. He doesn’t provide any examples, but claims that demands will be made to “participate in and endorse” marriage-related activities to which people object on religious grounds. In support of his position, Thomas refers to the amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief submitted by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

The Church anticipates problems of two kinds:

(1) Churches and church-affiliated organizations won’t be eligible for certain benefits if they discriminate against same-sex married couples. For example, church-run adoption agencies might lose their state licenses if they refuse to place children with same-sex couples. Church-run homeless shelters could lose government grants. Religious colleges might lose their accreditation or their access to government financial aid programs. Likewise, individual employees might lose their jobs or be disciplined if they refuse to provide services to same-sex couples.

(2) Individuals will bring lawsuits against churches and church-affiliated organizations that discriminate against such couples, charging illegal discrimination. Religious institutions might be subject to public accommodation laws that require businesses to provide products and services to anyone who can pay. Same-sex couples denied student housing might sue. Employees in same-sex marriages might sue religious organizations in order to keep their jobs.

In these various cases, the Church is arguing that anyone who conscientiously objects to same-sex marriage on religious grounds should have the right to discriminate against same-sex couples. On the face of it, that sounds illegal. But it might not be. An article in The Atlantic explains why:

No law, state or federal, forbids “discrimination” generally. Employers, landlords, and businesses “discriminate” all the time—on the basis of low credit ratings, bad references, and poor employment histories, among other factors. Any type of private discrimination is legal unless a state or federal law specifically forbids it….

Thus, a civil-rights statute has two key parts. The first lays out the traits it governs, the forbidden grounds—for example, … “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” To state a claim, plaintiff must show that he or she has been treated less favorably than others who differ in one of the covered traits, and that the unfavorable treatment was because of that trait….

Then the law specifies what activities it covers, and usually offers certain exemptions. For example, … the Fair Housing Act bars a landlord from refusing to rent to anyone because of “race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.” But it allows religious organizations that own dwellings to favor members of their own sect…

The question, therefore, is where to draw the line between people’s freedom to practice their religion as they see fit and other people’s right to be treated fairly. Religious opponents of same-sex marriage want to draw the line so they can discriminate against same-sex couples in lots of different ways (“we won’t let you attend our college”). Supporters of same-sex marriage want same-sex couples to be treated like other married couples.

Maybe everyone would agree that a minister who thinks same-sex marriage isn’t sacred should not have to officiate at a same-sex wedding. It makes some sense to me that a church-run adoption agency might not want to give a child to a same-sex couple (a Catholic charity in Boston apparently shut down their adoption services to avoid doing that — I’m not endorsing their decision — I’m simply saying it’s understandable from their perspective). But it’s hard to believe there are good religious reasons for the many kinds of discrimination the Seventh Day Adventists and other churches apparently want to practice. 

How can it be against someone’s religion to provide counseling to a same-sex married couple? Or give them food or shelter? Or allow them to attend the college you administer? Or buy flowers or a cake from your shop?

The answer, of course, is that those kinds of discrimination aren’t required by anyone’s religion. In this case, claiming to have religious reasons (or “core religious beliefs”) that justify treating certain people worse than others is a way to attack or renounce their sexual orientation. That’s why the phrase “aid and abet” sometimes appears in discussions of this issue. Opponents don’t want to “aid and abet” what they consider to be deviant sexual behavior, as if that behavior were criminal. They somehow think that acknowledging same-sex marriage or providing aid and comfort to same-sex couples amounts to endorsing same-sex sex.

Certainly, many oppose this evolution in the definition of marriage because it’s strange and new. Following religions that are thousands of years old tends to foster conservatism (the kind that honors tradition, not the fake “conservatism” we hear so much about these days). But the real reason same-sex marriage bothers some people so much is that being in a same-sex marriage is public confirmation that a person has same-sex sex. A person can be gay or a lesbian without announcing that fact to their minister or rabbi, or their college administration, or the staff at their local county clerk’s office. But getting married to someone of the same sex delivers a very clear message. You have the kind of sex that really bothers some people. And you’re planning to have a lot of it for a very long time. You aren’t going through a phase. You aren’t going to change your ways with a bit of counseling. So deal with it.

As a religious person, you can react to this new situation in different ways. You can say “Yuck! I don’t like this at all!” and maybe offer some reasons, religious or otherwise. Or you can mind your own business (“let him who is without sin…”). Or be thankful that more people will be getting married, which is supposed to be a good thing. But you shouldn’t use your religion as an excuse for discrimination. Why make life difficult for people who haven’t done you any harm? Their liberties are just as important as yours.

There’s Something About the Eyes

A study from Cornell University suggests that a person’s sexual orientation can be measured by examining pupil dilation. It’s like the test that Harrison Ford used in Blade Runner to figure out that Sean Young was an android (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

http://www.latimes.com/news/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-sexual-orientation-eyes-20120806,0,4792049.story?track=lat-pick

Sex and Christianity

I’ve often wondered when and how the men in charge of Christianity decided that sex, especially outside of marriage, is shameful.

In an article in the New York Review of Books, Peter Brown (a respected professor of history at Princeton) implies that Ambrose of Milan (aka St. Ambrose) and John Chrysostom of Antioch and Constantinople were largely responsible (or irresponsible, depending on your point of view). Both men were bishops in the 4th century. According to Brown:

In their hands, long-established codes of living in this world (propounded by philosophers since classical times) were transformed … (into) divinely sanctioned precepts with which to achieve entrance to the other world….

It was not enough that precepts of courage, continence and self-denial should help to steer men and women through the dangers and temptations of this life alone. These virtues, if practiced with heroic abandon, were held to lead directly to heaven.

The ascetic or philosophical life, in which the mind or soul was elevated above the body, had often been recommended as the best or most satisfying way of life by ancient philosophers. Eventually, this way of life became not just the most prudent one, but the most religiously acceptable one. Sex became officially dirty.

No doubt the story is complex. One of the books that tells the story and which is discussed in Professor Brown’s article is Ambrose and John Chrysostom: Clerics between Desert and Empire by J. H. W. G. Liebeschuetz. Only $100.96 on Amazon (or $88 if you lean toward the electronic).