Monday, March 29, 2010

Marion Blute's "Darwinian Sociocultural Evolution"

Marion Blute is Professor Emerita of Sociology, University of Toronto at Mississauga.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Darwinian Sociocultural Evolution: Solutions to Dilemmas in Cultural and Social Theory, and reported the following:
But to turn to oogamety and more familiar gender differences, what if the consumption and production functions of one gender, say females, are more costly than those of males so that the naturally selected equilibrium is with females/eggs at a lower frequency than males/sperm “packets” (the number of sperm required for a single egg to be fertilized; Noë and Hammerstein 1994, 1995)?
Page 99 is not representative of the book because the book is about sociocultural evolution. However, this section delves into evolutionary biological theories of gender differences and relations as part of a general discussion of the relationship among competition, conflict and cooperation in evolutionary processes. It includes a (minor?) mistake which I will correct here. Surprisingly to non-biologists, the most widely accepted evolutionary biological theory of gender differences implies that males/sperm are parasites which cannot explain why females do not revert to cloning, to mating with other females, or to choosing males who contribute equally and do not exploit them. In this section of the book I proposed a different theory - that there are ecological differences between genders (e.g. that proto-males eat more/produce more potential offspring while proto-females digest more and produce more potential grand-offspring) so that sex primordially is a form of cooperation, specialization and trade engaged in for mutual benefit (they probably trade to reduce risk).

What one gender does ecologically is likely to be more beneficial (or less costly) than what the other does (e.g. eating/producing more would be more beneficial under uncrowded circumstances relative to resources while digesting/re-producing more would be more beneficial under crowded circumstances) resulting in a biased “sex allocation” i.e. numbers times the amount spent on each of the one kind relative to the other. Additionally, competition would also ensue on both sides for the most/best of what the other side has to offer - called “sexual” as opposed to “natural” competition and selection since Darwin’s time. Moreover, sexual competition would be more intense among the proto-gender with the higher rather than the lower naturally-selected sex allocation and would therefore be a “contest” (involving contact and aggression) among the former as opposed to a “scramble” among the latter - all other things being equal, re-balancing the scales to an equal sex allocation.

The mistake I made on p. 99 was to imply that sexual competition and selection takes place among the latter because it takes place among the former - not so, it just would, although less intensely. Note that sexual competition and selection in either gender is antagonistic to the other which would ‘prefer’ that time and energy of partners/potential partners be spent on satisfying their needs instead, and is generally damaging to the population as a whole as well. Interestingly, this theory combines a conservative and a radical view of gender differences and relations.
Read an excerpt from Darwinian Sociocultural Evolution, and learn more about the book and author at the Cambridge University Press website as well as Marion Blute's faculty webpage and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue