Any good social system is realistic


Glenn Weisfeld




This is my first interview, at the conference of the Inter­na­tional Society of Human Ethology in Am­sterdam, July 1992. Glenn Weis­feld (Wayne-State Universi­ty, De­troit) was at the time editor of the Human Ethology Newsletter.


Is there still much resistance against evolutionary thinking?


"I'm afraid so."




"Well, I think there are for instance religious bases for some of the objec­tions. For instance I was talking to one of our colleagues from Hunga­ry, Vilmes Csányi, and he said that with the increase in political and reli­gious freedom, the church has become more prominent, and now the church is starting to oppose the pre­sentation of Darwi­nism in schools in Hungary."


Is there perhaps also something like a 'resistance to self-explanation'? Do people do not want to know their own motives?


"No, I don't think so. There are all sorts of books published about 'learning about yourself', 'examining yourself', but I think ....."


But they are full of lies perhaps!


"Well I think so, actually, or … I think people want to understand themselves so that they can get what they want more effectively. But I think there is some political resistance, not just religious. If there is some idea that is perceived as being inconsistent with some political ideal, then people will say well the whole biological approach is dangerous political­ly, and we don't want to have anything to do with it. For instance in the U.S.A. there is a great concern about racism and sexism with justification. If people associate sociobiolo­gy with justifying racism or justifying sexism, then they are going to dismiss the whole field."


But are you saying that sociobiology is justifying things like racism or sexism?


"No, but I think sometimes it is perceived that way, but I would say incorrectly. Now there may be some people, say some femi­nists, that adhere to views that I would say are inconsis­tent with the facts. If there is a femi­nist somewhe­re who thinks that there are no biologi­cally based sex-diffe­ren­ces in human behavi­or, and that anyone that would claim that is a sexist, I would say there is overwhel­ming evidence for some of these sex-differences, and you either accept the facts, or you accept your ideology, but you can't accept both. But I think most feminists, and most opponents of racism, are reasonable and would not find anyt­hing in our re­search and theory that they couldn't accept. But if it turns out that there are some aspects of human nature that are inconsistent with some ideo­logical conception or some social ideal, I would say we have to be realistic. We can't erect a social system that is based on a misunderstan­ding of human nature. Any good social system is realistic. The more we know about human nature, the better our social systems will be. In other words, I don't think that ideology ought to dictate the facts, the facts have to dictate the appropriate social policy."