In 2010, the British science writer Matt Ridley debuted as a classical liberal with his book The Rational Optimist. Ridley’s “coming out” was eventful and exciting for libertarians all over the world. A former staff writer and head of the Washington bureau of The Economist, a successful science author and, more importantly, a gifted narrator, Ridley condensed in his thick book much research and wisdom. The financial crisis appeared to many to have dispensed with free market ideas once and for all. Ridley pointed out that, to the contrary, free markets were actually producing prosperity, food, cleanliness all over the world—particularly for the world’s poor.
As I have said in the past, I find evolutionary psychology an extremely interesting and important area for understanding human nature. A new study (link no longer available) provides additional evidence for the claim that evolutionary considerations have influenced the different sexual preferences of males and females: Psychologists have found that while women find men they are familiar with more attractive, men are more drawn to strangers. They say this may be due to a relic in our evolutionary past, where our male ancestors would have tried to mate with as many females as possible. This would have increased the chances of them…
This essay from the Atlantic Magazine website on why older men should not pair with younger women is a highly objectionable one that combines anti-male bias with ignorance. It is not that I think that such pairings are necessarily good – it is a complicated subject – but the analysis in this piece is so weak, and the mistakes it commits are exhibited so frequently these days, that I thought I would point out some of the difficulties. (Hat tip: Glenn Reynolds who has a similar take on it.)
In criticizing pairings between older men and younger women, the piece focuses on the case of 50 year old Johnny Depp and his new girlfriend, 27 year old actress Amber Heard.
I summarize the major arguments of the piece in the numbered paragraphs, and then provide my critique in italics.
1. The pairing of older men and younger women is the fault of men. (This is not explicitly stated, but it is premise of large swaths of the essay.)
This is a common distortion. Older men are not coercing these younger women. Amber Heard wants to be with Johnny Depp. Many people may not like it, but it seems obviously true.
What is missing in this analysis is that not only do men desire young beautiful women, but that women exhibit hypergamy – the desire to pair with high status males (particularly those who are higher status than the women). This desire conflicts with the feminist vision, but it is obviously true in general (if not in every single case).
In fact, the essay shows some evidence for this by noting that when the author has written about this subject in the past, he is “invariably challenged by young women with boyfriends their fathers’ age, demanding that I stop judging their love.”
2. If older men refrained from such relationships, this would benefit the younger women, because “young women come of age surrounded by reminders that they are at their most desirable when they are still at their most uncertain and insecure.”
If women are most desirable at this age, it is not clear we should deprive them of this knowledge. Moreover, if they desire high status men, then depriving these women of these relationships would not help them, but harm them (by their own lights at least).
One of the most interesting fields for understanding human behavior is evolutionary psychology (the successor to sociobiology). Despite appearances to the contrary, this field includes both conservatives and liberals. It continues to provoke, however, tremendous debates on both political and theoretical issues.
One of these debates involves the level at which natural selection occurs. One way of framing this issue is whether natural selection operates only at the level of the gene or also at other levels, including the group. People who believe that group selection occurs often describe themselves as favoring multilevel selection, since they believe selection occurs at multiple levels. (I should note that advocates of multilevel selection might not agree with the way that this paragraph defines the debate.)
One area I have found of interest over the years is evolutionary psychology. Friedrich Hayek first exposed me to the discipline, which at that time was known as sociobiology. While it has certainly been criticized, it is often the only scientific explanation we have for certain human behaviors and to me it does a pretty good of job generally of explaining such behavior. I recently came across this article, which sought to explain middle age from an evolutionary perspective. As someone in middle age, I found it to be fascinating. First, the physical changes in middle age make evolutionary sense: As…