Satoshi Kanazawa

The Scientific Fundamentalist

Why Liberals and Conservatives Are Both Wrong about Evolution

Why conservative policies work better than liberal policies

Posted Apr 10, 2011

The hallmark of a truly great idea is that, as soon as you hear it, you say to yourself, “Now, why didn’t I think of that!”  That was precisely my reaction upon hearing the idea behind Richard Tokumei’s new book Monkeys on Our Backs:  Why Conservatives and Liberals Are Both Wrong About Evolution.

Behind this book is a brilliant yet simple idea.  Liberals usually accept the theory of evolution, but their political beliefs and policies are inconsistent with it.  In contrast, conservatives tend to reject the theory of evolution, but their political beliefs and policies are consistent with it.  Thus, as Tokumei succinctly puts it, liberals and conservatives are both wrong about evolution.

As an evolutionary psychologist, I think about evolution every day.  As a strong libertarian, I have my beef with both liberals and conservatives constantly.  Yet Tokumei’s simple yet elegant idea had never occurred to me.  And I truly wish it had.

In Monkeys on Our Backs, Richard Tokumei thoroughly explains how the policies endorsed by liberals, who believe in evolution, not only go against its principles, but, because they do, are doomed to failure.  Policies endorsed by conservatives, on the other hand and unbeknownst to them, are actually derived from the principles of evolution which they publicly denounce, and, because they are, they have a better chance of working than liberal policies.  The book is full of such astute observations, peppered with a sense of humor.

For someone who is not a scientist and has no background in evolutionary biology, Tokumei has a deep understanding of evolution and how it operates.  And he is able to express the fundamental principles of evolution very clearly.  In fact, Part One of the book, where he explains how evolution works, is simultaneously so accurate and so lucid that I believe it should be used as a biology textbook in junior high schools.

There is one potential issue that might arise from Tokumei’s book and my strong endorsement of it that I should address.  In a previous post, I strenuously argue against both the naturalistic fallacy and the moralistic fallacy.  The naturalistic fallacy is the logical error of going from “is” to “ought,” deriving moral prescriptions from scientific observations.  In contrast, the moralistic fallacy is the logical error of going from “ought” to “is,” deriving scientific conclusions from moral principles.  In my work, I am adamant that all scientists, especially those who study human behavior, avoid both logical fallacies.

In his book, Tokumei derives a set of policy implications and recommendations from the theory of evolution by natural and sexual selection.  He recommends what we “should” do on the basis of how humans “are” evolutionarily designed.  Is this not an instance of committing a naturalistic fallacy?

The simple answer is no.  Both the naturalistic and moralistic fallacies are logical errors to be avoided by scientists, in science.  But Tokumei’s Monkeys on Our Backs is not a work of science, and Tokumei does not make any pretence to being a scientist himself.  Instead, much like Amy Alkon’s I See Rude People, which I also strongly endorse and recommend, Tokumei’s book is a great work of applied science (as opposed to pure science, which is the only thing I mean when I say “science”), of social and public policy, and of social engineering.  The naturalistic and moralistic fallacies are to be avoided by scientists in doing science or potentially interpreting science and the merits of scientific theories.  They are not applicable anywhere else.

What Tokumei does in this book instead is use science to derive moral and policy implications from someone else's science.  And there is nothing wrong with using science, as long as it is not done by scientists themselves.  There is nothing wrong with applied science, as long as you don't confuse it with pure science.  It is the job of politicians and policy makers to use science and derive social policies from scientific findings.  It is their jobs to do so, just as much as it is the job of pure scientists like myself to stay away from any moral and political implications of their scientific conclusions.  There is a clear division of labor.

I would not like to see Richard Tokumei on the faculty of MIT.  But I would dearly love to see him in the White House, advising the President (though not the current President, who is clearly far beyond help) and other cabinet secretaries.  Reading Monkeys on Our Backs will tell you why.