and the Straight Arrow of Desire
Sociobiology elaborates a set of tales about men, women, and the “nature” of desire. In these tales and through their organizing heteronormative conceit, natural selection slips from being what it is in the best Darwinian sense—contingency, the end result of a random sorting, a series of accidental adaptations—to become what it is in the worst Social Darwinian tradition: an active principle, a driving force, a divine design, a metaphysical telos, the very embodiment of culture in nature. These stories have proved especially appealing in certain quarters of science in recent years. But sociobiology— and perhaps especially its offspring, evolutionary psychology—is as much a phenomenon of popular culture as it is any kind of quasi-scientific enterprise. Bioreductivist claims and tactics circulate there, especially in the mass media.
In his 1950s classic, Mythologies, Roland Barthes showed that nothing exercises more appeal in the middlebrow media than the premise that common sense—socially shared prejudice—is deeply rooted in an irresistible, unchanging nature. 1 Modern media, and the stories about desire that they underwrite, would seem to continually confirm the darkest possible version of Barthes's observation. Recent science stories have broadly disseminated scenarios eerily reminiscent of nineteenth-century ideas about human nature, whose discredited eugenics filters back into present-day discourse like the return of the Spencerian repressed. Not to put too fine a point on the matter, but in the reductivist vulgate defined by sociobiology and evolutionary psychology, sex is eugenics, directly and without mediation. Nowhere is this clearer than in much-promulgated geneticist ideas about the biology of beauty, the subject of this chapter.
Such ideologies are haunted by the past, but they would not survive unless
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Publication information: Book title: The Trouble with Nature: Sex in Science and Popular Culture. Contributors: Roger N. Lancaster - Author. Publisher: University of California Press. Place of publication: Berkeley, CA. Publication year: 2003. Page number: 117.
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