Thursday, January 9, 2014

Considering biological contributions to social norms

It seems to me that some important factors, which are outgrowths of evolutionary psychology, can be seen as creating and maintaining patriarchy, to the effect that it is highly unlikely that any substantial norm destabilization will occur.  I write such things with fear, because suggesting that significant change is inherently unlikely, is sadly often reinterpreted as me stating that “I love patriarchy” – which I hope you will recognize is the exact opposite of how I feel. 

There is substantial evidence, such as from experiments by Amos Tversky (of Stanford University) and Daniel Kahneman (of Princeton University), that the human unconscious plays an unexpectedly significant role in both thought and action.  For example, the unconscious phenomena of “priming” has been studied abundantly and shows such unusual things as the fact that facial likability determined by the brain in as little as 1/10th of a second, indicates the winner in 70% of electoral races.  This experiment has been independently verified in the U.S., Finland, England, Australia, Germany, and Mexico.  Kahneman explains in “Thinking, Fast and Slow” that while it is possible to consciously override unconscious perceptions, in some areas, it is often extremely difficult and extremely confusing.  Take for example the many visual illusions - or, studies which have shown that humans are inherently poor at understanding statistics intuitively, and consequently make unwise choices (Mlodinow – “The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives”). Sam Harris, a neuroscientist and philosopher, writes that “We are conscious of only a tiny fraction of the information that our brains process in each moment.” (“Free Will”)

Thus, it is not outrageous for me to hypothesize that innate unconscious tendencies may reside in the preponderance of brains of biologically sexed men and women, which immovably dictate social interaction. I could, and I am greatly inclined, to give a comprehensive exposition of specific instances of patriarchy which indicate trends which may be biologically based.  However, such an endeavor would be far too lengthy for a blog, and may be something I would explore in a future paper.  

Edit: I just wanted to add that I am not stating that the many varied efforts to change the status quo are or will be entirely unfruitful.  I am merely suggesting that there may be an unseen threshold at which point dominant genetic trends will invariably overwhelm changing mindsets to a greater magnitude than counter-patriarchal social movements.  While I personally imagine that dominant pro-patriarchal psychological trends will ultimately continue to eclipse anti-patriarchal sentiment, it is possible that the reverse could be true, yet there would still be a threshold at which the population would idle.  Further, there are certainly social constructs which overlay dominant psycho-biological trends, such as religion, whose force is a key player in maintaining and spreading patriarchy.  As moderate religious movements and atheism/agnosticism increase, these are already having an affect on dismantling the idolization of patriarchy.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman 
The Drunkard's Walk by Leonard Mlodinow
Free Will by Sam Harris 

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