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Sex, Power, and Partisanship: How Evolutionary Science Makes Sense of Our Political Divide

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An evolutionary psychologist traces the roots of political divisions back to our primate ancestors and male-dominated social hierarchies.Through the lens of evolutionary science, this book offers a novel perspective on why we hold our political ideas, and why they are so often in conflict. Drawing on examples from across the animal kingdom, clinical psychologist Hector A. Garcia reveals how even the most complex political processes can be influenced by our basic drives to survive and reproduce--including the policies we back, whether we are liberal or conservative, and whether we are inspired or repelled by the words of a president. The author demonstrates how our political orientations derive from an ancestral history of violent male competition, surprisingly influencing how we respond to issues as wide-ranging as affirmative action, women's rights, social welfare, abortion, foreign policy, and even global warming. Critically, the author shows us how our instinctive political tribalism can keep us from achieving stable, functioning societies, and offers solutions for rising above our ancestral past.

254 pages, Kindle Edition

First published February 5, 2019

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Héctor A. García

4 books18 followers

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Profile Image for Book Shark.
754 reviews140 followers
March 15, 2019
Sex, Power, and Partisanship: How Evolutionary Science Makes Sense of Our Political Divide by Hector A. Garcia

“Sex, Power, and Partisanship” is a provocative book that makes sense of our political divide. Clinical psychologist Hector A Garcia makes use of evolutionary science to explain how our current political differences are rooted in our Stone Age mating. This compelling 254-page book includes the following eight chapters: 1. Evolutionary Politics, 2. Left, Right, and Mother Nature, 3. Is Conservatism an Extreme Form of the Male Brain?, 4. Equality Versus Hierarchy, 5. On Big Apes and Presidents, 6. The Politics of Sexual Control, 7. Woman, Sex, and Politics, and 8. On Blind Tribes and Becoming Sighted.

1. Well-written, well-researched book that is accessible to the masses.
2. An excellent and an important topic, how evolutionary science makes sense of our political divide.
3. Addresses sensitive topics fairly. “But even though gender can exist independently of biological sex, as we will learn throughout this book it is not independent of biology. Neither is politics.”
4. In the first chapter, Garcia defines the purpose of this book. “I explain how all the hallmarks of political conservatism—its tribalistic flavor (us versus them), its emphasis on female sexual control, and its hawkish and territorial nature—are rooted in male mate competition, the ageless biological struggle for reproductive dominance.”
5. Makes the compelling argument throughout the book that our political preferences may be rooted in our genes. “An increasingly large body of research is finding a genetic component to our political natures.” “Overall, meta-analytic research suggests that 30–60 percent of the variance in our political preference is due to genetic factors.”
6. Social science and the models that define our personalities. “Social scientists have developed various models for understanding human personality, the most widely researched of which is known as the “Big Five.” These dimensions include openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (or OCEAN).”
7. Discusses differences between liberals and conservatives. “What the researchers found was that preschoolers who were rated as curious, impulsive, talkative, and so on reliably grew up to be liberals, whereas those who were described as shy, distrustful of others, compliant, and adult-seeking grew up to be conservatives. The ability of childhood personality traits to predict politics across such an impressive time span shows that genetic predispositions can influence our political orientations.”
8. Fear of outside groups. “This momentous political event illustrates a highly consistent empirical finding—namely that conservative political ideology predicts prejudice against the outside group. As an example, there are a multitude of studies examining racial stereotypes of African Americans in the United States, asking questions like whether blacks are intelligent or unintelligent, or more or less prone to violence. In study after study, conservatives report more negative attitudes and racial stereotypes than liberals.”
9. Describes conservatism. “Conservatism, I argue, is a male-centric strategy shaped significantly by the struggle for dominance in within-and-between group mate competitions, while liberalism is a female-centric strategy derived from the protracted demands of rearing human offspring, among other selective pressures.”
10. Differences between males and females. “A large volume of research shows that females are generally more concerned with fairness, and males more concerned with dominance hierarchies.” “Conversely, there is evidence to suggest that less empathy among men has fitness benefits, aiding in male mate competition (which is often violent) and in facilitating killing in warfare.”
11. Equality versus hierarchy. “A highly consistent empirical finding is that political liberals tend to favor wealth equalization, whereas conservatives tend to favor the economic status quo.”
12. Interesting observations. “Thus one critical reason that male bonobos don't wage war on one another, why they can afford to be female oriented, egalitarian, and “liberal,” appears to be that their opulent food supply doesn't force violent competition.”
13. Reproductive fitness and its impact. “And since men have more to gain from wealth in terms of reproductive fitness than women, men have a greater evolutionary incentive to prefer economic inequality. Thus the male-dominated, economically competitive orientation of political conservatism reflects a male reproductive strategy.”
14. Endocrine system. “As it turns out, suppressing male mate competition is powerfully wired into our endocrine systems. Research has found that olfactory sensitivity to androstenone, a chemical related to testosterone, is related to a preference for social order and social hierarchies. This preference, moreover, is concentrated in those with conservative political ideologies.”
15. The politics of sexual control. “Comstock laws endured well into the 1960s. Astonishingly, it was not until 1965 that the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for the government to prevent married couples from using birth control, and 1972 when the Court extended this protection to non-married couples.”
16. Abortions and the Bible. “While religious convictions are often cited for antiabortion stances, the Bible does not comment on when a fetus achieves personhood, nor decree restrictions on abortion.”
17. Germs and conservatism. Who knew? “Germs, in other words, fuel conservatism in women by multiple pathways—encouraging choice of higher-testosterone mates, giving disease-resistant males greater advantage in the mating market, and also by increasing monogamous sexual behavior.”
18. The lessons of evolutionary science. “Evolutionary science suggests there is an important lesson to learn here—namely that much of the suffering that humans force on one another, whether oppression or genocide, can be attributed ultimately to male mate competition.”
19. Tribalism. “But it is important to remember that religious worship is a tribalistic experience, and tribalism thrives on group consensus.”
20. Notes are linked.

1. Technically speaking the only thing that gives me pause, is the concept of a male versus a female brain. I’ve read enough books to know that this is dangerous territory and given the opportunity I would love to ask the author if that is the case. Positive number 3 makes some reference to that.
2. Lack of charts, supplementary material and a separate bibliography.
3. Some repetition involved.
4. Conservatives might claim a liberal bias.

In summary, this is a very good book that examines the political divide based on evolutionary science. Garcia makes good use of science to back his points and provides a unique and welcomed perspective to this hot button issue. The concept of a male versus female brain, gives me some pause but I found Garcia’s conclusions to be reasonable and fair. All said this a very interesting book to read. I recommend it!

Further suggestions: “Alpha God: The Psychology of Religious Violence and Oppression” by the same author, “Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships” by Christopher Ryan, “The Divide” by Matt Taibbi, “Inequality” by Anthony B. Atkinson, “The Economics of Inequality” by Thomas Piketty, “The Great Divide” by Joseph Stiglitz, “Winner-Take All Politics” by Jacob S. Hacker.
Profile Image for Malek Atia.
50 reviews19 followers
September 5, 2019
This is a great book its just sad that social sciences are so interrelated yet in universities they are so separate especially economics, this book looks beyond whats obvious and try to find the evolutionary roots of our political orientation and I think it did a good work in doing so.I think this book should be a must read for everyone especially feminists.
Profile Image for Jay.
175 reviews14 followers
May 27, 2019
Remember the jingle “I’d like to buy the world a Coke, and keep it company”? These days, forget soda pop: I’d like to slap it upside the head. How did we get here? According to Garcia, evolution and evolutionary psychology has played a large, if not defining, role in our seemingly intractable political divisions, whether we are willing to acknowledge it or not. Two images kept intruding into my so-called mind as I read this book, both from 1960’s-era films: (1) Charlton Heston’s shock, grief and anger when he confronts the ruins of the Statue of Liberty, in “Planet of the Apes”; and (2), the spinning femur that turns into a space station at the end of the “monkey” segment in “2001, a Space Odyssey”.

This is an important book in all respects. Well written, extensively footnoted, fairly even-handed in his treatment of conservatives and liberals, and illuminating on multiple issues. Based on Garcia’s analysis of our current situation, not just in the USA but the world, we’re neck-deep in some dangerous guano, and reconciliation of our divisions seems as elusive as it ever was, but maybe not. His chapter on the sexual oppression of women (“The Politics of Sexual Control”) is really powerful. I could go on, but, if I get into the “meat” of this book, all I’m going to do is royally piss off and alienate a lot of people I care for, so I won’t. Four stars, only because, as a Christian, I do believe that the Second Commandment [look it up - John 13:34 and Mark 12:31, for example] needs absolutely to be part and parcel of any solution, even if you’re not a Christian or a believe at all. Garcia is neither. But I don’t hold it against him, and it doesn’t materially detract from his thesis, in my opinion.
Profile Image for Yanick Punter.
280 reviews36 followers
August 28, 2020
Interesting. During the discussion about the extreme male brain theory I was hoping for a mention of Crespi and Badcock's Imprinted Brain Theory. Studies suggest that autism is related to long-term mating while schizotypy is related to short-term mating. Del Giudice comes to mind. I'm also wondering where Mark van Vugt's research on leadership fits in. This book discusses conservatives a lot and liberals less.

I recommend watching this interview by the Dissenter:
7 reviews
February 17, 2021
Some quotes I liked:

'Much of what makes people xenophilic, open to experience, and liberal, then, is evolutionary pragmatic' p. 34

'The reason why humans could not openly cooperate on a global scale, freely sharing resources, information, and technology to advance humankind seem to lie less on the practical than the emotional' p. 43

'Liberalism is a female-centric strategy derived from the protracted demands of rearing human offspring, among other selective pressures' p. 47

The liberal penchant for empathy is seen in the tendency to do things like join Greenpeace to save baby seals, or to feel sadness and moral outrage when loggers saw down the forest of Amazonian Natives' p.53

'The xenophobic, male tenor of conservative economic policies reflects a history of fighting with outsiders for the privilege to eat' p. 77

'In evolutionary terms, women's shoulder pads give the illusion of a male adaptation designed for fighting to an audience evolutionarily programmed to find it meaningful' p. 99

'Competition within human groups is inevitable because each individual is programmed by selfish genes' p. 114

'Religion's sustained anti-contraception policy has had the measurable impact of enhancing Christian evolutionary fitness around the globe' p. 134

'Liberalism in men is linked to feminine traits such as interest in babies, greater empathy, and lower testosterone' p. 146

'When they (women) have greater economic freedom, they may be more likely to mate with more males to increase genetic diversity' p. 151

'They (liberal policies) allow women to acquire good genes and genetic variation' p. 151

'We seem to know, instinctively, that beauty means conservatism, which may translate to 'social dominance' p. 155

That is the level of the book. At any time in the book there is a clear definition of what the author means by liberalism, conservatism, left or right. Maybe he thinks they mean the same everywhere in the world. Right and left are very confusing terms politically talking, there are many rights and many lefts. Is liberalism left? Maybe in the US, not where I live.
123 reviews2 followers
September 18, 2019
this was an exceptional work. The author neatly ties in evolution with conservative or liberal policies with good evidence to back up his assertions. The emphasis is less on one or the other political view but rather to think critically and short circuit the automatic tendencies that can have adverse consequences. This work really does a great job explaining the biology behind our views and how we got there. Well worth anyone's time to read.
Profile Image for Josh Carter.
19 reviews3 followers
August 23, 2020
Enjoyed it as much as Alpha God, though I think Alpha God was slightly more fascinating as a whole.
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