Evolution and male mass murderers
October 10, 2017 9:45 AM   Subscribe

A new study of mass murderers in North America reveals some interesting patterns, and could support an evolutionary theory of mass shootings by older men (and younger men).
posted by John Cohen (89 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
Note: There were originally some female mass murderers in the sample, but they were excluded because the sample size was too small.
posted by John Cohen at 9:47 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]


Very interesting. Reminds of a metanalysis I'd read of studies on terrorists, in which the trend emerged of many terrorists being inspired by perceived ongoing humiliation, as well as by *relative* deprivation (not so much absolute deprivation). Again, violent responses to issues of status and standing, committed by men (mostly men) who do not already have their own socially-acceptable, socially-recognized form of status.

Not a one-size-fits-all thing, but it is a pattern, said pattern being part of a larger pattern.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:55 AM on October 10 [7 favorites]


So the claim of the article is that mass killings are tied to "status" and the (potential) loss thereof. The article makes the claim that reproductive success is how we measure status.

But it also says that many of the older spree killers have families -- meaning children, and thus, reproductive success. So whatever this "status" is, it's not actually reproductive success. From there it seems pretty obvious that thinking evolutionarily hasn't added much. What am I missing?
posted by dbx at 9:57 AM on October 10 [22 favorites]


Evo-psych is mostly the art of telling just-so stories in a way which gets you past peer review. It was unconvincing when Damore appealed to it, and it's no more convincing here. The biological mechanisms which are implied to underlie elaborate behaviors like the drive for status never get any reflection in articles like this, probably because it's extremely implausible that genetic transmission could pass on such an abstract concept. Fortunately, you don't need biological essentialism to explain such things; cultural transmission is a perfectly adequate explanation.
posted by Coventry at 9:57 AM on October 10 [115 favorites]


This fits with the Run, Hide, Fight training NIH presented last year. Males, aged 25-50, who had recently suffered one or more setbacks were the likeliest (to the point that everyone else is background noise) group of murdering people.
posted by Slackermagee at 10:02 AM on October 10 [4 favorites]


So...the obsession with "status" isn't cultural in aaaaaaaannnnnnyyy way, it's just this natural drive toward reproductive success? (Also, how many spree killers then go on to have kids? "Female attention" isn't the same as having kids.)

This seems like there's a pretty heavy subtext of "if women fucked guys without regard for the women's feelings, needs or desires, guys would be virtuous, women should marry creepy dudes for the good of society because otherwise the creepy dudes will be mass murderers, also women shouldn't divorce creepy dudes in middle age", etc etc.
posted by Frowner at 10:02 AM on October 10 [52 favorites]


A trash garbage analysis, cloyingly written, that reinforces existing prejudices — or, in other words, a garden-variety Psychology Today article. The whole book's a giant pseud's corner.
posted by adamgreenfield at 10:03 AM on October 10 [19 favorites]


Males, aged 25-50, who had recently suffered one or more setbacks were the likeliest (to the point that everyone else is background noise) group of murdering people.

Batten down the hatches, then, because there's a whole lot of males, aged 25-50, who have recently suffered one or more setbacks coming down the pike.

("One or more setbacks"! As if that isn't what life is about, and always has been for just about everybody, and the art of bearing up under those setbacks more or less cognate with adult grace. Poor snowflakes.)
posted by adamgreenfield at 10:06 AM on October 10 [15 favorites]


But it also says that many of the older spree killers have families -- meaning children, and thus, reproductive success. So whatever this "status" is, it's not actually reproductive success.

As the article itself mentions, these men with families are often embroiled in divorce, loss of custody, etc. It's not as silly as "beep boop you have reproduced you are now vaccinated from anxiety over loss of status".

I mean, you don't have to accept anything "biologically"-based in order to see that status is a factor here.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:08 AM on October 10 [7 favorites]


I'm also tempted to read this in the most fedora way possible, but I'm not sure it's making any claims that:
- Evolutionary/biological aspects are the only means to consider
- Reproductive fecundity is the only measure of status (in fact it provides alternatives evolved by culture)
- Attention/gain/replacement of perceived lost status actually needs to result in children to be a driver for behavior

I mean, the age clusters alone are interesting. The question of status probably should be read as "can we look out more for loss of status as an indicator that help could be needed." As noted above this may also help identify terrorist threats.

Though I'm not sure why the paper had to be so dismissive of (a not so clear interpretation of) toxic masculinity. I fear this is the next co-opted phrase ever since seeing it (in my opinion) misappropriated in this article.
posted by abulafa at 10:12 AM on October 10 [4 favorites]


Fine: status is a factor. Don't confuse the issue with appeals to genetic heritage, then.
posted by adamgreenfield at 10:12 AM on October 10 [4 favorites]


Batten down the hatches, then, because there's a whole lot of males, aged 25-50, who have recently suffered one or more setbacks coming down the pike.

Um...yes. Absolutely yes. I think a whole bunch of us are battening down the hatches against the absolute fucking shit tsunami of toxic masculinity that is very literally threatening to kill a bunch of us while tearing the United States apart.
posted by schadenfrau at 10:15 AM on October 10 [60 favorites]


So I guess what women have to do to be taken seriously is to start committing mass shootings. Husband is abusive? Mass shooting! Sexual assault? Mass shooting! Fired because you're too old? Etc, etc. Maybe at that point we'll evolve a narrative about how women's problems with status and power deserve to be taken seriously.

What will probably happen, of course, is that - as with any profession adopted by women - spree killing will become a low-status, uninteresting thing and newspapers will cease to cover it.
posted by Frowner at 10:15 AM on October 10 [84 favorites]


So...the obsession with "status" isn't cultural in aaaaaaaannnnnnyyy way, it's just this natural drive toward reproductive success?

This explains why we see mass killings in every culture on Earth, and throughout history. That's always the most important litmus test for whether something is incidental to culture or to the specific political and legal framework of a specific region. Just ask the authors of the study:

"In addition, we restricted the search to North America."

See? Every culture on Earth.
posted by belarius at 10:18 AM on October 10 [39 favorites]


Yeah, I got to the smarmy bit about "yeah but if it's toxic masculinity how come they still get female admirers? CHECKMATE" and tabbed out.

If you can't bother researching the basic definition of a scientific term, why should I trust you to have done your research on anything else?
posted by inconstant at 10:20 AM on October 10 [18 favorites]


FTA: “Toxic” does not explain the half of it, and it is worth noting that even the most toxic of masculinity does not put off all possible sexual partners.

This seems to profoundly misunderstand what's meant by "toxic masculinity". Here's an explanation on the Geek Feminism wiki that's more in line with how it's generally used:
Toxic masculinity is one of the ways in which Patriarchy is harmful to men. It refers to the socially-constructed attitudes that describe the masculine gender role as violent, unemotional, sexually aggressive, and so forth.
The author seems to have some idea that "toxic masculinity" means "toxic to a man's chances of attracting a partner", which… no.
posted by Lexica at 10:21 AM on October 10 [36 favorites]


(in my opinion) misappropriated in this article.

"Year of the Sociopathic Baby-Man" = "Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment"
posted by octobersurprise at 10:22 AM on October 10 [9 favorites]


No culture in history has been as dominated by males seeking status as modern day America. Take away their ability to do so by oppressing women and POC and they have to do something else.

As I've said before, Real Snowflakes are white. Very white. Snowflakes with guns. America's greatest threat.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:23 AM on October 10 [4 favorites]


It always feels like this evolutionary psychology stuff tries to create some sort of primordial, universal, ancient, unchangeable aura around phenomena that is really...not that. At all. Unsurprisingly, so much of it seems to come from Western white men who tend to view anything they do or feel or anything happening around them as totally universal. Mass shootings are not an ancient or common or culturally universal phenomenon. Serial murder is in itself something that's become vastly more frequent over the years and happens much, much more in some cultures than in others.

Is it even especially useful to try to ferret out why mass shootings happen? They are so incredibly rare. It seems unlikely that there's any one reason.
posted by armadillo1224 at 10:24 AM on October 10 [11 favorites]


Might as well attribute it to emotionally fragile men, because women suffer setbacks, too, and they don't go out and commit mass murder when it happens.

It would actually be a good idea to publicize mass murder as an act of emotional weakness. If society defines the act as not something that manly, powerful men do, but a weepy reaction by a weakling who can't cut it, maybe the fear of being stigmatized as such will disinhibit these losers from carrying it out.
posted by Lunaloon at 10:27 AM on October 10 [12 favorites]


Mass shootings are not rare. There were 273 mass shootings in the US between Jan. 1st and Oct. 3rd.

I suppose it depends on what you consider a "mass shooting" and "rare."
posted by blnkfrnk at 10:33 AM on October 10 [3 favorites]


I guess we can’t look to the mass murder rate in other cultures in which men have enormous social pressure to achieve and maintain status (like, say, China or Japan) because their gun restrictions are too effective to promote mass murder. Darn, what a blow to the study of evolutionary psychology that we “can’t” get a read on the cultures that make up 1/3 of the human population. Guess we’ll have to go back to looking at white American dudes and how their losses are just so much more special than anyone else’s.
posted by Autumnheart at 10:35 AM on October 10 [50 favorites]


No culture in history has been as dominated by males seeking status as modern day America.

Not to derail or anything but there's probably tens of thousands of years of human history that would contradict that. The contemporary US isn't that exceptional.
posted by octobersurprise at 10:38 AM on October 10 [27 favorites]


I put the same amount of trust in evolutionary psychology and cultural explanations. Both fields are pretty vulnerable to motivated reasoning, but both are useful and necessary when thinking about problems.
posted by weewooweewoo at 10:42 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I got to the smarmy bit about "yeah but if it's toxic masculinity how come they still get female admirers? CHECKMATE" and tabbed out.

It probably doesn't surprise you that (as Lexica notes), the author is one of those guys that either doesn't understand or chooses to misrepresent the concept. Indeed, the footnote they linked to for the parts about toxic masculinity is an evopsych coffee-table book that actually looks to be a trash study conducted by people who had no experience in the subject they were writing about. And I realize the article is from several years ago, but that they essentially remove discussion of domestic violence in relation to mass murders entirely is also suspicious.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:43 AM on October 10 [9 favorites]


... once we started to search we found a host of mass killing attempts across the world. But many of these used knives, or vehicles, and thus tended to injure rather than kill. We have little doubt that these people had exactly the same murderous intents—but they could not carry them out as effectively.

All the more reason to support gun control.
posted by bring a tuba to a knife fight at 10:47 AM on October 10 [2 favorites]


Honestly I think it's kind of a shame people are getting into their corners before reading the article, because there's some really interesting analysis there, particularly on the age groupings. I wish the study had been broader, but there are studies that do reinforce the violent impulses of, for example, unmarried young men. I don't necessarily buy the evo-psych read, but men unable to attain status markers are, in fact, becoming violent, which is a real problem for anyone who isn't them.
posted by corb at 10:50 AM on October 10 [8 favorites]


I'm convinced that ev-psych is a modern-day religion, created by and for white men who can no longer appeal to God and the Bible to prop up their "natural superiority" in this increasingly secular age.

I've heard (mostly young) secular types saying stuff like, "If only we get rid of religion, racism and sexism will disappear, too, because religion is the root of all evil!" Nope. It's not as simple as that. Ev-psych, like misuse of religion and religious texts, is merely a post hoc rationalization of Why Things Are The Way They Are.

"We restricted the search to North America" = HOW DUMB DO YOU THINK I AM, AUTHOR? I'm not even a scientist, and I can see the flaws in this!

Psychology Today once gave a home to Satoshi Kanazawa, who infamously published an article on why black women were innately less attractive because of evolution - Guardian article denouncing that crap. Kanazawa was fired, but the fact that he could even think of publishing stuff like that makes me side-eye Psychology Today as a platform for weird right-wing "secular religion" like ev-psych.

In conclusion: the author and PT can fuck right off.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:53 AM on October 10 [26 favorites]


I WOULD be interested to see a study of culture-bound violent outbursts. the reproductive fitness = status link seems a really tenuous thing to hang all this on.
posted by nixon's meatloaf at 11:01 AM on October 10 [3 favorites]


Why is evolutionary psychology only ever deployed to explain how men not getting laid is the true source of all the world’s ills? As though war and prejudice would never occur if people would just quit trying to do their own thing and just fuck these poor un-fucked men as much as they want. Mysteriously, evolutionary psychology is never used to explain why, for example, women refuse to just settle down with the nearest guy and fuck him, insisting on pursuing their own self-actualization, despite all the explanations by evo-psych about how women are really just driven to find a guy and fuck him, and all their elaborate shenanigans around restricting fertility and refusing to marry are just more gamifying the process of fucking some guy.

So sick of this fucking crap. Maybe some guys are super violent and our country makes it too easy to murder people. Done.
posted by Autumnheart at 11:01 AM on October 10 [40 favorites]


men unable to attain status markers are, in fact, becoming violent, which is a real problem for anyone who isn't them.

Is their violence increasing though? Or is it just that because women have choices other than marriage these men no longer have their own personal violence target? Throughout history, women have been privately absorbing the violence of men with their bodies and minds. For the first time, a critical mass of women finally have the political, social, and economic power to say No.

These men would be violent even if they had good jobs, even if someone was having sex with them. We just wouldn't hear about their victims.
posted by melissasaurus at 11:04 AM on October 10 [55 favorites]


It does seem like a potentially solid (if not groundbreaking) breakdown of shooters and then a handwaved on dollop of evo psych bollocks that's exactly the same as all other evopsych.
posted by Artw at 11:18 AM on October 10 [4 favorites]


Throughout history, women have been privately absorbing the violence of men with their bodies and minds.

I mostly agree with your main thrust, which is that men have been using women to ameliorate their feelings about status for centuries, but think it's actually less about the violence and more about insulation from the effects of poverty and status loss.

So even the poorest married man had a lower-status person than himself - his wife - who would do his drudgery and be his emotional mitigator, telling him he's a great man and just misunderstood - which was necessary because men who felt the full power of their lack of status were more likely to commit violence and would either do so against the closest target - their wife - or would do so in such a way as to lose their employment, thus economically endangering the family. Now, as women gain more power, they have less need to placate men who provide less value for the bullshit than they ever did.
posted by corb at 11:19 AM on October 10 [4 favorites]


And I realize the article is from several years ago, but that they essentially remove discussion of domestic violence in relation to mass murders entirely is also suspicious.

Yeah, that's huge.
posted by Artw at 11:20 AM on October 10


I have to wonder, in past generations were men who were predisposed to random spree murder type of violence simply have become soldiers or outlaws? Because society was more violent, they would've found outlets through "expectable" modes of behavior? My point is that maybe this was a phenomenon we've always had throughout history, but as society has become less violent in the U.S., despite what the zeitgeist would suggest, these ultraviolent outliers become uncovered, like refuse in a draining lake.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:21 AM on October 10 [12 favorites]


This article format reminds me of college classes where we'd be given a mathematical proof and I wouldn't quite know how to make it work, but I'd work from both the front and the back, not quite make them meet in the middle, and I'd stick a line in the middle with a large question mark. Always good for some partial credit.
posted by mikeh at 11:26 AM on October 10 [4 favorites]


His biggest point of evidence seems to be those two graphs that don't quite match up and arguing that they do. Mainly they seem to show that his second age bulge lines up with peak female fertility, more or less? Confounding variables could be, well, fucking anything TBH.
posted by Artw at 11:29 AM on October 10


I can think of a couple explanations as to why the US has so many mass murderers compared to other times and places, and it has nothing to do with the hurt fee-fees of unfucked men:

- Guns. We have more guns than just about anywhere on earth. And they are concentrated in a few hands: three percent of American adults have half of all the guns. When Australia instituted strict gun control, and guess what? It worked! And it worked without making women into the Barbarian Control Program.

- Poor-shaming. Hello, prosperity gospel! Hello, bootstraps! If you are poor, if you lose your job, if you tumble down the class ladder, There Is Something Wrong With You, And You Are Bad! We need a much better safety net, a basic income, a maximum income (we need billionaires like we need holes in our heads), and help instead of finger-wagging for people who lose their jobs and support systems.

- Lack of mental health care. Our brains are part of our bodies and deserve the same kind of upkeep and medical care that our bodies do; but access to affordable mental health care is scarce in many parts of the country.

I think we could cut back our mass murder rate to damn near zero without conscripting women into unpaid emotional and sexual labor.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:30 AM on October 10 [22 favorites]


The first citation at the end of the article is of a piece by evolutionary psychologist David Buss. Fun fact: I took a large undergrad psychology course (enrollment of 500) with his father at UT in the '90s. He was already old-ish at the time. On the first day of class he announced that he would give an automatic A to any student who could beat him at racquetball because, you know, he was so fit and everything. But, he added, he wouldn't play against a girl.

So there you go. A shot at an automatic A -- if you were a dude.

Which is awful, and David Buss always pisses me the hell off, but I guess you can say at least he comes by his chin-stroking sexism naturally?
posted by mudpuppie at 11:30 AM on October 10 [33 favorites]


I have to wonder, in past generations were men who were predisposed to random spree murder type of violence simply have become soldiers or outlaws?

My guess would be that they just didn't have easy access to devices that would allow them to kill and injure hundreds of people in mere minutes.
posted by mayonnaises at 11:31 AM on October 10 [6 favorites]


Mass killings are unusual events but devastating when they occur.

Right about here is where my bullshit flags went up. This is backwards. Look around the world and see where this notion runs off the rails. Most societies try to condition their citizens not to kill, not the other way around. Americans are very good at killing. We support it in many forms; some of us just look away while our soldiers and drones carry on their daily tasks--we drape the flag over it, or tell our kids that it's just them goddam Republicans. We are correct to respect the military people whom we recruit to kill on our behalf. However, we ought to remember that they are simply us, doing the national will.

Toxic masculinity. Heh. Sure. The common denominator of the discussion is homicide. Do we get there from different roads? or do we use an inborn inclination (to kill) to fill other needs? You don't have to answer right away; get back to it after you finish your GTA or whatever RP game lets you machine gun the bad guys. In our world the psychopath is one who can't hang an acceptable rule on his daydreams--the first rule is to kill only those who are designated, and the second rule requires acceptable means. It's okay to do this in your dreams, or thumbing the X-box from the safety and comfort of your living room.
posted by mule98J at 11:32 AM on October 10 [2 favorites]


I don't see a hypothesis here. I see the authors running some numbers and picking out the bleeps and bloops that look interesting to them:
"Latent Class Analysis is a great statistical technique that allows you to feed a bunch of different types of data in at one end, and crank out otherwise hard to notice patterns at the other. So that’s what we did. We fed in as much data as we could get—age, numbers of victims, type of clothing worn, personal history, recent personal events, and so on, turned the statistical handle, and saw what patterns emerged."
And how exactly did they make that chart plotting "male and female reproductive value" as a function of age? Apparently they got it from this guy?
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 11:56 AM on October 10 [3 favorites]


The biological mechanisms which are implied to underlie elaborate behaviors like the drive for status never get any reflection in articles like this, probably because it's extremely implausible that genetic transmission could pass on such an abstract concept.

Lions, rabbits, gorillas, elephant seals, red deer....
posted by Leon at 12:03 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]


I wish the author had sat down and told us exactly what he was claiming. What mechanisms exactly have evolved, which cause 20 year olds and 45 year olds to go on shooting sprees? And how exactly do we think those things evolved?

It sounds like it's pretty much just "status!"

His big disclaimer at the beginning about how evolutionary explanations are only one layer of explanation and not the most important one made me well-disposed towards him, reading the article, but I came away from it feeling like not much had actually been said.
posted by edheil at 12:07 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]


My guess would be that they just didn't have easy access to devices that would allow them to kill and injure hundreds of people in mere minutes.

I agree. I'm not discounting the role of firearms, or of toxic masculinity, or of lack of adequate mental healthcare or of economic disenfranchisement. These are very real issues affecting our civilization, and hitting American society hard. What I am also suggesting is that we also take a step away from paralyzing panic and despair, because it has become very, very easy to get stuck in that in the last couple of decades, and in the last couple of years- or months.

So my suggestion is that maybe this isn't a outside context problem that is exceptionally threatening and horrific and new. My suggestion is that there will always be those who are driven to violence (either by themselves, by others, or by environmental factors), it's just in olden times things were already generally violent so we just didn't hear about them as often, or they were killed off by violence more quickly, or they inflicted violence in the backdrop of "conventional" war or lawlessness. So we should address our current day problems with the grim understanding that we are dealing with a very ancient problem.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:10 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]


i'm sorry, but the entire underlying premise is laughable: Status is exquisitely linked to male reproductive success

everything in american culture fetishizes money and power and youth and money and freedom to do whatever the fuck you want, and money. status is linked to those things, not to how many children you have. what planet is this author living on?
posted by wibari at 12:27 PM on October 10 [12 favorites]


Apparently not a planet that includes China, where male reproductive success was limited by law. How many mass murders must they have over there, with a whole generation denied reproductive success? There’s probably only like 6 people left in China after that. Science says so!
posted by Autumnheart at 12:47 PM on October 10 [13 favorites]


everything in american culture fetishizes money and power and youth and money and freedom to do whatever the fuck you want, and money. status is linked to those things, not to how many children you have. what planet is this author living on?

Reproductive success in a civilization that has methods of birth control is only nominally about the children you have. It's fundamentally about how much sex you can get, and from how valuable of a partner. (The idea being that as we were evolving, those two things were basically one and the same.)

I'd argue though that the ability for men to say they made [however many] kids IS still incredibly important in U.S. culture though, though it is not high-status for those children to have impacted their actual lives in any way.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:48 PM on October 10 [2 favorites]


(To be clear, I don't *agree* with the author's interpretation but I don't think the intent was for the audience to perceive reproductive success as solely about a number of children.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:49 PM on October 10 [2 favorites]


Lions, rabbits, gorillas, elephant seals, red deer....

All creatures with excellent learning capabilities.
posted by Coventry at 12:50 PM on October 10


I'd argue though that the ability for men to say they made [however many] kids IS still incredibly important in U.S. culture though

How? I've chosen not to, and I find it just never comes up. Well, my mother and my mother-in-law aren't too happy about it, but that's it.

I'm Australian, though, and I might have missed something.
posted by Coventry at 12:55 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]


All creatures with excellent learning capabilities.

Learning. Yes. That's why, if you take a few rabbits and isolate them in breeding pairs for a couple of generations, their offspring absolutely won't go back to living in prides when they're reintroduced. Monogamy can be taught. To rabbits.
posted by Leon at 1:01 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]


Has the experiment been done? How fast do new social hierarchies evolve?
posted by Coventry at 1:04 PM on October 10


The whole “reproductive success” idea makes absolutely no sense on its face. If reproductive success is supposedly evolution’s answer to high status, then how did we come up with a society that punishes women for having sex and reproducing, and making them the lowest status of all people?
posted by Autumnheart at 1:05 PM on October 10 [13 favorites]


If reproductive success is supposedly evolution’s answer to high status, then how did we come up with a society that punishes women for having sex and reproducing, and making them the lowest status of all people?

And why is it that so many of our society's "successful" men have multiple stories of forcing women to have abortions?

Maybe when people want to write mediocre evo-psych papers, they need to stop using "reproductive success" when they MEAN "man who gets to have sex with a woman whose consent is utterly secondary to his desires".
posted by a fiendish thingy at 1:13 PM on October 10 [22 favorites]



If reproductive success is supposedly evolution’s answer to high status, then how did we come up with a society that punishes women for having sex and reproducing

And why is it that so many of our society's "successful" men have multiple stories of forcing women to have abortions?


Look, this article sucks and is dumb, and evo-psych is a garbage swamp on fire, but there's no reason for either of those social developments to be mutually exclusive with a species whose genes grant them the vague-but-strong internal impulse to pass those genes along as much as possible, and whose brains are capable of coming up with a whole lot of half-assed nonsense to explain what they see.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:37 PM on October 10 [4 favorites]


Because social developments have little to do with evolution, for one. It also does nothing to explore women’s culture, anywhere, in even the tiniest way. It doesn’t study women’s behavior, women’s rage, women’s status markers, and women’s motivations for achieving status and what they consider to be status. The only way the article even mentions women is to assign them as status symbols for men.

So when you have a study about “the species” that doesn’t even LOOK at half the fucking species, I personally am inclined to assume that nothing in the study has any validity to it whatsoever. The study doesn’t even look at men in other countries, it only looked at North American men, when nearly half of the planetary population lives in Asia.

That is not at all representative of humanity, not even statistically.
posted by Autumnheart at 1:45 PM on October 10 [22 favorites]


Has the experiment been done? How fast do new social hierarchies evolve?

I meant an experiment where a generation of rabbits is prevented by isolation from forming social hierarchies, not the monogamy straw man.
posted by Coventry at 2:00 PM on October 10


Evolutionary psychologists have evolved to provide exactly these explanations to people who have evolved to believe them.
posted by srboisvert at 2:03 PM on October 10 [5 favorites]


One thing that strikes me about all this ev-psych stuff: It always seems to boil down to "men are intrinsically violent, promiscuous, rapey, non-loving, prone to rage, unsuited to repetitive activities that require planning or tolerance for boredom and easily frustrated into violence; not all men have all these characteristics, but in general most men will have many of them, and that's just the way it is, ladeeez." And yet - you'd think the corollary would be "Women! Men are kind of shitty, so it's evolutionarily vital for you to threaten, trick or manipulate men into giving you stuff and then leaving you alone, also most of your relationships should be with other women if you can possibly make that happen, because otherwise men will sexually assault you, get you pregnant, beat you and run off when they get bored, because that's how they are." Basically, the logical ev-psych relationship situation is Sherri Tepper's post-apocalyptic heterosexual women's separatist novel The Gate To Women's Country*.

Ev-psych always seems to boil down to "men are terrible and incapable of love, but also really like fucking and violence". And yet instead of going to "to survive, women should limit their contact with men, because men suck", it always goes "women should selflessly put up with horrible and dangerous behavior, because while men's behavior is natural and not something you can just up and change, women should change themselves. If they try to manipulate these dangerous men, they're gold-diggers and teases".

*Sooooooo problematic, you guys. There's not enough tumblrs in the world.
posted by Frowner at 2:27 PM on October 10 [33 favorites]


I SAID the article sucks and is dumb! Holy shit! I'm not standing up for fucking evo-psych, I'm standing up literally just for the actual idea of evolution, which deserves better than these fucking Psychology Today morons.

All I said was that it is entirely possible --not certain, just possible-- for our species to on some level retain the idea that offspring (or anyway, the sex leading to them) are to be valued above all else, while also acting and building civilizations in ways that are totally contrary to that value, because of the influence of literally everything else besides our genetics.

Again, to repeat: This. Study. Sucks. And. Is. Dumb. But the existence of repressive structures around reproduction in current U.S. society is not an ironclad refutation of the idea that the human species as a whole, on some level, values reproduction.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:31 PM on October 10 [4 favorites]


But. The. Article. Isn’t. About. The. Human. Species.

It’s about North American men. Nobody else. And not even all North American men, since Canada doesn’t have a mass murder problem, and virtually all of these mass murderers are white.
posted by Autumnheart at 2:51 PM on October 10 [5 favorites]


And not to abuse the edit window, but since it apparently isn’t sinking in, the North American white male isn’t representative of all of humanity.
posted by Autumnheart at 2:52 PM on October 10 [2 favorites]


Well I'm not digging this hole any deeper; if you want to insist that I somehow agree with the article and think it's good and right despite my repeated statements of the exact opposite, and that I consider white North American males to be all of humanity, I sure as hell can't stop ya.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:55 PM on October 10


In fact, if we really want to phrase it another way, nobody on the entire planet except white American men has a mass murder problem. So you really can’t make a comment about “the species” when the behavior noted is limited to a tiny minority of a single culture that isn’t even shared by the rest of the Western world, much less the globe.
posted by Autumnheart at 2:56 PM on October 10 [3 favorites]


Then what is your point? Because you seem to be trying to say that this article makes some valid observations about “the species” even though it does no such thing.
posted by Autumnheart at 2:57 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]


OH i get it you think I'm saying that valuing reproduction causes mass murder.

Yeah it doesn't. It's just a thing. The dummy in the *article* says it causes mass murder, and he's wrong.

But just because it doesn't cause mass murder doesn't mean **it isn't a thing**.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:57 PM on October 10


It isn’t a thing. The dummy who wrote the article certainly didn’t provide any evidence for it, and our society demonstrably doesn’t provide any evidence for it either, since it discriminates against people with kids and caregivers on virtually every level. It pays them like shit, treats them like shit, and considers them disposable.

And here’s another thing, which doesn’t sink in, which is that you can’t draw any conclusions about “evolution” without taking a deep dive into women’s thoughts and behavior. Which science has never done, for the same reasons that they want to conclude that there is scientific merit in the idea that men getting to fuck a lot of women is the ideal state of “the species” and that’s why men who don’t get to do it go on murderous rampages.

Nothing about 2017 American male culture is “a thing” representative of human evolution. It doesn’t even represent our own culture from 100 years ago.
posted by Autumnheart at 3:06 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]


I was responding only to the two comments -- yours and fiendish thingy's -- that seemed to suggest that valuing reproduction wasn't a possible trait for humans to evolve with, because we have built societies that punish women for reproduction, and because we have high-status individuals who pressure partners into abortions. "We act this way, ergo humans don't think reproduction is a sign of status".

I only think it is entirely possible for the human species to perceive - consciously or unconsciously - reproduction as a sign of status AND ALSO to build civilizations that do not necessarily reflect that in a perfect or logical way, AND ALSO certainly to produce individuals whose actions do not reflect that in a perfect or logical way.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 3:07 PM on October 10


Or maybe it’s just a bullshit idea with no basis in reality.
posted by Autumnheart at 3:07 PM on October 10


OK well we're back to where I bow right on out then.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 3:09 PM on October 10


In fact, if we really want to phrase it another way, nobody on the entire planet except white American men has a mass murder problem

That's absolutely not true; it's just worse in the USA. The data's a mess, and probably has an American/European reporting bias, but: Africa
and the Middle East
, Americas, Europe.
posted by Leon at 3:22 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]


The data is a mess, but many of those listings go back more than a hundred years. One for Africa and the Middle East took place in 644 A.D. The vast majority took place from the 1800s to current day. And the sum total of all of those listings is 342 separate incidents, with slightly more perpetrators than that.

That is such an infinitesimal sample of the overall human population, that I don’t agree that we can draw any conclusions about human behavior overall, much less their evolution over the millennia. Most of global culture has evolved drastically since 1900. We don’t even eat the same food and speak the same language, much less have the same biological, cultural, physical, and social impetuses that might drive an individual to commit mass murder. And certainly someone in the Middle East in 1879 would not have been coming from ANY of the same conditions as someone in Europe or the Americas.

The only way I could even see any “evolutionary” argument gaining traction is if someone studied the remains of these perpetrators and deduced whether there was any physical commonality among them. A gene? A physical anomaly? But all these arguments seem to want to come up with a “biotruth” for social behavior, and more than that, to present this “biotruth” without examining anything about the rest of their society, as if these men operated entirely within a vacuum and that the only motivations that impacted their decisions were their own.

For example, if evo-psych spent even a tenth as much energy asking women what goes on in our heads, and accepting it as a given, and then examining the impact that our collective actions have on a given culture, then maybe one might start to find even an iota of an answer. But these articles never do that, nor do the people who argue their points. Instead they come up with allllll kinds of reasons about the gaps and drivers in these men’s lives, and by extension all men’s lives, and never ask that question about women. Instead, only assumptions about women are made, like “Men go on murderous rampages. They do this because they feel a loss in their status. Status is displayed by being seen to have lots of female sexual partners. Therefore men who don’t have lots of female sexual partners go on murderous rampages,” as if implying that the answer to curing murderous rampages is to provide female sexual partners!

Nobody ever fucking asks, “Women experience low status. Their status decreases with their age, decrease in physical attractiveness, and the number of children they have in their lifetime. This has a tremendous impact on their earning ability, their health and their quality of life. They report lots of feelings of rage. Why don’t women go on murderous rampages, even though they have the same access to weapons as men?”

Why don’t they ask that? Seems like it’d be relevant, since both groups experience a loss in status, and despite differing status markers, only one group goes on murderous rampages and not the other, why? And not only do they not ask that question, they don’t even ask women what kinds of status they seek out, and about the motivations for their own behavior, like enduring lower status and a negative impact on their overall quality of life in order to remain independent. So personal autonomy is considered a marker of high status among women, possibly one of the highest? Do women who suffer from a significant lack of personal autonomy go on murderous rampages? Guess we could examine the history of female violence and see! Do men who suffer from what they perceive as a lack of personal autonomy go on murderous rampages? Maybe they do!

But no, everyone always just stops at “Well, these guys don’t get laid enough. What a shame.”
posted by Autumnheart at 4:02 PM on October 10 [26 favorites]


the reason you know they're not right is because if they were right, it would be the simplest thing in the world to fix, and fix for good.

1. the violence trigger for men is not low status, it's loss of status. This is why it's white men doing the mass murders in the U.S. -- they are the ones who have status, and therefore are able to lose it. If you don't have it to begin with, you cannot ever suffer the terrible humiliation of losing it, which is the worst trauma in the world and makes you try to kill everybody.

2. so, we are all agreed that it is a disaster idea to give white men, starting in boyhood, unearned, undeserved status that they could not be trusted with even if they did deserve it, since they aren't safe if they ever lose it

3. so STOP GIVING WHITE MEN SPECIAL PRIVILEGES. for their own good. it absolutely obliterates them if they ever lose any. so for their sake, get them off this terrifying roller coaster of one day being the most important people on earth and the next day just being extremely well positioned for success. it's cruel!

3(b) alternate argument: ok so 1. men looooove status. 2. guns are a shortcut to ultimate high status, where you get to decide who lives and who dies, like a big boy! 3. therefore men cannot be trusted with guns. 4....I feel like there's an obvious 4 here, and it's not "make sure men don't ever feel bad or lonely." something about gun control? that can't be right
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:19 PM on October 10 [15 favorites]


Metafilter: There's not enough tumblrs in the world.
posted by Coventry at 5:36 PM on October 10 [2 favorites]


From the article: we have done the genetic analysis and most males (60 percent) do not reproduce

How can this be true if we still have population growth? Are there really that many gay, single, and/or infertile men? (Plus males who died before adulthood.) Or do they mean 60% of the mass killers?

From one of the articles in the footnotes: Someting [sic] happens to males at about age 14 that doesn't happen to girls. [...] What happens to boys at age 14 that doesn't happen to girls?

WOW IT IS A MYSTERY WHAT COULD IT BE
posted by AFABulous at 5:58 PM on October 10 [2 favorites]


how does he dismiss 'toxic masculinity' and then ascribe some mumbo jumbo theory to class / status?

I would just lump these two things and ascribe it to culture. Since most cultures across the sample set are patriarchal, the theory would hold.
posted by eustatic at 6:14 PM on October 10 [2 favorites]


everything in american culture fetishizes money and power and youth and money and freedom to do whatever the fuck you want, and money. status is linked to those things, not to how many children you have.

You and other commenters have this backwards. How much sex you have (i.e. opportunity for reproduction) is linked to how much status you have. This is easily perceptible. Guys with more money and more power can more easily obtain sex (by attraction or force).

Mass killers are usually younger guys who don't have status (access to sex via money and power), or older guys who lose status (access to sex and/or money and/or power). It's nothing to do with how many kids they have actually fathered.
posted by AFABulous at 6:14 PM on October 10 [3 favorites]


How can this be true if we still have population growth? Are there really that many gay, single, and/or infertile men? (Plus males who died before adulthood.) Or do they mean 60% of the mass killers?

There's some spelunking on what is probably the same statistic here. TL;DR:
  1. He's probably referring to a claim that 60% of all human males who have ever lived do not have a contemporary descendant (vs 80% of human females ever do)
  2. He does not understand the genetic analysis he's appealing to, and probably does not even know where to find it
  3. The analysis is based on outmoded population genetics models (constant "effective population size") which no one in the field took seriously around the time I stopped paying attention in 2012.
posted by Coventry at 6:44 PM on October 10 [6 favorites]


Cool. Another way men's violence is women's fault.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 8:08 PM on October 10 [5 favorites]


You and other commenters have this backwards. How much sex you have (i.e. opportunity for reproduction) is linked to how much status you have.

ok, i'll bite. so let's say you're right and the only reason money is important is because it buys sex and sex is really the status symbol (not "reproductive success" or whatever euphemism was in the article) that sad angry men are after. Even if that's true, it wouldn't remotely explain this shooting. the guy was a multi millionaire with numerous houses and gambling accounts. if he wanted to have copious amounts of sex, this would not have been difficult to do, especially in vegas. so, yeah... the theory is not persuasive.
posted by wibari at 9:41 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]


So if every woman in the world rolled over and let every man who wanted to fuck her regardless of anything, you're saying all the men would stop wanting to kill us?
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:25 PM on October 10 [5 favorites]


I’m over Men and Their Sad Boners: The Men Story as told by Evo Psych.

As pointed out already it’s funny that this is never taken to its natural ridiculous conclusion like, men are so fragile and irrational we must keep them away from bright lights and sharp objects. It’s always men are so fragile and irrational we must humor their every need lest they turn on us.

Even if evo psych weren’t empirically full of shit, I would distrust it solely based on the fact that it’s proponents always want to maintain the patriarchal status quo, usually by treating it as an inevitable facet of nature rather than a culturally reinforced norm.
posted by supercrayon at 1:24 AM on October 11 [24 favorites]


And yet - you'd think the corollary would be "Women! Men are kind of shitty, so it's evolutionarily vital for you to threaten, trick or manipulate men into giving you stuff and then leaving you alone, also most of your relationships should be with other women if you can possibly make that happen, because otherwise men will sexually assault you, get you pregnant, beat you and run off when they get bored, because that's how they are."

I mean...I kind of thought that WAS the theory?
posted by corb at 6:10 AM on October 11


Is there some well written rebuttal of the whole enterprise of evolutionary psychology? I've been ignoring it for years, or using it as a stupid filter when seeing things like Damore's dumbass "girls suck at computers" manifesto for Google. But that's been a reflexive sort of response to what is obviously a self-satisfying pseudoscientific enterprise. I don't have reasoned arguments because I can't be bothered.

I'm wondering now if there's a good reasoned argument against evopsych that I can point people to. "Men and Their Sad Boners" is pretty good, I have to admit.
posted by Nelson at 6:17 AM on October 11 [1 favorite]


Nelson, you're in luck. Mefi's own sciatrix wrote a large rebuttal (Medium says it's a 90 minute read) to Damore's screed. In it she discusses, in a nuanced way, the evidence required in order to successfully claim a behavior has an evolutionary component.
posted by Axle at 6:55 AM on October 11 [6 favorites]


Sure, evo-psych lends itself really to hand wavey status quo justification. Here's the thing I'm not seeing in the text, and maybe it's fair to presume it's actually the conclusion a reader would draw, but I don't see anything like:
"If only women would give status-challenged man-children sex they won't be violent."

I'm sure there are plenty of Damoresque dipshits who might draw that conclusion, but I'm not convinced the possibility of that conclusion being drawn should invalidate the question itself.

Further, I don't think the authors are slyly suggesting that conclusion either, but I don't know their mind (aside from being lazy with some terminology and defensive about their misinterpretation of feminist theory).

More data with better sourcing and perhaps a better working definition of mass violence can help, but how is it not useful to take the data at hand and attempt to craft theories about these white American dudes and how they might be expressing a reaction to status challenges? Can we extract things to test that are valid for the whole species? It seems like this subset with richer data (and more dire and obvious outcomes) can generate a thesis about the species that might be further tested. Again, I don't think that's a negative, because then it can be falsified, amended, etc.

Meanwhile, do we care about mass violence in this cohort? I can see a very reasoned argument that no, the occurrence (like terrorism) is so rare that it's irresponsible to spend resources on it. But I also see the resonating effects of terrorism and mass violence, and that they are the "Boogeyman that justifies everything" in large part because their causes are poorly understood.* It seems the more hard data available on how and why, the better we can drive change from facts and reason.

I get that the article is 75% garbage, but I think the topic deserves exploration because it could help us understand how to better head off violence (maybe not just mass, maybe spousal abuse or other broken expressions of whatever stew our culture and genetic history have concocted in pursuit of some local maximum of reward).

I get that it's infuriating, and I'm not telling anybody how to feel about it, but I am unconvinced that the toxic audience justifies ignoring research that could help prevent harm.

* Actually there's tons of understanding, but little makes its way into policy. That doesn't mean the research is irresponsible or useless.
posted by abulafa at 7:36 AM on October 11 [1 favorite]


I'm sure the article is very bad and all, but I can't tell because I'm too distracted by being annoyed that they use North American and [US] American completely interchangeably. Hello, there are other countries on this continent. No idea if they included non-US data, though I suspect not, since there aren't a whole lot of non-US shootings to choose from....

Canada would have been an excellent comparison group, actually, since we are probably the closest country culturally to the US but have almost no mass shootings (wikipedia says the last one was Jan 2017, when that asshole killed 6 people in a mosque). Far less deadly ones, too. I'm sure the very limited access to assault rifles/whatever other ridiculously effective killing machines you have down there is complete coincidence. Canadian women must just put out more, I guess.
posted by randomnity at 10:04 AM on October 11 [2 favorites]


*aggravated squinting* is it just a week for this or something? I swung by here after noting an outraged response to a totally different evo psych paper elsenet and then noticed this thing. Why can't I get my papers through peer review with reasoning as shoddy as this? Maybe I should just start passing out tiny paper surveys to my mice and asking them what they think so I can say " IT'S EVOLUTION" and get all my work rubber-stamped without critical mechanistic analysis. It seems like an easy enough gig.

Incidentally, I was approached by a writer at Nautilus about a week ago for a theme issue about evolutionary psychology and the state of the human condition, and I had an interview about that a few days ago. I'm cautiously optimistic to see what that piece will look like when it's published.
posted by sciatrix at 11:19 AM on October 11 [6 favorites]


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