They made us this way for what they can never say… Descriptivist normativity in philosophy of sex

Oooooh, big words.  Fortunately, they mean something interesting.

I had a bit of a snark at Family First for their normative view of the family: children ought to have a mother and a father.  I rejected it based on the need for the ‘correct’ kind of mother and father, suggesting we should replace this with ‘Children ought to have a loving environment’.

I could have attacked the statement in a way more similar to the fashion of the time: assert that there is something fundamentally flawed about normative statements regarding lived experience.  There’s an article in the Sydney Morning Herald regarding sexual morality and why monogamous relationships are somehow the worst possible things we could do to ourselves.

Using anthropology, anatomy, archaeology and primatology. Ryan takes aim at what he calls the “standard narrative”, the idea that men and women evolved in families in which a man’s possessions and protection were exchanged for the women’s fertility and fidelity. This notion, what the anthropologist Helen Fisher calls the ”sex contract”, has long dominated our thinking about sexual evolution.

But it is a myth, according to Ryan, who points out that for 2 million years our ancestors lived in small, interdependent, highly egalitarian groups who shared everything, including sex. “Evidence suggests that our pre-agricultural ancestors would have had several ongoing sexual relationships at any one time,” Ryan says. “These overlapping, intersecting sexual relationships strengthened group cohesion and could offer a measure of security in an uncertain world.”  — Source.

While it’s difficult to analyse something based on the media release (and science journalism in Australia is woeful (though there might be a reason for that) think about precisely what’s been written here.  Ryan has attacked the ‘standard narrative’ based on how our ancestors lived for 2 million years.  It’s a weird comment to make, not least because Ryan isn’t an archaeologist or anthropologist, but because hominids haven’t existed as a single, continuous species for that amount of time.  Two million years ago, there were no domesticated animals.  Therefore, is it a myth that domestication affected the evolution of dogs?  Clearly, it’s not.  Did we domesticate ourselves?  Probably.  Could that have included an evolution of monogamous relationships?  Possibly.  So ‘2 million years ago, we were different’ isn’t an argument about our current behaviour.

But also consider the assumptions behind the statement.  In describing our ancestors, Ryan is alluding to a normative framework of how we should be. Continue reading “They made us this way for what they can never say… Descriptivist normativity in philosophy of sex”