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am 1. April 2000
The main strength of this book is its very publication, I think. I suppose to get a more vigorous debate going on about all the causes of rape, someone had to write this book. Thornhill and Palmer did it, and hopefully it will spawn more research, either in support or in opposition. This book is written for a general audience but its main targets are within academia, namely the social sciences. I think T&P wrote it to a mass audience as a way of circumventing what they saw were roadblocks within the academic community to a serious discussion of these concepts. If so, then that's great.
T&P also do well in pointing out some of the (mostly) logical flaws of the current social theory behind rape. The main one for me was that, while social theory stresses that power, hate, and so forth motivate rape (which I'm sure they do), the social theory never really answers for me this question, "Why rape"? There are other ways that misogynist men could express themselves besides this one, which seems to be numero uno on the expression list, according to the prevailing theory. Sex has to be the underlying answer to this question. Men who rape are obviously sexually aroused, and the old mind/body duality a la Descartes doesn't cut it as an answer for this. There's room for both social and biological causes here, and both should be explored more fully.
That brings me to the book's main weakness. "A natural history" this isn't. T&P offer the basic theoretical idea behind rape being a specific adaptation of evolution. But its obvious that the research isn't there (yet) to support it. They overreach on their "pro" argument as a result, stating things as if they're already conclusively proven, when they can offer up only fragmentary evidence at best. Maybe its the ideological blockade that is making it hard to collect such evidence, and maybe this book will help overcome that. But, until more is found, for this neutral, general reader of science, I'm taking a wait-and-see attitude. There's not a consensus yet in the biological community about causes of rape, so Thornhill and Palmer shouldn't attempt to speak for that entire field, which it sometimes seems like they're trying to do.
Read it or not? Yeah, sure, read it. Anytime a book makes a splash you should at least be aware of its contents if nothing else. Just don't be misled into believing you're going to walk away from it with definitive answers, unless they're the ideological based answers (either way) that you walked in with in the first place. The jury's still out on this one
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am 6. März 2000
Thornhill and Palmer (TP) review tons of evidence on the nature of rape. The plusses of the book are (1) they show that rape is a sexual act directed at obtaining pleasure rather than being an expression of male power; (2) they show that as predicted by evolutionary theory, males are evolutionarily adapted to rape, whereas females are not. These are terribly important facts, and they go against the accepted wisdom in contemporary sociology and some brands of feminism; but the accepted wisdom has no empirical basis whatever, in the authors opinion and mine as well. The minuses of the book will appear trivial to those who believe in the accepted wisdom and are shattered by its demise. But they are important nonetheless. Most important, TP view males as touting up the costs of raping (pleasure, possible reproduction) against the costs (getting caught and punished). If the benefits exceed the costs, the male rapes. This ignores all forms of interpersonal interaction except the brute physical. For instance, the 'cost' of causing harm to an innocent victim, the 'cost' of seeing a victim helpless and miserable because of your actions, the 'cost' of having the self-image as a sexual predator, and the like, are simply not part of their model of human motivation. Yet there is overwhelming evidence that people are self-interested in the way depicted by TP. Males who use TP's cost/benefit analysis are better described as psychopaths or sociopaths rather than normal humans. This is because in the course of our evolution, humans have picked up fundamental prosocial traits. When these are absent in a person, the person is an abnormal, pathological case. In short, an alternative to TP's characterization of rape is that rapists are males who have abnormal personalities (including but not limited to psychopathy) the allow them to act out on urges that all males have but in most are countermanded by basic human sympathies. TP do a disservice to evolutionary theory, which they use to portray humans as a sorry lot of selfish brutes. The fact is that evolution produces morality and beauty, sensitivity and love, just as much as rape, murder, and indifference.
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am 24. Februar 2000
Nature, and natural selection, are not PC. We and all livingcreatures exist because of this process. It is impossible that ourenduring behaviors have not been shaped in some way by natural selection. This does not mean that all human behavior does not occur within an environment, which is crucial. Genetic determinism does not exist. That said, I don't think that Thornhill and Palmer have shown that humans male have an actual adaptation to rape(may instead be a by-product of male sexuality). I think that this book should not have been written at this point. The evidence is not there, which is not to say that it will never be there (to be fair, the evidence for social scientist's theories is even more flawed). More research is needed, which the authors concede, but it is somewhat damaging that this book was written before having this sort of proof. If the hypothesis has not yet been supported, why write a book about it that attempts to be comprehensive? This book does a good job of explaining the position of evolutionary psychology/sociobiology and of illustrating the ways that is has been misrepresented to support a feminist/cultural anthropologist political agenda that seems to not be interested in basing itself in science. It is amazing to me that most people cannot comprehend the obvious- the mainstream refusal to understand the difference between ultimate and functional causality or the naturalistic fallacy is a formidable obstacle. Nature is amoral. Humans have a capacity for morality. If rape is shown to have some biological basis (which it must), this says nothing about excusing men for their behavior. We can all agree that rape is wrong and something that we must work to prevent. Studying ALL of the reasons that compel men to rape, is crucial, and finding the ultimate, biological reason is the best way of all we have to learn how to prevent human rape. END
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am 2. April 2000
Thornhill and Palmer's major error was in using the word "natural" in a title of a book about the horrific act of rape. Hemlock and murder are also natural, but natural does not mean good. They should have had the sense to know that this title would put readers on the defensive right from the get-go. I think using evolutionary theory to figure out the cause behind human behavior makes good sense, because after all, we are the products of our past, and this past includes the good, bad, and ugly, but the suggestion to women about altering appearance is ridiculous... If a murderer prowled the neighborhood, would we advise living beings to hide themselves because they might get murdered? You'd hunt for the murderer and lock him or her up...
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am 7. Mai 2000
If you want to know the truth about rape, read this book and then Brownmillers' Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape. If you have already decided you know the truth you will not discover that the truth lies somewhere in between these two books. As often happens, the authors of each of these books know they are right, are proud of it, and they do not want to be encumbered by each others facts. There should be little doubt that rape is about one persons power and control over another persons body (Brownmiller) yet by its very nature rape must at some point involve sexuality (T&P). One does not become sexualy aroused (most often a necessity to complete the act) over visions of power and control. Sex must play some role ie: the chicken or the egg, it doesn't matter which is first, we all must recognize that each plays a role. Sometimes rape is motivated by sex, sometims by power and control, sometimes both.
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