le 17 décembre 2012
The book is composed of many short articles about a lot of subjects, but two third of it is devoted to sexual matters. To explain to you why, and what is Jesse Bering's point of view, I criticize in the subsequent paragraphs the evolutionary biology theory, Bering's paramount paradigm. I will use this discussion as an opportunity to describe some of the matters tackled in the book.
Bering's all powerful and knowledgeable god is the gene pool. Since he is a psychologist I was expecting that his god could be the unconscious, but in fact it works quite in the same way. It is something that drives your life, and though deprived of any awareness knows a lot of things. For example, how to explain suicide ? Here is the answer (p.231) : "as the evolutionary theorist William Hamilton's famous [?] principle of inclusive fitness elucidated so clearly [lol], it is the proportion of one's genetic material surviving in subsequent generations that matters ; and so if the self's survival comes at the expense of one's genetic kin being able to pass on their genes, then sacrificing one's life for a net genetic gain may have been adaptive ancestrally." This is what J. Bering would have liked to share with the gays who commited suicide, as he says... in other words, he would have told them "Suicide is an adaptive process. Human gene pool knows that if you have children one day [hello Jesse, you just told us they were gays !], then they will not be able to reproduce themselves [oh my... clever "little genes" !], hence your genes decide [quite a feat, since they are deprived of consciousness] that enough is enough and if you could die immediately it would be better for everyone [ah !... Now surely you feel much better !]".
Bering's religion is called "evolutionary biology" or sometimes "evolutionary psychology". It stipulates that everything should have the same systematic explanation, which is much more interesting than "It is the way it is because God decided it so", indeed it amounts to "It is the way it is because the Gene Pool decided it so". This is certainly why J. Bering does not believe in God : he prefers Gene Pool. And what does Gene Pool wants, above all else ? Reproduction (as the practical way for its survival). Quite a bizarre theory to endorse for a gay man, as he repeatedly claims to be.
J. Bering considers evolutionary biology as the way to explain everything. And indeed, he often sheds some interesting light on different questions throughout his book, about cannibalism, the shape of the penis, acne to name a few. But it is very unlikely that evolutionary biology will be able to explain why shamans see therianthropes in their psychedelic visions, or why humans are unable to rebel against an economic system polluting the very air they breathe and leading them directly to the destruction of their habitat (the biosphere). So, despite some interesting material and thinking, I often felt frustrated and found myself thinking "Why ? Why does he limit himself to this rehash of the 'everything is in the genes' trend followed by some scientists more than 10 years ago ?" It has nevertheless this interest to expose how many scientists think today (because evolutionary biology is really the new religion in fashion among many of them), and how too conservative they are (understandable though, since they are generally paid by states or big enterprises, whose interests are in the perpetuation of the system).
Of course if a species survives it means that its gene pool enables it to ; and a species can only do what its gene pool allows it to do. But it allows a lot more than a single behaviour, so trying to deduce all behaviours from Gene Pool interests, and only considering Gene Pool, is terribly simplistic.
As I evoked earlier, evolutionary biology, in stressing exaggerately the importance of sexual reproduction, tends to be homophobic. According to J. Bering (who presents studies made by other believers), if gays commit suicide more often than heteros it is also because they have "poor reproduction prospects". This argument (gays do not usually reproduce) is true, and suits his religion, ok. Now, was this hypothesis tested, as should be any so-called scientific truth ? Of course not. Maybe it is not possible to compare the suicide rates between gays and heteros in non-homophobic societies (in ancient Greece, or in some tribes), but then it should not be expressed as a truth. And this sort of "truth" (considered true because it suits the religion) appears all along the book.
Not only some unproven assertions are considered true when they fit the Gene Pool religion, some facts are rejected, some insult hurled, and some snap judgement made when they question its soundness.
Because the religion states that everything could be interpreted via Gene Pool interests (well-understood), and that Its foremost interest is to survive (Gene Pool is not eternal), the most important thing in life, for each of us, is to reproduce. Thus asexuals and homosexuals are aberrations that the religion has difficulties in explaining.
In fact J. Bering does not believe that there exist asexuals since "what would the evolutionary psychologist make of asexuality ?" (p.125). "the only good way to solve the riddle is also a bit unsavory. But unless psychological scientists [sic] ever gather a group of willing, self-identified asexuals and, systematically and under controlled conditions, expose them to an array of erotic stimuli while measuring their sexual arousal [...] the truth of the matter will lie forever hidden away in the asexuals' pants." (this denial of people's feelings is directed only toward asexuals ; J. Bering does not propose that heteros or gays or anyone else should be tested).
Since Gene Pool decided every possible behaviour It decided our sexuality as well. Here J. Bering, instead of using denial of the facts, prefers to insult the people who would not share his point of view : (p.199) "it requires a prodigious degree of stupidity to talk about what makes one's genitalia become tumescent as being a conscious choice". Though my own life cast some doubts on this assertion. I used to be heterosexual before realising that I liked my body and I was able to stroke any part of it, and I was even able to caress many animals and to take sexual pleasure with a dorknob or a watermelon, so why couldn't I do the same with a boy I would have liked ? And I was not the only one in my situation. Are we so servile we can not even choose what to do with our bodies ? Then I tried a sexual relation with my best friend, who was gay, and it was wonderful. I prefer the responsiveness of muscles to the slackness of fat, so I now consider myself as being gay. My story might show that any heterosexual who can jerk off with any object is heterosexual only because the society told him/her to be, and not because of a gene or Gene Pool superpowers.
To retaliate after this terrible insult (I am a stupidity prodigy), I will give a last example of evolutionary biology relevance. Because Gene Pool needs reproduction, asexuals are not trusted when they say they take no pleasure in sex, but J. Bering being gay he can not posit that homosexuals do not exist neither. So does he respect them or does he stick to his religious beliefs ? As any good priest, he prefers to spit on his fellows than to renounce his religion. He tries to soothe the parents who would have homosexual children : (p.200) "I think it's far better for parents to recognize the source of their concerns about having a gay child as being motivated by unconscious genetic interests". And he insists "it's also important to stress that since genetic success is weighed in evolutionary biological terms as the relative percentage of one's genes that carry over into subsequent generations -rather than simply number of offspring per se- there are other, though typically less profitable, ways for your child to contribute to your overall genetic success" [don't forget this should be your ultimate goal in life...] and thus "your ultimate genetic payoff could, strangely enough, be even larger with one very special gay child than it would be if ten mediocre straight offsprings leaped from your loins".
What a convoluted way to explain homosexuality ! I do not share J. Bering's own homophobia, and to answer to the points he makes : there is no excuse to be homophobic ; there is no consolation needed for parents raising a gay child, except if their concerns are due to society's homophobia ; I don't care about the survival of my genes - or yours - ; if I had a child he would not be more or "less profitable" ; and I dislike your religion which leads to such statements.
What is my conclusion about this book ? I am thankful to J. Bering for explaining his religious beliefs about Gene Pool in an honest, clear and often humorous way. It is interesting as a widespread religion today among the scientific community. It is thought-provoking, and a lot more awaits the reader than what I presented here. But in the end I dislike evolutionary biology : I prefer to think than to believe, I prefer to listen to what people say before interpreting or insulting them, and I do not consider gay children as "less profitable" since I really don't care about Gene Pool.
To end with positive remarks, I want to add that J. Bering is able to be compassionnate ; he holds interesting and friendly stances about animals treatment or "green burial". Also, to be complete about J. Bering's understanding of suicide, I must add that his religious interpretation is followed by a much more interesting presentation of a "suicidal person" ; J. Bering lets down his religious beliefs for a moment and presents R. Baumeister's article "Suicide as escape from self" (1990).
At last, the book is presented in a good quality edition.