Tuesday 21 July 2015

Genetic disruption of optimal sexual development may underlie and facilitate the sexual revolution

If the sexual revolution can briefly be defined as the long-term and strategic legalization, toleration, equalization, and now official advocacy and approval of sexuality outwith the context of traditional and permanent marriage - then one extraordinary and neglected aspect is: that it has been able to happen.

In The West, we find ourselves in an extraordinary situation with respect to sexuality - and the single most extraordinary aspect is that a critical mass of people do not find it extraordinary at all!

Plenty of Westerners apparently regard the current situation of moral inversion with bland equanimity - a situation in which the goods and bads, rewards and punishments, official supports and persecutions of sexuality have been turned on their heads... and yet this unprecedented ethos elicits little more than a shrug or a grin from the masses.

It looks very much as if the sexual revolution has been pushing at an open door - and yet, in world historical terms we are in uncharted territory: there never has been a society like ours, now, in which sexual transgression (according to world historical consensus) has been so actively-endorsed at every level from mass media and the arts, to government policy and the workplace.

This is utterly remarkable - yet clearly it is not viscerally regarded as remarkable - it is, more or less, accepted.


Why is the extraordinary situation of the sexual revolution accepted so placidly, when it is so extraordinary? Clearly there must be unprecedented factors at work, things that have never before been operative.

I think there are two main plausible candidates: Irreligion and genetic damage.

1. Irrelegion

Irreligion refers to the unprecedented state of incremental mass apostasy from Christianity. We live in a world where religion is not just absent from, but excluded from , the public sphere - and this is something new in human history. Irreligion means that there is no reason - except personal preference, which is labile and malleable - not to do anything.

This means that instinctive feelings of approval or disapproval cannot be ordered; cannot even be rationally discussed - people feel unsure, unconfident; modern people therefore are demotivated, lack the courage of their convictions, and seem unable coherently to oppose anything being imposed from above.

2. Mutation accumulation.

But the lack of resistance to the sexual revolution seems even more profound than this. The impression is not one of a mass of passive people whose instinctive valuations are being violated but lack the clarity and courage to respond; but instead of people whose sexual instincts are absent, weak or disordered - and therefore see no reason not to go along with whatever sexual innovation is being advocated.

The impression is therefore that the mass of people are suffering from a mass of sexual pathologies - such that sexuality is - in multiple ways - weakened, labile, misdirected, futile.

Is this plausible? Yes. There are powerful theoretical grounds for assuming that since the industrial revolution, the extreme reduction in natural selection on humans (mainly, but not entirely, due to reduction of child mortality rates from more-than-half to almost none) must have led to a generation-by-generation accumulation of deleterious genetic mutations - which would be expected to damage social and sexual adaptations before anything else.



Why sexuality?

Because the development of adaptive sexuality is an extremely complex and multi-step linear sequence, with many things that can (and do) go wrong at every step - and only if every step in the sequence has gone well, will sexuality be optimally adaptive.

There is genetics; then (controlled by the genes) multiple waves of multiple hormone-induced changes - primarily in the womb during the earliest and most fundamental development, and secondarily at adolescence and the development of fertility; there are calibrations to the early environment ('life history'), critical learning experiences and adaptations to the socio-political system and others... all of which must successfully be negotiated for sexuality to be 'normal'.

This complex sequentiality of development is why sexuality is a function where genetic damage first and most sensitively shows-up.


It might be asked how sexual development could possible be so fragile, considering that - until now - the human species has not died out but has indeed grown in numbers!

The answer is that the errors in sexual development were weeded-out generation upon generation - by mortality rates being heaviest, and near total, among the most genetically damaged in the first place; then by sexual selection and assortative mating as a kind of back-stop - whereby the most genetically-healthy would choose each other and reproduce to yield (mostly) viable offspring - and the least genetically-healthy would be left-out; or mate to yield (mostly) non-viable offspring.

The harshnness and rigour of this historical selection process is hard to exaggerate. It used to be near universal, yet in the past 200 years it has been incrementally all-but eliminated from ever-more of the world.

Thereby the failures of normal sexual development would continuously be being-'purged' from the gene pool - and this was necessary because they were continually incident (mostly due to genetics, but also due to the environment).


Our current situation is merely the lag phase in which genetic damage is relatively subtle and apparent mainly in sexual and social behaviour; and it will be followed by more and more obvious and severe dysfunctionalities.

The seeming slowness of sexual and social change - operating over a decades timescale - is merely an artefact of the slow generation time of the human species. There have been only about eight generations since the industrial revolution, even in England where it began; and the increasing longevity of humans further buffers apparent change.


So it is plausible that the modern lack of concern at the sexual revolution was enabled, was facilitated, and is more-or-less accepted due to the high prevalence of greater-or-lesser types and quantities of disordered sexuality in the population at large.

In sum, it seems probable that almost everybody in the modern West, and indeed most of the rest of the world (the rapidity of change is likely to vary by population and location) is suffering from genetically-disordered sexuality of varying degrees and types; caused by the unique conditions of the post-industrial revolution on ameliorating the harshness of human selection.

And this would explain how it is that the truly extraordinary and unprecedented modern situation with respect to Western sexuality has met with so little response or resistance.

Note: these ideas were developed in conversation and collaboration with Michael A Woodley of Menie. 


ajb said...

I find it more plausible to say that mass media propaganda - more powerful and ubiquitous than ever in history - is largely responsible for it.

15 years and a significant mass media campaign ('emergent' - these things are almost never coordinated), say, can significantly move opinion on many, many topics.

My *guess* is that mutational meltdown is a small factor in this.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ajb - I would have agreed with you a year ago - but now I feel that if the sexuality of the mass of people was more optimal and adaptive and robust, then no amount of mass media propaganda could have been so effective.

When sexuality has developed as (biologically) intended then it really is (and evolved to be) extremely robust to anything the environment can throw at it.

Leo said...

A very perceptive analysis of the sexual revolution!

I assume that all behaviors have a nature (genetic) and nurture (educational) component. I have no special insight on the genetic component. The mass media has been working overtime on shaping the educational component of the sexual revolution. Any genetic component that affects the media elite is multiplied and spread to the society as a whole.

I believe there is also an unseen spiritual component. Some individuals will be able to resist the sexual revolution, but I think it will be increasingly difficult to do so without a religious foundation.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Leo - Agreed. The spiritual/ religious element becomes more important than ever when natural instincts are disrupted.

Eric Fesh said...

I wonder if what we're seeing is a society-wide weakening in the sense of disgust. It seems to me that this would be more easily be explained by genetics and the consequent behavioral effects would reasonably follow from it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@EF -That's an interesting idea, and might be testable.

Disgust is hypothesized to be an aversion to primarily substances, secondarily people, liable to cause microbiological contamination (under ancestral conditions).

However, on the face of it, it looks as if Western societies seem to feel disgust more strongly rather than less - eg the increase in hygienic practices, the increase in vegetarianism (most disgust evoking substances are animal products or animals - the exception is fungi).

So I guess probably *not* disgust mediated - but more formal and focused studies should perhaps be done.

Eric Fesh said...

Hmm. Malfunction of the disgust mechanism, then? Akin to autoimmune disorders?

One of the reasons I twigged on disgust was the lack thereof in the last few years regarding violent atrocities overseas and increasing desensitization to violence in entertainment. Also the findings that conservatives apparently react more strongly to disgusting imagery than liberals. I'm very much an amateur in these matters, though.

Anonymous said...

I think technology will make it possible to artificially reduce the negative mutation load without the accompaning culling and the corresponding human suffering associated with that:


ajb said...

@Bruce, "extremely robust to anything the environment can throw at it"

We're in a *very* unusual environment.

Hosswire said...

The massive introduction of endocrine disrupting chemicals into our environment may also be a contributing factor. These substances mimic estrogen in the body, and interfere with the mental & physical masculinization process both in utero & afterwards.

Anatomic evaluations, sperm levels & testosterone levels all concur: on a physical level, Western men are not as manly now as even 10-15 years ago, much less 100.

Bruce Charlton said...

@as - All fair points - but I was focusing on the core biological function of disgust. Maybe what you and EF are describing needs a different conceptualization?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Anon - WD Hamilton explained that this is not possible - I believe *him*.

Bruce B. said...

I’m not a scientist so this may be a non-quantitative, non-argument but at the gut level it seems like the dramatic cultural and environmental (societal) changes would swamp any genetic changes.

I don’t know much about evolution, but I would think most of what biologically drives sex is pleasure – and not so much a conscious drive to get pregnant. So the changes in the 1960’s fit with our natural (in the bad sense) inclinations and the traditional restraints being removed resulted in the sexual dysfunction we have today.

Senghendrake said...

I think you underestimate the power of brainwashing from a young age. Those that haven't been in school (especially public school) for decades tend to be out of the loop when it comes to the true extent of social engineering taking place. Sterility and Tolerance™ of dysfunctional quasi-sexual practices are pushed, hard. Even in the 90s, when I (a millennial) was in elementary school in an ultra-liberal area, this was going on, and I wouldn't be surprised if it's even more intense now.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Senghg - I don't think I underestimate brainwashing - see my last book


Chemical Sea said...

What about the Pill? My understanding is that it precisely flips women's evolved pheremonal detection for someone with beneficially opposite immune system genetics. Women have been selecting men for three generation now. The by product of this, given that most young women in college are on the Pill, would be inevitable genetic decline.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Various commentators - Just to clarify my argument: cumulative genetic damage from spontaneous mutations *is* occurring - the argument for this is given in the references - I am just pointing-out that cumulatively disordered sexuality would seem to be one of its earliest visible manifestations.

Anonymous said...

If your hypothesis were true, one would expect to find higher fitness/higher IQ among the Europeans who industrialized later, this is not the case.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Anon - No, that does not follow. Mainly because it was the Europeans with highest intelligence who industrialized first - high intelligence was indeed what enabled them to industrialize first.

What we observe nowadays, cross-sectionally, in terms of intelligence differences; is the product of several variables - e.g. initial intelligence, rate of decline of intelligence, and duration of decline of intelligence.

But we do not know whether the decline caused by mutation accumulation is linear, accelerating, or plateauing.

One major problem is that IQ testing is an indirect, comparative and relative measure of the physiology of objective, underling general intelligence, is heavily influenced by non-g abilities, and cannot track longitudinal change - but we don't have measures that correlate with objective intelligence going back to 1800 (simple reaction times go back to the late 1800s).

However, although we probably will never know the whole story, or the precise rates of decline in different populations, more and more indirect, relatively-objective and physical evidence has been brought to bear, and is converging upon the problem.

(This evidence is being researched and published incrementally by Michael A Woodley and colleagues. It would be great if some other researchers were to help out!)

darren said...

This is interesting. It is fairly easy to see how homosexuality is maladaptive, but since the large majority of people continue to have heterosexual tastes, it indicates that there should be a typography of the various pathologies of current heterosexual appetites, which must be legion at this point. This doesn't seem to have been done, and perhaps decency makes this blog not the place to do it. It seems on par with the current (repulsive in my mind) vogue for tatooing among middle class people.