Men, women and genetics

7 May

Feminists know this but it’ll stand repeating. Since one male can impregnate many females, societies can afford to lose more men than women. It takes all sorts to make a world and any healthy society, from hunter-gatherer onward, will contain a risk-taking spectrum:

timid … risk averse … adventurous … foolhardy

We can’t predict where any individual will be on that spectrum but can  say more men than women will be on the right; more women than men on the left. The biggest cause of cyclist deaths on London’s roads is left-turning lorries, with the victims disproportionately female. Why? Because women are more likely to hug the curb in the illusion they’re safer there, when they’d be better out in the middle not just for visibility but to claim the space. When cycling in narrow lanes I’ll make it impossible for vehicles behind to overtake, not out of cussedness but to remove all ambiguity – ils ne passeront pas! – when too few drivers are aware they need as much space to overtake a cyclist as a car.

Women’s greater tendency to caution has nothing to do with courage (females risk their lives to defend their young) or sagacity (females risk their health if they think, often wrongly, it ups their attractiveness to males). One of the problems facing geneticists, other than historic abuse and philistine hijacking of their disciplines, is our clinging to morality-laden and history-specific associations that fail to see the bigger picture. I’m guilty myself of course, using ‘timid’ and ‘foolhardy’ on my spectral extremes. I just wanted to make the point. As did Dawkins when he chose the unscientific but communicatively useful term, ‘selfish gene’.

Natural selection of selfish genes – not selfishness  genes! – makes cock pheasants gaudy. It improves their mating prospects while placing them higher on the fox’s radar. Put this together with faint heart ne’er won fair lady  and the inescapable conclusion is that the (selfish) genetic imperative is reproduction, not longevity!

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See also, feminism and genetics and snakes, fear and self-awareness.

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