Book Reviews

Popular Evolution: Life Lessons From Anthropology
by Joseph L. Popp
Man and Nature Press
, 2000

Editorial Reviews
Review by William  A.  Spriggs,  February 27, 2001

As stated by the author in the preface, this book has three purposes: To introduce evolutionary thinking for application in the daily lives of Americans. 2. To familiarize readers with a model of optimal life history strategies and analyze some of the aspects of American life as an anthropologist. And thirdly, to attempt to provide examples of how these evolutionary strategies can be employed and how they relate to human cultures.

There are many good things to say about this book. It is written in a casual, non-academic style, while still maintaining scientific discipline; that to me is a very big plus. It is well researched, (it has to be if you cite R. A. Fisher), and Mr. Popp brings to the book years of his personal beliefs that have been polished to a high shine. He does make his mark on the tree by stating the purpose for writing the book: "I intend to argue that the evolutionary significance of maximizing reproductive success does justify the traits that lead to it -- and more. No doubt this hypothesis will give rise to a new controversy that will divide anthropologists yet again as they were divided over sociobiology." xvii. And so it shall; Popp's view is the total belief in classic role of the "genes eye view." In discussing free will vs. determinism Popp writes: "Genetics and environment are responsible for all human traits. What we do, what we think, and what we are all have deterministic causes. There is no true randomness or role for gods -- all effects have causes at the human level of interaction." p. 193. Popp, and all genetic determinists' flaws seem to gravitate toward not paying enough attention to the environmental influences of the equation.

In chapter 1: the Meaning of Life, Popp gives us the founding principle of his book when he answers the question, 'What is the meaning of Life?' "Here, without adornment, is the precept of this book: Life is merely an artifact of evolution -- maximizing reproductive success is why we are here." p.1. and by using the term reproductive success, he means it in the modern (read classical Darwinian) sense, acknowledging the role of Darwinian fitness, and also the importance of inclusive fitness as described by Hamilton. You can't get more basic then that, and from this position many of today's evolutionary perspectives, both good, and bad, have emerged. To Popp's credit, he readily denounces Social Darwinians by writing: "Social darwinism, a now discredited notion from the last century, should never be confused with true Darwinism or with my theories of the evolutionary ethic and progenitivism." p.199.

In explaining rape, Popp uses the standard genetic fare: "Rape is less frequent in the natural world under circumstances where the females of the species under consideration have no practical means of resistance. No means of resistance undermines motivation to resist, because inevitably futile resistance is not adaptive. and hence, In such a breeding system, females have neither the reason nor the ability to prevent copulation with the dominant males." p.97. Popp's logic is classic Darwinism, and thus, shows us its flaws: If you can't observe it, therefore, it must not exist, and therefore, that what is known before (about evolutionary behavior) must hold sway. Popp does not even consider the possibility that the female baboon he is writing about may object to being dominated and forced to have sex. The old view assumes that no conscious activity is taking place, only animal reflexes. But recent studies suggest that chimpanzees have developed a culture concerning 35 items in their lives. In my opinion, it is only a matter of time before studies show us that sexual liaisons that are being observed may be influenced by culture as well -- and culture entails conscious thought. Too often, the classic approach ignores the presence of the female perspective. Too often, when the coin is flipped, the side that comes up is mostly skewered in favor of the socioeconomic dominate males in our species.

We are highly evolved and complex creatures, and as such, we should expect our behavior to be no less complex; we do not have all the answers. Although, I consider the book to be somewhat flawed, I do so in context with the latest, up to-the-minute-findings that could not have influenced the author. This book is much like fossil evidence from our recent past and should be treated with respect from which the views sprang. I would recommend the book from this perspective as part of your permanent library.

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