Why You Do What You Do

SOCIOBIOLOGY: A New Theory of Behavior

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The concepts are startling—and disturbing. Conflict between parents and children is biologically inevitable. Children are bora deceitful. All human acts—even saving a stranger from drowning or donating a million dollars to the poor—may be ultimately selfish. Morality and justice, far from being the triumphant product of human progress, evolved from man's animal past, and are securely rooted in the genes.

These are some of the teachings of sociobiology, a new and highly controversial scientific discipline that seeks to establish that social behavior—human as well as animal—has a biological basis. Its most striking tenet: human behavior is genetically based, the result of millions of years of evolution. Some sociobiologists go so far as to suggest that there may be human genes for such behavior as conformism, homosexuality and spite. Carried to an extreme, sociobiology holds that all forms of life exist solely to serve the purposes of DNA, the coded master molecule that determines the nature of all organisms and is the stuff of genes. As British Ethologist Richard Dawkins describes the role and drive of the genes, they "swarm in huge colonies, safe inside gigantic lumbering robots, sealed off from the outside world, manipulating it by remote control. They are in you and me; they created us body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence we are their survival machines."

Sociobiologists—whose growing ranks include some 250 biologists, zoologists and social scientists—argue that without consideration of biology, the study of human culture makes no sense. Indeed, sociobiology has significant implications for most areas of human concern—from education to relations between the sexes. Says Harvard Physicist Gerald Holton: "It's a breathtaking ambition . . . as if Sigmund Freud had set out to subsume all of Darwin, Joyce, Einstein, Whitehead and Lenin." Robert Trivers, a Harvard biologist and leading sociobiology theorist, makes a bold prediction: "Sooner or later, political science, law, economics, psychology, psychiatry and anthropology will all be branches of sociobiology."

These and other claims by proponents of sociobiology have made it one of the most inflammatory doctrines ta emerge from the campuses in decades. Since 1975, when Harvard Zoologist Edward Wilson's mammoth 700-page book Sociobiology: The New Synthesis brought the new science to public attention, the controversy has spread beyond Harvard—where it originated—dividing faculty departments and disrupting academic conventions. Angry opponents denounce "soso biology" as reactionary political doctrine disguised as science. Their fear: it may be used to show that some races are inferior, that male dominance over women is natural and that social progress is impossible because of the pull of the genes.

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