It was cute the first time around: when the President lost his head over Monica's thong undies, that is, and the evolutionary psychologists declared that he was just following the innate biological urge to, tee-hee, spread his seed. Natural selection favors the reproductively gifted, right? But the latest daffy Darwinist attempt to explain male bad behavior is not quite so amusing. Rape, according to evolutionary theorists Randy Thornhill and Craig T. Palmer, represents just another seed-spreading technique favored by natural selection. Sure it's nasty, brutish and short on foreplay. But it gets the job done.
Thornhill and Palmer aren't endorsing rape, of course. In their article in the latest issue of the Sciences--which is already generating a high volume of buzz although their book, A Natural History of Rape, won't be out until April--they say they just want to correct the feminist fallacy that "rape is not about sex," it's about violence and domination. The authors argue, among other things, that since the majority of victims are women of childbearing age, the motive must be lust and the intent, however unconscious, must be to impregnate. Hence rape is not an act of pathology, but a venerable old strategy for procreation. What's "natural" isn't always nice.
Now, there are people who reject any attempt to apply evolutionary theory to human behavior, and, as far as I'm concerned, they can go back to composing their annual letters to Santa Claus. Obviously, humans have been shaped by natural selection (though it's not always so obvious how). We are not the descendants of the kindest or wisest of hominids--only of those who managed, by cunning or luck, to produce a few living offspring. But is rape really an effective strategy for guys who, deep down in their genes, just want to be fruitful and multiply?
There are plenty of evolutionary psychologists who would answer with a resounding no. They emphasize the evolutionary value of the human male's "parental investment"--his tendency to stick around after the act of impregnation and help out with the kids. Prehistoric dads may not have read many bed-time stories, but, in this account, they very likely brought home the occasional antelope haunch, and they almost certainly played a major role in defending the family from four-legged predators. In contrast, the rapist generally operates on a hit-and-run basis--which may be all right for stocking sperm banks, but is not quite so effective if the goal is to produce offspring who will survive in a challenging environment. The children of guys who raped-and-ran must have been a scrawny lot and doomed to end up on some leopard's lunch menu.