Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying on sex, lies, and ideology

Here we have Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying, a couple who were both biology professors at The Evergreen State College (TESC) but were driven out of that place by Authoritarian Leftists whose actions, among the students, bordered on thuggery. Since then they’ve been academic nomads, but have made several videos and podcasts about their experiences and about biology.

Here both Bret and Heather discuss a number of topics, most prominent the touchy issue of sex and gender. The discussion is good and well worth 26 minutes of your time, as it shows how you can be a progressive without having to distort biology or truckle to Blank Slateist ideologues.

The YouTube notes:

In this conversation with Rebel Wisdom’s David Fuller they explain how their experience at Evergreen has influenced their discussions of sex and gender. Heather and Bret will be appearing at the first ‘Rebel Wisdom Summit’ on May 12 in London. For more information, visit https://www.rebelwisdom.co.uk/summit

The video:

 

I agree with most of what Bret and Heather say, though am a bit wary of viewing much of these kerfuffles through the lens of evolutionary game theory, which Bret tends to do. That said, he and Heather are using their knowledge of biology to address issues of gender and sex in ways that are honest, but may inflame members of the Authoritarian Left.

Bret notes that, in his experience with trans people at TESC, these people wanted to be treated with decency and respect but didn’t have much desire to rewrite laws that, say, would allow anybody to claim that they’re the sex that corresponds to their gender identity, allow trans females to compete against other females in athletics, and so on. Bret’s take is that those political actions are being “driven by other people who have an agenda, and trans is the excuse for bullying those of us who would say, ‘Actually biology trumps these other considerations. You cannot overwrite the biology. You can make allowances for identifying this way or that way but the biology will remain what it is.'”

Both he and Heather agree that sex is biologically based and almost completely binary, based on difference in gamete size, secondary sexual characteristics, and so on. Heather adds that for some traits, like brain size or structure, there are average differences between males and females (contra Cordelia Fine), but that these distributions overlap; the differences here are in group averages, and are fuzzier than differences in gamete size. The fuzziness, she says, holds true for “gender” as well, which she defines as sex roles. That is, some fish have “gender” in that they act like females, sometimes to fool males and get a sneaky copulation. So too with humans, as different people behave differently with respect to their roles as members of one sex or another.

Heather notes that some Leftists claim that there are 70 or 80 genders based on how different cultures divide up these things, but she doesn’t find this distinction useful. She adds, and Bret agrees, that there are gender roles in humans, and some of these behavioral differences are based on evolution, but also that some of these roles are now harmful and outdated, and should be eliminated.

Bret asserts that “patriarchy is a myth”, at least as construed as a “conspiracy of males against females” (he does add that “groups of men can gang up on women”). His reasons for denying patriarchy are based on evolution: any gene (except for those on the Y chromosome) spends half its time in males and half its time in females, and it wouldn’t make evolutionary sense for a gene to allow one sex to dominate another. Well, that’s not really true, as it depends on the net reproductive effects of such genes on males and females. In sexually selected species like ducks, there can be genes in which males attack, forcibly copulate with, and even drown females. Yes, those genes are present in both sexes, but their expressions vary depending on which sex they’re in! On the whole, when a gene like that finds itself in males, it expresses itself via sexual aggression, creating a duck patriarchy. The genes presumably aren’t active in females, and so their value in getting copulations gives them a net selective advantage.

Further, patriarchal actions often depend on culture rather than genes. Men denying women the right to vote, or denying them educational and job opportunities, must have at least a substantial cultural component. Where I differ from Bret here is in his claim that patriarchy makes no sense because it makes no evolutionary sense. It certainly makes cultural sense if one sex is stronger than another and can gain benefits by dominating the other sex. But I agree with him and Heather that this kind of domination is outmoded and inimical.

There is some discussion by Bret and Heather about tech companies like Google and their attack on scientifically accepted gender differences, and about what features of the Left allow this to happen, but that’s speculative and a bit less interesting to me.

What I did find interesting was Bret’s answer to Fuller’s question, at 22:25, about why he spends his time attacking “small corners of the left” when most of the bad stuff in society is being done by the Authoritarian Right. Bret has a good answer, involving his own evenhandedness (I’m a bit less evenhanded— don’t want to police the Right since all my colleagues and friends are already doing it), as well as his desire to show centrists that you can be a Lefty and not a Loonie, and to show that you can speak the truth about biology as a progressive and not suffer too much. Well, Bret did suffer, as did Heather, but I admire them for not backing down. This video shows that they continue to be a valuable asset to the Left—even more so because they are biologists.

I’ll just add one example of how biologists have been cowed by the Authoritarian Left: the conflation of gender with sex as shown in a statement issued by all three major evolution and naturalist societies. That was embarrassing and even shameful, and I wrote about at this link.

14 Comments

  1. Posted February 10, 2019 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Heather adds that for some traits, like brain size or structure, there are average differences between males and females (contra Cordelia Dean)

    Jerry, did you mean Cordelia Fine?

  2. Jimbo
    Posted February 10, 2019 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Good interviews. I’m glad PCC shared his discomfort with Bret’s tendency to frame so many of his points within an evolutionary game theoretic context. I can’t critique his biology but he uses this basis of reasoning to an extent that sounds unjustified. It’s almost like he’s flirting with evopsych but invoking gene/meme interactions as he did in a Oct. 2018 conversation with Richard Dawkins in Chicago.

    • Christopher
      Posted February 10, 2019 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

      I listened to that interview following this one. I don’t know much about Weinstein beyond the Evergreen fiasco so it came as a shock that he is so anti-New Atheism. I can’t speak to his claim that evolutionary biology hasn’t progressed at all since the 60’s and 70’s, perhaps someone in the field could affirm or deny his claim?

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted February 10, 2019 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

      I agree. The answers will never be all about genes and evolution. But he seems to be a very smart and well spoken person, and so I hope he is also flexible enough to revise some of his absolutist views.

  3. GBJames
    Posted February 10, 2019 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Sub

  4. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 10, 2019 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Hey! No fair! When I see “sex” in a headline like that, I expect a little titillation!

    Not just good, edifying conversation (which is very much what it was). 🙂

  5. Posted February 10, 2019 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Heather adds that for some traits, like brain size or structure, there are average differences between males and females (contra Cordelia Fine)

    .

    I have Fine’s Testosterone Rex and there’s no reference to androgen insensitivity Syndrome. You’d have thought that a book arguing that testosterone ‘isn’t all that’ would need to demonstrate an absence of difference between those sensitive and insensitive to the the hormone.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted February 10, 2019 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      I have not seen her arguments. But there are many men out there who used to be women after having changed to the male sex. When going through testosterone treatments they find very quickly how much that hormone makes you act like a stereotypical male.

  6. Posted February 10, 2019 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Nice to see they have moved on post Evergreen. The senseless stupidity heaved onto Weinstein and Heying for being thinking individuals was a revelation on how out of baseball bat control, control left ideology was/is, and it’s aversion to sound and reasoned argument.

  7. Posted February 10, 2019 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Prof. Coyne that patriarchy is very real and mostly (or entirely) cultural. I’d add that patriarchy is a more complex phenomenon than oppression of women; it includes obligation of men to support and protect the women. Marriage, regarded as a patriarchal institution subjugating the woman, at the same time subjugates the man, by limiting his legal sex to a small set of partners (usually one) and forcing him to pay for sex by supporting the partner(s) and the children.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted February 10, 2019 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

      Agreed. I have not thought before of those other angles of the patriarchy. I always think of the obvious things like covering up sexual misdeeds of bros and stuff like that. But you are absolutely right, I think.

    • Deodand
      Posted February 10, 2019 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

      Patriarchy, the only conspiracy theory that does not devolve to ‘The Jews did it’.

  8. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted February 10, 2019 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    OK, I devoted 26 minutes to watching that, and it was time well spent.

    Everything Weinstein and Heying – particularly Heying – said was cogent and eminently sensible. None of it would agree with ‘identity politics’ (though I don’t think that phrase was mentioned).

    I take PCC’s point of disagreement about ‘patriarchal genes’ (if I can call them that). As I see it, Weinstein is saying there’s no genetic reason for a patriarchal conspiracy; he does qualify that somewhat by recognising there may be other reasons. But I don’t wish to get involved in that, it’s way above me.

    Gotta go, my matriarch has summoned me. 🙂

    cr


%d bloggers like this: