When Britain's Guardian newspaper first introduced its "evolutionary" agony aunt (advice columnist in America) in 2009—to honor 150 years of the culture birthed with Charles Darwin's 1859 book, On the Origin of Species—I thought, "Aha! a send-up, to be sure." I was wrong, but in fairness, when the evolutionary psychologist speaks, even an expert can't always tell.
No spoof. The Guardian burbled proudly about Carole Jahme, author of Beauty and the Beasts: Woman, Ape and Evolution and winner of the Wellcome Trust Award for Communication of Science to the Public. For the 2009 Darwin bicentennial celebrations, Jahme, who holds an M.A. in evolutionary psychology, put together a comedy show titled Carole Jahme is Sexually Selected, which was described as a combination of Charles Darwin and Charlie Chaplin.
The Guardian touts her column as "shin[ing] the cold light of evolutionary psychology" on readers' problems, thus apparently offering welcome relief from the "Aw, just dump the dweeb!" froth churned out by glossier rags and mags.
What the Cold Light Reveals
Jahme's responses to her readers' questions, classified by The Guardian as "science news," are based mostly on what current literature says about the behavior of apes and monkeys and on speculations about the behavior of prehistoric humans. With what result? Let's look at four recent columns:
September 12, 2010: "Feeling Motherly, aged 30," writes to say, "I really want a baby . . . but my husband is not so sure. Will my husband's paternal instincts kick in once the baby has arrived?"
Maybe, Jahme says, informing "Motherly" that her husband's current indifference is just his "inner gorilla," a fact she explains with illustrations from the lives of gorillas and much speculation about the lives ancient humans. Paradoxically, Jahme's response is tightly culture-bound while at the same time it ignores the millennia of human societies that simply expected a man to "do his duty" in such matters and get used to it.