The maestro behind the “Rap Guide to Evolution,” Baba Brinkman, has a new idea for changing the world: don’t sleep with mean people. I know, right? You hadn’t thought about doing that, either?
Are you amazed at the clarity of Brinkman’s insight into the roots of human suffering? Then he would like you to give him money to help make his plan a reality. Well, to make a music video and a documentary and some billboards, anyway.
Or, you know, you could do something more useful with your money, like baking it into muffins as a fiber supplement. Or shredding it up to mulch your vegetable garden. Or using it to line a bird cage.
First, Brinkman thinks (or alleges to think; see below) that if everyone followed his advice, we could select meanness out of the human population over some unspecified period of time. Because of course the major component of variation in “meanness” is explained by genetics. As evidence for which he cites … a popular article on sex differences in aggression. (Yes, I know, this is the same Baba Brinkman who, at the Ottawa Evolution meetings, had the chutzpah to tell a ballroom full of evolutionary biologists that teenage male aggression must be an adaptation because teenage boys are aggressive. Dude’s not big on the rigorous evolutionary hypothesis testing.)
And, pardon me for pulling out the humanities lingo, but it’s heteronormative as all hell. The kind of sex I like to have (i.e., with other men) never results in babies. Does that mean I can just go to town on mean people?
Except why would I want to? No one deliberately sleeps with mean people! I can name anyone on the planet who is (to this fine blog’s audience, anyway) defensibly describable as “mean”—Rush Limbaugh, Simon Cowell, Ann Coulter—and, if there’s a person out there who is currently having (non-coerced) intimate relations with our selected mean person, the relations-haver will almost certainly be able to make an eloquent and deeply felt case that Rush/Simon/Ann is really very charming and kind when you get to know him/him/her.
So even if we ditch the evo-bollocks, Brinkman’s creed is basically useless, because it relies on not just a common general sense of what counts as “mean,” but actual, consistent identification of who meets that definition, which we have never had in recorded human history. Brinkman cites the story of Lysistrata as proof of concept, but he’s glossing over some pretty key details—Lysistrata ended the Peloponnesian war by convincing every woman in Greece to withhold sex from every man in Greece. In other words, the women all agreed that the men met a common definition of “mean,” and behaved accordingly until the men’s behavior changed.
Finally, I’m well aware from the tone of the video that this may all be some sort of elaborate joke, with the actual motivation of the project being to improve public understanding of evolution. I think, actually, the semi-serious attitude is papering over shoddy science—if someone calls it out, Brinkman can just say it’s all a gag anyway. But if you’re going to throw accuracy out the window to make your public education project catchy, why even bother?
(What’s more, I know that Brinkman can do better than this. Confidential to BB: Come back with a project that actually teaches people about how evolution works, and I’ll chip right in.)