Rise above our nature?

A few years back Richard Dawkins wrote an article entitled Banishing the Green-Eyed Monster.  In it, he puts his Gnu sense of morality on display.  He begins by arguing that politicians have a duty to lie when it comes to their private life.  But then he argues we need to probe into the private religious beliefs of politicians (a religious litmus test?).  But then he finally gets to his main topic – adultery.

Dawkins asks, “Why are we so obsessed with monogamous fidelity in the first place?’

He doesn’t like it when adulterers are accused of being cheaters:

Agony Aunt columns ring with the cries of those who have detected — or fear — that their man/woman (who may or may not be married to them) is “cheating on them”. “Cheating” really is the word that occurs most readily to these people. The underlying presumption — that a human being has some kind of property rights over another human being’s body — is unspoken because it is assumed to be obvious. But with what justification?

Property rights?  Me thinks it has to do with two people making a public promise to each other.  So when one person breaks that promise, then yeah, they are cheating the other person. He continues:

In one of the most disgusting stories to hit the British newspapers last year, the wife of a well-known television personality, Chris Tarrant, hired a private detective to spy on him. The detective reported evidence of adultery and Tarrant’s wife divorced him, in unusually vicious style. But what shocked me was the way public opinion sided with Tarrant’s horrible wife. Far from despising, as I do, anybody who would stoop so low as to hire a detective for such a purpose, large numbers of people, including even Mr. Tarrant himself, seemed to think she was fully justified. Far from concluding, as I would, that he was well rid of her, he was covered with contrition and his unfortunate mistress was ejected, covered with odium. The explanation of all these anomalous behavior patterns is the ingrained assumption of the deep rightness and appropriateness of sexual jealousy. It is manifest all the way from Othello to the French “crime passionnel” law, down to the “love rat” language of tabloid newspapers.

From a Darwinian perspective, sexual jealousy is easily understood. Natural selection of our wild ancestors plausibly favored males who guarded their mates for fear of squandering economic resources on other men’s children. On the female side, it is harder to make a Darwinian case for the sort of vindictive jealousy displayed by Mrs. Tarrant. No doubt hindsight could do it, but I want to make a different point. Sexual jealousy may in some Darwinian sense accord with nature, but “Nature, Mr. Allnutt, is what we are put in this world to rise above.” Just as we rise above nature when we spend time writing a book or a symphony rather than devoting our time to sowing our selfish genes and fighting our rivals, so mightn’t we rise above nature when tempted by the vice of sexual jealousy?

Let me get this straight.  Sowing our selfish genes is not rising above our nature, but not being jealous when someone else sows their selfish genes is rising above our nature.  If we’re supposed to rise above our nature, why  not stop sowing selfish genes in the first place?  Wouldn’t the most consistent way to rise above our nature be to engage in………monogamous fidelity?


Dawkins then begins to go off the deep end:

I, for one, feel drawn to the idea that there is something noble and virtuous in rising above nature in this way.

It looks to me like this Gnu leader is trying to turn adultery/cheating into a virtue.  All on the basis of his selfish feelings.

 I admit that I have, at times in my life, been jealous, but it is one of the things I now regret. Assuming that such practical matters as sexually transmitted diseases and the paternity of children can be sorted out (and nowadays DNA testing will clinch that for you if you are sufficiently suspicious, which I am not), what, actually, is wrong with loving more than one person? Why should you deny your loved one the pleasure of sexual encounters with others, if he or she is that way inclined?

Does Dawkins think he is coming up with a novel argument?

 The British writer Julie Burchill is not somebody I usually quote (imagine a sort of intelligent Ann Coulter speaking with a British accent in a voice like Minnie Mouse) but I was struck by one of her remarks. I can’t find the exact quote, but it was to the effect that, however much you love your mate (of either sex in the case of the bisexual Burchill) sex with a stranger is almost always more exciting, purely because it is a stranger. An exaggeration, no doubt, but the same grain of truth lurks in Woody Allen’s “Sex without love is an empty experience, but as empty experiences go it’s one of the best.”

I see.  So the reason we need to “rise above our nature” is so that we can make “sowing our selfish genes” more “exciting.”   Take that, natural selection!

Even sticking to the higher plane of love, is it so very obvious that you can’t love more than one person?

You mean the type of love one gets from the excitement of sowing with a stranger?

We seem to manage it with parental love (parents are reproached if they don’t at least pretend to love all their children equally), love of books, of food, of wine (love of Chateau Margaux does not preclude love of a fine Hock, and we don’t feel unfaithful to the red when we dally with the white), love of composers, poets, holiday beaches, friends . . . why is erotic love the one exception that everybody instantly acknowledges without even thinking about it? Why can a woman not love two men at the same time, in their different ways? And why should the two — or their wives — begrudge her this? If we are being Darwinian, it might be easier to make the case the other way, for a man sincerely and deeply loving more than one woman. But I don’t want to pursue the details here.

Instead of complaining, maybe Dawkins should look into how all those hippy open marriages worked out.

I’m not denying the power of sexual jealousy. It is ubiquitous if not universal. I’m just wondering aloud why we all accept it so readily, without even thinking about it.

And there is that Gnu arrogance.  As if Dawkins is the first person in history to begin thinking about such things.

And why don’t we all admire — as I increasingly do — those rare free spirits confident enough to rise above jealousy, stop fretting about who is “cheating on” whom, and tell the green-eyed monster to go jump in the lake?

In other words, for goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin, Muslima.

Sheesh.  With Harris promoting meditation and psychedelic drugs as atheist spirituality, and Dawkins trying to bring back free spirits and free love, you have to wonder just when is PZ Myers going to help set up that Gnu commune.

On the way to Reason Rally 2

This entry was posted in Morality, New Atheism and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Rise above our nature?

  1. Cale B.T. says:

    “you have to wonder just when is PZ Myers going to help set up that Gnu commune.”

    Does it surprise anyone that Dawkins’ first appointment was at Berkely in the 60’s?

  2. Crude says:

    Rise above our natures? What does that even mean for Dawkins? Seems an awful lot like it means ‘do whatever Dawkins subjectively prefers’.

    What does it mean to “rise above”? Achieve a higher standard? What is a ‘higher standard’ on materialist atheism, and given Darwinism?

    Apparently, cheating on your wife and not feeling bad about it. And if she’s upset, well, she just needs to rise above things now doesn’t she?

  3. Cale B.T. says:


    Interviewer: So once again the discussion goes back to how do you determine whether something is good or not, other than by just your personal choice?

    Dawkins: I don’t even try.


  4. Bilbo says:

    After Dawkins’ description of Julie Burchill, I had to find out what she looked and sounded like:


    Not all bad.

  5. Crude says:

    Also, would Dawkins regard vows of chastity/celibacy as ‘rising above our nature’?

  6. On the female side, it is harder to make a Darwinian case for the sort of vindictive jealousy displayed by Mrs. Tarrant.

    Weird. Dawkins can’t find an evolutionary reason for why females would want their males to be faithful to them? He needs to read up more on Game.

  7. you have to wonder just when is PZ Myers going to help set up that Gnu commune.

    Nah. Dawkins’ thoughts, while perhaps unrealistic and incoherent, will probably infuriate many feminists who will readily take the woman’s side in anything. PZ Myers, on the other hand, is on of those gamma males who readily jumped onto the Atheism+ bandwagon. It would be a matter of weeks before Dawkins, just like Snowball, is banished from the farm.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s