Book Review Eve’s Seed: Biology, the Sexes and the Course of History Robert S. McElvaine, PhD.

McGraw-Hill, 2001
By: Michael Zivick

            Jesus Christ, George Carlin, General George S. Patton and the privates of several Presidents may seem like odd bedfellows (or bookfellows, in this case), but “odd” is much too short a word  to cover a world shaped like the one in Eve’s Seed.  A millennium-and-a-half after the planet was discovered to not be flat, today we’re discovering some very interesting edges to it.  For much of this we must thank bio-historians, social biologists, evolutionary psychologists and other researchers and analysts who apply a fact from one discipline to a figure from another, blending avenues of thought and arriving at insights that cannot be considered purely scientific, or historical, or cultural.  Robert McElvaine is in for a tip of E. O. Wilson’s consilience cap too, for in Eve’s Seed he takes up a spot at this pansophic intersection and choreographs traffic as if to popular music.  He brings the study and conclusions down to earth, and makes us mind-boggling in the bargain.

            McElvaine starts with the acceptance of a single idea whose multiple parts are jeered at from both sides of the Politically Correct divide.  The notion of innate and meaningful psychological differences between men and women is not terribly popular with women and men working to establish political equality between the sexes.  But, “Ignoring the existence of natural, genetic predispositions is not ‘liberal’ or ‘feminist’; it is foolish.”

            At the other, so-called conservative end of the spectrum, biodeterminists receive their share of McElvaine’s stick.  “To justify the unjustifiable…” they “[s]eize on the principle of natural selection to maintain that everything that exists should be left alone.”  It doesn’t escape McElvaine’s attention that this principle is embraced by many people who profess no use for evolution, just as many “liberals” who push the “nurture” end of the classic debate hesitate before the idea that gangsta rap and X-Box carnage induce violent behavior.

            McElvaine’s single idea is the essentialness of multiplicity.  The interplay between nature and nurture gives each the power to shape the other; so, too, are men and women, in individual characteristics, all over a map that nevertheless conforms to a geography of more-or-less fixed points of male and female predispositions.  With a proper compass and a set of field glasses, we can locate ourselves amid the landscape, and better appreciate the continental drifts, the tectonic shifts and the fault activity behind such formations as “a man’s world” and “a woman’s place.”

            The Motor City Madman sang, “Wang Dan Sweet Poontang.”

            The Gang of Four sang, “When I was in my mother’s womb, social structure seemed a simple thing.”

            As we move further from our species’ cradle, from our hunter-collector origins, confusion over roles for both sexes grows.  But, as Ma Joad said, “A woman can change better’n a man.”  McElvaine reminds us that Ma was no dumb Okie.

He also makes a strong case for the idea that pre-historic women were behind the “invention” of agriculture; that the dawn of agriculture is the event told in metaphor by the Old Testament story of the Fall from Paradise; that all human activity right on down to the present day has its roots in the imbalance created by humans’ ability to become (or recognize themselves as), like God, forces for the creation of life—be it corn, or cows, or crophands.

The best presentations of radical ideas make a reader see a notion as axiomatic before they recognize in it an axial shift.  Eve’s Seed is full of them.

Men suffer from womb envy, a deep-seated holdover from the time (which happens to encompass the vast majority of human existence) when women were viewed as the sex in control of creative power.  Duh.

Women have paid the price for this.  Double-duh.

A male God eventually came to seize that creative power.  Triple-duh.

We’re so smart, but illusions of intellect fade when one finds oneself asking, “After science revealed the two equal halves of conception—and especially now that a test tube has come to serve as a solid stand-in (for guess which half)—how on earth has That Guy managed to hang on to so much power for so long?”

Or, “Can the dynamic between the sexes be mediated so as to avoid future versions of the sort of calamities that have befallen the species during prior reactions against perceived devaluations of maleness?”

Not everything in Eve’s Seed prompts, “Duh.”

For instance, the Son of Man’s real mission was the redemption of the Mother.

Wouldn’t you like to know what a member of the opposite sex thinks of that idea?  You can ask Freud, but don’t ask McElvaine.  Another of his ideas is that there is no opposite sex.



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