Thursday, September 1, 2022

ELC Saunders #6, Notes on American Classics (2018)

Although this blog is primarily about the novel A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, I have also started adding entries regarding the practice of Evolutionary Literary Criticism (ELC), which is more or less the application of evolutionary psychology to literature. Here are some observations on the monograph below, a recent publication in the field. This entry is observation number five.

Saunders, Judith P. American Classics: Evolutionary Perspectives. Brighton, MA: Academic Studies Press, 2018.
This month's discussion is on the chapter: "Bateman's Principle in 'Song of Myself': Whitman Celebrates Male Ardency," pp. 61-77.

Saunders shows that Walt Whitman's main theme in "Song of Myself" is an "ebullient celebration of key male sexual strategies," which he then expands into philosophical, political, and even spiritual dimensions. According to Saunders, the speaker in the poem "inhabits a wish-fulfilling environment that favors the expression of reproductive strategies evolutionarily advantageous to men" (61).

For evolutionary sexual strategies, Saunders draws from David Buss's The Evolution of Desire. The basic observation (made years earlier by Trivers) is that male mammals have an evolutionary advantage in producing as many offspring by as many females as possible. Females on the other hand, because they have at the very least to gestate the fetus, realize an evolutionary advantage if they chose the male with whom they reproduce carefully, whether to mate with physically superior males or to partner with males that are more likely to help them and their children. Saunders refers to this as the Bateman's Principle, with ardent males and choosy females.

If you are wondering how Whitman was able to publish his poem dripping with sexual references in socially conservative 19th century America, he merged his sexuality with spirituality. Saunders quotes James Miller: "Like many writers before him, notably St. Theresa and John Donne, Whitman repeatedly borrows the language of physical passion to communicate the non-corporeal ecstasy of transcendent experience" (Saunders, 61). Saunders points out that Whitman "exploits the Transcendentalists' often reiterated metaphor of seeing or piercing through material phenomena in order to appreciate their spiritual essence" (Saunders, 65); however, Whitman uses that metaphor to give the poem's speaker license to see nude bodies beneath clothes, becoming, as Saunders says, "a Transcendentalist Peeping Tom."

Whitman unites his sexuality with both democratic political ideals and aesthetics. Saunders quotes Jimmie Killingsworth, "Determined to join with even the lowiest, he infuses the notion of egalitarian belonging with erotic fervor; he becomes the spokesman for a 'democratic sexual politics'" (Saunders, 61). Further, Whitman links artistic creativity with the erotic spreading of the male seed.

Saunders emphasizes that the sexual strategy of the poem is one of wish-fulfillment, unmoored from actual practical reproduction. "No demand for long-term investment is anticipated, no curtailment of sexual liberty." Far from being faced with demands for child-support, he has multitudes of clamoring suitors. "Even elemental forces desire the poem's speaker. The 'crooked inviting fingers' of the incoming tide 'refuse to go back without feeling' him (lines 449,450)" (Saunders, 68). The speaker also has no male competition for these eager mates. He even displaces a bridegroom on the wedding night without a struggle (Saunders, 69). Likewise, impotence and rejection are absent.

Saunders points out that the poem is primarily focused on male bodies and desires, with little reference to women. "The absence of any prurient interest in women's bodies may contribute, in fact, to readers' willingness to interpret the poet-speaker's ardor in spiritual and / political terms" (Saunders, 70-71). Some critics argue that his focus on men signals that his erotic spirituality is specifically homosexual. Saunders disagrees with that exclusivity in her essay's conclusion, "'Song of Myself' reassures men of any sexual orientation that their desires are wholesome and even admirable. Their erotic make-up is fully in tune with natural process and cosmic design: within the framework of Whitman's poem, male ardency enjoys political, aesthetic, and transcendent validation" (77).

I have nothing to add to Saunders' observations. In this case (and unlike the case of her work on Sherwood Anderson) the evolutionary interpretation by Saunders adds a valuable perspective to the understanding of Whitman's poem.

Monday, August 1, 2022

An ELC Framework for Kenneth Burke, part 6: Rod, Ladder, Skull

This blog is supposed to be about John Kennedy Toole's novel A Confederacy of Dunces (COD). However, I have been working on a parallel track on the theory and practice of evolutionary literary criticism (ELC), as is evidenced in my book chapter on the comic mechanisms in COD. This post is another installment in a series of posts reframing the ideas of Kenneth Burke within the theory of Evolutionary Literary Criticism. This series has little relation to COD per se. Thank you again for your patience, my 2 followers.

I have been using a book published in 1996 by C. Allen Carter for much of what I know about Burke's ideas. I hope his assessment fairly characterizes Burke's thought. After studying Carter, I discovered that his book has not been reviewed by any text indexed in the JSTOR database, which suggests that it made very little impact on the scholarly community. Either Burke does not interest scholars, or Carter's work does not. One fact that suggests that Carter might not have a complete perspective on Burke is that Barbara Foley described Burke as having two kinds of scapegoat, which Carter does not mention. Carter mentions at the beginning of his book that he has mixed with Burke's ideas the ideas of William Rueckert, Rene Girard, and others. Carter also admits that some of the categories he ascribes to Burke (the religious dimension, for example) are not ones that Burke himself explicitly named. So this book is more Carter's synthesis than pure Burke. I will below refer to this synthetic body of thought as being from "Carter and Burke."

In his book on Burke, Carter argues that Burke has three domains from which we humans receive anxiety and produce guilt: the Rod, the Ladder, and the Skull. The Rod seems to relate to physical violence; the Ladder seems to relate to social hierarchies; and the Skull is the fear of death.

I have written before about the structure of human groups. In my Theory of Humor series, the blog entry regarding Status Hierarchies discusses my own observation that group hierarchies can either be either dominance hierarchies, which are enforced through threats of violence, or statue hierarchies, which can be driven from the bottom-up. Burke's Rod seems to refer to dominance hierarchies, though according to Carter, they also seem to be tied up in the moral system that forms the basis of language.

One thing I like about Carter / Burke is that they recognize the necessity of social hierarchies. "Like the ethical negative, hierarchy is an unavoidable feature of human life. As Burke has demonstrated, order, including social order, is 'impossible without hierarchy' (Attitudes 374)" (Carter, 8). Burke even acknowledges that non-human animals have hierarchies similar to human hierarchies; however, human hierarchies are qualitatively different because of the moral negative. To recast this in terms of evolutionary psychology, all social animals have hierarchies within their cooperating groups, but humans have evolved a level of strong reciprocity that allows group selection that goes far beyond the cooperation of most other social hierarchies.

Carter / Burke's symbol of the ladder seems to refer largely to status hierarchies rather than dominance hierarchies. Burke sees the human status hierarchy emanating from language. "Use of language creates social stratifications, each consisting of individuals anxious to consolidate their seemingly shaky position by asserting themselves over those beneath them, and, as a result, abuse of power is endemic." (Carter 10). "By the operation of linguistic rigidification (or reification), the hierarchy is perpetuated over time." The fact that dominance and status hierarchies are present in animals without language suggests that Burke is wrong to conflate language with social relations. Humans might use language to enforce hierarchies, but hierarchies do not come from language.

A nice aspect of Carter / Burke is that the lower classes police the upper classes as much as the other way around. "Workers have their own local hierarchies of knowledge, skill, and power, in the terms of which any newcomer is a lowly beginner who must earn respect" (Carter, 11).

I disagree with Carter / Burke that status hierarchies come from language, but I do appreciate Burke's identification of guilt and moral commandments as being part of human social organizations. "Even one's relationship with one's own self has an ingredient of hierarchical rhetoric, with 'conscience' defined as the effort to address one's conduct to the spirit of an ideal community in whose esteem one wishes to be raised." (Carter 12). I concur with Carter: the guilty look on your dog's face after he has stolen your dessert is a sign of submission by a group member lower in status for an act that may trigger violence by a dominant member of the group.

I view hierarchies as within-group orders. Dominance hierarchies in particular benefit the individual fitness of the group members at the top. (How many wives did King Solomon have?) However, I view many of the aspects of moral systems as efforts to improve group fitness by suppressing individual fitness. As Bowles and Gintis would say, moral systems allow for "reproductive leveling" (Bowles and Gintis, 112). The moral condemnation of polygamy, for example, is beneficial to lower status males who thereby have a better chance at finding a mate.

The symbol of the skull relates to the fact that we humans are smart enough to realize that we will all die and to fear that death. The guilt from the fear of death drives the sort of human sacrifices that James Frazer incorporated into his magnum opus, The Golden Bough. Curiously, Carter talks about an historian of religion named Eliade, but he never cites or refers to Frazer, who dealt with similar patterns. Perhaps by 1996, it was taboo to mention Frazer, part of the moral negative of post-modern literary theory. These fears of death relate to scapegoats: "Indeed, for Burke, it is the anxiety resulting from the fear of death, in addition to anxieties resulting from ethical guilt and hierarchical insecurity, that cry for 'cathartic discharge.' Our stories do not just symbolize the death we fear but often argue for the deaths of others" (Carter, 51).

Bowles, Samuel and Herbert Gintis. A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and its Evolution. Princeton UP, 2011.

Carter, C. Allen. Kenneth Burke and the Scapegoat Process. U. of Oklahoma Press, 1996.

Friday, July 1, 2022

ELC Saunders #5, Notes on American Classics (2018)

Although this blog is primarily about the novel A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, I have also started adding entries regarding the practice of Evolutionary Literary Criticism (ELC), which is more or less the application of evolutionary psychology to literature. Here are some observations on the monograph below, a recent publication in the field. This entry is observation number five regarding this book.

Saunders, Judith P. American Classics: Evolutionary Perspectives. Brighton, MA: Academic Studies Press, 2018.
This month's discussion: Chapter Seven: Sherwood Anderson, "The Untold Lie"

To me, this chapter is not as illuminating of literature as others. The evolutionary interpretation of "The Untold Lie" seems to be a straightforward application of the theories of the male sexual strategies developed by Robert Trivers and Donald Symons and popularized by David Buss in his book The Evolution of Desire. These strategies are part of Buss and Schmitt's Sexual Strategies Theory (Buss, D. M., and Schmitt, D. P. (1993). "Sexual strategies theory: An evolutionary perspective on human mating." Psychological Review, 100, 204–232.)

The two primary male characters in the story are Ray and Hal. Ray is an older man who has many children. He has worked hard to provide for his large family, and he is exhausted by the effort. He questions the wisdom of the path he has taken.

Hal is a young man whose dashing looks and fearless behavior has attracted women. His father had also had a reputation as a man who pursued high-risk behavior. He is not yet committed to one woman, and he has apparently had sex with many. Hal is now in a relationship with a young woman with whom he is contemplating settling down and raise children. He comes to Ray for advice. Should he propose marriage to her?

Ray, thinking about his own life, is jealous of Hal. He wishes he had been able to pursue a life of sexual adventures with many women in which he did not accept responsibility for the subsequent children. He is strongly tempted to urge Hal not to settle down with this woman.

Evolutionary psychology predicts that males should have different sexual strategies from females. Because it is possible for males to invest very little and still achieve reproductive success, while it is not possible for females who gestate a fetus and nurse the resulting offspring to do the same, males might achieve more reproductive success by mating with many females.

Symons and David Buss fleshed out a theory that men might pursue two different sexual strategies, summed by the sound bite, "Dad or cad." The male might invest a great deal in the offspring in a committed relationship with one female, or the male might attempt to reproduce with many females and not invest much in their offspring. Because of the biologically required female investment, females have biological tendency to be more selective in mate choices and may have different sexual strategies.

In this story, Ray has pursued the first sexual strategy. He is committed to one woman and has invested heavily in their children. Hal has up until now pursued the second sexual strategy, having sex with many women and not committing to their possible children. Hal is now considering changing strategies.

When Hal poses the question of his future to Ray, Ray comes to the realization that he might have wanted to pursue a different course of action than he did. He does not consciously think of it as an example of biological evolution, but he has devoted his life to his family because of psychological tendencies that had evolved not for his own happiness but for the continuation of his genes. As Saunders says, "For one luminous moment, he recognizes himself for the 'gene machine' he is and longs to detach himself from its designs" (Saunders, 136).

This is a competently written essay, but the conclusion is not as unexpected as was the essay on Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome, which I discussed in the March, 2021, blog post.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

ELC Theory, Part 5: Evolutionary Psychology and Social Hierarchy

I am currently studying Evolutionary Literary Criticism (ELC). ELC takes the findings of Evolutionary Psychology and applies them to the study of literature.

I have been a student of evolutionary psychology (EP) for most of its history. I first read Steven Pinker's Language Instinct in 1995. I studied both Pinker's How the Mind Works (1997) and David Buss's textbook Evolutionary Psychology (first edition, 1999) when they first came out. For EP social psychology, I read David Berreby's Us and Them (2005).

To be systematic in my studies, I decided to go back and review exactly what EP is. What is the current state of understanding in the field? To that end, I obtained the most recent edition of Buss's Evolutionary Psychology (sixth edition, 2019). I also obtained a British textbook by Lance Workman and Will Reader called Evolutionary Psychology: An Introduction (fourth edition, 2021).

One major difference between the two textbooks is in the area of human social psychology. Buss has lengthy discussions of dominance and status hierarchies within human groups. Workman and Reader do not. Buss has an entire chapter on the subject; in Workman and Reader, the words Dominance and Status are not listed in their index.

As for my own perspective, I follow Buss and Berreby and place a high priority on dominance and status hierarchies. I differ from Buss in that I view the formation of status hierarchies as a complex interplay between those higher in the rankings and those lower in the rankings. Sometimes status is determined collectively by the lower-ranked members of the group: through a bottom-up decision process they confer higher status on some members of the group. Dominance rankings might be determined by violence and threats of violence, but not all forms of status are generated from the top down.

For example, I do not believe that one can arrive at a rich understanding of how humor and comedy work in human beings without recognizing the centrality of status hierarchies within human groups. Someone who asserts a position higher than the group consensus will be ridiculed and laughed at.

People who know me might find it ironic that I subscribe to the importance of hierarchies. I am a Quaker, and one of the defining features of the Religious Society of Friends is a commitment to not having formal status hierarchies. Early Quakers were jailed for not taking off their hats to their betters; they defiantly rejected the formal hierarchies of their day. In a Quaker Meeting for Worship, anyone can speak up to a point. Decisions are made by a process related to group consensus.

What I have observed from Quaker process is that informal status hierarchies form in any human group, even ones that explicitly reject formal hierarchies. The Quaker process prevents top-down hierarchies from forming, especially dominance hierarchies based on violence, but bottom-up, informal hierarchies characterize the organization. A person upon whom status is conveyed by the group is called a Weighty Friend. A person who has been expelled from the group has been "read out of meeting," or explicitly rejected.

Back to evolutionary psychology. My point is that the field of evolutionary psychology is not crisply defined. There can be multiple ways of characterizing it. Some include status and dominance hierarchies, and some do not. Because some versions of evolutionary psychology see status hierarchies as fundamental, and other versions do not even broach the topic, this can result in widely divergent schools of evolutionary psychology and, from them, different toolboxes which can be employed in evolutionary literary criticism.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

An ELC Framework for Kenneth Burke, part 5: Bicamerality

This blog is supposed to be about John Kennedy Toole's novel A Confederacy of Dunces (COD). However, I have been working on a parallel track on the theory and practice of evolutionary literary criticism (ELC), as is evidenced in my book chapter on the comic mechanisms in COD. This post is another installment in a series of posts reframing the ideas of Kenneth Burke within the theory of Evolutionary Literary Criticism. This series has little relation to COD per se. Thank you again for your patience, my two followers.

I have been using a book published in 1996 by C. Allen Carter for much of what I know about Burke's ideas. I hope his assessment fairly characterizes Burke's thought. After studying Carter, I discovered that his book has not been reviewed by any text indexed in the JSTOR database, which suggests that it made very little impact on the scholarly community. Either Burke does not interest scholars, or Carter's work does not. One fact that suggests that Carter might not have a complete perspective on Burke is that Barbara Foley described Burke as having two kinds of scapegoat, which Carter does not mention. Carter himself admits that some of the categories he ascribes to Burke (the religious dimension, for example) are not ones that Burke himself explicitly named. So this book is more Carter's synthesis than pure Burke. I will below refer to this synthetic body of thought as being from "Carter and Burke."

This month: According to Carter, Burke is part of a tradition that sees the human mind as having two modes of thinking: logical and temporal. The word bicameral indicates that there are two houses of reason within the mind.

An example of the two modes can be seen in the Christian Bible. On the one hand, the Christian set of moral rules about behavior forms a logical framework within which we should be able to live our lives. On the other hand, the moral system is presented as a set of episodes in time: first, there was Adam and Eve, then there was Noah, then there was Moses, and eventually there was Christ and his disciples. The moral system builds up as a narrative of history.

Evolutionary psychology does not have a position on bicamerality per se. Neuroscience performs experiments to show how the mind works. That having been said, there is a line of argument within evolutionary literary criticism that argues that our use of narrative is an evolutionary adaptation. That is why we respond to narratives so strongly and seem to need them. That position is best argued by Jonathan Gottschall in his book The Storytelling Animal.

One can wade ankle-deep into brain science to see some results that might relate to bicamerality. From the little I have read, our brain's hippocampus has cells that form grids that allow us to remember the location of objects in space. For a review of this field, see Moser, et al. (2008). Experiments have shown that we use that grid to map out logical arguments as well. Even though this is a wetware data structure designed for spatial reasoning, we can nevertheless follow arguments by mentally traveling through our map of the landscape of abstract concepts.

People who excel at remembering lists of items often use a technique that illustrates the point. They will first memorize the layout of a large house with many rooms and articles of furniture. They then assign each item in a new list to each piece of furniture in that house. To recall the list, they imagine walking through the house, noting each piece of furniture in a temporal sequence and thereby retrieving each item in the list.

I am not saying that bicamerality itself is necessarily an accurate description of how the mind works, but there are scientific results that suggest that it is not completely wrong. It also does not seem to be an issue critical to evolutionary psychology. Nevertheless, Gottschall's theory of the importance of storytelling as an adaptation can be a reframing of the theory of bicamerality which Burke endorsed.

Carter, C. Allen. Kenneth Burke and the Scapegoat Process. U. of Oklahoma Press, 1996.

Gottschall, Jonathan. The Storytelling Animal. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.

Moser, E. I., Kropff, E., & Moser, M. B. (2008). Place cells, grid cells, and the brain's spatial representation system. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 31, 69-89.

Friday, April 1, 2022

An ELC Framework for Kenneth Burke, part 4: Comedy

This blog post could also be Theory of Humor, part 26.

This blog is supposed to be about John Kennedy Toole's novel A Confederacy of Dunces (COD). However, I have been working on a parallel track on the theory and practice of evolutionary literary criticism (ELC), as is evidenced in my book chapter on the comic mechanisms in COD. This post is another installment in a series of posts reframing the ideas of Kenneth Burke within the theory of Evolutionary Literary Criticism. This series has little relation to COD per se. Thank you again for your patience, my two followers.

I have been using a book published in 1996 by C. Allen Carter for much of what I know about Burke's ideas. I hope his assessment fairly characterizes Burke's thought. After studying Carter, I discovered that his book has not been reviewed by any text indexed in the JSTOR database, which suggests that it made very little impact on the scholarly community. Either Burke does not interest scholars, or Carter's work does not. One fact that suggests that Carter might not have a complete perspective on Burke is that Barbara Foley described Burke as having two kinds of scapegoat, which Carter does not mention. Carter himself admits that some of the categories he ascribes to Burke (the religious dimension, for example) are not ones that Burke himself explicitly named. So this book is more Carter's synthesis than pure Burke. I will below refer to this synthetic body of thought as being from "Carter and Burke."

There will be several more entries in this series of blog posts regarding Burke, but for April Fool's Day, I thought I would discuss Carter and Burke's theory of humor. Burke has many categories of language. Carter infers from Burke's writings that there are two categories of language which he did not specifically label as such. One is religion and the other is humor.

Religion sets some things apart as having absolute dignity, the sacred and holy. Religion instills followers with the ability to take action for a cause by instilling commitment through persuasion. To Carter and Burke, humor is the opposite of religion, and specifically the opposite of commitment through persuasion. "Humor often fosters a sense of detachment, as several theorists of comedy have noted, that is very different from, even perhaps the opposite of, commitment through successful persuasion. Even the least cynical kinds of humor are hard to rally behind" (Carter 122).

While I agree that religion often focuses on holding up something as high status, I disagree with the view that humor discourages commitment. Carter and Burke's claim is that humor does not generate action in the world but acts as a critical stance toward action in the world. I will admit that commitment is the act of raising up a cause to high status within a group, a cause the group must follow, while humor lowers the status of group members or their ideas and weakens the status of its targets, making them not worthy of high dignity. It is a pulling down of some elements of a group rather than a postive programme of raising status. However, humor builds in-group belonging and prepares a group for the forward action of commitment by eliminating or ridiculing alternatives.

An example of "humor fostering action" is the work of Volodymyr Zelenskyy. In the comedy series "Servant of the People," which made him famous, the running joke is the plight of an honest man in the corrupt Ukrainian state. It mocks and ridicules the former president Yanukovych and his ostriches. When the show aired, the outrage which it encouraged translated into the action of the Ukrainian people: they actually elected Zelenskyy as their president. He has gone on to inspire them to willingly sacrifice their lives and property to fight an apparently unwinnable war. Critical stance indeed.

My own theory of humor has two fundamental parts, a social aspect and a cognitive incongruity aspect. Burke sees language as a symbol system that rests on the congruity between words and the things in the world to which they refer. In this framework, he sees humor coming from the incongruity that can occur between language and its references. This idea is part of Burke's belief that human cognition is mediated by language, which Steven Pinker debunks (see my earlier blog entries). To Carter and Burke, because our world is mediated by language, all humor passes through language. In the case of humor, Steve Martin demonstrated that you do not need language for humorous incongruity when he unzipped his fly and smoke came out.

Carter and Burke value commitments and do not want humor to discourage their formation, but they support using humor to pull us back from political absolutism. They also want comedy to be used charitably (Carter, 126). However, humor is a tool, and you cannot pick and choose when and how humor will be employed. That having been said, when a would-be authoritarian imposes absolutism, one of the first things to happen is the suppression of comedy.

Burke is a philosopher who universalizes things, and in humor as with other topics, he goes too far with his theories. As Carter says, "The largest incongruity of all is the mismatch between our expectation to live indefinitely--and our foreknowledge of death. All humor is based on some variation of this fundamental existential incongruity, and in every laugh is the rattle of this absurdity. Comedy is a defense mechanism of the spirit, the expression of a need to distance the self from death" (127). I say, give Carter and Burke an inch, and they take it more than a mile; they take it to the abyss. Most humor is not hanging over the abyss. Monty Python did end the movie "The Life of Brian" with the song, "Always look on the Bright Side of Life," which is an example of Burke's gallows humor; however, most humor does not point to death but to chickens crossing roads.

To bring this discussion back to evolutionary literary criticism, my theory of humor posits that humor is a non-violent social mechanism for managing status hierarchies. Comics such as Zelenskyy rally group support against those who place themselves high in the group when they do not deserve it. As such, it can function to further group selection, both as a challenge to group dominance and as a secondary support for policing free-loaders in favor of altruistic punishers. It can be an antidote to pathological entelechy or a weapon to disparage out-groups. Carter and Burke do not see that function, except in the extreme case of pulling us back from suicidally absolutist dominance.

Carter, C. Allen. Kenneth Burke and the Scapegoat Process. U. of Oklahoma Press, 1996.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

ELC Theory, Part 4: Evolutionary Psychology and Multilevel Selection Theory

I am currently studying Evolutionary Literary Criticism (ELC). ELC takes the findings of Evolutionary Psychology and applies them to the study of literature.

I have been a student of evolutionary psychology for most of its history. I first read Steven Pinker's Language Instinct in 1995. I studied Pinker's How the Mind Works (1997) and other EP texts. I bought both David Buss's textbook Evolutionary Psychology (first edition, 1999) and Elliott Sober and David Sloan Wilson's Unto Others (1998) when they first came out.

After studying Unto Others, I have fully embraced its argument that evolutionary theorists had been unnecessarily dismissive of group selection. Sober and Wilson show that theories that have been put forward as alternatives to group selection--such as inclusive fitness theory, evolutionary game theory, and the selfish gene theory--do not at all disprove group selection. The alternative theories simply use different methods to compute what amounts to special cases of group selection within a context of multilevel selection. Group selection is there, but researchers use techniques such as the averaging fallacy which hide it from view. The main conceptual models for evolutionary theory can be reframed into examples of group selection without changing any of the facts but simply reinterpreting them. Leaders of evolutionary theory therefore dismiss group selection even as they actually employ it.

When I accepted this argument, I fully expected evolutionary theorists to embrace multilevel selection theory. That did not happen. I also expected theorists of evolutionary psychology to embrace it. Buss's 1999 textbook had even mentioned Sober and Wilson's 1998 book in passing. However, I recently decided to review the current state of theory for evolutionary psychology by studying the sixth edition (2019) of Buss's textbook. Much to my surprise, Buss continues to maintain a skeptical distance from group selection by name (page 379). Buss seems to take his cue from Steven Pinker, who has used his megaphone to reject group selection loudly. (I even looked through the fourth edition of another evolutionary psychology textbook by Workman and Reader (2021), and it is also on the surface cool toward group selection.)

Even in his first edition, Buss had employed inclusive fitness and reciprocal altruism, so his textbook has always used aspects of group selection without admitting it or possibly understanding that he was using it. By the sixth edition of the textbook, Buss has added a discussion of "cooperative coalitions" (pages 267-271) without admitting that they are fundamentally examples of group selection. He discusses two theories for explaining them without realizing that those theories do not work unless there is a fitness advantage in the biological genes for group cooperation. One of the theories is even called "cultural group selection" (Boyd and Richerson, Culture and the Evolutionary Process, 1985).

Likewise in later editions, Buss's discussion of social hierarchies goes beyond simple violence-based dominance hierarchies and introduces more sophisticated models called prestige hierarchies. Prestige hierarchies rely heavily on the pro-social behavioral mechanisms that promote group-level fitness, but Buss still does not seem to understand that he is employing group selection.

In Part 20 of my Theory of Humor series, I wrote about a distinction I personally make between different types of social hierarchies. I called the first a "hard dominance" hierarchy. I called the second a "softer social status" hierarchy. Buss's prestige hierarchy is similar to (but not entirely congruent with) my "softer social status" hierarchy. Like my "softer status" concept, the prestige is freely given by others in the group. Here is a quote from Buss, 6/e (page 339):

In modern social groups, individuals acquire prestige by displaying high levels of competence on tasks that groups value, displaying generosity by giving more than taking, and making personal sacrifices that signal commitment to the group (Anderson and Kilduff, 2009). In the path to prestige, it is better to give than to receive.
Buss claims that presitge is generated by reciprocal altruism. I consider it mind-boggling that he does not understand that reciprocal altruism is a subset of the range of possible group selection behaviors within multilevel selection theory. The above quote is a perfect example of this point, but Buss continues explicitly to remain agnostic toward "group selection." Buss claims the above is reciprocal altruism, but it is a reciprocity that is not one-to-one but indirect, or many-to-many, among large groups. This sort of many-to-many reciprocity is group selection. I am still waiting for him to fully embrace group selection. I may have to wait a long time.

My point is that my framework for ELC depends on the acceptance of group selection within multilevel selection theory to explain many aspects of literature. If you truly used a version of evolutionary psychology without any group selection, you will be left with an impoverished tool for evolutionary literary criticism. However, it might not be too bad if you take Buss's approach. Buss's approach is to decline to embrace group selection explicitly but then call it indirect reciprocity and use it anyway. It is not logically rigorous, but that is what the evolutionary psychologists seem to do.

Why do current evolutionary psychologists avoid group selection by name? Perhaps because early group selection theorists hypothesized that organisms could treat "their entire species as a whole" as a group or "the local multi-species ecosystem as a whole" as a group. That sort of universal group selection is not part of Multilevel Selection Theory. Perhaps the label "group selection" is avoided to steer clear of theories that argue that universal altruism can arise by natural selection. But by any other name, much of what evolutionary psychologists theorize about is still group selection.

My advice: Spend time on a close reading of Sober and Wilson's Unto Others. That text shows the evolutionary logic that drives concepts like cooperative coalitions and prestige hierarchies. Group selection may still be "he who must not be named," but it is critical to ELC because it is critical to the human social order.