The Tangled Wing

The second edition of Melvin Konner’s The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit is reviewed here and the book has a website, here which includes the notes Konner used to write the book (yay!) and his afterword about the dangers of sociobiology

The contents of this book are known to be dangerous.

I do not mean that in the sense that all ideas are potentially dangerous. Specifically, ideas about the biological basis of behavior have encouraged political tendencies and movements later regretted by all decent people and condemned in school histories. Why, then, purvey such ideas?

Because some ideas in behavioral biology are true?among them, to the best of my knowledge, the ones in this book?and the truth is essential to wise action. But that does not mean that these ideas cannot be distorted, nor that evil acts cannot arise from them. I doubt, in fact, that what I say can prevent such distortion. Political and social movements arise from worldly causes, and then seize whatever congenial ideas are at hand. Nonetheless, I am not comfortable in the company of scientists who are content to search for the truth and let the consequences accumulate as they may. I therefore recount here a few passages in the dismal, indeed shameful history of the abuse of behavioral biology, in some of which scientists were willing participants.

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