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Illustration by Jeremy Russell

Ape Sh#%

My darling, my Darwin

By Annalee Newitz

After working for 25 years on what he calls "large-scale computer systems," Craig Hagstrom decided he needed to write up some documentation. But instead of scribbling out a feverish memoir of old Xerox workstations, or discoursing on the thrill of programming UNIX for the VAX, he set off into more metaphysical territory.

The result is a self-published book called The Passionate Ape: Bad Sex, Strong Love and Human Evolution (www.passionateape.com). His imagination inflamed with the kinds of Darwinistic principles that so appeal to programmers, Hagstrom uses home-brewed evolutionary theory to prove that men are getting stupider and women are getting less orgasmic (yes, sweetie, there's a connection). All this is because, apparently, humans actually evolved in the water for several millennia.

Hagstrom didn't make this stuff up himself--the notion that we evolved in the water is so popular on the Internet that there's an entire Yahoo category devoted to "aquatic ape" sites. But Hagstrom isn't concerned with proving that humans used to live entirely in the water; he takes that for granted. What interests him is explaining how aquatic life led to women's vaginas getting torqued wrong, and thus, men became stupid, incompetent, insensitive mates. Damn, you've gotta love those engineers, always looking out for design flaws that might cause bugs somewhere down the line. One vagina gets out of alignment and suddenly evolution goes down the tubes.

Several helpful charts in The Passionate Ape illustrate in painstaking detail what Hagstrom calls "wench revolution." One shows the way the vaginal canal evolved over millennia to bend the wrong way, so that when a penis goes inside, the G-spot isn't stimulated. Another memorable graph shows that as men became duller, women who couldn't stand stupid men learned to masturbate, thus removing themselves from the gene pool and allowing evolution to select for "repressed" women who like stupid men.

Hello? Does masturbation really remove you from the gene pool? These theories make me feel like I'm watching Star Trek: Voyager, where I spend half the time stumbling over plot holes and asking, "But why didn't they just beam up or something?"

I'm tempted to read The Passionate Ape as Hagstrom's pitiable attempt to explain something deeply personal, some hidden reservoir of geeky self-hatred which causes him to imagine that evolutionary science will explain his poor mating habits. But that's a cheap shot. Hagstrom isn't alone, and his ideas are hardly the most outlandish I've seen perpetrated in the name of Darwin. He's following the path of many other science and engineering geeks, trying to account for human behavior in terms that he understands. Thus he turns to evolution, which he sees every day in the realm of technological development. A new generation of geeks is trying to hack the source code of the emotions, churning out books with titles like A Natural History of Rape, The Sexual Brain and A General Theory of Love.

Like Hagstrom, these evolutionists are tired of New-Agey therapists who want to talk about psychology in terms of inner children, male and female "communication styles" and love as a mystical force that comes to us from meditation and fat-free dieting. Understandably, such egregious pseudo-science won't help an engineer understand his inner motivations or why he falls in love. But neither, I think, will rampant speculations--however rationalistically charted and graphed and schematized--about vaginal torquing and the mating habits of underwater apes millions of years ago.

Darwinism has become social theory for people who distrust social science and develop their philosophies in the laboratory or server room. It's a tidy way to explain all those messy concepts like faith and heartbreak and ethics--just plot out how these human features evolved over time and claim that love is hardwired into our DNA, our chemistry or our naturally selected (and therefore uncontrollable) impulses.

It's a great fantasy. If only it were that simple--we'd be debugging ourselves right now, running our unstable desiring programs through a compiler that would alert us whenever our social systems were going wrong. "Watch out for that torque! You're about to create a whole new breed of stupid men!"


Annalee Newitz (darwin@techsploitation.com) is a surly media nerd who is currently obsessed with evolutionary biology and blames it all on Sonia.

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From the February 1-7, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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