Hats off to Alcaray for bringing up Desmond Morris’ “The Naked Ape” in his contribution to the thread on breasts below. It was a big bestseller in the late 60s, and I remember reading it. If I’m not mistaken, it was assigned reading in one of my college classes. (You know how clever those 60s hippy kollege perfessers were at corrupting the yout’–just like Socrates, eh?)
And make no doubt about it, “Ape” was a subversive book. On the surface, it was totally apolitical. But although written as a popular treatment of behavioral evolution, especially in primates, it arrived at the unsettling conclusion that much of our behavior, particularly our sexual behavior, was not a commandment from God, or common sense, or even the only way to do things, but that it was a result of our evolutionary history and our culture, particularly the result of the primate evolution of our sexual behavior.
In the 60s, this was pretty incendiary stuff, and the book and its wicked ways became a favorite punching bag for conservatives, bluenoses, wackofundos and bible-bangers everywhere. It was controversial, to say the least. It was also a clue to me that this was forbidden but important knowledge that needed to be read.
In retrospect, I can see now that much of what I learned in my social science, humanities and other liberal arts courses was the dangerous idea that we did things not because God made us that way, or because it was the Right Thing To Do, but because of natural historical forces. Our sexual mores came from the African Savanna a million years ago, Most, if not all the forces that guided our personal, psychological, social, even economic and political behavior was due to history, both natural and man-made. Things happened for a reason, but that reason was open to human investigation and analysis. In a world where everything was blamed on conspiracies, and where we were usually painted as the victims of those conspiracies, this was pretty subversive stuff.
The social scientists of the late 50s and early 60s–our parents’ generation for the most part–working class kids brought up during the Depression, tempered by the war against Fascism and educated by the WWII GI Bill, played a role analogous to the pre-Socratic philosophers of Ancient Ionia. The world was not a creation of the Gods, and run by magic. There was a natural order to things, a social universe which was open to inquiry and investigation and could be understood by reason, and sometimes even changed through human knowledge and effort.
But most important of all, I and my contemporaries were exposed to a great liberating idea: if you were not aware of the role biology, psychology, sociology, culture and history played in forming your behavior, you were condemned to react like a helpless automaton, unaware of why you did what you did, and powerless to change it.
I got a great education from the GI Bill and the Florida taxpayer.