Hell’s bells: why marriage gets hard when things get easy

I first published this article in The Conversation on 31 May 2011. It highlights some of the arguments about marriage in Chapter 6 of Sex, Genes & Rock ‘n’ Roll

It’s the sort of news conservative politicians and commentators latch on to as a sure-fire sign that the end of civilisation is nigh: marriage rates are in continuing decline. But is this really such a bad thing?

Marriage rates in the developed world have been falling for decades. In the the latest reiteration of this trend, the New York Times reported last week that fewer than half of US households now comprise married couples, down from 78% in the 1950s.

Social conservatives have long coddled a sweet nostalgia for the 1950s as the golden age of matrimony. This yearning usually accompanies confident claims that long-term monogamy is the only natural mating pattern for humans. Continue reading Hell’s bells: why marriage gets hard when things get easy

Interviews & reviews

I’m listing here all the media and reviews for Sex, Genes & Rock ‘n’ Roll, in case anybody (Hi Mum!) wants to check them out.



  • Monday 5 September, Mornings with Margaret Throsby on ABC Classic FM – Realplayer | Windows Media | MP3 Download
  • Monday 29 August, Jane Raffan’s Arts Monday on 89.7 Eastside FM – Podcast
  • Wednesday 22 June, 21.15 ish – 702 ABC Sydney, Nights with Robbie Buck
  • Friday 17 June, 15.05 EST (13.05 WA time) – ABC Local Radio, Western Australia
  • Thursday 8th June, 14.35 CST Five aa – Speaking Obseity with Amanda Blair
  • Thursday 8th June, 12.20, 3TripleR (Melbourne) Aural Text with Alicia Sometimes and Lorin Clarke
  • Wednesday June 8th, 9.30 pm. ABC Hobart, talking with Annie Warbruton
  • Friday 3 June, 8.35am. ABC Radio Australia Breakfast
  • Friday 3 June 6.45am. Chatting with Amanda Keller & Jonesy on Sydney 101.7 WSFM Breakfast [mp3].
  • Thursday 2 June, 10.10 am. ABC Western Plains (Hello Dubbo!, mostly rock & sex)
  • Thursday 2 June, 9.15 am. ABC Radio National – Life Matters
  • Sun 29 May, 2011. Wonderful interview with Alan Brough on 774 ABC Melbourne – mostly regarding population growth, elephants and vomiting vampire bats [let me know if you find a podcast]
  • Sat 28 May, 2011. Short mention of the book in Leigh Dayton’s “The Lab” section of The Australian (Review Magazine)

Survival of the fittest – Baba Brinkman releases videos

I’m a huge fan of Baba Brinkman, the Canadian artist who gave us the Rap Guide to Evolution (as well as the Rap Canterbury Tales, and the Rap Guide to Human Nature). Yesterday he launched his new suite of videos and teaching resources to accompany the Rap Guide to Evolution. Funded by the Wellcome Trust and made in partnership with London’s SPL Productions, the videos are a wonderful showcase of Brinkman’s tracks and should be a valuable resource for teaching evolution.

If you haven’t heard Baba’s work before, you might imagine a white Canadian guy rapping about cerebral topics like Natural Selection and humanity’s African origins would be clunky pseudo-cool more reminiscent of a government education campaign encouraging kids to eat more fruit or stay off drugs. Nothing could be further than the truth. Baba combines a profound and nuanced understanding of evolution with a genuine rap sensibility and a great deal of humour. He may be an unusual musical persona, but he is a genuine talent and he has plenty to say.

I wish that I could condense into a 5000 word book chapter the kind of message that Baba seems to fit in every stanza of his work. His first-released video – Performance-Feedback-Revision compares Natural Selection with the process a poet or a rapper goes through in crafting a piece of work. Like all metaphors, it shouldn’t be plumbed too deep (Baba doesn’t), but it gives a simple clarity to the process of natural selection. Just as Baba draws on the response he gets from his audience (feedback) to build on the successful and effective parts of his raps (revision), so the traits that most effectively ensure an individual’s reproductive success are retained, and built upon in subsequent generations.

The other video released yesterday was Survival of the Fittest. Here Baba has drawn heavily on the 1995 track of the same name by Mobb Deep a truly hardcore duo out of Queens.  Using the same music and much of the same imagery, Baba cleverly crafts a message about life in violent neighborhoods where violence among young men and teenage pregnancy can be understood as evolved respoonses to inequity and short life expectancy. Here Baba draws on some of the most inspired and surprising research in all of evolutionary psychology – Martin Daly and Margo Wilson’s work on homicide.

It’s worth a look at Baba’s video for Survival of the Fittest (embedded above). It mimics the most gangsta traditions of rap videos, replete with graffiti-saturated walls, a fire in a barrel and shady-looking homies. And his argument illustrates the social policy relevance of evolutionary psychology. I made a similar argument in the last two chapters of Sex, Genes & Rock ‘n’ Roll, mostly in the context of Rock music in the sixties and seventies.

Footnote: Egregious self-promotion

I discovered Baba’s Natural Selection in the late stages of preparing my book – early enough to cite it when I argue that Rap is the true inheritor of much that made Rock so compellingly mad, bad and dangerous to be around. Baba was gracious and kind enough to read my whole book and comment on it for the jacket (I have posted his comments here). I am proud that one of his comments is on the front cover – I reckon he is a great communicator and a very clever artist.

Camping admits monumental stupidity. Offers to help followers rebuild their lives.

Harold Camping: Will this insufferably smug fool have the dignity to admit his wrongdoing and to apologise to those he has led astray?

Unsurprisingly Harold Camping’s prediction that the devout would ascend and that Armageddon would commence on May 21 turned out to equal the Millenium bug for sheer anticlimax and wasted column inches. So much has been written, so much of it satirical, that I can’t really decide whether the world need to read my own brief thoughts at all.

But today, thousands of vulnerable and confused people woke up still mired in their decidedly ordinary lives, no doubt deeply disappointed that they weren’t lifted up to heaven and that the world is not imploding. Many of those people, in embracing Camping’s end-of-times predictions, have alienated their less gullible families and friends.

The Carson family of Maryland (see Ashley Parker’s article in the New York Times) will have plenty of healing to do this morning. For months the parents have been desperately sounding the apocalyptic trumpet to strangers, yet they have told their unbelieving children that they will definitely not be going to heaven. Not only have these so-called parents embarrassed their own children above and beyond the call of normal parental duty, but for two years they have completely neglected their family’s future. College funds are gone, the house is a wreck, and the family is in deep crisis. Continue reading Camping admits monumental stupidity. Offers to help followers rebuild their lives.

One picture = 1000 words: A Summary of Sex, Genes & Rock ‘n’ Roll

They say a picture tells a thousand words. But does a thousand words tell a picture? Instead of posting a summary of Sex, Genes & Rock ‘n’ Roll: How Evolution has Shaped the Modern World, I have created Wordles (Wordle.com) of each chapter and embedded the chapter summaries in a presentation using tools at Prezi.com.

I hope this gives you a taste If you want a taste of what’s in the book. If you have trouble witht he embedded Prezi then go direct to the Prezi site.

The Vatican Banned my Book! Six Months Before I Began Writing it.

I was egosurfing the other night, anxious about the upcoming publication of my book Sex, Genes & Rock ‘n’ Roll: How evolution has shaped the modern world and brooding about how to promote it. Searching on the book title I was surprised when the 10th ranked page on Google was titled Vatican condemns sex, genes and rock ‘n’ roll. My, they work quickly!

I was sore amazed, however, when I noticed that the article had been posted in December 2008, fully six months before I wrote the first words for my book. I knew my book was a miraculous feat, but here, surely was an act of prescience to rival any scriptural prediction. A miracle to sit alongside the virgin birth, transubstantiation, and even Pope John Paul II’s lightning-fast beatification.

Having allowed my imagination to run wild, I was understandably a little underwhelmed to find myself reading a very brief blog post highlighting an even-more-arcane-than-usual Vatican pronouncement on bioethics. In keeping with the age-old tradition of outwardly celibate holy men micromanaging women’s fertility, the Vatican was taking aim at the so-called “abortion drug” RU-486 which can be used to terminate a pregnancy in the first nine weeks, as well as the use of morning-after pills and IUD insertion after unprotected sex to stop an embryo from implanting.

Not a single mention of my book. No miracle after all.

After all the dread, I found myself really disappointed. A good, solid, banning from the Vatican would have made for a cracking social media campaign.

But then it occurred to me that if the Vatican only knew about my book, then surely they would ban it. They might even burn it to keep His Holiness’ feet warm of an evening while he thumbed through the Malleus Maleficarum, Geoffrey Robinson’s Case Against the Pope, whatever else he’s reading these days.

So I thought I’d set out a case for my book to be banned by the Vatican, just in case they decide to bring back the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. Continue reading The Vatican Banned my Book! Six Months Before I Began Writing it.

Obesity: beyond advertising bans and education campaigns

South African sugar farm looking like the Garden of Eden - where all that sugary goodness comes from.

John Birmingham posted an entertaining National Times column today on the call to limit junk food advertising to children (Advertising ban won’t help fat kids).  Responding to the Obesity Policy Coalition’s (OPC) recent launch of an Australian blueprint for legislation that protects children from junk food marketing, Birmingham argued:

There’s a reason why 84 per cent of people support a ban on junk food advertising during kids’ television schedules. Because it’s a hell of a lot easier than doing anything that might actually make a difference to the chubby little ticks, like turning off the damn TV for a start and kicking them out the door to go run around for a bit.

While I agree with part of what he says (I’ll disclose which part later), I do happen to think that junk food advertising is excessive and that it should be heavily regulated. The current practice of self-regulation is as absurd as leaving an overeater in charge of a donut stall. If I were head prefect of the world, advertisers wouldn’t be allowed to pollute public airtime, public places or my telephone with their unsolicited, unwelcome and self-interested messages. Like any guest, an advertiser should be invited into my home. But that’s a rant for another time.

I’m also not so sure that turning off the TV and sending the kids out for a runaround  will magically erase childhood obesity. Public discourse over obesity veers wildly between two opposing and equally dogmatic camps. Those in one camp see the obese as victims (“don’t blame the kiddies for eating too much junk food, they’re powerless in the face of the great advertising tractor beam”). Yet Birmingham and the other camp blame the obese for the sins of gluttony and sloth (“get the little tackers to eat less crap, have a good run around and maybe kick a footy”). Continue reading Obesity: beyond advertising bans and education campaigns

Where to buy Sex, Genes & Rock ‘n’ Roll

Sex, Genes & Rock ‘n’ Roll: How Evolution has Shaped the Modern World is to be published in Australia and New Zealand on 1 June. I have already received my copies, including extra ones I bought to give to the people who helped me by reading drafts etc. We are busy finallising a contract to publish it in North America in April 2012, and we have yet to sign a deal for other territories. So if you are outside of Aus/NZ you will need to buy your copy online.

Here are a few places that I have come across where you can get a copy:

  1. Straight from the publisher, NewSouth Books (follow this link and you get a 20 percent discount from Au$34.95 to Au$27.96)
  2. Booko.com.au provides real time comparison of prices and shipping costs from all suppliers worldwide.
  3. Fishpond (Au$32.97 free shipping Australia-wide)
  4. Emporium Books (Au$30.40)
  5. Boomerang Books ($31.46 plus $6.95 shipping per order – regardless of size)

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I’m happy to add other links – just comment on this post.