Philosophers who understand neither philosophy nor biology

Peter Boghossian is demonstrating that he’s a fool and an ignoramus again.

Why is it that nearly every male who’s a 3rd wave intersectional feminist is physically feeble & has terrible body habitus?

You just have to love that extra fillip of the term “habitus” — it adds an extra level of pomposity to a statement that basically, feminists men are weak and have ugly physiques. It’s the male counterpart to the old anti-suffragette cartoons that portrayed them all as hideous crones and spinsters. That attitude is alive and well among regressive assholes today.

But then he goes further and invokes his poorly understood version of biology to justify it, and claims the authority of Science behind his opinion of those ugly feminists.

My “body habitus” tweet was a reference to what evolutionary biologists term “sneaky fucker” theory.

I have to correct HJ Hornbeck; the “sneaky fucker” theory was not invented by MRAs, but is a legitimate evolutionary idea that’s been around for quite a while. The thing is that you don’t publish a term with an obscenity in it — editors tend to chop those out. It’s more often called “sneaks and guards”, and if you want to find it in the scientific literature, better search terms are “alternative mating strategies” or “dimorphic males”. One of the clearest examples is found in Onthophagus beetles, where there is an allocation trade-off in development between investing in giant horns for use in direct battles with other males, vs. giant testes for better sperm competition. That’s also an experimental model where you can manipulate the tissues in the larva. Cauterize the developing testis, the horns grow bigger; cauterize the primordium of the thoracic cuticle that forms the horn, the testes grow larger.

But MRAs do love this theory, because they think it justifies condemning those wimpy feminist males (“betas” and “cucks”; by the way, that whole nonsense of “alphas” and “betas” is misappropriation of ethological descriptions used in wolves and some other species, which have more complex life history strategies than the MRAs can imagine). They’re just “white knights”, “sneaky fuckers” who sidle up to women and pretend to be on their side in order to have sex with them! They’re just as bad as the noble, straight-forward Alphas, but they’re devious about it!

However, I have to mention another, more useful term to Boghossian: the naturalistic fallacy. I hear that he teaches philosophy, so he might have heard of it, but he clearly doesn’t understand it. Spend less time on Reddit and YouTube where it is dreadfully abused by internet atheists to rationalize all kinds of bad behavior — if chimps throw feces, then obviously YouTube commenters have evolved to be shitlords. They take a grain of truth from animal studies and extrapolate it into all kinds of nonsense about people.

But sure, you can find animal models that fit an extreme pattern.

Beetles demonstrate a pattern of disruptive selection to produce large bodied “guard” morphs and smaller “sneak” morphs. But I am not a beetle, and humans do not show such a pattern.

Cuttlefish also have large aggressive males that zealously guard their harem of females with threat displays, and also smaller males that turn off the threat displays and instead camouflage themselves as females to join the harem. But I am not a cuttlefish, and humans show a wide range of courtship behaviors.

Orangutans have large flanged adult males who also guard harems of females, and smaller, unflanged young males skirt the outside of his territory, looking to mate opportunistically. But I am not an orangutan, and humans change their courtship behaviors to suit the circumstances, so you don’t get to claim a dichotomous suite of mating practices within our species.

Gorillas have a high degree of sexual dimorphism allowing one large male to control a group of smaller females. I am not a gorilla. Humans have evolved to reduce sexual dimorphism and increase cooperation, making the “guard” strategy impractical and counter-productive.

So please, do not shoehorn human behavior into your simplified model of how sex works. It’s reductive and also fails to appreciate the importance of female mating choice. Think about it: “sneaky fuckers” would be a total flop if females of the species didn’t go along with the opportunity and mate happily with the sneaky guys. Females have reproductive strategies, too, and they would rarely favor having their mate choice removed because the big thug corrals them and controls when and with whom they can mate. Unfortunately, we still live with a Victorian influence on science that tends to downplay female participation and initiative, leaving us with many theories that treat females of the species as objects collected and used by the males.

I am a human being. I am a member of a species with complex life histories and prolonged child-rearing requirements that require extensive social behaviors for survival. We have reduced sexual dimorphism, and rarely does our survival hinge on brute force muscular development. We form communities with intense social interactions. We choose mates based on long-term compatibilities — we form partnerships between individuals. One sex does not do all the choosing, and further, choices are based on fairly sophisticated intellectual and emotional properties. Does he or she have a sense of humor, do they have shared interests, are they willing to cooperate in necessary chores, are they fun to be with, are they sexually compatible, do they share the same religious beliefs, do they enjoy the same movies, do they have complementary skills, etc.? Rarely do women wonder whether he would be able to lock them in in the basement and successfully fight off all other human beings who come to visit, and if they do, it’s an argument to reject further association with the man.

Physical appearance does play a role, and we’d be foolish to pretend it doesn’t, but if you look around you at the world of human relationships you might notice that there a lot of stable, long-term couples where neither individual looks like they’re going to be featured on the cover of People magazine. Why? Because all the social and intellectual connections trump all the ephemeral details of looking like a 20 year old model. Appearances matter more in casual hookups (which rarely produce offspring, especially nowadays when birth control is cheap and easy), but the evolutionary outcomes are going to be more dependent on successful family construction and integration into communities.

We need terms more appropriate to the human condition. I suggest that we call superficially handsome, virile, young people like Peter Boghossian “shallow fuckers” while us old homely (or otherwise) guys who can recognize the autonomy of women and form relationships on the basis of long term cooperativity “decent human beings”. At least, that’s a good idea if you’re one of those shallow fuckers who also demand that the world be divided into no more than two classes of people.

Matthew Facciani also gets the science wrong:

“Sneaky f*cker” theory refers to the evolutionary psychology idea that beta males will “sneak in” and have sex with a female while the alpha males are busy. This theory was coined by John Maynard Smith and doesn’t have much (if any) scientific support.

This is not evolutionary psychology. It’s standard, ordinary old ethology, and it’s an idea that’s been around for a long time (I don’t think Maynard Smith coined it, either, he just gets credit for it because he’s a prominent authority), and there is plenty of scientific support — in specific species. But at least his criticism of Boghossian is spot on.

Both Tweets by Dr. Boghossian here are embarrassingly ignorant and illustrate his own bias against feminism. It’s like Pete can’t imagine why any man would embrace feminism so obviously they must be doing it to do get laid. It’s also just sloppy reasoning based on supposed anecdotes. Did he actually measure the body fat of a sample of male feminists and compare it to the average population? Until he shows the study he did, it’s just a childish attack on people he doesn’t like. But interestingly, he attempts to use pseudoscientific jargon to justify his biases.

This is interesting in another way, though: it reminds me of some old debates where pro-evolutionary people would argue against creationists that the distinction between microevolution and macroevolution was made up by creationists, and that the terms weren’t used by real evolutionary biologists…so I’d have to cite lists of books and papers that explicitly used those entirely legitimate terms and help out the wrong side of the debate. It was kind of annoying.


  1. rietpluim says

    There are two classes of people: those who divide the world into two classes of people, and those who don’t.

  2. says

    But don’t some humans adopt “philosopher” as a maying strategy because they can’t be “guitar player for Led Zeppelin”? This behavior has been observed in the wild.

  3. says

    If I’m a “cuck”, doesn’t that imply that I’m the guard in the sneak/guard dichotomy? Are we the sneaky fuckers and they the cucks, or are we the cucks and they the sneaky fuckers? MRAs can’t decide!

  4. Siobhan says


    If I’m a “cuck”, doesn’t that imply that I’m the guard in the sneak/guard dichotomy? Are we the sneaky fuckers and they the cucks, or are we the cucks and they the sneaky fuckers? MRAs can’t decide!

    Is that what the kids call an “own goal”?

  5. chigau (違う) says

    When I was taking primatology courses at university in the late 70s, this sneaky mating thing was common knowledge.

  6. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Here’s the thing I don’t understand: I don’t understand nominally heterosexual males who are so repulsed by the idea of treating women as fellow human beings that they have to develop a bogus (or is the spelling Boghoss) philosophy to dehumanize both them and the men who genuinely like women.

    Not that I’d wish Peter on the gay community. They’ve suffered enough.

  7. says

    “Habitus” is a very specific term used by sociologists.
    With a precise meaning.
    That he obviously doesn’t know.

    Also, there’s no such thing as “body habitus”. The word is “hexis”, meaning “presentation of self”.

  8. says

    Christophe Thill@#7:
    “Habitus” is a very specific term used by sociologists.

    He meant to type “covefe”

    Seriously, it looks like a typo.

  9. says

    I find it very perplexing that women want to be with men who like and respect them. I’m going to have to come up with a crazy explanation that fits with my prejudice that women are all manipulative sluts and the men who have healthy relationships with them are all losers. Right after I spend 5 hours ranting on reddit from the comfort of my parents’ basement.

  10. Dunc says

    Christophe Thill, @7: Actually, “body habitus” is a perfectly valid medical term, referring to the physique or build of an individual.

  11. quotetheunquote says

    Gee, I’ve been a feminist since age 11 or so, and I don’t feel particularly “physically feeble”. Don’t know P. Bogus-ian personally, but he doesn’t exactly look like Conan, himself.

    RE: Sneaky fuckers. My favourite example is in vertebrates – a bird, in fact. The Ruff (Calidris pugnax) has three male types, one of which (called a faeder) is a female mimic. These are very rare, though, and (since they’re not humans, duh) their existence does nothing to bolster Bogossian’s thesis.

    Link to New Scientist story on Ruff genetics.

  12. rodw says

    The best example of ‘sneaky fucker theory” is the giant cuttlefish. I’m surprised PZ didnt mention this!

  13. says

    “Gee, I’ve been a feminist since age 11 or so, and I don’t feel particularly “physically feeble”.”

    I’m pretty sure I could kick Peter Boghossian’s ass with one hand tied behind my back. Although I can’t honestly cop to being a 3rd wave intersectional feminist, because I don’t know what that is.

  14. cartomancer says

    Admittedly I am about as feeble as they come. When filling in online dating profiles I tend to write “sepulchral” under “body type”, and I would probably lose in a fight to a glass of water.

    I’d quite like to do both sneaking and fucking, truth be told. But I’m terrible at each independently, so attempting the two together is just a recipe for disaster. I’m not going through knee damage and ivy rash at the same time, they were bad enough one at a time.

    No, I think I shall model my mating strategy on that of the bower bird. Putting together elaborate collections and displays seems far more fitted to my skill set.

  15. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    I’m confused.
    Presenting my confusing for correction:
    “sneaky fucker”, I thought, meant the weakling males who the “strong hunters” rejected from joining the hunting parties, where a large percentage would not return, being mauled, killed, or lost, in the hunt. The “wimps” left behind helped the womenfolk tidy up and care for the offspring, etc. When her original mate didn’t return, he would be there to comfort, and maintain her family with her. Their comforting embraces would go a little further than intended, and produce a 2nd batch of offspring, maybe more than the original produced. And so the “wimpy” line continued, when 1st impression would suggest they would never find a mate, as the womenz would only pick the biggest and strongest malez.
    apologies for propagating those cliche stereotypical images, using disparaging terminology (to get the point across, quickly).
    Dispel them please.

  16. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    typo alert”
    “confusing” was typo for “”confusion”

    ugh how confusing was that?

  17. Zeppelin says

    @Area Man, 9: Yeah, basically this. Having to acknowledge that some other men want to treat women decently might lead to introspection. Introspection and self-criticism are for spengler cucks. And so they default to the idea that men who appear to like and respect women must secretly despise them too and be playing some sort of long con.

  18. chigau (違う) says

    slithey tove #15
    I think you dispelled it youself.
    The entire scenario you presented is a ridiculous cartoon.

  19. emergence says

    I’ve pointed this out before about a similar argument; a lot of conservatives, especially the higher ranking ones, tend to be dumpy fuckers who don’t take care of themselves, guys who actively make themselves look like giant douches, and other guys who, let’s be blunt, don’t fit into the attractive manly alpha male mold. You have Trump, obviously, but you also have Bannon, Yiannopolous, Stephen Miller, Tucker Carlson, Rush Limbaugh, Roger Ailes, Bob Murray, Sebastian Gorka, and so on. A good chunk of the alt right also consists of basement-dwelling 4chan trolls too. It’s weird to see these guys rant about manliness and alpha males when they don’t resemble the idealized image they’re talking about at all.

  20. emergence says

    Also, I’ve noticed a continuing pattern with this Boghossian guy where he’s completely oblivious to to how biology works and yet uses biology as an authority to back up his bullshit arguments.

  21. unclefrogy says

    he is obviously a Philosopher
    thinking about what the nature of reality might be without actually you know looking himself to see what it is.
    uncle frogy

  22. Matt G says

    What a dick. I wish I could return my Manual for creating atheists. Why are so many high profile atheists like him? Makes us look like assholes when we are already perceived as smug know-it-alls.

  23. secondtofirstworld says

    @emergence #19:

    Funny you should mention Gorka, his charisma is so strong he couldn’t get elected mayor of a village of 2 thousand people. As a former far right myself (I fit the stupid teenager on that one), I want to correct just one thing: the common sentiment is, that what constitutes to be an alpha male is a creation of sexist politics, which exploit men by treating them as pieces of meat. The “evil MSM” tells people, that the very fit and handsome are the norm, because it’s a dark conspiracy serving women who are just as shallow and hypocritical as everyone else. Seeing, that their arguments hasn’t changed in decades doesn’t surprise me.

    They think an alpha is someone with no inhibitions, but performs absolute loyalty to their peers, and shows an unwavering camaraderie. So to them, they’re alphas. When they talk about women being superior, they mean favoring decent and polite people over boars is a conspiracy. Recently a philosopher, who’s a Marxist feminist man has proposed if the term race traitor exist, one should exist for a gender traitor. I’m starting to suspect he doesn’t have access to English professional publications since it’s an existing term used by the far right.

    Speaking of which… alt right is a term they came up with themselves, it’s not valid academically, they’re far right. Also, it might be that I’m blind, but it seems nobody corrected Boghossian on the fact, that the current iteration is the 5th wave of feminism in America, not the 3rd. Accepting part of their bullshit is exactly why they can claim there’s merit to what they’re saying. Upon further examination it’s clear, that they don’t have any.

  24. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    Is the body habitus anything like the pompitous of love?

  25. naturalcynic says

    Makes me wonder about the body habitus of the average MRA.

    400 lbs, pasty white from inhabiting mother’s basement, Doritos stained fingers and lips … the Donald knows

  26. anbheal says

    Ha ha, I’d never encountered the sneaky fucker epithet before. So, it’s sneaky to empty the dishwasher and give a neckrub and change diapers and do some laundry and ask “wanna see what’s on Netflix?”, “wanna take a bike ride?” or observe “we haven’t asked your parents over for dinner in a few weeks, and that crisper drawer ain’t gettin’ any fresher”, while only trim chiseled uber-athlete Empire Founders sit on the sofa watching the game and guzzling Schlitz? Hmmm. And so, just to understand this gestalt (wait, Dr. Boghossian, maybe I should say weltschauung?) a bit better, does that mean that World-Beating Alpha Cuck-Spamming Reddit Dominants get to say the N-word on Match dates, and when the woman gets ready to storm out, whine “I said it with the AH, not the ER, so it’s not racist!”? And….so….Dr. Boghossian, how did you strategy work in landing a date with Amal Clooney? George’s sneaky feminism outcompeted you? Damn, I can see why you’re so upset.

  27. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    Is the body habitus anything like the pompitous of love?

    Turns out, the whole problem is that nobody ever called Peter Boghossian the space cowboy.

  28. davidnangle says

    “3rd wave” what?

    It’s very simple: You are a feminist or you are a bad person. To argue with this truth is to have to redefine “feminism” with lots of scary anecdotes added in. Also, obfuscating with “waves” and other such linguistic nonsense is just lying.

    You are a feminist or you are a bad person.

  29. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    Glad this thread has given some of us an opportunity to reiterate that people of size aren’t really people.

  30. hemidactylus says

    For PZ’s OP-
    One minor quibble, are you sure you weren’t thinking of an appeal to nature instead of Moore’s oft invoked naturalistic fallacy? The latter was about trying to break the allegedly “Good” down into reducible terms. If the Good is irreducible it becomes vacuous and perhaps useless. I am more (or Moore?) ambivalent about this so called fallacy than I used to be. The paleo diet hype machine would be an example of appealing to nature. Moore’s fallacy is far more abstract.

    Most people really mean by “naturalistic fallacy” Hume’s problem of deducing an ought from is, but as Owen Flanagan argues Hume is misread. Facts may be insufficient to translate easily into values 1:1, but can still inductively though fallibly inform moral decisions. I ironically call this Harris’s firewall, since Harris thinks those who hesitate into going across this Humean threshold hideous moral relativists. New Atheists are weird especially when they try to become landscape artists. Did Harris reference Sewall Wright on evolutionary landscapes or CH Waddington on developmental landscapes. I think not.

    Not so funny thing that I have been just listening to the “Rubin Report” interview of Boghossian right before reading this post and Petey launches into a diatribe about postmodernism that seems superficial and confused (eg- equated with Marxism) in how it explains the events at Evergreen and all the flak he, Harris, and Rubin get. He has a real bee in his bonnet for cultural and gender studies (eg- equated with pomo).

    I have misgivings about the whole pomo (wrt post truth and epistemic relativism) thing but is pomo the single handed cause of all the woes of the world? And applied narrowly to literature it may have merit. And the relations of words to referents can be problematic more generally. I recall Popper having a real issue with getting bogged down with definitions and linguistic quibbles. But if pomo seeks to devalue science, I don’t cotton to that. But I do decry monomanic scientism of New Atheism.

    As for pomo it seems some of it can be taken seriously (pomo light?). Roland Barthes’ “Death of the Author” has at least some overlap with Daniel Wegner and Sam Harris’s demotion of authorship in the free will debate. I recall Dennett using authorship against Harris “writing” the free will book in their back and forth. I prefer Dennett’s narrative gravity concept though which may not discount authorship.

    And in “Conversations with Zizek.” Slavoj Zizek says:
    “Then of course there is the extremist pandemonium theory of mind which states that there are just competing agencies, there is no unique mind, there is no Cartesian centre, and so on. So all these developments in cognitivism resonate in a way with certain philosophical and even deconstructionist perspectives.”


  31. secondtofirstworld says

    @davidnangle #29:

    They take it one step further by arguing a better term would be humanist or egalitarian, because having a focus is bad. Personally I don’t have one, but not because feminist is a bad word. I don’t have one, because many cultures, including the one I grew up in doesn’t treat or view LGBTQ people as humans. As long as that doesn’t change, I can’t afford to have a focus.

    What I find grating is, that many believers claim men and women have strict roles given by a divine power, and they’re the honest ones. Awful, but honest. Social media atheists, who decry that atheists poll lower than rapists are the ones circulating the idea, that America is a highly civilized Western country, and no focus should be had, because women have all the rights they want. They’re the ones who suggest feminism is a religion, a toxic, supremacy hungry affiliation, and the Middle East is where they’re needed.

  32. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    Turns out, the whole problem is that nobody ever called Peter Boghossian the space cowboy.

    But I’m sure plenty have called him a joker.

  33. Holms says

    We need terms more appropriate to the human condition. I suggest that we call superficially handsome, virile, young people like Peter Boghossian “shallow fuckers”…

    Ahem. Fuckwits.

  34. Artor says

    I’d say I trust Boghosian’s philosophizing about as far as I could throw him, but as a particularly large, beefy feminist male, I could probably hurl him a few yards at least. I don’t trust his philosophizing that much.

  35. Alt-X says

    Personally, I really dislike philosophers. I think they are just people that have conned other into paying for their mental masturbation. Most of us have spent drunken nights talking to sunrise with friends, about life, the universe and everything. But most of us grow out of it after realising our opinions are like arseholes. Everyone has one. None of them are any more special than the other. But somehow these people have convinced others _their_ arsehole is special.

    Then you get people like this guy, who thinks he’s a _posh_ special arsehole.

  36. FossilFishy (NOBODY, and proud of it!) says

    Alt X #38: Agument from ignorance. You might want to take a basic philosophy course.

  37. hemidactylus says

    #3- Siggy
    The term “cuck” is loosely related to nest parasitism, so yes. The so called sneaky men masked as feminists (3rd wave?) with variant physiognomy are turning MRAs into cucks while the latter are dudebroing at MMA pay per view beer parties? Do they realize this?

    As for categorizing (disparaging) a subset of men by physical caricature, isn’t this just Boghossian dismissing guys who take women’s concerns seriously by means of ad hominem? Surely a great philosopher realizes that’s wrong, no? The intended effect seems to have been to get a Twitter backslap from fellow right thinking horsemen.

    And to return to my previous post as an aside, if we follow pomo in removing the author from the text, don’t all sorts of potential genetic fallacies (including ad hom) fall by the wayside? Maybe I am reading too much into Barthes.

    Pete has strange fixations. In his atheist manual he becomes language cop by suggesting such terms as “daemon” be removed from usage (eg- computing). Seriously. I personally refrain from “bless you” when I sneeze, but good luck getting Berkeley Unix-like enthusiasts to purge their daemons. No more httpd? Let’s not get started on useful concepts of Laplacian and Maxwell daemons.

    What’s wrong with this guy?

  38. emergence says

    Something just occurred to me; these guys seem to think that feminist men are equivalent to male cuttlefish who disguise themselves as females to mate with females guarded by larger males, or smaller, younger male apes who have trysts with the mates of larger, older males. When they call us “cucks”, are they doing that because of what they think we’re doing to them?