A review of Why We Talk: The Evolutionary Origins of Language by Jean-Louis Dessalles (translated by James Grieve). Oxford University Press (2007), 395 pages, £35.00 ($55.00), ISBN: 0199276233 (hardback)
Kanazawa (2007) proposes the ‘evolutionary psychological imagination’ (p.7) as an authoritative framework for understanding complex social and public issues. As a case study of this approach, Kanazawa addresses acts of international terrorism, specifically suicide bombings committed by Muslim men. It is proposed that a comprehensive explanation of such acts can be gained from taking an evolutionary perspective armed with only three points of cultural knowledge: 1. Muslims are exceptionally polygynous, 2. Muslim men believe they will gain reproductive access to 72 virgins if they die as a martyr and 3. Muslim men have limited access to pornography, which might otherwise relieve the tension built up from intra-sexual competition. We agree with Kanazawa that evolutionary models of human behaviour can contribute to our understanding of even the most complex social issues. However, Kanazawa's case study, of what he refers to as ‘World War III’, rests on a flawed theoretical argument, lacks empirical backing, and holds little in the way of explanatory power.