Murder not new

May 20, 2005

What is so groundbreaking about David Buss's findings that men are supposedly "hardwired to kill", especially when incensed by sexual arousal? (Features, May 13).

"Crimes of passion" have only recently stopped being used (in the West, anyway) to exonerate men who kill the women they supposedly love or rivals in love. And social Darwinism is hardly new - the behaviour of animals has been used to explain human sex and violence since at least the 19th century.

While it is heartening to read that Buss hopes his research won't be used to absolve male murderers of women, the real problem is precisely this way of presenting something that is really quite old as pioneering.

Buss apparently does not take account of the cultural side of the equation.

From what, for example, did the undergraduates at Harvard University to whom he so "innocently" gave his questionnaire create their violent sexual fantasies? Hollywood movies, pornography, locker room jokes?

Meanwhile, would he "explain" female murderers in a similar fashion? I suspect Buss would find himself stuck in a 19th-century rhetoric that sees "depravity" and "unnatural behaviour" in female criminals while excusing male murderers for obeying their "natural" reflexes.

Laura Martin
Glasgow University

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