Tuesday, January 22, 2008

 

EVOLUTION, evolution, ideology and the continuation of LIFE.

For my sister-in-law, Dr. M.L.D., the ecologist who has talked through some of my questions with me.

Part one

EVOLUTION is long. Really, really long. It encompasses the entire duration of life on the planet Earth. Most commonly that is thought today to be a period of more than three billion years. That’s a number we are all familiar with hearing but getting your mind around what even one billion - 1,000,000,000 - years really consists of is impossible. What could a billion years mean to a person? What would the first, the last and all of the varied unknown and unrecorded days, seasons, years and ages in between years one and one billion mean. They are incomprehensible in their vast duration and compass of possible experience in terms of even the longest human life span. We have no frame of reference.

And not only is EVOLUTION (upper case) long, it is also large in numbers, encompassing, literally, all of the lives of all of the organisms that have ever existed. All of the organisms which have reproduced or been produced. That number is of many magnitudes larger than even the incomprehensible billions of years already mentioned. Consider, just as a sample of the complications, the known time periods between generations of living species of rodents, and of one-celled organisms. Consider the number of fertile eggs some species of plants, insects and mollusks produce in one reproductive cycle. Each of the surviving, reproducing individuals was and is a variation, many have the possibility of having an effect on future generations. Leaving the entirely relevant question of individuals aside, imagining even the number of what we might classify as species, each comprising subspecies, varieties, and other sub groupings is incomprehensible.

Now it’s necessary to make a distinction between EVOLUTION, the actual fact of life in both its ancient and contemporary diversity and numbers, and the human science of evolution (lower case), which attempts to study the mechanisms and artifacts of all those lives and to understand many different aspects of them, including the attempts to make general assertions about them. Let’s allow the conventional beginning of the science of evolution as the publication date of The Origin of Species, 1859. In that case, evolution as a formal, scientific, study has been going on for about a hundred fifty years.

Immediately we have come on something remarkable, the difference between the billions of years that EVOLUTION has been operating and the mere one hundred fifty years that it has been studied to date. The fraction which would represent the part of EVOLUTION which is taken up by the human study of it looks something like 150 over 3,000,000,000+. A hundred-fifty years outstrips the conscious experience of most human beings by about twice, but it would appear to be like the briefest noticeable moment when opposed to the time that EVOLUTION has been continually in process*.

As a way of beginning the approximation of how complete a picture our science of evolution can give us today , other factors, of equal and even greater importance than the number of years, species, and individuals, have to be considered. While the numbers yielded by these aren’t known we can know that whatever it is would tax our imagination so as to be incomprehensible even before multiplication of factors to be considered begins. It is far from the end of it.

There is much more to consider such as the individual physical aspects of the bodies and lives of all individuals which could impinge on the processes of EVOLUTION, those which we know about, those which we will never know about due to the fact that their traces are lost for all time. The physical record available to us represents an infinitesimally small number of the physical variations that must have had some impact on the species and individuals alive today. Many of the examples available to us may or may not be representative of whatever species we might assign them to, if we were able to. Added into that the impacts of climate, pathology, nutrition, and those entirely unavailable variables, behavior and chance happening, which would properly enter into the study, the data available to study might be seen as nugatory. We can be certain that the information we have available or will ever have available is inadequate to present even a general picture of EVOLUTION, our study must, therefore, be limited to only a small part of it.

If, by some miracle, the reproduction by a single strand of life continued unbroken over more than three billion years it would produce astonishing physical variation if only as a matter of chance mutation over time. To say ‘by some miracle’ is not accurate, though, because that is literally the case of every single organism alive as you read this. It has been a single unbroken strand from the beginning of evolution that has produced each of us, no two alike. And that is entirely too simple, because we are at the ends of intertwining stands through innumerable exchanges of genetic material among different organisms, all of them subject to the possibility of mutation. Reproduction by the numbers we are considering clearly produces variety of results, in ways and almost certainly by means which we can not begin to imagine. It would be literally miraculous if it hadn’t. One thing that it is essential to keep in mind, at every moment in that three billion years there was a living being that was the offspring of living beings and which produced living beings all living in an environment that allowed them to survive.

This experiment could lead us to an important conclusion, while EVOLUTION is a fact supported by the relevant science, the belief that we know more than a tiny part of that phenomenon is absurd. EVOLUTION, in terms of human capacity, is effectively of infinite complexity**. It is almost certain that much many more facts will be known if the study continues, maybe many times more than what we have now. I would propose that it is certain we can’t even suspect enormous parts of even what will be knowable.

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But this daunting picture doesn’t mean that what we do know is unimportant. A mathematician once pointed out that given the infinity of topics that could possibly be taken up to study in mathematics, the question of interest becomes a matter of greatest importance. And as we have seen the possibilities surrounding EVOLUTION are equally taxing of the attention of the human species.

What do those who study evolution want from it? What uses can it be put to, what uses is it put to? To what extent do people who hope to make a profession out of the study of evolution allow their personal interests to effect their ideally objective science? Do they hope to get a certain job with people of a certain ideology? It could be the hope of professional acceptance that might shade what is concluded. It might even be that the science itself, what has been published to date and what is currently fashionable skews consideration. Does the professional study of evolution limit the science itself ? Do those engaged in it find what they are looking for and miss other things?***

And, by all means, we have to limit the consideration to those who accept that EVOLUTION is a fact and who do not try to impose an agenda which cannot be evaluated with the legitimate tools and methods of science. To do that removes someone from serious, scientific, consideration.

I have said that the science of evolution is important but it isn’t the most important thing in life. Life has gotten along for billions of years without our science, as shown in the fourth paragraph above. Somehow its having done so without the custodial care of human science almost leads to a feeling of anxiety. And yet it happened unobserved and unremarked by us.****

There is a consideration made much more interesting than evolution by necessity, today. We are in the midst of a mass extinction event caused by human activity. It endangers a huge part of the diversity of the biosphere, shutting off the lines of huge numbers of species, entire biotas are in danger of extinction. It is entirely possible that the products of science, technology, economics, politics and other human activities could kill us all.

EVOLUTION compared to the human study, evolution, is infinitely more important. Preservation of the thing studied is more important than the study of it. Our most important tool to preserve the biosphere, the only link between the entire past of life and the entirety of what life there is in the future, is politics. Politics is one of the greatest tools we have to correct human actions that endanger us all. The political success of environmental protection and species preservation is far more important than protecting any dearly cherished ideology of humans. Capitalism, communism, socialism, physics, chemistry, evolutionary biology, Darwinism - which, many of you will be surprised to realize, isn’t the same thing as evolution -, creationism, etc. None of these are as important as saving the planet, none of them would have the possibility of existing without the life of the planet being saved.

Even these cherished ideologies and theories which our educations falsely lead us to believe are paramount, are entirely dependent for their existence on the future of EVOLUTION. Whatever they can lend to that effort is necessary, whatever preserves the life of the planet is necessary, whatever endangers it must be rejected. This includes whatever these ideologies, sciences, fads, etc. do which results in preventing political change that is necessary to save the environment. Environmental science, in so far as it is used to preserve the basis of life is the most important science we have ever devised. It is the science that deserves our greatest concern and effort. It is the key to our survival.

* We could also consider the number of researchers in evolution and its allied fields and wonder how that number could compare with the range of what is included with Evolution.

** The opponents of evolution and those who deny EVOLUTION aren’t stupid. They are quite able to read and figure out the weak spots in the man made theories about it. Not being honest about those weaknesses, pretending that the fact of EVOLUTION stands or falls on the basis of current ideologies within evolution plays into their hands.

*** Maybe it is right to look at the body of professionals who make their living in evolutionary science as being the product of selection pressures, or of adaptation to their profession’s environment. While EVOLUTION is a fact supported by an amazing amount of science it is large enough and unknown enough to produce different ideas. Perhaps a different species of evolutionist would dominate the field if the cultural environment and, especially, those with the ability to fund it hadn’t favored a particular point of view. Being a casual witness to just the death match over the rather modest idea of “spandrels”, in the 90s its clear there was a struggle for survival and reproduction. How could they object to these questions being raised about their profession?

**** It is undeniable that EVOLUTION would have fared better in species diversity and, most likely, in the possibility of its continuing at all, if humans and our culture, hadn’t evolved. Though they are not entirely to blame, science and technology are some of the primary causes of the destruction of the environment. They have accelerated the process of destroying the environment through magnifying the powers of human despoilers and they have provided chemicals and mechanisms not found by those without science and technology. They have done this at a rate many times faster than they have generated the knowledge needed to preserve the planet. To deny that is as irresponsible as it is ridiculous. To allow that fact to go unsaid precludes possibilities of reform and we need reform in the behavior that results from science. Science is almost as important as politics in the struggle to save the planet.

Applied Science: Interlude Scherzando

Living on the left you may eventually come across a very rare species, the principled, Hegelian cheap-skate. The few I’ve met have been Marxists, though I’ve read about other varieties, even anarchist skin flints. This scruple against giving alms or charity avoids corrupting the destitute into complaisance by making life too easy for them. You might ask what separates the leftist tight wad from those who make up a far larger percentage of the right? The ones who we justly think of as selfish swine? As usual, it’s different because it’s a matter of science. “Science” is supposed to settle all questions of motivation, isn’t it? You see, in addition to affording the poor the moral benefits of the strenuous life, whether or not they like it, depriving them the price of a sandwich is a means to force them to shake off their torpor and do their part in pushing the dialectic ever onward, back and forth, until the glorious day of its arrival at its scientifically determined destiny.

One example, who could be named but who may still be alive and, one imagines, might be litigious, was a fixture of the New York left of earlier decades. He was a noticeably comfortable psychotherapist who on at least one occasion said that he had held to the principle against charity since learning it as a red-diaper baby. And, being what he turned out to be, I’d guess he still holds to it. In less charitable moments one suspects that his subsequent drift from Marxism to neo-conservatism in the great migration of the late 60s and 70s was due to his realizing he wasn’t quite the figure in the left that he had believed himself to be. Though, thinking it over perhaps the former Marxist was doing his part to move history onward. No doubt, if this is true, he is just awaiting the word, printed in some small magazine with a plain cover and chaste type face, that the dialectic over Manhattan is on the move again. Propitiation sufficed. And, if he hasn’t since died, he will end his days as a neo-com.

None of the devotees of principled stinginess who I’ve observed, though, have undertaken self-improvement and applied their principle to themselves, voluntarily making their own lot more desperately miserable in order to rouse themselves from the coffee house table or book shop stall to the barricades and a more active part in the workings of history.

As we see, some principles of science are easier to put into practical effect than others.

Early Selections

Part Two

Due to habits formed in the defense of the wall of separation and public school science against creationism it can be difficult for a leftist to read Marilynne Robinson’s essay, “Darwinism”. It is also uncomfortable for someone on the left to talk about Darwin’s language as she does because many will immediately assume you are a creationist, or accuse you of some other form of apostasy by stealth. This is guaranteed to happen no matter how explicitly you endorse EVOLUTION or a belief neutral, democratic government.*

But you can’t have integrity unless you say what you mean. You also can’t be a decent person if you don’t believe and act as if people are not objects, abstractions, mere ideas or actors in your dearly loved fantasy scenarios playing out what you take to be the grand forces of the universe.

In her essay, Robinson is unsporting enough to read Darwin and others and to believe that they mean what they have written. Asserting that someone didn’t really mean what he continually and lucidly writes should mean that he isn’t to be trusted. But in polite society you are expected to pretend it doesn’t in cases such as this. You are also to concentrate on the demurral appended as an obligatory afterthought and ignore the bulk of what is clearly proposed

As an example, among the quotes she dares to take directly from Darwin and others, I’ll concentrate on this one.

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed. The Descent of Man

Darwin regretted that the lower orders will be saved from necessary pruning by our sentimentality. That is as clear as the words he wrote. He was afraid that the level of charity current in mid 19th century, the time of Dickens’ England, was too much charity due to its impeding natural selection. Not that Darwin means to subject himself to natural selection. One assumes that the Darwins and the mostly well off families of his followers didn’t gave up the practice of vaccination or seeking medical care themselves. I’ve looked and can’t find evidence that early Darwinists refused medical care as a matter of principle, if you know of any I will revise. Thus these advocates of the benefits of universal human culling allowed sentiment to overtake their responsibility as members of the rational class, to husband their own stock to a higher state through the death of the underbred.** Perhaps this is something more noticeable for people who have reason to suspect they or, as in my case my great-great grandparents, were included in Darwin’s underclass. Perhaps your ancestors in the 1870s were also among those referred to above.

It is especially interesting to think about this passage due to Charles Darwin’s history of hypochondria - which seems to have begun before his marriage and his decisive reading of Malthus - his history of seeking treatments, cures and just about anything available to, how did he put it, have medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of Charles Darwin to the last moment. Was not such an unfit specimen as Darwin clearly judged himself to be, and he did apprentice as a doctor, marked as one for whom nature should be allowed to take its course?

Some sources say that he worried that his malady was heritable. Charles Darwin was the last person in the world to have missed that possibility. Wasn’t he an example of the worst kind who should be discouraged, at the very least, from breeding? Eventually he produced ten children, two of whom died in childhood, one a famously beloved daughter. You wonder if he thought about his own daughter’s death when he wrote this.

If you think it’s harsh of me to bring up his daughter’s death, do you think it was harsh of him and his admirers to meditate dispassionately on the benefits of untold other peoples’ children being weeded out of the breeding stock by small pox, other diseases, violence and starvation? Does it being called ‘science’ make that noble and good, or at least all right? Does it being “science” preclude further consideration of these matters?

How does this clear warning of dire consequences stemming from the vaccination of the lower orders differ in kind from the Imams in Nigeria advising people not to have their children vaccinated for polio several years ago? That is a real question and there is an answer. The difference is that the Nigerian Imams were afraid of the vaccine being tainted. There had been a drug test in Nigeria several years before which, they believed , had killed eleven children and disabled 200. ***They were also concerned that HIV might be spread through contamination during the immunization program. The clerics and government officials in Nigeria acted through ignorance and paranoia, perhaps, but their crime, for which they were roundly condemned, was an ill informed and ignorant attempt to protect children, not a tacit approval of their culling for racial hygiene. Does anyone reading this doubt that Darwin would have classed these children among the ‘savages’.

Saying that Darwin wasn’t actually advocating that many people die is dishonest. Does anyone really believe that with the thinnest of alibis for cover, he didn’t endorse the idea of allowing people to go unvaccinated, untreated, unfed and allowing a huge number of them to die of disease, starvation or in a horrific, violent struggle for food? He was informed enough about the governmental and economic practices of his time to know that his suggestions could easily have been put into effect with the slightest encouragement, almost by accident.

And he had seen the people he believed it was a folly to save on his travels and at home. Here is his list, “the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick .... [the alleged beneficiary of] poor-laws ... the weak members of civilised societies” all of these should be allowed to undergo what he approves of as the brutal culling found among “savages”. Does this list contain no actual people? Do you really believe that? With the benefit of reading this after witnessing the brutality of the self-professed, scientific regimes of the twentieth century the list should seem all too familiar to us. The word “selection”, also.

The effect of the Darwinists’ casual dismissal of the lives of people in marshaling opposition to the fact of EVOLUTION isn’t considered nearly often enough. Anyone who doesn’t believe that is a part of the opposition to the study of EVOLUTION is deluding themselves. The links between Darwin and those who overcame sentiment to put his ideas into practice are real and the opponents of evolutionary science know about them. Look at their websites if you think this isn’t true. Darwin shouldn’t remain the public face of evolutionary science.

Maybe less noticeable at first reading is that there is no supporting data given, at least in the edition I’ve got, to demonstrate his contention that vaccinating for small pox actually has the degrading effect he suspects. It’s a speculation based on his supreme theory, which isn’t evolution but the origin of species by natural selection. Darwin predicts dire consequences in vaccinated populations. I’ve not been able to find science from his time or up to today which supports his contention that it has this degrading effect. You wonder if the WHO shouldn’t suspend their efforts if such evidence existed. You also wonder what contemporary advocates of mass vaccination would make of this passage.

It is impossible to read Darwin and his circle and not be reminded of these things, once you have gotten over the habit of ignoring what’s right there in front of you. That was the greatest effect of reading Robinson’s essay, it is a slap to wake up and admit what is there to be seen. I’m sure she knew it would be misunderstood and misrepresented, yet she wrote it and her bravery deserves to be noticed.

Robinson points out ironies in her essay, none greater than the fact that the Darwinists and those who agitate for creationism effectively share the same economic morality. Looking at Republican social policy of the past thirty years, you see a practical attempt to remove any barriers to brutal selection forces. Only it’s called ‘competition’.

My question is how can the very basis of the left’s agenda survive the idea that our reason and morality don’t matter or that it is incompatible with what’s purported to be scientific truth. Equality, justice, democracy, a decent, peaceful life in a habitable environment. If the left really comes to believe that biology is destiny, that free will and good will are illusions or impotent, that the market of natural selection is the inevitable law that governs human lives, our agenda is wrong.

I don’t think it is. I think that the history of the past century proves it isn’t and that there is no realistic alternative to it. Too many of us have been duped through public relations into accepting fundamentally anti-democratic ideas that are based in the assumptions made by self-interested people with an agenda basically at odds with our ideals. I believe that the depressing, dispiriting effect of falling for various species of biological determinism leads to impotent cynicism. Those ideas have been given the test of time. They produce a nightmare.

That is the subject of the third part of this series.

* “Darwinism” is from the collection of essays, The Death of Adam ISBN 0-312-42532-5
Many, especially the throng of devout blog Darwinists who have never read him, might be surprised that Robinson concentrates first and foremost on the economic origins of Darwinism. They should go look at him and see that for him reading Malthus was his breakthrough event, literally everything springs from that moral atrocity. Malthus isn’t simply an implication or a starting point in the line of biological determinism stemming from Darwin he permeates it. Malthus is the seed, Darwin sewed it and it grew.

** You might want to contrast the content and tone with this passage, not much farther on into the book.

Man accumulates property and bequeaths it to his children, so that the children of the rich have an advantage over the poor in the race for success, independently of bodily or mental superiority. On the other hand, the children of parents who are short-lived, and are therefore on an average deficient in health and vigour, come into their property sooner than other children, and will be likely to marry earlier, and leave a larger number of offspring to inherit their inferior constitutions. But the inheritance of property by itself is very far from an evil; for without the accumulation of capital the arts could not progress; and it is chiefly through their power that the civilised races have extended, and are now everywhere extending their range, so as to take the place of the lower races. Nor does the moderate accumulation of wealth interfere with the process of selection. When a poor man becomes moderately rich, his children enter trades or professions in which there is struggle enough, so that the able in body and mind succeed best. The presence of a body of well-instructed men, who have not to labour for their daily bread, is important to a degree which cannot be over-estimated; as all high intellectual work is carried on by them, and on such work, material progress of all kinds mainly depends, not to mention other and higher advantages. No doubt wealth when very great tends to convert men into useless drones, but their number is never large ; and some degree of elimination here occurs, for we daily see rich men, who happen to be fools or profligate, squandering away their wealth. The Descent of Man.

“But the inheritance of property by itself is very far from an evil.... Nor does the moderate accumulation of wealth interfere with the process of selection.” One suspects Darwin’s “moderate accumulation of wealth” which was not yet insalubrious included the wealth of the Darwin -Wedgewood families. Why, since he refuses to consider the possibility that humans’ capacity for reason, moral reflection and self-denial might exempt us from the brutal forces of natural selection, does he seem to think that membership in his notably brutal economic elite should render its members immune?

You also wonder why Darwin didn’t include the laws against stealing in the list of unfortunate curbs on the workings of natural selection. If you doubt that the laws protecting private property are one of the greatest inhibition of the weeding out of the unfit, imagine what would have happened in Darwin’s Britain if it was suddenly legal for the masses of the poor to take from those worthless drones bred to the aristocracy. The resultant struggle might have saved Darwin the embarrassment of explaining how he neglected to discourage their vaccination.

*** “The Pfizer drug test in 1996 is still on our minds. To a large extent, it shaped and strengthened my view on polio and other immunisation campaigns," said Mr bin Uthman. At the time, the US company had used an untested drug on children to fight an epidemic of bacterial meningitis in the Kano area. Lawsuits have since been lodged against Pfizer in the United States and in Nigeria, alleging that the drug trial was illegal and that it killed 11 children and left 200 others disabled.

N.B I’d thought of writing a post about the politics of Darwinism within science, having followed a few of the vicious fights over even minor attempts to introduce additional mechanisms of evolution for consideration (no, ‘intelligent design’ wasn't even considered) but it would have gotten way too long. One of the things found while researching that topic was this abstract by Susannah Varmuza of the University of Toronto. This says it better than I can.

Evolution is an idea that inspires huge emotional responses, in part because it speaks to our very identities. The religious overtones associated with debates about evolution are not restricted to those between evolutionary biologists and creationists (the inspiration for the quote above). Among evolutionary biologists, there is an aura of deification of Darwin that tends to stifle discourse on ideas that are construed by the mainstream to be anti-Darwinian, perhaps, as pointed out by Gould (1981), to counteract the political machinations of the creationist movement. Over the decades, attempts by non-traditionalists to introduce new thinking into the study of evolution have met with either stony silence or rancorous derision. Goldschmidt, Gould, and proponents of Lamarckian inheritance can still raise hackles, even posthumously (‘Goldschmidt is a bum!’ echoed around the lecture theatre at a recent scientific meeting, 44 years after his death.

You should read the entire thing if you’re interested in evolution and genetics. I’ve got the feeling the epigenetics might help open up a lot of new areas into the effectively infinite reality of EVOLUTION. But they will have to stop pretending that Darwin can't be questioned first.

The People Posted by Anthony McCarthy

formerly known as olvlzl

The People are the foundation and the ultimate authority of democracy. Democracy assumes that The People will rule themselves better than despots or elites or even “a government of wise men”. Democracy assumes that The People will act more wisely, more justly, more fairly than other authorities. Most of all, including all of these benefits, democracy assumes that the collective actions of The People will be more beneficially effective in the real world than any other form of government.

In order for democracy to be preferable to any other known form of government it has to pass a fairly low test, to produce a better life than undemocratic governments. The history of the world provides conclusive evidence that The People could hardly do worse.

There are four fundamental prerequisites for democracy to exist, The People must be assumed to have political equality, they must have a sufficient grasp of the truth to make the right decisions, and they have to have a sense of fairness, honesty and decency. It must be taken as given that The People possess the inherent rights to govern their lives and their polity. In order for democracy to really exist, these have to be more than assumed, they have to be made real. Without these prerequisites, democracy is a sham.

But the exercise of rights, though they might be said to be unalienable, cannot be exercised outside of a context which will permit it. Democracy is notably rare in the world, it is gained with enormous difficulty and it is difficult to keep. Would be rulers are always endangering it and elites actively despise it even as they appropriate its words as tools of deception. In the modern world one of the dangers to democracy is the propaganda power of mass media and in the United States that media is owned and controlled by the economic elite. We have the example of the media here perverting the concept of democracy to the point where it is to be held as unremarkable that George W. Bush - brought to office by Supreme Court ruling, approving a clearly corrupted election in a state ruled by his brother - claims the right to impose democracy, by unprovoked invasion, on a foreign country. When words become slogans without any coherent substance, the truth can’t be told. We are at a crisis which is destroying democracy and which endangers the entire biosphere.

An even greater danger to Western democracy is the loss of confidence by The People in our own ability to govern, when we doubt our actions can be beneficially effective. That is seen in low voter participation rates, the cynicism with which government and politics is regarded and the ever lower regard in which The People are led to hold ourselves. An apathetic, demoralized, jaded population is set up for subjugation.

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I began with a section about the immense dimensions of EVOLUTION. In the arguments that ensued no one disputed the contention that it was effectively infinite when compared with the capacity of the human population to deal with even those data which could be obtained. Less noticed, since it was unremarked, was the contention that the enormous duration and numbers of EVOLUTION would allow it being known through only as a minute part of the whole. I mentioned that this limit in what was knowable might apply to mechanisms governing the processes of EVOLUTION which the human study of it might devise or even discover. I am going to state that as probable, if not a given.

The “Interlude” mentions, very nontechnically, the Hegelian dialectic, a form of allegedly scientific determinism which has had at least a nominal effect in many countries. It has never been very influential in the United States. Those countries which followed Marx, more in the breach than in the observance, can be said to have followed that form of determinism. I’ll leave it to you to consider the largest of those countries, China, and the results for both The People of China and the Environment in which they will have to try to survive. I will also leave you to consider what it might have to teach about the probability of elites saving the planet.

This “Interlude” was originally meant to be published at the beginning of what became the discussion of Darwinism, but was broken off in a futile attempt at concision. The subject wasn’t specifically Darwinism or the dialectic but political theories which do not start with the assumptions necessary for democracy, but in various forms of determinism, biological, historical, and others. All of these theories begin by aspiring to the objective reliability and prestige of science. Some are more scientific, others take the prestige but make do without the objective reliability. The social sciences are replete with examples.

Darwin, resting on the reality of EVOLUTION, was certainly an important figure in science, no one can deny that just as no serious person can deny EVOLUTION. But from before the publication of The Origins of Species, as that book was incubating, Darwinism was more than just an attempted explanation of EVOLUTION.

We love our pet ideas and in the competitive struggle for attention and professional recognition the promotion of them can outstrip the fact that they are all contingent. The competitive pressures in university departments, the ruthless need for scholars to defend their goods, the need of the would be intellectual descendants of those holding a department or, in the worst cases, entire fields, often lead to the use of less than objective means to render competitors extinct. The desire of elite scholars and their intellectual heirs to promote their ideas to the point of invincibility is, perhaps, a result of scarce resources. I don’t know if it has ever been studied in those terms. It isn’t any surprise that such loudly touted ideas have the potential to leave a cultural legacy that can outlive the position they hold in intellectual life. Freudian psychology is a definite example of that. Such ideas have a life outside of science, They aren’t required to adhere to the requirements of science in the wider culture, though they never give up the pretense to have remained faithful to its exigencies.

It is mentioned in an earlier section that the position of natural selection, like all of the contingencies of science, is open and, in spite of enormous resistance, active. But that isn’t my fight. There is another aspect of natural selection that I believe is more important for democracy and, through it, the survival of the species.

Part Two, analyzed a specimen of thinking which became influential in the general culture. I think any honest observer of evolutionary science and the enormously varied cultural descendants of it would admit that is true. While quotes from other people could have been used, this one encompasses enormous political implications. Since the political implications of this kind of idea are the subject of this essay, that one is entirely fit for the purpose. An idea of science that steps into the mechanics of politics has made itself the proper subject of political analysis. I will finish the analysis begun in Part Two.

Whatever else this application of natural selection* to human populations asserts, it unmistakably holds that not even democratically chosen actions will reliably produce effective beneficial results overriding natural selection.

Darwin clearly didn’t think they would in this case. After Malthus, he warned of dire consequences that were practically certain to result if what he identifies as the “weak members” of the human species happened to leave descendants. He all but guarantees that if they live to reproduce, disaster for the entire population will result. Inequality is assumed as a given, it is assumed to be an intrinsic part of the operation of natural selection, even in its assumed govenance of the political lives of reasoning humans.

Darwin identifies the mechanism of the disaster, the failure of natural selection, and he identifies the cause of the failure, charitable aid and medical care which will allow survival to the point where children are born to these “weak members” . I am sorry if it is difficult to face that analysis but it is inescapable, that is what Darwin said would happen. Unsupported by corroborating data, he confidently expressed that the attempt to take effective beneficial action on behalf of these People would lead to tragic consequences. And notice, he assumes its intended effect, relief to the Wretched of the Earth, would be achieved. Its success was the problem.

After giving his dire forecast in steely, in what I must believe he felt to be, ‘manly’ language of dispassionate science, Darwin looked aside meekly and said that the aid must be given. This subsequent assertion, less vivid in language, that we must give that unwise aid though it lead to disaster, frankly, is irrational unless he pits the interests of the “weaker members” against the good of the rest and opts for the “weaker” ones. You might even say that he opts for them in spite of the good of themselves, since they will also experience the degenerating human population, front row seats, most probably. And in the paragraph, even as he is striking these moral postures, he is continually undermining them. **

That soft insistence on taking cross-starred moral responsibility is not one that all contenders for his mantle would feel it was necessary to observe, despite its having been made by Darwin himself. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of the world would know that the demure assertion of moral responsibility would be forgotten while concentrating on the crisis it was clearly stated would result from it. Darwin witnessed the so-called reforms of the New Poor Law. That “reform” slashed aid to the poor, making the lives of the poor of under them even more miserable than before. Yet he condemned it as a too charitable hindrance to natural selection. Like the present “reforms” in the United States, forcing “competition” onto the weakest members of society, producing cohersive misery was its intended result. It is a bitter irony that the party embracing creationism and opposing EVOLUTION, has made this feature of Darwinian-Malthusian morality the dogma and law of the United States.

Though Darwin’s assumption of inequality is corrosive and the callousness infectious, the assumption of the uselessness of reason in the face of natural selection is fatal to democracy. The assumption of the futility of human intelligence to overcome an entirely theoretical “natural force” is the original sin against democracy that virtually every deterministic theory holds. It is in their application to human politics and society that the intended subjects of them have a fully justified skepticism of such theories.

It is one of the strangest features of the writings of many who assert the rational, scientific precision of their thinking, that they discount the effectiveness of human reason to change reality for the better or for humans to govern their lives by reasoning. You wonder how they could put their faith in reason or expect anyone else to care about it, if that is true. As I demonstrated, they tend to hold themselves outside and above the very laws they assert. You wonder how they account for their faith in science if reason is so impotent and it’s application has such notable exceptions.

I think it is because they are trying to force tools that can’t do the job. When Darwin and the rest try to apply science to the effectively infinite complexity of human thoughts and actions, both individual and, especially, collectively, to say they cut corners is one of the greatest understatements made in the history of language.

EVOLUTION is measured in billions of years, the universe of human thought and action is equally measured in the billions, no two People alike, everyone, now and in the past, more than just a variation, changing and dynamic over years of each individual life. The details and infinite variety of behavior, communal interactions, the infinite capacity of human beings to act well or badly, honestly or deceitfully, with hidden motives or little self-reflection, but most of all on the basis of reason and experience, precludes science from ever knowing more than a small fraction of an effectively infinite universe of human life. It is illogical and unreasonable to believe that science can make general laws about it.

Science cannot exist where there is no physical evidence which can be observed, quantified and analyzed. The temptation in scholarship is always to look for the grand unified theory of whatever. In the pursuit of a science of human behavior, of political and economic science, those grand theories have come and they’ve gone. In between, their pretenses of objective reliability are necessary for the professional prestige and funding of these efforts but that is seldom achieved except in studying a small part of the whole. Before they fade from science, they gain currency and have effects that often outlive their reputable lives in science.

Science absolutely depends on the observation of the physical universe, the physical universe is what it was made to study, it can’t study anything else. That is why assertions of intelligent design, even if it was true, have absolutely no place in a science classroom. You would think that religious believers would take it as an act of desecration to assert that science could perceive God who we are told you cannot see and live. If it is an act of blasphemy to put God to the test of statistical analysis, though, isn’t my subject here.

That those trying to subject human beings to the rule of science do not find free will or much in the way of the human rights which are the essential prerequisites for democracy to exist, is a confirmation of the nature of science. In their folly, due to their professional and personal arrogance, they assume and pretend that since they can’t find them they aren’t there. They aren’t alone in doing that, it is the habit of elites of all kinds to deny them, certainly to those less elite than they are. But anyone who seeks after these rights or, most often, the falsification of them, with science in order to make their name as the discoverer of a primary law of the universe is a fool. Unfortunately, their status can make fools of us all.

In The Trial of Socrates, I. F. Stone points out that despite the condescending derision with which the sandal maker is treated by those earliest scholarly enemies of democracy, Socrates and Plato, at least he could make a pair of shoes while Socrates and the entire subsequent 2,500 years of the history of philosophy couldn’t find even one Universal. Not so the world of scholarship has taken all that much notice of the fact.

* With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit*, with an overwhelming present evil. We must therefore bear the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind*; but there appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely that the weaker and inferior members of society do not marry so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased by the weak in body or mind refraining from marriage*, though this is more to be hoped for than expected. The Descent of Man

** Please notice the final note of pessimism and the discouraging, conditional reservations throughout Darwin’s would-be humanitarian demurral.

In addition to my sister-in-law who discussed the scope included in EVOLUTION with me, I would like to thank Echidne who has allowed me to write at length on controversial topics, who has put up with my losing my temper a few times, and who writes one of the best blogs online.

I would also like to thank Marilynne Robinson whose essays provided the missing idea in a piece I’ve been thinking over for a long time. I would also like to thank those who have read and responded to what I’ve written for the past two years.


Comments:
Very thought provoking.
 
Thank you for reading it, Alberich. I'm going to correct and revise and post a through-composed version someday.

I've outed myself, by the way. Anthony McCarthy

Too lazy to change the settings for the blog, though. Maybe someday for that, too.
 
Your name, though not as common as my name, is still common enough that it still begats the question of "which one?".

Anyway, if you are going to rework this, just a minor point -- getting your mind around 1,000,000,000 years is actually not impossible. Imagine counting seconds: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ... without stopping for sleep, food or anything ... for 31.7 years. Then you'd just about reach 1,000,000,000.

FWIW ...
 
A second I can usually remember, but a year, at my age, can be problematic.

Your proposed experiment, that would be a problem for me too. I'm a "checker" I'd never be able to remember if I forgot a number and it would just kill me if I left one out.
 
I am a checker too.

I think it might be interesting to consider the psychology of responses to my experiment. Some people might think -- well, the number of seconds in 31 years, that's a pretty big number, but I know a second -- and even 31 years does sometimes seem to be gone in the blink of an eye (well, maybe not for me ... that's my whole lifetime!) -- so maybe it ain't so big.

OTOH, to actually think of counting that number (especially if you're a checker and you know it) does make you appreciate how big it is.
 
another way to think about it is how many heart beats you'd have in a lifetime

you don't really have to count, it will just happen for you.

If you live in some sort of impoverished 3rd world country, your lifetime quote is closer to 1 billion, than if you live in an advanced western society, which approaches 3 billion

which coincidentally happens to be about how long life has been around...in years
 
Completely I share your opinion. It is excellent idea. I support you.
 
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