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Mar-03-2008 09:17printcomments

Darwinism: The Imperialism of Biology?

Darwin offered the most compelling argument yet for Imperialism. It was neither good nor bad, neither Liberal nor Conservative, but simply a fact of nature.

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(LOS ANGELES) - Let’s make this short and sweet. It would be taken for granted by any serious historian that any ideology or worldview would partake of the culture in which it grew up and would also be largely influenced by the personality of the writer of the theory.

No less a genius than the evil Karl Marx noted that even after capitalism succumbed to Communism, society would still be imbued with the class artifacts and cultural values of the system that preceded it.

Much smarter analysts than I have noted that the whole system of Marxism, especially its sharp attacks on capitalists as a class, was motivated by Karl Marx’s envy of the much wealthier industrialist/capitalist members of the Marx family.

In other words, major theories do not arise out of thin air. They come from the era in which they arose and are influenced greatly by the personality and background of the writer. (In law, this theory is known as "legal realism". Judges make up their minds on the basis of their prejudices and then rationalize their decisions by pretending to be bound by prior case law. One might call what happens with ideologies "political realism." Persons make up their ideologies based on their times and their life situations.)

Darwinism, the notion that the history of organisms was the story of the survival of the fittest and most hardy, and that organisms evolve because they are stronger and more dominant than others, is a perfect example of the age from which it came: the age of Imperialism.

When Darwin wrote, it was received wisdom that the white, northern European man was destined to rule the world. This could have been rationalized as greed–i.e., Europeans simply taking the resources of nations and tribes less well organized than they were. It could have been worked out as a form of amusement of the upper classes and a place for them to realize their martial fantasies. (Was it Shaw who called Imperialism "...outdoor relief for the upper classes?")

But it fell to a true Imperialist, from a wealthy British family on both sides, married to a wealthy British woman, writing at the height of Imperialism in the UK, when a huge hunk of Africa and Asia was "owned" (literally, owned, by Great Britain) to create a scientific theory that rationalized Imperialism.

By explaining that Imperialism worked from the level of the most modest organic life up to man, and that in every organic situation, the strong dominated the weak and eventually wiped them out.

Darwin offered the most compelling argument yet for Imperialism. It was neither good nor bad, neither Liberal nor Conservative, but simply a fact of nature. In dominating Africa and Asia, Britain was simply acting in accordance with the dictates of life itself. He was the ultimate pitchman for Imperialism.

Now, we know that Imperialism had a short life span. Imperialism was a system that took no account of the realities of the human condition. Human beings do not like to have their countries owned by people far away in ermine robes. They like to be in charge of themselves.

Imperialism had a short but hideous history–of repression and murder.

But its day is done.

Darwinism is still very much alive, utterly dominating biology. Despite the fact that no one has ever been able to prove the creation of a single distinct species by Darwinist means, Darwinism dominates the academy and the media. Darwinism also has not one meaningful word to say on the origins of organic life, a striking lacuna in a theory supposedly explaining life.

Alas, Darwinism has had a far bloodier life span than Imperialism. Darwinism, perhaps mixed with Imperialism, gave us Social Darwinism, a form of racism so vicious that it countenanced the Holocaust against the Jews and mass murder of many other groups in the name of speeding along the evolutionary process.

Now, a few scientists are questioning Darwinism on many fronts. I wonder how long Darwinism’s life span will be. Marxism, another theory which, in true Victorian style, sought to explain everything, is dead everywhere but on university campuses and in the minds of psychotic dictators. Maybe Darwinism will be different.

Maybe it will last. But it’s difficult to believe it will. Theories that presume to explain everything without much evidence rarely do. Theories that outlive their era of conception and cannot be verified rarely last unless they are faith based. And Darwinism has been such a painful, bloody chapter in the history of ideologies, maybe we would be better off without it as a dominant force.

Maybe we would have a new theory: We are just pitiful humans. Life is unimaginably complex. We are still trying to figure it out. We need every bit of input we can get. Let’s be humble about what we know and what we don’t know, and maybe in time, some answers will come.

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James March 5, 2008 6:21 pm (Pacific time)

Isuggest. Interesting supposition.

isuggest March 5, 2008 9:37 am (Pacific time)

James - "simple minded man" was meant as a compliment. If he knowingly acts as he does, then he would be just plain evil. My suppositions are not merely "leaps of faith" - I am a rational human being who is able to examine evidence and draw conclusions and hypothesis from that evidence.

James March 4, 2008 6:10 pm (Pacific time)

Isuggest you have some interesting points, but like most suppositions, they are simply leaps of faith, as is most everything we observe. I do not believe GW is a simple minded man, but I can see why some people feel that way mainly out of frustration I believe. As far as campaign finance reform, well I see that as free speech and there should be no regulation whatsoever. People like George Soros provide ample evidence why it should not be regulated.

isuggest March 4, 2008 11:36 am (Pacific time)

I just read Mr. Smith's piece.During Vietnam War protests, the core mantra was "Power to the People". I was never fully comfortable with this. I now have a clearer view why. Mr. Smith seems to argue that the masses are capable of deciding their own futures in a rational way even when emotion plays a major role because emotion is part of the gestalt. I think that this is naive and amounts to little more than wishful thinking. Not only that, but it runs directly contrary to a basic tenet of Darwinian evolution - that being that animals act in ways to promote their own "individual" survival.Government fails when it automatically "goes along". Case in point is actually our own G.W. - this may sound like a defense but it is not intended as such. G.W. is a simple minded man.While the actions he has taken in Iraq are indefensible, I believe that a large part of his motivation to act (and the quickness of his actions) was a knee jerk response to the emotional demands of the people, who were feeling directly threatened and demanded immediate revenge.No matter how one looks at it, a representative government, while helping to moderate the effects of emotion, will, hopefully, reflect the will of the people. Campaign finance reform, re-regulation of the media, enforcement of anti-trust laws are important steps toward regaining the appropriate relationship between the masses and their elected leaders.

Henry Ruark March 4, 2008 8:48 am (Pacific time)

Ray, Sawyer et al: Yours right on point, Ray, and your rational tone also appreciated here now, for obvious reasons from recent past. Keep in touch, please... Sawyer, yrs re "majority rule" review reminded me of this one with some strong points, worth "see with own eyes" evaluation. Here's link. "Do Americans Believe in the Wisdom of the Public ?": Glenn Smith for Rockridge Institute:

Ray Ingles March 4, 2008 7:48 am (Pacific time)

I'm afraid Ben Stein is entirely wrong about Darwin, and evolution in general. Darwin wasn't a 'pitchman for Imperialism' - quite the opposite. He was adamantly opposed to slavery long before it became fashionable, argued strongly against fixed racial traits, and argued against Imperialism directly: "As man advances in civilisation, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races." And linking the Holocaust with Darwin's views is praticularly egregious, not only because it goes directly against what Darwin himself wrote. The main reason is that Hitler was an outspoken creationist who explicitly rejected evolution and based his racism on the idea that the 'races' had been created separately.

Henry Ruark March 4, 2008 6:47 am (Pacific time)

I-s et al: We see eye-to-eye for at least 90% of each of these points. I will add that a very large part of our failures fall heavily on the long-continued collapse of a truly free press as demanded to protect, preserve, and promulgate constantly the basic democratic principles at stake in nearly every point. The constant-teaching responsibility of that open press has been forced onto the shelf by continuing greed for returns above 15-20 percent and by monopoly management slashing news-staff to build better Wall St. stock-levels. Fortunately, now, broad new technologies are inevitably making possible precisely what we need -open, honest,rational democratic channels for the kind(s) of dialog the Founders enjoyed --with great consequences for all of us. Let us continue here, and I thank you for your thoughtful and rational responses.

isuggest March 3, 2008 9:29 pm (Pacific time)

I have read previous comments you have made on this subject and agree wholeheartedly that it is a perversion of the intent of the Bill of Rights to confer this "right" to corporations. I try to take a global view of governance and feel strongly that campaign finance reform is critically important.The ability of corporations to affect elections and subsequent policy is, I believe, one of the main reasons why our representative form of government is not truly representative.I view the judiciary as the last line of defense of the constitution but, as the years pass, it seems to get more political all the time. Consider the impact on the Bush election or, locally, the failure of our State Supremes to strike down Measure 11, which usurps the power of judges and places too much power in the hands of politically driven prosecutors. I sometimes participate in the SJ Forums and often find interesting and informative posts. On the other hand, much of what is said there is nonsensical and hateful. My experience with politicians has convinced me that, if they are fairly elected and, if there were real penalties for ethical violations, then we would enjoy good government.I would much prefer that important issues be decided by fairly elected and objective leaders instead of merely reflecting the will of the masses.

Henry Ruark March 3, 2008 6:41 pm (Pacific time)

I-s et al: Re-reading yours and noted SJ reference to Forum. For ten years or more was a member of Citizen Forum by Internet there, and some of those participating did perhaps fit your description. But there were many others, and we did exercise some solid dialog, leading on to some progress, however slow. Our main problem was the SJ-itself and its constant monopoly-paper downgrading, affecting staff and content, and leading inexorably to some of the problems now widely seen nationally, only earlier. The print-mode Forum, as I recall, suffered precisely as you describe even then in S-J. Fortunately we do have by Constitution and governance pattern some control of the situation by parliamentary format, with tested and fairly well-proven protocol, process and proceedings. Surely we can do better, and first step is remediation of Supremes' bought-and-paid for decision to confer political "free speech" on corporate interests, thus creating huge impacts of "campaign contributions" distorting what elected representatives might otherwise DO--with influence strongly obvious in every state and nationally.

Henry Ruark March 3, 2008 3:28 pm (Pacific time)

I-S et al: Your ref. to Popper not totally unexpected, have encountered but not really properly introduced. Yrs suggests I must now do so, and I plan to explore toute suite (or is it toot ?) Re many-majority and toomany Comment-distorted, find that rule I use for readers in 3 levels (categories if you prefer !) helps much: Thinkers, Participants --and WoefullyDeprived, or WDs. Use those allatime to salt down or sugar up what cometh back once in a while... Thanks for your good tone, and will continue later on some other points...meanwhile will soon seek out P. again... which may prove, once more, values of civilized dialog here and especially NOW...

isuggest March 3, 2008 3:06 pm (Pacific time)

My worldview is based on the teachings of Karl Raimund Popper, a British philosopher who died about 15 years ago. His contemporary interpreter and proponent is George Soros. One of Popper's primary contentions, in "The Open Society and its Enemies", is that nations should adhere to certain core principles which would support the cause of justice everywhere. An example is that the press should be free from governmental censorship. There are several other universal principles which he spells out. These principles are based on certain core values which reflect his respect for the dignity of human beings.These principles should be adhered to whether they are supported by a majority or not.Anyway, Henry, have you ever read the SJ Forum posts - do you really want these bigoted and narrow minded folks to form policy when their numbers exceed those who would protect minorities? As far as Pubic cons vs Dummy crats, I would only say that, while I almost always favor the Donkey, I do not automatically dismiss the arguments of the other side. In fact, locally, I think Vickie Berger is a pretty decent human being. Henry - I think you would really enjoy the book mentioned above - for me, it brought together all the disparate elements of the social sciences while considering the principles of Darwinian science.

Henry Ruark March 3, 2008 1:56 pm (Pacific time)

To all: Simple question for I/s: What do you propose to substitute for majority rule,long seen as essential basis for democratic governance ? DOES require good faith effort by citizens to KNOW what they are acting on, and to separate simple personal feelings from wise action for the commonweal --not always an easy task and demanding solid protection for minority who may well decide, on solid grounds, that majority is in error. You wrote: "This type of domination by the majority overlooks the beauty of what is actually a representative government whose members are, in theory, responsible for governing fairly - even when their decisions run contrary to the will of the majority." Do believe there is room for dialog here rather than any offhand denial of Stein on what some might see as perhaps questionable grounds. We have clearcut motivation for dialog on this since it cuts to heart of what GOP "noise machine" and Bush I and II have done --to us, some might put it. The socalled "conservatives" have been in the majority for many long years, and even now the other side has only minor "majority" so we right on the money (definitely meant dollars !), too on this one. Await your next points with anticipation and thank you for raising a key issue worth some solid cogitation by all...

Vic March 3, 2008 12:56 pm (Pacific time)

Funny that Israel-firster Stein didnt mention the ongoing slaughter of the Palestinians ...but then, they like us, are not even human according to the Torah. Stein should get the hell out of our country and move to Israel.

isuggest March 3, 2008 10:45 am (Pacific time)

Ben Stein is an idiot. Darwinian theory does put forth the proposition that evolution is based on the theory that the fittest tend to survive and pass on their genes to subsequent generations but "fitness" is not equivalent to "strength" or "ability to dominate others". Fitness is "fitting in". That is, animals and plants that are most well suited to their environment are the ones most likely to reproduce. This misperception is one of the two great widespread philosophical misunderstandings which tend to prevent cooperative action on the part of people and their governing bodies. The other is that we live in a democracy where the greatest numbers should always get their way. This type of domination by the majority overlooks the beauty of what is actually a representative government whose members are, in theory, responsible for governing fairly - even when their decisions run contrary to the will of the majority. The two falacies are closely related.

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