Posts Tagged ‘Darwin’

Social Darwinism Cafe

March 31, 2009

Last night’s Philosophers’ Cafe at Kathmandu on Commercial Drive was a completely full house and a lively affair. (The announcement of the next topic stirred a lot of interest, so get there early, have dinner. The food is the main reason I go.) The conversation was non-stop for two hours, I didn’t take notes, I’m not naming names, here are my impressions. Comments are on (Your first comment will await moderation, (it’s an issue of spam) after that it’s a free for all.

Zahid Makhdoom moderated the night and opened with the philosophy: the purpose is not to find answers but to ask questions, If you’re confused coming in, the best result would be to leave even more confused. We will be muddying the waters. (What follows is a series of unfinished notes and open questions.) And then a short elaboration of the topic under discussion. “Is Social Darwinism an instrument of racist and authoritarian thought? Is survival of the fittest an appropriate moral, social, economic, or political ethic?” Social Darwinism, that is the conscious application of evolutionary principles, has a history of racism. Species development is confused with species evolution, and the value judgement is levelled against people. Makhdoom gave a few examples. I can recall two. 1) That when a dog plays in a yard no one considers the dogs ownership. Winston Churchill on Palestine. 2) Alberta Eugenics, sterilization program so the “unfit” wouldn’t breed.

No one argued for Social Darwinism. A good point was made using the person of Gandhi. Gandhi because a test for part of the discussion, the idea that tests are specific and that phenotypes are universal tests. Gandhi was a horrible plumber, but a great leader. It was his biographical development, contingent place in history that produced the Gandhi effect.

One scientific mind noted, about halfway through the conversation, that there were at least three different ideas of evolution at play in the room, they were undefined, undifferentiated and the communication was suffering for it. When the scientist was talking he was interrupted. “Science? This is a philosopher’s cafe.” (I just mistyped ‘cafe’ as ‘cage’. Paging Dr. Freud…) What? When did philosophy respect limits of knowledge, the disciplining and cloistering of specialized areas of inquiry, is a recent institutional social construct and was noted early in the twentieth century as potentially leading to the downfall of philosophy. (econophile)

Folk thinking is short term – an application of values on change – Do we have any control of our destiny? Development vs. Evolution – we should all be in more or less the same boat. Slaves forbidden the written word. Undeveloped and oppressed human potential confused as genetic (evolutionary) inferiority.

What does the fittest mean? Luckiest?

This was from a small dialogue while paying the bill: Genetic expression – the ideas that ideas are genetic – that people have a tendency. I don’t know. There is the notion of the great thinker. Darwin for example, changed the way we think about historical reality. But had Darwin, by chance, suffered a massive head injury, we would still today be talking about evolution, maybe even social evolution (social Wallacism?) This is because Darwin built his theory on previously published works and material evidence. He also mentioned at least four others who were hot on the theory’s tail. Today, the theory has been worked and reworked by the scientific community. Darwin had a very loose idea of genetic material, which has played a significant part in the contemporary understanding of the theory.

The individual’s social success as a measure of fitness. This idea more or less dominated the room. (with the accompanying machismo!) (An issue is framework.) The idea of success as adaptation to the social is not evolution. The other main idea was the ecological destruction – These conflicting notions were not noted. (?)

Consciousness is it developmental? There can be no argument that the plastic brain is a feature of our species.

One person whose main thrust was the idea of collective fitness over individual fitness (this is closest to evolution because one life cycle, your own personal birth to death existence, is well inside the concept of evolution.) gave some advice to young people. “Our generation has left it up to you to solve the problem.” What? When did this turn in the social take place? There was a comment that if we live 80 years, so much is spent sleeping and working that in all that 5 years is free time? Maybe that was what happened in the sixties, the systemized organizational man, is completely unfree, the youth were free to criticize the system. Where did that get us?

He Loves His Mother!!!

March 11, 2009

Bill Mayer — He loves his mother!! I thought I’d start with that. Religulous, a film by the same people who made Borat, and Borat, too, was purposefully offensive, and it, too, was funny, but it never, not for a second took itself seriously. Borat brought us into some very serious territory. There was the blatantly misogynous college boys scene, and the dangerous war of terror scene, maybe it was the moustache, but the nausea producing, in a culturally discomforting sense, scenarios made us witnesses.  Borat, himself, was nearly invisible. Religulous does something different, and I didn’t like it. The scenes where Maher analyses what we just saw are all gawd-awful. He interviews some fairly stupid people, but Maher’s arrogance, which may have held up, especially with the cuts to clips from Superbad and Scarface, those were hilarious, his arrogance may have held up, but when he was on camera by himself, the weakness of those scenes reframed his arrogance as simply mean. Sure, he loves his mother, but he’s a mean mental weakling himself, bullying other intellectually challenged, differently intelligent people. There’s the difference, Borat’s misogynists exposed themselves and an oppressive cultural undercurrent, while Maher victimized the people he put on film.

The science is in. Consciousness is a chemical energy. Our perceptions are bodily. Chemical and bodily changes affect consciousness and perception. Philosophically I work from the premise that existence precedes essence. Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche and Sartre, if generally understood would make it easier to argue that we should educate and properly house and nourish everyone. What I’m saying here is that there is no God of Abraham, there are no angels, spirits, demons, heaven or hell, at least outside our language systems. Our language systems exist physically in our bodies, in this sense these things exist, they are within us and communicable. Maher had an opportunity to produce in incredibly informative film. He came close with the Andrew Newberg, MD (University of Pennsylvania research neuroscientist) interview. Newberg discusses the process of imaging people’s brains as they pray, meditate or speak in tongues, but no conclusive statement is made. He also brought in the consciousness changing properties of drugs, but again the neurophysiology that could reveal the chemical and physical contingency of consciousness was not explored.

Maher is content to promote doubt, but there is certainty that consciousness is chemical reactions within organic physical structures. We don’t know how exactly it works, but there is certainty that material is at work. These ideas can also be communicated, but Maher didn’t do the research. And understanding consciousness, the bodily manifestation of these belief, may have softened his, persecution, of these believers. Really what was he doing? In his interviews with Muslims, he was told twice that it was politics and not religion, that the motivation behind terrorists and extremists, but he didn’t accept it. He even made “fun” of the interviewee by writing a text message implying he was a terrorist. Later he analyses these scenes saying that they don’t want to admit to outsiders that there are problems with the religion. Doubt in this sense is not a tool for understanding, it is an analgesic for stupidity. What were the political motivations of the religious George W. Bush and what were the political motivations of the differently religious Osama Bin Laden? Maher is content to doubt everything and everyone.

In Saul D. Alinsky‘s Rules for Radicals he spends an entire chapter “of ends and means” explaining how political interests are clothed in religious morality. “The Haves,” he writes, “develop their own morality to justify their means of repression and all other means employed to maintain the status quo.” What’s interesting is that Obama was schooled in the Alinsky tradition. Maher’s film is now an historical document. But Alinsky also taught respect for the beliefs and values of the Have-nots and spoke against arrogance. Politically, in the political system, I’m with Sven. This call for compassion, and understanding, when dealing with religious consciousnesses, is not a form of self protection, it comes from an understanding, limited sure, that our bodies and consciousness are totally intertwined, and a massive change, in our society, especially forced from the outside, well, it’s abuse.

And one last thing about embodied knowledge, especially the kind of knowledge that defines a persons existence. This is from wikipedia:

In Carl Jung‘s psychology, metanoia indicates a spontaneous attempt of the psyche to heal itself of unbearable conflict by melting down and then being reborn in a more adaptive form. Jung believed that psychotic episodes in particular could be understood as existential crises which were sometimes attempts at self-reparation. Jung’s concept of metanoia influenced R. D. Laing and the therapeutic community movement which aimed, ideally, to support people whilst they broke down and went through spontaneous healing, rather than thwarting such efforts at self-repair by strengthening their existing character defences and thereby maintaining the underlying conflict.

With this in mind, really, what the fuck was Maher doing? He loves his mother, but he’s still an ignorant fuck. Had he actually broken through the defences of these people he was attacking, he would have precipitated a moment of realization in which everything previously known is wrong, leading possibly to a physical and mental breakdown. In one scene Maher’s mother reminds him of how upset he was when he discovered Santa Claus wasn’t real. The equation of a childhood fantasy game, with god consciousness or a bodily awareness of god, is ridiculous in itself. In my utopian thoughts after the consciousness of our interconnectivity is widespread, when we are concerned with the care of each other, the issue of religion will have faded away, but until then we need to work toward our own understanding.

Darwin vs. Capitalism

January 26, 2009

I went to the Philosopher’s Café tonight at Cafe Kathmandu on Commercial Drive. The topic was “Empiricism and the State of Evolutionary Biology in an Age of Faith-Based Fundamentalism.” It was a discussion about ways of knowing that pitted the knowledge of science against the knowledge of God. The discussion is never-ending. Listening tonight, hearing the old familiar lines, it occurred to me that maybe the church isn’t the obstacle to enlightenment it’s made out to be. Over the past 150 years the values of Capitalism have replaced the values, however similar, of the church. So I asked the question: “Can it be a fluke that children are in the capitalist state run school system from the ages of 5 to 17 and at the end of those twelve years have no understanding whatsoever of their material reality?” The way I see it, Darwin’s Origin of the Species is a revolutionary work, and a true understanding by the population would change the world. What’s so scary about evolution?

This Café was part of the Vancouver Evolution Festival.

The idea that both religion and capitalism might have a stake in keeping quiet the notion that free and uncontrolled variation, the variation that makes evolution possible, has been considered. Check this out: from Jihad vs. McWorld:

To the extent that either McWorld or Jihad has a NATURAL politics, it has turned out to be more of an antipolitics. For McWorld, it is the antipolitics of globalism: bureaucratic, technocratic, and meritocratic, focused (as Marx predicted it would be) on the administration of things—with people, however, among the chief things to be administered. In its politico-economic imperatives McWorld has been guided by laissez-faire market principles that privilege efficiency, productivity, and beneficence at the expense of civic liberty and self-government.

For Jihad, the antipolitics of tribalization has been explicitly antidemocratic: one-party dictatorship, government by military junta, theocratic fundamentalism—often associated with a version of the Fuhrerprinzip that empowers an individual to rule on behalf of a people. Even the government of India, struggling for decades to model democracy for a people who will soon number a billion, longs for great leaders; and for every Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi, or Rajiv Gandhi taken from them by zealous assassins, the Indians appear to seek a replacement who will deliver them from the lengthy travail of their freedom.

Darwin’s Finches

November 21, 2007

Last night I went to Evolution of Darwin’s Finches, a lecture by Rosemary and Peter Grant. Luckily I got to the lecture hall a little early, because the place completely filled up. Even the aisles were filled. There was a nice article about the lecture in the Georgia Straight (notice the comments are about God), but I think the popularity of the speakers, was simply a result of 35 years of work. The room was filled with birders, and biologist, academics both institutional and independent, students, teachers, children, teenagers and the very, very, old. I’m guessing the majority in the room were academics of some sort. This couple has got to be a kind of role model for anyone interested in this branch of science.

I’ve been reading Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. I’m working a number of ideas into some sort of theory for a project I’m proposing. The Grant’s work seems interesting. It’s interesting because it’s real hands-on science. The theory of evolution , I don’t know, but right now I’ve got a feeling it’s important in all its complexity to any theory of social change. The problem with any theory of social change is the theory of social stasis, which might be analogous to the confrontation between the theorists of evolution and the believers in God’s creation. (This is a little of what I’m talking about.) What I’ve just written sort of explains why I haven’t been writing lately.

The Grants observed evolution through natural selection. Changes in the environment (changes in weather patterns and the resulting changes in plant based food sources) produced measurable differences in beak and body sizes in the islands’ finch populations. And after 35 years of observing the birds behaviour, they could see the “cultural” differenced that grew up around inherited adaptation.