September 09, 2010

In the spirit of fair play

I've spent a good bit of time here taking swipes at right wing Whackadoodleism. In an effort to transcend the bitter polarization of our time, the spirit of fair play prompts me to state for the record that Whackadoodleism is not the monopoly of any political tendency (although these days it seems to tilt more in one direction).

Here's one example of Whackadoodlery on the left that is pertinent to the sporadic series of posts here about human evolution and social life. The great biologist E. O. Wilson is widely admired today for his scientific work on topics ranging from ants to ecology to biophilia as well as his advocacy for dealing with climate change.

It wasn't always that way. In the mid 1970s, Wilson wrote a book titled Sociobiology: the New Synthesis which discussed genetically inherited behavior patterns of various animals. None of that was particularly controversial for people who were paying attention. But Wilson had the temerity to extend his analysis to humans and to suggest that we had some evolutionary baggage of our own.

Left wing ideologues somehow took this to mean that Wilson was suggesting that war, racism, imperialism, etc. were biologically inevitable. (He wasn't, by the way.) At a meeting of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, activists chanted "Racist Wilson you can't hide, we charge you with genocide" and poured ice water on his head as he prepared to give a speech.

(Genocide for writing a book? Really? And Sociobiology didn't discuss the issues of race.)

He gave the speech anyway.

For the record, I'm not endorsing all of his ideas on human evolution and our genetic legacy. Wilson himself has long accepted as valid some critiques of that formulation. But it there is a growing sense in the biological and social sciences that we are animals after all. Biology isn't destiny, but it is...well, biology.

(Plus, living around roosters has taught me a lot about human males.)

That doesn't spell the end of efforts to work for greater social justice, but it might be time to retire a cherished radical myth that human nature is a blank slate or some kind of silly putty that can be moulded into any shape we want.

WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON? Labor Day has come and gone, but labor woes are still with us.

WHAT HE SAID. This op-ed by a friend of mine suggests ways West Virginia can strengthen its unemployment insurance program.

THE BEGINNING OF SORROWS. Here is a review of several recent books on the politically pivotal decade of the 1970s.

LOOSE WITH THE TRUTH. Here's another look at misinformation on health care reform. We're probably going to see a lot more of that.


1 comment:

Hollowdweller said...

I hear you on the roosters. There was this guy at work who was always on the make and when I first got chickens (1988) I went on a long discourse to the wife about the similarities between the cock and the human male.

In fact chickens in general are similar to humans in that they have a tendency to pick on the weak and helpless and worship the cocky and cruel.

On the genetic thing my friend always says the acorns don't fall far from the tree.

I had this one doe Pix who was never friendly but a great doe. She loved to milk and loved to eat but other than that she wasn't that into petting or anything despite being bottle fed. All of her offspring, Polly, Snogirl, Spooky are all shy animals except where eating or milking is concerned. IMO temperment is very inherited.