The question of the relations between nature and culture (on the book by Patrick Tort, Sexe, Race & Culture)

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baboon
The question of the relations between nature and culture (on the book by Patrick Tort, Sexe, Race & Culture)
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: The question of the relations between nature and culture (on the book by Patrick Tort, Sexe, Race & Culture). The discussion was initiated by baboon.
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baboon
Science eh?

I've got to comment on this given what I've written about Darwin elsewhere. It's a very good text and a very good basis for the question of racial and sexual differences.

When I first read Darwin's "Descent" I wasn't sure about some of his analyses about "race", myself tending towards the position criticised in this ICC text that races do not exist, i.e., the "we are all the same under the skin" argument. To compound my confusion on this issue was Darwin's occasional outburst of outright racism in the book that the text itself mentions but which is entirely contradictory to his overall analysis and rather, understandingly, represents the contradiction between his social and revolutionary position. Re-reading the book, one can see that Darwin's analysis of race is correct and their existence "corresponds to a stabilisation", that's also fluid in my opinion. In today's society, the racists can point to very clear differences in human beings with skin colour being an obvious one, e.g. the Indian looking different to a Norwegian. Some time ago Scientific American published an article on these differences in colour and even differences between black and white are not black and white. Take the region emanating from equatorial Africa where there are several distinct shades of black (a bit like all the children in Bill Cosby's TV "family") and if one takes a sheet of paper or pure snow as being white, then there are not that many white people about. The article estimated that someone moving from the heart of equatorial Africa to Norway say would undergo a change of skin colour in about eight thousand years due to ambient conditions.

But the "races" of Darwin are about much more than the colour of ones' skin and his analysis of this question tends to undermine the position of a linear, one-track descent of humanity. DNA evidence has now confirmed Darwin's theory that humanity is made of different races, not fundamentally different but different in certain aspects and lineage wih visible characteristics related to certain ancestries be it Neanderthal, Denisovan, Sapien, others we don't know about and mixtures and combinations of all of these. These real differences will continue to be used by the bourgeoisie and, as the text says, like the inequality between the sexes; it is only the proletarian struggle that can overcome them.

Another confusion that I found in the book that is repeated in the text is about Darwin's use of the word "civilisation" in order to describe the positive thrust of humanity, as in "natural selection selects civilisation". For Darwin "civilisation" didn't mean the bourgeoisie, nor even class society, both of which he denounces but the tendency towards to cooperation and morality overcoming (reversing) the natural (blind) selection of the strongest and fittest. This is no ideal but, as Darwing said, a "constant and painful movement" and it remains so with the one of its fundamentals being that "the very principle of civilisation is the process of the development of sympathy" and of which sexual selection, by the introduction of a conscious choice, is also a fundamental part. But he doesn't mean the civilisation of class society, oppression and "the war of the rich against the poor" as we understand the civilisation of the last five or six thousand years. Indeed, in some ways this latter could be seen as a reversal of the reversal, such as Darwin and the text by Tort intimates.

Darwin's book and the analyses of Patrick Tort are great on the question of human nature and the relationship of nature to culture and it's particularly clear from "Descent" that this relationship and this "reverse effect" started in a very ancient period of humanity. Against the "dog eat dog" social Darwinism of Spencer, human nature is neither utopian idealism nor immutably fixed once and for all but, as Marx said, is constantly modified: "At the same time as man transforms external nature, he transforms his own nature".

One last point on Alfred Russell Wallace: at the moment there is a "great debate" going on between Noam Chomsky and Tom Wolfe over the question of language. I have no interest in what seems to be a clash of egos but in reply to something that Chomsky has said Wolfe has responded that "Darwin stole everything he knew from Wallace". This is a lie and the work of the two men both on natural selection and then the overturning of natural selection is a joint work from two great men that thought alike from a scientific basis and corresponded deeply almost every day. To see them in competition, as Chris Knight has done or as thieving from one another, as Wolfe says, is a gross slander.

I think that the ICC has done good work with Tort's analyses in this and the previous text. I haven't read any more of Tort's work than that published by the ICC. I don't know if he is aware of the work of Alfred Russell Wallace and the effect that it had on Darwin's own works. What is clear is that in 1864, seven or eight years before "The Descent of Man..." was published and over a century-and-a-quarter before Patrick Tort used the phrase, Wallace wrote clearly about "the reverse effect of natural selection" in exactly the same context as that used by Tort. That needs to be acknowledged. Maybe Tort does, I don't know.