The Selfish Gene: dialectics of conflict and cooperation

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baboon
The Selfish Gene: dialectics of conflict and cooperation
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: The Selfish Gene: dialectics of conflict and cooperation. The discussion was initiated by baboon.
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baboon
some first thoughts

I found this interesting and thought provoking. I don't see how this led to a sixty thousand year old social revolution based on a sex-strike but there you are. There's a good overall analysis here of some aspects of prehistory that are important for the workers' movement today. The grandmother idea is a good one in the context of mother-right as a prime social force as is the early development of human solidarity and understanding from the white scelera and small iris of the eye - some domestic dogs have also developed this "ability" in relation to humans but not to other dogs. I agree with the idea of human solidarity going back 1.8 million years.

From my point of view here's some clarifications on Darwin, etc.

Alfred Russel Wallace also used the term "survival of the fittest" (letter to Darwin in 1866) and used it in a completely context than Spencer, the latter's warping  correctly charecterised by Camilla Power. Darwin was certainly spurred by Wallace - twice - but there was no competition between these two men, only the closest working together, love and solidarity. This was a great double act. Much is made of Darwin "holding back" publication of his material and CM (like Chris Knight) puts this down to revolutionary and counter-revolutionary periods, ie, he was "allowed" to publish when the social situation was calm. This doesn't add up if you look at the timescales. Besides it was more complex than that. Certainly Darwin was torn by the analysis that he and Wallace had worked on - given his position in bourgeois society that's understandable. He was also concerned about his relationship with his wife and children. For me he showed enormous courage in pursuing his work no matter where it took him, and despite the demons, publish them he did.

Marx and Engels continued to respect Darwin but they both criticised him, in the two quotes given by CM it's clear, because, in some sense, they fell for the social Darwinist lies peddled by the bourgeoisie. Darwin and Wallace, despite having nightmares about him in their own ways, never adhered to the ideology of Malthus. Just like Marx did in economics, they turned him upside down from a social perspective.

Certainly the development of genetics is a further interesting development that can only add to our understanding. Dawkins said that he could have called his book the "Unselfish Gene" and it wouldn't have made any difference to its content. That's true but I think that you always get a bit of ideology with Dawkins. CM talks about the genes as information carriers for replication and here I think that the ICC's analysis of Patrick Tort on Darwin was a major leap forward ("On Patrick Tort's the Darwin Effect" on this website). I think that here, for the first time in a hundred and forty years, we get the real rendezvous of Marx, Engels, the workers' movement with the work of Darwin (and his mate).

Here the social instincts and the development of consciousness overturn natural selection and this, very early on in the existence of homo, is based on solidarity not division, within the prime role of the altruistic females. The genes carry an "anti-selective" that reflect the greater good and natural selection favours solidarity and protection of the weak, it's the "reverse effect". Darwin certainly gave examples of this or that tribe with this or that attribute but he also explicitly talked about the phoney division of tribal society and international solidarity.

 

LoneLondoner
Perhaps not 60,000 years...

baboon wrote:

I found this interesting and thought provoking. I don't see how this led to a sixty thousand year old social revolution based on a sex-strike but there you are.

Actually I don't think you should take the time-lines in Knight's book too literally. It was written more than 20 years ago after all, on the basis of evidence available at the time. My own impression is that Knight is not at all averse to revising the timeline backwards.

Also, I think we should take the term "revolution" with a pinch of salt. Knight makes the point that human brain size expands very rapidly after a long phase of stagnation (the end of homo erectus' era), but we are still talking about evolutionary timescales, ie in the tens of thousands of years.

I agree about Tort's review of the relationship between marxism and darwinism which is very stimulating. I don't really know enough about the relationship between revolutionary thinking and transformism (as it used to be called) to have a view on Power's political analysis but it is worth thinking about: as I understand it the problem is not so much that Darwin wasn't "allowed" to publish, but rather that when he began to think in terms of evolution it was at a time when this idea was deeply unrespectable because associated with ideas of revolutionary change; all the more respect to Darwin for pressing on. And I don't think there is much doubt that darwinism was then hijacked by the deeply reactionary social darwinism of the late 19th century.

Alf
moving forwards

Excellent posts, this feels like a real discussion emerging. On one point:  "Actually I don't think you should take the time-lines in Knight's book too literally. It was written more than 20 years ago after all, on the basis of evidence available at the time. My own impression is that Knight is not at all averse to revising the timeline backwards".

I would go further: Chris has publicly stated that he has changed his view in the light of more recent research into the orgins of symbolic culture in Africa. He now defintely accepts that the transition to the human goes much further back, into "deep time", as Camilla and other anthroplogists sometimes decribe the very ancient past. 

Alf
spanish contribution

 

 

This looks extremely interesting. Any sympathetic Spanish speakers willing to translate this?

 

 http://es.internationalism.org/ccionline/201301/3620/de-donde-viene-la-humanidad-hacia-donde-va-algunas-ideas-para-comprender-la-hi 

baboon
that's good

Good points and I'm glad to see that CK's has changed his views in the light of the evidence. I was a bit reluctant to post here given the "controversy" and I  feel enervated enough to write a further piece - which includes some elements of a critique of Blood Relations - and feel I can stop agonising over that now. It can be a positive discussion. I will support the "long term" theory.

What it means I don't know but it seems that brain size has been shrinking over the last 20,000 years.