Blood Relations

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baboon
Blood Relations
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Blood Relations. The discussion was initiated by baboon.
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baboon
In Chris Knight’s book “Blood

In Chris Knight’s book “Blood Relations”, there’s a chapter called “The Shores of Eden” which largely recalls the idea of the ‘aquatic ape’ hypothesis. The idea of the ‘aquatic ape’ was put forward in 1960, by the marine biologist Sir Alister Hardy in order to plug a gap in our knowledge of the evolution of homo around 7 to 4 million years ago. Hardy, as a scientist, was quite clear that the idea was just a hypothesis and needed to be discussed.

The idea was taken up uncritically and embellished by the writer, Elaine Morgan in her book “The Aquatic Ape”, making the idea more popular. Morgan, following Hardy, suggest that everything from walking upright, the way we breathe, our lack of hair, the layers of fat under our skin, the different distribution of fat between male and female and our diet all come from spending time in water, i.e., “aquatic adaptions”. It’s a romantic “water babies”, Atlantis type idea, but there’s no evidence for it. Au contraire.

Taking the idea up wholesale, Knight first poses a false distinction between life on an arid savannah and life in watery areas. For Knight, increasing hairlessness, streamlined body, layers of fat, downward nostrils, descended larynx , breathing and diving abilities all point to “water-associated selection pressures” on the development of homo. For Knight, wading through the water has evolved into homo walking upright and thus for him “the problem is solved” and “all the pieces of the jig-saw nicely fit”.

The original hypothesis from Hardy was a valid attempt at a discussion due to the lack of science but Elaine Morgan turned it into a quack theory and Knight has turned it even quackier. It’s used by him in the book to push his own idea about a cultural revolution based on menstruation. For him, women’s decreased body hair and highter levels of body fat are “water-adaptive features” and the link to his overall theory is water – tides (in rivers, springs and lakes?) – the moon – synchronised menstrual cycles. The analysis of Darwin is summarily dismissed and Knight adds the further evidence that a hospital in south London close to the Thames had more births at high tide than at low tide!
Science shows us that all the suggested evolutionary changes above can be explained much more coherently: hairlessness is not a feature of a semi-aquatic animal – on the contrary. Otters, water rats, polar bears (that spend a long time under water), water voles, are all covered with thick hair. Humans are not particularly good swimmers and our skin is permeable – lay in the bath for a couple of hours.  Darwin’s sexual selection and adaptions to heat loss explain the patterns of body hair better. Sexual selection (the full title of Darwin’s book is “The Descent of Man and selection in relation to sex”) can also explain the differences between the male and female. Volutary breath control is most likely related to speech.

Certainly apes stand up in water but a more persuasive explanation for bidpedalism is that our ancestors stood up in trees, reached for fruit and engaged in dsplays. As far as Knight’s opposition of the dry savannah to wetlands, we now know that from ‘Sahelanthropus tchadensis’ – seven million years ago – and ‘Homo erectus’ – two million years ago, all the species lived in open woodlands or forested environments. The fact that a further 13 new species of homo have been found since 1987, further underlines the weaknesses of the aquatic ape theory.

Water is not just important to the development of humanity it is essential for the development of the vast majority of life but the idea of spending time in it and developing bipedalism, etc., is  “simplistic”. The latter, along with some of the arguments above, are the words of Dr. Alice Roberts, who has roundly denounced the BBC for the promotion of this implausible idea in a radio series hosted by Sir David Attenborough called “The Waterside Ape”.
 

Alf
Elaine Morgan

I look forward to developing a profound disagreement with my baboon comrade on his appraisal of the contribution to anthropological science made by Elaine Morgan. Regarding Attenborough's defence and Alice Roberts' rebuttal, where are your links, sir?

baboon
Alice
baboon
Alice Robert's take
Alf
OK, I'll read it. And those

OK, I'll read it. And those who want to listen to Attenborough's side of the story, you can still find Radio 4's 'The Waterside Ape' on bbc i player. 

baboon
shining, gleaming, flaxen, waxen...

One of the common headline themes of "The Naked Ape" by Desmond Morris, "The Aquatic Ape" by Elaine Morgan, taken up by Chris Knight and David Attenborough's "Waterside Ape", is that, through a process of staying in water for some time we became denuded of hair, particularly the female. It's a bit like the Emperor's New Clothes because instead of being hairless, we are covered with hair from head to toe

In relation to a chimpanzee for example we are relatively hairless but we are not talking about chimpanzees. That is an entirely different species that took an entirely different path. Our hair is finer and shorter than apes but we are not an ape and are, as Darwin accurately observed, descended from a species of Catarrhine related to the gorilla and chimpanzee.

As a species we have hair on our heads that continues to grow as long as we live; we have hair over our eyes that is useless for keeping out surrounding water but perfect for sweat; we have hair coming out of our eyelids - ditto; we have hair on our foreheads, up our nose and in our ears, on our shoulders, chests and down our backs, under our arms, along our arms and coming out of our bums. We have hair on our chins, elbows, knees and knuckles and hair down our legs, on our fingers and on our toes. And we have hair around our genital areas. We are not a naked ape but a hairy human.

It might be argued by a supporter of the aquatic ape theory that this hair provides air pockets on the body that developed in order to help us float. But the species would have to spend a long time immersed in the water in order for such a development to take place. Tetrapods came out of the water 375 million years ago and it's doubtful that several million years ago we turned to a hippo-like existence back in the water. The amount of hair we have today points to the control of sweating and thermoregulation. And it points very strongly to Darwin's sexual selection.

One argument, a strong one, for the relative loss of hair is the necessity to hunt during the heat of the day when the big cats and carnivores rested. I've used the example before of a 14-year old homo erectus female able to run down a gazelle during the hot part of the day. She was physically capable of doing so. For a group of females or males and females this would be no great problem. It's interesting that neither Elaine Morgan nor Chris Knight entertain the idea of women hunting. In fact they seem against it with the idea of the woman staying "at home". I think that this is an underestimation of the complexity of developments that were going on in deep, prehistoric society. For example, there were many species, many developments, many interactions, many dead-ends - this is what makes the one-episode "Aquatic Ape" theory so simplistic. Water is essential but homo adapted to almost every environment.

As important as hunting was the species also sweated in associated physical labour. Long before the use of controlled fire, setting up camp, securing the area would also have to be done in the heat of the day and this would have also necessitated developments of body hair for the convection of sweat, keeping the body functioning for such arduous, dangerous and constant work.

If the changes to the body - hair in this case - came about through evolutionary adaptions to climate, temperature, environment, etc., there came a point, after a while, where human activity, more or less conscious, affected and further developed our physical (and mental) attributes. Darwin's sexual selection is the real story of body hair. Along with other major aspects of sexual selection in relation to the development of the body this is overlooked or misunderstood by the proponents of the aquatic ape theory

The development of sexual selection from that of the animal kingdom to humans also shows a development that natural selection alone cannot explain and indicates elements of the latter being overcome. The maternal instinct is fundamental for survival in both the animal and human realms but in homo it seems that sexual selection first favoured the male and then, in a profound development, the female (though it works continually between both and probably still does today). Hair, along with body shape and elements of consciousness, i.e., the brain, was an element in modified sexual selection. The female selected the "fittest" male (in the all-round sense of the word) and Darwin said it didn't matter how long the relationship lasted "a day, a week, a month", as long as it was consummated then the results on the offspring would always tend to be favourable. And over time, mother-right firmly established itself with all the implications that that had for the development of society.

Chris Knight, Elaine Morgan and David Attenborough (whose views on population approach the Malthusian) all say that they agree with Darwin. I don't think they do and the theory of the aquatic ape doesn't either.
 

jk1921
Maladaption

baboon wrote:

As a species we have hair on our heads that continues to grow as long as we live; we have hair over our eyes that is useless for keeping out surrounding water but perfect for sweat; we have hair coming out of our eyelids - ditto; we have hair on our foreheads, up our nose and in our ears, on our shoulders, chests and down our backs, under our arms, along our arms and coming out of our bums. We have hair on our chins, elbows, knees and knuckles and hair down our legs, on our fingers and on our toes. And we have hair around our genital areas. We are not a naked ape but a hairy human.
 

An evolutionary maladaption in modernity, I could personally do without.

Fred
How awful to be hairless,

How awful to be hairless, like a worm or something slithery. Baboon's account is fascinating and anything that questions authorities like Knight, Attenborough and the BBC  has to be all right in essence. 

Demogorgon
Challenging Authority or Assessment of Evidence?

Attenborough doesn't really have any authority to be questioned. He's a TV presenter, not a scientist. And the BBC, which in the interests of "balance", often gives equal weight to both legitimate and completely absurd hypotheses is not really an authority either. Ironically, Morgan (who popularised, but didn't invent the idea) was also a television documentary writer.

Baboon's post is mostly (to my admittedly limited knowledge) a mainstream defence of the orthodox scientific position on the debate. In actual fact, the "Aquatic Ape Hypothesis" is more-or-less uniformly rejected by the scientific community, on the basis of being overly simplistic and, at root, lacking any real evidence.

 

 

jk1921
Authority?

Demogorgon wrote:

Attenborough doesn't really have any authority to be questioned. He's a TV presenter, not a scientist. And the BBC, which in the interests of "balance", often gives equal weight to both legitimate and completely absurd hypotheses is not really an authority either. Ironically, Morgan (who popularised, but didn't invent the idea) was also a television documentary writer.

Baboon's post is mostly (to my admittedly limited knowledge) a mainstream defence of the orthodox scientific position on the debate. In actual fact, the "Aquatic Ape Hypothesis" is more-or-less uniformly rejected by the scientific community, on the basis of being overly simplistic and, at root, lacking any real evidence.

Appeal to authority (or non-authority)?

Demogorgon
Quote:Appeal to authority (or

Quote:
Appeal to authority (or non-authority)?

I'm confused. Am I appealing to authority? Well, obviously, I'm not very appealing but you know what I mean ...

baboon
I'm confused too

It's probably me but I don't understand what jk is saying in the posts above. There's no "authority" but the position that I am trying to defend is that of Charles Darwin in "The Descent of Man...".

jk1921
Confusion Break Bones

Demogorgon wrote:

Quote:
Appeal to authority (or non-authority)?

I'm confused. Am I appealing to authority? Well, obviously, I'm not very appealing but you know what I mean ...

I am actually confused because I am wondering if your post is an appeal to authority (someone other than Attenborough is who we should be listening to) or a critique of someone else's appeal to a non-authority (Attenborough is not really an authority, because he is not a "scientist") But mostly, I am just confused. Does the fact that Attenborough isn't a scientist mean we shouldn't care about his opinion? Does he even have one or he is just presenting someone else's? Maybe I should actually read the links.

Baboon, the first post was just a joke about how much it sucks to be too hairy today, especially when you have to wear "business attire" for 10 to 12 hours a day.

Demogorgon
On Authority

What I was trying to critique was Fred's stated reason for favouring Baboon's position on this - that it challenges the "authority" of David Attenborough, etc. Firstly, I don't think we should accept positions simply because they challenge "authority". Secondly, what authority is being challenged? Attenborough and the BBC have absolutely zero scientific authority. Moreover, the history of the AAH is bound up precisely with this question of authority - many of its proponents favour it precisely because it supposedly challenges the authority of orthodox (and patriarchal) science.

So, to see a critique of the AAH favoured because it challenges authority, is a double irony for me.

There are several questions underlying this discussion. Firstly, it says something when a celebrity TV presenter like Attenborough is mistaken for some sort of scientific authority. This could only occur in a society where the masses are completely divorced from actual scientific practice and the social production of knowledge. But, it also shows the real difficulties behind critiques about science that has been carried out on these boards which are not so much critiques of actual science but the "sciencist" ideology promulgated through the media.

Secondly, there is a more general question of authority in science as well as knowledge production in general. The first thing to say is that scientists and other experts do have authority. This is unquestionable. One may offer all sorts of post-modernist critiques of physics and other seemingly abstract sciences, and feel very clever about it. On the other hand, if someone is about to perform open-heart surgery on me then I'd far rather have that done by someone who has studied medicine for years, been trained (and more importantly, tested for competence), than by some random off the street.

It is astoundingly arrogant to think that reading a few popular science books in your spare time, equates to studying a subject everyday, every week, for years, subjected essays or lab reports for expert scrutiny or suffered through three hour exams to assess how well you've assimilated the material! The reason why "scientists" have authority is precisely because they've managed to survive this process and have demonstrated that they've understood the basics (which is really all you're doing until you reach PhD level).

That, of course, doesn't mean that every "expert" is always correct. Scientific method, in contrast to religion (and "sciencism") is built around the assessment of evidence, not how expert someone supposedly is. Every scientist has to offer evidence to support their arguments, whether you're an A-level chemistry student, a PhD thesis writer, or a research group working on nanomaterials. Every expert's opinions are subjected to scrutiny, assessment and challenge.

The "scientific consensus" that emerges is based on the continual discussion, re-evaluation, position and counter-position, etc. of this ongoing debate between people who have studied these subjects for years. It doesn't just appear out of thin air! The authority of the scientific consensus comes from recognition of the fact that it has been subjected to this process. This doesn't mean it's right, or some truth to be held for all time: scientific consensus changes as new evidence becomes available. But ultimately, the authority of scientific consensus, is based on that: evidence. And the authority of individual scientists is based on the fact that they've demonstrated competence in this process on previous occasions. (Nor does this mean that every field of study is worthy of respect. Astrology is complex and requires study to understand - I may be wrong, but I doubt anyone on this board can correctly define a planet’s accidental dignity or acronial place - but it has no validity. None of its propositions stand up to systematic testing.)

If I told anyone who knows me that I'd run a marathon last week, they'd laugh. They know that any such attempt would probably land me in hospital. If Haile Gebrselassie said it, you'd lend far more weight to his claim, simply because he's done it many times before. This doesn't, of course, prove he did it last week, but it does lend credibility to his claim.

Similarly, as a non-expert, I find myself more likely to believe the scientific consensus on the AAH, than the word of a television presenter. This doesn't prove the AAH is false, in itself, but I find their claims more credible. More to the point, one can easily find detailed critiques from the scientific community (Baboon has already provided some).

The next question, to my mind, is what will the role of experts be in communist society. Will there be experts? Perhaps I'm inherently conservative, but I think there will be. Marx and Engels, of course, said: "In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic."

One may enjoy the poetic appeal of this passage, but there are practicalities. Even in the period Marx lived in, the idea of a Renaissance Man was already obsolete. Marx and Engels themselves were hardly polymaths - they were certainly educated, by the standards of the day in a wide variety of subjects, but they were hardly experts. Today, when the vistas of knowledge are a thousand times more vast, the idea that any single individual can absorb even the basics of every field is an astounding proposition. But who knows, those pesky scientists may be able to invent artificial means to by pass the tedious process of learning stuff.

 

LBird
Science, evidence and authority - the conservative perspective

Demogorgon wrote:

This could only occur in a society where the masses are completely divorced from actual scientific practice and the social production of knowledge. But, it also shows the real difficulties behind critiques about science that has been carried out on these boards which are not so much critiques of actual science but the "sciencist" ideology promulgated through the media.

Secondly, there is a more general question of authority in science as well as knowledge production in general. The first thing to say is that scientists and other experts do have authority. This is unquestionable. One may offer all sorts of post-modernist critiques of physics and other seemingly abstract sciences, and feel very clever about it. ....

That, of course, doesn't mean that every "expert" is always correct. Scientific method, in contrast to religion (and "sciencism") is built around the assessment of evidence, not how expert someone supposedly is. Every scientist has to offer evidence to support their arguments, whether you're an A-level chemistry student, a PhD thesis writer, or a research group working on nanomaterials. Every expert's opinions are subjected to scrutiny, assessment and challenge.

The "scientific consensus" that emerges is based on the continual discussion, re-evaluation, position and counter-position, etc. of this ongoing debate between people who have studied these subjects for years. It doesn't just appear out of thin air! The authority of the scientific consensus comes from recognition of the fact that it has been subjected to this process. This doesn't mean it's right, or some truth to be held for all time: scientific consensus changes as new evidence becomes available. But ultimately, the authority of scientific consensus, is based on that: evidence. And the authority of individual scientists is based on the fact that they've demonstrated competence in this process on previous occasions. (Nor does this mean that every field of study is worthy of respect. Astrology is complex and requires study to understand - I may be wrong, but I doubt anyone on this board can correctly define a planet’s accidental dignity or acronial place - but it has no validity. None of its propositions stand up to systematic testing.)....

The next question, to my mind, is what will the role of experts be in communist society. Will there be experts? Perhaps I'm inherently conservative, but I think there will be. 

[my bold]

You haven't mentioned me by name, Demo, but it seems that you can't let sleeping dogs lie!

You're simply continuing to push your (as you correctly identify it) conservative, bourgeois scientific ideology, that 'experts', who have a 'neutral method', have a 'special access', which is not available to 'the masses', which allows them alone to identify 'evidence', which is quietly sitting 'out there', awaiting its 'discovery' by the said 'expert authority'.

Your argument against the democratic ideology of Marx is simply to say (as do the bourgeois academics like Sokal) that "they'll have voting on heart operations, or whether planes can fly!", which neatly avoids the political criticisms being made, and ensures that workers don't dig any further into these epistemological arguments, by making Marxists sound silly.

Here, once again, is a quote from a contemporary physicist, whose books are recommended by the ICC:

Rovelli, The First Scientist: Anaximander and his Legacy, wrote:

This reading of scientific thinking as subversive, visionary, and evolutionary is quite different from the way science was understood by the positivist philosophers… (p. xii)

Facile nineteenth-century certainties about science— in particular the glorification of science understood as definitive knowledge of the world—have collapsed. One of the forces responsible for their dismissal has been the twentieth-century revolution in physics, which led to the discovery that Newtonian physics, despite its immense effectiveness, is actually wrong, in a precise sense. Much of the subsequent philosophy of science can be read as an attempt to come to grips with this disillusionment. What is scientific knowledge if it can be wrong even when it is extremely effective? (p. xv)

But answers given by natural science are not credible because they are definitive; they are credible because they are the best we have now, at a given moment in the history of knowledge. (p. xvi)

The problem, Demo, is that evidence is created by humans.

If the humans creating the evidence have different interests and purposes to the 'masses', then the 'evidence' will be suitable to those humans who are not 'the masses'. Their authority, their consensus, is based upon their social theory and practice.

This is why you're a 'conservative', Demo, rather than a radical democrat in the issues of power and ideology in science.

Only the revolutionary proletariat can determine for itself, by democratic methods, what its own 'evidence' is, and only the r. p. can elect its own 'experts' who follow the same ideological approach as Marx, and any 'scientific consensus' that emerges, can only emerge from the democratic deliberations of the r. p., and any 'scientific truth' can only be elected by the active masses, in pursuit of their interests and purposes, as they build their own socio-natural world - just as Marx argued.

Only the r. p. can determine 'best' for them.

baboon
Blood relations

Blood relations is the title of this thread and it does raise wider scientific questions. But I hope that the thread is not going to be hijacked and derailed by L.; Bird in the same way that the discussion on Rovelli was.

LBird
Hijackers and derailers, of a Materialist persuasion

baboon wrote:

Blood relations is the title of this thread and it does raise wider scientific questions. But I hope that the thread is not going to be hijacked and derailed by L.; Bird in the same way that the discussion on Rovelli was.

And a scientific discussion of 'Blood relations' is my purpose.

You only see my efforts as 'hijacking' because you won't expose your own ideology of science, and instead wish to consciously hide it, by denigrating Marxists who insist that the 'scientific method' must be critically addressed.

And talking of Rovelli, why won't you address his quotes, that I gave earlier?

The only 'hijacking and derailing' being done, is by those politically determined to hide their elitist method from interested workers.

Right!

Shall we discuss, first of all, the various political ideologies of the 'experts' mentioned so far on this thread? Attenborough, Knight and Darwin. And ours.

 

LBird
A scientific method for 'Blood Relations'

For any readers unaware of the details of 'Blood Relations', like me, the first step is to discuss the ideologies behind the scientists who produce the 'evidence'.

The 'evidence' doesn't simply sit 'out there', waiting to be 'discovered', but is created by the social theory and practice of the 'scientist' who creates the evidence, firstly, and only then builds a case (which is what we 'read').

It's methodologically important to realise that the 'evidence' must be critically examined, and not just 'accepted' as a 'starting point'.

Who created the 'evidence', and why they created it, should be our first questions.

LBird
Some scientific questions

What is the political purpose of Chris Knight in writing Blood Relations?

What political ideology within anthropology is he arguing against?

Can baboon, Demo, or any other comrade familiar with Knight's work, give us an outline, to help us to politically orientate ourselves?

baboon
L Bird, I am well aware that

L Bird, I am well aware that your position is that all science is bourgeois and, at some future date, the working class will determine all of science. I cordially invite you to open up your own thread and may i sugggest for a title: "All science is bourgeois and at a tuture date the working class will determine all of science". If you want to continue to trash this thread I will open up a duplicate elsewhere and you can carry on with this one.

LBird
baboon the thread-trasher who hides his trashing

baboon wrote:

L Bird,... If you want to continue to trash this thread I will open up a duplicate elsewhere and you can carry on with this one.

I've asked you to outline what you know about the ideologies at work in the authors that you've mentioned.

How is that 'trashing the thread'?

You're grasping to straws now, in your denial of Marx's method, baboon.

If anyone is 'trashing the thread', it's you, with your 'trashing' of the scientific method, and your wish to appear as an unquestionable expert, as you proceed to 'lead' the workers, in the Leninist fashion.

Now, get back to the issue, or stop posting.

LBird
Blood Relations left to bleed out?

On reflection, baboon, it's your thread, so go ahead.

I seem to have provoked some rage, perhaps because I've pointed out that you don't know the political ideologies at work in anthropology, and made it clear that the scientific method requires us to address these factors, and so you've become belatedly aware of your own methodological shortcomings.

I can't think of any other reason why my request for you to explain, so we can all join in with a greater knowledge as a starting point for our discussion, could cause such an angry response.

So, unless you reconsider, and invite me to continue to contribute, I'll now leave the thread.

I'm inclined to think that, without me, the thread will remain at the level it was: 'experts' who pretend to 'know', pretending to openly discuss with other 'experts who know' about the 'academic experts who know', with no input from interested, yet critical, workers.

jk1921
Google

Demogorgon wrote:

But who knows, those pesky scientists may be able to invent artificial means to by pass the tedious process of learning stuff.

You mean like Google? Who cares if you know who faced who at the Second Battle of Bull Run in 1862, anyone with a smartphone can find out in ten seconds or less.

Demogorgon
They used to say the same

They used to say the same about writing.

jk1921
Maybe one day there will just

Maybe one day there will just be a pill you can take for that pesky learning problem?

Demogorgon
Funnily enough, I watched

Funnily enough, I watched Lucy earlier tonight. Utter nonsense, but good fun.

Fred
what is an authority?

 The question of who is or isn't an authority is vital to the bourgeois limited grasp of human life. Much of their personal security seems pinned on this issue. Theresa May has suddenly become an authority by virtue of being PM. The BBC presents itself as an authority and thus those who get to pontificate on it in scientific programmes become authoritative courtesy of the BBC and not to be questioned.

For myself, I like and approve Socrates who was an authority on nothing and never claimed great expertise in any field. He just questioned everything and everybody in an effort to expose their basic assumptions specially those implicitly held. In this way he helped their learning processes and his own and thus contributed to the improvement of society by this educational process.

This Socratic method is like Marxism. Questioning everything. Socrates wasn't a proletarian but he thought like one, and of course finally paid for his proletarian-like subversiveness with his life. 

Demogorgon
Apologies

To be fair, it is probably my fault that the thread was derailed. What was meant to be a minor aside ended up turning into a central question. I was simply bemused by the apparent reversal of the usual situation: proponents of the AAH usually lambast the scientific "establishment" for being conservative.

There are several points in Fred's most recent reply that also raise interesting questions, but I'm not going to respond here.

LBird
Central questions?

Demogorgon wrote:

To be fair, it is probably my fault that the thread was derailed. What was meant to be a minor aside ended up turning into a central question.

Demo, thanks for your comradely concession. My response to your post was simply to ensure that Marx's method was taken into account, when discussing 'Blood Relations', which is 'a central question'. In effect, I was pre-empting Fred's post:
Fred wrote:
He just questioned everything and everybody in an effort to expose their basic assumptions specially those implicitly held.
It's the 'implicit basic assumptions' of those academics that I was wanting to expose, and show how they contribute to the creation of their 'evidence'.
Demo wrote:
I was simply bemused by the apparent reversal of the usual situation: proponents of the AAH usually lambast the scientific "establishment" for being conservative.
Surely all we Marxists should be 'lambasting' the bourgeois 'implicit basic assumptions' embedded in nearly all academic texts? After all, most academics don't even pretend to be Communists.

Demo wrote:
There are several points in Fred's most recent reply that also raise interesting questions, but I'm not going to respond here.

I agree about Fred's comments, and I hope that you do reply, somewhere.

As for me, I've already said that I won't comment any further about the thread itself. I just hope baboon takes on board some of the issues discussed here.

Demogorgon
New Thread

I've created a new thread, "Marx, Socrates, Authority and Critique", and an opening text for those interested.

baboon
more on blood relations and the AAT

One of my objections to Chris Knight's book "Blood Relations" is that he uses selective "evidence" to support his particular menstruating-culture-revolution position while ignoring or deliberately downplaying any evidence that would tend to contradict his theory. For example, he mentions the advances of ancient homo but does only that - mentions them then passes quickly on. On the other hand, he fully references the likes of the social-Darwinist leaning Lewis Binford in order to paint a picture of ancient homo as an aggressive, scavenging brute - a lie invented by the bourgeoisie - in order to support his theory of a woman's revolution sixty-thousand years ago.

Some time ago. in discussion on the above, Sven asked me if I thought that "culture" belonged to an early stage of mankind. I didn't answer the question because I wasn't convinced and, it seemed to me, such a leap to take. But, defining "culture" as a general phenomenon and particularly in its relationship to "nature", I would say that it does belong to a very early stage of the development of mankind. I wouldn't like to put a date on it but would say certainly over a million years before the use of controlled fire which, in our present understanding, was evidenced around a million years ago.

Once we came out of the trees with no turning back, there is only one possible way that the puny species of homo could have survived and that was through solidarity, cooperation and courage. These are all elements of the animal kingdom and these instincts have been passed onto homo through inheritance. But with the latter there is a profound change as these elements reach levels never before seen in any species immediately opening the way for what Alfred Russell Wallace called "a check on natural selection". Given the pressing nature of its need and the subsequent survival of the species, this must have been a relatively sudden development at a much reduced time scale very early on. The solidarity, cooperation and courage of early homo must have led to a "society" far deeper and more complex than that of any in the animal kingdom and even raises the question of morality and the development of mental capacities and choice in this same early society. An important part of this process was the development of the means of production - many animals, including some fish use tools, but, again, this is effected at a completely different level unseen in the animal kingdom. Overall, this position is opposed to that of the book "Blood Relations". Certainly developments from this pre-sapien basis wouldn't have been a linear process and would have involved, sideways movements, regressions, stagnations, catastrophes and dead-ends. We can see this in certain pre-sapien expressions in Africa where sudden, explosive technological advances have been made here and there only to be extinguished very soon and disappear quickly like once bright sparks. But overall, and with the growing coherence of mother-right, this society advanced right up into the dominance of homo sapiens and into the general analyses of Darwin and Wallace, Marx and Engels and the classifications of global matriarchal society in the works of Lewis Henry Morgan.

One of the positive aspects of this discussion for me is the strength of some of the evidence produced by supporters of the aquatic ape theory, particularly in the David Attenborough radio programme. In my opinion none of this evidence gives credence to the idea of an aquatic ape but some of it is much more profound than being restricted to the waterside. The evidence of sophisticated hunting techniques brought up in the programme in water two million years ago contradict some of the fundamentals of "Blood Relations" in that it clearly demonstrates that homo at this time wasn't a marauding, scavenging brute. This fits in with evidence that we already have from Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania of similarly sophisticated hunting techniques of large land animals, again, two million years ago. The Attenborough programme states that we could have only got enough DHA, essential for growth and brainpower, from aquatic creatures but this is contradicted by Chris Stringer from studies at Boxgrove six hundred thousand years ago and by the work of B. A. Carlson and J. D. Kingston (2007), who say that we could have got the same from terrestrial sources. At any rate, because we ate food from the water doesn't mean we lived in it to the point that it altered our bodies and defined our evolution. No more than eating bird's eggs meant that we flew in the sky. The main point is the sophistication of this very early development against the idea of an ignorant brute.

Another piece of evidence mentioned in the programme is the 500,000 year old engraved shell found in Java. The engraving is deliberate, a zig-zag geometric shape carved onto the shell. Attenborough puts this as proof that we were aquatic creatures but it proves nothing of the sort. What is does prove, again against the thesis in "Blood Relations", is that early man wasn't a numbskull. Elsewhere I have suggested that, with the symbolic Acheulean axe, "art" was expressed around half-a-million years ago. This find, along with a deliberately carved patterned motif on an elephant's tibia at Bilzingleben lakeside site in Germany some four hundred thousand years ago, again points to the antiquity of art and culture which can be added to the sophistication of hunting techniques and the development of tools.

Around six million years ago bipedal creatures emerged but there's evidence that the fingers of these creatures remained long and ape-like enabling our ancestors to get back up into the trees for an indeterminate period. By two-and-a-half million years ago, possibly by the greater use of tools, our fingers had shortened and more than compensated for the fact that we couldn't climb back up the trees so easily. This is where I'd put the beginnings of "culture" or rather, as  A. R. Wallace put it in his 1864 paper "The Origins of Human Races and the Antiquity of Man Deduced from the Theory of 'natural selection'" that pushed the publication of Darwin's "Descent": "Man has not only escaped 'natural selection' himself but he is actually able to take away some of that power from nature which, before his appearance, she universally exercised".
 

Alf
the role of the female....

In a study from the period of the 2nd International, Entwicklung und Vermehrung in Natur und Gesellschaft (Development and Reproduction in Nature and Society), a kind of ‘Anti-Malthus’ of Social Democracy, Kautsky examines the question of human reproduction. He points to the central role which the needs of sexual reproduction played in the first formulation of a specific human morality.

“This sensibility, until then a purely instinctive one, seems at first regarding sexuality to have gone over to the formulation of specific demands. From then on until today sexuality has remained the main domain of morality, and thus of immorality. There thus arises a new and mighty force in the field of reproduction, which is missing in the animal world: the moral demand to carry out reproduction in such a manner as to favour the raising of offspring. The adjustment and subordination of reproduction to this social interest is, when it comes down to it, the content of all moral values concerning sexual life”. (Kautsky P. 166, our translation). He adds that moral values “are most strongly felt by women. Firstly because their social sensibility is in any case stronger. Already in the animal world they above all form societies and hold them together, whereas the males are much more inclined towards isolation, individualism and ‘realisation of the personality’. But also because women are faced with greater demands in relation to reproduction and rearing of offspring. Both factors are intimately linked to each other.

I have not had time so far to go any further into Elaine Morgan’s theory and thus respond in depth to criticisms comrades have made which seem unsatisfactory and even dismissive – above all the idea that her ideas are no more than quackery. But I do think that the treatment of the question by David Attenborough – who, let’s recall, does have scientific qualifications in zoology – was rather serious and I think he did bring to light evidence from the ‘mainstream’ of science which tend to support Morgan’s hypothesis, such as the discovery that the ‘vernix’ which covers the human infant at birth and protects them in the womb is shared only by ocean-going mammals like seals.

However, I think that there is a more fundamental element in this discussion. Baboon’s initial post was aimed less at Elaine Morgan than at Chris Knight, whose view of the role of the female in the development of human culture Baboon has long disputed. And of course there are aspects of his approach which can and should be disputed. But I think that the quote from Kautsky above shows that it has always been part of the marxist tradition to insist, as Knight does, on the vanguard role played by the female in the development of human cooperation and morality; and it is no less part of this tradition to point to the existence of conflict and struggle between the sexes, even in primitive communism. Indeed, we can argue that primitive communism was always an arena of struggle against tendencies towards dominance, which are ‘naturally’ stronger in the male of the species. Christopher Boehm’s book Hierarchy in the Forest, which makes no mention of Chris Knight, provides a lot of evidence that the ‘communist’ aspect of primitive society is to a large extend dependent on the existence of ‘counter-dominance’ strategies which prevent particular groups or individuals (very often powerful males) from getting ‘above themselves’.

I think that the ‘woman question’ –which is being posed with extreme acuity today, with rape being generalised as a weapon of war, and the populist upsurge being in part a backlash against the perceived threat of ‘uppity’ women – was seriously underestimated by the renascent communist left in the 60s and 70s. Compelled to define itself against identity politics and the various ‘liberation’ movements of the day, it did not entirely overcome a certain economistic and workerist response – and workerism has always carried certain assumptions of male dominance. As a result we have a lot of work to do in order to restore the question of the relation between the sexes to its rightful place in marxist theory. 

mikail firtinaci
[This is about the last part

[This is about the last part of Alf's response so not immediately relevant to the topic - and I apologize for that]

Alf you are definitely right about workerism, it doesn't only have machoistic tendencies but also totally anti-intellectual and at times an excuse to ignore the horrible things working class people also did in the history; Noske, Scheidemann are cases in point. The working class background is never a safeguard for single individuals to resist against patriarchy or other counter-revolutionary influences.

However, I still think that feminism is totally counter-revolutionary and it was not a mistake to reject identity politics in the past, as it is not a mistake today. Feminism can be said to revive in 1960s and 70s specifically because this was the period when post-war economic boom was coming to an end. Traditional working-class families, and hence established patriarchy, with single (usually male) wage earners also entered into a crisis. Women began working in massive numbers and housework became a huge second burden. But most feminists confused rather than clarified the causes of this gendered exploitation. Working men were not the beneficiaries of women's exploitation, it was the capitalists as a collective class, exploiting proletarian women by forcing working class into an isolated culture of asocial housework.

Today, many white working class men in the west, who traditionally worked in industrial sectors that are lost now, are left aside like trash (in fact they are literally called as "white trash" in the US by many intersectionalist, identity politics type leftists). Leftists glorify this as if this is the end of racism, sexism and whatever horrible sins white workers they identify with. Nevertheless working class women are still paying the highest price for the ongoing dissolution of traditional working class families, since for example uneducated white working class women are living in deep poverty and they constitute the poorest and unhealthiest segment of the american society. 

On the other hand, many professional middle class women truly reaped the benefits of official feminism and rose to administrative posts in the state and corporate world, in some cases joining the ruling class. Truly, in one way Hillary Clinton represents them. Misogyny is of course a huge problem today. But it is not something working class people produced and they are the least to blame for it. Rapist and sexist people like donald trump do not represent the working class and we should be clear about that. And I think the Kautsky quote is excellent and very interesting, but I tend to see the ignorant disgusting rapism openly circulating around everywhere today as an expression of lumpenisation of the ruling classes and its cultural/moral decline. Contrary to that working class is more cultured and educated then it ever was in its history. We are more than ready to rule this society but we lack the spiritual conviction to do that. 

 

Alf
identity politics

I certainly agree that we were right to reject identity politics, including its feminist variant. But our critique of these politics did not go deep enough and the task of developing it was neglected for a long time.  

baboon
I greatly admire Kautsky's

I greatly admire Kautsky's work in the field of prehistory and I think that, concretely, it is the proponents of Chris Knight's views and the aqautic ape theory that either ignore or don't understand the role of mother-right and sexual selection in history.

We have masses of evidence since Kautsky wrote the words quoted above and the overwhelming weight of it, virtually all of it, and particularly in relation to Neanderthals, contradicts his ideas about early man's (I mean the male of the species) "isolation, individualism and the realisation of the personality". In the absence of the subsequent evidence, which smashed this view to pieces, Kautsky defaulted to the bourgeois position. That's nothing to be ashamed of and Marx made a similar mistake in relation to the work of Darwin.

There's no such excuse for Chris Knight though; given the facilities, the evidence available and the time at his disposal, Knight chose to put a hypothesis forward first of all and then ignore the evidence against it, continue to use discredited positions and cherry-picked the "evidence" in order to support it in "Blood Relations". That sort of methodology is also apparant in supporters of the Aquatic Ape Theory.

Over the last twenty years or so, further swathes of evidence, from Neanderthals, and even earlier species, that culture and society existed in contradiction to the bourgeois view of the "male brute", dog eat dog and the social darwinian tendencies of Chris Knight. And it is striking that much of this research, evidence and analysis has been spearheaded by a wave of young female paleontologists who have rejected the social darwinism of the bourgeoisie (indeed, done a great deal to discredit it) and the false alternative of feminism, i.e., confronted both while strengthening our understanding of the real prehistory of humanity (see, for example the bibliography on the "Contribution to prehistory" on this site) where there were clear developments of society in which the male of the species played a part under mother-right.

Not only do Blood Relations and the AAT share, in my opinion, a very dubious methodology, it is a feature of supporters of both theories that criticism or evidence against these theories are often ignored or characterised as "anti-women". For my part, I support Darwin's position on the role of woman in prehistory and the primacy of sexual selection, something which the main proponents of both hypotheses implictly and explicitly reject.

I think that David Attenborough has sound scientific credentials that are quite solid in relation to the animal kingdom. He has also done a great job in popularising science without being condescending. HIs speaking tour on A. R. Wallace was a credit to him. But he's wrong on the Aquatic Ape Theory in my opinion.

He has raised the interesting question of the "vermix caseosa", a covering of the infant which is only shared by some aquatic species such as the seal. I don't know much about this but the vermix appears to contain a lot more benefits to the infant and mother in humans than it does in seals. At any rate no one is disputing the fact that fish were our ancestors and today we bear and have adapted and modified, to our great advantage, many elements coming from the world of the sea. The question is whether we came out of the sea nearly 400 million years ago or whether, some six million years ago, we went back into the sea for about a million or so years before coming out again. You can't say with a hundred per cent certaintly that the latter didn't happen but it is very, very unlikely and the overwhelming amount of evidence points against it.

I suspect that our real ancestors were the ones standing on the shore watching, with growing incredulity, these creatures thrashing about in the waters. And, while doing so, we stood on legs and feet that have been perfectly adapted for running and walking on solid ground.

 

jk1921
Political Correctness

mikail firtinaci wrote:

[This is about the last part of Alf's response so not immediately relevant to the topic - and I apologize for that]

Alf you are definitely right about workerism, it doesn't only have machoistic tendencies but also totally anti-intellectual and at times an excuse to ignore the horrible things working class people also did in the history; Noske, Scheidemann are cases in point. The working class background is never a safeguard for single individuals to resist against patriarchy or other counter-revolutionary influences.

However, I still think that feminism is totally counter-revolutionary and it was not a mistake to reject identity politics in the past, as it is not a mistake today. Feminism can be said to revive in 1960s and 70s specifically because this was the period when post-war economic boom was coming to an end. Traditional working-class families, and hence established patriarchy, with single (usually male) wage earners also entered into a crisis. Women began working in massive numbers and housework became a huge second burden. But most feminists confused rather than clarified the causes of this gendered exploitation. Working men were not the beneficiaries of women's exploitation, it was the capitalists as a collective class, exploiting proletarian women by forcing working class into an isolated culture of asocial housework.

Today, many white working class men in the west, who traditionally worked in industrial sectors that are lost now, are left aside like trash (in fact they are literally called as "white trash" in the US by many intersectionalist, identity politics type leftists). Leftists glorify this as if this is the end of racism, sexism and whatever horrible sins white workers they identify with. Nevertheless working class women are still paying the highest price for the ongoing dissolution of traditional working class families, since for example uneducated white working class women are living in deep poverty and they constitute the poorest and unhealthiest segment of the american society. 

On the other hand, many professional middle class women truly reaped the benefits of official feminism and rose to administrative posts in the state and corporate world, in some cases joining the ruling class. Truly, in one way Hillary Clinton represents them. Misogyny is of course a huge problem today. But it is not something working class people produced and they are the least to blame for it. Rapist and sexist people like donald trump do not represent the working class and we should be clear about that. And I think the Kautsky quote is excellent and very interesting, but I tend to see the ignorant disgusting rapism openly circulating around everywhere today as an expression of lumpenisation of the ruling classes and its cultural/moral decline. Contrary to that working class is more cultured and educated then it ever was in its history. We are more than ready to rule this society but we lack the spiritual conviction to do that. 

 

 

Important observations, I think part of the appeal of the critique of "political correctness" to the working class is in fact response to a certain material change in working conditions--the danger of losing one's job or suffering some other punishment for saying something "wrong." Its true that behind the critique of political correctness often lies racist, sexist and xenophobic sentiment--but it is also true that behind campaigns around "sensistivity," etc. lies the power of the state and other forms of discipline waiting to pounce. One can see the same thing in the campaigns against "rape culture." While there is undoubtedly a powerful critique of structures of gendered power behind this--there is also the tendency to carry that forward into a full-on embrace of the repressive power of the state to punish individual transgressors with the boundary of what consitutes an offense pushed toward absurdity and an accompanying reversal of the assumption of innocence against the accused (something playing out with full irony in the current Presidential campaign). This of course is not to downplay the continuing problems or minimalize sexual violence, but to reject the idea that the solution to these problems lies in a strengthening of the state apparatus of repression against individuals. One could say the same thing about the campaigns against police violence--where the goal is often to bring forward a prosecution of individual cops, perhaps as a way of gaining recognition from the state, as if that is an effective solution to the problem.

d-man
ref. to Kautsky

baboon wrote:

I greatly admire Kautsky's work in the field of prehistory and I think that, concretely, it is the proponents of Chris Knight's views and the aqautic ape theory that either ignore or don't understand the role of mother-right and sexual selection in history.

For what it is worth, some chapters in Kautsky's The Materialist Conception of History (Yale U. P., 1988. pdf 12Mb) expound his general view a bit more on prehistory and the sex relations. That English edition is very abridged though (one-third of the German). 

Alf
I think that the question

I think that the question posed by Kautsky - the key role played by the female of the species in the development of human morality - remains to be investigated as a serious hypothesis. That does not mean that all conflicts in primitive communism can be reduced those between tender females and an undifferenteated collection of "male brutes". In Knight's view, for example, the female coalition that leads the human revolution is also an alliance between sisters and brothers: the idea is that the women were able to win a section of the males over to their more cooperative way of organising. The idea of a clash of needs between males and females  - and which thus needs to be resolved through solidarity and cooperation - is certainly present in Engels's view that the original form of 'class struggle' takes place between the sexes inside a primitive communist society.