Evolution and primitive communism - a reply

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jk1921
Evolution and primitive communism - a reply
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Evolution and primitive communism - a reply. The discussion was initiated by jk1921.
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jk1921
I am far from an expert on

I am far from an expert on this stuff, but I remain not a big fan of "selfish-gene" theory. It may hold something like the scientific consenus at the moment, but we know from the history of evolutionary theory that the consensus has often been transcended. My only point is that there are alternatives in evolutionary theory, in particular the work of Stephen Jay Gould, but these seem to be ignored in the focus on Knight's work--who clearly situates himself in the gene-centered view of evolution, following Dawkins. I think it would be beneficial to the rest of us if the comrades who have an interest in this subject could broaden the terrain a little bit in their investigations.

Fred
glorious evolutionary accidents?

Hello jk and thanks for the link to Stephen Jay Gould.  He is eminently quotable, and I copy three which I have run together. 

Quote:
“We have become, by the power of a glorious evolutionary accident called intelligence, the stewards of life's continuity on earth. We did not ask for this role, but we cannot abjure it... I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops... We are the offspring of history, and must establish our own paths in this most diverse and interesting of conceivable universes—one indifferent to our suffering, and therefore offering us maximum freedom to thrive, or to fail, in our own chosen way.”
 

 

But do we have to take it for granted  that "intelligence" is "a glorious evolutionary accident"?  What about "intelligent design"? (Oops that's done it! ) And I don't mean god of course, but merely wonder if somehow it isn't possible that we were involved ourselves, through our own communal efforts in our struggle for existence, in creating (designing) our own intelligence.  Because consider, if our further emancipation as a race (gens?) depends absolutely on our  own efforts, as Marxists claim,  then is it not possible that our first  understandings of and initiation into "intelligence" and the beginnings of a crude self-awareness, were also the products of our own activities?  After all, as Gould says "we must establish OUR OWN  paths"  and "thrive or fall  in OUR OWN CHOSEN way". 

And finally.  Isn't it a beautiful thing  that a scientist of Gould's renown (though by no means approved of everywhere)  should be capable of seeing that people equivalent in talent to Einstein  could "have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops"? 

jk1921
Now, I remember the critique

Now, I remember the critique of the "sex strike." Knight sees the sex strike as the emergene of solidarity and therefore society, but in order for a sex strike to take place, there must have been a pre-existing level of solidarity and thus society otherwise collective action would be impossible. (Or something to this effect).

So Fred, I wonder if you are not making the same error as Knight in asking if intelligence could have existed prior to intelligence? I think that evolution, as a moment in the self-organization of matter, produces intelligence at some point as a step in this process, but to suggest that somehow we engineered our own intelligence seems like a tautology. Of course, I wonder just how intelligent we really are at this point in evolution? The evolutionary psychologists are now talking about "emotional intelligence." Supposedly, really smart people can have very low levels of emotional intelligence and make really bad decisions because of it.

Fred
So jk, do you think that on

So jk, do you think that on Tuesday we weren't intelligent at all, and then on Wednesday we woke up and found we were?!  Surely intelligence would emerge and develop gradually?  Like being able to run.  I suppose we've always been able to run, especially with all those hungry animals chasing us round the forests and plains, looking for a snack, but we keep getting better at running don't we?  Look at Usain Bolt!  Not so long  ago the 4 minute mile was seen as a marvel.  Now athletes routinely run it and do better.  So should we see "running" as an "accident"?  Yes we could run as part of being alive.  But we improved on it.  Yes, we had intelligence as part of being alive, but we improved on it.  How do we know that our long-ago forbears didn't go in for some kind of education of the young and thus contribute  to the growth and leading out of intelligence?  

 

And as to emotional intelligence, yes I'm all for it. The bourgeoisie have triumphantly separated  what they call the cognitive from the emotional - look at Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives.  Dickens dealt with this in Hard Times where the unified intelligence of the circus people is juxtaposed to the merely cognitive utilitarian and capitalistic approach to life personified in Mr. Gradgrind.  The famous discussion about what is a horse, in chapter one of Hard Times, deals with the issue dramatically and concisely as only a very talented writer-artist can do.  If the bourgeoisie hadn't successfully tried to suppress all  the emotional side of life in favour of the  supposedly more  objective and scientific approach  to existence  - ie the making of money - then they wouldn't now find it so easy to go in for all the war-horror, savage destruction of human life and the environment and  the unbelievable inhuman nastiness of chemical warfare - which they more or less just take in their stride, the only issue being that of questioning the usefulness of allotting blame to someone or not - such as we see in Syria.  But its  a good thing for the bourgeoisie that they are more or less emotionally dead, else how could they bear to live in the world they have brought about? The trouble is, that as the dominant ruling class, they have more or less imposed their emotional death  on the rest of us. 

 

jk1921
No Fred, I agree intelligence

No Fred, I agree intelligence emerged gradually. I thought what you were arguing was that it was in someway "self-produced," which would seem to me to require an already existing intelligence. I suppose its similar to how class consciousness develops, gradually--at first not conscious of itself as such, but then in fits and bursts. "Punctuated equilibrium" is what Jay Gould called it.

Fred
Is "intelligence "

Is "intelligence " self-produced?  Gould says "it was a glorious evolutionary accident".  Perhaps by intelligence he means  the brain itself.  The human brain was a glorious evolutionary accident.  So we might think that intelligence is not a self-production, and is out of our hands so to speak.  Isn't this what the bourgeoisie think?  The intelligence you've got is that which you were endowed with at birth.  Its a ready-made package and a measurable commodity.  On the basis of tests you can be allocated an IQ and that's it.  You may never use your intelligence, but there it is, like it or not.  (As an aside, we should note that for the bourgeoisie INTELLIGENCE nowadays refers mostly to their vast spy and snooping systems, which, in their insecurity, give them a hold on power, or so they think.) 

Perhaps for us the working class, rather than talk about intelligence we should talk about "the ability to think" and how this, in as much as it isn't a private individual matter but springs from communal interaction, IS capable of our own production and an on-going growth.  

For the bourgeoisie this idea of, to use their word, " intelligence" as a communal product is anathema; despite the fact that their efforts in science depend on it.  For them thought has become the private property of individuals.  We are all locked inside our own heads as in so many personal prisons. And although they may use group thinking - brainstorming as they call it - from time to time, it is the power of individual "great thinkers" who drive evolution, not thought as the product of social groups. And we have particularly to notice here, thought and its conceivable transmutation into class consciousness, as the production of the working class itself, in the shape of Marxism  

 

So I don't believe it is correct to suppose we are not responsible for our own mental development,   and the emergence of Marxism as a powerful evolutionary technology of absolute necessity  is surely proof of this. In addition, why should we not see the point we have now reached as evolving humanity as having begun some 3 million years ago, and as being the product, every inch of the long journey, of our own evolutionary  struggles to achieve consciousness?  

 

 

 

Alf
solidarity evolves too

If intelligence both evolved over a long period and went through sudden leaps ("punctuated equilibrium"), the same can surely be applied to solidarity? In other words, jk's objection to the 'sex strike' model  - i.e that "in order for a sex strike to take place, there must have been a pre-existing level of solidarity" only holds if we see female coalitions emerging out of nowhere. In fact, a number of adherents of the theory have also looked into the way such coalitons against male dominance operate in the world of primates. In other words, the notion of slow accumulation and sudden leaps can also be applied to this problem as well (and obviously the two are closely linked). 

jk1921
Knight?

Alf wrote:

If intelligence both evolved over a long period and went through sudden leaps ("punctuated equilibrium"), the same can surely be applied to solidarity? In other words, jk's objection to the 'sex strike' model  - i.e that "in order for a sex strike to take place, there must have been a pre-existing level of solidarity" only holds if we see female coalitions emerging out of nowhere. In fact, a number of adherents of the theory have also looked into the way such coalitons against male dominance operate in the world of primates. In other words, the notion of slow accumulation and sudden leaps can also be applied to this problem as well (and obviously the two are closely linked). 

But isn't Knight the one that sees the "sex strike" as the origin of society? I actually agree with the way you lay it out here.

 

On another note: I read something the other day about a Christopher Knight being a proponent of the "Solutrean hypothesis" for the peopling of the Americas  (the idea that Europeans migrated across the Atlantic along the edge of the ice shelf during the last Ice Age). Is this the same Christopher Knight? I couldn't find any other reference.

A.Simpleton
Learning

And I am. I find similar agreements as other contributors. Especially when Fred writes;

So I don't believe it is correct to suppose we are not responsible for our own mental development,   and the emergence of Marxism as a powerful evolutionary technology of absolute necessity  is surely proof of this. In addition, why should we not see the point we have now reached as evolving humanity as having begun some 3 million years ago, and as being the product, every inch of the long journey, of our own evolutionary  struggles to achieve consciousness?  

I agree. In 'The German Ideology' Marx starts - with characterisic logic and sense - at the beginning. In the History : The Preconditions section...

1) ..the first premise of all human existence and, therefore, of all history, the premise, namely, that men must be in a position to live in order to be able to “make history.....'

then;

The first historical act is thus the production of the means to satisfy these needs, the production of material life itself. And indeed this is an historical act, a fundamental condition of all history, which today, as thousands of years ago, must daily and hourly be fulfilled merely in order to sustain human life.'

2) ...The second point is that the satisfaction of the first need (the action of satisfying, and the instrument of satisfaction which has been acquired) leads to new needs; and this production of new needs is the first historical act.

3) ..The third circumstance which, from the very outset, enters into historical development, is that men, who daily remake their own life, begin to make other men, to propagate their kind: the relation between man and woman, parents and children, the family.

concluding with:

The production of life, both of one’s own in labour and of fresh life in procreation, now appears as a double relationship: on the one hand as a natural, on the other as a social relationship. By social we understand the co-operation of several individuals, no matter under what conditions, in what manner and to what end.

Fred's point affirms something fundamentally important. Marx's mental labour was the 'grandfather' of revealing that the 'division of labour' was itself 'only' a material and ideological expression of specific 'relations of production' . Particularly addressing the 'taken for granted' distinction between mental and physical labour: a bourgeois distinction.  'Thinking', 'intelligence' is mental labour that produces results satisfying (even if at the fourth attempt) 'needs' guiding new actions leading to new conditions which mental labour can rework .

The first historical act is thus the production of the means to satisfy these needs, the production of material life itself..... 

I don't see how such an 'act' could possibly be described as nay reduced to - 'just physical labour' with no mental labour = thinking/understanding involved? Untenable: unless, as Fred says, seen (wittingly or unwittingly) through mystified,estranged, 'bourgeois-tinted' spectacles. In the same paragraphs Marx sarcastically lambasts 'the great wisdom of German Ideology' which contrives the disconnected category 'prehistoric era' in which to place any challenge it can't answer. He emphasises the continuity ;

.... an historical act, a fundamental condition of all history, which today, as thousands of years ago, .....

Palaeolithic Cave art which can profoundly strike us to this day is there for all to see: you can't eat it: you can't build shelter with it: it satisfies a non-physical need : mental/spiritual/artistic - call it what you will.

Knight's book reveals some interesting things about early hominid society but ....I wrote to a comrade offline discussing the signifigance he gives to the male status symbol Oldowan/Acheulean hand axe and the social extrapolations as I studied multitudes of these Palaeolithic utensils (they are by no means all 'weapons')

All those different uses for differently adjusted flakes, some really beautiful to our eyes a million years later: skinning, digging soil, veg chopping? ... groups of Palaeolithic humans however modest ... mothers , the young of either sex ... sometimes more but surely sometimes a much less dangerous environment .. were the women/young 'banned' from seeing a flint knapped or doing it themselves creating slightly improved personal versions ? by the rival alpha males sexually flaunting their big 'Rolex' Acheulean choppers (sorry couldn't resist it) .. doesn't sound adequate.

(me airing thoughts)

And:

Although one could 'technically' be accused of the same thing by exploring creativity, personality, awakening ,I had similar feelings (gosh are humans allowed to have 'feelings' about their forefathers!) that a 'back-projection' of the negative returned as a tone.{in Knight's book AS) The word 'insult' captures it . It is almost as if, with great scholarship indeed, he is determined to avoid being called a sissy {@~ or chauvinist. Just because I might muse on the possibilty that even one palaeolithic human group might have 'felt' happy for even one day in 200 millenia, doesn't mean I am a signed up 'golden ageist'.

AS

 

 

Fred
Thank you AS for your

Thank you AS for your provision of appropriate quotes from The German Ideology, and your support too. Fred.