The "Descent of Man" came out 150 years ago

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baboon
The "Descent of Man" came out 150 years ago
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I want to welcome this text from the ICC, its strength and defence of Darwin's theory against Social Darwinism and the reproduction of the work of Patrick Tort in defence of Darwin and his revolutionary theory.

The text characterises "civilisation" as the period that emerges with the existence of homo, production and society. In this case then the period starts with some of our earliest hominin ancestors whose productive and organisational capacities and their distinct development over time are a fact of the archaeological record. It's one way of looking at civilisation but I prefer the "standard" model that sees it emerge from the long-standing stage of primitive communism. But this approach has problems because "civilisation" wasn't a single, linear development. If we say that civilisation represents an expression of conglomerates of people, their production, organisation and eventually a state then it becomes an interesting aspect in itself. Contrary to what was thought by elements of the "scientific community" just a few decades ago, civilisation didn't come about as the result of a new "breed" of humanity that replaced the outmoded hunter-gatherers but the transformation of the latter which also transformed themselves, production and society. The twelve-thousand-year-old temple at Gobekli Tepe, along with other similar sites, is an expression of this development which, in accordance with the text, is an expression of both continuity and discontinuity in the development of society. Another clear fact about civilisation is that there wasn't a civilisation as such but numerous civilisations. Just like the developments of agriculture, cultivation and farming, civilisations appear separate, independent of each other in various parts of the world over a time scale of thousands of years. There is no linear development connecting them and there are vast differences between them; some could be called "progressive" while others are authoritarian but all of them tend to advance production and the development of the state. What was universal about the development of civilisations was that they all, or very largely all, emerged from the ancient gentes, the organic organisation of society through kinship ties so well described by Lewis Henry Morgan in his "Ancient Society...". Again this shows the continuity and discontinuity of the development of humanity and is entirely in line with Darwin's theory as expounded in the article.

In the recent frenzy to criticise "old, white men", Darwin has come in for some stick over his misogynist and racist views particularly from the right-wing British mainstream press that can out-woke the wokest in pursuit of a denigration of materialism and defence of bourgeois society. But there is no doubt that in "The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex" there are some very jarring quotes that suggest a superiority of males over women and overtly racist comments. From memory, these amounted to about a page-and-a-half of the book and are "jarring" because they go completely against the sense of the whole work but taken as a whole could give a completely false impression of his theory (which has a long history of falsification by the bourgeoisie). The basis of this theory is that through human action society geared itself to co-operation, solidarity and the protection of the weak, escaping from natural selection and strengthening a forward dynamic. The disparaging comments by Darwin in "The Descent"appear like involuntary tics, a sort of literary Tourettes that are difficult to explain. Darwin's almost continuous correspondence with Alfred Russel Wallace at the time show Darwin calm, personable and lucid, discussing the most detailed developments around sexual selection (amongst other elements of his work and beyond) and the primary role of the female in the process of reproduction. There is nothing in this correspondence to suggest racist or sexist views and he discussed these issues long and hard with Wallace. For a man in his position Darwin showed great courage because he was under enormous pressure, not least from the bourgeois milieu that he inhabited, which, particularly through his vision of humanity, he saw in all its brutality, rank hypocrisy, fakery and incestuousness.

The article defends the idea of continuity/discontinuity in general and this applies specifically to the links between "The Origin of Species" and "The Descent..." As the article says against those suggest a chasm, there is no "break" between the two and one leads into the other expressing both continuity and discontinuity. In fact within "The Origins..." this dialectical approach is also evident in "descent with modification" which, at the same time, expresses both a stability and change. This equally applies to "The Descent..." which also shows the marxist understanding of the progression of humanity through the overturning of natural selection.

Patrick Tort's work on Darwin and the real basis of his theories and their connection is extremely welcome but any text on Darwin that doesn't mention Alfred Russel Wallace is going to be lacking. They both hit on the idea of "The Origins..." together but independently with Darwin writing to Wallace that "it is your theory and yours alone". But like Marx and Engels this was a political double-act and through correspondence they continually discussed and refined their positions with some but few disagreements. Patrick Tort's "reverse effect" of evolution is exactly what Alfred Russel Wallace wrote about in his 1864 paper "The Origins of Human Races and the Antiquity of Man Deduced from the Theory of 'Natural Selection'" through which, for the second time in this "Copernican revolution", Wallace provoked Darwin into decisive action. Wallace didn't call it the "reverse effect" but the "escape" from natural selection where the positive aspects of humanity's development and action "were subjects of natural selection" on which "it would most powerfully act". He continues saying that man has ceased to be "influenced by the great laws which irresistibly modifies all other organic beings" and "Man has not only escaped 'natural selection' himself but he is actually able to take some of the power from nature which, before his appearance, she universally exercised".  This in fact is Patrick Tort's "reverse effect" one hundred and fifty years ago. Any paper on Darwin has to include the contribution of Alfred Russel Wallace to his two great works and to materialism in general.

On the other hand, against the disregard for Wallace's contribution shown in the article, there are those want to give Wallace all the credit even up to the point of saying that Darwin stole his work. One such effort comes from a TV documentary by Bill Bailey, apparently and appropriately a comedian, which insisted on the fracture between the two men with Darwin eventually stealing Wallace's work. The basis for this was the mystery about the how and when Darwin received a letter from Wallace on the question of natural selection, saying that Darwin stole his ideas. This "mystery" was solved a while ago ("Science Daily", 8.3.2012, "The Darwin-Wallace mystery solved: Darwin vindicated from accusations of deceit") but others around Darwin might have been involved. At any rate, five minutes of reading Darwin's and Wallace's correspondence shows how close the two men were: brothers, comrades, friends and scientists. You can't have one without the other.