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Friday, November 04, 2005

On The Origin of Speciousness

Today, 'Darwinism' and 'Darwinian' have entered into our common vocabulary. To read the Origin is therefore to grasp an opportunity to estimate how closely that common understanding relates to its supposed source. - Jeff Wallace [from his introduction to "The Origin of Species", Darwin, Charles. (1998, Wordsworth Editions Ltd. Ware, Hertforshire UK) ISBN 1 85326 780 5 itself a reprint of the 1st (Nov 1859) edition of "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life." Darwin, Charles]
So, although i had not yet read Wallace's invitation, when i bought the book, i had already decided to do exactly that. It has been something of a wade, not because the book or it's scientific information is at all difficult, but rather that there is much exhaustive detail in expounding Darwin's positions that is nothing new to anyone who has been taught elementary biology and while this may be of interest to historians or biologists, i am neither.

OK, so Survival of the fittest, right? No. That phrase was first used by Herbert Spencer in his 1851 work Social Statics, relating to free market economics. Only in his fifth edition of The Origin, did Darwin himself use the phrase, which had become popular and indeed popularly synonymous with his own descriptive phrase Natural Selection. As the linked Wikipedia article further states, however: At this time the word "fittest" would have primarily meant "most suitable" or "most appropriate" rather than "in the best physical shape". In fact, much of the revision and clarification Darwin added to his work, in later editions, was precisely to clarify his ideas in strictly evolutionary biological terms, both to answer his critics and distance himself from often Malthusian influenced social theories.

Of more importance to the understanding of the 'common vocabulary' use of 'Darwinian' ideas however, is the fallacious idea of 'Survival'. What Darwin was saying is:
that natural selection is continually trying to economise in every part of the organisation. If under changed conditions of life a structure before useful becomes less useful, any diminution, however slight, in its development, will be seized on by natural selection, for it will profit the individual not to have its nutriment wasted in building up an useless structure (114).
The 'organisation', a plant or creature, itself will not survive, obviously, unless we assume it to be immortal, whether or not it has useful or useless structures upon which to expend its nutriment, but rather, the 'individual' that may or may not profit from a genetic alteration will be the former's offspring. What will 'survive', in the sense of being genetically perpetuated, is any advantageous adaptation, because those individuals which exhibit it will tend to leave more living offspring, which will do the same, compared to those without, or with an expensive adaptation which no longer functions advantageously.

Debate continues over whether the phrase 'survival of the fittest' is a tautlogy, the point being that those that survive are, de facto, the most aptly suited to their environment and thus 'survival of the survivors' has nothing useful to teach us. Well, in a strictly biological sense this may be true, assuming that we already accept the truth of evolution, and, in fairness, those who promulgate Creationism as a 'theory' not only cannot be taught, but, sadly, cannot be killed in sufficient numbers or fast enough for my peace of mind. However, a deeper understanding of the idea promts us to realise that should an environment quickly change, which is quite common on Earth, then those 'survivors' may find themselves at a sudden massive disadvantage, in comparison to a more generalised 'organisation'.

So, what about 'Darwinian' ideas in sociology or economics? Since we are talking about entities which can and generally do, in fact, survive the death of individuals, surely it is tautologous? Well, i would argue not. In actuality, it is a fundamentally flawed concept because it assumes that any human group, such as a nation state, social class or business company exists separately from the entire human race. Eh? What am i saying, mate? Yes, you read me correctly: The Entire Human Race. Every individual supplements a variety of voluntary or involuntary social groupings, the interests of which can seemingly compete, and which also accomodate others who themselves may well belong to yet other groups and so on. Thus the fallacy is demonstrated, because how can an organisation prosper which is in competion with itself? The biological simile is obvious: when a structure within a body continues to grow at the expense of other constituent parts it is a cancer.

Yet this is exactly the situation we are faced with in modern socio-economic practices, much of which is based on exactly this misconception and misrepresentation of 'fitness', whilst justified by spurious claims to be 'only natural'. I'm not interested in any questions of supposed morality, because it is my belief that anyone who claims to know what is right and/or wrong in this sphere has either never been faced with a tough decision or has an underdeveloped sense of empathy (usually both), but rather in facts and what logical conclusions can be drawn from them.

Firstly, it is a fact that the management of 'leaner, fitter' economics using theories based on supply and demand market forces has not prevented downturns and depression. Indeed The Great Depression of the 20th century was crippling to the world's economy at the time which did not see real recovery until governments were forced to intervene, both directly and in response to war. How is this possible when the world population was steadily rising? More population should equal more demand, supporting more supply and thus generating more business. Ah well... but.. it's more complicated than that... Is it?

Secondly, to a scientist, a theory which has any 'ah buts' is bºllºx. It may be used, with appropriate caution, in matters of short term engineering, until something better is discovered, but certainly not as the basis for fundamental decisions about the nature of the subject at hand. In fact, many observers, including the influential Kondratiev, have believed that global slumps are actually a product of capitalism. Well, surely we can say that a company which has a minimum of manpower with a maximised productivity will do much better in the market place than one which has neither of these characteristics? Possibly, in the short term. It will depend how much that company's activities damage the interests of other social groups.

Thirdly, it is a fact that only a person with a mental disorder measures the value of their own life based on economic output alone (i would argue that you've got a problem if it comes into the equation at all). Now we get to the nub of the issue, which is: what is the function of commercial activity? It seems that a prevailing view would be that it is to provide the owners/shareholders with as much income as possible. This is where it comes into direct competition with the rest of human activity: in an arena of finite man hours of work, it is the current western model of business to convert as much of that global activity as possible into resources which can be used by a small group of beneficiaries. It is my contention that the actual function of commerce, in society, is to provide a living for its employees whilst making resources more widely available than they would otherwise be.

What we have now is like a peacock transplanted into a local park. A huge effort gone into producing a gaudy decoration which, in reality, makes the bird far more likely to become prey to a neighbourhood cat or dog than a more generalised bird such as a seagull. You don't believe there is an analagous predator waiting to do for us? What about disease, or terrorism? Still a better analogy, describing all humanity, would be something like a creature whose head has become so large that it requires the support of its limbs. Fine, and great for flights of imagination, whilst it is sitting around on its arse but fucked if it suddenly needed to swim. So, there we go, we can apply Darwin's theory in this area somewhat, only far from supporting the kind of reactionary politics it has traditionally been used to justify, we see that, much as the Abstractionist Artists like Mondrian of the early 20th century believed, this individual must die to make way for more aptly suited offspring.

Hang on! We're getting into Trotskyism here! Well, only in as much as the idea of a permanent revolution accords nicely with a theory of evolution, i.e. that in a changing environment the inhabitants' offspring must necessarily keep pace with their adaption to that environment or die out. Wait though, why does this dinosaur have to die? After all it's not actually a single creature but the conglomeration of many individuals, it can evolve and survive! No, it isn't like that at all, The World Trade Organisation is not the beast, merely the cancer on the beast. What has marked this particular body politic we share for the evolutionary list of also rans is the very nature of it: a shortsighted effort on behalf of its members to blindly foist the responsibility for policy onto any self serving individual who will take it up so that they, themselves, can then persue their own ends free from self reproach.

Fourthly, the trouble with any form of Communism is that it requires a level of trust in our fellow man which most of us are incapable of, having been raised in a dog-eat-dog, pseudo-Darwinian crucible. In order for individuals to work hard for the state they must first believe that they will reap the benefits, that their fellows will also work as hard as they and that nobody will take the piss by living it up off the sweat from their back. Hardly likely eh? No, the only hope we have is the abolition of government per se. You think not? Ask yourself this: how do you feel when somebody tells you what to do? Exactly. That is why government doesn't work, because people resent it. It has us by the short hairs though and will never relinquish power voluntarily: it must be undermined and poisoned from within. The beast must die! Only then can humanity evolve better structures.

Penultimately, a word about the even more ludicrous attempts by people to apply 'Darwinian' ideas to individuals. Look what happened to the 'fittest' of the 20th century, it's still going on: sacrificed on the altar of war. Oh yes, we can apply the theory of natural selection quite correctly here. Those who were most aptly suited to their environment did indeed prosper. Those men who were in a position to avoid having to fight, through societal position, age, or minor infirmity were veritably presented with better mating and/or business opportunities than they would have otherwise expected. In truth many did so well that they advanced their finances and thus status to the extent that, barring unforseen recklessness, their successors will never have to actually fight a war. Some seem to have gone further, realising that causing war will allow them to elevate themselves further and thus lending veracity to the aphorism: Scum always floats to the Top. I've started wondering if the fact that every 3rd person seems to be wearing glasses these days might have something to do with the lost generation of WW1 mostly having had good eyesight, because spex were not only beyond the means of most but deemed unacceptable for a soldier. Presumably, they had to be able to clearly see the machine gun fire, as it cut them in half, in the pre-dawn dimness.

Finally, what has this got to do with DLA's? We're a bunch who are not only disenfranchised, but can't be arsed to do anything about it, aren't we? Well, it comes down to another, and most pernicious, codswalloping of Darwin's ideas, namely when they are used as justification for downtredding the poor and those whose skin isn't white. You'll have heard it: they're just like that naturally, etc.
Until the philosophy which hold one race
Superior and another inferior
Is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned
Everywhere is war, me say war

That until there are no longer first class
And second class citizens of any nation
Until the colour of a man's skin
Is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes
Me say war
- Bob Marley RIP [from the song "War"]

Follow title link for full song lyrics, or Go!

Personally, i'm sick of it and even more sickened by the arms trade/oil conglomerates/stock market in general making me a party to it without my consent. Fuck off the lot of you, you disgusting, cowardly, profiteering shitbags. And die.

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Blogger H5N1 said...

Mate, I'm not fucking reading this until tomorrow night - I've just got back from the pub, can't be dealing with all this 'intelligent' stuff. It keeps on reminding me I've got a dissertation to write...

Can't you just write about what you've been watching on TV or something, like the rest of the 'right-thinking' respectable world....


6/11/05 00:36  
Blogger edjog said...

s'pose i could, if i watched the tv much. writing on here is great for distracting me from what i should be doing, which is writing my novel, however. i've hit a difficult patch that seems to keep needing revision, in the light of what comes before and after, i mean, i know what needs to happen in this chapter but it's also laying the foundations for what's going to happen in the rest of the story whilst building a distorted moral framework within which the protagonists will protagon! i've thought about doing it differently, but i don't think the end results would be as enjoyable to read as combining expositionary elements with drama. in fairness, i haven't touched it for a while, i should just crack on... like you dude!

6/11/05 01:08  
Blogger H5N1 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6/11/05 01:58  
Blogger H5N1 said...

Yeah, yeah! Just got an extension until April for the dissertation - one hell of a weight off my back, finally getting on with work, brain is working again just about!

How's third year going now and what are you writing the novel about?

6/11/05 02:00  
Blogger edjog said...

Dunno if i'm gonna be able to take up my 3rd year yet. Think i've got to go back next Sept if so, not sure if i'm mentally stable enough yet. I'm gonna wait and see.
Novel's about sex, drugs and madness, basically. Write about what you know, they say.
S'good news about your extension. I'm hoping to get this book done and sold by spring so I could afford to commute instead of moving back there. Easier on the head i reckon. Rather apt daily word from Urban Dictionary eh? noids ~ paranoia ~ like that! well, not 'the fear' but the def, yanah. Actually, i wonder if 'the fear' is in UD? gonna put it in if not!

6/11/05 16:47  
Blogger edjog said...

cool, it's there already. UD rox.

6/11/05 16:52  

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