Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Shaw and Sociobiology

  In his Preface to Back to Methuselah, playwright Bernard Shaw outlines his understanding of the evolution of Darwinism. One facet of Darwinism that Shaw seems to take particular offence at is that it, in Butler's words, "banished mind from the universe." What begins simply enough as a butterfly springing "into the air to avoid the pounce of a lizard" ends by the reduction of all human behavior to the mere expression of inherited evolutionary traits, with an explanation of everything we say or do to an attempt to acquire the fundamentals of evolution: food and sex. Your favorite color, what music you like, or who you vote for are, according to Darwinism, simply genetically inherited variations in a competition with other variations for ultimate reproductive supremacy. It was undoubtedly rash theories such as these caused Darwin to part ways with Darwinism.

  Rather than dying out, this offshoot from the trunk of Darwinism has continued to grow finding its fullest expression in the Sociobiology of today. Writers such as E. O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins have continued the work of eradicating mind from the universe with a vigor that T.H. Huxley would admire and have, in recent years, set their sights on human morality and altruism. In the light of Sociobiology, human beings become essentially selfish creatures whose every action is done with an eye on increasing their chances of obtaining food, sex, and continued survival. Morality, for Wilson and Dawkins becomes a thin veneer that disguises true human nature and altruism merely an elaborate attempt at manipulation: a fireman doesn't risk his life entering a burning building to save people, but rather, because by saying he did he increases his chances of picking up chicks.

  The sociobiologists of today go to great lengths to produce experimental evidence that will prove their firmly held conclusions about humanity. This often involves citing instances of shipwreck or plane crash survivors who devour one another in order to survive, which is seen as providing a perfect example of "man in a state of nature." I do believe like the sociobiologist that much of human behavior can be explained in terms of evolution. However, in their haste to prove Sociobiology as a valid scientific theory: one that holds true in all places at all times seems premature, as I think Darwin himself would agree. In the Descent of Man Darwin refers to the mind as "the citadel," and as the name implies, he believed that it was essentially unknowable; one may be able to make inferences of its internal make up from exterior, bodily expressions but then, as now, too little is known about the mind and how it works for individuals to make sweeping statements about the fundamental nature of humankind. It seems that sciensteptific theories are like children, the parents of whom will never admit their children are not as capable as all the other children, even when the child might benefit from remedial learning; sociobiology seems little different in that its parents believe their theory to be the best and final explanation of the mind when so much still remains unknown.

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