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Health

Group selection is fascist and progressive

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanNovember 10, 2007 4:40 PM

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So, check out this retarded post at the Huntington Post, Goodbye Selfish-Gene: A New Upheaval in the Science of Human Behavior:

Plain talk: The Darwinian prop of the lone cowboy rugged conservative bundle of selfish genes has now been pulled out from under the cowboy and the lone cowboy has suddenly collapsed into a mumbling baffled cartoon. Humans are pack animals. We live and die in herds. The group provides the individual with the means of physical and psychological survival. We need the group as much as the group needs us. It's a fair trade that's been evolving for millions of years. The selfish-gene mantra of conservative psychologists and columnists is now more or less dead. Will we see the public media focus on this new development?

The "selfish gene" idea was popularized by that lion of the right-wing movement, Richard Dawkins! You know, that darling of the conservative media, what with his anti-Bush and anti-God stances. I'm not going to parse and decompose the details of how gene-level selective dynamics do not imply that individuals are actually islands outside of the sea of sociality. That's pretty much common sense, we're a social species. Any theory that explains anything has to take that into account. Rather, I would like to point out that group-level selection means that some groups have to die or be marginalized. It is called multi-level selection. So instead of the local big-man marginalizing his fellow citizens and monopolizing resources, you have tribe A exterminating & assimilating tribe B. How edifying! David Sloan Wilson makes this explicit in Darwin's Cathedral, where he recounts the expansion of the Nuer at the expense of the Dinka. This is why group selection was so congenial to a certain anti-Semitic scholar for explaining how Jews as a group were dominating gentile whites. You see, they're the hive-Jew-mind, acting as one to dominate other groups. This is a scholar who David Sloan Wilson defended at one point (though I grant that the normative biases at work weren't so manifest or clear at the time, so I don't think that the defense is any indication of Wilson's personal beliefs or values). To breezily map scientific facts to the values they imply in the manner above is retarded, and dangerous. It debases and muddies science. And I'm frankly getting tired of all the posturing which is sometimes necessary when talking about the human sciences to shield oneself from charges that one is attempting to lend support to Hitler part II. The reality is that science is a tool for evil or good, it does not create evil or good. Neither David Sloan Wilson or E.O. Wilson are very worried about political correctness, the latter was involved in the famous sociobiology controversies of the 1970s while David Sloan Wilson is a big fan of evolutionary psychology (see Evolution for Everyone where he lays out his own views pretty clearly and tells the readers not to worry too much about genetic determinism). The phenotypes which putatively emerged from group-level selective processes could very well be responsible both for the kindness that Southern American whites showed to their neighbors when they were down on their luck, as well as to their sense that the "Negroes" had to be kept in their place. That reality does not speak to whether group-level processes do, or do not, occur. It is all good and well to emphasize that group-level effects mean that we care about our fellow man for explicable communitarian reasons, but remember that just as the Israelites were not to murder their fellow Hebrew they were also enjoined to ethnically cleanse Palestine. Note: Also, the author of the post above mistakenly asserts that E.O. Wilson has changed his mind in supporting group selection. This is false. Wilson was a supporter of this theory in the 1970s when it was in eclipse, see Defenders of the Truth. David Sloan Wilson recounts in his most recent book that the elder Wilson was the one who first encouraged him during a seminar when he was reporting the likelihood of group level dynamics (the elder Wilson actually pro-actively pointed it the younger Wilson). E.O. Wilson was always a believer, he was just waiting for a stronger case before he was more vocal. Not only do our preferences of ought not determine the validity of is, but the history of is can always be looked up. People should try this more often. Via Steve.

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