Without Confines and Content

The trouble with a tale where anything can happen is that somehow nothing happens

John Updike


Man as an objective, sensuous being is therefore a suffering being – and because he feels that he suffers, a passionate being

Karl Marx


There are some things you must learn to be a self-respected liberal intellectual today. Do not criticise another’s culture. Do not celebrate the so-called achievements of the West. Do not, under any circumstances, take seriously that confining concept “human nature”. Instead, we are to believe homo sapien has no limits, no boundaries, and is usefully malleable in the hands of better-read angels. Tosh, in other words.

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Much of the suspicion surrounding “human nature” stems from the belief that these ideas are the natural ally of conservatism. Back in his day, Marx, with a squinting eye, noted the popularity of Darwin’s writings among some of the less savoury defenders of the political status-quo. The Herbert Spencers and Thomas H. Huxleys of the world were only too eager declare that their political philosophy had the solid underpinning of Biology. For a man who spent his gin-soaked days writing of the inevitably of scientific socialism this was too much.

Lesser known than the writings of Marx and his ideological foes, is the revolutionary ethological work of a certain Russian aristocrat. Just as “survival of the fittest” – read by all right-thinking people as survival of the selfish, the mean and cynical – was sinking happily into the Victorian consciousness, Kropotkin was trudging around Siberia uncovering an evolutionary foundation for its antithesis.

The British never quite reached the heights of former imperial masters in the hedonism department

It is true, Kropotkin acknowledged, that individuals of all species will aggressively compete if required to, but he went on to emphasise something Darwin would only allude to. The most successful species will achieve success in its most lasting form – not with tooth and claw – in accordance with others. He coined this strategy, which was adopted by apes, us, mere-cats, penguins and termites braving the Eurasian tundra, “mutual aid”. Social solidarity, as the political-minded may prefer, is just as compatible with Darwinism.

In the animal world we have seen that the vast majority of species live in societies, and that they find in association the best arms for the struggle for life: understood, of course, in its wide Darwinian sense — not as a struggle for the sheer means of existence, but as a struggle against all natural conditions unfavourable to the species. The animal species, in which individual struggle has been reduced to its narrowest limits, and the practice of mutual aid has attained the greatest development, are invariably the most numerous, the most prosperous, and the most open to further progress. The mutual protection which is obtained in this case, the possibility of attaining old age and of accumulating experience, the higher intellectual development, and the further growth of sociable habits, secure the maintenance of the species, its extension, and its further progressive evolution. The unsociable species, on the contrary, are doomed to decay.

Peter Kropotkin

Those who read past the front cover of Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene were offered a similar, more evidence-based take on this argument. Our genes’ intentions may be selfish, stubborn and blind in their pursuit of replication, but their (mostly) unwitting carriers function differently. Particularly in the case of higher-order mammals such as ourselves. We recognise, for the most part (there’s always going to be Maggies and Ayns), that reciprocity and cooperation are the only means of constructing civilisation. Hobbes may have understood well enough the “psychology” of the Alpha and Omega virus that binds us, but he told us very little about us.

The one group most wedded to the idea of the unmitigated human selfishness is the one group most dependent on just the opposite. The political Right, historically, have relied again and again upon a united front. The sickly Spanish Civil War Syndrome has been difficult to shake off but here, it’s a case in point. Francoists, the Catholic Church, the aristocracy, the conservative bourgeoisie, with their benefactors in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, were only able to crush and break the Republic cooperatively, all the while comforting their protruding brows with Übermensch nonsense.

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(Behind closed doors, today’s ruling class is more honest, willing to admit that its foundation myth is balls. Telling Professor Aeorn Davis that “market-knows-best” may be a nice story to tell the kids and proles, but in actual fact it’s unworkable.)

In these less intense and depressing times we see that same truth. Not through dominating others and fighting a never-ending Hobbesian struggle are we able to pinch Higgs Boson from the vacuum at CERN (something physicists tell me is an extraordinary achievement and well-worth the massive R&D funds it diverted away from hospitals and climate scientists). Rather, it’s because professionals from computing, engineering and academia pooled their expertise and share their gains, all the while being subsided by tax-payers. So too, international bankers, in their realm, achieve their not-so-lofty goal of screwing us royally in conjunction with a great legal team, cooperative politicians and a nod and wink from Murdoch’s press.

The History of Man is brimming with tales with missteps and teary heads, but still, take a look behind the veil “realists” like Steven Pinker and Thomas Sowell never could, and you’ll see there is something innate worth praising. Something in we hairless apes that needs to be nurtured, not imposed nor denied. And, remember, it is the work of these shady realists who is being consumed so rigorously on campuses. When the opposition consists of scientific-illiterate, professional diary scribblers, what do you expect?

The first step, we’re told tirelessly on other matters, is acceptance. And only through acceptance of evolutionary theory and human nature can the Left make any progress in academia. The postmodern derailment need not be permanent, need not debase the social sciences further. Disciplines which are being greedily munched upon at one end by opportunistic Tory biologists, and held back, to the point of tear, by liberals who fear the 21st century.

The Left has nothing to fear from Darwin and, in fact, the revolution he vanguarded has much to offer. So why not exploit it?




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