Evolution reply to Matt plus a spiel against some

Lisa Rogers LROGERS at EMAIL.STATE.UT.US
Tue Jul 11 21:35:19 MDT 1995


Reply to Matt:

And to think, it used to be normal to take at least a week or two
between a literal "post" and a reply...  Let this be a warning to
all, my long-term memory is still intact, so a few measly days or
even weeks are not enough to escape the chance of a reply from my
long and potent pen.

Matt, you and I and everybody have different notions of what the
"traditional categories" are, because of our various fields.  You
said natural is not controllable and social is potentially so.  There
is another common tradition that says human pre/history is a lot
about expanding control over nature, and social developments serve
that end, no?  Or that natural is non-human and social is human, so
we must keep that seperation in mind, etc.  Then there is various
philosophical baggage that goes with all that stuff.  And I'm not
sure at all what you mean by the "domain of history."

But you ask why I would want to use new or different schema still -
one good question deserves another, so I ask why not?  Why not put
the old categories on trial? as they may not be so great to begin
with.

I want to use/invent ways of thinking/analysis/synthesis that are
compatible with other things that I hold true (such as the nature and
effects of darwinian selection [DS]).  I want a way of thinking that
is frugal with its assumptions, generates falsifiable hypotheses,
guides data collection, has broad applicability, and all those other
scientific kinds of things.

I hold dear an anti-dogmatic ideal, which I pursue by questioning the
traditional, the received wisdom.  It really bugs certain professors,
but is valued by others, and I think it makes for better ideas and
better science.

For instance, it is still commonly taught that the formation of the
"pair-bond", i.e. the so-called nuclear family was some kind of
turning point in hominid evolution.  Hogwash, I say.  But no, they go
on about man the provider caring for his children.  Okay, they added
woman the monogamous gatherer, along with stories about how she had
to be monogamous in order to get a man to feed her children.

I hold that the traditional categories here are a myth, they are a
projection of the industrial/Freudian myth of the 'indivisible'
[hence the term nuclear, no?] atomistic, independent family, which is
easy to move to wherever industrial capital is calling for more
labor, of course.

We get a combined myth about the antiquity of monogamy, the alleged
unitary nature of men vs women, the "basic building block of human
society has always been the [so-called] traditional/nuclear family",
it is what made us "human".  It is or should be a single economic
unit, there is no attention paid to conflicts within the family.
Also, a nuclear family is all that is needed for "normal"
psychological development, as long as mother stays home, blah, blah,
in other words, reactionary crap.

In reality, there are enormous variations in human families, in many
societies even married, [officially] monogamous women expect and
receive practically nothing in the way of child support from fathers.
In some, childcare is expected from mother's brothers.  In others,
divorce rates make the US pale, but there is no harm to kids' and
women's welfare.  So, I say if we want to understand variation and
patterns in family structure and behavior, the "natural nuclear
family" myth has got to go.  That's one example of why I think new
ways of thinking are called for.

No limiting factor on reproduction of just one offspring?  Good
heavens, accidents do happen.  We can look at this in either of two
ways.  Say the goal [yes, I'm speaking metaphorically, but I can back
up and say it the longer, literal way if you need me to] if the goal
of a strategic reproducer is to ensure even one descendant living at
any time in the future, it will surely up the odds if one has as many
as possible now [other things equal.]  Or if one's goal is to have as
many descendants in the future as possible, the same implication for
present behavior obtains.

Living things are generally oriented toward such "goals" because
that's how DS works.  It is a self-reinforcing spiral mechanism, as
the genes of those who reproduce more, or the most, increase in
frequency [meaning proportion of the population], and the genes of
those who reproduce less decrease.

Now, your last question, that is a very interesting and complicated
issue.  "Number of kids" is not an easy obvious direct measure of
genetic contribution to future generations.  I don't think the data
has been summarized and treated in such a way as to show differences
that may exist, although I'm sure the raw data exists.  Comparing
birthrates is useless, if you don't at least include mortality rates,
right?  I mean, if only half your kids are expected to make it,
you've got to have twice as many just to keep even with those other
people who actually have access to health care.  Given a snapshot of
age-specific fertility and mortality rates for various
classes/incomes, as well as data on class mobility, one could easily
project any number of generations into the future, to see the
expected number of descendants, and compare classes.  Or use the same
method to compare various strategies.  Of course, it's all playing
the odds when one makes a decision in the present, the outcome may be
total failure.  Can't be helped, can't be certain.

Finally, note that population growth rates are quite irrelevant to
the discussion so far.  I mean, the general rule ["Darwin's Law of
Evolutionary Reproduction" - I'm making that up] is that more is
always better, (up to some point of diminishing returns or
diminishing resources.)  Pop. growth [or shrinkage] is an unintended
consequence of each critter trying to do its own thing.

Gee, I hope I answered your question.  I think I shot-gunned it, i.e.
went all over the place, so maybe it's in there somewhere.

Regards,
Lisa

>>> Matt D. <afn02065 at freenet.ufl.edu>  7/11/95, 06:40pm >>>
Wow!  Never thought I'd see this post again...

Lisa writes:
>I think you combine two or more seperable concepts: 1. Is "natural
>selection" acting presently among humans?  2. and if not, "then
>does natural selection really have any meaning at the level of the
>individual human  organism"?  ...what do you mean by social
selection?

Hmm.  I guess the difference I was thinking of was the old fashioned
idea that "nature" is something that we can't (even potentially)
really do much about, whereas "social" can (conceivably) be brought
under the (increasingly conscious) control of humanity.  As society
progresses (forgive the problematic word just for the moment) the
domain of the natural shrinks, and that of the social (or
"historical") expands.

Why is it useful to "cut across these categories"?

... but there are no neighborhoods where nobody has offspring.  There
are placesin the world even worse (!) than SLC (which I've heard is
very lovely, BTW?) where nonetheless folks keep on reproducing, and
in fact where the population is increasing rapidly.
...
So its not just the persistence of one's genetic information, but
that it persists in a lot of folks?  Why is one surviving offspring
worse than ten, when there is no limiting factor in the environment
that makes that one likely to be sqeezed out?  Please forgive my
ignorance, I'm sure these are elementary questions of evolutionary
theory... I'm just trying to get a handle on it.

>Even if we all had equal
>reproduction now, that would not prevent us each from trying to
>get ahead more.  This includes efforts to get offspring into good
>positions for further production of descendants.

But almost any position is sufficient for the further production of
descendents.  This is what I was getting at before.  To my knowledge,
there is not a substantial difference between the number of kids in
poor families and rich families in the U.S.  Is this false?

-- Matt D.




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