Against superstition (Dawkins-Labour Left Briefing)-fwd-

Luciano Dondero DOND001 at
Sat Feb 3 10:52:24 MST 1996

This is forwarded from the newsgroup "a.p.s.t". I could not believe it - it
sounds so pertinent to the issues/fights we all face all over the globe.
The original forwarder was <chris at> who wrote:
The following article is taken from the Feb. issue of Labour Left Briefing
(details below). Letters/articles in response for the March issue are


Fighting the new irrationalism

Chris Knight, Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of East
London, urges the left to stop condemning Richard Dawkins' views on
evolution and join his crusade against superstition.

Mysticism is becoming respectable. The Sunday Times has just joined the
tabloids in providing a regular horoscope. Now the Queen Mother's
"favourite astrologer", one "Roly Poly", reports that Princess Diana and
Tony Blair both have their moon in Aquarius -does this portend that Blair
is soon to 'do for the country what Di has done for the monarchy'?

Meanwhile, Richard Dawkins having spent 1995 bashing God and Church, has
opened the new year with an assault on related brands of superstition and
quackery. He claims that Britain's growing army of starwatching charlatans
are onto a good scam, gaining 'respect' proportional to their accumulating
riches. Tabloid readers become lost in wonderment as they learn how
chauffeurs whisk court astrologers in white stretch-limos to fashionable
restaurants where head waiters fawn over them. And if royalty trust them,
how can they be wrong?

Astrology's predictions, Dawkins points out, are bunk. Just a harmless bit
of fun then? Not really. The immensity of the universe is too awe-inspiring
and beautiful to be debased in this way. Such profiteering, to Dawkins, is
like using Beethoven for commercial jingles. "By existing law neither
Beethoven nor nature can sue, but perhaps existing law can be changed".
Dawkins urges that, in the meantime, those cynics who profit from others'
gullibility should be charged with offences under the Trades Description
Act and jailed for fraud.

Briefing readers might have expected Britain's best known militant atheist
to be popular on the left. But not so. The academic left long ago
categorised Dawkins as among the most dangerous intellectual enemies of
all. Late in the 1970s, a number of left-leaning worthies mistook the title
of Dawkins' ground-breaking book 'The Selfish Gene' as a Thatcherite
analysis of humans as inescapably, genetically selfish. In which case,
welfare and other interventions would violate the 'natural law'.

'Marxist' organizations such as the Socialist Workers' Party instantly took
the cue, remaining locked in the same attitude to this day. Before packed
audiences at their annual 'Marxism' event, scholarly specialists in insects
and dolphins were still branded "Social Darwinists" and lumped together
with eugenicists, sexists, racists etc. Quotes from German Nazis about the
Master Race were read out from the platform, 'proving' just how vicious
Richard Dawkins really is.=20

Dawkins himself vigorously repudiates racism and all attempts to use
Darwinism to justify it. His latest book 'River Out of Eden' shows how
closely genetically related humans of all skin colours are. Ironically,
"selfish gene" Darwinism arose precisely in opposition to the "group
selection" idea that traits (such as aggression) evolve because they are
"good for the race". But every summer, rank-and-file SWP speakers who
attempt to point out such subtleties are just howled down.=20

The scientific truth is that a gene has to be "selfish" or it is not a
gene. In replicating, it has to replicate itself not the genetic
competition. To grasp the logic, consider Dawkins' own example of genes for
a cultural blueprint, such as for a socialist planet. Socialist ideology
will only survive if it is able to "selfishly" replicate among more people
than a capitalist one. If socialists were to embrace a new and 'kinder'
approach to their capitalist rivals, arguing not only for their own ideas
but more 'generously' for the opposition's, socialism would soon be

To say this is not to advocate Thatcherism, as Dawkins makes clear:
"Nature is red in tooth and claw. But I don't want to live in that kind of
world. I want to change the world in which I live in such a way that
natural selection no longer applies".

In this light, Dawkins and his colleagues have found it hard to fathom the
left's hostility. Why all the fuss? Not all "selfish gene" biologists may
vote Labour but as zealots for science, the more politically active among
them are consistent, courageous and anticlerical radicals intent on
exposing the idiocies of bishops, royals and court astrologers alike. In an
age of increasing irrationalism and superstitious resignation, the left in
all logic should rally behind their godless banner.

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