Bourgeois Science-How about Darwinism?

Greg Schofield g_schofield at dingoblue.net.au
Mon Dec 3 20:54:01 MST 2001


--- Message Received ---
From: Carrol Cox <cbcox at ilstu.edu>
To: marxmail <marxism at lists.panix.com>
Date: Mon, 03 Dec 2001 17:42:06 -0500
Subject: Re: Bourgeois Science-How about Darwinism?

Carrol I am in great agreement with you on this:

' "Dawinism" (as currently developed) includes exaptation as well as
adaptation. Many features of an organism "piggyback" on features that do
have darwinian survival value, the piggybacking features being merely
neutral, positively destructive (as with sickle-cell) or, as with those
features which ground speech) of no immediate utility but later under
different circumstances having great utility.'

Clearly the basis of language derives from just this sort of mechanism. As my main interest is social evolution which admittedly has little scholarily respect in our times, my quibble may appear not so very important. A science, any science, runs into problems when it is over-extended, that is when it moves past its own logic and subject matter. It may well appear to be applicable but the logic runs out and what is left becomes increasingly reductionist.

I thought at first this was what John had correctly identified and something we as a groupd are prone to miss. However, this was not entirely the case and it is my error in having prusued it as if it was. I would only point out, that social evolution has a logic which runs against but does not nullify natural selection. That language and consciousness cannot be viewed as an adaption but create a historical logic of their own which is the beginings of social evolution whose laws stand on a separate subject matter and have no-where been fully conceptualised.

Early social evolution is analogous to social organisations of animals, something of the logic is shared and this has tempted antholpologist after anthropologist to import the ideas of natural selection as explanation - hence my crankyness on this little matter.

The general tendency has been to over extend Darwinism, to see social nature as just an adaption which can be environmentally resolved, a crude materialism which makes our social life an action of biological mechanisms which somehow take on a life of its own. Reading the literature which touches on the subject I have simply become frustrated with the tendency towards immediate biological explanations displacing any real effort to uncover or seriously look at the laws of social evolution. The whole point of social organisation either that of humans and animals is to mediate these biological imperetives, in the case of the former this mediation itself takes on a life of its own.

Marx headed directly, but did not succeed in producing an entire schema, it is unfinished business. Hence I take verys seriously his schema of modes of production, his enthological studies as the three-quarter built ontological concept of social existence - unfortunately these are just the elements which our movement treats as the most disposable and flimsy products of Historical Materialism.

I may as well apologise here for taking this form of reply, for in truth I am using it as an exceuse to get something off my chest.

There are a number of vital areas which need attention in Historical Materialism, none of which appear to have any direct political implications but all of which contribute to our political dilemna.

They are:
1) The criticial role of Hegel's Science of Logic and the need for most of us to become very much better acquainted with it, but also the need to place this within a framework which makes its approachable.

2) The schemata of modes of production needs to be understood at its correct level of abstraction and not as is now the case so concretisied that the inner relations are lost - it is a vital concept for organising historical material.

3) The notion of social evolution as a whole which which must recover the mainspring of social change within the character of society itself and make some headway in understanding the majority of human history which is pre-class (not in timelines, nor in advancement, but that such organisation is pressuposed by calss societies).

1 and 3 cover vast territories, while 2 serves as conceptual means to separate out appearance from essense. Modes of production only relates to essential "dominant" relations and the abstract conncetions between them, concrete realities will never be so clean - the concept of modes of production, much maligned in the present movement, is not a lable for any particular society but a tag for a level of abstraction.

Hence Capital is essential logic of the Capitalist Mode of Production and not the handbook of economics which it is most often taken to be - we most often get this wrong by too directly applying these categories of thought to concrete examples.

If we get Hegel right (that is apprieicate it for what it is rather than dismiss it with much over-used and misunderstood quotes), if we can also finish-off Marx's final contribution (he died while still making notes on social evolution) then the concept of Historical Materialism becomes ontologically complete and its work as a science can begin in earnest. If ideology is by definition a one-sided understanding of the world, in a sense, we as a movement have not been ideological simply because of social reasons but also for intellectual reasons.

It is only in the last 50 years (really much less than this) that all of Marx and Engels hidden works have come to light, Marx's plans for Capital, his extensive enthological notebooks, the well argued case by Tony Smith of the relevance of Hegel's Logic to Capital itself, the strides in science which have removed some of the constraints M&E worked under, the interrelationships between scattered references which togather form a coherent idea, in short the breadth and limits of the original conception are now more apparent than at any other time, and yet the big theoretical questions are not being addressed, they are not even being asked in the first place.

In a world beset by so many immediate problems, this then is an odd demand. If we could go in some way of completing the singular concept of Historical Materialism, of paying attention to just what it is, rather than running-off if snippets that appear to fit, then we might place ourselves is a better position to make meaningful contributions. Our science is but half-made, where we should be better educated we have collectively ignored the impulse and neglected the material we do have (Hegel is the saddest example of such neglect), we are blithely ignorant of the need to finish the project itself and leave gapping holes in the fabric of the concept through which crude ideologies flood in.

Plugging these holes, most of which would be militantly denied existence, would have political flow on effects. The raising of self-education and indeed the entire intellectual level amongst us by a notch or two would always help, but a better conceptualising of HIstorical Materialism as a whole would be an immense help to people first approaching it, just as the brushing off of the many patched-on fixes would remove a lot of confusion. But most of all we would be in a better position to apply the right intellectual tools to the right problems, something that today is rather more arbitary then any of us would like to admit.

Carrol, in fact anyone reading this (provided they can ford the tedium), we need to lift the level of debate, stop skirting around the grey areas (like Hegel and social evolution) in favour of brighter and apparently clearer lights. I would mention in passing one thing which would be immediately effected, the close intellectual alliance between Marxism and Feminism where the former has acted as an inadequate patch just on those areas of Marxism which need further development (ie social evolution - the evolution of social relations, persistant buggers which populate many modes of production).

I mention this not as a political provocation but as an intellectual one. Only the most retrograde would dismiss that Feminism strikes at important issues, and those issues lie close to the Marxist enterprise, but only the most self-deluded could equate the ideological posturings of Feminism with the clarity and logic of Marxism. We have no intellectual alliance, each attempt to come at Feminism from a Marxist standpoint, or move Feminism into the body of Marxism has been a fiasco however well meant - it has not lead to renewed and clarifying theory but always lapsed into shop-worn phrases and creeds of belief.

If the big theory implications do not seem politically important, then surely the political importants of the women's movement deserves some better response then embarrassed silence of over the grey area of Marxist Feminism.

To take it seriously intellectually means going back into the hard swot of the original theory and working things out from there, as these grafts do not hold interest for long. If we are to do so then social evolution, modes of production and Hegel's logic cannot remain distant esoterica, but must position themselves centrally before us - that is if we take our political position on women's struggle seriously - my charge is that despite the best efforts of some - intellectually we have never taken this political question seriously and this is just the tip of the ice-berg of rafts of other important political questions which have not been dealt with seriously because we have always fallen into the error of patching over the theory, grabbing willy nilly what appears to fit and hack-off those parts which make it all too plain that the patch has come from another cloth.


Probably the last thing anyone on this list or any other list for that matter is to have another long missive from me. But the problem remains and now that our movement is in tatters, this is the time for serious thinking, serious study and debate. It is at such times of crisis that what was universally seen as irrelevant and distant suddenly can spring up as unavoidable and close.

For careful readers you will find that my criticism of the over-extened use of Darwin, also fits the over-extened use of concepts within Historical Materialism - the effect is the same - hidding more, revealing nothing and reducing the science to principles reduced to absurdities.

Greg Schofield
Perth Australia

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