[Marxism] Richard Levins, R.I.P.?
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jan 20 19:45:01 MST 2016
Rob Wallace on FB:
Richard Levins, the dialectical biologist extraordinaire, has passed. He
revolutionized population biology multiple times, making foundational
contributions to modeling evolution in changing environments, the theory
of biological control, the philosophy of biology, modeling complex
systems, mathematical biology, disease ecology, public health, and
agroecology. He coined the term "metapopulation".
His thinking remains profound enough to keep us busy for many decades to
come. So much so, I think, that he reads like a traveler from another
timeline. Imagine a working class Charles Darwin showing up in King
Arthur's court. He collaborated with evolutionary biologist Richard
Lewontin to develop, via a series of beautifully written essays, a
modern-day dialectical biology that attacked the most basic of our
premises of the nature of nature and the sciences that study it,
including the biological vs the social, determinism vs chance, the
natural sciences vs the social sciences, and other false dichotomies at
the heart of modern science.
Levins was as perspicacious in his political action as in his
intellectual output. To the consternation of many of his professional
colleagues, he rejected the is-ought fallacy: If a regime or policy or
idea is unjust, he argued, it isn't true. In the 1950s Levins was
blacklisted for his membership in the Communist Party and his work as a
part of the Puerto Rican left, walking out on HUAC mid-testimony. After
exile for nearly a decade in Puerto Rico, where his daughter reports FBI
agents warned off potential employers, Levins returned to the U.S. to
model his dissertation work on evolution in changing environments on
Karl Marx's Grundrisse. He was denied tenure at the University of Puerto
Rico for his participation in the independence movement. He helped found
Science for the People and fought E.O. Wilson over sociobiology. He was
a long-term scientific adviser to Cuba and resigned his membership in
the U.S. National Academy of Sciences for its role advising the U.S.
military during the Vietnam War.
I am honored to have been able to present at his Festschrift last year
and will remember his kind face, his sharp mind, his quick wit--he was
*very* funny--and his 'Black Lives Matter' button. And I am not the only
one. His Festschrift was filled with loving testimonials from around the
world. He was, perhaps most importantly, a deeply kindhearted man, who
rarely let the travails of a life of resistance curdle his good humor.
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