[OPE] Question about American sociobiology and Marxist flavour

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@tiscali.nl)
Date: Tue Jul 15 2008 - 17:17:15 EDT

The NYT reports today:

"Dr. Wilson was not picking a fight when he published "Sociobiology" in 1975, a synthesis of ideas about the evolution of social behavior. He asserted that many human behaviors had a genetic basis, an idea then disputed by many social scientists and by Marxists intent on remaking humanity. Dr. Wilson was amazed at what ensued, which he describes as a long campaign of verbal assault and harassment with a distinctly Marxist flavor led by two Harvard colleagues, Richard C. Lewontin and Stephen Jay Gould." http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/15/science/15wils.html?scp=1&sq=Ants&st=cse
What real evidence is there in this case for "a long campaign of verbal assault and harassment with a distinctly Marxist flavor"? Lewontin/Gould published a book "Against Sociobiology" and other critical articles, they debated with Wilson, but surely that is just scholarly activity? Have any Marxists ever denied that "many human behaviors have a genetic basis"? In his article "if America should go Communist", Leon Trotsky indeed goes as far as to envisage ""While the romantic numbskulls of Nazi Germany are dreaming of restoring the old race of Europe's Dark Forest to its original purity, or rather its original filth, you Americans, after taking a firm grip on your economic machinery and your culture, will apply genuine scientific methods to the problem of eugenics." 

What Edward O. Wilson himself says in an interview is this:

"What I like to say is that Karl Marx was right, socialism works, it is just that he had the wrong species. (...) The behavior of the individual social insect evolved with refe­rence to what it contributes to the community, whereas the genetic fitness of a human being depends on how well it can individually use the society. We have become insect-like only by extreme contrac­tual arrangements. (...) Any idea that human behavior of any kind had a biological basis was not acceptable in the seventies. And then there were Marxist critics like Gould and Lewontin who felt that it was injurious to the progress of human beings toward a socia­list society, which they considered the most just and inevitable society. You won't get Gould admit that today, but that was how he talked in those days!" http://www.froes.dds.nl/WILSON.htm

This seems an ideological or moral, rather than a scientific argument, since Wilson's "genetic fitness" (whatever that means) doesn't change according to "how well he individually uses the society" (whatever that means). The point is that either you have the genes or you haven't got them, and you're stuck with the one's you've got. If you can make the most of what you've got, or fail to do so in social life, there's evidently a bit more to it than just your genes. 

Anyway what happened to Adam Smith's "hidden hand" in which self-interested action of individuals automatically begets the common good? Former IMF chief Michael Camdessus claimed once "the market is in our genes" but if markets did not exist for most of biological history, how did the market get in there? Was it a mutation?


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