Science again corrupted by ideology: Slate distorts evolutionary biology to make it seem capitalistic and anti-socialistic

UPDATE: I left this comment after the Slate piece, but it appears to have been removed. I’m not sure why, as there are far more vitriolic comments in the thread.

Jerry Coyne

The claim that the idea of cooperation is novel and paradigm-shifting in evolutionary biology is palpably ridiculous. All of the examples given by the author are not only known, as well as many other examples of mutualism that long preceded Margulis (lichens, termites, cleaner fish and “cleanees”), but fit firmly within the neo-Darwinian paradigm. There’s nothing new here except the author’s claim that the idea of cooperation is novel. To anybody who’s studied evolutionary biology, this is nonsense.  Further, the author apparently hasn’t read Prum, who actually tried to RESURRECT Darwin’s idea of sexual selection.

I have written a long critique of this piece at my website http://www.whyevolutionistrue.com. It’s the latest piece, and since I may not be allowed to post links, just go to my site and read it.  The upshot: this piece evinces either ignorance or deliberate obfuscation, and is also misleading in that it tries to distort the history and nature of evolutionary biology in the service of an ideology (apparently socialism).

______________________

Once again we have a collision between ideology and science, but in this case the perceived conclusions of science are in fact wrong, so the called-for revision of evolutionary biology in light of woke ideology isn’t needed. In a new article in Slate (see below), John Favini argues that evolutionary biologists are completely wedded to the paradigm of competition between individuals and between species, and further argues that the idea of individuals or species being cooperative is both reviled, new, and non-Darwinian. If you’re at all familiar with the history of reciprocal altruism, kin selection, and mutualism between species, you’ll know that these ideas—which all involve the evolution of cooperation—are both over half a century old and well ingrained in modern evolutionary theory.

But Favini is either unfamiliar with this literature, which is inexcusable for a graduate student in anthropology who claims a knowledge of biology, or hides it, which is duplicitous. I won’t make a judgment except that this article, which seems more attuned to the Discovery Institute (or even Salon), doesn’t belong in Slate, which is supposed to be a decent site. (Hitchens used to write for it.)

Favini is identified at the site as “a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at the University of Virginia and a freelance writer. He is interested in climate change, environmental politics, and science as a cultural domain.”

From this you can derive one speculation and one conclusion. The speculation is that Favini is a cultural rather than a physical anthropologist; the former tend to be social justice warriors who often downplay scientific facts in favor of their ideology (they often, for example, completely dismiss the idea of “race”, though it has a qualified reality that’s meaningful). Second, the “science as a cultural domain” bit is worrying, and in fact is what gave rise to the Slate article (click on screenshot below to see it).

Favini situates Darwin at the outset as a white, elite, Englishman subject to the social forces of his time, and predisposed to think about competition because his theory of natural selection originated after reading Malthus on competition. From this, throughout the article, he concludes that all of Darwinism, then and now, is marinated in the idea of competition.

. . .  like all humans, Darwin brought culture with him wherever he traveled. His descriptions of the workings of nature bear resemblance to prevailing thinking on human society within elite, English circles at the time. This is not a mere coincidence, and tracing his influences is worthwhile. It was, after all, the heyday of classical liberalism, dominated by thinkers like Adam Smith, David Hume, and Thomas Malthus, who valorized an unregulated market. They were debating minor points within a consensus on the virtues of competition. In an especially humble (and revealing) moment, Darwin characterized the principles underlying his thinking as naught but “the doctrine of Malthus, applied with manifold force to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms.”

. . . More than just a cliché, though, the supposed naturalness of competition has played a central role in substantiating the laissez-faire variety of capitalism the majority of the American political spectrum has championed for the past four or so decades. Indeed, any non-market-based solution to social issues usually falls prey to claims of utopianism, of ignoring the fundamental selfishness of the human species. . . . To put it simply, we have let Darwinism set the horizon of possibility for human behavior. Competition has become a supposed basic feature of all life, something immutable, universal, natural.

Regardless of the idea of “social Darwinism” (which Darwin never held and which has been completely abandoned by intellectuals), the facts of competition between genes (i.e., natural selection), competition between individuals (which produces natural selection), and competition between members of different species (which also produces natural selection as well as interesting aspects of ecology) are real and important. In fact, without competition between the different forms of genes for representation in later generations, we wouldn’t have natural selection at all!

And to the extent that natural selection is responsible for most interesting features of life, including biodiversity itself, it is “natural and universal.” But “natural” doesn’t mean that we have to put up with it, for we derail natural selection all the time by using doctors, dentists, and optometrists, and by using contraception. Further, we’ve tamed competition between individuals with laws against aggression, rape, and so on. Finally, we’re beginning to tame the competition between species by removing invasive species from places they don’t belong and by giving up the foolish idea that we humans should dominate all of nature.

Why is Favini attacking competition at such great length? We get a clue early in the article, as well as later. Early on, he says this:

Yet new research from across various fields of study is throwing the putative scientific basis of this consensus into doubt. Mind you, there have always been people, scientists and otherwise, who conceived of life outside a Darwinian paradigm—the idea of evolutionary biology is and has been a conversation among a mostly white and male global elite. Yet, even within centers of institutional power, like universities in North America, competition’s position as the central force driving evolution has been seriously challenged recently. In fact, criticisms have been mounting at least since biologist Lynn Margulis began publishing in the late ’60s.

You guessed it. It’s those damn white males, again, Jake! They are the ones with the power to push an unwarranted consensus about competition in the “elite universities.” According to Favini, it took a female, Lynn Margulis, to dethrone competition as the centerpiece of evolutionary biology. Well, that’s not quite true, because Darwinian speculations about cooperation, and the recognition that evolution can promote it both within and between species, has been an accepted part of evolution well before Margulis found that a form of “cooperation” was responsible for the advent of the eukaryotic cell. Later on, we’ll hear Favini touting the “heterodox voices” of indigenous Americans as helping dethrone the idea of competition, a woke concept that, sadly, isn’t true, either.

Favini then bangs on at length about all the supposedly non-Darwinian instances of cooperation that he says, have “fractured Western biology’s consensus on Darwin”. This is, to be gauche, pure bullshit. Most of these phenomena have been known for decades, and none of those pose any kind of challenge for Darwinism. They include the merging of two prokaryotes into a cell containing mitochondria, and, in plants, a cell containing chloroplasts. This “endosymbiosis” idea was a wonderful and true hypothesis pushed (but not originated) by Lynn Margulis. And it can be seen as an example of cooperation, in which the “big” cell benefits from having energy-generating organelles, while the organelles (which, like the cell itself, underwent evolution to promote the interaction) gain protection and sustenance.

Margulis’s theory was initially met with some resistance, but was quickly accepted after microscopic and especially DNA evidence showed that she was right. But the important thing in our discussion is that this is just one example of the kind of symbiosis that was accepted long before Margulis. Well known symbioses include those between leafcutter ants and fungi, between the termites and the protists and bacteria that help them digest cellulose, between the algae and fungi that constitute lichens, between cleaner fish and the “cleanees,” between clownfish and the sea anemones they inhabit, and the many species that have symbiotic bacteria or algae, like the bacteria that inhabit light organs and produce light in deep-sea fish (see photo at bottom).

It’s important to recognize that these examples of interspecific symbiosis (“mutualisms,” in which both partners benefit), are perfectly consistent with neo-Darwinism, and have never been seen as a challenge to the theory. Each species benefits from associating with the other, and natural selection will act and has acted to tighten the mutualisms. More recent findings of a mutualistic “microbiome” in ourselves and other species are also something that slots perfectly into a Darwinian paradigm, just as does another form of symbiosis: parasitism.

I’ll add here that cooperation within groups, beginning with kin selection that forges bonds between relatives (and explaining the wonderfully cooperative castes within a social-insect colony), and extending to “reciprocal altruism”, in which small bands of animals undergo individual selection to treat their groupmates better, has also never been problematic for Darwinism. With the recognition by Hamilton, Trivers, and others that genes in you are also genes in your relatives, and that genes for scratching the backs of others who scratch yours can also be advantageous, the multifarious forms of cooperation in nature have developed into a wonderful story and a true story, but also, contra Favini, an old story.

Favini, however, pretends that all this work on cooperation has upended evolutionary biology, fracturing our consensus on Darwinism. Given that all the examples he adduces haven’t tarnished evolutionary theory one bit, he’s just reaching wildly to pretend that he’s found something new. He even cites the renegade “Third Way” group of evolutionists who, to my mind, don’t pose any serious alternative to Darwinism:

Put simply, life is beginning to look ever more complex and ever more collaborative. All this has fractured Western biology’s consensus on Darwin. In response to all these new insights, some biologists instinctively defend Darwin, an ingrained impulse from years of championing his work against creationists. Others, like Margulis herself, feel Darwin had something to offer, at least in understanding the animal world, but argue his theories were simplified and elevated to a doctrine in the generations after his passing. Others are chartering research projects that depart from established Darwinian thinking in fundamental ways—like ornithologist Richard Prum, who recently authored a book on the ways beauty, rather than any utilitarian measure of fitness, shapes evolution. Indeed, alongside the research I have explored here, works by scientists like Carl Woese on horizontal gene transfer and new insights from epigenetics have pushed some to advocate for an as-yet-unseen “Third Way,” a theory for life that is neither creationism nor Neo-Darwinian evolution.

Note that Favini gives Darwin only a bit of credit here, saying that “Margulis [felt] Darwin had something to offer.” DUHHH! And as far as Prum’s book on sexual selection for “beauty” goes, well, as you may recall, in that book Prum revives Darwin’s own theory of sexual selection!  Did Favini even read the book? While Prum grossly exaggerates the ubiquity of and evidence for the “runaway” model of sexual selection, make no mistake about it: Prum’s theory is thoroughly Darwinian, incorporating Favini’s despised “utilitarian measures of fitness.” (Just look at the theoretical models of runaway sexual selection.)

I’ll add, to complete the record on Darwin, that he did not ignore cooperation. In The Descent of Man, for instance, he speculates on the origin of human altruism, although he floats a theory of group selection to explain it. He also ponders the evolution of cooperation in social insects, and, in the chapter on “Instinct” in The Origin, suggests that sterile castes can be produced by “family selection,” which many have taken to be one of the first inklings of kin selection among relatives.

It’s at the end of the piece that Favini’s mask slips as he plunges into wokeness, touting the insights of indigenous Americans (which haven’t influenced evolutionary theory), and then dissing capitalism, which he sees as the outcome of Darwinism rather than of economic and social forces.

First, the indigenous people:

This lack of agreement isn’t such a bad thing. Leaving the Darwinian consensus behind means a more capacious, diverse, and ultimately more rigorous science. The recent dissensus has opened up more room for important, heterodox voices like Robin Wall Kimmerer, a botanist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Kimmerer speaks of plants as highly intelligent beings and teachers, a sharp departure from the reductionist, utilitarian approach to plant and animal life that passed as scientific rigor within the Darwinian framework. Much of the recent research I have highlighted might count as what Kim TallBear, a scholar and enrolled member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, calls “settler epiphanies”—belated “discoveries” by settlers of Indigenous knowledge that was either ignored or outright suppressed by colonial land appropriation and attempted genocide.

Certainly ethnobotany and the knowledge of indigenous people included in that field, have been extremely valuable. A huge proportion of our drugs, for example, come from plants, some based on how they were used by locals. But indigenous peoples haven’t changed the scientific “way of knowing” with their “spiritual way of knowing” (something that Kimmerer seems to tout), nor have they made Darwinism swerve even a millimeter from its path. (Note Favini’s denigration of evolutionary biology as “reductionist and utilitarian”. It is of course neither.)

Finally, Favini lapses into socialism. But whatever its merits, socialism cannot and should not be justified by citing the evolution of cooperation, or by arguing that an unjustified view of evolutionary biology has severely impeded its acceptance by propping the notion that capitalism’s competitition is “natural”  Social Darwinism might have been mildly influential at the time of Herbert Spencer, but that view has long since fallen by the wayside.

Overall, then, what we get in Favini’s piece is pure politics, with some Darwinism thrown in to demonize and blame for competition:

Far too many environmentalists assume that people, driven by innate self-interest, are bound to harm ecology, that we will inevitably clear-cut, extract, consume, so long as it gives us an advantage over the next guy. This leaves us deeply disempowered, with few solutions to climate change outside limiting humanity’s impact through some kind of population control. When competitive self-interest is revealed to be a mutable behavior, the causes of climate change come into greater clarity: not human nature, but an economic system that demands competition, that distributes resources such that a tiny elite can live tremendously carbon-intensive lifestyles while the rest of us struggle for a pittance. Leaving competition behind, we can also imagine richer solutions: climate policies that problematize the tremendous wealth of the few, that build economies concerned with collective well-being and sustainability.

. . . Science can play a critical role in liberating our imagination from competition’s grip. It can show us all the symbioses that make life possible. Such a science can remind us that we can act and be otherwise—that the shortsighted self-interest that motivates, for instance, continued fossil fuel extraction is endemic to capitalism, not to our species, much less to life itself. We can find ways to live collaboratively with the bewildering array of life that roots and scurries across our planet, but only if we reckon with competition’s hold on our thinking—for if we see life as merely a competitive struggle to survive, we will make it one.

I’ve pondered why Favini has so badly misrepresented the history and content of evolutionary biology, and the only conclusion I can reach is that he’s a woke cultural anthropologist who is willing to distort the nature and history of science in the interest of promoting a socialist program. But he’s dead wrong in claiming that evolution is completely obsessed with competition (except between genes when you talk about natural selection), and equally wrong about the evolution of cooperation having been completely neglected until Lynn Margulis came along.

Since Favini is young, I won’t be too hard on him, except to advise him to drop this particular hobbyhorse, as it will only hurt what reputation he has. Or, rather, what reputation he has among evolutionists, as cultural anthropology is largely a miasma of nescience.

A mutualism: a female anglerfish, Linophryne polypogon, with her light organ fueled by bacteria. Photo by Peter David in Wired. See this source for more information about the mutualism.

 

55 thoughts on “Science again corrupted by ideology: Slate distorts evolutionary biology to make it seem capitalistic and anti-socialistic

  1. It kills me that both the left and the right make the same mistake about natural selection. They both think it endorses a dog eat dog socio-economic system which the right likes and the left abhors. Both are suffering from the naturalistic fallacy. One side uses natural selection to promote a dog eat dog socio-economic system and the other side tries to discredit natural selection because they also think it supports a dog eat dog system which they oppose.

    Better science education is the answer. One problem is the terrible old tag-line “survival of the fittest” which isn’t incorrect but misleading to the uninformed. It is not “fit” as in “I have been to the gym and I am fitter than you so I clobber you over the head and I win” but rather “fit” as in “fits like a glove” with the environment. That is how “survival of the fittest” can produce butterflies and altruistic humans.

    Sigh. Ignorance is far from bliss.

    1. I’ve never heard fitness defined as “fitting like a glove with the environment”. I was taught it meant reproductive success- the survival and passing of genes. Though it is true that reproductive success is improved when the species fits its environment.

    2. There seems to be a disturbing and consistent thread among those who criticize modern evolutionary biology (or Darwin) on ideological grounds. It is clear that they either 1) haven’t bothered to read the scientific literature, or 2) are willfully distorting it. Either way, it is inexcusable.

      It is ironic that, at a time when perusing the scientific literature (e.g., via Google Scholar) has become SO easy (unlike when I was a youngun’), people will blithely misrepresent the state of scientific knowledge to claim nonsense – like the claim that attention to mutualism and cooperative behavior is “new” – and they certainly can’t be bothered to learn the history of science in a serious way. Alas, I perceive that even current grad students in biology are less keen to read enough of the scientific literature in their own fields. Too many mindless distractions?

  2. Evolutionary biology capitalistic and anti-socialistic?

    That would come as a surprise to a coupla old Marxists like Lewontin and Gould.

      1. I recall that war playing out across the pages of The New York Review of Books (as it did, I’m sure, elsewhere, including in the leading academic journals in the field).

  3. I think that competition is essential to life and capitalism, and cooperation only works when it helps individuals or corporations to be more competitive. You have to be good (competitive) at cooperating. I don’t think that cooperation that doesn’t make you better (competitive) makes sense.

  4. I suppose it could be argued that pink fairy armadillos are the result of post-industrial selection pressures with phenotypic plasticity factors that resulted in a libertarian agenda, but I digress…

  5. “…continued fossil fuel extraction is endemic to capitalism…”

    Which is why transport systems in socialist countries are fuelled by fairy dust, a sustainable resource formerly and famously mined in notable quantities by Comrade Stakhanov.

  6. “Robin Wall Kimmerer, a botanist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Kimmerer speaks of plants as highly intelligent beings and teachers…” I myself, a member of the groiser gornisht nation, have long viewed plants as teachers and mentors. We do our best to avoid either toiling or spinning, following the example of the lilies of the field; and we favor rejecting Darwinist reductionism and utilitarianism by doing nothing at all, and instead just sitting still and absorbing water and sunshine. We advise a diet consisting of air and sunlight, and our one activist group, the Vegetable Liberation Front, campaigns against the cooking of our green brothers and sisters, and demands an end to the cruelty of salad bars.

    1. Wasn’t the VLF infamous for raiding the produce sections of grocery stores, confiscating the vegetables and replanting them ?

  7. I don’t really understand the somewhat dewey eyed focus on examples of cooperation that one sees in nature. (I feel I’ve seen this line of thinking before, although I can’t remember exactly where.) Philosophically, I am troubled by the idea that without invoking metaphysics, we are left with survival (well, creation and survival,) as more or less the sole mechanism for how the world comes to be. Anything that exists, exists because it endured. I will unabashedly admit that I would prefer an explanation like “Love is the source of all things,” which is why I have been involved in various spiritual endeavors. That said, even given this inclination, I don’t find specific examples of cooperation that arose as survival strategies particularly comforting at a philosophical level. One sees cooperation when people gang up on other people to commit crimes – this doesn’t say anything particularly positive about the universe, to my mind. You can compete in groups or compete alone, to my mind it’s still basically the same dynamic.

  8. On behalf of the discipline-of-my-graduate-training, allow me to apologize to any and all.

    Anthropology, as PCC[E] suggests is unhappily divided between the scientifically oriented biologists and archaeologists, and the Humanities-entangled Cultural types.

    There are reasons, but really no excuse, for this kind of ignorance (assuming the kind interpretation of Mr. Favini’s motives).

  9. “He is interested in climate change, environmental politics, and science as a cultural domain.”

    So perhaps his cultural preferences are at odds with his scientific understanding and therefore science must be wrong? That’s not how you do science… perhaps people should refer him to the Wikipedia page on Trofim Lysenko?

  10. The stupidity of this paradigm is that cooperation can exist outside of competition.

    Cooperation has no point if there is no competition.

    People cooperate precisely because they fear competitors. Humans banded together to avoid becoming prey, only to become cooperators capable of taking down the biggest predators. If the band survives, and gets bigger and healthier by increasing its protein consumption, guess what, its doing a good job in light of Darwinian evolution.

    People form insurance markets to collectivize the cost of individual risks.

    Nations form alliances with other nations because they fear national competitors (France allies with England out of fear of Germany, etc.).

    On the other hand, people become competitors when they think they can out-do cooperators (think entrepreneurs starting ventures against long-standing, calcified collective organizations that cannot respond nimbly to market changes).

    All the Spencerian wannabes ought to examine what the biggest economic players are (outside of nation-states): multinational corporations, collective institutions that span languages, cultures and continents. What could be more cooperative than the Exxon-Mobile corporation, or Coca-Cola?

  11. As ALWAYS with this interminable repetition of populist academic failure, Favini, like ALL the others, has failed to notice that “competition” is a metaphorical use of language.

  12. Obviously the very word competition is politically incorrect. I say that without any intention of seeming humorous. Any word with negative meanings in one context cannot safely be used in another lest it weaken the principle connotation.

    1. Why should the word competition have a negative connotation? In the market place, the opposite of competition is collusion, another word for co-operation. But co-operating to set prices is a bad thing. Whether competition or co-operation is good or bad depends on the purpose for doing so.

  13. Science is brutally honest, and therein lies our problem. Take the best example … there are too many humans on a limited planet, so what do we do about it? Have more humans, who take forever more and more, until what? Suggest a decent answer is to a very complicated social and environmental problem … and no one suggests fewer schools, hospitals or old folks homes! Hierarchies and competition are also deeply nested in the natural world, and thus we tolerate capitalism, monarchies and political systems with two warring sides. Religion is the ultimate cooperative system … so should we instead go back to feudalism because that is natural?

    1. “…so what do we do about it?”

      Prepare ourselves for natural processes to address that which we cannot.

  14. Competition? What is this competition of which people speak?

    Perhaps we should talk about the very low probability that all progeny can survive to reproduce when population is in stochastic steady state. Failure to survive long enough to reproduce has many causes. In some — many? nearly all? — species and situations surviving long enough to reproduce has little to do with individuals doing anything to/with/against each other that we’d recognize as competing.

  15. I’m almost through reading Lawrence Keeley’s “War Before Civilization”. The book was published in the early 90s, and Keeley at the time is noted as Professor of Anthropology at University of Illinois in Chicago.

    It is a great and succinct survey of tribal/indigenous jingoism and pugnacity, many warts and all, as well as war techniques, and much more.

    The book’s main impetus comes from Dr. Keeley’s correcting and debunking anthropologist’s (and other’s) myths of a pacific and romanticized tribal/indigenous cultures. (Almost no such courtesies were extended by anthropologists to ancient European/white cultures.)

    As example, Dr. Keeley recounts how even he as a graduate student would actually overlook highly conspicuous evidence of fortifications and war savagery in his digs and explorations. So strong was/is the consensus among many anthropologists and others against seeing what is this history, lest it destroy romantic and sentimental notions of tribal/indigenous cultures.

    I imagine there has been research that correct some of the book’s information, so if anyone knows of it, please provide link for me to read.

    This is the book:

    https://www.amazon.com/War-Before-Civilization-Peaceful-Savage/dp/0195119126/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=keeley+war&qid=1579987718&s=books&sr=1-1

    1. I finally got one of my offspring (elder daughter) to read that book.

      I don’t think its message is so difficult for most young people, barring the “woke”. I told my daughter, as she left with it in hand, that the data about the past was not the message, but that I thought the most valuable lesson in it was to realize how politicized were (are) the social sciences.

  16. Mr. Favini reveals himself in his penultimate paragraph, to wit:

    “Darwin’s legacy aside, though, one critical takeaway from all this is that we must learn to recognize the impulse to naturalize a given human behavior as a political maneuver.”

    In declaring others motives as political he reveals his own.

  17. Thanks for this article. I notice here again that Woke people have the Trumpian tendency to make up problems that didn’t exist, to then assert they solved them. I guess the term en vogue for this is “gaslighting”.

    According to the woke, women were never featured in action films but recently (Ellen Ripley?). There never was a popular black superhero before Black Panther (Blade?), and a diverse cast is a novel concept (The Matrix?).

    Interestingly,

    (1) this is typically done to accuse groups that are mostly seen as “white” or male, e.g. typically nerds and (STEM) scientists.

    (2) such assertions are factually wrong, and that is easily demonstrated.

    (3) such assertions are still published and taken seriously by woke outlets, and a blue checkmark army.

    But why? Are these writers as illiterate as they seem? But how can they miss some of the most central elements of a subject that is being criticised? I cannot believe this level of incompetence. How did the editor miss it, or the next person in house who glances over it?

    I can only assume that such gaslighting is produced by intense ideology and maybe cynical clickbait trolling. It’s apparently a model to make false claims paired with accusation to earn “engagement”.

    My suggestion is to discourage to read such publications using only archive links so that they earn no penny. I dropped the Slate long ago, and will discourage others to take anyone there seriously.

  18. The idea that cooperation will solve social problems is nonsense. Do we cooperate to protect the environment? No, we use the coercive power of government to regulate, or at least we did before Trump. Can cooperation substitute for government regulation? No, the free-rider problem cannot be overcome, and that is why we regulate. Will cooperation provide health care for the poor and elderly? No, again we need government to force the issue with taxes and programs.

    Think of it this way, if cooperation were the answer, we wouldn’t need government. Marx thought a cooperative communal society was possible, and the state would wither away. He was wrong.

    1. Might still be a little premature for that. It’s a race to see who will get there first — the Trump administration or the far left.

  19. I do not see PCC’s comment on the Slate site. I suspect it is because he linked to his own website. This seems to be a no-no that gets you deleted on many sites. Nasty sarcasm? No problem. Foul language? No problem. Off topic? No problem. Link to your own site? Problem.

  20. “Slate, which is supposed to be a decent site. (Hitchens used to write for it.)”

    That was nearly a decade ago, alas. The site has deteriorated since then, though it has yet to reach the depths of Salon, the other survivor from the early days of internet magazines

  21. Darwin’s Britain didn’t operate on the basis of competition’.

    It was a very rigid class based society, people had their places, which they were born into.

    Darwin was secure in his place and other than a bit of jostling at the Royal Society maybe, his position could never be usurped by a social competitor, so I fail to see how ‘competition’ dominated his thinking in any way.

  22. Or, rather, what reputation he has among evolutionists,ˇ…”

    I doubt he cares about that. You just described the choir he is preaching to: “…as cultural anthropology is largely a miasma of nescience.”

    It does not matter what actual scientists think about him, that won’t have any effect on his success. He lives in a different ecosystem.

  23. Favini seems to that think cooperation is good and competition is bad. But it’s easy to come up with examples that shows that cooperating is sometimes bad (war) and competition is sometimes good (science).

    Another example of a bad cooperative enterprise; human maid climate change wouldn’t be possible without large scale cooperation.

    However, most likely, reality doesn’t really care about what is good or bad.

  24. “The upshot: this piece evinces either ignorance or deliberate obfuscation, and is also misleading in that it tries to distort the history and nature of evolutionary biology in the service of an ideology (apparently socialism).”

    It’s one or the other. What could explain the huge flap over group selection that started back in the 60’s and continues to this day absent explicit recognition by evolutionary biologists of the existence and importance of cooperation? E. O. Wilson is a major proponent of group selection, and has been defending the theory that humans are one of the few “eusocial” species for years. You can agree with Wilson or not, but ignorance of his very existence is a poor argument for the credibility of anyone writing about the history of evolutionary biology. For that matter, what about Kropotkin? He wrote about the subject more than a century ago.

  25. “This is, to be gauche, pure bullshit”
    …the above would have sufficed as a legitimate critique of this bad ill informed peice. He (Favini) has made no effort and it shows, so we can be minimal in dismissing. If anything he is lost to his ideology and that flavours his woke tastes.
    Its despairingly dumb but I do believe he is genuine in his intention for harmony. Just completely… wrong.

  26. I am very happy to see HelianUnbound reference one of my favorite, and sadly overlooked, figures in the history of evolutionary biology, Prince Kropotkin. Seems to me Favini could benefit from curling up with a copy of the Prince’s Mutual Aid. Or failing that, pick up one of my favorite books. Oren Hartman’s The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness.

    And, although I am a retired (from teaching) ornithologist, I have a great fondness for the field of cultural anthropology. It is a bit distressing to think that Favini’s shoddy effusions here might reflect anything he has “learned” from his professors at the U. of Virginia.

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