Latin America: We Don't Need Gringos to Destroy Our Environment

by Lorna Salzman

There is no moral component or lesson in Nature nor in Darwin's theory of evolution. But this hasn't stopped the New Agers from trying to inject one into The Origin of Species. Faced with the choice of rejecting evolution and natural selection completely (and thus being taken for fools), they strike out wildly in search of some underlying moral truth that can ease the hard facts about these subjects. Or rather what THEY consider to be hard facts, most notably the concept of competition, which denotes to them aggression and violence to some degree.

They then look around them and behold, there are lots of acts of aggression being committed by humans in all societies and cultures. The idea that these might, just MIGHT, be innate tendencies of humans is anathema, unpleasant, unacceptable, for we all know that humans are capable of honorable, heroic and unselfish deeds, compassion, and altruism. From here they make a giant leap of faith and hypothesize that the lesson of natural selection is really one of peaceful coexistence, not competitive struggle. Thus, they will perform a moral exegesis of Darwin to find substantiation for their belief.

While some leftists seem on the verge of accepting Darwin - it took a long time -on the other side we continue to have the "New Age" community still misunderstanding him and, worse, trying to find in Darwin's writings justification for their own eccentric theories. Social scientists, especially those on the left, have long tried to attribute human violence to society alone (i.e.Nurture as opposed to Nature)  to  social or economic conditions and relationships, with the belief that under a truly just, equitable, political system ("socialism", mostly), these supposedly aberrant tendencies would be minimized and eventually eliminated. Society causes all ills while humans are born blameless and free of "original sin"...what Steven Pinker terms "the blank slate".

 Related to this tangentially were the eugenicists of the early 20th century who believed that selective sterilization of the "unfit" (retarded, genetically defective, etc.) would eventually eliminate such faulty births from the human gene pool; today the notion of curing disease via genetic manipulation has the potential to edge close to this unless a clear line is drawn to prevent manipulation of the human germ line (as opposed to using genetics to cure a somatic disease in an individual, which is no different from using medicine or surgery).

David Loye's book,"Darwin's Lost Theory" is another attempt to  twist Darwin, and to interpolate the author's own ideas on what Darwin "really meant" or left out, especially with regard to natural selection. New Agers and leftists have long despised the notion of competition in nature which tends to eliminate the less adapted individuals who, for various reasons, leave fewer offspring than the more adapted (or more "fit").

This process is not "nature red in tooth or claw" but differential reproductive success. Moreover its success is manifested not here and now but in the FUTURE, when the more adaptive genome becomes more widespread in the population of the particular species. The notion that aggression is not innate or that it can be suppressed or that Darwin really meant to stress peaceful cooperation, not competition, is still prevalent in the social sciences and is at the heart of this book which in the end is a complete misunderstanding if not subversion of what Darwin really wrote, and of what the evolutionary sciences now understand.

Our genetic inheritance  is not authoritarian. It has given humans the capability of diverse responses to difficult situations. Which response we choose is not imprinted in us. Society, our family, ethical and religious beliefs, all of these affect our ultimate response. Some children deprived of  safe secure loving parents become mentally and socially deviant; others become moral, creative and stable individuals. Evolution did not make a choice between Bad and Good but between what was more adaptive or less adaptive in a particular environment. Even a small marginal improvement might give an edge to an individual who then had better breeding success and the chance to pass on his genes. The loser didn't necessarily die; he just never got the chance to have HIS genes become dominant.

For a real understanding of Darwin, the best authors to consult are Ernst Mayr, Richard Dawkins (especially his book, "The Blind Watchmaker") and Douglas Futuyma, three of a long succession of distinguished scientists. There are no moral lessons in Darwin. Social, political and economic policies and systems are human made and can be changed by humans. What we perceive as innate human flaws must be accommodated by adjusting our systems and behavior accordingly. Racist beliefs will never be eradicated but racist practices can and should be.  Denying a propensity for violence is not only blind but a barrier to the social reforms that most humans seek in their daily lives.

© 2017 Lorna Salzman. All rights reserved. Material may be quoted with permission.