Re: Ethnic Fables

Tibor Benke (benke@SFU.CA)
Wed, 4 Oct 1995 18:58:42 -0700

Dr. Juan C. Garelli, M.D. Ph. D. wrote quoting me:

>> Basically, humanity has left the immedieate constraints of natural
>> selection. The only constraints on us are the finitude of the biosphere
>> and our own agressive tendencies. Our culture, unless we are able to
>> modify it, will not be able to avoid both of the dangers these limits pose.
>> Unless we revise the work ethic, we will kill the biosphere; unless we
>> truly give up violence and authoritarianism, we will kill each other and
>> destroy the biosphere in the process. The reason most of you can't see
>> this, is because you are working too hard and you don't dare admit it.
>No living being on earth can escape the constraints of natural
>selection. But the problem is elsewhere. The question as to the
>biologically adaptive features of man cannot possibly be considered
>out of his Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness, that is to say
>during the Pleistocene. That is why we may find that features that
>maximized fitness then, no longer do so. Probably authoritarianism,
>violence, greed, and so on maximized features before the agricultural
>revolution, whereas now they jeopardize the very survival of the

I think this is a terminological quible. All species viewed as individual
species are in their environment and alter it to some degree as they
increase the proportion of their biomass within their species in relation
to the total biomass in their environment. This increase has a boundary
which is set by the carrying capacity of the environment. Most species
adapt to these limits by modification of the life cycle such that their
susceptability to the demise of individual specimens reaches some optimum
ballance between reproductive rate, reproductive period of the life cycle,
and death rate; this is one reason why prey species have relatively short
gestation periods and mature to reproductive age relatively quickly while
large predators take longer have fewer offspring, gestate longer, and reach
reproductive maturity later. Our adaptation is different. We are able to
adapt in a few generations to most ecological situations we may encounter -
our range is nearly planetary. Some time in the Paleolithic, humans became
intelligent enough to create culture as a system which mediates the direct
selective pressure of the environment. Their *mode* of species survival
changed. This came about with the development of a vast complex of
behavioral capacities; the capacity for foresight (which could well be
rooted in the ability to hit moving targets with projectiles), the capacity
for altruism (which could well be a generalization of mother-offspring
bonding and sexual attraction - love?), the capacity for symbolic
communication (which may include the capacity for deception), and the
capacity to create myth, history, and systemitazitations like science
(which is a product of symbolic memory and imagination) are only a few
items in this complex set. The capacity of humans to not just change, but
design and create the environment, which probably developed in the
paleolithic, bloomed in the neolithic, and henceforth the main determinant
of individual survival was cultural and no species could compete with
humans as humans became capable of conscious species exterminataion by
defining a species as 'evil' which became the capacity for genocide by
defining other groups of humans as an alien species. It may be that this
is why only one species of humans survived. It is what the authors of
Genesis must have meant by "dominion over the earth". Other aspects of
this are seen by some sociologists as the "social construction of reality"
and imaginatively "taking the role of the other". I see all this as a
qualititive change, because selection acts on two levels, the cultural and
the genetic, with cultural selection impinging on the genetic selection of
not only humans, but all other species as well. I see it this way, I
don't insist on it. Who knows? Perhaps we are to outer space what
lungfish were to dry land? Gives the phrase, "In my father's house (the
kingdom of heaven?) there are many mansions" a whole new meaning.

But using my perspective, we can see that , with the rise of complex
societies, the capacity to create a social reality becomes biased. That
socially constructed reality which was continously modified based on the
experience of almost all of a group in the early neolithic, comes to be
modified based on the experience of dominant groups or *classes* with the
rise of what we laughingly call 'civilization". Now 'good' and 'bad' are
what is good for the ruling class and not what is good for all the group.
Consciousness becomes fragmented, people can no longer make sense of what
others say and do. This can continue for a while, but eventually, the
conflicts arising from the disparity between socially constructed reality
so biased, and the actual experience of the rest of the individuals in
society, becomes untenable. The myth of the Tower of Babel and marxist
discourse both point to this phenomenon.

It may be, that we will develop further adaptations to meet this challange
as well. I suspect that we have been struggling for just such a solution
and that the rise of the great spiritual traditions like Budhism, Daoism,
or Christianity point the way. But I think we have something to learn
from the solutions developed by what I think of as the "high neolithic":
those humans who conserved neolithic culture and retreated to less friendly
environments rather then adopt the solutions which those who pushed them
out did. I suspect the solutions may have something to do with the
realization of the implications of our capacities and limitations. We
have to learn when enough is enough and if not, how to direct ambition in
nondistructive directions. But "those who know, do not speak, those who
speak, do not know".

>> Democritus was right: change is constant!
>> Democritus was wrong: change is variable!
>(By the way, wasn't it Heraclitus rather than Democritus who was

Of course, you are right again, (just as you where when you corrected my
understanding of "oxymoron", thank you!). I always get my pre-Socratics
confused. What can I say, I am cognitively challenged - an overeducated
stupid person, a freak of not nature, but culture. It could well be that
without modern medical technology, I would not even exist. I have
frequently considered rectifying the situation. I just lack the courage
and so rationalize that I am "meant" to exist so I can spout my idiocies,
sort of like a court fool to the world.

Best Regards,

Tibor Benke