The defeat of biology

Robert Snower (
Tue, 27 Aug 1996 22:19:56 GMT (Albert Himoe) wrote:

>To: Susan <>
>Subject: Re: Patriarchy: Re: What Matriarchy?

>> And this is the crux of it, I think. As a culture, we are all to ready
>> to commit the fallacy you referred to, that
>> "biological=natural=inevitable=good." Even if something could be
>> demonstrated to be completley biological in origin, that still doesn't
>> mean it can't and shouldn't be changed.

>It sure makes it harder, though. I wonder about the source of
>principles that say it is good to go against biology. For example, if
>men are genetically better at math, what's the point of making a
>special effort to encourage women to go into the field. Doesn't this
>encourage a misallocation of talent?

>Albert Himoe

The mission of culture has always been seen as the defeat of biology.
Durkheim saw the individual as exhibiting desires and instincts
unrestrained until morally controlled and transformed through a
community commonality. Weber traced the development of a capitalism
accompanied by a spiritual ethic which imposed a countervailing
asceticism: greed was thereby restricted, thence transformed--more
recently by the cultural devices of laws against monopoly and fraud,
even more recently against ethnic discrimination, finally resulting in
the justly vaunted free market of the present day. Freud saw the
biological force he called the libido, subjected to the censorship and
repression of the ego and superego, forces within us but acting in the
social interest, transforming this libido into artistic creation, etc.
The religious man sees original sin as a destructive biological force
requiring restriction by a moral code imposed via the shared worship
of a god, thereby transformed into a communal and spiritual love.
Sociobiology sees this same dichotomy within biology itself:
individual selection (selfish interest) must be defeated by kin
selection (altruistic interest) in order for society to evolve. This
last seems to me an interesting twist. The social defeat of
individual selection could not possibly occur, in the case of the
insects, by way of the imitative process, as against the genetic
process, of human culture. This last is interesting, because it shows
that biology can work on behalf of the social as well as the
individual, and that biological evolution takes both sides too.
Shapiro traces out this process of restriction, thence transformation
by delegation to others, a transformation which can be biological as
in insects (and also in man, according to his theory), and also
cultural. Biology allows the individual to transcend time by
delegation to others--immortality--and culture allows the individual
to transcend his own space by contribution to a a shared commonality.
He calls these delegations vertical and horizontal.

Best wishes. R. Snower