Co-Evolution by Wm. Durham

WillEP9 (
16 Feb 1995 23:40:37 -0500

I've been reading Wm. Durham's COEVOLUTION. I find the subtle parts of his
argument remarkable in their force to convince me -- or re-convince me --
that human culture is indeed a remarkable and qualitative event in
evolutionary history -- as big in magnitude (if not staying power) as the
advent of, say, sexual reproduction or the development or social insects
or hard shells for reptiles. Just as the language of asexual reproduction
is insufficient to explain sexual reproduction, the language of animal
behavior is insufficient to explain human behavioral. We are of course
animals and I have no tolerance for a science that forgets that fact, but
we are, as Durham shows, a unique species. We are not the only unique
species; life is full of strange diversity. But we need a new language for

That said, I don't think Durham (or anthropology for that matter) is
anywhere near developing a real language to explain the biological event
of human culture, a biological entity that evolved but that is new and

Also, Durham over-writes with way too much detail on Tibetan marriage
practices etc. Sublety is already at a disadvantage and should not be
further burdened with opaque, dense and curvey writing. Every few years
someone discovers were animals (for the first time again) -- THE NAKED
APE, THE MORAL ANIMAL, etc. That stuff always blows over reseach, ingores
important details, trivializes diversity. "We are animals, like other
animals" is easy to say and always seems to sell well. To say. as Durham
does, "We are animals, but a unique kind of animal with this strange thing
called culture" is a bit harder to convey. It's even harder to convey
when it is steeped in unnecessary detail.

Durham claims in the introduction that he is writing a lay book. Whether
the book is meant for a lay audience or not, his level of detail, or his
organization of his detail, is all wrong for a book that should be a bold
articulation of a theoretical point of view.

In closing, Durham's book is a great antidote to THE MORAL ANIMAL (which
is not a bad book, just a blunt, overstated, loud and overblown book.)
With COEVOLUTION I am convinced a language, a biological evolutionary
language, of culture is possible.