Re: The 'left' of evolutionism

Dave Rindos (arkeo4@UNIWA.UWA.EDU.AU)
Wed, 11 May 1994 11:01:27 +0800

On Tue, 10 May 1994, Matt Tomaso wrote:

> Evolution emphatically _does_ _not_ downplay the
> role of choice, intent and agency in behavior. Choice, agency and behavior,
> rather can/should be seen as mechanisms of change which can be accounted for
> through a reasonable understanding of the factors influencing them.

A good point is being made here. When we use a model in which cultural
evolution arises from the selection of the huge amount of phenotypic
variation present at any given time, we need NOT account (initially) for
the SOURCE of the variation. And we definatly cannot claim that the
cause of the *variation* is therefore the "cause" of the change.

The claim that the cause of variation is the cause of evolution is
recognised in the biological literature as Mutationism. Here, the claim
is made that the direction of evolution is determined by the mutations
(variations) present in the system. From this we get led to believe that
if we can control the generation of variation, we can then control the
direction of evolution.

The Darwinist, in contrast, hold that the QUANTITY of variation in the
system is sufficently large that evoltion is not guided by this factor,
and that, in fact, the cause of the variation, while interesting, need
not be considered in understanding evolutionary change, per se.

Hence, when it comes to matters such as intentionality, conscious choice,
etc., these need not be denied. The claim is merely made that (like with
the road to hell) the EFFECT, not the intent, is most important.
Evolution concerns itself with the material effects, not with the manner
in which we might classify the psychological state/s of the actor/s.

> This would
> and should call for an accounting of unequal access to production, as well as
> socially significant phenomena such as reality construction. I don't
> see anything particularly 'left' about this critique.

Let me take this a bit further. It seems to me that much of (what we are
calling here, probably improperly) the "left critique" involves a
repudation of the fundamental basis of Marxism (lets not get into 'which
Marx?' please) in that it repudiates the idea of a SCIENCE of social
institutions. While Marx was fundamentally predarwinian in his acceptance
of typological entities such as 'class' capable of changing in its
essence, he was at least modern (more so than many of his intellectual
descendants it would appear) in the claim that NATURAL LAW must be invoked
in understanding history. OK, so his theory might have been wrong in its
particulars, and his predarwinian basis might have led him (Spencer-like)
to believe that this law could be PREdictive rather than POSTdictive, but
that does not change the fact that it was accepted that something
"external" to society must be invoked to understand society -- that a
THEORY *could* be developed. Can one speak of a Science of History
without presupposing Natural Law??? I think not.

> The critique, as I
> understand it, is based on a misunderstanding of evolutionary theory which
> bears a striking resemblance to the misapprehensions under which people like
> Spencer operated.

Those critiques of evolutionary approaches to anthropology which are based
upon notions of control, intent, etc., seem to be more theologically
rooted than anything else. There is a somewhat Cartesian flavour of the
"Soul," Uniquely Human," "Separating Us the rest of Creation," (yada yada
quack quack quack). These humanistic critique of scientific, law-based
approaches to human behaviour has a long history, well predating modern
complaints. I would assume there must be a substantial literature on
this, or am I wrong?

seeing the same thread coming up on three different lists.... odd...

Dave Rindos
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