Re: The left does not evolve

Danny Yee (danny@STAFF.CS.SU.OZ.AU)
Thu, 12 May 1994 17:03:32 +1000

Christopher N Matthews writes:
> Cheers to Foss for providing rich details. To others, it is clear
> that we are talking around each other. In no sense do I accept cultural
> evolution: things seem to evolve only in hindsight.

But exactly the same could be said about biological evolution - no
palaeontologist I know claims to be able to predict the future evolution
of life on this planet. Does this mean you don't accept biological
evolution either??

> We do not experience
> evolution like we do not experience the phenotypes that were brought up by
> one post. Evolution is an objectified process. It has the aura of an
> artifact, something unearthed by enlightenment era men and then passed
> along as a kernal of given,immutable knowledge ever since.

This I don't understand. All science is an "objectified process",
isn't it? What's so particularly bad about "evoluton"?

> The point to
> my critique is to reject this notion, to emphasize history and the
> contexts in which people live, to give priority in understanding to the
> fields of experience to which people respond.

There's no conflict between this and accepting that cultures change with

> Evolution, again, is within
> history, it is an idea with its own birth, development, and eventual
> death.

I'm not entirely sure what you mean by "evolution" here - you seem to
have reified the construct into something rather peculiar. Surely
*everything* is within history...

> To the charge of humanism, I plead guilty. The purpose of the
> enterprise to me is not scientific, instead it is comprehension of the
> struggles which people faced, and the structures of relations and power
> they built to deal with these struggles, and ultimately how these
> relations supported inequalities. In no sense can we escape, as
> 'knowledge-producers', our constribution to these structures of power. To
> be reflective of our position and how our products are put to use is the
> call.

I'd call myself a humanist too, but I never understood that to conflict
with being a scientist! I see all the things you mention - individual
struggle, power relations and inequality - as both morally important
and as important factors in the scientific understanding of human culture.
I don't see that doing anthropology (or physics for that matter) requires
one to deny that.

> Cultural evolution is unacceptable because it roots this
> understanding in factors outside of the control of people and into nature
> and structure. These are constructed categories built by people to serve
> given and immediate historically situated ends, and that they persist,
> that they are apparently successful adaptations, is reflective not of
> selection but of their service to the dominant interests.

So is physics "unacceptable" because people can't change the
fundamental constants of the universe at will?? Certainly
all scientific constructs are the result of particular historical
situations, but that doesn't mean they are valueless!

Danny Yee.