Re: [OPE] Samuel Bowles

From: Paula <>
Date: Fri Jan 02 2009 - 21:30:31 EST

Terry wrote:

> Usually there is speculation that some feature or other of individual or
> social behavior has a Darwinian and hence biological origin. This is
> biological imperialism.

I came across this in the course of some research I did on New Atheism;
curiously several of its leading proponents are biologists, and often their
argument boils down to religion being an effect of the brain's evolved
capacity to believe, to attribute intention to others, etc. Well, obviously
it's true that you can't have religion without a human brain; but surely
this does not at all explain the evolution of religion itself.

When they recognize this, authors from a natural science background quickly
introduce the concept of culture into their explanation; the trouble is, by
culture they usually mean 'information' or some other mentalist notion. The
'meme', for example - speculatively suggested by Richard Dawkins and
others - is far more popular than anything to do with modes of production.

>I speculate that it may be fruitful to run the imperialism the other way.
>Historical materialism (in Jurriaan's second sense or in the sense of "all
>history is the history of class struggle" can be made into a proposition
>about human (evolved) behavior.

Otherwise, behavior will continue to be interpreted as either genetic ( in
which case you get 'biological imperialism') or psychological (in which case
you get the so-called 'cultural turn'). These two strands actually come
together in the focus on the brain/mind.

>What propositions about 'human nature' are consistent with this and how
>might they have evolved through either individual or group selection?

Crucially important is the connection between the evolution of the hand
(hence the capacity for labor) and language (hence sociality and abstract
thinking). There's research about this that we're not following closely
enough. For example, in the last ten years or so it has been found out that
there's a representation of the hands in an area of the brain heavily
involved in the production of speech (called Broca's area, located in the
left hemisphere).

One problem (for us) is that most Marxists come from a humanities/social
sciences background and many take no interest in natural science - or even
dismiss it altogether. We can't then completely blame biologists for taking
no interest in Marxism.


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Received on Fri Jan 2 21:32:21 2009

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