Stranger Fruit

Combating the cosmic process.

PZ has a post up discussing some abject stupidity over at WorldNetDaily. Sign #1 of stupidity is that the WND columnist (a lawyer, no less) refers to “Origins [sic] of Species” as being Darwin’s 1859 work which legitimized “a pagan, anti-God worldview rooted in fascism, socialism and eugenics and to propagate these diabolical ideas throughout the world.” PZ notes:

What logically follows from Darwin’s theory is that fit individuals are those that survive and have offspring. There is no presumption that there is only one possible strategy to accomplish that survival: if we maintain a state that helps the weak and sick live and have children, then we have increased their fitness.

Maybe it’s just me, but I read the truth of evolution as saying that we can work to oppose brute nature and make life better for our fellow human beings, or we can surrender and refuse to resist nature’s course. We have a choice. You can be an enabler of greater rates of selection (using arbitrary criteria that may not generate enhanced survival for anything but the select occupants of a totalitarian state!) or you can work for a better life for more.

Over one hundred years ago, Thomas Henry Huxley touched on a similar theme in his wonderful essay Evolution and Ethics, a piece that deserves to be read and thought about more. Huxley wrote:

Let us understand, once for all, that the ethical progress of society depends, not on imitating the cosmic process, still less in running away from it, but in combating it. It may seem an audacious proposal thus to pit the microcosm against the macrocosm and to set man to subdue nature to his higher ends; but I venture to think that the great intellectual difference between the ancient times with which we have been occupied and our day, lies in the solid foundation we have acquired for the hope that such an enterprise may meet with a certain measure of success

Wander over and read the whole of Huxley’s piece. It really is a classic of Victorian prose.

Comments

  1. #1 John S. Wilkins
    August 4, 2008

    The Prolegomena is even better, and contains the immortal line “I have other reasons for fearing that this logical ideal of evolutionary regimentation – this pigeon-fanciers’ polity – is unattainable.”

    Ever since I first read it, social engineering programs remind me of the phrase “pigeon fanciers’ polity”.

  2. #2 John Lynch
    August 4, 2008

    John,

    Oh, yes. I have my freshmen read both the Prolegomena and the essay. Makes for a good seminar discussion.

  3. #3 MartinM
    August 4, 2008

    Sign #1 of stupidity is, of course, the fact that it’s from WND.

  4. #4 John Pieret
    August 4, 2008

    Watch the lawyer cracks!

    What I find amusing about these screeds is that the people who write them always implicitly assume that the “fittest” people are stupid, brutish and selfish. Projection?

  5. #5 RBH
    August 4, 2008

    Dawkins has also repeatedly made the point that we learn about evolution not in order to emulate it (or a caricature of it), but to be able to knowledgeably combat it. (That’s my phrasing, not his.)

  6. #6 Modusoperandi
    August 4, 2008

    John Pieret “What I find amusing about these screeds is that the people who write them always implicitly assume that the “fittest” people are stupid, brutish and selfish. Projection?”
    In part, probably. Your case would be more solid if, in this particular example, the WND writer had mentioned hot, gay mansex.

  7. #7 Onias
    August 9, 2008

    He lumps fascism, socialism and eugenics together without a care in the world. Never mind that socialism is an egalitarian ideology and that fascism and eugenics are not. Never mind the fact that Hitler imprisoned social democrats, democratic socialists and other centre-left dissenters. Christ, these American reactionaries make me appreciate Irish stupidity a bit more.

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