[ Contents | Preface | Acknowledgements | Chapter: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 7 | 8 ]
We are all inescapably Social Darwinists, because nature is a societal category, and there is no way of characterising nature which does not involve values. Science is the embodiment of values in theories, therapies and things, facts and artefacts. Since the seventeenth century it has been possible to pretend that this was not so, because the translation of the Aristotelian mode of explanation into the language of dualism and reductionism in modern science placed three of the four Aristotelian dimensions of causality - all of which were required for a complete explanation in Aristotelianism - in materialist explanation and tucked the fourth in the minds of humans and God. That is, the Aristotelian material cause translates roughly into our concept of matter, the efficient cause comes over as the energetic aspect of modern scientific explanation, and the formal cause is found in shapes, formal features like plans and formulas and in classifications. But the final cause - the telos, goal, use and value - went over into the realm of mental substances and has led a shadowy existence in scientific explanation.
Science is not about values, we are forever being told. Science is value-neutral. The truth is that there is no value-neutral viewpoint for contemplating and representing nature. In literature when one imputes human values to nature it is called a fallacy - the pathetic fallacy (Miles, 1942). It is sentimental and leads to doggerel. People put this alongside the genetic fallacy when warning one about elementary blunders in talking about nature and science. It has been my experience that committing these so-called fallacies provides an infallible guide to understanding what is really going on in thinking about science and nature, including human nature.
The sequestration of final causes has been a thinly disguised ruse in the modern world view. It has been a disaster, one which we must put right because of imminent peril, which I shall consider anon, but it has not even worked on the surface in what came to be called 'biology' in the nineteenth century. I have considered this matter elsewhere with respect to the physiology of William Harvey's account of the circulation of the blood and the concept of biological property in Albrecht von Haller's notions of irritability and sensibility (Young, 1989). But the place where the eruption of anthropomorphic and teleological concepts onto the surface of science was most obvious and most candidly expressed was in evolutionary theory, i.e., at the heart of biological explanation. It was quite explicit in both aspects of Lamarckian evolutionary theory - in both the inherent progress and in the strivings which modified that programme. Darwin allowed an increasing role for Lamarckian factors in successive editions of On the Origin of Species, but if we restrict ourselves to what came to be known in our own time as Darwinism - evolution by means of he mechanism of natural selection - we still find it reeking with teleological and anthropomorphic resonances. It turns up in nearly every word of the title of the book, if scrutinised with sufficient philosophical rigour, and the subtitle would get nowhere if it tried to get past a serious materialist reductionist: On the Origin of Species, by means of natural selection; or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life (Darwin, 1859). A strict materialist would have no truck with natural selection, preservation, favoured and struggle. Those are anthropomorphic concepts - pathetic ones, as you might say, just like 'nature red in tooth and claw' or 'the struggle for existence' (see also Young, 1985, ch. 4, 1993).
In fact, we do seek to root our value systems in nature: 'It's not what I think. It's nature's way.' I saw a lovely tee-shirt which made this point using as its example the fundamental laws of physics. It had a picture of Albert Einstein wearing a policeman's cap. The caption read: '176,000 miles per second is not just a good idea. It's the law.' We laugh because we spot the confusion between speed limits, which we can disobey and the speed of light, which is built into the fabric of nature. The speed of light is one of nature' most stable and fundamental features, but if we think about the meaning of nature, its mode, even its mood, nature may have many 'ways', as many as there are value systems seeking legitimation. Anthropologists know this with respect to the belief systems, social systems and cosmologies of many tribes. Some anthropologists, for example, Mary Douglas, are asking why our worked view should not be seen in the same light (Douglas, 1966, 1975; Horton, 1967).
Modern science, philosophy and political economy are fundamentally interdigitated and arose as an interrelated set of changes in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They gave us a new concept of nature, of human nature, of the individual, of responsibility, of the labour process. A feature of that network of ideas which is of importance to my argument has already been mentioned. It is what happened to Aristotelian organicist explanation in the transition to the dualistic and reductionist scheme which is ours. Philosophical critics of the explanatory system of modern science, for example, A. N. Whitehead, have argued that the treatment of final causes and related concepts is so problematic as to threaten the whole edifice. He says, the scheme of scientific ideas which has dominated thought since the seventeenth century 'involves a fundamental duality, with material on the one hand, and on the other mind. In between there lie the concepts of life, organism, function, instantaneous reality, interaction, order of nature, which collectively form the Achilles heel of the whole system' (Whitehead, 1926, p. 71).
I am beginning this chapter with what I take to be the deepest level of explanation as to why we are all, willy-nilly, bound to attribute purposes, human and social attributes to nature. It is because all of science - and especially biological science - makes covert or overt appeals to value systems. All facts are theory-laden, all theories are value-laden and all values are part of a world view, an ideology. Values are not contextual; they are constitutive. You would not believe how many forms of Social Darwinism and how many social Darwinist writers there are, if we define Social Darwinism broadly as attributing to nature the qualities of political and social philosophies. On my view, we all are bound to do so. But on a narrower view I managed to jot down Herbert Spencer, Alfred Russel Wallace, Benjamin Kidd, Prince Kropotkin, William Graham Sumner, Lester Ward, Ernst Haeckel, Graham Wallas, William Bateson, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Drummond. L. T. Hobhouse, Konrad Lorenz, C. D. Darlington, Robert Ardrey, E. O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, Robert Richards. Turning to concepts we find naturalistic ethics, lifeboat ethics, eugenics, racism, imperialism.
The list is not endless, but it is long. It has recently got a lot longer, thanks to an excellent book by an Australian historian, Paul Crook, who has written a detailed and fascinating volume called Darwinism, War and History: The Debate over the Biology of War from the 'Origin of Species' to the First World War (1994). Among the many remarkable things in this very informative monograph is the wealth of versions of social Darwinism which were pacifist. We all recall Prince Peter Kropotkin's Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (1902), published at the turn of the century and emphasizing co-operation in nature, and James Lovelock's (1979, 1988) Gaia hypothesis, stressing interdependence and balance in our own time, but how many know about Jean de Bloch, who inspired some of H. G. Wells musings on these matters. Or Vernon Kellogg on how war led to deterioration of humankind and not the to the race improvement claimed by the right-wing Social Darwinists. There is now quite a vogue in revisionist writing about Social Darwinism, challenging Richard Hofstadter's representation of it as almost exclusively right-wing (1944; the second edition - 1955 - of his Social Darwinism in American Thought tones down his own radicalism as compared with the first). John Burrow (1963), Greta Jones (1980), Robert Bannister (1979), James Moore (1979, 1986) and I (1985) have all shown that the tapestry is multi-coloured and far from monochromatically ruthlessly competitive.
Broadening the definition of Darwinism to include the pacific as well as the bellicose does not undermine my own fundamental position that the naturalization of value systems is an inescapable feature of our view of society and nature. It only helps us to see the pervasiveness of this approach. This is conspicuously true of the human sciences in the early decades of this century. They were based on models drawn from evolutionary biology and physiology. I am thinking in psychology and philosophy of William James, John Dewey, James Rowland Angell. Pragmatist philosophy and functionalist psychology were explicitly evolutionary (Young, 1981). There is an excellent monograph on Evolution and the Founders of Pragmatism (Wiener,1949), and the title essay of one of John Dewey's popular collections is 'The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy' (Dewey, 1910). In anthropology I am also thinking of Bronislaw Malinowski, A. R. Radcliffe-Brown (of whom more in a moment) and Raymond Firth; in sociology of Emile Durkheim, L. J. Henderson, Talcott Parsons and Robert K. Merton (Heyl, 1968; Cross and Albury, 1987). I could go on at length listing figures in social psychology, economics, history, architecture, town planning. More recently the functionalist world view has been generalised into meta-disciplines such as cybernetics and systems theory and applied in many disciplines, for example, information theory and family therapy (Palazzoli, 1988; Burbatti and Formenti, 1988; Draper et al., 1991, Lilienfeld, 1978; Treacher, 1986). All drew on concepts from evolutionary biology and physiology - structure, function, morphology, adaptation, organism, equilibrium, development, homeostasis and evolution - to characterise human nature in terms which embedded values in nature and human nature which were drawn from a particular view of society and sought thereby to make them seem natural, not man-made . From Herbert Spencer's essay on 'The Social Organism' in 1860 to Radcliffe-Brown's 'On the Concept of Function in Social Science' (1935), the analogy between societies and organisms became more and more commonplace until it became common sense in the social sciences and their application to industry (Baritz, 1960; Demerath and Peterson, 1967; Young, 1981, 1990, 1990a).
Make no mistake about how direct the comparisons are. Here is Spencer: 'Societies slowly augment in mass; they progress in complexity and structure; at the same time their parts become more mutually dependent; their living units are replaced without destroying their integrity; and the extents to which they display these peculiarities are proportionate to their vital activities.
'These are traits that societies have in common with organic bodies. And these traits in which they agree with organic bodies and disagree with all the things, entirely subordinate the minor distinctions: such distinctions being scarcely greater than those which separate one half of the organic kingdom from the other. The principles of organization are the same and the differences simply differences of application' (Spencer, 1860, p. 206). Having exhaustively spelled out the elements of the analogy between society and the features of biological organisms, he concludes that there is more than an analogy between them: societies are organisms.
Seventy-five years later the leading figure in social anthropology, who had taught in many academic centres, including holding the chair at Oxford, was applying concepts from evolutionary theory and physiology directly to societies. Radcliffe-Brown drew his idea of social evolution directly from Spencer (pp. 7-8) and his ideas of social process, structure and function directly from physiology. I mean this quite unequivocally. He wrote in the Introduction to Structure and Function in Primitive Society (1952), 'In reference to social systems and their theoretical understanding one way of using the concept of functions is the same as its scientific use in physiology. It can be used too refer to the interconnection between the social structure and the process of social life. It is this use of the word function that seems to me to make it a useful term in comparative sociology. The three concepts of process, structure and function are thus components of a single theory as a scheme of interpretation of human social systems. These three concepts are logically interconnected, since "function" is used to refer to the relations of process and structure. The theory is one that we can apply to the study both of continuity in forms of social life and also to processes of change in those forms' (p. 12).
In his highly influential essay, 'On the Concept of Structure in Social Science' Radcliffe-Brown begins, 'The concept of function applied to human societies is based on an analogy between social life and organic life' (p. 178). The task of social science is to see social life as a functional unity and to seek out the functional role of any phenomenon as a contribution to that unity (p. 185). 'By the definition here offered "function" is the contribution which a partial activity makes to the total activity of which it is a part. The function of a particular social usage is the contribution it makes to the total social life as the functioning of the total social system. Such a view implies that a social system (the total social structure of a society together with the totality of social usages to which that structure appears and on which it depends for its continued existence) has a certain kind of unity, which we may speak of as functional unity. We may define it as a condition in which all parts of the social system work together with a sufficient degree of harmony or internal consistency, i.e., without producing persistent conflicts which can neither be resolved nor regulated' (p. 181).
This approach to human nature and integrated by biological analogies to nature has been the norm for most of the twentieth century. It privileges a view of society which emphasises unity - based on organic unity - and its assumptive world makes it difficult to conceive of and consider structural faults, contradictions, dissidence, subversion, fundamental change, the implicit analogy being the death of the organism, something which is clearly undesirable. Functionalist thinking was the norm throughout the human and social sciences and remains so in many quarters. Indeed, it has recently colonised epistemology, as well, in the use of an analogy between philosophy and scientific method, on the one hand, and the process of biological evolution by natural selection, on the other (Popper, 1957, 1974; Radnitzky and Bartley, 1987). Functionalism is a form of Social Darwinism which became pervasive in the study of humankind across the whole gamut of academic disciplines: all Social Darwinists, as I say.
I want to draw breath now and tell you what comes next. First I want to get Darwin out of the way, and then I want to say something more about the work of the person who I believe has most to say on these issues. Finally, I want to say why all this matters so much.
I wrote an essay entitled 'Darwinism is Social' (1985), in which I tried to show from unmistakable passages from Darwin's writings (which I won't reprise here) that the distinction between Darwin the pure scientist and Social Darwinists who naughtily strayed from biology to society could not be drawn. Of course, history is not like that, nor was Darwin. Philosophers and scientists make such sharp and clear distinctions, because they have not done their historical homework. Historians of ideas and of the social history of ideas know how muddled and messy influences and theories really are. We know, for example, that the views on nature and society of Archdeacon William Paley and the political economist Thomas Robert Malthus set the frame within which Darwin worked. Paley (whose work Darwin memorised at Cambridge) placed the harmony of nature on the divine basis of natural theology, but it was a harmony in which the deity had the attribute of superfecundity, and this required regular 'thinnings'. These same assertions about the Deity gently pruning his garden, set within in a different mood of nature, gave the notorious Malthusian semi-quantitative law whereby food supply could only increase arithmetically, while population, if unchecked, could multiply geometrically: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 versus 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256. Of course, that gap never opens up very widely, just because of scarcity. It is kept narrow by hunger, famine, starvation, war, pestilence, death - the struggle for existence. Darwin tells us that reading Malthus was the key to his discovery of the mechanism of natural selection, which acted like a thousand wedges.
Darwin read the sixth edition of Malthus' Essay on the Principle of Population. Like Darwin's book, Malthus' essay had been meticulously revised, so that by the sixth edition (in both cases) the purity of the original numerical argument had been diluted by other explanatory factors, in Malthus' case leading to greater hope for ameliorating the starkness of his law as a result of 'moral restraint' from early marriage before one could provide for offspring. It has recently been suggested that it was what we might anachronistically call Social Darwinist arguments which provided the missing rigour of nature's niggardliness which was otherwise muted in the edition Darwin read and which led him to various acknowledgements of the impact of that event: 'It is the doctrine of Malthus applied in most cases with ten-fold force' (Darwin and Wallace, 1958, pp. 116-17)) 'Malthus on man - in animals no moral [check] restraint...the pressure is always ready... a thousand wedges are being forced into the economy of nature' (ibid.). He sums all this up in the well-known (and, inexplicably, in my view controversial passage) in his autobiography: 'In October 1838, that is, fifteen months after I had begun my systematic inquiry, I happened to read for amusement Malthus on Population, and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long-continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of a new species. Here, then, I had at last got a theory by which to work; but I was so anxious to avoid prejudice, that I determined not for some time to write even the briefest sketch of it' (Darwin, 1958, p. 120).
Paul Crook writes that the sixth edition 'had an extended treatment of primitive warfare that may well have crystallised Darwin's thinking about natural selection. Here Malthus discussed how with shepherd tribes of Asia or the American Indians, overpopulation led to expansionist threats and territorial battles, where "death was the punishment for defeat and life the prize for victory". Since primitives were deemed to be closer than civilized peoples to animals in nature, Darwin (in this reading) seized upon savage warfare, rather than capitalism, as a key to conflict and thus selection within species. Malthus generally did not conceive of modern society as based upon intra-specific struggle' (Crook, 1994, p. 19). This is cited among a number of instances of human warfare which influenced Darwin in the gestation of his theory of natural selection.
The fine texture of the process which led Darwin to his theory is quite a battleground, one on which I am glad to still be standing erect, in spite of a number of Oedipal attacks. They haven't yet got round to shooting at me over the 'Darwinism is Social' thesis, and I doubt that they'll bother. The Origin is the holy of holies, and Darwin certainly makes my task easier in his writings on man, as I showed in the earlier article. Here is a nice further example: 'We see that in the rudest state of society, the individuals who were the most sagacious, who invented and used the best weapons or traps, and who were best able to defend themselves, would rear the greatest number of offspring. The tribes, which included the largest number of men thus endowed, would increase in number and supplant other tribes' (Quoted in Crook, 1994, p. 23).
He was a kind man, opposed to slavery, but he still pointed out that 'advanced societies risked decay because they over-protected the weak and poor, building asylums for the imbecile and sick, keeping alive those with poor constitutions through better medicine and vaccinations' (quoted in Crook, p. 24). Where would poor old Darwin, the hypochondriac and invalid, have been if the villagers of Down had acted on this philosophy at any time between his fortieth birthday, when he took to his couch, and his burial in Westminster Abbey in 1882. And we would all be the poorer, given the contributions his large brood made to the intellectual aristocracy of Britain. Even so, he wrote, 'Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domesticated animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man' (quoted in Crook, p. 24).
My favourite quote - which settles the issue once and for all as far as I am concerned - is from a letter to a friend, written a year before Darwin died: 'Remember what risk the nations of Europe ran not so many centuries ago of being overwhelmed by the Turks, and how ridiculous such an idea now is! The more civilised so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turks hollow in the struggle for existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the highest civilised races throughout the world' (quoted in Crook, p. 25). Poor old Zulus; good old Afrikaners...
I trust I don't have to say more to support my argument about Darwin as a Social Darwinist. Of course, we can all argue about whether or not a particular social philosophy can or should be erected on his work. My point thus far is that many have been and that this is perfectly understandable, even unavoidable, in the light of the fact that we can only seen nature through human spectacles and that these are always coloured by social philosophies whose adherents are in search of natural justification. I also hope I have said enough - and encouraged you to consult Crook's account - to support the belief that Social Darwinism is a house of many mansions, some benign, some hostile, some multi-storied, such as T. H. Huxley's, which said that since nature is so awful, we need ethics to control it. Here you have a voluntarism erected on a pessimism. This is echoed in the recent sociobiological writings of E. O Wilson (1975), before radical protest drove him to concentrate on saving the planet (see Caplan, 1978; Leeds and Dusek, 1981-2). Indeed, in a successful bid for respectability which won him a Pulitzer Prize, Wilson considerably toned down his territorial claims on the human sciences . In reviewing his writings while preparing this chapter I found that the comment I wrote on the title page of his On Human Nature (1978). was: 'Damp squib - paltry gentrification of sociobiology, all toned down, like Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show' (see Young, 1979). But whether he puts his case aggressively or in a more genteel way, he still sees animal nature as inescapably warlike and in so doing advocates sociobiological determinism. But he goes on to appeal to cultural processes (which, in some of his writings, have no separate basis for relative autonomy) to modify and redirect the natural aggression. This, of course, is a position held by many from Hobbes to Freud on Civilization and Its Discontents (1930), where human rapaciousness is tamed by taboo and guilt, leading inevitably sublimation and to neurosis as the price of civilization.
Pure Social Darwinism is summed up in this rendition by the Victorian and Darwinian historian Gertrude Himmelfarb: 'In society, as in nature, there was presumed to be a "natural order" which, left alone, would insure the survival of the fittest. Any interference with that order, either to direct the organisation of society or to protect special interests, would violate nature and enfeeble society... Against this iron law of nature, there was no appeal to such fictions as equality, justice or natural rights. As there were no such principles in the jungle, so there were none in society. [In the words of William Graham Sumner] "There can be no rights against Nature except to get out of her whatever we can, which is only the fact of the struggle for existence stated over again"'(quoted in Crook, p. 203). This is summed up in the beautifully internally inconsistent phrase 'the pitiless amorality of nature' (Crook, pp. 58-9). The most concise version is: 'Might is right'.
I hope and trust that I am not being confusing. I am not trying to say something like 'Everyone is dirty - even Darwin'. That is, I am not attempting to tar everyone with the brush of the pejorative meaning of Social Darwinism - that nature sanctions ruthless competition. I am, however, trying to say that characterising nature in terms drawn from values and from social, political and ideological assumptions is the way things are. That's what 'inescapably' is doing in my title. Since it is inescapable, I am advocating that we become self-conscious about is and take responsibility for what we are now doing in a rather disingenuous or hypocritical or inconsistent or sleepwalking way. If we thing eating people is wrong, let's accept that this is a moral statement, one which acknowledges that the impulse to do so may come from hunger or aggression may come from adrenal 'fight or flight' hormones stimulated by threat but that we can often refrain from hitting out or running away. The consequence of not hitting may be a blush and that of not running may be that we faint from vasodepressor syncope. But there is an admixture of biological and cultural and individual forces at work - of nature and second nature.
I now want to give an extended example of what it is like to understand how value systems get naturalised and how we might be sophisticated and take responsibility for this process. I want to reprise the work, which I discussed at length in chapter seven, of one of the scholars whose work I most admire in the world. In doing so, I am indulging to some degree in self-congratulation, since she has been kind enough to say that I have importantly influenced her work. Indeed, I have edited and published her essays, which won the American Book Award. In my opinion she deserves a Nobel Prize, and I will now say more about why what she does is so admirable. In her magisterial book, Primate Visions: Gender, Race and Nature in the World of Modern Science and in her collection of essays, Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, (1989), Donna Haraway has set forth an exhaustive investigation of the processes by which a society constitutes a scientific discipline, in this case primatology. You might say this is not Social Darwinism, but her whole point is that it is. She shows that we investigate primates as assiduously as we do and in the ways we do in order to generate a pedigree for the way we want to represent men and women, childrearing, the family, groups, society and the whole order of animal nature. We adopt terms of reference for primate studies which, as it were, stuffs the rabbit into the hat so we can pull it out with mock astonishment and say, 'Look, it's a rabbit - or chimpanzee or gorilla or whatever, and that's why we are inevitably as we are'. We do not say , 'How like a god' but 'how like an anthropoid ape', neatly forgetting that we constituted the academic discipline of primate studies so as to privilege this particular version of what our evolutionary forbears will turn out to be like and bequeath to us.
It is important to stress that neither she nor I would say that the social construction of the field of primate studies is pure invention. Nature is out there, and those apes and chimps are certainly our evolutionary ancestors. But out of a number of possible ways of looking at them, certain ones are selected for investigation. What is breathtaking about her scholarship is the exhaustive (and sometimes exhausting) spelling out of the determinations at work in a scientific discipline. Where do the terms of reference come from? What theories, what influential individuals in what foundations and granting agencies? What individuals get what posts in what institutions? What jobs do they get in what departments in those institutions? Who are their graduate students, wives, girlfriends? Who gets to head up the relevant national granting agencies in social science, psychiatry, medicine? What conferences occur, under what patronage? What key texts are written? What journals are edited by whom? What sorts of theories wax in what periods of economic boom or bust, war or peace? What magazines fund people to go out into the field to do research which ends up on a large number of coffee tables? What oil companies need to cultivate an image which would lead them to sponsor a series of programmes with June Goodall and her work with apes? Who sets up museums and why? Who seeks what on expeditions in the field? What approach is taken by the taxidermists? How are animals represented in the museums' dioramas to which generations of children are led to see a three-dimensional representation of animal 'families'? Where does the century-long history of the representation of Tarzan fit into all this? What does science fiction have to say about the images of primates and women and men and their interrelations? What happens when women with an avowedly feminist perspective work in this field?
Science consists of only the work that gets funded and the papers and books that get published and the utterances of the teachers that get jobs in universities, research institutions and schools. If it isn't done and published and taught, it's not science. That which does get done and published and taught occurs as a result of a social process of grant applications, so-called peer review and the conduct of work in certain ways, according to certain norms. Haraway leads us through the mediations of the constitution of science - of 'what counts as knowledge' (Haraway, 1989, p. 13). 'Value' and 'story-ladenness' lie 'at the heart of the production of scientific knowledge' (ibid.) In primate studies a certain version of human history is naturalized (p. 65). Particular versions of the division of labour, management and control are given pedigrees by means of the terms of reference according to which the animals in the field and in the laboratory are investigated (pp. 77, 84). The terms of reference of research resonate with particular ideas of how organisms do/should/can be made to interact, pecking orders, for example (pp. 88-9). Meanings get constituted by the framework of the research, for example, command-control-communication systems in cybernetic renderings of animal interaction (p.105). As she says, 'how meanings are constituted is the essence of politics' (p. 111). Similarly, the concept of 'man the hunter" cast a shadow over a whole period of primate research, at a time when American young men were in the killing fields of Southeast Asia (pp. 126-7, 187).
I cannot hope to do justice to the density, depth, range and profundity of her research. I urge you to read her books and to set up seminars and reading groups exploring their levels of understanding, rather as people got together to read The Grundrisse in the 1970s. I have tried in chapter seven to spell out the utterly fundamental importance of her analysis of science for how we think about expertise in a nominally democratic society. Quite simply, it is the most important single body of work in putting the values back into science which were driven underground or banished into the minds of people and of God in the scientific revolution. It makes us see that science is 'a contested narrative field' (p. 179). Her aim is to open out these recesses, to make them apparent, amenable to contestation, accountable. She did not set out to police the boundary between nature and culture - in my terms, between Darwinism and Social Darwinism. She celebrates the traffic and is edified by it (pp. 15, 377). But she does want us to stop being so blinkered and so naive about it.
The reason why all of this is so important is made clear in her writings about the power we have or are about to have to alter the boundary between nature and culture. She discusses this in terms of cyborgs (Haraway, 1991, 1992) - creatures which are part animal, part machine, like television's 'Six Million Dollar Man', played by Lee Majors. The point is not to titillate ourselves about him or his sometime wife, Farah Fawcett, or even the more extreme case of various machinations with 'Robocop' or Arnold Schwartzenegger as all or part machine (as in 'Terminator' or 'Total Recall'). The point is that various technologies on hand or in the wings mean that the boundary between nature and culture is on the move, and we can either make that process a democratic one or one where we wear blinkers about the social construction of nature while it is being reconstructed in and around us. The process which began when Eve let her curiosity get the better of her is in the process of closing the gap between the natural and the constructed. We are all not only Social Darwinists but also Baron von Frankenstein, Dr Moreau and perhaps Dr Strangelove. More accurately, scientists will play those roles nominally on our behalf if we do not make sure they are properly accountable to us and if we do not attend to the education of experts so that they are morally competent.
The idea of a 'line' between nature and culture was never a good one. The truth was more multiple representations and resonances at various levels of the determination of meaning. But technology is taking the idea of a line away in the following fundamental sense. Once there was culture and human organisms and at the same time a relatively separate process of biological inheritance. That gap is disappearing at an alarming rate. There used to be real disadvantages as a result of that gap, but there were advantages, as well. Among the disadvantages were genetic diseases. Among the advantages was the fact that we couldn't muck up our heredity on the basis of weird and distorted priorities. This boundary between the evolutionary and the natural on the one hand and the hubristic and instrumental, on the other, is going, going, gone. Now we have to take responsibility for our projections onto and into nature, because the means of shaping nature are in our hands in the new technologies of medicine, artificial fertilisation and genetic engineering of ourselves and of the world of other animals and of plants. This means that it is an essential desidertum to build an alliance betweeen the ethical and cultural debates about science - genetic engineering, in particular - and the understanding of the unconscious as a force for good and ill.
The issue of Social Darwinism is important as a parable and as a project. We urgently need to become self-conscious, sophisticated and accountable with respect to these issues - to make accessible and to be candid about the forces at work in setting the agenda of scientific research and technology. The future - the very existence - of humankind requires us to get right the relations between science and other forms of expertise, on the one hand, and democracy and accountability, on the other.
Even if every historical and philosophical claim I made in the historical part of this paper is utterly mistaken - false, according to some methodological or epistemological criterion we would all agree upon - even if that was so, the thesis of my title is strictly true of our generation and, a fortiori, of subsequent ones, if any. This is because genetic engineering is in the process of giving us the tools (I so wish this was not so) to shape human evolution. The distinction between science and society which scholars have argued about in various ways for millennia, is gone. The mediations are gone. You can now choose the sex of your child by selective abortion. You can abort certain genetically or developmentally abnormal foetuses. Gene transplants are a reality. How far this can go is an open question. How far it should go is an urgent moral and political issue for which our decision-making processes are ill-equipped.
I suggest that the kind of scholarly research to which I allude in these chapters is also an urgent priority. It reveals the real social, ideological and economic forces shaping science. It has been opposed to the point of suppression in many quarters. Most scientists hate it and label it 'antiscience'. But it is urgently needed, because it makes science self-conscious and hopefully self-critical and accountable with respect to the forces which shape research priorities, criteria, goals.
My conclusion is that I am glad we are all Social Darwinists and am very keen that we should all acknowledge that we are. Like Donna Haraway, I welcome the traffic between science and culture. My aim today has been to try to indicate several levels of analysis of this intercourse and to make it all rather more respectable even though - even because - it subverts the false self-consciousness of official science with its sharp dichotomies between science and society, fact and value, science and its use and abuse. We can no longer afford to blinker ourselves about these matters.
(Place of publication is London unless otherwise specified.)
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