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Darwinism 2.0 has all the answers (Michael Cook, 1/10/09, MercatorNet)
After promoting evolution sotto voce for many years, it burst out of the closet in its special Christmas issue and declared that Darwinism can explain everything about human nature.


Well, for such an erudite publication, it's embarrassingly naïve, but, Yes, everything. For too long, The Economist says, Darwin has been on the nose because eugenicists, racists and "social Darwinists" claimed to have been inspired by him. But recent research has shown just how powerful his ideas still are: "Man is an evolved species. His behaviour makes no sense unless its evolution is comprehended."

Highlighted by The Economist is a very broad range of nice and nasty human activity: music, murder, shopping, health, date rape, baby killing, a sense of justice, the gender gap in pay, racism, obesity, and even language (which evolved from mutual grooming). Its leading article, with the revealing headline, "Why we are, as we are", concludes with a cursory curtsey to humility: "No one is suggesting Darwinism has all the answers to social questions."

Well, you could have fooled me. In fact, The Economist's contention is that all social policy ought to be framed in evolutionary terms. Otherwise, it is destined to fail. Traditionally, policy has been shaped by philosophy, sociology or even religion. But these are inadequate tools, it says:

"They describe, rather than explain. They do not get to the nitty-gritty of what it truly is to be human. Policy based on them does not work. This is because they ignore the forces that made people what they are: the forces of evolution."

Welcome to social Darwinism 2.0. SocDar 1.0 used the ideas of natural selection and survival of the fittest to promote racism, eugenics, and robber baron capitalism. What fearsome ideas will emerge from 2.0?

The problem with Darwinism of any hue, at least when applied to society, is that its enthusiasts can cook up an explanation for everything in terms of survival and reproduction, the two pillars of Darwin's theory. Whatever exists must somehow be necessary for survival, no matter how debased it may seem in old-fashioned moral terms.

It would be bad enough if Darwinism--which justifies eugenics, racism, genocide, etc.--were true. After all, if life really did just boil down to a struggle between different classifications of organisms for survival then anything one group did to try and ensure its own future would be not just explicable but perfectly rational and inarguable. Belief in this notion--especially when combined into a profoundly malevolent cocktail with the other great reaction to God, Marxism--has produced the most murderous ideology in human history. And it is all the more tragic because so patently false. Indeed, the most devastating brief against Darwinism tends to come not from opponents--who dispose of it so effortlessly that it almost seems they must be cheating--but from believers trying to reconcile it with reality. Marek Kohn's essay on Trust is a good example of this latter phenomenon.

Mr. Kohn begins by accepting that trust "like community, status, respect and fundamental to a fulfilling life and a good society." But he then begins his discussion of trust -- as anyone who believes in Darwinism must -- by taking as a given that it is an unconscious thing that evolved as a way of pursuing self interest. As one would expect, this soon leads him into self-contradictory thickets from which even Br'er Rabbit couldn't escape.

It is, of course, problematic that levels of trust vary so dramatically across different human societies--nevermind animal. Mr. Kohn notes the unusually high levels of trust in South Dakota and Switzerland, for example, but few will argue that Dakotans or Swiss are more evolved "species." Nor is there a coherent argument to be made that their environments rewarded trust more than others. Perhaps two sentences will suffice to demonstrate that what he's really talking about here is a function of Creation and intelligent design:
Highly trusting countries are ethnically homogenous, are well governed, have Protestant religious traditions, and enjoy wealth that is evenly distributed.
And he very nearly gives up the game when he concedes:
The most successful and world-changing innovation in the history of trust must surely be the idea of an omnipresent, omnipotent god [note the small "g"]. Reason may struggle to lodge trust within it. Faith has no such problem.
There we have it: if we do value trust as highly as this essay suggests we should and if it is intrinsic to Abrahamism but inaccessible to Reason, then certain conclusions follow logically, no?

Not if you aren't willing to accept Faith over Reason. If you aren't then any prescriptions for how to build trust in societies are destined to ring rather hollow. That's unfortunately the case here. It's often an interesting little monograph, but Mr. Kohn too studiously avoids the implications of his own analysis.


Grade: (C)


See also:

Marek Kohn Links:

    -AUTHOR SITE: Marek Kohn
    -MEET THE AUTHOR: Marek Kohn
    -Marek Kohn (Wikipedia)
    -GOOGLE BOOK: Trust by Marek Kohn
    -ESSAY: Unity is Health: An Evolutionary Left (Marek Kohn, Human Nature Review)
    -ESSAY: Who can you trust? (Marek Kohn, 26 June 2008, New Statesman)
    -ESSAY: How Britain can help Poles (Marek Kohn, 05 June 2008, New Statesman)
    -ESSAY: Work, save, go . . . or stay? (Marek Kohn, 11 October 2007, New Statesman)
    -ESSAY: Materiel World (Marek Kohn, from NATO The Military Codification System for the Ordering of Everything in the World)
    -ESSAY: Neanderthals (Marek Kohn, 30 October 2006, New Statesman)
    -ESSAY: Enemies of the people (Marek Kohn, 28 August 2006, New Statesman)
    -ESSAY: Sex on the Brain (Marek Kohn, 7 August 2006, New Statesman)
    -ESSAY: From top to bottom: It is time for the left to rediscover one of its core values (Marek Kohn, 10 July 2006, New Statesman)
    -ESSAY: Savannahstan: Beyond Africa and Asia? (Marek Kohn, 1 July 2006, New Scientist)
    -ESSAY: Colour Shift (Marek Kohn, 12 June 2006, New Statesman)
    -ESSAY: This racist undercurrent in the tide of genetic research: As taboos fall away, there's a danger that denial of racial difference will be replaced with uncritical acceptance (Marek Kohn, 1/17/06, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Ebu Gogu, Dwarf or Hobbit? (Marek Kohn, 18 June 2005, New Scientist)
    -ESSAY: Why an unequal society is an unhealthy society (Marek Kohn, 7/26/04, New Statesman)
    -ESSAY: Darwin Day and the Peppered Moths (Marek Kohn, 29 February 2004, Independent)
    -ESSAY: John Maynard Smith (Marek Kohn, 14 July 2003, New Statesman)
    -ESSAY: Unity is Health: An Evolutionary Left (Marek Kohn, October 2001, Prospect)
    -ESSAY: So what tribe do you belong to?: If we want to understand our confusion about ethnic groupings we should start by looking at Europe (Marek Kohn, 30 July 2001, New Statesman)
    -ESSAY: Market Eugenics (Marek Kohn, May 2000, Prospect)
    -ESSAY: Monitor your eyesight (Marek Kohn, 9 May 1999, New Statesman)
    -ESSAY: Knowledge is money (Marek Kohn, 4 July 1999 , Independent)
    -ESSAY: Homo erectus - `a dim-witted fellow'? (Marek Kohn, 23 July 1999, Independent)
    -ESSAY: Empire- building (Marek Kohn, 5 September 1999, Independent)
    -ESSAY: It's alive - or maybe it isn't (Marek Kohn, 20.11.00, Evening Standard)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: TRUST: Laurie Taylor talks to the 2002 Reith Lecturer Onora O'Neill and to Marek Kohn, author of a new book called Trust; Self Interest and the Common Good. Is trust evaporating in contemporary society? Does more monitoring of people and politicians increase trust or encourages paranoia? (BBC: Thinking Allowed, 07./02/08)
    -INTERVIEW: with Marek Kohn (Stuart Watkins, 22/03/2006, Ready Steady Book)
    -REVIEW: of Of Men and Moths by Judith Hooper (Marek Kohn, Evening Standard)
    -REVIEW: of Darwin's Garden, by Michael Boulter (Marek Kohn, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Dry Store Room No 1, by Richard Fortey (Marek Kohn, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Avoid Boring People, by James D Watson and A Life Decoded, by J Craig Venter
-REVIEW: of IQ: the brilliant idea that failed, by Stephen Murdoch (Marek Kohn, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Coral: a pessimist in paradise, by Steve Jones and Six Degrees: our future on a hotter planet, by Mark Lynas (Marek Kohn, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Darwinism and its Discontents, by Michael Ruse and Darwin Loves You, by George Levine (Marek Kohn, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins (Marek Kohn, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, by Lewis Wolpert (Marek Kohn, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Breaking the Spell: Religion as a natural phenomenon, by Daniel C Dennett (Marek Kohn, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Monkeyluv, And Other Lessons On Our Lives As Animals, by Robert M Sapolsky (Marek Kohn, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of The Singing Neanderthals, by Steven Mithen (Marek Kohn, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Stephen Pinker (Marek Kohn, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Broken Genius: the rise and fall of William Shockley, creator of the electronic age Joel N Shurkin (Marek Kohn, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Before the Fallout: the human chain reaction from Marie Curie to Hiroshima Diana Preston (Marek Kohn, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of The Invisible Century: Einstein, Freud and the search for hidden universes by Richard Panek (Marek Kohn, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of The Ancestor's Tale by Richard Dawkins (Marek Kohn, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Lethal Witness, By Andrew Rose (Marek Kohn, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Saturday by Ian McEwan (Marek Kohn, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Charles Darwin: the power of place by Janet Browne (Marek Kohn, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Status Syndrome by Michael Marmot (Marek Kohn, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Collapse by Jared Diamond (Marek Kohn, Evening Standard)
    -REVIEW: of by Stuart Walton (Marek Kohn, Evening Standard)
    -ARCHIVES: Marek Kohn (New Statesman)
    -ARCHIVES: Marek Kohn (Independent)
    -ARCHIVES: Marek Kohn (Prospect)
    -ARCHIVES: Marek Kohn (Edge)
    -REVIEW: of Trust by Marek Kohn (Luke Gittos, Culture Wars)
    -REVIEW: of Trust (Harry Mount, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Trust (Steven Poole, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Trust (Mark Pagel, Prospect)
    -REVIEW: of A Reason for Everything: Natural Selection and the British Imagination by Marek Kohn (Steve Jones, Nature)
    -REVIEW: of A Reason for Everything by Marek Kohn (Andrew Brown, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of A Reason for Everything (Neal Ascherson, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of A Reason for Everything (Ruth Padel, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of A Reason for Everything (John Morrish, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of A Reason for Everything (John van Wyhe, Human Nature Review)
    -REVIEW: of A Reason for Everything (Andrew Crumey, Red Orbit)
    -REVIEW: of A Reason for Everything (Jim Endersby, TLS)
    -REVIEW: of As We Know It: coming to terms with an evolved mind by Marek Kohn (Andrew Brown, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of As We Know It (Steve Grant, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of The Race Gallery: The Return of Racial Science by Marek Kohn (New Internationalist)

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