The sinister implications of evolved human diversity
Date: Tuesday 1 May 2012
Time: 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Location: Room 612, level 6, History building
Contact: For further information regarding this event, please contact Dr Douglas Campbell by sending email to email@example.com or by calling 6859
Audience: University staff and students
A Philosophy and Political Science research seminar presented by Patrick Whittle (Canterbury).
Given my beetling brows and tendency to grunt, it is no surprise that I possibly have Neanderthal genes. But as an egalitarian perhaps I should be worried about, rather than amused by, the genetic evidence that my ancestors probably interbred with their now-extinct Neanderthal cousins.
After all, according to ethicist Peter Singer, leftists should simply use evolutionary theory to help identify and overcome potential obstacles to a more equal society – for example, in designing policies to tackle our evolved predispositions to form status hierarchies, or to channel our competitive tendencies in more socially beneficial ways.
“To be blind to the facts of human nature is to risk disaster”, Singer argues in A Darwinian Left, and egalitarians must accept that “we bear the evidence of our evolutionary inheritance, not only in our anatomy and our DNA, but in our behaviour too”.
But therein lies my concern.
Singer (who is a philosopher, not a geneticist or an anthropologist) is making an empirical claim about our evolved nature – a nature that it is evident, he believes, in our physical make-up and our behaviour too.
He suggests that, by accepting this claim, leftists will be better positioned to deal with evolved inclinations that may derail our egalitarian aspirations (e.g., the tendencies towards social domination that may explain why egalitarian revolutions are invariably betrayed by their leaders).
Leftists, Singer claims, must now adopt a Darwinian approach to addressing political problems and social disparities.
However, is not Singer also tending towards the very thinking that most taints the odious political history of Darwinism: the view that social inequalities (between classes, say, or men and women) can be explained in biological terms?
And what should egalitarians make of recent research into ancestral human migrations, and the possible diversity arising from genetic drift, founder effects, adaptation to environment, or possible inter-breeding with locally occurring human sub-species (such as Neanderthals)? Will this scupper our dreams of a more equitable world?
Singer argues that the left must take seriously the fact that we are evolved animals. He’s gotta be joking, right? Come along and find out.