Steve Jones on anarchism and marxism

506 posts / 0 new
Last post
Choccy's picture
Choccy
Offline
Joined: 9-12-04
May 29 2007 11:33
Steve Jones on anarchism and marxism

Anyone ever read geneticist Steve Jones popular biology stuff? I've read bits and bobs and seen a bunch of interviews and articles.

Anyway his latest book "Coral", has a chapter discussing anarchism, well Kropotkin anyway, and marxism. I just browsed it in Waterstones and then went home and ordered it (cheaper than the shop), waiting on my copy now.
I don't know what his politics are, probably liberally, but ye never know there's always been that left tendency in biology (Rose, Lewontin, Gould etc) and I remember Jones about 6yrs ago on some Darkus Howe show saying racism was balls because there's no biological basis for creating categories and he came across as alright.

Tacks's picture
Tacks
Offline
Joined: 8-11-05
May 29 2007 13:33

you could sit hitler, thatcher, and the man who invented syphilis next to Darcus Howe and they come across as alright tbh.

posi
Offline
Joined: 24-09-05
May 29 2007 13:35
choccy wrote:
...saying racism was balls because there's no biological basis for creating categories

What?

Joseph Kay's picture
Joseph Kay
Offline
Joined: 14-03-06
May 29 2007 13:48
Tacks wrote:
the man who invented syphilis

Nietzsche wasn't it? wink

posi wrote:
choccy wrote:
...saying racism was balls because there's no biological basis for creating categories

What?

presumably that the notion of 'race' has no basis in biology, as there is greater genetic variation within 'races' than between them.

posi
Offline
Joined: 24-09-05
May 29 2007 14:10

yeah, but then how does it follow (and anyway, what does it mean to say that) "racism is balls"?

Joseph Kay's picture
Joseph Kay
Offline
Joined: 14-03-06
May 29 2007 14:14

well, choccy will have to answer what he meant, but at a guess;

racism as a discourse makes appeals to biological authority, undermining this authority renders it with the intellectual capacity of a testicle, ergo it is balls. q.e.d.

Choccy's picture
Choccy
Offline
Joined: 9-12-04
May 29 2007 16:03

Thanks JosephK, aye that's what I meant. Racism with reference to the social construct "race" clearly exists, but has no biological basis.
I don't see what's confusing about that Posi - Jones was saying racism has no biological basis, it's a social-construct, it's balls. I assume you agree or is there something you want to tell us?

Deezer
Offline
Joined: 2-10-04
May 29 2007 16:15

Yeah there has been a lot of scientific research that basically proves that categorising humanity into different races has no scientific basis. I'm surprised this comes as a surprise to anyone on here. Racism is basically an ideological construct while race is not biological. Geddit?

And 'racism is balls' works perfectly well on both those counts, I mean no-one said 'racism doesn't exist'.

Choccy's picture
Choccy
Offline
Joined: 9-12-04
May 29 2007 16:21

Exactly i don't know why Posi's going off on that tangent? I guess you can't even make some basic assumption on these boards that people will know what you mean when you say "racism is balls" - Jones was referring to those who use biology to support racism.
My point was that for a mainstream popular geneticist, Jones seemed alright because he said racism has no biological basis and so didn't sound like a genetic-determinist.

thugarchist's picture
thugarchist
Offline
Joined: 26-11-06
May 29 2007 19:26
Joseph K. wrote:
Tacks wrote:
the man who invented syphilis

Nietzsche wasn't it? ;)

No. It was SRB from NEFAC.

Deezer
Offline
Joined: 2-10-04
May 29 2007 19:47

Is that not just who gave you syphilis? Claiming SRB invented it it a bit much.

Lone Wolf's picture
Lone Wolf
Offline
Joined: 1-03-06
May 30 2007 03:41

Soz - couldn't resist! tongue

thugarchist's picture
thugarchist
Offline
Joined: 26-11-06
May 30 2007 06:31
Boulcolonialboy wrote:
Is that not just you gave you syphilis? Claiming SRB invented it it a bit much.

I got 20 years of anarchism and never had vd. I'm indestructable.

Choccy's picture
Choccy
Offline
Joined: 9-12-04
May 31 2007 15:18

Got my copy of Jones book and read half the chapter last night.
Seems kinda similar to Gould's "Kropotkin was no crackpot" in terms of it's summary of what Kropotkin was trying to do but doesn't go quite as far as saying co-operation happens in nature as much if not more than competition. Will read the rest tonight. the books mostly about coral so he's talking about marine habitats and stuff.

Joseph Kay's picture
Joseph Kay
Offline
Joined: 14-03-06
May 31 2007 15:34

tbf, coral probably isn't as big on mutual aid as ants or burghers like

posi
Offline
Joined: 24-09-05
Jun 1 2007 09:43
Joseph K. wrote:
racism as a discourse makes appeals to biological authority, undermining this authority renders it with the intellectual capacity of a testicle, ergo it is balls. q.e.d.
choccy wrote:
Thanks JosephK, aye that's what I meant. Racism with reference to the social construct "race" clearly exists, but has no biological basis.
I don't see what's confusing about that Posi - Jones was saying racism has no biological basis, it's a social-construct, it's balls. I assume you agree or is there something you want to tell us?

OK - just to clarify, I misunderstood where this was coming from. As opposed to 'racism is wrong', I thought that we were getting the argument that race, as a category, is no legitimate basis for political organisation or identity, and that this is because it is purely a 'social construct' or somesuch, and is less 'real' than class relations. e.g. 'there is no racism, only classism'. I have heard this argument made before, and thought it may have been being put forward here. (Confusion may have originated in assumption that Jones was arguing against Darkus Howe, who can get a wee bit ott about his accusations.)

(And just so as not to start another tangent; I am not talking about the relative importance of class and race in a long range historical sense, I'm talking about crude attempts to entirely negate the latter.)

Joseph Kay's picture
Joseph Kay
Offline
Joined: 14-03-06
Jun 1 2007 09:46

i'd say there's no such thing as race, but there is such thing as racism, and that the former fact can help undermine the latter.

oisleep's picture
oisleep
Offline
Joined: 20-04-05
Jun 1 2007 09:46

@ posi

hold on, so do you think race, as a category, is a legitimate basis for political organisation?

posi
Offline
Joined: 24-09-05
Jun 1 2007 09:56

@ oisleep - I think that, e.g. Black workers' caucuses within a union are fine. Not sacrosanct, but fine. I think (just to take another example) that the black working class in the US, during the time of the populist betrayal, shared a common political identity, that it became legitimate and necessary to organise around (though organising exclusively or primarily on that basis would be a clear mistake, submerging class divisions). Is that controversial? Oh dear, I really don't have time to have this discussion...

@ Joseph - yeah, I do think that's wrong, or makes only as much sense as 'there's no such thing as class, but there is such a thing as capitalism (which, as we know, is a social relation implying class)'. We agree that race, as a classificatory category from a biological POV, say, is largely redundant, and that this is a fact that logically undermines many forms of racism (though some of those based in mystical nationalist ideologies may be immune) Perhaps it's just semantics, but I'd say that the reality of racism makes race (as a social construct) as real as class (which is also a social construct). n.b. equal reality does not necessarily imply equality in other respects.

oisleep's picture
oisleep
Offline
Joined: 20-04-05
Jun 1 2007 10:06
Quote:
though organising exclusively or primarily on that basis would be a clear mistake, submerging class divisions

yeah that's what i thought you were referring to initially, just picked you up wrong

Joseph Kay's picture
Joseph Kay
Offline
Joined: 14-03-06
Jun 1 2007 10:23
Posi wrote:
We agree that race, as a classificatory category from a biological POV, say, is largely redundant, and that this is a fact that logically undermines many forms of racism (though some of those based in mystical nationalist ideologies may be immune) Perhaps it's just semantics, but I'd say that the reality of racism makes race (as a social construct) as real as class (which is also a social construct).

it may be semantics, but i think it's a good idea to never use the term 'race' unqualified by inverted commas. i mean yeah sure, races are as real as racial as racial discrimination, maybe god 'exists' on account of the number of believers, doesn't mean we don't ridicule the concept

john
Offline
Joined: 9-07-06
Jun 1 2007 11:35
Joseph K. wrote:
i think it's a good idea to never use the term 'race' unqualified by inverted commas.

I agree.

Can we say the same thing for 'class'?

Joseph Kay's picture
Joseph Kay
Offline
Joined: 14-03-06
Jun 1 2007 12:34

don't think so, like i say the material basis of 'race' is fictitious, not so for class. same reason we might say 'God' but not 'science.'

posi
Offline
Joined: 24-09-05
Jun 1 2007 12:44

The biological material basis of race is false (i.e. there is none), but the social material basis of race is not false (there are racists who do racist things, just like there are bosses who give orders).

Joseph Kay's picture
Joseph Kay
Offline
Joined: 14-03-06
Jun 1 2007 12:52

it's all getting a bit ontological beardiest

surely then god exists, because there are religious people who do religious things?

(i mean in a sense that's true, it depends what we mean by existence, hence the ontology)

wangwei
Offline
Joined: 20-09-06
Jun 1 2007 13:11
Quote:
Posi: 'there's no such thing as class, but there is such a thing as capitalism (which, as we know, is a social relation implying class)'.

Uh, Posi, the social relation that's subordinate to, valorizes, and reproduces itself is the class relationship. Class is the fundamental relationship of the reality that we are subjugated by, and race is one of the constructs that allows the class relationship to exist by containing the struggle within the narrowly defined limits of an ideological construct that must be negated.

"Race" should never be a poloe of revolutionary organizing, as the more that people concentrate around the myth of race, the more it's reinforced. Uniting on class lines, against race, and the concept of race, is the method to destroying the myth of racism once and for all. Capitalism can not survive without race. Race, through the primitive acquistion of capital, gave birth to capitalism.

Joseph Kay's picture
Joseph Kay
Offline
Joined: 14-03-06
Jun 2 2007 23:41
posi wrote:
The biological material basis of race is false (i.e. there is none), but the social material basis of race is not false (there are racists who do racist things, just like there are bosses who give orders).
Joseph K. wrote:
it's all getting a bit ontological beardiest

surely then god exists, because there are religious people who do religious things?

(i mean in a sense that's true, it depends what we mean by existence, hence the ontology)

so ... are gingers a race?

Choccy's picture
Choccy
Offline
Joined: 9-12-04
Dec 11 2007 00:07

Oh actually there's a little Guardian podcast of him talking about the book

Anna's picture
Anna
Offline
Joined: 13-11-07
Dec 12 2007 01:30

the biological basis of race is a thorny, slightly confused problem. The issue isn't really that complicated, but the potential ramifications if it is misunderstood are huge, hence it is necessary to tread carefully when wording an opinion. What you say about race being a 'social construct' is basically correct, but it misses the fundamental point that, even if race were to have a solid biological foundation, it should not matter one jot.
a few voices of reason:

Ernst Mayr, 1963 wrote:
Equality in spite of evident nonidentity is a somewhat sophisticated concept and requires a moral stature of which many individuals seem to be incapable. They rather deny human variability and equate equality with identity. Or they claim that the human species is exceptional in the organic world in that only morphological characters are controlled by genes and all other traits of the mind or character are due to "conditioning" or other nongenetic factors. Such authors conveniently ignore the results of twin studies and of the genetic analysis of nonmorphological traits in animals. An ideology based on such obviously wrong premises can only lead to disaster. Its championship of human equality is based on a claim of identity. As soon as it is proved that the latter does not exist, the support of equality is likewise lost.
Edward Wilson (branded a 'fascist' for these sorts of pronouncements), 1978 wrote:
It is of equal interest to know whether even "racial" differences in behaviour occur. But first I must issue a strong caveat, because this is the most emotionally explosive and politically dangerous of all subjects. Most biologists and anthropologists use the expression "racial" only loosely, and they mean to imply nothing more than the observation that certain traits, such as average height or skin color, vary genetically from one locality to another. If Asians and Europeans are said to differ from on another in a given property, the statement means that the trait changes in some pattern between Asia and Europe. It does not imply that discrete "races" can be defined on the basis of the trait, and it leaves open a strong possibility that the trait shows additional variation within different parts of Asia and Europe. Furthermore, various properties in anatomy and physiology - for example, skin color and the ability to digest milk - display widely differing patterns of geographical ("racial") variation. As a consequence most scientists have long recognized that it is a futile exercise to try to define discrete human races. Such entities do not in fact exist. Of equal importance, the description of geographical variation in one trait or another by a biologist or anthropologist or anyone should not carry with it value judgements concerning the worth of the characteristics defined.
...The evidence is strong that almost all differences between human societies are based on learning and social conditioning rather than on heredity. And yet perhaps not quite all...a series of studies on the behaviour of newborn infants of several racial origins has detected significant average differences in locomotion, posture, muscular tone of various parts of the body, and emotional response that cannot reasonably be explained as the result of training or even conditioning within the womb...there is also some indication that the average differences carry over into childhood.
...Given that humankind is a biological species, it should come as no surprise to find that populations are to some extent genetically diverse in the physical and mental properties underlying social behaviour. A discovery of this nature does not vitiate the ideals of Western civilizations. We are not compelled to believe in biological uniformity in order to affirm human freedom and dignity. The sociologist Marvin Bressler has expressed this idea with precision: "An ideology that tacitly appeals to biological equality as a condition for human emancipation corrupts the idea of freedom. Moreover, it encourages decent men to tremble at the prospect of 'inconvenient' findings that may emerge in future scientific research. This unseemly anti-intellectualism is doubly degrading because it is probably unnecessary."
I will go further and suggest that hope and pride and not despair are the ultimate legacy of genetic diversity, because we are a single species, not two or more, one great breeding system through which genes flow and mix in each generation. Because of that flux, mankind viewed over many generations shares a single human nature within which relatively minor hereditary influences recycle through ever changing patterns, between the sexes and across families and entire populations.
Steven Pinker, 2002 wrote:
All species harbor genetic variability, but Homo Sapiens is among the less variable ones. Geneticists call us a "small" species...the amount of genetic variation found among humans is what a biologist would expect in a species with a small number of members. There are more genetic differences among chimpanzees, for instance, than there among humans, even though we dwarf them in number. The reason is that our ancestors passed through a population bottleneck fairly recently in our evolutionary history (less than a hundred thousand years ago) and dwindled to a small number of individuals with a correspondingly small amount of genetic variation. The species survived and rebounded, and then underwent a population explosion after the invention of agriculture about ten thousand years ago. That explosion bred many copies of the genes that were around when we were sparse in number, there has not been much time to accumulate many new versions of the genes.
At various points after the bottleneck, differences between races emerged. But the differences in skin and hair that are so obvious when we look at people of other races are really a trick played on our intuitions. Racial differences are largely adaptations to climate. Skin pigment was a suncreen for the tropics, eyelid folds were goggles for the tundra. The parts of the body that face the elements are also the parts that face the eyes of other people, which fools them into thinking that racial differences run deeper than they really do. Working in opposition to the adaptation to local climates, which makes groups different on the skin, is an evolutionary force that makes neighbouring groups similar inside. Rare genes can offer immunity to endemic diseases, so they get sucked into one group from a neighbouring group like ink on a blotter, even if members of one group mate with members of the other infrequently. That is why Jews, for example, tend to be genetically similar to their non-Jewish neighbors all over the world, even though until recently they tended to marry other Jews. As little as one conversion, affair, or rape involving a gentile in every generation can be enough to blur genetic boundaries over time.
Taking all these processes into account, we get the following picture. People are qualitatively the same but may differ quantitatively. The quantitative differences are small in biological terms, and they are found to a far greater extent among the individual members of an ethnic group or race than between ethnic groups or races. These are reassuring findings. Any racist ideology that holds that the members of an ethnic group are all alike, or that one ethnic group differs fundamentally from another, is based on false assumptions about out biology.
But biology does not let us off the hook entirely. Individuals are not genetically identical, and it is unlikely that the differences affect every part of the body except the brain. And though genetic differences between races and ethnic groups are much smaller than those among individuals, they are not nonexistant (as we see in their ability to give rise to physical differences and to different susceptibilities to genetic diseases such as Tay-Sachs and sickle cell anaemia). Nowadays it is popular to say that races do not exist but are purely social constructions. Though that is certainly true of bureaucratic pigeon-holes such as "colored," "Hispanic," "Asian/Pacific Islander," and the one-drop rule for being "black," it is an overstatement when it comes to human differences in general. The biological anthropologist Vincent Sarich points out that a race is just a very large and partly inbred family. Some racial distinctions thus may have a degree of biological reality, even though they are not exact boundaries between fixed categories. Humans, having recently evolved from a single founder population, are all related, but Europeans, having mostly bred with other Europeans for millenia, are on average more closely related to other Europeans than they are to Africans or Asians, and vice versa. Because oceans, deserts, and mountain ranges have prevented people from choosing mates at random in the past, the large inbred families we call races are still discernible, each with a somewhat different distribution of gene frequencies. In theory, some of the varying genes could affect personality or intelligence (though any such differences would at most apply to averages, with vast overlap between the groups). This is not to say that such differences are expected of that we have evidence for them, only that they are biologically possible.
...Far from being conducive to discrimination, a conception of human nature is the reason we opposie it. Here is where the distinction between innate variation and innate universals is crucial. Regardless of IQ or physical strength or any other trait that can vary, all humans can be assumed to have certain traits in common. No one likes being enslaved. No one likes being humiliated. No one likes being treated unfairly, that is, according to traits that the person cannot control. The revulsion we feel toward discrimination and slavery comes from a conviction that however much people vary on some traits, they do not vary on these. This conviction contrasts, by the way, with the supposedly progressive doctrine that people have no inherent concerns, which implies that they could be conditioned to enjoy servitude or degradation.
...Political equality is a moral stance, not an empirical hypothesis.

What is perhaps a more interesting question, which deserves to be addressed, is the issue of the biological predisposition towards racism. Wilson writes:

"Most and perhaps all of the prevailing characteristics of modern societies can be identified as hypertrophic modifications of the biologically meaningful institutions of hunter-gatherer bands and early tribal states. Nationalism and racism, to take two examples, are the culturally nurtured outgrowths of simple tribalism. Where the Nyae Nyae !Kung speak of themselves as perfect and clean and other !Kung people as alien murderers who use deadly poisons, civilizations have raised self-love to the rank of high culture, exalted themselves by divine sanction and diminished others with elaborately falsified written histories.

choccy wrote:
My point was that for a mainstream popular geneticist, Jones seemed alright because he said racism has no biological basis and so didn't sound like a genetic-determinist.

What's wrong with genetic determinism? The phrase is usually misunderstood/misapplied. I made a few points here but no one's replied as yet.

Choccy's picture
Choccy
Offline
Joined: 9-12-04
Dec 12 2007 10:19

Well what's wrong with it is that behaviours can't reduced to a single determinate like genetics.

Why do you have such a hard-on for EO Wilson and Steven Pinker? wink

Anna's picture
Anna
Offline
Joined: 13-11-07
Dec 12 2007 10:28
choccy wrote:
Well what's wrong with it is that behaviours can't reduced to a single determinate like genetics.

This is not what 'genetic determinism' means though.

Quote:
Why do you have such a hard-on for EO Wilson and Steven Pinker? ;)

Haha. I think that for the most part they cut through the crap pretty well. They and others have been pretty much vilified by 'left-wingers', but I'm trying to illustrate that the fear and opposition to neo-Darwinism is 99% misplaced.