The Origin of Species: Author's Introduction

"This is the doctrine of Malthus, applied to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms.", The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin, Wordsworth classics of world litterature, 1998, p. 5-6.

A simple one. Malthus has gotten loads of bad press. If at all a connection is made between Malthus and Darwin, it's mostly made under the heading 'Social Darwinism', which is meant insultingly as misapplied Darwinism and associated to extreme right political views. This annoys me. Better: this infuriates me. But more importantly: it's incorrect. And, most importantly: the error blocks us from an important insight.

First the error. Malthus was not a biologist. His theory was not a biological theory. An interpretation of his theory along biological lines in which the weakest individuals, as per the weakest social or ethnic groups, should perish such as to have better human offsrping is in clear error. Darwin's '(..) any being, if it vary however slightly in in any manner profitable to itself (..) will have a better chance of surviving (..)" rewarped in Malthus's sociological thinking needs to be seen as a variation of beliefs held by the human beings in society. The Malthusian thesis is that, insofar people have a better set of beliefs, they'll be better equipped to lead a good life. A necessary element of such a set of beliefs is to moderate population growth (not by a one-child policy but by a realization that it is better to moderate one's own procreation even if as Darwin later showed non-moderation of procreation is a biologically inescapable instinct). In fact, as we know now, moderation of population growth is essential to survival of the human race as all natural checks - other than destructive disaster - on an increasing human footprint have been eliminated. As Malthus forewarned (and therefore, in its essence, his theory stands): the only check to disastrous crisis is internal - i.e. self-imposed - checks.

Second, the blocked insight: the dynamics of creation is as unavoidable as the laws of logic and applicable indiscrimately to all that lives (& therefore all that isn't just a matter of pure logic). Anything living will tend to procreate. Anything procreating will tend to variate. Only the competitive variants will remain. This applies to beings, as is generally accepted, but it also applies to beliefs, the original Malthusian  thought as acknowledged by Darwin. We have had to vary our ideas, and hence: create new ideas, such as to avoid continuous catastrophic crisis. One of the ideas that 'had to' be created is the understanding of the dynamism of all things living, the Malthusian idea more clearly illustrated by Darwin in biology.

So what? So this: only the 'best' ideas survive with 'best' in the sense of adapted in the best (most competitive) way to the environment in which the idea. No - not just Dawkins' memes again. Because the question is here as in Darwinism - 'Adapted to what?' The notion of memes misleadingly centered on things as nursery rhymes - & by pejorative extension to false populist ideology - such as 'Darwinism-denialism' -, and that's as misleading as stating that the fittest creature is the one that survives in an environment artificially created to suit such a creature. The analogy holds: for populist ideology can only survive in an islander environment (or one of the fenced off pieces of nature described by Darwin). Such artificial islands can't survive (mono-cultures are like forced inbreeding, and will ultimately succumb under the weakness of its culture when it inevitably faces other cultures that survived in some unartificial environment - cfr. the current state of Muslim countries and the maybe future state of the culture of Western supremacy). Bad ideology is, by the way, a lot like rhyme: both are well adapted to a subsegment of the environment - those of memory and instinctive beastly fear of the strange.

'Adapted to the freely evolving conditions of nature', however frustratingly vague an expression like this may be to some, is the correct view, also for ideas. One idea is the original one of Malthus: universal education. A later idea was: birth control. Both together are well adapted (even if still obviously varying), allowing a relative stability in the substrate for creating more ideas. They neutralize the imminent destruction - the trigger for Malthus ideas - by overpopulation. Further well adapted ideas are the ideas of universal social security and low-carbon emission growth (to give those that are currently relatively uncontroversial in non-populist monoculture groupthink - the right to die and the right to be lazy are my typical controversial ones).

Here I unfortunately need to make this one even longer by going into a long 'by the way'. It is indeed important to note that the above also explains the intuitive appeal of the Hegelian quasi-dynamic of the dialectic. In describing such dynamic processes one is easily fooled by the fallacy of treating the description as if it were thé reality & then applying logic to the description to get thé truth, thé way out, thé next step. All current politics is Hegelian in this sense of identifying something bad then proposing some specific solution to it and thinking that in so doing the bad thing is irreversibly eliminated. Taking Malthus and Darwin this can't be true - whilst we can simplify our descriptions to isolate this animal and that plant, the real reality is that of all plants and all animals ... and all ideas. Things change, interact & are constantly in motion, with the brute creative force as Bergson tried to describe, such that we can't say that this situation is superseded by that one; this thing solved by forever applying such a solution.

Have I gone astray in my above example then as well? A fair question, & the answer is: 'No!'. No, because I was not specific and took care to identify winning ideas on an abstract enough level to be able to be substantiated by the insights of Darwinism, & the dynamics of Malthus. These ideas are winners in the sense that humans have to be winners; both are intrinsically and qualitatively better suited to support a creative, and continuous, growth. Ideas are a major new element of growth. They do not grow into something definite, virtuous just as DNA did not pruposely grow into humans.

The only virtue that can be identified is the virtue of growth itself. The virtue of truth even is derived from the virtue of growth. Ideas can only grow insofar as they are, in a logical and a scientific sense, true (this does not settle the problem of logical truth and mathematics, by the way!).

Even if abstract, there are other things that we can pinpoint as winning ideas besides education and birth control (the control over one's own destiny). Without argument I give a few: competition, consumption, economic growth. Other ideas clearly can't but be categorized as loosers: xenophobia, carbon growth, extension of life expectancy, hard & long work. This has been a long one again so I have permitted myself some fun in implying but not argueing that economic growth is split from carbon growth (& consumption from material consumption) and that working hard is incompatible with the emergence of original ideas. Certainly the latter is a definite to do: maybe time for a Montaigne quote again.

Whilst writing this I was listening to Anthrax, 'State of Euphoria' and 'Strawberry Jam', The Animal Collective.

16:34 Gepost door Guido Nius in Muziek | Permalink | Commentaren (2) | Tags: competition, dynamics, darwin, malthus, optimism, tones |  Facebook |


Malthus, then, seems to have been doing a form of social darwinism, even 'fore Chas arrived. That said, I don't think Darwin (or Darwinism) really refutes Malthusian ideas, but modifies them. Certainly in some situations (overpopulation, territorialization, even war) one can still note a type of Malthus like dynamic.

Malthus may not have been too PC (Karl Marx didn't care for him), but his cynical realism might serve as a an antidote to the naive leftist, or utopian, or CT reg like, for instance, Holblow.

Gepost door: Perezoso | 22-06-09

Hey Perezoso, thanks for your words. This is not the kind of blog where it's easy to reply to comments, & less easy to check back for replies to those replies - but it's nonetheless very much appreciated.

No, not social Darwinism because that holds that it's the lower social classes that get populated by lesser humans that subsequently get extinct loosing out to the better humans, for improvement of the race.

This whole notion is used to discredit Darwin, as well as Malthus, although it has nothing to do with either (if anything it's Lamarckian). The quought here is to rescue both from the charge (& say something new: to wit the unavoidable progression of ideas).

But yes, this is an antidote to that.

Gepost door: thespeaker | 24-06-09

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