06-06-09

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 |

29-12-08

On Education

" (..) but we have only to proceed in improving our civil polity, conferring the benefits of education upon all, (..) and we may be quite sure that the effect to which I look forward, and which can alone render these advantages permanent, will follow." Malthus, An essay on the Principle of Population, Cambridge University Press 1992, p. 358.

"As long as the nations of Europe continue barbarous enough to purchase slaves in Africa, we may be quite sure that Africa will continue barbarous enough to supply them." ibid., p. 364.


Before wandering off again on more analytical slumberings, there is something that I felt I needed to say on practical politics. There is, luckily, the irreversible evolution towards universal adoption in theory at least of universal human rights. But, unluckily enough, there's a double problem of uncritical extension of these rights including all benefits deemed acquired in the Western wellfare state, combined with, prohibitively impractical attitudes towards their universal adoption in actual practice.

Any situation in which the amount and extent of universals is unduely blown out of a reasonable proportion can only lead, as a matter of fact, to irrational emotions (that are, in turn, the gravest threats to the actual universal rights). On the other hand, it is unfortunately so that a companion problem of demanding anything sub-standard to be rectified ipso facto in a binary way aggravates these emotions to this point we all know too well of claiming to be the purest - thereby reducing the universal rights to an instrument to the benefit of irrational emotions rather than: the true target of sane policy.

The problem is one of education. Rather: it is a double problem of education.

There is a lack of education in a happy few secularized and economically developed states on the actual principles underlying the universal rights. Politicians are left too unchallenged bandying about these universal rights as a matter of faith, more often than not making these universal rights subservient to some or other particular faith as per the tradition of their parents. The rational grounding of these rights is rarely mentioned such that citizens in these countries don't appreciate the freestanding & noble independence of these rights. At bottom these rational grounds aren't taught precisely because the critical discussion of these grounds is left to intellectual elites (and one thinks 'so called' almost implicitly with this concept) only to pour scorn on them for not merely accepting these secular rights out of some sort of secular faith quite like the faith in the revealed truths of the various religions.

Obviously there is even more of a lack of education in the developing world. Not in all but some extreme cases there is not only a lack of education because of a lack of means or a lack of education on the part of the parents but there's government ban on education (mostly of specific groups, these groups mostly oonsisting of the females). This lack is the real problem - if we could remedy the education gap, the consequently educated would no doubt remedy the rest of the gap - and that's the thing I wanted to discuss. There is a hierarchy of universal human rights & stability and food and lodging (and all of those other Biblical things) are not the top of it - not even the familiar political rights of a secular society or at the top of it. There's only education that can top that list.

So there: the practical solution lies in reapplying Malthus' slavery quote to the present case. We can only expect to see improvement there if we educate and criticize here. We can only support from here when we discriminate foreign governments primarily on the basis of a real push there to improve education to the local citizens. Only by learning to learn things independently can human beings be expected to create an independent mind; only with an independent mind can human beings be truely called human.

Voilà!


Whilst writing this I was listening to Massive Attack, Safe from Harm.

22:21 Gepost door Guido Nius in Liefde | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: language, optimism, malthus, dynamics, universals |  Facebook |

03-08-08

On the Principle of Population

"(..) and I thought that I should not do justice to the subject, and bring it fairly under discussion, if I refused to consider any of the consequences which appeared necessary to flow from it, whatever these consequences might be. By pursuing this plan, however, I am aware that I have opened a door to many objections and, probably, to much severity of criticism: but I console myself with the reflection that even the errors into which I may have fallen, by affording a handle to argument, and an additional excitement to examination, may be subservient to the important end, of bringing a subject so nearly connected with the happiness of society into more general notice." Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, Cambridge University Press (1992) Preface, p.9.


He's probably thé heretic of woolly thinking. Charity increases misery. Helping out is often a matter of patronizing. There is a necessary tendency to overpopulation, and overpopulation is always an issue of the poor. The poor stay poor - because the rich need an excess of poverty. Social security leads to social insecurity. Just a couple of things in the line of - I do not claim they're Malthus' point of view nor even that they can all be based on his findings - woolly thinking heresy.
It is unfortunate that, based on anecdotal evidence, a figure and work like that is all but cut out of the rational tradition. Malthus was hugely influential. He predates men like Darwin & Bergson in showing the huge raw power of the tendencies of nature. He predates much modern moral thinking in pinpointing the differences between what is to happen regardless & what can happen based on rational human intervention. It is obvious that much of his work is outdated - that is true across the board for all early Enlightenment science. But be that as it may, the quote shows that - unlike much of the contemporary wooly babble, specifically in politics - he did attempt science.
He was right, attempting to be so scientific was his Achilles' heel. If he had "confined (him)self merely to general views, (..) the work (..) would probably have had a much more masterly air" (ibid.) who knows? It might have been taken as a left wing bible, calling on people to free themselves from patronage ;-) It is an intellectual crime to use erroneous predictions against somebody predicting them in order to find out the value of his hypothesis. But this is exactly what has been done here. "Birth rates are lowering because of social security." - "There are excesses of means of subsistence in the West & they do not give rise to increasing birth rates." - ... All of this is true & surely this is because social security has come after education - because the West is characterized by highly individualized moral agents taking responsibility for their own reproduction rather than relying on revelation or custom - ...
The point is that now modern economist have rediscovered scarcity of natural supply - whether oil, oxygen or food - we have to rediscover the work of the main man, the man that first made this link between nature & nature´s trend to evolve towards the limits of nature's means. There is a lot in Malthus that deserves attention in modern day: mainly that simple woolly reflex response to dabble around with consequences of scarcity are not on, for the simple reason that tendencies in nature cannot be met by opposition. Avoiding nature to run into its own limits (better: into the limits where intelligent human life is no longer sustainable) requires smarter responses, requires really moral responses like avoiding the pursuit of always-later-death, avoiding that we feel obliged to be quantitatively successful, increasing scientific investigation that is focused on coming to terms with unavoidable, & sometimes whimsical changes in nature, ...
In any case we will not solve it by denying our own human nature in striving for our individual independence & access to independent thought. Nevertheless, this is the popular leftwing solution of 'back to the roots'. Make no mistake about this: 'back to the roots' will mean that the reality of Malthus' examples becomes accutely modern again ;-(


Whilst writing this I was listening (to my increasing disappointment) to Edvard Grieg, Peer Gynt Suites ETC., Chandos Digital.

13:05 Gepost door Guido Nius in Liefde | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: malthus, dynamics, competition, universals |  Facebook |