Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Species Evolution and Cultural Freedom

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Species Evolution and Cultural Freedom

Article excerpt

The male Rupicola crocea is one of the most beautiful birds in the world, being of splendid orange with some of the feathers curiously truncated and plumose. The female is brown-green, shaded with red and has a much smaller crest. Sir R. Schombusk has described their courtship; he found one of their meeting places where ten males and two females were present. The space was from four to five feet in diameter and appeared to him to have been cleared of every blade of grass and smoothed as if by human hands. A male was "capering to the apparent delight of several others. Now spreading its wings, throwing up its head, or opening its tail like a fan; now strutting about with a hopping gait until tired, when it gabbled some kind of note and was relieved by another."

Charles Darwin (1998, 407-8).

The males successively take the field, dancing and singing, it seems, competing to impress the females through song and dance. The females, it seems, appraise the performances according to their judgments of taste. As with the Amherst pheasant who seeks "to please the females during courtship not only raise their splendid frills, but twist them, as if I have seen myself, obliquely towards the female, on which ever side she be standing, obviously in order that a large surface be displayed toward her."

Charles Darwin (1998, 408)1.

With these examples, and myriad others, the Darwin of 1871 corrects the theory of natural selection and survival of the fittest he had advanced in 1859. He is no longer exactly a "Darwinist." He displays a readiness to interpret the relational meaning and purposes of bird behavior, and he sinks an aesthetic element deep into the evolutionary process by observing how birds both seek to attract one another and respond differentially to those attempts. The aesthetic element in the matings skews the evolutionary process in ways that exceed the simple determination of natural selection and survival.2

Darwin, the naturalist, admits that he is unable to say how the transmission process actually works after aesthetic taste is consummated and mating occurs. Moreover, his theory is replete with Victorian images of race, gender, and hierarchies of civilization. They slide effortlessly into his readings of evolution. The anthropocentrism it supports in which all priority is given to the human estate in relation to other species is also sorely in need of repair. One way to respond to such entries is to replace Darwin with the genocentrism found in much of evolutionary theory from at least 1970 to today. That approach faces two problems, however. First, as we shall see further, it seems less able than the later Darwin to render intelligible some complex results of the evolutionary process such as consciousness, reflexivity, responsibility, and freedom. Second, its early proponents were themselves influenced by a contestable model of human culture that infiltrated into the rendering of mutation, gene replication, natural selection, and survival of the fittest. Thus,

Ronald Fisher, working in the early twentieth century, was the founding father of neo-Darwinism. Fisher was a mathematical genius and systematically devised many of the techniques . . . in every science today. Fisher was also an outspoken racist and passionate advocate of eugenics. He feared that that it was the least fit members of society who were outbreeding the aristocrats and threatening to dilute the mental resources that make human civilization possible. To this day, neo-Darwinists tend to be free market libertarians . . . The period from 1970 to 1985, when the selfish gene was being enthroned . . . was just coincidentally the same era in which the unrestrained competition of free market capitalism was hailed as the one true economic system. (Sagan 2012, 88)

This example suggests that there are always some internal connections between a theory of evolution and a panoply of cultural concepts expressed in it. Put another way, even if you seek to insulate species evolution from cultural processes, some set of cultural concepts will infiltrate the account given. …

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