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The power of Darwinism as a social concept

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Much useful information/links/sources from Jonathan Latham at CounterPunch:

As early as the death of Charles Darwin (1882) it was said that his thought (which for the most part meant Huxley’s interpretations) could be found “under a hundred disguises in works on law and history, in political speeches and religious discourses…if we try to think ourselves away from it we must think ourselves entirely away from our age” (John Morley, 1882, cited in Desmond 1998)

Thus the belief system that humans are controlled by an internal master molecule has become woven into myriad areas of social thought. It is far beyond the scope of this article to describe the consequences of genetic determinism at either the personal or the societal level (see instead The DNA Mystique), but the two world wars, the holocaust, racism, colonialism, eugenics, inequity, are each stronger as a consequence of, or might never have happened without, the idea of genetic determinism. The reason is that genetic determinism moulded “higher” and “lower”, “normal” and “abnormal”, into intrinsic and unmodifiable scientific properties of biological organisms and groups, rather than being what they were previously: questionable prejudices and dubious conceits. More.

Yes. Some of us would say that Darwinism made various natural prejudices “science,” rendering them less susceptible to criticism than before. People who might at one time have been admonished from the pulpit to beware the false pride of ancestry might instead be informed from the lectern that they had inherited superior “genes.” That is, pride becomes a virtue, not a vice.

Whatever effect the change had (or didn’t have) on private human behaviour, it enabled some really bad public policy, like eugenics. We are still getting clear of that mess.

See also: Hi, Crime Gene, meet Epigenetics

and

There’s a gene for that… or is there?

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