Selfish Genes, Sociobiology And The Emergence Of Modern Darwinism

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Chris Knight

Selfish Genes, Sociobiology And The Emergence Of Modern Darwinism

Tuesday, May 2, 2017 - 18:45

When Richard Dawkins' book 'The Selfish Gene' was published in 1976, it caused an outrage on the left. Marxists, feminists and others took the book to be a celebration of laissez-faire economics and competitive individualism. But when we look at the versions of Darwinism which had prevailed in the previous period, it becomes clear that 'selfish gene' theory represented a major scientific advance. Far from justifying selfishness, the new Darwinism explains in a convincing way why instincts of solidarity and generosity are commonplace throughout the natural world. Today, one of the major figures in human evolutionary theory is the feminist thinker and 'selfish gene' pioneer Sarah Hrdy, whose book 'Mothers and Others' explains how cooperative childcare was the critical factor which gave rise to our species. Hrdy's work represents a modern scientific vindication of the traditional Marxist theory, popularized by Frederick Engels, that early human kinship and family life was based on collective rather than individual parenthood. This talk will review the catalogue of misunderstandings which led the left across most of the western world to respond to a scientific controversy by tragically backing the wrong side.

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Rosalyn Bold

The End Of The World? Amerindian Perspectives On Climate Change
Tuesday, March 20, 2018 - 18:45
Daryll Forde Seminar Room, Anthropology Building, 14 Taviton Street, London WC1H 0BW. Tube: Euston Square. map

Rosalyn will be talking about her time spent in the Callawaya communities of North Eastern Bolivia, where diviners cultivate subsistence crops on the skirts of mountains still considered deities. The narrative leads the reader into an animate landscape where climate change is borne by winds that are simultaneously collections of gases and conscious deities; where change is expected and small scale farmers swiftly adapt a centuries old system of cultivation to the changing humours of the mountain they inhabit.

Catastrophic change is occurring in the region as young people are drawn away from the fields and flocks that sustained their forefathers by desire for commodities and especially western clothes, which transform them into western consumers. As they make this transition, eating processed foods rather than the nutritious fruits of exchange relationships with the mountain, both they and the mountain become weaker. The landscape is contaminated by the litter they throw away. It suffers from the lack of sustaining agricultural work fed into it, as well as the absence of rituals where once their ancestors played music to mountain and weather deities. Some people suspect that soon the mountains will become volcanoes and bury them all beneath a stream of lava. Climate change refers here to this entire phenomenon of change.

This is a local view of climate change, within a landscape simultaneously mythological and scientific, connecting the everyday action of the consumer to changes in the world we inhabit through connections hidden within the western scientific cosmos.

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Contemporary mythological accounts of climate change among indigenous peoples in Latin America connect changing weather and conditions to the actions of telluric spirits, inherent in the elements, or the source of valuable resources. Until recently, people were mindful of these spirits and worshipped them; yet now, tempted by migration to cities and extractivism, are ceasing to depend on these landscapes for their subsistence.

Interestingly, mythologies across several societies tell us that it is when we stop revering these spirits, and humans stop sharing with each other, that the world ends, considered to be underway. In some places spirit worship has been reinstated in an attempt to combat climate which is change, considered inseparable from mining, logging and other disrespectful practices, reanimating the landscape to contest capitalism.