reviewed by Mira de Vries
1920 was a great year for me, even though I wasn't to be conceived for another three decades. It was the year that spawned my two favorite writers. One of them is Elaine Morgan.
Elaine who? you may ask, particularly if you’re too young to remember the furor made by her best-seller in 1972. Morgan is an award-winning writer for British television, with a side interest in evolutionary theory. Without having labored in the heat of an archeological dig or peered through an electron microscope, she proposed an explanation of human evolution infinitely more plausible than the currently still accepted savanna theory. Our hairlessness, fat, frowning, tears, speech, and a host of other features, she explains, developed in an aquatic environment. She relates it with intense common sense and delicious humor. Naturally, most professionals loathe her. How dare she challenge their authority? It was Elaine Morgan who taught me to do my own thinking, and not allow doctorate degrees to blind me to the fallibility of professionals.
Morgan’s most recent book, Pinker’s List, is mainly a response to publications like Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate, Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene, and Herrnstein & Murray’s The Bell Curve. She gives them credit when credit is due, but when they paper over cracks, she finds them. She isn't intimidated by scientistic jargon, and shoots it down with impeccable logic. One of the stylistic techniques she critiques is the short-cut way of expression, leaving out the term “as if.” This leads to the reification of metaphors. For instance, Dawkins anthropomorphizes genes, creating the illusion that they have volition and reason of their own. It is my other favorite writer, Thomas Szasz, who has for four and a half decades been warning us about the same mistake regarding the reification of “mental illness.”
Scientists, Morgan reminds us, used to contend that all animal behavior, including that of the human animal, is governed by four primary urges, the four F's: fleeing, feeding, fighting, and being fruitful. Lately scientists are facing the ramifications of an undeniable fifth F: fostering, stimulated by the emotion of empathy. The urge to foster, though not unique to humans, is exceptionally strong in us. It has been customarily overlooked by evolutionists in favor of the image of Man the Bloodthirsty Hunter so loved by its creators. Perhaps recognition that empathy evolved along with other human emotions, and therefore must be adaptive, could have tempered the rise of the despicable doctrine of Social Darwinism, never envisioned by Darwin himself. Adroitly, Morgan points out a sixth F -- fellowship. We all crave the company and approval of our fellow humans.
The psychiatric term “mental disorders” makes a brief appearance in the book, without being subjected to Morgan’s usual test of validity. Nor is her skepticism aroused by claims made for the findings on MRI scans or brain receptor counts. Here she could benefit from familiarity with our movement. The geneticists, however, don’t fool her. They found a gene responsible for cystic fybrosis and Huntington’s chorea, but they haven’t and never will find genes that are responsible for specific behaviors, because behavior is caused by an inseparable fusion of nature and nurture. She states:
A great deal of effort went into the search for the genetic cause of schizophrenia, but it petered out after the condition had been linked to markers on nearly all of the human chromosomes. Only six chromosomes (3, 7, 12, 17 and 21) do not have putative links to schizophrenia, but few of the links prove durable.” They now think in terms of sets of genes, combinations of genes, or of “a myriad of interacting genes.” Genes interact not only with one another but with the organism and the world outside with which the organism has to cope.Unfortunately, contrary to what the above quote suggests, the search for genetic causes for this nonexistent disease has not been given up. As long as the state and its concubine, the pharmaceutical industry, continue to fund it, geneticists will persist in their futile search, and even regularly claim to be making progress.
Morgan illustrates how both Leftists and Rightists have alternately claimed that Darwinism supports their views. Rightists assert that self-interest is in the end best for everybody economically, while Leftists claim that the tendency to cooperate for the common good is imbedded in human nature.
Morgan sides with the Left, and this is where we part ways. She acknowledges that politicians are bought by wealthy corporations. Yet she expects those same politicians to tame and curb their puppeteers. She overlooks the government legislation, regulation, and protectionism, not to mention corruption, by the grace of which these corporations exist and exercise power over us. Morgan chooses the Left because she is an empathetic person, and she perceives the Left to be empathetic too. But bureaucracy is not an organism. It has no feelings. It is a cold and calculating man-made machine. Precisely because I, like Morgan, profoundly believe in the empathetic quality of mankind, I support neither Left nor Right nor middle-of-the-road. My urge is the seventh F – freedom.
Pinker's List is available at Booksort. Morgan's previous books are also very much worth reading if you're interested in looking at our bodies and behavior from an evolutionary point of view. The titles to look for are:
The Descent of Woman (1972)