Is Darwinism a social construction? A few days ago I received a message through social networks that referred to a video created by the Spanish Revolution collective. In short, the video makes a brief reflection on the adequacy of the Darwinist paradigm against the capitalist model, suggesting that Darwinism is a mere instrument of power domes, maintained by it in contradiction with the cooperative nature of life (materialized in the theses of Kropotkin). In response to this initiative, and following the discussion on social networks, I have decided to participate proactively with the following content in order to clarify some issues regarding the relationships between the scientific-academic and socio-political-economic levels surrounding the Darwinian phenomenon.
The following text is an ordered transcription of the conference with homonymous title given at the University of Barcelona on March 9, on the occasion of the XIII Environmental Forum of the Faculty of Sciences.
DARWIN AND THE CAPITAL: A History of Science, Economy and Power.
By Daniel Heredia Doval
"I think that a theory so vague, so insufficiently verifiable and so far from the criteria otherwise applied in "hard science" has become a dogma, can only be explained on sociological grounds. Society and science have been so steeped in the ideas of mechanism, utilitarianism and the economic free competition, that instead God, selection was enthroned as ultimate reality".
Ludwig Von Bertalanffy, author of the General Theory of Systems.
Science and evolution: an evolutionary preamble.
Speaking of science is talking about methods and logic. In essence, science is a cultural phenomenon that develops around materialism (matter precedes ideas) and empiricism (knowledge is experiential) oriented on a method (the scientific method).
The knowledge obtained through observation and experimentation obeys a philosophical reason (knowledge per se), but, above all, an economic reason. The categorization of species is born with the orderly exploitation of resources, that of stars, with navigation and seasonal and meteorological forecasting.
Ernst Mach said that "physics is organized experience in an economic order." This economy is the economy of resources, but also of thought. About what to think?
Lamarck (1809) on the other hand, wrote "it was first economic and recreational needs that drove the successive creation of the different parts of art that are used in the natural sciences."
The explosive development of these natural sciences and the recognition of the dialectical particularity of the organic world (form-function, organism-environment, adaptation-sophistication), led Lamarck to proclaim the need for his own discipline, under a method and an ordination not only economic, but chronological. This discipline received the name of Biology (which was the title of an unpublished work).
Biology, therefore, referred to a new methodology of unified study of living bodies, in their components, properties, and in their organic relations with each other and with their environment.
His method, from the general to the particular, advocated integrality and interdependence of scale. Its order, collected the bodily affinities of organisms and placed them as interrelated pieces in time and space, as part of a world in constant transformation. Today the word used to refer to the processes of genesis and transformation of organic forms is Evolution.
The concept of evolution is, from its origin, inseparable from Biology itself.
From this small introduction, it is not necessary much research to verify that the celebrated trinomial Evolution = Theory of Evolution = Darwinism is absolutely wrong. Evolution is a phenomenon, verifiable by paleontological and neontological tests, which obeys different processes and mechanisms. The identification of these processes and mechanisms obeys to second-order tests, which are structured around hypotheses and theories. The area of biology destined to the study of them is the evolutionary Biology.
Søren Løvtrup, in his recommendable "Darwinism: the refutation of a Myth" (1987), identifies the possibility of evaluating the Theory of Evolution as the set of four dependent but not consequent elements:
1. Evolution as a natural and material reality
2. Historiography and phylogenetic ordering
3. The mechanisms of origin of the novelties
4. Chronoecological preservation and development
Therefore, although we can talk about Evolution in the absolute sense as the phenomenon of transformation of the organization of living beings in time, through natural mechanisms and processes, we can not simply refer to the theory of evolution but to theories (hypotheses) or conceptions) evolutionists who try to explain this phenomenon in a more or less universal way.
Certainly, the notion of evolution (or transformation) of living beings acquired its own dimension between the late eighteenth and mid nineteenth centuries, a process that culminated in the publication of "On the origin of species." Goethe, Maupertuis, Diderot, Erasmus Darwin or Buffon are figures who recognized to a greater or lesser extent the possibility of organic transformation. Lamarck is undoubtedly the great milestone in publishing the first theoretical body consistent and complete around the idea of evolution. After this, other characters such as Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Edward D'Alton, Patrick Matthew, Enrich von Baer, Robert Chambers, Frédéric Gérard and Enrich Bronn (the latter awarded by the Paris Academy of Sciences for his work on the transformation of living beings), followed the wake of Lamarck and proposed their own theories and evolutionary reformulations. However, none of them would reach the impact and convulsion that the publication, in 1859, of «The Origin» would produce.
Needless to say, Darwin's publication served as a trigger for the speculation and formulation of other theories and evolutionary currents alternative to his own: macromutationism, orthogenetism, theistic evolution, neo-marckism, neo-Darwinism ... Cope, Weismann, Haeckel, Mivart, De Vries , Bateson, Whithman ...
Well, why Darwin? Why, among all these names, only this one comes to light among the particular hagiographic construction of modern science?
Surely many reasons can be discussed, including the extension and focus of Darwin's work on the subject, but I think it is necessary to highlight three factors of great relevance that were indivisible determinants of the initial success of Darwinism and the success of "The Origin" as a work of media and academic scope: 1) the social positioning of Darwin, 2) its natural conception of the world and 3) the historical context in which it develops.
From capital to science: the other history of Darwinism.
"Living organisms have existed on Earth, without ever knowing why, for more than three billion years, before the truth, at last, was understood by one of them. By a man named Charles Darwin."
This triumphalist statement, coming from Richard Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene" (1971) (another of the Darwinist bestsellers), is nothing but a reduction to the absurdity of the general discourse assimilated by evolutionary orthodoxy, the scientific community and popular culture.
Who was Charles Robert Darwin and what mysterious genius surrounded him to "discover the truth" (in an absolute sense) about our existence?
The history, much less Hollywood, of Darwin's life tells a human character, chiaroscuro, with his jealousies, anxieties, tricks, phobias and simplicities. It is not my intention to make an intensive review of the figure of Darwin in any case. For that, there are other texts much more extensive and better referenced. What I am interested in highlighting in this point, according to the argumentation of the text, is the relationship established by Darwin with the high social and academic circles of the time.
Darwin was born in 1809 into a wealthy and well-positioned bourgeois family. Son and grandson of doctors, Darwin is urged to study medicine in Edinburgh before completing his elementary training. His general lack of interest in studies, his pathological rejection of the practical sessions of anatomy and the knowledge of a great fortune with which to live comfortably until the end of his days, conspire in the mind of Darwin to leave Medicine in the second year. He would undergraduate in Theology at Cambridge two years later, with the expectation of practicing as a rural parish priest, a plan that would be truncated by the unexpected invitation to participate in the transatlantic trip that would make him famous: that of HMS Beagle.
The young Darwin, enrolled more as a high class companion than as a trained naturalist (role he would take after the subtle destitution of the on-board surgeon, Robert McCormick), had the opportunity to observe firsthand the wonders of the New World. In this period he did not develop any particular thesis about organic evolution (he knew and rejected the Lamarckian ideas), but they helped him to take numerous annotations and, above all, to carve out a name thanks to the contributions of new specimens. Strater (1999) relates:
"Thanks to his abundant economic resources, Darwin could afford to send to his mentor, the Reverend Henslow, a large number of specimens collected by his employees. He enthusiastically gave several lectures about them at the Geological Society in London. Arriving in London, Darwin discovered that he had become a kind of celebrity ... He was named a member of the Geological Society and was immediately promoted to his governing council. A year later he was accepted into the Athenaeum, the most exclusive club for gentlemen in London, and the following year he was named a member of the Royal Society. The return of Darwin was not exactly discreet."
This image of an economically rich Darwin (between inheritances, family sums derived from his marriage with his cousin Emma and the activity of a lender) and well positioned can contrast with the romantic and conspicuous image of a young adventurous naturalist confronted with academic ostracism. After his return to London, Darwin would have forged a relationship with some of the most influential (and ultimately, powerful) figures in the scientific landscape of the time: Robert Hooker, John S. Henslow, Francis Galton, Asa Gray, Charles Lyell, Thomas Henry Huxley ...
In 1859, this particular position would ultimately favor the exit, promotion and acceptance of what would become his great work: "On the origin of species through natural selection, or the preservation of the favored races in the struggle for existence". The publication was preceded by favorable speeches in the Academy by the respected Lyell and reviews in "Times" by Huxley. The expectation was already sown and the work guaranteed.
However, to understand the full impact of the book it is necessary to contemplate, first, its content and structure, and, second, the transcendence of it within the historical and social context.
"The origin" is structured around five arguments that appear recurrent and not always connected: 1) the reality of the evolutionary phenomenon, 2) the last common ancestry, 3) the phyletic gradualism, 4) the conservation and diversification of the races and 5) natural selection as the "guiding principle" (the use of attributes such as "mechanism" or "process" has been consciously avoided). The latter, the concept of natural selection, can be considered as the most distinguished element of Darwin's contribution, and the one that facilitated to a greater extent the effervescence of an academic debate and social controversy.
Natural selection, this "guiding principle" of evolution, is described by Darwin (1859) in the following excerpt (underlining is mine):
"As each species is born with many more individuals than can survive and, as a result of the struggle for life, which is repeated frequently, it follows that every being, if it varies, however weakly, in some way profitable for it under the complex and sometimes variable conditions of life, it will have a greater chance of surviving and being naturally selected. According to the powerful principle of inheritance, every selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form."
In essence, the Darwinian vision of evolution is structured around three core concepts. These pillars can be recognized in their different stages and transmutations (Darwinism - Neo-Darwinism - Modern Synthesis), and I identify them as the nucleus of what we can call "Darwinian paradigm":
1. Individualism: there is variability within the populations and this manifests conspicuously, continuously and not addressed. Gould (2004) would call this variation "isotropic".
2. Competence: the limitation of resources entails the non-survival of all individuals. Admitting that individual variation provides "competitive advantages" in accessing limiting resources to individuals versus the rest, a differential survival (and reproduction) occurs.
3. Causality: The previous principles are embedded within a mechanistic conception of nature, which obeys causal chains and reciprocity between actions. That is, favorable variation in a medium is a guarantee of survival and reproduction, while survival and reproduction are guarantees of the conservation (inheritance) of these variations.
In this way, the ultimate causes of variation (epigenetics) are ignored, and the organism is suppressed as an active subject of evolution, constituting itself as an informationally closed system in front of the environment. The latter is a selector element, never an instructor, without the ability to alter hereditary information or direct variation. Adaptation is possible through the coupling of populations (not individuals). And evolution, as a complete historical journey of life, is nothing more than the sum of the adaptive processes of populations from their origins
But, after this necessary parenthesis, let's go back to the historical thread. Fight for existence, competition for resources, individuality. Where do these concepts located in the backbone of Darwinism come from? Are they a revelation of our London hero?
We can identify a coherent chain of thought in the development of ideas close to Darwinism in figures of historical relevance such as Thomas Hobbes (the struggle of all against all), Alphonse de Candolle (nature in war), Adam Smith (the invisible hand of the market), Thomas Malthus (on the growth of the population) and Herbert Spencer (the survival of the fittest), who would be, by time, influence and follower of Darwinism.
Darwin himself (1876) would be explicit in mentioning the influence of Malthus in his ideas:
«In October of 1838, this is fifteen months after having begun my systematic study, it occurred to me to read for pleasure the essay by Malthus on the population and, as he was well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence that is everywhere deduced from a long and constant observation of the habits of animals and plants, I discovered right away that, under these conditions, the favorable variations would tend to be preserved, and the unfavorable ones to be destroyed. The result would be the formation of new species. Here I had finally got a theory to work on."
And, even more directly (1859):
«[This] is the doctrine of Malthus applied with multiplied force to the set of animal and vegetable kingdoms; because in this case there is no artificial increase in food and prudent limitation of marriages."
Certainly, the sociological descent of Darwinism is a topic of discussion from almost the beginning of it. In a modern review, the always sharp Stephen Jay Gould (2004) wrote:
«If Darwin used Malthus to capture the central role of the continuous and hard struggle for existence, then he needed the school of the Scottish economists (the laissez-faire theorists, captained by Adam Smith and his research on nature and causes of the wealth of nations, whose first edition was published in the auspicious and revolutionary year of 1776), to formulate the even more fundamental principle of natural selection itself. I would say that natural selection is, in essence, Adam Smith's economy transferred to nature."
Quite less explicit is the evidence of precursors in the previous transposition of these ideas into the evolutionary framework. The contact of this Hobbesian line of thought with the open question about the origin of the species resulted in the conformation (in parallel?) of the more general assumptions of evolutionism (Malthusian) by natural selection: Patrick Matthew, Edward Blyth and Alfred R. Wallace and, later, Darwin himself, built a model of nature that reflected his own conception of society.
At this point, and in knowledge of these precursors and conditioning factors, we must rescue the question that triggered this argument: why Charles Darwin?
The privileged social position, the long economic solvency and the contextual culture broth (historical contingent germinated during decades) are powerful reasons to understand why Darwin could dedicate himself to this company. However, there remains one last point, more or less direct consequence of the previous ones, which has to do with the exercise of power behind the initial propulsion and acceptance of the key points of Darwinism.
The circle of friends and colleagues that Darwin had forged for years, of deliberate liberal position, had an enormous influence on the primal development of Darwinism. Huxley, Hooker, Tyndal, Spencer and other figures of increasing importance managed to occupy positions of relevance and leadership in leading scientific societies, museums and universities, exert editorial pressure and influence, coerce and repress critics and preserve the authorship of Darwin, as well as participating in heated debates and popular talks with propelling the Darwinian hegemony as a scientific bastion of liberalism. This group of intellectuals was constituted as a society under the name of "X-Club" and, according to chroniclers of the time, became "the most influential and powerful scientific group in England."
In fact, according to Larson (2006):
"Working in a small and tightly knit group of like-minded intellectuals, known as the X-Club, Huxley and his friends managed to take on leadership roles in many of the highest-level British scientific societies, putting people who supported them in high positions in universities and museums, and influenced the editorial policy of scientific journals. In 1869, they founded the journal Nature as a spokesperson for scientific naturalism and from their pages they daringly promoted Darwinism [...] in the 1880s. Those who opposed them affirmed that Darwinism had become a blindly accepted dogma, well shielded against any serious attack."
Thus, at the end of the 19th century, although the sufficiency of Darwinism as a general explanation of evolution was far from being accepted (igniting a heated debate about modes, times and evolutionary directions), its underlying ideology had been assimilated as part of the discourse on the biological order. The "socialization of nature" had germinated to flourish now on the ground watered by the transmutations of power and domination.
From science to capital: Darwinism and socio-politics of the twentieth century.
Darwinism, with the survival of the fittest by the flag, supposes the elevation of the social order to a natural order and, for many, to a «law of nature». In short, Darwinism is based on the biological superiority of some individuals over others in an environment of contextual competence.
Needless to say, it is suggestive that this natural interpretation turned out to be a pleasing and justifying explanation (perfectly adapted) for the emerging power orders of the time. Darwinism has been (is) an element of reinforcement for different forms of power based on the recognition of competition and struggle as an engine of progress, biological superiority and / or historical and geographical domination. Capitalism, Marxism, imperialism and the different "biotypisms" (to use a term that brings together all forms of discrimination based on biological types), have been influenced and justified to a greater or lesser extent by Darwinian terms.
The relationship between capitalism and Darwinism is surely the most obvious, and arises from the beginning as a feedback loop. As recounted by Templado (1974):
"From the beginning Darwinism was an ally of liberalism, it was considered as a means of raising the doctrine of free competition to the degree of natural law and thus provide a scientific basis for liberal progress ... This doctrinal coincidence would explain the rapid spread that Darwinist ideas have had in the liberal media of that time, and the enmity that awakened in the conservative social elements."
Constituted as a natural base of liberal rationality, Darwinism was not only assimilated but actively promoted by the X-Club and the liberal circles as an integral part of a process of social transformation, real and premeditated. T.H. Huxley, for example, was not only an outspoken advocate of Darwinism in academics, but also organized talks in factories to instruct workers on the wonders of the liberal system and Darwinism.
In fact, until today, the binomial Darwinism-capitalism, built with a circular reason, has been recognized as part of the justification discourse of the economic elites. As a sample button, John R. Rockefeller said: "the growth of a big business consists, simply, in the survival of the fittest [...] it is, simply, the development of a law of Nature." This discourse has permeated modern rationality.
On the other hand, Marxism has dialogued in a somewhat more complex way with Darwinism. It is tempting to see a reflection of the struggle for existence, as the motor of biological history, in the class struggle, as the engine of the history of humanity. Marx (correspondence with Engels, 1860) received with interest and complicity the ideas of Darwin at the beginning ("The book of Darwin is very important and serves as the basis for the class struggle in history", "in this book one can find the natural historical foundation of our idea"), to migrate later to a much more critical position. Recognizing Darwinism as an ally of capitalism, and paying attention both to the tautological relations between both, Marx would find in this an incomplete (and unsuccessful) attempt to explain the order of nature and transpose it into society. He wrote (1875):
"The essential difference between human society and animal society is that animals, in the best of cases, collect, while men produce. This difference, unique but capital, is enough to prevent the pure and simple transposition of natural laws to human ones [...] The simple fact of considering the previous history as a series of class struggles reveals all the inconsistency of the conception of this same history as a slight "variation of the struggle for life". And, for my part, I do not intend to give this pleasure to these pseudo-naturalists."
Although, subsequently, Darwinism has been collected by Marxist authors as an element of influence and justification on the class struggle, it seems that, at least from a historical point of view, Marx had more than enough reasons to find in it an element to confront. Darwin himself was opposed to the struggles for workers' rights and was deeply concerned about the "Darwinian" effects they could bring. In a letter to Fick (1872), he wrote:
"I would like to have the opportunity to discuss with you [...] the idea that all our unions insist on, that all workers, the good and the bad, the strong and the weak, should work the same number of hours and receive the same payments. Unions also oppose piecework (in short, all competition). I am afraid that cooperative societies, which many see as the main hope for the future, likewise exclude competition. This seems to me a great danger to the future progress of humanity. However, under any system, moderate and frugal workers will have an advantage and leave more descendants than drunks and reckless."
Although the influence on economic models is undeniable, much more explicit has perhaps been the adherence of Darwinian canons to discourses on imperialism and colonialism. The processes of domination and violent expansion are framed as part of a logical order, a natural right for the control of resources (including natural resources, territories and human populations).
In fact, personalities as influential (and recognized in Darwinian historiography) as Spencer ("civilizations, societies and institutions compete with each other, and only those who are biologically more effective win"), and Haeckel ("the totality of the history of the nations [...] must be explained through natural selection, passion and egoism, conscious or unconscious, are everywhere the driving force of life"), were clearly manifested in this sense.
When this reason of domination overlaps the notions of biological superiority between peoples and individuals, we obtain as a result a direct transposition of natural dynamics over societies. The questions about the different forms of biological supremacy in terms of gender, race, social class, etc., constitute the nucleus of what has come to be called "Social Darwinism". Far from representing a byproduct of "scientific Darwinism," these questions are an inseparable part of the Darwinian construct. In fact, Darwin manifested himself repeatedly on the subject. For example (1871):
"One day, certainly not very distant, from here to there will be counted by thousands the years in which the civilized human races will have exterminated and replaced all the savages in the world scattered. For that same day they will no longer exist, as Professor Schaffhauser observes, the anthropomorphic monkeys, and then the lagoon will be even more considerable, because there will be no intermediate links between the human race that predominates in civilization, namely: the Caucasian race and a species of inferior monkey, for example the papion, whereas at present the lagoon exists only between the black and the gorilla."
This vision, although not shared by all the naturalists of his time (see Mivart, 1871), constituted a logical extension of his vision of the natural order. In the same way, Darwinism based on these same racial bases the positions of exploitation and discrimination of women (1871):
"The main distinction in the intellectual faculties of the two sexes is manifested in the fact that man arrives in everything he attains to a higher point than women, whether it is a matter of deep thought, or reason, imagination. or simply the use of the senses and hands [...] It is generally accepted that in women the faculties of intuition, of rapid perception and perhaps also those of imitation, are much more alive than in man; but some of these faculties, at least, belong to the inferior races, and therefore correspond to a state of past and lower culture."
As a final touch, perhaps a historical joke that reminds us of the suitability of science as a tool of submission and rationalization of barbarism, Darwin makes use of the incipient biometric statistics (not in vain, led by his cousin Galton) as the ultimate justification for his ideas (ibid):
"We can infer from the law of diversion of average types - so well exposed by Galton in his work on the "hereditary genius" - that if men are in decided superiority over women in many respects, the average term of their faculties will be above that of the woman."
At this point, the cycle closes. Darwinism is an act of socialization of nature (from Capital to Science), which synthesizes the notions of thought of Hobbes, Candolle, Adam Smith and Malthus on the biological order (the economics of evolution, if wants). But, reciprocally, Darwinism becomes an element of justification (as a natural law) over the same social practices, an ideal that makes natural competition, exploitation, colonization, domination and extermination. It is the naturalization of society (from Science to Capital), under a notion of nature perfectly designed for this purpose.
As Marx rightly criticized (1875), at the very dawn of this tautology:
"The whole Darwinian doctrine of the struggle for life is nothing more than the transposition of society to nature, Hobbes's doctrine on the "bellum omnium contra omnes", and the bourgeois-economic doctrine of the concurrence united to the demographic theory of Malthus. Once this trick of sleight-of-hand is executed, [...] these same theories of organic nature are transposed back to history and then it is claimed that their validity has been proven as eternal laws of human society."
This self-referenced relationship will be completely assimilated with the acquisition of a practical reason, a use and exchange value, that is, with the capitalization of Darwinism and its recognition as a tool of control, manipulation and, in essence, power. This would come hand in hand with the revolution caused by genetics.
It is impossible to understand the transcendence of Darwinism today and its acceptance during the twentieth century without the perspective of what the irruption of genetics meant for the World, and how it intersected with the foundations of neo-Darwinism in order to become science applied and applicable.
Perhaps one of the most transcendental questions in the area of biological sciences is that of information. What it is, where it resides and how biological information changes has been one of the great questions of biology since its inception.
The information is in the very center of the most elementary questions about biological identity and the inheritance of it. How is the morphology, behavior, embryological development and all the melting pot of characters that constitute a living being constituted and inherited? With what material forms and under what laws does it manifest itself? These issues, when included under the microscope of time, acquire, finally, their privileged position within the framework of evolution: how does this biological information change and be conserved?
The irruption of Mendelism on stage would establish a series of criteria in favor of some of the hypotheses in tricks. The works of Mendel, reinterpreted and taken from the ground by De Vries, Johannsen and others, would synthesize at the beginning of the 20th century a series of premises: 1) there are continuous and discrete characters, 2) the information is particulate, 3) the inheritance is combinatorial, 3) the expression of these particles is differential, 4) and is inherited in a deterministic way and 5) quantifiable in frequencies among the offspring.
Johannsen (in 1902) would give these particles or "hereditary determinants" the name "Gen". It seemed that, finally, the path towards resolving the problem of biological information had been found. Throughout the first half of the century the body of classical genetics would incorporate many of the notions that today are familiar and indissoluble: the genetic information lies in the form of DNA, the genes are sequences of this molecule, the inheritance is produced by duplication (semiconservative), the mechanisms of change are given by mutation and recombination.
Genetics was born as a quantitative science, causing enormous interest and expectation. This meant capturing not only attention but, consequently, capital for its development and research. The promises of genetics (as it happens today) were a great economic attractor. These money inputs would facilitate their rapid settlement and the enormous influence they would exert on the development of the natural sciences of the 20th and 21st centuries.
An important and representative milestone both of the direction that science would take from then as well as the strong growth that genetics would have, constitutes the financial jump of the crack of 1929. According to Olarieta (2009):
"Genetics was seriously shaken by the capitalist crisis of 1929. From that moment, the Rockefeller Foundation began a major shift in its policy of subsidies favorable to the new science and to the detriment of others, such as mathematics or physics. Between 1932 and 1945, the Foundation contributed approximately 25 million dollars at the time to finance the new synthetic genetics or "formalistic" [...] The favorite destination of the Rockefeller grants was the laboratory of Thomas H. Morgan in Pasadena (California), who became famous for his flies [...] Generously awarded scholarships by Rockefeller and Weaver [this named in 1932 director of the Science Division of the Rockefeller Institute], numerous geneticists from all over the world passed through the laboratories of Morgan in Pasadena [including Theodosius Dobzhansky] to learn the wonders of Mendelian theory".
The Rockefeller Foundation, like all private foundations, decides where their donations go based on particular criteria, be they chrematistic or subjectively philanthropic. Genetics promised to be the biological revolution of the century, and not only as a way to access the most elementary questions (Ibid):
"Money was not directed towards philosophy, nor the history of art; it went to Morgan's lab in California because Morgan's work, like Emerson's, were experimental, putting the accent on the control and manipulation of living nature, that is, because they were an instrument of domination [...] Biology had ceased to be that old descriptive science, already acquiring a clearly experimental tone. It was life, in its broadest sense, social, historical, political, what they wanted to control and believed that genes were the key to it."
It is at this point that we can reconnect with Darwinism. Mendelian genetics, now proposed as a solution to the problems of information and biological inheritance, was taken as the material basis on which to execute the principles of neo-Darwinism. This hybridization was given the name of Population Genetics, and would constitute the basis of what would later be the Modern Synthesis.
With the genetics of populations, the same pillars of the Darwinian paradigm are rebuilt with a new face: the mutation is the source of variability (isotropic), guarantor of individualism. Nothing is known, nor is it necessary to know at this point, about the ultimate phenomenology of the changes, these will be considered random. The selection is given as a result of differential survival mediated by competition. Success, now, depends on the genetic inheritance, and this, in turn, is deterministic in terms of survival.
The general scheme, therefore, remains intact.
It is interesting to remember at this point that Neo-Darwinism (a hardening of Darwin's thesis led by Weismann to the death of the first) was a current, even minority, within the evolutionary crucible of the late nineteenth century, before transmutation around the genetics. The success of the modern synthesis has been so resounding and assimilated that, to this day, the scenarios and causes that led to the decline of Neo-Lamarckist, orthogonalist, macromutationalist and even Darwinist currents contrary to absolute faith in the genetics of populations.
Why the modern synthesis? Why is it this genocentric vision of evolution that has lasted and spread throughout biology?
Without any doubt, the opportune association with genetics in the midst of a paradigmatic revolution can be found among the main causes. The modern vision of this one supposed a true tsunami on other bodies of knowledge, like the embryology or the paleontology, and the currents that did not know or wanted to assimilate the genetics in their bases decayed in popularity suffered a kind of obsolescence.
However, it is impossible to understand this movement without framing it within the social context of the time, in the first half of the 20th century permeated by the ideas of imperialism, colonialism, supremacy, domination and the violent clash of large socio-economic blocs.
And, in the middle of this Darwinian scenario, an idea that has been forged for decades becomes tangible thanks to the genetics of populations: eugenics.
Neo-Darwinism and eugenics are intimately linked concepts. While the first deals with the evolution of biological capital, the second simply transposes it as social capital. What value has a particular physical or psychological character of an individual in society? The genetics of populations, mediator in both cases, explains how differential survival is based on a hereditary reason. The only, but crucial, difference is that eugenics emerges as an intervention technique. It is human beings themselves who select, taking control of their own evolution.
The term eugenics (from Greek: "good race") is introduced by Francis Galton, cousin of Darwin, based on the ideas of the latter: "what nature does blindly, slowly and without mercy, man can do it according to his forecasts, quickly and in a friendly way." A distinction is usually made between two strategies of eugenic intervention: positive eugenics for policies of stimulation of reproduction between individuals with "desirable" traits, and negative eugenics for coercion of reproductive actions of individuals with "undesirable" traits (understand the subjectivity of the desired value and the ethical responsibility involved). The first is based on the certified establishment of couples of high eugenic value for reproductive purposes, the second, on methods of instruction, coercion, isolation, sterilization and extermination.
Eugenics had a great impact on the socio-political development of the 20th century. The illusion of population control was suggestive for different governments, individuals and private organizations. Not in vain, with the support of governments and institutes and the justification of genetics, the practical applications of eugenics and social Darwinism materialized in the first half of the 20th century. Researchers dedicated to eugenics were recognized with important chairs and university positions, centers and institutes dedicated especially for the study of eugenics were created (for example, the Galton Eugenics Institute, the Eugenics Society or several divisions of the Kaiser Wilhem Institute), and received strong economic inputs from government and private funds.
Among the latter, it is possible to rescue some figures of the income destined for eugenics by the Rockefeller Institute between 1902 and 1936 (the amounts are expressed in the monetary value of the time, greater than the current one):
Eugenics Record Office
Eugenics Record Office
KWI of Psychiatry
KWI for Brain Research
KWI Anthropology & Eugenics
Finally, eugenics would be put into practice through local and national legislation. Only in the United States, mandatory sterilization laws were applied in thirty-two states, on those persons who, under the criterion of the eugenicists, "suffered from hereditary disabilities". Between 1900 and 1933 more than sixty thousand individuals were sterilized in the United States in compliance with these laws, including more than twenty thousand people in California alone. And, according to Larson (2006):
"Beginning with Germany, with the approval in 1933 of the Law for the Prevention of Genetically Ill Progeny, all the Nordic nations adopted some kind of legislative measure for eugenics sterilization."
Even in our country, some authors advocated eugenics during the Second Republic and Franco's dictatorship, in pursuit of the recovery of the "Hispanic race which forged the Empire of the sixteenth century", being a much more popular and known in the twenties and thirties of what can be supposed. But, of course, it was in Nazi Germany where the impact would be most shocking. The eugenic policies would eventually lead to the holocaust of the Second World War, where the "negative eugenics" would end with millions of people, victims of racism and anti-Semitism, but also disabled and homosexuals.
The link between Darwinism and eugenics is profound, which would explain the influence that the latter would have had as a vehicle for its acceptance and development. As we have seen, both share the same conceptual axis and follow each other in logical order. But in addition, the main representatives of Darwinism manifested themselves explicitly about their social transposition, in some cases making eugenics their main area of interest: Galton, Spencer, Haeckel, Morgan, Fisher, Haldane, Dobzhansky. Darwin himself wrote (1871):
"Loafers, degraded and often vicious tend to multiply in a faster proportion than the prudent and generally virtuous [...] If the various obstacles we have pointed out [...] do not prevent the loafers, the vicious and other lower limbs of the society increase in greater proportion than the men of superior class, the nation will delay instead of advancing, as it is easy to prove it, for abound the examples in the history of the world."
In its modern form under population genetics, Haldane was a convinced eugenist and suggested that only the best one thousandth of the current human race should be reproduced, while Fisher was appointed in 1933 a professor of eugenics at the University of London, and eugenics, in fact, was a subject that "totally consumed him". Dobzhansky, disciple of Morgan and one of the most influential geneticists of the time affirmed (1969):
"Among the biological problems that humanity has to face, after the terrible problem of overpopulation, the most important is the channeling and direction of the biological evolution of our species [...] People who know are carriers of serious hereditary defects they must be educated so that they understand the importance of this fact, in such a way that they are convinced that they can not reproduce. Or if they do not have enough intellectual preparation to make a decision, their separation from society or their sterilization is justified."
Finally, Julian Huxley (grandson of TH Huxley) lent his image in an audiovisual campaign for the promotion of the eugenic movement of the 1950s. This is an important point considering that Huxley was not only the architect of the actual consolidation of the Modern Synthesis, but the founder and first general director of UNESCO, among other very visible administrative positions.
The Darwinism of modern synthesis, with the assimilation of population genetics and as a theoretical axis of eugenics, would be positioned in the front line of Western scientific development, even with the decline (or sophistication) of eugenic practices. Taking resources and eliminating the other lines of evolutionary thinking, Darwinism stands in the mid-century as a synonymous of the theory of evolution. In the words of Larson (2006):
"In 1959, upon the arrival of the widely celebrated centenary of Darwin's Origin of Species, the modern synthesis had already become a true dogma within biology and its most prominent speakers were at the top of the profession, occupying chairs in the elite universities and similar ones in the boards of directors of all the important scientific societies."
Paradigmatic coda: towards a new Biology.
The scheme I have presented in this essay has sought to reflect a historical process of development of Darwinian thought, its assimilation and alignment as a tool of justification and execution of power. This thread tries to approach the relations between Darwinism and capital, since power, in the last analysis, is based on the capacity to possess, accumulate and manipulate resources at will (including monetary, geographical or human resources).
I have considered that, in synthesis, Darwinism:
1. Starts in a sociopolitical and cultural framework
2. It meshes as part of a new social order
3. It is elevated to the status of natural law
4. Justifying the different forms of power
5. To acquire a use value with genetics
6. Capitalizes and empowers, attracting resources and gaining political and academic positions
This is simplified in a self-referential and self-justifying loop in the passage from the "socilization of nature" to the "naturalization of society". Loop that is framed on the new construction of genetics (see "The myth of the Gen") to execute biological, ecological and social engineering practices, colonizing (almost) definitively the whole of biology. Assimilating the rest of disciplines, occupying positions of relevance and reaching public domain, Neo-Darwinism pervades the development of the biological sciences to date.
On the way is the dramatic execution of Social Darwinism, an inseparable element of the Darwinian trunk, as well as the controversial practices promoted under the paradigm of modern synthesis (green revolution, massive exploitation of resources, genetic modification). This would be the outcome of an ideal construction of society, transposed to nature and executed systematically.
After all this journey, many are the voices that claim that the relationship between Darwinism and power, between science and capital in a broad sense, can only be called, in the worst case, a bad practice of a good theory. Recognizing its logic, I consider it impossible to separate the scientific-academic from the sociopolitical-economic plane. It is not possible to confront the "monster" (as a giant, power and deformity) that is Darwinism without referring to social or scientific arguments. I consider it fundamental to analyze (even so briefly) the relations with power, as it is necessary to question the validity, sufficiency and even the mere existence of Darwinism as a real research program.
But that will be another article.
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Olarieta, J.M. (2012). The materialist theory of evolution in the USSR. Theoria. 2009; (2).
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Darwin, C. (1977). Autobiography and chosen letters. Madrid: Alliance.
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The USA has been obsessed with the idea to punish Russia lately. Targeted actions to retaliate for the "new Pearl Harbor" or the "new 9/11" may get out of control one day