Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What can chimpanzees teach us about human nature?

Chris Knight of the Radical Anthropology Group explores the relationship between sex, language and culture

What can chimpanzees teach us about human nature?
Chris Knight of the Radical Anthropology Group explores the relationship between sex, language and culture
Almost identical DNA, radically different behaviour

Many Darwinians argue that humans are basically apes, who are rank-conscious and violent, and that is why we have rape, war, hierarchy and inequality. As Darwin argued, we must have evolved from a primate, chimp-like ancestor, so it is no surprise that we are genetically very close. And if you think genes determine behaviour then it makes sense to argue that you cannot change human nature, so socialism is an unworkable dream.

A good thing about Noam Chomsky is that he refutes all this, arguing that human nature is utterly different. The main difference, he says, is that we have language, which has been genetically installed. But then he goes to the other extreme, arguing that humans are so utterly different from apes or monkeys that the question of evolution is irrelevant.

If you ask Chomsky how language evolved he says simply that it did not. So what did happen? He talks about a cosmic ray shower which caused a mutation which instantaneously “installed” what is probably the most complex entity in the entire universe - the uniquely human language organ.1 This is not science, but a slightly disguised biblical miracle account of human origins.

My own ideas on this subject were originally inspired by what Frederick Engels had to say. He linked the origins of language with increased levels of social cooperation, focusing especially on sex. I quote from his preface to The origins of the family, private property and the state:

Here we see that animal societies are, after all, of some value for drawing conclusions about human societies; but the value is only negative. So far as our evidence goes, the higher vertebrates know only two forms of family - polygyny or separate couples; each form allows only one adult male, only one husband. The jealousy of the male, which both consolidates and isolates the family, sets the animal family in opposition to the herd. The jealousy of the males prevents the herd, the higher social form, from coming into existence, or weakens its cohesion, or breaks it up during the mating period; at best, it arrests its development.

Engels is pointing out that sex can be disruptive, and that neither language nor labour can have evolved until that basic problem was overcome. He continues:

This alone is sufficient proof that animal families and primitive human society are incompatible and that, when primitive men were working their way up from the animal creation, they either had no family at all or a form that does not occur among animals. In small numbers, an animal so defenceless as evolving man might struggle along even in conditions of isolation, with no higher social grouping than the single male and female pair, such as Westermarck, following the reports of hunters, attributes to the gorillas and the chimpanzees.

For man’s development beyond the level of the animals, for the achievement of the greatest advance nature can show, something more was needed: the power of defence lacking to the individual had to be made good by the united strength and cooperation of the herd. To explain the transition to humanity from conditions such as those in which the anthropoid apes live today would be quite impossible; it looks much more as if these apes had strayed off the line of evolution and were gradually dying out, or at least degenerating. That alone is sufficient ground for rejecting all attempts to draw parallels between animal forms of family and those of primitive man.

READ THE REST HERE: http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1044/what-can-chimpanzees-teach-us-about-human-nature/

Monday, February 2, 2015

History: Civil rights struggle slowed by McCarthyism

On September 16, 2014 Professor Toni Gilpin spoke in Louisville, Kentucky, both at the University of Louisville and at Greater Louisville Central Labor Council Meeting. 
The talk was sponsored by the Department of History, University of Louisville; University of Louisville Anne Braden Institute; Pan-African Studies Department, University of Louisville; Kentucky Labor Institute; and the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council. 

Her presentation is not merely local history, not merely the history of a large, Left-led Farm Equipment (FE) union, Local 236, in the upper South. The talk contains profound insights into the wider impact of the destruction of the CIO Left by McCarthyism. That destruction slowed down and changed the nature of the US civil rights struggle.