Saturday, August 11, 2012

Sociobiology and eugenics

Responding to Edward Greisch @197 on RealClimate Unforced Variations:

"Sociobiology has nothing whatsoever to do with eugenics."

A bold statement, but if true, how do you explain this curious photograph?

There's also the inconvenient Eugenics Manifesto of 1939, signed [1] by more than a few founders and champions of what later became sociobiology. The manifesto interestingly lists "fellow-feeling" (in short supply at the time) as an objective of "conscious selection", for example:

... conscious selection requires, in addition, an agreed direction or directions for selection to take, and these directions cannot be social ones, that is, for the good of mankind at large, unless social motives predominate in society. This in turn implies its socialized organization. The most important genetic objectives, from a social point of view, are the improvement of those genetic characteristics which make (a) for health, (b) for the complex called intelligence, and (c) for those temperamental qualities which favour fellow-feeling and social behaviour rather than those (to-day most esteemed by many) which make for personal 'success', as success is usually understood at present. [2]
There were some post-war defections among the signatories, most notably Theodosius Dobzhansky who later said:

Even if the direction of evolution were demonstrated to be "good", man is likely to prefer to be free rather than to be reasonable. [3]

Culture is not inherited through genes; it is acquired by learning from other human beings.... In a sense human genes have surrendered their primacy in human evolution to an entirely new non-biological or superorganic agent, culture. [4]

[1] Eugenics manifesto, list of signatories
[2] Social Biology and Population Improvement, full text of eugenics manifesto, with original title, as published in Nature, Sep. 16, 1939
[3] Theodosius Dobzhansky, The Biological Basis of Human Freedom, 1956, as referenced in Evolutionary ethics
[4] Against "Sociobiology", NYT Review of Books, Nov. 13, 1975

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