The Ghost at the Birthday Party
This year the 200th anniversary of the birth of both Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln on the same day, February 12, 1809, is being celebrated worldwide. This year-long burst of attention is much needed. With eight incredible years of presidential blessing barely behind us, in America we've been threatened by a movement to end the teaching of evolution. Closely allied in spirit is the terrorist resurgence of anti-science religion in Islam. The celebration of this pair of truly great and good men is a powerful reaffirmation of global intelligence and sanity versus ignorance and lunacy.
Nearly fifteen years ago, however, I first glimpsed the ghost at the birthday party. Something very big, I saw, is being left out of what we've been taught and now celebrate about Darwin and his theory of evolution. Having gained my credentials, prestigious faculty posts, and publication of influential books as a psychologist, sociologist, and evolutionary systems scientist, I decided to apply what is known as content analysis by word count to Darwin's Descent of Man.
This is the book in which Darwin specifically tells us he's now moving on from the study of prehuman evolution to what chiefly drives us at our own species level of emergence.
I had an electronic copy of Descent that made possible a computerized word search. So into the FIND slot I entered the first phrase that came to mind: survival of the fittest.
In a split second, fairly howling as it shattered the tomb, there materialized before me what nowhere in celebrations staged by the well-educated and the wealthy on every continent is even being mentioned.
Only twice in that whole book of 475 fine print pages did this universally prevailing tag for Darwin's theory of evolution appear-once being Darwin's apology for ever using the term!
How about an exact opposite? What about, well, why not try "love"?
Into the slot it went and a split-second later I had the tally. In The Descent of Man Darwin writes 95 times about love. For which, in the Index for every edition of Descent even still today, there is one one entry.
What about the other prevailing tag for Darwin today: the idea of "selfish genes"? Or more broadly, that along with "survival of the fittest," at the core the other prime driver for our species on this planet is selfishness. This, best-seller sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists tell us, even drives our naive illusion that altruism, or caring for others, is anything more than just what's in it for me at the end.
The ghost within page after page ignored in Descent is now getting pretty angry. Selfishness, he cries out across the years, is a "base principle," which accounts for the "low morality of savages."
What then might be the polar opposite for selfishness? Why not try the word "moral"?
Of moral sensitivity I found he wrote 92 times-versus 6 entries in the Index. Of competition, he wrote 12 times; of cooperation-called mutuality or mutual aid in Darwin's time-27 times. To make a long story short, I went on to discover that in plain sight-but buried and ignored in Descent for over 100 years-Darwin clearly outlines a compelling and carefully reasoned moral and action-oriented completion for his theory of evolution.
Still missing from the museum exhibits, symposia, books, and other celebrations of this his 200th birthday anniversary year, I uncovered, is the fact that for Darwin the prime driver for human evolution-and completion for his theory of evolution-was and is not natural selection, or "survival of the fittest," as popularized. It is our capacity for the "moral sense," i.e., moral sensitivity, an evolutionary inbuilt thrust within us for the development of a sense of right versus wrong.
Here's the shocker, rising out of the ghost's shattering the stones of his tomb to surely some day echo worldwide.
It comes up not buried in some obscure place easy to miss. It appears on the next to the very last page for the section of Descent clearly labeled Concluding Remarks.
In other words, it's obvious Darwin wanted to be sure his readers carried this conclusion away from his lifelong quest to understand and explain the evolution of all life on this planet, including ours.
"Important as the struggle for existence has been and even still is, yet as far as the highest part of our nature is concerned there are other agencies more important. For the moral qualities are advanced either directly or indirectly much more through the efforts of habit, by our reasoning powers, by instruction, by religion, etc., than through natural selection."
Why does this matter?
Why is this anything more than just one more for the stack of tales of something gone wrong that first enrage and then bombard us into senselessness today?
All you have to do is think about what our world could have been like if, rather than being buried alive, the rest of Darwin could have been allowed to live and shape the development of both the science and the religion of the 20th century.
The most popular Darwinian of his time, paleontologist Stephen J.Gould, repeatedly noted the relation of survival of the fittest Darwinism to the wars of the 20th century and the rise of Hitler and the Nazis in Germany. A close look at the survival of the fittest/selfish genes syndrome reveals that among the ills of humanity this is the mindset of fascism wherever it rises. Foreshadowing the hurricane of global financial meltdown with every day more thousands jobless and homeless, American billionaire George Soros, management scientists, and economists earlier decried the devastation of this syndrome and mindset in Big Business and Big Finance.
It is of course by no means the cause of everything gone bad, but in my own work, through persistent systems analysis, I've further uncovered the connection of this pseudoDarwinian mindset to most of what now threatens us in the 21st century-in particular, to the widening gap between rich and poor, population explosion, environmental devastation, nuclear overkill, the surge of regressive religion, the valuing of male and "macho" values over female and "feminine" values, white over black and other "off-colors," and acceleration of all the above.
What might the ghosts of Darwin and Abraham Lincoln have to say if called on for a few words in the midst of this their great birthday party year?
The majesty of their lives, works, and actions plainly tell us that paramount for both of them were the love, moral sensitivity, and education that Darwin-very much alive, no ghost yet-insisted were the prime drivers for human evolution in the long ignored completion for his theory.
Isn't it about time that here in America and worldwide we hear them-and do something drastic about it?