Selfish Genes and Altruistic Animals

Often in discussions of the evolution of complex behaviour, I’ve come across a certain set-up: evolution naturally, ‘without effort’, produces egoistic creatures, and then only in response to certain particular selection pressures, and through certain particular mechanisms, does it produce altruism.

That is, people often seem to assume that the ‘problem’ or ‘challenge’ for evolution is how to limit egoism and allow altruism. Or conversely, that’s the ‘problem’ or ‘challenge’ for people trying to understand and explain the evolution of complex behaviour.

I’d like to suggest that this is actually the opposite of the truth: the problem is how to make naturally altruistic creatures behave egoistically.

Read the rest of this entry »

Abolish Lawyers

This is going to be another post where I cast aspersions on the legal system from a position of relative ignorance. In fact, it’s that ignorance that I want to talk about in particular.

(also, I’m going to use ‘law’ to mean simply the standing rules and regulations of a society, including those of an anarchic society, although I’m aware that many anarchists are ‘against laws’ because they define ‘law’ slightly differently)

Because, why are we ok with the fact that we don’t really know what the law says? I mean, I could probably tell you a good number of legal facts, especially those most relevant to my life. But I doubt they would add up to 1% of the legal facts that there are, and even if we added in all those which I might have a chance of guessing based on common sense, I think it would still be a minority. And I don’t imagine many other people are much better off. In a word, law functions as a specialism.

Now we might be fine with that if we were dealing with a scientific discipine, or a complex craft – we’re not surprised that most people understand only a minority of medicine or of chemistry. But law’s not a scientific discipline, it’s a public creation, and it’s meant to be something that we all give assent to – indeed, which at some level exists because we all assent to it. And of course, it’s supposedly our responsibility to be familiar with it, because ignorance is not a defence.

Read the rest of this entry »

Nationalise Lawyers

What, if anything, is wrong with this idea?

Given that the legal profession is already heavily regulated, and given that socialised provision already exists in the form of legal aid, why should we tolerate the practice of receiving money in return for legal respresentation?

(Obviously the ideal would be to ‘socialise’, with ‘nationalise’ being the slightly perverted statist version of that, but it makes a catchier title so nevermind)

The legal system is already, in almost all other areas, publically run and funded – judges don’t get paid by plaintiffs, police aren’t paid by victims of crime, prisons aren’t run for profit, are they?

(Well actually, half the time they are – private security companies, privatised prisons, that case where the privatised prison paid the judge to sentence young offenders to incarceration, etc. But we have a sneaking suspicion that this isn’t actually the best way to run a justice system)

So surely it’s appalling that those able to hire better lawyers enjoy such an advantage. Surely it’s absurd that the rich can afford to go to court, can afford to seek legal redress, and the poor can’t. Why not have a legal system which is designed from the ground up to exclude financial considerations as much as possible from its workings? Rather like the NHS, an NLS.

Note though, that unlike with public schools and public hospitals, it wouldn’t be any good to have a public sector and a private sector co-existing – the whole point of lawyers is that they operate against each other, so if one sector can pay more, and get better lawyers, it will dominate the other, and wealth would still grant a big advantage. So it would have to be complete – evidence that a client has paid their representative would be grounds for disqualifying that representative.

Possible objections:

Read the rest of this entry »

In Praise of Violence

There is a tendency sometimes among certain of us radical cranks with our weird views, to be generally ‘against violence’, defining ‘violence’ very widely. In particular, I’ve known some radical feminists to be unhappy at the idea of children learning to play fighting or wrestling games, play with toy guns, watch programs where people get kicked in the head by the main characters, etc.

It occurred to me that I might at times give the impression of endorsing such a view, what with my generally negative attitude towards violence and aggression, and my tendency to diagnose most of what I disagree with as involving ‘the psychopolitics of domination’ or some such phrase.

So I thought I should make clear that I don’t, and that moreover I think such as view can be easily refuted with a single observation:

Read the rest of this entry »

Berlusconi and Promiscuity

Silvio Berlusconi has been in the news recently for having quite a lot of sex with lots of women in various arrangements and situations (up to the point of driving his wife to divorce him).

Now, personally I don’t see much point in getting hugely het up about this, given that there’s plenty of other stuff to hate Berlusconi for (rampant corruption, electoral coalitions with Fascists, and racist policies spring to mind) but it seems to have been picked up at least in the media. And I stumbled across this article, entitled ‘Naughty, Silvio, but nice one’, the main thesis of which is, look, men just want loads of sex and so we all secretly admire this guy and wish we were like him, because, look, I believe in sexual equality and everything, but men are polygamous by nature and women are monogamous by nature* so there’s always going to be a tension between those two and we shouldn’t worry too much about.

A nice quote is “[Berlusconi’s behaviour] brings a smile to the face and puts a spring in the step” of this Telegraph writer.

And of course there’s the recurrent trope “Men and women are made differently, think differently, act differently…Men are simple creatures and, in matters sexual, are bound by a rudimentary arithmetic. Two women are better than one, three women are better than two.”

Now, this ‘made differently’ is one possibility. But let’s recall Occam’s Razor: if a phenomenon can be explained in a simple way by already known causes, we shouldn’t introduce some alternative cause to complicate the picture. And whatever trend there is of more promiscuous men can be very simply and parsimoniously explained by reference to a known fact.

That fact is that society defines men as people and women as objects. This is undeniable for up until the last 50 years or so in the West, and if people want to suggest that those millenia of history have been entirely undone in the last few decades, well, they can go ahead but I’ll ignore them. Note that both of these definitions are wrong – humans are both people and objects.

Read the rest of this entry »

Environmentalism and Conservatism – who owns ‘Green Politics’? Part 3

In yesterday’s post, I talked about how one might come to endorse an ‘environmentalist worldview’, that replaced conflict between ‘humanity’ and ‘nature’, and subjugation of the latter by the former, with harmonious co-existence, from a left-wing perspective as part of a general rejection of what I called ‘the psychopolitics of domination’. I also talked, of course, about left-wing anti-environmentalism.

Now, there are many obvious ways of being a right-wing anti-environmentalist. You might be a free-marketeer, or an actual businessperson, who was unhappy with the collective action needed to deal with environmental problems (equally of course you might be one of the companies that stands to profit from dealing with them). Or you might want to embrace the emotional set-up of man-against-nature triumphalism, to justify assaults on whatever and whoever is perceived as ‘backward’ and ‘wild’.

But what’s interesting is that there’s an obvious niche forright-wing, specifically conservative, environmentalism. We saw this, for instance, in that speech a while back in which the Pope said that just as climate change was destroying non-human nature, so the gays and feminists were destroying human nature. So what’s going on here, and how does this brand of ‘right-environmentalism’ compare with the ‘left-environmentalism’ discussed earlier?

To illuminate this I think we will have to unpack the concept of ‘nature’ a little bit more. In particular, we should distinguish a very broad abstract component, and a more concrete component, the linkage of which is somewhat arbitrary.

Read the rest of this entry »

Environmentalism and Anarcha-Feminism – who owns ‘Green Politics’? Part 2

In yesterday’s post I asked how ‘environmentalism’ fitted into other schemes of political ideas. I distinguished three sorts of ‘environmentalism’, and promised to talk about a fourth.

Of those three, the first two (an ‘instrumental’ version that cares about ‘the environment’ only for the sake of the humans who depend on it, and an ‘animal rights’ version that extends this to care about the other sentient creatures who depend on it) were reasonable and sensible, but weren’t really ‘environmentalist’ in any strong sense. The third (valuing life of all kinds per se) was clearly ‘environmentalist’ in nature, but also, in my opinion, wrong and foolish.

The fourth, that I want to focus on today, is less about what doctrines and principles one rationally holds, and more about a different sort of emotional mindset, a different way of approaching matters – things which, I’d argue, play a large and sometimes underestimated role in making apparently ‘rational’ political decisions.

This sort of ‘environmentalism’ is opposed to a mindset that opposes two abstractions, ‘nature’ and ‘humanity’, supposes them to be locked in conflict, identifies with ‘humanity’ and therefore legitimises, encourages, and takes pleasure in all ‘triumphs over nature’ that humanity acheives.

In its place, it would recommend a mindset that holds up a single abstraction, ‘nature’, and treats ‘humanity’ as one component of that, alongside ‘moose’ and ‘fungi’. It then regards conflict within nature as regrettable, and prefers ‘harmonious co-existence’ to ‘triumph’.

Read the rest of this entry »

Environmentalism and Socialism – who owns ‘Green Politics’? Part 1

A friend asked me recently about the connections between environmentalism and politics – is it naturally left-wing? Is it naturally at home with a certain ideology? Or is it neutral, a separate issue that all sides can or should adopt? I thought this was quite an interesting question, so I immediately shouted ‘to the blogmobile’ inside my head silently.

Now obviously there are attempts to ‘claim’ environmentalism from all sides – rather neatly illustrating this, the ‘Labour for Climate Action‘ blog, which in general seems to be a fairly worthy endeavour, says on its ‘about’ page that “We believe in justice, fairness and equality…Climate change places the greatest costs on those who have the least historic responsibility for the emission that cause it.That’s not just. The actions of the few harm the opportunities for development for the many. That’s not fair.

Having so nicely presented an attempt to link socialism (or whatever it is the labour party are talking about nowadays) with environmentalism, one of their posts then says that “Right-wing philosophers such as Roger Scruton  have argued that restoring harmony between society and its environment requires respect for a supposed ’social ecology’ with its own order of nature, harking back to 19th century societal hierarchies.” So there is, so to speak, everything to play for.

Read the rest of this entry »

Why I Blog, and a de-Lurk

To round off the series of posts in the last week that related in various ways to the question ‘why do (left-wing) politics?’, I thought I’d try to put down some thoughts on ‘why blog?’, or more precisely, ‘why do I blog?’

In a way, the main purpose of this blog is a certain sense of purposelessness. As indicated in the title, I feel somewhat directionless.

I mean that, of course, mainly in relation to politics, which accounts for about 75% of my posts, I think (does that sound about right?) The other stuff – philosophy and zoology mainly – is more just for diversion. But politically, I feel drawn sometimes towards something a little like despair: so much is wrong, and I have very little sense of what to do to lead out of it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Socialist Revolution: in Graph Form!

Continuing the ‘what is the left’ theme of the last few posts, I thought I should talk a bit about ‘revolution’. I identify as part of ‘the revolutionary left’, the fringe of crackpots who hang around making life difficult for the sensible ‘leftists’ trying to sort out immediate problems through state action.

Now, an easy caricature of this sort of position would be that it believes in some sudden, momentous event called ‘the revolution’, and that nothing of importance can be achieved without this, and with it, everything will be achieved. This obviously lends itself to being parodied as a sort of apocalyptic religious cult: at some unspecific future time there will be an explosion and then everything will be different.

I don’t know how many ‘revolutionaries’ have something like this at the back of their minds, but it’s certainly not the most sensible way to understand all this talk of ‘revolution’.

Read the rest of this entry »