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All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

Has anybody else been watching this series, currently being aired by the BBC and available on the iPlayer?

The latest, number three, features William Hamilton and Richard Dawkins. It purports to explain how people have embraced Selfish Gene theory as a way of excusing the failure by western powers to make the world a better place.

I have to admit a growing feeling of unease about the agenda of these programs. That the statements of the gene centered view of evolution are, perhaps maliciously, incomplete.

It would be interesting to here the views of others to see if I'm being paranoid.

Moderator's note: Jack G made a similar point in another thread where, as he rightly said, it was off-topic. The iPlayer location is here:-

This is off topic - but I don't know how else to alert the site to a disgrace of a documentary I just watched in full tonight on BBC 2, which I think may be of interest to readers and perhaps even to Professor Dawkins as both he and Bill Hamilton has their ideas misrepresented in a most tendentious and one sided way.

In the past I have been a big fan of the documentaries of Adam Curtis. Even when he stretches a point he usually does so in an interesting way, and his very first series of documentaries The Century of the Self made me see the whole of the twentieth century in different and illuminating light.

Tonight, the third part of his latest documentary in the series All watched over by machines of Loving Grace however left me angry and in despair that cultural and political commentators of the left ( and I am of the left) continue to misinterpret the work of Dawkins, Hamilton and others as being determinist, and reducing human beings to mere machines.

Not only did this programme misrepresent the evolutionary and gene centred view in the way we have come to expect from lazy thinkers on the political left, it tried to make the most disgraceful connection between the work of Hamilton, Dawkins and others and the appetites of western imperialism and liberalism in contributing to savage wars in the Congo and the two genocidal massacres in Rwanda since the sixties.

The programme concluded that it was not just imperialism or the well meaning mistakes of western liberalism that contributed to these horrors and their ongoing counterparts, and our seeming inability to do anything about it, but 'the view that human beings are mere machines programmed by the mathematical computers of our genes' (I probably paraphrase).

This was in my view a savage and unfair distortion, and people who are regulars on this site may well want to demand a right of reply from the BBC - or at least draw public attention to the illogical nature of Mr. Curtis's narrative. I now suspect Mr. Curtis of pushing a quasi-religious agenda.

Finally, I can think of no better words of rebuke to Mr. Curtis than Richard Dawkins own closing words to The Selfish Gene

We have…the mental equipment to foster our long term selfish interests rather than merely our short term selfish interests. We can see the long term benefits of participating in a ‘conspiracy of doves’, and we can sit down together to discuss ways of making the conspiracy work. We have the power to defy the selfish genes of our birth and, if necessary, the selfish memes of our indoctrination. We can even discuss ways of cultivating and nurturing pure, disinterested altruism – something that has no place in nature, something that has never existed before in the whole history of the world. We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines, but we have the power to turn against our creators. We, alone on Earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.





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