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The Monkey In The Machine and the Machine in the Monkey

I watched the Adam Curtis 2011 documentary "All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace" recently on SBS in Australia. Episode 3 ("The Monkey In The Machine and the Machine in the Monkey") covered Selfish Gene Theory and the story of William Hamilton and George Price, and, of course, our own esteemed Professor Dawkins gets a mention as well. You can watch it here; or read the synopsis (scroll down to ep.3:The Monkey In The Machine and the Machine in the Monkey).

Although the story of Hamilton, and Price, in particular, is fascinating (although I'd heard it before), I found myself getting more and more pissed off as this episode trudged along, mentioning Diane Fossey and the Rwandan genocide and other various strands to make some grand point in the end which left me utterly confused - or is the guy who made this (Adam Curtis) the one who is confused and, in turn, confounding others? When, at the end, he questions whether we have "embraced a fatalistic philosophy" (selfish gene theory) after detailing the Rwandan genocide, what pissed me off is the conflation he suggests between scientific theory and philosophy. It is a classic case of the naturalistic fallacy.

I also can't see how selfish gene theory can account for genocide anyway, as genocide is often between so-called races which are actually genetically more closely related than others (as was the case here, between the Tutsis and Hutus, but also the ever-present threat in Palestine comes to mind, Jews and Arabs both considered so-called Semitic and therefore closely related). Hence genocide is usually political and the "race" part is largely a socially constructed way of identifying the out-group. In short, I don't see how selfish gene theory can explain the dark side of human behaviour in any way near the way it explains altruism.

In any event, I found that this guy's "thesis" amounted to nothing better than the sort of naturalistic fallacy assumptions creationists make along the lines of "but if we come from monkeys we won't have any morals" scaremongering, except here it seems to be "Oh dear, but if our DNA determines our behaviour, we can't stop genocide or even say that it's wrong!" (or something - I'm not sure what his point is). That was my initial impression ... am I confused or is HE? I'd like to know what others make of it.

TAGGED: CREATIONISM, MORALITY


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