Engels and Evolution

It is no great insight to point towards Engel’s admiration of Darwin and his desire to place his and Marx’s theory in the vein of scientific advance: “Just as Darwin discovered the law of development of organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history.” However, I am curious about how this analogy functions for good ol’ Friedrich. In Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, Engels outlines how his scientific aspirations (“To make a science of socialism, it had to first be placed upon a real basis”) run up against dialectical materialism’s philosophical precursor: Hegelianism. After recognizing the “great merit” of Hegel and his revival of dialectics, Engels argues that Hegelianism is Darwinian, and vice versa. “Nature works dialectically and not metaphysically.” Nevertheless and as we all know–Hegel’s fatal flaw–he’s an idealist. “To him the thoughts within the brain were not the more or less abstract pictures of actual things and processes, but, conversely, things and their evolution were only the realised pictures of the “Idea,” existing somewhere from eternity before the world was.” But we, dialectical materialists, know that all past history is the history of class struggles. Bring on the real!

With Marx, we are told, “idealism was driven from its last refuge, the philosophy of history.” He goes on, “Socialism was no longer an accidental discovery of this or that ingenious brain, but the necessary outcome of the struggle between two historically developed classes–the proletariat and the bourgeoisie” (emphasis mine). History is and always has been driven by class struggle, but Marx showed us that the scientific outcome of this history, the evolutionary leap upon which we (in 1880) are surely upon the precipice, is communism. At this point, with all the talk of inevitability, I’m starting to wonder why I’m spending so much time studying this stuff. Read the rest of this entry »

Memes Glorious Memes

Everyone loves memes, how we chuckle at LOLcats, how we laugh at their inherent creativity, how some of us take them pretty seriously politically. Conor Cunningham, however, really doesn’t like them. In an interview for the The Other Journal he lets rip:

as for memes, they are pure nonsense; you may as well speak of astrology or the X-Files. Not to sound too paradoxical, but if memes existed, first, we would never know, how could we? Second, how could there be more than one? Sure, we have things like fashion that some of us follow, but if, as Dawkins, Blackmore, Dennett, and company insist, we are created by memes rather than the other way around, then in a sense, there could only ever be one metameme. There could only be the selfish meme, because all thoughts, being illusory products of mimetics, would be evacuated of all content, and therefore, all thoughts would be instances of one type: small memes of the one great big meme. All thoughts would just be examples of the one “truth,” the metameme. This would have catastrophic consequences for science, because all scientific theories would be products of the selfish meme, like some great matrix; radical epistemological and ontological scepticism would surely follow.

I actually agree. From the perspective of any decent sociology mimetics is bunk and it makes no sense at all as social science. First because the problem of individuation Cunningham hints toward, second, the fact that Dawkins and crew tend to only consider it pejoratively in regard to religion, and third that like evolutionary psychology itself it is an inappropriate and facile explanation in the social sphere that tends towards ‘just-so’ stories that can never be verified or even argued against. However, these are not the claims here – there is an immediate move to the poking of philosophical problems. The argument for this is that all if all thoughts are memes then there must be some kind of flattening of distinction – all memes are equally true. But I don’t see how it this ends in there being one big meme “There could only be the selfish meme, because all thoughts, being illusory products of mimetics, would be evacuated of all content, and therefore, all thoughts would be instances of one type: small memes of the one great big meme” – I don’t see how that follows – surely even if we agree that there is this floating world of total untrue memes with no one being actually true as they are all memes, then I don’t see how this means there is one great big meme behind them – one massive ‘O Rly?’ owl, say.

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