Friday, July 13, 2007

Socialism proves Darwin wrong?

Ok, that belief, which unfortunately became Stalinist orthodoxy and which I mentioned in passing below needs some explaining.
It wasn't a case of totally not believing in evolution, which being good materialists and atheists they supported, so much as how traits were developed and passed on. The belief of the time, associated with Trofim Lysenko who was appointed head of the Academy of Agricultural Scientists in the USSR, was that genetics wasn't as determining as some people thought and that aquired characteristics could be passed on. That meant that if through manipulating environmental conditions you could get crops to grow bigger that that feature would be passed on when the plants reproduced, meaning that in the next generation you wouldn't need to manipulate the environment to get them to grow bigger; they just would. Or that if you physically toughened up seeds in order for them to survive in winter that eventually that hardiness would be transferred to them and they'd survive automatically.

The political reasoning behind this was that if environment determined things, like through the economic structure of society, that surely the same could be said about the natural world. Because if it didn't then what was to prevent things like human genetics determining destiny from being real?

Unfortunately this fear about genetic determinism didn't take into account the idea that, because humans live in more complex societies than plants, believing in some genetic determinism for plants wouldn't automatically mean having to believe that the same thing was true for humans as well.

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