consequences: scrambling with the brutes

…To some the implications of Darwin’s theory were negative and desolating. The whole earth no longer proclaimed the glory of the Lord. Paradoxically, in revealing the closeness of man’s link with the rest of creation, Darwin seemed to have cut the emotional ties between man and nature. The world was not, apparently, the rational creation of a Being whose purposes, though infinitely beyond man’s full comprehension, were in some sense akin to the purposes and feelings of man himself ( at least they were purposes).

—Darwin’s ideas challenged conventional beliefs and and were inevitably lampooned by the cartoonists of the day.
Linley Sambourne’s cartoon ‘Man is but a Worm’ appeared in satirical magazine Punch on 6 December 1881, shortly after the publication of Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’. It depicts the evolution of the worm into the human – in this case, Darwin himself – as a means of ridiculing any link between the two species.
Here, evolution starts at the bottom left with ‘chaos’ and an earthworm. It then proceeds through spermatozoid creatures, to apes, cavemen, a top-hatted Victorian man and finally Darwin.—Read More:

Nature, according to Darwin, was the product of blind chance and man a lonely, intelligent mutation, scrambling with the brutes for his daily bread. To some the sense of loss was irrevocable; an umbilical cord was snapped. Faced with a “cold, passionless universe,” the only appropriate attitude seemed, at best, a dignified resignation “with close-lipped patience for our only friend.” Unlike the beliefs of the Greeks and the Stoics, the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, and the rationalist Christian tradition, Darwinian nature held no clues for human conduct, no answers to the human dilemma.

Charles Le Brun – Chancellor Séguier
Chancellor Séguier at the entry of Louis XIV into Paris paint by the French artist Charles Le Brun (1619-1690) – Paris:Musée du Louvre (France)
Visual Art
—Read More:

The modern ethics of the void- existentialism and all ethical creeds that make goodness not an innate property of things but a matter of human decision- have as an underlying assumption the purposelessness of the material world. So too, probably, did the rejection of “nature” as the prime subject for art by the aesthetes of the late nineteenth-century. Man no longer characteristically expects to find nature suffused with divinity; he must create it out of his own visions.

But there were others for whom the two-thousand-year-old tradition of seeking prescriptions for human action in nature was hard to break. They found- and they were mostly the strong, the successful, or the embittered- the prescription they were looking for in “the survival of the fittest.” They adopted natural selection as the key to “progress,” though Darwin had not spoken of progress, only of adaptation.

There were many fields, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, to which this formula seemed conventionally to apply. In Europe, the nations watched each other, trained their young men, and waited for the day of reckoning. In America there were still great industrial and  financial empires to be won by buccaneering methods. In Asia and Africa and the Pacific there were backward peoples to be brought within the orbit of the world’s markets and taught their necessary subordination to the white man…( to be continued)…


(see link at end)…That Dennett presents this distinction as novel is somewhat misleading. For a century before Darwin, the main problem of German philosophy was how to reconcile idealist conceptions of the world and history with the radical, new materialism of the empirical sciences.  Immanuel Kant[, for example,] suggested in the late 18th century that the human species gradually approaches perpetual peace by means of “unsocial sociability”: wars will get worse and worse until people decide that the costs of war are no longer worth the gains. Some decades later, G. W. F. Hegel postulated the so-called “cunning of reason” whereby history progresses toward greater rationality in spite of the intentions of individual actors (e.g. Napoleon may have intended to rule Europe indefinitely, but the failure of his intentions actually led to the creation of the modern state throughout Europe). And most explicitly, Karl Marx — who after all was “a German philosopher” — formulated a materialist conception of history that held “ideologies” (or, what we think we understand about the big picture) to be the ossified leftovers of economic structures that were already obsolete. To put it in Dennett’s terms, Marx argued that a social system might function competently without any comprehension of its destiny. But even in this “competence” lay numerous contradictions that would lead inevitably to the deterioration of the system.

And Marx added something else that was crucial, something that Darwin, Turing, Dennett, and other positivists have consistently missed: the present system of development is not permanent. In a sense, Darwin was a theorist of historical change; but his ideas of evolution and infinite variation always made reference to a static world biosystem. In computing, Turing had the important insight that machines might self-replicate and “learn” more advanced processes without any understanding of their purposes, but judging by Dennett’s synopsis he did not emphasize sufficiently the role that the human engineer plays in predetermining the role that machines will play. For Marx, whose object was admittedly not the natural world but artificial human society, systems change all the time; between one system and the next we experience a total revolution — in politics, in culture, in science, in technology, and most importantly in social relations. If individual parts or actors want to preserve the present system, then competence is indeed possible without comprehension (competence may even require ignorance). But if one’s object is to change the world, then comprehension of the totality is a prerequisite. Marx of course had an interest in doing just that: “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” Read More:

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