Academics Going Round In Circles
This article first appeared on The Rebel website.
In the 19th century, English-speaking universities comprised two faculties, The Natural Sciences and the Humanities. The word scientist didn’t exist until the middle of the century. Naturalist was the general name for people we call scientists today. Darwin, as a naturalist, published The Origin of Species in 1859 as a theory, which it remains today. Over time, the science community used Darwin’s Theory of Evolution effectively to replace religion, especially in the public school system. The use of the Theory to counter religion prevented science testing it, as the scientific method requires. The science community automatically ostracizes any scientist challenging Darwin for giving comfort to creationism.
A side effect of effectively removing God from the academic world was ironical, the same challenge Darwin faced. Alfred Russell Wallace, who sent Darwin a copy of his version of the Evolutionary Theory before Darwin published and chided him for not explaining the vast difference between humans and all other animals including the other primates. Wallace proposed a form of intelligent design. In his follow-up book, The Descent of Man Darwin suggested other animals variously had all the abilities of humans. The confusion all this creates foolish comments such as this by David Suzuki.
Economics is a very species–chauvinistic idea. No other species on earth – and there are may be 30 million of them – has had the nerve to put forth a concept called economics, in which one species, us, declares the right to put value on everything else on earth, in the living and non-living world.
He is wrong about the number of species; there are millions more. He is also wrong about humans as the only ones who put a value on everything. All animals put a value on everything. “Can I eat it or not?” It doesn’t get more basic than that. Of course, he doesn’t even seem to realize his statement disproves his argument. No other species could think of economics or write about it.
Darwin and the removal of God had a dramatic impact on the academic world. Religious studies remained a part of the Humanities, but now it was a minor academic study of religions as a curiosity rather than an answer to fundamental questions of why we are here and clearly different. If God didn’t put us here and makes us dramatically different then what did?
One response of the academic world involved social Darwinism. This applied his rule of nature to human behavior and triggered Herbert Spencer’s famous phrase, “Survival of the fittest.” Darwin liked it so much he included it in the sixth edition of his Origin of the Species.
A much larger response developed based on the academic ability to try and answer questions nobody else is asking or are of any consequence. This is why the saying “it’s academic,” means it is irrelevant to the real world. Academia created an entire new discipline with the oxymoronic title, the Social Sciences.
The entire focus, from psychology, sociology, economics, political science and others is humans and their behavior. Transitional among these subjects is anthropology because it tries to reconstruct our evolutionary history. Along the way it created indicators of our difference from other primates and identified the characteristic that identified us as the humans at that stage. The fact we can do this exercise shows how very different humans are. The fact academics do it measures how far removed they are from reality.
The first name assigned to a characteristically human trait was arrogantly academic in Latin. We were Homo Erectus, the primate that walked upright. Other primates showed some bipedalism and it wasn’t a particularly distinguishing intellectual feature. We were smarter than those other primates, so they decided what made us different was the ability to make tools, hence the name Homo Habilis, Man, the toolmaker.
Then primatologist Jane Goodall’s observation of chimpanzees making tools eliminated the difference. Clearly, we needed something on a higher intellectual scale so they decided humans could think conceptually. This involves taking two separate ideas and linking to evolve a third idea – solving problems or conceptual thinking. The Latin word chosen was sapiens, which means wise, so we became Homo sapiens, the wise ape.
Another study of chimpanzees involved placing them in a large, high room with bananas hanging from the ceiling and a pile of boxes in the corner. It didn’t take the chimpanzees long to pile up the boxes and get the bananas. A conceptually thinking, problem-solving chimpanzee forced the need for another unique quality for humans. They decided that our ability to tell lies made us unique. Doesn’t that just make your human chest swell with pride? Lying requires a double thought process, the truth then a way to get round it – a doubly wise process made us Homo sapiens sapiens, the doubly wise primate.
Again another study dismissed this claim to distinction. Researchers watching gorillas through a one-way glass noticed that one broke one of the toys. The gorilla was trained in American Sign Language (AMSLAN) so they asked him who broke the toy. Almost without hesitation the gorilla pointed at a fellow gorilla.
Over the years, I discussed these issues with anthropologists, but especially cultural anthropologist Professor Mel Holstein. He said the latest thinking involved the ability to think of, or be aware, of death. I described video showing elephants lingering over bones and carrying them around for some time that appear to indicate an awareness of death. We agreed this suggested some awareness of death. However, he said anthropologists considered thinking about death in the concept of an afterlife.
At that point, we agreed this brings us full circle. Concern about an afterlife is central to religion. Elimination of God and religion as the explanation for human presence and the difference is where the Social Sciences began. Essentially the Social Sciences amount to 100 years of human navel gazing. They add little to our understanding of life or death. Sociology is a good example because some say they try to prove scientifically what everybody already knew. The Social Science faculties are vast factories of bizarre ideas about people and society that they inflict on society through the schools and government, all without any moral responsibility.