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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: May ::
Re: Ideology and Genes
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0531.  Saturday, 3 May 1997.

[1]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Friday, 2 May 97 10:49:14 EST
        Subj:   Ideology

[2]     From:   Arthur C. Neuendorffer <
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        Date:   Friday, 02 May 97 14:07:00 -0500
        Subj:   The UNselfish genes in Hamlet.


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Friday, 2 May 97 10:49:14 EST
Subject:        Ideology

Robert Appelbaum (with whom I usually find myself agreeing) accuses Tom
Bishop and me of working at "undermining Marxism, constructivism,
humanism, poetry, and maybe even Hamlet's soliloquies" by introducing
sociobiological arguments into SHAKSPER's protracted discussion of
ideology and related issues, I won't offer to speak for Tom, but I know
that it was certainly not my intention to "undermine" anything-certainly
not those five items, all of which have contributed substantially to our
ways of reading, thinking, talking, and writing.  I believe that a
conscientious effort to understand the things people do and say, calling
on all the sources of available knowledge, is a generally constructive
not an "undermining" enterprise; if sociobiology has things to tell us
about why humanism, poetry, or Hamlet's soliloquies are the way they are
and work the way they work then it behooves us to listen. And if what we
hear makes us reconsider what we think we already know, that's the way
knowledge has always evolved, in individual thinkers and in cultures.

In the same post Applebaum derides the idea of the "selfish gene" as
"anthropomorphosis."  Is it just naive of me to see the phrase as an
instance of what we used to call personification-a figure of which there
are several examples in Applebaum's own discourse?  The phrase was given
wide currency by Peter Dawkins, whose eminence as a writer about science
owes much to a gift for figurative language that many poets I know would
envy.  Somehow I doubt that Dawkins- or any of the scholars and writers
who have followed him in this field-ascribes the sort of human
self-consciousness that Tom and I are actually hoping to confirm to
individual genes. (Dawkins is on record as doubting that "our emotional
nature is, as a matter of fact, selfish.")

Nor does it seem appropriate to me to term the work of Richard
Alexander, Jerome Barkow, Franz de Waal, Matt Ridley, and others as
"Whiggism," assuring us with Panglossian smugness that whatever has
survived has shown, by surviving, that it is not only efficient but also
therefore good.  All of them are at  work  revising the sort of
primitive social Darwinism that produced *The Fountainhead*; most of
them suppose that the better we can understand the way psychological and
social processes of all kinds really work, the more likely it will
become that we can learn to control the ones that eventuate in
destructive or repressive behavior.

Finally, as to Appelbaum's sneer about the "circularity" of evolutionary
analysis.  As Dawkins has shown in *The Blind Watchmaker*, "The
evolution of adaptations by natural selection is one of the few cases in
which the consequences of something can be properly used to explain its
existence" (unsigned headnote in Barkow, et al, eds., *The Adapted Mind*
[1992], 625).

Still evolving,
Dave Evett

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Arthur C. Neuendorffer <
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Date:           Friday, 02 May 97 14:07:00 -0500
Subject:        The UNselfish genes in Hamlet.

I wish to bring the interesting discussion concerning evolutional
processes back into the realm of Shakespeare.

This week, PBS broadcast a marvelous show on Patagonia. Besides
beautiful scenery and soaring condors, "Patagonia" showed some very
disturbing scenes: young male sealions who had been excluded from mating
(by the dominant "king" sealion) and who took their pentup (sexual?)
frustrations out upon cub sealions by attempting to murder them. This
"selfish gene" behavior has been observed in a number of animals
including (I believe) chimanzees.

Macbeth's murder attack on Banquo and Fleance comes to mind here.
Richard III and Othello were probably also driven partly by "selfish
genes."

Claudius, for all his faults, appears to embrace Hamlet and to accept
him as heir to the Danish throne, at least initially. Only after Hamlet
mades his intentions quite clear does Claudius conclude that he must
have Hamlet executed for his own self preservation. (At least that is
how I perceive it.)

It is remarkable how little importance is given by anyone in Hamlet as
regards
to continuing their own bloodline: people's "selfish" motives are
concerned
primarily their own status or, perhaps, their own personal place in
history.
Were these Shakespeare's own primary "selfish" concerns (whoever he
was)?

Arthur C. Neuendorffer
 

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