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In this ground-breaking book, a renowned bioethicist argues that the political left must radically revise its outdated view of human nature. He shows how the insights of modern evolutionary theory, particularly on the evolution of cooperation, can help the left attain its social and political goals. Singer explains why the left originally rejected Darwinian thought and why In this ground-breaking book, a renowned bioethicist argues that the political left must radically revise its outdated view of human nature. He shows how the insights of modern evolutionary theory, particularly on the evolution of cooperation, can help the left attain its social and political goals. Singer explains why the left originally rejected Darwinian thought and why these reasons are no longer viable. He discusses how twentieth-century thinking has transformed our understanding of Darwinian evolution, showing that it is compatible with cooperation as well as competition, and that the left can draw on this modern understanding to foster cooperation for socially desirable ends. A Darwinian left, says Singer, would still be on the side of the weak, poor, and oppressed, but it would have a better understanding of what social and economic changes would really work to benefit them. It would also work toward a higher moral status for nonhuman animals and a less anthropocentric view of our dominance over nature.


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In this ground-breaking book, a renowned bioethicist argues that the political left must radically revise its outdated view of human nature. He shows how the insights of modern evolutionary theory, particularly on the evolution of cooperation, can help the left attain its social and political goals. Singer explains why the left originally rejected Darwinian thought and why In this ground-breaking book, a renowned bioethicist argues that the political left must radically revise its outdated view of human nature. He shows how the insights of modern evolutionary theory, particularly on the evolution of cooperation, can help the left attain its social and political goals. Singer explains why the left originally rejected Darwinian thought and why these reasons are no longer viable. He discusses how twentieth-century thinking has transformed our understanding of Darwinian evolution, showing that it is compatible with cooperation as well as competition, and that the left can draw on this modern understanding to foster cooperation for socially desirable ends. A Darwinian left, says Singer, would still be on the side of the weak, poor, and oppressed, but it would have a better understanding of what social and economic changes would really work to benefit them. It would also work toward a higher moral status for nonhuman animals and a less anthropocentric view of our dominance over nature.

30 review for A Darwinian Left: Politics, Evolution and Cooperation

  1. 5 out of 5

    مهدی محمدی

    کتاب جالبی است. به‌جز مضمون اصلی _که ایجاد تلائم بین ایده‌ی چپ (مقدم‌بودن منافع جمع بر فرد در تصمیم‌گیری) و تکامل است_ این تصور جدید را برای من ایجاد کرد که چنین نیست که تکامل صرفا نظریه‌ای علمی باشد و هیچ تأثیری روی بایدها و نبایدهای اخلاقی نگذارد.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sanam

    کتاب بدی نیست فقط چند با قسمت آخرش موافق نیستم اگه مطالعات چپ دارید و با نظریه تکامل هم آشنا هستید بخونیدش ولی توقع توضیح و اینچیزها ازش نداشته باشید

  3. 5 out of 5

    John

    The application of "Darwinian principles" to society, rather than to biological evolution, has generally been the province of the political right, with the crackpot ideas of Herbert Spencer and his followers -- the philosophical school later called Social Darwinism -- being used by the Robber Barons and their ilk as a good excuse to ignore the inordinate amount of sheer human misery their activities caused: all the poverty, starvation and suffering, all the destroyed lives, were worth it because The application of "Darwinian principles" to society, rather than to biological evolution, has generally been the province of the political right, with the crackpot ideas of Herbert Spencer and his followers -- the philosophical school later called Social Darwinism -- being used by the Robber Barons and their ilk as a good excuse to ignore the inordinate amount of sheer human misery their activities caused: all the poverty, starvation and suffering, all the destroyed lives, were worth it because that was the price that had to be paid for species advancement. My, you could almost look upon the Social Darwinists as saints and saviours. And, of course, we cannot forget the Objectivists, the disciples of the even more crackpot Ayn Rand. What Singer attempts to do in the pages of this extremely slender volume is to lay out a few ground rules for what he doesn't call a Social Darwinism of the left, a political philosophy that relies less upon the "nature red in tooth and claw" aspects of Darwinism (that phrase anyway predated the announcement of the Darwin/Wallace theory) and more upon those aspects that recognize the value of characteristics like cooperation, aspects that the Spencerians simply ignored in their orgy of pseudoscientific cherrypicking. Since it had never struck me before that Singer's point was one that actually had to be made, that it wasn't wholly evident to anyone possessed of reason, I'm not sure I was actually the audience he was aiming at; at the same time, the book's very nattily written and sparkling with pertinent observations so I regret not one second of the time I spent reading it. Here's one item that had me punching the air in admiration: [T:]o leave a group of people so far outside the social commonwealth that they have nothing to contribute to it, is to alienate them from social practices and institutions in a manner that almost ensures that they will become adversaries who pose a danger to those institutions. [. . .:] Social Darwinists saw the fact that those who are less fit will fall by the wayside as nature's way of weeding out the unfit, and an inevitable result of the struggle for existence. To try to overcome it or even ameliorate it was futile, if not positively harmful. A Darwinian left, understanding the prerequisites for mutual cooperation as well as its benefits, would strive to avoid economic conditions that create outcasts. [. . .:] When the free operation of competitive market forces makes it hazardous to walk the streets at night, governments do well to interfere with those market forces to promote employment. (p53) Singer was writing before the recent exponential increase in the gap between rich and poor in many of the developed nations. It is depressing how much more poignant his observation has become than it was a mere decade ago.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Masoud Mirnoori

    صریحاً داره میگه منظرش غیرمارکسیستیه (این رو نه به‌عنوان ضعف و نه قوت میگم)٬ خیلی باحوصله و در حدواندازهٔ یه کتابچهٔ مختصر به کاوش فهم نظریهٔ تکامل در بستر سیاسی و اجتماعی قرن بیستم به بعد می‌پردازه و این مصادره به مطلوب جناح راست. برای من *شخصاً* جالب بود چون به من کمک کرد برای صورت‌بندی بهتر پرسشی که مدتیه ذهن‌ام رو مشغول کرده. مفید بود در مجموع. ترجمه هم خوب و فهم‌پذیر بود (آقای هاتف، نشر کرگدن). پیتر سینگر از سری very short introductions برای هگل و مارکس هم نوشته. اونا رو خواهم خوند هم برای صریحاً داره میگه منظرش غیرمارکسیستیه (این رو نه به‌عنوان ضعف و نه قوت میگم)٬ خیلی باحوصله و در حدواندازهٔ یه کتابچهٔ مختصر به کاوش فهم نظریهٔ تکامل در بستر سیاسی و اجتماعی قرن بیستم به بعد می‌پردازه و این مصادره به مطلوب جناح راست. برای من *شخصاً* جالب بود چون به من کمک کرد برای صورت‌بندی بهتر پرسشی که مدتیه ذهن‌ام رو مشغول کرده. مفید بود در مجموع. ترجمه هم خوب و فهم‌پذیر بود (آقای هاتف، نشر کرگدن). پیتر سینگر از سری very short introductions برای هگل و مارکس هم نوشته. اونا رو خواهم خوند هم برای نیتی که خود کتاب در نظر گرفته (یعنی شناساندن مختصر و مفید این دو تن)٬ هم برای بهتر فهمیدن اینکه آقای سینگرِ فیلسوفِ اخلاق سایر آراش چه‌طوریه

  5. 5 out of 5

    Frederico

    Vamos lá parar de fingir que não somos animais.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Raha Mim

    کوچک اما بسیار سنگین

  7. 5 out of 5

    Dennis Littrell

    Well worth reading It was thought not too many years ago that the architects (so to speak) of the modern world were Marx, Darwin, Einstein and Freud. Now that the postmodern era is upon us, a reevaluation has been made and Marxist ideas have been largely discredited. Einstein has suffered a correction (from quantum mechanics), Freud has been reclassified as literature, and it is only Darwin's reputation that has survived unsullied. Furthermore during this period the right has taken Darwin as its o Well worth reading It was thought not too many years ago that the architects (so to speak) of the modern world were Marx, Darwin, Einstein and Freud. Now that the postmodern era is upon us, a reevaluation has been made and Marxist ideas have been largely discredited. Einstein has suffered a correction (from quantum mechanics), Freud has been reclassified as literature, and it is only Darwin's reputation that has survived unsullied. Furthermore during this period the right has taken Darwin as its own, believing that the competitive biological nature of human beings as revealed by evolutionary biology is what leads to the inequalities that exist in human societies while justifying the war of one against all, etc. But what Peter Singer is crowing about (and is the occasion for this lengthy essay/short book) is that the "red in tooth and claw" (Tennyson) interpretation of biological evolution that prevailed throughout the modern era is now coming under fire. No longer can biological evolution be seen as simply the strong taking advantage of the weak (a notion understandably obnoxious to the left). The larger truth now emerging from biology is that cooperation plays an important role in being fit and has, especially for humans, great adaptive value. It is becoming clear that Richard Dawkins's idea of the "selfish gene" is only part of the understanding, and that natural selection operates on groups through the individual, leading to an understanding that one (more cooperative) tribe may be selected over another, and that it is through cooperation within the tribe that Darwinian fittest may be most strongly expressed. Now this is an idea that the left can appreciate. Consequently Singer's enthusiasm. Marx is dead, long live Darwin! My problem with this intellectual enterprise is one that Singer points to on page 38, namely that we cannot form an argument from what is to what should be. Singer opines that we can instead through an appreciation of evolution gain "a better understanding of what it may take to achieve the goals we seek." Beginning on page 31 with his second chapter, Singer compares behaviors across societies. This allows him to note which practices are universal or nearly so and which are highly diverse. The conclusion is that the more universal the behavior, the more it is a product of our biological nature and not a construct of society. To the extent that this process is valid, the information gotten is valuable. This is indeed one of the tools of evolutionary psychology that some people on the Darwinian left would like to discredit. They fear that an emphasis on our genetic endowment will work against our ability to nurture positive values and behaviors. They want nurture trumping nature. However, in my opinion, the entire argument is passé and invalid. It is now generally understood in biology that nature gives us a predisposition to certain behaviors that develop in concert with our environmental experience so that our behaviors are an intimate product of both our nature and our nurture and cannot in any way be separated. The old "nature vs. nurture" debate is now seen as based on a false dilemma. Also, it should be appreciated that today's scientific understanding of human nature as derived from biology, genetics and kindred disciplines, is just that, today's understanding, and as such is tentative. Consequently any oughts, shoulds, etc. drawn from such an understanding--even if such a practice were logically valid--would also be of a provisional nature. Having said all this, I want to note that Singer's argument is well presented and his prescription for a Darwinian left in Chapter 5 well worth reading. If adopted it would work toward relieving the left from its fear of what evolutionary psychology is discovering about human beings. As Steven Pinker (not exactly a leftist) cheerfully notes, "Singer challenges the conventional wisdom that a recognition of human nature is incompatible with progressive ideals..." He does, and indeed Singer demonstrates that the discoveries of evolutionary biology can be completely compatible with the traditional values of the left. This is an important understanding, since evolutionary biology is not going to go away, nor are its discoveries. We must learn to live with who and what we are without necessarily condoning our less attractive tendencies or attempting to sweep them under the rug. Bottom line: the opening chapter which concentrates too much on the well-known Marxist delusions and the Soviet doublethink might well be skipped. The meat of Singer's essay begins with Chapter 2, and works very well by itself. --Dennis Littrell, author of “Understanding Evolution and Ourselves”

  8. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    What's there to say? As someone deeply sympathetic to Evolutionary Psychology or the Darwinian approach towards Human Nature (especially its behavioral and psychological aspects), I pretty much agree with Peter Singer's starting point. In effect, I also agree with him that Marxist view of human nature as a social construct of society is pretty much bunk. The diamond in the rough is Singer's idea that instead of viewing Darwinian thought about human nature with hostility or suspicion (you know, b What's there to say? As someone deeply sympathetic to Evolutionary Psychology or the Darwinian approach towards Human Nature (especially its behavioral and psychological aspects), I pretty much agree with Peter Singer's starting point. In effect, I also agree with him that Marxist view of human nature as a social construct of society is pretty much bunk. The diamond in the rough is Singer's idea that instead of viewing Darwinian thought about human nature with hostility or suspicion (you know, because of "Social Darwinism" and other atrocities committed under the name of "Eugenics"), the Left should use it as a scientific framework imposing some constraints on which social/economic policies are feasible and which beliefs about the world are consistent with Darwinism. This leads to the idea that the left should use some insights from Darwinism to establish social conditions that encourage or trigger the pre-existing cooperative aspect of human nature towards reciprocal altruism. Singer doesn't exactly state what that condition is, but I suspect it is on purpose because he only wants to provide a very broad view about what direction the Left is suppose to take. Moreover, Singer insists that we should avoid deducing values from facts, a mistake made by those on the right and left side of the spectrum. Instead, the Darwinian framework is the ground in which people have to think about human nature very seriously and carefully before proposing and implementing policies that may or may not presuppose an unrealistic view of human nature. Those are the highlights of Singer's short little book. My only concern is that the book targets people who identify with many liberal/left values, but become disillusioned or dissatisfied with the political orthodoxy on the left that dismisses any idea antithetical to the notion that human nature is malleable. He does go through the history of the Left to understand their suspicion about Darwinism applied to Human Nature, but he barely engages with its contemporary critics. I suspect this is because Singer's book is more like a proposal than a philosophical defense of the Darwinian Left. This isn't a very serious objection to Singer's book, but it is worth mentioning to readers who might want to find some kind of debate. I think I recommend this book to anyone who identify with many liberal values, but disagree with the Left's take on human nature.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ivan Vuković

    Brilliant little book! As a left-leaning ethnic Kekistani, it was refreshing to read something as rational, intelligent and to-the-point as this. The general left has gone completely crazy with its politically correct authoritarian views and postmodern dogmas that are absurdly out of touch with reality. This book is the polar opposite of this madness that has inflicted contemporary left. I'd go even further and say that this perspective could at least provide a partial antidote to it and possibly Brilliant little book! As a left-leaning ethnic Kekistani, it was refreshing to read something as rational, intelligent and to-the-point as this. The general left has gone completely crazy with its politically correct authoritarian views and postmodern dogmas that are absurdly out of touch with reality. This book is the polar opposite of this madness that has inflicted contemporary left. I'd go even further and say that this perspective could at least provide a partial antidote to it and possibly help to free the left from the chains of postmodernist PC ideology. Our society needs both the left and the right and I'd recommend this book to anyone. But I'd like to stress one thing before I finish: IF YOU CALL YOURSELF A LEFTIST, READ THIS SHORT INSIGHTFUL BOOK... please :)

  10. 5 out of 5

    Mh Khosravi

    کتاب «چپ داروینی» پیشنهادی است برای بازاندیشی و در نظر آوردن نوع دیگری از اندیشهٔ چپ. پیشنهاد سینگر این است که می‌توان اندیشهٔ داروین درخصوص تکامل موجودات را برای ساختن اجتماعی بهتر به کار گرفت. در اندیشهٔ او انسان محصول شرایط مادی حیاتش و موجودی شکل‌پذیر نیست، بلکه موجودی است در حال تکامل، موجودی که بر اثر این تکامل خود را بهتر از پیش می‌شناسد، و اگر امکانات نهفتهٔ وجودش برای زندگی عادلانه را بشناسد و آن‌ها را در سطح اجتماع بپروراند بیشترین بهره را از حیات خواهد برد. به زعم سینگر، اندیشهٔ سرشت کتاب «چپ داروینی» پیشنهادی است برای بازاندیشی و در نظر آوردن نوع دیگری از اندیشهٔ چپ. پیشنهاد سینگر این است که می‌توان اندیشهٔ داروین درخصوص تکامل موجودات را برای ساختن اجتماعی بهتر به کار گرفت. در اندیشهٔ او انسان محصول شرایط مادی حیاتش و موجودی شکل‌پذیر نیست، بلکه موجودی است در حال تکامل، موجودی که بر اثر این تکامل خود را بهتر از پیش می‌شناسد، و اگر امکانات نهفتهٔ وجودش برای زندگی عادلانه را بشناسد و آن‌ها را در سطح اجتماع بپروراند بیشترین بهره را از حیات خواهد برد. به زعم سینگر، اندیشهٔ سرشت ثابت انسان که تماماً بر ما شناخته نیست، می‌تواند به ما کمک کند تا در جوامع‌مان آن قابلیت‌های انسانی را ارج بگذاریم که، برخلاف منطق رقابتی جامعهٔ سرمایه‌داری، انسان‌ها را به سوی همکاری و دیگردوستی سوق می‌دهند. این دیگردوستی در نظر سینگر، بیشترین منفعت را برای انسان‌ها فراهم می‌کند (از این نظر همان‌طور که خود او می‌گوید اخلاقی که از آن سخن می‌گوید اخلاقی منفعت‌گراست). اندیشهٔ او آرمانشهری را در آینده فرض نمی‌گیرد و مدعی کشف قوانین علمی حرکت تاریخ نیست، بلکه بر ضرورت شناخت سرشت انسان و نیز پیوندهای بنیادی انسان طبیعی با انسان تاریخی تأکید می‌کند. درواقع کتاب او نگاه متفاوتی به این نسبت دارد از این نظر که وجود حیوانات را در عالم جدی می‌‌گیرد و وجود حیوانات را پیوسته با وجود انسان می‌داند. کتاب برای من اولین آشنایی با نظریات سینگر بود و فکر می‌کنم کتابی است که مطالعه و تأمل در ایده‌های آن می‌تواند در امروز ما بسیار کارآمد باشد.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mahdi Nasseri

    انگار داروینیسم در قرن اخیر بیشتر توسط سرمایه‌داری برای توجیه اصول و مبانی خود به خدمت گرفته شده تا سوسیالیزم. حالا صداهایی از سمت چپ بلند شده تا با اعتراف به اشتباهات و اصلاح یک سری از ایده‌های خود با پارادایم تکامل آشتی کرده و بعد در تاکتیک و عمل از آن برای پیشبرد آرمان‌های خود بهره ببرند. توضیح تعارض‌های بین سوسیالیزم و داروینیسم و تلاش نویسنده برای حل آن تعارضات برای کسی مثل من که دانش تخصصی در این حوزه‌ها ندارد بسیار شیوا و مفید بود. این یک کتاب تخصصی نیست و انگار نویسنده در مقام یک استاد دا انگار داروینیسم در قرن اخیر بیشتر توسط سرمایه‌داری برای توجیه اصول و مبانی خود به خدمت گرفته شده تا سوسیالیزم. حالا صداهایی از سمت چپ بلند شده تا با اعتراف به اشتباهات و اصلاح یک سری از ایده‌های خود با پارادایم تکامل آشتی کرده و بعد در تاکتیک و عمل از آن برای پیشبرد آرمان‌های خود بهره ببرند. توضیح تعارض‌های بین سوسیالیزم و داروینیسم و تلاش نویسنده برای حل آن تعارضات برای کسی مثل من که دانش تخصصی در این حوزه‌ها ندارد بسیار شیوا و مفید بود. این یک کتاب تخصصی نیست و انگار نویسنده در مقام یک استاد دانشگاه طی چند ساعت جلسه آموزشی مباحث را مطرح و روایت را تکمیل کرده است. برای همین خواندن آن برای هر کسی با هر سطحی از دانش تخصصی در حوزه‌های اقتصادی و اجتماعی مطلوب و مفید است. بدون شک ترجمه شیوا و قدرتمند کتاب توسط محمدمهدی هاتف تاثیر زیادی در شکل‌گیری این روایت صریح و موجز در کنار ساختار منسجم کتاب داشته است.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    A great take on the state of leftist and progressive liberal politics, including what the left gets right and what it gets wrong. Both fair and critical, it points liberals in the direction to head toward.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Pi

    A great short read about the interface between Darwinian and leftist thought. Singer offers a critique to early leftist writings, such as Kropotkin's Mutual Aid and Engels' Dialectics of Nature and Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, that attempt to incorporate evolutionary ideas in their theories, claiming they "got Darwin wrong". Indeed it seems that "scientific" socialism, as presented by Engels, was, contrary to his claim, very much utopian, due to its strive towards a perfect society. There A great short read about the interface between Darwinian and leftist thought. Singer offers a critique to early leftist writings, such as Kropotkin's Mutual Aid and Engels' Dialectics of Nature and Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, that attempt to incorporate evolutionary ideas in their theories, claiming they "got Darwin wrong". Indeed it seems that "scientific" socialism, as presented by Engels, was, contrary to his claim, very much utopian, due to its strive towards a perfect society. There is also Kropotkin's reliance on an idealized conception of human nature as intrinsically 'good'. Views that are difficult to commensurate with Darwinian theory, which firmly rejects a priori value judgments and teleological arguments. These and other early writers on the left believed invariably that evolutionary thinking should be limited to the biological, and can never inform the social. Precisely this idea should, according to Singer, be dismantled in order to progress left-wing politics. He offers modern evolutionary models of cooperation and cultural change, as ample evidence supporting such a move. As a result, we end up with a revised, albeit non-original, view of the left that is less utopian and more expansive in its domain; with Darwinian theory serving not as a source of values (as suggested by some people on the right), but as a tool for identifying bad theories and policies, incompatible with modern scientific understanding of society.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Thomfrost

    A Darwinian Left would not: -Deny the existence of a human nature -Expect to end all conflict and strife between human beings -Assume that all inequalities are due to discrimination A Darwinian Left would: - Reject any inference from what is natural to what is right - Expect both competition and cooperation - Promote structures that foster the latter rather than the former

  15. 5 out of 5

    LS Mitchell

    Required reading for all Lefties.

  16. 4 out of 5

    VEL – The Contemporary Heretic

    Social Darwinism is dead. The idea that charity, welfare and medical treatment ought to be withheld so that the poor and ill perish in accordance with the process of natural selection survives only as a ‘straw man’ sometimes attributed to conservatives by leftists in order to discredit them, and a form of ‘guilt by association’ sometimes invoked by creationists to discredit the theory of evolution. However, despite the attachment of some American conservatives to creationism, there remains a perce Social Darwinism is dead. The idea that charity, welfare and medical treatment ought to be withheld so that the poor and ill perish in accordance with the process of natural selection survives only as a ‘straw man’ sometimes attributed to conservatives by leftists in order to discredit them, and a form of ‘guilt by association’ sometimes invoked by creationists to discredit the theory of evolution. However, despite the attachment of some American conservatives to creationism, there remains a perception that evolutionary psychology is somehow right-wing. If humans are fundamentally selfish, as Dawkins is taken to have argued, then this surely confirms the underlying assumptions of classical economics. Certainly, we have evolved to be altruistic to close biological relatives, but this only reinforces conservatives’ faith in the family, and their concerns regarding family breakdown and substitute parents. Finally, research on sex differences surely suggests that some traditional gender roles (e.g. motherhood, soldiering) have a biological basis, and patriarchy and the pay gap are inevitable. Larry Arnhart thus champions a new Darwinian Conservatism. Against this, Peter Singer seeks to reclaim Darwin, and evolutionary psychology, for the Left. The Naturalistic Fallacy Since David Hume, it has been accepted among philosophers that one cannot derive values from facts. Evolutionary psychologists have agreed, not least because enabled them to investigate the evolutionary function of such behaviors as infidelity, sexual coercion, war and child abuse without being taken as thereby justifying such behavior. Thus, rather than attempting to justify leftist ideals like equality, Singer accepts them as given. He argues not that socialism is demanded by Darwinism, but only that it is compatible with Darwin. But, if moral values cannot be derived from scientific facts, whence are they derived? Can they only be derived from other moral values? If so, how are our ultimate moral values, from which all others are derived, themselves derived? Singer implies that our ultimate moral values must simply be taken on faith. But rejecting the naturalistic fallacy does not mean that the facts of human nature are irrelevant to politics. While Darwinism may not prescribe any particular political ideals, it may help us determine how to achieve those ideals we have decided upon. Thus Singer writes:“An understanding of human nature in the light of evolutionary theory can help us to identify the means by which we may achieve some of our social and political goals... as well as assessing the possible costs and benefits of doing so" (p15).Abandoning Utopia An evolutionary perspective also suggests some political goals are simply unattainable, at least in the absence of eugenically reengineering human nature itself. In watering down the utopian aspirations of previous generations of leftists, Singer seems to agree. Human selfishness makes communism unattainable because:1) People strive to promote themselves and their kin above others 2) Only coercive state apparatus can prevent them so doing 3) The individuals in control of this coercive apparatus themselves seek to promote the interests of themselves and their kin and corruptly use this coercive apparatus to do soThus, Singer laments:“What egalitarian revolution has not been betrayed by its leaders?” (p39) In addition, human selfishness suggests, if complete egalitarianism were achieved, it would be economically inefficient—because it would remove the incentive of self-advancement that lies behind the production of goods and services, not to mention of works of art and scientific advances. As Adam Smith wrote:“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”Again, the only other means of ensuring goods and services are produced is state coercion, which, given human nature, will be exercised both corruptly and inefficiently. What's Left? In rejecting utopianism, Singer has displeased other leftists, both those opposed to evolutionary psychology (e.g. The First Darwinian Left) and others broadly receptive (e.g. As We Know It). Singer defines the Left in unusually broad terms, as being:“On the side of the weak, not the powerful; of the oppressed, not the oppressor; of the ridden, not the rider” (p8).Yet few conservatives would admit to being on the side of the oppressor. Rather, conservatives and libertarians reject the dichotomous subdivision of society into oppressed and oppressor groups, arguing that mutually beneficial exchange is the basis of capitalism, not exploitation. Conservatives usually claim that their policies benefit society as a whole, and that socialist reforms inadvertently hurt precisely those whom they aim to help (e.g. welfare encourages welfare dependency; a high minimum wage increases unemployment). Indeed, many conservatives share Singer’s aspiration to create a more altruistic culture. Indeed, this aspiration seems more compatible with the libertarian notion of voluntary charitable donations replacing taxation than with the coercively-extracted taxation favored by the Left. Equality of Opportunity Yet Selfish gene theory suggests humans are not entirely self-interested. Rather, kin selection makes us care also about our biological relatives. But this is no boon for the left. First, it means divorce is a problem since stepfamilies have higher rates of abuse. Second, it makes ‘equality of opportunity’ as unattainable as ‘equality of outcome’—because individuals act to aid the social, educational and economic advancement of their kin, and those individuals better placed to do so (e.g. richer, better connected, smarter) do so more effectively. But, since many conservatives and libertarians are as committed to equality of opportunity as socialists are to equality of outcome, this conclusion may be as unwelcome on the right as on the left. Indeed, kin selection has even been invoked to suggest that ethnocentrism is innate and ethnic conflict is inevitable in multi-ethnic societies, a proposal popular only on the far right. Animal Rights Singer also argues Darwinism supports animal liberation.:“By knocking out the idea that we are a separate creation from the animals, Darwinian thinking provided the basis for a revolution in our attitudes to non-human animals” (p17).This makes our consumption of animals as food, our killing of them for sport, our enslavement of them as draft animals, or even pets, and our imprisonment of them in zoos and laboratories all ethically suspect, since these are not things permitted in respect of humans. But human-animal continuity cuts two ways. Anti-vivisectionists sometimes argue that animal testing is ineffective, because drugs and treatments often have different effects on humans than on the animals used in the tests. Our evolutionary continuity with non-human species makes this implausible. Moreover, if humans are subject to the same principles of natural selection as other species, this suggests, not the elevation of animals to the status of humans, but rather the relegation of humans to just another species of animal. Finally, acceptance of the existence of human nature surely entails recognition of carnivory as part of that nature. Of course, if meat-eating is natural, this does not make it right—but it does suggest vegetarianism is nutritionally sub-optimal. Moreover, since Singer argues elsewhere that there is a no valid moral distinction between acts and omissions, then, if he believes it is wrong for us to eat animals, does he also believe we should take measures to prevent lions eating gazelles? Reciprocity In chapter 4 (“Competition or Cooperation?”), Singer argues that, although competition and cooperation are both natural, it is possible to create a society that focuses more on cooperation. However, he is short on practical suggestions as to how a culture of altruism is to be fostered. Changing the values of a culture is not easy, especially for a liberal democratic (as opposed to a totalitarian) government, let alone for a solitary Australian moral philosopher—and Singer's condemnation of “the nightmares of Stalinist Russia” suggests that he would not countenance the interference with human freedom to which the Left has so often resorted, with little ultimate success, in the past. Yet Singer is wrong to see competition as in conflict with cooperation. Thus, the most remarkable acts of cooperation and self-sacrifice are witnessed in wartime (e.g. kamikaze pilots, suicide bombers and soldiers who throw themselves on grenades). Yet war represents the most extreme form of competition known to man. In short, soldiers risk and sacrifice their lives, not only to save the lives of others, but also to take the lives of other others. Likewise, trade, a form of cooperation, is as fundamental to capitalism as competition. Indeed, far from disparaging cooperation, neoliberal economists see exchange (i.e. reciprocity) as central to capitalism. Ironically, Matt Ridley, like Singer, focuses on humans’ innate capacity for cooperation to justify political conclusions. But, for Ridley, our capacity for cooperation provides a rationale, not for socialism, but for free markets—because humans, as natural traders, produce efficient systems of exchange which government intervention only distorts (see The Origins of Virtue). Group Differences Singer rejects:“[The assumption] that all inequalities are due to discrimination, prejudice, oppression or social conditioning.” (p61).Instead, he envisages that some disparities in achievement reflect innate differences between individuals and groups in abilities, temperament and preferences. Such a concession is not incompatible with leftism. In The Blank Slate, Pinker points to the theoretical possibility of a “Hereditarian Left”, arguing for a Rawlsian redistribution of resources to the innately ‘cognitively disadvantaged’. Indeed, no lesser leftist than Marx himself, in advocating ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his need’, implicitly recognized that people differed in “ability”—differences which, given the equalization of conditions envisaged under communism, he presumably envisaged as innate in origin. With regard to group differences, Singer wisely evades the question of race differences. Instead, he illustrates the possibility that not “all inequalities are due to discrimination, prejudice, oppression or social conditioning” with the marginally less incendiary case of sex differences:“If achieving high status increases access to women, then we can expect men to have a stronger drive for status than women” (p18)This may alone explain patriarchy and the pay gap. But Singer neglects another factor—women’s attachment to infant offspring, also innate, which also impedes career advancement. For a more detailed treatment, see Biology at Work. Eugenics In response to the claim that welfare encourages the unemployed to have children and thereby promotes dysgenic fertility patterns, Singer retorts:“Even if there were a genetic component to something as nebulous as unemployment, to say that these genes are ‘deleterious’ would involve value judgements that go way beyond what the science alone can tell us” (p15).Viewing certain character traits, and the genes that contribute to them, as undesirable certainly involves an extra-scientific value judgement. However, virtually everyone accepts some traits (e.g. generosity, health, happiness, conscientiousness) as more desirable than others (e.g. selfishness, laziness, depression, illness). Moreover, while it may be unhelpful to talk of unemployment itself as heritable, traits that likely contribute to unemployment (e.g. IQ, conscientiousness, mental and physical illness) are indeed heritable (see The Welfare Trait). Indeed, in the strict biological sense, unemployment surely is heritable. So, incidentally, are road traffic accidents and political opinions—because they reflect personality traits that are themselves heritable (e.g. risk-takers have more traffic accidents). Actually, though, the question of heritability is irrelevant. Even if the reason that children from deprived backgrounds have worse life outcomes is entirely due to environmental factors (e.g. parenting), the case for restricting reproductive rights remains powerful. After all, children usually get both their genes and their parenting from the same parents—and only a massive programme of forcibly removing children from their parents to be raised in foster homes or in socialist Kibbutzim would change this. Therefore, if the association between parentage and outcomes is established, the question of whether this association is biologically or environmentally mediated is simply beside the point. In conclusion, if we accept Singer’s contention that an understanding of human nature can help show us how achieve, but not choose, our ultimate political objectives, then surely eugenics could be used to achieve the goal of producing the better people and hence, ultimately, better societies. Indeed, given that Singer seemingly concedes that human nature is presently incompatible with communism, perhaps then the only way to revive the socialist dream is to eugenically reengineer human nature itself. Indeed, it is perhaps no accident that, before WWII, eugenics was typically associated with the Left. Early twentieth century socialist-eugenicists like H.G. Wells, Sidney Webb, Margaret Sanger and George Bernard Shaw perhaps tentatively grasped what eludes contemporary leftists, Singer included—namely that reengineering society requires reengineering Man himself!

  17. 5 out of 5

    David Kapusta

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Petra Singer je pre mňa veľkou inšpiráciou v oblasti aplikovanej etiky a už desaťročia bojovníkom za práva zvierat. Vegetariánstvu a vegánstvu dal morálny obsah a desaťročia dráždu svojimi názormi a postojmi. V tejto sviežej knižôčke sa snaží ísť k akejsi podstate ľavice. V prvej časti upozorňuje na to ako v minulosti zle ľavica pochopila Darwina. Prečo Engels nad Marxovým hrobom vyjadril mimoriadnu poklonu tým, že prirovnal Marxov objav zákona ľudského vývoja K Darwinovému “ zákonu vývoja organ Petra Singer je pre mňa veľkou inšpiráciou v oblasti aplikovanej etiky a už desaťročia bojovníkom za práva zvierat. Vegetariánstvu a vegánstvu dal morálny obsah a desaťročia dráždu svojimi názormi a postojmi. V tejto sviežej knižôčke sa snaží ísť k akejsi podstate ľavice. V prvej časti upozorňuje na to ako v minulosti zle ľavica pochopila Darwina. Prečo Engels nad Marxovým hrobom vyjadril mimoriadnu poklonu tým, že prirovnal Marxov objav zákona ľudského vývoja K Darwinovému “ zákonu vývoja organickej prírody” ? Singer sa snaží odpovedať prečo ľavica sa nakoniec postavila voči darwinizmu odmietavo a prináša základný prehľad konfliktu medzi marxistickou teóriou dejín a biologickým pohľadom na ľudskú prirodzenosť. Čo sa môže od Darwina naučiť nová ľavica ? Autor zdôrazňuje v ďalšej časti, že ten kto sa snaží zmeniť spoločnosť, tak musí najprv pochopiť sklony, ktoré sú vrodené ľudskej povahe a upraviť svoje abstraktné (ľavicové) ideály, tak aby boli v súlade s ľudskými sklonmi a zároveň nikto nechcel po druhom, aby konal proti svojim vlastným záujmom. V záverečnej časti sa pokúša o syntézu moderného darwinovského myslenia, ktoré vsalo do seba myšlienky konkurencie a recipročného altruizmu, čiže zjednodušene obyčajnú ľudskú spoluprácu. Peter Singer odhaľuje záhadu altruizmu interpretáciou vedeckých poznatkov, behaviorálnych štúdií a snaží sa odpovedať na otázky odkiaľ sa berie altruizmus a ako nastaviť také podmienky, že sa bude dariť prirodzenej spolupráci medzi nami ? V závere svojej eseje predkladá základné smerovanie novej darwinovskej ľavice. Akceptovať ľudskú prirodzenosť a založiť politiky na najlepších dostupných poznatkoch o tom akí v skutočnosti sme. Podporovať také sociálne štruktúry spoločnosti v ktorých sa darí viac spolupráci ako konkurencii a pokúsiť sa nasmerovať konkurenciu k spoločensky prospešným cieľom. Držať sa tradičný ľavicových hodnôt a stáť na strane slabých, chudobných a utláčaných a nachádzať také ekonomické zmeny, ktoré im budú k prospechu. A v neposlednom rade priznávať väčší morálny status zvieratám a ich právam a opustiť antropocentrický pohľad dominancie človeka nad prírodou.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Reza Tooka

    مدت‌ها بود از خواندن کتابی تا این حد سرشار از لذت و شعف نشده بودم. گویا کسی بخشی از ایده‌هایی را که از تجربه‌ی زیستن در جامعه و به مرور در ذهنم شکل گرفته، با نخی مستحکم به هم متصل کرده است. این‌ها را نه از این بابت گفتم که بر خود غرّه شده باشم، بلکه شعف من همه از آن بوده که در باور به بسیاری از این ایده‌ها تنها نیستم، و از آن بهتر، فیلسوفی چون پیتر سینگر بسا سلیس‌تر و مدون‌تر آن‌ها را بر روی کاغذ آورده و چه بسا بسیاری آن را خوانده‌اند. به‌خصوص آن‌جا که از «ایثار» در کنش‌های اجتماعی سخن به میان آو مدت‌ها بود از خواندن کتابی تا این حد سرشار از لذت و شعف نشده بودم. گویا کسی بخشی از ایده‌هایی را که از تجربه‌ی زیستن در جامعه و به مرور در ذهنم شکل گرفته، با نخی مستحکم به هم متصل کرده است. این‌ها را نه از این بابت گفتم که بر خود غرّه شده باشم، بلکه شعف من همه از آن بوده که در باور به بسیاری از این ایده‌ها تنها نیستم، و از آن بهتر، فیلسوفی چون پیتر سینگر بسا سلیس‌تر و مدون‌تر آن‌ها را بر روی کاغذ آورده و چه بسا بسیاری آن را خوانده‌اند. به‌خصوص آن‌جا که از «ایثار» در کنش‌های اجتماعی سخن به میان آورد، برایم بی‌نهایت ارزشمند و دلگرم‌کننده بود.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ivan Loginov

    Biologická argumentace autora může dnes působit vágně a zastarale - nezachází příliš do podrobností a kvůli stáří publikace ani nereflektuje fakta o lidské přirozenosti, která byla zjištěná v posledních desetiletích. Nicméně kniha vyslovuje potřebnou kritiku a vytyčuje cíle pro levici do budoucna. Patří mezi ně především odmítnutí utopických vizí a snaha při tvoření sociálně spravedlivějšího systému se opírat také o nejnovější poznatky z oblasti biologie a psychologie. Nemělo by to však sklouzno Biologická argumentace autora může dnes působit vágně a zastarale - nezachází příliš do podrobností a kvůli stáří publikace ani nereflektuje fakta o lidské přirozenosti, která byla zjištěná v posledních desetiletích. Nicméně kniha vyslovuje potřebnou kritiku a vytyčuje cíle pro levici do budoucna. Patří mezi ně především odmítnutí utopických vizí a snaha při tvoření sociálně spravedlivějšího systému se opírat také o nejnovější poznatky z oblasti biologie a psychologie. Nemělo by to však sklouznout k biologickému determinismu a odmítnutí vlivu kulturních faktorů na ontogenetický vývoj člověka.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mohammad Sajjad Asghari

    ایده‌ی اصلی کتاب حول این موضوع است که با دستاوردهای نظریه تکامل در زیست‌شناسی، باید نظریه سیاسی سوسیالیسم را اصلاح کرد. در مجموع سه ویژگی مهم در سوسیالیسم را نیازمند اصلاح می‌داند: اول اندیشه کمال‌پذیری همگانی، دوم نظریه تاریخ مارکس و سوم ایده‌ی شکل‌پذیری سرشت انسانی است. فصلی هم در مورد نظریه بازی‌ها دارد که برای من خوش توضیح و جذاب بود

  21. 4 out of 5

    Maryam

    l was expecting Singer would be a left Darwinist himself, but the book is more of a preaching for left Darwinists to compromise their values which leaves quite nothing from left. However, it gives a good account of how values could easily overshadow the facts.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Charles Collyer

    A clear exposition of Darwinian ideas that should be embraced by progressives. Discards some of the optimism of perfectability; accepts the reality of biological variation, without gratuitous extrapolation.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Bcoghill Coghill

    Dated. Theory is sound but facts are dated.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    A small taste of some interesting ideas.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sergio Bolea

    Me ha enganchado este librito, leído de una tirada.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Matthijs Krul

    Neither Darwinian nor left. A very shoddy, superficial, poorly argued book. Only occasionally worthwhile points, most of which have little directly do to with Darwinism.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Curtis Mullins

    Alright book. Goes over the failings of the Blank Slate view many on the Left have and how the Left needs to embrace Human nature.

  28. 5 out of 5

    N. N.

    I found this very interesting when I read it. A lot has happened since then, not least the replication crisis. So I have no idea what I would think if I were to read it now.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Fritz-Anton Fritzson

    Given that I am neither a utilitarian nor a leftist, I was surprised how much I agreed with in this little book. And the few things that I do not agree with have very little to do with Singer's application of Darwinian thought to politics (an idea with which I am much sympathetic), nor indeed with his utilitarianism (which in this particular book is rather watered down), but rather with his weak grasp of economics. To counter this bias, I strongly recommend to read this book in tandem with Paul Given that I am neither a utilitarian nor a leftist, I was surprised how much I agreed with in this little book. And the few things that I do not agree with have very little to do with Singer's application of Darwinian thought to politics (an idea with which I am much sympathetic), nor indeed with his utilitarianism (which in this particular book is rather watered down), but rather with his weak grasp of economics. To counter this bias, I strongly recommend to read this book in tandem with Paul H. Rubin's Darwinian Politics: The Evolutionary Origin of Freedom. Like Singer, Rubin argues that there are evolved political preferences in humans and that political systems must consider, and perhaps adapt to, these preferences. But, unlike Singer, Rubin does not start out with a specific political agenda but tries instead "to be somewhat more analytical and allow the agenda to come from the preferences". He analyses which political institutions allow humans to fulfil their evolved preferences, rather than imposing his own preferences on them. Rubin shares Singer's utilitarian staring point, but reaches quite different political conclusions. Rubin pokes holes in some of Singer's most dubious claims. As such, these two books are good companions (see my review of Rubin's book here: http://www.oxymoronsreviews.com/oxymo...). Note also that Singer's book is very short and does not offer the rich empirical background needed for a beginner. Matt Ridley's The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation is a very good easy-to-read introduction. For more information on the history and the general debate of applying evolutionary thinking to social and political matters see Steven Pinker's excellent The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. Fritz- Anton Fritzson http://www.oxymoronsreviews.com

  30. 5 out of 5

    K

    Peter Singer is no stranger to radical political theorists or the metaphysical assumptions that many of those theorists hold. He has put out a work on Marx far long ago, so he isn't a stranger to debates between leftists of all sorts and variations. It's a big step for somebody to propose that the radical Left should replace Marx with Darwin, one that perhaps many communists wouldn't dare to even discuss, and that's exactly what he proposes. There are some valid points behind this reasoning : Mar Peter Singer is no stranger to radical political theorists or the metaphysical assumptions that many of those theorists hold. He has put out a work on Marx far long ago, so he isn't a stranger to debates between leftists of all sorts and variations. It's a big step for somebody to propose that the radical Left should replace Marx with Darwin, one that perhaps many communists wouldn't dare to even discuss, and that's exactly what he proposes. There are some valid points behind this reasoning : Marx presented a moldable version of human nature. The base and superstructure are concepts which basically explain our ever-changing behaviors, values etc. Perhaps Marxists didn't realize the repercussions that the Darwinian theory had on their theoretical model of social analysis, but it's a brutal blow that can't be easily defied. Since evolution plays a big part in any effort to describe even the most minimal intrinsic human nature, you can't rule out some common tendencies that people tend to hold. There are definitely biological patterns that are common between different cultures and people in different historical periods. Some are the tendency to form hierarchical structures, a strong affiliation with family members, the pursuit of individual interests etc. There's also great capacity for cooperation and altruistic behavior which are great traits for our species. When one wants to implement a social or economic model, he or she must take these considerations into account. If not, the future might hold catastrophic consequences. In any case, Singer admits that while Darwin's theory shows where we are, it doesn't necessarily limit our options. There are multiple ways which we can go from here if we grasp our limitations and try to overcome them. Furthermore, different ethical systems are applicable and can potentially enrich our nature in some long distant future (Richard Dawkins proposes mandatory altruistic behavior for example. Don't know if this idea can stand to serious criticism but its mentioned in this book). This was very short, I read it in two or three hours. But it was quite impressive in depth and scope. I'm really starting to like Peter Singer.

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