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A Darwinian Left: Politics, Evolution and Cooperation [Hardcover]

Peter Singer
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 11 2000 Darwinism Today series
In A Darwinian Left, Peter Singer argues that the political left has misunderstood Darwinian ideas and as a result been hostile to the application of Darwinian thinking to politics. Those on the political left who seek a more egalitarian society should instead embrace evolutionary ideas and learn how to use evolutionary thinking in order to build the kind of cooperative society sought.

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Philosophers don't have to be arcane and out of touch. Princeton's Peter Singer gives 21st-century liberals and radicals something to think about with the slim but powerful volume of Darwinism Today titled A Darwinian Left. Long noted for holding controversial bioethical beliefs related to animal rights, abortion, and euthanasia, Singer tends to quickly polarize his readers. This time, he chooses to antagonize those most sympathetic with his positions, arguing that the political left should re-evaluate its dependence on Marxism and its shunning of Darwinism. His writing is lucid and pulls no punches in examining the consequences of 20th-century answers to poverty; fans of the welfare state are in for some discomfort.

But Singer sees making a few liberals squirm as crucial to stealing Darwinism from the right and combining the noble desire to help the helpless with a realistic view of human nature and evolution. He builds a compelling line of thought, peppered with examples, that shows how our competitive "survival of the fittest" conception of evolution falls far short of modern scientific thinking. Instead, Singer suggests we incorporate a Darwinian ethic of cooperation into our political thought and reflect carefully on the consequences of our remedies for the evils of the world. --Rob Lightner

About the Author

Peter Singer, formerly at Monash University, is Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics in the University Centre for Human Values, Princeton University. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, But... March 25 2004
This book is, as another reviewer put it, definitely worth reading. Singer brings to light several important issues that the left certainly needs to address. However, it is not without its flaws.
For one, Singer misrepresents some of Marx's ideas. Marx clearly *did* have a concept of a fixed human nature, albeit that interacted dialectically with its social surroundings. For more on this view, see Marx's Concept of Man by Erich Fromm and The Dialectical Biologist by Richard Levins and Richard Lewontin.
Also, Singer relies to heavily on the discredited reductionist approach to biology championed by Dawkins and company.
There is no "nature vs. nurture". There is no linear relationship between genotype and phenotype. Almost everything results from nature *and* nurture. Take, for example, even a simple thing like height: we all have different genetic potentials for growth, but only with proper nutrition can those potentials by fully realized. And today, there are even limb lengthening operations, allowing for the phenotype to be further altered -- without genetic manipulation. One can only imagine the multitude of ways in which environment must, then, impact social and psychological development.
Similarly, Singer uncritically accepts Derek Freeman's attack on Margaret Mead. But, as Martin Orans argues convincingly in his Not Even Wrong: Margaret Mead, Derek Freeman, and the Samoans, there's ample reason to doubt Freeman's thesis.
But read it, and make up your own mind.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Well worth reading Nov. 6 2003
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!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Important For The Left Oct. 18 2003
Much of the Left has treated genetics as a right-wing fabrication by those seeking to protect the status quo or, worse yet, attempting to resucitate the notion of a master race. Of course, this statement should be qualified. The Left has no problems with genetics as long as it is applied exclusively to "physical" characteristics. In this last sentence we can begin to already see the cracks: how can there be such a neat division between the physical and the behavioral?
In this IMPORTANT essay, Professor Peter Singer calls on the Left to reconsider its position. Certainly there have been those on the Right who have misinterpreted genetics in order to defend the status quo, defend racism, imperialism, etc; however, it is not reasonable to condemn genetics and the scientists working in that area just because the Right has attempted to appropriate the field for its ideological purposes. That is tantamount, in my opinion, to condemning physics just because some have applied it to militaristic purposes.
It is sad to report, but there are a lot of people on the Left- and I am myself a Leftist- who thrive on tired bromides and have little tolerance for complexity. Of course the system, culture, and class that we are born into are important. Very few would deny that. However, these cultural phenomena arise from, conflate with, express and sometimes frustrate certain genetic constants of human nature.
Denial of this has already had dire consequences for the Left.
Where has there been a Party or government -Left or Right- that has not been rife with power-seeking, self-interested people?
If aggression were supposed to disappear with socialism, then why
did the Soviet Union invade Afghanistan and Czechoslovakia?
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars A Bonobo's View of the Darwinian Left
It becomes more difficult every day to competently use the writings of Marx or Darwin as guideposts for human social life. Read more
Published on June 16 2001 by Lee Hall
3.0 out of 5 stars Semi-illiterate apologists of corporatism
All these critics giving one-star mark to Singer's text, should be laugh at for their uninformed but obstinate attempt to explain something that lies beyond ther mental capacities. Read more
Published on May 13 2001
2.0 out of 5 stars Toward a Post Darwinian Left.
Darwin has confused more philosophers, beginning with Nietzsche, than any other scientist. It is time the game stopped. Read more
Published on Dec 14 2000 by John C. Landon
2.0 out of 5 stars Post Darwinian Manifesto???
I give it two stars only because I can give this book to people who do not really understand what the left is all about, on to the review. Read more
Published on Nov. 6 2000 by Enigma
5.0 out of 5 stars Integrating leftist politics with evolutionary science
The purpose of this little book (I read it while walking the distance of 22 city blocks on a pleasant late summer day) is to counter some of the fallacies of both the left and the... Read more
Published on Oct. 25 2000 by Howard A. Smith
1.0 out of 5 stars Singer hasn't done his homework.
Another reviewer has already pointed out that, contra Singer, Darwin himself was a "Social Darwinist. Read more
Published on Aug. 31 2000
4.0 out of 5 stars "Common Sense" for the 21st Century ?
This is a difficult book to rate in a five star system. Very short (63 pages) it is essentially a political pamphlet or manifesto. To this reader it does this job well. Read more
Published on July 12 2000 by "mike_montgomery"
5.0 out of 5 stars A big idea in a little book
After reading this book, it's easy to see why some editors of The Wall Street Journal detest Peter Singer. He's a bold new thinker who is not afraid of new ideas. Read more
Published on May 1 2000 by Theodore A. Rushton
5.0 out of 5 stars A big idea in a little book
After reading this book, it's easy to see why Wall Street Journal editors detest Peter Singer. He's a bold new thinker who is not afraid of new ideas. Read more
Published on April 28 2000 by Theodore A. Rushton
5.0 out of 5 stars Swapping Marx for Darwin
In Singer's own words, this book is "a sketch of the waysin which a Darwinian left would differ from the traditional left thatwe have come to know over the past two hundred... Read more
Published on April 21 2000 by Steve Barney
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