An interesting article appeared in the German news magazine, “Der Spiegel,” recently. It was entitled, “How Mankind Learned Humanity,” and discussed recent developments in the field of evolutionary science relating to the evolution of morality in human beings. Why was it interesting? Well, there was a time when the appearance of anything of the sort in a left-leaning publication like Spiegel would have been virtually unthinkable. You see, back in the day, Marxists, socialists, and dwellers in various other ideological straightjackets found such notions politically unpalatable. They were in conflict with the preferred version of human behavior as infinitely malleable, and determined entirely by environment and learning. Creatures possessing such ideal characteristics were indispensible if the various utopias then under construction for us were ever to work as planned.
Back in the 60’s and 70’s, a brilliant thinker named Robert Ardrey and others like him began publishing books, such as “African Genesis,” and “The Territorial Imperative,” pointing out the rather obvious absurdities of such notions, and reviewing studies of animal behavior and other research that pointed to the conclusion that our capacity to act as moral beings had evolved, along with the rest of our characteristics. They were promptly demonized as fascists, racists, and “pop ethologists” by the puritan ideologues. Notions to the effect that there was any genetic component to human behavior became distinctly politically incorrect. References to such ideas in the popular media became few and far between. When they did, it was usually to the accompaniment of some slur about the moral turpitude of those harboring such notions.
For those of us who lived through those times, and witnessed the shameful attempts of scientific poseurs like Richard Lewontin and Ashley Montagu to silence Ardrey and his colleagues with ridicule and spite, the unconscious vindication of his ideas represented by the Spiegel article and many others like it is both welcome and encouraging. I never doubted that vindication would come, because it seemed that, unless the Lewontins of the world were somehow able to cow the rest of the research community into suppressing every “inconvenient truth” that didn’t quite agree with their ideologically conditioned preconceptions, the weight of evidence for ideas that really amounted to little more than common sense would become overwhelming.
In the end, it did become overwhelming. The Spiegel article and the ever increasing volume of others like it are a reflection of that fact. The genetic basis of morality, and of human nature in general, is now treated as a commonplace in the popular media, as it is in the scientific research community in general. To tell the truth, I never thought the day would come as quickly as it has. It’s a hopeful sign. In the end, as long as free research can continue, the truth really can prevail.