Saturday, 8 February 2014

Steven Rose’s Criticisms of Richard Dawkins

Steven Rose at a SWP conference.

Richard Dawkins is often the victim of the is/ought fallacy when criticised by his detractors. That is, when Dawkins says that something was, or is, the case about X, many conclude that he thinks that X ought to -or should - be the case. 
For example, because Dawkins has written that the male of the species often had multiple sexual partners in the distant past, Steven Rose (‘brain scientist’ and SWP activist) fallaciously concludes that Dawkins believes that this ought to be the case today! –
“It is the equivalent of saying that the natural state of humanity is to have no clothes, therefore we ought to go around with no clothes. The most vocal and articulate culprit is probably Steven Rose, who actually used the very example you talk about, sexual strategies.” (Julian Baggini interviewing Richard Dawkins)

Steven Rose should also realise that even if some (very few) recent biologists, or even certain sociobiologists, have indeed used their scientific conclusions or beliefs to further their political aims for contemporary society, then Richard Dawkins himself must be doing so. Perhaps Dawkins is just doing science and nothing more. Just because Rose is not just doing science, he is applying Leftist orthodoxy and ideology to his and others people's science; he shouldn’t judge Dawkins by his own standards and practices.

Take the semi-naked caveman example above. 
Cavemen didn’t do biology either. Does that mean that Dawkins also thinks that we shouldn’t do biology (or mathematics) either? Similarly, it may well be a fact that cavemen were ‘somewhere between philanderers and faithful’ and cavewomen were ‘coy and fast’. That doesn’t mean that Dawkins believes that men today should be philanderers and women today should be coy! 
None of this matters to Steven Rose, of course. What matters to him is whether or not his accusations against Dawkins will further the cause of revolution or of ‘radicalisation’. Whether it will make people believe the right (Leftist) things. The truth about what Dawkins actually believes is basically beside the point to Rose. It is the (possible) ‘repercussions of what he believes’, or what people think he believes, that matters. 
For example, perhaps some people may well utilise Dawkins’ findings to legitimise ‘sexist and reactionary’ social or political policies. That’s not Dawkins’s fault or even his concern. Perhaps a psycho serial killer may use Dawkins’ work. On the other hand, perhaps a modern-day saint may do so. Who knows? Who cares? Dawkins himself says that his intention is not ‘ideological’:
“What is not interesting is to treat it as a kind of political or ideological point and to suggest that I’m advocating philandering by human males. I mean it is not even as though the model ended up with philandering predominant, it actually ended up with faithful as the predominant strategy. And in fact with that model, humans weren’t even mentioned. If anything I had a bird in mind.”

Even if Steven Rose actually knew that Dawkins was talking about birds, not humans, that wouldn’t have mattered to him. What does matter is the political capital he can make out of the issue or whether or not ‘right-wingers’ could use Dawkins’ findings or ‘models’ to further their political causes. Even the fact that philandering didn’t come out as ‘predominant’ in Dawkins’ model wouldn’t have mattered to Rose. Political realities are the only realities to him. Steven Rose is, after all, an important and long-time member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). And, to a Trotskyist, either ‘everything is political’ or everything should be political!

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