When Dawkins presented his selfish gene theory one section of the population very much disagree with this theory and that was the homosexual community. The foundation of the Dawkins’s theory is that all genes are programmed to want to reproduce themselves. This means our basic instincts are to, “go forth and multiply”. That is of course, unless you are gay. Homosexual relationships do not produce children. This has caused a big problem for the selfish gene theory, more so when some scientists have claimed to have found “gay genes”. Because of this, supporters of Dawkins have made claims that homosexuality is not caused by genetics. Even fundamentalist Christian have since become supporters of the selfish gene theory as it more or less “proves” that homosexuality is unnatural.
The problem with this is that homosexuality is that it is not exclusive to humans. Same-sex activity has been observed in 450 species of birds and mammals. This includes the macho lion, where males have been observed to sodomise each other. So does this mean that, “The king of the beasts”, is a queen after all? In species as diverse as the Japanese macaques, the mountain sheep, the giraffes and flamingo homosexuality is more commonplace than heterosexual behaviour. Unfortunately zoologist and ethnologists have kept quiet about this because even today animal homosexual behaviour is not seen as “natural”. This is why in wild life films, although they like to show the violence of animals killing each other or having heterosexual sex, homosexual behaviour is still censored.
The point is that it doesn’t matter if homosexuality is caused by genes, environment or choice. If people and animals are involved in same sex relationship to the degree it interferes with their ability or desire to reproduce. Then it undermines the theory that the only purpose of life is to reproduce it’s genes.
Then there is the problem that not all heterosexual people want to multiply. With the freedom that Feminism has given women some have made a deliberate decision not the have children. While other women who have problems in reproduction are happy to adopt children. If passing on their genes were the most important instinct in people, then these women would have no interest in bringing up other people’s children. The same is true for men, not all men get to become fathers and many men today are happy being stepfathers. So do we then condemn these people as unnatural perverts because like homosexuals they don’t have a powerful desire to reproduce?
This is true for other species of animals. It is true that some male lions will kill the young of pride he hasn’t fathered, but not all lions do this. Other lions have been observed to accept cubs fathered by other males in the pride. So it is not a hard and fast rule that all males are obsessed by wanting to pass on their genes. This is true of females as well. Yes female animals have been observed to ignore young that have be orphaned. Yet there are many other cases of females mothering young that are not hers. There have even been cases of mothers of one species caring for the young of another species. As in the case of wild-children where human children have been cared for by female animals. So it seems that there are many humans and animals that are not conforming to Dawkins’s theory. Perhaps we need to employ animal trainers for wild animals to train males to murder young that are not theirs and train females to ignore any young that is not hers. To make the theory work.
If there is a real problem with the selfish gene theory what is the alternative?
Mystics have for centuries claimed we are all one mind, one spirit. This concept has never caught on as it seems to go against all our personal experiences of competition and conflict with others. So is seen by ordinary people as to be a unrealistic fantasy. Then a scientist called James Lovelock developed a scientific theory that claimed the whole of life on this Earth is simply ONE ORGANISM. Which at first sight seem incredible but his theory answers many mysteries about the nature of life.
Back in the 1960s James Lovelock was employed by NASA to find ways a space craft could discover if there was life on Mars. So he started by examining the atmosphere of Mars to see it that would give a clue to signs of life. To understand this better he decided to examine the atmosphere of Earth and compared it with Mars. What he discovered was that the atmosphere on Mars was very stable and inert. Unlike Earth which had an unstable and dynamic atmosphere, because life itself was continually changing the gases within it. He then realised that you don’t have to send a spacecraft to Mars to find out if it had life. You could do it by simply examining its atmosphere. Which is not what his bosses in NASA wanted to hear, because they needed a reason to convince politicians to fund a space mission to Mars. This resulted in him and NASA parting company, but he continued to develop his ideas further. As his studies of the Earth’s atmosphere presented him with a number of scientific puzzles.
Every school child knows that there is a cycle where animals convert oxygen into carbon dioxide while plants convert carbon dioxide back into oxygen once again. But Lovelock took this concept even further, he looked at a mystery that no one had addressed, and that was although life began 3 - 4 billion years ago, the temperature of the Earth has changed very little in that time. The problem with this is that the sun 3 billion years ago was 30% colder, than today and has since been steadily heating up. The answer seems to be that 3 billion years ago the Earth’s atmosphere had more carbon dioxide in it. Even though the sun was cooler the CO2 created a greenhouse effect and so keeping the temperature the same as it is today. Since then the levels of carbon dioxide have slowly fallen to keep the temperature of the Earth stable. So that’s all right, problem solved.
Then Lovelock went on to ask a further question. How was it possible for the carbon dioxide to decrease over a period of 3-4 billion years AT EXACTLY THE SAME RATE THE SUN WAS WARMING UP. This is a real a problem, when you realise that by just making the Earth a few degrees colder can bring on an ice age. Also it only needs 10 degree increase or decrease in the earth’s temperature to make the vast majority of life extinct. So how has the Earth kept in the very narrow range of temperatures to make life on Earth possible? There was no answer to this and to say it was just a lucky fluke was stretching credibility a bit too far.
Then Lovelock came across other amazing coincidences. At present 21% of the atmosphere is oxygen. Now oxygen is a very dangerous and volatile gas. If it was to increase to 25% (only 4% higher) and a fire was to start, through a lightening strike, it would be impossible to put it out. Even green and wet vegetation will continue to burn causing all vegetation on the earth to quickly burn up. Yet lower levels of oxygen would seriously effect the energy efficiency of animals. This means the oxygen levels on the Earth are about the most effective we need for life, without it increasing to a dangerous level. Yet life is continually taking oxygen out of the atmosphere and putting it back again. So how does life get it so right? In that it doesn’t take too much oxygen out of the atmosphere thereby reducing the efficiency of animal respiration, or get it too high and create a worldwide disaster. What is more, life has been able to do this delicate balancing act for billions of years.
Lovelock realised that as it was life itself producing both carbon dioxide and oxygen and it was life that was regulating temperature and oxygen levels of the Earth, within the parameters to make life on earth possible. He was to find many more coincidences like this. Life also needs a chemical balanced world that is either too acid or too alkaline. Which is what we find on Earth, unlike both Venus and Mars who have environments that are too acid to support life. It seems that Earth has many forms of microorganisms that are working away to keep our world chemically neutral. He presented all his ideas in a scientific meeting about the origins of life but his ideas went down like a lead balloon. Only two scientists took a interest in his ideas, one being Lynn Margulis who had a background in Life science and was able to later help him to present and develop his ideas even further.
It took about 20 years for the scientific community to take his ideas seriously. (After all only theories that nature is very savage, brutal and selfish make sense. The idea that all life works in harmony, is the stuff of fairy tales) As the evidence piled up in favour of Lovelock, many scientists are now very reluctantly accepting his hypothesis, though he still gets his detractors, and guess who is one of his biggest critic? It is not a surprise to learn it is Richard Dawkins. A man, who tries to prove that life is basically selfish, is not going to be sympathetic to any idea that the whole of life is one organism.
Though Dawkins himself even admits that many species of animal do co-operate with each other for their mutual benefit, like the aphids who live in ants nests. The aphids get the benefit of being protected by the ants while the ants milk the aphids for food. Yet in when discussing life that helps each other he prefers to see it in terms of manipulation. He would rather use the word “bearers” instead of “carers” when writing about animals who care for the young. Hinting perhaps that bearers are suckers or losers. While the idea that any form of life could possibly give or help others because they love and care for them is completely ignored.
Another criticism of the Gaia hypothesis is that there is no very large brain laying around the place directing life and telling it what to do. Yet this problem is the same we have about social insects like Ants, Termites and Bees. They live in complex societies with different insects having very different roles, (like workers, queens, drone and soldiers). Yet what makes these nests and hives work is a mystery because these insects have minuscule brains and no obvious leader. (The queen is seen as the leader, but her role in directing what goes on in the nest is still a mystery). The Gaia hypothosis just treats the whole of life on this planet as a far bigger and more complex version of a beehive, with different species of animals, plants and microorganisms all having different roles in keeping the planet going. This is similar to the concepts of the Collective Unconscious that was put forward by the psychologist Carl Jung. Who discovered that the unconscious minds of his patients were remarkably similar. This means, we don’t have to have an enormous brain lying around somewhere, to make the Gaia theory work. The whole of life can be the brain and intelligence of the planet.
If this is true then what is the role of human beings? After all we seem to be busy destroying the earth with thousands of species of animals and plants becoming extinct through the actions of men. Also we now have global warming where we are heating up the planet. Yet the planet has even got a bigger crisis than the meddling of a naked ape. As pointed out earlier the sun is slowing heating up, and life counteracts this by taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. The problem is now carbon dioxide is down to just 0.03% of the atmosphere. So it doesn’t take a genius to work out that the planet will not be able to take much more CO2 out the atmosphere if the sun continues to warm up. So the strategy of using carbon dioxide as a means of regulating the temperature of the earth is coming to a end, as there is only a small amount of this gas left. This means life has to devise a new system in which to do this. So perhaps the creation of a clever monkey like humans with hands that can manipulate the environment, is part of this new strategy. Hopefully we will in time produce technology that can keep our planet cool, as the sun heats up. Or we can transport life from our planet to others planets or moons or even other stars with planetary systems. Admittedly at present we are not doing well, in that we are heating up the planet through industrial pollution. Yet even this may be part of the plan. In that an environmental catastrophe caused by global warming may make us human being realise the importance of looking after the planet. We now have the technological power to destroy the Earth, which we might do through thoughtless and irresponsible action. Because we still have a attitude of wanting to plunder and exploit the environment for our selfish gain. Once we wake up to the fact that to damage and destroy the world is to also to destroy ourselves. Then we may change our attitude and use our science and technology to save Gaia instead of trying to attack her.
Now an intellectual argument between Lovelock and Dawkins is not going have much effect on the lives of normal people. It only happens when these ideas are taken from the ivory towers of academic debate and are used by people like politicians and businessmen. We can see this clearly with the ideas of Social Darwinism that has been popularised by people like Andrew Carnegie. Which advocates competitive individualism and a market economy unregulated by government. I also have to say the Nazis used Social Darwinism as a justification for the genocide of “inferior” races. This then means that academic debate on the nature of life can be used as political tools in the hands of politicians.
So how have the theories of Lovelock and Dawkins been used? Clearly Dawkins’ ideas are just another support for Social Darwinism, and conservative politics. While Lovelock’s ideas have been taken up by the New Age movement. Though Lovelock himself is clearly not a New Ager in that he was a scientific adviser to Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. He advocated then that Britain builds far more nuclear power stations and not worry about radiation contamination. He claimed that we receive enough radiation poisoning from the Sun so a little more is not going to harm us. (This was the position of many scientists until very recently. Then it was discovered that life has as much radiation poisoning from the Sun as it can cope with and even a small increase will greatly escalate the amount of cancers and other illnesses.)
So what effect has the Gaia hypothesis had on the public? Not a lot it seems, perhaps the idea that we are all one mind and one organism is too boring. Concepts like, “nature red in tooth and claw” is far more exciting and dramatic. While the Selfish Gene theory and Social Darwinism gives us license to behave as selfishly and badly as we like. If we were to think in terms that we are all One, we would have all the problems of caring about others and worrying about things like world poverty. Not a good idea. If we go down that route, we might think we need to take a more responsible attitude to the planet and all the life forms that live on it. When it’s far, far easier to ignore all this and dull our minds with drink, drugs and consumer goods, to escape the suffering we create for others and ourselves.
The Gaia hypothesis also reflect many ideas in mysticism that we are all one mind, one spirit, but ideas like this only appeal to a minority of people. The problem for Gaia is that Oneness is a very feminine concept in much the same way as Social Darwinism is very masculine. So masculine competition is the foundation of Social Darwinism, while Gaia is about all of life co-operating with each other for the good of the whole. Feminists and other women see co-operation as being very feminine and the ideal they all want to achieve. Something they see as completely impossible while we live in a male dominated society.
Also the idea that life is dominated by masculine principles is the same as the concept, that a male god created our world. So it means neo-Darwinist and patriarchal religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam have in one way a similar view of the world. While the Gaia theory says that the whole of life is dominated by the feminine. (So it is of interest that it was named after a Goddess). This means that a person’s individual bias of wanting to live in either a masculine or feminine world, can greatly influence the religion or scientific theory they want to belong or subscribe to.
We all live in a masculine world that Feminists have pointed out is created by men for men. Just by reading history or reading today’s newspapers we can see clearly how a masculine world operates. Where the three Cs, conflict, confrontation and competition is the name of the game. The problem is that the masculine world is the only world we know. Read any history books and you don’t find it describing societies ruled by women, neither do you find equal societies. It is true that there are Ancient Greek and Roman stories of the Amazons but they are just myths, aren’t they? So it is natural for us to assume that the masculine, patriarchal society is normal and natural.
Likewise if you read books about pre-history and the Stone Age you will also get the impression that men have always been the dominant sex. Which is used as a powerful argument against Feminism in books like The Inevitability of Patriarchy. Because if it was always the case that men were the dominant sex, even as far back as a million years ago, then we have to see Feminism as just a passing phase, a social experiment that will inevitably fail. Because the natural assertiveness of men will in the end win through and women will lose, and once again to be confined to the job of homemakers for their lords and masters. So it is only going to be a matter of time before we go back to a natural world, “where men are men and women love them for it”. Right?
Now the foundation of this powerful argument is that women have never ruled society. If we find that this is not the case and women did once rule the world, and rule communities even today in many parts of the world, then the foundations of this argument is destroyed. Women ruling the world? Surely not! You show me a history book that says this! Well yes, in official history you will never find any reference to that very taboo word matriarchy. Matriarchy has been a taboo, in our world for the last two thousand years and more. Even today it is a very controversial subject within academic circles. There are many books about matriarchal or matrifocal societies and other books tell you that pre-history matriarchal is a myth. Yet there is a lot of evidence around that says that it did once exist. As we can see from the following examples