Refugees and Fungi – The Dangers of Darwin’s Dangerous Idea

Whatever the detailed level of agreement with the content of this Grauniad piece, the whole premise and conclusion is pretty much the point of my own efforts here on Psybertron. Not just in scientific endeavours, but for any academic “received wisdom” on any topic that affects governance of life.

(Is this based on the same content, in The Atlantic?)

Any reduction of “critical thinking” to the crass idea that two opposing views finding fault with each other will inevitably lead to “good” progress is not just simplistic but positively dangerous and degenerate. Somehow our only choices are between war and the safety of the echo-chamber. Between inter-human conflict and the idea that anything goes so long as it’s not in my back yard.

Evolution, even Darwinian evolution, is much more subtle and nuanced than dog-eat-dog, red-in-tooth-and-claw survival of the fittest. Fittest somehow implying that the strongest are successful by beating the weaker, whereas the term fittest really means “best dynamic fit” with others and the environment.

Just strolling around my little patch outside, checking up on today’s crop of fungi, I’m re-amazed every time at the complexity of parasitic-symbiotic relationships between n-different fungi and n-different other living plants and animals of every kingdom. Complex webs of life, our lives. Competition is one localised phenomenon, localised in space and time, but a gross mis-representation of the whole.

Coincidentally also today, in the real-politik of dealing with pragmatic reality of a value-laden topic like the EU-refugee crisis, this piece on UK PM Theresa May’s hard line on applying the “first safe country” rule picks up the quasi-Darwinian fight epithet even in its headline.

“Theresa May’s quasi-Darwinian fight to dilute right to claim asylum.
British PM will use first UN speech to try to block refugees’ escape routes and push for poorest countries to bear brunt of crisis.”

Following my own scare quotes rule, that would be


Not even wrong – and I’m talking about the journalists, not the PM. Where to even start? It’s the simplistication that is dangerous, not the universal acid of Darwin’s evolution (after Dennett). Such power needs sparing and caring use.




[Post Note: I added the reference to the May / refugees story mid-draft when a twitter exchange happened with @CliveAndrews:


I use Clive as a test audience for my own communication. He indulges me.

I was genuinely seeking to clarify if Clive really saw “May’s words confusing the proximity and responsibility issues” in her hard-line application of the “first safe country” rule. I hadn’t seen her confusing, conflating or implying any causal correlations or simple dependencies between those two (binary) issues. I simply saw two examples in a web of a thousand issues being referred to in the same piece.

Of course it’s “unfair” that the closest states – and their own population – may be those with less resources and a greater share of their own problems, and even closer countries like (say) Turkey have additional sets of issues. Unfairness is a natural possible consequence of the rule (and I’m the first to point out that “rules are for the guidance of wise men and the enslavement of fools” – see below.) If it weren’t unfair there would be no need for the rule.

But, to point out the unfairness is no new information at all, unless it was indeed the case that some conflation or confusion was involved – hence my interest.

The proximity and responsibility issues are distinct.

Close-to-home is fundamental to the idea that the migrants are refugees, they actually want to be at home, they want to return home when possible. The more remote and dispersed they become in the interim, the less likely that end will be achieved.

Responsibilities for assisting the refugees, welfare now and homeland future, are shared by humanity as a whole; EU, UN, and direct aid funding and assistance from any individual sources.

Of course all rules have exceptions when applied by the wise, but the general rule still applies. (And there are a thousand other issues around refugees / migrants and political stability in neighbouring countries, but they’re all distinct issues, even those with causal relations between them.)

My point in the original post, is not particularly to debate the refugee crisis itself, nor even the rights and wrongs of specific (unfair) decisions – we can do so, but it’s complicated – but rather to point out that the binary view is the prevailing (degenerate-Darwinian) meme, that simply looks for choices between pairs of issues.

In the specific case, more proximity and more responsibility are not mutually exclusive.

The side issue that caused the tweets to diverge from the more long-winded point above was that – again obviously – Clive disagrees with May’s decision on balance of fairness etc, and that’s fair enough, but it’s quite different to suggesting that May’s words confused or conflated the issue(s). Which might be a tad pedantic, if it weren’t for my main point.]

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