CHAPTER 4. REFORM ANTI-EVOLUTIONISM IN AMERICAN SOCIAL THOUGHT

 

In 1962 Thomas Kuhn published his now famous Structure of Scientific Revolutions. He noted that a new scientific theory represents a dramatic shift in the way scientists view the world and that representatives of the old guard oppose the new science. Thus there is a politics of science that takes place instead of the dispassionate objectivity of the traditional understanding of the role of science. Kuhn provided valuable insights, but he did not push his thesis far enough, for scientific revolutions are part of larger social and political revolutions. Scientific ideas are not really fundamentally different from social scientific ideas in terms of their political impact. All ideas, including scientific ones, are interpreted in terms of the various political battles occurring in a society. Groups of people oppose or support new ideas on the basis of how these ideas will support their own self-interests and undermine the interests of opponents. In short, scientific ideas are involved in the larger political battles between the various social classes in a society.

In science the introduction of a new theory is a traumatic event for scientists because it requires the destruction of one paradigm and its replacement with another that rests on conceptual foundations that may be incompatible with those currently taken for granted. But in the larger society, scientific revolutions do not fundamentally change culture or social values. Instead, different political groups and classes starting employing the new scientific ideas for new ideologies. What a scientist or creative thinker believes is not as important as what the different spokesmen for the various political positions cull from these beliefs.

Precisely because of this, many of the new scientific revolutions are too strong for the existing culture and so they become so modified that they loose their radical qualities. This change process is a matter of smoke and mirrors because the modifiers do not want to admit that they have altered the paradigm because it is too radical. Rather they talk of the new modified version as if it was the original paradigm.

This chapter describes the complete overthrow of biology as well as the disease model of mental illness and deviancy in America in reaction to Darwin's claim that man's brain was that of an animal's. The counterrevolution of thought against evolutionary theories in the social sciences would lead to the complete banishment of biology, and therefore of all the natural sciences, from the social sciences. In its place the social thinkers put a moralistic social scientific determinism.

The Birth of a New Liberalism

Liberal social scientists supported Spencerian evolution as long as the primary enemy was puritanical conceptions of science. However, once puritanism had been sufficiently weakened the liberals were not as interested in evolution. And then A new enemy surfaced for liberals to fight against. Industrialization created great concentrations of wealth in the hands of a few men. When conservatives jumped ship from religious defenses to use some of Spencer's ideas, the liberals began to attack Spencer's ideas. They then used the language of evolution itself, just as conservatives had done, to justify liberal changes. The social scientists gradually so transformed evolutionism as to make it no longer a radical idea that one had to fear politically. They transformed evolutionism into a harmless idea of general developmental change (often quite vague). It was this transformation of the doctrine of evolution that allowed even the liberal branches of the American churches to reconcile themselves with evolution. By 1886 evolution was so safe that the famous preacher Henry Ward Beecher could declare evolution consistent with Christianity. (Russett, 1976:28)

The entire liberal movement was part of the larger progressive movement that resulted in social changes brought about under the leadership of presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. And once the changes of the progressive era had been made it was no longer necessary to use biological analogies and they became quickly abandoned.

Put briefly, liberal academicians and other scholars did not like the political implications of evolution as enthusiastically embraced by Spencer and Sumner. They opposed the conservative implications of the philosophy of laissez-faire capitalism and wanted a more liberal version of government involvement to prevail. So they created a new liberalism: reform Lamarckianism. They were also bothered by the materialist implications of the Darwinian theory of the human brain as being of animal origins. So they emphasized free will instead. Under the influence of the new anti-evolutionary theory, the liberal thinkers in the tradition of evolution (the social Lamarckians) now became designated as conservatives.

Liberal social scientists developed a liberal version of evolutionism that Goldman called reform Darwinism as opposed to social Darwinism. However, the Darwinism in both terms is not justified. As we have seen, Darwinism was too radical for both sides of the American political spectrum. Better terms would be social and reform Lamarckianism. The soc scientists turned evolution into a general term synonymous with such concepts as development. More importantly, however, is the complete rejection of the study of biology as applied to human beings. Therefore, reform Lamarckianism could be called reform anti-Darwinism.

The real problem with biology was that it was associated with social Lamarckianism. This connection was clearly made explicit in the work of Henry George in his book Progress and Poverty (1879). The book was very influential in progressive thought in the early 1900's, influencing such important social thinkers as defense lawyer Clarence Darrow and preacher Henry Ward Beecher. George said social Lamarckism was just an economic defense of the interests of the greedy rich. It was the injustices of society and not the workings of nature that was the cause of America's problems. Many economic thinkers followed in George's path: Edward Bellamy in his Looking Backward (1888) wrote about an ideal economic world; Richard T. Ely, professor of economics at the University of Wisconsin developed a liberal economics; and Thorstein Veblen developed a thorough criticism of American patterns of conspicuous consumption.

Speaking of economic viewpoints, the Marxian tradition has always been hostile to the Darwinian tradition, because biology undermined the optimistic faith that humans are basically good while capitalist social systems are the cause of all evil. Even during the heyday of social Lamackianism, it was the Marxists who kept the more sociological views alive (Rennie, 1978:95).

Anti-evolutionary Thought in Philosophy/Psychology

The real blow against Spencer and biology came in philosophy/ psychology. The man who stands out as the Spencer killer as well as the killer of biological thought in the social sciences and humanities, was none other than William James. We will look at the biography of this man's early years to see his little understood anti-evolutionary stance.

William James never came to completely dissassociate himself from physiology and its effects on human emotion. How could he seeing that he suffered from a nervous condition known as neurasthenia. Some of the symptoms of this syndrome include easy fatigability, feelings of physical and mental weakness, aches, pains, and insomnia (Campbell, 1989:470). Usually the complaints center upon some particular organ or system. In James's case this was the lower back. Indeed, James's inability to decide early on a career may be partially attributable to his nervous condition.

What many writers have missed about James is just how anti- Darwinian and anti-Spencerian he really was from the very start. Reading his biography, one theme that clearly winds through his thoughts is that there has to be more than materialism in natural history. Therefore, he was never really attracted to evolution as applied to human beings. And this was in spite of the fact that he was obviously influenced by evolutionary ideas.

James entered Harvard's Lawrence Scientific School in the fall of 1861. At Harvard he certainly became familiar with Darwinian ideas, but there is little evidence that these had a deep influence on his overall philosophy. His mentor in natural science was none other than the Darwin-basher Louis Agassiz.

James entered Harvard Medical School in February 1864. He was never very happy with medical school, which, like all medical schools of that time, was still informal and undemanding (Bjork, 1988:54). While at medical school, in the spring of 1865 he jumped at the chance to go on an expedition to Brazil under the leadership of Agassiz. The purpose of the trip was to find new scientific evidence to refute the theory of evolution.

Back in civilization in February 1866 James observed patients at Boston's Massachusetts General Hospital. After studying in Europe for a brief time, upon his return he wrote his thesis in order to graduate from medical school. He passed an oral exam given by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. in March 1869 and subsequently received his M.D. degree, the only degree he ever earned.

Sometime in 1869 or 1870 he joined the "Metaphysical Club." Among the regular members were Charles Peirce, Wendell Holmes, Jr., Chauncy Wright, Francis Abbot, and John Fiske. Certainly, James was not the only thinker pushing the importance of man's superior logic as of crucial importance in distinguishing man from animal. We have already seen how men such as John Fiske and Charles Pierce helped reconcile the materialism of Spencer with American religious sensibilities. In doing this, these men helped salvage some religious influence in academic and liberal circles.

Many of the thinkers involved with the Metaphysical Club had already modified Spencer. One man who did not, Chauncy Wright, roused the hackles on James's back and James in 1873 wrote "Against Nihilism," an essay he never saw published, which contained a critique of Wright's uncompromising positivism. James did not like the British empirical school and rejected Alexander Bain's assumption that consciousness was reducible to physical processes.

In January 1873 James began teaching physiology to some forty-five Harvard undergraduates. He came to concentrate on brain physiology, but regarded Darwinism as mistaken in its approach to psychology. He may have used Spencer's psychology text, but by the late seventies James began a full-fledged assault on Spencerian psychology.

In Germany there had occurred an antinaturalistic revolution. James borrowed from German science with its emphasis on sensation as fluctuating and indefinite in order to counteract British empiricism, Spencer, and Darwin. Furthermore, he borrowed from Kantian idealism. James believed in empiricism, but one limited by the necessity of idealism. James laid the foundations of functional psychology with his view than an idea was a self-conscious part of a functional process of adaptation. The mind is dynamic and purposeful function rather than a mere collection of parts (Curti, 1980:206).

James greatly influenced the thought of John Dewey (1859-1952). The first explicit emphasis on functionalism seems to have been John Dewey's article of 1884 in which he discussed the bearing of the social and human disciplines on psychology. In 1896 in his article "The Reflex-Arc Concept in Psychology" Dewey gave a theoretical formulation of functionalism. In these works he acknowledged his debt to William James (Curti, 1980:203). Dewey was the Herbert Spencer of reform Lamarckianism. Dewey stressed an evolution that never stops but races on, and therefore is never conservative. Dewey emphasized free will and he saw this in man's adaptation to the environment. His educational theories were a logical result of his concern with man's adjustment.

This present book has no problem with the desire for a roll for free will in human thought. However, is it necessary to exclude biological factors in order to maintain that man has some free will?

Freud's conception of mind is in many ways compatible with that of William James. But at first Freud's real influence was more in the realm of cultural and intellectual trends (rather than medicine or psychiatry) (Grob, 1983:120). Freud was very critical of the repressive nature of sexuality in America (Ruitenbeek, 1966:34), but this made Freud very attractive to liberal Americans who wanted to have a freer atmosphere in repressive America.

Further confirmation that biology was dead in mainstream American psychology can be illustrated by the works of the behaviorists. John B. Watson (1878-1958) was more interested in what man really does rather than what happens internally in the brain itself. He may have provided an alternative to Freudian psychology but it was more anti-Darwinian than even Freudian psychology.

Psychiatry

In the era of the new non-biological and non-evolutionary psychology, it is not surprising that the new ideas came to affect the field of psychiatry. Isaac Ray (director of the Butler Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island and one of the founders of the AMSAII) had been a prominent spokesperson for the old disease concept of mental illness. In the new era he came under attack. John Gray, head of the Utica State Lunatic Asylum, was the editor of the American Journal of Insanity, in the 1870s attacked the disease concept of mental illness, especially as expressed by Ray. Gray stressed the importance of free will and held that mental illness was the result of sinfulness.

Another factor that weakened the disease concept was the professionalization of psychiatry. The very organizing of the heads of the mental institutions led to the decrease in these people's relative position for one of the byproducts of the founding of mental hospitals was the beginning of the professionalization of psychiatry (Grob, 1973:132). Part of this professionalization was the growth of a new, more restricted view of physiological psychiatry as only neurology. In 1875 Edward C. Spitzka and William A. Hammond were among the leaders who established the American Neurological Association. At the first meeting of the American Neurological Assocation (ANA) in 1875, there was an effort to bar superintendents of mental hospitals from becoming members. Spitzka in 1878 said that the study of insanity should be a subdivision of neurology (Grob, 1983:52). Just how restricted neurology became is revealed by picking up a book on the subject. The only problems addressed are the physically induced problems.

Psychiatry began to be influenced by the anti-Darwinian thinkers, especially those around Harvard's Metaphysical Club. Adolf Meyer, one of the most influential figures in American psychiatry from the 1890s through the 1940s, soon upon his arrival in the United States in 1892 fell under the influence of Charles S. Peirce, John Dewey, and William James. (Grob, 1983:112-114) It is therefore not surprising that Meyer participated in the famous conference at Clark University in 1909 during Freud's only American visit. Meyer found some parallel between psychoanalytic concepts and his own emphasis on the uniqueness of the individual. The most prominent convert to Freudian ideas was William Alanson White, superintendent of St. Elizabeths mental hospital in Washington, D. C. But the real Freudian influence on psychology began in the 1920s.

Freudianism was also popular in America because it was so compatible with American puritanism. According to Ruitenbeek (1966:37), the Puritan view of human nature and the Puritan attitude toward conduct have many points in common with the picture of man developed in psychoanalytic theory.

The anti-Darwinian thrust of American psychology surely prepared the way for such non-scientific ideas as those of Freud. Freud's work had secured discouragingly little favorable attention in Europe, where psychoanalysis was ignored, jeered, or denounced (Ruitenbeek, 1966:30). Freudianism was greatly modified before it became accepted in America. They especially got rid of his basically tragic outlook. They also got rid of Freud's atheism and transformed the concepts into a basis for religious orthodoxy (Ruitenbeek, 1966:14,73).

A recent book entitled Freudian Fraud by Torrey (1992) makes the point that liberals promulgating Freudian psychology even when there was no scientific evidence to support Freudianism. The lack of scientific evidence is backed up by scientists empirically investigating Freud's psychology. Paul Kline (1987) assesses the Freudian theories of sexual deviation and shows the difficulties encountered in testing Freudian theory scientifically.

Torrey calls Freudianism a fraud because the liberals were more interested in politics than science. The point he misses however is that scientific, and indeed all ideas, play a secondary role to politics. For instance, one could write a book called sociological fraud. For it is a fraud that evolutionary concepts do not apply to man. On the nature of the brain and the role of biology, Spencer and his disciples were closer to the scientific truth than were his later-day liberal opponents but he became politically unacceptable.

Sociology

Sociology owes much of its origins to psychology in general and pragmatism in particular. It is from psychology that sociology took off and developed the idea of social interaction as the basis for the development of the child. Szacki (1979:404) writes that pragmatism effected a total destruction of Spencerianism and created the idea of man as the actor and not merely as an object. Man becomes what he is through interaction with the environment.

The main task of all the American social science thinkers seems to have been to destroy evolution as applied to humans. They did so by emphasizing how different the human mind was from those of the animals. Sociology was no exception. The free will philosophy of William James had a big impact on sociology. Sociologists were no more Darwinians than the psychologists and so they jumped with glee onto the ideas of the mind as free from biology. The sociologists took their social psychology from the Jamesian tradition and then added onto it. One such thinker emphasizing psychology of mind was Lester F. Ward (1841-1915). Ward accepted evolution for animals and plants, but felt man was an exception. Indeed, evolution in man was the production of mind. He became very interested in psychology and argued that social phenomena resulted from "psychic forces." In an 1884 essay (Commager, 1967:75) entitled "Art is the Antithesis of Nature, Ward wrote that "The laissez faire doctrine fails to recognize that, in the development of mind, a virtually new power was introduced into the world." Ward also commented that the modern evolutionist ignores the magnitude of the step by which mind was made a property of body, and proceeds as though no new factor had entered into the world. Just one of Ward's mistaken beliefs about biology is his maintenance that there is no altruism known among animals below man. But, of course, Ward was still a liberal, and not a radical. He accepted the tenets of the Protestant ethic.

The direct successors to William James and John Dewey in sociology are found in social psychology. James Mark Baldwin, taught at Princeton and John Hopkins. He leaned toward the nondeterministic Lamarckian version of evolution, emphasizing that what man is or can become depends upon his social relations with others. In 1895 he published Mental Development of the Child and the Race and in 1897 came out with Social and Ethical Interpretations of Mental Development.

Actually Baldwin and others (see Baldwin 1902) came up with an alternative to Lamarckianism for they proposed in the 1890s the so-called Baldwin effect. According to this model it is possible for populations exposed to identical conditions on separate islands to choose different habits as a means of adapting to the new environment and thus evolve in different directions. Baldwin believed that natural selection merely adapted bodily structure to the chosen habits.

Especially important in sociology are the concepts of symbolic interactionism. Charles Horton Cooley (1864-1929) published in 1909 his book Social Organization. Cooley developed the concept of the looking-glass self. The core of personality is self-image, and self-image is developed through interaction with others. One appeal of this philosophy is that there is no connection to biology or physiology at all.

George Herbert Mead (1863-1931) also took a social interactionist view and developed the concepts of significant others (such as parents, relatives, and close friends) and generalized others (doctors, nurses, bus drivers, sales clerks, and so on). The personality develops when the child learns how to play the roles of the generalized others and in so doing learns to internalize the values of society as a whole. The influence of Freud is seen in the work of Mead because the me closely resembles the superego or conscience, and the I represents the ego. (Of course, sociology got rid of the more biologically based id.) Symbolic interactions has carried over in modern sociology to the current interest in phenomenology, which focuses on how norms and values develop out of symbolic interactions.

Another tendency that helped drive a wedge between sociology and biology was the development of sociology as a separate discipline. Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) pioneered the systematic application of scientific principles to sociology. He was the first to use statistical methods to test hypotheses.

Thinkers such as Darwin and Marx were too radical for the majority of American sociologists. And so they turned to German idealistic thinkers such as Max Weber (1864-1920). Weber believed that an objective study of human behavior is insufficient for sociologists. To him, sociologists must also investigate how people feel and think about their own behavior. Weberian sociology has encouraged an overemphasis on the importance of values as opposed to social class and political interests.

By the 1950s sociology in America was thoroughly structural- functionalist, but a philosophy that combined the thinking of Spencer (without his biology), Durkheim, and Weber. The theories of Talcott Parsons and Robert Merton constituted a liberal sociology that stressed the importance of social order and social values, while allowing for appropriately liberal changes.

In the 1960s a revolt started against structural-functionalism. This brought in more of the ideas of Karl Marx and conflict sociologists. The radicals became even more hostile to biology than mainstream sociologists. The radicals started to criticize the very concept of mental illness and deviancy. The revisionist interpretation of psychiatry in the 1960s came to see the mental hospitals as inherently repressive. They even rejected the disease concept, maintaining that the very concept of mental illness was designed to suppress deviant or leftist behavior (Grob, 1983: preface).

Criminology

Richard Dugdale in his 1877 book The Jukes wrote that people in poverty can be improved by influences in the environment. John Peter Altgeld's (1884) Our Penal Machinery and Its Victims. Altgeld argued that poverty lay at the bottom of most crime. This liberal theme stressed that crime was simply one form of economic activity, and therefore related to the expansion and progress of society.

Another theme in criminology came to be the various theories of sociologists at the University of Chicago dealing with social disorganization as a characteristic of poverty and a cause of crime. Edwin H. Sutherland with his theory that the peer group became an important influence in encouraging crime is a variant of social disorganization theory.

Anthropology

Edward B. Tylor in his 1871 Primitive Culture: Researches into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Art and Custom developed many anti-biological ideas. Tylor adopted the term "culture." Anthropologists and sociologists have used this idea to further push out any consideration of a biological role in understanding the behavior of man. Tylor's program and his research practice were in opposition to Spencer's method of pursuing social science. Whereas the latter studied the development and functioning of societies as wholes, Tylor broke up the whole into component parts and analyzed them in detail, using the comparative method.

Franz Boas (1858-1942) enjoys renown as the most consistent critic of evolutionism in the history of the social sciences. This reputation is partly based on the mistaken belief that evolution and racism go hand in hand. Boas undermined racism, but he also helped cut the ground from under evolution. He seldom used the term human nature and only described human behavior in terms of learned behavior (Curti, 1980: 270).

A particularly interesting study by Boaz illustrates how much pseudo-science could be acceptable to social scientists as long as it was contradictory to biological thought. Boaz did a study of 18,000 immigrants and their children. In 1911 he published Changes in Bodily Form of Descendants of Immigrants. He concluded that being in America actually modified the skulls of the immigrants. This is indeed strange science and it shows how the nature-nurture debate was part of the larger struggle between different political groups.

Boaz work continued with his students Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, and Alfred Kroeber, who helped develop the concept that culture is the most important thing in determining human behavior. Benedict, who was apparently homosexual herself, argued that homosexuality was a result of culture and not genes. She had a sexual relationship with Margaret Mead. In 1928 Mead published Coming of Age in Samoa which held that sexual behavior is simply the result of culture. She concluded that sex roles are culturally determined and have virtually nothing to do with biology or genetics. Sociologists accept this because they think it fosters tolerance for homosexuals, even though we have actually seen very little of this.

Complete Vanquishment of Biological Thought in the Social Sciences

In his review of the sociobiologists, Kaye (1986:1) writes that the horrors of Nazi racial policies convinced the intellectuals of the World War II generation that evolutionary biology was anathema for the study of human social behavior. Near unanimity reigned that biological concepts were of no use whatsoever as an aid to our understanding of human society. Even worse, they concluded that biology was positively dangerous. The ideas of culture and social interactionism reigned supreme and were seen as having socially positive results in encouraging human dignity, responsibility, and independence. By 1960 Darwinism as applied to man was completely dead in the social sciences.

 

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