Squid Rasslin'

  In Tim Burton’s 1994 feature film “Ed Wood” Martin Landau, playing silent screen legend Bela Lugosi, enters a dark “swamp” and dramatically, feverishly rassles a rubber squid into submission for a B-movie film crew. A faux opponent is subdued after an exaggerated struggle.

Squid Rasslin’ - definition: To drag a trivial or misconstrued opponent into your arena and proceed to dismantle it point by point in front of your rapt, admiring audience. A favorite argumentation trope of Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins and Jared Diamond.

Bout #1     Richard Dawkins is Stephen Jay Gould’s rubber squid in Gould’s 1,300 page rasslin’ match, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory.  A gene in its place on a chromosome is a string of inert goop, a slime library with a spatio-hierarchio-taxonomically remote, though vital, role in evolutionary, as opposed to biochemical, outcomes in the cell and not a warrior in the animal-scale arena of natural selection fighting against environmental forces including conflict with members of the same species for food and sex.

The gene, as it rests as a long sequence of nucleotides forming a small link of either the left or right strand of the interminably long DNA molecule, is like a lounging odalisque in the steambath fastness of the palace, far from the essential action of evolution. This gene lays about waiting to be courted-transcripted by the ever-active RNA. If any component of heredity is selfish or altruistic or manifesting any anthropomorphized quality, it is RNA, busy as a bevy of beavers throughout much biochemical intracellular activity. To assign evolutionary primacy to this layabout gene can now be seen as an error borne of a dearth of information at the time of its writing. That SJ Gould saw fit to rassle this Dawkins gene-meme squid for 350 of 1,300 pages in his masterwork appears to be the result of professional annoyance at being upstaged in the arena of public opinion.

Both SJ Gould and Dawkins trying their damndest to put a dent in Darwin’s key notion of the primacy of the individual organism in the struggle for survival in natural selection. Dawkins likely inspired by an avalanche of early 1970s genetic research that gave the gene star quality. Dawkins celebrating the gene is like Norman Mailer and Andy Warhol valorizing Marilyn Monroe - low hanging celebrity fruit.

Gould writes at enormous length and passion trying to sell us his argument to unseat iconic, entrenched, musty old godhead of bioscience-religion-popular discourse, Charles Darwin. Gould’s 1,300 page argument for the species as the key actor in natural selection rather than Darwin’s individual is feverishly opposed to Dawkins’ gene-centered causality. Charles Darwin would have been easily convinced by either Gould’s or Dawkins’ elaborate, informed arguments but STOP !  All three of you are wrong !  It is busy little RNA molecules in their role not only in transcription and translation of proteins - standard Neo-Darwinist central dogma, but the role of RNA as a hitchhiker in meiosis-mitosis carrying its small collection of books ( information coded as sequences of nucleotides but not yet encoded into cell’s DNA books) that are separate from the DNA library at chromosomes. RNA carries provisional manuscripts in the process of auditioning for inclusion into the DNA code at some point. This RNA carries new ideas from recent life experience, experience not yet coded in the genome at chromosomes but actively carrying new information from one life into a new life to be translated into new proteinic configurations and new neuronal ideas. Ideas, emotions, skills, fears, and blisses carried by phosphorylated RNA molecules into fetal minds to grow with the newborn child-adolescent-adult. New ideas that might someday be encoded in DNA as a new gene or discarded after a few hundred generations as a fad, a disposable meme, a situational feature not to be conserved for the duration.

Of course it is not fair to look back at a 30 year old rasslin’ match and judge it as disingenuous. It appears today that Gould and Dawkins were only rasslin’ in light of an intervening avalanche of genetic research,  but it was a death-match at the time in the late 1970s.

Bout #2   Jared diamond in his million-selling Pulitzer Prizewinning book Guns, Germs and Steel,  asserts that human genetics re: intelligence played no part in the devastation of indigenous peoples by Europeans from the 17th century onward.

“We have now traced how food production arose in a few centers and how it spread at unequal rates from there to other areas. Those geographic differences constitute important ULTIMATE (my bold) answers to Yali’s ( Diamond’s inquisitive friend, a New Guinea remote mountain tribesman) question about why different peoples ended up with disparate degrees of power and affluence.”  p.195

In his chapter “Apples Or Indians” Diamond  sets up one of his big rubber squids when asserting that the “failure” of indigenous people in several agriculture-friendly parts of the globe to produce their own crops and domesticate local animals is a problem in the first place. he writes: “Problems with the local people” “Problems with local wild plants” “Problems with big local wild animals” The biggest problem for the Native Americans of the West Coast in Diamond-speak is that there was no problem. They had plenty of food, plenty of space and had no need to domesticate any wild plants or animals. Life was just dandy. Writing in 1996 with 150 years of 20-20 rear-view vision, Diamond wrestles his rubber squid in assigning “problems” where there were none at the time.  How is an Indian tribe supposed to know that at some point in the future white men with their guns, germs and steel are going to arrive? A foundational cause of natural selection is that there is no intention on the part of the player. The individual ( microbe, monkey or tribe) lays its phenotype on the table and nature takes its course. A devastating problem in one historical outcome might be the key to survival in another - time will tell.

To look back in time at the peoples of the world and assign problems is to grossly misunderstand the essence of Darwinian dogma. Modern civilization with its guns, germs and steel might go up in nuclear smoke someday and the ways of the Salish tribe of Puget Sound may revive and prevail for another 100,000 years. One of Diamond’s big problems is his lack of understanding of the notion of geological time, its vastness and the incredible slowness, the equilibrium of much of evolution. He confuses, throughout his book, cultural changes in human populations with evolutionary changes and he speaks throughout of cultural innovation as evolutionary developments as if Modern Man has reached some sort of high point and shreds and shards of devastated indigenous peoples are left in the “evolutionary” dust. Certain populations have learned to use their unique ( to mammals and all life) giant neocortex in additive ways, some have been more modest in creating rhizomic spectacular networks. To look back on only 5,000 years of human change and hand out gold stars is premature and typically human. If Diamond could not rassle this rubber squid there would be no book.

Guns, Germs and Steel reads like one of those Ivy League brainiac stock analysts in 1998 railing against the idiots who are not sinking their life savings into Dot Com investment opportunities. The book is a thorough explication of missed opportunity and unfortunate circumstance  that may easily turn out to be wisdom. One million years is the blink of an eye in species evolutionary terms.The fat lady has yet to sing.

JB Russell's Teapot: Differing accumulation of patterns of use for our identical human neocortical neuron DNA package has generated global  race bias. Neocortex imprinting for the exploitation of social networks, farming and technical innovation is inherited by mechanisms separate from DNA and conserved genes.  All races share 100% of the human genome thus there is very little difference at genes but there is what, in human terms, turns out to be much difference from accrued heritable transmission of acquired characteristics. Race bias via Lamarckism. Diamond wrestles a lot of squid to assert otherwise. Human populations along Diamond’s highly touted and bountiful East-West geographic axis stores different epigenetic data and it is additive thus it becomes easier for their descendants to learn about the matters that have become important - social stratification and steel stuff. Storing and sharing data on a widespread uber-tribal, pancultural level. Whole populations of American men build train sets and model airplanes independent of any societal demand for their effort - it is in their RNA.

Professor Diamond tries hard using his palette of logical fallacies and cognitive biases to reinforce academically fashionable, dogma-infused assertions in order to erase race. If one is going to erase race as a parameter of social “evolution” one must dissipate fog not thicken it. Behind every bold unproven assertion ( Russell’s Teapot) lurks a slippery squid. Professor Diamond is a subtle and astute politician and a scientist with a big bag of tropes and tricks.

Some other questionable tropes of argumentation:

  1. Metaphor Stretch:  To use a metaphor that disguises the nature of your subject in order to give your dialectical dog more heft in the discourse ( fight).  Dawkin’s use of oarsmen ( in 8-oared modern racing shells as seen at the Henley Regatta) for his gene- actors racing for effect on the river of evolution when in actuality genes lay about like obese whores in chromatin goop with their fat thighs spread waiting for the messenger RNA to snatch information and carry it away through a nuclear pore to a waiting ribosome for translation into a functional protein.
  2. Flogify: To beat one’s point into submission using copious, often specious detail, arcane-archaic-biblical-Shakespearean-latin language, obscure scientific papers and endless repetition.
  3. Hotdogify:  Stuffing filler that is void of nutrients into a skin of assertion wrapped in a fluffy bun of statistics lacking food value. The stuffing often involves devious tricks decipherable only by insiders, shell games, obscure scientific papers mixed-matched-switched-clumped together in mandelbrotian abandon.
  4. Gould’s Glu-Stik: the opposite of Occam’s Razor. When using the Stik, one rarely passes up an opportunity to add adjectives, pronouns, sentence fragments, whole long sentences filled with redundant adjectives, paragraphs, additional entire book sections wherever possible. To always use the word with the most letters.

JB Questions:

  1. How many people have both autism and schizophrenia? Of these, how many are math, art or language savants? Perhaps the first cohesive human languages were assembled, articulated, sussed out by individuals who had contracted schizophrenia from domesticated cats in ancient Sumeria or Mesoamerica. Who but a savant could ever comprehend all of the variables of a language from scratch? Who but a schizophrenic would even try?
  2. Does the message of successful politicians penetrate into our brainstem ( a brain area shared by all mammals-source of visceral, primitive, reflexive response)  bypassing the uniquely human neocortex; a brain area  containing our higher faculties of reason? The brainstem is the source of our primal instincts regarding territory, dominance, charisma, boldness. It ignores policy details and rationality as the stuff of egghead losers.
  3. War is melted religion
  4. History is not the heart of culture ( as proposed by Guy Debord in “The Society of the Spectacle” as if it might also be the kidney or the liver or even the brain of culture. History is culture - culture is history. Culture drifts to the bottom of Life Lake and accrues in layers of sediment, layers that interact with one another swapping influence sending thermal vents (information) up through the sediment: Language written and spoken, kinship structures, social mores, Christianity, Marxism, Darwinism, and Capitalism are all powerful vents; warming-feeding-poisoning. There is a taxonomy, a hierarchy of these convection engines  around which the culture of an historical moment ( say the 1960s) assembles. In Saussurean terms: synchrony is the the lateral consideration of a single layer; diachrony is the historical consideration of many layers and their effect on one another.
  5. Wisdom is distilled truth. Truth is situational depending on-referring to-inspired by-paying obeisance to -  its operative paradigm. Wisdom encompasses three paradigms simultaneously: past, present and future.
  6. The cultural calibration of time is a marker of human social evolution-devolution. In 2015 at the beginning of the digital epoch we are ruled by the nanosecond and in 2025 it will be the femtosecond. In the bronze age it was phases of the moon. in the 19th century time was measured in days. In the early to mid 20th century it was hours and from 1950 to 1970 it was minutes and then seconds until 1990.
  7. The inseparable, contiguous, spectacular continuity of private, public and political life is rolled into one at the toilet bowl - vote with your ass; The exigencies of public utilities: sewer and water are primary and they even rule our rulers - the oligarchy and their puppets holding elective office. Roads, bridges, tunnels, railroads, airports are secondary and the tertiary are the public spectacles of sports, entertainment, internet, radio, books and magazines.
  8. Were seed dispersal and germination changes in domesticated foodstuff such as wheat, from its wild state pre-9000 BC to its contemporary state,  genetic changes i.e. changes in base pairs at plant’s DNA or were these changes, that are called “evolutionary” by Jared Diamond,  epigenetic? i.e. changes to plant’s RNA or to other heritable nuclear proteins?
  9. How can physicists know anything with such certainty re: isolated mathematics ( see: Stephen Hawking chalkboard calculations on black holes)? I can add 2+2 and see by the equals sign on my chalkboard  that 2+2 equals 4,  but 4 what? I know nothing-zip-nada-nil about 4 of anything - is it 4 pounds, 4 planets, 4 galaxies, 4 quantum strings, 4 adjacent universes or 4 dimensions? What does Hawking’s chalkboard full of equations really tell anyone? Are we simply projecting imagined, wished for results on a gassy mathematical matrix?
  10.  Social thermodynamics - cultural convection: the rich get richer, the poor get poorer.
  11. Reflection on evening news: Parricide as gradient reduction between sybaritic, self-absorbed wealthy parents and lost late adolescent son -  unanchored, flop in school, filled with festering anger, sexually frustrated, no developed talent, over indulged as a child, access to guns - BOOM! BOOM! Out go the lights.
  12. What are the economic uses  of Christianity’s conceptual trope of  “The Last Judgement” on commodity Capitalism? i.e. the “Time’s-A-wastin’” The end is near  “Better get crackin’” “Time is money” “Plow deep while sluggards sleep” usefulness. What are the advantages to the majority of Christian believers of this Religio-Economic yin-yang?
  13.  Does any form of RNA travel outside of its own cell in order to influence another cell of its own type or a cell in a different organ system? i.e. might  liver cell RNA travel via the blood stream into a heart cell or a neuron where it plays a role at its new home in protein synthesis or regulation?

If you have a large point to make - find a squid and rassle it.


October 18, 2015 - 3:41 PM