Classic Essays

Edward O. Wilson: Sociobiological Revolution and Jewish Reaction

Edward Wilson

ONE OF THE GREATEST scientific revolutionaries of our age, and a victim of the Jewish inquisition, is Edward O. Wilson (pictured), Curator of Entomology at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology and the author of The Insect Society, which Science magazine has called a “magisterial survey of the subject.” His latest work Sociobiology is one of the great stepping-stones of Western science and may easily rank some day just below Darwin’s Origin of Species. In it the author probes the social behavior of all living things in such a masterly and incisive style that readers are given a third eye with which to view the social causes and effects of the great evolutionary trek from the slime mold to the hominid. In fact, what Wilson has done is to remove social Darwinism, discredited for half a century, from the hands of economists and sociologists like Spencer and William Graham Sumner, and put it on solid scientific ground. The operation of behavior genetics in the success and failure, the progression and retrogression, of the highest and lowest organisms is brilliantly portrayed in a series of biological vignettes that are dagger thrusts to the scientific pretensions of the “nurturists” and lend new credence and authority to the persecuted hereditarians.

In a dazzling work of 697 two-column, catalog-size pages, most containing twice as many words as an ordinary book page, a work crammed with hundreds of drawings, charts and graphs, Wilson attacks his subject with an arsenal of biological knowledge and polymathic lore, as well as a thorough command of the English language. In his first chapter, aptly named “The Morality of the Genes,” the Alabama-born zoologist sets forth his idée-force that social genes are of prime importance for the successful adaptation of most organisms and that without them there would never have been such insects as ants or bees or such primates as baboons and men. Since natural selection has evinced a more than kindly attitude to the proliferation and distribution of such genes, they are the ones which have come to characterize the species in which they are concentrated. In other words, the sharp differences that exist between certain species are caused less by the genes that determine their physiology than by those that determine their social behavior.

Until the arrival of the sociobiologists and some ethologists on the scene, most biologists viewed natural selection from a zoological rather than a social perspective. Such psychological traits as hate, love, aggression, fear, expansiveness and reticence were looked upon as important components of the temperamental makeup of man and some mammals, but were rarely if ever considered to be important factors in the survival or extinction of various animal species.

After defining sociobiology “as the systematic study of the biological basis of all social behavior,” Wilson lists ten kinds of sociality, ranging from group size to cohesiveness, from behavioral integration to compartmentalization. For the reader it is hard going, but it gives him a chance to learn the various forms of social behavior that are wholly or partly dependent on genetic transmission. Next, in one of the numerous asides that lift his book into the higher levels of epistemology and scientific methodology, the author comments on the state of the psychological and ethological art:

Most psychologists and animal behaviorists trained in the conventional psychology departments of universities are non-evolutionary in their approach. Yet, like good scientists everywhere, they are always probing for deeper, more general explanations. What they should produce are specific assessments of ultimate causation rooted in population biology. What they typically produce instead are the nebulous independent variables of theoretical psychology — attraction-withdrawal thresholds, drive, deep-set aggregative or cooperative tendencies and so forth. And this approach creates confusion, because such notions are ad hoc and can seldom be linked either to neurophysiology or evolutionary biology and hence to the remainder of science.

A few pages later Wilson goes after the “advocacy method of developing science,” wherein X advances a theory that Y rebuts with a second hypothesis, while Z enters the picture by siding with X or Y, as a result of which “verbal skills … become a significant factor.” The essential nature of Western science is then summed up as follows:

“No theory should be so loved that its authors try to move it out of harm’s way. Quite the contrary: a theory that cannot be mortally threatened has little value in science . . . . The good researcher does not grieve over the death of a particular hypothesis. Since he has attempted to set up multiple working hypotheses, he is committed to the survival of no one of them, but rather is interested to see how simply they can be formulated and how decisively they can be made to compete.”

Upon reviewing the chief motivating forces of evolution, in which Wilson balances the inertial resistance to genetic change with the constant ecological pressures for adaptation, he moves into the mathematics of population biology. The equations having to do with gene variation and gene flow, gobbledygook to those who have not taken calculus, demonstrate that sociobiology is already resting on some hard and fast empirical underpinnings.

In his fourth chapter Wilson delves into the prickly subject of altruism. The genes which induce insects, mammals and men to give up their lives in defense of their group are adaptive in the sense that the death of a few increases the chances of survival of the many. When there is too much altruism — i.e., too many war casualties the frequency of altruistic genes decreases and there is a rise of individualism, an excess of which also endangers group survival.

One of the most fascinating topics raised by Wilson is that of evolutionary compromise. Nature seems to have its own special law of the golden mean, which prevents evolution from getting out of hand by letting organisms become too small or too big, too ferocious or too mild, even too sexy or too unsexy. Certain polygamous male birds, which have developed too bright and too cumbersome a plumage in their frantic attempts to attract females, find themselves an easy mark for predators. Consequently, the genes for such plumage are no longer advantageous. When animal groups, including human groups, become too minuscule or too large and unwieldy other negative effects enter the picture. For instance, Mennonite communities in America discovered they needed about fifty familites to achieve social stability. Wilson writes:

With less than 40 families, inbreeding and disruption from more frequent marriages with outsiders became serious problems. When communities became very large, other kinds of disruption emerged: intracolonial rivalries developed, and the lay ministry became less effective. In more recent years the minimum viable group size dropped to 20 to 25 families as travel and communication with coreligionists in other parts of the country became easier.

From a purely behavioral viewpoint Wilson thinks that accelerated evolution for humans is a distinct possibility. Substitution of single genes in fruit flies can be largely achieved in ten generations. But the genetic cure of man’s social ills — the only effective and permanent cure — might require hundreds of thousands of generations, which in Wilson’s Olympian and Darwinian viewpoint, may not represent a long time, but to ordinary mortals is an eternity. It took, for example, some 35,000 generations to raise the brain of the highest primate seventy IQ points. Genetic engineering, though Wilson doesn’t say so, might speed up this timetable considerably.

Although his opponents often make the charge, Wilson is not a genetic “nut.” He fully recognizes the influence environment exerts on both individual and group activity. He specifically points out the nongenetic transmission of the maternal experience and the importance of diet, and he is willing to admit that the personal histories of even such lower mammals as rats can have an effect on their offspring. All he is doing, Wilson insists, is specializing in the biological source of behavior, not because it is the sole source or even the most important source, but because up to now it has been a highly neglected source.

Communications, to Wilson, is a basic factor in all social organization, whether it be the direct, unmediated chemical communication of ants (the release of odorous pheromones that can be sensed over great distances for long periods of time), the song of the humpback whale or Eric Sevareid’s persistent pumping of Anne Lindbergh in a television interview. He investigates the emotional aspects of the four primary modes of communication in the animal kingdom: the emotive (induction of emotional response); phatic (establishment and maintenance of contact); cognitive (the sending of information) and conative (commands and orders). The fifth and sixth forms of communication, metacommunication (communication about communication) and what Wilson defines as the poetic are largely reserved for humans, though traces of both have been discovered in other mammal species. Most of these communication systems are innate, though a few bird songs are learned and Shakespeare’s works could hardly have been written by a hermit brought up without any human contact.

Aggression is very much in the news these days and this fundamental behavior pattern does not escape Wilson’s macroscopic and microscopic scrutiny. Nothing, he tells us, evokes a more aggressive response than the instinctive fear of the stranger. Male house mice reared in isolation are less aggressive than those reared in groups. In fact, the longer they are exposed to groups, the more aggressive they become. Aggression can, to some extent, be controlled by learning and indoctrination, but “the capacity to learn certain behaviors is itself a genetically controlled trait. . . .”

Though he admits his great debt to modern ethology, Wilson criticizes Konrad Lorenz, the greatest living ethologist, and his popularizer Robert Ardrey for not doing their homework. Although they assert that animals (with the exception of man) hardly ever push aggression to the point of extermination of their own kind, the evidence of murder and cannibalism in mammals and other vertebrates indicate the opposite. Wilson also has scorn for Raymond Dart’s comparison of men to the deadliest carnivores, a characterization he says is “very dubious anthropology, ethology, and genetics.” But he has more scorn for Ashley Montagu, who claims that aggression is only the result of a neurosis and therefore non-inheritable, and for another Jewish savant, T. W. Adorno, a Marxist who insists that bullies come from families with a tyrannical father and a clinging vine mother. Wilson’s final evaluation of aggression is that it is adaptive, and since it has certain positive advantages for survival, aggressive genes will be around as long as man is around. If we want to do something constructive about aggression, Wilson advises, “we should design our population densities and social systems in such a way as to make aggression inappropriate in most conceivable daily circumstances and, hence, less adaptive.” If this is done, then aggressive acts will diminish as they lose their survival value.

Wilson calls territoriality “social spacing” — a behavior trait that comes to the surface in men’s use of walls in densely packed cities. He touches on the Mediterranean habit of standing close to one another when talking, while Northern Europeans like to keep their distance. Dominant behavior is closely linked to the territorial imperative, and it is this inherited trait that makes possible the hierarchical organization which permeates all sociality. The more complex the brain in mammals, Wilson remarks, the more numerous are the divisions of rank. Dominance in turn is linked to xenophobia, the fear of the outsider, whose mere existence often threatens the territory. “At this level of ‘gut feeling’ the mental processes of a human being and of a Rhesus monkey may be neurophysiologically homologous.”

Wilson’s ideas about sex are extremely iconoclastic, all the more so as they are presented in a sex-obsessed age. Rather than consider sex as a bonding agent, he calls it an “anti-social force in evolution,” meaning that the bonds that hold most animals together are largely asexual in nature and that sex as a triggering force of reproduction actually causes diversity in groups by producing genetic dissimilarities. Sex enhances the individual, but divides the group. Indeed, as history shows, sex does not shrink from miscegenation, thereby making it possible to breed down as well as up. All animals engage in sex, Wilson points out, but only man and a few other vertebrates practice monogamy and have parent-offspring bonds that last well beyond the weaning stage.

Nevertheless, sexual selection can be a positive evolutionary force. In man it keeps the genetic fix of race within certain parameters. It makes beauty and health attractive to both spouses and therefore selects for the genes that produce such traits. Most important, perhaps, sexual selection is a mechanism for variability, which in turn can provide for greater adaptability. Too much inbreeding reduces variability and its accompanying adaptive potential. Too much outbreeding and the ensuing plethora of variability will swamp out the traits which could be developed and used for evolutionary advancement. Although not on a par with moths, who make love for one full day, humans, thanks to the absence of the estrous or rutting cycle which puts puritanical time limits on primate sex, can bill and coo to their hearts’ and libidos’ content. This is conducive for the production of offspring (or was before the age of contraception), but the independence it confers on the principals weakens parental bonds and has a deleterious effect on child rearing. One strange facet of parental attitudes noted by Wilson is the hostility of adults toward offspring who are not their own, a hostility that reaches the boiling point when the unrelated offspring reach their highest reproductive stage in late adolescence and young adulthood.

In spite of his admission of the importance of sex in influencing social behavior, Wilson is no Freudian. He has practically no respect for the theories of Sir Solly Zuckerman, the neo-Freudian zoologist who, as we have already noted, set back the study of animal behavior decades with his superficial analysis of the sexual antics of baboons in the London Zoo. Another biological canard that Wilson puts to rest is that of dolphin intelligence. Taking John C. Lilly to task for his melodramatic book on dolphins, Wilson shows that the dolphin’s relatively large brain is partly due to its large body size, partly due to its superb imitative faculties. But to say the dolphin is as intelligent as man, according to Wilson, is balderdash. If brain weight is the criterion, Wilson asks, why doesn’t Lilly concentrate on elephants, whose brain weighs 6,000 grams, or sperm whales, whose brains average 9,200 grams, as compared to the dolphin’s and man’s 1,600 to 1,700 grams. “In intelligence,” Wilson states, “the bottle-nosed dolphin probably lies somewhere between the dog and the Rhesus monkey.

There are, according to Wilson, four different groups or social animals which have reached evolutionary pinnacles — the colonial invertebrates, the social insects, the nonhuman mammals and man. Paradoxically, the higher the form of life, the greater the decline in the key social ingredients of cohesiveness, altruism and cooperativeness. The most perfect example of sociality is the colonial invertebrate, some of which are collectively known as jelly fish. These fantastic creatures are composed of clusters of various self-sufficient animals which work together so closely that the whole colony acts like a single organism. Selfishness, on the other hand, rules the roost in mammalian life, mammals always being much more preoccupied with themselves and their kin than with society at large. Wilson adds that three of the four groups which attained evolutionary success have later and repeatedly declined from their high status. Only man has reversed the downward trend of evolution that has been going on for the last billion years.

In regard to the colonial invertebrates, Wilson asks at what point does a society become so nearly perfect that it is no longer a society. Only, he speculates, when the population consists of genetically identical individuals, which can only be produced by budding or cloning. Close to the jelly fish in social perfection come the highly complex and densely populated ant societies. A colony of the common pavement ant contains about 10,000 workers and guards a territory of forty square meters. A colony of the African driver ants has some 22,000,000 workers and a territory of 40,000 to 50,000 square meters. The organization of such groups helps to support the theory that castes in evolution tend to proliferate until there is one for each task, although individuals may belong to more than one caste in their lifetime. Wilson notes that at present there are some 1015 ants living on earth and that some ant societies have slaves and some termite societies depend on “child labor.” All is not heaven, however, for some ant species, particularly those which have to put up with inquilinism, a sorry state of affairs in which one species spends its entire life cycle as a parasite within the societies of another. Wilson gives as examples certain ants and bees. We could think of a better one among the higher primates.


Richard Lewontin
Richard Lewontin

Most reviewers of Wilson’s book and most of his stentorian legion of enemies have concentrated their outcries on the last chapter. The first 26 chapters of this most enlightening and thought-provoking work might not, for all the anti-Wilsonians care, have been written at all. There is heresy in the last chapter, so the whole book must be consigned to perdition. This is the way of Torquemada and this is the way of Richard Lewontin and the more modish bookburners who now stage their autos-da-fé in such institutions of higher learning as Harvard and Princeton. The truth is, for a liberal nitpicker, there is a slight odor of heresy all through the first twenty-six chapters. Wilson, after all, is an empiricist. He believes in the scientific method. He thinks theory should come after fact. He believes in genes. He does not think highly of Ashley Montagu, Sir Solly Zuckerman, Levi-Strauss and other minority celebrities. But there is nothing really tangible on which Wilson’s critics could lay their censorious hands until Chapter 27.

What grievous sin has Wilson committed in his final chapter? In his search for what he calls the “human biogram,” he admits that although “the genes have given away most of their sovereignty, they maintain a certain amount of influence in at least the behavioral qualities that underlie variations between cultures.” This is heretical in that it concedes there is a biological basis for cultural differences. And by accenting genetics Wilson is pushing the social sciences into an empirical, biological and experimental path that cannot avoid downgrading or at least downplaying the wild and unfounded speculations of leading cultural and social anthropologists.

Wilson has read Sir Arthur Keith, who praised prejudice as a racial building block, and quotes Nietzsche to the effect that men would rather believe than know and have the void as purpose rather than be void of purpose. These men are heretics to members of the liberal-minority persuasion, and consequently only a heretic would cite them.

Wilson says there are certain “conservative” traits common to all primates — aggression, male dominance, prolonged maternal care — and that such traits, having been genetically engraved in the human personality, can only be erased with great difficulty. This is heresy to the harpies and furies of women’s liberation. Wilson further angers feminists by claiming that most human societies have known nothing of a high god and that only pastoral and herding groups have come up with monotheism, whose god is always male.

Wilson agrees with Richard Herrnstein that as environmental differences decrease, mental differences will play a larger part in forming elite and privileged socioeconomic groups. He also agrees with C. D. Darlington who postulates that divergent mental traits are preserved by the erection of class barriers and racial discrimination. This too is heresy.

Wilson talks about conformer genes that weld societies together and stresses the social dangers of hypertrophic individualism. Conformer genes favor indoctrinability, and groups with a high incidence of indoctrinability always replace groups with a lower incidence. This is heresy because it can be construed as opposed to the Marxist idea of the plasticity of the human personality, even though the success of Marxism itself has been due in great part to the large aggregation of such conformer genes among Communists and fellow travelers.

Wilson suggests that ethics be removed from the supervision of philosophers and priests and “biologicized.” This proposition, which has also been advanced by Raymond Cattell and Jacques Monod, is a red flag to religionists, social scientists and mediacrats because it threatens to rob them of their monopoly on morality. What is needed, Wilson says, is “the full exploration of the neural machinery of ethical judgment,” together with a knowledge of the “genetic evolution of ethics.” He asks professional moralists to start learning something about morality by “consulting the emotive centers of their own hypothalamic-limbic system.” He is against any single moral code for mankind because of basic human differences in race, class, age and sex.

Wilson even sees a biological foundation for esthetics. Given the opportunity, even chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans produce rudimentary paintings. He finds an adaptive advantage in early man’s fabrication of beautiful tools, whose form and serviceability had survival value for their makers. He borrows from Garrett Hardin in exploring the double standards and double loyalties of tribalism and the polarization of society that takes place when the tribe refuses to concede to the common good. This is not only heresy. It smacks of anti-Semitism.

Wilson stresses the importance of war in genetic selection and quotes Moses, Darwin and von Clausewitz in an effort to show that fighting and conquest eliminate the unfit and often serve to increase the distribution of genes carrying intelligence and a disposition toward team play, altruism, patriotism and bravery. This is the worst kind of heresy in an age when the biggest warmongers camouflage themselves as harbingers of peace.

Finally, Wilson admits that the subjects he has been investigating “are more difficult than physics or chemistry by at least two orders of magnitude.” Everything, he concludes, “must await a full neuronal explanation of the human brain.” He fears that many of the most valued human traits and qualities are genetically linked to the more obsolete and destructive ones. We should strive to know about these genetic linkings, he insists, because the planned society of the coming century will not succeed unless we know. To maintain the species indefinitely, Wilson warns in purely Faustian, purely Western language, “We are compelled to drive for total knowledge.” He gives us a hundred year deadline to make this great leap — or else.

Smear Brigade

After Wilson’s book was published a radical organization called the Sociobiological Study Group, an affiliate of Science for the People, widely distributed two accusatory articles, one in the form of a letter to the New York Review of Books and a thirty-page treatise that appeared in a publication called BioScience. In these two tracts Wilson was the target of a cheap personal attack which vilified him for using “a number of strategies and sleights of hand” and for his “personal and social class prejudices.” Odious comparisons were made to Nazis and the whole tone of the writing was such as to recommend the banning of Wilson’s and similar books, together with the academic ostracism of their authors. The outcry was taken up by other radical organizations, one of which called the book “dangerously racist.” The attack became so heated that Wilson has been forced to give up some of his lectures for fear of physical harm.

Stephen J. Gould
Stephen Jay Gould

Predictably the smear campaign was led by Richard Lewontin, as well as another minority scientist named Stephen Gould. Both are members of Wilson’s department at Harvard and both are actively associated with leftwing politics, although only Gould admits this openly. (Wilson, incidentally, was instrumental in getting both Gould and Lewontin their Harvard posts.) Gould’s and Lewontin’s argument is that there is no direct evidence that man’s social behavior is due to genes. Wilson, who is a liberal, or at least was until his recent experiences taught him the finer points of modern liberalism, never said that the biological component of man outweighed the cultural component. He did say, however — and anyone with a shred of intelligence would have to agree — that man’s genetic background has a lot to do with human behavior. Even though he admitted “genes have given away most of their sovereignty,” his defamers called his position “an extreme hereditarian one.” Uninvited, but joining in the fray was MIT economist Paul Samuelson, who wrote in a Newsweek column: “How do you keep distinct a Shockley from a Wilson? A Hitler from a Huxley?” This gratuitous insult from a minority pundit in a minority-owned magazine was further indication of the racial motivations behind the assault on all genetic research.

Wilson fired back at his censors by charging them with “the kind of self-righteous vigilantism which not only produces falsehoods but also unjustly hurts individuals and through that kind of intimidation diminishes the spirit of free inquiry and discussion crucial to the health of the intellectual community.” All that can be added to this clarion warning is that, if the minorities had their way, Americans would have been deprived of some of the most interesting new ideas to come out of modern science.

In attacking Wilson and the biologists and geneticists who share his ideas, minority scientists insist that biological determinism is allied to racism, authoritarianism and obscurantism. As so often these days, the truth is the reverse. The true racists are those who reveal themselves to be the true obscurantits. As they cling forlornly to ancient doctrines, they sprinkle themselves with the perfume of progress. Lamarckism, a totally discredited view of evolution, is the real belief of these dogmatists who carry their worship of environmental influences to such a point that they can only maintain their logical consistency by subscribing to the inheritance of acquired characteristics. The modern heir of Lamarck was Lysenko, the fraudulent biological flunky of Stalin. While the Russian (and Western) geneticist Vavilov perished in a labor camp, Lysenko, who until he came to Stalin’s attention, was sponsored by a Jewish Communist bigwig, was feted as a hero as he promised to develop new strains of wheat by environmental “pressures.” It was all hogwash and irrationality, and Russian agriculture is still paying for Stalin’s and Lysenko’s aberrations — an approach to science best summed up by Daniel E. Atkinson of the Chemistry Department of the University of California:

There has been, and there remains an unbridgeable gulf between those who seek truth, recognizing the truth must always be tentative and that their insights cannot be totally free of either genetic or environmental influences and those who would block the search for truth because they are sure they ‘know’ exactly what is right and good.

* * *

Source: Instauration magazine, September 1977

Previous post

The Evils of Fascism

Next post

The Flow of the River

Notify of
Inline Feedback
View all comments
11 October, 2015 8:47 am

Cleared my mind of Lamarkism and taught me the exquisite word, inquilinism. Dismissed the rubbish about the dolphin brains. Added a scientifically backed, explicit explanation of the biologically observed anti-social effects of sex, outside of marriage, let alone race; or third cousins.

11 October, 2015 10:45 am

@ Harvey
My dictionary is limited.
If not too abstruse can you define “inquilinism”????

Reply to  Heinemann
11 October, 2015 11:54 am

Zool. An animal which lives in the nest or abode of another, a comensal or guest (see Cuckoo bird). A sojourner, a lodger, an indweller in a place not his own. Pollute, defile, corrupt, a defiling agent. (OxED)

11 October, 2015 12:05 pm

corr.sp. commensal (eating together, same table). Biol. Applied to animals or plants which live as tenants of others, (distinguished from parasitic).