乱世浮三

做到一篇好阅读

做到一篇好阅读,算是至今为止最好的一篇。并不是文笔好在哪里,只是因为内容,以至于读到最后我在怀疑我是不是把文章的意思理解错了,经过确认,我的英语还不至于那样。

其实一直读到倒数第二句都觉得是篇正常的不能再正常的英语阅读了,讲得是将达尔文进化论引入社会科学领域的所谓达尔文主义,以及对传统的达尔文主义所谓“物竞天择”的社会进化的一种质疑。直到最后一句“Instead,
the disciples of a second 19th-century creed, Marxism, dominated academic
sociology departments with their cuddly collectivist ideas—even if the practical
application of those ideas has been even more catastrophic than social Darwinism
was.
”让我为之一振,怀疑是不是选文章的石春祯先生选错了文章,虽然这并不代表他的观点,但在现在的情况下,这样的介绍文章也应该是不能出现的吧,很有意思。大概是因为英文,而且是考试辅导书,新闻出版总署根本不会去审查吧。

到网上搜索,发现这是economist的一篇文章,阅读只是选了其中的前三段,后面的内容也很有看头。讲的是所谓改进了的现代的达尔文主义在吸取了自身以及marxism的致命缺陷之后的某种改进,当然,肯定会写出作者认为的Marxism的一些问题吧。

达尔文的进化论对于Marxism的影响是马克思本人也不否认的。何止是马克思呢?从严复翻译《天演论》至今
,中国的知识分子们又有哪一个是没有接收物竞天择这四个字呢?其实,这个世界并不是只有“竞”而已。所谓现代的达尔文主义正是这样改进的。

这是一篇好文章,全文登出来,不要忘记前三段是篇阅读理解,一篇有点意思的阅读理解,呵呵。

The story of man

IN THOSE parts of the planet that might once have been described as
“Christendom”, this week marks the season of peace on Earth and goodwill towards
men. A nice idea in a world more usually thought of as seasoned by the survival
of the fittest. But goodwill and collaboration are as much part of the human
condition as ill-will and competition. And that was a puzzle to 19th-century
disciples of Charles Darwin, such as Herbert Spencer.

It was Spencer, an early contributor to The Economist, who invented that
poisoned phrase, “survival of the fittest”. He originally applied it to the
winnowing of firms in the harsh winds of high-Victorian capitalism, but when
Darwin's masterwork, “On the Origin of Species”, was published, he quickly saw
the parallel with natural selection and transferred his bon mot to the process
of evolution. As a result, he became one of the band of philosophers known as
social Darwinists. Capitalists all, they took what they thought were the lessons
of Darwin's book and applied them to human society. Their hard-hearted
conclusion, of which a 17th-century religious puritan might have been proud, was
that people got what they deserved—albeit that the criterion of desert was
genetic, rather than moral. The fittest not only survived, but prospered.
Moreover, the social Darwinists thought that measures to help the poor were
wasted, since such people were obviously unfit and thus doomed to sink.

Sadly, the slur stuck. For 100 years Darwinism was associated with a
particularly harsh and unpleasant view of the world and, worse, one that was
clearly not true—at least, not the whole truth. People certainly compete, but
they collaborate, too. They also have compassion for the fallen and frequently
try to help them, rather than treading on them. For this sort of behaviour, “On
the Origin of Species” had no explanation. As a result, Darwinism had to tiptoe
round the issue of how human society and behaviour evolved. Instead, the
disciples of a second 19th-century creed, Marxism, dominated academic sociology
departments with their cuddly collectivist ideas—even if the practical
application of those ideas has been even more catastrophic than social Darwinism
was.

Trust me, I'm a Darwinist

But the real world eventually penetrates even the ivory tower. The failure of
Marxism has prompted an opening of minds, and Darwinism is back with a
vengeance—and a twist. Exactly how humanity became human is still a matter of
debate. But there are, at least, some well-formed hypotheses (see article). What
these hypotheses have in common is that they rely not on Spencer's idea of
individual competition, but on social interaction. That interaction is, indeed,
sometimes confrontational and occasionally bloody. But it is frequently
collaborative, and even when it is not, it is more often manipulative than
violent.

Modern Darwinism's big breakthrough was the identification of the central
role of trust in human evolution. People who are related collaborate on the
basis of nepotism. It takes outrageous profit or provocation for someone to do
down a relative with whom they share a lot of genes. Trust, though, allows the
unrelated to collaborate, by keeping score of who does what when, and punishing
cheats.

Very few animals can manage this. Indeed, outside the primates, only vampire
bats have been shown to trust non-relatives routinely. (Well-fed bats will give
some of the blood they have swallowed to hungry neighbours, but expect the
favour to be returned when they are hungry and will deny favours to those who
have cheated in the past.) The human mind, however, seems to have evolved the
trick of being able to identify a large number of individuals and to keep score
of its relations with them, detecting the dishonest or greedy and taking
vengeance, even at some cost to itself. This process may even be—as Matt Ridley,
who wrote for this newspaper a century and a half after Spencer, described
it—the origin of virtue.

The new social Darwinists (those who see society itself, rather than the
savannah or the jungle, as the “natural” environment in which humanity is
evolving and to which natural selection responds) have not abandoned Spencer
altogether, of course. But they have put a new spin on him. The ranking by
wealth of which Spencer so approved is but one example of a wider tendency for
people to try to out-do each other. And that competition, whether athletic,
artistic or financial, does seem to be about genetic display. Unfakeable
demonstrations of a superiority that has at least some underlying genetic
component are almost unfailingly attractive to the opposite sex. Thus both of
the things needed to make an economy work, collaboration and competition, seem
to have evolved under Charles Darwin's penetrating gaze.

Dystopia and Utopia

This is a view full of ironies, of course. One is that its reconciliation of
competition and collaboration bears a remarkable similarity to the sort of
Hegelian synthesis beloved of Marxists. Perhaps a bigger one, though, is that
the Earth's most capitalist country, America, is the only place in the rich
world that contains a significant group of dissenters from any sort of
evolutionary explanation of human behaviour at all. But it is also, in its way,
a comforting view. It suggests a constant struggle, not for existence itself,
but between selfishness and altruism—a struggle that neither can win. Utopia may
be impossible, but Dystopia is unstable, too, as the collapse of Marxism showed.
Human nature is not, to use another of Spencer's favourite phrases (though one
he borrowed from Tennyson, his poetical contemporary), red in tooth and claw,
and societies built around the idea that it is are doomed to early failure.

Of the three great secular faiths born in the 19th century—Darwinism, Marxism
and Freudianism—the second died swiftly and painfully and the third is slipping
peacefully away. But Darwinism goes from strength to strength. If its ideas are
right, the handful of dust that evolution has shaped into humanity will rarely
stray too far off course. And that is, perhaps, a hopeful thought to carry into
the New Year.


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One Comment

  1. gxn说道:

    与君同感 。其实后面还有一道翻译明显也是从这篇文章中抽取的。可惜我在economist上无法找到免费版本。

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