Sociobiology shows that our genetic inheritance predisposes our behaviour more strongly than socialists traditionally thought. Further, some sociobiologists suggest that our culture and our genetic structure have evolved in a mutually reinforcing manner in what is identified as gene-culture co-evolution. This offers both an opportunity and a threat to socialist ideas.
The classical Marxist model of a post-capitalist society without money, wages, prices etc. is predicated on the possibility, indeed the necessity, that human nature can be changed to become uniformly selfless, generous and just – that selfishness, greed and injustice will be eradicated once the capitalist system is removed. That utopian vision, sadly, is no longer tenable.
It is necessary, for example, to adapt to the idea that some people might be genetically predisposed to behaviour expressed as some form of kin protection, i.e. to tribal preference, and that this predisposition will not be easily or quickly eradicated simply by the overthrow of the structures and values of capitalism. This is not to accept racism, and certainly not to condone it, but to argue that it is necessary to construct a society to address it.
Similarly it is now necessary to accept that some universal customs and traditions, as well as rebellion and so-called ‘deviance’, belong to our genetic inheritance and will be difficult to eradicate or change. Any vision of a socialist society will need to show how it will accommodate, change or accept these genetic predispositions.
It will be necessary for any future society, whatever its political structure, to seek to find ways to extend the concept of ‘tribe’ to include the whole human species. In this the socialist is well placed to provide the philosophical arguments necessary, for it corresponds well with the socialist assertion of the unity and equality of the human species.
Questions concerning intervention in genetics, human and otherwise, will have to be faced by any society whatever its structure or ideology – although some biologists argue that such intervention will be ineffective in the totality of the whole human gene pool because of its massive complexity. However, while it seems unlikely that it will be possible to alter significantly the human gene pool by direct intervention, at least in the short term, there are increasingly difficult ethical questions to be faced concerning genetic intervention in the design of individuals.
Assertions of human equality can only be grounded from a materialist perspective on existential choice. A paradigm based on the universal equality of the human species is what has been identified here as ‘socialism’.
Finally, our genetic inheritance predisposes us to invent our personal and social destinies, our own ‘grand narratives’. For socialists, their grand narrative includes the right and the means to allow the human species to choose its own destiny, individually and collectively, rationally and freely, unhindered by the material constraints of capital or the spiritual constraints of religion – but the message from sociobiology is that we must recognise and accept our genetic inheritance when we design the society that will deliver this.
© Lusion 2005