‘The seventeenth century idea of a world constructed out of ultimately disconnected units has proved to be simply a mistake… On the social aide, attempts to treat people as disconnected social atoms have repeatedly turned out very badly.’ Mary Midgley, Science and Poetry, Routeledge, 2003

‘…individualism proceeds from erroneous judgement more than from depraved feelings: it originates as much in deficiencies of mind as in perversity of heart… individualism, at first, only blights the virtues of public life: but, in the long run, it attacks and destroys all others, and is at length absorbed in downright selfishness.’ A. de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1832

‘What Marx did not see was that Darwin’s theory also potentiated an alternative to current society, one in which all organisms are bound together in ‘an intimate and complex manner’ and ‘the relation of organism to organism the most important of all relations.’ Gillian Beer, Introduction to Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, 1859, Oxford University Press, 1988

‘Since the Enlightenment, our culture has made huge efforts to exclude outward-looking duties from Western morality. Pronouncements suchs ‘there is no such thing as society’ and ‘the state is only a logical construction out of its members’ are only recent shots in this long individualist campaign. But the natural stength of outward-looking concern can be see from the way in which many such duties are still accepted…The ideas of duty to a family, clan, locality or racial group still have great force…When an enclosing whole which has been taken for granted is suddenly seen as really endangered, all at once its hidden claims become visible. It would be good if we could accept the overwhelming existing evidence of a terrestrial emergency without needing to be hit by a direct disaster. But whatever causes that belief to be accepted, once it becomes so, there is surely little doubt about the duty it lays upon us.’ Mary Midgley, Science and Poetry, Routeledge, 2003

‘Sociogenomics: Social Life in Molecular Terms - Spectacular progress in molecular biology, genome-sequencing projects and genomics makes this an appropriate time to attempt a comprehensive understanding of the molecular basis of social life. Promising results have already been obtained in identifying genes that influence animal social behaviour and genes that are implicated in social evolution. These findings - derived from an eclectic mix of species that show varying levels of sociality - provide the foundation for the integration of molecular biology, genomics, neuroscience, behavioural biology and evolutionary biology that is necessary for this endeavour…Sociogenomics is predicated on two of the most significant insights in biology to emerge from the later half of the twentieth century. First, social life has a biological basis and is therefore influenced to some extent by genes and the forces of evolution. Second, the molecular functions of many genes are highly conserved across species, even for complex traits such as behaviour. Genes have been identified that both regulate social behaviour and that are implicated in the evolution of social behaviour. One emerging theme that relates to the relationship between genes and social behaviour is that genes involved in solitary behaviour are also used for social behaviour. A second theme is that the genome is highly sensitive to social influence, through social regulation of gene expression in the brain. A transcriptomics-based approach is the method of gene discovery most easily used for model social species.’ Abstract & Summary, Nature, 2005

Society is biologically innate

Society is biologically innate; a desireable trait,

driving force for mutual co-operation – survival.

And more, cultivation of our finest genes, those

nurtured towards care, compassion, gentleness -

protection of the weak for they could, will be us.

Music and art, communication, found within chemicals;

aesthetics as evolution - not just luxuries in a peripheral

sphere - add-on, time-filler, tax-waste, as esoteric wank;

but complex compulsion, genetic enricher - elaboration

from the heart of nature; part of impulse, drive, mystery.


Society matters to the Genome - they are mutually in thrall -

intertwined at the root chemical, psychological, philosophical

level. Ideas do count, influence - cause alteration to biology –

thinking is necessary for evolution towards goodness;

greater civilisation, responsibility to each other - love

for one’s fellows; this inculcation towards being caring

actually affects the outcomes of biology - the principles

upheld, enshrined, developed - goals that can be grown

from decision about good seed, reaction to environment.

Public models matter; television matters - what we see

of ourselves held up is important to the species; future

workings of complex societal pictures. Our own image

of ourselves affects our behaviour and in turn, molecules

in the heart and brain, fertilising the dreaming cell; born

with power to manufacture reality, an organic reality felt,

explored, experienced. And what seems so definitely ‘other’

is not so other after all; but decisive factors in development,

mutual advancement, or detraction from the desireable now,

roughly agreed over four billennia, as the mental catches up

with the biological; appreciates interconnection, relatedness,

with no get-out clauses from society - whatever the ideology.

‘It is not surpising that our mainstream political tradition has played down this corporate element in morals. Political theorists such as Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau – and their contemporaries in active politics – wanted above all to stop certain dominant groups, notably in the churches, from exploiting this loyalty for their own ends. They succeeded to an exent which would surely have astonished them if they could have forseen it, and which Rousseau at least would have found alarming. Between them they managed to swing the balance of moral thinking right over to its individualistic pole.…Rousseau himself did try to balance the individualism of his contract theory by introducing the idea of the general will, a corporate will in the nation distinct from the mere summing of separate decisions – something to be relied on more deeply, something which individuals should seek out and follow. This and similar hints were developed by Hegel into a fully fledged organic theory of the state, by which individuals are always incompelete entities, more or less comparable with cells in a plant or animal, needing to find their place in a wider whole for full self-realisation.’ Mary Midgley, Science and Poetry, Routeledge, 2003

‘This will to emphasize improvement eventually resulted, in the fifth, 1869, ediiton, in his retitling the crucial fourth chapter, ‘Natural Selection’, as ‘Natural Selection; or the Survivial of the Fittest’…it proved to be an unfortunate move. The survival of the fittest’ implies, tautologically, that those who survive are the ‘fit, the ‘superior’ examples. Having survived proves them fit to survive; that other signification of ‘fitness’ as ‘aptness’, also crucial to Darwin’s argument, is lost. So the way was cleared for some of the more venomous appropriations of his theories to crude ‘Social Darwinism,’ with its emphasis on competition, profit, and exclusion of weaker members of society from its good… [it] is fascinating to see the extent to which diverse societies can read in these pages those elements most justifying their own ideals and practices.’ Gillian Beer, Introduction to Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species, 1859, Oxford University Press, 1988

‘ …Spencer, by contrast, was sure that simple rules united these topics. What evolution now demanded was (he explained) plenty of commercial freedom for capitalist enterprises. In the 1880s he toured the United States, preaching the gospel that ‘the millionaires are a product of natural selection… It is because they are thus selected that wealth – both their own and that entrusted to them – aggregates under their hands’… Since that time, the confusions of crude social Darwinism have, of course, been repeatedly answered and by the mid-twentieth cenury it had fallen into disfavour. But as often happens, the imagery and the temper behind it remained, waiting for another theoretical vehicle. In the United States, in consequence of Spencer’s influence and the actual development of capitalism, a kind of faith in social Darwinism is still often taken for granted...In Britain this is less true, but romantic individualism itself still has a more general appeal which makes it surface from time to time in most of us as a handy simplification. Dawkins’ and Wilson’s books both came out in the mid-1970s, a time when on both sides of the Atlantic, the moral tide was on the turn from the relatively idealistic, co-operative temper generated after the second World War… In Britain, the real advantages which the Welfare State had produced were becoming familiar. They were beginning to be taken for granted while the drawbacks which had gone along with them began to be sharply felt. Bureaucratic control and the ‘culture of dependence’ were seen as grave evils. The immediate remedy prescribed for them was a return to commercial freedom and to extreme individualism generally, which was seen, for a time, with a good deal of unrealistic nostalgia, as a social panacaea. Appearing at his point, these two exciting sociobiological bibles were seen as simple celebrations of selfishness and suited that temper perfectly. Their doctrines have therefore, not unnaturally, been described as biological Thatcherism. It is right to stress that the authors themselves reject this charge. When taxed with moral or political implications they usually recoil in astonishment saying that they are only doing science… No doubt their vagueness about moral contexts is genuine. But this only shows, I think, how poorly current scientific education prepares scientists to understand the crucial role of science in the rest of life.’ Mary Midgley, Science and Poetry, Routeledge, 2003

One shifting fabric

One shifting fabric; composite, prey to interpretive

pictures emphasising this view or that - or drawing

patterns in the sand - declaring these to be the real

reality – stick figures, diagrams, symbols, in place

of messier interactions - the blurred edges, fuzzier

boundaries; in fact, no absolute boundaries but the

illusions binding energy into identities, so tethered to

metaphors of soul or spirit, being a real object of love,

itself emanating love - dissolving and being dissolved

in the atmospheres of Earth, time - in concert with all

others of the species; all flora and fauna, solid objects,

earth beneath the feet. There is no escape from society,

in the furtherest log cabin, the reverberations pursue;

there is communion with thought, memory - built in,

and by, society; vibrations from remembering genes,

society with animals, water, earth, seasons; the very

flowers are smiling with communal faces and limbs.

No man can ever be alone in this world - to be alive

is to be in society, however unsatisfactory, or limiting

the exchange and interaction. Mutual development of

each player - responsibility, duty - not luxury options

of being a human being, but innate traits of Evolution –

harboured, nurtured over four billion years; like art, not

as an optional add-on, but a fundamental force, shaping

the physical and intellectual development of mankind.

Empathy, compassion are the good helpers, biological,

psychological and spiritual developments to help spur

the best culture of the species, our most enlightened traits.

When it has become fashionable to any deny attachments

to society, evidence - experience of life, has crushed such

mental foolishness, contrary to all observation, empirical

knowledge of how life it – all that is acquired by such an

ideology is a temporary cultivation of those selfish traits

also embedded for other reasons in the Genome - wired to

self preservation, safety, will to live, prosper, survive; how

hollow the victory for a while - easy for lazy human beings

to revel in this get-out clause, gleefully embracing public excuses

for selfishness - lame ideology by poor thinkers - selective brains

picking the whole ground for a few bitter stones; mental fertiliser

over nasty weeds as flowers perish underfoot; but they have only

gone to seed, they will never be done dreaming of better reality -

painting society in brighter, truer colours - and here comes proof

from the heart of biology; more graspable, more waveabout-able

than intellectual conclusions, emotional reasoning, alone. A fuel

for the energy of goodness; sustenance for physical enshrinement

of high values in law, commerce, education. A new moral compass

for those abandoned, betrayed by vacuity, moral vacuum; gumption

lacking in those upholding the better self - allowing bitter minorities

to prevail - letting us mistake lack of intellectual rigour for a necessary

mental toughness – a la Margaret Thatcher. Tell a child it’s OK to want

to keep all its toys for itself only - OK to enjoy them while the kid down

the road has no toys, and hardly enough food - that all such people are there

because of lack of effort, toil; that its own satisfaction, desires, needs are all

that truly matters, and to hell with the rest if they can’t do the same – what a

cheek, all that free healthcare, food - shelter that we’re paying for because

they can’t be arsed to work; for a short time this will work, allow the child

to slump into moral turpitude with a good excuse - joined, supported by so

many other voters, it must be good, right, proper…Before the greater wisdoms of the Genome, Nature’s superior ken, prickles the laming certainties; bad luck, job loss, negative equity – the sick relative, the cancer, helped by those on poor

pay to help others - the accident; cared for angelically by those on slave wages. The re-education of the soul in this world is inevitable; such ideology, being so counter-Genome, will collapse ultimately, even as remnants infect all societies;

rooted in the energetic genomic principles driving survival – the difference

in emphasis is a matter of will, free will to decide, to short cut the need for

proof by going down the wrong road over and over. Here is a physical map;

a biological proof – dazzling exhibition of the beautiful root of the human being, the common origin of the family Homo sapiens; learning co-operation, empathy, through being alive since the start, in so many bodies, communities and societies.

‘Another stiking example today is the neo-Darwinist picture – now extremely influential - of evolution as essentially a simple projection of the money market. Here the noisy rhetoric of selfishness, spite, exploitation, manipulation, investment, insurance, and war-games easily persuades people that this new form of Victorian social-atomist ideology must be true because it has the support of science….Both these atomistic doctrines rest on the idea that competition between separate units is the ultimate law of life. Both ignore the obvious equal importance of co-operation between organisms – and between the parts of organisms – at all levels. Both confer a misleading air of scientific rigour on the proposition that there is, ultimately, no such thing as society….Despite a brief spasm of Thatcherism in the 1980s, most of us are no longer sure there is no such thing as society. Instead, various attempts are being made to work out a more realistic, comphrehensive view of the human social situatiuon…On the whole, the strange tide of social atomism that surged in the 1980s is considerably receeding today. We see that we need to rebuild a realistic attitude to our social nature.’ Mary Midgley, Science and Poetry, Routeledge, 2003

Scene: The Mound, Edinburgh, Scotland

Morag: “Why are you laughing so much?”

Hamish: “Because Margaret Thatcher once said: ‘There is no such thing as society’, and I felt that scandalous in my heart, and wrong in every part of me - every good part of anyone who ever cared for the weak and ill, young or old or dispossessed. Who ever cared for each other – who ever tried to love their neighbour… I remember how I wanted her thrown out of every church - banned from Scotland, for she was anti-Scotland - enemy of everything held dear in this country - and her message in her ‘Sermon on the Mound’, to the men of God of Scotland and to the people, was an affront, an insult to our nation – and to our Welsh and Irish cousins - our English neighbours not fallen under her long wicked spell… An insult to the world, to the suffering and compassion of the world - a wrong and dangerous understanding of the world. A painting that only registers black…A philosophy of selfishness - an appeal to the lowest uncivilised stub of human nature…”

Morag: “Yeah, yeah - OK, OK!! And?’

Hamish: “Well, she was a chemist! She studied chemistry! At the state’s expense, of course - before trying to pull up the educational ladder after her – smash its rungs - put on a fake posh voice… Pretend selfishness, ruthlessness, was strength…”

Morag: “Yeah, yeah, Hamish, it was some time ago - though I can see your blood is still boilin’. But you were saying, chemistry and society and Thatcher - so…???

Hamish:CHEMISTRY! Don’t you see? Chemistry has now proved we are all one. That society fundamentally exists. We don’t need to shout and rant any more – though it still makes me feel better - we do not need to argue that she is wrong, because she is wrong! Science - these words written out in chemistry, this chemistry of words, has proved we are all society – and not just us - even animals and leaves, the plants in the garden - the fucking hamster in its wheel...We are descended from society - from all living things – hell, we are society. Everything is society - we are the history of everything. It’s just fucking hilarious…” 

Morag: “So who’s gonna tell her then?”

‘Genomics has been at the forefront of giving serious attention, through scholarly research and policy discussions, to the impact of science and technology on society. Although the major benefits to be realized from genomics are in the area of health, as described above, genomics can also contribute to other aspects of society. Just as the HGP and related developments have spawned new areas of research in basic biology and in health, they have also created opportunities for research on social issues, even to the extent of understanding more fully how we define ourselves and each other. In the next few years, society must not only continue to grapple with numerous questions raised by genomics, but must also formulate and implement policies to address many of them. Unless research provides reliable data and rigorous approaches on which to base such decisions, those policies will be ill-informed and could potentially compromise us all. To be successful, this research must encompass both 'basic' investigations that develop conceptual tools and shared vocabularies, and more 'applied', 'translational' projects that use these tools to explore and define appropriate public-policy options that incorporate diverse points of view.’ A Vision for the Future of Genomics Research, US National Human Genome Research Institute, 2003

“Science is a human pursuit. Style matters… As scientists and as citizens we do not want to be cut off from the rest of society. We do not want to be doing strange and arcane things entirely out of the public gaze. In a democracy, science and technology need the overall approval of society; and people at large need to know what is happening, if society is to stay in control.’ Ian Wilmut, the Importance of Being Dolly, The Second Creation, Headline, 2001

Science is part of society - however pure, it cannot exist

without a context, without life; which is inexorably one -

bound in all directions in the best possible sense; harmony,

possibility, guidance. Hear it calling now, informing - even

as its language is falling on deaf ears, because that language

is alien, foreign to the common ear of men; yet its messages

are simple - just as Theology is an enormous, complex field,

but the words of Jesus can be understood by a young child –

the main findings, knowledge, ethical predicaments - progress,

dilemmas, sticky applications, marvellous possibilities, dreams

of genomics are startling in simplicity - rising from ferociously

complex practical research. As the simplest building blocks can

make a castle, ask a child; the basics combined with imagination

will make us see enough - imperfectly, sure, but necessarily there,

keeping up, contributing. Att least trying to understand; never just

abdicating all responsibility - hoping somebody - somewhere, will

have society’s best interests at heart; or these omniscient scientists.

‘This whole person of whom we have been talking is not, then, a solitary, self-sufficient unit. It belongs essentially within a larger whole, indeed within an interlocking pattern formed by a great range of such wholes. These wider systems are not an alien interference with its identity. They are its home, its native climate, the soil from which it grows, the atmosphere which it needs in order to breathe. Their unimaginable richness is what makes up the meaning of our lives. The self’s wholeness is not, then, the wholeness of a billiard ball but that of an organism, a transient, struggling creature which has, of course, its own distinct shape but which still belongs in its own context and background.’ Mary Midgley, Science and Poetry, Routeledge, 2003
Note from the author
exploring the project

    The Human Genome Project
    – Public versus private
    Gene Patenting
    Blood Poems
        Genomic Co-operation
    Holy-Moley-More God!

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