By Ben Cohen
Although I write largely about politics and boxing, I must confess to being a fan of good science writing, particularly that relating to theories on evolution. 'The Selfish Gene' by Richard Dawkins was perhaps the most mind blowing book I had ever read as a student, radically re-shifting the way I saw the world. Dawkin's explanation of evolution on a genetic level had serious implications for philosophy and the social sciences. His notion that we are essentially a collection of self interested genes helped bolster the free market capitalist view of humanity. If our genes were so successful in creating such magnificent individuals and species, then surely the same theory could be applied to economics.
The blurring of evolutionary theory with free market capitalism has been the intellectual underpinning of Western society in modern times, with many scientists throwing their hat into the social sciences arena to offer opinions on human society. Following in this tradition is Matt Ridley, author of some fantastic books on evolutionary theory like 'The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature', and 'The Origins of Virtue'. I have enjoyed Ridley's books, but was always skeptical when he attempted to venture into the world of human affairs.
Noam Chomsky once said:
"On the ordinary problems of human life, science tells us very little, and scientists as people are surely no guide. In fact they are often the worst guide, because they often tend to focus, laser-like, on their professional interests and know very little about the world."
To me, Ridley falls directly under that category. Having worked for the Economist magazine and chaired a bank, Ridley has never hidden his politics. He is an unashamed libertarian and believes whole heartedly that evolutionary theory can be applied to human society: Government is bad, and the market is good. Unfortunately for him, his entire intellectual frame work has recently come crashing down after a disastrous tenure as chairman of the Northern Rock bank in England. After dedicating his life to lampooning the notion of government, Ridley had to beg the government to bail him out when the bank collapsed earlier this year.
Environmental journalist George Monbiot (pictured above) writes a searing indictment of Ridley's libertarian hypocrisy in an extremely interesting article on the guardian.co.uk. I can't do it justice, so click here to read it. It's very, very good. END