Evolution of an Activist

April 1, 2008 | 4 Comments

Category: Activism

Perhaps the question I am asked the most by other activists as we work on one project or another is, “Do you think that what we’re doing is making a difference?”

I am a deep devotee of Darwin.  But Darwinism holds little of the Darwin I admire.  Buried in the books he wrote after The Origin of Species were profound and magical conjectures about the origin of humans and the unfolding of life over single lifetimes and vast periods of time.  Darwin was a Lamarckian.  He believed that the environment and conditions of life could so influence an individual that the individual’s progeny could be transformed by the parent’s life.  This is not a theory that receives attention in our time.  For Darwin, it was so compelling that until his death, he struggled with the relationship of what we call Lamarckian principles of evolution and Darwin’s original theories:  natural selection and sexual selection.

When I am asked, “Do you think that what we’re doing is making a difference?” I think of Darwin.  Hidden in the relationship among those three evolutionary principles, Lamarckian evolution, natural selection and sexual selection, lies the secret of cultural transformation.  Placing myself where I see the transformation happen, I feel like a participant in evolution.  Not the slow, painstaking evolution of the textbooks.  Not the geographic blink of Gould’s punctuated equilibrium but the lightning-quick evolution of seismic shifts in a single generation of humans.  Because I am an activist, I have a front-row seat to experience the evolution of our species.  I am an activist who adores what we are becoming.

As an activist, I do not think that change is about making something different.  For me, activism is about observing the changes, identifying those least able to adjust to them, and working the currents of change to be at the right place at the right time to provide assistance to someone who didn’t have the luxury to be paying attention to the patterns.  It’s not only about intuiting shifts while moving to this hidden music.  Being an activist is also about reproducing in the social sphere the connections that I experience as an observer of the biological world.  Evolution is about connections.  Nurturing connections between activists to accomplish common goals is my compulsion:  helping the grass make roots.

An activist as evolutionist occupies this space.  All around me I see relationships, profound and subtle, connected, necessary, beautiful.  Science, art and spirit are not different things.  Through an evolutionary activist’s eyes, I experience them as one.


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4 Comments so far

  1. Carl Davidson on April 10, 2008 7:20 am

    ‘Transformed by the parent’s life’–I’d put it as ‘transformed by the parent’s choices. That’s the wild card introducing dynamic novelty in an open social order.

    But don’t underestimate natural selection. It’s like gravity. Ignore it at your peril.

    There’s an interesting discussion of patterns of value in Robert Pirsig’s second book, ‘Lila,’ relevant here. There’s a natural hierarchy of inorganic patterns, then organic, then social, then intellectual. They are also successors through time in that order. Each rests on the previous, but its ‘rules’ are independent. You can’t just take biological patterns and copy them upward to social patterns, and vice versa.

    He uses the example of machine code and the application rules in Wordperfect. The software engineer uses one system of rules. The writer of the great American novel using Wordperfect uses another set of rules. The engineer’s rules precede and provide the foundation for the writer’s–the natural hierarchy–but they are independent of each other, and you can be a great writer without knowing anything about machine code.

    Since we’re biological creatures as well as social and intellectual creatures, there’s obviously a messy spillover, but there’s also a hierarchy of behavioral plateaus, but different rules for each plateau, that aren’t necessarily the same.

    But did you see the recent story about the experiment with chimps playing with toys? The males chimps had a preference for toy dump trucks not shared by the females!

  2. admin on April 10, 2008 6:18 pm

    I haven’t read that Parsig book, but I’ll get it. Sounds interesting.

    Ken Wilber, the Boulder philosopher offers some ideas in the area you’re describing. He sees a nested hierarchy with patterns reproducing outward. Early or lower orders become integral to the later or higher orders.

    Granted, natural selection pulls some weight. In human evolution the last three to four million years or so I’m suggesting natural selection has had neglible effects.

    That chimpanzee experiment is unfamiliar to me.

  3. hotshot bald cop on August 28, 2011 10:37 am

    Now that is some wonderful writing.

  4. programi on March 7, 2012 1:49 am


    […]Evolution of an Activist | Neoteny, sexual selection, cause of autism, human evolution, social transformation, left organizing and internet activism – how they all connect[…]…

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