At first I was going to blog about last week's Sunday Times and the ludicrous article in it written by one Dennis Sewell that drew a straight line from Darwin, via eugenics and (surprise, surprise) Hitler, to the columbine school shootings. Then I thought I wouldn't bother. But on the tube this morning the bloke next to me was reading a copy of Sewell's book from which he cribbed the article - The Political Gene: How Darwin's ideas changed politics - and he was scribbling in the margin furiously and I almost leaned over and spoke to him but it was my stop so I didn't so this post is what I would have said to that bloke:
"I haven’t read the book," I’d have admitted, "but judging by the excerpt I read in the Sunday Times at the weekend, that really is one of the shoddiest and least convincing arguments I've read in quite some time- what were the Times thinking? For example,” I'd have continued, "Sewell seems to think he has discovered something profound about Darwinism by proving that the Columbine killers thought they were following Darwin's precepts [cleansing the world of the unfit] and one of them was wearing a T-Shirt with "Natural Selection" on it. Since when," I'd continue, “does the fact that a murderer says they did it for this or that reason mean that the reason - in the case Darwin - bears any responsibility? Suicidal murderers have been known to misinterpret some of the more complex elements of evolutionary biology, and some have even been insane. Sewell quotes "Denver lawyer Barry Arrington" thus: 'There cannot be any doubt that [Dylan] Harris was a worshipper of Darwin and saw himself as acting on Darwinian principles.', and treats this revelation as some kind of supporting evidence. But what is it evidence of? That a Denver attorney thinks this is the case? Sure. That Harris thought he was following Darwin's ideas? Perhaps. But it says absolutely nothing about Darwin or Darwinism (whatever that is, as if believing unquestioningly in gravity should be known as Newtonianism), let alone proving that the killings happened because of those ideas.
"Sewell''s implication is clear," I would yell (I'd have lost it by now), "Darwin's ideas lead inexorably to mass murder. But this is like blaming Jodie Foster for Ronald Reagan being shot (John Hinckley was doing it for her), or perhaps more pertinently blaming God for all the murder committed in his name. Of course Sewell - a Catholic apologist - would never do that! In fact he manages to skirt around the subject of religiously inspired violence altogether- he finds space for murders committed in the name of quite a few European thinkers of a certain, existential bent - Nietzsche, Camus, Gide - but nary a mention of murder perpetrated in the name of religion. He similarly makes much of the Natural Selection T-shirt as if somehow the shoot-em-up video game which it references was a faithful rendering of On The Origin of Species in digital form."
By this point the man on the train would have left hurriedly I’m sure. In any event you should read this tripe and see if it is the shoddily argued, polemical nonsense I say it is.
[PS: The shame of it is there is a good book waiting to be written about eugenics, which certainly is in some ways the dirty little secret of late 19th and early 20th century Darwinism and humanism - but this clearly ain't it. For now I just wish I knew if the bloke was scribbling in the margin because he agreed with the argument, or because he, like me, thought it was shoddy bunkem. If you are that bloke, let me know]