Continuing on with Darwin’s Pious Idea, Sociobiology was introduced to the public in 1973 with E.O. Wilson’s Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. It was really an attempt to subsume all the behavioral sciences under the all encompassing canopy of biology, and, of course, an ultra-Darwinian version. It really had grander goals that those, as it even wished to displace philosophy itself, especially in the area of ethics. Cunningham notes beautifully what it really amounted to:
“From our poetry, our sorrows, our desires, sexual and otherwise, there now echoed another accompanying meaning, for there, within each bunch of roses offered on Valentine’s Day, lay the worm of natural selection.”
The critical failure of Sociobiology was its belief that it could leave out mind and culture in its algorithm. But let’s give credit where credit is due. Even those hardly enamored with transcendental, platonic, or theistic theories of being or biology, saw the problems inherent in a project like Wilson’s.
“In response to Wilson’s work, some of his closest Harvard colleagues, including Stephen J. Gould and Richard Lewontin, formed the Sociobiology Study Group. They published a letter denouncing his work, feeling no need to show it to Wilson beforehand, their main criticism being that it was not science but politics, reminiscent of social Darwinism. As Rose, Lewontin, and Kamin put it, sociobiology ‘combines vulgar Mendelism, vulgar Darwinism, and vulgar reductionism in the service of the status quo.’ Indeed, in the 1980s the British philosopher Mary Midgley referred to sociobiology as the biology of Thatcherism. Her point was that sociobiologists appeared to look at everyday life and read it through a Darwinian lens—competition, for example—only to arrive at just what we would expect in a Darwinian world. So the worry was that it was somewhat of an apologist for capitalism…largely due to the reaction it received, sociobiology went out of fashion pretty quickly.”