In case I wondered why I was on this list, which I'm a recent and
mostly-silent member of, it's posts like this, as well as the
wonderful recent exchanges on evolutionary psych., that will keep me
here.  Thanks, Louis Proyect, for this and other recent useful posts.


Martha Livingston

>Stephen Jay Gould-
>What Does it Mean to Be a Radical?
>by Richard C. Lewontin and Richard Levins
>Early this year, Stephen Gould developed lung cancer, which spread so
>quickly that there was no hope of survival. He died on May 20, 2002, at
>the age of sixty. Twenty years ago, he had escaped death from
>mesothelioma, induced, we all supposed, by some exposure to asbestos.
>Although his cure was complete, he never lost the consciousness of his
>mortality and gave the impression, at least to his friends, of an almost
>cheerful acceptance of the inevitable. Having survived one cancer that
>was probably the consequence of an environmental poison, he succumbed to
>The public intellectual and political life of Steve Gould was
>extraordinary, if not unique. First, he was an evolutionary biologist
>and historian of science whose intellectual work had a major impact on
>our views of the process of evolution. Second, he was, by far, the most
>widely known and influential expositor of science who has ever written
>for a lay public. Third, he was a consistent political activist in
>support of socialism and in opposition to all forms of colonialism and
>oppression. The figure he most closely resembled in these respects was
>the British biologist of the 1930's, J. B. S. Haldane, a founder of the
>modern genetical theory of evolution, a wonderful essayist on science
>for the general public, and an idiosyncratic Marxist and columnist for
>the Daily Worker who finally split with the Communist Party over its
>demand that scientific claims follow Party doctrine.
>What characterizes Steve Gould's work is its consistent radicalism. The
>word radical has come to be synonymous with extreme in everyday usage:
>Monthly Review is a radical journal to the readers of the Progressive;
>Steve Gould underwent radical surgery when tumors were removed from his
>brain; and a radical is someone who is out in left (or right) field. But
>a brief excursion into the Oxford English Dictionary reminds us that the
>root of the word radical is, in fact, radix, the Latin word for root. To
>be radical is to consider things from their very root, to go back to
>square one, to try to reconstitute one's actions and ideas by building
>them from first principles. The impulse to be radical is the impulse to
>ask, "How do I know that?" and, "Why am I following this course rather
>than another?" Steve Gould had that radical impulse and he followed it
>where it counted.

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Martha Livingston, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Health and Society
SUNY College at Old Westbury
Box 210
Old Westbury, New York 11568
(516) 876-2748