Dear Jay:

Thank you very much for sharing this with me.  

I am not a scientist (I got a BA in math/cs in 1973 from UT-Austin but it coincided with my radicalization and when I did return to grad school in the 1980s I studied political economy). 

The question of who we are, hence of "human nature," is central to any theory of history.  As a Marxist, I have been happy to go along with Marx's and Engels' view that we humans are the sum total of our social relations shaped by the prevalent mode of production. As I became interested in ecology crises and reviewed ecological socialist theories, I became aware that they are, despite creativity of the theorists involved, at the end the proposition that capital accumulation undermines the ecosystems.  This much was asserted by Marxists well before ecosocialism was coined.  Clearly, a theory of history that includes all of nature is required as M&E themselves point out in The German Ideology (1845). But they, like any good scholar, argue that they set these aside to focus on society and social classes.  We know what came after: The Communist Manifesto (1848) that provided a class analysis of written history (about 3000 years old) and concluded with the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat that they argued might lead to socialism.  Marx's Capital is an application of historical materialism to the capitalist mode of production.  Thus, it too excludes nature to focus on society.

Marx's conception of human nature evolved in his lifetime. But his most enduring view that stamped his materialism and theory of history is the notion I mentioned above: human nature is the sum total of our social relations shaped by the prevailing mode of production.

To my knowledge there has been no significant advances so far among Marxist on any of these issues. In the light of advances in biology, Marxists generally concede that we are a combination of nature and culture. But they still hang in with the Marx's conception noted above. 

I have dealt with these issues in my essay "The Coronavirus Pandemic as the Crisis of Civilization" (March 2020) where I also offer an ecological theory of human nature based on the latest available scientific understanding.  I sum it up in a dense paragraph: 

Thus, human nature is the sum total of our eco-social relations shaped by the dynamic interrelation of three trends: (1) The transhistorical trend which recognizes and celebrates our continuity with other animals, in particular the primates. We are animals, mammals, an evolutionary cousin of the chimpanzee. Therefore, we share certain traits with them. (2) The historical trend of our species, Homo sapiens, that goes back at least 300,000 years, including cultural heritage from earlier Homo genera: We inherited the knowledge to use of fire from Homo erectus who domesticated it 400,000 years ago.  And, (3) the trend specific to the mode of production influences, e.g. capitalistically developed global culture today. 

I have watched prof. Sapolsky lectures and interviews available on Youtube and posted some on Our Place in the World (a blog I edit and publish for ecological socialist discussion).  What I have heard him say is appealing to me: He says and I am paraphrasing it: the brian, genes, culture, and ecosystems evolve together.   I  find this resonates well with the summary provided above of what I have learned from my readings over the years.  

Of course, I am not in a position to enter a discussion of the issue you have raised. Have you written to him with your objection? If so, what was his response? And, even if he made an error of judgement in that case, does that invalidate the summary of his view which I paraphrased above?  (I include the lecture where he presents that view below--it is an hour plus long talk)

Thank you again for your response to my question. 

Best regards,


The Brain and Genes Co-Evolve With Ecosystems and Culture (Please note, I picked the title for his lecture as the editor for OPITW. I thought it captures the thrust of his presentation better)

On Tue, Jul 14, 2020 at 8:20 AM Jay Joseph <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
Dear Kamran,

I have been a critic of research produced by the "behavioral genetics" field, particularly twin studies, since 1998. In "Behave" (Chapter 8), Sapolsky endorsed most major behavioral genetic claims and research methods. In particular, he loves Bouchard's greatly flawed and heavily genetically biased "Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart" even while, like many commentators, he got the basic facts wrong about this study (eg., twins were not "separated at birth," which implies that they grew up not knowing each other, and were reunited when studied). Given the fact that the Minnesota study is often cited by white nationalist groups, in addition to having been financed by the white nationalist Pioneer Fund, I wish he would have reviewed it more closely and critically. To his credit Sapolsky did discuss several criticisms of behavioral genetic twin and adoption research, but he concluded in favor of this body of research and in favor of general behavioral genetic positions, even if the "perceived importance" of genes may be "inflated." For this and other reasons, I cannot endorse this book. 


On Mon, Jul 13, 2020 at 6:01 PM Kamran Nayeri <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
Dear All:

I have been reading Behave and watching lectures and interviews by Robert Sapolsky. He is a fascinating speaker and has obviously a depth of knowledge in his field of study. 

I wonder if anyone on this list is familiar with his work and has opinions about it and can share any critique of the view of the biological nature of humans.

Thank you.


Kamran Nayeri