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1.0 out of 5 stars Dead-Heads, 2 July 2014
This review is from: An Appetite For Wonder: The Making of a Scientist (Paperback)
'Dead-heads' was a theatrical term 'applied to persons who receive something of value for which the taxpayer has to pay.' (Brewer's Phrase and Fable). Many generations of ancestors of Dawkins' paternal grandmother were Anglican vicars; another batch descended from an 18th century MP; another batch were 'doctors'. Many Dawkinses attended Balliol College, Oxford, and of course in the mid-19th century half of Oxbridge went into the Church of England, achieving, no doubt, nothing much, but receiving their 'living'. But by the early 20th century, many graduates went to the colonies: Dawkins' dad went to Burma. I wonder if he met Eric Blair, the future George Orwell? Their classical education was regarded by Hugh Trevor-Roper/Lord Dacre as perfectly adapted to their lives as military/ administrator types: I suppose Caesar's wars against Africans etc might be regarded in that light, despite the complete omission of the money side, the Jewish aspect being completely censored. In practice, the entire class was oblivious of financial strings and trammels. Anyway, Richard Dawkins was born in 1941 in Africa, and a lot of description about his very young days is reproduced here from his mother's diaries. Which incidentally include the claim she once darkened her skin with potassium permanganate for an act.

This autobiography is published (in Britain) by Black Swan, 'an imprint of Transworld Publishers [which] publishes bestselling authors such as Bill Bryson, Sophie Kinsella, Kate Atkinson and Joanne Harris in paperback'. It carries his story up to 1976, the year of publication of The Selfish Gene. There's thus scope for one (or two) more volumes, perhaps coinciding with the 40th anniversary of The Selfish Gene.

There are considerable difficulties with this book.

On influences, Dawkins went to Oundle School, once famous for trying to combine practical and bookish skills. The odd thing here is that Sanderson Of Oundle, the once-famous headmaster, dead about 30 years when Dawkins started, was written about by H G Wells, himself a great populariser of biology, probably more famous then than Dawkins now. Wells' jointly-written and huge Science of Life in the 1930s must have been known to his parents. And yet there's no mention of Wells in Dawkins. Another of Dawkins' books has an absurdly mangled fake 'quotation' from Wells, so I suspect something odd happened in the editorial process of this book of Dawkins to remove Wells.

The large number of not obviously important hymns, doggerel and poems (one's in Cornish dialect) support this impression, at least in my view. The book seems to be unbalanced, as though chunks have been taken out. I'll try to list problematical parts of the book.

Despite the appearance of taking his family history seriously, Dawkins is featherweight on all serious issues. He has for example no feeling for e.g. the Napoleonic wars an impoverishment by Jews of much of England; or the opium wars and the impoverishment of much of China, for Jews; or of African history, such as it is. He thinks both world wars 'broke out'. Now I come to think of it, near the end of this book is a longish passage on Hitler and the odds of his not existing; Dawkins makes it clear he has a naïve Jew-friendly view of Hitler: it seems Dawkins has not the remotest idea about the world of the last few centuries. Whether this is him, or Black Swan's editorial people, is of course impossible to know.

A passage in his book ('West Coast dreamtime') about Berkeley (he was there for two years or so) shows he had no idea of Jewish power in the USA, expanding after Kennedy's removal. When he returned to Britain he experimented with chicks pecking at grains. He tried various hypotheses related to 3-D vision, and other behavioural things with simple organisms, but doesn't seem to have discovered very much. He doesn't claim to, and the absence of claim seems reasonable. (Steven Rose experimented on newly-hatched chicks, probably at much the same time, inspecting their brains to see if there were identifiable differences based on one event).

Dawkins' list of people at Oxford's zoology department makes, to me at least, agonising reading. There were about thirty of them, all no doubt well-paid, but instead of investigating immigration problems, or the behaviour of monopolists of paper money, or the beneficiaries of wars and atrocities they turned to nothingness. Probably there's an evolutionarily sound reason, in the short term, for evading realities remote to some individuals.

Another issue of great importance to evolutionary theory is the issue of priority, between Darwin and Wallace. Obviously, if Wallace was the true initiator of the theory of evolution, their relative importance changes spectacularly. But the issue isn't even mentioned; Dawkins shows no sign of any awareness of it. Another non-mention is E O Wilson of 'Sociobiology' (1975 - just before 'The Selfish Gene'). There's a mention of the book's title. Possibly a different publisher handled that book? Possibly they disliked each other? Barely mentioned are two Jews, Steven Rose and Lewontin, both as far as I know Jewish race supremacists and part of modern lucrative science fraud.

Dawkins' claim to be a scientist is, in fact, distinctly shaky. He mentions 'apoptosis' ('programmed call death') over which a big cloud of doubt has been cast by Harold Hillman. Ditto with supposed brain cell deaths. And with cell structure itself. Dawkins set out to study biochemistry, though without giving a reason for this choice: probably because the science of nutrition appeared to be firming up at the time. Luckily for him he was diverted into zoology.

Dawkins makes great play of the desirability of scepticism, with examples from his youth of gullibility and its opposite. This is all very well and sounds honest enough, but he has little idea of the complexes of inter-related instincts and beliefs as in Islam, Judaism, and so on, arguably far more important than the simple Does God exist? material.

Dawkins was invited before publication to change his title from 'The Selfish Gene' to 'The Immortal Gene'. He kept his title, correctly I'd say, and it must have helped sell his book, and, by the way, introduce a lot of confusion, since obviously tiny parts of the reproduction mechanism can't individually be 'selfish'. One has to speculate whether he is something of a one-hit wonder, like 'Procol Harum' or, more appositely, Desmond Morris.

There's some interesting material on writing: in the same way that vicars practised their oratorical skills with sermons which made a large impression but little sense, so Dawkins liked poetry. He claims to have a word-perfect memory for many poems. He post-dates the Latinate/classical styles and is at home with Edwardians - Housman, Swinburne, and I think his father's handwritten collection of poetic favourites, which included undergraduate stuff. Dawkins rewrote considerably - 'Pretty much every sentence I write is revised, fiddled with, re-ordered, crossed out, and reworked. I reread my work obsessively... Even as I type a sentence .. at least half the words are deleted and changed before the sentence ends. ...'

Of course I'm aware that there are probably hundreds of millions of people who simply don't or won't understand evolution, which in outline seems simple enough. However, this situation isn't unique. There are just as many people with no grasp of science or history, and who think for example that blacks invented the modern world, that Jews were innocent victims of a mass murder, that men walked on the moon, that 9/11 was a Muslim atrocity, and that the USSR was 'socialist'. The common root of most of this is easy enough to find. However, the fact is that it's now 2014. I just think Dawkins should have done very much better.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 5 Jan 2016, 20:00:00 GMT
"Dawkins' list of people at Oxford's zoology department makes, to me at least, agonising reading. There were about thirty of them, all no doubt well-paid, but instead of investigating immigration problems, or the behaviour of monopolists of paper money, or the beneficiaries of wars and atrocities they turned to nothingness. Probably there's an evolutionarily sound reason, in the short term, for evading realities remote to some individuals."

I once knew a pianist who could get from a given key to another, apparently impossibly distant one, in only a few bars. But once in a while, you'd realize he hadn't *really* brought it off. There was a harmonic gap, imperceptible only to those accustomed to the goofier forms of modernism. And here, Rere, I have to ask: what would zoology necessarily have to do with "immigration problems etc"? Isn't there something here that makes sense only in the world of the Internet and conspiracy thinking?

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Jan 2016, 03:25:52 GMT
At any one time, some issues are important, others aren't. People who hide away are not helping with important issues.

Posted on 18 Jul 2017, 18:50:12 BST
The Sprawl says:
Deeply creepy little review. Unless you want your own psychological levers and pulleys go be exposed every time you write a review you should keep the crypto-fascism, anti-Semitism and dismal conspiracy theorising to yourself.
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