the ape that understood the universe by steve stewart-williams and the dallas buyers guide

the ape that understood the universe by steve stewart-williams

long-windedly and irritatingly covers the ground: first Darwinian natural selection of GENES, taking an explicitly and alternately triumphant and apologetic counter-zeitgeist stance that more of human nature is biological, genetic, than we think – more nature than nurture; he’s against the blank-slate tabula-rasa brigade

and second, in a more interesting second half, Darwinian natural selection of MEMES, arguing in a more tentative way that our cultural practices and ideas use our minds to replicate, get passed on, as viruses use our bodies

by the end he claims to have given rational explanations for all those aspects of human nature and culture which an alien would, apparently, find hard to account for: altruism (including towards strangers), art/music and religion (where he’s annoyingly Dawkinsish)

stewart-williams’ style is clear, accessible, breezy, and cliché-ridden: if he can replace an ordinary phrase with a hackneyed one he will – in presumably an attempt to keep the attention of a reader through his technical arguments – for he is good at this – he does explain complex stuff very well

and the only typo i could find was julian huxley’s name once spelt julien – and that’s not bad at all

but, philosophically, does his reductionism solve anything?

the dallas buyer’s guide

i had no idea what this was about – just remembered the poster from the tube a couple of years ago and up it popped on a netflix film browse

it’s a real-life story of a texan hick-type – rodeos, girls – who gets aids, finds out some unapproved drugs are better than the ones he’d been given officially, and goes into business smuggling them and selling them to desperate gay men

that’s about it, but what a story and what a performance – he really stays with you (got an oscar as well for it), and what’s remarkable is the way your (my) prejudices against this womanising homophobic hick gradually, as a result of his dire circumstances and the injustices of the ’system’, acquired proper heroic status; admiration is the emotion with which one is left.

How they are related

Well, the film certainly shows human beings operating in a sort-of state of nature, responding to a serious threat (HIV) with determination, enterprise and what is ultimately a wonderful example of altruism. The hero comes from a rural culture opposed to that of the modern city and modern medicine, and so is more than ready to run from their weak efforts at help, and find & implement better, if illegal, solutions, both for himself and other sufferers (who pay for his drugs).

Human nature – at least male human nature – is shown, in all its unreconstructed Stewart-Williams glory: men are only after one thing, which women supply – to the right guy. In that way, for someone like me observing from a completely different culture, it’s easier to observe the characters conducting their lives more as another form of life – easier to see what’s going on. But less easy to understand it from within.

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