Sunday, December 22, 2013

Restoring the small , to a monoculture of the Big, 1939-1945

As a moral argument it was very old , with lots of powerful support still.

Maybe not an argument as old as Methuselah, but surely as old as Jesus.

But as a scientific argument it was quite new, without any influential scientific supporters.

It argued that there was no hierarchy of worth in biology based on bigger size or greater physical complexity : big and small were but equal variations on Life, each cast to better fit particular niches.

And it said that that, strictly speaking, the small were much more successful than the big in terms of sheer survival --- the only criteria that biology, rather than ethics or theology , could legitimately measure .

They been around  much, much longer, had vastly greater numbers of individual members, inhabited more niches and had survived all the worst disasters that Nature had thrown life on Earth, unlike the Big.

The biological sense of the survival of the fittest for each particular niche had morphed , by the 1930s, into the belief that it was the survival of the fit ( one size to fit all niches), with fit being code for big and powerful.

The small, human and non human , were becoming seen as losers and a waste of space  - life unworthy of life.

Henry Dawson joined many many others in opposing this idea on moral grounds.

But he was basically all alone in contesting it scientifically, based on what he had discovered in his small lab.

He was far too cautious a personality to be successful contesting the opposing vision by mere words.

But his is a biography of deeds --- against all odds, he succeeded in fatally shattering that vision.

He did so by simply embarking on an attempt to save the lives of just ten people, over the opposition of his own colleagues, his own wartime Allied government and his own failing body.

But thanks to the quixotic effort that Dawson began in 1940, ten billion of us, so far, have had our lives immensely improved : Bread cast Upon Waters, indeed !

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