DOMINANT MAMMAL: The Biology of Human Destiny by Macfarlane Burnet

DOMINANT MAMMAL: The Biology of Human Destiny

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This short summa of the human condition finds the Nobel Laureate Sir Macfarlane Burnet in the position of a man rewriting a book which existed in manuscript 25 years ago, and still agreeing with much of what he wrote then. Now retired from an innovative career in immunology, the Australian scientist admirably surveys the various ""exponential impossibilities"" of population, nuclear war, climatic change, non-organic waste disposal, and fuel and other natural resources shortages, examining them in the light of man's biological nature. Borrowing extensively from Lorenz and Ardrey, with a bit of Kipling and Wells thrown in, he is clearly in the camp of those who think human evolution is a ""predator's progress."" In spite of gentler times and tribes, man's need for cooperation and dependency, and the wide divergence among primates with respect to aggressive territorial and hierarchical behavior, Burnet firmly states that dominance conflicts and war have determined the course of society, reinforced historically in the West by Judeo-Christian and Marxist teaching. Nothing adduced here will convince those who find biological support for these beliefs to be inadequate or untrue; moreover the idea that world salvation can come about only through the efforts of a scientific elite -- Burner comes close to saying ""gentlemen"" -- employing behavioral control techniques will be resisted by many, as will some of his fatuous statements about art and the role of women in society. Of greater interest are Burnet's statements about science and medical care; he believes for example that the Scientific Age of Discovery is virtually over and remarks that ""environmental"" disease can be coped with but that there may be no real hope for ""intrinsic"" disease Such as genetic anomalies, cancer, and aging. Such pessimism combined with his elite paternalism seem more the mark of an eminent Victorian proud of his own dominance while dismayed that people, including scientists, no longer know their place.

Pub Date: June 6th, 1972
Publisher: St. Martin's Press