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Inheriting the Wind...

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David Hawkes
David Hawkes teaches at Lehigh University and is the author, most recently, of Idols of the Marketplace (Palgrave).

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Saving the venerable NYPL… cooperation, not capitalism… a jewel in the dross… you could look it up…

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Popular perception notwithstanding, the theory of natural selection was
accepted by every serious evolutionist long before Darwin. Earlier
scientists interpreted it as the clearest possible evidence for
intelligent design of the universe. William Paley's Natural Theology
(1802), for example, employs the famous image of the "great watchmaker" to account for the perfect adaptation of creatures to harmonious ecosystems. Darwin's innovation, which may appear small but is in fact immense, lay in his claim that natural selection is the only cause of evolution.

In one sense, this was merely a change of emphasis: The impulse of
pre-Darwinian evolutionists, faced with incontrovertible evidence of
natural selection, had been to ask why it occurred. They sought after
the "final cause" of evolution, and they found it in the proposal of an
intelligent designer. But one of the essential principles of modern
science is that such final causes are unknowable. Science must limit
itself to "efficient" or "material" causes; it must not ask why things
happen, but how. Darwin applied this principle to evolution. Whereas his
predecessors had seen the adaptation of organisms to their environment
as the effects of design, Darwin saw the physical development of
creatures as the sole cause of evolution. The great watchmaker had been

As Stephen J. Gould (who died as this issue was going to press) shows in
The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, Darwin's breakthrough was
essentially methodological. Darwinism is what you get when you focus on
the micrological details, resolutely refusing to lift your eyes to the
level of the whole. Over the course of the nineteenth century, this
methodological sine qua non for scientific investigation was imposed on
every discipline, but it originated in the "dismal science" of
economics. The "political economy" of Adam Smith began from the material
actions of individuals in pursuit of their own selfish ends, and
extrapolated from this micrological level to abstract generalizations
about the economy as a whole.

What Smith calls "the economy" is thus an amalgamation of all the
self-interested actions of individuals, and precisely the same is true
of what Darwin understood as "evolution." In fact, Darwin consciously
and deliberately imported Smith's economic methodology into biology in
order to refute natural theology's argument from design. As Gould baldly
puts it, "the theory of natural selection is, in essence, Adam Smith's
economics transferred to nature." He is reluctant to dwell too long on
this kinship, no doubt because he understands the severity of the threat
it poses to Darwinism's pretensions to objectivity. Gould's ally and
sometime collaborator Richard Lewontin has criticized him for such
reticence in several exchanges first published in the New York Review
of Books
. Lewontin has called Gould's work "curiously unpolitical"
for failing to draw out the implications of "the overwhelming influence
of ideology in science." For Lewontin, "Darwin's theory of evolution by
natural selection is obviously nineteenth-century capitalism writ
large," and attempts to press it into the service of psychology are
"pure reification."

The distinguishing theoretical characteristic of both Darwin and Smith
is reductionism--they reduce all knowledge to the level of the
individual. As Gould notes, "The rebuttal of the former centerpiece of
natural history--the belief that organic designs record the intentions
of an omnipotent creative power--rests upon the radical demotion of
agency to a much lower level, devoid of any prospect for conscious
intent, or any 'view' beyond the immediate and personal." Today,
technological progress has enabled evolutionists to carry Darwin's
reduction a stage further. The smallest individual Darwin could study
was the organism, but it is now possible to analyze the behavior of the
gene. People like Richard Dawkins now claim that evolution is driven not
by competition between individual organisms, but by struggles among

Many evolutionary biologists keep a guilty silence regarding the ethical
implications of their theory, but Dawkins positively revels in
dehumanization. His imagery dwells lasciviously on the mechanical--our
bodies are merely "lumbering robots," or "survival machines" for genes.
His infamous book The Selfish Gene (1976) abounds in brazen
antihumanist provocations: "I am treating a mother as a machine
programmed to do everything in its power to propagate copies of the
genes which reside inside it." Nor does mechanization stop with the
body; evolutionary psychology views the mind itself as a machine,
reducing our thoughts and ideas to the chemical reactions that accompany
them. Dawkins has even propounded a theory that the history of ideas
follows rules analogous to competitive gene selection, reducing
dialectic to a tedious and pointless struggle between what he calls
"memes." Lately he has taken to writing letters to the British press,
suggesting that Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush will be enlightened
if they "study memes."

The idea that genes determine all social behavior, that human beings are
machines, evidently strikes a chord in the Western popular mind.
Postmodernist works such as Donna Haraway's "A Cyborg Manifesto"
celebrate the "posthuman" from what their authors apparently regard as a
radical perspective, while the theoretical texts of Michel Foucault and
Jean-Francois Lyotard advocate a micrological materialism that excludes
on principle any interest in "totalizing grand narratives." As John
Dupré has recently remarked, this "tyranny of the microscopic"
really constitutes an "intellectual pathology" whose significance is
sociological rather than scientific. Gould swats Dawkins away easily
enough--sardonically appropriating his vocabulary to dismiss his theory,
cruelly but fairly, as an "impotent meme"--but he does not explain why
such theories have come to seem plausible to many in the general public.
To examine that, we have to back up about 65 million years.

Reptilia served as Exhibit A then. Imagine Triceratops glancing
up from its grazing to notice a seven-mile-wide asteroid descending
rapidly toward its head. Triceratops had not expected this.
Nature had prepared it for the expected; it could expect to spend a
great deal of time fighting with Tyrannosaurus rex, for example,
and was formidably well-equipped for that purpose. But natural selection
had not prepared it to withstand a direct hit from a piece of rock a
league long.

The lump of stone that crashed into what is now the Yucatan Peninsula
ended the Cretaceous Period by showering the earth with fire and
brimstone, thus destroying 70 percent of living species, including
almost all the dinosaurs. This was something of a spanner in the works
of natural selection, from which it may not recover. The implications of
this catastrophe, conclusive evidence for which was discovered only in
1980, have yet to be fully assimilated by evolutionary theory. For most
of the twentieth century, orthodox Darwinists held that natural
selection--the competitive adaptation of individual organisms to their
environment--was the exclusive motor of evolutionary change. Now they
must qualify this dogma, but it is proving a laborious process.

Many scientists remain convinced that catastrophic change is the
exception. If it weren't for that pesky asteroid, they gripe, natural
selection would have continued unabated. They note that natural
selection will always work ceteris paribus--that is, other things
being equal, under the controlled laboratory environment in which modern
scientists conduct their experiments. It will work, that is to say, in
the absence of the unexpected. But don't we know from experience that
the unexpected happens all the time, and occasionally with catastrophic

The "K-T event," as the asteroid strike is known, casts suspicion on the
doctrinaire claim that evolution is solely the result of the competitive
adaptation of individual organisms to their environment. It indicates
that the external constraints under which adaptation occurs must
inevitably exert an influence on the course of evolution. And it raises
the possibility that random, "chance" events play at least as
significant a role as the incremental, purposive process of natural

Although it represents a mortal threat to mainstream Darwinism, the
theory of catastrophic evolution is quite consistent with Stephen Jay
Gould and Niles Eldredge's epochal discovery of "punctuated
equilibrium." Punctuated equilibrium, or "punk-ek," holds that evolution
does not take place incrementally but rather in spurts that are divided
by long periods of stasis. It departs from Darwin by implying that
natural selection by competition among individual organisms cannot be
the exclusive cause of evolutionary change, since such competition does
not pause for periods of equilibrium.

Darwin is often thought to have rescued the history of life from the
superstitious fantasies of religion, by basing his theory on good,
solid, empirical evidence. But, as Gould and Eldredge noticed, the
empirical evidence does not indicate that evolution proceeds by
incremental, incessant natural selection, as Darwin claimed. In fact,
the empirical evidence indicates quite the opposite. When we look at the
living species around us, we do not find a continuum of creatures in
infinitesimally graduated stages of evolution. We find, instead, clearly
distinct species. We find the same when we look at the fossil record;
paleontology testifies that evolutionary stasis is the norm, and that
change takes place in abrupt bursts, as though suddenly spurred forward
by some external stimulus.

One of the many fascinating questions raised in Gould's The Structure
of Evolutionary Theory
is why Darwin did not see this. Why did he
insist on attributing sole determining power to natural selection in
defiance of the evidence? His own explanation was that the fossil record
gives a false impression because it is radically incomplete. But this
does not alter the fact that natural selection is an imposition on the
available evidence, a bold reading against the grain. Did Darwin nod?
Why was he so convinced that all evolution is caused by natural
selection among individual organisms in competition with one another?

Gould does not explain this, almost certainly for a very interesting
reason: He has often been accused, by sociobiologists and orthodox
Darwinians, of handing ammunition to creationists. There is no room for
an intelligent designer in a universe formed entirely through relentless
competition between selfish individuals, but because it allows that
external factors may influence evolution, the theory of punctuated
equilibrium is not incompatible with theories of intelligent design--a
fact that has caused no small embarrassment to its authors. The charge
of neocreationism is deeply unfair--Gould testified against creationism
in landmark court cases and ridiculed it mercilessly in his writing. He
opposed intelligent design on the grounds that it is "theology" and not
"science." In this book, obviously intended as his legacy to scientific
posterity, Gould repeatedly and emphatically protests that no matter how
many revisions and qualifications he may impose upon Darwin, he remains
a faithful follower of the great man. In a rare and revealing mixed
metaphor, he claims to have retained "the guts of the machine," and he
uses a cumbersome simile involving a piece of coral to argue, again and
again, that his own work is merely an "addition" to Darwin.

That is rubbish, and Gould must have known it. The Structure of
Evolutionary Theory
is an "addition" to The Origin of Species
in the same sense that Capital is an "addition" to The Wealth
of Nations
. Gould certainly built upon Darwin's work, assuming its
premises as his own and erecting his own theory on the foundation of a
meticulous analysis of the original texts. But there comes a stage in
the construction at which, in fulfillment of the dialectical law,
quantitative change becomes qualitative change, and the extension to the
edifice deserves to be called a new building.

Despite (and because of) his vehement denials, I believe that Gould
reached that stage. His theory is more than a supplement to Darwinism,
it is an alternative view, a paradigm shift. Gould has deprived natural
selection of the exclusive role Darwin assigned to it, using the most
unimpeachable logic and the most scrupulous empirical research.

Gould obviously liked to limit the destructive impact of his criticism
to distortions of the founder's aims. But Darwin cannot so easily be
exonerated--Gould himself admits that the work of Dawkins constitutes "a
furthering and intensification of Darwin's intent." Indeed, Gould often
refers to theorists of gene selection as "ultra-Darwinists" or
"Darwinian fundamentalists," because they take the master's reductionist
method to the logical conclusion permitted by modern technology. Gould
would have been mortified to hear it, but his own interpretation
suggests that, were Darwin alive today, he might be Richard Dawkins.

Traditional creationism is based on a literal reading of Genesis and
represents no intellectual danger to Darwinism. The recent advocates of
"intelligent design," however, demand to be taken a little more
seriously because of their recent political and pedagogical successes;
they admit to the apparent age of the earth as established in the
geological record, for example, and accept the fossil record as evidence
of species change. Hard-fought cases involving the boards of education
of Kansas (1999) and Ohio (2002) have established a new beachhead for
intelligent design in the public mind, while simultaneously throwing a
shadow on natural selection's claim to be the exclusive motor of
evolutionary change.

The idea that schools in Kansas might depart from Darwinist orthodoxy
induced apoplexy among the commissars of science. John Rennie, editor of
Scientific American, urged colleges to be skeptical of applicants
from Kansas: "If kids in Kansas aren't being taught properly about
science, they won't be able to keep up with children taught competently
elsewhere. It's called survival of the fittest. Maybe the Board of
Education needs to learn about natural selection firsthand." In an
edition of the American Spectator, a leading theorist of
intelligent design, Michael Behe, professed to be mystified at Rennie's
outburst: "What is it about the topic of evolution that drives so many
people nuts? Why does a change in a farm state's high school examination
policy call forth damning editorials all the way from London, England,
and have normally staid editors threatening children?"

The answer is obvious, blindingly so. Behe does not see it because he,
like most advocates of intelligent design, approaches the issue from a
socially conservative point of view. Much scholarship on intelligent
design is sponsored by the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based
foundation that describes itself as "dedicated to exploring and
promoting public policies that advance representative democracy, free
enterprise and individual liberty," and whose mission statement commits
it to boosting the "common sense" of the "free market." It is this
commitment, I suppose, that distracts Behe from one of the reasons the
American establishment goes "nuts" when the educational privilege of
natural selection is threatened: A threat to the exclusivity of natural
selection--individual competition--is a threat to market ideology.
(Although he tactfully pays it less attention than it deserves, Gould
acknowledges the full extent of Darwinism's complicity with Adam Smith.
But the alterations Gould introduces into evolutionary theory do not
depend on its ideological kinship with classical economics.)

Neither Behe nor his book Darwin's Black Box rate a mention in
The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, and Gould's silence on the
subject of intelligent design can be regarded as extremely eloquent. He
would have denied it, but this book really charts Gould's arduous
passage through Darwinism and his emergence on the other side. This
breakthrough seems to have been facilitated by his discovery of the
literature that Darwin was writing against. Gould blithely informs us
that "I had never read [Paley's] Natural Theology straight
through before pursuing my research for this book." Lay readers may find
this an astonishing confession from the world's leading Darwin scholar,
but those familiar with scientists' undiscriminating rejection of
metaphysics will be unsurprised. Having forced himself to pick up the
book, Gould finds that Paley's primary observation is "undoubtedly
correct," and largely accepted by Darwin--nature does indeed indicate
exquisite adaptation to environment. The difference lies in the reason
Darwin gives for this order in creation. Paley thought it bespoke a
benign creator, but Darwin "seems to mock the standard interpretation in
a manner that could almost be called cruel" when he introduces the
micrological economics of Adam Smith:

as the cruellest twist of all, this lower-level cause of pattern seems
to suggest a moral reading exactly opposite to Paley's lofty hopes for
the meaning of comprehensive order--for nature's individuals struggle
for their own personal benefit, and nothing else! Paley's
observations could not be faulted--organisms are well designed and
ecosystems are harmonious. But his interpretations could not have been
more askew--for these features do not arise as direct products of divine
benevolence, but only as epiphenomena of an opposite process both in
level of action and intent of outcome: individuals struggling for
themselves alone.

Read that last sentence again. What might bring about the triumph of the
"opposite process" to "divine benevolence"? Clue: It is not the blind
indifference of nature. The history of human thought is hardly silent
concerning the struggle between a benevolent deity and a cruel mocker.
But Gould shies away from considering the theological implications of
his theory with the standard get-out clause: "This book cannot address
such a vital issue at any depth."

Many readers will be tempted to respond: "Why on earth not? It's 1,400
pages long!" But Gould was not eager to incur again, in his magnum opus,
the tired charge of neocreationism. He does begin to speculate about why
the homologous visions of Darwin and Smith should complement each other
so conveniently, and he also raises the question of why this connection
has come to seem so glaring in recent years. But his uncharacteristic
hesitancy reveals his discomfort away from scientific terrain: "I
venture these ill-formulated statements about Zeitgeist because I feel
that something important lurks behind my inability to express these
inchoate thoughts with precision."

Indeed it does. Later in the book, Gould remarks that "the exclusivity
of organismal selection...provides the punch line that allowed the
vision of Adam Smith to destroy the explicit beauty and harmony of
William Paley's world." Absolutely true. But the exclusivity of
organismal selection is what Gould denied, too. Is it really accurate,
then, to continue calling him a "Darwinist"? At one point, Gould demands
that creationists throw in the towel and acknowledge Darwin as "the
Muhammad Ali of biology." Ali was undoubtedly a great champion, but his
present condition renders Gould's image rather ambiguous. And then, too,
the reader is left in some doubt as to whether Gould saw himself in the
role of Angelo Dundee or Joe Frazier.

At work recently, I went to get a ham sandwich from the university cafeteria. I discovered, to my vocal dismay, that the well-loved food counter offering homemade fare had been torn out and replaced by a Burger King franchise. Questioned about this innovation, the head of "food services" insisted that
it had been implemented in response to consumer demand. An exhaustive series of polls, surveys and questionnaires had revealed, apparently, that students and faculty were strongly in favor of a more "branded feel" to their dining environment.

It is worth pausing over the term "branded feel." It represents, I think, something profound: The presence of Burger King in the lunchroom is claimed to be a matter of affect. It addresses itself to "feelings," it meets a need that is more emotional than economic. This need has been identified, I was informed, by scientific and therefore inarguable means. The food-services honcho produced statistics that clearly indicated a compelling customer desire for bad, expensive food. According to his methodology, my protests were demonstrably elitist and undemocratic.

It is hardly news that opinion polls are frequently used to bolster the interests of those who commission them. But in recent years the notion that opinion can be measured in quantifiable terms has achieved unprecedented power and influence over public policy. The American penal system, for instance, has been rendered increasingly violent and sadistic as a direct response to opinion polls, which inform politicians that inhumane conditions are what voters desire. The thoughts and emotions of human beings are regarded as mathematically measurable, and the practical effects of this notion are now perceptible in the most mundane transactions of daily life.

This quantified approach to human nature is the result of the importation of theoretical economics into the general culture. Since the marginalist revolution of the late nineteenth century, neoclassical economists have rigidly confined their investigations within the methodological paradigm of positivist science, and they aspire in particular to the model of mathematics. Economists seek to produce empirically verifiable, statistical patterns of human behavior. They regard such studies as objective, unbiased and free of value-laden, superstitious presuppositions. The principle of "consumer sovereignty" hails this mode of procedure as the sociological arm of democracy, and it has made economics the most prestigious of the human sciences.

As David Throsby's Economics and Culture and Don Slater and Fran Tonkiss's Market Society show, the procedures of academic economists are now being further exalted to a position of dominant influence over everyday experience. Homo economicus is fast becoming equated with Homo sapiens. When airlines refer to passengers as "customers" and advise them to be "conservative with your space management," this development may seem trivial or comic. But in their very different ways, these books suggest that beneath such incremental cultural mutations there lurks an iceberg of titanic dimensions.

The Australian academic David Throsby is about as enlightened and humanistic as it is possible for a professional economist to be. He is also an accomplished playwright, and his influence on the political culture of his native land has been extensive and unvaryingly benign. He begins from the accurate supposition that "public policy and economic policy have become almost synonymous," and his intention is to rescue culture from the philistinism of businessmen and politicians who are incapable of lifting their eyes above the bottom line. It is a lamentable sign of the times, however, that he sees no other means of doing so than by translating aesthetic endeavor into quantifiable, economic terms. As he puts it, "If culture in general and the arts in particular are to be seen as important, especially in policy terms in a world where economists are kings, they need to establish economic credentials; what better way to do this than by cultivating the image of art as industry."

In order to cultivate this image, Throsby makes extensive if ambivalent use of the "rational-choice theory" derived from the work of Gary Becker. In Becker's opinion, the kinds of decision-making that economists contrive to abstract from the actions of people conceived as economic agents can be extrapolated to explain their behavior in areas of life that were once, romantically and unscientifically, thought of as lying beyond the arid terrain of rational calculation: love, for example, or aesthetic endeavor. This emboldens Throsby to ask whether we "might envisage creativity as a process of constrained optimisation, where the artist is seen as a rational maximizer of individual utility subject to both internally and externally imposed constraints," and to postulate "a measure...of difference in creativity (or 'talent'), in much the same way as in microeconomic analysis differences between production functions in input-output space measures differences in technology."

There are enough caveats in Throsby's book to indicate a laudable reluctance to engage in this project; however, he evidently feels that the current climate of opinion leaves him no other choice. He is thus driven to apply the economic understanding of "value" to cultural phenomena, and to engage in a "consideration of culture as capital...in the economic sense of a stock of capital assets giving rise over time to a flow of capital services." Much of this book consists of a monomaniacal reinscription of life itself into the technical discourse of neoclassical economics. We are therefore subjected to lengthy discussions of "cultural capital" (formerly known as "culture"), "social capital" (a k a "society"), "physical capital" (née "buildings"), "natural capital" (alias "nature") and of course "human capital" (once referred to as "people"). There is, it seems, no limit to the colonizing potential of economics: "If broader cultural phenomena, such as traditions, language, customs, etc. are thought of as intangible assets in the possession of the group to which they refer, they too can be brought into the same framework."

We are faced here, essentially, with the quantification of all human experience. Not merely economic behavior but every aspect of life and thought can be expressed under the statistical rubric and studied in mathematical form. The notion of the "stakeholder," dear to Tony Blair, whose ambition to create a "stakeholder society" is overt and unapologetic, is fundamental to this project.

A stakeholder stands in relation to the world as a shareholder does to a corporation. He (or she) casts a cold eye on his surroundings and perceives only his "stake" in them; he rationally considers the means by which he may optimally maximize their benefits. The stakeholder, then, is not human. He is rather a quantified abstraction from humanity, a machine designed for the calculation of marginal utility. Good-hearted economists such as Throsby would retort that the stakeholder does not enjoy an empirical existence; he is merely a useful theoretical construct. Would that it were so. But in fact, as Hannah Arendt said of neoclassical economics' cousin, behavioral psychology: "The problem...is not that it is false but that it is becoming true."

There is an interesting convergence between rational-choice theory and the venerable tradition of socialist materialism. Both approaches insist that the real factor motivating human behavior is economic self-interest: that of an individual in the former case, and that of a social class in the latter. The British sociologists Don Slater and Fran Tonkiss address many of the same questions as Throsby in their book Market Society, but they view the conquest of intellectual and social life by economics from a more traditionally leftist perspective. Like Throsby, Slater and Tonkiss acknowledge that "market logic has come to provide a means of thinking about social institutions and individuals more generally," but instead of concluding that students of aesthetics must therefore incorporate economic concepts into their practice, they envisage a movement in the other direction. Today, they claim, "the economist's task of explanation is as much interpretive or hermeneutic as it is mathematical."

Slater and Tonkiss are influenced here by the "rhetorical turn" that economists such as Deirdre McCloskey have recently attempted to introduce into their discipline. The increasingly abstract nature of money, it is claimed, lays bare the fact that financial value, like semiotic meaning, is an imaginary and therefore arbitrary mode of signification. As such, money can be studied using terms and concepts drawn from rhetoric and literary criticism. (An amusing parody of this idea occurs in Will Self's novel My Idea of Fun, which features a "money critic" whose job is to pontificate about the aesthetic qualities of various forms of finance.) Slater and Tonkiss present this as an appealing reversal of intellectual roles: "Whereas the central preoccupation of critical social analysis has traditionally been the way in which economic rationality dominates culture, contemporary social theory has been increasingly concerned with the central role of cultural processes and institutions in organizing and controlling the economic."

Although their emphasis is different, Slater and Tonkiss's argument leads to the same essential conclusion as Throsby's: It no longer makes sense to distinguish between "economics" and "culture," or between "the market" and "society." In practice, it makes little difference whether one regards this as an incursion of aesthetics into economics or vice versa. Indeed, Slater and Tonkiss are a good deal more pessimistic than Throsby about the consequences of this development. To their credit, they are willing and able to introduce into the discussion concepts like "commodification" and "alienation," from which even liberal economists like Throsby recoil in horror. But they stop well short of the bleak dystopianism of Adorno, and their slightly anodyne conclusion is that "markets are not simply good or bad, because they are highly variable." This pluralism is forced upon them, because their book is intended as a historical survey of various theoretical approaches to the market: Market Society provides admirably lucid and meticulously fair readings of Smith, Ricardo, Durkheim, Simmel, Weber and Polanyi. Despite its historical approach, the most beguiling feature of the book is that its treatment of such past thinkers is undertaken with a prominent sense of our present predicament.

Discussing the economist whose theories have had the greatest influence on that predicament, Slater and Tonkiss remind us that "Hayek held that ultimately there were no economic ends as such; economic action always served ends that were non-economic in character because needs and desires are exogenous (or external) to the market setting." But to say that there are no economic ends is the same as to say that there are only economic ends. It is, in other words, to abolish any distinction between the economic and the noneconomic. Toward the end of Economics and Culture, Throsby observes that "in primitive societies...culture and economy are to a considerable degree one and the same thing." By this definition, as each of these important and timely books suggests, our society may be the most primitive of all. Can anyone, today, escape the "branded feel"?

We've endured our own KT-event regarding David Hawkes's review of Stephen Jay Gould's last book, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory ["The Evolution of Darwinism," June 10]. Scientists and nonscientists wrote us in overwhelming numbers. Below is a longer version of the exchange that appears in our print edition.
   --The Editors

Tuscaloosa, Ala.

I have always respected The Nation as one of the few remaining sources of responsible journalism, so it was with a sinking Et tu Brute? feeling that I read David Hawkes's "review" of Stephen Jay Gould's last book, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory ["The Evolution of Darwinism," June 10]. Hawkes has not reviewed the book Gould actually wrote. Instead, he has chosen to proselytize for the religious movement commonly known as intelligent design (ID). He begins the review in a fantasy world in which Darwin did not originate the concept of natural selection. Such an assertion flies in the face of literal mountains of historical documents that Hawkes either has overlooked or chooses to ignore. Errors fly thick and fast. Whereas there is some justice to the assertion that Darwin's theory of evolution was reductionist, it is nothing short of absurd to claim that the study of genes is even more reductionist. In reality, modern evolutionary theory is far more holistic than was Darwin's and partners with ecology and developmental biology to offer powerful insights about life on earth.

Curiously, Hawkes digresses at length from his subject to castigate Richard Dawkins, showing clearly that his purpose is to attack evolutionary theory rather than to review Gould's book. Hawkes returns to science, but it is the science of the 1960s. Referring to Triceratops as a member of Reptilia is almost like referring to phlogiston as if it were a valid scientific concept. This is followed by the astonishing claim that evolutionary biologists insist that natural selection is the only cause of evolution and that catastrophes (such as meteor impacts) have no place in their theories. Hawkes proceeds to unveil his revelation, which boils down to: Shit happens. Unfortunately for Hawkes, evolutionary biologists discovered this long before our "reviewer." The technical literature of the past fifty years shows clearly that Hawkes is attacking a straw man. Hawkes then claims that Niles Eldredge and Gould developed the punctuated equilibrium model of evolution as a replacement for what creationists like Hawkes choose to call "Darwinism." Nothing could be further from the truth. The debate over the relative merits and explanatory power of punctuated equilibrium and gradualism revitalized the study of evolutionary rates a few decades ago, and ample proof was shortly discovered that both modes of evolution are common in the real world.

Finally we come to the point of the whole "review." Hawkes claims that intelligent design should be taken seriously because of recent political and pedagogical successes. Here is where Hawkes's training in English (but not science) fails him. Scientific theories do not win acceptance the way one wins a beauty contest. Political successes do not cut the mustard. In the realm of science, theories gain acceptance when they are supported by facts, and when they are shown to have explanatory power. Unfortunately for those who would like ID to be a scientific theory, it is not. ID isn't science for the very simple reason that (1) it makes no testable predictions, (2) its adherents do not do scientific research and (3) there is not one single published scientific paper that uses facts and reason to provide credible support for any aspect of ID. ID may be wrong, it may be right, it may be a lot of things. But it won't be science until it acts like science and until its followers begin doing the things that real scientists do. If Hawkes wants to see evolutionary biology supplanted by a scientific explanation more in harmony with his preconceived religious notions, maybe he should go back to school, major in biology and see if he can find any evidence that actually supports the statements he would like to make.

The Nation didn't earn any points by printing this religious tract masquerading as a book review.

Geological Survey of Alabama

Spokane, Wash.

David Hawkes sets a new standard for obtuse reviewing by trying to spot-weld Stephen Jay Gould's last book to the giddy expectations of biochemist Michael Behe's intelligent design. While it is unclear whether Hawkes thinks it a good or bad thing that the philosophy of nineteenth-century Darwinism owed a bit to progressive capitalism, his overall notion that the K-T extinction somehow "represents a mortal threat to mainstream Darwinism" skids way off the track.

If anybody should be sweating over this it should be ID theory, which must account for the distinctive pattern of what happened next. Instead of a Designer obviously stepping in to fill the void with engineered novelty, the fossil record clearly shows only a long procession of grubby microevolutionary speciation based on the straggle of surviving fauna. By the way, contrary to Hawkes's gloss, most intelligent designers do not "accept the fossil record as evidence of species change." Nor is natural selection turned off by mass extinction. Indeed, the rate of natural speciation doesn't change appreciably: As Niles Eldredge noted in his own book Reinventing Darwin, it is the probability of successful speciation that temporarily rises until vacated ecological niches are filled. And since it takes time for nondesigned variations to accumulate, subsequent adaptive radiations (such as the Carnivora or Tethys Sea cetaceans) play out over millions of years.

Should Hawkes consider reviewing any more technical scientific works, where a firm grasp of specialized terminology is a must... well, as the saying goes, don't give up the day job.



David Hawkes writes that "every serious evolutionist" before Darwin accepted the theory of natural selection. Not so. Darwin's achievement lay not, pace Hawkes, in Darwin's "change of emphasis" concerning the process of natural selection. Rather, Darwin's claim to fame rests on his positing the theory of natural selection to explain what had, indeed, been widely accepted for some time: the ubiquity of adaptation and the common ancestry of all living organisms.

True, many natural historians before Darwin accepted a limited notion of survival of the fittest. This process, they reasoned, merely culls "monsters" from a species, thereby preserving its essential features. Darwin turned such logic on its head. The theory of natural selection instead claims that "self-interested" individual struggle creates species-level change. Darwin located the cause of both adaptation and common descent in the process of natural selection, dealing a blow to the intellectual descendants of William Paley.

The theory of natural selection thus postulates a causal relation wholly unappreciated by natural historians before Darwin. Unless I have misread him, Hawkes is wrong to suggest otherwise.

Department of Biological Sciences and Department of Philosophy
University of Maryland

Columbia, Mo.

The difficulty with Darwinism is that it lends itself so easily to metaphor. Thus, such nonsense as "social Darwinism," over-interpreted genetics (Dawkins), the arguments for intelligent design creationism... and David Hawkes's review. Alas for the creationists and their sympathizers, punctuated equilibrium, the K-T event (which may not have been the most important cause of the dinosaurs' extinction), theories of self-organization, etc., are not challenges to "orthodox Darwinism," which exists primarily in the mind of Phillip Johnston. Rather, they are extensions of the fundamental reality that the universal processes of variation, selection and reproduction account for biological adaptation. The question is settled scientifically. Hawkes's review would better have been assigned to someone willing to do the homework.

Professor of Biochemistry
University of Missouri

Northampton, Mass.

David Hawkes's reflections on Darwinism are mostly wrong. He is, after all, a specialist in Renaissance literature and theology, John Milton and Marxist philosophy, not biology. His biological insights are about as sophisticated as those of the creationists, and his understanding of evolutionary theory as limited.

The idea that Gould is to Darwin as Karl Marx is to Adam Smith is too ludicrous for words. Gould was an essayist and popularizer of the highest caliber and a pretty good paleontologist, but even were his theory of punctuated equilibrium correct (and this is more of an interpretational issue than anything else), this would be not an overthrow of Darwinism but an enrichment. The idea that an asteroid impact could change the course of evolution, for instance, does not at all threaten Darwinian evolutionary theory.

Hawkes bases his argument on the idea that Darwin, like Smith, was a reductionist and a methodological individualist, while Gould, like Marx, was a system-level thinker. In fact, Smith, like Marx, was a powerful systematic thinker, and Darwin, like Gould and most evolutionary thinkers (Dawkins and a few others aside), were population-level theorists, not methodological individualists.

Hawkes would like us to believe that if you reject laissez-faire market ideology, you must reject Darwinism. I hope not, because there has never been anything close to a successful attack on basic evolutionary theory, and Gould's is no exception (nor did he think it was). On the other hand, Adam Smith's invisible hand is not sufficient to run a successful and fair economy, and laissez-faire capitalism has little support from modern economic theory.

Professor of Economics
University of Massachusetts


I was quite dismayed by David Hawkes's ignorance of both biology and the history of science. His inability to comprehend the process of natural selection hobbles his understanding of Gould's arguments and leaves the reader at a serious disadvantage in approaching a topic as complex as evolutionary theory. In the most laughable example, he falsely suggests that the asteroid that ended the reign of the dinosaurs has "yet to be fully assimilated by evolutionary theory." Hawkes fails to understand that such an event is an environmental challenge to the survivors that natural selection acts upon in precisely the same way as any other factor. Even a schoolchild would realize that an asteroid that removes the top predators of an ecosystem does nothing more than alter the landscape of natural selection for the survivors by opening new niches to be exploited and closing others (an asteroid plays havoc with the real estate values of those underneath it). In fact, such catastrophes in the history of the planet have often been wonderful examples of the ability of natural selection to act as an engine of diversity. Consider that in the more-than-200-million-year reign of the dinosaurs, mammals were little more than an afterthought in the taxonomic scheme of things, yet in less than 65 million years following the dinosaurs' demise mammals have diversified more than a thousandfold from their ancestors who shared the planet with T-rex. Ironically, our very presence here owes a debt of gratitude to what natural selection is capable of even in the face of ecological catastrophe. Think of that asteroid as the midwife of mammalian diversity in the Cenozoic.

How can Hawkes be so wildly confused regarding such a seemingly simple concept? Hawkes's confusion stems from his lack of understanding of the key differences between the concept of evolution as a whole and the various factors it comprises. For instance, Hawkes dredges up an old creationist misconception that Gould and Eldredge's theory of punctuated equilibrium is somehow radically disconnected from "Darwinian evolution" when it is, in fact, nothing more than an extension of the Darwinian concept of allopatric speciation!

Of course, one must place at least some of the fault for this misconception at the feet of Gould himself. Gould wrote so many articles for nonscientist audiences that often his own hard science was clouded by his tendency to reduce complex problems to almost theatrical simplicity in order to drive his points home to those audiences. His "dumbed down" yet entertaining articles have often become fuel for his lay critics (the creationists in particular and Hawkes in this example) to criticize concepts they themselves have typically never actually read in their primary sources, such as the peer-reviewed science journals. In the "punk eek" [punctuated equilibrium] example, Gould himself set up a straw man in his popular articles pitting "gradualism" as the enemy punk eek was fighting, but even a cursory examination of Gould's own writings in the actual scientific literature shows this to be an exaggeration for the lay public. The mere fact that punk eek is wholly founded on Ernst Mayr's allopatric speciation (a concept alluded to by Darwin himself) belies the fact that it is not the antithesis of "gradualism" but a complement to it as one (Gould would argue the primary one) of several paths possible for the diversification of a lineage of organisms. Hawkes and those like him have been easily taken in by the similarly styled, but scientifically vacant siren song of creationism in its latest guise, intelligent design.

Hamstrung by a lack of familiarity with the actual science behind Gould's writings, Hawkes easily makes the leap to erroneously assuming that Gould's final work represents that horrible cliché, a "paradigm shift." That is "rubbish," to use Hawkes's own word, but Hawkes makes this claim as an innocent yet fatal mistake. This conclusion becomes even more obvious when Hawkes states, "The recent advocates of 'intelligent design,' however, demand to be taken a little more seriously because of their recent political and pedagogical successes." Hawkes apparently considers ID's failure to find any scientific success a matter so trivial it doesn't warrant mentioning, despite the obvious fact that the very subject is a scientific one, and thus popularity polls and political success become meaningless when they fail to do so much as scratch the scientific standing of evolutionary biology or its adherents like Gould. Amazingly, Hawkes seems to think that popularity should somehow take precedence over actual scientific research when he is puzzled that Gould doesn't waste time on popular, but scientifically falsified concepts such as those argued by biochemist Michael Behe. Gould doesn't waste time on the flat-earth idea either and for the same reason-- it has already been shown to be false by actual scientific scholarship. This pernicious fact gives the ID community conniptions, but no amount of flowery metaphysical rhetoric and political lobbying can obviate the fact that what Gould did was based on hard science, and it is the misreading of this fact that relegates the verbiage of Hawkes and other fellow travelers to the Op-Ed pages and not science journals.

To use one's own ignorance to unjustly flail the late Stephen J. Gould's final opus is an example of why Darwin's work is still read today and his critics in the newspapers and magazines of his day have long since been forgotten.



Washington, DC

In the author's biography section of "Fables: The Home for Folktale and Speculative Fiction on the Internet, David Kopaska-Merkel claims to have been born on the moon. That is certainly plausible enough, but is he really the man to lecture us terrestrials on the distinction between "science" and "fantasy"? In fact, our lunar friend provides an instructive example of how a vulgar and dogmatic notion of "science" can be quite compatible with the most arcane fantasies. For two centuries, the semi-educated have fetishized "science" as a methodology uniquely capable of attaining objective truth. This conception of "science" is just as blindly dogmatic as the religious fundamentalisms against which its adherents would have us believe they are fighting. The truth or falsehood of a theory is less significant to such people than its canonical status as "science." Thus Kopaska-Merkel declares that "ID may be wrong, it may be right, it may be a lot of things. But it won't be science until it acts like science and until its followers begin doing the things that real scientists do."

Nor is Kopaska-Merkel a lone eccentric. Even sublunary correspondents like John Hedley damage their capacity for coherence when they bow before the idol of what they take to be "science." Within a single paragraph Hedley hectors us on "the actual science behind Gould's writings," fulminates about "the actual science behind Gould," demands "scientific success," insists that "the very subject is a scientific one," interrogates our "scientific standing," refers us to "science journals" where we will find not only "actual scientific research" but also "actual scientific scholarship," dismisses ideas he considers "scientifically falsified" and generally genuflects before what he calls, inevitably, "hard science."

It is no part of my purpose to denigrate science. Rather, I want to point out that fanatics like these use the term "science" in a deeply unscientific manner. For the acolytes of this cult, science performs an emotional rather than a rational function. For them, science is a shibboleth, a fetish, a superstition. It is, in short, a surrogate religion, which provides facile answers to difficult questions and reassuring certainty in the face of scary skepticism. And, as the righteous rage of my respondents reveals, no god in the pantheon of fetishized science is more slavishly adored than Charles Darwin.

Stephen Jay Gould's The Structure of Evolutionary Theory is 1,433 pages long, and it was published just two months before my review appeared. I have to wonder whether my critics have truly read it with due care and attention. It is a subtle and complex book, and it demands a knowledge of history and philosophy as well as of science. It is also a very surprising book; it does not say what most people will expect it to say. It is a critical retrospective and re-evaluation of Gould's career, in which he renounces many of his earlier positions and courageously reassesses his relationship to Darwinism. I believe that it represents, to invoke the Hegelian terms that Gould himself frequently employs, an Aufhebung fashioned by the contemporary zeitgeist. The Structure of Evolutionary Theory develops a new theoretical synthesis that finally frees evolutionary science from the Victorian shackles of traditional Darwinism.

I shall return to Gould's book shortly, but let me first correct a few of my correspondents' most serious misconceptions regarding Darwin himself. From his eyrie on the moon, Kopaska-Merkel accuses me of inhabiting "a fantasy world in which Darwin did not originate the concept of natural selection." Jason Baker provides a more reasoned case when he claims, "The theory of natural selection...postulates a causal relation wholly unappreciated by natural historians before Darwin." In fact, however, it was the "causal relation" that Darwin postulated between natural selection and evolution that was original, not the theory of natural selection itself. That theory is ancient: Its earliest known exponent was Empedocles, and it is summarized in Aristotle's Physics (book II, part 8, paragraph 2). In the early nineteenth century alone, natural selection was described by, among others, Wells, Matthew, Blyth, Owen, Lamarck and Wallace, all of whose expositions preceded Darwin's. As Gould notes in his book, "the debate in [Darwin's] time never centered upon the existence of natural selection as a genuine causal force in nature. Virtually all anti-Darwinian biologists accepted the reality and action of natural selection."

Darwin did not discover or invent natural selection. His departure from his predecessors lay in his claim that natural selection was the exclusive cause of evolution (he later qualified this to the "main" cause). Scientists from Aristotle to William Paley thought of evolution as the result of an interaction between micrological causes such as natural selection and macrological causes such as an immanent essence or telos (Aristotle), a transcendent essence or eidos (Plato) or the providential design of an intelligent creator (Judeo-Christian religion). Darwin reduced this dialectic to one of its poles: That is why his theory is called "reductive." He instituted what Gould calls a "panselectionist paradigm" and employed a "microevolutionary extrapolationism" to argue that natural selection, based on random genetic variation and guided by the competitive adaptation of individual organisms to their environments, was in effect the only cause of evolutionary change.

The popular belief that Darwin discovered natural selection is one consequence of the fetishization of science, which leads many people to assume they can safely ignore what they take to be nonscientific thought. To his credit, Gould recognized the intellectual pusillanimity of such a position, although his epiphany came rather late in life (he bravely confesses that he had never properly read Paley's Natural Theology--the book to which Darwin was responding in The Origin of Species--until he began the research for his final book). Like other pre-Darwinian evolutionists, Paley thought of natural selection as an effect of evolution, the cause being a divine plan to adapt creatures perfectly to their environments. Darwin simply inverted the relation, claiming that natural selection was the cause of evolution, and that the visible harmony of creation was the result of this process.

In other words, Darwin eviscerated earlier evolutionary thinking in order to render it "scientific," in the mechanistic, Victorian sense of the term. He believed that evolution could be explained only by empirically perceptible data, and that it was illegitimate to seek for any non-empirical purpose in nature. In philosophical terms, he replaced the quest for final causes with the study of efficient causes, and he reduced the dialectic between intelligent design and natural selection to one of its poles. As Gould says, Darwin identified the cause of evolution with "the most reductionistic locus then available"--the material actions of individual organisms (ultra-Darwinists like Richard Dawkins use modern technology to reduce agency yet further, to the level of the individual gene). This is not an argument against intelligent design; it is a methodological decision to ignore it.

The ethical ramifications of this decision are profound. The world ceases to appear as a benevolent, organic unity and begins to look instead as if it were formed by the ruthless, selfish pursuit of individual advantage. It would be hard for even the most knuckleheaded scientific fundamentalist to deny that in this regard Darwin was the product of his time. He explained all evolutionary phenomena by extrapolation from competitive individualism. As he freely admitted, Darwin followed this reasoning in imitation of such political economists as Malthus and Adam Smith. Smith argued that competition among individuals gave rise to an "economy" that would be of maximal collective benefit; Darwin argued that competition among individuals produced a process of "evolution" that was beneficial to the species as a whole.

The degree to which Darwin's theory stands or falls by this microevolutionary extrapolationism is often unappreciated, and one of Gould's most important achievements was to remind us of this fact: "Darwin's commitment to the organismic level as the effectively exclusive locus of natural selection occupies a more central, and truly defining role than most historians and evolutionists have recognized." Gould decries the ahistorical ignorance and disciplinary arrogance of many of his scientific colleagues, who fail to appreciate the significance of the fact that "Darwin transferred the paradoxical argument of Adam Smith's economics into biology." He rightly calls "Darwin's brave and single-minded insistence on the exclusivity of the organismic level...the most radical and most distinctive feature of his theory," notes that Darwin's "theory of natural selection is, in essence, Adam Smith's economics transferred to nature" and observes that Darwin's ability to use "Smith to overturn Paley" depends upon the proposition that evolutionary causality is unidirectional, flowing only and always from the material actions of individual organisms.

If Darwin's theory depends on microevolutionary extrapolationism, as Gould says it does, then Gould was not a Darwinist. For example, despite various futile attempts at reconciliation, Gould and Eldredge's theory of punctuated equilibrium is incompatible with Darwin's conception of natural selection. Punctuated equilibrium suggests that selection takes place at the level of species as well as at the level of individual organisms, so that the Darwinian picture of evolution as powered by individualistic competition dissolves--evolution can equally be driven by cooperation among members of a species. Punctuated equilibrium also shows that species come into being quite suddenly, and remain static for most of their histories. This contradicts Darwin's view that evolution is a constant, gradual process, as we might expect it to be if it were the result of natural selection based on competitive individualism. Furthermore, Gould argues that the existence of deep homologies across phyla separated by hundreds of millions of years suggests that there are internal, formal or structural constraints within species that exert an influence on their evolution. We can sense here, although Gould does not say so, the return of immanent teleology--an approach to science that, of course, assumes intelligent design.

But it is the discovery, barely twenty years ago, that the mass extinction of the dinosaurs was caused by the collision of the earth with a huge asteroid (the "K-T event") that will prove the most dramatic blow to Darwinian microevolutionary extrapolationism. I use the future tense because, as I said in my review and as the stolid incomprehension of my critics amply demonstrates, the implications of this event have yet to be fully assimilated by evolutionary theory. Many people miss the importance of the K-T event because they do not understand the absolutely fundamental role played in Darwin's theory by the logical technique of extrapolation. Gould understood it well enough. He describes such events as "fracturing the extrapolationist premise of Darwinian central logic"; recalls Darwin's own awareness "that mass extinction, if more than an artifact of an imperfect fossil record, would derail the extrapolationist premise of his system"; remarks that "the K-T event...fractured the uniformitarian consensus, embraced by a century of paleontological complacency" that tried to account for mass extinctions through "conventional [i.e. Darwinian] modes of evolution"; and points out that the K-T event is now "accepted as an empirical basis for expanding our range of scientifically legitimate hypotheses beyond the smooth extrapolationism demanded by...Darwinian central logic."

Although he claimed superiority over natural theology on the grounds that his theory was empirically verifiable, Darwin actually rejected the empirical evidence for catastrophic mass extinctions and simply claimed that the fossil record must be imperfect. He was impelled into this contradiction because he understood that uniformitarianism (the belief that evolution is constant and gradual) was the foundation of his entire theory. We now know that this foundation is rotten.

Obviously, the K-T event does not mean that natural selection does not operate. But it does mean that one cannot legitimately construct a theory of evolution by extrapolation from natural selection, or a theory of natural selection by extrapolation from the competitive adaptation of variant individual organisms to their environment. It means that the causality of evolution is not unidirectional. It means that evolution must be conceived as the complex product of various causes and not as the mechanistic consequence of a single material factor. It means that evolution takes place simultaneously at different hierarchical levels and that species as well as organisms can act as evolutionary agents. Together with the theory of punctuated equilibrium and the growing acceptance of internal, structural constraints on evolution, the discovery of the K-T event represents the point at which evolutionary theory ceases to be Darwinian.

An evolutionist who explicitly repudiates Darwinism can expect furious hostility from the prostrate worshippers of "science," and this was not a prospect Gould relished. He wrenches and twists his argument in a desperate effort to reconcile it with Darwin (readers of Gould's book will quickly tire of a curiously shaped piece of coral that supposedly illustrates his continued adherence to the root of Darwin's theory), and he summons admirable reserves of modesty and tact when he describes his theory as "an expansion and revision according to a set of coordinated principles, all consonant with our altered Zeitgeist vs. the scientific spirit of Darwin's own time." In fact, it is considerably more than that. The truth is, as I wrote in my review, that Gould was to Darwin as Karl Marx was to Adam Smith.

Assuming they have in fact read the book, my critics' denial of this can only indicate an ignorance of the history of philosophy. How else could they miss the significance of Gould's observation that Darwinism "embodied several broad commitments (philosophical or metatheoretical in the technical sense of these terms) more characteristic of nineteenth than of twentieth century thought"? These Victorian philosophical prejudices include the "designation of a privileged locus of causality, a single direction of causal flow, and a smooth continuity in resulting effects." Gould systematically and unanswerably refutes each of these three essential components of Darwinian logic. He denies that organismal struggle is the exclusive level of operation for natural selection; he denies that natural selection is the sole creative force of evolutionary change; and he denies that macrological change can be explained by extrapolation from the micrological.

Gould was not, then, a Darwinist. But what was he? That is a question he seems to have answered only on his deathbed. Early in his career he regarded himself as merely fine-tuning some troublesome problems in Darwin's logic, but late in life he came to understand that his incremental tinkering had constructed a new machine: "I worked piecemeal, producing a set of separate and continually accreting revisionary items along each of the branches of Darwinian central logic, until I realized that a 'Platonic' something 'up there' in ideological space could coordinate all these critiques and fascinations into a revised general theory with a Darwinian base."

Forget about that "base." Gould is describing a paradigm shift, and this fact is all the more obvious for his unwonted coyness in discussing it. In a revealing allusion to George Eliot's novel about a young man discovering a pattern of spiritual significance in his life, Gould claims to feel "like a modern Deronda who gathered the elements of a coherent critique solely because he loved each item individually--and only later sensed an underlying unity, which therefore cannot be chimerical, but may claim some logical existence prior to any conscious formulations on my part." In other words, the zeitgeist is dictating new truths about evolution, and Gould is staking his claim to be its amanuensis. The Structure of Evolutionary Theory is a rather inchoate work, largely because of Gould's reluctance to entirely abandon the "Darwinian base," but we can nevertheless discern in it the outline of a post-Darwinian theory of evolution.

The recent legal, educational and popular successes of intelligent design must not be understood as random aberrations but as manifestations of the spirit of our age. It may surprise my critics to learn that I take no pleasure in these developments. On the contrary, I regard them as the return of the repressed irrationalism that is the inseparable accomplice, and the inevitable result, of the fundamentalist "science" that my critics adore. The great parable of fetishized science, as Gould reminded us, is Goethe's Faust. Gould's magnum opus creaks and groans with logical exertion, but beneath the racket I fear we can hear the squeaks and gibberings of the ghosts returning to Tegel.


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