Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Research Committee 12 Panel at Poznan

This post is a report on the panel I chaired at the 24th World Congress of Political Science.  We met in Poznan, Poland from July 23 to 28.  I begin by saying that, however much I regret missing Istanbul (the original site of the conference), Poznan was simply wonderful.  The town boasts a large square bristling with restaurants at the base of colorful buildings.  The buildings are narrow (a consequence, I was told, of old tax laws) which increases the variety and ornamentation.  In the center is a town hall built in Renaissance times.  It is hard to tell how old anything is because the square was largely rebuilt after WWII.  The exchange rate was about four zloty to the dollar, which was very favorable.  My wife, my friends Ron and Tamina White, and I had each a superb main course lubricated with two liters of red wine for about 35 bucks.  I should also mention that a bar in the Northwest corner of the square had marvelous lemon vodka shots for 4 zloty each.  If you want a charming European vacation just now, I recommend Poland. 
My panel for Research Committee 12 was Biology and Politics.  Jerzy Wiatr (your-zee vie-at) was cochair and discussant.  I presented a paper-The Darwinian Dynamic of Aristotelian Political Animals.  Ron White presented Evolutionary Leadership, Evolutionary Ethics, and Redistribution.  Christoph Meisselbach presented some of the work from his dissertation: The Evolution of Cooperation and Cohesion: Social Capital Theory and Its Anthropological Foundations.  Janna Merrick presented The Politics of Death: The impact of Agenda Setting, Media Framing and Negative Campaigning in Mobilizing Political Recognition of Physician Assistance in Dying
Janna Merrick’s paper was, I believe, orphaned from a canceled panel.  It was a very interesting explanation of why a “right to die” initiative passed in California but not in Massachusetts. 
The other three papers fit together very well in that way that sometimes happens at such panels.  Ron, Christoph, and I were all interested in how evolutionary biology can enrich established branches of political science.  Ron did what he does very well: he linked together the topics of leadership, ethics, and redistribution and showed how biopolitics could make better sense of each than more established approaches.  Christoph showed that the field of social capital research was based on contradictory premises and pointed the way toward a more coherent approach based on evolutionary anthropology.  I would really like to see more of his work.  I might have to learn German, since that is the language of his dissertation.  I tried to show how a question that has structured modern political philosophy-which is primary in political science: the human individual or the human society?‑is better articulated in Aristotle’s political science and that Darwinian biopolitics supports and completes Aristotle’s account. 
The room was almost half full and the audience participation was very strong.  I got almost all the questions which might mean that Aristotle is more interesting to Central European graduate students.  To mention one question: Aristotle sees eudemonia (blessedness or happiness) as the supreme human good; so how can this be reconciled with the Darwinian focus on mere survival?  I noted in reply Aristotle’s claim that the polis (political community) comes to be for the sake of mere life but it exists for the sake of the good life.  Aristotle supposed that the fact that something was good was a sufficient explanation for its existence; however, he recognized that meeting the basic biological needs was a force driving the emergence of human communities.  Evolution is not a teleological process.  It is not end-directed.  In so far as it has any direction, it is to push into new ecological niches by pushing into new areas of biological design-space.  The area of design space that human beings occupy allows for the possibility of genuine happiness. 
I won’t try to remember the other questions.  I will only say that if I had planted questions in the audience, I would have received the same questions.  This was one of the best panels I have had the privilege of sitting on.  I add that Professor Wiatr did his job with intelligence and grace. 
I am very grateful to Steven Peterson for his labor on behalf of Research Committee 12. 

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