Home Awakening EO Wilson, the Intellectual Giant from Birmingham, Turns 88

EO Wilson, the Intellectual Giant from Birmingham, Turns 88


EO Wilson 

by Mary Maxwell, PhD, LLB

Back in 1994, when the conservationist Edward Wilson was approaching retirement age, I offered to produce a festschrift for him, with the 18 authors who had contributed to my book The Sociobiological Imagination. He said something to the effect “Are you kidding? I haven’t even started yet.”

True enough, he has gone on to publish major works since then, and even a novel — “Anthill.”

Consider his attempt to unite the sciences, in his book “Consilience’ (1998).  Consider his “the Social Conquest of Earth” (2012), and most importantly his new “Half Earth,” in which he suggests, wisely, that we set aside half of the space on this planet (not one big patch, but many little patches) to allow our fellow species to run free.

“Our fellow species” has been a theme since EO was a child in Alabama.  If you like poetry, please read his book “Biophilia.” You’ll never be the same. Today you can visit the Biophilia Nature Center in Mobile.  Alabama is possibly the most advanced state of the US in protection of the myriad species on earth – marine life in particular.

Here is a tidbit from a conversation in 2014 between Wilson and evolutionary psychologist Barry Kuhle:

“After taking two degrees at the University of Alabama, I moved on to the University of Tennessee. That was as far north as I ever wanted to be. It was way up there in Knoxville. But while I was there, the first year, a very kind professor contacted Harvard, specifically the Society of Fellows…. I got an invitation to apply. So that was the kind of break I wish was open to all young scholars. That really got me going.

“I had a lot of adjusting to do. I had my roommate—maybe it was done on purpose—a Nigerian who was, as it turned out, head leader of a local Nigerian revolutionary movement. Frequently, in the room where I was studying, a group of Africans would meet—I almost thought I should join them— all plotting the overthrow of Great Britain from Nigeria, which in effect did occur.”

Wilson allowed me to sit in on his Natural Science course at Harvard in 1978. His lectures were witty to an extreme degree. He started each performance serious and sober, but soon had the students rolling in the aisles.

At that time he was being attacked, especially by “the Behaviorist School” and also by the Marxist contingent at Harvard, for his supposed biological determinism. My husband George and I accompanied Ed to his Tarner Lecture at Cambridge, England, in the early 1980s. As we approached the lecture hall we saw a large group of picketers. Wilson assumed they were his challengers, per usual, but was pleased to learn the assembly was only for an industrial dispute.

I went on to produce a PhD thesis in Politics that is beholden to Ed’s work on the genetics of social behaviour.  (In my 1990 book — Morality among Nations: an Evolutionary View — the gist is that there is no natural morality among nations, and we should stop pretending that there is.)

Here is a quote from Wilson’s 2014 book, “The Meaning of Human Existence”:

“The remainder of this century will be a growing bottleneck of human impact on the environment and diminishing biodiversity. We bear all of the responsibility of bringing ourselves and as much as possible of the rest of life through this into a sustainable Edenic existence. Our choice will be a profoundly moral one. Its fulfilment depends on … a sense of common decency still not felt.… We alone have measured the quality of mercy among our own kind. Might we now extend the same concern to the living world that gave us birth?”

So Happy 88th Birthday and huge thanks to EO Wilson for giving his all to save God’s Creation. I won’t be offering him a festschrift again — as I assume I’d get the same response I got when he was a boy of 65.

Go for it, Ed!  Keep teaching us!  Keep making discoveries!  Never stop!

–Mary Maxwell, PhD, LLB, is currently a candidate for the US Senate from Alabama, though she has spent most of her life in Australia. See www.MaxwellForSenate.com.

photo credit http://www.achievement.org




  1. Here is a 2013 review of “Anthill” by an Australian (NOT me): Nerodog.

    “I was looking for answers that the book seemed to promise, about the problems of wilderness and biodiversity disappearing under the jackboot of ‘progress,’ i.e. property development. I didn’t really think that Wilson would provide anything new, so I was gratified when he did. He kind of fleshed out ideas that had been hovering in my mind about how to deal with property developers.

    “Wilson manages to make the reader think like an ant, which is quite an experience. I felt as if I was there and walking with the main character. [This novel] was able to engage me well beyond my mind. It took me into itself and kept me there until the last page. Because of Wilson’s skilled capacity to spellbind me, I experienced the drama and conflict as gripping.

    “I am an Australian. In Australia we don’t have the overt religious right wing elements that crop up in Anthill, however, sooner or later we get every bad thing from the US and Britain in terms of corporate treatment of the natural environment. Australia is already in a very bad way with massive population growth forced on us by a growth lobby led by property developers who have amazing influence over our governments, state and federal.

    “I have spoken to Australian politicians who truly think that the world is there for humans alone. [This author] paints a character with a deep love of a natural place, who values other species as co-travellers in this life.”

    • Notice: the editor of Gumshoe is no slouch in writing fiction either. Dee, writing under the name Dalia Mae Lachlan, has published beautiful children’s books, including ones that deal with the environment and with war. They are pitched at 8-year-olds.

    • Mary, You may want to note: Not sure what it has to do with ants, but….News just in…
      “Australian cardinal George Pell, the Vatican’s head of finance and one of the most senior figures in the Catholic hierarchy, has been summonsed on charges relating to multiple allegations of sex abuse.”

      • Keep your shirt on, Dee. Pell won’t be in your town any time soon. (Unless it’s all part of The Plan.) Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law disappeared into the Vatican many years ago. This is from November 2015 Guardian:

        “At the time of his resignation, the cardinal was being pilloried publicly for having turned a blind eye to sex abuse. But for years, he served in an honorific role as the archpriest of the Basilica of the Santa Maria Maggiore until his retirement, at the age of 80, in 2011. Today, Law enjoys the quiet life …. he is a fixture of the annual 4 July Independence Day party held by the US embassy to the Holy See.”

        I wonder if Pell knows where Fiona is. Not only has her website http://www.pedophilesdownunder.com been silent for 5 months, Steve McMurray isn’t publishing any more either. My book Deliverance is downloadable from Gumshoe and also at my website: http://www.maxwellforsenate.com

  2. One does not have to read Wilson’s book to realize why we are up the Khyber Pass, in my off lead dog park owners allow their dogs to shit every where with self righteous impunity, although council supply dog bags in the park also shared with sports people who view the dog people with some disdain, the consciousness is just not there, in the complex I live in little regard for recycling such as drink tins are all thrown in the rubbish bin, this as far as I know would not happen in some countries such as Japan, Australia is virtuous in being unmindful slobs, you cannot say anything less you are invading personal freedom or such like.
    The disjunction between writers such as Wilson and the reality one lives in is chasm, what is worst as no one is perfect no one can speak, although this saying is flawed it is a common response.
    Underlying Australian consciousness is fear, the most common fault to my mind is the inability to converse in ideas, and the problem often is to get it correct without making a mistake in ideas rather than allowing the possibility of getting it wrong and adjusting ideas to a better understanding of the world we live in.

    • I agree, Don, and at Gumshoe we welcome anyone to get it wrong — and then the team of helpers (seriously) will shed some more light. Happens every day here.

      Oh, and “chasm” is the word all right. Hope you don’t mind if I use it in my campaign.

  3. In my book “Memories of Kwinana” (pronounced, Quin narna,)
    I blast the local authorities for wanting to double the population of our small city, by the year 2050. Much of or natural vegetation and swamp-land is being razed for housing.

    Why is this so. The Australian natural increase in population is something like 0.01%, almost negative, but the house building industry just keeps on destroying our natural environment. That industry is actually applauded by our politicians.

    In Western Australia which had good growing areas for market gardens (fruit and vegetable), close to metropolitan centres, the land has been turned into housing and shopping complexes. We now import food items from Asia.

    In a country with the vast climatic conditions that we are lucky to enjoy, every food crop can be produced internally. This is an industry that can run parallel with much of nature.

    This is just plain stupidity.

      • Thank you, Fair. of course you know that Dr Day predicted this in 1969. I quote his speech (from the enumerated list in our book “Truth in Journalismm”). As follows:

        106. “Privately owned housing would become a thing of the past. The cost of housing and financing housing would gradually be made so high that most people couldn’t afford it. More and more unsold houses would stand vacant. People just couldn’t buy them.

        “You’d think, well the vacant house, the price would come down, the people would buy it. But the price would be held high even though there were many available so that free market places would not operate….. Ultimately, people would be assigned where they would live and it would be common to have non-family members living with you. This by way of your not knowing just how far you could trust anybody.”

        • thanks Mary, I didnt know what Dr Day said.. Ive heard him mentioned a bit here, just might have to go have a look, even though I just know Im not gonna like what I see,

          • Well, Fair, now that you’ve given me an opening wedge, here is one of the LEAST yucky things Dr Richard Day, MD, said in 1969 — as recollected by Lawrence Dunegan, MD:

            68. “Population shifts were to be brought about so that people would be tending to move into the Sun Belt. They would be the sort of people without roots in their new locations, and traditions are easier to change in a place where there are a lot of transplanted people. Things like new medical care systems, if you pick up from a Northeast industrial city and you transplant yourself to the South Sunbelt or Southwest, you’ll be more accepting of whatever kind of, for example, controlled medical care you find there.”

            Fair, note the 5 words: “were to be brought about.” Isn’t that FASCINATING?

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