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