Uncommon Sense: Ursula K. LeGuin Edition

A few years ago, I played an audiobook version of LeGuin’s The Wave of The Mind [wc] – basically, short essays on writing and thinking about writing – and, as usual, I was impressed by her clarity and thoughtfulness. She ranges widely, including a fascinating meta-analysis of gender in book awards (depressing!) and a piece on genetic determinism.

She illustrates how to approach a scientist who is working way out ahead of their comfort-zone, as often happens:

Finding myself troubled by many of E.O. Wilson’s sweeping statements, I tried to figure out what was troubling me. I did it in writing, because I think best in writing. An amateur responding to a professional is likely to make a fool of herself, and no doubt I’ve done just that, but I decided to publish the piece. I am not pitting my opinions against scientific observation. I am pitting my opinions against a scientists’ opinions. Opinions and presumptions, when presented by a distinguished scientist are likely to be mistaken for scientific observations – for fact – and that is what troubles me.

In his very interesting autobiography, Naturalist, E.O. Wilson summarizes the statement of the biological foundations of human behavior made in his book Sociobiology.

“Genetic Determinism – the central objection raised against sociobiology – is the bugbear of the social sciences. So what I said that can indeed be called ‘Genetic Determinism’ needs saying here, again. My argument ran, essentially, as follows. […]”

LeGuin then proceeds to demonstrate how Wilson’s sketch of genetic determinism is full of contradictions with reality. That’s not really the point of this excerpt, though. It’s the way that LeGuin shapes the battlefield before she blows the trumpets and trots into the melee. By drawing a clear line between scientific observation and Wilson’s personal opinions, and her own personal opinions, she dismembers the inherent respectability of the famous scientists’ claims and primes us to accept the idea that Wilson is just waving his hands in the air.


  1. says

    I have been a fan since his “puking steven seagal diorama” showed up in my feed (as related to seagalism) – he’s great and mashes all my surrealism buttons.

    Just finished watching that episode and he did not merely outdo himself, he sets the bar suicidally high. What’s next?!

  2. sonofrojblake says

    Indeed. After what he just did, I can’t even imagine how he can top it. The only kind of bad thing about it is that, to an extent I’ve never experienced before, it’s almost completely indescribable. I mean – you can say some of the things he does, but no amount of description does it justice. I mean, you can TYPE the words “when the mould was fully dry, I brought it to the west of the world, where Billy Fingers makes magical things happen”, but nothing can prepare you for the words, images, and feelings that follow. Glad you’re on board.

    Aside: I commented on the video to the effect that one, tiny thing struck me as indicative of the quality and commitment involved: how long did he stand out in a field with horses in order to get that tracking shitshot?

    And something like six MINUTES later, the man himself responded that he’d been in the field for an hour, and has about 45 minutes of footage of horses’ arses, and that he’ll likely post it all to Patreon soon.

  3. witm says

    Thank you both for leading me to the Bobby Fingers video. It is all amazing, but it has these moments of absolute brilliance interspersed in it that make just want to stop whatever you are doing and just marvel.

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