Some of the radicalized youth in my group made a post on this blog on their experiences with the Occupy movement in Oakland and in Berkeley – something I had encouraged them to do as I felt other academics might be interested in hearing about it. You don’t very often see career scientists dedicate a significant amount of their time for social justice causes. So I figured that there might be some interest in this, as an inspiration for some – or perhaps as a curiosity for others. As expected the post has been read a lot. In fact, Dienekes featured a post on his own anthropology blog commenting on my group’s original blog post.
The original post showed pictures of students and postdocs in my group holding a sign arguing that capitalism reduces fitness. The post then proceeded to argue in favor of this point using the fact that the life expectancy of an African American in West Oakland is 15 years shorter than that of a person growing up in East Oakland. Dienekes was shocked by this travesty and decided to make a blog post about it. To my surprise his outrage was not about the social conditions in West Oakland but rather about the loose use of fitness employed in the blog. He took the statement by my students and postdocs literally and pointed out that if you include all the different components of fitness, and not just viability, there is in fact no good scientific evidence that the absolute fitness of individuals growing up in capitalist societies is reduced. You might now rightly wonder about a number of scientific issues relating to this debate. For example, what is the standard we compare to here? A feudal society? Or Vietnam or Cuba perhaps? I am not sure. But the real question to me is of a more psychological nature: how many years do you have to be locked up in a university to believe that using the word fitness, without including all of its components, is more outrageous than the social conditions in West Oakland?
Most of the students and postdocs in my group are from Europe, and many have not been here for long. They have perhaps not quite gotten use to American political discourse and may not express themselves in a way that most Americans find convincing. But at least they haven’t quite lost their sense of empathy and care for other people. I figure that if I keep them here, in an American academic environment, for a couple of years more they will get cured of that problem and will be able to concentrate fully on their research careers without getting distracted by the economic and social problems they encounter in the neighborhoods around campus on their commute from and to work. If I push them hard, they may even eventually end up getting real jobs and move up in the East Oakland hills. They will then never have to worry about the problems in West Oakland again, and can spend all their time making sure they include all components of fitness when making blog posts.