More on Biological Radicalism

[My apologies for the long hiatus in my posting. Real life has intruded in a variety of ways, reducing the time I can devote to writing. And I’ve felt obliged to try to get a greater mastery of areas that may bear on future posts, including evolutionary biology, genetics, and statistics. Finally, the philosophical issues are just hard, and a lot more demanding than I had anticipated; I seem to be unhappy with everything I write down. I find myself releasing posts only when my revulsion to revising them still again exceeds my embarrassment at having my pseudonym publicly attached to them. Unfortunately, even at this the posts so far -- while I believe they make sensible arguments -- are entirely too sketchy in the theories they propound. These ideas need a book or three, and extensive grounding in the literature.]

Some further thoughts about what I defined in my previous post Biology and Justice: First Cut as biological radicalism.

There, I defined theories of justice or morality as biological radical if they “would deny or subvert broad and basic human inclinations”. Now I’ll grant that that is a pretty inadequate definition as it stands – it’s intended to be mostly heuristic. At some point, I’ll try to tighten it up as I think through all it should comprehend.

In any case, as examples of such accounts, I offered up utilitarianism and Rawls’ theory of justice. Here, I’m mainly concerned to talk about utilitarianism, chiefly because it exhibits the problem I’m getting at in a form simpler and sharper than in Rawls’ theory.

I think it’s very hard not to accept that utilitarianism, taken at face value, is biologically radical according to my definition. This seems to be granted implicitly even by its most famous contemporary proponent, Peter Singer. Let’s take a look at some of Singer’s extreme views, as well as the problems they pose even for himself.

Here is one relevant summary of Singer’s position from Wikipedia:

In “Famine, Affluence, and Morality”, [Singer] begins by saying that he would like to see how far a seemingly innocuous and widely endorsed principle can take us; the principle is that one is morally required to forgo a small pleasure to relieve someone else’s immense pain. He then argues that this principle entails radical conclusions — for example, that affluent people are very immoral if they do not give up some luxury goods in order to donate the money for famine relief. If his reasoning is valid, he goes on to argue, either it is not very immoral to value small luxuries over saving many lives, or such affluent people are very immoral. As Singer argues in the same essay, regardless of the soundness of his fundamental defense of utilitarianism, his argument has value in that it exposes conflicts between many people’s stated beliefs and their actions.

Yet this view presents real difficulties for how he conducts his own life, as we can see from an article on Singer:

In a recent New York Times Magazine essay, he argued that the affluent in developed countries are killing people by not giving away to the poor all of their wealth in excess of their needs. How did he come to this conclusion? “If…allowing someone to die is not intrinsically different from killing someone, it would seem that we are all murderers,” he explains in Practical Ethics. He calculates that the average American household needs $30,000 per year; to avoid murder, anything over that should be given away to the poor. “So a household making $100,000 could cut a yearly check for $70,000,” he wrote in the Times.

Rigorous adherence to a single principle has a way of hoisting one by one’s own petard. Singer’s mother suffers from severe Alzheimer’s disease, and so she no longer qualifies as a person by his own standards, yet he spends considerable sums on her care. This apparent contradiction of his principles has not gone unnoticed by the media. When I asked him about it during our interview at his Manhattan apartment in late July, he sighed and explained that he is not the only person who is involved in making decisions about his mother (he has a sister). He did say that if he were solely responsible, his mother might not be alive today.

Singer’s proclamation about income has also come back to haunt him. To all appearances, he lives on far more than $30,000 a year. Aside from the Manhattan apartment–he asked me not to give the address or describe it as a condition of granting an interview–he and his wife Renata, to whom he has been married for some three decades, have a house in Princeton. The average salary of a full professor at Princeton runs around $100,000 per year; Singer also draws income from a trust fund that his father set up and from the sales of his books. He says he gives away 20 percent of his income to famine relief organizations, but he is certainly living on a sum far beyond $30,000. When asked about this, he forthrightly admitted that he was not living up to his own standards. He insisted that he was doing far more than most and hinted that he would increase his giving when everybody else started contributing similar amounts of their incomes.

And this from an article on Singer in the New Yorker:

Still, many of Singer’s critics dismiss him as a secular puritan so inflamed by his idea of rectitude that he can’t even recognize his own contradictions. Singer feels that this is unfair, and he may have a point: although he fails to live up to the rigid rules he has put down on paper, he probably comes as close to doing so as anyone could. He gives away twenty per cent of his annual income, including all royalties from “Practical Ethics.” He lives comfortably but frugally. He doesn’t eat meat or fish, or wear leather. Yet Singer’s writing is so high-handed that any inconsistency between his life and his work is hard to dismiss. Singer has certainly done nothing to impoverish himself, for instance, and his daughters also live comfortably, aided by the income of a trust set up by his father which–he would have to agree–none of them need.

Now I think it pretty obvious from these several accounts of both Singer’s stipulations on how much we are morally obliged to give to others, and how little Singer in fact gives away of his own considerable income, that Singer falls exceedingly short of his own precepts. It’s all the more remarkable that he fails so conspicuously to live up to his ideals when the sacrifices he does indeed make are actually quite extraordinary given his circumstances – how many other Ivy League professors can be said to do anything of the like? This serves only to bring out how very much his ideals are beyond ordinary human capability. On the one hand, he’s engaged in altruistic behavior at the extreme end of human feasibility; on the other, his actions are, in fact, far closer (certainly in terms of proportion of income given away) to purely self interested behavior than they are to his stated obligations. If he has given away, say, 20%  of his income, keeping 80%, that more closely resembles 100% self interest than it does the 70% sacrifice he prescribes for the well being of others across the world. (And why stop at only 70%? What in the utilitarian principle would support that?)

A basic question here is, I think, this: what sense does it make for a moral code to require of human beings, on a broad and regular basis, behavior of which they are constitutionally incapable? Living up to utilitarian principles, or even really approaching them, appears to be wholly beyond our ability. How and why is it reasonable to hold to those principles as representing the correct moral goals when their requirements seem to be set in defiance of basic human nature?

Perhaps the most fundamental question is, does morality possess the power or authority to bind us to do things which run deeply contrary to our inclinations? If so, whence does morality come by that power or authority?

I think this is a question that systems of morality cannot escape. Now it may seem at first thought unnecessary to answer that question. If we can see, in a compelling set of intuitions, that various acts are moral, or immoral, of what matter might it be that we are, or are not, capable of doing the right thing on any kind of consistent basis? Feasibility of doing the right thing consistently would seem, at most, to be another sort of consideration altogether, one having to do with how to accommodate human weakness with respect to morality. Its legitimate application might, for example, merely involve grading expectations as to what human beings should do on a curve — in effect, forgiving them for their recalcitrant nature. Morality itself stands majestically above this, its ground altogether independent and clear.

But this view of morality as a city on a hill handing down edicts to all below seems to comport poorly with the set of moral intuitions and precepts as we know them. That set is, I would argue, both highly incomplete and often — at least apparently — inconsistent. (I realize that if a theory is inconsistent then it is trivially complete, since it can prove anything. So it will take some work to explain what I have in mind here. This, however, will have to await a further post.) The set of moral intuitions seems really to constitute only a quite sparse matrix. Given the long history of contemplation of moral codes and systems, it seems unlikely that that situation will be greatly improved by further deliberation. In the face of the apparent inadequacy of moral intuitions to cover all important issues, including some quite fundamental ones, it makes sense to invoke considerations that would seem to work as a more robust, better fleshed out, corroborating basis for our moral code. Insofar as the evolutionary view can explain our moral intuitions, it may go on to ground a superset of those intuitions. Certainly the issues not settled clearly by intuition comprehend many that go to the very core of our moral behavior, and of a system of justice. In particular, the very question of how much self sacrifice we are obliged to engage in is such an issue, involving as it does immense differences in how we should behave; it could hardly matter more to ourselves and to the larger world whether morality requires us to give away, say, 5% of our income to others, or 80%.

In later posts I intend to examine further the question of how and why morality might bind us as natural beings. But I’d like now to turn to another kind of problem posed by biological radicalism, as, again, exhibited by Singer.

Biological Radicalism and Moral Monsters

What, it may be asked, is wrong with a morality that is biologically radical, if it inclines people toward the correct behavior? If it pushes us in the right direction – say, more toward altruistic interests than toward self-interest — isn’t that a good thing, even if we will never come remotely close to being able to live up to those ideals?

In a debate between Singer and Richard Posner on animal rights, Posner makes this comment:

You say that some readers of Animal Liberation have been persuaded by the ethical arguments in the book, and not just by the facts and the pictures. But if so, it is probably so only because these readers do not realize the radicalism of the ethical vision that powers your view on animals, an ethical vision that finds greater value in a healthy pig than in a profoundly retarded child, that commands inflicting a lesser pain on a human being to avert a greater pain to a dog, and that, provided only that a chimpanzee has 1 percent of the mental ability of a normal human being, would require the sacrifice of the human being to save 101 chimpanzees. If Animal Liberation had emphasized these implications of your utilitarian philosophy, it would have had many fewer persuaded readers; and likewise if it had sought merely to persuade our rational faculty, and not to stir our empathetic regard for animals.

Let’s focus here not on Posner’s criticism of Singer’s views as they apply to animal rights, but rather on the more general characteristic of radicalism that Posner ascribes to Singer’s position (it’s interesting that Posner chooses the term “radicalism” here, as have I).

Utilitarianism, as it’s naturally understood, and as Singer interprets it, would require us to sacrifice our own happiness (or pleasure or preferences) if we would bring about a greater improvement in the happiness (or pleasure or preferences) of, say, a man unknown to us in Siberia. But the question is, why should we be bound by the interests of someone unknown to us in Siberia? Singer seems to believe that if we simply think long and hard enough about it, we will see that the interests of the man in Siberia are really every bit as much binding on us as our own interests:

If I have seen that from an ethical point of view I am just one person among the many in my society, and my interests are no more important, from the point of view of the whole, than the similar interests of others within my society, I am ready to see that, from a still larger point of view, my society is just one among other societies, and the interests of members of my society are no more important, from that larger perspective, than the similar interests of members of other societies… Taking the impartial element in ethical reasoning to its logical conclusion means, first, accepting that we ought to have equal concern for all human beings.

Now one might argue against Singer’s views here in a variety of ways. I think, though, that the most basic approach is to return to the general question we have already broached: what is the basis for a moral imperative that is binding on us? Conceiving of ourselves as entirely natural beings, on what power or authority can morality demand that we should devote as much effort to the man in Siberia as to our own kin? Is it possible that when exceedingly rigorous moral systems arrogate such power or authority, it might backfire?

There seems indeed something perverse in adopting a moral attitude in which we would regard the interests of any random human being fully as if they were our own. All of our sensibilities tell us, I believe, that only some kind of detached freak would treat the interests of his own kin, and those of a someone utterly unknown to him, as identically compelling.

It’s instructive to consider how this problem really is based on our biology. If we were a species like an intelligent species of eusocial ants, then many of these same utilitarian strictures might well seem quite completely natural to us, and the manner in which they bind our actions entirely acceptable to be incorporated into our moral code. A Peter Singer of intelligent ants advocating for the same sort of sacrifices would not be regarded as an insufferable scold, but as someone articulating the plainest common sense.

There appears to be something critical lost in approaches to morality such as Singer’s. Insofar as the code of morality induces a perspective that takes us away from our fundamental dispositions, it countenances and indeed rewards behaviors that distort one’s emotions in a way that can be highly destructive.

It’s fair to say that one of the great scourges on civilization is that civilized nations have, in the name of ideology, or its brother religion, wrought great carnage and misery on the human species. These systems of belief have often, maybe typically, been built around the notion that they are bringing about a greater good for human beings in aggregate. Certainly Communism has engaged in that sort of massive evil under the banner of Humanity. Likewise both Christianity and Islam have historically conquered, slain, and punished for the improvement of humanity by Salvation. Even the Nazis believed they were serving a good far larger than themselves as individuals, albeit their concern never rose above the interests of the Master Race.

One wants to say that these systems of belief have induced a very real kind of sociopathy in those who fell under their thrall. What they do in service of that ideology runs hard against what they would, in ordinary circumstances, regard as moral or decent behavior. They are engaging in behavior that we, and they in other contexts, would naturally understand as inhuman. This is indeed one of the objections raised to their behavior after the fact of their criminal acts: yes, you may have done this under orders, you may have thought that this would serve some larger, good purpose, but how could you do something that was so self-evidently inhuman? How could your moral conscience have been so corrupted as to find it acceptable to do what you did? We treat them as war criminals most basically because they turned their backs on what their human inclinations to the moral should have urgently demanded from them.

Utilitarianism has been spared the ignominy of Communism, I believe, only because it has not been taken as seriously as an ideology for the broad populace as Communism. On the other hand, one might well make the argument that Communism is the closest representation of utilitarianism in extant political systems, allowing that Communism brought much baggage of its own based on Marxist presuppositions. Taken at its plain meaning, utilitarianism too would have the effect of being followable only by “monsters”– people able and willing psychologically to run so hard against their own natural inclinations (or at least inclinations natural for the vast majority of people) that they must be regarded as unstable outliers from the human species. These individuals would seem capable of performing virtually any action, provided only that it have some plausible ground deriving from the belief system they accept. The more “monstrous” the ideology or religion – the more incompatible are its prescriptions from our dispositions – the more subject it is to perpetrating great enormities.

It may seem a deplorable thing that Singer is not himself able to live up to his own strictures, and from an important point of view of course it is. Yet that strain of hypocrisy may indicate more, not less, humanity in him. Sometimes hypocrisy is a sign of more basic moral and intellectual health. It is thus better that those who purport to believe abortion is murder hypocritically don’t treat the woman who chooses the abortion as a murderer than that they would do so; on some level, their more fundamental humanity wins out.

In general, a morality grounded more directly in human nature is a far safer morality. It abhors monsters. Insofar as one feels obliged to hew closely to one’s basic urgings of conscience, one will find it difficult indeed to go far wrong. This is perhaps the larger message of the proverb, Charity begins at home, and of Candide’s statement, “we must cultivate our own gardens”: we must respect our limits, lest our actions become unconstrained and reckless.  I think that one of the goals of a biologically based moral theory will be to define and elaborate a kind of biological “conscience” grounded in our basic dispositions. And, importing this approach into the realm of politics, I believe we can view our current democracies as embodying our individual “biological” consciences writ large; that is their greatest virtue, their greatest source of moral stability.

Singer’s overall position exemplifies a remarkable callousness in other ways as well, I believe. I have been struck by a deep tension, almost contradiction, among some of Singer’s beliefs. For example, he believes both that we should accord animals the same respect that we grant to human beings in certain key respects, yet also believes that it is permissible to engage in infanticide under certain conditions. These two beliefs could hardly be more in opposition, from an emotional point of view. The first seems to require us to stretch our compassion toward a larger circle of sentient beings; the second seems to be monstrous in its lack of compassion toward an even more fellow sentient being. Posner, in his criticism of Singer above, certainly was reacting in part to this kind of inhumanity he discerned in Singer’s position.

Perhaps being a moral monster requires, first and foremost, an unbalancing in one’s dispositions. The sociopath has a selfishness dominate all other dispositions; the ideologue has the “religious” instinct dominate all others. Now whether human beings possess an actual religious instinct, with any real specificity, is unclear to me. That instinct may be simply an attachment to, or obsession with, an overarching idea. Yet what seems clear is that the “religious” instinct, however understood, in hypertrophy comes at the expense of our moral core.

12 responses to “More on Biological Radicalism

  1. Pingback: Linkage is Good for You: Had to Get Away Edition

  2. mitchell porter

    “what sense does it make for a moral code to require of human beings, on a broad and regular basis, behavior of which they are constitutionally incapable?”

    I’m glad to see this question raised, especially as a critique of radical utilitarianism. However: is there not some evidence that this psychological configuration – an idealism in tension with other basic dispositions – is itself a standard part of human nature? “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”

    Human life is not really a mechanical acting out of programmed biological patterns; or if it is, they have a complexity and a reflexivity not found in other species. Human history is naturally a spectacle of extremes and contradictions, because of culture and consciousness.

    Culture is part of human nature; theories of human nature are part of culture; and theories of what a biologically natural culture would be like are once again culture, acting on itself. As I said, the tension between ideal and reality is ancient and recurring. To seek to eliminate this tension by eliminating unrealistically demanding ideals would itself be just another step in the dance of cultural permutation.

  3. ” A Peter Singer of intelligent ants advocating for the same sort of sacrifices would not be regarded as an insufferable scold, but as someone articulating the plainest common sense.”

    They would think he was talking common sense as long as he was talking about sacrifice for members of the colony, but if he suggested the same thing for other colonies or other species, they’d think he was crazy.

    Altruism = helping your group, which means harming other groups in a zero-sum Malthusian world. It doesn’t scale up to the universal level. Any group that carried altruism as far as Singer thinks we should would go extinct. Utilitarianism is an attempt to apply behavior and attitudes that evolved when we lived in small bands inappropriately in the modern world.

    The only way to make it scale is to change reality into something totally different, like this guy wants to do:

  4. You write “It’s fair to say that one of the great scourges on civilization is that civilized nations have, in the name of ideology, or its brother religion, wrought great carnage and misery on the human species. ”

    The question of WHY humanity through the ages have created such ideaologies and are willing to fight, kill, and die for them, will be the answer to your dilemma.

    The easy “just so story” is that those who fight for a “cause” are better able to advance biological interests than those who fight for biology. I’m not certain that is true empirically. Lots of dead martyrs. Or even victorious fanatics. But even if its true, it still begs the question of WHY its better to fight for a cause than directly. All the “bad guys” you list have a fairly similar utopia. So why do humans seek it? Perhaps there is a messianic complex in humanity, the desire to save the world.

    Well most conflict is the conflict of small differences. In a homogeneous town, one can be fairly certain that the vast majority of one’s genes will survive. And yet there is still sexual competition. Heck, just in the survival of mammals you can be sure that the majority of genes you have will survive. So the battle for sexual selection is about the struggle for the margins. Perhaps the messiah complex is an attempt to SaVE all manifestations of genes. In other words if the world were to become a Paradise without death for any creature, one would be most certain of the most number of shared genes surviving.

    So I guess the real question is if all utopian ideologies are in conflict with biological human nature, why are they so powerful and how do they come to dominate so many societies made up of bio organisms? The utopian impulse must somehow be part of biological human nature as well and thus have a genetic justification.

  5. two years ago, I compose the following statement (I will post it later) with the idea of posting it somewhere and getting progressive race realism jumpstarted.

    Wish I’d known about your blog then.

    You are arguing for interesting, I will cruise them later in detail, but in an important sense, all of this seems perversely premature:
    to work out elaborate theory of social justice based on recognition of HBD is laudable, but at this point, you are jumping the gun, because the bare facts about HBD and racial difference are being repressed and censored to such a degree that no public discussion is even possible.

    At this point, it isn’t a question of ending censorship regime and making it possible for people like you and I – and individuals we regard as a noxious right-wingers, who are after all also covered by the First Amendment – to express their views openly and engage in public debate about them.

    At this point, the unassailable facts about racial difference are being worked on by some very credible scientists and psychologists behind the scenes, and are otherwise the preserve (the “stomping grounds” so to speak) of some really nasty characters on the right.

    I blame the situation on the incredible cowardice of progressives and leftists, who simply refuse to admit that whatever its intentions, the blanket denial of racial difference that has prevailed for almost a century now has been one of the most fundamental scientific error of the modern era.

    It is not that realism about human by owners of diversity can be simply adopted as another plank of the progressive agenda.
    Instead, everything that progressives believe will have to be reconceptualized from the ground up.

    Let’s be honest: a lot of the things we have spent our lives passionately believing do not hold up once your acknowledge HBD.

    In other words:
    it is not simply that progressives had better think up a really good line on racial difference before the racists taken it over (actually, they already have, but that’s another problem).

    It is instead important that once progressives acknowledge that on this all-important issue, they have been horribly wrong, and their dreaded enemy, the reactionaries, were if not right, then a lot closer to the truth than they were.

    (It also means excavating the history of progressive views on race and racial difference, and being perhaps surprised to learn that a century ago, progressives were able to speak openly about these issues, advocates who can eugenics programs, etc.)

    The plain truth is that – unsurprisingly (& wouldn’t it be more surprising is this was not the case?) – individuals descended from members of preliterate societies (they used to be called “primitive societies” based on their relatively low levels of scientific, technological, intellectual, social, and artistic achievement) like Africa, the Americas, etc., have lower levels of measurable cognitive ability on average as compared with Europeans and Asians, and that there are moreover an enormous range of important differences which may concern everything from propensity for aggression, sexuality, capacity for empathy, cooperation, south of child rearing, etc etc..

    Then there are the difference between classes, between the sexes, etc..

    This is a gigantic, violent, wrenching, cataclysmic Copernican shift, and there is no use trying to minimize it.

    Rather than trying to appropriate HBD (or whatever were calling it this week) for the right OR the left, it might be better to concede that it is nobody’s property, and that everyone will interpret the facts according to their worldview.
    Important thing is to get the facts out there in the public domain as quickly as possible and let people wrestle over them – and that means dismantling the current censorship regime.

    Ultimately, in recognition of HBD accelerate a perhaps long-overdue ideological realignment that leaves the left/right paradigm far behind.

    At this point, the available choices are inadequate: maintain one’s progressive identity through blanket denial of reality, or sign up to a package deal that includes recognition of HBD along with climate change denial, misogyny, homophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, fealty to corporate America, and a whole raft of obnoxious and idiotic positions.

    It is easy to dismiss the crackpots and wing nuts who appropriate HBD as their private property, but it is important to put the blame where it belongs:

    On a mainstream culture extending from the far left to the respectable right which categorically refuses to acknowledge that what I like to call the “Boasian Interregnum” is (at least in scientific terms) emphatically over, to dismantle the current censorship regime and inaugurate a frank discussion about the undeniable realities of racial difference.

    It is easy to make fun of the right wing nuts, but they are NOT the ones who are forcing me to sign this post anonymously.

    I’m a US citizen living in Europe about to earn my Ph.D. in the humanities at a high-profile US university.

  6. I wrote this “manifesto” in Feb 2009 as in “op ed style,” but never tried to publish it:

    Rediscovering Human Biodiversity – and Completing Darwin’s Revolution:

    A Call for a Progressive Discourse on Racial Difference

    “Progressive race realism”? Isn’t that an oxymoron? A contradiction in terms? Isn’t a belief in racial diffetence the ultimate bedrock reactionary conviction?

    On the contrary: an acknowledgement of human biodiversity means embracing – finally! – the “diversity” of the human condition. It means recognizing – finally! – “difference” in all of its multidimensionality.

    The real question is: Why has the simple and undeniable reality of human biodiversity become the last great ideological taboo?

    Why does contemporary society devote so much energy and ingenuity to denying something so observably and palpably real of as the fact that human races (or geographic genetic variation, or whatever we want to call it/them) do exist, and that they different from one another in a myriad of readily observable ways?

    Why has it become a badge of intellectual superiority to deny such a selfäevident fact?

    Scientifically, there are no doubts whatever. The controversy is strictly political: Would a forthright recognition of human difference necessarily signal a return to crude racial classifications, chauvinism and intolerance? Or would the humanist ethic be able to absorb the shock of a forthright recognition of human biodiversity?

    Would the political implications of such a recognition be catastrophic? Or would the current universalizing consensus, based on the belief in a single and indivisible humankind, instead be enriched? Surely the principle of legal and political equality can still be maintained once the myth of genetic identity has been abandoned? Why should former depend on them latter?

    Progressives, meanwhile, continue to police the limits of discourse, nervously repeating the polite fiction that “we are all exactly the same under the skin” – that is to to say, with a few “miniscule” and “inconsequential” exceptions such as the shape and color of skin, hair, lips, eyes, etc., differences like bodily proportions, athletic ability, bone density, length of pregnancies, longevity, degrees of susceptibility and of resistance or immunity to certain diseases, ability to efficiently excrete sodium, ability to digest animal milk, lung capacity and the ability to thrive and reproduce at high altitudes, spatial perception…

    … on second thought, these differences aren’t really all that “miniscule” and “inconsequential” after all – hence our queasy reluctance to discuss any of them: once we get started, who knows where it will lead? To discussions of “warrior genes” and IQ?

    Yet the science of population genetics marches onward (albeit cautiously when it comes to discussing research results), and an ever-growing list of group genetic differences between human populations multiplies daily as scientists observe and quantify them with increasing exactitude.

    As a consequence, informed individuals live on two levels simultaneously – in a kind of enforced schizophrenia. On the one hand, we brusequely deny that there are significant inherited differences between human groups, but on the other, we are increasingly fascinated by whatever we can glean of the latest discoveries in the field of human biodiversity – confined for the most part to specialist journals, but also surfacing in the public consciousness because of the growing importance to the practice of human medicine of racially distinct disease etioligies and responses to medication.

    Ironically, this stalling tactic only ensures that when it finally does arrive in the public consciousness with full force (as inevitably, it must), the recognition of human biodiversity will represent a far more jarring and disorienting shock than is necessary.

    The reasons for these denials on the part of progressives (not just in the United States, but in Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere) have little to do with science, and everything to do with politics – specifically the politics of race and of integration and assimilation, with remorse for slavery and for colonialism in Asia and Africa and elsewhere, with attempts to establish equality and equity between the various ethnicities which often share common national homes.

    But well-intentioned ignorance is still ignorance, and censorship in the cause of racial harmony is still repressive and stultifying. Meanwhile, while progressives circle the wagons, denying the undeniable and maintaining a firewall between public discourse and the breakneck discoveries of the biosciences, those with a racist axe to grind (whether they refer to themselves as “racialists,” “race realists,” “white nationalists,” “separatists,” or something else) are gleefully mining this treasure trove of new knowledge and are building a new politics of race on its basis.

    The perverse consequence, meanwhile, of the progressive “hear/see/speak no evil” approach is to grant the far-right a total monopoly on public interpretations of the exploding discoveries of the biosciences. And a total monopoly of characterizations of their implications for human health, human society, and human culture.

    Rather than leaping into the fray and attempting to steal the thunder of far-right “race realists” by articulating a progressive discourse on human biodiversity, progressives have simply maintained a stoic silence while the myth that we are all “the same under the skin” crumbles to dust around us – demolished not by the thankfully still remarkably few isolated and marginalized racist groups that continue to exist in the US, but instead by the accumulating avalanche of scientific data.

    Elaborate debates about the term “race,” meanwhile, are red herrings. The term is indeed ideologically fraught, and is often avoided with good reason, but euphemisms ultimately alter nothing: we are talking about clearly observable and quantifiable differences between human population groups – between individuals of African, Asian, European, etc., heritage. Sensitivity to linguistic nuance is always a virtue, but the fetish for disappearing problematic realities by banning certain words is reactionary know-nothingism.

    Based on my own experiences in academicia, it is clear that beyond the political stakes involved, lingustic hairsplitting (“deconstructions of discursive structures”) is often a nervous tic of scholars in the humanities who are ill-equpped to follow contemporary scientific discourse, and who often compensate by producing opaque and scholastic mumbo jumbo designed to repel the uninitiated and to certify their superior comprehension of the political and philosophical implications of the “merely empirical” findings of those unimaginative grunts toiling away in the lab.

    There is nothing esoteric, of course, about the origin of this ideological stalemate, of the inability of progressives to engage in a genine “dialogue on race.” It is simply the persistent learning and achievement gap and cognitive deficits experienced by some ethnic minorites. It is, of course, the political consequences of the possibilities that cognitive differences could be at least partly attributable to genetic and racial difference that terrifies progressives: What happens to the political project of equality once we have abandoned the a priori (for that is what it is: a mere postulate with no basis on observable reality) that all groups have identical cognitive strengths and weaknesses, identical temperaments and styles of learning?

    Until recently, the correlation between the natural intelligence of a population and its cultural and scientific achievements was regarded as axiomatic. Today, anyone expressing this view is vilified as a monster. Can we strike a balance, one that values cultural diversity without suppressing science?

    I don’t pretend to have answers to any of these questions – least of all those related to social policy. All I want to do is to point out that the polite fiction of the genetic sameness of all racial groups has become unsustainable in a globalized world, a world where different peoples encounter one another at close quarters every day, bringing greater understanding, but also greater recognition of deep differences of temperament and character. And in a world where the rapidly accumulating revelations of bioscience make this polite fiction seem every bit as quaint as the 19th century’s hysterical denials that “man was descended from the apes.”

    In retrospect, the notion that we are “all the same under the skin” was always a simplistic but paralyzing ideological straitjacket remote from the kinds of fine distinctions characteristic of research in the biosciences and in human psychology. For if the human epidermis has evolved only in recent millennia to adapt to the limited sunlight of northern Europe, if the human digestive system acquired the gene for lactose tolerance only relatively recently, then every organ of the human frame may well have been evolving steadily as well, and we can expect to find an almost infinite number of genetic and physiological variations almost anywhere we bother to look.

    One could continue to argue, of course, that although these manifold differences are physically real, there remains a single anamolous exception: human character, human intelligence is somehow the same, is somehow invariant everywhere and at all times. But why should it be? Among other things, this would mean that the human brain – which is, after all, simply an organ like any other – is somehow, and unaccountably, exempt from Darwin’s Law of Natural Selection (even more amazingly: despite marked differences in skull shape!!). This is not science, but instead theology.

    Every few years, a prominent politician in the US calls for a “national dialogue on race” – as though we have not been discussing race incessantly, uninterruptedly for 150 years and more! As though race had not been a national obsession for most of the history of this nation!

    And yet anyone who calls for a public discussion not only of institutional racism and of the history of discrimination, but instead of race (or genetic variation, or whatever word we want to substitute for this tainted term) as a biological phenomenon, an uncensored and public discussion of human biodiveristy, is immediately labeled a “racist” and a “reactionary” – regardless of his/her politics or even lack thereof.

    This stalemate must be broken. The far-right monopoly on interpretations of bioscience must be ended. The firewall between science and the public sphere must be torn down just as the Berlin Wall was torn down 20 years ago.

    Scientifically, the “Boasian Interregnum” is over – we have already entered a dramatically new phase of history regarding our understandingh of genetic varations among and within human populations.

    The current censorship regime – with its Mcarthyist (or even Stalinist) brand of thought control – is paralyzing thought, corrpting science, and poisoning public discourse. This politicaallt motivated repression of scientific and public debate regarding human genetics must be ended now, before anyone else is sacrifieced on the altar of political correctness.

    We are all descended from the same primeval family, and it is this common origin that unites us. The fact that differing human populations have evolved marked differences during the intervening millenmia is not a problem, but instead a legitimate source of joy, fascination, pride – something to celebrate openly, not to coneal with shame and fear.

    Once we have conquered our fear of unleashing the demons of racism that are chained up in the cellar, once we have conquered our own fears of being stigmatized as “racists” for simply acknowledging what all scientists everywhere already know, then the richness of human biodiversity will be a legimimate topic for all of us, not just professional geneticists and psychologists – and far-right radicals.

  7. If I can make a suggestion, you could put the quoted content between quotes or in italic, otherwise I can’t say what have you written and what was quoted!

  8. I am a fan of your writing and I hope you will find time to continue your analysis.

    I think that one of the goals of a biologically based moral theory will be to define and elaborate a kind of biological “conscience” grounded in our basic dispositions.

    Any ethical theory must be based on human intuitions (since that’s our only access to the basic stuff of the moral universe). And investigating what’s possible for humans to do is an important side question to what’s right for humans to do.

    But it may be that the best way to promote our values, as determined by some kind of higher-order thought, is to engage in very unnatural behavior. And all those trolley problems should probably convince us that our moral intuitions are extremely inconsistent (though in predictable ways consistent with the circumstances of our evolution).

    Another thing: let’s say we agree on the values we want to promote (happiness, freedom, etc.). We can try to seek local maxima of these values, which is usually what we end up doing. But we should also, I think, step back and consider whether it’s possible for a good human society to exist at all. By that I mean a society in which agreed-upon values are promoted to a satisfactory degree without being outweighed by harm. Rawls has the framework to decide this question in ATOJ (with the Original Position and all). I think any biologically-based ethics would have to allow for a possible moral “null hypothesis.”

    To be a little more concrete:

    Monogamous marriage, enforced by the community, is a pretty important “foundation of civilization.” One might consider it a cornerstone of biological morality. But obviously such a system is dependent on female subjugation – countries that stop subjugating their women quickly see their divorce rates rise to American levels. Let’s say the only way to continue civilization is to subjugate women. Worth it? Um, no – it’s a local maximum, but it’s still below the threshold of a society “worth having.”

  9. I think the problem with simply ruling out the possibility of a Darwinian left is that it essentially turns evolutionary psychology into a conservative historical materialism. In other words I would be a little wary of simply resting comfortably that science supports all conservative political position and thus your opponents are illegitimate. That attempt to make a scientific politics that de-legitimizes pluralistic discourse, is precisely the utopian impulse that conservatives have warned of.

    I think it makes more sense to use natural law as an explanation of why you have your goals, and positivism to explain to your opponent the price of reaching his. The attempt to combine natural law and science leads to a monistic political system. In this way Darwinian conservatism is actually fairly radical to the American political system. Unlike most nations we have traditionally been a 50-50 divided nation. The times in history in which one party simply dominated, are rare. If people were to be won over to your position that conservatism is science, then that would basically be the end of politics. We could all agree on the same conservative ideology, and have 99% election results.

    Rejecting scientific political programs does not mean we should fall into post-modernism. But perhaps Von Mises more positivistic approach of saying you set the goals, I’ll tell you the cost. is more realistic.

    The other thing is what exactly is the left? Even if you were to Darwinian politics to limit the left, you would have to draw some line, where you could say “this far, towards utopia you may go, and no further”.

    So what exactly is left? In Europe the political divide is between Social Democrats and Christian democrats. Both of which share a far more communitarian ethos and welfare economics than even the relative leftwing of US politics. In the US liberal means leftwing, but in most of the world that would be center-right.

    Within the realm of prosperous healthy nations you have the whole gamut from the relatively minimalistic states in the USA and Hong Kong, to the tax-based welfare state of Sweden. I don’t think science will ever be able to say that the American model is inherently more “natural” than the French, German, or Scandinavian models. But I think it is a fair point to say that if you wish to satisfy the natural human need for security and reverse-dominance hierarchy, you might have to pay the price in the natural human need for productivity. But that argument is based more on Von Mises and Friedman than Darwin.

    Well Fukuyama’s end of history in democratic capitalism still says we are free to chose from as far left as social democracy and as far right as minarchism. In a way that is what Darwinian conservatisms says. But even if thats so the competition between American minarchism on the right and Swedish social democracy on the left, still leaves plenty of room for rich left-right discourse and debate.

  10. Pingback: On the Rationality of Ethnic Genetic Interest, Strictly Speaking « Occidental Ascent

  11. I hate conversations about morality. They never fail to reveal how much morality is about doing whatever feels good and pretending we did because a thick book says so, or some higher purpose…but in the end…we all do what makes us feel good.

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