Posted on February 12th, 2017 3 comments
In our last episode I pointed out that, while some of the most noteworthy public intellectuals of the day occasionally pay lip service to the connection between morality and evolution by natural selection, they act and speak as if they believed the opposite. If morality is an expression of evolved traits, it is necessarily subjective. The individuals mentioned speak as if, and probably believe, that it is objective. What do I mean by that? As the Finnish philosopher Edvard Westermarck put it,
The supposed objectivity of moral values, as understood in this treatise (his Ethical Relativity, ed.) implies that they have a real existence apart from any reference to a human mind, that what is said to be good or bad, right or wrong, cannot be reduced merely to what people think to be good or bad, right or wrong. It makes morality a matter of truth and falsity, and to say that a judgment is true obviously means something different from the statement that it is thought to be true.
All of the individuals mentioned in my last post are aware that there is a connection between morality and its evolutionary roots. If pressed, some of them will even admit the obvious consequence of this fact; that morality must be subjective. However, neither they nor any other public intellectual that I am aware of actually behaves or speaks as if that consequence meant anything or, indeed, as if it were even true. One can find abundant evidence that this is true simply by reading their own statements, some of which I quoted. For example, according the Daniel Dennett, Trump supporters are “guilty.” Richard Dawkins speaks of the man in pejorative terms that imply a moral judgment rather than rational analysis of his actions. Sam Harris claims that Trump is “unethical,” and Jonathan Haidt says that he is “morally wrong,” without any qualification to the effect that they are just making subjective judgments, and that the subjective judgments of others may be different and, for that matter, just as “legitimate” as theirs.
A commenter suggested that I was merely quoting tweets, and that the statements may have been taken out of context, or would have reflected the above qualifications if more space had been allowed. Unfortunately, I have never seen a single example of an instance where one of the quoted individuals made a similar statement, and then qualified it as suggested. They invariably speak as if they were stating objective facts when making such moral judgments, with the implied assumption that individuals who don’t agree with them are “bad.”
A quick check of the Internet will reveal that there are legions of writers out there commenting on the subjective nature of morality. Not a single one I am aware of seems to realize that, if morality is subjective, their moral judgments lack any objective normative power or legitimacy whatsoever when applied to others. Indeed, one commonly finds them claiming that morality is subjective, and as a consequence one is “morally obligated” to do one thing, and “morally obligated” not to do another, in the very same article, apparently oblivious to the fact that they are stating a glaring non sequitur.
None of this should be too surprising. We are not a particularly rational species. We give ourselves far more credit for being “wise” than is really due. Most of us simply react to atavistic urges, and seek to satisfy them. Our imaginations portray Good and Evil to us as real, objective things, and so we thoughtlessly assume that they are. It is in our nature to be judgmental, and we take great joy in applying these imagined standards to others. Unfortunately, this willy-nilly assigning of others to the above imaginary categories is very unlikely to accomplish the same thing today as it did when the responsible behavioral predispositions evolved. I would go further. I would claim that this kind of behavior is not only not “adaptive.” In fact, it has become extremely dangerous.
The source of the danger is what I call “ideophobia.” So far, at least, it hasn’t had a commonly recognized name, but it is by far the most dangerous form of all the different flavors of “bigotry” that afflict us today. By “bigotry” I really mean outgroup identification. We all do it, without exception. Some of the most dangerous manifestations of it exist in just those individuals who imagine they are immune to it. All of us hate, despise, and are disgusted by the individuals in whatever outgroup happens to suit our fancy. The outgroup may be defined by race, religion, ethnic group, nationality, and even sex. I suspect, however, that by far the most common form of outgroup (and ingroup) identification today is by ideology.
Members of ideologically defined ingroups have certain ideas and beliefs in common. Taken together, they form the intellectual shack the ingroup in question lives in. The outgroup consists of those who disagree with these core beliefs, and especially those who define their own ingroup by opposing beliefs. Ideophobes hate and despise such individuals. They indulge in a form of bigotry that is all the more dangerous because it has gone so long without a name. Occasionally they will imagine that they advocate universal human brotherhood, and “human flourishing.” In reality, “brotherhood” is the last thing ideophobes want when it comes to “thought crime.” They do not disagree rationally and calmly. They hate the “other,” to the point of reacting with satisfaction and even glee if the “other” suffers physical harm. They often imagine themselves to be great advocates of diversity, and yet are blithely unaware of the utter lack of it in the educational, media, entertainment, and other institutions they control when it comes to diversity of opinion. As for the ideological memes of the ingroup, they expect rigid uniformity. What Dennett, Dawkins, Harris and Haidt thought they were doing was upholding virtue. What they were really doing is better called “virtue signaling.” They were assuring the other members of their ingroup that they “think right” about some of its defining “correct thoughts,” and registering the appropriate allergic reaction to the outgroup.
I cannot claim that ideophobia is objectively immoral. I do believe, however, that it is extremely dangerous, not only to me, but to everyone else on the planet. I propose that it’s high time that we recognized the phenomenon as a manifestation of human nature that has long outlived its usefulness. We need to recognize that ideophobia is essentially the same thing as racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, xenophobia, or what have you. The only difference is in the identifying characteristics of the outgroup. The kind of behavior described is a part of what we are, and will remain a part of what we are. That does not mean that it can’t be controlled.
What evidence do I have that this type of behavior is dangerous? There were two outstanding examples in the 20th century. The Communists murdered 100 million people, give or take, weighted in the direction of the most intelligent and capable members of society, because they belonged to their outgroup, commonly referred to as the “bourgeoisie.” The Nazis murdered tens of millions of Jews, Slavs, gypsies, and members of any other ethnicity that they didn’t recognize as belonging to their own “Aryan” ingroup. There are countless examples of similar mayhem, going back to the beginnings of recorded history, and ample evidence that the same thing was going on much earlier. As many of the Communists and Nazis discovered, what goes around comes around. Millions of them became victims of their own irrational hatred.
No doubt Dennett, Dawkins, Harris, Haidt and legions of others like them see themselves as paragons of morality and rationality. I have my doubts. With the exception of Haidt, they have made no attempt to determine why those they consider “deplorables” think the way they do, or to calmly analyze what might be their desires and goals, and to search for common ground and understanding. As for Haidt, his declaration that the goals of his outgroup are “morally wrong” flies in the face of all the fine theories he recently discussed in his The Righteous Mind. I would be very interested to learn how he thinks he can square this circle. Neither he nor any of the others have given much thought to whether the predispositions that inspire their own desires and goals will accomplish the same thing now as when they evolved, and appear unconcerned about the real chance that they will accomplish the opposite. They have not bothered to consider whether it even matters, and why, or whether the members of their outgroup may be acting a great deal more consistently in that respect than they do. Instead, they have relegated those who disagree with them to the outgroup, slamming shut the door on rational discussion.
In short, they have chosen ideophobia. It is a dangerous choice, and may turn out to be a very dangerous one, assuming we value survival. I personally would prefer that we all learn to understand and seek to control the worst manifestations of our dual system of morality; our tendency to recognize ingroups and outgroups and apply different standards of good and evil to individuals depending on the category to which they belong. I doubt that anything of the sort will happen any time soon, though. Meanwhile, we are already witnessing the first violent manifestations of this latest version of outgroup identification. It’s hard to say how extreme it will become before the intellectual fashions change again. Perhaps the best we can do is sit back and collect the data.
Posted on February 26th, 2014 No comments
Every day in every way things are getting better and better. Well, all right, maybe that’s a stretch, but now and then, things actually do take a turn for the better, at least from my point of view. Take this interview of Oliver Scott Curry at the This View of Life website, for example. Here’s a young guy who gets human nature, and gets morality, and isn’t in the least bit afraid to talk about them as matter-of-factly as if he were discussing the weather. Have a look at some of the things this guy says:
MICHAEL PRICE (Interviewer): What can evolutionary approaches tell us about human moral systems that other approaches cannot tell us? That is, what unique and novel insights about morality does an evolutionary approach provide?
OLIVER SCOTT CURRY: Well, everything. It can tell us what morality is, where it comes from, and how it works. No other approach can do that. The evolutionary approach tells us that morality is a set of biological and cultural strategies for solving problems of cooperation and conflict. We have a range of moral instincts that are natural selection’s attempts to solve these problems. They are sophisticated versions of the kind of social instincts seen in other species…Above all, the evolutionary approach demystifies morality and brings it down to earth. It tells us that morality is just another adaptation that can be studied in the same way as any other aspect of our biology or psychology.
PRICE: The ordinary view in biology is that adaptations evolve primarily to promote individual fitness (survival and reproduction of self/kin). Do you believe that this view is correct with regard to the human biological adaptations that generate moral rules? Does this view imply that individuals moralize primarily to promote their own fitness interests (as opposed to promoting, e.g., group welfare)? (TVOL editor David Sloan Wilson is one of the foremost advocates of group selection, ed.)
CURRY: No. Adaptations evolve to promote the replication of genes; natural selection cannot work any other way. Genes replicate by means of the effects that they have on the world; these effects include the formation of things like chromosomes, multicellular individuals, and groups. (My understanding is that everyone agrees about this, although there is some debate about whether groups are sufficiently coherent to constitute vehicles .)
PRICE: What work by others on the evolution of morality (or just on morality in general) have you found most enlightening?
CURRY: David Hume’s work has been particularly inspiring. In many ways he is the great-great-great granddaddy of evolutionary psychology. He almost stumbled upon the theory of evolution. He undertook a comparative “anatomy of the mind” that showed “the correspondence of passions in men and animals.” His “bundle theory of the self” hints at massive modularity. His A Treatise of Human Nature  introduced “the experimental method of reasoning into moral subjects,” and discusses relatedness, certainty of paternity, coordination and convention, reciprocal exchange, costly signals, dominance and submission, and the origins of property. He even anticipated by-product theories of religion, describing religious ideas as “the playsome whimsies of monkies in human shape” . Remarkable.
Remarkable, indeed! Curry just rattles off stuff that’s been hidden in plain sight for the last 100 years, but that would have brought his career to a screeching halt not that long ago. Beginning in the 1920’s, the obscurantists of the Blank Slate controlled the message about human nature in both the scientific and popular media for more than 50 years. They imposed a stifling orthodoxy on the behavioral sciences that rendered much of the work in those fields as useless and irrelevant as the thousands of tomes about Marxism that were published during the heyday of the Soviet Union. Their grip was only broken when a few brave authors stood up to them, and it became obvious to any 10-year-old that their “science” was absurd. This should never, ever be forgotten in our hubris over the triumphs of science. When the “men of science” start declaring that they have a monopoly on the truth, and that anyone who disagrees with them is not only wrong, but evil, it’s reasonable to suspect that what they’re promoting isn’t the truth, but an ideological narrative.
It’s refreshing, indeed, to hear from someone who, in spite of the fact that he clearly understands where morality comes from, doesn’t immediately contradict that knowledge by spouting nonsense about moral “truths.” At least in this interview, I find nothing like Sam Harris’ delusions about “scientific moral truths,” or Jonathan Haidt’s delusions about “anthropocentric moral truths, or Joshua Greene’s delusions about “utilitarian moral truths.” I can but hope that Curry will never join them in their wild goose chase after the will-o’-the-wisp of “human flourishing.”
At the end of the interview, Curry reveals that he’s also aware of another aspect of human morality that makes many otherwise sober evolutionary psychologists squirm; our tendency to see the world in terms of ingroups and outgroups. When Price questions him about the most important unsolved scientific puzzles in evolutionary moral psychology he replies that one of the questions that keeps him up at night is, “Why are people so quick to divide the world into ‘us and them’? Why not just have a bigger us? (I’d like to see an answer rooted in three-player game theory.)”
Hey, three-player game theory is fine with me, as long as we finally realize that the ingroup-outgroup thing is a fundamental aspect of human moral behavior, and one that it would behoove us to deal with rationally assuming we entertain hopes for the survival of our species. As it happens, that’s easier said than done. The academic milieu that is home to so many of the moral theorists and philosophers of our day has long been steeped in an extremely moralistic culture; basically a secular version of the Puritanism of the 16th and 17th centuries, accompanied by all the manifestations of self-righteous piety familiar to historians of that era. It is arguably more difficult for such people to give up any rational basis for their addiction to virtuous indignation and the striking of highly ostentatious pious poses than it is for them to give up sex. For them, the “real” Good must prevail. As a result we have such gaudy and delusional “solutions” to the problem as Joshua Greene’s proposal that we simply stifle our moral emotions in favor of his “real” utilitarian morality, Sam Harris’ more practical approach of simply dumping everyone who doesn’t accept his “scientific” morality into a brand new outgroup, and various schemes for “expanding” our ingroup to include all mankind.
Sorry, it won’t work. Ingroups and outgroups ain’t goin’ nowhere. Stifle racism, and religious bigotry will take its place. Stifle religious bigotry, and homophobia will jump in to take over. Stifle all those things, and there will always be a few deluded souls around who dare to disagree with you. They, in their turn, will become your new outgroup. The outgroup have ye always with you. Better understand the problem than pretend it’s not there.
As for Curry’s suggestion that we declare Hume the father of evolutionary psychology, nothing could please me more.
Posted on August 16th, 2012 No comments
We’ve witnessed a remarkable paradigm shift in the behavioral sciences in the last couple of decades in the aftermath of the collapse of Blank Slate orthodoxy. A similar one has happened in politics with the collapse of Communism. A significant fraction of our species are attracted to messianic ideologies as moths to a flame. For many years, Communism was the brightest flame around. However, it suffered from the Achilles heal of all secular religions. It promised paradise, not in the realms of the spirit, but here on earth. Predictably, it couldn’t deliver, and so eventually collapsed.
That left something of a vacuum for those hankering to be the saviors of mankind. No new secular religion was waiting in the wings to take up the slack. But nature abhores a vacuum, so they had to make do with one of the traditional, spiritual religions; Islam. The resulting ideological paradigm shift has presented us with one of the most remarkable political spectacles history has to offer. On the ideological left, former Marxist true believers, militant atheists who scorned religion as the opiate of the masses, are being displaced by a new generation of activists who find to their dismay that radical Islam is, at least for the time being, the only game in town. The result has been a grotesque love affair between the would be liberators of the oppressed masses and one of the more obscurantist forms of religious fundamentalism on the planet. Those who once despised religious belief have now become some of its most outspoken apologists.
I found one of the more comical manifestations of this strange love affair in an article, embellished with all the jargon, references, and other stigmata characteristic of the stuff that appears in academic journals, posted on the website of the reliably leftist BBC. Entitled God and War: An Audit & An Exploration, it purports to debunk the New Atheist claim that religion is a prominent cause of war. Taking an attitude towards religion that would have been an embarrassment to any self-respecting progressive in the heyday of socialism, it notes that “…at a philosophical level, the main religious traditions have little truck with war or violence. All advocate peace as the norm and see genuine spirituality as involving a disavowal of violence.” It continues,
One organising feature of this article is what it calls the ‘Religious War Audit’. BBC asked us to see how many wars had been caused by religion. After reviewing historical analyses by a diverse array of specialists, we concluded that there have been few genuinely religious wars in the last 100 years. The Israel/Arab wars from 1948 to now, often painted in the media and other places as wars over religion, or wars arising from religious differences, have in fact been wars of nationalism, liberation of territory or self-defense.
This is a typical feature of the recent crop of articles emanating from the apologists for religion on the left. Just as good Marxists or defenders of “Confederate Heritage” will tell you that the U.S. Civil War wasn’t really about slavery, even though at the time it actually happened the leaders and population of the south, the leaders and population of the north, foreign observers of U.S. politics, and, no doubt, any aliens who happened to be hovering around in their flying saucers would have agreed it was about slavery, they tell us that many of the wars that merely seem to the casual observer to be about religion are really caused by nationalism, imperialism, territorialism, etc., etc. If nothing else it’s a safe strategy. Take any war you like and, no matter how much the actual participants had deluded themselves into believing they were fighting about religion, any historian worth her salt will be able to “prove,” based on abundant citations, references, and historical source material, that it wasn’t about religion at all. Ostensibly secular wars can be transmogrified into “religious” wars just as easily.
As the article cherry picks the historical record, so it cherry picks the holy books of the various religions to show how “peaceful” they are. Predictably, this is especially true of the Quran. For example, quoting from the article,
The Islamic tradition provides for limits on the use of force in war similar to those found in the Christian tradition: ‘Never transgress limits, or take your enemy by surprise or perfidy, or inflict atrocities or mutilation, or kill infants’; and ‘Never kill a woman, a weak infant, or a debilitated old person; nor burn palms, uproot trees, or pull down houses’. The Koran also provides for the humane treatment of prisoners of war: ‘And they feed, for the love of God, the indigent, the orphan, and the captive’ [Koran 76:8-9].
As with most religions, one can “prove” the opposite by a judicious choice of verses. For example,
The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement.
I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.
After this exegesis of the holy books, the article provides a pair of tables purporting to show that the role of religion in the wars prior to and during the 20th century has been minimal. In the case of the 20th century, for example, the role of religion is supposedly zero on a scale of 0 to 5 for World War I and one on the same scale for World War II. In fact, in the case of WWI, the war was explicitly declared a religious war (jihad) by the religious leaders of Turkey, one of the major combatants. Many tens of thousands of Jews were murdered, frozen and starved in pogroms or as they were forcibly removed from areas stretching back many miles from the front lines by the Orthodox Christian rulers of Russia, and over a million Christian Armenians were murdered by the Moslem rulers of Turkey. By all accounts, the assurance that the war was not religious did little to relieve their suffering.
In the case of World War II, the role of religion depends entirely on how you define religion. I doubt that our brains have any hard-wired ability to distinguish immortal gods from mortal ones. At least as far as evolutionary biology is concerned, the distinction between traditional spiritual religions and modern secular ones, such as Nazism and Communism is, then, entirely artificial. Every essential element of the former has its analog in the latter. From that perspective, World War II was almost entirely a “religious war.”
Suppose, however, that we refrain from such unseemly quibbling, nod apologetically to the many millions even the authors agree have been killed over the years in religious wars, and accept the authors’ premise that, for all that, warfare really has played a “minimal” role in promoting warfare. Alas, the role of individuals in shaping historical events can be great indeed. After reading page after page establishing the benign role of religion in modern society, the authors inform us, to our dismay, that there is reason for concern, after all. An evil religious zealot of truly gargantuan power and influence appeared on the scene quite recently, almost single-handedly setting at naught the calming influence of religion as an instrument of peace. And who might this evil bogeyman be? Think, dear reader! The article we are discussing emanated from the left of the ideological spectrum. That’s right! The warmongering jihadi in question is none other than George W. Bush! Quoting a noted psychologist, the authors inform us with a shudder that,
…however much Bush may sometimes seem like a buffoon, he is also powered by massive, suppressed anger towards anyone who challenges the extreme, fanatical beliefs shared by him and a significant slice of his citizens – in surveys, half of them also agree with the statement “the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word.”
Gee, and I always thought he seemed like such a nice guy. How wrong I was! Reading on we find,
He hated his father for putting his whole life in the shade and for emotionally blackmailing him. He hated his mother for physically and mentally badgering him to fulfill her wishes. But the hatred also explains his radical transformation into an authoritarian fundamentalist. By totally identifying with an extreme version of their strict, religion-fuelled beliefs, he jailed his rebellious self. From now on, his unconscious hatred for them was channeled into a fanatical moral crusade to rid the world of evil.
Damn! Now I finally understand why my sister never liked the guy. The authors provide us with the laconic conclusion,
As the commander in chief, Bush dominates US foreign policy especially in regards to the war on terrorism that is presently the US government’s major military commitment. His plans, however influenced by advisors, arise from his personal view of the world and his concepts of justice, retribution and peace. Clearly his past and his relationships impact these views and ultimately help shape those of the American state. Therefore individual leaders’ psychology is perhaps an underrated area of study in the debate on God and war and could do with further analysis.
What an understatement! Why, that crazed religious fanatic had his finger on the nuclear trigger for eight years!
How wonderfully ironic! After spending so much time and effort to create an ideologically driven mirage of religion as benign and peaceful, in the end the authors upset their own apple cart because they couldn’t stifle their ideologically driven need to portray Bush as the personification of evil, complete with all the religious fundamentalist trappings. By their own account, religion nearly inspired, not merely a war, but the mother of all wars, a nuclear holocaust that might have exterminated our species once and for all. “Further analysis” indeed! Maybe we should have listened to the New Atheists after all!
Posted on July 3rd, 2012 No comments
Perhaps it would be better to say “one of the other holocausts” instead of “the other holocaust.” There have, after all, been many. However, the one that Jews of eastern and central Europe suffered during and immediately after World War I was probably more costly in terms of lives and suffering than any other save the Nazi inferno. Accounts of it may be found in numerous sources. The following are taken from the memoirs of Maurice Paleologue, French ambassador to Russia during the war (my translation from the German version). The first is from the entry of March 1, 1915:
The Jews of Poland and Lithuania have suffered terrible persecution since the beginning of the war. During the month of August (1914) they were forced to leave the zone near the border as quickly as possible. After a short time, these mandatory expulsions, carried out with excessive haste an cruelty, were applied further east with each passing day. Eventually, the entire Israelite population from Grodno, Lomza, Plozk, Kutno, Lodz, Pietrokov, Kielce, Radom, and Lublin was forced into the interior of the country in the direction of Podolia and Volhynia. Everywhere the expulsions were accompanied by acts of violence and plunder, carried out under the approving gaze of the authorities. One could see hundreds of thousands of unfortunates, driven aimlessly through the snow, driven on like cattle by bands of cossacks, in extreme want, abandoned in train stations, open fields, and the outskirts of cities, dying of hunger, exhaustion, and cold. And to improve their morale, everywhere they went these miserable people encountered the same feelings of hatred and rejection, the same accusations of expionage and treason. Never in all its painful history has Israel suffered a more tragic expulsion. And yet, there are 200,000 Jewish soldiers fighting bravely in the ranks of the Russian army!
and, from the entry of August 5, 1915,
With every retreat of the Russian army, the police continue the expulsion of Jews. Wherever it occurs, the expulsions are carried out with the usual excessive haste, as mindless as they are cruel. Those affected are informed at the last minute; they have neither time nor opportunity to take anything along. They are hurriedly packed into train cars; they are forced onto the road like herds of cattle; they are informed of their destination, which is then changed 20 times along the way. And wherever the order is given for them to leave a city, the orthodox population descends on the ghetto and plunders it. Forced back in the direction of Podolia, Volhynia, Bessarabia, and the Ukraine, they are given over to terrible suffering. The total number of the expelled has reached 800,000.
These expulsions were accompanied by bloody pogroms, lasting through the Civil War years, in which tens of thousands of Jews were murdered in cold blood. Descriptions of those carried out in the Odessa area may be found, for example, in Ivan Bunin’s Cursed Days.
In the years immediately following World War II, as hundreds of thousands of homeless Jews continued to wander about Europe, it seemed obvious to President Truman and many other leaders on this side of the iron curtain that the best solution to the problem was the creation of a Jewish State. There they would have at least a fighting chance of defending themselves against the holocausts of the future. It is interesting to consider, with the benefit of hindsight, whether the founding of the state of Israel really was a good idea after all. However, while the existence of human moral emotions certainly cannot be ignored in answering that question, they should certainly not be consulted to arrive at that answer.
Consider, for example, the contortions of the “progressive” ideologues as they chased the chimera of “the Good” as applied to the state of Israel. In the beginning, the Jews were the “good guys,” as seen, for example, in films like “Exodus.” Now, after demonstrating on several occasions that they are quite capable of defending themselves, they have become the “bad guys,” a much more familiar role for the Jews, who have always had the misfortune of being a “natural” outgroup wherever the diaspora has taken them. They are accused of favoring “apartheid,” in spite of Israel’s large Arab population, and the decimation of Jewish minorities in many of the states of north Africa and the Middle East. They are the ones guilty of “ethnic cleansing,” even as genuine ethnic cleansing of Jews from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank is accepted without a murmur. They are accused of atrocities against civilians, even as their enemies deliberately fire thousands of rockets at civilian population centers, and so on, and so on.
All this demonstrates once again, as have a virtually infinite number of similar experiments throughout human history, that decisions of this sort should not be based on morality. The reason for this seems abundantly obvious. The moral emotions from which all moral systems are ultimately derived evolved at a time when entities such as the state of Israel, or anything else resembling a modern state, for that matter, simply did not exist. On what, then, should they be based, if we exclude the wonderfully satisfying but grossly destructive and unreliable moral emotions? Why, the human ability to reason, by default. It is, admittedly, a very weak reed to lean on, but it’s the only one we really have.
Posted on September 17th, 2010 1 comment
Apparently the pope showed the now blunted fangs of the other “Religion of Peace” in an address to the Queen during his visit to the UK. The BBC quotes him as follows:
Even in our own lifetimes we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live.
As we reflect on the sobering lessons of atheist extremism of the 20th century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus a reductive vision of a person and his destiny.
The pope would do well to reflect on the record of the church he represents before he starts inveighing against “atheist extremism.” For example, it was responsible for the expulsion of Jews from the very country he was speaking in, not to mention his home country of Germany, as well as France, Spain and Portugal. It was responsible for countless pogroms against Jews throughout its bloody history, murdering hundreds of thousands of them in massacres in Germany and many other European countries. Other than that, it was directly responsible for the murders of hundreds of thousands of women as “witches,” countless bloody acts of repression against religious minorities, and the butchery of millions more in the wars it directly inspired.
As for the Nazis, the pope would do well to read “Mein Kampf.” After all, it was written in his mother tongue. In it Hitler invoked God many times, claiming, for example, that in fighting the Jews, he was doing the “Lord’s work.”
The political right has a tradition of bigotry in matters of religion, most recently revealed in the prevailing fashion of blaming atheists for Nazism and Communism. If the Nazis were atheist, how is it that Hitler constantly invoked God in his writings and speeches? How is it that the millions of little memorial brochures the Nazis sent to the families of fallen soldiers with a picture of the deceased on one side always had Christian symbols and verses on the other? Why did Nazi belt buckles and medals carry the inscription “God with us?”
Both Nazism and Communism were secular religions, differing from earlier versions only because they were unwise enough to promise heaven on earth, rather than pie in the sky when you die. They were recognized as such by numerous contemporary writers, who often spoke of Communist and Nazi leaders as so many popes, bishops and priests.
The Nazis and Communists didn’t murder because they were atheists. They murdered because they were Nazis and Communists. That remains a major distinction between atheists and Christians. Atheists have never murdered simply by virtue of the fact that they don’t believe in God. Christians have murdered millions by virtue of the fact that they do.
Posted on September 6th, 2010 No comments
It has always been obvious to anyone with an open mind that innate predispositions have a very significant impact on human behavior. These traits of ours have long been referred to as “human nature.” It is a remarkable manifestation of human behavior in its own right that the tribe of professional and academic psychologists somehow managed to ignore this truth through much of the 20th century. When thinkers like Robert Ardrey and Konrad Lorenz started drawing attention to the fact that the fine behaviorist costume of the emperor of psychology was imaginary, and he was actually strutting around naked, they reacted with rage. Since those days, they have have been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the real world by accummulating mountains of evidence, at least to the point of recognizing the existence of innate behavior. However, Ardrey and Lorenz also pointed out that certain of these innate behavioral traits, and, in particular, those associated with what we call morality, did not necessarily tend to “niceness,” and “kindness.” To this day, the assorted psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists who have finally acknowledged innate behavior continue to studiously avoid recognizing this equally obvious fact, apparently dismissing a 5000 year history of human warfare and slaughter of “the others,” as a mere unfortunate coincidence. Instead, ignoring the implications of their acceptance of innate behavior, and dismissing anyone who objects as a “reductionist,” they continue to cobble away on their Brave New Worlds of “human flourishing,” in which a new morality, decked out in the latest fashion of the secular religion now prevailing on college campuses, will guide us into a glorious future of universal human brotherhood. I have one question for all these architects of a bright new human future. Have you hugged a Tea Partier lately?
I rather doubt it. Don Surber makes the point rather nicely in a recent post about would be terrorist James Lee entitled, “What if he were a Tea Partier…” When it comes to the Tea Party movement, confirmation bias on the left is running full blast. Any bit of anecdotal evidence, any act by some deranged individual who can, however remotely, be associated with the movement is frantically seized on as “proof” that all the tens of millions of Tea Partiers are racist, facist, ultra-conservative extremists, or what have you. In a word, they are all “evil.”
The explanation for this phenomenon would have been obvious to Ardrey and Lorenz. They referred to it as the Amity/Enmity Complex, described in an earlier work by Sir Arthur Keith as follows:
Human nature has a dual constitution; to hate as well as to love are parts of it; and conscience may enforce hate as a duty just as it enforces the duty of love. Conscience has a two-fold role in the soldier: it is his duty to save and protect his own people and equally his duty to destroy their enemies… Thus conscience serves both codes of group behavior; it gives sanction to practices of the code of enmity as well as the code of amity.
Enmity towards “the others” is not something we humans can “unlearn,” or turn off at the flick of a switch. If we are to control it, we must first recognize its existence, and then proceed rationally to find ways to deal with it. If we succeed, then perhaps it won’t be necessary to constantly repeat, over and over and over again, such horrific manifestations as the slaughter of millions of Jews by the Nazis, or millions of “bourgeoisie” by the Communists. It will not do to cobble some fine new morality, because Enmity is a part of our morality. It is a part of our morality that must and will manifest itself, one way or the other, and it isn’t going anywhere because leftist academics choose to ignore it. It is a part of them, as well as the rest of us, and to see it they need only look in the mirror.
If the paragons of the left really propose to leave hatred and hostility behind with just a few more salutary tweeks to their New Morality, isn’t it fair to ask, why all the furious denunciations of tens of millions of people over an isolated sign here, or the acts of a deranged madman there, or the unpardonable sin of being “overwhelmingly white?” Where’s the love? If these avatars of human flourishing via a new era of “kindness” and “niceness” really propose to free us of the demons of our evolutionary past by ignoring them, why all the viciousness, why all the irrational spite aroused against tens of millions by the real or imagined acts of a few, why all the eager fixation on the “evils” of this latest convenient “out-group?” Tell me, my friends, have you hugged a Tea Partier lately?
Posted on August 14th, 2010 No comments
I read four or five accounts of the arrest of serial killer Elias Abuelazam in the local and national mainstream media, and in none of them was he identified as other than an “Israeli.” Apparently the editors thought the fact that he happens to be an Arab Christian, and not a Jew,
didn’t fit the narrativewas not significant enough to mention. These people seem to believe they can still play the same games they did back in the 60’s and 70’s when they had an effective monopoly as gatekeepers of public information. It’s as if they haven’t noticed that times have changed, and there are now powerful alternative voices that will nail them every time. They keep losing credibility and market share, but it just doesn’t seem to matter to them. Perhaps they’ve finally tired of the “objectivity” charade, and have decided to content themselves with preaching to the choir.
Posted on July 31st, 2010 No comments
The prevailing fashion among anti-Semites on both the right and left of the political spectrum has long been to rationalize their hatred of Jews as “anti_Zionism,” or hide it behind a grotesque double standard in matters relating to Israel. If the recent claim by a campaign spokesperson for Democratic Congressman Mike McMahon that his opponent was taking “Jewish money” is any guide, they are becoming increasingly unconcerned about maintaining the charade.
I ran across another piece of anecdotal evidence on my way to work yesterday. The guy who stands across the street from Union Station in Washington with signs like “Impeach Bush” (a few months before the 2008 election) had one that said, “Jews Get Out of the West Bank, Now!” Of course, this particular political activist is of doubtful sanity. However, his reference, without resort to euphemisms, to the only form of ethnic cleansing currently accepted as “morally righteous” by the ostentatiously pious of the world shows you which way the wind is blowing. It also demonstrates once again why the existence of the State of Israel is both justified and necessary.
UPDATE: Anti-Semitism Lite is apparently still alive and well at the BBC. Readers who follow how the “news” is reported by the bloated British monopoly, described by Andrew Sullivan in his more lucid days as “NPR on steroids,” will recall the furious and obsessive diatribe the Beeb carried on a while back against Israel’s border fence. It’s articles on the subject were usually salted with an undercurrent of contrived virtuous indignation. Meanwhile, it continued its studious lack of concern about the continued ethnic cleansing of Jews from any number of countries in North Africa and the Middle East, not to mention the many discriminatory laws against them. Here are the “zinger” lines, ubiquitous at the end of articles in the European and US mainstream media to make sure that even the denser readers get the “moral of the story,” in an item about Israel’s retaliation for the latest rocket attack from Gaza.
Correspondents say such attacks are almost always ineffective, with rockets mostly landing in open fields.
In other words, Israel should not object to rocket attacks unless they actually kill a number of civilians large enough to please the BBC. After all, the Brits wouldn’t mind if France started launching rockets onto their territory as long as the attacks only killed an odd farmer here and there.
One Thai farmer in Israel has been killed in the past year.
Why, heck, the only one actually killed was a Thai. They don’t even count.
Dozens of Palestinians, some of them civilians, have been killed in attacks from Israel over the same period.
A re-packaging of the threadbare “disproportionate force” argument, once again ignoring the fact that this latest “cycle of violence” was not started by Israel. To put it more generally, the elephant in the closet that is invariably ignored in such “news” stories about the Middle East is that the violence there would end tomorrow if Israel’s enemies recognized her right to exist. They provoke the violence and they alone have the power to end it. Until they do, the farcical play acting known as the Middle East “peace process” will continue to be an effort in futility. Once they do, the violence will end.
Posted on June 15th, 2010 No comments
The dead tree media and the rest of the vanilla left used to support Israel – before they cleaned their enemy’s clocks in 1967 and 1973. That made it difficult to strike pious poses as Israel’s “saviors.” After all, the Jews could defend themselves. Ergo, they switched sides to the Palestinians, who made much better “victims.” If your whole ideology is about ostentatious displays of superior righteousness, that’s all that matters. There’s no more intellectual depth to their hatred of Israel than that. Once the “victim” was identified, rational analysis of the conflict became superfluous. All that remained was to rationalize a forgone conclusion, and indulge in the usual orgy of self-righteousness.
Posted on June 13th, 2010 No comments
I’ve written about the Amity/Enmity Complex in earlier posts. The term describes the dual nature of the innate human behavioral traits generally associated with morality. Simply put, it describes our tendency to associate other human beings with “in-groups,” which are associated with good, and “out-groups,” which are associated with evil. The moral rules one is expected to observe in interactions with members of ones in-group are generally those we associate with moral good. Completely different rules apply to the out-group, whose members are generally viewed with hostility and can be treated accordingly. Occasionally this takes such extreme forms as mass murder and genocide, as, for example, in the case of the Jews during the Holocaust, or the “bourgeoisie” under Communism. In America, the phenomenon commonly manifests itself as irrational hatred of those with opposing political beliefs, as the “liberals,” or the “tea-baggers.”
For those still having trouble seeing the obvious, the “enmity” side of the Complex is once again on display in Kyrgyzstan, where, at last report, 75,000 members of the Uzbek minority were fleeing their homes, and scores were killed and hundreds injured. It is another data point to add to the many thousands of others that have occurred throughout recorded human history. One would think it had happened enough by now to convince even the most obtuse among us that human morality is a dangerous nostrum to apply in dealing with the relations between nation states, ethnic groups, political parties, and the other types of social groups of unprecedented size that have emerged very recently in human history.
Morality is, inevitably, a two edged sword. For every “good” defended, an “evil” must be identified and defeated. The identification of those who are “evil” is typically arbitrary, and can quickly change to include those who were previously seen as “good.” Consider, for example, the Jews in Israel, who were the darlings of the left, and “good” at the time the movie “Exodus” was made, but have now become “evil” for those of the same political persuasion because they are no longer well suited to play the role of “victims” to be “saved.” Similarly, those who were only considered different a few years ago can quickly be perceived as the evil enemy in response to any number of stimuli in the form of social or political change, heightened competition for resources, ideological and religious propaganda, etc., and, literally overnight, become the victims of bloody witchhunts.
This sort of thing has been going on for a very long time, and is becoming increasingly murderous and destructive. Is it not high time for us to finally learn to know ourselves and climb off the treadmill?