“Five Easy Pieces” and the Ghost of Robert Ardrey

I know.  You think I’m too obsessed with Robert Ardrey.  Perhaps, but when I stumble across little historical artifacts of his existence, I can’t resist recording them.  Who else will?  Besides, I have moral emotions, too.  I’m not sure where I sit on the spectrum of Jonathan Haidt’s moral foundations, but when I consider Ardrey’s shabby treatment in the “official” histories, they all start howling at once.  Ardrey shouldn’t be forgotten.  He was the most significant player in the events that come to mind when one hears the term “Blank Slate.”

What was the “Blank Slate?”  I’d call it the greatest scientific debacle of all time.  The behavioral sciences were derailed for fifty years and more by the ideologically motivated denial of human nature.  Unfortunately, its history will probably never be written, or at least not in a form that bears some resemblance to the truth.  Perhaps the most important truth that will be redacted from future accounts of the Blank Slate is the seminal role of Robert Ardrey in dismantling it.  That role was certainly recognized by the high priests of the Blank Slate themselves.  Their obsession with Ardrey can be easily documented.  In spite of that he is treated as an unperson today, and his historical role has been denied or suppressed.  I have discussed reasons for this remarkable instance of historical amnesia elsewhere.  They usually have something to do with the amour-propre of the academic tribe.  See, for example, here, here and here.

If there are grounds for optimism that the real story will ever see the light of day, it lies in the ease with which the elaborate fairy tale that currently passes as the “history” of the Blank Slate can be exposed.  According to this official “history,” the Blank Slate prevailed virtually unchallenged until the mid-70’s.  Then, suddenly, E. O. Wilson appeared on the scene as the knight in shining armor who slew the Blank Slate dragon almost single-handedly with the publication of Sociobiology in 1975.  As I’ve noted in earlier posts, there’s a great deal of source material in both the academic and popular literature whose existence is very difficult to account for if one takes this sanitized version of the affair seriously.  I’ve occasionally cited some of the numerous examples of articles about or by Ardrey, both pro and con, in popular magazines including the highbrow Encounter, the more professionally oriented Saturday Review, the once popular Life, the “recreational” Penthouse, and many others, all of which appeared long before the publication of Sociobiology.  I recently stumbled across another amusing example in one of Jack Nicholson’s earlier flicks, and probably one of his best; Five Easy Pieces.

I hadn’t watched the film since 1970, the year it was released.  I thought it was entertaining at the time, especially the iconic restaurant scene with the uncooperative waitress.  However, I certainly didn’t notice any connection to the Blank Slate.  It was a bit early for that.  However, I happened to watch the film again a couple of days ago.  This time I noticed something.  There was the ghost of Robert Ardrey, with an amused look on his face, waving at me right out of the screen.

The great debunker of the Blank Slate turns up around 1:20:25 into the film.  Bobby (Jack Nicholson), his somewhat trashy girlfriend, Rayette, and a few other family members and guests are gathered in the living room of Bobby’s childhood home.  A pompous, insufferable woman by the name of Samia Glavia is holding forth about the nature of man.  The dialogue goes like this:

Samia Glavia/Irene Dailey: But you see, man is born into the world with his existent adversary from the first. It is his historic, lithic inheritance. So, is it startling? Aggression is prehistoric. An organism behaves according to its nature, and its nature derives from the circumstances of its inheritance. The fact remains that primitive man took absolute delight in tearing his adversary apart. And there is where I think the core of the problem resides.

John Ryan/Spicer: Doesn’t that seem unnecessarily apocalyptic?

Glavia: I do not make poetry.

Rayette: Is there a TV in the house?

Glavia: I remarked to John, that rationality is not a device to alter facts. But moreover I think of it as an extraneous tool, a gadget, somewhat like… the television. To look at it any other way is ridiculous.

Rayette:There’s some good things on it, though.

Glavia: I beg your pardon? (Condescendingly)

Rayette: There’s some good things on it sometimes.

Glavia: I have strong doubts. Nevertheless, I am not discussing media.  (Icy, condescending smile)

Susan Anspach/Catherine van Oost: I think these cold, objective discussions are aggressive.

As Catherine leaves the room, Glavia rants on: There seems to be less aggression, or violence, if you like, among the higher classes, and loftier natures.

Nicholson/Bobby Dupea: You pompous celibate. You’re totally full of shit.

Great shades of Raymond Dart!  “Aggression” was a key buzzword at the time in any discussion of innate human nature.  Naturalist Konrad Lorenz had published the English version of his On Aggression a few years earlier.  Ardrey had highlighted the theories of Dart, according to which Australopithecus africanus was an aggressive hunting ape, in his African Genesis, published in 1961.  The scientific establishment, firmly in the grip of the Blank Slate ideologues, had been furiously blasting back, condemning Ardrey, Lorenz, and anyone else who dared to suggest the existence of anything as heretical as human nature as a fascist and a Nazi, not to mention very right wing.  (sound familiar?)  See, for example, the Blank Slate tract Man and Aggression, published in 1968.

I’m not sure whether producer Bob Rafelson or screenwriter Carole Eastman or both were responsible for the lines in question, but there’s no doubt about one thing – whoever wrote them had been well coached by the Blank Slaters.  Their favorite memes were all there.  The grotesque, exaggerated “Killer Ape Theory?” Check!  The socially objectionable nature of the messenger?  Check!  Their association with the “exploiting classes, or, as Samia Glavia put it, “the higher classes and loftier natures?” Check!  As a final subtle touch, the very name “Glavia” is Latin for a type of sword or spear, a weapon of “aggression.”

I’m sure there are many more of these artifacts of reality out there, awaiting discovery by some future historian bold enough to dispute the “orthodox” account of the Blank Slate.  According to that account, nothing much happened to disturb the hegemony of the Blank Slaters until E. O. Wilson turned up.  Then, as noted above, the whole charade supposedly popped like a soap bubble.  Well, as the song goes, “It ain’t necessarily so.”  Ardrey and friends had already reduced the Blank Slate to a laughing stock among the lay public long before Wilson happened along.  The “Men of Science” knew the game was up.  Still, they couldn’t bear to admit that a “mere playwright” like Ardrey had forced them to admit that the elaborate Blank Slate fairy tale they had been propping up for the last 50 years with thousands of “scientific” papers in hundreds of learned academic and professional journals was a hoax.  They needed some “graceful” way to rejoin the real world.  They seized on Wilson as the “way.”  Any port in a storm.  As a member of the academic tribe himself, he made it respectable for other “Men of Science” to disengage themselves from the Blank Slate dogmas.  Be that as it may, as anyone who was around at the time and was paying attention was aware, the man who was the real nemesis of the Blank Slate was Robert Ardrey.  If you’re looking for proof, I recommend Five Easy Pieces as both a revealing and entertaining place to start your search.

Why is all this important?  Because the Blank Slate affair was a disfiguring and corruption of the integrity of science on an unprecedented scale.  It clearly demonstrated what can happen when ideological imperatives are allowed to trump the scientific method.  For half a century and more it blocked our path to self-understanding, and with it out ability to understand and cope with some of the more destructive aspects of our nature.  Under the circumstances it might behoove us to at least get the history right.

Robert Ardrey

23 thoughts on ““Five Easy Pieces” and the Ghost of Robert Ardrey”

  1. The fascinating thing about public and so called academic debate at the moment is the complete lack of awareness re Ardrey/ Lorenz etc. So please continue with the obsession.
    Reading the social contract there was a sentence that really struck a cord with me as an old environmentalist.
    Sorry to paraphrase but in making a point he says words to the effect ” I make / these comments are based on my observations of nature”.
    There is such a power here and in a way that Ardrey did so well he cut to the chase.
    When my old ‘green’ friends try and engage with me re the basis of my shifting positions I ask them a simple question. On what philisophical basis do you build your argument. They are lost,. “we must have morals”. Maybe, ‘does the Lion lose Karma when he kills the baby antelope?’. “No but thats different, we are humans”.
    This would make more sense if there had ever been a time when those who ruled had risen there by meakness and inheritance.

  2. Re historical artefacts / references to Ardrey and Co, have you read Stephen Jay Gould’s book, ‘Ever Since Darwin’.
    The first Chapter I found heartening as he suggest under the title ‘Darwin’s Delay’ that Darwin’s great dilemma was more an underlying Philosophical Materialism than just concern for the reception of his theories.
    However I digress, the real gold was Chapters 30-33. If you’ve never read them I suggest a stiff drink or two on hand. To be blunt its a short yet wholly predictable attack on Ardrey, and Co, interestingly not Tinbergen but that’s another tangent.
    Now further I’ve just been reading the Wikipedia entry for Gould, (you may need another Scotch/Bourbon/Whiskey about now), they mention the ‘culture wars, don’t mention Ardrey and all that Gould wrote about them and holds up ‘Wilson’ as the protagonist.
    The more I read around this area the more I feel that the blank slaters seem to be moving back in.
    I’m planning a bigger comment re Gould, but just wanted to see if you had seen the Gould piece re Ardrey/Lorenz etc!

  3. I’ll go with bourbon, thanks. I haven’t seen the piece by Gould, but will definitely have a look. More evidence that there actually once was a man named Robert Ardrey! The Wiki entry on Gould is interesting, too, with the now orthodox allusion to Wilson. Of course, “Against Sociobiology” condemned him for being “like Ardrey.” The Blank Slaters never really left the academy. They’re still waiting for a favorable time to re-apply their ideological strait-jacket to the behavioral sciences.

  4. More bourbon.
    I know your probably used to finding references re Ardrey and Co, Lorenz and Tinbergen but the previous find in Gould got me thinking, just what was it that impressed me about Ardrey, having stumbled like a blind man out of the social science/humanities.
    So I went back a had a small read of ‘The Territorial Imperative”. Good grief, its like a wave of relief,. and of course its ‘Instinct’. (that its not pretty is no reason to back away from reality)
    At the same time I found an old Dennert book “Darwins Dangerous Idea”. Now for the bourbon. Page 487, in a chapter titled onimously ‘Sociobiology: Good and Bad, Good and Evil’ he makes the following assertion. “But the ubiquity of territoriality in human societies is by itself no evidence at all for this, (instinct) since territoriality makes so much sense in so many human arrangements. It is, if not a forced move, close to it.”
    The whole chapter needs to be read twice, and I’m probably not doing it fair justice but he also mentions that in supporting the ‘culture argument’ that just because people throw spears with the pointy end first, doesn’t mean that there is a gene for throwing pointy ends first and that its far more likely to be ‘cultural’. (I wouldn’t let a year 12 philosophy student get away with that type of logic)
    He naturally has a dig at Wilson on the same page, and really my head spins,. If a Martian was to look at the behaviour of humans, the first thing he/she/it would see, would be some fairly impressive territorial boundaries, no more powerfully delineated than Harvard offices and priviledges.
    On a brighter note, Wilsons latest, ‘The Origins of Creativity’ is a fun and enjoyable read, whilst he does not name those whose names will not be mentioned, the Stickleback fish is there, the ducks, the killer ape is alluded to and he smacks down Dawkins re group behaviour, and generally makes one feel a whole lot better re the bizzare ‘culture myth’.
    I could go on, but could I end by suggesting that ‘Culture’ suffers from a very obvious problem. That the Bible suggests a beginning 6000 + years ago was an interesting aside, but I digress. The problem I have with Culture, when did this phenomena begin? 10,000 years,. hell it doesn’t matter for this point, 20,000 years? So before our enlightenment how did we manage, no culture, no progress. Unless culture has always been our central driver when did the transition happen?
    On one last tangent, Religion is mentioned as a ‘cultural driver’, but my dear Watson, Religion is based on a lie, its fantasy, if culture is a lie, the driver must be something else? Could it be the millions and millions of years of evolution and adapting to our environment?

  5. Pinker was of course mentioned in Dennerts intro to “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” along with other likely suspects.. I dislike Pinkers ‘trend of less violence’ on many levels, mainly its lack of timeframe, we should talk in millenia not decades. To have such a short term trend does support ‘culture’ I suppose. I mention this and would like to share a critique of Pinkers last book, written by a writer I’ve mentioned a few times, John Gray.,. https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/books/2018/02/unenlightened-thinking-steven-pinker-s-embarrassing-new-book-feeble-sermon
    As you’ve mentioned Pinker missed Ardrey when writing his blank slate. I’m sure its a group thing, I see Shermer, who I have some time for, was, in contrast to Gray, gushing in his praise.
    Dennert, Pinker, Dawkins, Harris, Delahunty, Shermer, and other hangers on are like a echo chamber. Of course they have many fine points to make but they are less prepared for criticism.

  6. Thanks for the link. I agree that Pinker’s “trend of less violence” is ridiculously short. My reaction after reading the book was “Seriously?” Apparently the theme of the book is that we should all don rose-colored glasses because we are making “moral progress,” a notion that is absurd on the face of it. Beyond that, there is a finite chance that a nuclear holocaust could occur at any time, an event that would render the book entirely moot.

    As for Dennett, his “culture” argument is self-defeating. If something “makes sense,” why does it “make sense?” As Hutcheson and Hume so astutely pointed out, a “passion” or “sentiment” must always be found at the end of a logical chain, no matter how long you choose to make it. Dennett may deny that the “sentiment” involved isn’t territoriality, but that merely begs the question of what other “sentiment,” he’s referring to. In the end, all “culture” must be an expression of innate human behavioral traits. I haven’t read Wilson’s latest, but I’ve just ordered it. I wish the old man could live forever!

  7. You commented,

    ‘In the end, all “culture” must be an expression of innate human behaviour traits’.

    Yes and yes, and what the culture vultures never quite tell us is if behaviour is not innate/instinctive drivers then what is it? Are the actions some metaphysical force, some Devine ‘invisible hand’ or more recently some ‘modern enlightenment’. Oh the profoundness of our conceit.

    Innate human behaviour could do with a whole lot more study. If I could take a small detour. One of the most profound breakthroughs for me was reading Tinbergens great discovery of the ‘super stimuli’, the wooden beak. Here we have a instinctive and powerful driver being shown to revolve around a lock and key mechanism (Lorenz, I think). The animal has a predetermined need/drive and when it finds an appropriate key in the environment a behaviour is opened. The genius of Tinbergen only went half way and if I may criticise the work, its in the naming. Calling a usurpation of the natural lock and key mechanism a ‘super stimuli’ is appalling, its a ‘False Stimuli’. The ‘False Stimuli’ can then be seen across so much of our ‘cultural landscape’. Here your comment that I have highlighted comes into full force. The Church/religion surely represents the Elder/Father/Authority figure, and what an horrendous corruption that is. Other examples abound, I would argue from the small scale of the ‘poker machines’, gambling, many ‘status games’ , much group behaviour, all the way to the Nation State.
    If I was to devise a tool to identify a “False Stimuli’ it would run by seeing where natural ‘evolutionary plays/behaviours’ have been corrupted. Religious wars were brothers fight against each other are an easy example.
    People acting against their own self interest, as above allows a great insight into this ‘false stimuli’.
    My point, evolution theory states that evolution doesn’t have a point, its blind to any moral imperative, any ethical or intellectual utopian vision. As you regularly point out. While we can expect someone like Pinker to play the utopia game, could I ask you why do you think a man of such brilliance around the evolution of our species, Wilson, would fall for the oldest trap and take the fatal one step too many and call for an action where there is no ‘scientific’ support.

  8. It’s hard to say. Chalk it up to the whims of an old man who’s worried about his legacy, I guess.

  9. Another mention of Ardrey, this time in the footnotes of a book by Stephen Jay Gould. The Mismeasurement of Man. An interesting book, one dedicated to Ashley Montagu. So I was interested in actually looking at some of his stuff,. Firstly Wikipedia, and the alarm bells went right off. His first work was a piece of research into the Australian Aborigines. As I’ve mentioned I live in Australia, I’ve been extremely lucky to have two close friendships with elders in different parts of the country. Both law men and both keepers of the traditions etc,. All combined I’ve know these men over 20 years and I can guarantee you that whatever Mr Montague was told it would have been the Loch Ness monster version. So next I went to youtube and there was the following https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=eQpUvInXNF0 .
    An interview by Johnny Carson on the 9/13/74. Good grief, the man is not so much out on a limb as off the planet. The Aboriginal traditional story of the spirit man who can kill is a bit like the tales of the Grimm brothers. I remember as I travelled up through Scotland and as I got closer to the loch, the bigger the laughter of the locals. Apparently Montague never realised his leg was being pulled.
    The myth so beautifully played the Mans beliefs.

  10. Fascinating link. Thanks for sharing it. Montagu was a piece of work. He was delusional enough to believe he was a “man of science,” and that he was entitled to speak for “science,” when he was really no more than a high priest of the Blank Slate. Here was someone who wrote things like “…man is man because he has no instincts, because everthing he is and has become he has learned, acquired, from his culture, from the man-made part of the environment, from other human beings” and “In fact, I also think it very doubtful that any of the great apes have any instincts. On the contrary, it seems that as social animals they must learn from others everything they come to know and do.” Those quotes are from a book he edited entitled “Man and Aggression,” a collection of essays from various “eminent scientists” attacking Ardrey and, to a lesser extent, Lorenz, with William Golding, author of “Lord of the Flies,” thrown in for good measure, probably for comic effect. The book is one of the best pieces of source material on the Blank Slate I’m aware of, demonstrating both the significance of Ardrey and the sort of nonsense that Montagu and the rest of the Blank Slaters actually believed.

    Carson’s comment that Montagu had often appeared on his show is interesting. It demonstrates the commitment of the media, controlled by leftists then as it is now, to insure that the public heard only the orthodox Blank Slate message when it came to human nature. One can nail down almost to the year when they finally threw in the towel, pretty close to the year 2000 for most of them. Needless to say, Robert Ardrey never appeared on Carson’s show.

  11. No, thank you for having this blog.
    I am really enjoying exploring the ‘culture’ line, as it appears more and more a phantom. If we can clearly see it as a phantom the next question for me is ‘what process, mechanism is it mimicking/reflecting/usurping’ etc?
    Just one little note re the interview, when Mr Montagu is discussing ‘voodoo death’ he actually starts to discuss the physiological mechanism. Frankly its nonsense, he sounds like some new age exponent. The language ‘the man believes in the upper story, then this effects the blah blah blah”. Really, so he has had the opportunity of being at the event. My understanding of the Australian context is there has never been a documented case that was observed. Mr Montagu has simply made this up.
    Lets go back to his doctorate thesis. ‘Coming into being among Australian Aborigines. A study of the procreative beliefs of the native tribes of Australia.”
    Australia is bigger than Europe, the ‘nations’ are linguistically so distinct that the over 100 different nations also resemble Europe in the inability of the groups to understand the languages of other. Their practices and ‘beliefs’ are similarly diverse. (This idea that the nations of pre European Australia were homogenous shows a complete paternalistic and false understanding of the diversity etc)
    Note. He said ‘beliefs’, so I can presume that the instincts that swamp the young to dive under the nearest bush and ‘procreate’ is somehow irrelevant and the ‘beliefs’ take over,. Madness, arrogant fraudulent nonsense.
    I could go on, I was going to ask what I should read (maybe I’ll need a few stiff drinks to recover) but you mentioned “Man and Aggression” so that will be my next journey into the madness.

  12. Exactly! Any pre-med student listening to Montagu’s “voodoo death” yarn must have known immediately that the man was a crackpot, but no one ever called him on it. He could spout whatever nonsense he wanted and still pose as a paragon of “science,” because he wore nice suits, had a nice accent, and was ideologically pure. So much for the integrity of science.

    As for “Man and Aggression,” it’s one of the most valuable pieces of source material on the Blank Slate I know of. It was going for a penny plus shipping not long ago, but now I see it’s up to $1.80 at Amazon. The book makes it perfectly clear that the Blank Slaters were running scared long before it ever occurred to E. O. Wilson to publish “Sociobiology,” and the man they were scared of was Robert Ardrey. At least Geoffrey Gorer, the author of one of the essays in the book, had the decency to compliment Ardrey on the thoroughness of his research.

    If you have a copy of Pinker’s “The Blank Slate,” you’ll find the book mentioned on page 124. In other words, Pinker was perfectly well aware of the significance of Ardrey and Lorenz. In spite of that, he dismisses them in a single paragraph on that page as being “totally and utterly wrong” on the authority of “the sociobiologists.” The only “sociobiologist” he mentions is Richard Dawkins. The “totally and utterly wrong” quote was lifted from “The Selfish Gene,” and didn’t even refer to human nature or any other major theme in the work of either Ardrey or Lorenz. Dawkins was merely disagreeing with them about group selection! And now Wilson, the greatest sociobiologist of them all, is also the staunchest and most recognizable supporter of group selection around! Pinker knew precisely what the quote was about if he had even read so much as the first chapter of “The Selfish Gene.” In other words, he sacrificed his integrity as a scientist in order to airbrush Ardrey out of history. The Blank Slate was certainly real, but Pinker’s account of it is little better than a fairy tale.

  13. I mentioned in the earlier posts here that I would do a longer number on Gould,. A short one will do.
    I’ve just read Gould’s “The Mismeasure of Man”.
    It’s a book of two stories, firstly it is a great 101 of science, the role of logic, truth, consistency and correlations between factors , how some are relevant and some not. You’ll know all this stuff so enough said.
    To cut to the chase, Gould see’s fault with everyone else yet misses that his great ‘cultural’ basis for civilisation can also been seen as an axis on the scale. An axis that doesn’t exist in the natural world. A cultural construct, a phantom.
    His demon, evolutionary biology, has no way of explaining ‘culture’, those glossy achievements of civilisation, music, art, architecture, religion, and fine words. He doesn;t consider that it doesn’t need one.
    This divide between culture and the natural world seems locked, but I think we can see a way through, which survives without the other?
    Back to his battle, Gould says in his acknowledgements. (Language warning, bourbon may be needed.) “I thank Ashley Montagu, not only for his specific suggestions, but also for leading the fight against scientific racism for so many years without becoming cynical about human possibilities.”
    Pity Gould never took the time to do a little research about Montagu’s credibility.
    And finally, and its been a sorry bloody tale, if there is one particular form of argument thats really shits me its being identified as a member of a group and then hung for the supposed sins of others. Such was the fate, I would argue, of Ardrey etc.

  14. Yes, if you read Montagu’s little book, “Man and Aggression,” that’s exactly how they handled Ardrey. He was a right winger, John Bircher, fascist, etc. No mention, and probably not even any awareness, that he had started his anthropological studies on the left of the ideological spectrum, and almost became a Communist himself at one point.

    Apropos Gould and culture, one of the many bogus raps on Ardrey was that he was a “genetic determinist,” apparently meaning that he believed that human beings acted purely on instinct, like ants. That’s nonsense, of course, but the claim is interesting in itself. In fact, you can’t really separate “nurture” from “nature.” In the end, culture is always one of the myriad possible manifestations of innate behavioral traits filtered through the large brains of human beings who are trying to figure out what their emotions are telling them. In the context of the complex societies we have created since the traits in question evolved, a serious disconnect has developed between those latter day manifestations, and the reasons they exist to begin with. In the case of Gould, Montagu, and many others like them, this resulted in the behavioral sciences going completely off the tracks for more than half a century, setting back our attempts to acquire self-knowledge by at least that long. All this was done in the name of some higher “enlightenment.” As a species, we’ve accomplished some amazing things, and yet somehow we also managed to disrupt whole branches of science that are critical to our survival. It’s sad, really.

  15. And so it continues,.
    Whilst enjoying your recent posts I must confess that I am reading them twice, three times, and there is something almost impossible complex about this whole area.
    So to the latest ‘find’ of ghosts past.
    Matt Ridley in his rather interesting book “The Origins Of Virtue” P 38 is discussing Nash and game theory. In one example he uses two names for the example. “There are two individuals, called Konrad and Niko:”
    So if I can try and link this back to your recent posts, why do we have to hide any knowledge of the breakthrough work of Lorenz, Tinbergen, and of course the writings of the great Ardrey. Well maybe because of the inability of man to be told the truth. It’s easier, infact seemingly only possible to tell people what they want to hear.
    I’ve mentioned before the genius of Morias was that he showed that the termite nest was not ‘more then the sum of its parts’. This seems impossible for some to grasp, we see Ridley projecting.
    P 41 “Adam Smith was the first to recognise that the division of labour is that it makes human society more than the sum of its parts”
    If I could say this, there is nothing in the world other than the sum of the parts, any event, thought, happening, infact every being who has fantasises of other, is doing so in this universe, using energy of this universe and is totally apart of this universe.

  16. You’re definitely right about the human resistance to truth. Of course, a major theme of this blog is the hypothesis that morality is a manifestation of innate behavioral traits that exist by virtue of evolution by natural selection. I think many others “get it” when it comes to that fundamental fact. However, there is great resistance to accepting what that fact implies about morality. That is where we really come up against what you call “the inability of man to be told the truth.” For example, an implication of my hypothesis is the non-existence of objective good and evil. People commonly object, “But doesn’t that mean that everything is permitted?” Of course, it doesn’t mean that at all, but the question is really beside the point. If something is true, it will remain true whether “everything is permitted” or not. It follows that the question really being asked is, “Shouldn’t we suppress the truth to preserve morality?” At that point, inability to accept the truth becomes insistence that mankind be fed a steady diet of lies for its own good.

  17. Thank you for your recent posts, I’ve enjoyed them thoroughly. Re books of the past, I just had ‘The Study of Instinct’ land in the letter box.
    I look forward to a magnificent read and will report any new gems/insights.
    Re the Pinker effect, I keep seeing the closed nature of ‘religious’ thought repeated in academia.
    Hierarchy, established dogma’s, early (age) entry with no ability to challenge, years of ‘understudy’, a promotion system based around not challenging the status quo etc,.
    Lorenz mentions in his ‘Behind the Mirror’, the story of the discovery of the syphillus bacteria being discover by an outsider, using a different technique,. (The bacteria didn’t take the established dye). The other two great examples were Einstein who had the great fortune to have a few of the elite establishment (Bohrs) able to see his breakthroughs. Ardrey/Lorenz/Tinbergen etc were not so lucky, outsiders, usurpers of the pecking order, the establishment have played time and how amazing that they seem to have again won.
    Back to ‘The Study of Instinct’, why is this book not in every library?

  18. “The Study of Instinct” will always be a classic, unpoisoned by ideology as so many popular science books are today. I have the 1969 edition, which has a preface by Tinbergen explaining why he decided to have it reprinted nearly 20 years later without changing a word. I’m glad he made that decision.

  19. Having developed the habit of reading multi books at the same time, I’m slowly meandering through Tinbergens classic. “The Study of Instinct’ is a touch academic but what an amazingly clear and precise book. I’m always stunned that the Social Science classes I attended never allowed for instincts, instead we were subjected to some nonsense called Maslow’s heirarchy of needs.
    Where Tinbergen reflects nature, with territorial battles, food, sex and reproduction at the core, showing how these drives are within, Maslow had us searching for ‘self-actualisation’. Ha ha ha, it would be funny if it wasn’t so pathetic and intellectually dishonest.

  20. Yes, as I note in my latest post, we would have done well to pay more attention to what Darwin actually wrote about morality and innate behavior, and less to Maslow’s inane theories about “self-actualization.”

  21. Re Tinbergen’s classic. How amazing that such a relatively short book should have so many fundamentally important and enlightening aspects.
    But if I could I would like to venture on a related but tangential story. I’ve been a bit distracted of late having taken a short term teaching contract at a local high school. Australia, as you know, has a large percentage of indigenous peoples in many areas. I was fortunate to be able to spend some time with many in this recent revisit to an old career.
    Now the point I wish to share is fundamental to one of your main arguments, that the social sciences have removed our understanding of human nature and replaced it with a post Christian fantasy of morality, ethics and change by socialisation.
    This is a complex issue and needs a few starting comments.
    Many indigenous communities have been failed by the western education system.
    Firstly, there is a rather arrogant assumption that western education is ‘better’, than the traditional structures but that’s not my point today.
    The failure of the Australian education in regards our many generations of indigenous peoples is writ large, and I was constantly reminded of the relevance of the failed blank slate approach in this regard.
    There appears an underlying assumption that the children’s outcomes will change after a required number of generations have been through the system.
    I’ve also been enjoying reading Stephen Jay Gould, and whilst I disagree with him on much I do enjoy his enlightenment re many of the issues dealing with evolution. He mentioned Lamarck and explained why he was wrong.
    Lamarck, as you know, believed that change could occur within the organism, within one lifetime.
    My point is therefore, that one of the underlying assumptions of Western Educations approach to non Western peoples is very Lamarckian. Just a thought.

  22. Lamarck was actually a brilliant man who unfortunately convinced himself that he had tons of evidence for hypotheses that were wrong. In addition to his wrong take on evolution, he imagined that sound couldn’t possibly be transmitted by vibrations in a medium, but was actually carried by some kind of a sound fluid or aether. It was something like the phlogiston theory of fire.

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