The Other Side of Morality

There are inevitably two sides to human morality.  One side applies to the ingroup and one to the outgroup.  The choice of one implies the other.  Evil comes with every good.  That is our nature, and we cannot change our nature by merely modifying education, culture, experience, or “nurture,” if you will.  It is the reason that we should finally refrain from projecting new “universally valid” moral systems, and begin dismantling the old ones, at least to the extent that we value life and liberty.

George Orwell left an anecdote that nicely illustrates the above in one of his journals.  It was written in 1936 while he was collecting experiences he would later describe in his novel, The Road to Wigan Pier.  In this case, the “universally valid” moral system in question was Communism, which was a great deal more plausible to the intellectuals of the day as a path to “human flourishing” than it is now.  Orwell had just met a true believer in the future worker’s paradise, and describes him as follows:

…Is terribly embittered and declares that feeling of actual hatred for the bourgeoisie, even personal hatred of individuals, is necessary to any genuine Socialist…  But he is a tiresome person to be with, being definitely disgruntled and too conscious of his Communist convictions.  In Rotherham we had to have lunch at a slightly expensive restaurant because there didn’t seem to be any others except pubs, and when in there he was sweating and groaning about the “bourgeois atmosphere” and saying he could not eat this kind of food.

This hatred of the outgroup and the feeling of physical defilement induced by contact with it or, as in this case, with its food, should be familiar to anyone who’s taken the time to read one of the many books about morality and human nature that have been published recently.  It is a hatred that, when systematized into the “scientific” philosophy of Communism, resulted in the deaths of 100 million people.  Other moral systems have had other outgroups, but the result has always been the same.  The Christians hated and butchered heretics and witches.  The Moslems hated and butchered infidels.  The Nazis hated and butchered Jews.  So it has always been, through countless centuries of senseless warfare and brutality, and so it will continue into the future, until we finally realize that it is unreasonable to expect that behavioral traits that promoted the survival of small groups of primitive hunter gatherers will continue to promote our survival in a radically different world.

The Yellow Peril: The German Media has a New Hate Object

Looking for Amity/Enmity Complex data points?  Look no further than the German mass media, where inspiring hatred of out-groups has acquired the status of an art form, then as now.  It’s odd, given the country’s history, but there you have it.  The hate object du jour varies from time to time, but the hate fetish itself remains.  Predictably, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was increasingly concentrated on the “one remaining superpower,” the United States.  In the last years of the Clinton and the first years of the Bush administrations, anti-US hate mongering in the German media reached a climax that, in a favorite phrase of Dr. Goebbels in his Diaries, would have “made your hair stand on end.”  Eventually, people on the other side of the Atlantic began to notice, and the editors of Der Spiegel and some of the other major “news” venues began to realize that they could not keep it up and still expect to win any more of those prestigious international prizes for “objectivity.”  The “hate index” has declined considerably since then, but they still occasionally throw out a few chunks of red meat to the more atavistic of their fellow citizens to keep them interested. 

Lately, the trend has again been upwards, but with an interesting twist.  The US has acquired a co-bad guy:  China.  The citizens of the Middle Kingdom should be proud.  German hate is a testimony to China’s newly acquired power and status.  She recently co-starred with the US in a Spiegel rant about our “sins” at the Copenhagen climate conference.  It seems that, based on a careful parsing of the latest Wikileaks material, the US and China formed a “pact” to de-rail the conference, no doubt as part of their greater conspiracy to destroy the earth’s climate and eradicate mankind.  According to the byline of a Spiegel article charmingly titled, “USA and China were Brothers-in-Arms Against Europe,”

It was a political catastrophe – it’s now clear how last year’s Copenhagen climate summit became such a spectacular failure. The recently revealed US State Department documents betray the fact that the USA and China were working hand in hand. The two biggest climate sinners derailed all the plans of the Europeans.

The article is full of dark hints about the “revelations” in the Wikileaks documents.  For example,

It was a visit that China’s rulers could be pleased about. Towards the end of May 2009, John Kerry, the powerful chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had met with Vice-Premier Li Keqiang in Peking. Kerry told him that Washington “could understand China’s reluctance to accept binding goals at the UN climate conference in Copenhagen. And then, according to a dispatch of the US embassy in Peking, the American sketched a new basis for a meaningful cooperation between the US and China against climate change.

and,

The US diplomatic papers now document how close the contacts between the two biggest climate sinners in the world, the USA and China, were in the months before (the conference). They give weight to those voices that have long speculated about an alleged coalition between the old and new superpower.

As anyone who takes an interest in climate negotiations will have noticed, all of this and, for that matter, the rest of the “revelations” in the article are old hat.  All of it was copiously reported at the time, for example, here, here, and here.  Read through these articles and you’ll notice that, at the time, Kerry was referring to his visit as another potential “Nixon to China visit,” and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who also visited China at the time, hailed the climate change negotiations as a potential “game changer” in US China relations.  Under the circumstances, it’s rather difficult to understand how Der Spiegel’s astute editors could have been “shocked, shocked,” to discover the “closeness” of the discussions between the US and China only after they had waded through the Wikileaks papers. 

The article continues with some pious remarks about the virtue of the Europeans compared to the sinfulness of the Europeans in matters of climate.  Under the byline, “The USA and China can continue to blow smoke,” we read,

Because the US signed the (Kyoto Protocol), but never ratified it, China and America can continue to blow smoke. The Europeans, on the other hand, must reduce their use of energy. That’s why they fought for a new treaty in the days before Copenhagen: at the very least, the USA, China and the other “threshold countries,” India and Brazil, should agree to firm goals for reducing (energy use).

Good Christians will be reminded of Luke 18; 11-12,

The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

As for my Chinese readers of a certain age, they will, no doubt, recognize a remarkable similarity between the Spiegel rants against their country and the slanders and innuendo in the dazibao (propaganda posters) that were so prominently visible during the heyday of the Great Cultural Revolution.  To them I can only say, if you really want to be a superpower, get used to it.

It turns out, by the way, that the German’s are even more hypocritical than the Pharisee.  At least he actually did give alms to the poor.  When it comes to concrete results in reducing greenhouse emissions, however, they are the ones blowing smoke.  In the years between 2000 and 2007, they reduced their emissions per capita by 5%.  The “sinful” USA reduced its emissions by 5.5%.  Throw in the effect of reforestation (and it certainly should be thrown in, because it results in a real reduction in greenhouse gases) and the US reduction increases to 11%, bettering the German performance by better than a factor of two.  It would seem that the editors of Spiegel consider the striking of pious poses and signing of “worthless scraps of paper” of more importance in determining who is a “climate sinner” than actual performance.

And what really did happen at Copenhagen?  What became of the “close relationship” between the US and China that “remained hidden” from the blinkered eyes of German journalists until they were happily enlightened by Wikileaks?  Evidently they count on both the short memory of their readers, and their inability to use Google.  In fact, the US and China began quarreling about climate change before Copenhagen, their disagreements became worse at the conference, became even more strident as the conference continued, and, according to other European observers who apparently don’t share the sharp eye of Spiegel’s editors for uncovering secret conspiracies, eventually wrecked chances of reaching an agreement.

No matter as far as German editors are concerned.  When it comes to bashing their latest hate objects, the truth is of no concern.  If articles like this about Chinese women torturing animals, this, according to which China admits to being “climate sinner number 1,” and this, according to which China is “attacking” the West economically while its “paralyzed, weakened” victims look on are any indication, their latest hate object would be China.  Move over, USA, the new Yellow Peril has arrived.

Steven Pinker, Robert Ardrey, Konrad Lorenz, and the Blank Slate

Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate is a wonderful book. It documents the hijacking of the behavioral sciences by dogmatic ideologues with a reckless disregard for the truth.  They established an oppressive orthodoxy that sought, not to debate its opponents, but to vilify and silence them. Pinker reviews the origins and development of their extreme “nurture versus nature” narrative, the political and ideological dogmas that inspired it, and presents a treasure trove of scientific evidence debunking those dogmas. Anyone who respects the truth and values the freedom of human thought owes him a debt of gratitude for what is, by and large, a masterful work. It is, however, not without its flaws and, uncharitable as it may seem, I will seek to point some of them out.

Perhaps the greatest is Pinker’s acceptance of the “big bang” myth of the demise of blank slate orthodoxy, according to which it began with the “seminal” books of E. O. Wilson, starting with Sociobiology, followed by On Human Nature. In fact, with all due respect to Wilson, a brilliant thinker whom I deeply admire, there was nothing significant about either book that was not old hat by the time they were published. Both of them suggested that innate traits had evolved in humans as well as other species that significantly affected our behavior. That hypothesis had been suggested by many other thinkers before Wilson, and Konrad Lorenz, Robert Ardrey and others had presented copious evidence that it was true at least 15 years before the publication of Sociobiology. By the time Sociobiology appeared, the evidence for innate human behavior, obvious enough to everyone but philosophers since ancient times, had become sufficiently compelling to leave no doubt that the hypothesis was correct in the minds of anyone who had not shut themselves off from the truth in an ideological strait jacket.

Ardrey, in particular, had a remarkable influence on his times, especially in the educated lay community, with books like African Genesis (1961), The Territorial Imperative (1966), and The Social Contract (1970). All of these books convincingly debunked the very same ideologues that Pinker spends so much time refuting in The Blank Slate, and all elicited the same blind fury from the ideologues that he so deplores. Lorenz, co-winner of a Nobel Prize in 1973, presented similar ideas in On Aggression (1966), and had the honor of being vilified and ridiculed with Ardrey in Man and Aggression (1968), a collection of essays edited by blank slate high priest Ashley Montagu. Unfortunately, Lorenz couldn’t resist occasionally falling into the obscure style of German philosophers, a weakness particularly evident in Behind the Mirror (1973), a factor that weakened the impact of his popular science books.

Both Ardrey and Lorenz shared the same fundamental ideas: That innate genetic traits have a significant effect on human behavior, that our genetic programming could manifest itself in “good” ways, but also in destructive behavior such as aggression, and that it was essential to learn the truth about our nature in order to control the darker aspects of it so as to avoid self-destruction. In those most significant and fundamental aspects of their thought, they were right and the orthodox community of experts were wrong. They might have forgiven Lorenz, because he was one of their own tribe, but he was joined at the hip with Ardrey. Ardrey was an outsider, an upstart, and they could never forgive him for shaming them. He became, and remains, an unperson.

It is all the more remarkable that the two most influential opponents of the blank slate in the 60’s and early 70’s should be virtually absent from a book entitled “The Blank Slate.” The ideologues may be in retreat, but their anathema still stands, and Pinker still obeys the interdict of his tribe.  A new narrative has arisen to replace the old. Lorenz and Ardrey are absent from the copious list of references at the end of the book. The only mention of Ardrey is on page 124. Here is what Pinker has to say:

The Noble Savage, too, is a cherished doctrine among critics of the sciences of human nature. In Sociobiology, Wilson mentioned that tribal warfare was common in human prehistory. The against-sociobiologists declared that this had been “strongly rebutted both on the basis of historical and anthropological studies.” I looked up these “studies,” which were collected in Ashley Montagu’s Man and Aggression. In fact they were just hostile reviews of books by the ethologist Konrad Lorenz, the playwright Robert Ardrey, and the novelist William Golding (author of Lord of the Flies). Some of the criticisms were, to be sure, deserved: Ardrey and Lorenz believed in archaic theories such as that aggression was like the discharge of a hydraulic pressure and that evolution acted for the good of the species. But far stronger criticisms of Ardrey and Lorenz had been made by the sociobiologists themselves. (On the second page of The Selfish Gene, for example, Dawkins wrote, “The trouble with these books is that the authors got it totally and utterly wrong.”)

And thus, with a wave of the hand, Pinker dismisses the two most influential opponents of the blank slate in the heyday of blank slate orthodoxy, and the ideological blinkers of his tribe slam into place. It is hard to believe that he has ever actually read any of the books of Ardrey or Lorenz, or even took more than a superficial glance at Man and Aggression, for that matter. If he had, he might have noticed that the blank slate essayists themselves did not share his condescending attitude. For example, from Geoffrey Gorer’s “Ardrey on Human Nature:”

Almost without question, Robert Ardrey is today the most influential writer in English dealing with the innate or instinctive attributes of human nature, and the most skilled populariser of the findings of paleo-anthropologists, ethologists, and biological experimenters… He is a skilled writer, with a lively command of English prose, a pretty turn of wit, and a dramatist’s skill in exposition; he is also a good reporter, with the reporter’s eye for the significant detail, the striking visual impression. He has taken a look at nearly all the current work in Africa of paleo-anthropologists and ethologists; time and again, a couple of his paragraphs can make vivid a site, such as the Olduvai Gorge, which has been merely a name in a hundred articles.

…he does not distort his authorities beyond what is inevitable in any selection and condensation… even those familiar with most of the literature are likely to find descriptions of research they had hitherto ignored, particularly in The Territorial Imperative, with its bibliography of 245 items.

If he had even taken the time to read the first page of Montagu’s introduction, Pinker would have noticed that William Golding was not somehow treated as a co-equal of Ardrey and Lorenz, nor was he of any significance as far as the book is concerned except as a red herring thrown out in a couple of the essays. As for the bit about “hydraulic pressure,” Lorenz simply used the analogy to illustrate his contention that not all behavior is a response to external stimuli, as claimed by the behaviorists.  Their theory, ironically part and parcel of the Blank Slate orthodoxy itself, was that behavior is almost exclusively reactive, and therefore can be altered to an unlimited extent by learning.  If Lorenz’ rejection of behaviorism is “archaic,” then it was pointless for Pinker to write his book.  The Blank Slaters were right!  As far as the notion that “evolution acts for the good of the species” is concerned, I can only surmise that Pinker took one of Ardrey’s more colorful phrases out of context. Both men’s view of evolution was entirely sober and orthodox. Again, if their ideas on the subject are somehow in conflict with some detail of the latest nuances of evolutionary theory, that is hardly a reason to dismiss their life’s work with contempt. Is the fact that Dawkins happened to throw a temper tantrum in The Selfish Gene and declare “The trouble with these books is that the authors got it totally and utterly wrong,” supposed to constitute a reasonable argument against them?  “Totally and utterly wrong” about what?  The whole point of the books was that innate behavior is real and the blank slate is wrong.  Does Pinker disagree?  Then why did he bother to write his book?   Has Dawkins now become as infallible as the pope, so that we’re forced to take him at his word and must use him as an authority, even if he utters blockheaded phrases like that?  Here are some of the things Ardrey actually wrote in African Genesis in 1961:

Man is a fraction of the animal world… We are not so unique as we should like to believe.

The problem of man’s original nature imposes itself upon any human solution.

Amity – as Darwin guessed but did not explore – is as much a product of evolutionary forces as contest and enmity. In the evolution of any social species including the human, natural selection places as heavy a penalty on failure in peace as failure in battle.

A certain justification has existed until now, in my opinion, for submission of the insurgent specialists to the censorship of scientific orthodoxy. Such higher bastions of philosophical orthodoxy as Jefferson, Marx, and Freud could scarcely be stormed by partial regiments. Until the anti-romantic (anti-blank slate) revolution could summon to arms what now exists, an overwhelming body of incontrovertible proof, then action had best be confined to a labyrinthine underground of unreadable journals, of museum back rooms, and of gossiping groups around African camp-fires.

If today we say that almost nothing is known about the much-observed chimpanzee, then what we mean is that almost nothing is known of his behavior in a state of nature.

The romantic fallacy (blank slate) may be defined as the central conviction of modern thought that all human behavior, with certain clearly stated exception, results from causes lying within the human experience… Contemporary thought may diverge wildly in it prescriptions for human salvation; but it stands firmly united in its systematic error.

“God made all things good,” wrote Jean-Jacques Rousseau. “Man meddles with them and they become evil.” …Stated so baldly, the Illusion of Original Goodness may bring a shudder to the contemporary spirit. But from Rousseau’s proposition a host of conclusions, all logical, all magical, came into being; that babies are born good; that in innoccence resides virtue; that primitive people retain a morality which civilized people tend to lose;

The contemporary revolution in the natural sciences points inexorably to the proposition that man’s soul is not unique. Man’s nature, like his body, is the product of evolution.

Marxian socialism represents the most stunning and cataclysmic triumph of the romantic fallacy over the minds of rational men… And an observer of the animal role in human affairs can only suggest that much of what we have experienced in the last terrifying half-century has been simply what happens, no more and no less, when human energies become preoccupied with the building of social institutions upon false assumptions concerning man’s inner nature.

It is the superb paradox of our time that in a single century we have proceeded from the first iron-clad warship to the first hydrogen bomb, and from the first telegraphic communication to the beginnings of the conquest of space; yet in the understanding of our own natures, we have proceeded almost nowhere.

Sound familiar?  It should if you’ve read Pinker.  Much of what Ardrey wrote about the “romantic fallacy” might have been taken directly from the pages of The Blank Slate.  Notice anything about an “archaic hydraulic theory?”  Neither did I.  Does any of the above seem “totally and utterly wrong?”  It doesn’t to me, either, nor does it to Pinker if we can believe what he wrote in his own book.

In a word, the narrative hasn’t died. It’s just assumed a new guise. Forget Pinker’s red herrings about “hydraulic theories.” The essential facts are that Ardrey and Lorenz defended the idea of innate behavior, and their opponents dismissed it. They got it right, and their opponents got it wrong. But Ardrey, you see, was a “mere playwright,” and the expert community could never forgive him for humbling them and for his flagrant lese majeste. It was essential that the truth be vindicated, not by an outsider, but by one of their own ingroup. In may be necessary for successful playwrights to have some expertise in human nature, but Consilience, a word that Pinker mouths repeatedly in his book, can only be carried so far. And so it was that a whole new mythology was created, and E. O. Wilson was anointed as a knight in shining armor who suddenly popped up 15 years after the publication of African Genesis and defeated the blank slate ideologues single-handed.

There are other problems with The Blank Slate, less severe but significant nevertheless. For example, Pinker shares the philosopher’s vice of creating neat Procrustean beds upon which the ideas of our greatest thinkers are distorted to make them fit into tidy patterns. According to such schemes, for example, philosopher A begat philosopher B, philosopher B begat Philosopher C, and philosopher C begat the Blank Slate. These tidy systems peel away the individual worth and integrity of our best minds and bowdlerize them into a simple stew so that pedants can make a pretence of understanding them. Thus a man as brilliant as John Stuart Mill, who had the misfortune to write about the human condition before the revolutionary ideas of Darwin could inform his thought, is reduced in The Blank Slate to a mere precursor of a hidebound ideologue like Ashley Montagu.

I’m sorry if some of my own animosities have surfaced here, but I am only human, too. That which is innate in us includes emotions that make it a matter of no small difficulty to step back and look at ourselves with cold scientific detachment. Pinker deserves our highest praise for The Blank Slate, because, as we press ahead with new discoveries, it is essential that we understand how entire branches of the behavioral sciences could have been so deranged and derailed by ideological dogmas. If the blemishes I imagine in his book are real, they can never serve as a pretext to dismiss his work with a wave of the hand, as he has so casually done to others.

Team Sports as “Tribal Candy”

Great shades of Konrad Lorenz! The paradigm shift in the social sciences continues. According to an article linked on the website of “Evolutionary Psychology,”

It makes no sense from a rational economic perspective, yet millions of people passionately follow sports teams. A new study suggests that such seemingly illogical behavior can be understood as a by-product of humans’ evolved coalitional psychology. The research, conducted at Grand Valley State University, supported this hypothesis by demonstrating that individuals who strongly value the interests of their ingroup are especially likely to be sports fans.

For those living in modern societies such as the U.S., it’s not easy to appreciate that small-scale warfare, such as males raiding a neighboring group to obtain resources or mates, has been a persistent threat during most of our evolutionary history. This threat, many evolutionary psychologists believe, has selected for components of what has been termed a coalitional, tribal, or “male warrior” psychology.

As noted in earlier posts, by the time a century had elapsed since the publication of “On the Origin of Species,” it had become perfectly clear to anyone with an open mind who accepted Darwins great theory and was aware of the relevant research available at the time that a) Innate predispositons or genetic “hard-wiring” in the brain have a profound effect on human behavior, including moral behavior, and b) Our “hard-wiring” manifests itself not only in “nice” and “kind” behavior, but in “not so nice” behavior as well, such as the complex of emotional responses responsible for hostility to outgroups.  Unfortunately, other than being obvious, these conclusions were also politically incorrect.  About that time a group of writers began insistently pointing out that they were true, and citing the data that made it obvious that they were true.  Unfortunately, in the process, they challenged the ideological narrative of the “tribe” of establishment psychologists and other behavioral scientists around at the time, who behaved precisely as anyone familiar with b) above might have predicted.  They reacted to this challenge to their ingroup with rage and hostility, vilifying and demonizing the writers who persisted in such heresies. 

In subsequent years, there was a remarkable paradigm shift.  The “experts” were forced by the accummulating weight of evidence to accept a), creating a whole new mythical narrative to explain their change of heart in the process.  However, having swallowed the camel (a), they still strain at the gnat (b), producing mountains of studies that demonstrate “kind” human behavior, and sending forth legions of ethologists to study bonobos, while studiously averting their gaze from anything that might suggest that our mental wiring can predispose us to “unkind” behavior as well.   If the article cited above is any indication, they may, at long last, finally be starting to come around.  The article continues,

The general idea that sports are related to warfare and other evolutionary challenges is long-standing. For example, several scientists have argued that combat sports evolved, at least in some cultures, to provide training for war, whereas other scientists have suggested that sports serve as an efficient means of establishing dominance relations within a group or displaying one’s qualities for potential mates. Sport fandom, however, has received less attention from evolutionists and, prior to the new study, had never been formally described as a by-product of coalitional psychology.

As older readers may recall, back in the day, Konrad Lorenz suggested in “On Aggression” and elsewhere the hypothesis that team sports might by useful as a means of channeling hostility to outgroups towards activities less destructive than warfare. This suggestion was treated with scorn at the time. The time may be ripe to give it more serious consideration.

Lorenz, Ardrey, and their like-minded colleagues were not behavioral determinists, nor were they “reductionists.”  On the contrary, they insisted on drawing attention to (b) because they firmly believed that it was possible to rationally understand the “unkind” in human behavior, and to control it in ways that might give us a fighting chance to avoid destroying ourselves with our increasingly potent weapons.  They did not pretend to have all the answers about how this might be done, but suggested that it would strongly behoove us to begin seriously looking for those answers, assuming we placed any value on our own survival.

Let us hope that articles like the one noted above are a sign that the community of experts on human behavior is finally beginning to pull its collective head out of the sand concerning the less positive aspects of human behavior.  The complex of innate behavioral traits associated with outgroup hostility represents an existential threat to us.  Any chance of effectively controlling them must depend on the degree to which we understand them.  It is time we began serious efforts to gain that understanding.  There will be no “human flourishing” if we destroy ourselves.

Maslow, Ardrey and Lorenz: The Narrative as Science

Keith Humphreys at The Reality-Based Community just penned an article entitled, “What Abraham Maslow got Wrong about the Limits of Science and Psychological Knowledge.”  Quoting from the article,

Maslow was influential because he was very smart, wrote well, and had many good ideas. But he was also influential because his theory told many of the cultural elites of the era that they were objectively more mentally healthy and more psychologically developed than were their opponents. Flattering poppycock, and also dangerously undemocratic.

…Maslow wanted to give an objective validation that, for example, the Viet Nam war protestor was objectively superior to the Viet Nam general, the environmentalist was objectively superior to the captain of industry etc. Many cultural elites ate it up, just as Soviet elites ate it up when their psychiatrists said that anyone who didn’t love the government was mentally ill and needed electroshock treatment post-haste.

Psychologists and social scientists generally still venture repeatedly today into the territory of human values and attempt to claim the ability to make objective judgments about which are the most healthy or scientifically validated. They don’t ever seem to learn that they are often just trying to rationalize cultural fashions.

Like Freud, Maslow was a proponent of unfalsifiable hypotheses, or at least they were unfalsifiable in his day.  However one cares to characterize their theories, they weren’t science.  They might better be described as dogmas suited for true believers.  That said, it seems to me the “elite” thing has been overused of late.  “Elite” is a pejorative term, and conveys very little meaning in the sense used here.  In what sense, for example, were Vietnam war protestors “elites” and Vietnam generals “not elites.”  It would be more accurate to say that Maslow validated an ideological narrative, not the status of an elite.  Those who identified themselves with the narrative described came from all walks of life, and many of them by no means belonged to any elites. 

That hardly exculpates the psychologists.  Peddlers of narratives are no more “scientists” than flatterers of elites.  They tend to be recognizable because they always tip their hand when anyone challenges their orthodoxies.  For example, back in the heyday of Maslow the tribe of psychologists also included many behaviorist believers in milder or stronger variations of the “blank slate.” They were contradicted by thinkers like Robert Ardrey and Konrad Lorenz, who insisted on a) the significance of innate predispositions, or “human nature” on our behavior and b) the fact that this human nature did not always prompt us to do “nice” and “kind” things. There was a large corpus of repeatable experiments available to confirm these hypotheses, even in their day, and Ardrey, in particular, did a brilliant job of drawing attention to them.   Establishment psychologists and professionals in related fields reacted, not with reasoned arguments, but with attempts to ridicule and vilify them.  For example, anthropologist Ashley Montagu, one of the foremost among them wrote,

…for man is man because he has no instincts, because everything he is and has become he has learned, acquired, from his culture, from the man-made part of the environment, from other human beings. …the fact is, that with the exception of the instinctoid reactions in infants to sudden withdrawals of support and to sudden loud noises, the human being is entirely instinctless.

The field studies of Schaller on the gorilla, of Goodall on the chimpanzee, of Harrisson on the orang-utan, as well as those of others, show these creatures to be anything but irascible. All the field observers agree that these creatures are amiable and quite unaggressive.

Human nature is what man learns to become a human being.

Such books are both congenial to the temper of the times and comforting to the reader who is seeking some sort of absolution for his sins. It is gratifying to find father confessors who will relieve one of the burdensome load of guilt we bear by shifting the responsibility for it to our “natural inheritance,” our “innate aggressiveness.”

Similarly, from anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer,

(Ardrey’s) categories and preferences are bound to give comfort and provide ammunition for the radical Right, for the Birchites and Empire Loyalists and their analogues everywhere.

from social scientist Kenneth Boulding,

A line of argument like that of Ardrey’s, therefore, seems to legitimate our present morality, in regarding the threat system as dominant at all costs, by reference to our biological ancestors. If the names of both antiquity and of science can be drawn upon to legitimate our behavior, the moral uneasiness about napalm and the massacre of the innocent in Vietnam may be assuaged.

from anthropologist Ralph Holloway,

In short, this (Ardrey’s) book is an apology and rationalization for Imperialism, Pax Americana, Laissez Faire, Social Darwinism, and that greatest of all evolutionary developments, Capitalism.

and so on, from those who had elevated collaboration with Pol Pot to the noblest of virtues.  Since those days, the synod of psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists have been forced by accumulating mountains of evidence to accept “a”. They have never forgiven Ardrey for being right, and he is now an unperson among them. They still manage to studiously ignore “b”, but here, too, real science, not to mention our 5000 year history of constant warfare and mayhem, is catching up to them. The problem is not confirmation bias among elites, but confirmation bias among ideologues, and, in particular, the true believers in the secular religion that’s now the fashion on the “progressive left.”  They are just as busy today trying to transmute the lead of “is” to the gold of “ought” as they were in the days of Maslow.

The Novel Crime of being “Overwhelmingly White”

Insty notes the increasingly blatant racist narrative in the mainstream media.

UPDATE: More of the “If you don’t agree with me and you have white skin you’re a racist” narrative from the NYT.

UPDATE 2:  Another interesting take on “Teaparty racism.”  (hattip Erik at Non Pasaran, who recently penned another thoughtful article on the “birther” controversy.)

Why Defend Andrew Breitbart?

Because of the reason his enemies are attacking him.

They are not attacking him because they believe he unfairly accused Shirley Sherrod of racism. They are attacking him because his opinions challenge leftist orthodoxy. The left has embraced demonization of those who disagree with them as a tactic for promoting their world view. In addition to this real reason for demonization, there is always a “good reason” offered to rationalize it, usually based on the claim that their opponent has violated some moral rule.

The specious nature of these “good reasons” is always obvious because of the double standard with which they are applied. More egregious violations of the same rules by those not perceived as enemies are ignored. For example, as noted above, Breitbart is being demonized for “race-baiting.” If the left held its own to a similar standard, few would be found in its ranks less guilty than Breitbart. In his case, it is not clear that he was deliberately making a false accusation of racism, or that Sherrod was even the main target of his attack. Whatever her intent when she made her remarks about discriminating against a white farmer because of the color of his skin, the approving reaction of the NAACP audience, which didn’t know at the time where she was going with her remarks, can certainly be plausibly described as racist. Regardless, the furious attacks on Breitbart continue, with all the usual faux virtuous indignation.

By way of contrast, consider the left’s response to a far more reprehensible justification of deliberate race baiting by one of its own. In an e-mail to his Journolist cohorts, Spencer Ackerman, who currently writes for Wired magazine and the Washington Independent, openly promoted false charges of racism as a political tactic. As noted by the Daily Caller,

In one instance, Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent urged his colleagues to deflect attention from Obama’s relationship with Wright by changing the subject. Pick one of Obama’s conservative critics, Ackerman wrote, “Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists.”

Needless to say, this blatant advocacy of racism, providing only that it be exploited to promote a “good cause,” has not provoked the same contrived outrage on the left. The “good reason” for the attacks on Breitbart doesn’t apply to Ackerman, or anyone else the left considers one of its own.

All this is easily understandable in terms of human nature. We are wired to apply different standards to “us” than we apply to “them.”  The left’s attempts to demonize the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Sarah Palin, Andrew Breitbart, and the rest of its pantheon of evil are perfectly natural. They are also irrational and self-destructive.

UPDATE: Who do you think David Letterman is picking on?

a.  Spencer Ackerman

b.  Andrew Breitbart

“Right Wing Terror” vs. the Real Thing

Remember the recent hysteria on the left about imminent right wing terror and insurrection promoted by subversive institutions such as freedom of speech?  Here’s what the real thing looks like, but I doubt that the “right wing” was involved in an attack on an oil company executive.  It doesn’t fit the narrative.

Human Morality and the Sport of Mutual Villification

Virtuous indignation is in high fashion as I write this. To hear them tell it, those who take any interest in politics at all go about in a state of permanent outrage. The stalwarts of both the left and the right are adept at demonstrating that their opponents are not merely wrong, but must necessarily be evil as well. A time-honored way of “proving” this is to first identify a villain whose villainy is beyond question. Then, to demonstrate that ones political opponent is a villain, too, it is merely necessary to come up with some more or less flimsy way to connect him with the arch-villain.

The Stalinists were masters of the art. Their arch-villain was Trotsky, who appears in Orwell’s novels, Animal Farm and 1984 as Snowball and Emanuel Goldstein, respectively. He figured largely in the Great Purge Trials of the 1930’s. For example, from the Indictment of the trial of the “bloc of Rights and Trotskyites” that doomed Bukharin, Rykov, Yagoda, and many other once powerful Bolsheviks in 1938, the arch-villain is identified:

This (the crimes attributed to the bloc) applies first of all to one of the inspirers of the conspiracy, enemy of the people TROTSKY. His connection with the Gestapo was exhaustively proved at the trials of the Trotskyite-Zinovievite Terrorist Center in August 1936, and of the Anti-Soviet Trotskyite Centre in January 1937.

The investigation has definitely established that TROTSKY has been connected with the German intelligence service since 1921, and with the British Intelligence Service since 1926.

and then the sub-demons are associated with him:

Thus, the accused N. N. Krestinsky, on the direct instruction of enemy of the people TROTSKY, entered into treasonable connections with the German intelligence service in 1921.

The accused K. G. Rakovsky, one of L. TROTSKY’s most intimate and particularly trusted men, has been an agent of the British Intelligence Service since 1924, and of the Japanese intelligence service since 1934.

and so on, and so on. Today, the “progressive” Left, is playing the same game with their foes in the Tea Party movement. In this case, the arch-villain is the John Birch Society. They would have us believe that there are more Birchers behind every Tea Party Bush than there were Reds infesting the halls of government in Joe McCarthy’s most fevered imagination. Examples of the ploy abound. For example, from OpEdNews.com’s “Tea Party Reminiscent of John Birch Society,”

The surge of the Tea Party as a potential shaker and mover of the American political system is reminiscent of a movement from the sixties that became particularly popular in the bellwether state of California. The John Birch Society became active and many grassroots members attached themselves strongly to the national political figure they saw as an agent for change, Republican Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona.

From E.J. Dionne’s “Birch and Barry,”

The reaction to Obama has also radicalized parts of the conservative movement, giving life to conspiracy theories long buried and strains of thinking similar to those espoused by the John Birch Society and other right-wing groups in the 1950s and ’60s.

From the Anti-Fascist Encyclopedia’s “Ohio: Birch Society, Racism, More Tea Party Ugliness,”

CityBeat first wrote about the Springboro Tea Party last month, detailing the agenda for a rally planned Saturday that’s heavy with speakers from the John Birch Society and movies about far-right conspiracy theories.

and so on. Google the connection, and you’ll find the meme repeated like a mantra on the websites of the left. Of course, the Right does exactly the same thing, with such worthies as Marx and Lenin in the leading role as Über-villain. The goal is the same in either case. To arouse the emotions associated with human morality by attempting to connect ones political opponents with some indubitable evil, and then use those emotions as weapons against them.  Of course, many other morally loaded tactics are employed for the same purpose. It’s interesting to consider the matter from first principles.

To begin, what is morality? The answer is that it is a term used to describe innate human behavioral traits that evolved at a time when the relations between human groups bore little or no resemblance to those between the massive political parties, nation states, and other social groups of our own time. “Good” and “evil” are constructs that exist in our imaginations for the sole reason that they promoted our survival in times now long forgotten. They have no other mode of existence, and cannot possibly be “legitimate” as objects in themselves, by virtue of the subjective nature of their existence. However, the modes of political conflict described above positively require them to be legitimate and real, else the arguments predicated on the reality of one’s own good, and one’s opponents evil, evaporate into the mist. In other words, the powerful emotions evoked in this process of mutual villification are fundamentally irrational.  Seen in this light, they emerge as what they really are; manifestations of human behavioral traits that are irrelevant to the goals pursued in terms of the reasons they exist to begin with. By evoking them in modern political struggles, one is not serving a holy cause. Rather, one is manipulating the human emotions associated with morality as political weapons.

To the extent that we consider survival an attractive goal, it would be well for us to finally climb off of this treadmill of morality. In our daily interactions with other human beings, that goal is impossible. We lack the intelligence to routinely substitute rational analysis for emotional response, or for behavior according to “human nature” at that level. However, it is to be hoped that the same is not true of political decisions involving the fate of thousands or millions of people. The history of the last hundred years has provided ample justification for this hope. Time after time, the identification of whole racial, social, or religious groups as “evil” has resulted in mass slaughter. The mayhem is still with us today, and can be expected to continue into the future. It is not to be expected that we will invariably be fortunate enough to be among “the good.” We could just as easily find ourselves among “the evil,” and share the fate suffered by millions of others in recent history. The idea that what happened so recently in such advanced countries as Germany and Russia “can’t happen here” is an illusion.

Under the circumstances, we would be wise to keep the genie of good and evil in its bottle. We should at least make an effort to substitute reason for emotion. In practice, this would imply a conscious decision to limit our judgment of the opinions of others to the categories “true” and “false,” and dispense with “good” and “evil.” As weapons, “good” and “evil” can be highly effective. If we routinely use them against political opponents, we are, in a very real sense, threatening them. They may quite reasonably conclude that they have no alternative but to wield the same weapons as the only effective way of fighting back. It would be better to refrain from using the weapons to begin with. The history of the last hundred years has amply demonstrated what is sure to follow if we don’t.

On the Legitimacy of Virtuous Indignation

As noted in an earlier post, Mark Shapiro has informed us that he is “outraged” about the publication of the Journolist e-mails. Of course, as I write this, virtuous indignation is as common as dirt on both sides of the political spectrum, but the incident illustrates something I’ve occasionally referred to before; the disconnect between what morality is and how it is perceived.

Morality is a term used to describe certain manifestations of human behavioral predispositions hard-wired in the brain as we evolved. As such, it does not and cannot have any legitimacy in itself. However, when Shapiro tells us that he is outraged, he is not merely describing his emotional response to a given external stimulus. His statement also implies the claim that his outrage is actually legitimate and justified. Rationally, however, this is nonsense.

Since time immemorial, philosophers have been seeking a logical basis for the legitimacy of morality. None of them has ever succeeded in finding one, for the very good reason that the existence of such a basis is impossible. Good and evil are not real objects, things in themselves independent of human emotional traits. Rather, they are the outcome of subjective processes that cause us to perceive them as real objects and things in themselves. We all share this illusion, presumably because the perception of good and evil as real things is effective in promoting our survival, or at least was effective in times very unlike the present. As a result, when Shapiro says he is outraged, we immediately understand what he is talking about. He is referring to moral good and evil, things that we also experience as real, independent objects, and that most of us actually believe are real, independent objects in spite of the fact that they cannot actually exist outside of our imaginations. As a result, our response is not simply to reply “So what? What difference does your current emotional state make to me?” Rather, we wrack our brains for arguments to demonstrate that Shapiro is mistaken in his belief that he has correctly identified the “real” moral good, and to substitute a different, more legitimate version of our own.

In fact, one person’s emotional response can be no more “objectively legitimate” than another’s. As one of the quatrains of the “The Rubaiyat” puts it;

The Revelations of Devout and Learn’d
Who rose before us, and as Prophets burn’d
Are all but Stories, which, awoke from Sleep
They told their comrades, and to Sleep return’d

The “ethics experts” of our own day are just the modern versions of the people the poet Omar was talking about. They are no closer to the truth than the Persian sages and prophets of long ago. In spite of the increasingly common acceptance of recent scientific revelations about what morality actually is, they continue as before, chasing the illusion. Before one announces one’s outrage to the world, it is well to consider the fact that one is declaring allegiance to just such an illusion.