What’s Wrong with the World

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A Darwinian Fable: Chapter 2

Recall that when last we met our researcher from the Department of Alien Studies at the Alpha Centauri system's Interplanetary University, he was heading back to the dreary planet Earth - but armed, now, with an implanted translator that enables him to understand every word he hears or reads.

Long story short, what our researcher finds is that, when it comes to their values, a vast gulf lies between what humans say and what they do.

They are habitual hypocrites.

In practice, they constantly favor themselves over all others, their kin over unrelated folk, their near neighbours over far-away strangers, and so on. Yet, equally constantly, they preach doctrines of "universality," or "impartiality" - according to which one ought to care, and strive, just as much for the welfare of the far-away stranger as for one's own.

These doctrines show up, in embryonic form, in ancient religious tenets ("do unto others as you would have them do unto you") and are later refined, by philosophers, into supposed universal commands of reason &/or sentiment:

"...act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law."

"...actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness."

Later still, they inspire powerful political movements, demanding that people take at least as much care for others as for themselves, their families, and their friends.

Gradually, identification with such movements becomes a highly prized marker of intellectual & social superiority.

Behold the liberal left.

In due course, this interesting tendency achieves full flower in long & loud celebration of, & even abasement before, "the other," as such - and the more "other" the better.

Behold the radical left.

Our hapless researcher is thoroughly flummoxed. Could the great Selrahc Niwrad, Father of Centaurian Biology, have been wrong?

How could beings shaped by evolution have come up with & celebrated a set of values so thoroughly & systematically opposed, not only to their own usual behavior, but also, seemingly, to the promotion of their "inclusive fitness"?

Or, to repeat: "how can that be? What's to be made of it?"

What's wrong with these people?

Comments (19)

Your evolutionary psychologist needs to take a more sociological perspective. Even Dawkins admits how terrible (and dangerous) Darwinian explanations are when applied to cultural/social behavior. Although natural biological evolution is still at work in the present day, it is so slow that it is many thousands of years behind in providing an ideal fitness for its modern environment.

A great example of this (via the Grey Thumb):

Muir, W.M., and D.L. Liggett, 1995a. Group selection for adaptation to multiple-hen cages: selection program and responses. Poultry Sci. 74: s1:101. It outlines the group selection effects observed when trying to breed chickens for increased egg production in multiple-hen cage environments. In short, selecting individual chickens for increased productivity in a group environment didn't select for increased productivity. Instead, it selected for mean chickens. The result was an overall reduction in productivity. Only by selecting at the group level was productivity increased.

"Survival of the fittest" is either meaningless or misleading. It's like saying that mountain climbing is just "walking upward" while neglecting to discuss proper supplies, fitness training, establishment of base camps, selecting the proper climbing group, atmospheric oxygen considerations, and... the fact that you don't always walk upward. Sometimes you have to walk sideways, or downward, to get to the top.

I must admit to having difficulty seeing the Golden Rule as crypto-liberalism. The more liberal among the American Roman Catholic bishops may think so, but there is no reason why I have to agree with them.

In case this is relevant, I would also note that what Lewis calls the "law of special benevolence"--the special duty one has to kin--is indeed to be found emphatically stated in the Christian scriptures, as one would expect given Christianity's Judaic roots and the enormous importance of honoring father and mother in Judaism. See Ephesians 6:2, I Timothy 5:3, 8.

Paul also states a religious version of special duty to care for "one's own" in Galatians 6:10, where he enjoins that they "do good to all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith," and this special duty of beneficence to fellow Christians is itself a statement of the Early Church's practice in Acts where the widows who received the church dole were only those widows who were part of the Church. Hardly a recipe for breaking down all distinctions, having no special groups of people to whom one has duties, "valorizing the other," etc., etc.

That's just in case Christianity is about to be cast as the villain of the piece.

"Even Dawkins admits how terrible (and dangerous) Darwinian explanations are when applied to cultural/social behavior."

But the point is, why? Is seems as Dr. Burton's point is that there is a dissonance between what people say and do. If humans are purely the product of evolution and are composed only of matter, what accounts for this dissonance? It is the same person that both espouses the lofty moral precept and simultaneously fails to abide by it. It is either a delusion or there is something else at work.

My suggestion for the next episode. Our researcher's boss suggests he studies the behavior of Bonobos.


Just for the record, lots of things Kant says in _The Metaphysics of Morals_ seems to contradict the (what I would call) naive reading of him given by contemporary Kantians. In particular, he says lots of things that (seem to) commit him to old-fashioned natural law theory, to wit:

"The end of begetting and bringing up children may be an end of nature, for which it [i.e., nature] implanted the inclinations of the sexes for each other" (MM, 6:277).

"...there follows from _procreation_ in this community [i.e., that of the husband and wife] a duty to preserve and care for its _offspring_; that is, children, as persons, have by their procreation an original innate (not acquired) right to the care of their parents until they are able to look after themselves, and they have this right directly by law (_lege_), that is, without any special act being required to establish this right." (MM, 6:280)

"...parents have an absolute natural duty to educate their children and, when the parents are in bondage, their masters take over this duty along with possession of their subjects." (MM, 6:331)

There's of course a lot more stuff in The Metaphysics of Morals along those lines, which is why contemporary interpreters regard it as a "problematic" text.

But it's not clear to me that any of those statements you quote, Bobcat, contradicts the universalizability criterion, nor that the universalizability criterion entails that we have no special duties to our children or kin. For example (just to speak rather naively) I can see nothing wrong with saying that I wish people universally would love their own children with special affection.

Step2 writes:

"Although natural biological evolution is still at work in the present day, it is so slow that it is many thousands of years behind in providing an ideal fitness for its modern environment."

I reply:

Cochran & Harpending:

The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution.

I mean, look, Step2. I think that maybe this debate has advanced a bit since you last checked in.

Lydia - it's not just "the more liberal among the American Roman Catholic bishops" who see the Golden Rule as crypto-liberalism.

It's also, surely, the consensus view among liberal protestants, of all sorts of denomoninations, for the last two centuries - Kant foremost amongst them.

Edward - thank you. That's it, exactly.

John Farrell - I've been looking for something special to be learned from the behavior of the bonobos for a couple of years, now, but have come up empty.

What seems to work for bonobos just doesn't seem to work for humans.

Bobcat - hardly anybody really cares about what the more-or-less interesting historical figure Immanuel Kant really did or did not think about this or that.

It's an academic question.

But the "naive reading" of the *Groundwork* - well, that's another matter entirely.

Lydia wrote, "it's not clear to me that any of those statements you quote, Bobcat, contradicts the universalizability criterion, nor that the universalizability criterion entails that we have no special duties to our children or kin."

I agree--the universalizability criterion does not entail impartialism. I gave those quotes because I took Steve to be saying that the universalizability criterion is the epitome of liberal impartialism.

As for Steve's point, that "hardly anybody really cares about what the more-or-less interesting historical figure Immanuel Kant really did or did not think about this or that", sadly, that's by and large true. But hardly anyone cares about any version of Kant. No one has heard of him, except for philosophers and some educated laypeople. Among the philosophers who have heard of him, well, the naive reading is well-entrenched. Among the educated laypeople, no reading is entrenched, I should think. "He's a philosopher, yes. He wrote the Critique of Pure Reason, I think. And ... something about the Categorical Imperative, whatever that is." I think that's the long and short of it.

I mean, look, Step2. I think that maybe this debate has advanced a bit since you last checked in.

Could it be that debates built upon the social construct of language evolve many times faster than biological transmission through genetic coding? That might imply something, I don't know what.

The golden rule does not strictly imply any of the three formulations of Kant's categorical imperative. Nor does Kant's categorical imperative strictly imply "impartialism."

There are escape hatches.

There are always escape hatches.

This may sound surprising, but it would never even have remotely occurred to me spontaneously to think that the Golden Rule means we ought to treat all money as "ours" (as in "how we spend our healthcare dollars"--shudder), that we should have open borders, that I have as much responsibility for someone else's child as for my own, or any of the other things that I think of as examples of liberal "impartialism." On the other hand, saying that it's just as wrong for me to, say, murder someone else's child as it is for someone else to murder mine _does_ have a very close connection to the Golden Rule, but any conservative who holds that he has special positive duties to kin can agree with _that_ statement. It seems to me that we shouldn't adopt a false dichotomy between, on the one hand, some sort of tribalism according to which wiping out the other village is okay because they're from a different tribe and, on the other hand, the liberal notion that it's wrong to keep my own money that I earn and use it first of all for the needs of my own family (for example). Nor can I for the life of me see how the Golden Rule even presses us remotely to adopt the second part of that false dichotomy.

Again, I realize that there are many liberals who have taught such nonsense, but even before I had any connection with philosophy I would have recognized it as nonsense, and all the more so as a philosopher I see no reason to blame the Golden Rule or, to put it another way, to give liberals credit for following the Golden Rule consistently in their misguided ideologies.

All heresies begin with an emphasis on certain truths, and a corresponding rejection of others. Liberalism, therefore, is a Christian heresy, and radical leftism all the more so (a radical puritanism in comparison to the King's Anglicanism). The Golden Rule, balanced with the whole counsel of Scripture and Christian (and Hebraic) Tradition, does not, by itself, lead to mindless universalism. But taken out of context, stripped of its association with Original Sin, admixed with millenial fervor and inner light piety, and you get a pretty much a precise recipe for modern liberalism.

So, in answer: Dr. Niwrad might very well have predicted the rise of orthodox religion, but he could not have predicted, and no one could have, this particular aggressive mutation, one so absurdly ill-fit for long-term survival, and yet with the ability to temporarily outcompete all other strains. I'm sure if the Centaurians keep watching for another 100 years or so, things will return to normal.

Just thought I'd throw in a couple of relevant observations that occurred to me. Compare the amount of charity given by liberals (whether religious or not) and religious conservatives. Then, compare the reproductive fecundity of the two groups, and how much of their resources they dedicate to their own children.

The results for both groups should confound our researcher, in different ways.

The religious conservatives don't just espouse the Golden Rule, they live it, by giving far more charity to help people that they don't personally know than the liberals do. So not just their words, but also their behavior, is confusing. However, at the same time, these conservatives like children, and take good care of them and reproduce a lot, as our researcher would expect.

The liberals should confound the researcher even more. Both their actions and their words defy expectations. The universalist values they espouse are actually more extreme than those espoused by the conservatives, which is confusing. However, as our researcher notes, their behavior does not match their words, and in fact they live quite selfishly. But, on closer examination, even their selfishness is difficult to explain, because it's not a selfishness in the service of their genetic/reproductive interests, but rather a sort of personal narcissism which comes at the expense of their genetic interests. In fact, these people reproduce far below replacement level, and deliberately shun their genetic interests in order to spend their resources on social clubs, vacations, and expensive apartments. When they do have children, they frequently try to avoid raising them to healthy reproductive age. As a group, they appear to be near-suicidal.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Do unto others as you would do unto your own.


If tribalism and impartialism are the excesses, what would you call the mean?

I think Deuce makes some excellent points.

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