Against Natural History, Right and Left

14 November 2011

Monday


Today it occurred to me how ideological crackpots on the right and ideological crackpots on the left share a common disdain for natural history and, apparently, a desire to exempt human beings from the natural processes of the world we inhabit. While both defy a natural historical account of human life, their perspective differs, and the weight of their moral indignation falls in distinct regions. It is possible to be much more specific that this: the moral horror of the ideologically motivated seems to be inspired by the very idea of human speciation, whether in the past or in the future.

This is the basic idea of speciation.

Ideological crackpots on the right have a problem with human speciation in the past. They are deeply offended by the idea that hominids split off from a primate ancestor shared with monkeys and apes. They take a perverse pride in ignoring one new science after another — genetics, dendrochronology, paleobotany, paleoclimatology, etc. — as these add to the depth and detail of our knowledge of the long history of life on earth and how it is interrelated.

This idea of human speciation constitutes a moral horror for the ideologically motivated right.

I find this attitude puzzling, and it doesn’t inspire the slightest moral horror in me to know that human beings are continuous with other life on the Earth, and that this continuity took the form of a common ancestor. I find that, far from being horrified by the continuity of life, I am edified by the idea. This feeling was beautifully expressed by Darwin near the end of The Origin of Species, where he compared the long history of life to an ancient lineage:

“When I view all beings not as special creations, but as the lineal descendants of some few beings which lived long before the first bed of the Silurian system was deposited, they seem to me to become ennobled.”

Ideological crackpots on the left have a problem with human speciation in the future. The ideological left views the idea that the human races represent incipient speciation with moral horror because it implies that there are fundamentally different kinds of people. In Diversity and Pluralism I discussed the idea common to mass society and mass man there is is only one kind of human being. This seems to be one of the sources of moral horror on the ideologically motivated left.

This idea of human speciation constitutes a moral horror for the ideologically motivated left.

It has become fashionable in some circles to proclaim that race has no biological basis and is exclusively a social construction. This view of the social construction of race continues despite rigorous genetic studies that demonstrate that individuals genetically cluster according to the ancestry into divisions that roughly correspond to the popular idea of racial distinctions. (The work of Neil Risch is relevant here.) It is believed that to concede the idea of race is to fall into complicity with the dark tradition of scientific racism and to somehow support social Darwinism and biological determinism, both of which are believed to be invidious to the creation of a better society. One of the reason that transhumanism has evoked such moral horror in its detractors has been that transhumanism more or less frankly acknowledges human speciation in the future.

Even more controversially, we can represent the distinct geographical subspecies of homo sapiens as incipient speciation. The particular division pictured above will not come to pass because the technologically-driven unification of the world has arrested the incipient speciation represented by the races. Geographical barriers no longer foster the allopatric speciation of homo sapiens because distance has been collapsed by transportation networks.

I find this attitude equally puzzling as that of the denial of human speciation in the past. While I certainly understand how scientific findings can be both manipulated and misused for evil ends, this is as true for the physics of electromagnetism as it is for evolutionary biology. If those on the ideologically motivated left really believed as strongly in diversity as they claim to believe, then they should be able to honor the diversity of an ethnically distinct population which represents incipient speciation, and they should be able to honor many hominid species in the future, if it comes to that (through transhumanism or any other speciation mechanism).

A continuation of the Darwin quote above proves to be almost preternaturally appropriate here:

“When I view all beings not as special creations, but as the lineal descendants of some few beings which lived long before the first bed of the Silurian system was deposited, they seem to me to become ennobled. Judging from the past, we may safely infer that not one living species will transmit its unaltered likeness to a distant futurity. And of the species now living very few will transmit progeny of any kind to a far distant futurity; for the manner in which all organic beings are grouped, shows that the greater number of species in each genus, and all the species in many genera, have left no descendants, but have become utterly extinct. We can so far take a prophetic glance into futurity as to foretell that it will be the common and widely-spread species, belonging to the larger and dominant groups within each class, which will ultimately prevail and procreate new and dominant species. As all the living forms of life are the lineal descendants of those which lived long before the Silurian epoch, we may feel certain that the ordinary succession by generation has never once been broken, and that no cataclysm has desolated the whole world.”

Darwin’s explicit recognition that, “not one living species will transmit its unaltered likeness to a distant futurity,” is to recognize the same holds true for human beings. Like much in the Origin, Darwin did not explicitly cite human beings, but we are clearly in his thoughts throughout the work. And the same idea, displaced into the past, means that not one living species in the past transmitted its unaltered likeness into the present.

It is interesting to note in this connection that one of the biological consequences of the achievement of what I call a Stage I civilization leads to the arrest of speciation in a globalized species. Recently in The Fundamental Theorem of Geopolitical Thought I wrote the following:

“Even before the world was industrialized, ships were trading around the globe, although only a small minority (sailors, to be specific) actually experienced the continuity of the human condition. When industrialization mechanized the technologies of transportation, distances were largely obliterated and world culture was transformed by the knowledge of human continuity and unity.”

If human society had remained at the level of a Stage 0 civilization, the incipient speciation represented by the adaptive radiation that led to human races would have continued to this day and beyond, and the unity of our species would have become lost in a way no longer possible to deny.

The moral intuitions of the ideologically motivated left constitute the non plus ultra of what I have earlier called “Enlightenment Universalism,” the unintended consequences of which issued in uncontroversial and unambiguous moral horrors. Seen in this light, the moral intuitions of the ideologically motivated right constitute the non plus ultra of human separateness and uniqueness, which is something of the mirror image of universalism: all human beings are distinct, therefore all are the same; all human beings are the same, therefore all are distinct from other animals.

Although I don’t feel any moral horror arising from human speciation in the past or human speciation in the future, I do understand (and it is important to understand) that these forms of moral horror follow from sincere and genuine motives. The ideologically motivated right feels that they are protecting something valuable in the past (the uniqueness and separateness of human beings) while the ideologically motivated left feels that they are protecting something valuable in the future (a better world based on the moral unity of all human beings). There moral concerns have come to override all other concerns, resulting in a willful obscurantism.

Pascal expressed this succinctly:

“Men never do evil so fully and cheerfully as when we do it out of conscience.”

Both left and right, men do evil out of a desire to do good. The same moral conscience that strenuously objects to a theory of human origins or human destiny that implies an idea of humanity that could be put to evil purposes, does not object to manipulating scientific theory to present it as shoring up a preferred idea of humanity. And so the moral conscience that was so concerned not to go down a slippery slope of denying the humanity of man, instead goes down a different slippery slope. Is is as though we were perched on the peak of a roof and had only to choose whether we fall in one direction or the other.

On my other blog, in Can democracy grow up?, I suggested that a crucial component of intellectual maturity is the ability to master counter-intuitive ideas. One way in which ideas can be counter-intuitive is for them to run counter of our deeply held moral intuitions.

It is this intellectual maturity that is largely absent in the world today. Few among us possess the intellectual hardihood to face squarely what Darwin faced more than one hundred fifty years ago.

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Note Added 11.25.2011: If you think of evolution as a ladder of progress, it only stands to reason that if there are several hominid species (in the past or in the future), or if geographical races are incipient species, that these distinct species within one genus must also represent stages of progress, and so it is that racism (or even pre-homo sapiens speciesism) is logically derived from an incorrect conception of speciation. When speciation is correctly understood in terms of distinct branches from a common ancestor, the “problem” of grading distinct species on a ladder of progress vanishes, because the problem was illusory.

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One Response to “Against Natural History, Right and Left”

  1. abder said

    It’s worth mentioning that a serious debate is going on whether Neanderthals contributed genes to Caucasians or not
    and on another note is that the humanity kept it’s contacts with other hominid in the form of inhuman humanoids myths
    maybe they are not myths but deformed accounts of homo-sapiens memories

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