Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Progressives: The Hurrier they Go, the Behinder They Get

In Chapter three of my book I survey history and culture, looking for evidence of what I call “mind parasites” that are ultimately rooted in different different styles of child rearing and which are responsible for so much cultural pathology, including the pathology of Islamism. Although my ideas may appear somewhat speculative, I believe that they cannot not be true once you understand the underlying principles involved.

I just finished a new book that confirms many of the things I wrote in that section, The Central Liberal Truth: How Politics Can Change a Culture and Save It from Itself, by Lawrence Harrison. Although Harrison calls himself a liberal, the book absolutely demolishes many ideas that are central to contemporary liberalism--most particularly, multiculturalism, cultural relativism, and any kind of liberal victimology, for the book demonstrates with hard data how cultural beliefs, attitudes and values are the key to understanding the evolution of society. The book is actually somewhat shockingly--but thoroughly refreshingly--politically incorrect, and says some things that even Petey would probably hesitate to blurt out in public.

In the preface of the book, Harrison--a long time USAID director--notes that all of the underdeveloped or underprivileged countries or cultures he worked in were plagued by the same things--disrespect for law, lack of cooperation with one another, acquiescence to (and extertion of) unbridled authority, passivity when encountering problems, lack of civic consciousness, lack of trust, and pursuit of narrow personal interest. It is much easier for scholars such as Jared Diamond to blame geography, insufficient resources, or “guns, germs, and steel” for the failure of so many cultures, but this entirely begs the question of why certain groups--most notably, the Jews or East Asians--thrive wherever they are allowed to take root. In each case, they have a "portable culture" of extremely healthy and adaptive values that stand them in good stead.

Harrsion approvingly quotes the great scholar of Islam, Bernard Lewis, who wrote that “When people realize that things are going wrong, there are two questions they can ask: One is, ‘What did we do wrong?’ and the other is ‘Who did this to us?’” The latter question leads to paranoia, conspiracy theories and liberal victimology, which is why the Islamists and international left share a common cause--they have the same underlying assumptions about reality and about who is at fault for it.

The book shows how deeply rooted are some of the pathologies of the left. I did not know this, but even in 1948, the American Anthropological Association opposed the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the grounds that each culture must decide for itself “what is true, good, beautiful, and efficient,” and no cultures were any better or worse, just “different.” Thus, “liberals” found themselves at odds with a document calling for such things as the right to life, liberty, and security of person, equality before the law, and freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. The more things change....

It never ceases to amaze me that liberals think they are doing these people a favor by supporting their cultural pathologies. As is always the case with leftist thought, it is a monstrous arrogance and condescension masquerading as compassion. Harrsion quotes a brilliant African scholar named Daniel Etounga Mangelle, someone I relied upon in my book. At a conference, he responded with sarcasm to such liberal nonsense:

"I am going to tell the truth. We Africans really enjoy living in shantytowns where there isn't enough food, health care, or education for our children. Furthermore, our corrupt chieftaincy political systems are really marvelous.... It would be boring if free, democratic elections were organized all over Africa. Were that to happen, we would no longer be real Africans, and by losing our identity--and our authoritarianism, our bloody civil wars, our illiteracy, our forty-five year life expectancy--we should be letting down not only ourselves but those Western anthropologists who study us so sympathetically and understand that we can't be expected to behave like human beings who seek dignity.... So let us fight with the full support of those Western scholars who have the wisdom and courage to acknowledge that Africans belong to different world.”

It is so glaringly obvious to me that the vast majority of really destructive racism comes form the left, not the right. Undoubtedly individual racists exist, but they are nothing compared to the institutional and ideological racism of the left. Professor John McWhorter, who happens to be black, describes in the book the devastating impact of liberal racism on African Americans. He writes that since the 1960s, the core of black identity has been “rebellion and disaffection.... Misbehavior and criminality are not the only ways this is expressed. Even the most educated blacks with the most assimilated demeanors get their 'black authenticity' stripes to the extent that they subscribe to the notion that being black remains a battle forty years after the Civil Rights Act.”

McWhorter writes that young blacks are indeed “victims”--not of what they call “racism” but of liberal ideology. This pathological and self-defeating world view would have utterly perplexed “the black Americans who worked so hard before the 1960s to pave the way for blacks to make the best of themselves in an imperfect world. Realizing that culture is the main problem now rather than racism or societal inequity, our task is to pull black America out of [its] detour, freeing us from self-fulfilling prophecies of recreational racial indignation and returning us to a clear-eyed, proactive race leadership that will allow us to truly 'get past race' for good."

As I said, I can't believe this book was written by a so-called liberal. It actually gives me hope for the future.

I’m running a little bit late, so this will have to be a two- or three-parter. I especially want to get into what the book has to say about specific child-rearing practices that are at the root of cultural pathology--of what I call collective mind parasites--and 25 specific attributes of progress-prone and progress-resistant cultures. Ironically, you will learn that at least seventy five percent of the “progress-prone” attributes are what we would call patently conservative ideas, while ninety percent of the “progress-resistant” ones are--you guessed it progressive. As always, the hurrier progressives go, the behinder they get.


Anonymous said...

Dr. Godwin, what do you see as the key defining elements of leftist liberalism and rightist conservatism?

Michael Andreyakovich said...

I can't answer for Bob, but I think the difference between attitudes on the Left and Right is summed up quite adequately by the two questions in the Bernard Lewis quote: "What did we do wrong" vs. "Who did this to us".

What did we do wrong? is the typical phrase that the right-wing politician asks himself; if a policy in place is not working, he prefers to throw it out and try something else - or at least ATTEMPT to throw it out. There must be a mistake somewhere in the policy itself - and that can be fixed, taking into account the imperfection of the citizens to whom the policy applies.

Leftist politicians ask Who did this to us? The failure of a policy is never their fault; they assume that it was sabotaged by their political opponents, or by the failure of society to live up to its full potential. Their response to a failed policy is to try it again, and yet again, until somebody somehow gets it right. The policy is perfect; it's other people that are the only real problem.

Gagdad Bob said...

I don't know that there is one key. If you search through the archives you will see that I have discussed the differences from many different angles. But if I had to pick just one, I would say that leftism in all its forms is a closed system that is alienated from the greater reality of the vertical. In the absence of a transcendent vertical telos, they are condemned to an ideology and existence that are ultimately unworthy of the dignity of man.

ppab said...

Dr. Godwin:

Dymphna from Gates of Vienna recommended you; I liked reading your treatment of culture as a causal phenomenon and not simply window-dressing to admire.

I'm curious if you have any insights into the best ways to study culture by quantitative measures.

For instance, the website newsmap illustrates a sort of cultural behavior in that it builds a tree map from the popularity of various stories aggregated by Google News. I've seen a few moments where the tree map is noticeably different between countries, the most noticeable being when, after the arrest of the Canadian Jihadis, every non-Canadian news source lead with a story on the plot, while Canadian media lead with news on Hamas and a story on how hard it is to be Muslim in Canada.

While interesting to capture such a cultural tidbit, I'm wondering if you have advice on how to better measure culture (frequency of terminology?), as this finding was just a moment and at most pretty idiosyncratic (though maybe thats the best to hope for?).

Do you have any recommendations of papers re: statistical methods applied to cultural studies? Things to stay away from? Things that are generally reliable?

Looks like your book may be a place to start...

dilys said...

some things that even Petey would probably hesitate to blurt out in public

There is anything???!

John McWhorter has spoken in interviews, with a good deal of discretion and respect, that seeing close-up the patterns of his liberal-activist mother concentrated his mind wonderfully.

One aspect of the progressivist / conservative approach might be touched on here.

That is, the preferred narrative of the conservative is the Hero's Quest (touched on by Bob defining "sport" as a game where there is some interference to overcome). The preferred one of the progressive is Saving the Fallen Bird, the "righteousness" and self-worth defining identification of something weaker, and then imagining rescuing it.

From another angle, there are interesting rhetorical and philosophical memes in this essay on the travails of the American Episcopal Church. Oliver O'Donovan, Oxford philosopher, The Failure of the Liberal Paradigm. There's a lot of theological Inside Baseball, but it is quite diverting and insightful in distinguishing the primacy of ethical discourse (with its landscape of potential coercion and shame) for progressives; and Truth-as-the-light-of-the-Good for conservatives.

Ethics without at least natural law built into the analysis must remain Horizontal in its landmarks. A truth criterion must refer to the Vertical, otherwise there is only relative, not even comparative, truth.

Phil Smith said...

Hi Bob & Everyone:

Glad that you're shining the spotlight on the values issue in relation to international development work. I've been corresponding with Lawrence Harrison about his recent book (it's his third and most potent volume on the topic of culture and values) as I found his book a treasure trove of information for my graduate thesis on what’s not working in aid and development work. Harrison seems to be one of a very few voices taking a courageous stand on these matters.

For the recently completed three-year Culture Matters Research Project (CMRP) Harrison assembled a The assembled a team comprised of 65 experts from 22 countries and thirty universities for a three-year research project designed to investigate the values that influence the political, economic and social evolution of societies. By examining case studies of the role of values and culture in change, the project identified 25 key factors that differ between cultures that are evolving versus those that stagnate and resist change.

Perhaps you've also read William Easterly's excellent book (published earlier this year) entitled "The White Man's Burden: Why the West's efforts to aid the rest have done so much ill and so little good." Both books are well researched and supported by current data – much of it quantitative (in answer to your reader’s question). Both Easterly and Harrison point out that there’s general agreement from the right and the left that improving the lot of the world’s poor should be a very high priority.

Easterly’s book is, in part, a searing indictment of sixty years of big bureaucratic plans to save our fellow humans living in dire straits in underdeveloped nations.

He points out that as a society we managed to deliver 9 million copies of the latest Harry Potter novel under tight security one day last July, yet we failed to deliver 12 cent medicines that could prevent malaria or 3 dollars to 5 million mothers to save their babies lives.

It’s not all doom and gloom however – there are successful small “bottoms-up” projects that employ an on-the-ground “searcher of opportunity” mentality rather than grand plans cooked up in Geneva or Gleneagles. Some, like the celebrated Grameen Bank micro-credit programs contain a strong cultural component to inculcate and reinforce good values.

And here’s an unpleasant reality: discussion of culture and values has been largely taboo at aid agencies, largely for reasons of political correctness wherein nobody wants to be accused of propagating outdated racial or cultural stereotypes. While we massage our egos, people are dying in droves.

But as Dr. Don Beck discovered in his 63 trips to aid the reconstruction of South Africa after apartheid, the sharpest cultural differences fall out along values lines, not race or color. I find his values technology developed from Dr. Graves’ extensive research work over thirty years, Spiral Dynamics, to be a penetrating and powerful tool to help assess the dilemmas we face in dealing with these touchy issues. There's a strong vertical dimension in the sophisticated model, which again isn't popular with the politically correct flatlanders.

Refreshingly, I've found Dr. Beck to be a man of enormous character and resourcefulness, as he strives to find skilful solutions to hotspots and flashpoints worldwide, most recently in the Middle East. His site contains some interesting links at:

Gagdad Bob said...


See Phil's comment above. This book by Harrsion is the best I've seen at quantifying cultural differences, and it makes references to many other authors and studies.

Having said that, I am skeptical of the entire enterprise of trying to objectify the subjective. There is a way to know objective truth about the subjective dimension, and it is not through number crunching. The truest things are true regardless of what a study demonstrates. Once you concede this point, you're already lost in the horizontal, looking for explanations that are only found in the vertical and which are ultimately "self evident."

Anonymous said...

Michael, "If a [Republican] policy in place is not working," you mean to say that the right-wing politician doesn't blame it on the godless liberals, gays, and feminists instead of on himself or his ideology?

joseph said...

Though I agree that the question "What did we do wrong?" is appropriate, at least sometimes, I am actually unaware of any politicians, left or right wing that actually ask that question. They may be out there, but I don't see them defining policies.

Gagdad Bob said...


Agreed. Politicians don't get elected by promising to do nothing. There are actually very few principled conservatives in the Republican Party.

cosmophile said...

Outstanding! Bee-rilliant!

Reminds me of an old joke: a businessman -- asked how he could keep going when losing a dollar on every sale, answered in 3 words: "Volume, volume, volume!"

They're never going to get there, and the sooner the better.

jonathan rosen said...

Since conservos apparently always respond to adverse circumstances with "what did we do wrong", a couple of questions :

In the area of energy policy and our continued increase in dependence on oil exports from friendly folk like the saudis, iranians and venezuelans, which of the following policies would you say the repub admin of the past 6 yrs would say it has "done wrong".

1. 100s million$ in subsidies to the oil and gas industry
2. $700 mln for alternative energy research in 2006 vs $ 4 bln for a space shuttle nearly all scientists feel has no scientific purpose
3.Effectively no increase in mileage requirements for vehicles.
4.100% tariff on sugar, thus making ethanol from sugar cane uneconomical


Is there nothing that has gone "wrong" in iraq that should be acknowledged ?


reconstruction of new orleans and the gulf ?

Urizen said...

There is a problem with popular anthropology, because it is basically ideologically driven (and usually has to be, to get 'media acclaim' from the leftoid-hacks). Basically, Diamond's book is an enormous waste of space which varies between trivial truisms to errant nonsense.

The fact that much of popular anthropology is unwilling to engage with hereditary intelligence and evolutionary psychology more broadly is particularly telling, since the opinions of people actually working within the field are about 180 degrees from the journalist hacks and Humanists who claim to be 'pro-science'.

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, eight years ago, when this ancient post was written, I don't think EVEN I understood the truth of what you say about IQ...