Thursday, March 06, 2014

What's the Big Idea?

One more post on the Noble Savages and ignoble ones. I wanted to say savage Nobelists, but no anthropologist has ever been awarded one. Plenty of savages, of course.

We've been discussing the unfair, intellectually dishonest, and ideologically motivated savaging of Chagnon's work. What about honest and disinterested criticism? When the most vocal critics are such depraved bullies, it's easy to instinctively support the victim, but sometimes, as in the war between Iran and Iraq, one wishes both sides could lose.

President Bush's critics, for example, were so detached from reality, that many conservatives defended him despite the fact that he was never a conservative (i.e., he had some more or less conservative positions, but was never part of the movement).

According to Isaiah Berlin, every important thinker is ultimately motivated by One Big Thing. If you can find the Big Thing, then you have discovered the key that unlocks their work. I certainly wouldn't call Chagnon an important thinker (few thinkers are), but he is clearly organized around a Big Thing, that thing being sociobiology or evolutionary psychology.

These are synonymous terms for (what should be) the uncontroversial idea that human beings are (at least in part) products of their evolutionary environment. The idea was quite controversial when he began using it, but why?

Again, his critics were not religious fundamentalists, but secular crypto-Marxists. As Chagnon puts it, he was considered "a heretic, a misanthrope, and the object of condemnation by politically correct colleagues, especially those who identify themselves as 'activists' on behalf of native peoples because I describe the Yanomamö as I found them."

One problem, I think, is that the idea of genetic determinism has obviously been misused in the past (always by progressives, mind you) to justify evils such as racism. Therefore, better to close off that avenue of thought entirely. Think of academia as a ski resort with groomed slopes. Venture off them at your own peril.

Charles Murray, for example, got a taste of this with his book The Bell Curve. If I remember correctly, it shows that different ethnic groups have different collective IQs. I suppose it's acceptable to point out that Asian Americans or Ashkenazi Jews are a standard deviation (15 points) above the average (100). However, as in Lake Woebegone, everyone must be above average. If some groups are below average, then we had better be quiet about it.

This is another fine example of the vociferously anti-science attitude of the left. I mean, as Thomas Sowell has often said, it should be a banality to point out that some groups are better at certain things than other groups. For this very reason, it is not at all historically uncommon for certain ethnic groups to dominate certain trades or activities.

I'm sure it is unacceptable to say this, but I don't think the dominance of blacks in the NBA can be attributed to physical factors only, e.g., height. Rather, I suspect a certain form of intelligence must required, similar in a way to the form of intelligence needed to be a (perhaps not coincidentally) jazz master. This intelligence combines spontaneous pattern recognition within a complex flow of information.

When I played basketball as a kid, I had no problem playing one on one, or making baskets. Still have no problem. However, when I attempted to play organized basketball in high school, I immediately found myself overwhelmed by the amount and intensity of information. Everything was happening all at once -- very much unlike, say, baseball. If one attempts to impose linearity on the chaos of basketball, one is immediately overwhelmed. So, I'm not cut out for basketball. Does that make me a racist?

Anyway, back to Chagnon. The general Raccoon position is that man has both horizontality and verticality, and that genes are necessary but insufficient to account for the ladder. I mean, it's just a banal scientific fact that human beings are genetically distinct from all other species. However, irrespective of how genetically "close" we are to any other species, we are vertically quite distant. On the vertical scale, all other species are number two or lower. Much lower.

So, it seems to me that Chagnon's critics are basically criticizing him for taking Darwinism seriously. However, what is odd is that his adversaries have no theory at all as to what makes us human. That is to say, they want to pretend that there is a purely vertical ideological world, untethered to bodies and genes. It is as if they are pure idealists, even though, at the same time, they are pure materialists. Thus, their One Big Idea is One Big Contradiction.

Speaking of which, Isaiah Berlin says that the One Big Reason leftism doesn't work is that there can never be One Big Scheme that applies to everyone. That is to say, we are all different, for which reason the only just political system must maximize liberty.

Or in other words, leftism too is One Big Contradiction, in that it pretends it is possible to reconcile two opposing values, i.e., liberty and egalitarianism. You can't do that, for the same reason it would be tyrannical to impose racial quotas whereby, say, no NBA team could have more than 15% blacks, or 2% of rodeo clowns must be Jews.

17 Comments:

Blogger Rick said...

"You can't do that, for the same reason it would be tyrranical to impose a racial quota on the NBA"

I pointed out this "exceptional problem" in the NBA to a young lib about 15 years ago during a conversation about racial quotas.

His knee jerk answer was, "that's not the real world." Just to be clear, he meant that the NBA is not the real world. He was a sports fan, so naturally he had not linked the dots.

Surprisingly, he had a visible light-bulb-over-the-head moment where he couldn't believe what he heard himself say.

Heck, I do that all the time. I love light bulbs. What's not to love?



3/06/2014 09:18:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

And to paraphrase the Best:

Man cannot live by genes alone...

Just sayin

3/06/2014 09:20:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

...that 2nd comment was with regard to:

"...that genes are necessary but insufficient..."

3/06/2014 09:22:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Think of academia as a ski resort with groomed slopes. Venture off them at your own peril.

Welcome to One Cosmos, sometimes known as Extreme Cross-Country Academia.

3/06/2014 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

I immediately found myself overwhelmed by the amount and intensity of information ...

I have a feeling that is why Obama rode the bench in high school.

I had the same experience when I tried to play a little in junior high. I went back to being a lone gunman.

3/06/2014 10:26:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

...there can never be One Big Scheme that applies to everyone.

It's like leftists don't believe in diversity.

A conservative gentleman from New Zealand comments to me once in a while, and yesterday it was about some of the limitations of libertarian philosophy. The answer is to do things small and local, without all the centralization and OSFA programs. Our local community resources, churches, and charities can handle our local problems far better than the Biden-esque geniuses pontificating Ex Beltway.

3/06/2014 10:33:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Mushroom @ 10:08 - yes, that's why it's always such an adventure :)

3/06/2014 10:45:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Speaking of racism, over at Salon white women can't dance. Or at least, they ought'nt, because it's just the same as a minstrel show. Apparently, it is never okay for white people to notice something "non-white" people do and emulate it because they like it.

3/06/2014 10:59:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

That's what a racist I am. I thought Arabs were Caucasians.

But I'm telling you right now, the next time I see a black person or an Asian or an Arab in cowboy boots or a Stetson, I'm going to ask them why they are in Cowboy Drag.

3/06/2014 11:20:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

"The answer is to do things small and local..."

What is offered in Roger Scruton's book, Green Philosophy.

An interview here.

3/06/2014 11:31:00 AM  
Blogger Magister said...

genetic determinism has obviously been misused in the past

And present, and future. I have a good friend whose son has Downs. There are leftists who would enthusiastically test for and kill such children in utero. It saddens me that their idealism ("the world should have no suffering!") results in precisely more suffering. And the problem is always projected outward. Their reaction is never "I should change myself and love more, and more self-sacrificially." No, it's always kill, pussycat, kill!

the only just political system must maximize liberty

What, and have elites swallow their pride? You're a danger, Bob, a danger to yourself and others.

no NBA team could have more than 15% blacks, or 2% of rodeo clowns must be Jews

Pushing for such quotas would have the excellent salutary effect of making other quotas seem ridiculous. Where's a petition I can sign?

do things small and local, without all the centralization

Agreed, but this can be a fig leaf for nasty business. A lot of people in the EU for example talk a big game about "subsidiarity," but when it comes down to it, the big macroeconomic decisions affecting everyone are made by a closed and unaccountable cabal at the higher level. Sounds familiar, doesn't it.

There's actually talk in Europe about what the next "dream of Europe" should be. To the elites, it's a federal Europe, a US of E. It never ceases to amaze me that their dream is so small. How much richer is a dream of a diverse Europe of nations, interconnected to be sure, but free to pursue different models of organization. It would be like a farmer's market of political diversity. Have the high-level pow-wows and encourage/support the mixing of young professionals across national borders, but let the continent flex.

But no, the "dream" is like the Islamic dream of the One Caliphate to Rule Them All.

Obama is a monistic dreamer, too. In addition to everything else, this is a failure of imagination.

3/06/2014 12:11:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Credo of the left: think globally, act loco.

3/06/2014 12:17:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

There are people who call themselves conservatives who will tell you that you should not be allowed to buy raw milk from a farmer because you will end up bleeding out of every orifice.

Those people think that the federal government's rules and bureaucratic regulations are like Aaron the High Priest standing between the living and the dead to stop the plague.

That's something I know a little about. I drank raw milk growing up -- as did everybody I know. I survived. I'm older than Bob and still reasonably healthy. Rick saw my picture last week and said I looked "scrappy". Or may be "like scrap", whatever.

3/06/2014 12:26:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Magister, re. genetic determinism, I'm sure that if doctors had detected my son's epilepsy in utero, we might have been advised to just "try again". Genetic counseling is a big deal these days; they have to justify the expense somehow, after all.

I would not have taken that advice, had it been given, but even so... Horrifying. "Someone *might* suffer, better to abort," seems to be the credo for far too many these days.

As to doing things small and local, that isn't a panacea. Sometimes it's better, and other times it's not - for instance, the carbon footprint of the average locavore foodie is greater than the carbon footprint of the average Walmart shopper, for a host of reasons.

As always, the best answer is usually freedom.

3/06/2014 12:37:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Heh. As always, preview is usually my friend...

3/06/2014 12:39:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Yes, as far as consumer goods and services, the free market is the best determiner of efficiency.

I'm aiming mainly at regulation and government and whether control is local or centralized. Centralizing even things like police power and accountability and social services is usually a bad idea.

Locavores -- even the term is hilarious.

3/06/2014 01:08:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

In Mushroom's defense, I said "scrappy" was a compliment.

3/06/2014 01:54:00 PM  

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