Friday, October 02, 2020

2 + 2 = Don't Boink Your Sister

Ideologies were invented so that men who do not think can give opinions. --Dávila

I guess I don't have any pressing agenda at the moment. When last we met, we were -- just for fun -- seeing what might happen if ideological Darwinism collided head on with the anti-ideological Voegelin, using Henrich's The WEIRDest People in the World as our crash test dummy.

It reminds me of when David Letterman used to drop objects -- from watermelons to TVs -- from a high-rise, just to see what it looks like when they splatter on the ground. Same. We're going to push Henrich's naively reductive scheme off the top floor just to watch it break into pieces.

Before doing so -- or as a prelude -- why in principle is metaphysical Darwinism doomed to failure? Here's one informal way to measure the magnitude of the problem: I do a lot of highlighting when I read a book, and have evolved an array of idiosyncratic symbols, depending upon the importance of the point. This allows me to pull a book from the shelf and immediately identify everything from its One Big Idea to its granular facts and details.

When I come across a really stupid point, I put a ? in the margin. If it's really, really stupid, I might put a ?!. But if it's really, really, really stupid, I put a dismissive or contemptuous HA! Suffice it to say, there are a great many ?s, ?!s, and HA!s in the margins of this book. I cited an example the other day:

And from a scientific [?!] perspective, no "rights" have yet been detected hiding in our DNA or elsewhere. This idea sells because it appeals to a particular psychology."

Was he just trying to be ironic, or funny? Then stick to your day job and leave the gags to us!

Here's another example: do you like living in Western civilization? I do. Well, it's all just a big misunderstanding, an accident of natural selection: "there were many religious groups competing in the Mediterranean and Middle East," and "The Church was just the 'lucky one' that bumbled across an effective recombination of supernatural beliefs and practices."

Okay fine. What's good for the nous is good for the tenured: what is the principle Henrich is defending? That humans habitually confuse what is true with what has merely survived the ordeal of natural selection.

This being the case, it is equally logical to say that "there were many philosophical ideas competing in academia, and sociobiology was just the lucky one that bumbled across an effective recombination of infra-rational beliefs and practices."

Dávila: Reducing another’s thought to his supposed motives prevents us from understanding him. Reducing another's thought to the accidents of biology is just... HA!

Memo to Henrich: all beliefs are supernatural, which is to say, transcendent. Otherwise you're in the absurcular position of arguing that the theory of natural selection was naturally selected. I realize this is basic stuff, but c'mon, man! Stop conflating science and philosophy. Scientism isn't a philosophy, just a quick way to commit intellectual suicide.

Here's another beaut: "The much-heralded ideals of Western civilization, like human rights, liberty, representative democracy, and science, aren't monuments to pure reason, as so many assume."

Rather, they are ultimately traceable to "a peculiar package of incest taboos, marriage prohibitions, and family prescriptions that developed in a radical religious sect -- Western Christianity."

Where to even begin? It's like trying to debate Biden, which cannot overcome Brandolini's Law: The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.

Please don't misunderstand me: I'm not saying that it's okay to boink your sister or marry your first cousin. Rather, Henrich is conflating necessary and sufficient conditions. Yes, you shouldn't boink your sister; no, refraining from doing so doesn't automatically result in the U.S. Constitution, natural science, human rights, and the Pieta.

Here's another problem: is there such a thing as an objective human norm? NO!, says the ideological Darwinian. For how can there be an objective norm when anything we call a "norm" is just an accidental consequence of natural selection?

Recall that WEIRD is a cute acronym for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democrat. Me? I rather enjoy being an affluent and educated individual living in a liberal democracy rooted in self-evident truth. I suspect you like it too, trolls excepted.

But if you were born in China or Saudi Arabia, you would have a very different psychology, and there's no way to arbitrate between the two: one is as good or bad as the other. Natural rights? They are fundamentally no different from lactose tolerance. Some people didn't evolve the digestive ability to tolerate milk. Others can't tolerate free speech. Same difference.

No, I'm not exaggerating. For example, I have an Evangelical friend who -- unlike me, the second laziest man in LA county -- is a conspicuously ambitious and hard worker. I wonder what drives him? Well, "research suggests" that

some forms of Protestantism may have stumbled onto an ingenious way to harness men's cravings for forbidden sex to motivate them to work harder, longer, and more creatively. Protestants can boil off their guilt through productive work, by heeding their calling.

It is indeed amazing what a man accomplish by not boinking his sister.

Here in the Christian west we like the idea of an abstract and impersonal rule of law. Or at least we used to. Conservatives are still rather attached to it, while the left is at war with it. Is it because we don't boink our sisters? Pretty much: "who's to even say that two legal decisions stand in contradiction?" For

in many societies, law is about restoring harmony and maintaining the peace, not, as it is for more analytic thinkers, about defending individual rights or making sure that abstract principles of "justice" are served.

Correct: there's no justice, only "justice." And yet, try telling that to some inbred leftist!

I didn't intend this post to descend into pure insultainment. Here's one last example. Henrich, in his eagerness to attack Christianity, writes on p. 145 that the Greek and Roman gods were "upholders of public morality," and that unflattering depictions of them are merely a result of "Christian spin doctors" making them look bad.

Twenty pages later he discusses this fine Roman morality, writing, for example, that "It was within the father's power to kill his slaves or children."

Does this imply that Christian morality is somehow superior to Roman morality? Can't be. Our genes permit and perhaps even necessitate moralizing, but there is in principle no objective way to arbitrate between diverse moralities, any more than the genes permit us to distinguish between Darwinism and the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

But what if 2 + 2 really is 4? In other words, what if truth exists and man may know it? That changes everything.

The natural sciences, where the process of falsification prevails, take only errors out of circulation; the social sciences, where fashion prevails, also take their achievements out of circulation. --Dávila.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

There is No God, and Matter is His Prophet

With regard to the debate between Ideological Darwinism and St. Thomas, I'm trying to consider it from the widest possible angle -- or at least a new angle -- since we've already circled this goround ad nauseam. So why does it keep coming up? No doubt because we failed to dig down deep enough and pull it out by the roots. Instead, we leave a stump which sprouts new growth the moment we turn our backs.

It seems that some errors will always be with us: not Darwinism per se, but something deeper than Darwinism. (And I hasten to emphasize that we're not talking merely about the mechanism of natural selection, which no one disputes, but rather, the naive and uncritical reduction of everything that transcends the genes back into the genes: spirit into matter, subject into object, truth into reproductive success, wisdom into tenure, etc.)

It seems to me that the Perennial Error that Cannot be Eradicated is a form of immanentizing the Christian eschaton. Ironically, the anti-theism expressed by Henrich could only occur in a post-Christian world (which is still a variant of Christianity).

After all, natural selection wasn't discovered by Buddhists or Muslims. With regard to the former, no intellectual would waste his time focused on the illusory ins, outs, and what-have-you's of ceaseless change. We get it: the only permanence is the impermanent. As for Islam, any changes are dictated by Allah. There is no randomness, including the genetic kind. End of story.

So, the truth of the matter is that Henrich is high up in the Christian tree of Western civilization, enthusiastically sawing away at the branch he's sitting on. But more than that, he's really attempting the chop down the whole tree -- the tree of transcendence -- and return it to the immanent ground of the forest, i.e., a world of pure horizontality.

To help us see the forest for the trees (and vice versa), let's turn to Voegelin. Maybe he's not always as clear as he could be and should be, but who else gets to the root of the problem as he does? He's like metaphysical Roundup. No, literally:

The soul grows full of weeds unless the intelligence inspects it daily like a diligent gardener (Dávila).

Look at the size that menu! Where to begin? This looks like a good appetizer: Evolutionary Theory and Kant's Critique. Let's chew on it and see if it's digestible. Hmm. We may have bitten off more than we can chew:

if the radically immanent theory of evolution were accepted, researchers would have to ascribe to the universal mother, with her generative power, an expedient organization geared to all the creatures that have come forth from her and without which the appropriate forms of the animal and plant worlds would be impossible.

Okay what? I think he means that if you radically immanentize the process of evolution, you end with a kind of de-differentiated Womb of Nature -- perhaps similar to the worldview of paleolithic cave painters. They too noticed how mother earth ceaselessly throws out forms from her womb, which is why they thought they could participate in the process by tunneling down into the earth and putting those images on the walls. Is this what Henrich is doing? Yes, only with banal words and ideas instead of glorious images. No, literally:

Without aesthetic transfiguration all of reality is pedestrian.

From an aesthetic experience one returns as from a sighting of numinous footprints.

The work of art is a covenant with God.

Aesthetics is the sensible and secular manifestation of grace.

Every work of art speaks to us of God. No matter what it says.

The laws of biology in themselves do not have sufficiently delicate fingers to fashion the beauty of a face.

So, our cavedwelling cousins were the first to discover transcendence, and their paintings are urgent memos to that effect. They launched us into this vertical space, but people such as Henrich would literally reduce this space to a meaningless horizontal shuffling of genetic material. There's an ap(horism) for that:

Reducing another’s thought to his supposed motives prevents us from understanding him.

In other words, reducing our thought to the selfish motives of our genes obviously prevents Henrich from understanding us. But more to the point, it also prevents him from understanding himself. I realize this is basic stuff, but has it really never occurred to him that he isn't magically immune from his own theory, and that his ideas cannot possibly be true, only genetically useful? Yes, he's only a biologist and not a philosopher, but c'mon, man!

Back to Voegelin, then we have to get some work done:

If this idea is followed to its logical conclusion, the law according to which species develop moves closer and closer to the beginning of the history of evolution, until the first life-form is endowed with the evolutionary tendency for the entire living world, and finally speculation pushes back beyond the first life-form into inorganic matter, from which the former spontaneously originated.

The "explanatory" law that was intended to be immanent thus turns again into a transcendent one, into a law that "precedes" the evolutionary series of life...

In other words, there is no God, and matter is his prophet.

We are far from finished with this subject (we've only just begun), but we'll end this post with a few aphorisms that are as paper to the rockheadedness of ideological Darwinism:

The philosopher who adopts scientific notions has predetermined his conclusions.

The doctrines that explain the higher by means of the lower are appendices of a magician’s rule book.

Four or five invulnerable philosophical propositions allow us to make fun of the rest (Dávila).