Zmirak eviscerates Derbyshire
In a clever article at Taki’s Magazine, John Zmirak gives John Derbyshire’s atheist and Darwinist ideas an honor that Derbyshire himself studiously avoids giving them: he treats Derbyshire’s ideas seriously and consistently, applying them to life and society in general, to the supposed reality of other so-called conscious entities (particularly the so-called conscious entity “John Derbyshire”), to the supposed existential requirement of living beings to reproduce themselves, which the “Derbyshire” entity insists on, and to the entity “Derbyshire’s” notion that we should care more about the reproductive success of entities who are physically like ourselves. Zmirak’s point is that if Derbyshire’s atheism and Darwinism were true, then Derbyshire would have absolutely no basis for believing in any of the things he believes in, including not only the doctrines of atheism and Darwinism, but even his own personhood and reason.
This is exactly the kind of ruthless response that is needed against such modern belief systems as Darwinism and deconstruction that attack the human mind on which those belief systems themselves depend. With his strict Darwinian view that all human things are the product of the mindless and purposeless processes of random genetic mutation and natural selection, Derbyshire denies the very possibility of truth, meaning an intentional correspondence between human words and objective reality. As I recently explained here, according to the consistent Darwinian view (i.e., the Darwinian view without the escape hatch of unprincipled exceptions), the only reason people believe or say or do anything is that the instinct to believe or say or do that thing was planted in them by chance genetic mutations that occurred in their distant ancestors and were then passed down to the present generation by natural selection. Therefore a man has a certain belief, not because it is true, and not because he believes in the possibility of truth as such, but because that belief, having been planted in his ancestors by a random genetic mutation, helped his ancestors survive (i.e., natural selection), or, alternatively, because a distant female ancestor of his had a random genetic mutation that made her want to mate with a male who had that belief, which he in turn had acquired through a random genetic mutation (i.e., sexual selection), or, alternatively, because the man himself has a random genetic mutation which plants that belief in him.
Consistent Darwinists thus deny the truth foundation of all human statements, and thus the truth foundation of their own statements, and thus any claim they imagine they have on us that we should take their statements seriously. Therefore, instead of giving the consistent Darwinists the undeserved courtesy of treating them and their ideas with respect, we should, like Zmirak, mercilessly call their bluff. After all, why should we, who according to the Darwinists only exist because our ancestors competitively out-bred other humans, be courteous toward other humans or believe that other humans’ supposed “ideas” are anything but the epiphenomena of a mechanical process generated and passed down by previous random mutations and natural selection?
Zmirak’s article is not easy to follow. As usual, he expresses himself not by a logical progression of ideas, but by a sequence of brainstorms, tropes, jokes, and zany illustrations—often witty, but often overdone and obscure, and sometimes unnecessarily vulgar. Yet there is a coherent theme working its way through it all, which is, first, that if we accept Derbyshire’s Darwinian view, then there is no such thing as a person named John Derbyshire who has a claim to human recognition and human rights, but rather a “data stream” that goes by the name “John Derbyshire,” a “featherless biped” wearing a jacket and tie, an “oddly ape-like figure” who handles a knife and fork. Further, if “Derbyshire’s” idea are true, why should Zmirak have any consideration for his fellow human beings whom he confronts every day? Further, Zmirak asks, if “Derbyshire’s” ideas are true,
why should I trouble myself with the dreary business of reproduction? My DNA may be selfish, but so am “I.” If it’s so bloody determined to replicate itself, it had better rejigger my neurons to offer me a better set of hedonic rewards for taking the effort to do its bidding. So far, no sale.
Six days after the article was posted, a surprisingly confrontational exchange took place between Derbyshire and Zmirak in the comments thread. I’ve copied it below. (To make it easier to follow I have changed the format and put the author’s name at the beginning of each comment instead of after it.)
John Derbyshire wrote on Sep 24, 2008:It makes me glad to see a conservative writer criticizing Derbyshire so decisively. As I’ve said more than once, it has bothered me that I’ve been alone these last few years in pointing out how objectionable, and how pernicious to conservatism, are Derbyshire’s nihilism and overt anti-Christianity, given a platform as they are at America’s leading conservative magazine.
It is also heartening that John Zmirak of all people has taken a strong line. In reading his work occasionally over the years, I’ve always felt that, while he is very smart and talented, he has been limited as a writer by two factors: his excessive personalism, and his desire to remain on good terms with everyone, especially his fellow paleocons, and more especially those who were more prominent than himself. Over and over he would fail to follow an argument through to its logical conclusion, but instead turn a serious theme into a joke or personal anecdote or sentimental effusion. This is the first time I’ve seen him show some real fire and take a principled stand against a fellow conservative—who is, moreover, fairly well-known and has a following. It’s good to see.
Paul K. writes:
Though I spend a lot on the Internet, there are a lot of writers I don’t read unless you cite them. For example, I don’t visit the Taki site and only rarely look in on NRO, so I thank you for linking the Zmirak piece. Odd that Derbyshire said it took him three tries to get through it; my reaction was that I should read it three times to savor it, and to memorize a few bon mots I can pass off as my own at social gatherings.LA replies:
I think I may have said myself at some point that Derbyshire seems disordered. Which would suggest that the main culprit here is not Derbyshire but National Review’s editors. It is they who give him a major platform where he is free to indulge his disorder, writing things that are totally inappropriate for a supposedly conservative magazine. The complete absence of what once would have been automatic limits on such behavior gives him the nihilistic message that nothing is forbidden to him, which in turn leads him to become even more disordered.Alan Roebuck writes:
Indeed. I have a strong hunch that many public atheistic apologists such as Derb are, psychologically speaking, fixated in a childhood rebellion against authority, because their rhetoric is emotional, not logical, and also because many of them emit unconscious hints that they are subconsciously seeking something strong to respect. (E.g., Derb gives some grudging respect to theists who strongly defend their position, as opposed to the wussy theists who make polite to their enemies.)Blake writes:
I agree: there is something seriously wrong with Derbyshire. It is amazing that only five years ago he was writing articles at NRO that included passages like this:
Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 03, 2008 06:55 PM | Send