A coming clash between liberalism and Darwinism? Or a takeover of liberalism by Darwinism?

As Mark Richardson has been stressing at Oz Conservative, the ruling idea of liberalism is individual autonomy and choice. But if, as the Darwinists tell us,—and most liberals subscribe to Darwinism—we are the products of mindless and purposeless natural processes, what happens to individual autonomy?

In other words, is Darwinist materialism, including Human Biodiversity, a force of the right (meaning the belief in freedom, whether understood in traditional-conservative or right-liberal terms), or is Darwinist materialism a force of the left (meaning socialism and centralized control)?

Todd White raises the issue at his blog:

Yesterday, Denyse O’Leary highlighted a fascinating article in last week’s Hindu Times. The article—entitled Our Ideas of Brain and Human Nature are a Myth—shows the shocking political consequences of reductionism—straight from the mouth of a reductionist advocate.

Read the whole thing, but here’s a few clips…

The notion of individual autonomy underpins our society, yet new research suggests this guiding principle is an illusion. It was browsing in a bookshop that got me started. I was confronted by a bank of bestsellers on the brain: how it works and how we think.

It’s not an accident that many of the biggest bestsellers in this territory are about decision-making—Blink, Nudge and The Decisive Moment. The image which comes to mind is that they are all sticks of dynamite dug in to explode the great sacred mythology of our time: namely that individual freedom is about having choices, and that progress is about the constant expansion of those choices.

Read these books and you discover that people are useless at making choices. We are lazy, imitative, over-optimistic, myopic, and much of our decision-making is made by unconscious habits of the mind which are largely socially primed […]

It’s intriguing how much attention the thesis has attracted from many parts of the political establishment, such as policymakers in pensions, health and the environment, because often the gains from nudging seem pretty small—it is fanciful to think it can solve the environmental crisis.

This humbling evidence of our hopeless decision-making exposes consumer capitalism as not being about millions of independent decisions of individuals expressing unique identities, but about how social norms can be manipulated to create eager shoppers. Or take the idea of introducing choice into public services; some bizarre consequences will result, such as the popularity of a hospital being determined by whether it has a car park, not the skill of medical staff.

This all may seem remote from politics, but it’s not. Some politicians argue that the regeneration of the left requires a convincing new account of what it is to be human. Are human beings self-interested creatures or are they collaborative? The right’s argument for market capitalism is rooted in the former but the research on the social brain supports the latter.

A message to the Conservative Reductionists (Gamers, HBD advocates, etc.): See what happens when you destroy human dignity and the idea that man is a rational creature with moral choice? It’s not the Right that benefits; it’s the Left. Why? Because if we are just hairless apes with no free will, Government—and only Government—with its endless rules, regulations, and quotas—can keep us mindless animals from harming one another.

As I wrote to Alkibiades last night

A “rational civilization” needs only 2 things…

1) A citizenry that believes in the power of reason—i.e., that people have the intellectual and moral capacity to live their own lives with a minimum of outside coercion (coercion from a government agency or a religious body or whatever), and

2) A government that operates in a way that enables its “rational citizens” to flourish (i.e, a government of limited powers that can maintain law and order).

By those standards, which civilizations are “rational?” Not many. The United States, Israel, and the Anglosphere (Britain, Australia, New Zealand). Maybe one or two others.

And obviously, all of those countries are in danger today, because the idea that reason is good for humanity—indeed, the very CONCEPT that reason even exists—is under attack.

See my essays, Ideas Have Consequences and What is the Function of Science?

- end of initial entry -

Ian B. writes:

Of course, if the “notion of individual autonomy underpins our society, yet new research suggests this guiding principle is an illusion,” and if “people are useless at making choices” and if we “are lazy, imitative, over-optimistic, myopic, and much of our decision-making is made by unconscious habits of the mind which are largely socially primed,” and if the rational conscious self is an illusion, then:

1) The researchers that arrived at this conclusion are themselves irrational, socially primed, and incapable of independent decision-making, and so the conclusion is itself irrational and socially primed.

2) Whatever bureaucratic central-planning “experts” they appoint to control us irrational, socially primed apes will themselves be socially primed apes who are incapable of independent decision-making: the blind leading the blind.

As usual, materialists irrationally exclude themselves from their own reductionism. “Everybody else is a poorly programmed automaton. We enlightened few, however, have somehow magically obtained rational souls from nowhere!”

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 03, 2009 01:59 PM | Send

Email entry

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):