Kristor on the fundamental mistake of HBD—and on the only way HBD can fulfill its potential

LA to Alan Roebuck and Kristor:

I just skimmed through the Dennis Mangan thread of September 16, “Once more into the breech: Auster and HBD,” where Mangan replies to Alan’s and my argument that Human Biodiversity cannot be a conservative movement because HBD lacks any idea of a moral “ought.” I suppose I should respond to the thread, but I just don’t care enough. Is it really necessary—does it serve any purpose—to have a discussion with someone who, when I say, “HBD is not conservative, because it lacks any principle of moral judgment,” interprets that as, “Auster simply reads anyone who disagrees with him on any matter of any significance out of the conservative ranks”?

Kristor replies:

I just read through the essay and the comments, and I have two things to say:

First: Alan, thanks for trying. You did a good job.

Second: I don’t think it’s worth working that thread more. [LA says: I wasn’t speaking of commenting at Mangan’s, but of writing about it at VFR and trying to get at the essential problem. Which, happily, is exactly what Kristor now proceeds to do.] It has got too mired in details—many of them, to be sure, fairly interesting—that will make any attempt to get at first principles really difficult. And only getting at first principles will do.

The fundamental error of thought among the atheist HBD folks (and I say this as an advocate of HBD and a supporter of its research program) is that they conflate pragmatic prudence with righteousness. They think that righteousness is coterminous with practical prudence, e.g., it is bad policy for us to jump off cliffs. The example captures both the imprudence of disregarding gravity and the imprudence of increasing the probability of harm to one’s reproductive prospects, both of which are invoked early in the thread. So, they would say, this is the reason we think that it is generally wrong to jump off cliffs, and this our feeling of wrongness, inherited from our evolutionary past, is just all there is to morality.

But to say that x is bad policy leaves unanswered the question, what is bad? If jumping off cliffs is bad policy, the badness of the policy cannot follow from the fact that doing so ruins your reproductive prospects, unless it is first wrong—wrong in some absolute frame of moral reference—to ruin your reproductive prospects.

And of course, so far as Darwinism would say, it is not wrong to ruin your reproductive prospects. Rather, such ruination is just something that happens from time to time, and that’s all there is to say about it. A bear may think it a bad idea to jump off the cliff, but really his feeling that this is so, is wholly on a par with the peacock’s feeling that the right way to conduct a mating dance is to splay out one’s tail feathers, i.e., it is an illusion. In reality, there is no right or wrong way to conduct a mating dance, and likewise it is not really wrong for bears to commit suicide. The consistent Darwinist position must be that moral feelings, such as “it is wrong to commit suicide,” are illusory, because in Darwinian terms the survival or the death of a meme, trait, organism, culture, or species is neither here nor there. It is neither to be deplored nor approved. It just is.

The HBD’ers, bless their straightforward earnest hearts, miss the fact that under a Darwinist view of life, it is not a problem that the West, or humanity, should die. Under a Darwinian world view, nothing is a problem. Oh, surely, yes, we have inherited preferences that we should survive, and that our families should prosper down into the future; but, really, these preferences are artifacts of the random adventures of our antecedents, and have no basis in physical reality. Quarks don’t care whether they are part of an American, or a Muslim, or a carburetor. And this is why Darwinian Human Biodiversity is totally inadequate as the ground of an effort—a moral effort—to renew the West.

The Darwinian HBD’er says, “We really ought to run our society along traditional Western Christian lines, because such societies have been found to work, and to prevail against their competitors. Of course, it doesn’t matter whether our society works, prevails, or even survives, it just happens to be my preference.”

“Ok,” says the liberal, “Now that you put it that way, I think I’ll spend my life in gaming and Game and stuff, instead of trying to be all stoical and virtuous and Western, like Horatio or Beowulf. I mean, if nothing really matters, then I’d rather work on getting laid, drunk, and entertained than anything else.”

The really sad aspect of this situation is that the HBD analysis is really compelling. Evolutionary psychology supports the idea that societies really will do better if they are run on traditional lines. But, being couched in Darwinian terms, evolutionary psychology lacks any compelling argument that societies should do better. Indeed, Darwinist, materialist HBD’ers must forswear any such argument as unfounded and wrongheaded. What Darwinian HBD lacks is an argument that life is really good—good in fact—and that the things humans find most precious are in fact really important in the ultimate scheme of things, and therefore ought to be pursued. Instead, the Darwinian HBD’er is reduced to saying, “This is how things work, but that doesn’t matter.” This makes HBD pointless, a waste of time.

HBD can come to its full flower, as a school of intellectual endeavor, only when it admits as a first principle that there exists an ultimate moral framework under which it is better to exist than not, better to be comprehensive than inadequate, better to be more aware than less aware, and so forth. Only if these and certain other moral precepts are absolutely true, can evolutionary psychology, sociobiology, or HBD—or, for that matter, any domain of inquiry whatsoever—be of any help. But this admission would require the abandonment of Darwinism—of the proposition that change is essentially random—and of materialism.

In fact, it would require theism. A theist HBD could have some moral suasion. Under a theist HBD, the ultimate source of the badness of jumping off cliffs would lie in the basic nature of reality—in the simple absolute fact that being is better than non-being. Under a theist HBD, we could say that the West should survive, because it is really, factually better than the alternatives (at least for Westerners). But that’s a whole ‘nother argument.

- end of initial entry -

Jim C. writes:

Let’s be frank: the two movements share certain traits, but they should not really be compared to each other (and for that matter, has any conservative ever agreed with another about the definition of conservatism? Believe me, Irving Kristol and Bill Buckley did not agree on a lot of issues).

Here’s a definition of HBD from Wiki (I think it’s acceptable):

Human biodiversity (often abbreviated to HBD) is the belief that observed behavioral and cognitive differences between social classes, the two sexes, and the major human races can to a great extent be attributed to human genotypic variation. It is a subset of hereditarianism. Proponents of human biodiversity believe that genetics can be used to explain a wide range of phenomena including but not limited to the continuing poverty of much of the Third World, the overall failure of nonwhites, with the exception of East Asians, to successfully integrate into Western societies, and racial disparities in socioeconomic status, crime and educational achievement.

So, it would seem to me, that HBD is a good tool to scientifically prove the logic of conservatism—e.g., affirmative action does not work, tracking works, etc.

There is at least one element of HBD that, in my opinion, is much more moral than Christian conservatism: the belief that reducing the birthrate of violent, low-IQ populations, even with state-supported abortion, is more moral than the alternative.

LA replies:

With respect for Jim C., this is repeating what has already been said many times, by people on both sides of the discussion. The problem is that many people on the HBD side do not limit themselves to this instrumental definition of HBD but treat HBD as a total and sufficient approach to the problems of society and as the sufficient and best basis for a conservative movement.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 28, 2009 01:04 PM | Send

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