Darwinian conservatives reveal themselves as moral and cultural relativists

Three days ago Kristor replied at VFR to Dennis Mangan’s September 16 thread, “Once more into the breech: Auster and HBD,” on the question of whether the Darwinian/Human Biodiversity view, since it provides no basis for normative morality, can serve as a basis for conservatism and the defense of the West. Kristor came to this remarkable conclusion:

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….

Mangan promptly replied with a new entry, “Evolution, Morality, and the Defense of the West,” and Kristor has posted the below comment in that thread:

Dennis, I thank you for engaging with my comment over at VFR. You make many interesting and compelling points, but it seems to me that you have missed the crux of my argument, albeit not by much. It was contained in the following:

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.”

You say that “in a cosmic sense” and “in the grand scheme of things”—i.e., in terms of the way things actually are, in terms of what is finally real—“my death is not a problem … but it is a problem for me.” Like the voices the schizophrenic hears in his head, your problem with your death is peculiar to you, and to no one else; it is not intersubjectively real. Ditto for your problem with the death of the West: it’s the way you happen to feel, but you recognize that, in a cosmic sense, your feeling is simply false. This means that it is an illusion. That being so, anything you do in defense of the West—such as running a conservative blog—is not justified by reality, but rather founded only upon your own illusions.

And one’s private illusions, especially those that are explicitly avowed as such, are a poor way to motivate other people to heroic effort. An apologist for the West who is also a Darwinian cannot honestly argue to a liberal that the West is worthy of his utmost personal sacrifice, because as a Darwinist he cannot argue that the West is absolutely worthy in any respect whatsoever. He cannot argue that it is better than the alternatives, because in Darwinian terms, “better” is an empty category. He cannot argue that the death of the West is a real problem, that calls us to action. He cannot say that his personal, randomly eventuating preferences are a reasonable basis for any action at all. Rather, all he can say is that things will keep happening, no matter what. Indeed, this is what the last paragraphs of your entry amount to: “If the West falls, things will be worse, but they’ll keep happening, so no big deal.” It isn’t quite a rousing clarion call, is it? No one would curse the fact that he missed an ultimately pointless battle. No one, hearing your argument, would volunteer to die defending the last bridge protecting his homeland. But unfortunately, in our contest with other societies full of men who are eager to make such sacrifices on behalf of their own patrimonies, nothing less will do.

The comments to your post—many of them quite brilliant and insightful—were permeated with this same gloomy attitude, which I would paraphrase as, “We have lost any faith in the ultimate goodness of our being, but we’ll defend it anyway, even though we are doomed to lose.” How fitting that Swede should invoke the Nordic mythos, suffused as it is with gloom over the ultimate futility both of man and the gods, who, no matter what they do, no matter how perfect their virtue and heroism, will all meet their ultimate, pointless doom at the hand of the evil giants on the day of Ragnarok. ‘Scuse me while I go fetch a flagon of mead to drown my terror and helpless despair as evening gathers and the hour of Grendel’s visit approaches ever nearer.

(Interesting factoid: had you heard the critical theory that Beowulf is a Christian allegory? Think about it.)

[End of Kristor’s comment]

By the way, Kristor’s comment at Mangan’s was preceded by this exchange:

LA to Kristor (September 30, 10:30 a.m.)

Mangan replies to you (I haven’t read it).

Kristor replies:

Sigh … OK, I guess I’ll go read it.

LA replies:

I think that if Mangan made better arguments, there would have been less of a sigh …

Kristor replies:

Indeed so. I read through the comments a while ago, and it was sort of amazing to see that the HBD’ers, all very smart folks, seem to have totally missed the main point of my comment. One fellow did not—he agreed with me, and by way of amplification made a few arguments of his own that show he Gets It. But the rest of them say lots of interesting and intelligent things that are simply not responsive to my argument.

I am curious about this lacuna of theirs. I wonder if it is attributable to the “flattened out” ontology they get from scientism. As VFR commenter Roger showed in his discussion of his struggles with Feser’s Last Superstition—his struggles, that is, with taking on board Aristotelian final and formal causation, on top of the material and efficient causation already inculcated in him by our Enlightened Cartesian culture—it can be quite difficult for a modern even to see what a traditionalist is talking about. Under a scientistic/materialist/Darwinist world view, traditionalism makes no sense.

It’s a rhetorical challenge for us; a pedagogical challenge.

- end of initial entry -

Todd Whites writes:

Atheists are not people who are willing to risk bodily harm or death for noble principles such as “freedom” or “democracy.” By definition, they would rather be slaves than martyrs. Decades from now, in Europe, that’s exactly what they’ll be.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 01, 2009 03:24 PM | Send

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