formerly known as olvlzl
Parts One, Interlude, Part Two, Darwin as Icon
The People are the foundation and the ultimate authority of democracy. Democracy assumes that The People will rule themselves better than despots or elites or even “a government of wise men”. Democracy assumes that The People will act more wisely, more justly, more fairly than other authorities. Most of all, including all of these benefits, democracy assumes that the collective actions of The People will be more beneficially effective in the real world than any other form of government.
In order for democracy to be preferable to any other known form of government it has to pass a fairly low test, to produce a better life than undemocratic governments. The history of the world provides conclusive evidence that The People could hardly do worse.
There are four fundamental prerequisites for democracy to exist, The People must be assumed to have political equality, they must have a sufficient grasp of the truth to make the right decisions, and they have to have a sense of fairness, honesty and decency. It must be taken as given that The People possess the inherent rights to govern their lives and their polity. In order for democracy to really exist, these have to be more than assumed, they have to be made real. Without these prerequisites, democracy is a sham.
But the exercise of rights, though they might be said to be unalienable, cannot be exercised outside of a context which will permit it. Democracy is notably rare in the world, it is gained with enormous difficulty and it is difficult to keep. Would be rulers are always endangering it and elites actively despise it even as they appropriate its words as tools of deception. In the modern world one of the dangers to democracy is the propaganda power of mass media and in the United States that media is owned and controlled by the economic elite. We have the example of the media here perverting the concept of democracy to the point where it is to be held as unremarkable that George W. Bush - brought to office by Supreme Court ruling, approving a clearly corrupted election in a state ruled by his brother - claims the right to impose democracy, by unprovoked invasion, on a foreign country. When words become slogans without any coherent substance, the truth can’t be told. We are at a crisis which is destroying democracy and which endangers the entire biosphere.
An even greater danger to Western democracy is the loss of confidence by The People in our own ability to govern, when we doubt our actions can be beneficially effective. That is seen in low voter participation rates, the cynicism with which government and politics is regarded and the ever lower regard in which The People are led to hold ourselves. An apathetic, demoralized, jaded population is set up for subjugation.
I began with a section about the immense dimensions of EVOLUTION. In the arguments that ensued no one disputed the contention that it was effectively infinite when compared with the capacity of the human population to deal with even those data which could be obtained. Less noticed, since it was unremarked, was the contention that the enormous duration and numbers of EVOLUTION would allow it being known through only as a minute part of the whole. I mentioned that this limit in what was knowable might apply to mechanisms governing the processes of EVOLUTION which the human study of it might devise or even discover. I am going to state that as probable, if not a given.
The “Interlude” mentions, very nontechnically, the Hegelian dialectic, a form of allegedly scientific determinism which has had at least a nominal effect in many countries. It has never been very influential in the United States. Those countries which followed Marx, more in the breach than in the observance, can be said to have followed that form of determinism. I’ll leave it to you to consider the largest of those countries, China, and the results for both The People of China and the Environment in which they will have to try to survive. I will also leave you to consider what it might have to teach about the probability of elites saving the planet.
This “Interlude” was originally meant to be published at the beginning of what became the discussion of Darwinism, but was broken off in a futile attempt at concision. The subject wasn’t specifically Darwinism or the dialectic but political theories which do not start with the assumptions necessary for democracy, but in various forms of determinism, biological, historical, and others. All of these theories begin by aspiring to the objective reliability and prestige of science. Some are more scientific, others take the prestige but make do without the objective reliability. The social sciences are replete with examples.
Darwin, resting on the reality of EVOLUTION, was certainly an important figure in science, no one can deny that just as no serious person can deny EVOLUTION. But from before the publication of The Origins of Species, as that book was incubating, Darwinism was more than just an attempted explanation of EVOLUTION.
We love our pet ideas and in the competitive struggle for attention and professional recognition the promotion of them can outstrip the fact that they are all contingent. The competitive pressures in university departments, the ruthless need for scholars to defend their goods, the need of the would be intellectual descendants of those holding a department or, in the worst cases, entire fields, often lead to the use of less than objective means to render competitors extinct. The desire of elite scholars and their intellectual heirs to promote their ideas to the point of invincibility is, perhaps, a result of scarce resources. I don’t know if it has ever been studied in those terms. It isn’t any surprise that such loudly touted ideas have the potential to leave a cultural legacy that can outlive the position they hold in intellectual life. Freudian psychology is a definite example of that. Such ideas have a life outside of science, They aren’t required to adhere to the requirements of science in the wider culture, though they never give up the pretense to have remained faithful to its exigencies.
It is mentioned in an earlier section that the position of natural selection, like all of the contingencies of science, is open and, in spite of enormous resistance, active. But that isn’t my fight. There is another aspect of natural selection that I believe is more important for democracy and, through it, the survival of the species.
Part Two, analyzed a specimen of thinking which became influential in the general culture. I think any honest observer of evolutionary science and the enormously varied cultural descendants of it would admit that is true. While quotes from other people could have been used, this one encompasses enormous political implications. Since the political implications of this kind of idea are the subject of this essay, that one is entirely fit for the purpose. An idea of science that steps into the mechanics of politics has made itself the proper subject of political analysis. I will finish the analysis begun in Part Two.
Whatever else this application of natural selection* to human populations asserts, it unmistakably holds that not even democratically chosen actions will reliably produce effective beneficial results overriding natural selection.
Darwin clearly didn’t think they would in this case. After Malthus, he warned of dire consequences that were practically certain to result if what he identifies as the “weak members” of the human species happened to leave descendants. He all but guarantees that if they live to reproduce, disaster for the entire population will result. Inequality is assumed as a given, it is assumed to be an intrinsic part of the operation of natural selection, even in its assumed govenance of the political lives of reasoning humans.
Darwin identifies the mechanism of the disaster, the failure of natural selection, and he identifies the cause of the failure, charitable aid and medical care which will allow survival to the point where children are born to these “weak members” . I am sorry if it is difficult to face that analysis but it is inescapable, that is what Darwin said would happen. Unsupported by corroborating data, he confidently expressed that the attempt to take effective beneficial action on behalf of these People would lead to tragic consequences. And notice, he assumes its intended effect, relief to the Wretched of the Earth, would be achieved. Its success was the problem.
After giving his dire forecast in steely, in what I must believe he felt to be, ‘manly’ language of dispassionate science, Darwin looked aside meekly and said that the aid must be given. This subsequent assertion, less vivid in language, that we must give that unwise aid though it lead to disaster, frankly, is irrational unless he pits the interests of the “weaker members” against the good of the rest and opts for the “weaker” ones. You might even say that he opts for them in spite of the good of themselves, since they will also experience the degenerating human population, front row seats, most probably. And in the paragraph, even as he is striking these moral postures, he is continually undermining them. **
That soft insistence on taking cross-starred moral responsibility is not one that all contenders for his mantle would feel it was necessary to observe, despite its having been made by Darwin himself. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of the world would know that the demure assertion of moral responsibility would be forgotten while concentrating on the crisis it was clearly stated would result from it. Darwin witnessed the so-called reforms of the New Poor Law. That “reform” slashed aid to the poor, making the lives of the poor of under them even more miserable than before. Yet he condemned it as a too charitable hindrance to natural selection. Like the present “reforms” in the United States, forcing “competition” onto the weakest members of society, producing cohersive misery was its intended result. It is a bitter irony that the party embracing creationism and opposing EVOLUTION, has made this feature of Darwinian-Malthusian morality the dogma and law of the United States.
Though Darwin’s assumption of inequality is corrosive and the callousness infectious, the assumption of the uselessness of reason in the face of natural selection is fatal to democracy. The assumption of the futility of human intelligence to overcome an entirely theoretical “natural force” is the original sin against democracy that virtually every deterministic theory holds. It is in their application to human politics and society that the intended subjects of them have a fully justified skepticism of such theories.
It is one of the strangest features of the writings of many who assert the rational, scientific precision of their thinking, that they discount the effectiveness of human reason to change reality for the better or for humans to govern their lives by reasoning. You wonder how they could put their faith in reason or expect anyone else to care about it, if that is true. As I demonstrated, they tend to hold themselves outside and above the very laws they assert. You wonder how they account for their faith in science if reason is so impotent and it’s application has such notable exceptions.
I think it is because they are trying to force tools that can’t do the job. When Darwin and the rest try to apply science to the effectively infinite complexity of human thoughts and actions, both individual and, especially, collectively, to say they cut corners is one of the greatest understatements made in the history of language.
EVOLUTION is measured in billions of years, the universe of human thought and action is equally measured in the billions, no two People alike, everyone, now and in the past, more than just a variation, changing and dynamic over years of each individual life. The details and infinite variety of behavior, communal interactions, the infinite capacity of human beings to act well or badly, honestly or deceitfully, with hidden motives or little self-reflection, but most of all on the basis of reason and experience, precludes science from ever knowing more than a small fraction of an effectively infinite universe of human life. It is illogical and unreasonable to believe that science can make general laws about it.
Science cannot exist where there is no physical evidence which can be observed, quantified and analyzed. The temptation in scholarship is always to look for the grand unified theory of whatever. In the pursuit of a science of human behavior, of political and economic science, those grand theories have come and they’ve gone. In between, their pretenses of objective reliability are necessary for the professional prestige and funding of these efforts but that is seldom achieved except in studying a small part of the whole. Before they fade from science, they gain currency and have effects that often outlive their reputable lives in science.
Science absolutely depends on the observation of the physical universe, the physical universe is what it was made to study, it can’t study anything else. That is why assertions of intelligent design, even if it was true, have absolutely no place in a science classroom. You would think that religious believers would take it as an act of desecration to assert that science could perceive God who we are told you cannot see and live. If it is an act of blasphemy to put God to the test of statistical analysis, though, isn’t my subject here.
That those trying to subject human beings to the rule of science do not find free will or much in the way of the human rights which are the essential prerequisites for democracy to exist, is a confirmation of the nature of science. In their folly, due to their professional and personal arrogance, they assume and pretend that since they can’t find them they aren’t there. They aren’t alone in doing that, it is the habit of elites of all kinds to deny them, certainly to those less elite than they are. But anyone who seeks after these rights or, most often, the falsification of them, with science in order to make their name as the discoverer of a primary law of the universe is a fool. Unfortunately, their status can make fools of us all.
In The Death of Socrates, I. F. Stone points out that despite the condescending derision with which the sandal maker is treated by those earliest scholarly enemies of democracy, Socrates and Plato, at least he could make a pair of shoes while Socrates and the entire subsequent 2,500 years of the history of philosophy couldn’t find even one Universal. Not so the world of scholarship has taken all that much notice of the fact.
* With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.
The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit*, with an overwhelming present evil. We must therefore bear the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind*; but there appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely that the weaker and inferior members of society do not marry so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased by the weak in body or mind refraining from marriage*, though this is more to be hoped for than expected. The Descent of Man
** Please notice the final note of pessimism and the discouraging, conditional reservations throughout Darwin’s would-be humanitarian demurral.
In addition to my sister-in-law who discussed the scope included in EVOLUTION with me, I would like to thank Echidne who has allowed me to write at length on controversial topics, who has put up with my losing my temper a few times, and who writes one of the best blogs online.
I would also like to thank Marilynne Robinson whose essays provided the missing idea in a piece I’ve been thinking over for a long time. I would also like to thank those who have read and responded to what I’ve written for the past two years.