Shameless Advertisement for a New Book
Coming soon to a display at the entrance to a university library near (some of) you
Just received my contributor’s copy of this nice compilation by my friend Paul Gottfried. My essay in it can be found at the end of this article.
And, yes, as indicated above, I have already requested that the Bucknell library put a copy of this in the faculty publications display at the entrance to the library, along with all the books on feminism and critical race this and that and the like, so that students (and especially those who believe the kind of silliness expressed on the front page of last week’s student newspaper, see below) will get a chance to see the word “paleoconservative” every time they look in that direction.
Just listen to this guy Vincent Lloyd. Just listen to him.
It’s only a few minutes in the preview, and I don’t have a paid sub so I can’t hear the whole thing. But I don’t think you need to hear the whole thing to see that he has absolutely nothing of any substance to say. Mixed in there with all the ‘uhs’ and ‘ums’ (this is a college professor, which today typically means one has apparently paid no attention at all to becoming a decent public speaker) is a lot of zero.
Domination domination domination things are getting worse and worse and please don’t look at the world to evaluate that statement oppression oppression oppression Middle Passage Middle Passage Middle Passage.
People like this guy are all over the place in modern academia. There are a bunch of clones of him of both sexes and every racial identity at the place where I’m employed. There is not a single coherent argument coming from the lot of them. It’s just over and over and over again saying the same stale and unargued things about the unique horror of black experience and how today, in 2023, one hundred and fifty eight years after slavery was ended, the situation for blacks is essentially just the same as it was in 1865 and the only thing we can talk about is how much we must continue to struggle to finally achieve justice, which is always and forever receding to somewhere in the distant future, no matter what we do, and nothing we ever do gets us any closer, and not even the turning of the universities into a uniform sea of babbling know-nothings like this guy will do the trick.
This by the way is the kind of profound scholar who has been informing the worldviews of the students who believe schools like Bucknell are dripping in “unrelenting anti-blackness” and other terrifying phantasmal entities.
So let’s see if I can make everybody on all sides of the political spectrum hate me.
Marjorie Taylor Greene is calling for a “national divorce.” I’m not sure exactly what she means, nor do I have any confidence she does either.
I do know that there are serious cultural and political problems in this country that are either going to be worked out or they are not going to be worked out, and the latter option is much worse. I am hoping for “worked out.”
I also know that Marjorie Taylor Greene is an uninformed person who greatly prefers sensationalism to the work of getting more informed. She routinely says stunningly wrong things, especially when she is talking about public health. You name it: Pizzagate, QAnon, the most moronic COVID conspiracies, she’s promoted them and still believes at least some of them.
I wouldn’t listen to Marjorie Taylor Greene’s advice on how to grow the non-existent tomatoes in my non-existent garden, much less how to think about the American polity going forward.
Greene is often taken by fans and detractors alike as a figure of humble origins because of her seemingly populist politics. I don’t know how humble her origins are, but a brief look around online suggests “Not very.” She lived for at least part of her childhood in suburban neighborhoods and her father owned a successful construction company that Greene inherited from him.
People like this, who are not from the popular classes in the sense they and others who like them so often claim, give real salt of the earth folks a bad name. I have known plenty of people from humble origins, which was not a difficult feat to pull off for me because many of the ones I know are related to me and most of the others lived around me in the neighborhood in which I grew up. The quality that most stuck out to me about the cream of that populist crop was practical know-how combined with humility about the evident limits of their (and everyone’s) talents and knowledge.
Greene, on the other hand, squawks constantly about every single topic under the sun as though she knows everything anyone could hope or need to know about it. The best of the people I grew up with were rightly suspicious of people who acted like that. In that attitude, they are my betters because I’m not just suspicious of Margorie Taylor Greene. I find her contemptible, and in no small measure because she gives elitists who despise common people fuel for their fire.
Let me add another thing, just in case somebody’s not ticked off with me yet!
Self-professed conservative politicians who get divorces should do more work than she has done in light of her own divorce to impress the public that the divorce isn’t itself empirical evidence that they aren’t really all that conservative. Such a task can be successfully undertaken, but it requires a little conscientiousness and effort, neither of which Greene seems to possess in significant quantities. I would normally not be inclined to judge somebody’s marriage and its breakup, but this is a public figure who is constantly and abrasively blaring her conservative credentials to all of us, so I consider this fair game.
Unless I see compelling evidence that her husband cheated on her, beat her or was otherwise abusive, or is thinking about becoming a woman, I’m inclined to see this as the kind of divorce that people on the left get. That is, “we just grew apart,” or “our commitment to our careers got in the way of the marriage” (or, as it appears might well be the case, hers did), or “we were in need of new horizons” or some other such statement of vapid narcissism. If any of those seem compelling reasons to end a marriage of more than a quarter century, you might well want to reconsider publicly talking about how much of a bona fide right-winger you are.
And, I remind you, just so I’m correctly known as an equal opportunity hater, that I’m on the record saying pretty similarly unsympathetic things about some of her counterparts on the Democratic left in Congress. I find them equally loathsome.
The summary of this and that is: the people who represent us in government are often precisely not the people who should be in those positions. They’re insincere, devoid of thoughtful principles, not especially knowledgeable about anything relevant to the business of governing, and mostly shamefully uninterested in doing any of the work to learn any of the things they patently do not know. Shame on us for electing such poor specimens to govern us, and for doing it over and over and over again. We deserve just the disaster we’ve gotten for not running all these people out of Congress with pitchforks and doing a much more rigorous job in finding replacements.
[pp. 139-148 in A Paleoconservative Anthology]
Human Nature: Social Science and the View from the Right
The progressive Left never tires of insisting that its view of human nature is based on the social sciences. The logic of their argument runs roughly as follows:
1. Social science tells us that human beings are built for peaceful and selfless cooperation and that competition and conflict are functions of unhealthy, reactionary social orders.
2. Social science further informs us that all human beings are basically the same in their natural capabilities. If status hierarchy and inequalities arise, this has no relationship whatever to innate human differences. The human mind is a blank slate, receptive to whatever socialization and acculturation it undergoes, and so we can design the kind of social order we like depending entirely on how we socialize individuals and the cultural framework into which we place them.
3. For these reasons, unlimited social progress, by which is meant the promise of increasingly cooperative and egalitarian social order, is well within in our reach.
These claims resonate with social scientists and, in some disciplines, with the overwhelming majority. In sociology, the social science of my own training, the consensus on these three claims is resounding, as can be ascertained by consulting the work produced in the major sociological journals and in the leading departments of sociology around the country.
Yet all three of the aforementioned claims are profoundly wrong. Rigorous social science does not vindicate progressive political views. On the contrary, when we include theory and data on humans and human societies from biological and behavioral science in addition to purely mainstream and typically biophobic social science, we find a startling consonance between the social scientific view of human nature and a culturally conservative political worldview best described as paleoconservative.
The evidence against altruism and for a clannish view of human interests and cooperation
Whence does morality arise in human societies? Self-interestedness seems the natural rule in life, and among humans it is hard to miss. How then are moral systems of apparently selfless cooperation produced?
In The Biology of Moral Systems, the evolutionary theorist Richard Alexander has elaborated a robust biosocial theory of human morality. He recognizes that the most basic human interests are consistent with those of other organisms: living long enough to reproduce and ensuring the viability of our offspring. Human action is therefore typically self-interested. Self-interest however extends beyond consideration for the individual alone in a number of ways that produce what we misleadingly classify as altruistic or selfless action. Care is frequently given to close kin, but much less typically to others who are genetically more distant, because kin are genetically much more alike than unrelated individuals. This tendency is known as kin selection in the evolutionary literature. It is still evidence of self-interest, since we are inclined to extend care and favors to those who are genetically the most like us, but in the expanded frame of evolutionary theory.
Cooperative reciprocity can be found in human societies among individuals who are not closely genetically related if either a) there is a reasonable expectation that such acts will be repaid by the individuals helped (this is generally feasible only in small-scale societies), and/or b) in a system of moral reputations in which those who act seemingly altruistically toward non-kin receive benefits that increase their ability to produce more offspring and to better ensure their viability. With these two concepts, kin selection and reciprocal altruism, a biosocial science can go far in explaining moral behavior.
All or virtually all non-erroneous human action is on this theory self-interested. How and why then do moral systems that champion not masked self-interest but true selflessness arise? Alexander’s short answer is that moral systems—and especially those that tie human moral action to a supernatural world, i.e., religions—are highly effective mechanisms for getting human individuals to act in ways that benefit their interests in the long term in a manner that may not be understandable to the individual actor.
Humans live in groups. Narrowly selfish behavior might in the short run advantage a given individual, but over the longer haul, particularly if it becomes too general, it can make life in such groups more difficult, especially when material resources are scarce. Significant sharing of scarce resources, enforced by rigorous practices of shaming and ostracism, was likely widespread in subsistence-level human societies. Even when resources are not scarce, narrow selfishness— without even a pretense of reciprocal services and moral concern for those below one in status orders—increases resentment and makes conflict over resources more likely.
Alexander argues that the single phenomenon that most drives the need for moral systems of altruism is the competitive threat to every human society presented by other societies. Early in human evolutionary life, predation was the main threat from outside the social group, but an increase in human population led to greater competition for living space and subsistence. This intersocietal competition is much greater in today’s world of eight billion people.
In most systems of morality and in every universalistic monotheistic religion, selflessness is privileged as the most desirable and admirable form of action. The need for moral action is presented to us in religious moral systems as something imposed from without, indeed, often from outside the natural world altogether. A God who enjoins us to act morally is at least in principle a potentially more effective method for producing the action than a social authority that might be subject to societal criticism. Such a calculation of how self-interest is furthered by religious morality would require significant time and cognitive ability to work out. Only a small subset of individuals in a given society are likely to engage in this process successfully, and much more widespread adherence is necessary to serve the interests of all members of the group.
More importantly, such a rational understanding would also have to reckon with the idea that cheating is possible in moral systems and that it can advantage individuals beyond their compliance with moral rules, so long as most others continue to observe the rules. Within a moral and especially a religious system, the mechanisms that drive moral behavior operate apart from any need for the individual to engage in such a rational consideration of interests. We derive great and much-coveted emotional benefits from acting in ways prescribed as moral, most directly in the form of positive reinforcement from others, and especially from those from whom our young selves first seek approval, our parents.
Belief in supernatural entities that are understood to be capable of rewarding moral behavior with gifts of great value—immortality, or the gratitude and recognition of the spirits of the community’s deceased ancestors—adds still more emotional power to the push toward morality. The invention of gods is, according to Alexander, a muscular way to facilitate the interests of members of one social group against one or more other groups. Early religions are always and everywhere tribal religions, in which the god represents the tribe and is indifferent to or actively opposed to the gods of other peoples. Here, we see the intersocietal competition, and the advantage provided by a religious system, neatly highlighted.
Universalist religions emerge as the religions of subjugated peoples in societies dominated by ethnic or racial others. They operate effectively in the interests of such groups, insofar as they challenge dominant groups to acquiesce to the ethical claims of the despised minority to be treated as equals. But if those religions become dominant, as Christianity did in Europe by the early Middle Ages, it is not clear that the force of selection can continue to operate in the same way. An ethic of universal brotherhood accepted by high status groups eventually works against their status. Given this dynamic, we might predict an evolutionary inevitability of the decline of universalist religions in class-stratified societies once they are adopted by dominant groups. We are perhaps seeing just this in the Western world at present..
This is all perfectly consistent with deeply conservative instincts, even if the explanatory mechanism is different. We see in this scientific framework that the most reliable, most intimate social group for human socialization and nurturing is the biological family, and that the intimacy of bonds and the confluence of interests necessarily grows more tenuous the further away one moves from this focal point in human affiliation. An evolutionary view of human nature also robustly supports the conservative vision of human social order that we find in, for example, Joseph de Maistre. Maistre argues that consecration or sacralizing makes an essential contribution to our adherence to such societal order. Laws or norms not undergirded by myths and supernatural gods often tend to fall fairly quickly into the swirl of a brutal power struggle among equally irreverent factions. Only an appeal to the supernatural origin of political and social order holds any possibility for solidifying it in men’s minds for more than a generation or two.
There is, of course an obvious difference here: gods are typically viewed as real in the conservative worldview, whereas they are human inventions driven by human nature for the evolutionist. Yet there is much shared ground in the recognition of the efficacy of religion for producing human behavior that acts effectively against our baser instincts to benefit us, often in ways we do not recognize, in the longer term.
The naturalness of inequality and hierarchy
What are the bases of a scientific theory of stratification? Progressives assert that stratification springs from an unjust social order, as there are no essential differences found in human intelligence or the human personality prior to socialization. This is certainly wrong. Humans are, of course, highly susceptible to social learning and imitation, and cultural standards and frameworks do much to shape our behaviors. But the evidence is overwhelming—from studies of identical twins raised in different social environments and increasingly from the growing body of research in behavioral genetics—that much in human nature is provided by our biological makeup and by some of the basic ways in which that biology predictably works in the kinds of ecologies in which humans live.
If we look at the full range of human societies, from the hunter-gatherer period to modern industrial societies, we find that hierarchy and status inequality are omnipresent features, though the contours of inequality have changed significantly over time. In the societal type in which humans have spent perhaps 95% of their time as a species, hunter-gatherer societies, material wealth-based hierarchy was quite rare. Instead, status was based on differential prestige accorded to individual talents and membership in different identity groups. Sex and age were then the central axes of stratification and inequality. Individuals skilled at hunting or shamanism, the political activity of resolving conflicts in the group, could attain higher prestige as well.
Material inequality began to grow in human societies as soon as the invention of horticulture made possible an economic surplus. As human societies become more prosperous and populations grew, material inequality developed. This is especially true in the absence of religious systems that prohibit inordinate inequality and excessive attention to material wealth. Those in power are motivated to monopolize as much of the surplus as they can. The rise of universalizing religions in the late agrarian period and the democratic discourses to which they gave rise mitigated but did not completely undo the material inequality.
Slavery was eventually outlawed, and a great deal of the most egregious economic exploitation was undone by legal and political means. Eventually the expendable class, which suffered terribly in agrarian societies, was eliminated through welfare programs and protective law. Technological improvements in food production and medical care resulted in an objectively superior standard of living for everyone in industrial societies, including those at the very bottom. Still inequality remained.
Why? The answer has to do with human nature and human difference. Human society is an inherently competitive endeavor in which the competitors never perfectly share interests. Human diversity—along the sex divide, most fundamentally, but operating in myriad other ways based on the natural distribution of individual characteristics in any population—reveals that the competition will not be between precise equals. Superordinates and subordinates are therefore an almost certain outcome of most competitions.
It is undeniable that the spiritual equality of all humankind is given in universalist religions, and statements such as that in our Declaration of Independence attempt, wisely or not, to translate that sentiment into political language. It nonetheless remains an empirical fact of the scientific study of the distribution of attributes in the human population that this distribution is unequal. That some people are generally viewed as, e.g., better looking or more intelligent, is a fact every member of every society knows intuitively. Cultural relativists argue that all human traits are ranked differently by different cultures. But this is true only within narrow limits. Basic elements of beauty are universal—e.g., symmetry, a clear complexion, and other objective signs of health—and intelligence has been systematically demonstrated by rigorous psychological tests as an objective feature of variable human reasoning ability.
The consequences for such human variation on these and other traits are far-reaching. Many data sources indicate that these and other traits are unevenly distributed in the population and that there exist strict limits as to what can be done environmentally to reduce the differences between individuals. And these differences matter profoundly. People seen as attractive are ranked as more desirable mates. They are also more likely to be offered jobs and their personalities are rated more highly than those of less attractive candidates for positions. People with higher intelligence are likely to live longer and to have greater financial success (though, interestingly, not necessarily to be psychologically happier) than those with lower intelligence.
So human variation produces different outcomes for individuals and the resulting hierarchies are stable aspects of human society. For reasons having to do with the nature of inclusive fitness, those who have achieved hierarchically superior positions due to the pure genetic luck of their greater beauty or intelligence will have a compelling interest in maintaining those advantages and passing them on to their own descendants. Even intensive engineering efforts to prevent them from doing this are likely to produce limited results, since these motivations are strong and will likely bear significant long-term consequences. For these reasons, hierarchies and stratified status-systems appear to be a permanent aspect of human existence.
Regarding hierarchy and stratification, we find another perfect fit between biosocial science and the paleoconservative insight into the inevitability and even the benefits of inequality. These conditions are seen as acceptable, providing they emerge from traditions proven by time, the objectively demonstrable merits of individuals, or some combination of the two. The progressive dream of ending inequality is not even a dream in this view. It will inevitably end in nightmare, as it has in every empirical case in which it has been rigorously tried, because the thing progressives want to eliminate is too deeply wired into human nature.
The implausibility of utopian progress and the superiority of paleoconservative and biosocial scientific humility
Science, of course, cannot prognosticate perfectly about the future, but all that we know about human nature from careful empirical investigation suggests that the Left-wing view of inevitable progress, as progressives typically consider such a thing, toward greater and greater equality and more and more altruism is exceedingly unlikely to ever be realized. A paleoconservative view offers a richer perspective on human life than the progressive obsession with the utopian, abstract and disembodied future, and it is more in tune with the findings of biosocial science on human nature and behavioral predilections. Paleoconservativism is attentive to the generations to come, to those who are now here, and to those who have moved on from this life. The relations and obligations that bind those in all three groups to one another, and that give pride of place among them to the dead, to those who created the way of life the living and the unborn follow, are a basic feature of this outlook.
In this vision, the paleoconservative erects a plan for life that fits remarkably well into the biosocial scientific view of human nature. For the dead do in fact live on. In paleoconservatism, they continue to exist in a spiritual world and in our ritualistic communion with that world. In biosocial science, they do so materially in the living, in the very physical ways that the bodies we inhabit have been shaped by the genetic elements, the trajectories and the traditions of our ancestors. And just as paleoconservatives explain our focus on the welfare of our kith and kin by that spiritual link, biosocial science recognizes the same connection, and the same motivation for action, in material reality. In both views, we stand as much chance of escaping those who produced us and those we produce as we do of leaping out of our bodies before death.