A few days ago, Rod Dreher published a long thoughtful post, "Evolution & the Culture Wars," that began with with a quote from an old article I wrote for the Toronto National Post back in the previous century called "Darwin's Enemies on the Left."
If I had to write it over again, I'd tone down the ending's late 1990s expectation that genetic selection techniques were going to become a big deal fairly soon. In truth, nothing involving medicine moves quickly. But, my 1999 views have certainly held up better to the last decade and a half of subsequent scientific discoveries than those of the conventional wisdom of 1999, as exemplified, at its high end, by the late Stephen Jay Gould.
That link takes you to a 1999 Steve Sailer piece in which he observed that many on the left embrace Darwinian evolution not so much because Science as because it gives them a point of view with which to bash the troglodytes of Jesusland. ...Rod goes on to say:
I don’t see how evolution could be right and Sailer be wrong. I like reading Sailer because he forces me to see things I would often prefer not to see.But he also says:
As Sailer points out, it is perfectly possible to reconcile the spiritual and moral equality of humanity with what science tells us is true about human biological variability. The problem, I think, is that we humans are bad at this. Given the history of the 20th century, I flat-out don’t trust our species to handle the knowledge of human biodiversity without turning it into an ideology of dehumanization, racism, and at worst, genocide. Put another way, I am hostile to this kind of thing not because I believe it’s probably false, but because I believe a lot of it is probably true — and we have shown that we, by our natures, can’t handle this kind of truth.Perhaps.
But allow me to point out where much of the mindless fury of the 21st Century resides by quoting from today's blog by prominent economics professor and former Clinton Administration official Brad DeLong:
Yet More Thursday Idiocy: Outsourced to bspencer [at Lawyers, Guns, and Money]: Rod D:The 250+ comments at the blog approvingly quoted by DeLong are highly indicative of the hate-filled state of mind of the people who are true believers in today's conventional wisdom. You really need to read them to believe them.
[Lawyers, Guns, and Money] "I’m not quite sure how to talk about this Rod Dreher post because it’s so bizarre.
It reads as a whiny appeal for liberals to quit being so mean to creationists and fundies. But if you scratch the surface, you’ll find it’s really a threat. And the threat is basically: “Be careful shoving your beloved SCIENCE down our throats, libs, because SCIENCE also says Black people are stupid.” To make his case, he links approvingly to racist XXXXXXXX Steve Sailer.
[Rod Dreher] One of the things that keeps drawing me to Steve Sailer’s writing is that his beliefs on human biodiversity sometimes lead him to point out inconvenient truths about ideologies informing our common life.
If I’ve given you the impression that Dreher is bullying, racist sxxxhead, I apologize. He’s not. He’s heavy-hearted about what he’s telling us. He’s SAD that black people are stupid and inferior. But don’t you see that he’s left no choice but to be a racist sxxxbag when we insist on forcing our reality down his throat?
“Darwin wouldn’t be surprised to learn which race had invented rap music”–Steve Sailer
I’ve got a few issues.... One... there is no consensus in the scientific community that there are significant differences among the races.
Two... there’s a long way to go from acknowledging differences to enacting eugenicist-influenced policies in response to said differences.
Three: People are different, period... living full and happy lives.
So, yes, I’m going to call it: Rod Dreher’s post is at threat, and a disgusting one at that.
As for Rod's point about "the importance of maintaining the concept of forbidden knowledge," allow me to make a self-serving suggestion.
Since a 1996 article I wrote for National Review, "Great Black Hopes," I've been poking fun at the intellectual's panacea for all social problems: "Be like me!" For example, in my review of Steven Pinker's 2011 book The Better Angels of Our Nature, I wrote:
The subject of violence is so gigantic that even Pinker is eventually reduced to advocating that all-purpose solution of intellectuals: Be Like Me! Fortunately, I’m all in favor of humanity becoming more like Pinker: witty, learned, reasonable, and very, very smart. I’m even half-persuaded by Pinker’s ultimate argument that people are becoming more rational, as demonstrated by the rising raw scores on IQ tests—the celebrated “Flynn Effect.” Thus they are less likely to, say, invade Russia.Most people aren't intellectuals, of course, so it isn't reasonable to offer policies based on the assumption that All We Have to Do is pester everybody into becoming intellectuals.
So, I've been disinclined to offer Be Like Me advice to anybody.
On the other hand, it is not unreasonable to pester public intellectuals to be better public intellectuals by pointing out the flaws, intellectual and moral in the dominant, and noting the admirable aspects of the demonized.
After all, public intellectuals' views influence policy directly and eventually seep down to the masses. And, they've "entered the arena" so it's not at all unsporting to recommend improvements to make them better public intellectuals.
Hence, here's a bit of egomaniacal advice to public intellectuals: Be Like Me.
Try to be extremely reasonable. Put yourself in other people's shoes so you can understand the incentives they face. Learn a few important subject areas in depth, especially major topics where the quality of thought is typically shallow. Don't assume you are an expert on complicated subjects such as macroeconomics or race if you are not. Check yourself to make sure your theories are level-headed. Read widely and carefully. Rethink your old policy favorites, especially when they've become popular because diminishing returns are probably setting in. Question conventional wisdom. Use wit to deflate the powerful, prestigious, and the smug when they go wrong. Don't pile on the unfashionable. Undermine Malcolm Gladwell when he's riding high in 2005-2012, but ease off in 2013 when everybody else finally gets what you've been pointing out. In summary, be less like Brad DeLong writing about race and more like Steve Sailer.
Obviously, that's extremely bad career advice.
And I'm sure that Rod would argue that, just as I laugh at public intellectuals telling average people to Be Like Me, most public intellectuals just couldn't hack it.
But how will they know unless they are encouraged to try? Who knows, maybe a few will be able to surprise themselves?