Wednesday, March 27, 2013

War, Science, and Libertarianism

Human beings are intrinsically aggressive. Even girls.
I read Justin Raimondo all the time.  He's what is called a 'left-libertarian,' which essentially means that he's right part of the time, but is wrong part of the time, and in the latter case it's just about always because he accepts one or more leftist principles.  In his latest piece,  "The Militarization of American Life,"  he writes:

As the American Empire transforms itself from a constitutional republic into a social democratic monstrosity – where everyone is "equal," and no one is free – egalitarianism is the fuel that runs the engine of imperialism. A perfect example is the recent announcement that the US military is getting with the times and allowing women in combat. What’s pretty disheartening is that not even the woman’s-place-is-in-the-home Neanderthals of the "traditionalist" camp even bothered to oppose this: for them, a more efficient war machine is much more important than any attachment to such "archaic" ideas as the men do the fighting while the women wait at home.

Any disagreement there? Not from me.  He makes it clear that "free men are not equal, and equal men are not free," which is definitely not a leftist theme, and also that the idea of women in combat is idiotic, which is good to hear from anybody, especially a libertarian, since all too many libertarians seem to have swallowed the feminist mythos whole.

But further down in the article, he goes, alas, wrong:

"The eminent University of Chicago anthropologist Marshall Sahlins resigned from the National Academy of Sciences on Friday, citing his objections to its military partnerships and to its electing as a member Napoleon Chagnon, a long-controversial anthropologist who is back in the news thanks to the publication of his new book, Noble Savages." [Hat tip: Jordan Bloom at The American Conservative]

You don’t have to be an anthropologist to get in on the action: yes, you too can access via live webcast the April 3 Pentagon/NAS "workshop," "New Directions in Assessing Individuals and Groups,"and hear the keynote address by Frederick Vollrath, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness and Force Management. I’ll bet those anthropologists are making out like bandits!

As for Napoleon Chagnon – could a novelist have gotten away with such a name? – he is an extremely dubious character who apparently believes violence is not only genetically encoded in humans, but that there is an evolutionary bias in favor of homicidal homo sapiens. Instead of an atavistic trait surviving from pre-civilized man, wars of aggression – according to the Chagnonite version of biological determinism – are the mark of high civilization. It is a Bizarro World perspective on the nature of human progress, one that owes much to that great anthropologist, the Marquis de Sade.

Chagnon dismisses his critics as "left-wing anthropologists" and "anti-Darwinian romantics": he and his claque present themselves as true "scientists," and treat the study of anthropology – that is, of human nature – as if it were one of the "hard" sciences, like chemistry. Armed with "scientific" certitude, their one-dimensional view of life – "impoverished," as one critic remarked – is the perfect instrument of the modern Warfare State: bloodless, dogmatic, and cruel. Chagnon’s elevation to the NAS – which used to be a prestigious organization – is an absolute disgrace, and Prof. Sahlins was right to render his resignation in protest.

Citing his own objections to Chagnon’s research methods – see here – Sahlins went on to explain the core reason for his resignation. Because of "the toll" that military action overseas "has taken on the blood, treasure, and happiness of American people, and the suffering it has imposed on other peoples,” Sahlins said, “the NAS, if it involves itself at all in related research, should be studying how to promote peace, not how to make war."


The problem here is that he's buying into the left-wing anthropologists' doctrine that anthropology isn't and shouldn't be a science, but rather a handy way for Marxists to get paid for spreading their doctrines.  And of course Chagnon, who is trying to be scientific about anthropology, is anathema to that school of thought.  I'm about halfway through Chagnon's book, but I've read Kevin MacDonald's review of it,  and have found nothing to object to in Chagnon from either source.

I think Raimondo's problem is that Chagnon's research shows that, contrary to leftist dogma, human beings are intrinsically warlike. This annoys the leftist parts of Raimondo, because it's also leftist dogma that human beings aren't intrinsically anything, and that, paradoxically, people in a state of nature are all peaceful and collectivist and kum-ba-ya.  Chagnon's research, like all real scientific research on the subject, shows that such thinking is BS.

The mistake people make is to think that if human beings are intrinsically warlike, this makes all attempts at peace futile.  Nonsense.  It makes some attempts futile, of course, because they're based on the erroneous notion that you can talk people out of being aggressive.  You can't. But what you can do is channel the innate aggressiveness in comparatively peaceful directions.  The Amazon Indians that Chagnon has studied are a pretty brutal, warlike bunch, and they didn't learn it from watching Bruce Willis movies. (An aside.  If human beings are naturally peaceful, why are they so warlike in practice?  How could naturally peaceful people make war?  Who taught them?  Jesus? Space aliens?)  Anyhow, you can't fix any problem until you know what the problem is, and what its origins are.  You can't get people to be more peaceful if you deny human nature.  Civilized people have at least subconsciously understood that we're a naturally violent species, and have come up with sports and lots of other competitive activities that channel the drive into harmless, even beneficial, directions.

Raimondo's good.  Read him.  But take what he says about Chagnon with a grain of salt.

1 comment:


  1. war is just one way in which we can express our combative nature. Modern war with modern weapons is a particularly suicidal way of doing so. Denying this urge exists the way leftists try to is an even more suicidal plan.

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