Saturday, April 19, 2014

Human Exceptionalism

Yes, humans are exceptional. We're smart, we have opposable thumbs, we walk upright, and we have language. We are on top of the biological heap. But we're part of the heap. One of the biggest glitches in human thinking is making rather too much of human exceptionalism. We keep forgetting that we're animals. Now, before you fly into a fury thinking I'm going to say that we're no better than other animals and have no more rights, and animals have rights too, and all that nonsense, let me assure you that I'm a human chauvinist, and put us ahead of all other living things and have no plans to sacrifice us to endangered turtles. That's liberal stuff, and I want no part of it.

No, we're animals plus. We have, one way or the other, all the positive attributes of other animals, but we add more good stuff on top of that. We have thinking.  We have self-awareness, philosophy, science, religion, and all kinds of cultural attributes that no other animal is anywhere close to. But we are an animal. We are, a wise man once said, a sort of chimp that has learned to live like a very smart wolf. If you don't realize what we are, you're bound to come up with some pretty silly philosophical ideas. And most human philosopy/ideology has assumed that we're somehow outside the "animal" classification and that we have an infinitely malleable nature. Wrong. As I blogged earlier HERE, Robert Ardrey demonstrated that we do not. We are not a blank slate, but everybody from Marx to Rand to Oprah assumes, explicitly or implicitly, that we are.

As another wise man once said, if you know that one of your legs is shorter than the other, you can compensate, but if you insist that it's not, you just walk in circles. And if you insist that we're not a killer ape, at base, you come up with all kinds of self-defeating social-engineering plans. Of all the widely-accepted social philosophies, Christianity, oddly enough, seems to be the closest to understanding human nature. Lacking Darwinist insights, Christianity went with original sin, which really does give us a good rule of thumb to explain human cussedness and devise ways of coping with it. God made us to be nice, and kind, and cooperative, and original sin, instigated by Satan, led us to be rebellious and uncooperative. Consequently, you need a system to mitigate the latter and encourage the former. From my perspective, it's explained better by evolutionary psychology, which shows that we evolved to be aggressive and cooperative. Partly individualistic, and partly collectivist. There is a tension between these two drives, and the purpose of political ideology is to make that tension work for us instead of against us, and come up with the optimum social order.

Marx and all the collectivist philosophers think of collectivism as the ultimate good, and since they regard us as blank slates, they think that environment, in the form or education and regulation, can wipe out our individualistic tendencies and create a utopia of cooperativism. Individualist philosophers, including anarchists and some libertarians, think of individualism as the ultimate good, and, being another variety of blank slaters, think they can educate us into rejecting any and all collectivist elements in our culture.

But we're not blank slates. We're killer apes. We have evolved to live in tribes, to value both cooperation and individual initiative. We're not sheep, that have no identity outside the herd, nor are we leopards, coming together only to mate. We're wolfian chimps or chimpish wolves, and any philosophers who don't understand that are certain to come up with bad ideas. We can't educate people to go against their own nature. We can only educate them to optimize their intrinsic nature to make for the best possible social order. And that's the starting point.
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Quibcag: The predatory girl is Princess Mononoke (もののけ姫 Mononoke-hime). The quote is by A. X. Perez. They don't call him "The Ax" for nothing, because he has a way of cutting right to the heart of matters. Who else could synthesize Rothbard and Nietzsche with such a terse aphorism?

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