March 1, 2005 [LINK]

Evolution & the Left *

Shannon Love, at the Chicago Boyz blog (link via Donald Sensing), wrote an excellent piece about the contradictory attitude toward evolution held by many on the Left. On one hand, they exalt evolution because it casts doubt on religion and traditional authority structures, but on the other hand they loathe to acknowledge the corollary aspect that differences among individuals -- such as regarding intelligence and based on gender -- are universal and indeed necessary for evolution to function. So I made the following comment:

This is a very thoughtful posting and comment thread. I do think the "blank slate" aspect is drawing too much attention, however, and I'm also a bit surprised that so little has been said of the huge irony that Leftists refuse to incorporate the adaptation to environmental factors into their understanding of social behavior or public policy. For example, the mere suggestion that welfare recipients may become trapped in despair as the result of perverse incentives created by the (well meaning) government is beyond the pale. Remember how Republicans got savaged for daring to bring this up? In contrast, Hayek's writings on how free markets work is full of evolutionary insights. He rescued the liberal capitalist intellectual tradition by bringing it out the the 18th-19th Century scientific paradigm based on Newtonian mechanics. Just as Darwin himself was superseded in some ways by those who benefited from subsequent scientific and intellectual advances, Adam Smith has been superseded and refined, thereby keeping his ideas alive. The same cannot be said for the followers of Karl Marx, however. Unless they learn to adapt to reality (not utopia), they will keep marching toward doom, dragging down as many unwitting victims with them as they can.

UPDATE: I had to cut the previous post short, because I'm sharing this computer with other guests at Kap's Place. Also, I was determined to visit the University of Costa Rica this afternoon, and I did. I was graciously received by the director of the Political Science Department, Dr. Jose Miguel Rodriguez, inquiring about the free trade issue in Costa Rica. Then I took a pleasant stroll around the beautiful campus, which is filled with lush groves of bamboo, palm, and pine trees, great bird habitat. (It's also filled with anti-free trade posters and grafitti.) Gary Stiles, the lead author of A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica, which I've been scouring every day since I arrived here, teaches at UCR and is going to give a seminar here one week from tomorrow: "How to Arm a Hummingbird? Ecology, Adaptations, and Philogenia." (That's my English translation of it.) Too bad I'll be gone by then.

Anyway, back to the previous topic. (No, please, not more evolution!) I meant to call attention to other ironic aspects of evolution and politics. First, the Right has traditionally been associated with the self-reliant, do-or-die ethics of competitive markets, sometimes flirting with Social Darwinisim. The contemporary Republican Party, however, is full of Christian fundamentalists who reject Darwinian thinking outright. This suggests that there may be latent tensions among the factions that make up the American Right. Meanwhile, as one of the people who posted a comment on the Chicago Boyz blog noted, the Catholic Church has a strong tradition of reconciling scientific learning with revealed truth, something with which I heartily concur but is largely absent from Christian fundamentalism. However, the Catholic Church's modern social teachings run strongly counter to capitalist principles, holding that wages, for example, should be based on needs of a worker's family, rather than on supply and demand. Indeed, throughout Latin America, public policy is heavily influenced by the Catholic rejection of free market principles. This results, for example, in inefficient labor markets, where some workers can't find jobs even though there are potential employers who would be willing to hire them. Antipathy to markets also impedes the resolution of the Third World debt issue; creditors ought to be able to liquidate their nonproductive foreign debt holdings at an appropriate discount, but that would render many poor countries ineligible for future debt, which many people believe is intolerable. Thus we reach the apparent conclusion that no present-day political or social organization seems capable of dealing with the consequences of evolutionary theory in a consistent manner. I may draw further lessons from this in a future posting.

* This blog entry was originally posted along with other material at Archives/2005/03/01la.html while I was in Costa Rica, but has been retroactively renamed and placed in the Politics category, where it belongs.