Monday, May 23, 2016

The Evolution of Christian Schools in a Liberal Society

On this blog, I have defended a Darwinian classical liberalism in which social order arises best through a largely spontaneous evolution in which individuals are free to pursue the satisfaction of their natural desires.  Adam Smith described this as the "natural system of liberty," which allows "every man to pursue his own interest his own way, upon the liberal plan of equality, liberty, and justice."  Smith's "liberal plan" came to be identified in the 19th century as "liberalism."  Today, Gary Johnson and others in the Libertarian Party might say that this tradition of classical liberalism is best identified as libertarianism.

But to speak of a largely spontaneous order points to the need for some organizational planning.  Classical liberals recognize the need for limited government to carry out the three duties of government identified by Smith--military defense against foreign attacks, the administration of justice to protect individuals from force and fraud, and providing for those public goods that cannot be provided by any individual or small group of individuals. 

One of the most important public goods is the education of the young, which includes their moral, religious, and intellectual education.  For most of human history, the education of children was provided totally by their parents; and only the children of wealthy and high ranking families could receive any advanced education.  But Smith believed that a modern commercial society required some publicly financed education of the common people, so that they could at least read, write, and account.

In Scotland, the Presbyterian Church stressed the importance of learning to read so that one could read the Bible for oneself rather than being dependent on the interpretation of priests.  The Schools Act of 1696 mandated parish schools in Scotland with teachers partly but not wholly paid by public expenditure.  Scotland came to have one of the highest rates of literacy in the world.  Smith argued for extending this system to all of England.  But while some public funding might be necessary, he thought that privately supported education with voluntary contributions was generally better than totally public education.

Smith saw that most of the education of common people was religious instruction through the churches.  Against the tradition of publicly established churches, Smith argued for a free market of religious sects competing for believers to satisfy the religious longings of human beings, which would promote a "pure and rational religion."  Religious toleration would prevail, so that religious groups would be free to form as voluntary associations without any power to coercively enforce their beliefs and practices on those who disagreed with them.  Smith and other classical liberals thus adopted the religious toleration policy defended early in the 17th century by Roger Williams as conforming to the religious liberty that he saw in the New Testament Christian churches, and as opposed to the Catholic and Protestant traditions of coercively enforced religious conformity.

I see this as a naturally evolved and largely spontaneous order of religious belief and practice.  Parents have an evolved natural desire to care for their children by generating them, feeding them, and educating them.  Proponents of natural law (like Thomas Aquinas and John Locke) recognize this a law of nature rooted in natural human inclinations.  Moreover, if human beings have a naturally evolved desire for religious understanding, as I have argued, then we can expect that an important part of the parental rearing of their children will be the religious instruction of their children.  This can be done totally through parental homeschooling or through schooling outside the home--in synagogues, churches, or mosques, in private schools, or in public schools.

We see this liberal system for educating the young in the United States.  Most children are educated in public schools that do not mandate any religious instruction.  But parents are free to either homeschool their children or send them to private schools.  And much of this homeschooling and private schooling includes religious instruction.  This is a distinctively liberal system because parents are free to supervise the religious instruction of their children as they wish, so long as they are not abusing their children or coercively imposing their religious beliefs and practices on others.

Some Christian parents who pay for sending their children to private Christian schools complain that it is unjust that they are compelled to pay taxes for the public schools.  In a completely free market of education, schools would freely compete for students and tuition.  A educational voucher system favored by libertarians like Gary Johnson moves towards a free market in education in that some or all of the school financing from taxation would go directly to parents who could freely choose which school (public or private) would receive the money.

Among the Christian schools, there is free competition for students and tuition, with different schools appealing to different consumers of Christian education.  As Smith foresaw, this free market in religious instruction allows for the greatest satisfaction of the diverse religious longings of parents and children.

One example of this is well expressed in Deborah Byker-Benson's new book--Graciously Unapologetic: A Renewed Way to be in Christian Schools (Grand Rapids, MI: Credo House, 2016).  Deb is the Superintendent of Parkview Christian Academy in Yorkville, Illinois.  When she arrived at Parkview in 2013, the school was on the brink of financial collapse because of administrative mismanagement and declining enrollment.  Over the past three years, she has improved the financial management of the school, and enrollment has jumped from 208 in 2013 to 325 today.  But she would say that this economic improvement has depended upon a spiritual improvement.  (I have heard about much of this directly from Deb, because she's my sister-in-law.)

Many Christian schools are facing serious challenges to their existence.  Many have closed their doors.  The leaders of such Christian schools facing such problems want to find practical solutions.  But Deb's argument is that they cannot rightly decide what to do if they have not first decided who to be, because the practical management of a Christian school cannot succeed without first having a clear vision of its spiritual mission.  The practical problems for Christian schools are only the symptoms of the deeper spiritual illness.

In the first half of her book, Deb presents a "renewed way of being Christ-like" for Christian schools.  In the second half, she shows how this renewed way of being is manifested in the practical policies of a Christian school.

She presents her new way of being Christ-like as based on "a more Biblically consistent Christian school model," which is summarized as "teaching Christ in all content and process."  The most obvious problem here is that the Bible (Old Testament and New Testament) says nothing specific about Christian schools, although it does say a lot about spiritual teaching coming through families, synagogues, and churches.  Because of this absence of any clear Biblical teaching about Christian schools, Christians disagree about what might count as a "Biblically consistent Christian school model."

In the United States, the great majority of students in Christian schools are in Catholic schools.  Deb says nothing about these Catholic schools, but her silence might suggest to many readers that she believes that only Protestant schools can be truly Christian schools.  If so, then many readers might want some argumentation for this conclusion.

Deb might argue that the Lutheran and Calvinist Reformers were right in claiming that the Catholic traditions stray too far from the Bible to count as Biblical Christianity, and thus a Catholic school cannot satisfy a "Biblically consistent Christian school model."  But what she says about the voluntariness of Christian education implies that Catholic schools should be tolerated as an expression of religious liberty, and thus she would disagree with the Reformers who advocated persecution of Catholics.

Thus, Deb's position seems to assume a Biblical liberalism, in which the Bible is interpreted as Roger Williams interpreted it--as supporting equal liberty for all religious beliefs and practices that do not require religious coercion.  She relies on many Biblical verses, but the most prominent is Acts 2:39.  After the Day of Pentecost, Peter speaks to the Christians: "The promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call."  Deb interprets this to mean that the Christian community includes not only the Christians and their children but also non-believers who might join their community. 

Although nothing is said here about Christian schools, she reads this as implying that Christian schools should be open to enrolling students whose parents are not Christians.  Most Christian schools see themselves as bringing together three Christian institutions--the Christian home, the Christian church, and the Christian school.  Consistent with this model, the admission of students to a Christian school requires proof that the students belong to a family that is a member of a recognized Christian church.  Deb argues that Acts 2:39 supports the conclusion that a Christian school should be open to those who are "afar off" or "sojourners," who are not Christians but are attracted to the Christian school.  This is likely to be the most controversial part of Deb's argument for the members of the Christian school movement.  As she indicates, many Christian parents are adamant that one of the main reasons for sending their children to a Christian school is to protect them from the "bad" kids from the "bad" families that are not Christian.

To defend her Biblical model of the Christian school as including non-Christian "sojourners," Deb must show that such a school can teach Christ in content and process by enforcing five Biblical boundaries.  The first is the exclusion of non-believers from any leadership in the Christian school.  The teachers, the administrators, and other staff members must all be professing Christians.  The second boundary is the exclusion of non-believers from the Sacraments--the Lord's Supper and Baptism.  Except for these two points of exclusion, the non-believers in the school are treated the same as the believers.

The third Biblical boundary is the prohibition against any open opposition to Biblical faith.  Although the students and parents in the school do not have to openly profess the Christian faith, they must not openly oppose it in the school.  Those who are openly oppositional will either choose to leave the school, or the students will be expelled from the school.

The fourth Biblical boundary is that all the benefits of living in the Christian community of the school are to be shared with the non-believing members of the school.  After all, that's why some non-believers have chosen to enroll their children in Christian schools--they want their children to enjoy the Christ-like loving care and instruction that only a Christian school can provide.

The final Biblical boundary is that both believers and non-believers in the Christian school will bear both the protection and the consequence of Biblical law.  That law enforced in school will protect everyone from the injustice that is prohibited by Biblical law.  But that also means that those who violate that law will be punished.  For example, Deb quotes from Leviticus 24:16, which teaches that "him that blasphemes the name of the Lord, he will be put to death for sure, and all the congregation will have to stone him.  The same for the sojourner (ger) and him that is born in the land; when he blasphemes the name of the Lord, he will be put to death."

And yet, while she does not explicitly say so, Deb surely would not endorse punishing blasphemers with death.  Why not?  Because New Testament Christian liberalism teaches us that the theocratic law of the Old Testament violates the religious liberty and toleration taught by the New Testament?  That's the argument of Roger Williams and other proponents of Christian liberalism, which is implicit in Deb's conception of a Biblically based Christian School.

The terms of that Christian liberalism are made clear in the second part of Deb's book, where she shows the practical procedures and norms that follow from her Biblical vision of the Christ-like way of being.  The organizational practice of a Christian school enforcing its Biblical worldview depends on requiring all families to read and sign every year an Admissions Statement that would look like this:


Christian School X (CSX) was founded and is governed by those who believe that children of believers must be educated according to God’s Word, the Bible.  This community of believers welcomes enrollment to any who desire to attend for other reasons, provided that the personal choice to enroll follows an understanding of what will be taught, and accompanies an agreement to follow the guidelines set forth in the Parent Student Handbook, as expressed in this Admissions Statement, and in accordance with the Statement of Faith.  Each enrollee of this community is welcomed in Christian love through a reflection of both the Grace and Truth of Jesus Christ (John 1:14).  All families must read and sign this admission statement yearly, indicating understanding of, and willingness to submit to, the teachings as stated below:


1. CSX is committed by faith to be governed by, led by, and educated through spiritually mature, Christian believers as board members, administrators, teachers, and support staff.


2. CSX is committed by faith to the interpretation of all subject material in light of a Biblical worldview.  In broad summary:  a Sovereign Creator and Law Giver, the Fall of man, and Redemption in Jesus Christ alone.


3.  CSX is committed by faith to teach, wherever it is developmentally appropriate, and in connection with subject material and all community life, that the moral law of God is the only right standard of living.  This includes but is not limited to:


a.   A Biblical definition of love as: acts and interactions that demonstrate, at all times, that each human being is of infinite value simply because they were each created in the image of God.  This is true even in light of the fact that each human being is corrupted by the fall into sin.  This prohibits CSX from teaching or interacting, by action or word as if uncontrolled anger, hitting, bullying, ridicule, sarcasm with intent to hurt or demean, isolation, control for the sake of control, etc. is acceptable in God’s eyes. This list is not exhaustive.

b.    A Biblical definition of sexual purity as: human sexuality that is limited to the intimate physical union between one woman and one man, bound in marriage by a vow.  This prohibits CSX from teaching or interacting, by action or word, as if pre-marital, extra-marital, and same-gender sexual unions; pornography of any kind; bestiality; polygamy; heterosexual co-habitation without marriage; excessive or inappropriate public displays of affection; excessive or dominating immodesty and/or indecency is acceptable in God’s eyes.  This also prohibits participants in the CSX community from engaging in Public Displays of Affection (PDA), whether hetero- or homo- sexual that suggest, promote, or display intimate physical union.  This list is not exhaustive.

c.     A Biblical definition of human life as the immediate result of conception, and having infinite value.  This prohibits CSX from teaching or interacting, by action or word, as if abortion is acceptable in God’s eyes.  In connection with this, CSX will proactively teach, when developmentally appropriate, sexual purity within the confines of marriage and seek to train students in an understanding of the vast and deep responsibility associated with sexual intercourse and the pro-creation of human life.

d.   A Biblical definition of integrity as: interactions that demonstrate, at all times, an understanding of, and response to, God’s ownership and distribution of all things whether in public or in private.  This prohibits CSX from teaching or interacting, by action or word that cheating, lying, stealing, sneaking, manipulation, rebellion, etc. is acceptable in God’s eyes.  This list is not exhaustive.

e.  A Biblical definition of human identity that is rooted in the ‘awesome and wonderful’ work of God in the intentional formation of each human in the womb (Psalm 139:14) and the unique position of humans above all other creatures as image-bearers of God (Genesis 1:27).  This definition of identity prohibits CSX from teaching or interacting, by action or word, as if attempts to alter the fundamental structure or representation of the human body are God-honoring choices.  This includes gender changes, cross-dressing, structural changes such as snake-tongues and horns, excessive tattooing, and body mutilation.  This list in not exhaustive.

f.  A Biblical definition of order as mutually responsible agreement to a set of guidelines that reflect the order and design of God’s creation.  This order ensures the progress of the whole child toward the peak of his or her potential.  The guidelines for order at CSX are outlined in the Parent-Student Handbook for the academic, behavioral, emotional and spiritual growth of students at CSX.

g.   In summary, the mission of CSX requires that Biblical truths, held in faith by the founding, governing, and teaching participants of CSX, be taught and integrated into all learning as the final and absolute authority on all matters of faith and life.

I, the undersigned, have read, understood and agreed to submit my child(ren) to Biblical teaching at CSX without seeking to promote or pressure any members of this community with any personal beliefs, lifestyles, or opinions that undermine or adversely influence the faith beliefs as….

a)     outlined above in this Admissions Statement;

b)     found in the Parent-Student Handbook;

c)     and in the Statement of Faith. 

Should I become dissatisfied with the faith-based teaching at CSX, or find myself no longer able to engage in mutually responsible agreement, I commit to peacefully seek an educational institution whose foundation and beliefs are not in conflict with my own beliefs and understand that failure to do so will result in expulsion.  (End policy statement.)

This illustrates how Christian liberalism can enforce the orthodox beliefs and practices of New Testament Christianity without violating the religious liberty and toleration required for a free society.  One must reject the theocracy taught by the Old Testament as superseded by the individual liberty of the New Testament, where the first Christians are shown as forming churches based on voluntary membership, which could properly expel those who refused to abide by the church's articles of faith, but there was no coercive violence in this.  What Adam Smith proposed as a free marketplace of religious sects was the practice of the early Christians.  It was not until Constantine established Christianity as the religion of Rome that Christians sought the coercive enforcement by law of Christian beliefs and practices.  Liberal Christians have sought to return to that original New Testament understanding of the separation of church and state.

Consider, for example, clause 3 (b) of the Admission Policy Statement on "sexual purity."  Human sexuality is understood as "limited to the intimate physical union between one woman and one man, bound in marriage by a vow," which prohibits "same-gender sexual unions." 

When Deb turns to a series of anecdotal case studies, her first is the story of a lesbian couple who applied at Parkview for the admission of their son, who had been conceived by artificial insemination.  As part of the admission process, they were told that they and their son would be welcomed into the school with Christian love, but that the school would teach the students that their way of life is wrong, and that this would be expressed respectfully and not in a demeaning way, but it would be clearly taught without apology.  They were also told that any attempt to challenge this teaching in the school would result in a severing of the relationship.  They agreed to this.  Their son enjoyed three years of successful schooling.  They finally withdrew their child only for financial reasons.

Here is a clear illustration of Christian liberalism.  Christians can fervently affirm the beliefs and practices of Biblical Christianity, and they can organize their lives--in their homes, their churches, and their schools--to manifest this Christian way of being.  But they can do this without demeaning the lives of those individuals who disagree, without violating religious liberty and toleration, and yet still firmly and clearly affirming their faith. 

Christian liberals can thus be graciously unapologetic.

Some of my points here have been elaborated in other posts here, here, here., here, and here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Alternative to Trump and Clinton--Libertarian Gary Johnson

This could be the year for the Libertarian Party to seriously compete for the American Presidency with Gary Johnson as their candidate.

There are lots of reasons for this.  The first is that this must be one of the few times in American history where the likely nominees for the two major parties are both intensely disliked by close to half of the potential voters.  Both of the two major parties are so deeply divided that neither is likely to rally all or most of their party members in support of their nominee.  Moreover, more voters identify themselves as "Independents" than identify themselves as either Democrat or Republican.

The second reason why this could be the year for the Libertarian Party is that their likely nominee--Gary Johnson--has a chance to participate in the televised presidential debates this fall.  In March, the Monmouth University poll that asked people to choose between Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Gary Johnson resulted in 11% selecting Johnson.  This is amazing because Johnson has received so little publicity so far that most voters don't even know who he is.  With more publicity, his numbers are likely to go up.  The rule for televised presidential debates is that those selected to participate must have at least 15% polling numbers.  If Johnson already has 11%, then he's got a chance to reach 15% by the fall.

The third reason is that if Johnson has a chance to debate Trump and Clinton, he could frame the debate as a choice between two candidates--a left-wing authoritarian and a right-wing authoritarian--who want more Big Government control over our lives and one candidate who wants limited government that leaves people the liberty to live their lives as they choose.  If Trump and Clinton split the 60% of the voters who want more Big Government, Johnson could win the popular vote with the 40% of the voters who want limited government and individual liberty.  Of course, things become complicated in trying to figure out how this might play out in the Electoral College.

Something similar happened when the first Republican president was elected.  Abraham Lincoln won with about 40% of the popular vote, because most of the majority of the votes were divided between Stephen Douglas (the Northern Democratic Party) and John C. Breckenridge (the Southern Democratic Party).  And while Lincoln was not a pure libertarian, he did affirm the libertarian principle that "each individual is naturally entitled to do as he pleases with himself and the fruit of his labor, so far as it in no wise interferes with any other man's rights."

The fourth reason that this could be the year for libertarians is that in the fall the Libertarian Party will be the only third party on the ballot in all 50 states.  There has been talk about the need for a third party candidate as an alternative to Trump and Clinton, but in fact the Libertarian Party is already there as the only third party on the ballot nationally.

Johnson began working construction jobs as a college student at the University of New Mexico.  He then built his own construction company into one of the biggest construction companies in New Mexico.  When he sold the company in 1999, he had enough money so that he would never need to work for a living.

He served two terms as Republican Governor of New Mexico (from January 1, 1995 to January 1, 2003).  He could not run for a third term because of term limits.  During his two terms, he lowered taxes, he reduced the growth in state government, he reduced the number of state government workers, he balanced the state budget, and he left New Mexico with a billion dollar surplus.  He accomplished this even though Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 2 to 1, and the state legislature was controlled by the Democrats.  He became famous for over 750 vetoes of bills, with only a few of his vetoes overridden.  Notice that this means that Johnson has more political executive experience than either Trump or Clinton!

All of his policies were based on a libertarian message of limited government and individual liberty that was fiscally conservative and socially liberal.  His fiscal conservatism is shown in his proposal to balance the federal budget and begin paying off the national debt through across-the-board budget reductions of 43%, because 43% of the federal government spending comes from borrowed money. When Barack Obama leaves office, the national debt will be over $20 trillion dollars, which means that the United States could soon become the next Greece in facing a huge debt crisis.  Except for Johnson, none of the presidential candidates is speaking about this.

His social liberalism is shown in his argument that people should be free to live their lives as they please so long as they don't harm anyone else, because the only proper purpose of government is to protect us against those who would do us harm.  As Governor of New Mexico, Johnson became one of the first American politicians arguing for legalizing marijuana and recognizing the failure of the "war on drugs."  Rather than treat addiction to drugs as a crime that must be punished, which requires a massive investment of resources from law enforcement, the courts, and prisons, libertarians like Johnson argue for treating drug addiction as a health issue created by people making bad personal choices that require that they voluntarily enter treatment programs.

After leaving the governorship, Johnson has devoted himself to his great love for strenuous athletic activity--skiing, biking, running, and mountaineering.  He has climbed the highest mountains on all seven continents, including Mount Everest.  In his book Seven Principles of Good Government (published in 2012), he says that the purpose of life is to "live in the moment"--to find one's enjoyment every day in doing whatever it is that you love.  For Johnson, that "living in the moment" pleasure comes primarily from athletics and politics.  A libertarian Teddy Roosevelt!

In 2011, Johnson ran for President as a Republican.  But then, by the end of the year, he had switched to running for the nomination of the Libertarian Party, which he won.  In the presidential election of 2012, he won almost 1% of the popular vote.  Although that seems low, his 1.27 million votes was the highest vote count ever received by a Libertarian Party candidate.

Now, Johnson is running again for the Libertarian Party nomination, which will be decided at the end of May at the party convention in Orlando, Florida.  In April, John Stossel hosted the first nationally televised Libertarian Party Presidential Debate on the Fox Business channel.  This two-hour debate can be found on YouTube.  Stossel selected the top three candidates.  Johnson is the leading candidate.  The other two are John McAfee (the famous antivirus software entrepreneur) and Austin Petersen (the founder of The Libertarian Republic).  I think the quality of the debate is much higher than the Democratic or Republican debates.

In his book, Johnson repeatedly appeals to the "harm principle"--that the only justified limit on individual liberty by government is to protect us from those who would harm us (see pp. 9, 24, 29, 73-74, 92, 144-45, 150).  He repeats that principle in the debate.  But if you watch the debate, you will see that libertarians often disagree over interpreting "harm," and this is likely to come up at the Libertarian Party Convention.

There are three particular points of disagreement over what counts as harm.  First, on the abortion debate, Petersen is "prolife," because he thinks abortion obviously harms the aborted fetus by violating the fetus's right to life, while McAfee and Johnson are "prochoice," because they think the choice of abortion belongs to the freedom of the mother.

The second disagreement is over whether government should engage in environmental protection.  Petersen and McAfee would abolish the Environmental Protection Agency.  But Johnson supports the EPA with the argument that pollution harms us, and this is a harm from which government can properly protect us.

The third disagreement is the most interesting one.  It's over antidiscrimination laws, which Johnson supports, while Petersen and McAfee oppose.  Petersen and McAfee argue that while government cannot rightly engage in racial, religious, or sexual discrimination, private individuals may do so as an expression of their liberty, so long as this does not directly harm anyone.  But Johnson argues that discrimination really does harm people, and therefore government can intervene.  Johnson says he supports the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in "public accommodations." It's not clear that Petersen and McAfee would agree. The memorable exchange on this issue is when Petersen gets Johnson to say that a Jewish baker could be legally forced to bake a cake for a Nazi.  This "Nazi cake" exchange could give Johnson some trouble at the Libertarian Convention.

This points to one of the fundamental issues in classical liberalism--whether it can combine equality and liberty by distinguishing between state and society or public and private, so that the state must treat people equally under the law, while private individuals have the liberty to treat people unequally.

After reading Johnson's book and watching some of his debates, I have to wonder whether he has the intellectual and rhetorical skills necessary to successfully think through and speak about such deep issues in classical liberal thought.  He's an intelligent man, but he's not a very deep thinker.  In his book, he mentions only one book that has influenced his thinking--Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.  He says that he majored in political science at the University of New Mexico, but he says nothing about what he might have learned from his studies of politics and political ideas.  He does speak about being influenced by the people at the Cato Institute and at Reason magazine.  But then when he invokes the harm principle as fundamental for his classical liberal thinking, he doesn't mention John Stuart Mill's On Liberty or any other classic writings on that subject.  So he has never been a serious reader.  He speaks a lot about his efforts in his second term as governor to promote educational vouchers for New Mexico, but he says nothing about how this idea was worked out by Milton Friedman.  In the end, his voucher proposals were never adopted.

I also have to wonder about his rhetorical skills.  He has a relaxed speaking style, perhaps too relaxed.  He often rambles before coming to a conclusion.  He is not a charismatic speaker.  And he does not speak with the sharpness, incisiveness, and wit that might make a memorable impression on a popular audience for a televised debate.

One clear test of Johnson's skills will be whether he can persuade libertarian Republicans to support him.  Recently, I moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I live in the 3rd Congressional District, which is represented by Justin Amash, who is probably the most libertarian of the Republicans in the House, and a leader of the "Freedom Caucus" that has caused so much trouble for the House Republican leaders.  Amash has criticized Trump as potentially "very dangerous" for the country.  So it would be a bad sign for Johnson if he cannot persuade someone like Amash to support him rather than Trump.

The latest development is that Johnson has announced that William Weld, formerly Republican Governor of Massachusetts from 1991 to 1997, will run as Vice President with Johnson.  Weld will help with fundraising for the campaign. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A Natural Desire for Ethnic Identity?

In Human Nature and the Evolution of Society, Stephen Sanderson has suggested that my list of twenty natural desires should be altered to include the natural desire for ethnic identity. 

I am not persuaded by his argument, which he derives from Pierre van den Berghe and Frank Salter, that ethnic affiliation is an evolutionary adaptation, in that those who favor their ethnic community over others are practicing an extended form of kin selection that advances their ethnic genetic interests. 

I am persuaded that evolved human nature is inclined to tribal thinking, so that we naturally categorize people as us and them, and we naturally favor our group over others.  And while the social conditions of life have often predisposed people to make this in-group/out-group division along racial and ethnic lines, there is no evidence that this predisposition is an innate adaptation of the human mind. 

On the contrary, there is lots of evidence that while we are innately inclined to look for cues of coalitional affiliation, the content of those cues depends on social learning; and people in multi-racial and multi-ethnic societies can be taught to be cooperative without regard for racial or ethnic boundaries.  In fact, Frank Salter implicitly concedes the truth of this point when he laments that ethnic nepotism is not instinctive, and therefore serving ethnic genetic interests requires artificial cultural strategies devised by modern scientific reasoning, and that no ethnic state has ever succeeded in securing an adaptive ethnic group strategy.

This debate over whether racial and ethnic identity is an evolutionary adaptation has implications for the current debate in North America and Europe over immigration policies.  In On Genetic Interests, Salter argues that opening a nation's borders to immigrants is contrary to the genetic interests of the native population.  People of European descent have been the majority of the population in the United States and Europe.  But with increasing non-European immigration, those of European descent will eventually become the minority, and at some point the European ethnies will be completely replaced by non-European ethnies.  (Salter has followed van den Berghe in coining the word "ethny" as a substitute for "ethnic group" as the term for a population sharing common descent, but whose members are so numerous that they cannot form a group.) 

To protect the genetic interests of these ethnies--to prevent their extinction in the genetic competition with other ethnies--Salter argues for "universal nationalism":  each nation should have a right to protect its distinctive ethnic identity by restricting or prohibiting the flow of immigrants who do not share its ethnic identity.  There would be ethnic equality in that every ethny would have a right to its own ethnic homeland.  But there would also be ethnic inequality in that every ethnic homeland would discriminate against foreigners with different ethnic identities.  Every nation would have the right to practice ethnic nepotism.

Sanderson does not recognize the two major problems with Salter's argument.  The first problem is that what Salter identifies as "ethnic genetic interests" have no roots in the evolved instincts of human nature, and thus Salter's strategies for protecting those interests must be artificial contrivances of reason.  Salter admits that in protecting their genetic interests in modern states, "humans can no longer rely on their instincts" (28).  Human beings have evolved instincts for individual survival and for the reproductive interests of their families and their extended tribal groups.  But in the environments of evolutionary adaptation, our foraging ancestors had no experience with ethnic identities that might embrace millions of anonymous individuals scattered around the world.

The very idea of "ethnic genetic interests" depends on a scientific knowledge of genetics that has not been available to human beings until recent decades.  Even most evolutionary psychologists and sociobiologists don't recognize ethnies as extended kin groups. 

There is evidence for evolved instinctive tribalism by which we distinguish between in-group and out-group.  But the cues for identifying who belongs to which group are set by social experience that is not instinctive but learned.  As Salter admits, the famous social psychological experiments of Muzafer Sherif, Henri Tajfel, and others have shown that people identify with groups of all kinds and develop ethnocentric attitudes towards out-groups based on arbitrary cues.  In laboratory experiments, people can be randomly assigned to different groups based on arbitrary factors--such as flipping a coin to identify some people as "heads" and others as "tails"--and then those groups will try to outcompete one another.

One of the most revealing experiments is not cited by Salter.  Robert Kurzban, John Tooby, and Leda Cosmides have shown that racial categorization in identifying coalitional alliances can be eliminated when the cues for coalitional affiliation do not track race ("Can Race Be Erased? Coalitional Computation and Social Categorization," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 98 [2001]: 15387-15892).  Their experiment was designed to test their hypothesis that the human mind evolved to track coalitions--to decide who is allied with whom--but that the coalitional code is learned by experience and that there is no evolved instinct for seeing race and ethnicity as the cues for coalitional assignment.  Their hypothesis arises from the thought that in the environments of evolutionary adaptation, foragers would have experienced group competition, but they would not have generally encountered members of different races.

Kurzban, Tooby, and Cosmides asked volunteers to look at eight photographs of young black and white men and women wearing the same gray jersey.  Associated with each photograph was a sentence suggesting group conflict--such as "They were the ones who started the fight"--and it was arranged so that it was clear that these eight people were split into conflicting pairs.

The volunteers were given a "distractor task" to get their minds off the subject.  They were then asked to recall which sentences went with which photographs.  The distraction was designed to force them to rely on their unconscious feelings rather than their conscious memories.

Even though the two sides in the fictional fight were racially mixed, the volunteers tended to pair blacks with blacks and whites with whites, as though they assumed that conflict would be based on racial differences.

But then, in the next experiment, everything was the same, except that some of the jerseys were yellow instead of gray, and the sentences implied that the conflict was between the yellows and the grays and not the blacks and the whites.  Most of the volunteers easily picked up the hint that the conflict was based on the color of the jerseys rather than the color of the skins.  Kurzban, Tooby, and Cosmides concluded: "Despite a lifetime's experience of race as a predictor of social alliances, less than four minutes of exposure to the alternate social world was enough to deflate the tendency to categorize by race."

So it seems that the evolved human mind has an instinctive coalitional codemaker, but the codebook is not naturally instinctive but socially learned.  That explains why in appealing to "genetic interests," Salter cannot rely on human instincts to tie those interests to racial and ethnic identities, and why he complains that modern multiethnic societies have gone a long way towards teaching people to feel social solidarity that transcends the boundaries of racial and ethnic identity.

This also explains Salter's second big problem.  He tries to formulate various strategies for defending ethnic genetic interests in modern states.  But he admits that probably none of them will work very well.  He identifies various "ethnic states" in the modern world, but he admits that "no state yet developed has reliably kept its promise as an adaptive ethnic group strategy" (221), which includes "the best known modern ethnic state"--Nazi Germany (231).  For example, none of the ethnic states he mentions have succeeded in raising the total fertility rate of its ethny.  The drop in the total fertility rate for native Germans continued under the Nazis, and the Germans have one of the lowest fertility rates for any population in the world.  Other modern ethnic states that Salter mentions--such as Malaysia--show the same failure to raise fertility rates.  Malaysia provides special protection for the Malay majority at the expense of the Chinese and Indian minorities, and yet the total fertility rate for Malays have fallen below replacement levels. (I have written about low fertility in the demographic transition.)

All of this leads me to conclude that while there might be a natural desire for tribalism, the expression of that tribalism as racial or ethnic identity is not natural but cultural.

Some of my posts on the biological reality of race can be found here, here, here, and here.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

The Desire for Sexual Identity--One of the "Very Widespread Regularities" of Human Nature

When I first began studying political philosophy in the late 1960s as an undergraduate student at the University of Dallas, it seemed to me that political philosophy was the study of human nature as universal human propensities diversely expressed in the variable historical circumstances of human individuals and human societies. 

In 1975, as a graduate student at the University of Chicago, I first saw Ed Wilson's Sociobiology on the new book table at the Seminary Coop Bookstore.  I remember thinking, as I skimmed over his last chapter on human sociobiology, that a Darwinian science of human nature could illuminate and adjudicate debates over human nature in the history of political philosophy.  In 1978, a conference paper by Roger Masters persuaded me that a science of evolved human nature could support a new understanding of Aristotelian natural right.  In the 1980s and early 1990s, I saw the writing about evolutionary psychology coming from Leda Cosmides, John Tooby, and others as contributing to this new science of human nature that could sustain what I called "Darwinian natural right."

Sometime around 1986, I met David Hull, a philosopher specializing in the philosophy of biology.  When I spoke to him about my interest in applying a biology of human nature to political philosophy, he warned me that evolutionary biology would not support any conception of human nature, if that was understood as some unchanging human essence.  Darwinian science denied such "essentialist" thinking, he explained, by showing that all living beings--including human beings--are historically contingent and variable, and therefore there is no enduring human nature and no enduring moral or political standard for judging human life rooted in human evolution.  Later, I discovered that one of my colleagues at Northern Illinois University--David Buller--had studied under Hull at Northwestern University, and that Buller's dissertation had elaborated Hull's argument against a biological human nature as assumed by evolutionary psychology.  In 2005, Buller's dissertation was published as a book--Adapting Minds: Evolutionary Psychology and the Persistent Quest for Human Nature

As the title indicates, Buller was responding to Cosmides and Tooby's edited volume--The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture.  "The Adapted Mind" might suggest a single mind fixed by evolutionary adaptation for all human beings, which would constitute a universal human nature.  "Adapting Minds" suggests multiple minds that are changing in response to changing circumstances, which would mean that there is no enduring human nature produced by evolution.  Indeed, Buller declares his agreement with Michael Ghiselin's claim that "human nature is a superstition."

As I have indicated in a previous post, I agree with Buller that the evolutionary psychologists sometimes seem to stress the uniformity of human nature in such a way as to ignore the individual diversity that manifests the psychological polymorphism that has emerged from evolutionary history.  I also agree with him that in claiming that we all today have a "Stone Age mind" adapted to the environment of Pleistocene hunter-gatherers, the evolutionary psychologists can seem to mistakenly assume that there has been no human evolution over the past 10,000 years.

But on the most crucial point--the very idea of human nature--I am on the side of the evolutionary psychologists.  If one defines human nature in a silly way (as Buller and Hull do), then human nature does not exist.  But if one defines human nature in a sensible way, then human nature surely does exist.

Buller's silly definition of human nature is that it would have to consist only of traits that satisfy three conditions--first, they must be unique to human beings and thus not shared with any other animals; second, they must be invariably and exactly the same for all human individuals everywhere; and, third, they must be eternal essences that are not historically contingent.  It is easy for Buller to argue that human evolution has not produced a human species with such traits.

But a sensible definition of human nature does not require these conditions.  We can define human nature as constituted by that suite of generally recurrent anatomical, physiological, and psychological traits that characterize the human species.  Buller implicitly concedes this sensible definition of human nature when he speaks of human anatomy, human physiology, and human psychology as realities that can be scientifically studied.  Buller says that "psychology may one day provide us with descriptions of some very widespread regularities among the minds of our conspecifics" (456).  Well, then, if we define human nature as constituted by "very widespread regularities" among human beings in their minds and bodies, then human nature exists.

Among those "very widespread regularities," I include the twenty natural desires that constitute the motivational basis for moral and political psychology.  Because of the variability in those desires and in the circumstances of action across individuals and across societies, we need prudence or practical judgment in deciding what is best for particular individuals in particular circumstances.  But the regularity in the human nature of those desires sets some general standards for moral and political judgment.

Consider, for example, the natural desire for sexual identity.  Human beings generally desire to identify themselves as male or female. Sex is the single most important characteristic of personal identity.  It is the first question we ask about a newborn infant.  It is the first thing we notice about a person and the last thing we forget.  In all human societies, sex terminology is fundamentally dualistic.  Male and female are the basic sexes.  Others are either a combination of the basic sexes (hermaphrodites) or a crossover from one to the other (men who act as women or women who act as men).  All human societies have some sexual division of labor.  And although different societies assign somewhat different sex roles, thee are some recurrent differences that manifest a universal bipolarity in the pattern of human desires.  For instance, women in general (on average) tend to be more nurturing as manifested in a greater propensity to care for children, and men in general (on average) tend to be more aggressive as manifested in a greater propensity to violence.  Yet while these average differences are true for most men and women, for some individuals it is not: some women have manly desires, and some men have womanly desires.

Sanderson might say that I am confusing sex with gender.  Sex refers to the biological differences in anatomy and physiology between males and females.  Gender refers to the social roles of boys and men, on the one hand, and girls and women, on the other hand.  Moreover, Sanderson claims that while nonhuman animals show the sexual differences between male and female, only humans have gender.  And yet while Sanderson sees gender as different from sex, he does not see it as detached from sex.  Biological sex constrains but does not determine cultural gender.

The links between sex and gender are manifest in the universals of gender differences shaped by human evolution.  Sanderson surveys the evidence for at least six universals that we can identify as "very widespread regularities" of human nature.

(1) "Everywhere men display more aggressiveness."
(2) "Everywhere men are more competitive."
(3) "Everywhere men monopolize political leadership."
(4) "Everywhere women do the majority of the parenting."
(5) "Everywhere men and women display different kinds of cognitive skills."
(6) "Everywhere men and women have a strong sense of gender identity."

(1) Everywhere men on average are more aggressive than women, in the sense of a stronger propensity to physical violence.  As reviewed by John Archer and others, hundreds of studies using a wide variety of methodologies have shown in all societies greater aggressiveness on average for boys and men than for girls and women.

As is true for all six universals in gender, Sanderson (like me) stresses that the difference here is on average, which recognizes that some individuals depart from the average pattern.  Some women are more aggressive than some men.  Girls with above average levels of testosterone are more aggressive than girls with average levels of testosterone.  On average, most men have higher levels of testosterone than most women, but this is not true for all individuals.

The average gender difference in aggressiveness is connected through evolutionary adaptation to differences in bodily size and strength.  On average, men are taller, heavier, stronger, and more muscular than women.

Because of this difference in aggressiveness, war has always been an almost exclusively male activity.  The recent decision of the U.S. Department of Defense to open combat positions to women is a fascinating experiment.  Very aggressive women will be attracted to do this.  It is a safe prediction, however, that war will never be a predominantly female activity.

(2) Everywhere men are on average more competitive than women, in that men are more inclined to fight for high status and resources.  In every human society, there tends to be more men than women in the positions of highest status.  The best explanation for this is sexual selection: in evolutionary history, men have competed with other men for access to the resources necessary to attract high-quality mates, and women tend to prefer men with resources and high status.

(3) Everywhere the highest positions of political leadership are held predominantly by men.  Even in foraging bands, where there are no formal positions of political leadership, there is some informal leadership by men.  There is no clear evidence that any society has ever been a matriarchy, in which women hold all or most of the highest positions of leadership.

In modern industrial societies, the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government are largely male dominated.  In recent decades, a growing number of women have entered the political realm.  The Scandinavian countries have an average of about 40 percent of the parliamentary seats filled by women.  As heads of state (presidents or prime ministers), men hold 95 percent or more of these positions around the world.

But, again, many individual women show high political ambition.  A Margaret Thatcher or a Hillary Clinton shows the ambition of high-testosterone women.

(4) Among many animals, males contribute little or no parental care for offspring.  Human fathers generally contribute more to parental care than is characteristic of over animals.  Even so, fathers on average contribute much less to parenting than do mothers.

This manifests the sexual division of labor in which women tend to engage in those activities that are compatible with extensive care for their children, while men on average have more freedom to enter roles that take them away from extensive parental care.

(5) There is plenty of evidence that all of the sex differences in motivation between men and women are connected to differences in their cognitive skills.  Mental testing shows that women on average are better than men in verbal ability, remembering the location of objects, and in reading facial expressions, while men on average are better in spatial ability, mental rotation of objects, maze running, and route finding.  These differences are magnified at puberty when testosterone levels increase in males.  These differences have been found among foraging bands and in some other mammalian animals.

There are two theories to explain the evolution of these sex differences in cognitive skills.  According to the sexual selection theory, males need good spatial skills to navigate large territories in searching for mates, which would be true especially for polygynous species, where males have larger navigational ranges than females.  According to the hunter-gatherer theory, the sex differences arise from the sexual division of labor, so that the cognitive skills necessary for hunting animals have evolved more prominently among males, and the cognitive skills necessary for gathering plants have evolved more prominently among females.  There is some evidence for both theories.

(6) In all human societies, men and women have a strong sense of their identity as male or female.  There is some evidence that this is correlated with differing prenatal levels of testosterone.  So that women who had high prenatal levels of testosterone during their development in the uterus are more masculine in their gender role identity.  Since men usually have had much higher levels of prenatal testosterone than women, this would partially explain why they generally have a more highly masculine identity in contrast to the more feminine identity of women.

All of this suggests that, as Sanderson says, "a completely degendered society is not possible" (225).  And thus we should expect that experiments in completely abolishing gender identity and creating androgynous societies will fail.

If sexual identity were a purely social construction, as many social scientists have assumed, then, as Sanderson indicates, we would have to make two kinds of predictions.  First, we would have to predict that the patterns of gender identity vary arbitrarily and randomly across societies, so that we would see the entire range of possible variation.  We might expect that in about one-third of societies, women would be more aggressively violent than men, and men would be the primary caregivers for infants and children.  In another one-third of societies, we might expect to see no sex differences at all in these traits, And, finally, in another one-third of societies, we would expect to see the pattern that is most familiar to us--men being more aggressive than women, and women being more inclined to child-care than are men.  But this prediction of totally arbitrary and random variation is not what we see.

The second prediction of the social construction theory is that those people who are born as genetic males could be successfully reared to have a female gender identity, and those who are born as genetic females could be successfully reared to have a male gender identity.  This experiment has been tried and failed.  The most famous case is that of the Canadian Bruce/Brenda/David Reimer.  This was the boy whose infant circumcision was so badly botched that he was castrated.  His parents were advised by John Money to remove the baby's testicles and rear him as a girl.  He predicted that socialization as a girl could turn Bruce into Brenda.  And for many years, psychology textbooks reported this as proof that gender identity was purely a social construction.  But Brenda never felt like a girl, and she was tormented by this.  When her parents finally revealed to her as a teenager what they had done, she insisted on turning herself back into a boy--David Reimer.  But David remained tormented by the effects of what he had suffered, and finally he committed suicide.

And yet, of course, gender identity is to some degree socially constructed, in that some patriarchal societies try to magnify the differences between the sexes in ways that allow men to totally dominate women, while other more egalitarian societies try to minimize the differences so that women have some freedom of opportunity to chose how they live, and to attain a social status equal to men.  In modern liberal societies, with gender equality of opportunity, there isn't much difference in the way  boys and girls are socialized, and as a result, sex differences are not a pronounced as they are in patriarchal societies. 

In such liberal societies, men and women are free to satisfy their natural desire for sexual identity and all their other natural desires in ways that conform to their individual propensities and abilities.  That's why liberal societies can be judged superior to illiberal societies, because liberal societies are more compatible with human nature.

Other posts on sexual identity and the debate over whether human nature includes more than two sexes can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Natural Desire for a Complete and Healthy Life: Foraging, Farming, Herding, and Trading

Human beings generally desire to live out a complete and healthy life.  Like other animals, they pass through a life cycle from birth to maturity to death.  Every human society is organized to manage the changing desires associated with this life cycle, which passes through distinctive stages such as infancy, juvenility, adolescence, adulthood, and old age.  Children, adults, and the old have different desires, and to satisfy these desires they must fill different roles in society. Although human beings will risk their lives for a good cause, they generally agree that to be fully happy one must live out one's natural life span.  To do this, they must strive to live healthy lives.  Much of the daily routine of life in every human society is devoted to satisfying the physical desires for bodily survival by eating, sleeping, and finding shelter.

There are at least four fundamental ways of making a living--foraging, farming, herding, and trading.  Foragers live by hunting and fishing for wild animals and gathering wild plants.  Farmers live by cultivating domesticated plants and herding domesticated animals.  The cultivation of plants ranges from horticulture (tending small gardens using simple hand tools) to agriculture (cultivating large fields with plows and draft animals).  In some areas that are too dry for cultivation, people can become predominantly herders or pastoralists.  Throughout human history, human beings have engaged in trading one thing for another; and some people have been specialists in trading.  Over the past 500 years, beginning in parts of Europe (such as the Italian city-states, the Dutch Republic, and England), trading has intensified in commercial societies that have become urbanized and industrialized, and most people live by buying and selling goods and services in markets.

Political philosophers from Aristotle to Adam Smith have recognized that how people make their living shapes the character of their social order.  Smith and other Scottish philosophers saw historical progress in the movement through the four fundamental ways of making a living, and they saw the emergence of modern commercial societies as bringing unprecedented growth in population, prosperity, and liberty, so that ever more people could satisfy not only their natural desire for a complete and healthy life but all their other natural desires.

Stephen Sanderson's Human Nature and the Evolution of Society is a survey of the evidence from evolutionary science that confirms the reality of those natural desires as constituting evolved human nature and of the evolutionary progress through the four ways of making a living.

As Sanderson indicates, the debates among anthropologists over how to characterize the life of human foragers have often been debates over political philosophy.  I would suggest that these debates began with the dispute between Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Marx over the state of nature, because foraging bands are assumed to show evidence of how the earliest human ancestors lived and thus as showing original human nature.  Rousseau wanted to see that original condition as a state of perfect peace and equality.  Similarly, Marx wanted to see it as a state of communism.  The inequality of modern bourgeois or capitalist societies could then be considered a departure from that original condition.  By contrast, Hobbes and Locke saw human beings in the state of nature as hunter-gatherers living in small families but inclined to violent conflicts. 

It is generally agreed that among foragers, men are the hunters and women are the gatherers, so that there is a sexual division of labor.  Women do not usually hunt, because women do most of the child care, which is more compatible with gathering than hunting, and because men have the physical and mental skills that make them better hunters.

The importance of male hunting in providing animal protein has led some anthropologists to speak of early human evolution as the story of "man the hunter," which was the title of an important collection of papers on foraging bands published in 1968 and edited by Richard Lee and Irven DeVore.  Lee was a Marxist anthropologist who wanted to see foraging bands as completely egalitarian.  He also argued that most of the diet of foragers came from the food gathered by women rather than that hunted by men.  This allowed some feminist anthropologists to say that the story of human evolution was the story of "woman the gatherer," and that foragers should be identified as "gatherer-hunters."

In the 1970s, some anthropologists (such as Carol Ember) disputed this conclusion by pointing out that Lee's evidence was too limited.  Surveying 181 hunter-gatherer societies, Ember showed that the animal protein captured by both hunting and fishing provided over half of the calories for foraging people in most of these societies.  Then, in 2001, Lewis Binford's survey of over 339 foraging societies showed that while Ember was generally correct, she failed to see that the relative importance of animal and plant foods varied according to climate as indicated by the latitude of the location of a society.  Foragers living at lower latitudes (0-30 degrees) can easily find edible plants, and here gathering provides more than half of the diet.  But at higher latitudes (46-60 degrees), hunting and fishing provide over 90 percent of the diet.  This is an example of how the universal human nature of foraging varies in response to variable ecological circumstances.  To understand this, we need a human behavioral ecology that explains how variable human behaviors are adaptive responses to particular social and environmental contexts.

Lee's claim that foragers are completely egalitarian has also been disputed.  As I have indicated in previous posts (here), foraging societies do recognize informal leaders, although these leaders are checked by resistance to any arrogant dominance.  Moreover, male hunters are unequal in their hunting skills.  As Michael Gurven and Kim Hill (2009) have shown, hunting is such a difficult skill that some men never become successful hunters, and those men who are successful hunters have greater reproductive success, because women prefer skilled hunters, and men trade meat for sex.  This suggests that Rousseau and Marx were wrong to assume that the state of nature was a state of complete equality.

As I have indicated in a previous post (here), anthropologist Marshall Sahlins tried in the 1960s to defend Rousseau's account of the state of nature by arguing that foragers lived in the "original affluent society."  Like Rousseau, Sahlins claimed that although foragers were not affluent in the sense of being wealthy, they were affluent in the sense that their wants were so limited that they were easily satisfied with little effort, and therefore they were happier than people in wealthy societies whose artificial wants always exceeded their powers for satisfying them.  Sahlins saw evidence that foragers had to work only a few hours a week to provide for all their subsistence needs, far less than the forty hours of work for typical workers in the industrialized societies.  So it seemed that the foraging life was one of extensive leisure and little work. Anthropologists like Lee seemed to confirm Sahlins in pointing out that foragers like the !Kung in Southern Africa could easily feed themselves with Mongongo nuts and other edible plants that were abundantly available without any work required.

Although this foraging affluence thesis was accepted by many anthropologists, those who studied foraging societies had to admit that this idea was not well supported by the evidence.  As surveyed by David Kaplan (2000) and Robert Kelly (2013), the evidence shows that foragers have to work long and hard to secure their subsistence, and that they often live on the edge of starvation.  Sahlins and Lee had counted the hours devoted to foraging, but not the hours necessary for preparing and cooking food, for making and maintaining tools, and for building new huts when they move.  All of these activities require far more than forty hours a week.  And what Sahlins and Lee identify as hours of leisure are often hours of imposed idleness, as for example when !Kung must stay out of the midday heat of the African desert to avoid sunstroke and dehydration.  Foragers like the !Kung show high rates of infant and child mortality, short average life spans, and stunted growth from insufficient diets.  This hardly looks like affluence.

In overlooking this evidence of misery among foragers, and insisting that the foraging life is the happiest life for human beings, Sahlins and Lee were showing the bias of social scientists in the 1960s who wanted to criticize modern capitalist society by making the Rousseauian argument that the materialist consumerism, competitiveness, and inequality of capitalist life was depriving people of the happiness that their foraging ancestors had enjoyed.  Lee made this clear when he observed that anthropologists studying foraging societies are looking for alternatives to the "poverty, injustice, exploitation, war, and suffering" of human beings in the modern world:
"When anthropologists look at hunter-gatherers, they are seeking something else: a vision of human life and human possibilities without the pomp and glory, but also without the misery and inequity of state and class society. . . . I am convinced that hunter-gatherer studies, far from being the fantasy of uncritical romantics, have a role to play . . . as part of a larger movement to recapture wholeness from an increasingly fragmented and alienating modernity" (Lee 1992, p. 43).
The main Rousseauian idea for Sahlins and Lee is that while foragers don't have much, they don't want much, and they can easily satisfy their limited wants, while people in modern bourgeois societies have unlimited wants that they cannot ever satisfy, and thus they are miserable.  There is some evidence against this idea that foragers have limited wants, because anthropologists have noticed that foragers are often eager to have the goods that come from agrarian and Western societies: steel tools, shotguns and rifles, aluminum pots and pans, clothing from textile plants, motor boats, and all the conveniences of industrialized economies.  I have written about this in a previous post (here). 

Sanderson refers to this in concluding: "Virtually all nonindustrial populations have a great interest in modern technology" (49).  He seems to contradict this conclusion, however, when he says that foragers often prefer to live as foragers because it's an easier life, and "people have no inherent desire to advance their level of technology" (52, 58).

In any case, there is evidence that foragers understand how to plant and cultivate plants.  After all, some foragers are horticulturalists who tend gardens to supplement the food coming from hunting, fishing, and gathering.  So why did agricultural societies not begin to appear until about 11,000 to 5,000 years ago?  Part of the answer, Sanderson indicates, is that world climates were generally too cold, too dry, and too unstable prior to 11,500 years ago to make agriculture possible.  But while the climate change to a warmer, wetter, and more stable climate enabled agriculture, Sanderson suggests, population pressure caused it, because increasing populations would have forced people into cultivating crops to produce enough food to feed themselves.

Since about 3,700 years ago, some groups have relied on herding animals with little or no agriculture.  These pastoral societies have been common in parts of the world where there is too little water or warm weather to sustain agriculture--areas such as sub-Saharan Africa, the Arabian deserts, Central Eurasia, the Asian steppe, and Tibet.

Finally, the fourth fundamental way of organizing society for making a living--the modern commercial society--has become prominent only in the last 400 or 500 years and most prominent only in the last 200 years.  The fact that capitalism has apparently arisen only very recently in human social evolution might suggest that it's a purely cultural invention with no roots in human nature.  And, indeed, even proponents of the modern liberal social order like Friedrich Hayek have argued that market societies are contrary to the human nature that evolved in ancient foraging societies, and that the popular appeal of socialism can be explained as an atavistic yearning to return to the small foraging bands in which our prehistoric ancestors evolved.  Evolutionary psychologists like Leda Cosmides and John Tooby have embraced this idea in claiming that there is a "mismatch" between the human nature shaped by the Pleistocene environment of evolutionary adaptation and the human culture of modern commercial societies.

In various posts (here), I have argued against this.  Sanderson seems to agree with me.  Although he concedes that the "mismatch" theory is at least partially true, because some innate propensities that were adaptive in the ancient past might not be adaptive today, he is skeptical about whether it is totally true (7-8, 126, 143).  In particular, he suggests that capitalist social orders might satisfy the naturally evolved propensities for reciprocal exchange; and he cites Cosmides and Tooby as supporting this in a way that suggests that even they see capitalist social orders as satisfying some evolved propensities of human nature.

Adam Smith saw the opulence that results from exchange and specialization (the division of labor) as "the necessary, though very slow and gradual consequence of a certain propensity in human nature, which has in view no such extensive utility; the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another." 

Since capitalism has arisen so recently in human history and in such special circumstances. it might seem implausible for Smith to suggest that it is rooted in the innate propensities of human nature.  But Sanderson suggests that we should understand this to mean that "capitalist relations lie dormant in human nature and develop when the preconditions appear" (68).  The propensity to reciprocal exchange--the natural human tendency to truck, barter, and exchange--has been manifest throughout all of human history.  There is some archaeological evidence for trading among ancient foragers hundreds of thousands of years ago.  Large trade networks began to appear thousands of years ago.  More recently, global trade networks have appeared with world commercialization.

To explain the evolutionary roots of this psychology of exchange, Sanderson quotes from Cosmides and Tooby's famous paper on "Cognitive Adaptations for Social Exchange," in which they presented their experimental studies of detecting cheaters (individuals who take a benefit without paying the cost) in Wason selection tasks.  They saw this as an adaptive psychology for social exchange that evolved among our ancient forager ancestors.  They thought this could be seen in studies of hunter-gatherer exchange:
"Despite the common characterization of hunter-gatherer life as an orgy of indiscriminate egalitarian cooperation and sharing--a kind of retro-utopia--the archaeological and ethnographic record shows that hunter-gatherers engaged in a number of different forms of social exchange (for an excellent review of hunter-gatherer economics, see Cashdan, 1989).  Communal sharing does not exhaust the full range of exchange in such societies.  Hunter-gatherers also engage in explicit contingent exchange--Fiske's 'market pricing'--in which tools and other durable goods are traded between bands, often in networks that extend over vast areas. A common form of trade is formal gift exchanges with carefully chosen partners from other bands.  For instance, aboriginal Australians traded tools such as sting ray spears and stone axes through gift exchanges with partners from neighboring bands.  These partnerships were linked in a chain that extended 620 km, from the coast, where sting ray spears were produced, to the interior, where there were quarries where the stone axes could be produced.  Here, environmental variation in the source of raw materials for tool making allowed gains from trade based on economic specialization, and the laws of supply and demand seemed to operate.  At the coast, where sting ray spears were common, it took more of them to buy an ax than in the interior, where spears were dear and axes cheap (Sharp, 1952).  Similarly, the !Kung of the Kalahari desert range engage in a system of delayed reciprocal gift giving called 'hxaro' (Weissner, 1982; Cashdan, 1989), through which they trade durable goods such as blankets and necklaces" (Cosmides and Tooby, 1992, pp. 216-17).
Here, then, Cosmides and Tooby seem to disagree with Hayek's claim that the modern extended order of liberal societies organized through trade requires a repression of the natural human psychology shaped by the evolution of social life in ancient foraging bands.  On the contrary, the modern liberal order can be seen as an expression of the evolved propensity for reciprocal exchange in modern conditions that allow for the extension of that propensity to embrace ever expanding social networks of trade.  This conclusion is reinforced by evidence of neuroendocrine mechanisms (such as oxytocin) that foster the trust that facilitate social exchange. (A post on this can be found here.)

A post on various explanations for the Industrial Revolution--including Deirdre McCloskey's appeal to the rhetoric of the "bourgeois virtues"--can be found here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Meaning and Purpose of Life in Twenty Natural Desires

To the question of the meaning and purpose of human life, the best answer--the answer we all give by the way we live our lives--is that we find the meaning and purpose of our lives in striving for the fullest satisfaction of our natural desires.  Evolutionary science helps to explain why we are moved by the twenty natural desires of our evolved human nature.  That scientific explanation is supported by lots of evidence.  One of the best general surveys of that evidence is Stephen Sanderson's Human Nature and the Evolution of Society (Westview Press, 2014).

Some of what Sanderson says, however, seems to deny that science can teach us anything about the meaning and purpose of life.  First of all, he warns against the naturalistic fallacy in inferring anything about moral values from natural facts.  And, secondly, he dismisses teleological thinking about the ultimate purpose of life as mistaken.  But implicit in Sanderson's writing is the recognition that we can rightly infer moral values from functional facts, and that even if we cannot find any cosmic purpose for life, we can find the immanent purpose of life inherent in our natural human desires.

After explaining the naturally evolved differences in the propensities and abilities of men and women, so that men on average are less inclined than are women to certain kinds of activities, Sanderson warns against the assumption that such natural tendencies tell us anything about what men and women should do.  This is the naturalistic fallacy:  deriving an "ought" from and "is."  One cannot infer a moral judgment from a purely descriptive statement about how human beings behave.  If men are naturally inclined towards careers such as firefighting, and women are naturally inclined towards careers such as nursing, it does not follow logically that men should be firefighters, or that women should be nurses (238).

And yet Sanderson seems to contradict himself in his writing about scientific research when he uses value-laden language--such as judging some behavior as "dysfunctional"--which seems to commit the naturalistic fallacy.  For example, when he reports Harry Harlow's famous experiments with young monkeys reared by artificial mothers made of wire rather than real mothers.  The monkeys exposed only to artificial mothers showed "severe emotional disturbance" and "dysfunctional" behavior, comparable to what happens to human children reared in orphanages without any maternal care (192-95, 210).

More generally, Sanderson concludes his book by arguing that evolutionary science can give an answer to the question of the meaning of life.  "The meaning of human existence is to achieve satisfaction with respect to the basic goals and desires that are part of human nature.  Since in real life these goals and desires are often in conflict, they must be harmonized or balanced in some way" (382).  He then offers a slightly modified version of my list of twenty natural desires.

And while Sanderson rejects any teleological belief in "some deep cosmic purpose embedded in the universe or, more likely, in the mind of God," he does see a purpose embedded in the desires of human nature: "If there is no ultimate purpose to our lives, life is emptied of all meaning.  Why then bother to live at all? The reason to bother is to fulfill the desires that emanate from our species-specific human nature.  This is sufficient.  There doesn't need to be anything else for life to be meaningful" (383, 386).

I agree.  Even if science cannot support a cosmic teleology of purposes set by a Cosmic God, Cosmic Nature, or Cosmic Reason, science can support an immanent teleology of purposes set by human nature, human culture, and human individuals, by which human nature and human culture constrain but do not determine the purposes set by human individuals in deciding how best to rank and harmonize their natural desires over a whole life well lived.

And so, for example, we can judge that children deprived of parental care are likely to show "dysfunctional" behavior because it is hard for children to become happy adults if their natural need for parental care has not been satisfied.

In this way, a natural science of human nature can support moral judgments through the hypothetical imperatives of given-if-then reasoning: given the evolved human nature of our desires, if we want to live desirable lives, then we must live in ways that are most likely to satisfy those desires.

Some of my posts on these points can be found here, here, here., here., and here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Stephen Sanderson and the Twenty Natural Desires of Evolved Human Nature

If the good is the desirable, then human ethics is natural insofar as it satisfies natural human desires that naturally win social approval as useful or agreeable to oneself or to others.  The satisfaction of these natural desires constitutes a natural standard for judging social practice as either fulfilling or frustrating human nature, although prudence is required in judging what is best for particular people in particular social circumstances. 

By this standard, the modern bourgeois liberal regime can be recognized as the best regime so far in human history, because no other regime has satisfied those natural desires so well for so many people.  Or, to put it another way, the liberal regime has been more successful than any other regime so far in securing for human beings their equal liberty for the pursuit of happiness.

In Darwinian Natural Right and Darwinian Conservatism, I have argued that there are at least twenty natural desires: human beings generally desire (1) a complete life, (2) parental care, (3) sexual identify, (4) sexual mating, (5) familial bonding, (6) friendship, (7) social ranking, (8) justice as reciprocity, (9) political rule, (10) war, (11) health, (12) beauty, (13) property, (14) speech, (15) practical habituation, (16) practical reasoning, (17) practical arts, (18) aesthetic pleasure, (19) religious understanding, and (20) intellectual understanding.

I have argued that these twenty natural desires are universally found in all human societies, that they have evolved by natural selection over millions of years of human evolutionary history to become components of the species-specific nature of human beings, that they are rooted in the physiological mechanisms of the brain, that they direct and limit the social variability of human beings as adapted to diverse ecological circumstances, and that different individuals with different temperaments will rank these desires differently.

My selection of these twenty desires as natural and universal is supported by various kinds of evidence.  Social scientists who have surveyed the anthropological evidence have shown that there are hundreds of human universals, which are clustered around the twenty desires on my list.  Psychologists who study human motivation recognize these twenty desires as manifesting the basic motives for human action. Survey data from psychologists who ask people what is most important to them confirm the primacy of these twenty desires.  When Aristotle, in the Nicomachean Ethics and the Rhetoric, reviews the common opinions of human beings about what is desirable in life, he includes the twenty desires on my list.  When an Aristotelian scholar like Martha Nussbaum describes the "basic human functions" that support universal norms of moral judgment, she includes the desires on my list.

There is evidence that this pattern of twenty desires developed in the Pleistocene environment of our hunting-gathering ancestors, from about 1.6 million years ago up to the invention of agriculture about 11,000 years ago.  This was the evolutionary environment in which human nature was shaped by natural selection.  The historical record of human civilization since the development of agriculture shows human beings as moved by these twenty desires.

My survey of the evidence is not as good as that provided by Stephen Sanderson in two of his books--The Evolution of Human Sociality (Rowman and Littlefield, 2001) and Human Nature and the Evolution of Society (Westview Press, 2014).  Sanderson is one of the few sociologists who has promoted a Darwinian science of sociology.  Of all the social sciences, sociology has been most resistant to Darwinian science, because so many sociologists believe that human society is a purely cultural construction unconstrained by human nature.  Like me, Sanderson argues that while society certainly is "socially constructed," these social constructions are not arbitrary products of an autonomous culture.  Social constructions are constrained by the natural desires and natural conditions of human existence.  Human biological nature constrains but does not determine human cultural history and the choices of human individuals.  Consequently, a Darwinian social science must explain the universality of human natural desires and the variability that comes from variable socioecological conditions and variable temperaments of individuals.  Sanderson shows how that can be done.

Identifying me as a "Darwinian political philosopher," Sanderson accepts my list of twenty natural desires as delineating the most important features of evolved human nature.  But he does offer his own slightly altered version of my list: (1) a complete and long life, (2) health, (3) reproduction and parental care, (4) sexual mating, (5) familial bonding, (6) gender identity, (7) social ranking, (8) wealth, (9) political rule, (10) reciprocal exchange, (11) ethnic identity, (12) beauty, (13) aesthetic pleasure, and (14) religious understanding (2014, p. 382).

Comparing the lists, one can see that he has made some changes.  He has moved "health" from number 11 on my list to number 2. He has changed "justice as reciprocity" to "reciprocal exchange." He has added "ethnic identity" to the list. And he has omitted from his list seven of the desires on my list: (6) friendship, (10) war, (14) speech, (15) practical habituation, (16) practical reasoning, (17) practical arts, and (20) intellectual understanding.

I do not see the justification for omitting these seven, especially since all of these seven desires appear in one way or another in his writing.  He says that friendship could rightly be added to his list (2014, pp. 12, 383).  He writes about the evolution of war (2001, pp. 318-330; 2014, pp. 287-312) and of language (2014, pp. 27-32).  He suggests that intellectual understanding should be added to his list (2014, p. 383).

Sanderson agrees with me that the natural desires cannot all be satisfied at the same time, or even over a whole life.  And so people must rank these desires, and since individuals differ in their natural temperaments and abilities, they will differ in how they rank these desires.  So, for example, as Sanderson observes, Albert Einstein said that he had no need for money, power, or fame to be happy; and so he was not much moved by the natural desires for social ranking, wealth, or political rule.  Einstein said all he needed were his sailboat, his violin, and physics.  And since he spent most of his time on physics, he was clearly ranking his natural desire for intellectual understanding over the other desires (2014, p. 383).  For me, this shows the need for practical habituation and practical reasoning in organizing a life for the fullest and most coherent satisfaction of one's desires over a whole life.

Sanderson has moved me to make two changes in my list.  I have combined a complete life and health into one category.  And I have added ethnic identity to the list.  So now my twenty natural desires are (1) a healthy life, (2) sexual identity, (3) sexual mating, (4) parental care, (5) familial bonding, (6) friendship, (7) social status, (8) justice as reciprocity, (9) political rule, (10) war, (11) ethnic identity, (12) beauty, (13) property, (14) speech, (15) practical habituation, (16) practical reasoning, (17) practical arts, (18) aesthetic arts, (19) religious understanding, and (20) intellectual understanding.

This begins a series of posts on how Sanderson's survey of the evidence for a Darwinian science of human nature supports my list of twenty natural desires.