Saturday, January 05, 2019

Todd May and "The Good Place": Can Aristotle Give Us Human Meaning in a Silent Universe?



NBC's philosophical comedy series The Good Place has a podcast for each episode hosted by Marc Evan Jackson (who plays Shawn in the show).  In the podcast for Chapter 19 ("The Trolley Problem"), Jackson interviews William Jackson Harper (who plays Chidi, the professor of moral philosophy) and Todd May (one of the moral philosophers who has been a consultant for the show).

May says that Michael Schur, the creator of The Good Place, first contacted him by email, because Schur had read his book Death, The Art of Living.  They talked a lot through Skype sessions, and May then flew to Hollywood to talk with the writers.  Schur liked to quote May's remark from his book on death that "Mortality offers meaning to the events in our lives.  Morality helps to navigate that meaning."  Human life would not be better without death, May argues, because the inescapable fact of death gives moral weight to our decisions about how to live the mortal life that we have.

That theme of mortality might seem to contradict the setting of the show in the afterlife, where people live immortally either in the Good Place or the Bad Place.  But May notes Schur's remarks about how in thinking about the show he decided that it was not really about any religious conception of an afterlife, because it was actually about "the ethical conception of the afterlife," in which imagining an afterlife with rewards for the good people and punishments for the bad people is an artful--and entertainingly funny way--to think through moral philosophy.

It should not be surprising, therefore, that Schur sought out May, a devoted atheist who thinks moral philosophers today must find "human meaning in a silent universe"--the subtitle of his book A Significant Life (University of Chicago Press, 2015).  This might appear to contradict the role of those in The Good Place who are immortal beings in the afterlife who judge the goodness and badness of human actions.  But in much of the show--as in the episode on The Trolley Problem--the struggle with moral dilemmas is carried out within human experience without any appeal to any transcendent or divine standards of right and wrong.  Certainly, the interesting discussion of this episode in the podcast is all about how human beings make choices and try to justify those choices based on their human reason and emotions.

This has led me to wonder whether May's Significant Life could be read by viewers like me who are looking for a philosophic exploration of the questions raised by The Good Place.  Does he really show us how to find "human meaning in a silent universe"?

Or, perhaps, we should first ask how he knows that the universe is silent--that the natural order of the cosmos tells us nothing about how we should live, because the cosmos is indifferent to human beings, who have arisen as only accidental products of an evolutionary process that does not care for or about human beings.  Apparently, the answer is that May thinks he knows that to be true because that's what the existentialist philosopher Albert Camus said--that we need to confront the absurdity of the human condition in that we have been thrown into a universe that gives no meaning to our lives.  Camus is the first philosopher May cites--on the second page of his book--and he just assumes that Camus is right about our need to live within the indifference of the universe.  But isn't it very unphilosophical to accept such a claim without offering reasons or evidence supporting the claim?

Although he does not elaborate the point, May does suggest that if we accept the truth of Darwinian evolution, we must accept that we are "cosmic accidents" or "evolutionary contingencies" in an indifferent universe (15, 175).  But he offers no argument to prove that this is a necessary conclusion from Darwinian science, and he is silent about those scientists who defend theistic evolution, which is the subject of some posts (herehere, and here).

Schur seems to agree with May in taking the existentialist teaching about the absurdity of human life as obviously true.  In fact, Schur has said that when he was 11 years old, he stayed up all night reading Woody Allen's Without Feathers, a collection of some comic essays, and he knew then that he wanted to become a comedy writer like Allen, whose comedy is full of existentialist angst about the absurdity of the human condition in a world where God is dead.  Schur became a writer for NBC's Saturday Night Live.  He then went on to become the creator and writer for the comedy series The Office, Parks and Recreation, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.  Having been so successful with these series, Schur was given a free hand by NBC to devise The Good Place in any way he wanted, which allowed him to try something daring.

In the first Good Place podcast, Schur explained the influence of Jean-Paul Sartre's existentialism on his plan for The Good Place.  His first idea for the show was to have Eleanor die and be sent to The Good Place by mistake, so that she has to hide the fact that she should really be in The Bad Place. When she reveals the truth to Michael in the middle of the season, he then must help her to avoid being sent to the Bad Place. But Schur foresaw that that storyline would lose its interest by the end of the first season.  So he devised a shocking twist that he took from Sartre's play No Exit--where three people are condemned to the Hell of living forever together in a room where they torture one another through their personal conflicts: "Hell is other people."  And so in the final episode of the first season of The Good Place, we discover that Michael has deceived them (and the viewers), because Eleanor and the others have not been living in The Good Place but in The Bad Place, so that in their conflicts with one another, they have been torturing themselves.

And yet despite the agreement of Schur and May with the existentialist's dark view of the absurdity of human life in a silent universe, they both look for some philosophic way to find human meaning and morality in a universe where there is no cosmic or divine support for human purposefulness.  In his podcast interview (near the end), Schur indicates agreement with Peter Singer's utilitarianism, although he admits that he cannot agree with some of Singer's extreme views.  Schur embraces Singer's utilitarian claim that the greatest happiness of the greatest number of sentient creatures is the good, and therefore we are obligated to be charitable in helping to alleviate the suffering of our fellow human creatures.  This utilitarian morality is displayed in The Good Place, but it is also cast into doubt by the Trolley Problem.  Chidi admits that while he accepts the rational principle that killing one person is justified to save five people, he is emotionally resistant to killing one person for the sake of harvesting his organs to save the lives of five people who need organs.  Here his moral emotions teach him the principle of double effect, which I have taken up (here  here, and here).  I have also criticized Singer and utilitarianism (here, and here,).

The Trolley Problem


Unlike Schur, May does not turn to utilitarianism as a way to render human life meaningful.  Rather, May begins A Significant Life by summarizing Aristotle's account in the Nicomachean Ethics of how the moral and intellectual virtues can bring happiness (eudaimonia) as the fulfillment of human longing.  When I first saw this, I wondered whether May would agree with my defense of a Darwinian science of Aristotelian liberalism, which I have laid out in various posts (herehere, and here).  Alas, I soon saw that May had missed the mark.

May argues that Aristotle's ethics cannot make human life meaningful for us for three reasons, which arise from three mistaken interpretations of Aristotle.  First, May says that we cannot accept Aristotle's assumption that meaningfulness comes from a cosmic teleology--that meaning "is always there, inscribed in the nature of things, part of the furniture of the universe," part of "a rational cosmic structure."  Aristotle begins the Ethics by saying that everything acts for its end--its telos--which is its good, and so to live according to our human telos is to fulfill our human good (11-12, 21-22, 26).  May asserts that none of us today can believe this.  "The problem for us is that we are not Aristotle, or one of his contemporaries.  We do not share the framework of his time.  The universe is not ordered in such a way that everything has its telos.  The cosmos is not for us as rational a place as he thought" (12).

There are two dubious claims here.  The first is the assumption of historicist relativism: that every philosopher's thinking is determined by the cultural beliefs of his time, and so there is no trans-historical truth.  "We do not share the framework of his time."  We must share the framework of our time, which is different from Aristotle's time.  The most obvious problem with this is that it is self-refuting:  if there is no trans-historical truth, then historicist relativism cannot be true.  We are Cretans declaring that all Cretans are liars.

May's second dubious claim here is that Aristotle's natural teleology is a cosmic teleology--that if living beings have natural ends, this must have been determined by a cosmic order of purposefulness.  May is completely silent about Aristotle's explicit rejection, early in the Ethics, of Plato's Idea of the Good--the Platonic belief that whatever is good for any being must conform to the transcendent Good of the Cosmos.  Oddly, then, May's claim that Aristotle's ethics depends on the cosmic morality of "a rational cosmic structure" assumes that Aristotle is not an Aristotelian but a Platonist!

Aristotle was a biologist, and his biological science shaped his empirical science of ethics in the Nicomachean Ethics as rooted in an immanent teleology rather than a cosmic teleology.  In contrast to Plato's attempt to ground ethics in a moral cosmology, Aristotle grounded ethics in a moral biology.  (Actually, as I have indicated in some posts, it is not always clear that Plato's Socrates accepted the moral cosmology of Plato's Timaeus or Plato's Athenian Stranger.)

A Darwinian evolutionary understanding of ethics supports the empiricist tradition of ethics that runs from Aristotle to David Hume and Adam Smith to E. O. Wilson.  This empiricist tradition of thought sees ethics as rooted in human experience--in human nature, human tradition, and human judgment.  By contrast, the transcendentalist tradition of ethics, from Plato to Immanuel Kant looks to a transcendent conception of the Good as somehow woven into the order of the cosmos--a cosmic God, cosmic Nature, or cosmic Reason.  A Darwinian science of ethics can show how the moral order of human life arises as a joint product of natural desires, cultural traditions, and prudential judgments.

If I am right about this, this would show--contrary to May's historicist relativism--that modern Darwinian science can confirm the truth of Aristotle's ethics.

I have elaborated these points in posts herehereherehere, here., and here.

May's second reason for saying that Aristotle's ethics cannot render human life meaningful is that his concept of eudaimonia or happiness is too objective or impersonal to allow for individual diversity: Aristotle's eudaimonia "is a way of being that is the goal of any human life" (26).  May suggests that Aristotle does not recognize how the meaningfulness of my life might rightly differ from the lives of others.

But this ignores that fact that in his Generation of Animals, Aristotle distinguished between three levels of inherited traits among animals.  An animal species, including the human species, shows generic traits shared with some other animals, specific traits shared with members of the same species, and temperamental traits that differ among individuals of the species.  Thomas Aquinas adopted this biological idea from Aristotle as showing three levels of natural law corresponding to generic nature, specific nature, and temperamental nature.  So while we can recognize the generic goods of human life that generally characterize human nature, we can also recognize that the proper ranking and organization of those goods for each individual human being will vary, and that will require prudential judgment.  The study of such individual variability belongs to the biological science of animal personalities.  (I have written about this here and here.)

May's third reason for why he thinks Aristotle's ethics cannot render human life meaningful is that morality and meaningfulness are so different that a good life in Aristotle's terms could be a meaningless life.  Meaningfulness, May contends, comes not from moral values but from narrative values: we can understand our lives as stories with narrative structures and themes that give them meaning.  In trying to explain this separation of meaning from morality, however, May has to contradict what he says about Aristotle's ethics.

The narrative values that make our lives meaningful, May says, arise from the fact that our lives have trajectories that arc from birth to maturity to death, and so the meaning of our lives arises from the narrative themes of our life stories.  But May says that he first saw this idea of life as a trajectory with a storyline in Aristotle's ethics (3, 61, 63).  And in fact Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics has many illustrations from poetic storytellers like Homer.  So May seems to contradict himself in claiming that Aristotelian morality cannot comprehend the meaningfulness that comes from the narrative values of storytelling.

Storytelling as a way of exploring the moral meaning of human life is manifest in television comedies like The Good Place.  Aristotle wrote about the art of storytelling in his Poetics, concerned primarily with tragedy, and in a book on comedy that has been lost.  If you read Aristotle's Poetics and then listen to the podcasts for The Good Place, you will see that television writers and actors are practicing Aristotle's art of storytelling in a way that both entertains and instructs their audience as they explore possible scenarios for human beings striving for moral meaning in their lives.

But in trying to separate the meaning of our stories from the morality of our lives, May adopts Susan Wolf's understanding of meaning as different from morality, which she sums up in one sentence: "Meaning arises when subjective attraction meets objective attractiveness."  She elaborates this idea this way: "A person's life can be meaningful only if she cares fairly deeply about some thing or things, only if she is gripped, excited, interested, engaged. . . . One must be able to be in some sort of relationship with the valuable object of one's attention--to create it, protect it, promote it, honor it, generally to actively affirm it in some way or other" (51).

If one accepts this idea of meaning, May observes, then a good life according to Aristotle's ethics is not necessarily a meaningful life.  A good person could do good deeds "without feeling absorbed by what he or she does," without "a sense of engagement" in one's good life.  One could be good in being an selfless altruist in sacrificing one's own well-being for the good of others.  And thus one would be living a good life but utterly alienated from and bored with one's life, a passive life without any active intensity, and therefore one would be living "an alienated but moral life," which would b e a meaningless life (52-53, 91, 111-12).

What May says here, however, contradicts what he says about Aristotle's ethics.  As May says (correctly), for Aristotle the good or flourishing life is "an ongoing activity" (energeia in Aristotle's Greek).  The good life is "active and engaged with the world."  "It is an ongoing expression of who  one is."  "It is one's very way of being in the world" (5).  A good life is dedicated to "self-cultivation" (8).  A good life in Aristotle's understanding, therefore, cannot be "alienated" or lack "a sense of engagement."  If this is so, then May cannot say that a good life can be a meaningless life.

Moreover, May admits that the narrative values of a meaningful life largely coincide with what Aristotle identifies as the moral and intellectual virtues.  So, for example, courage is a moral virtue for Aristotle, and "a courageous life is one we might admire not only as a morally worthy life but also a meaningful life" (76).  We can say that "where a person is engaged with her life and is living morally, the meaningful and the moral will likely coincide" (112).

Still, May wants to insist that morality and meaningfulness can diverge in some cases.  One of his examples of this is Lance Armstrong.  Armstrong is famous for his success as a professional road racing cyclist, who showed the narrative values of "courage, commitment, and intensity" in surviving testicular cancer and then winning the Tour de France multiple times (106).  But Armstrong is also infamous for lying about his practice of illegal doping.  So we are ambivalent about someone like Armstrong: we admire him in some ways, while condemning him in other ways.  Armstrong's life, May contends, is both meaningful and immoral.

But wouldn't Aristotle rightly say that Armstrong is partly moral--in displaying the virtues of "courage, commitment, and intensity"--but partly immoral--in displaying the vices of dishonesty and cheating?  His life is not fully admirable because it is not fully moral.

As far as I can tell, May gives us no good reason to doubt that Aristotle's virtue ethics is the best philosophic framework for understanding the human pursuit of the good life.  He also gives us no good reason to doubt the possibility that Aristotle's ethics can be supported by modern evolutionary science.

So as The Good Place continues its run, we will have to wonder whether a Darwinian and Aristotelian science of the virtues can best explain the human struggle with the meaning and morality of life that this show depicts.

We should also consider how a liberal social order secures the freedom of thought and speech that allows us to openly think through these deep questions of life through popular culture.

Finally, we should question the common claim of the critics of liberalism that the degrading effects of bourgeois liberalism are evident in popular culture--particularly, in TV programming.  Shows like The Good Place should force us to consider the possibility that there has been a steady increase in the cognitive complexity of popular culture in modern liberal societies.  Does watching television make us smarter?  I have written about that here.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Mother Forkin' Morals: "The Good Place" as the TV Comedy of Moral Philosophy

On this blog, I have often explored the Darwinian science of moral philosophy, in which the big question is how we find meaning for our lives as evolved animals in an evolutionary cosmos that does not care about or for us.  Can we find standards for judging good and bad in human life that are rooted in the immanent teleology of evolved human nature rather than a cosmic teleology of a divinely designed universe?

In recent months, I have been amazed to discover that these same questions are being asked in an entertaining way by the NBC television comedy "The Good Place."  Michael Schur is the creator and one of the producers of this series.  He is also one of the writers and directors.  The series is now in its third season, and NBC has just announced that it will have a fourth season beginning in the fall of 2019.

Schur's ingenious idea for the show is to have some people die and then wake up in The Good Place because some immortal accountants have judged that their good deeds on earth have earned them enough points to warrant eternal life in The Good Place rather than The Bad Place. They live in a neighborhood of The Good Place designed by an immortal architect Michael. The problem, however, is that apparently some mistake has been made, because these people have not really earned enough points to enter The Good Place.  They should have gone to The Bad Place.  So now they must somehow prove that they are good enough to avoid being sent for the eternal torture that they deserve.  One of them is a professor of moral philosophy, and so they try to learn from his lectures about the various schools of moral philosophy to decide how to become morally good people.  Unfortunately, what those philosophers teach is often contradictory or confusing.

To write the shows, Schur and the other writers have learned about moral philosophy from their reading and from consulting with moral philosophers such as Todd May, who teaches at Clemson University.  Professor May has surveyed how the show illustrates the moral philosophy of Hume, Kant, Bentham, Mill, Kierkegaard, Sartre, and others in these videos:


Here May speaks about existentialism, psychological egoism, utilitarianism, and Kantian deontology.  In his published writing, May has also recognized Aristotelian virtue ethics; and in at least one of the "Good Place" episodes, Chidi Anagonye (the professor of moral philosophy) includes virtue ethics in his lectures.

Now it might seem that this show suggests that moral philosophy depends on a cosmic religious teleology, because the goodness of human conduct is being judged by afterlife points assigned by supernatural judges.  Actually, however, the exploration of moral philosophy in the show does not really depend on any kind of religious teaching.

When the show began in the fall of 2016, Schur gave an interview to Esquire in which he explained:
"I did a lot of research early on about conceptions of the afterlife in different religions.  I did a ton of reading about it, and it was really fun and fascinating.  Then I realized after I'd done all of that, it was pointless, because this show wasn't about religion; it was really about ethics and morality.  I never studied moral philosophy in college.  I have a very cocktail party understanding of it, but I read a lot of stuff and talked to a lot of people to understand what are the basic ideas that have emerged in ethics and moral philosophy for the last 400 years, and even ancient times.  And that's where I drew inspiration from.  Because the show isn't really about the afterlife.  It's set in the afterlife, but it's really about being good or bad."
Schur's "The Good Place" is a lot like Dante's Divine Comedy.  As many of Dante's readers have noticed, Dante's assignment of people to Paradise, to the Inferno, or to Limbo often depends more on the moral philosophy of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas than on any strictly theological doctrines about Heaven and Hell.  The story is set in the afterlife, but it's really about the human effort to understand good and bad through human reason and experience as expressed in moral philosophy.

At the very least, one can say that this is an anti-Christian show, in the sense that it never considers the fundamental Christian doctrine that human beings are so depraved that they can never earn salvation, and that salvation requires redemption by the grace of God.  And more specifically, the show never considers the Calvinist doctrine of predestination--that one's reward or punishment in the afterlife is predetermined by God's arbitrary choice without regard for one's desert.

There might seem to an appeal to religious faith in Episode 9 of Season 2, which is entitled "Leap to Faith."  But even here the reference to Kierkegaard is only a cue from Michael to have a leap of faith in him.

Moreover, there is some suggestion in the show that Todd May might be right when he argues in some of his writing that the meaning of life depends upon accepting death, and that life without death in some afterlife would not be worth living.  (A few of my posts on this thought can be found herehere, here, here, and here.)

Most of the philosophical moral dilemmas explored in "The Good Place" have been the subject of various posts.  For example, I have written on the Trolley Problem (here and here), and that comes up in the Episode 6 of Season 2.

This TV show is also noteworthy in another way: it shows how popular culture in a liberal social order can promote some moral and intellectual depth in an entertaining way.

I will say more about May and about this show in some future posts.


Monday, December 24, 2018

Locke's Open Borders Immigration Policy as Cultural Group Selection

The Human Freedom Index explains the global patterns of migration:  people in countries with a low freedom ranking want to leave and migrate to countries with a high freedom ranking.  Syria is at the absolute bottom of the Human Freedom Index for 2018--the least free of the 162 countries ranked--and much of the migration out of the Middle East in recent years has been from Syria, as these migrants have tried to reach the countries in Europe and North America that rank high for freedom.  People in the countries in Central America ranking low in freedom--Honduras (92th), Guatemala (66th), and Mexico (75th)--want to enter the United States (17th) or Canada (5th).  As far as I know, there aren't a lot of Honduran migrants trying to cross the border into Venezuela, which ranks at 161 of the HFI, just above Syria.

As a consequence of this migration towards freedom, there is a stunning correlation between a country ranking high on the HFI and the country having a high proportion of its population being either immigrants or native-born offspring of immigrants.  For New Zealand--the number one country on the HFI--the proportion is almost half!  For Switzerland--the number two country--the proportion is 45%.  For Canada, it's 38%.  For the U.S., it's 25%.

While travelling around New Zealand last summer, I was amazed by how many of the New Zealanders I met were immigrants or children of immigrants.  Some of them told me that they had wanted to immigrate to the United States, but when they found the barriers to immigration too high, they chose New Zealand instead.  They were puzzled as to why America was closing its borders to immigration.  But many of them had decided that New Zealand was a better choice for them after all, because it offered more freedom to live their lives as they wished.

What we see here is what evolutionary scientists call cultural group selection through migration and assimilation, in which countries with cultural traditions of freedom have higher fitness than countries that are less free.  John Locke understood this, which is why he argued that free societies benefited from having open borders, so that they could attract migrants from less free societies.  The freer societies with a growing population of productive and inventive people become the more prosperous societies.  While countries like New Zealand have adopted the Lockean liberal immigration policy, the United States under the rule of Trump the Nationalist is raising barriers to immigration, which means that if the United States continues to move away from Lockean liberalism, it will become a loser in this evolutionary process of cultural group selection, in which people vote with their feet in favor of freedom.


IMMIGRATION IN LOCKE'S "GREAT ART OF GOVERNMENT"

In his chapter on property in the Second Treatise, Locke claims that the great source of useful commodities for human life is human labor and industry.  "Unassisted nature" gives us acorns, water, and skins, while human labor gives us bread, wine, and cloth for our food, drink, and clothing.  Land left wholly to nature has little value for us until it has been improved by the human labor of pasturage, tilling, or planting.  Locke then writes:
"This shews, how much numbers of men are to be preferred to largenesse of dominions, and that the increase of lands [hands?] and the right imploying of them is the great art of government.  And that Prince who shall be so wise and godlike as by established laws of liberty to secure protection and incouragement to the honest industry of Mankind against the oppression of power and narrownesse of Party will quickly be too hard for his neighbours" (sec. 42).
Christ's College Cambridge has a copy of the 1698 edition of Locke's Two Treatises with Locke's handwritten annotations, although some scholars doubt that this is Locke's own handwriting.  This book is now available online.  If you look at sec. 42, page 197, you will see that the passage quoted above was written into the margin.  So it's likely that Locke made this addition to his text sometime after 1698, while Locke was working at the Board of Trade.  At this time King William III's government was in conflict with France, and Locke was recommending (in his economic writings of the time) that increased population was a better source of power than expanded territory.

The reference to a "godlike" Prince seems oddly contrary to Locke's rejection of divine right of kings, but his meaning is clarified by passages in the First Treatise (secs. 33, 41), where God's command to Noah and his sons in Genesis 9:1 to "be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the Earth" is identified by Locke as "the great design of God."  This supports Locke's policy for increasing population and his argument that one of the bad effects of absolute monarchy, as in France, is declining population.

As Brian Smith (2018) has indicated in an insightful article, the reference in this passage to "increase of lands" seems to be better understood as "increase of hands."  He shows that this is supported by what Locke says about the benefits of increasing population in some of his other essays.   In his "Essay on Toleration" (1667), Locke argued that toleration increased immigration, which increased population and commerce.  "As to promoting the welfare of the kingdom which consists in riches and power, to this most immediately conduces the number and industry of your subjects" (Locke 2010, 122).  This became evident in 1685, when King Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, which had granted some toleration of Calvinist Protestants in Catholic France in 1598.  This created an exodus of French Protestants, also called Huguenots, who were forced to migrate to England and elsewhere.

In his essay on "Trade" (1674), Locke asserted: "Power consists in numbers of men, and the ability to maintain them.  Trade conduces to both of these by increasing your stock and your people, and they each other" (Locke 1997, 222).

Locke's most important writing on his liberal policy for what he called the "easy naturalization" of immigrants is his essay "For a General Naturalization," which is dated around 1693, although it was not published until about 30 years ago, in an article by David Resnick (1987).  In response to the large influx of immigrants to England at the end of the 17th century, including the French Huguenots, there were several "general naturalization" bills introduced into Parliament.  The bill introduced in 1693 was most famous because of the speech by Sir John Knight attacking it.  Knight's published speech was so vehement that it was condemned by Parliament as libelous, and Parliament ordered that it be burned in public by the common hangman.

Knight complained that immigrants would compete with native English laborers for jobs, which would lower their wages and drive them into starvation, and this would provoke outrage from the English people.  He also warned that foreigners could not be loyal English citizens.  Other critics argued that any general naturalization law would be a threat to the ethnic identity of the English race, because they would intermarry with native English people, which would lead to the extinction of the English race.

"For a General Naturalization" was probably written in support of the general naturalization bill of 1693.  "Naturalization is the shortest and easiest way of increasing your people," Locke declared at the beginning of the essay. Increasing population is important, he explained, because "people are the strength of any country or government," and it's "the number of people that make the riches of any country" (Locke 1997, 322).

He thought that this was illustrated by the difference between Holland and Spain:
"The latter having all the advantages of situation and the yearly afflux of wealth out of its own dominions [the silver imports from Spanish America], yet is for want of hands the poorest country in Europe.  The other [is] ill situate[d] but being crammed with people [is] abounding in riches . . . And I ask whether England if half its people should be taken away would not portionably decay in its strength and riches notwithstanding the advantages it has in its situation, ports, and the temper of its people" (Locke 1997, 322-23).
So, despite Spain's extensive colonial land holdings in the New World, Spanish tyranny creates a "want of hands" that make Spain poor.  Holland is "crammed with people," because it is a free and tolerant country that attracts immigrants from Spain and other countries that are less free and tolerant.  Even Locke had to escape to Holland to avoid arrest for treason in England. And Holland's vigorous trade and commerce make it prosperous.  In "For a General Naturalization," Locke writes: "The riches of the world do not lie in formerly having large tracts of land, which supplied abundantly the native convenience of eating and drinking [such] as plenty of corn and large flocks and herds.  But in trade, which brings money and with that all things" (Locke 1997, 323).

In this short essay of no more than four pages, the word "hands" appears 8 times, which sustains Brian Smith's claim that in the "art of government" passage of the Second Treatise, the "increase of lands" phrase must really mean "increase of hands."  Moreover, in this essay, Locke indicated that "hands" are needed not just for agricultural work but even more for the manufacture of commodities and for the carriage and navigation necessary for trade.

In this essay, Locke answers four objections to his recommended policy for general naturalization and open borders.  The first objection is that "we shall not have artisans come over to be naturalized but idle people" (1997, 324).  Locke answers by pointing out that no one can migrate to another country with the expectation that they will live upon other people's labor.  If there are laws for maintaining the poor, they do not have to be open to foreigners.  And if these laws for maintaining the poor do encourage immigrants to be idle, that is a mistake in the laws: "If by poor are meant such as want relief and being idle themselves live upon the labour of others; if there be any such poor amongst us already who are able to work and do not, 'tis a shame to the government and a fault in our constitution and ought to be remedied" (1997, 326).

A second objection is that we have too many people already.  But no one can say that who sees that Holland has twice the population of England, and Holland is rich.  Moreover, if a country is already so full of people that artisans and laborers cannot live better there than in their home countries, one need not fear their migration, because people will not move to another country to be worse off.  Immigration, therefore, is self-regulating, because people have no personal incentive to migrate to countries that already have too many people.

A third objection is "that they eat the bread out of our own people's mouths."  But this is "no further true than it is a confession that they work cheaper or better, for nobody will leave his neighbor to use a foreigner but for one of those reasons, and can that be counted an inconvenience which will bring down the unreasonable rates of your own people or force them to work better?  Want of people raises their price and makes them both dear and careless." (1997, 325).  So, again, immigration is self-regulating in that immigrants will be attracted to countries with a high demand for labor manifest in high wages, and if immigration drives wages down, then immigration will stop.  Even Donald Trump employs illegal immigrants at his golf court resorts because he cannot find native Americans to fill the jobs.

A fourth objection implicitly acknowledged in Locke's essay is that immigrants will not be assimilated into English society.  Once immigrants are naturalized, Locke answers,
"they are then in interest as much our own people as any.  The only odds is their language, which will be cured too in their children, and they be as perfect Englishmen as those that have been here ever since William the Conqueror's days and came over with him.  For 'tis hardly to be doubted but that most of even our ancestors were foreigners" (1997, 325).
So if immigrants do not speak English, that will impede their assimilation into English culture, but their children will speak English, and thus become "perfect Englishmen."  After all, most Englishmen are descended from foreign ancestors.


IMMIGRATION AS CULTURAL GROUP SELECTION FOR LOCKEAN LIBERALISM

Within the past 25 years, evolutionary theorists--such as Robert Boyd and Peter Richerson--have seen that Locke was right about immigration, and that cultural group selection (CGS) working through selective migration and assimilation has favored the spread of Lockean liberal culture around the world (Boyd & Richerson 2009; Richerson & Boyd 2008).  This confirms what I have argued in various posts about the evolutionary history of Lockean liberalism as symbolic niche construction (herehere, and here).

This is the evolutionary explanation for what Francis Fukuyama famously called "the end of history."  Lockean liberalism so fully satisfies the natural desires of evolved human nature that all illiberal social orders must fail in the long run to attract adherents.  One good indication of this is that even those recent critics of liberalism like Patrick Deneen and Rod Dreher actually turn out to implicitly endorse the liberalism of open societies.  I have written about this herehere, and here.

Boyd and Richerson conclude: "Human migration is nonrandom.  In small-scale societies of the past, and in the modern world, people tend to move to wealthier, safer, and more must societies from poorer, more violent, less just societies.  If immigrants are assimilated, such nonrandom migration can increase the occurrence of culturally transmitted beliefs, values, and institutions that cause societies to be attractive to immigrants" (2009, 331).  Contrary to what Friedrich Hayek said about modern open societies having to repress the tribal instincts shaped in our prehistoric past, Richerson and Boyd see that "the free enterprise societies' combination of individual autonomy, wealth, and welfare bear a strong resemblance to the prefcrences that are rooted in our ancient and tribal social instincts" (2008, 134).

If so, then Spinoza was right about a liberal capitalist democracy being the best form of social order, because it best approximates the freedom that human beings enjoyed in the evolutionary state of nature of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.  (I have written about this here and here.)

As suggested by both Locke and Boyd and Richerson, the success of cultural group selection through immigration depends on immigrants becoming assimilated into their new national cultures.  Recently, some commentators have worried that immigrants today no longer assimilate as well as earlier generations of immigrants.  But a lot of research has shown that while assimilation is never perfect, it does happen over time.  Through ethnic attrition, immigrants intermarry, and the children of these intermarriages become ever more assimilated into the new culture.  Moreover, as Locke indicated, even if the first immigrants speak a foreign language, the children of immigrants easily learn the language of their new country.  Much of this research on the assimilation of immigrants has been surveyed by Alex Nowrasteh.

In a liberal open society, the assimilation of immigrants does not require the obliteration of the communal identity of immigrants.  After all, one of the primary reasons why people immigrate to free and tolerant societies is so that they can live in their distinctive moral and religious communities without persecution.  The immigration of groups like the Anabaptists and the Chaldeans to the United States illustrate this.  I have written about the Chaldeans here.


REFERENCES

Boyd, Robert, and Peter J. Peterson. 2009. "Voting With Your Feet: Payoff Biased Migration and the Evolution of Group Beneficial Behavior." Journal of Theoretical Biology 257: 331-39.

Locke, John. 1997. Political Essays. Ed. Mark Goldie. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Locke, John. 2010. A Letter Concerning Toleration and Other Writings. Ed. Mark Goldie. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.

Resnick, David. 1987. "John Locke and the Problem of Naturalization." Review of Politics 49: 368-88.

Richerson, Peter J., and Robert Boyd. 2008. "The Evolution of Free Enterprise Values." In Paul J. Zak, ed., Moral Markets: The Critical Role of Values in the Economy, 107-41.

Smith, Brian. 2018. "Hands, Not Lands: John Locke, Immigration, and the 'Great Art of Government,'"  History of Political Thought 39: 465-90.



Friday, December 21, 2018

The Moral Science of the Winter Solstice

                                                The Winter Solstice Sunset at Stonehenge

Today is the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere and the summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere.  The winter solstice is the day with the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year.  This occurs when one of the Earth's poles has its maximum tilt from the Sun.

Around the world there are religious rituals associated with the winter solstice.  The pagan Scandinavian and Germanic people of northern Europe celebrated a midwinter holiday called Yule.  Many Christmas traditions--such as the Christmas tree, the Christmas wreath, and the Yule log--arose from the Yule customs.  These religious rites sacralize the importance of the Sun as the source of life.

The modern cosmological and biological sciences recognize and explain the truth of this.  All of life on Earth including human life depends on the energy of the Sun as captured through photosynthesis on Earth.  If the Earth were not revolving around the Sun at just the right distance, and if the physical and chemical conditions on Earth did not permit photosynthesis, life as we know it would be impossible.

This also teaches us that for billions of years in the past, there was no life.  And for billions of years in the future, once photosynthesis has shut down, and the Sun has faded, there will be no life in the cosmos.

There is a moral teaching here--that the human good has no eternal cosmic support, because the human good arises from the momentary conditions of human life, which cannot exist forever.  The cosmos does not care for or about us.

This is what Leo Strauss identified as "the most terrible truth" of evolutionary science in Lucretius.

Some of these ideas have been developed in posts herehere, and here.

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Human Freedom Index 2018: Progress or Decline in Lockean/Hayekian Liberalism?

The fourth edition of the Human Freedom Index (HFI) has just been published.  It is written by Ian Vasquez and Tanja Porcnik, who are both associated with the Cato Institute, which is one of the three copublishers of the report. 

The report covers 162 countries for 2016, the most recent year for which sufficient data are available.  The index is derived from 79 distinct indicators--37 for personal freedom and 42 for economic freedom.  In my previous posts on the HFI (herehere, and here), I have explained how the index is compiled, and I have raised questions about its standards.  I have also used the index to show how it provides empirical evidence confirming the claim of classical liberalism for liberal orders as securing the freedom that favors human flourishing.  And thus it refutes those critics of liberalism (like Patrick Deneen, for example) who claim that liberalism has failed.

Following the conception of liberty adopted by John Locke and Friedrich Hayek, the HFI is a measurement of negative liberty--liberty as not being constrained or coerced by others, so long as one does not infringe on the same liberty of others.

The HFI ranks freedom on a scale from 0 to 10, where 10 represents the highest level of freedom.  There is a ranking for each of the 79 indicators, and then an overall ranking is compiled from these distinct rankings.  The 162 countries are then ranked from highest to lowest.

Here are the top 10 countries for human freedom, with two countries tied at 6th place, two tied at 8th place, and three tied at 10th place.  In parentheses, I give the rankings for personal freedom (PF) and economic freedom (EF).  The human freedom score is the average of the scores for personal freedom and economic freedom.

1.  New Zealand  (PF: 6, EF: 3)
2.  Switzerland (PF: 10, EF: 4)
3.  Hong Kong (PF: 32, EF: 1)
4.  Australia (PF: 11, EF: 10)
5.  Canada (PF: 12, EF: 10)
6.  Netherlands (PF: 1, EF: 18)
6.  Denmark (PF: 4, EF: 16)
8.  Ireland (PF: 21, EF: 5)
8.  United Kingdom (PF: 18, EF: 9)
10. Finland (PF: 5, EF: 22)
10. Norway (PF: 2, EF: 25)
10. Taiwan (PF: 15, EF: 12)

Other countries rank as follows: Germany (13), United States (17), Sweden (17), Singapore (25), France (32), Greece (61), Mexico (75), Argentina (107), Turkey (107), Russia (119).  The bottom 10 countries are: Iran (153), Burundi (154), Algeria (155), Egypt (156), Sudan (157), Libya (158), Iraq (159), Yemen (160),  Venezuela (161), and Syria (162).

The actual scores that determine these rankings are often very close.  Here are the scores for the top 3 countries: New Zealand (8.89), Switzerland (8.79), Hong Kong (8.78).

In the previous two reports, New Zealand was 3rd.  Hong Kong was 1st in the 2016 report and then fell to 2nd in the 2017 report.  Switzerland was 2nd in the 2016 report and then 1st in the 2017 report.

In the 2017 report, Vasquez and Porcnik indicated for the first time that the scores for freedom had fallen since 2008.  This might be seen as suggesting that the global progress towards freedom has slowed or even reversed, perhaps as a result of a new movement towards illiberal authoritarianism and populism.  

But as I have indicated in my previous posts on this, the decline in the scores that they report are so slight as to be hardly noticeable.  In fact, in the 2016 report, Vasquez and Porcnik said that the average human freedom rating had remained "about the same" since 2008.  What they now call a "slight decrease" looks like "about the same" to me.  In the new 2018 report, they say that the average human freedom rating for 162 countries in 2016 was 6.89, which is 0.01 less than it was in 2015.  Since 2008, the average score has decreased by 0.06.  That doesn't look like much of a decrease to me.

Even if this is a decrease in global freedom, it only shows what Marian Tupy has called "the jagged arc of human progress."  Looking over human history, and particularly the last 250 years, the empirical evidence for human progress towards ever greater freedom and the expansion of liberal social orders is clear.  Prior to 1800, there few examples of liberal regimes.  But since 1800, the increase in liberal values around the world has been stunning.  Still, however, this progress in Liberal Enlightenment is not linear, but jagged.  The progress can be slowed or even reversed for a period.  The rise of communism, fascism, and Nazism between the two world wars is a dramatic illustration of this.  The recent rise of populist authoritarianism might be another illustration, although, as I have argued in some other posts, there is lots of evidence that the enthusiasm for such illiberal movements is already in decline.  We are seeing that now in the United States with the growing unpopularity of Trump's message, as indicated in the recent midterm elections, which show the signs of a political realignment that could destroy Trump's Republican Party.  (In November and December of 2016, I wrote a series of posts on the evidence for human progress through the Liberal Enlightenment.)

When Vasquez and Porcnik say that the average human freedom score--on a scale from 0 to 10--has declined by 0.01 in one year, what does that mean?  In my previous posts on the HFI, one of the questions I have raised concerns the problem of personal judgment in assigning a number for each indicator of freedom and in weighing the various indicators to create an overall score.

For example, if you look at the "Structure of the Human Freedom Index" in the 2018 report (p. 17), you will see that one category for personal freedom is "Identity and Relationships," which includes four variables--legal gender, parental rights, same-sex relationships, and divorce.  Using what they consider authoritative sources of data, Vasquez and Porcnik have assigned scores for each of these four variables.  They then average these four scores to get a score for "Identity and Relationships."  This score is then averaged with the scores for four other categories of variables--movement, religion, association/assembly/civil society, and expression/information.  This is the average for "specific personal freedoms," which is then averaged with the score for "legal protection and security" to reach the overall average score for "personal freedom."

If you compare the 2018 report with the previous reports, you will notice that "legal gender" was added as a new variable for the first time in the 2017 report.  So you might wonder how the addition of this new variable has influenced the scores for "personal freedom."  You might also wonder why "legal gender" is given the same weight as "parental rights," "same-sex relationships," and "divorce."  Is the freedom of transgender people to choose their gender identity exactly equal in value to the freedom of parents to be the legal guardians of their children?  Apparently, this has been determined by the personal judgment of Vasquez and Porcnik, although they give no justification for this.  They offer two sentences of explanation: "One of the most personal decisions individuals can make regards their sexual and gender identity.  Legal gender measures the degree to which people are free to legally change their sex and gender" (21).

I can agree with this, because I include "sexual identity" in my list of 20 natural desires (in Darwinian Natural Right and Darwinian Conservatism).  But I don't try to weigh the value of that desire against the other desires--such as "parental care," for example.  I argue that the ranking of those 20 natural desires is a matter for the judgment of each individual, and individuals will necessarily differ in their rankings.  Vasquez and Porcnik don't explain why the freedom to satisfy one desire should have exactly equal value to the freedom to satisfy every other desire.

They also don't explain why they assign the exact numbers that they do for the "legal gender" variable.  In explaining this variable, they write: "The component is based on the measures for sex/gender marker change, upon which rating intervals were constructed.  Countries with more restrictions and requirements for sex/gender marker change received lower ratings.  A ration of 10 was assigned to countries with no requirements for sex/gender marker change.  A rating of 7 was assigned to countries with prohibitive medical requirements, including hormonal treatment, sterilization, and genital surgery.  A rating of 0 is assigned to countries without a possibility for sex/gender marker change."  

As their source for data, they identify "Z. Chiam et al., Trans Legal Mapping Report 2016: Recognition before the Law (Geneva: International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, 2016); Human Rights Watch, Country Profiles: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity." 

Why do they give a rating of 7 to "countries with prohibitive medical requirements" for gender identity changes?  Why not 6 or 8?  Is this just an arbitrary choice?  If so, then their overall numbers for "personal freedom" are based to some degree on such arbitrary choices.

In their 2016 report, many countries--including the United States, New Zealand, and Turkey--received a score of 10 (the highest level of freedom) for the "Relationships" category.  In their 2018 report, the score for this category for these three countries dropped to 9.3.  Why?  The scores for "parental rights," "same-sex relationships," and "divorce" were still set at 10.  But the scores for the new variable "legal gender" were 7.  So the scores for personal freedom for these and similar countries dropped only because Vasquez and Porcnik had added a new variable in the 2017 and 2018 reports that was not there in the previous two reports.  Is it possible that the overall decrease in the freedom ratings that they report arose from such arbitrary changes in their list of variables?

Moreover, Vasquez and Porcnik don't alert their readers to the obscurity in their data.  In the United States, for example, the data for "legal gender" is unclear, because the legality of changing one's gender identity is variable across the 50 states.  Some states are very restrictive, and some are not.  The Trans Legal Mapping Report states that for changing one's gender on a birth certificate, "Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio, and South Carolina have unclear or unwritten policies."  For changing one's gender on a driver's license, "four states (Arkansas, Mississippi, North and South Carolina) have unclear, unwritten, or unknown policies."  Apparently, Vasquez and Porcnik have assigned a score of 7 to the United States because most but not all states have placed some restrictions on legally changing gender identity. 

The data for "legal gender" is also unclear for New Zealand.  The Trans Legal Mapping Report says that for changing gender identity on birth certificates in New Zealand, "trans people are still required to prove they have medically transitioned."  But to change a passport, "trans New Zealanders can self-declare their gender, and choose from three gender options."   

Vasquez and Porcnik don't mention these problems in interpreting the data.  And it's likely that there are similar problems with the data for other variables.

As I have already suggested, I do agree that sex or gender identity is a natural desire that should be a matter of individual freedom.  I have written about freedom for transgender and intersex people in some posts here,  here, and here

Darwinian liberalism offers the best way to handle the moral and legal issues of sexual identity.  We can recognize that by nature most human beings will be born as clearly male or female, and that sexual identity will be nurtured through parental care and cultural traditions.  But we can also recognize that a few human beings will be born sexually ambiguous, and in this case, we will have to rely on parental judgment and civil society to decide the best assignment of sexual identity.  The final standard will be what is most satisfying for children as they grow up and reach the age when they can decide for themselves whether their parents have made the right decision, or whether they want to change their sexual identity.  The continuing debate over the treatment of intersex people illustrates how the spontaneous order of civil society generates moral standards of the human good shaped by human nature, human culture, and human judgment. 

Friday, December 14, 2018

Flies Are Cultural Conformists in Their Sexual Preferences: The Biology of Cultural and Biographical History

                                     Fruitflies Show Social Learning of Mating Preferences


In his biological writings, Aristotle identified human beings as by nature political animals, and he compared them with other political animals such as ants, bees, wasps, and cranes.  Thomas Hobbes denied this by insisting that Aristotle failed to see the radical separation between animal societies as founded on natural instinct and human societies as founded on social learning.  Human beings cannot be political animals by nature, Hobbes explained, because "man is made fit for society not by nature but by education" (De Cive, ch. 1).  Hobbes thus supported the modern notion of culture as the uniquely human realm of social learning through which human beings express their rational humanity by transcending their natural animality.

Unlike Hobbes, Aristotle  saw no unbridgeable gulf between animal instinct and human learning.  In his biological research, he observed that almost all animals have some natural instincts for social learning, and some are intelligent enough to live as social and political animals.  What distinguishes human beings is that they are more political than other political animals because of the human capacities for language, conceptual abstraction, and shared intentionality that allow human beings to organize their collective life around shared symbolic norms of authority and justice.

Over the past two hundred years, it has been common for scholars to assume that Hobbes was right in claiming that human beings are unique in being the only cultural animals, and therefore that the "human sciences" (Geisteswissenschaften) as the study of cultural history must be separated from the "natural sciences" (Naturwissenschaften) as the study of natural phenomena.  If this is so, then the evolutionary biology of human nature has no application to human social and political life.

But over the past fifty years, evolutionary scientists have gathered ever increasing evidence--from both observational and experimental studies of animal behavior--that many animal species show social learning and cultural traditions, and therefore Aristotle was right.


CULTURAL FLIES

Recently, for example, researchers have shown that even fruitflies are cultural animals (Danchin et al. 2018; Whiten 2018).  Female fruitflies tend to conform to the mating preferences they observe in other females, which generates cultural traditions that are passed on to others through social learning.  The researchers placed virgin female fruitflies in a hexagonal chamber, surrounded by six compartments in each of which they could see a female fly mating with a male dusted by either pink or green coloring, with another male of the alternative color standing nearby.  Some females saw that all six of the mating males were pink.  Others saw that all were green.  Others saw different proportions of pink versus green males mating.

Two Females Watch a Copulating Green Male, While a Pink Male Is Rejected


It was observed that the virgin females who had seen a majority of females mating with pink males preferred to mate with pink males; and similarly those who had seen most females mating with green males preferred to mate with green males.  Moreover, this mating preference was passed on to later generations of females as a culturally inherited tradition.

So now fruitflies are added to a long and growing list of animals identified by scientists today as showing cultural behavior.  The list includes many mammalian, avian, fish, and insect species (Galef and Whiten 2017; Whiten et al. 2017).  Actually, however, this is only a rediscovery of what Aristotle reported long ago in his biological writings.


GENE-CULTURE COEVOLUTION

The advance beyond Aristotle has been in developing an evolutionary science of animal culture based on Charles Darwin's theory.  Darwin understood that his principles of organic evolution--variation, selection, and inheritance--could be applied to cultural evolution, such as the cultural evolution of languages (Mesoudi, Whiten, and Laland 2004).  Darwin did not understand, however, the genetic mechanisms of organic evolution.  With their modern understanding of genetics, evolutionary scientists today see genes and culture as two distinct forms of evolutionary inheritance.  Some evolutionary theorists argue that there are really four dimensions of evolution: genetic inheritance, epigenetic inheritance, behavioral inheritance, and symbolic inheritance (Jablonka and Lamb 2014).

Evolutionary science needs to explain the complex interaction of these systems of inheritance.  This is hard to do, as indicated by the recent work on gene-culture coevolution.  It's hard to define and identity the units of culture.  Richard Dawkins suggested that we might speak of cultural "memes" as analogous to organic "genes," but there is little agreement as to what should count as memes.

It's also hard to discern the connections between genes and memes, because little is known about how exactly genes influence behavior, or how exactly behavior might influence gene expression and transmission.

There are only a few examples of well-understood gene-culture coevolution.  One of the most famous cases is the evolution of lactase persistence.  The production of the enzyme lactase in the gut is necessary for the digestion of the milk sugar lactose.  This enzyme is produced in human infants so that they can digest the lactose in their mother's milk.  But in most human adults, the production of lactase is shut down, and so they suffer severe indigestion from the consumption of milk.  And yet lactase persistence--the production of lactase in adulthood--is common among those human beings with a northern and western European ancestry and those from some pastoralist groups in Africa, the Middle East, and southern Asia.  The likely explanation for this is that lactase persistence evolved among dairying farmers around 7,500 years ago as a genetic adaptation to dairying culture (Itan et al. 2009).  Geneticists have identified a particular genetic variation that supports lactase persistence, and they can see that this genetic variation correlates with the cultural evolution of dairying.  So here is a clear case of where a cultural tradition created an environment that favored genetic change that would be adaptive.

It's unfortunate that Darwin did not understand this, because the mysterious intestinal illness from which he suffered throughout his life was probably a result of his being lactose intolerant.  Medical researchers studying Darwin's records of his illness have noticed that it always arose a few hours after eating dairy foods (Campbell and Matthews 2005).  All of his symptoms--vomiting, gut pain, headaches, tiredness, and depression--match the effects of lactose intolerance.

There are very few studies of nonhuman animal culture that can show this same clarity in the mechanism of gene-culture evolution.  One case that comes close is the study of animal culture among the killer whales or orcas.  Orcas stretch from the Arctic to the Antarctic, and they diets range over birds, fish, mammals, and reptiles.  But as individuals, they belong to groups with different specialized diets and hunting traditions that are passed down over generations.  These groups also show variations in their cultural traditions for vocal displays, habitat use, play, and migration routes.  Some of the scientists studying them have seen stable genetic variation in each group that correlates with their cultural traditions, which suggests gene-culture coevolution (Foote et al. 2016; Whitehead 2017).


BIOLOGY INCLUDES CULTURAL HISTORY AND BIOGRAPHICAL HISTORY

Notice how this recognition of animal culture expands the range of biology to include cultural history and biographical history.  The biological study of animal behavior must go beyond the natural history of a species--the universal species-specific patterns of behavior--to include the distinctive cultural history of each group of animals.

Moreover, the study of animal culture shows that cultural traditions originate from innovations initiated by particular individuals that have been so successful that they have been passed on by social learning to other individuals and to subsequent generations.  Consequently, the study of animal behavior must include the study of the individual personalities of the animals responsible for cultural innovations.  For example, scientists have observed that among wild capuchin monkeys some individuals are better than others at social invention and innovation (Perry et al. 2017).  In fact, most of the detailed histories of particular animal groups--such as Jane Goodall's The Chimpanzees of Gombe--include biographical histories of the individual animals that have shaped the history of the group.

This supports my argument that a biopolitical science would have to move through three levels of political history--the natural history of the species, the cultural history of the group, and the biographical history of prominent individuals in the group.

Some of these points are elaborated in other posts herehereherehereherehere, and here,


REFERENCES

Campbell, Anthony, and Stephanie B. Matthews. 2005. "Darwin's Illness Revealed." Postgraduate Medical Journal 81: 248-51.

Danchin, Etienne, et al. 2018. "Cultural Flies: Conformist Social Leaning in Fruitflies Predicts Long-Lasting Mate-Choice Traditions." Science 362: 1025-1030.

Foote, Andrew D. et al. 2016. "Genome-Culture Coevolution Promotes Rapid Divergence of Killer Whale Ecotypes." Nature Communications 7:11693.

Galef, Bennett G., and Andrew Whiten. 2017. "The Comparative Psychology of Social Learning." In Joseph Call, et al., eds., APA Handbook of Comparative Psychology, 411-439.  Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Itan, Yuval, et al. 2009. "The Origins of Lactase Persistence in Europe." PLoS Computational Biology 5 (8): e1000491.

Jablonka, Eva, and Marion Lamb. 2014. Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life. Revised ed. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Mesoudi, Alex, Andrew Whiten, and Kevin N. Laland. 2004. "Is Human Cultural Evolution Darwinian?  Evidence Reviewed From the Perspective of The Origin of Species."  Evolution 58 (1): 1-11.

Perry, Susan E., Brendan J. Barrett, and Irene Godoy. 2017. "Older, Sociable Capuchins (Cebus caucinus) Invent More Social Behaviors, But Younger Monkeys Innovate More in Other Contexts." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114 (30): 7806-7813.

Whitehead, Hal. 2017. "Gene-Culture Coevolution in Whales and Dolphins." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114 (30): 7814-7821.

Whiten, Andrew. 2018. "Culture and Conformity Shape Fruitfly Mating." Science 362: 998-1000.

Whiten, Andrew. et al. 2017. "The Extension of Biology Through Culture." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114 (30): 7775-7781.


Friday, December 07, 2018

Political Realignment in the 2018 Elections? The Declining Appeal of Trump's Authoritarian Populism, The Resurgence of Liberal Enlightenment

The 1st Congressional District of South Carolina, based in Charleston, has been held by Republicans since 1981.  Since 2013, it has been held by Mark Sanford.  But when he ran for reelection this year, he was defeated in the Republican primary by Katie Arrington, who had been endorsed by Donald Trump, who wanted to punish Sanford for criticizing him.  Trump bragged that this showed how any Republican who was not loyal to him would be defeated.  Arrington's campaign was based mostly on her being pro-Trump.  But she lost to Democrat Joe Cunningham.

Orange County in California has been known ever since the Reagan years as a conservative bastion for the Republican party.  Now, as a result of the 2018 elections, all of the congressional seats based in Orange County will be held by Democrats.

Across the country, as of now, the Democrats have gained 40 seats in the House of Representatives, which gives them control of the House.

Trump's supporters have tried to explain this as just the normal pattern in which the President's party loses seats in midterm elections.  But this ignores the fact that this is the biggest gain for the Democrats in a midterm election since they gained 48 seats in 1974, in the aftermath of Watergate and Nixon's resignation.  It also ignores the fact that the Democrats would have gained over 50 seats without Republican gerrymandering in states like Ohio and North Carolina.

What's going on here?  In the months leading up to the elections, Trump chose to push trade wars and anti-immigration as his signature issues that would mobilize his base to vote for Trump Republicans.  He sent military troops to the southern border to stop the "invasion" of America by a caravan of criminal and terrorist immigrants from Central America.  Consequently, Trump turned these elections into a referendum on his xenophobic authoritarian populism.  The defeat of so many Trump Republicans must be seen, therefore, as evidence that Trump's illiberal populism is not really that popular, and that we could be seeing the beginning of a political realignment in which Trump's Republican Party will be destroyed.

Consider, for example, the race for the 39th Congressional District in Orange County.  This was the second most expensive House race in the country, with $34.6 million in total campaign spending.  Gil Cisneros, a Hispanic American, defeated Young Kim, a Korean immigrant.  The 39th is one of the nation's most diverse congressional districts, where two-thirds of all residents are minorities, and one-fourth of the registered voters are foreign-born.  Repeatedly, Cisneros told foreign-born residents: "The Republican agenda is anti-immigration."  Kim was forced to try to separate herself from Trump's xenophobic rhetoric, but she failed.

Consider, also, the race for the 48th Congressional District in Orange County.  In one of the most solidly Republican districts in the country, Democrat Harley Rouda defeated Dana Rohrabacher, who has held this House seat for 30 years.  Rohrabacher campaigned as a staunch Trumpist with a hard-line anti-illegal immigration platform.  He accused Rouda of favoring open borders that would allow illegal immigrants to threaten the physical and economic security of Americans in Orange County.  This Trumpist rhetoric failed to sway the majority of the voters.

Pennsylvania is another dramatic case of anti-Trump voting.  Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016, the first time the Republican presidential nominee has won Pennsylvania since 1988.  But he won by less than 1% of the votes.  In the midterm elections, the Democrats flipped congressional seats long held by Republicans, because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had overturned the gerrymandered congressional map.  Moreover, the Republican losses were massive in scale.  GOP Rep. Lou Barletta tied himself closely to Trump in the Senate race, and yet Barletta lost by nearly 700,000 votes.  In the governor's race, it was even worse.  Republican Scott Wagner lost by more than 800,000 votes.  Trump cannot win reelection if he cannot carry Pennsylvania.

If Trump's Republicans cannot win in places like Charleston, South Carolina, Orange County, California, and Pennsylvania, they're in real trouble.  The only way the Republicans can save their party is to support the impeachment of Trump.

As I have indicated in some previous posts (herehere, and here), the electoral support for illiberal populists like Trump must decline over time, because of the enduring appeal of the libertarian values of the Liberal Enlightenment.  Trump supporters have been motivated by a cultural backlash: less educated older white rural voters cannot accept the Liberal Enlightenment humanism of the urban ethnically pluralist society favored by younger educated voters, but this cultural backlash can never win over a solid majority of the electorate.  The failure of Trump's rhetoric of trade wars and anti-immigration xenophobia in the 2018 elections illustrates this: most Americans believe that the global freedom of movement of goods and people across borders is generally beneficial for most of us, and they do not believe that the greatness of America depends on white ethnic nationalism.

The improvement in the human condition that has come from liberal open societies over the past 100 years is so evident that even those who think they are illiberal conservatives in the tradition of the Counter-Enlightenment are not really that illiberal.  I have argued that point with respect not only to American critics of liberalism like Patrick Deneen and Rod Dreher, but also French critics of liberalism like Marion Marechal-Le Pen.  If you look carefully at what they are saying, they all turn out to be liberal conservatives who reject the illiberal conservatism of those like Joseph de Maistre.