Friday, March 16, 2012

Arnhart and Biopolitics in Playboy Magazine

The March issue of Playboy has an article by Neal Gabler entitled "The Weird World of Biopolitics."  (If you decide to read the article, you will have to be very careful not to look at the dirty pictures!)

Gabler is best known as a film critic and the author of a series of books on the cultural history of Hollywood.  He's a man of the Left, and he's afraid that biopolitical research is showing that evolutionary nature favors conservatism over liberalism.

Here's the opening paragraph of his article:
Larry Arnhart has news for you, and depending on your politics, you may not like what he has to say.  Arnhart is a middle-aged, Texas-born, University of Chicago-educated political science professor at Northern Illinois University, and, his beard notwithstanding, a dyed-in-the-wool conservative whom many creationist conservatives nonetheless loathe, even though his message is effectively a death knell for liberalism.  That's because Arnhart believes that conservatism isn't just another political ideology.  As he sees it, conservatism is the expression of self-interested survival and self-perpetuation, which are also the two hallmarks of Darwinian evolution.  As such, he says, it is the political view most consistent with human nature, which gives it a kind of inevitability.  "It's generally going to prevail," Arnhart says.
Gabler then goes on to survey the research of John Hibbing, James Fowler, Chris Dawes, Peter Hatemi, and other political scientists studying the genetic and neurophysiological bases of political attitudes and behavior.  The general conclusion that he draws from all of this is the view he attributes to me--that conservatism will prevail over liberalism because conservatism is favored by Darwinian evolution.

Regrettably, he didn't quite get it right.  He has read some of my writing, and he interviewed me by telephone for about an hour.  It was clear in the interview that he wanted to identify me as claiming that conservatism was somehow inevitable for evolutionary reasons.  I tried to explain that this was not what I was saying:  to say that conservative thought (including traditionalist conservatism and classical liberalism) is compatible with evolutionary views of human nature is not the same as saying that conservatism is evolutionarily inevitable.

Another mistake evident in the above quotation is the claim that evolution favors the triumph of purely selfish behavior.  Far from saying this, I have often stressed the importance of the natural moral sense in any Darwinian account of human evolution.  Human behavior shows a complex interaction of self-interest and social cooperation, which can be explained as the product of an evolutionary history in which natural sociality has been favored. 

Maybe I should study the article more carefully.  But then how do I hide it from my wife?

1 comment:

Kent Guida said...

Glad to see you have made the big time, but why is it that no one can simply read your perfectly lucid writings and understand your thought? From this guy to the Zuckerts, there seems to be some obstacle to comprehension that no one has learned to overcome. Surely this is a rhetorical challenge that deserves some sutdy.