Thursday, July 30, 2020

Darwinian Conservatism, Darwinian Liberalism, and the Welfare State: A Reply to Govert Schuller

During my teaching career at Northern Illinois University, I was privileged to have many smart students who taught me a lot.  I designed my courses around three requirements: peer-response journal writing, class discussions, and a final argumentative essay.  For each week there was a reading assignment.  Each student had to bring to the first class each week a journal entry--two typed pages--on the reading for that week.  The journal entry would answer a series of questions.  What is the author saying?  Does the author present good evidence and arguments to support his position?  Or is there an alternative position that is more persuasive?  Each student would bring three copies of this journal entry--one for me and two for the two members of the student's journal group.  Then, at the second class meeting of the week, students would bring two one-page responses to the two journal entries they had received at the first class meeting.  In these responses, the students would express their points of agreement or disagreement with other students in their journal group.  This journal writing guaranteed that each student came to class prepared: they had not only read the assigned reading, but they had also thought about it in a critical way; and so they were ready to engage in a lively class discussion.

I never lectured for long periods.  Instead, I raised questions to stimulate class discussion.  And often my questions came from the students' journal writing.  The only requirement for the discussions was that the students had to support their positions with evidence and argumentation.  Occasionally, some of the assigned reading would be some writing of mine, and the students were free to disagree with me.  (This pedagogy of Socratic questioning is conveyed in my book Political Questions: Political Philosophy from Plato to Pinker.)

The final requirement for each of my courses was a paper that I called an "argumentative essay."  Each student would take up some controversial question that had come up in the readings or the class discussions.  The writer would have to develop at least three arguments supporting the author's answer to the question.  The writer would also have to state, and answer, at least two objections to the writer's position.

Typically, by the end of the semester, each student would have written at least 65 typed pages for the journals and the final paper.  Consequently, the students had a lot of practice in writing clearly and rigorously about some of the deepest questions in political science.

I was reminded of this this week when I saw that one of my former students--Govert Schuller--had just published two of his essays for me at his blog "Alpheus."  The first one--"Darwinian Conservatism and the Liberal Welfare State"--was written for my course on "Biopolitics and Human Nature" in the spring of 2013.  The second--"Nietzsche's Reluctant Acceptance of Liberal Democracy (and Later Rejection)"--was written for my seminar on "Nietzsche and Politics," also in the spring of 2013.

One of the readings for "Biopolitics and Human Nature" was my book Darwinian Conservatism: A Disputed Question.  In his paper, Schuller criticizes my argument in that book.  Darwinian biology supports conservatism, I argued, in five ways.  (1) It supports the conservative view of ordered liberty as rooted in natural desires, customary traditions, and prudential judgments.  (2)  It supports the conservative view of the moral sense as fundamental for the moral order of liberty.  (3)  It supports the conservative view of sexual differences, family life, and parental care as fundamental for the social order of liberty.  (4) It supports the conservative view of property as fundamental for the economic order of liberty.  (5) And it supports the conservative view of limited government as fundamental for the political order of liberty.

Schuller agrees with me that a good social order must conform to the natural desires of our evolved human nature, and that the utopian socialist and Marxist ideologies must be rejected insofar as they deny that evolved human nature.  And yet he makes three arguments to show that a Darwinian account of human nature does not necessarily support conservatism.

First, he claims that my criticism of utopian leftist thinking is a straw-man argument, because there are realistic leftist positions that are not utopian--particularly, the welfare-state liberalism of European social democracy, as manifested in countries like the Netherlands.

Second, he claims that I do not look at the comparative research that shows that welfare-state regimes like the Netherlands can satisfy the twenty natural desires.  Thus, I ignore the evidence that by many measurements of social health, the European social democracies rank higher than more conservative regimes like the United States.

Third, he disagrees with my suggestion that the ranking of the natural desires must be rightly left to the judgment of individuals, and so a social order cannot properly enforce a prescribed ranking.  On the contrary, he thinks that Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of human needs is a good ranking of our natural desires--starting with physiological needs and moving up to security needs, then social needs, and finally self-actualization.  Moreover, he asserts that the European social democracies do a good job of securing the basic biological needs (food, health, and shelter), while also securing the conditions for satisfying the other needs as well.  This is clearly seen, he thinks, in the Netherlands.

What Schuller does not see is that my Darwinian conservatism is a liberal conservatism that can embrace a liberal welfare state.  In previous posts, I have written (here) about Darwinian conservatism as a fusion of traditionalist conservatism (like that of Russell Kirk) and classical liberalism (like that of Friedrich Hayek).  Classical liberals like Hayek reject pure socialism and communism because these systems deny the individual liberty necessary for a free society.  But liberals like Hayek can endorse those welfare state policies that are compatible with individual liberty.  One can see this in the third part of Hayek's Constitution of Liberty, which is entitled "Freedom in the Welfare State."

As I have argued (here), the welfare state systems that one sees in the European social democracies are actually capitalist welfare states with private property and free markets.  And while these welfare state regimes do restrain individual liberty in many ways, they are largely free societies.  Schuller points to this in describing how the European welfare state secures the natural human desires: "A right to work and a minimum living wage would take care of the basic needs, including housing, and a non-corrupt government can provide safety, health insurance and affordable education.  At the same time there should be a maximum of freedom for people to pursue their social, romantic, vocational, economic, creative and spiritual needs."

When Eduard Bernstein, a leader of the German Social Democratic Party, first defended social welfare policies as "evolutionary socialism," he was criticized by the Marxists as a "revisionist."  Rosa Luxemburg complained that his so-called socialism was really a "variety of liberalism."

That she was right about this should be clear from looking at the Human Freedom Index--devised by the Cato Institute as an empirical measurement of liberty as defined by classical liberals like Hayek--and noticing that the European social democracies (including the Netherlands) rank high on that index.  As I have said in previous posts (here), this shows the human progress towards social orders that secure individual liberty

In my Nietzsche seminar, we read texts from the three periods of Nietzsche's writing--early (The Birth of Tragedy), middle (Human, All Too Human), and late (Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil).  We saw that Human, All Too Human differs from much of his earlier and later writing in two ways.  First, he embraces a Darwinian evolutionary science: "everything has evolved" (HATH, secs. 2-3).  And he shows a moderate acceptance of liberal democratic politics and institutions, while strongly rejecting socialism.

Schuller chose to write about this second point.  He rightly sees in Human, All Too Human a "qualified endorsement of liberal democracy" as "the least bad form of government."  And he also rightly sees Nietzsche turning away from this in his later writing:
"if such ideas like democracy and human rights are tossed, then he can 'overcome' his previous reluctant acceptance of liberal democracy and go all out with a cruel, self-assertive, self-legislating, 'value-creating' (BGE, 260) upper class and reduce the rest of mankind to the status of Untermensch to be exploited, which is fine because exploitation 'belongs to the essence of what lives, as a basic organic function; it is a consequence of the will to power, which is after all the will of life' (BGE, 259).  Here we can unfortunately see the foreshadows of a fascist ideology."
As I have indicated in a previous post (here), I believe that Nietzsche's Darwinian aristocratic liberalism in Human, All Too Human can be shown to be superior--morally, politically, and intellectually--to the Dionysian aristocratic radicalism of his later writings.  That is the best answer to the Nazi and fascist interpreters of Nietzsche (like Martin Heidegger).

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Mary Trump on Donald Trump: The Man and the Myth Created by Fred Trump

One of Donald Trump's favorite statements is "Nobody knows more about [fill in the blank] than me."

Trump receives a perfect score on a mental acuity test: "Person. Woman. Man. Camera, TV"  Amazing!  What a genius!  Joe Biden could never do that!

Mary Trump is Donald's niece--the daughter of Fred Trump, Jr., Donald's oldest sibling.  In her new book--Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man--she explains how Donald's father created his mental disorders and his myth of himself as the self-made successful businessman--who knows more about everything than anybody.  In doing that, she supports two of the themes in my past commentary on Trump--the biopolitical study of his personality and the Aristotelian study of his rhetorical myth.  This also illustrates the importance of understanding the individual history of political actors for biopolitical science.

In this one hour interview with George Stephanopoulos, Mary speaks about most of the main points in her book.

In a way, Mary's book is less about Donald Trump that it is about Fred Trump--his father.  Speaking from her knowledge of the Trump family and her knowledge as a psychologist with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, she says that Fred Trump was a "high-functioning sociopath" (24).  He had no real human feeling for anyone.  He was incapable of empathy.  He cared only about what was important to him--his real-estate business.  He was interested in other people only if they could help him in his business.

Fred did not think it was his job to care for young children.  He was not much interested in his two daughters--Maryanne and Elizabeth--because as women they were inferior.  He was more interested in his sons--Freddy, Donald, and Robert--but only if they could work in his business and show the "killer" personality necessary for business success.  He made all of his children uncomfortable with either expressing or confronting deep emotions, because he scorned this as showing weakness.  Being a "killer" meant being invulnerable.

Fred became a fan of Norman Vincent Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking, and he joined Peale's Marble Collegiate Church, although he rarely attended.  He had not read the book, but he liked the idea in the title--that the key to success was to always think positive.  Mary calls this his "toxic positivity"--the insistence that the best response to human suffering is to declare that everything's just great.  Fred's wife was sick for much of her life.  Because of her osteoporosis, her bones were so brittle that she often suffered excruciating pain from broken bones.  Whenever she was suffering, Fred would say something like "Everything's great.  Right. Toots?  You just have to think positive," and then he would leave her alone with her pain.  Mary repeats that line more than once.  It's even the last sentence of the book (93, 161, 211).

Fred hoped that his oldest son--Freddy (Mary's father)--would succeed in his business and carry on the Trump empire.  But when Freddy did not satisfy his expectations, he demeaned him as a failure.  Freddy enjoyed flying, and he became a pilot for TWA, but his father ridiculed this as an unimportant job.  Freddy was forced to quit that job because of his alcoholism.  His health suffered from the effects of his excessive drinking and smoking.  He died at the age of 42 in a hospital with no one from the family around him.  On the night that he died, Donald and Elizabeth went out to see a movie.

Once Freddy began to fall out of his father's favor, Donald saw the chance to take his place as the manager of the Trump businesses.  His father had built his empire of rental housing in Brooklyn, but he had never tried to enter the more glamorous real-estate world of Manhattan.  So when Donald began building projects in Manhattan, and became famous as a wildly successful builder in Manhattan in the early 1980s, this fulfilled his father's desire for recognition, although his father always told the news media that he had done little to help his son, and so Donald's success was all his own.

Until a few years ago, Mary herself believed this story of Donald as the self-made billionaire businessman with a genius for making deals.  But then one day in 2017, she answered the door at her house and met Susanne Craig, a reporter for the New York Times.  Craig told her that she was part of a team of reporters investigating the financial history of the Trump family.  When Fred Trump died in 1999, there was a long legal battle over the inheritance of his estate, because Mary and her brother had had their father's portion of the inheritance taken away from them.  They finally were forced to accept an unfair settlement based on false estimates of Trump's worth.  The New York Times reporters believed that the documents collected by Mary's lawyers could reveal the truth about Trump's financial history.  At first, Mary refused to cooperate.  Finally, she agreed, and she was able to deliver 19 banker's boxes of documents from her lawyer's office to the reporters.  This was crucial for the stunning revelations in the New York Times article published on October 2, 2018.

This was the longest article (almost 14,000 words) in the history of the New York Times, and it earned a Pulitzer Prize.  It showed that for decades, Fred Trump had been using shell companies to channel almost $1 billion to his children without having to pay gift taxes.  Donald has said that "my father never gave me much money."  This is a lie, because Donald at age 3 began receiving money from his father, and by the time he was 8 years old, he was a millionaire.  Donald received the equivalent of $413 million in today's dollars.  Moreover, his father bailed him out in all of his projects in Manhattan and Atlantic City when he could not pay his debts.  This showed that Trump was a failure in all of his business ventures, and it was only his father's money that hid the depth of his failures.

This supports Mary's claim in her book that Donald is utterly incompetent in doing anything other than shameless self-promotion of his myth of success.  As I have argued in a previous post, this refutes the rhetorical enthymeme that ran through his presidential campaign of 2016:

Major premise: Because of stupid politicians, America no longer wins; and America will not win again until a successful businessman who know how to win is elected president.

Minor premise: Donald Trump is unique in his business success and his prudence in knowing how to win, because he is a self-made multi-billionaire.

Conclusion: Therefore, Americans need to elect Trump president.

Even without the evidence from the 2018 New York Times article, one might have expected that voters in 2016 would have seen Trump's extraordinary record of 6 bankruptcies as exposing the falsity of his myth.  But the brazenness of his deceptive rhetoric was powerful enough to hide the truth.

As president, Donald has continued to lie about his intelligence and success despite the obvious evidence of his mental incompetence and failure.  Of course, his very success in lying so shamelessly testifies to his skill for rhetorical manipulation--the kind of skill that is often displayed by a narcissistic psychopath.

In previous posts, I have written about Trump's grandiose narcissism (here), about psychopaths (here and here), and about how how Trump's rhetorical success shows some of the techniques of "chimpanzee politics" (here).

Here are the diagnostic criteria for "Narcissistic Personality Disorder" in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders:
"A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
"1.  Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
"2.  Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
"3.  Believes that he or she is 'special' and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).
"4.  Requires excessive admiration.
"5.  Has a sense of entitlement (i.e., unreasonable expectations or especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations).
"6.  Is interpersonally exploitative (i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends).
"7.  Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
"8.  Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
"9.  Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes."
Mary says that Donald meets all nine criteria.  She also believes, however, that Donald is even more complicated in that he also satisfies the criteria for antisocial personality disorder (psychopathy), dependent personality disorder, some learning disabilities, and perhaps a self-induced sleep disorder (12-13).

But if he is so disordered, then how has he managed to survive and even succeed--to the point of becoming president of the United States?  Mary's answer is that he has been "essentially institutionalized" for most of his adult life.  First his father and then the people in government have sheltered him from the consequences of his disordered mind and behavior.  He has never had to live in the real world.

Mary's ultimate explanation is that Donald is the product of his father's abusive parenting:
"Nothing is ever good enough.  This is far beyond garden-variety narcissism; Donald is not simply weak, his ego is a fragile thing that must be bolstered every moment because he knows deep down that he is nothing of what he claims to be.  He knows that he has never been loved" (198).
"Though Donald's fundamental nature hasn't changed, since his inauguration the amount of stress he's under has changed dramatically.  It's not the stress of the job, because he isn't doing the job--unless watching TV and tweeting insults count.  It's the effort to keep the rest of us distracted from the fact that he knows nothing--about politics, civics, or simple human decency--that requires an enormous amount of work" (199).
"Every time you hear Donald talking about how something is the greatest, the best, the biggest, the most tremendous (the implication being that he made them so), you have to remember that the man speaking is still, in essential ways, the same little boy who is desperately worried that he, like his older brother, is inadequate and that he, too, will be destroyed for his inadequacy.  At a very deep level, his bragging and false bravado are not directed at the audience in front of him but at his audience of one: his long-dead father" (202).
"Donald withdraws to his comfort zones--Twitter, Fox News--casting blame from afar, protected by a figurative or literal bunker.  He rants about the weakness of others even as he demonstrates his own.  But he can never escape the fact that he is and always will be a terrified little boy" (210). 
In previous posts (here), I have argued that the bad character of a politician really does matter.  Conservative Republicans used to believe that, but now those who have embraced Trump no longer believe that.  There are some Republicans, however, who do believe that Trump's bad character--his lack of any moral or intellectual virtues--does matter.  Some of them are supporting the "Lincoln Project"--a group of leading Republicans who are sponsoring political ads recommending that Republicans should vote for Biden and against Trump--and against the Republican leaders who have enabled Trump.  For example, Jimmy Tosh is a wealthy lifelong Republican in Tennessee who has often contributed to Republican candidates, but now he is contributing to the Lincoln Project.  He was recently quoted as saying "I agree with 80% of the things he does.  I just cannot stand a liar."

Mary Trump's book supports this position by showing the depth of his bad character.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

What Jane Goodall Has Taught Us About Biopolitical History


Yesterday was the 60th anniversary of Jane Goodall's arrival at the Gombe Stream Preserve in Tanzania on July 14, 1960.  There she initiated the first long-term study of a wild chimpanzee group.  Remarkably, she was only 26 years old; and she did not even have a college degree. She supervised the work at Gombe until 1986.  Others have continued the work at Gombe up to the present.

By the early 1970s, the National Geographic Society had crafted Goodall into one of the celebrated scientists of the 20th century--mostly through its National Geographical TV documentaries.

I can now see that Goodall was crucial in teaching me that a biopolitical science of political animals (including humans and chimps) would have to move through three levels of evolutionary history in complex interaction: the genetic history of the species, the cultural history of the group, and the individual history of animals within the group.

In 1975, I read Edward O. Wilson's Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, which planted in my mind the idea of developing a biopolitical philosophy that would be both Aristotelian and Darwinian.  Then, in 1980, I read Kenneth Bock's Human Nature and History, which was one of the first critiques of Wilson's book.  Bock argued that the biological study of animal nature cannot explain human history, because "animals other than man do not have histories," and human history in its contingency and diversity shows a human freedom from nature that transcends human biology.  Human history can be studied by historians, but not by biologists.

I saw that Bock was taking the side of Thomas Hobbes against Aristotle, because Hobbes argued that Aristotle was wrong in declaring that human beings were political animals by nature, because while human politics was a product of uniquely human social learning and individual judgment, the politics of the political animals was determined by fixed instincts.  But I wondered whether Aristotle might be right in claiming in his biological works that the political life of nonhuman animals was shaped by their cultural learning and individual personalities, just like human politics.

In 1986, I read Goodall's Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behavior; and I was surprised to see that she took the side of Aristotle against Hobbes, because her book was a political history of the Gombe chimpanzees showing that they had distinctive cultural traditions and individual personalities.  She showed that the genetic nature of the species set the "patterns of behavior"--predictable general propensities found in every chimpanzee group, like dominance hierarchies.  But she could not predict the precise history of the "chimpanzees of Gombe," because of the historical contingences of the cultural traditions and individual personalities that made the chimpanzee group at Gombe unique.  If she was right, Bock was wrong: these Gombe chimps did have a history, and this history of animal culture and individuality would have to be part of any biological science of politics.

Also in 1986, I attended an international conference on chimpanzee studies in Chicago sponsored by the Chicago Academy of Sciences.  Goodall was there.  And one of the preeminent topics was the growing interest in chimpanzee culture.  The high point for me was sharing an elevator with Goodall!

In 1998, in Darwinian Natural Right: The Biological Ethics of Human Nature, I was able to defend Aristotle's account of political animals against the Hobbesian and Kantian claim that "culture" is the human transcendence of animal nature.  I could argue: "Like human beings and other primates, chimpanzees are cultural and historical animals."

In 2012, in my book chapter "Biopolitical Science," I gave a fuller account of the three-levelled analysis of biopolitical science--the unity of political universals, the diversity of political cultures, and the individuality of political judgments.  I worked through those three levels of biopolitical history as they are generally manifested in human politics and as they were particularly illustrated in Abraham Lincoln's decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

I argued that the individual personality of animals had to be included in any biopolitical science, because biologists now recognize that personality is part of animal psychology.  One of the most extensively studied models of human personality is the Five Factor Model that describes human personality differences across five domains--Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism (OCEAN).  Each domain corresponds to an axis running from high to low.  This same OCEAN model can be applied to the study of nonhuman animals.  And it has been shown that chimpanzee personalities display all five domains, just like human beings.

More recently, in some of my posts, I have argued that a Darwinian social psychology needs to understand the interaction of genetic history (the evolutionary psychology of Tooby and Cosmides), cultural history (the cultural group selection of Richerson, Boyd, and Henrich), and biographical history (the evolved personality and life history of self-interested individuals who are agents of cultural change acting through coercion or persuasion, as presented by Singh, Wrangham, and Glowacki).

Genetic history enables and constrains, but does not determine, cultural history.  Genetic history and cultural history jointly enable and constrain, but do not determine, biographical history.

It all began with Goodall's chimps.

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

Monday, July 06, 2020

Should the Jefferson Memorial Be Torn Down?

In today's New York Times, there is an article by Lucian Truscott IV, a descendant of Thomas Jefferson, who argues that the Jefferson Memorial in Washington should be taken down and replaced with a memorial for Harriet Tubman.  Although Jefferson deserves to be honored for declaring that "all men are created equal" and endowed with the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, he should be condemned for not doing more to abolish slavery and for his shameful taking of Sally Hemings, his slave, as his concubine, who bore him six children.  The best monument to Jefferson, Truscott says, is Monticello, which includes an exhibit of Sally Hemings's bedroom, so that visitors can be reminded of Jefferson's hypocrisy and deceitfulness.

I have written about the evidence for Jefferson having made Hemings his concubine.  I have also written about Jefferson's biological science of equality, race, and slavery.

I conclude from this that Jefferson really did make the best scientific argument for human equality and the injustice of slavery, but that he lacked the good moral character to resist the degrading effects of owning slaves.

In his original draft of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson recognized that slavery was ultimately a "cruel war against human nature itself."  And in the Notes on the State of Virginia, he warned that "the whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other," and he saw that "the man must be a prodigy who can retain his manners and morals undepraved by such circumstances" (Jefferson 1982, Query XVIII, p. 162).  Clearly, Jefferson was not such a prodigy.

Instead of taking down the Jefferson Memorial, wouldn't it provide great moral instruction to add a display at the Memorial explaining Jefferson's moral flaws as manifesting the degradation that Jefferson himself saw in the institution of slavery?  After all, Truscott agrees that Monticello is a properly instructive memorial to Jefferson precisely because of the Hemings display. 

If we are going to remove all of the public monuments for people who have any moral defects, then we will have no monuments at all.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

The 4th of July, Frederick Douglass, and the Neurobiology of Self-Ownership

On this 4th of July, it's good to be reminded of Frederick Douglass's speech in 1852 on "The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro."  One of its most moving passages reads:
"What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?  I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.  To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parades and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy--a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.  There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour."
Would Donald Trump scorn Douglass as one of those "far-left fascists" that he warned against last night at Mount Rushmore?

NPR has produced a video with some young descendants of Douglass reading a few passages from his speech.

This speech has a bitter tone of despair and protest like that of the Black Lives Matter movement today.  But there is also grounds for hope in this speech, because Douglass rebukes white America not for denying the principles of natural liberty and equality but for failing to live by those principles as stated in their Declaration of Independence.  That's why the American defenders of slavery had to reject the Declaration of Independence.

In this speech, Douglass also affirms the fundamental principle of his Lockean liberalism--natural self-ownership.  "Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? that he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared it."

In a previous post, I have argued that this principle is rooted in the Darwinian biology of human nature--in the neurobiology of self-ownership.

In 2018, I wrote a long series of posts (beginning here) on the Darwinian science of the Declaration of Independence.

By some estimates, the Black Lives Matter protests have become the largest protest movement in American history, with as many as 15 million to 25 million American people participating.  I have written (here) about non-violent resistance movements as expressions of the Lockean "executive power of the law of nature."

The Evolution of the Natural Desire for Friendship in Social Networks

                       A Short TED Talk by Nicholas Christakis on Friendship in Social Networks

         A Longer Version of the Lecture That Puts Social Networks Within Sociological Theory

My list of 20 natural human desires includes friendship.  As part of our evolved human nature, we generally desire friendship.  We seek social relationships of mutual affection and respect based on shared interests and cooperative endeavors with our friends.  Although we can be friends with our sexual partners and family members, our desire for friendship is a natural desire for a social bond of reciprocal attachment that differs from our natural desires for sexual matting or familial bonding.  We can have intense and enduring friendships with only a few people, because such friendships require shared experiences over a long period of life.

If the good is the desirable, then the 20 natural desires constitute a natural standard for judging the good society, which would include promoting the conditions for friendship.

I have written about the Darwinian evolution of the natural desire for friendship in previous posts.  I have argued that Aristotle's account of friendship (philia) is rooted in his biological science of social bonding among humans and other animals (herehere, and here).  For Aristotle, the friendship among philosophers is the highest form of friendship, and indeed the perfection of the moral and intellectual virtues.  This life of philosophic friendship could be lived in Athens, I have argued (here), because Athens was a relatively liberal commercial society that allowed philosophers to form voluntary associations devoted to the philosophic life.  Similarly, Adam Smith and David Hume could live a life of philosophic friendship because, I have argued (here and here), the modern commercial society of Scotland was liberal enough to allow such a life.

Critics of liberalism, like Patrick Deneen, have claimed that liberalism's radical individualism dissolves all the social connections of family life and friendship, and thus makes us desperately lonely.  But I have argued (here) that the modern liberal social order actually gives us the freedom to form social networks that satisfy our natural desires for social bonding and friendship.  Moreover, I have suggested (here and here) that Friedrich Hayek showed how liberal open societies allow us to live in two worlds of evolved social instincts--the small world of face-to-face personal relationships in families and groups of friends and the large world of impersonal market exchange.

Now, the work of Nicholas Christakis and his colleagues in studying the evolution of social networks of friends among humans and other animals can explain the biological science of all this.  Much of this research is surveyed in Christakis's recent book Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society (Little, Brown Spark, 2019).  Christakis is a physician and sociologist, who teaches at Yale University, where he runs a "Human Nature Lab."  Unlike most sociologists, he does not scorn biological explanations of human social behavior.  On the contrary, he contends that there is a biological blueprint for human nature that shapes human social life.

At the core of all societies, Christakis claims, is what he calls a social suite of natural desires and capacities:

(1)  The capacity to have and recognize individual identity
(2)  Love for partners and offspring
(3)  Friendship
(4)  Social networks
(5)  Cooperation
(6)  Preference for one's own group (that is, "in-group bias")
(7)  Mild hierarchy (that is, relative egalitarianism)
(8)  Social learning and teaching

This social suite overlaps with my list of 20 natural desires and with much of Stephen Sanderson's list of 14 natural human preferences, except that Sanderson does not include friendship on his list.  I have written about Sanderson's list in a series of posts that begins here.  Like Christakis, Sanderson is one of those rare sociologists who embraces the biological science of human nature.

What is distinctive about Christakis's research is his adoption of "social network analysis."  (Wikipedia has a good article on this.)

In a social network diagram, each person in a population (a family, a club, an organization, a village, a school, or even a whole country) is indicated by a circle or a node in the diagram, and every connection between any two people (two friends, two relatives, two co-workers) is indicated by a line or an edge.  Connections among people are determined by asking people questions that are called a name generator.  Who are your closest friends?  Who do you prefer to spend time with?  Who can you trust to discuss your personal problems with?  To whom would you give some valuable gift?

Or researchers could map social connections by observing individuals and recording who is near whom for how long.  One could also use email or online social-network data to identify social bonds.

This is not limited to humans.  One can do a social network analysis of non-human animals to determine their patterns of friendship based on an association index of two animals, which is based on the amount of time they spend together.  Studying chimpanzees and bonobos, for example, one can see that they have social networks of friendship similar to that of human beings (Christakis 2019, 208-216).  One can also see that these primates are status seeking animals--like human beings--in that the more popular individuals are friends with one another, while the less popular individuals are also friends with one another; and the more popular ones are at the center of the network.

The popular individuals in positions of leadership in primate groups act as a kind of social police in that they mediate disputes to keep the peace in the group.  If high-ranking individuals are taken out of the group by human researchers, conflict and aggression rise, and the group collapses into chaos.  This shows how natural selection favors a desire for what Christakis calls "mild hierarchy," in which group leaders at the center of social networks lessen conflict and promote peaceful connections between high-ranking and low-ranking individuals.  This confirms Aristotle's observations of friendship and leadership among social animals.

Christakis and his colleagues have shown that there are similar networks of friendship in human groups, including bands of hunter-gatherers.  Studying the Hadza, a population of hunter-gatherers in Tanzania, they found that the networks of friendship among these foragers resembled the networks of people in modern developed societies in five or more traits (Coren Apicella, Frank Marlowe, James Fowler, and Nicholas Christakis, "Social Networks and Cooperation in Hunter-Gatherers," Nature 481 [26 January 2012]: 497-501.)

First, the likelihood of a social tie decreased with increased geographic distance and increased with increases in genetic relatedness.

Second, the networks showed reciprocity, in that if one person named another person as a friend, that second person was likely to name the first person as a friend.

Third, the networks showed transitivity, in that two of a person's friends were likely in turn to be friends with one another.

Fourth, there was degree assortativity, in that popular people tended to befriend other popular people.

Fifth, there was homophily, in that similar people tended to befriend one another, so that friends are like to resemble one another in many of their physical and social traits.

Here is a YouTube video with Coren Apicella explaining this research.

If the Hadza are a good proxy for our prehistoric hunter-gatherer ancestors, then this suggests that the desire for networks of friends is a natural instinct shaped by natural selection in our environment of evolutionary adaptation.  Of course, critics of this research will say that the Hadza have long had contacts with the modern world--including modern Western scientists!--and therefore they cannot give us any clear window into our prehistoric past.

And if hunter-gatherers really do show social networks of friendship similar to those in modern liberal societies, that suggests that critics of liberalism like Deneen are wrong in claiming that liberal social orders cannot satisfy the natural human need for social connection.  This might also suggest that Hayek was wrong in claiming that a modern open society must repress the ancient primitive instincts for social solidarity to which socialism appeals.  (I have written about this here.)