Monday, May 30, 2016
That was the comment of Larry Sharpe, who was a candidate for the Libertarian Party vice-presidential nomination. That's why this convention of the Libertarian Party in Orlando, Florida, has been different from all previous LP conventions, because of the sense that both of the presidential candidates for the two major parties will be so deeply disliked that many voters will be looking for a third alternative, that the Libertarian Party will be the only third party on the ballot in all 50 states, that some polls have already shown Gary Johnson winning 10-11% of the voters in a matchup with Trump and Clinton, and thus this presidential election will become the Libertarian Moment.
As I have indicated in a previous post, I foresee the possibility that Trump and Clinton could each win 30% of the popular votes, allowing Johnson to win the popular plurality with 40% of the votes. Something like this happened in the election of Abraham Lincoln as the first Republican president.
Yesterday, Johnson won the presidential nomination, and William Weld won the vice-presidential nomination. Johnson and Weld are both former Republican two-term governors, which makes this the most politically prominent ticket ever nominated by the Libertarian Party, and thus another reason to think this is the Libertarian Moment.
The one potential weakness is that neither Johnson nor Weld display the sort of engaging speaking skills that will be necessary to go up against Trump's bombastic, fascist demagoguery. When Weld was given five minutes for an acceptance speech, he took only two minutes for a perfunctory and emotionally flat statement. Occasionally, however, Johnson has shown some of the sparkling energy in his speaking that he will need for the televised presidential debates.
If you look at the televised coverage of the LP convention (on C-Span), you will see that there was deep division at the convention. On the first ballots, Johnson and Weld both won 49% of the votes, which forced a second round of balloting.
The issues debated at the convention were displayed in the debate on Saturday night between the five leading candidates for the presidential nomination: Gary Johnson, Austin Peterson, John McAfee, Darryl Perry, and Marc Feldman. In contrast to the Democratic Party and Republican Party debates, there were no personal insults; and the debate was totally about principles.
There was general agreement on four principles of classical liberalism. But there was some disagreement on the intellectual interpretation and practical application of those principles.
The first principle is the non-aggression principle. Unlike the two other major parties, the Libertarian Party requires its members to pledge their agreement to a principle. To join the LP, one must pledge: "To validate my membership, I certify that I oppose the initiation of force to achieve political or social goals." Refraining from the initiation of force or coercion leaves one free to use force or coercion defensively against others who have initiated force or coercion against oneself. The other three principles can be understood as correlates of this fundamental principle.
The second principle is the no-harm principle. This is the principle famously declared by John Stuart Mill in On Liberty: that individuals have the liberty to live as they please, in cooperation with others, and that the only justification for limiting this liberty is to prevent harm to others. This principle applies only to adults, however, because children must be under the authority of their parents or parental surrogates until the children become mature adults capable of rationally choosing how to live their lives.
The third principle is the separation of church and state. Classical liberalism arose in early modern Europe and North America in the debate over the political establishment of church authority, in which liberals argued for religious liberty and toleration, so that it was improper for the state to enforce coercively religious beliefs and practices. This required a separation of state and society, the public and the private. In society, individuals were to be free to form religious groups with voluntary members, who could be expelled if they violated the terms of their membership, but they could not be violently coerced. Once this principle of separating church and state was established, it could be extended to a general separation of private society and public state. So one could argue, for example, as libertarians do, for the separation of education and state, the separation of marriage and state, and so on.
The fourth principle is spontaneous order. The idea here--implicit in the other three principles--is that human beings are naturally social animals who generate social order as individuals seek the satisfaction of their individual desires without any need for central planning. This is the idea of free markets extended to explain all social order--economic order, moral order, intellectual order--as a largely spontaneous order.
This principle of spontaneous order supports the promotion of free trade--not only in the movement of goods and services but also in the movement of ideas and people. Consequently, the libertarians at the LP convention were apparently unanimous in their support for open borders that allow people to flow freely from one nation to another. This puts the libertarians in clear opposition to Trump's nativist opposition to immigration.
In the debate Saturday night, one could see the disagreements over the interpretation and application of these principles. At one extreme, Darryl Perry is an anarchist, who identifies himself as "the libertarian wing of the Libertarian Party." He wants to abolish all government, so that all social order is totally spontaneous, with no deliberate design by government at all. At the other extreme, Johnson is a limited-government classical liberal, who believes that government does have some limited role to play in securing the legal framework within which spontaneous order can emerge.
Of the five debaters, Johnson was the one who was booed four or five times. Austin Peterson was booed once. The others were never booed.
Johnson was first booed for saying that the Social Security Program needs to be reformed, but not abolished. The others want to totally abolish it. As Perry said, if we ask "who's going to care for grandma?" in her old age, the answer is that her relatives will care for her, and if her relatives can't do this, there will be charities and mutual aid societies to provide such care.
Far from the common charge that libertarians see human beings as so greedy and selfishly competitive that they don't care for others, the libertarian speakers at the LP convention repeatedly affirmed the natural sociality of human beings, who can solve their social problems without intervention by government, because they love one another and want to help those in need. On the first day of the convention, there was a hit-and-run car accident outside of the convention hotel. Two libertarians--including Dr. Marc Feldman, one of the presidential candidates--went to the aid of the victim lying in the street. Later, photographs of this were flashed in the convention screen as an illustration of how libertarians spontaneously help people in trouble.
Although Johnson agrees with this, he does not think that spontaneous order is so spontaneous that it can work without any government at all. This explains his disagreement with the other four speakers on the issue of government licensing. The others think that all governmental licensing should be abolished. Johnson agrees that most governmental licensing should be eliminated. But he does see a need for licensing in a few areas--like marriage and driver's licensing. Previously, Johnson has argued that marriage should be a purely private activity with no governmental licensing. But now he believes that since there are hundreds, if not thousands, of laws that identify "marriage" as a legal category, it would be so hard to change all of those laws that we need governmental licensing to define what counts as marriage.
And while the other speakers saw no need for the governmental licensing of automobile drivers, because they saw it as the natural duty of parents to supervise the training of their children for driving cars, Johnson thought that to prevent harm to others, it was proper for state governments set minimum competency standards for driving cars.
Three of the most interesting points of disagreement in the debate concerned the protection of children, the practice of abortion, and antidiscrimination law. Classical liberals such as John Locke, Adam Smith, and John Stuart Mill have all recognized that children must be under parental care and thus cannot rightly have the liberty of mature adults. But then there's uncertainty as to whether there is any need for legal intervention to protect children. Johnson and most libertarians think that the "war on drugs" is wrong, and that drug-use should be a matter of personal choice. But some libertarians think that there should be some legal prohibitions on children using harmful drugs. When Peterson took this position, he was booed.
When the abortion issue was brought up, Perry indicated that this was a divisive issue for libertarians. Peterson took a pro-life position. If life begins at conception, then abortion is murder, and thus a harm that can be legally prohibited. But the other four were pro-choice, in arguing that a fetus should be treated as part of the mother's body and not as a separate person, at least up to the point of viability.
Another difficult issue for the five debaters was raised when the debate moderator asked: "Senator Barry Goldwater refused to vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited racial discrimination in public accommodations, because this violated his libertarian belief that this violated the individual's freedom of association. Would you have voted for that law?" When Johnson said that he would have voted for that law, he provoked the loudest boos of the whole debate. The four others said they would not have voted for that law. Their reasoning, as Perry explained it, was that discrimination by government should be legally prohibited, but not discrimination by private individuals. Perry argued that "Jim Crow segregation" was mandated by laws, and those laws enforcing segregation should have been overturned. In fact, he claimed, many businesspeople who owned restaurants and hotels were happy to see people in the Civil Rights Movement protesting the laws of segregation.
Leo Strauss (in "Why We Remain Jews") pointed to this issue when he talked about how a liberal society tries to solve the "Jewish question" just as it tries to solve the "Negro question." "A liberal society stands or falls by the distinction between the political (or the state) and society, or by the distinction between the public and the private. In the liberal society, there is necessarily a private sphere with which the state's legislation must not interfere. . . . Every citizen is free to adhere to any religion he sees fit. Now given this--the necessary existence of such a private sphere--the liberal society necessarily makes possible, permits, and even fosters what is called by many people 'discrimination'" (Jewish Philosophy and the Crisis of Modernity, 314). Some people think that "discrimination" in any form--such as discrimination against Jews and African-Americans--should be legally prohibited. But if that were done, as it was in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that would mean, Strauss observed, "the abolition of the private sphere, the denial of the difference between the state and society, in a word, the destruction of liberal society; and therefore, it is not a sensible objective or policy" (315). Apparently, then, Strauss would have been on the side of the four libertarian candidates here who would not have signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
If these are the kinds of questions that Johnson and Weld will introduce into the presidential campaign, and if they raise such questions in the televised presidential debates in the fall, then the Libertarian Moment can become an intellectually exciting event in American political history.
Things could become even more interesting if Clinton loses the California primary, or wins by a tiny margin, and the Democratic superdelegates begin to swing toward Sanders and the Sandernistas. How about a debate between a Socialist, a Fascist, and a Libertarian? It's going to be a wild ride.
Previously, I have written about Trump's "Chimpanzee Fascism." Robert Kagan has made the case for identifying Trump as a fascist.
Friday, May 27, 2016
In Darwinian Natural Right, one can see some movement towards David Hume's sentimentalist morality, based on the idea that moral judgment is an expression of moral sentiments or emotions. I continued to move in that direction in 1998 when I lectured at a conference on Edward Westermarck at the University of Helsinki, Finland. Westermarck helped me to see how a Darwinian science of evolution really does confirm the moral sentimentalism of Hume and Adam Smith, while refuting the moral rationalism of Immanuel Kant. The empirical testing of Westermarck's theory of the incest taboo seemed to show how a Darwinian moral sentimentalism could become an empirical science.
Over the past twenty years, this empirical moral science has been deepened by research in evolutionary psychology (people like Jonathan Haidt and Joshua Greene), experimental philosophy (people like Shaun Nichols and Joshua Knobe), and evolutionary anthropology (people like Robert Boyd and Joseph Henrich). The general conclusion that seems to emerge from this research is that the Humean sentimentalists are right, and the Kantian rationalists are wrong.
Recently, I have been thinking more about this while reading a book manuscript for Lexington Books entitled Evolution and the Foundations of Ethics. The author's project is to apply four different models of evolution to four metaethical theories and six normative ethical theories. The four models of evolution are those of Darwin, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, and John Haugh. The four metaethical theories are Error Theory, Expressivism, Moral Relativism, and Moral Realism. The six normative theories are Virtue Ethics, Natural Law Ethics, Social Contract Ethics, Utilitarian Ethics, Deontological Ethics, and the Ethics of Care. I appear in the chapter on Natural Law Ethics as someone who argues for a Darwinian theory of Thomistic natural law.
[Now, in 2017, I can identify the author as John Mizzoni. The book has now been published.]
Although there has been a lot of writing about applying evolutionary reasoning to contemporary moral philosophy, this book is, I believe, the only comprehensive study of all the various moral theories in the light of evolutionary science. I was disappointed, however, that the author never mentions Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments, the writings of Westermarck, or the evolutionary moral anthropology of Henrich. The author mentions the experimental moral psychology of Greene only briefly in a few notes.
While I learned a lot from reading this book, the general conclusions that I draw from it are not the conclusions that the author wants to advance. The author argues that all of the moral theories considered in the book--the four metaethical theories and the six normative theories--can be seen as compatible with evolutionary science. I find that implausible, and most implausible of all is the author's claim that evolutionary reasoning about ethics can support Kantian deontological ethics. The author gives me no good reasons to doubt my previous conclusion that an evolutionary science of ethics proves that Humean sentimentalism is right, and Kantian rationalism is wrong.
The author points to the passage in The Descent of Man where Darwin quotes from Kant—“Duty! Wondrous thought . . . whence thy original?” Darwin promises to take up this question “exclusively from the side of natural history.” The quotation from Kant is from The Critique of Practical Reason (AA, p. 86). Immediately after this passage, Kant says that the rational grasp of the ought of pure duty shows us “man as belonging to two worlds”—the phenomenal world of natural causes and the noumenal world of human freedom transcending nature. Contrary to Kant, Darwin identifies the moral ought as a moral feeling: “Any instinct, permanently stronger or more enduring than another, gives rise to the feeling which we express by saying that it ought to be obeyed” (1871, vol. 2, p. 392). So Darwin’s study of morality “exclusively from the side of natural history” denies Kant’s “two worlds” view. Frances Cobbe saw this, and she denounced Darwin for rejecting Kant’s ethical theory. The author doesn’t explain how this can be compatible with the claim that Darwinian science supports Kant.
In Kant's Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, he declares: "reason of itself, independent of all experience, commands what ought to be done." Thus, "all moral precepts have their seat and origin entirely a priori in reason." Consequently, "the ground of obligation here must not be sought in the nature of man or in the circumstances in which he is placed, but sought a priori solely in the concepts of pure reason." Moral duty, then, must be derived by pure logic from a moral law that is stated as a rule of purely formal self-consistency. Moreover, this a priori reasoning of morality belongs to a realm of freedom that is outside the laws of nature. This is as far away from Darwin’s natural history of morality as one can go.
The author quotes Michael Ruse as concluding that the "spirit of Kantianism is antithetical to the spirit
of Darwinism." In the endnote or
this sentence, the author writes a long note on Joshua Greene’s argument that
experimental neuroscience refutes Kant.
As I have often argued, we could say that all natural law reasoning depends on hypothetical imperatives that have a "given/if/then" structure: Given what we know about the nature of human beings and the world in which they live, if we want to pursue happiness while living in society with each other, then we ought to adopt a social structure that conforms to human nature in promoting human happiness in society.
Natural law reasoning does not prohibit us from punishing any expression of a natural behavioral propensity. For example, pure psychopaths are probably expressing their biologically natural propensities. But given what we know about the harmful propensities of psychopaths, if we want to protect our society from harm, then we ought to punish psychopaths to protect ourselves from their harmful behavior.
Consider how this would apply, for example, to the moral and legal debate over homosexuality and gay marriage. Given what we know about the animal nature of homosexuality, if we want to pursue happiness, peace, and prosperity in societies with both heterosexual and homosexual individuals, then we ought to protect the liberty of homosexuals to live their lives as they wish, as long as they do not harm others. Consequently, the liberty of homosexuals would include the right to same-sex marriage, as long as we know that this is not harmful to others. That is the argument of Justice Kennedy's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.
If one believes, however, as some of the opponents of same-sex marriage believe, that the governmental licensing of same-sex marriage will harm the children of same-sex parents, then natural law reasoning would condemn the legalization of same-sex marriage.
The debate here becomes an empirical question that will be settled by our reasoning about our experience: Is there any evidence that same-sex marriages harm children?
Monday, May 23, 2016
But to speak of a largely spontaneous order points to the need for some organizational planning. Classical liberals recognize the need for limited government to carry out the three duties of government identified by Smith--military defense against foreign attacks, the administration of justice to protect individuals from force and fraud, and providing for those public goods that cannot be provided by any individual or small group of individuals.
One of the most important public goods is the education of the young, which includes their moral, religious, and intellectual education. For most of human history, the education of children was provided totally by their parents; and only the children of wealthy and high ranking families could receive any advanced education. But Smith believed that a modern commercial society required some publicly financed education of the common people, so that they could at least read, write, and account.
In Scotland, the Presbyterian Church stressed the importance of learning to read so that one could read the Bible for oneself rather than being dependent on the interpretation of priests. The Schools Act of 1696 mandated parish schools in Scotland with teachers partly but not wholly paid by public expenditure. Scotland came to have one of the highest rates of literacy in the world. Smith argued for extending this system to all of England. But while some public funding might be necessary, he thought that privately supported education with voluntary contributions was generally better than totally public education.
Smith saw that most of the education of common people was religious instruction through the churches. Against the tradition of publicly established churches, Smith argued for a free market of religious sects competing for believers to satisfy the religious longings of human beings, which would promote a "pure and rational religion." Religious toleration would prevail, so that religious groups would be free to form as voluntary associations without any power to coercively enforce their beliefs and practices on those who disagreed with them. Smith and other classical liberals thus adopted the religious toleration policy defended early in the 17th century by Roger Williams as conforming to the religious liberty that he saw in the New Testament Christian churches, and as opposed to the Catholic and Protestant traditions of coercively enforced religious conformity.
I see this as a naturally evolved and largely spontaneous order of religious belief and practice. Parents have an evolved natural desire to care for their children by generating them, feeding them, and educating them. Proponents of natural law (like Thomas Aquinas and John Locke) recognize this a law of nature rooted in natural human inclinations. Moreover, if human beings have a naturally evolved desire for religious understanding, as I have argued, then we can expect that an important part of the parental rearing of their children will be the religious instruction of their children. This can be done totally through parental homeschooling or through schooling outside the home--in synagogues, churches, or mosques, in private schools, or in public schools.
We see this liberal system for educating the young in the United States. Most children are educated in public schools that do not mandate any religious instruction. But parents are free to either homeschool their children or send them to private schools. And much of this homeschooling and private schooling includes religious instruction. This is a distinctively liberal system because parents are free to supervise the religious instruction of their children as they wish, so long as they are not abusing their children or coercively imposing their religious beliefs and practices on others.
Some Christian parents who pay for sending their children to private Christian schools complain that it is unjust that they are compelled to pay taxes for the public schools. In a completely free market of education, schools would freely compete for students and tuition. A educational voucher system favored by libertarians like Gary Johnson moves towards a free market in education in that some or all of the school financing from taxation would go directly to parents who could freely choose which school (public or private) would receive the money.
Among the Christian schools, there is free competition for students and tuition, with different schools appealing to different consumers of Christian education. As Smith foresaw, this free market in religious instruction allows for the greatest satisfaction of the diverse religious longings of parents and children.
One example of this is well expressed in Deborah Byker-Benson's new book--Graciously Unapologetic: A Renewed Way to be in Christian Schools (Grand Rapids, MI: Credo House, 2016). Deb is the Superintendent of Parkview Christian Academy in Yorkville, Illinois. When she arrived at Parkview in 2013, the school was on the brink of financial collapse because of administrative mismanagement and declining enrollment. Over the past three years, she has improved the financial management of the school, and enrollment has jumped from 208 in 2013 to 325 today. But she would say that this economic improvement has depended upon a spiritual improvement. (I have heard about much of this directly from Deb, because she's my sister-in-law.)
Many Christian schools are facing serious challenges to their existence. Many have closed their doors. The leaders of such Christian schools facing such problems want to find practical solutions. But Deb's argument is that they cannot rightly decide what to do if they have not first decided who to be, because the practical management of a Christian school cannot succeed without first having a clear vision of its spiritual mission. The practical problems for Christian schools are only the symptoms of the deeper spiritual illness.
In the first half of her book, Deb presents a "renewed way of being Christ-like" for Christian schools. In the second half, she shows how this renewed way of being is manifested in the practical policies of a Christian school.
She presents her new way of being Christ-like as based on "a more Biblically consistent Christian school model," which is summarized as "teaching Christ in all content and process." The most obvious problem here is that the Bible (Old Testament and New Testament) says nothing specific about Christian schools, although it does say a lot about spiritual teaching coming through families, synagogues, and churches. Because of this absence of any clear Biblical teaching about Christian schools, Christians disagree about what might count as a "Biblically consistent Christian school model."
In the United States, the great majority of students in Christian schools are in Catholic schools. Deb says nothing about these Catholic schools, but her silence might suggest to many readers that she believes that only Protestant schools can be truly Christian schools. If so, then many readers might want some argumentation for this conclusion.
Deb might argue that the Lutheran and Calvinist Reformers were right in claiming that the Catholic traditions stray too far from the Bible to count as Biblical Christianity, and thus a Catholic school cannot satisfy a "Biblically consistent Christian school model." But what she says about the voluntariness of Christian education implies that Catholic schools should be tolerated as an expression of religious liberty, and thus she would disagree with the Reformers who advocated persecution of Catholics.
Thus, Deb's position seems to assume a Biblical liberalism, in which the Bible is interpreted as Roger Williams interpreted it--as supporting equal liberty for all religious beliefs and practices that do not require religious coercion. She relies on many Biblical verses, but the most prominent is Acts 2:39. After the Day of Pentecost, Peter speaks to the Christians: "The promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." Deb interprets this to mean that the Christian community includes not only the Christians and their children but also non-believers who might join their community.
Although nothing is said here about Christian schools, she reads this as implying that Christian schools should be open to enrolling students whose parents are not Christians. Most Christian schools see themselves as bringing together three Christian institutions--the Christian home, the Christian church, and the Christian school. Consistent with this model, the admission of students to a Christian school requires proof that the students belong to a family that is a member of a recognized Christian church. Deb argues that Acts 2:39 supports the conclusion that a Christian school should be open to those who are "afar off" or "sojourners," who are not Christians but are attracted to the Christian school. This is likely to be the most controversial part of Deb's argument for the members of the Christian school movement. As she indicates, many Christian parents are adamant that one of the main reasons for sending their children to a Christian school is to protect them from the "bad" kids from the "bad" families that are not Christian.
To defend her Biblical model of the Christian school as including non-Christian "sojourners," Deb must show that such a school can teach Christ in content and process by enforcing five Biblical boundaries. The first is the exclusion of non-believers from any leadership in the Christian school. The teachers, the administrators, and other staff members must all be professing Christians. The second boundary is the exclusion of non-believers from the Sacraments--the Lord's Supper and Baptism. Except for these two points of exclusion, the non-believers in the school are treated the same as the believers.
The third Biblical boundary is the prohibition against any open opposition to Biblical faith. Although the students and parents in the school do not have to openly profess the Christian faith, they must not openly oppose it in the school. Those who are openly oppositional will either choose to leave the school, or the students will be expelled from the school.
The fourth Biblical boundary is that all the benefits of living in the Christian community of the school are to be shared with the non-believing members of the school. After all, that's why some non-believers have chosen to enroll their children in Christian schools--they want their children to enjoy the Christ-like loving care and instruction that only a Christian school can provide.
The final Biblical boundary is that both believers and non-believers in the Christian school will bear both the protection and the consequence of Biblical law. That law enforced in school will protect everyone from the injustice that is prohibited by Biblical law. But that also means that those who violate that law will be punished. For example, Deb quotes from Leviticus 24:16, which teaches that "him that blasphemes the name of the Lord, he will be put to death for sure, and all the congregation will have to stone him. The same for the sojourner (ger) and him that is born in the land; when he blasphemes the name of the Lord, he will be put to death."
And yet, while she does not explicitly say so, Deb surely would not endorse punishing blasphemers with death. Why not? Because New Testament Christian liberalism teaches us that the theocratic law of the Old Testament violates the religious liberty and toleration taught by the New Testament? That's the argument of Roger Williams and other proponents of Christian liberalism, which is implicit in Deb's conception of a Biblically based Christian School.
The terms of that Christian liberalism are made clear in the second part of Deb's book, where she shows the practical procedures and norms that follow from her Biblical vision of the Christ-like way of being. The organizational practice of a Christian school enforcing its Biblical worldview depends on requiring all families to read and sign every year an Admissions Statement that would look like this:
This illustrates how Christian liberalism can enforce the orthodox beliefs and practices of New Testament Christianity without violating the religious liberty and toleration required for a free society. One must reject the theocracy taught by the Old Testament as superseded by the individual liberty of the New Testament, where the first Christians are shown as forming churches based on voluntary membership, which could properly expel those who refused to abide by the church's articles of faith, but there was no coercive violence in this. What Adam Smith proposed as a free marketplace of religious sects was the practice of the early Christians. It was not until Constantine established Christianity as the religion of Rome that Christians sought the coercive enforcement by law of Christian beliefs and practices. Liberal Christians have sought to return to that original New Testament understanding of the separation of church and state.
Consider, for example, clause 3 (b) of the Admission Policy Statement on "sexual purity." Human sexuality is understood as "limited to the intimate physical union between one woman and one man, bound in marriage by a vow," which prohibits "same-gender sexual unions."
When Deb turns to a series of anecdotal case studies, her first is the story of a lesbian couple who applied at Parkview for the admission of their son, who had been conceived by artificial insemination. As part of the admission process, they were told that they and their son would be welcomed into the school with Christian love, but that the school would teach the students that their way of life is wrong, and that this would be expressed respectfully and not in a demeaning way, but it would be clearly taught without apology. They were also told that any attempt to challenge this teaching in the school would result in a severing of the relationship. They agreed to this. Their son enjoyed three years of successful schooling. They finally withdrew their child only for financial reasons.
Here is a clear illustration of Christian liberalism. Christians can fervently affirm the beliefs and practices of Biblical Christianity, and they can organize their lives--in their homes, their churches, and their schools--to manifest this Christian way of being. But they can do this without demeaning the lives of those individuals who disagree, without violating religious liberty and toleration, and yet still firmly and clearly affirming their faith.
Christian liberals can thus be graciously unapologetic.
Some of my points here have been elaborated in other posts here, here, here., here, and here.
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
There are lots of reasons for this. The first is that this must be one of the few times in American history where the likely nominees for the two major parties are both intensely disliked by close to half of the potential voters. Both of the two major parties are so deeply divided that neither is likely to rally all or most of their party members in support of their nominee. Moreover, more voters identify themselves as "Independents" than identify themselves as either Democrat or Republican.
The second reason why this could be the year for the Libertarian Party is that their likely nominee--Gary Johnson--has a chance to participate in the televised presidential debates this fall. In March, the Monmouth University poll that asked people to choose between Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Gary Johnson resulted in 11% selecting Johnson. This is amazing because Johnson has received so little publicity so far that most voters don't even know who he is. With more publicity, his numbers are likely to go up. The rule for televised presidential debates is that those selected to participate must have at least 15% polling numbers. If Johnson already has 11%, then he's got a chance to reach 15% by the fall.
The third reason is that if Johnson has a chance to debate Trump and Clinton, he could frame the debate as a choice between two candidates--a left-wing authoritarian and a right-wing authoritarian--who want more Big Government control over our lives and one candidate who wants limited government that leaves people the liberty to live their lives as they choose. If Trump and Clinton split the 60% of the voters who want more Big Government, Johnson could win the popular vote with the 40% of the voters who want limited government and individual liberty.
Something similar happened when the first Republican president was elected. Abraham Lincoln won with about 40% of the popular vote, because most of the majority of the votes were divided between Stephen Douglas (the Northern Democratic Party) and John C. Breckenridge (the Southern Democratic Party). And while Lincoln was not a pure libertarian, he did affirm the libertarian principle that "each individual is naturally entitled to do as he pleases with himself and the fruit of his labor, so far as it in no wise interferes with any other man's rights."
Another possibility for Johnson's victory is if he wins a few states in the Electoral College (such as New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah), and if Trump and Clinton evenly divide the other states, so that no one receives a majority of the electoral votes, and then the election would be decided by the House of Representatives, with the representatives of each state casting one vote. If neither Clinton nor Trump could win the majority, there might be a deadlock. And if Democrats would rather have Johnson than Trump, and Republicans would rather have Johnson than Clinton, then there's a chance that Johnson could win.
The fourth reason that this could be the year for libertarians is that in the fall the Libertarian Party will be the only third party on the ballot in all 50 states. There has been talk about the need for a third party candidate as an alternative to Trump and Clinton, but in fact the Libertarian Party is already there as the only third party on the ballot nationally.
Johnson began working construction jobs as a college student at the University of New Mexico. He then built his own construction company into one of the biggest construction companies in New Mexico. When he sold the company in 1999, he had enough money so that he would never need to work for a living.
He served two terms as Republican Governor of New Mexico (from January 1, 1995 to January 1, 2003). He could not run for a third term because of term limits. During his two terms, he lowered taxes, he reduced the growth in state government, he reduced the number of state government workers, he balanced the state budget, and he left New Mexico with a billion dollar surplus. He accomplished this even though Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 2 to 1, and the state legislature was controlled by the Democrats. He became famous for over 750 vetoes of bills, with only a few of his vetoes overridden. Notice that this means that Johnson has more political executive experience than either Trump or Clinton!
All of his policies were based on a libertarian message of limited government and individual liberty that was fiscally conservative and socially liberal. His fiscal conservatism is shown in his proposal to balance the federal budget and begin paying off the national debt through across-the-board budget reductions of 43%, because 43% of the federal government spending comes from borrowed money. When Barack Obama leaves office, the national debt will be over $20 trillion dollars, which means that the United States could soon become the next Greece in facing a huge debt crisis. Except for Johnson, none of the presidential candidates is speaking about this.
His social liberalism is shown in his argument that people should be free to live their lives as they please so long as they don't harm anyone else, because the only proper purpose of government is to protect us against those who would do us harm. As Governor of New Mexico, Johnson became one of the first American politicians arguing for legalizing marijuana and recognizing the failure of the "war on drugs." Rather than treat addiction to drugs as a crime that must be punished, which requires a massive investment of resources from law enforcement, the courts, and prisons, libertarians like Johnson argue for treating drug addiction as a health issue created by people making bad personal choices that require that they voluntarily enter treatment programs.
After leaving the governorship, Johnson has devoted himself to his great love for strenuous athletic activity--skiing, biking, running, and mountaineering. He has climbed the highest mountains on all seven continents, including Mount Everest. In his book Seven Principles of Good Government (published in 2012), he says that the purpose of life is to "live in the moment"--to find one's enjoyment every day in doing whatever it is that you love. For Johnson, that "living in the moment" pleasure comes primarily from athletics and politics. A libertarian Teddy Roosevelt!
In 2011, Johnson ran for President as a Republican. But then, by the end of the year, he had switched to running for the nomination of the Libertarian Party, which he won. In the presidential election of 2012, he won almost 1% of the popular vote. Although that seems low, his 1.27 million votes was the highest vote count ever received by a Libertarian Party candidate.
Now, Johnson is running again for the Libertarian Party nomination, which will be decided at the end of May at the party convention in Orlando, Florida. In April, John Stossel hosted the first nationally televised Libertarian Party Presidential Debate on the Fox Business channel. This two-hour debate can be found on YouTube. Stossel selected the top three candidates. Johnson is the leading candidate. The other two are John McAfee (the famous antivirus software entrepreneur) and Austin Petersen (the founder of The Libertarian Republic). I think the quality of the debate is much higher than the Democratic or Republican debates.
In his book, Johnson repeatedly appeals to the "harm principle"--that the only justified limit on individual liberty by government is to protect us from those who would harm us (see pp. 9, 24, 29, 73-74, 92, 144-45, 150). He repeats that principle in the debate. But if you watch the debate, you will see that libertarians often disagree over interpreting "harm," and this is likely to come up at the Libertarian Party Convention.
There are three particular points of disagreement over what counts as harm. First, on the abortion debate, Petersen is "prolife," because he thinks abortion obviously harms the aborted fetus by violating the fetus's right to life, while McAfee and Johnson are "prochoice," because they think the choice of abortion belongs to the freedom of the mother.
The second disagreement is over whether government should engage in environmental protection. Petersen and McAfee would abolish the Environmental Protection Agency. But Johnson supports the EPA with the argument that pollution harms us, and this is a harm from which government can properly protect us.
The third disagreement is the most interesting one. It's over antidiscrimination laws, which Johnson supports, while Petersen and McAfee oppose. Petersen and McAfee argue that while government cannot rightly engage in racial, religious, or sexual discrimination, private individuals may do so as an expression of their liberty, so long as this does not directly harm anyone. But Johnson argues that discrimination really does harm people, and therefore government can intervene. Johnson says he supports the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in "public accommodations." It's not clear that Petersen and McAfee would agree. The memorable exchange on this issue is when Petersen gets Johnson to say that a Jewish baker could be legally forced to bake a cake for a Nazi. This "Nazi cake" exchange could give Johnson some trouble at the Libertarian Convention.
This points to one of the fundamental issues in classical liberalism--whether it can combine equality and liberty by distinguishing between state and society or public and private, so that the state must treat people equally under the law, while private individuals have the liberty to treat people unequally.
After reading Johnson's book and watching some of his debates, I have to wonder whether he has the intellectual and rhetorical skills necessary to successfully think through and speak about such deep issues in classical liberal thought. He's an intelligent man, but he's not a very deep thinker. In his book, he mentions only one book that has influenced his thinking--Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. He says that he majored in political science at the University of New Mexico, but he says nothing about what he might have learned from his studies of politics and political ideas. He does speak about being influenced by the people at the Cato Institute and at Reason magazine. But then when he invokes the harm principle as fundamental for his classical liberal thinking, he doesn't mention John Stuart Mill's On Liberty or any other classic writings on that subject. So he has never been a serious reader. He speaks a lot about his efforts in his second term as governor to promote educational vouchers for New Mexico, but he says nothing about how this idea was worked out by Milton Friedman. In the end, his voucher proposals were never adopted.
I also have to wonder about his rhetorical skills. He has a relaxed speaking style, perhaps too relaxed. He often rambles before coming to a conclusion. He is not a charismatic speaker. And he does not speak with the sharpness, incisiveness, and wit that might make a memorable impression on a popular audience for a televised debate.
One clear test of Johnson's skills will be whether he can persuade libertarian Republicans to support him. Recently, I moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I live in the 3rd Congressional District, which is represented by Justin Amash, who is probably the most libertarian of the Republicans in the House, and a leader of the "Freedom Caucus" that has caused so much trouble for the House Republican leaders. Amash has criticized Trump as potentially "very dangerous" for the country. So it would be a bad sign for Johnson if he cannot persuade someone like Amash to support him rather than Trump.
The latest development is that Johnson has announced that William Weld, formerly Republican Governor of Massachusetts from 1991 to 1997, will run as Vice President with Johnson. Weld will help with fundraising for the campaign.
Wednesday, May 11, 2016
I am not persuaded by his argument, which he derives from Pierre van den Berghe and Frank Salter, that ethnic affiliation is an evolutionary adaptation, in that those who favor their ethnic community over others are practicing an extended form of kin selection that advances their ethnic genetic interests.
I am persuaded that evolved human nature is inclined to tribal thinking, so that we naturally categorize people as us and them, and we naturally favor our group over others. And while the social conditions of life have often predisposed people to make this in-group/out-group division along racial and ethnic lines, there is no evidence that this predisposition is an innate adaptation of the human mind.
On the contrary, there is lots of evidence that while we are innately inclined to look for cues of coalitional affiliation, the content of those cues depends on social learning; and people in multi-racial and multi-ethnic societies can be taught to be cooperative without regard for racial or ethnic boundaries. In fact, Frank Salter implicitly concedes the truth of this point when he laments that ethnic nepotism is not instinctive, and therefore serving ethnic genetic interests requires artificial cultural strategies devised by modern scientific reasoning, and that no ethnic state has ever succeeded in securing an adaptive ethnic group strategy.
This debate over whether racial and ethnic identity is an evolutionary adaptation has implications for the current debate in North America and Europe over immigration policies. In On Genetic Interests, Salter argues that opening a nation's borders to immigrants is contrary to the genetic interests of the native population. People of European descent have been the majority of the population in the United States and Europe. But with increasing non-European immigration, those of European descent will eventually become the minority, and at some point the European ethnies will be completely replaced by non-European ethnies. (Salter has followed van den Berghe in coining the word "ethny" as a substitute for "ethnic group" as the term for a population sharing common descent, but whose members are so numerous that they cannot form a group.)
To protect the genetic interests of these ethnies--to prevent their extinction in the genetic competition with other ethnies--Salter argues for "universal nationalism": each nation should have a right to protect its distinctive ethnic identity by restricting or prohibiting the flow of immigrants who do not share its ethnic identity. There would be ethnic equality in that every ethny would have a right to its own ethnic homeland. But there would also be ethnic inequality in that every ethnic homeland would discriminate against foreigners with different ethnic identities. Every nation would have the right to practice ethnic nepotism.
Sanderson does not recognize the two major problems with Salter's argument. The first problem is that what Salter identifies as "ethnic genetic interests" have no roots in the evolved instincts of human nature, and thus Salter's strategies for protecting those interests must be artificial contrivances of reason. Salter admits that in protecting their genetic interests in modern states, "humans can no longer rely on their instincts" (28). Human beings have evolved instincts for individual survival and for the reproductive interests of their families and their extended tribal groups. But in the environments of evolutionary adaptation, our foraging ancestors had no experience with ethnic identities that might embrace millions of anonymous individuals scattered around the world.
The very idea of "ethnic genetic interests" depends on a scientific knowledge of genetics that has not been available to human beings until recent decades. Even most evolutionary psychologists and sociobiologists don't recognize ethnies as extended kin groups.
There is evidence for evolved instinctive tribalism by which we distinguish between in-group and out-group. But the cues for identifying who belongs to which group are set by social experience that is not instinctive but learned. As Salter admits, the famous social psychological experiments of Muzafer Sherif, Henri Tajfel, and others have shown that people identify with groups of all kinds and develop ethnocentric attitudes towards out-groups based on arbitrary cues. In laboratory experiments, people can be randomly assigned to different groups based on arbitrary factors--such as flipping a coin to identify some people as "heads" and others as "tails"--and then those groups will try to outcompete one another.
One of the most revealing experiments is not cited by Salter. Robert Kurzban, John Tooby, and Leda Cosmides have shown that racial categorization in identifying coalitional alliances can be eliminated when the cues for coalitional affiliation do not track race ("Can Race Be Erased? Coalitional Computation and Social Categorization," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 98 : 15387-15892). Their experiment was designed to test their hypothesis that the human mind evolved to track coalitions--to decide who is allied with whom--but that the coalitional code is learned by experience and that there is no evolved instinct for seeing race and ethnicity as the cues for coalitional assignment. Their hypothesis arises from the thought that in the environments of evolutionary adaptation, foragers would have experienced group competition, but they would not have generally encountered members of different races.
Kurzban, Tooby, and Cosmides asked volunteers to look at eight photographs of young black and white men and women wearing the same gray jersey. Associated with each photograph was a sentence suggesting group conflict--such as "They were the ones who started the fight"--and it was arranged so that it was clear that these eight people were split into conflicting pairs.
The volunteers were given a "distractor task" to get their minds off the subject. They were then asked to recall which sentences went with which photographs. The distraction was designed to force them to rely on their unconscious feelings rather than their conscious memories.
Even though the two sides in the fictional fight were racially mixed, the volunteers tended to pair blacks with blacks and whites with whites, as though they assumed that conflict would be based on racial differences.
But then, in the next experiment, everything was the same, except that some of the jerseys were yellow instead of gray, and the sentences implied that the conflict was between the yellows and the grays and not the blacks and the whites. Most of the volunteers easily picked up the hint that the conflict was based on the color of the jerseys rather than the color of the skins. Kurzban, Tooby, and Cosmides concluded: "Despite a lifetime's experience of race as a predictor of social alliances, less than four minutes of exposure to the alternate social world was enough to deflate the tendency to categorize by race."
So it seems that the evolved human mind has an instinctive coalitional codemaker, but the codebook is not naturally instinctive but socially learned. That explains why in appealing to "genetic interests," Salter cannot rely on human instincts to tie those interests to racial and ethnic identities, and why he complains that modern multiethnic societies have gone a long way towards teaching people to feel social solidarity that transcends the boundaries of racial and ethnic identity.
This also explains Salter's second big problem. He tries to formulate various strategies for defending ethnic genetic interests in modern states. But he admits that probably none of them will work very well. He identifies various "ethnic states" in the modern world, but he admits that "no state yet developed has reliably kept its promise as an adaptive ethnic group strategy" (221), which includes "the best known modern ethnic state"--Nazi Germany (231). For example, none of the ethnic states he mentions have succeeded in raising the total fertility rate of its ethny. The drop in the total fertility rate for native Germans continued under the Nazis, and the Germans have one of the lowest fertility rates for any population in the world. Other modern ethnic states that Salter mentions--such as Malaysia--show the same failure to raise fertility rates. Malaysia provides special protection for the Malay majority at the expense of the Chinese and Indian minorities, and yet the total fertility rate for Malays have fallen below replacement levels. (I have written about low fertility in the demographic transition.)
All of this leads me to conclude that while there might be a natural desire for tribalism, the expression of that tribalism as racial or ethnic identity is not natural but cultural.
Some of my posts on the biological reality of race can be found here, here, here, and here.
Sunday, May 01, 2016
In 1975, as a graduate student at the University of Chicago, I first saw Ed Wilson's Sociobiology on the new book table at the Seminary Coop Bookstore. I remember thinking, as I skimmed over his last chapter on human sociobiology, that a Darwinian science of human nature could illuminate and adjudicate debates over human nature in the history of political philosophy. In 1978, a conference paper by Roger Masters persuaded me that a science of evolved human nature could support a new understanding of Aristotelian natural right. In the 1980s and early 1990s, I saw the writing about evolutionary psychology coming from Leda Cosmides, John Tooby, and others as contributing to this new science of human nature that could sustain what I called "Darwinian natural right."
Sometime around 1986, I met David Hull, a philosopher specializing in the philosophy of biology. When I spoke to him about my interest in applying a biology of human nature to political philosophy, he warned me that evolutionary biology would not support any conception of human nature, if that was understood as some unchanging human essence. Darwinian science denied such "essentialist" thinking, he explained, by showing that all living beings--including human beings--are historically contingent and variable, and therefore there is no enduring human nature and no enduring moral or political standard for judging human life rooted in human evolution. Later, I discovered that one of my colleagues at Northern Illinois University--David Buller--had studied under Hull at Northwestern University, and that Buller's dissertation had elaborated Hull's argument against a biological human nature as assumed by evolutionary psychology. In 2005, Buller's dissertation was published as a book--Adapting Minds: Evolutionary Psychology and the Persistent Quest for Human Nature.
As the title indicates, Buller was responding to Cosmides and Tooby's edited volume--The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture. "The Adapted Mind" might suggest a single mind fixed by evolutionary adaptation for all human beings, which would constitute a universal human nature. "Adapting Minds" suggests multiple minds that are changing in response to changing circumstances, which would mean that there is no enduring human nature produced by evolution. Indeed, Buller declares his agreement with Michael Ghiselin's claim that "human nature is a superstition."
As I have indicated in a previous post, I agree with Buller that the evolutionary psychologists sometimes seem to stress the uniformity of human nature in such a way as to ignore the individual diversity that manifests the psychological polymorphism that has emerged from evolutionary history. I also agree with him that in claiming that we all today have a "Stone Age mind" adapted to the environment of Pleistocene hunter-gatherers, the evolutionary psychologists can seem to mistakenly assume that there has been no human evolution over the past 10,000 years.
But on the most crucial point--the very idea of human nature--I am on the side of the evolutionary psychologists. If one defines human nature in a silly way (as Buller and Hull do), then human nature does not exist. But if one defines human nature in a sensible way, then human nature surely does exist.
Buller's silly definition of human nature is that it would have to consist only of traits that satisfy three conditions--first, they must be unique to human beings and thus not shared with any other animals; second, they must be invariably and exactly the same for all human individuals everywhere; and, third, they must be eternal essences that are not historically contingent. It is easy for Buller to argue that human evolution has not produced a human species with such traits.
But a sensible definition of human nature does not require these conditions. We can define human nature as constituted by that suite of generally recurrent anatomical, physiological, and psychological traits that characterize the human species. Buller implicitly concedes this sensible definition of human nature when he speaks of human anatomy, human physiology, and human psychology as realities that can be scientifically studied. Buller says that "psychology may one day provide us with descriptions of some very widespread regularities among the minds of our conspecifics" (456). Well, then, if we define human nature as constituted by "very widespread regularities" among human beings in their minds and bodies, then human nature exists.
Among those "very widespread regularities," I include the twenty natural desires that constitute the motivational basis for moral and political psychology. Because of the variability in those desires and in the circumstances of action across individuals and across societies, we need prudence or practical judgment in deciding what is best for particular individuals in particular circumstances. But the regularity in the human nature of those desires sets some general standards for moral and political judgment.
Consider, for example, the natural desire for sexual identity. Human beings generally desire to identify themselves as male or female. Sex is the single most important characteristic of personal identity. It is the first question we ask about a newborn infant. It is the first thing we notice about a person and the last thing we forget. In all human societies, sex terminology is fundamentally dualistic. Male and female are the basic sexes. Others are either a combination of the basic sexes (hermaphrodites) or a crossover from one to the other (men who act as women or women who act as men). All human societies have some sexual division of labor. And although different societies assign somewhat different sex roles, thee are some recurrent differences that manifest a universal bipolarity in the pattern of human desires. For instance, women in general (on average) tend to be more nurturing as manifested in a greater propensity to care for children, and men in general (on average) tend to be more aggressive as manifested in a greater propensity to violence. Yet while these average differences are true for most men and women, for some individuals it is not: some women have manly desires, and some men have womanly desires.
Sanderson might say that I am confusing sex with gender. Sex refers to the biological differences in anatomy and physiology between males and females. Gender refers to the social roles of boys and men, on the one hand, and girls and women, on the other hand. Moreover, Sanderson claims that while nonhuman animals show the sexual differences between male and female, only humans have gender. And yet while Sanderson sees gender as different from sex, he does not see it as detached from sex. Biological sex constrains but does not determine cultural gender.
The links between sex and gender are manifest in the universals of gender differences shaped by human evolution. Sanderson surveys the evidence for at least six universals that we can identify as "very widespread regularities" of human nature.
(1) "Everywhere men display more aggressiveness."
(2) "Everywhere men are more competitive."
(3) "Everywhere men monopolize political leadership."
(4) "Everywhere women do the majority of the parenting."
(5) "Everywhere men and women display different kinds of cognitive skills."
(6) "Everywhere men and women have a strong sense of gender identity."
(1) Everywhere men on average are more aggressive than women, in the sense of a stronger propensity to physical violence. As reviewed by John Archer and others, hundreds of studies using a wide variety of methodologies have shown in all societies greater aggressiveness on average for boys and men than for girls and women.
As is true for all six universals in gender, Sanderson (like me) stresses that the difference here is on average, which recognizes that some individuals depart from the average pattern. Some women are more aggressive than some men. Girls with above average levels of testosterone are more aggressive than girls with average levels of testosterone. On average, most men have higher levels of testosterone than most women, but this is not true for all individuals.
The average gender difference in aggressiveness is connected through evolutionary adaptation to differences in bodily size and strength. On average, men are taller, heavier, stronger, and more muscular than women.
Because of this difference in aggressiveness, war has always been an almost exclusively male activity. The recent decision of the U.S. Department of Defense to open combat positions to women is a fascinating experiment. Very aggressive women will be attracted to do this. It is a safe prediction, however, that war will never be a predominantly female activity.
(2) Everywhere men are on average more competitive than women, in that men are more inclined to fight for high status and resources. In every human society, there tends to be more men than women in the positions of highest status. The best explanation for this is sexual selection: in evolutionary history, men have competed with other men for access to the resources necessary to attract high-quality mates, and women tend to prefer men with resources and high status.
(3) Everywhere the highest positions of political leadership are held predominantly by men. Even in foraging bands, where there are no formal positions of political leadership, there is some informal leadership by men. There is no clear evidence that any society has ever been a matriarchy, in which women hold all or most of the highest positions of leadership.
In modern industrial societies, the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government are largely male dominated. In recent decades, a growing number of women have entered the political realm. The Scandinavian countries have an average of about 40 percent of the parliamentary seats filled by women. As heads of state (presidents or prime ministers), men hold 95 percent or more of these positions around the world.
But, again, many individual women show high political ambition. A Margaret Thatcher or a Hillary Clinton shows the ambition of high-testosterone women.
(4) Among many animals, males contribute little or no parental care for offspring. Human fathers generally contribute more to parental care than is characteristic of over animals. Even so, fathers on average contribute much less to parenting than do mothers.
This manifests the sexual division of labor in which women tend to engage in those activities that are compatible with extensive care for their children, while men on average have more freedom to enter roles that take them away from extensive parental care.
(5) There is plenty of evidence that all of the sex differences in motivation between men and women are connected to differences in their cognitive skills. Mental testing shows that women on average are better than men in verbal ability, remembering the location of objects, and in reading facial expressions, while men on average are better in spatial ability, mental rotation of objects, maze running, and route finding. These differences are magnified at puberty when testosterone levels increase in males. These differences have been found among foraging bands and in some other mammalian animals.
There are two theories to explain the evolution of these sex differences in cognitive skills. According to the sexual selection theory, males need good spatial skills to navigate large territories in searching for mates, which would be true especially for polygynous species, where males have larger navigational ranges than females. According to the hunter-gatherer theory, the sex differences arise from the sexual division of labor, so that the cognitive skills necessary for hunting animals have evolved more prominently among males, and the cognitive skills necessary for gathering plants have evolved more prominently among females. There is some evidence for both theories.
(6) In all human societies, men and women have a strong sense of their identity as male or female. There is some evidence that this is correlated with differing prenatal levels of testosterone. So that women who had high prenatal levels of testosterone during their development in the uterus are more masculine in their gender role identity. Since men usually have had much higher levels of prenatal testosterone than women, this would partially explain why they generally have a more highly masculine identity in contrast to the more feminine identity of women.
All of this suggests that, as Sanderson says, "a completely degendered society is not possible" (225). And thus we should expect that experiments in completely abolishing gender identity and creating androgynous societies will fail.
If sexual identity were a purely social construction, as many social scientists have assumed, then, as Sanderson indicates, we would have to make two kinds of predictions. First, we would have to predict that the patterns of gender identity vary arbitrarily and randomly across societies, so that we would see the entire range of possible variation. We might expect that in about one-third of societies, women would be more aggressively violent than men, and men would be the primary caregivers for infants and children. In another one-third of societies, we might expect to see no sex differences at all in these traits, And, finally, in another one-third of societies, we would expect to see the pattern that is most familiar to us--men being more aggressive than women, and women being more inclined to child-care than are men. But this prediction of totally arbitrary and random variation is not what we see.
The second prediction of the social construction theory is that those people who are born as genetic males could be successfully reared to have a female gender identity, and those who are born as genetic females could be successfully reared to have a male gender identity. This experiment has been tried and failed. The most famous case is that of the Canadian Bruce/Brenda/David Reimer. This was the boy whose infant circumcision was so badly botched that he was castrated. His parents were advised by John Money to remove the baby's testicles and rear him as a girl. He predicted that socialization as a girl could turn Bruce into Brenda. And for many years, psychology textbooks reported this as proof that gender identity was purely a social construction. But Brenda never felt like a girl, and she was tormented by this. When her parents finally revealed to her as a teenager what they had done, she insisted on turning herself back into a boy--David Reimer. But David remained tormented by the effects of what he had suffered, and finally he committed suicide.
And yet, of course, gender identity is to some degree socially constructed, in that some patriarchal societies try to magnify the differences between the sexes in ways that allow men to totally dominate women, while other more egalitarian societies try to minimize the differences so that women have some freedom of opportunity to chose how they live, and to attain a social status equal to men. In modern liberal societies, with gender equality of opportunity, there isn't much difference in the way boys and girls are socialized, and as a result, sex differences are not a pronounced as they are in patriarchal societies.
In such liberal societies, men and women are free to satisfy their natural desire for sexual identity and all their other natural desires in ways that conform to their individual propensities and abilities. That's why liberal societies can be judged superior to illiberal societies, because liberal societies are more compatible with human nature.
Other posts on sexual identity and the debate over whether human nature includes more than two sexes can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.