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Liberalism’s Foundational Premises Are Anti-Science Magical Thinking


The mind is a blank slate at birth. Everything we believe about right and wrong is learned either from formal education or from experience. Humans are driven mostly by conscious reason. Our ability to reason evolved to help us make better decisions and to find truth. Reason is the path to moral truth, and it tells us that morality starts and ends with care, empathy, and compassion. There are no innate differences between groups of people that might explain disparities between them. All disparities are due to social constructs and all prejudices are learned. Prejudice and disparities can be eliminated if only we put in place the right social constructs and teach the right things. In this way the Good Society and the New Man are possible.

Each assertion in the above paragraph is wrong; disproven by social science, empirical evidence, and the facts of human history. Yet it forms the collection of premises upon which liberalism rests. The extent to which a person believes in these assertions or subscribes to them is the extent to which that person indulges in anti-science magical thinking that is unmoored from reality..

It is not true that the mind is a blank slate at birth. See The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, by Steven Pinker. Evolution shaped our brains just as it shaped our bodies. We are born with brains that are pre-wired with evolutionary adaptations that aid in our survival and flourishing.

It is not true that everything we believe about right and wrong is learned. The pre-wiring with which we are born predisposes us to favor some types of behaviors and disfavor others. See Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences, by Hibbing, Smith, and Alford

It is not true that humans are driven mostly by conscious reason. See The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom and The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt, and Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniels Kahneman. About ninety-nine percent of human thought and action is driven by instinct and intuition, just like all the other animals on the planet.  We’re motivated by the gut feelings of like/dislike, approach/avoid, and fight/flee that we experience in response to the things we see in the social world around us. Instinct and intuition happen automatically and instantaneously. This is Kahneman’s “fast” thinking. This is part of the evolutionary pre-wiring with which we are born. Reason, on the other hand – the other one percent of human thought – requires language and the construction of a logical argument.  It’s not instant, it requires time and deliberate, conscious thought. It is physically impossible for reason to precede, and therefore to determine, our instincts and intuitions. When it comes to social issues reason is always, and can only ever be, a post-hoc rationalization of feelings already felt; decisions already made.

It is not true that reason evolved to help us make better decisions and to find truth. If that were the case then we’d be good at it. But we’re not. In fact we’re terrible at it. See the book The Enigma of Reason by Dan Sperber and Hugo Mercier, or, for a shorter description, see the online article The Argumentative Theory of Reasoning at edge.org. Reason evolved to help us win arguments; to persuade others that our own instincts and intuitions are the right ones. 

It is not true that reason is the path to moral truth. See the section “The Rationalist Delusion” in The Righteous Mind. The chief function of our ability to reason is to act as a press secretary on behalf of our instincts and intuitions; to defend them and promote them at all costs. Reason often causes us to make the choice we can best explain, rather than the choice that is in fact the right one or the best one. Reason can lead us AWAY from truth. Watch the lecture “The Rationalist Delusion & the Perils of Certainty  by Jonathan Haidt” on #Vimeo 

It is not true that morality starts and ends with care, empathy, and compassion. See The Righteous Mind. Together those things make up only about one sixth of the “evolved psychological mechanisms” from which our gut feelings of right and wrong arise: The moral foundation of “care. The other five are fairness, autonomy, loyalty, authority, and purity. Morality is the…

… interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, technologies, and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate self-interest and make cooperative societies possible.

It is not true that there are no innate biological or genetic differences between groups of people. . Men and women are differentLiberals and conservatives are different.  

It is not true that all disparities are due only to social constructs. For example, men and women make different education and career choices, leading to different average salaries in the working world. The Gender Pay Gap is a Complete Myth.

It is not true that the Good Society and the New Man are possible. The notion that they are reflects a profound misunderstanding of human nature. See The Left’s Blind Spot, and When Compassion Leads to Sacrilege. Humans are flawed; prone to all sorts of self-serving biases, hypocrisies, thought processes (e.g., see above discussions of reasoning) and behaviors.

Collectively the untrue “truths” in the opening paragraph above amount to the unconstrained vision described by Thomas Sowell in A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles. They follow from the liberal psychological profile.  This “vision,” this way of thinking, gets human nature tragically wrong on multiple levels, and because of this., when it gets the chance to run things, inevitably ends in disaster including mass oppression and and eve genocide. Here’s Haidt, from When Compassion Leads to Sacrilege:

The unconstrained vision, I believe, has the worst track record in the history of ideas. This is a terrible and really dangerous idea, quite frankly. Um, in the French Revolution I’ve been stunned to read this, for the book that I’m writing, to read on the French Revolution. My beef with them is that they’re rationalists, they think that reason is a reliable way to find truth, it’s great in the natural sciences, but once you care about something, if you have passions, if it’s a moral issue, reasoning is the slave of the, uh, is the servant of the, wait what is it, David Hume said that “Reasoning is the slave of the passions and can pretend to no other office but to serve and obey them.”I think Hume was right. So I’m really concerned about rationalists, but what I discovered is that in one of the few places on earth where the rationalists got control of an entire country and were able to do with it what they wanted, they created a cult of reason, they banned the clergy, they killed the nobles, ah, and what we had wasn’t oh, let’s get rid of ah, let’s get rid of nations and religion and then people will be one, no what they had was most people didn’t, or a lot of people didn’t want to go along with the revolution, and of course they’re wrong because we know we’re right we have reason on our side, they called themselves the party of reason, also the party of humanity, the French Revolutionaries ended up murdering hundreds of thousands of people. They committed a genocide in the Vendee region lining people against the walls and shooting them, putting them out into boats and sinking the boats. The French Revolutionaries committed genocide. They committed, they would round people, anybody who was accused of anything, rounded up, pronounced guilty, guillotined. We don’t usually say, “Well yeah they committed genocide but other than that oh the French Revolution was great.”So the French Revolution was based on the ex, the most extreme unconstrained view, the philosophes, Condorcet, Sam Harris (gesture, admitting the joke), people like that.

And if you say, “Welcome everyone. Constraints are bad.“ It quickly decays into a moral, into moral chaos. Again, the unconstrained vision, when it gets a chance to run things, screws it up.

Twentieth century communism, fascism, any any movement that tried to create a new man ends up committing atrocities, ends up committing mass murder. Um, if any, if there are any historians here, but as far as I understand it most left wing revolutions have ended with mass murder, because, you have this utopia, people don’t go along, because you got human nature incorrectly, they don’t go along, but you know you’re right because you have reason on your side, so you use force, and you use more force, and you use more force, and you end up like Cuba, or North Korea, or the other communist revolutions. It doesn’t work.

The unconstrained vision in the sciences and social sciences has denied that there’s human nature. They’re just wrong about that, it’s a really terrible idea scientifically. They’ve denied evolutionary psych. Evolutionary psych has some problems which I think are being fixed, but the idea that our behavior is not influenced by evolutionary history is bizarre.

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