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Cancer Talk

The Social Cancer of the West? (by way of Cancer Talk #4: The Next Phase Begins)


If natural selection is survival of the most adaptable then the clear winner is cancer. This is a key takeaway from The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, which I’ve been listening to in my car this week during my commute.

Cancer adapts to its environment. Treatment may at first push it back to low, sometimes undetectable, levels (called remission).  But often, usually, it seems, it finds a way around the treatment and comes back stronger than before; immune to the initial treatment.

I’m experiencing this first-hand at this very moment. My first (surgery), second (radiation), and third (hormone) treatment regimens have failed, and I’m onto the next phase; supplementing hormone therapy with a drug called Nubeqa, which received FDA approval only a few weeks ago on July 20, 2019.  I’m fortunate that this option is available to me. If I’d been born just a couple decades earlier I probably would not have lived as long as I have.

My experience is why I decided to read The Emperor of All Maladies. I felt in the dark about what I was up against. I wanted to know more.

I’ve learned that my case is not unusual.  The battle against cancer for any individual is often a steady procession of new treatments replacing old ones as they become ineffective.

Cancer research, not surprisingly, is on a parallel path.  It is a never-ending quest for new treatments, and maybe, just maybe, somewhere along the way, we’ll stumble onto the one treatment that rules them all, and cures it.

Cancer is cell growth gone wild. My body, or any body with cancer, is basically a host for a microscopic-sized Alien, eating it away from the inside out.

This morning in the shower I had one of those thoughts that seems to pop up out of nowhere as you’re thinking about other things (isn’t it always in the shower)?

In anticipation of receiving my first shipment of Nubeqa later today, I was ruminating on this whole cancer experience when my mind made a connection between it and an essential lesson from social science:

Maintaining health is hard. Destroying it is easy.

That essential lesson is at the heart of conservatism. Indeed, it can be thought of as conservatism’s “Prime Directive:” its single overriding principle that guides all others. It is expressed through the concept of moral capital, described by Jonathan Haidt in his book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion:

Conservatives believe that people are inherently imperfect and are prone to act badly when all constraints and accountability are removed (yes, I thought; see Glaucon, Tetlock, and Ariely in chapter 4). Our reasoning is flawed and prone to overconfidence, so it’s dangerous to construct theories based on pure reason, unconstrained by intuition and historical experience (yes; see Hume in chapter 2 and Baron-Cohen on systemizing in chapter 6). Institutions emerge gradually as social facts, which we then respect and even sacralize, but if we strip these institutions of authority and treat them as arbitrary contrivances that exist only for our benefit, we render them less effective. We then expose ourselves to increased anomie and social disorder (yes; see Durkheim in chapters 8 and 11). Based on my own research, I had no choice but to agree with these conservative claims. As I continued to read the writings of conservative intellectuals, from Edmund Burke in the eighteenth century through Friedrich Hayek and Thomas Sowell in the twentieth, I began to see that they had attained a crucial insight into the sociology of morality that I had never encountered before. They understood the importance of what I’ll call moral capital.  – Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion . Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Moral Capital, according to Haidt, is also The Left’s Blind Spot:

if you are trying to change an organization or a society and you do not consider the effects of your changes on moral capital, you’re asking for trouble. This, I believe, is the fundamental blind spot of the left. It explains why liberal reforms so often backfire,43 and why communist revolutions usually end up in despotism. It is the reason I believe that liberalism—which has done so much to bring about freedom and equal opportunity—is not sufficient as a governing philosophy. It tends to overreach, change too many things too quickly, and reduce the stock of moral capital inadvertently.  – Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion . Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

IF you think about it, the overreach of The Left’s Blind Spot works a lot like cancer does; it destroys its host, moral capital; adapts to the remedies that are applied to it, morphs into something else, and comes back even harder to beat, immune to previous treatments. The history of the West is essentially a repeating cycle of that very process.

It started with the French Revolution which, in the name of enlightened reason, liberty, equality, and fraternity, devolved into the genocide and guillotines of The Terror. Later, it manifested as the collectivism of Russian, Chinese, and Cambodian collectivism, and fascism in all its forms. In the U.S. it morphed into The Progressive Era, the New Deal, and the Great Society, which according to Thomas Sowell, created The Legacy of Liberalism;  – the true cause, as opposed to the supposed legacy of slavery, for the plight of blacks in America – and compelled Jason L. Riley to write Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed. And today, it manifests in the thinking described by Haidt and Lukianoff in The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.  It is the “chaos” that Jordan Peterson admonishes us to guard against in 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.

It is largely, though not entirely, because of the left’s blind spot that the unconstrained vision, according to Haidt, has “the worst track record in the history of ideas,” and earns its place as The Social Cancer of the West.

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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