Friday, August 20, 2010

Beck's dangerous idea

By Capt. Fogg

It's marvelous that Charles Darwin still scares the hell out of people. Marvelous that is, if you're not convinced that our species has little survival potential because the peculiar adaptation to a changing world we share with no other species, is beginning to make it impossible to adapt to the changing world brought about by that adaptation. Human intelligence is a very new development and far from making us the pinnacle of evolution, it may yet prove to be another example of overspecialization making us vulnerable to extinction as our existence depends ever more on coping with an ever more complex world.

That we may have risen to the level of our incompetence, beyond the level of the average person's capability to understand invokes the Peter Principle. That there are people like Glenn Beck who thrive on breaking the tools we've used so get us this far, subduing intelligence and reason and critical facilities as well as the body of information we've accumulated, assures the eventual end of civilization and without civilization, we're not exactly the fittest things in the jungle, are we?

It may seem strange to cite Glenn Beck when talking about matters of intelligence, but it's no stranger than listening to him make that old and silly and certainly illegitimate claim that Charles Darwin is the "father of modern racism." It's an argument that can't be seen as such by anyone familiar with the modern, scientific concept of evolution or indeed someone smart enough to realize that Darwin didn't invent that process any more than Newton invented gravity or inertia making him culpable when someone hits you over the head with a rock. It takes, in fact, something more than Beckian stupidity and something more like mens Rea, as the lawyers call it: evil intent. Evil intent is a distinctly human property as Mr. Beck amply demonstrates. Darwin didn't invent humans.

Ask the moron on the street what Darwin was all about and he'll likely say "survival of the fittest" and he'll be wrong. He'll be unlikely to revise his opinion since the natural algorithm that produces speciation and biodiversity is more complex than he's willing or able to assimilate and the body of evidence might as well be buried on Mars for all he knows of it. Survival of the fittest is a flattering concept anyway, since we've survived so far and therefore can call ourselves fit and masters of all we survey.

It's a fairly short non-sequitur from there to "only the fit should survive" which of course is not Darwin and certainly not Dan Dennett but Republican, Conservative, Libertarian, Glenn Beckian. How better to describe the contempt and lack of concern for the helpless and unfortunate than to link it to the Scroogian "let them die and decrease the surplus population?" It's not Liberals after all who decry compassion when it costs us anything, it's Conservatives.

That evolution occurs and is the process through which all existing life forms have differentiated themselves from other life forms, right down to whatever primitive life-like chemistry preceded them, is not conjectural. It's not in doubt and not without an overwhelming preponderance of evidence. It's more solid, I could argue, than Newtonian physics, but the important factor is that it's not about survival of the fittest and doubly not about the idea that one racial or ethnic group needs to enforce the fallacy by persecuting another. Darwin is about an inevitable natural process and inevitable and natural things don't need enforcement.

The Nazis did not seek to eliminate other "races" than their mythical Aryan brotherhood because of Darwin or Huxley or any of the countless archaeologists and geneticists who have cemented evolution as a basic science -- they used a fallacious and mendacious misstatement of it because they were racists seeking scientific basis, just as Glenn Beck does. Make no mistake, I give the comparison in all seriousness. Fake science, bad science and specious arguments lie behind many movements, most of which are highly dangerous. The public hasn't the brains or the knowledge to see through it and many who have have been hypnotized by one Svengali after another.

Using a fake simulacrum of science to bolster animal instinct, putting a stolen lab coat on greed, bigotry and racism does not serve to smear real science. In fact as Glenn Beck uses such tools to burn science in effigy he may be making stupidity an important survival factor.

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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