Abdicating Humanity

sp!ked review of books | The divided state of America

When the survival of morality becomes reliant on the findings of geneticists, you know that it is in trouble. Paradoxically, the target of Murray’s critique – the new upper class – is also addicted to neuro-determinism. Its eschewing of a moral language coincides with its use of brain research to explain every manifestation of human behaviour. It, too, uses neuroscientists and geneticists to explain that brain research shows why liberals are smarter than conservatives, why people become gay, or why children are likely to become criminals.

This is reliably the bias in every explanation of human behavior from the scientific/analytical class of intellectuals–that is, those whose understanding of the world is locked in the analytical philosophical tradition. So what’s the problem? Isn’t reductionistic materialism necessary in order to be rational and objective, and avoid spinning into an abyss of pre-rational, superstitious ignorance? No, actually it is simply a denial of one’s authentic humanity, such that no beliefs or values are presupposed or applied, insofar as all knowledge is said to be appropriated directly from nature.

This new scientism is the other side of the non-judgmentalist coin. The mantra of ‘the research shows…’ represents the enthronement of non-judgmentalism. Politicians and public figures are no longer required to state that this policy is good or that one is wrong. Instead of making a judgment of value, they can hide behind ‘evidence-based’ policy and the rhetoric of ‘the research shows…’.

Resorting to scientific justifications for personal opinion is nothing more than an evasion of responsibility. That is why liberals like to style themselves as the “reality-based community” who are not propagandizing the proles, but merely “raising their consciousness.”

Today, what research actually affirms are the prejudices of Murray’s new upper class. It is probably the most important weapon in the intellectual armoury of the raising-awareness crusaders.

The attempt to base all opinions on scientific “fact” and cool, impersonal reason is incompatible with making moral choices and enabling personal growth, much less improving anything else.

Using socio-biology to explain social or cultural problems is a symptom of moral disorientation, not an antidote to it. What it encourages is not Murray’s Great Awakening but the continuation of the Great Evasion, the avoidance, that is, of the task of openly confronting the moral and intellectual problems of our time.

Despite appearances, I do not advocate the demonization of technology or of scientific theories; making them into autonomous, powerful entities is a kind of idolatry. I merely wish to acknowledge them as tools created by humans to help understand ourselves and to take control of our world, and to denounce the mindless sacrifice of personal responsibility on the altar of the Reason Fairy.

Ironically, the only way that knowledge can be appropriated directly from nature is in mysticism. This mystical connection to nature is also called pantheism if couched in terms of absolute knowledge of universal laws; an inchoate affinity between all living things; and the obfuscation of the individual self (and consequently of moral agency).


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