Hats off to Joseph Walker who’s podcasting up a storm at The Jolly Swagman (Yes, the title gave me the wrong idea too.) Anyway, I often find long-form podcasts rather tedious (except where I’m being interviewed in which case I find them endlessly fascinating, but others probably don’t). But Jo puts a huge amount of preparation into his interviews and, a little unusually is not shy to assert his own views into the interview as a counterpoint and challenge to the interviewee. It amps up the degree of difficulty of the interview, but usually works well. He’s also pretty jaundiced about the excesses of PC and identity politics for which I also salute him.
Anyway, I’m a member of the Swagmen and Swagettes Facebook group, and Joseph posted this post to accompany his interview with Peter Singer last month. In the interview, he goes in hot pursuit of a book of Singer’s that didn’t get a lot of publicity. A Darwinian Left: Politics, Evolution and Cooperation.
Anyway, here is the list of attributes of a Darwinian Left that Singer had produced in his book. Joseph then expanded it with his own list and invited others to do likewise. I then added my own thoughts, which was done quickly so may need some revision. In any event, this post is an interview to Troppodillians everywhere to quibble, bicker, backslap or propose points that should be added to the list.
Peter Singer says a Darwinian left would not:
- Deny the existence of human nature, nor insist that human nature is inherently good, nor that it is infinitely malleable;
- Expect to end all conflict and strife between human beings, whether by political revolution, social change, or better education;
- Assume that all inequalities are due to discrimination, prejudice, oppression or social conditioning. Some will be, but this cannot be assumed in every case;
Peter Singer says a Darwinian left would:
- Accept that there is such a thing as human nature, and seek to find out more about it, so that policies can be grounded on the best available evidence of what human beings are like;
- Reject any inference from what is ‘natural’ to what is ‘right’;
- Expect that, under different social and economic systems, many people will act competitively in order to enhance their own status, gain a position of power, and/or advance their interests and those of their kin;
- Expect that, regardless of the social and economic system in which they live, most people will respond positively to genuine opportunities to enter into mutually beneficial forms of cooperation;
- Promote structures that foster competition, and attempt to channel competition into socially desirable ends;
- Recognise that the way in which we exploit nonhuman animals is a legacy of a pre-Darwinian past that exaggerated the gulf between humans and other animals, and therefore work towards a higher moral status for nonhuman animals, and a less anthropocentric view of our dominance over nature;
- Stand by the traditional values of the left by being on the side of the weak, poor and oppressed, but think very carefully about what social and economic changes will really work to benefit them.”
Joseph Walker’s Updated Darwinian left would not:
- Sneer at religion and call believers dumb;
- Mistake a weak version of homophily for xenophobia (this point is borrowed from Nassim Taleb’s Principia Politica);
- Accept Hardin’s Cardinal Rule (“Public policies should be based on the rule: ‘Never ask a person to act against his own self-interest.'”) as absolute;
Joseph Walker’s Updated Darwinian left would:
- Be okay with patriotism;
- Realise that complex systems dislike central planning;
- Recognise that small groups are essential to individual well-being and are the building blocks of larger-scale societies.
- Do you have any additions or amendments for my or Peter’s lists?
To which I added these points together with a link to one of my first posts on this site describing myself as a Conservative, Liberal Social Democrat.
A few tentative thoughts:
- Human reason obviously involves cognition and reasoning, but only functions within a culture.
- Cultures are amongst other things systems of social cognition and incentives. As such, they can be more or less supportive of reason (I’m defining this broadly to include much more than rational calculation of interests, one’s own or others.)
- As profoundly ignorant beings humility and patience are in short supply from those who would style themselves as our intellectual leaders and betters
- Where commonsense and/or a major and legitimate system of political cognition and values comes to a strong conclusion we should take it seriously even if we are not that well disposed to it.