Ron Paul, John Derbyshire, Gay Genes, and the Cult of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

To my mild surprise, John Derbyshire further shores his reputation as NRO’s house contrarian by endorsing Ron Paul for President.  His reasoning is nested in properly righteous contempt, to wit:      

What I am seeking is an anti-JFK — a candidate who will transform our
nation’s capital from a city of hope for middle-class intellectuals,
into a city of despair for them. The despair of those intellectuals, I
am increasingly convinced, is the hope of our nation. Looking at all
but one of the Republican candidates (and, it goes without saying, all
but none of the Democratic ones) I see nothing in prospect
but a new draft of office-seeking intellectuals, primed and eager to
bring us new expansions of federal power, new pointless wars, new
million-strong reinforcements for the Reconquista, new
thousand-page tax loopholes, new inducements for idleness and crime,
new humiliations for the saps who follow rules and obey laws.

Chided by a fellow Corner contributor for Paul’s gently phrased skepticism regarding  the correctness of matters Darwinian, the Derb responds:

You’ll have to get up earlier than that if you want to get up before the Derb.  In this particular case, about four and a half years earlier: Here I was on NRO in April of 2003:

couldn’t care less whether my president believes in the theory of
evolution. In fact, reflecting on some recent experiences, I¡¯m not
sure that I wouldn’t prefer a president who didn’t.

must say, I think it’s a bit odd for a trained and qualified doctor not
to believe in the central paradigm of modern biology. But
candidacy-wise, I still couldn’t care less.

With which I am not inclined to quibble.  Without indulging in irrelevant apologetics, however, it does seem that Paul’s off-the-cuff remarks regarding "the theory of evolution" are more in line with a kind of open-ended compatibalism than with anything that might be fairly characterized as a wholesale rejection of "the central paradigm of modern biology."  His buried reference to the "precise time and manner" of creation is telling enough, as watchwords go.  And in this, I suspect he differs little from the stooges on either side of the dais. 

But speaking as a convinced neo-Darwinian, I’m more than a little sick of  the noisome toungue-clucking among those self-annointed flying spaghetti monster types who impose their safely fashioned brand of evolutionary correctitude as a kind of litmus test for civic legitimacy.  There are countless examples of  Darwinian denialism on the left, a point that was most recently made clear in the ruckus over James Watson’s statements regarding possible racial differences in intelligence and temperament. 

And for the moment, I can’t help recalling the silly row that ensued when Melissa Etheridge posed her oh-so solicitous "is homosexuality a choice" question to the candidates during a Logo-hosted Democratic gay and lesbian forum some time ago.  Bill Richardson’s amusingly confused fumble drew predictable headlines, but the real story was the lock-step uniformity of response elicited among the others, who knew fuck-well  how to phrase the "correct" answer.  Of course homosexuality is exclusively "biological," they all chimed.  What sort of troglodyte could think otherwise? The problem was and is that the best available evidence does not support any such politically attuned degree of certainty, and I have little doubt that even the most dedicated ID-baiting new-atheist aparatchik would be challenged to deploy a plausible Darwinian explanation for the penetrance of the fabled "gay gene." I’ve done my best from the armchair, and it isn’t easy.

The correct — as opposed to politically correct — answer to Ms. Etheridge’s insincere volley would have been to note that the biological component of homosexuality is a subject of ongoing scientific study, that the best evidence from twin studies is inconclusive, that different types of homosexuality may yield to differing and complex sociobiological, hormonal, and cultural explanations, and that more research is needed. Beyond this, one might reasonably qualify matters by making it clear that the ultimate question of what causes homosexuality should matter not in the least where questions of individual rights are at issue.  No need to stir the vat with talk of gay germ theory, although that may be where things end up.   

But of course, the spaghetti monster cultists don’t care about truth nor about ground level methods of  scientific inquiry.  They just revel in calling out the heretics, and then they gloat from the safely guarded redoubt of smug, self-congratulatory, thoughtless, sooth-faking certainty.  As sure as I am that Ron Paul is mistaken in his assessment of  the weight of evidence favoring evolution, I am no less certain that those most inclined to disparage his character and candidacy on this trivial account are no less foolish than Jack Chick pamphlateers who wax nostalgic about dinosaur hunts of yore.

Memento mori.                            



Nine-Banded Books

I’d hoped to have things a bit more polished before making a formal announcement, but since the indefatigable TGGP has been kind enough to mention it a couple of times, it seems only fair to make it official that the Hoover Hog’s long-contemplated publishing imprint, Nine-Banded Books is at long last slouching into corporeal existence. 

Our premiere title is Bradley R. Smith’s The Man Who Saw His Own Liver, a carefully novelized conceptualization of the acclaimed but largely forgotten 1983 play, The Man Who Stopped Paying.  It may seem odd to launch a small publishing venture with a book that will be seen by many as a relic of Cold War protest literature, but Bradley’s writing easily transcends its narrow socio-political provenance. As I emphasize in my introduction, Liver remains resonant as a ground-level meditation on the problem of Man and State. Through the comically rendered gesture of war tax resistance, Smith proffers a poignant if ultimately hopeless expression of the libertarian idea as a kind of quixotic gambit. If it is less than fashionable these days to speak of "The Bomb" in terms of impending moral crisis, one needn’t indulge in far-flung metaphorical retrofitting to see the deeper significance. Fermi’s Aliens have yet to spoil our fun, and in the end it matters little just why they’re running so goddamn late. 

I am not blind, obviously, to Bradley Smith’s extra-literary reputation as a self-styled Holocaust revisionist gadfly.  To the contrary, his dalliance with "The Great Taboo" is to me at once fascinating and relevant, but no longer troubling. This is something that I attempt to address, though perhaps too obliquely, in my introduction to Liver, but for present purposes suffice it to say that despite the collective opinion of self-appointed arbiters of intellectual decorum, I see nothing inherently objectionable or anti-Semitic in questioning the canonical Holocaust narrative. That’s as simple as I know how to put it.

And while I have no illusions about the unseemly motivations of many revisionists (or "deniers," if you prefer), I am no less certain that Smith’s life-defining acquaintance with this impolitic subject is rooted in nothing so base or  fetishistic. His preoccupation, if that’s the right word, more accurately stems from an abiding concern for the moral dimensions of belief. 

Years ago, The Journal of Historical Review ran a thoughtful review of Smith’s Confessions of a Holocaust Revisionist that comes awfully close to the mark. An excerpt:

. . . what shines through Confessions of a Holocaust Revisionist is
the author’s adamantine resolve to concede other persons their humanity
all the while he struggles to free himself from the shackles of
"belief, the mere habit of faith," which he has come to see as "the
most degrading passion of the species." From the moment when Smith
accepts a leaflet disputing Holocaust gas- chamber claims, we are made
privy to an inner struggle in which the author must reconcile the
conflicting claims raised by civility, tolerance, shame, courage, and
intellectual integrity. 

If Bradley is covering for something more nefarious, he’s certainly fooled me.  Not that it matters.  Any more than Fermi’s Aliens, or a bundle of Irwin Schiff Woopoo chips.

I’m currently at work on three other books about which there will be soon more to say.  In the meantime, if you want to order a copy of The Man Who Saw His Own Liver, you can go though the Amazon link on the Nine-Banded Books site, or you can save on shipping by sending  $15 directly to me at the following address:

Chip Smith / Nine-Banded Books
600 Virginia Street West, Apt. C
Charleston, WV 25302

We’ll be set up for PayPal orders soon. Liver will begin shipping in mid-January.

Memento mori.                   

Peter Singer’s Miserablist Karaoke Club

Over at Spiked, Michael Cook files a snarkily dismissive review of David Benatar’s Better Never to Have Been, the book that informs my recent — and still unfinished — series on ethical antinatalism (here are parts one, two, three, and four). While Cook allows that Benatar "deserves a few rounds of fisticuffs with a fellow academic," his graveman centers on the logical implications of a dour and bedoomed utilitarian discourse, which he sees as inherently, if paradoxically, misanthropic and, um, worse.  In Cook’s estimation the only real value of Benatar’s thesis is that it demonstrates how the precepts of negative utilitarianism are but watchwords for….what’s that word?  Oh yeah, nihilism.

Myself, I rather like the n word.  I dig the old west coast punk aesthetics it conjures, and from the cosmic lens, there’s simply not much to to grasp in refutation. That the weft and weave of this atomized dumb-show untethers without objective Truth or Meaning, I take as a given. Background static.  What you do is the rub, as ever.   Even if you never had a choice. And so fucking what. 

But this doesn’t mean Cook isn’t cheating.  He is.  More specifically, he’s following the lazy script of every other Amazon reviewer who dismisses Benatar’s arguments without engaging them.  While the utilitarian caricature he deploys serves to buttress a tried-and-false appeal to common sense, it neatly avoids the content of Benatar’s argument, which is only incidentally predicated on utilitarian grounds.  All you need is a harm principle, folks.  Posit that much, in whatever flavor, and you have some explaining to do.

Nor is it fair to color Benatar’s argument as "misanthropic" — as Cook does — without at least acknowledging — as Cook does not — that Benatar addresses this inevitable complaint.  To be clear, Benatar’s foundational reasoning is couched in explicitly and inherently philanthropic language.  Hence the centrality of harm.  People aren’t the problem.  Pain is.  It’s right there in Benatar’s concluding remarks, under the heading, "Misanthropy and Philanthropy," where he writes:

Bringing a sentient life into existence is a harm to the being whose life it is.  My arguments suggest that it is wrong to inflict this harm.  To argue against the infliction of harm arises from concern for, not dislike of, those who would be harmed.  It may seem like an odd kind of philanthropy — one that, if acted upon, would lead to the end of all anthropos.  It is, however, the most effective way of preventing suffering.  Not creating a person absolutely guarantees that that potential person will not suffer — because that person will not exist.

Perhaps Cook believes Benatar is being disingenuous.  He should say so.  He doesn’t. To him it’s so obviously, so comically, absurd. And, er, nihilistic.  Apparently, Samuel Johnson kicked a rock. Or something. 

Memento mori.