City Journal Autumn 2014

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Bruce S. Thornton
People Matter « Back to Story

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One can show every single concept presented by Robert Zubrin as exmplars of unreasonable and mostly totally false arrguments.
twisting the facts is bad enough m Zubrin engages in outright fabrication.
Of course, what Bruce Thornton fails to mention is that Malthus' economic priciples align far more closely with the right wing than the left. He was, after all, opposed to social safety nets, welfare programs, socialized medicine, etc. But no matter. Better to take the coward's way out and cherry-pick examples of historical error so as to blame your political opponent for all thats wrong with the world.
Socrates the Younger June 29, 2012 at 1:38 AM
Have you something interesting to say Mike Walsh or are you content with making lazy snide remarks? Are you responding to the immediately preceding comment which is at least argued in extenso. Let's see what you can make of serious argument.
Those curious as to this book's thematic origins should peruse the lead article in The National Interest , Summer 1986
I have long wondered at how anyone could be so blase about the mind being "nothing but a physical phenomenon."

How jaded must someone be not to see the wonder in the realization that matter has within it the seeds of consciousness? That soul-stuff adheres in the physical world?
There is a clear trend towards this antihuman thesis. The ideal has been planted and is so deeply rooted in the third world, where national growth is perceived to be slowed by poverty. To beat poverty, they argue, we need fewer children. The advertising industry has churned out adverts whose sentiments promote one child parents, late marriages prosperous single mothers and so on. The governments fund family planning, putting quotas on maternity leave to working women.

So much is happening in the third world to cut down the population.

Whatever resistance the third world people have tried to put is going to be corroded away very soon. How? The first world has opened a few of its channels to a few individuals of the third world through scholarships. These individuals are then implanted with the first world ideals and are later "dumped" back in their economies. This makes them feel vacuum and end up imposing their ideals to the communities they come from.

The donor community is placed in such places as to attract the attention of people. The legacy they implant there is a little hard to erase since they use crisis points to enter an economy. The behaviours they implant are so deep cut that it becomes difficult for people to shed them off just simple.

This is a good observation of the way to which the globalists are trying to take s to. More of this.
I suspect Carney, commenting here, is spot-on. Thornton wants to blame all bad things on the rise of materialism. Would things be better had the West crushed all the voices, like Darwin's, that dented a theistic worldview?
I knew sanger was apart of this group, amazing how dumbed down democrats do not know history and therefore willingly follow so-called benevolent leaders, nall, more than anti-human, more like Lucifer legions.
Publishing an article like this is like turning over a rock in the garden: look at the combox to observe the sort of nasty things that come wriggling into the open.
Oh dear! It is the overblown rhetoric of my side (right of centre, socially liberal, fiscally conservative pro-competitive-capitalist enterprise) which gets my goat.
Eugenics used to be what sensible peopled did, with arranged marriages and assortative mating (using various proxy measures before IQ tests and Ivy League entrance), just as the good stock breeder did? You wouldn't know it after the persuasive voices of high-minded Anglo upper middle-class and, more understandably, Jewish opinion makers got to work on any mention of Eugenics after the Nazi crimes, but the Jews and British upper middle-classes (major creators of the modern world)were the most successful exponents of eugenics. (See "Jewish Eugenics" a 1916 book by a Rabbi and Greg Clark's "A Farewell to Alms - a Brief Economic History of the World; also read Jane Austen)
What about the common sense view that nearly everyone will benefit from fewer children of dim parents and more from those who are constrained by paying for a professional class lifestyle, mortgage etc, after tax and after both parents have finished their higher degrees? Pity I (my alter ego) married a bimbo and our kids can't get into law school or medicine in competition with all those bright hard working Indians and Chinese but most people's kids are going to benefit from more bright people who will do important things well. If your IQ is 80 you clearly want there to be many many more IQ 130 pluses to make the world safe for you and your vacuous - though maybe kind and honest and cheerful - kids. If you have an IQ of 140 you will of course want more people who are quick on the uptake as company and who can do things which are seriously important to the improvement of mankind's lot. And what about the 2 or 3 billion people who are two or three generations (in the absence of their kids all being able to attend expensive boarding schools for 10 years) away from the cultural/educational standard which would make us happy for them to be immigrants to our countries with votes? It doesn't matter whether they might turn out, with or without genetic manipulation (which they will not invent) to have the same average general cognitive abilities, with same sd, of existing First World countries (or possibly higher as in China). Their way of nurture, just as much as nature, means that we and our children have negative interest in their multiplying while the things we enjoy about the natural world are endangered (though at least that gets us some great TV docos which save us having to actually go and meet bonobos and gorillas amongst the tropical bugs and parasites) and we seriously stress our brains in trying to handle the idea that we will need a lot of poor immigrants to look after our aging parents but we don't really want them to vote.....

It is all very well getting cheers for denouncing the absurdities and pomposities of Paul Ehrlich, the Club of Rome and the IPCC (not to mention the stupendous amount of bad science in medical journals and capture of economics by clever but over-simplifying people who can't recognise the rare genius that Keyne's amazingly versatile fact-focused mind showed was needed to guide policy makers)but what about applying a little common sense. E.g. we know that the education of women is the most important single factor in reducing birth rates and improving the lot of the non-elites in poor countries and we know that old large-family habits persist, quite rationally, as a substitute for good welfare safety nets; so why don't we offer pensions or other incentives to families where girls between 14 and 27 are actively engaged in being educated or trained in marketable skills and have no children? That's the v. simple starting idea. Why not? Because the tiny residual influence of the Catholic Church and some surprising fellow-travellers relates to human fertility (OK not much "influence" as birth rates in Spain and Italy attest)and a vague pro-natalist view which can turn breeding into some sort of human right? Being frightened of the "racist" tag when it is obvious that one's First World money would be best spent on such a scheme in Africa?

My extremely simple point is that there is very good reason for using economic incentives (all, I note as an important fact, to be paid for by the few who are rich enough to be net taxpayers) to get the poor and uneducated to delay having children while they use whatever brains nature has given them on becoming modern people, and, at the same time, clever educated people to contribute at least as much to future generations as the less talented do. (To spell out what is obvious to the numerate, it matters that clever educated women have their children later than dim uneducated women. It matters a lot in terms of what a nation's average IQ will be two generatons hence absent inconceivable advances in genetic engineering and early childhood education).
Dr. Zubrin is not my first choice for philosophy reading, but we desperately need scientists to weigh in on the philosophical issues of our time, with hard scientific analysis. Not the kind that is repackaged dirigisme or blind can-do-ism, but the kind based on counterintuitionism and counterarguments, which carefully deconstruct our premises of analysis, and reconstruct reality on different fundamental assumptions.

That said, and I could only take the review and not the book at face value,Zubrin apparently follows a hackneyed and not very scientific line of criticism of a very broadly defined human value system -- materialism. Among pundits, the moral "stain" or "bite of the apple" is a very popular refrain. If only humanity were not infected with sinful ideas, how much better life would be! Blame Jean Jacques Rousseau for everything, or at least the next best thing, Margaret Sanger.

A scientist might find this problematic with regard to Rachel Carson. She drew reasonable conclusions about the effects of DDT on unhatched eggs, and on river wildlife. She was not "responsible for the deaths of millions" -- and she died soon after "Silent Spring" was published, so she could not even oversee the ecology movement she helped spawn.

On the other hand, acceptance of DDT would have required exactly the kind of rational calculus that anti-materialist abhor: Side effects be damned, let's benefit humankind and look for brute results. And how many schemes in the developing world for hydroelectricity, new crops, highways, mines and denuded forests have actually succeeded on that kind of thinking? Is this not a rationale for dictatorship? Frankly it is! They're not exactly humanistic, but their benefits are underrated!

It may be more to the scientific point to trace other origins of human reductionism. It may trace to LACK of materialism, and lack of moral discipline where it really counts: procreation.

To use the counterexample on one subhumanized group, US illegal immigrants. Suppose they were true humble pilgrims, who came for work, left for home when their material objectives were met by the book, and never beggared America for citizenship or special favoritism over children, because few would be born on American soil, and any born would be taken back home (which happens more than you think). There would be no sense of ethnic rivalry, or perceived competition for resources and the dole. Workers on both sides would find some complemantarity in their choices and preferences for work, and some reference points on which to judge the ancillaries of material worth (e.g. levels of education, ambition, civic respect, laziness, etc.)

Jewry may be an exception to this counterargument, because Jews are hated not for their fertility, but for their success and centuries long restraint in civic life -- long imposed by the religious intolerance of Christians and Muslims -- the same people who decry materialism!

It may profit us to look outside the box of the Garden of Eden, and read some Daniel Goldhagen instead.
People like Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins have become increasingly political. The atheism they have crafted is now getting manifest in groups like the American Humanist Association. The American Humanist Association is humanist much like abortion advocates are truly humanist in supporting freedom of choice, opposed to non humanist anti-abortionists who hide behind the craven semantics of being pro life. Groups like the American Humanist Association have interesting "manifestos" in place. I like the Marxist contribution to humanism, that traditional mind body duality MUST be rejected and that we all are hostages to our environments and culture:

"THIRD: Holding an organic view of life, humanists find that the traditional dualism of mind and body must be rejected.
FOURTH: Humanism recognizes that man's religious culture and civilization, as clearly depicted by anthropology and history, are the product of a gradual development due to his interaction with his natural environment and with his social heritage. The individual born into a particular culture is largely molded by that culture.

Many kinds of humanism exist in the contemporary world. The varieties and emphases of naturalistic humanism include "scientific," "ethical," "democratic," "religious," and "Marxist" humanism. Free thought, atheism, agnosticism, skepticism, deism, rationalism, ethical culture, and liberal religion all claim to be heir to the humanist tradition. Humanism traces its roots from ancient China, classical Greece and Rome, through the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, to the scientific revolution of the modern world. But views that merely reject theism are not equivalent to humanism. "
Whew! Being heir to the humanist tradition is more complicated than I ever imagined. The atheist creeds in the manifestos look like they were written by the Richard Dawkins Foundation. They certainly have enough British rich list 1000 money to make sure their version is the humanist manifesto standard. What is a bit surprising is humanist awards going to individuals like Armenian genocide denier Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks! who I always knew deserved the honor, lucky guy.
The writer of this essay has a social and political point of view that is inconsistent with the facts. The facts are that the world is overpopulated and that birth control is a very good thing. His reading of Margaret Sanger is totally false. He has strip-quoted Ms. Sanger, and that is not the way real scholarship works. Nearly everything that Sanger et al warned us would happen if the world population was not properly managed has happened. Children are dying at a rate of 21000 per day because no one with the resources available wants them to live. As a matter of self-preservation and common sense, people need to stop reproducing themselves into oblivion. This is what Sanger was arguing, and she was right.
Maryam Y. Steininger, PH.d. June 23, 2012 at 11:27 AM
I like this article and would like to see more of such arguments to decide what is the best solution to the over- population is.
Like it or not there is decreasing marginal value of human life and rights in general based on numerical scale just like any other economic item. It is absurd to argue
that the value and rights of a human individual remain the same ever since the beginning of time regardless of how many humans there are on the planet. Even if the 8,000,000,001th person born is another Barack Obama they are in many ways less valuable than the 101st giant Panda.
Francis Stocker, M.D. June 23, 2012 at 2:06 AM
Eugenics has not been discredited only non-science based eugenics.
Sperm donors and egg donors are subjected to genetic screenings and histories that give evidence of intelligence and other traits.
The inclusion of an attack on eugenics is an example of a "terrible simplifier".
Advocates of eugenics include Jewish mothers.
This review misleadingly implies that Zubrin wrote his book to refute materialism, but Zubrin nowhere directly comments on the materialism vs supernaturalism issue in "Merchants" or in any of his other books. Materialism may or may not be anti-humanist, but to falsely claim that an influential and effective writer of popular science has endorsed your own opinion on the matter is a dishonest tactic and an attempt to hijack someone else's greater fame and credibility for your own irrelevant purposes.
Great review. Can't wait to read this book. In one of Professor Thornton's books he stated that when men do away with God, they generally deify men. I'm so disappointed to see this happening in my own country, and especially disappointing, among Christian people.
Even if one grants the premise, that only the material is real, and the mind is "nothing but" a physical phenomenon, the conclusion that people are mere things does not follow. The logical error lies in the "nothing but" and the "mere". If physics alone can account for the workings of the mind, then the ways of physics are deep and mysterious.

But then, this point is already to be found in the Bible, if I read it right. God asked Job if he could understand the way of an eagle in the air. Of course, the answer must have been no. Not then, not Job. And not yet, not us, though we're making progress. And that was the easy question.

It is the height of presumption and folly to leap from the notion that man is entirely a physical phenomenon, subject without exception to the laws of physics, to the further notion that therefore man is inconsequential and somehow trivial. All one really can conclude is that the scope of physical phenomenon is vast, varied, and as yet and probably forever, beyond our complete comprehension.
Although I agree with the meat in the article, it would have been good if the author actually knew that is is Humanism that supports all of the things he is against. He should get a copy of the three Humanist Manifestos which lists all of the prominent signers, go to the library and read several years of Humanist magazines. Being anti-Humanist means fighting all of the things in the Humanist Manifestos.
>As Zubrin concludes, antihumanist ideas and programs represent a war against human freedom and global solidarity: “If the world’s resources are fixed with only so much to go around, then each new life is unwelcome, each unregulated act or thought is a menace, every person is fundamentally the enemy of every other person, and each race or nation is the enemy of every other race or nation. The ultimate outcome of such a worldview can only be enforced stagnation, tyranny, war, and genocide.”

Well, that sounds a bit like Austrian economics, doesn't it? Austrian economists like Murray Rothbard want to shackle human activities to the world's supply of gold, of which we have only so much to go around. That makes each additional baby a competitor for this chronically scanty material resource.

No wonder Rothbard argued for parents' legal right to starve their own children to death without interference in his book "The Ethics of Liberty," apparently something parents might have to do as the price of living in the Austrian Just Economy (AJE) based on "sound money." The AJE would experience recurring famines and a population crash because banks, after the abolition of fractional reserve lending, couldn't lend farmers the money they need to maintain current levels of food production.

If Paul Ehrlich had argued for the right to kill your own children through withholding food, conservatives and libertarians would have latched onto that as further evidence of Ehrlich's depravity.