The debate of nature versus nurture has undergone a new political dimension. Although that discourse was always political, it seems that a combination of mediatic dynamics and academic fortress building has divided the nature-nurture debate into two ontological camps. In other words, each camp’s language is unintelligible to the other. On one hand, you have the sociological Left that posits that socio-economic discrepancies between races and the sexes are due to socio-cultural phenomena. For example, centuries of policing gender boundaries (some of which continues today) through both soft suggestion (e.g. gendered roles), and direct institutional violence (adultery laws, banning of women in certain professions etc.) have solidified a disadvantaged position of women in this society. On the other hand, you have the naturalistic “center” or right wing (e.g. Jordan Peterson) that argues that the lower socio-economic position of women is not a function of structural obstacles, but personality differences that are more or less biologically hard-wired that make women choose less paying professions, or be less confrontational and assertive in corporate settings.
This piece-meal approach, on one hand of the Left’s sociology, and on the other hand, of the Right’s naturalism, is counter to a scientific ontology, which would posit that humans are both social beings and evolved animals. Even if the Left is correct in that biological variables are not necessarily relevant to many of the social sciences, the Right’s naturalistic prescription of social problems as functions of biological darwinism makes more intuitive sense to an anglo-saxon audience. This is because anglo-saxon education is steeped in scientism (e.g. anglo public intellectuals, such as Dawkins, Degrasse Tyson, etc. are scientists), and their culture is ill equipped to deal with more sociological and philosophical arguments (e.g. Weber’s argument about the West’s instrumental reason). So given the scientism of western culture, it is important for leftists to develop a synthesis that outlines when do sociological feedback loop completely overwhelm biological loops, rather than simply eliminating biology from their conceptual framework. I believe this synthesis is possible using the conceptual constellation of complexity science (something I’ve written about before). To make my case, I will first outline why the Left is against naturalistic prescriptions. Secondly, I will explore how these sociological arguments were recuperated by liberal bureaucrats and opinion makers (hereby referred as coordinators), and thus made naturalistic arguments more popular given the backlash to authority. Finally I will sketch a “complexity science” synthesis on why is it that social dynamics tend to be more important than biological ones when dealing with human society.
Humans are animals, the end-product of billions of years of biological evolution that transformed a primal bacteria into a big-brained, bipedal primate that can talk and make abstract, mathematical computations. However the human being is also a social being, shaped and programmed by various complicated feedback loops that are enforced not only by the most rudimentary kinship unit such as the nuclear family, but by large-scale socio economic structures that extend through centuries and thousands of kilometres (e.g. states). However, one of the most ancient and predictable tricks done by the elite is to justify their privileged positions through naturalistic arguments. For example, in the 19th century social darwinism and racial pseudo-science was used to biologically justify the privileged position of the white man and the capitalist. Given the reactionary nature of these pseudo-scientific arguments, revolutionaries and militants began taking a sociological approach to dismantle the naturalistic myths of power (e.g. Marx) – it’s not biology that has given the capitalist or the white man the head-start, but complicated historical contingencies that gave rise to feedback loops that privileged some castes at the expense of others. Existing power differentials were not biological telos, but a historical accident. These sociological arguments formed the theoretical backbones of working class militancy, feminist activism, and anti-racist movements.
However, recently these initially emancipatory sociological explanations have been recuperated by a professional caste in a diluted, tragic form. This form does not have the objective of liberating humanity by addressing material structures that sustain the nightmare of class society. Instead, these ideas have become defanged into talking points used by the bosses to discipline how their employees talk, or strings used by human resource cyborgs to maintain appearances in the atomic wasteland of social media. These new deplorable, liberal coordinators, only concerned with maintaining optics and flaunting cultural capital, are unable to defend these sociological ideas, because nothing is at stake for them except television ratings or curriculum vitaes. Jordan Peterson, the idiot’s smart man, by realizing how vulnerable are these clueless coordinators, has made a killing for a living, netting him about sixty grand monthly in his Patreon. For example, he recently crushed Cathy Newman in a televised debate, which was a cathartic event for his fans. By uttering the most simplistic and naturalistic anti-feminist talking points, he made Newman short-circuit, making her repeat stereotypical liberal mantras over and over. Like Quilette recently published, it seemed like Newman hadn’t heard these really basic arguments that are routinely used by wikipedia-reading misogynists and crackpot “evo-psych” amateurs, and was just caught in some liberal, human resources bubble where the barbarian hordes of angry dads are gated away.
Given the inability of the contemptible coordinator caste to actually defend these sociological arguments from the naturalistic attack in the first place, socialists must come up with a synthesis on how to address this naturalistic attack and defend the socio-historical tradition of the left. As I have written before, complexity science may offer a good outline on how to address these naturalistic arguments. Complexity science roughly argues that complicated systems cannot actually be reduced to the behaviour of their individual units. Instead, the system itself creates emergent feedback loops and laws that cannot be simply be derived from the microphysics of the individual unit. For example, psychology cannot be reduced to the behaviour of the individual neuron, or how the temperature of a gas cannot be derived from the trajectory of one molecule. Instead these systems must be sometimes treated on their own terms. For example, the Newtonian physics that describe the air flow around an airplane’s wing is not concerned with the quantum chromodynamics of quarks. The science that deals with mental illness operates without a picture of how neural synapses works. In other words, systems operate on their own level of abstraction that overwhelms the particularities of the unit. This is the case with socio-economic issues – although it’s true that society is made of evolved animals subject to biological forces, these naturalistic particularities are overwhelmed by socio-economic feedback loops.
Let’s use complexity science against Peterson as an example. In his recent debate against Cathy Newman he was arguing that one of the reasons the gender gap persists is because of women’s agreeableness. According to him, women tend to be more agreeable, and therefore that affects negatively their earning potential in highly competitive workplaces. I also found out in an interview he had with Stefan Molyneux that Peterson associates agreeableness with maternal instinct, ergo it is somehow biologically hardwired into the female psyche. The controversial point is not so much whether women are more agreeable or not, but if that agreeableness is a function of biology. How on Earth would you even begin to prove agreeableness is hardwired biologically in a scientific way? At most, you can make a study that shows gender and agreeableness are empirically correlated. Although, in the context of scientism, attributing agreeableness to some darwinistic child rearing instinct “makes sense” in a shallow, common-sense sort of way, that does not mean such a theory can be proven scientifically. In contrast, a sociologist or anthropologist may document various gender-policing mechanisms, which act as social feedback loops, where woman are castigated for being combative (e.g. being called a bitch, caricatured as an evil manager etc.) therefore reinforcing female agreeableness as a social strategy, leading to a plausible narrative for the sociological explanation. The point is this – similar how to how the properties of the individual neurons are buried within the emergent laws that constitute psychology, it could be that the the individual biological wirings of the female psyche are overshadowed by the socio-economic feedback loops of by class society.
Peterson also claimed that hierarchy is biologically coded into much of the animal kingdom, including humans. Therefore he argued that the sociological explanation for the historical contingency of hierarchies is incorrect, given that our evolutionary ancestors already enforced hierarchies (e.g. lobsters). However, the sociological explanation of modern power differentials is actually vindicated by the behaviour of early hunter gatherer societies, who some could argue are devoid of the more complicated feedback loops that appear in complex, sedentary societies. Even if these hunter gather societies may operate with “soft” hierarchies (e.g. the existence of chieftains, leaders etc), it would be ridiculous to put these dynamics in the same order of magnitude as the extreme power differentials existing in modern class society between a worker versus a president or a CEO. Therefore, even if a “soft” hierarchy may be encoded in our biological wiring, it is completely overshadowed by extreme power differentials arising out of socio-economic structures.
I hope that my humble effort at a synthesis may generate some interesting thoughts. I am a firm believer that socialists should justify their positions with concrete arguments rooted in existing scientific consensus, and therefore the argument against “naturalism” must not only be philosophical, but based on our empirical understanding of reality as well.
If you liked this post so much that you want to buy me a drink, you can pitch in some bucks to my Patreon.