A Song for Deaf Ears in Empty Cathedrals
In the year of our Lord 2019, John Haugm, one of the founding members of Agalloch and Pillorian (two American post-black metal bands), was the victim of an online outrage mob. He had written an appreciative post about a movie on WW2 on Facebook and then in a snarky comment said that he expects ‘judenbook’ to censor it. A few journos noticed the post; there was an online outrage in the metal review community, condemning the alleged antisemitism. He quickly apologised, saying he has nothing but appreciation for Jewish communities and Israel, that he was sloppy etc. As everyone knows by now, there is no forgiveness on social media; the outraged mobs ignored his apology and all his mates at Pillorian quit the band and marked themselves safe from Haughm’s influence. He was then forced to close all his social media accounts and simply go underground.
One of his ex band-mates from Agalloch, Don Anderson, happens to be a university lecturer, expert in critical theory, peddling all the fashionable Foucauldian, Derridian, Walter Benjaminian tropes and other notions of the radical left. After reading Haughm’s Facebook post he jumped on the offended bandwagon and declared his shock and terror at the alleged antisemitism; he ended his tweet saying he is no friends with Haughm in real life and have not been in touch for a long time. Don Anderson currently plays guitar in a soy metal band. In his words, their most recent album is “anti-Trump, but only because we are already deeply anti-racist, feminist, pro-LGBT, pro-environment and deeply skeptical of capitalism.” This won him an award from MetalHammer as one of the top 5 anti-system American bands. The fashionable way of being anti-system, while being part of it and reaping its rewards.
Have you ever wondered why the relationship between the political left and right seems asymmetrical? Why conservatives can tolerate opposing views and empathise with liberals*, while the latter never reciprocate? Or why, despite similar levels of violence at both fringes, the right keeps losing every battle over public opinion and policy, while the left always seems vindicated in retrospect?
Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundation Theory
According to Haidt, our moral compass is rooted in 6 instinctive intuitions or moral foundations:
- care for others, do no harm
- fairness, justice and equality
- in-group loyalty
- respect for authority
- purity / sanctity
- liberty from constraints
People vary in the degree in which they value these foundations; liberals tend to value the first two; the more liberal they declare themselves, the more emphasis they place on care and fairness, while at the same time discarding the rest four intuitions. Conservatives tend to favour loyalty, respect and purity, but actually value all six intuitions in moderate degrees. Haidt concluded that conservatives are therefore more complex in their moral concerns. They are also more tolerant of opposing views, because by having moderate liberal concerns, they can see value in their opponents’ propositions, while the latter cannot do the same with conservative views.
„When I speak to liberal audiences about the three “binding” foundations – Loyalty, Authority, Sanctity – I find that many in the audience don’t just fail to resonate; they actively reject these concerns as immoral. Loyalty to a group shrinks the moral circle; it is the basis of racism and exclusion, they say. Authority is oppression. Sanctity is religious mumbo-jumbo whose only function is to suppress female sexuality and justify homophobia […].
In a study I did with Jesse Graham and Brian Nosek, we tested how well liberals and conservatives could understand each other. […] One-third of the time they were asked to fill it out as they think a “typical liberal” would respond. One-third of the time they were asked to fill it out as a “typical conservative” would respond. This design allowed us to examine the stereotypes that each side held about the other. […] The results were clear and consistent. Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Liberals were the least accurate, especially those who described themselves as “very liberal.” The biggest errors in the whole study came when liberals answered the Care and Fairness questions while pretending to be conservatives.” (Haidt, ‘The Righteous Mind’).
‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice’
If the predilections towards being conservative or liberal are to some degree hereditary, as Haidt suggests, what are the influencing factors? Is there an evolutionary component to them? Michael Woodley and Edward Dutton think this is the case. Conservative people tend to be more group-oriented, while liberals tend to be more individualistic**. According to the two scientists, computer models have offered good evidence that the more internally cooperative a group is and the more externally hostile/distant it is, the more dominant it tends to be, all else being equal. This also implies that natural selection will act at the group level, favouring altruistic behaviour. In times of hardship and unpredictability, being a team player is vital. Life is stressful; high levels of stress are correlated with high religiousness, which in turn tends to elevate group-selected ideas as ‘the will of God’. In-group loyalty, respect for authority and sanctity become advantageous survival strategies.
Woodley and Dutton argue that Western societies were under constant pressure of group selection until the 19th century. The Industrial Revolution brought this to a halt with its improvements in health, the cheapening of food prices and lowering child mortality from 40% to 1%. Mutant genes of the body correlate with mutant genes of the mind, which constitute 88% of the genome. The radical decrease in mortality rates, Woodley argues, led to a rise in spiteful mutations; things that would have been selected out under Darwinian group selection. As society is becoming more and more individualistic, you would expect a proliferation of individualistic genes; the so-called ‘spiteful mutants’ can gain access to positions of power and undermine structures which used to elevate group selection, religiousness being one of them.
The sexual revolution in the 60s also created a correlation between paternal age and spiteful mutations (‘Sex came rather late for me in 1963’, when ‘all went down the long slide’ – Philip Larkin). The older one’s dad, the more likely he would have developed mutant genes and passed them on to his offspring. The risk of autism, for instance, is directly correlated with increased paternal age. The more autistic one is, the less likely it is to be religious. The inability to empathise prevents them from seeing signals of an underlying mind (e.g. while looking at someone’s facial reactions), so it is likely that the notion of God will seem meaningless to them. Beginning from the 60s, religiousness stopped holding back the tsunami of mutations and this led to a build-up of individualistic genes. Those with liberal predispositions can thrive in today’s atomised society, while conservatives have slowly been relegated to the lower strata.
In his book, ‘The Righteous Mind’, Haidt offered solid evidence that the immense changes in lifestyle in Western society have led to the apparition of a very specific demographic group.
“In 2010, the cultural psychologists Joe Henrich, Steve Heine, and Ara Norenzayan published a profoundly important article titled “The Weirdest People in the World?”‘ The authors pointed out that nearly all research in psychology is conducted on a very small subset of the human population: people from cultures that are Western, educated, industrialised, rich, and democratic (forming the acronym WEIRD). They then reviewed dozens of studies showing that WEIRD people are statistical outliers; they are the least typical, least representative people you could study if you want to make generalisations about human nature. Even within the West, Americans are more extreme outliers than Europeans, and within the United States, the educated upper middle class is the most unusual of all.
Several of the peculiarities of WEIRD culture can be captured in this simple generalization: The WEIRDer you are, the more you see a world full of separate objects, rather than relationships. It has long been reported that Westerners have a more independent and autonomous concept of the self than do East Asians. For example, when asked to write twenty statements beginning with the words “I am … ,” Americans are likely to list their own internal psychological characteristics (happy, outgoing, interested in jazz), whereas East Asians are more likely to list their roles and relationships (a son, a husband, an employee of Fujitsu)” – Haidt, idem.
Haidt’s tests confirmed his expectation that WEIRD demographics would score very high in care/harm and justice, and virtually ‘zero’ in the other four moral cores. Dutton remarks that the WEIRD will also tend to be low in stress, low in certain evolved instincts and carry more mutant genes, because the collapse in child mortality would have happened in the upper classes first. Socio-economic status seems to be maintained to a 70% degree across generations (Dutton quoting Gregory Clark’s ‘The Son Also Rises’ research papers), so you will get more mutants among WEIRD people, because they’ve been under purifying Darwinian selection for less time. You will find fewer of them among the working class and non-Westerners.
It is worth considering the fact that these ‘statistical outliers’, the least typical, least representative of human cultures and societies, the ‘weirdest of the WEIRD’, 10%-25% of the USA population (university, respectively college educated) occupy most of the leading positions in the country, according to Michael Lind’s book, ‘The New Class War’. They are what many, including Lind, call ‘the Managerial Elite’; or David Goodhart’s ‘Anywheres’, people with no local commitments who find their identity in their professions, live far from their places of origin, rarely visit their relatives and tend to regard raising children as a burden and an inconvenience rather than a blessing. People with this type of lifestyle and psychological profile will also form the cultural zeitgeist and the mainstream left-wing consensus; what Curtis Yarvin terms ‘The Cathedral’.
A Theory of Pervasive Error
The implications of these facts are worrisome for many reasons.
Because liberals cannot conceive of any legitimate conservative positions, nor empathise with their opponents, they will have no desire to engage or debate such evil, unpleasant people who are attempting to pollute people’s minds with their evil right-wing way of thinking. Censorship and cancel culture will come naturally to the managerial left establishment (public and private), sugar-coated as ‘creating safer environments’ or ‘identifying and preventing hate-speech’.
Haidt’s studies also showed that in academic circles conservatives are virtually nonexistent; that roughly 1 in 8 academics in a typical American university identifies as conservative, and in most cases they are probably liberty–centred, embracing some version of fusionist Boomer neoconservatism; picking up whatever cause was recently dropped by the left for not being radical enough.
As conservatives and people of any religious persuasions disappear from the Academia, the Media and any other public institutions, their views will never be known first hand; they will always be condemned in absentia and we already know this condemnation involves pervasive misrepresentation not due to liberal partisanship or animosity (which, needless to say, are going through the roof), but purely due to the inability of the liberal mindset to grasp the fact that other people can have a moral matrix different from their own. They are releasing a lie in the public forum and in the absence of any opposition to it, it grows bigger and bigger. The populist backlash was to be expected as people’s trust in the Mainstream Media has never been lower and the informational ecosystem – more toxic and partisan.
Dutton’s predictions for the future are sobering. Once you delegitimise loyalty, respect and sanctity, things will tend to be pushed in an increasingly more left-wing direction. Ideological uniformity will threaten the information ecosystem, leading to press-controlled states. That would keep happening until it got to a point where it caused the normal structures of society to break down, religion outlawed, every kind of in-group loyalty banned, grassroots bonds and commitments eroded; nothing left except for the liberated atomised individual and the ever-expanding protective State. In order to free the bees, they would have destroyed the beehives (Haidt). Even liberty would have been sacrificed on the altar of care and justice, because children are dying and capitalism is racism.
If this accelerating process of liberalisation and technological change does not lead to some magical techno-utopia in which human-cyborg hybrids will upload their brains into virtual space and live forever, we can foresee a tipping point in which things will degenerate into societal collapse, a total lack of trust between citizens, violence and lawlessness. When that happens, group selection will become advantageous again; people will become higher in stress and, as a consequence, higher in religiousness; as religiousness tends to elevate group-selected ideas as ‘the will of God’, you end up with an inevitable backlash.
No Ghost in the Machine
All above-mentioned thinkers have one thing in common – they tend to avoid normative or deontological interpretations and stick to functionalist ones. Dutton’s Darwinian lens is unsettling because it never addresses philosophical notions at face value. In this approach, Conservatism and Liberalism are merely memes competing for hegemony. Similarly, Haidt’s Moral Foundation Theory is never concerned with what humans ought to do; it just describes the range of their moral concerns. Employing these tools does not force one to consider morality or religion to be the result of natural selection (which is only proven to be a sufficient condition), rather than rational conclusions or divine revelation. Correlation does not imply causation. On the other hand, these tools can show when a certain societal development is in danger of becoming dysfunctional, without invoking nefarious motives or conspiracy theories.
We are in for the long ride
If you are a liberal who is happy to advance on the social ladder under current circumstances, you may ignore all of the above-mentioned facts. You can and will succeed. There is no point in troubling yourself with distant future developments.
If, like me, you are a doomer conservative with a grim outlook on Clownworld, you have realised there is no point in seeking prestige and respectability within today’s mainstream consensus. ‘For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?’
Why empathise and attempt to have nuanced discussions with the ever-more radical left, when you know for a fact that your empathy and good faith will not be reciprocated? What was the use of John Haughm’s humiliating apology to the outrage mob? His name and musical career were ruined nonetheless, while his progressive former band-mate, Don Anderson, gained virtue points by backstabbing him. Progressivism glorified betrayal.
‘You understand,’ he said, ‘that you will be fighting in the dark. You will always be in the dark. You will have to get used to living without results and without hope. You will work for a while, you will be caught, you will confess, and then you will die. Those are the only results that you will ever see. There is no possibility that any perceptible change will happen within our own lifetime. We are the dead. Our only true life is in the future. We shall take part in it as handfuls of dust and splinters of bone. But how far away that future may be, there is no knowing. It might be a thousand years. At present nothing is possible except to extend the area of sanity little by little. We cannot act collectively. We can only spread our knowledge outwards from individual to individual, generation after generation. In the face of the Thought Police there is no other way’ – George Orwell, 1984
* I am using the terms ‘liberal’ in its American definition – being left-wing or politically progressive
** Not to be confused with the distinction between philosophical individualism and collectivism.