“Actually, humans don’t have roots. They have feet.”
Whenever national governments or international organisations decide to inflict mass migration upon a country without consulting its population, progressives feel the unstoppable urge to defend the elites while simultaneously denigrating the hoi polloi. I will not bore the reader with the motivated reasoning of the social media influencer proving that borderless countries are great, that mass migration is an economic net positive or a basic human right or that even if it’s none of the above, it is inevitable and those who oppose it are despicable and thus fully deserve it.
I will focus, instead, on a little status that goes viral whenever such post factum debates occur. The status goes along the lines of ‘actually, humans don’t have roots. They have feet.’ I remember a liberal philosophy professor posting this on facebook a few years ago, signalling his support for the regime and feeling good about it (which, according to Yarvin, is the definition of woke).
The phrase was originally coined by Rachel Wolchin and sounded slightly differently: “If we were meant to stay in one place, we would have roots instead of feet.” Rachel is an author and an influencer; her Instagram posts seem to consist of motivational texts and selfies in bathing suits. I haven’t read any of her books, though judging from her Instagram, the main theme seems to be manifesting power through positive thinking and all that jazz. ‘Don’t shrink yourself for people. Don’t shrink yourself for anything. You’re a wildflower. You’re an ocean. You are you, regardless of them‘ – Rachel Wolchin.
Punishing the chuds
I don’t think the philosophy professor finds this pop-psych stuff particularly appealing. His post was motivated by something else entirely – a visceral reaction against ‘populism’.
‘Roots’ are a metaphor for belonging. Lower classes value being at home in the world; the place of one’s birth, the hometown or the homeland – these things are precious to them. When the educated midwit claims that, actually, humans have feet instead of roots, he satirises this ordinary nostalgia of the great unwashed. ‘Longing for one’s roots’ is exposed as cheap, irrational sentimentality. Humans have always been ‘on the move’, he argues; some peoples even evolved for a nomadic lifestyle, there have always been great mass migrations, so ours is completely natural. Furthermore, in a society of mass transport and mass communication, it is inevitable that people would adapt to a technologically-augmented nomadism, exploring new forms of parasocial inter-relationality and exerting their human right to free movement. All this is implied in that smug little status.
Metaphors and knowledge
The educated midwit is, of course, more deluded than the ‘populist’ he despises. We know that humans don’t have ‘actual’ roots. The term is a metaphor meant to signify something deeper. Metaphors are not only employed for sentimental nonsense. They are an indispensable part of knowledge. As Iain McGilchrist pointed out, we cannot know anything other than by analogy. Certain things have certain features in common, so they are kind of the same in those respects. When scientists say that natural phenomena follow or obey laws, they are employing a judicial metaphor. When neuroscientists argue that the brain is a decision-making device, they are employing a mechanical metaphor. Without metaphors, nothing is intelligible, because no thing can be likened to any other thing.
On the other hand, McGilchrist is quick to point out that similarities between things are limited, and common sense is essential in discerning when an analogy has reached its limit. And it is precisely this common sense that the midwit lacks. To quote S. Morello, “the slightly educated person understands little besides his ideas about the reality that he does not well understand. He does not return from those ideas back to the reality of which they are abstractions, abstractions to which he anxiously and unsuccessfully seeks to conform the world.” The midwit so obstinately clings to his exhaustive analogies, models and procedures, that he refuses to encounter reality in a contemplative way which would require him to perceive things or persons in all their uniqueness, as a “you” instead of an “it” (Martin Buber). And this exercise alone would allow the brain hemispheres to communicate and balance each other – Iain’s definition of common sense.
Your brain does not process information and it is not a computer
The liberal midwit notices that equating the human brain with a mechanism has some explanatory power and that it can be technologically useful; this leads him to believe that the brain and the machine are things of the same kind. Cristian Presură can, thus, claim, that there is no difference between a child and a laptop, both being ultimately conglomerates of atoms. If that were true, his own thoughts and opinions would be equally worthless, as mere sounds made by atoms emerging from chaos, on their way to biomass. If our minds are capable of real thought and insight, they cannot be of the same kind as a laptop. But this realisation requires common sense, which the midwit lacks. This delusion can be traced back to the Enlightenment, when one of the earliest French materialists, Julien Offray de La Mettrie took it to its absolute final extrapolation. His most famous works argue that 1) we are just machines, 2) acknowledging this makes us rational, 3) you can demonstrate this by being cynical about your entire civilisation and then denigrating it, and 4) given all that, the best thing you can do with your life is pursue ephemeral pleasures and then die.
Now even if we are sceptical about man’s ability to gain real knowledge or to encounter something real ‘out there’, observation tells us that living organisms and machines are of fundamentally different kinds. Living organisms are always in flux, always replacing dead cells with new cells, always interacting and adjusting to the ecosystem, changing and self-regulating to remain the same – growing, developing to full maturity, reproducing, aging and dying. Imbalances and illnesses are countered by a self-organising immune system that pushes for homeostasis. Machines are artefacts designed by humans to be useful for a certain purpose; they do not exist outside of that conferred instrumental value; when a chair breaks, it ceases being ‘a chair’. Machines do not inherit any of the attributes of living organisms. They can be engineered to simulate human interaction, thinking, choice-making, even the flow and self-regulation characteristic to life. But this does not make them ‘transcend’ into a different kind, just as drawing ever smaller tangents to a circle will never result in a perfect circle. I know this sounds ridiculous to those raised on Star Trek and SG1, but our brains do not ‘process information’ and they are not computers, just as they aren’t hydraulic engines, automata or telegraphs. To quote from an essay on aeon.co:
The invention of hydraulic engineering in the 3rd century BCE led to the popularity of a hydraulic model of human intelligence, the idea that the flow of different fluids in the body – the ‘humours’ – accounted for both our physical and mental functioning. By the 1500s, automata powered by springs and gears had been devised, eventually inspiring leading thinkers such as René Descartes to assert that humans are complex machines. In the 1600s, Thomas Hobbes suggested that thinking arose from small mechanical motions in the brain. In the mid-1800s, the German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz compared the brain to a telegraph. Predictably, just a few years after the dawn of computer technology in the 1940s, the brain was said to operate like a computer, with the role of physical hardware played by the brain itself and our thoughts serving as software.
The people listed in this essay were not even midwits; most were geniuses. Yet they all exhibited the same tunnel vision that drove them to take their analogies too far and cause a lot of harm in the process.
Eternal self-own of the liberal mind
Going back to square one. Liberal professor feels the urge to dunk on populists and reactionaries. He writes an acid status on facebook: ‘Actually, humans don’t have roots. They have feet.’ What is he making fun of? The fact that right wing people use metaphors in order to convey meaning? We have seen how the liberal midwit employs metaphors in everything he says. He uses them in excess, even when they are way past their expiration date. He confuses the Cosmos with a machine (though for some strange reason he mocks Creationists when they do the same, more rigorously than himself); he is so caught up in this metaphor that he will attempt to conform the world to it rather than snap out of its spell.
“Machines have less problems. I’d like to be a machine. Don’t you?” – Andy Warhol.
“A house is a machine for living in.” – Le Corbusier
“Swallowable robotic pills will dispense anti-depressants according to wirelessly broadcast schedules, helping workers receive medicine when they are under the most stress. Human ingenuity truly boundless!” Steven Pinker
The cringe goes deep, and the harm caused by these madmen even deeper.
Now that we established that everyone uses metaphors to convey truth and that the liberal abuses them more than anyone else, what remains of his criticisms against the chuds? The fact that they prefer the organic ‘tree root’ to the artificial machinery? If you truly fucking love science, you should admit they are more on the money with their metaphor, since trees are living organisms, like humans. “Roots” signify a web of relations developed over time between the people of a household, between multiple households; guilds, parishes, localities and homelands. The inter-generational dynamics, the interactions and attachments with the built environment, its landmarks and monuments. The richer these things are, the deeper the moral capital; the higher the trust and the better things are maintained. To quote Chesterton:
“Let us suppose we are confronted with a desperate thing– say Pimlico [a squalid neighbourhood]. It is not enough for a man to disapprove of Pimlico: in that case he will merely cut his throat or move to Chelsea. Nor, certainly, is it enough for a man to approve of Pimlico: for then it will remain Pimlico, which would be awful. The only way out of it seems to be for somebody to love Pimlico: to love it with a transcendental tie and without any earthly reason. If there arose a man who loved Pimlico, then Pimlico would rise into ivory towers and golden pinnacles; Pimlico would attire herself as a woman does when she is loved. For decoration is not given to hide horrible things: but to decorate things already adorable. A mother does not give her child a blue bow because he is so ugly without it. A lover does not give a girl a necklace to hide her neck. If men loved Pimlico as mothers love children, arbitrarily, because it is THEIRS, Pimlico in a year or two might be fairer than Florence. This is the actual history of mankind. This, as a fact, is how cities did grow great. Go back to the darkest roots of civilization and you will find them knotted round some sacred stone or encircling some sacred well. People first paid honour to a spot and afterwards gained glory for it. Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her” – Chesterton, Orthodoxy
In their desire to punish the chuds, liberal intellectuals are forcing them to adopt one of the two disastrous routes Chesterton lists above: to flee their homelands in search of greener pastures, or to stay and witness their countries crumble under the twin forces of negative birth rates (caused by the adoption of the same liberal values) and endless mass migration. You vill live in squalid Pimlico and you vill be happy!
The other talking points I listed in the beginning (humans have a right to free movement, people are in fact nomads, we must invent a new type of belonging without settling) are self-refuting and are part of the same attempt to force humanity follow the logic of the machine. You cannot have borderless states and environmentalism at the same time; flourishing takes time and commitment, and no technological surrogate will absolve us of the duties to our own Pimlicos.