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Speak Progressive, But Win Conservative Reform Who Are You Calling Dysfunctional?

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Liberals and Babies and Trust Cues

by Christopher Chantrill
July 02, 2006 at 1:38 pm


NICHOLAS WADE’S new book Before the Dawn is a fascinating review of recent science in human prehistory. Genetic analysis of human remains can now tell us a lot about how humans spread across the world, starting about 50,000 years ago. But one aspect of the book is a bit puzzling. Every chapter has an epigraph from Charles Darwin’s Descent of Man, and not just a few words, but a paragraph that takes up most of the page.

What is going on here? Arnold Kling has the answer. The Darwin epigraphs are “trust cues.”

Nicholas Wade is a science reporter at The New York Times, and his book advertises news of scientific discoveries that might not go down well with his liberal readers. For instance, it turns out that chimpanzees are not quite the peaceable souls that decades of National Geographic specials have represented to us. Your average adult male chimpanzee likes nothing better than an aggressive border raid into the territory of the neighboring troop. The usual order of battle is for three chimps to set off into enemy territory and find a solo chimp feeding away from the rest of the troop. When they have caught their prey, two of them hold the victim down while the third kills it.

That might explain why humans have been so warlike over the years. About 65 percent of primitive societies are at war constantly, Wade writes, and about 30 percent of males die from conflict. The dawn raid is a favorite human tactic. You enter an enemy village at dawn, set fire to the huts, and then kill people as they run out of the burning huts to safety.

Wade tells his readers other disturbing facts. Genetic analysis strongly suggests that all men are descended from a single male, and all women from a single female. On top of that, race is clearly genetic in origin, and not a “social construct” as the American Sociological Association insists.

With all this unwelcome news to print, Wade and his publisher did the sensible thing. They put a Darwinian devotional at the top of every chapter. They knew that even though their readers proudly read The New York Times Science Tuesday every week, they really don’t like science once it moves out of the tenured university laboratory into reality. They are all for science until it interferes with their politics. But they all believe in Darwin.

How can we demand peace and justice if every man living has the instinctive need to conduct a nice little border raid next week? How can we stamp out racism if race is imprinted in the genes? And how can we justify tossing pushy Jewish kids like Larry Summers out of their Harvard presidencies if there really are physical, measurable brain differences between men and women?

These are inconvenient truths, and good reasons to put comforting “trust cues” into Before the Dawn to remind readers that you are really on their side.

Conservative married women are into trust cues too. They realize that a rational world of freedom and contract is not enough to raise healthy babies. What babies need beyond material things like milk and warmth are trust cues to teach them that they can trust that mother will always be there to take care of them. And father too. That is what Jennifer Roback Morse writes in Love and Economics. It was a hard lesson for her, a tenured professor of economics, to learn.

Economics is all about rational calculation: self-interest, rightly understood. Economists believe in the application of reason to economic relationships: equal and reciprocal rational agreements in contract.

When you have a contract, then you can break it. But what babies need, and what mothers need, is an unbreakable contract. You can’t get that with rational, calculating mothers and fathers, the kind that can do a Prisoner’s Dilemma analysis at every moment, calculating whether it is it their interest to be trustworthy or to cheat. As Morse writes: when someone calculates whether it is worthwhile to cheat, the game is over. That person will eventually cheat. “The person who never [cheats] is the person who never begins the calculation.” How would you deal with these cheaters and freeloaders.

Nicholas Wade writes: “Human societies long ago devised an antidote to the freeloader problem... It is religion.”

Now it’s a curious thing, is it not, that in our current secular society, in particular at the epicenter of secularity, Western Europe, we are having a real problem persuading people to have babies. Why would that be, do you think?

Perhaps in the low-trust society of secular Europe people just don’t get the trust cues they need before they will take the risk of having children.

Maybe they need to get away from rational self-interest and learn from Dr. Morse about “self-giving, rightly understood.”

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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Faith & Purpose

“When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of ages—they seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.”
Finke, Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990

Mutual Aid

In 1911... at least nine million of the 12 million covered by national insurance were already members of voluntary sick pay schemes. A similar proportion were also eligible for medical care.
Green, Reinventing Civil Society


“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State

Living Under Law

Law being too tenuous to rely upon in [Ulster and the Scottish borderlands], people developed patterns of settling differences by personal fighting and family feuds.
Thomas Sowell, Conquests and Cultures

German Philosophy

The primary thing to keep in mind about German and Russian thought since 1800 is that it takes for granted that the Cartesian, Lockean or Humean scientific and philosophical conception of man and nature... has been shown by indisputable evidence to be inadequate. 
F.S.C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West


Inquiry does not start unless there is a problem... It is the problem and its characteristics revealed by analysis which guides one first to the relevant facts and then, once the relevant facts are known, to the relevant hypotheses.
F.S.C. Northrop, The Logic of the Sciences and the Humanities


“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison

Democratic Capitalism

I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all. In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness... But to make a man act [he must have] the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action


[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm


“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh

Living Law

The recognition and integration of extralegal property rights [in the Homestead Act] was a key element in the United States becoming the most important market economy and producer of capital in the world.
Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital

presented by Christopher Chantrill

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