Skip to comments.People Matter - Robert Zubrinís powerful critique of antihumanism
Posted on 06/23/2012 10:07:36 AM PDT by neverdem
Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism, by Robert Zubrin (Encounter, 328 pp., $25.95)
A ruling idea of the last two centuries has been materialism: the notion, as arch-materialist Daniel Dennett asserts, that there is only one sort of stuff, namely matter—the physical stuff of physics, chemistry, and physiology—and the mind is somehow nothing but a physical phenomenon. One consequence of this belief has been the rise of antihumanism—the stripping from people of their transcendent value and a reduction of them to mere things in the world to be studied, understood, reshaped—and ultimately controlled.
As Robert Zubrin shows in his valuable survey Merchants of Despair, antihumanisms reductive view of human nature has underpinned movements like eugenics, population control, and radical environmentalism, all of which have been eager to sacrifice human life and well-being to achieve their dubious utopias. Zubrin, a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering and fellow of the Center for Security Policy, has previously authored popular books on energy and space exploration. He shows an engineers sharp eye for things as they are and a scientists respect for the limits of knowledge, especially as regards various pseudoscientific fads.
Zubrin begins with Thomas Malthus, the founding prophet of modern antihumanism, who claimed in his 1798 Essay on the Principle of Population that any population always geometrically grows larger than the food supply. Malthuss argument ignored humans creative ingenuity, but his theories had catastrophic consequences when applied to the real world. Believing that Ireland was overpopulated, for example, the British government allowed this food-exporting island to spiral downward into famine partly because, as Malthus himself urged, a great part of the population should be swept from the soil. Over 1 million Irish died of starvation and disease caused by malnutrition. Thirty years later, the same policy of neglect contributed to a famine that killed as many as 10 million people in India, again because of the Malthusian fallacy that, as Sir Evelyn Baring told Parliament, every benevolent attempt made to mitigate the effects of famine and defective sanitation serves but to enhance the evils resulting from overpopulation.
Charles Darwin embraced Malthuss apocalyptic theories, too. Overpopulation, he believed, would eventually be cured by natural selection, the weeding out of unfit individuals and races. As Darwin wrote in The Descent of Man: At some future period . . . the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. Like Malthus, Darwin had no patience with sentimental Christian or Enlightenment ethics that sought to alleviate suffering and improve human life with medical advances such as vaccinations, or with asylums and other social-welfare institutions that cared for the sick, insane, or poor. Because of this effort to check the process of elimination, Darwin maintained, the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. As Zubrin summarizes Darwins argument: Peace, plenty, care, and compassion were interferences in the course of nature. All progress was based on death.
The mixture of Malthusian and Darwinian theory soon conjured up racist eugenics. At the forefront of the early eugenics movement was Darwins cousin, Francis Galton, who also decried humanist sentimentalism. The unfit must be kept from procreating, he argued, for if these continued to procreate children, inferior in moral, intellectual and physical qualities, it is easy to believe the time may come when such persons would be considered as enemies to the State, and to have forfeited all claims to kindness. By the turn of the twentieth century, these ideas had become articles of faith among many liberals and socialists.
Such cruel pseudoscientific theories took a fatal turn in Germany, where eugenics found its deadliest champion in biologist Ernst Haeckel, an extreme racist, virulent anti-Catholic bigot, anti-Semite, anti-Pole, pro-imperialist, Pan-German fanatic as well as a militant atheist. Haeckel and his followers sought to replace Christian ethics with Monism, the aim of which was to further human evolution through Germanys conquest of inferior races and the elimination of abnormal children and invalids. The ideas also took hold in America, championed by men like General Francis Amasa Walker, president of M.I.T. In 1896, Walker wrote in the Atlantic that Hungarian, Bohemian, Polish, Italian, and Russian-Jewish immigrants were beaten men from beaten races; representing the worst failures in the struggle for existence, possessing none of the ideas and aptitudes which fit men to take up readily and easily the problem of self-care and self-government. Theodore Roosevelt would later agree, expressing his disdain for the prevalent loose and sloppy talk about the general progress of humanity, the equality and identity of races, and the like as the product of well-meaning and feeble-minded sentimentalists. These widespread prejudices, buttressed by biased I.Q. tests, ultimately led in 1924 to the discriminatory U.S. law that shut down immigration from countries considered inferior and provided a pseudoscientific justification for race-based segregation.
The Holocaust would discredit at least the public expression of eugenics. Zubrin shows that the ideas lived on, though, repackaged as population control and concern for the environment. Prewar eugenicists found a home in organizations like the postwar Population Council, whose founding roster, Zubrin writes, reads like a eugenics movement reunion. The same continuity exists between eugenics groups and environmental organizations, such as the British Union for the Conservation of Nature and the World Wildlife Fund. Particularly valuable is Zubrins examination of the eugenic roots of Planned Parenthood, whose founder, Margaret Sanger, wrote in 1919: More children from the fit, less from the unfit—that is the chief issue of birth control. These movements, Zubrin writes, soon made up the imposing and influential population control establishment, which became entrenched at the United Nations and in U.S. government agencies. The efforts of these groups were suspiciously concentrated in the developing world.
As Zubrin meticulously documents, the obsession with overpopulation has led to attacks on the economic and technological development that represents the best hope for improving human life around the globe. The alliance of radical environmentalism, population-control advocacy, and anticapitalist leftism continues to prolong the misery of the Third World. Rachel Carsons scientifically challenged campaign against DDT led to the deaths of millions. Paul Ehrlichs spectacularly wrong Malthusian predictions helped legitimize cruel policies, such as Lyndon Johnsons withholding of food aid to India during the 1966 famine. Ehrlich wanted food aid tied to sterilization and birth-control programs and suggested adding temporary sterilants to water supplies or staple food, with antidotes given only when the population reached the desired size. He also wanted luxury taxes imposed on cribs, diapers, and childrens toys. These neo-Malthusian theories ultimately led to the 1968 creation of the Club of Rome, whose influential study The Limits to Growth shapes attitudes to the present day—for example, in the animus against genetically modified foods. Now institutionalized in E.U. policy, the refusal to allow genetically modified food denies vital crops (containing nutrients and organic pesticides engineered into them) to the Third World.
The anti-global-warming crusade against carbon-based energy is the latest assault on progress and improvement. Zubrin is correct to call the climate-change movement a global antihuman cult. Its assaults against dissent, embrace of messianic leaders, and apocalyptic scenarios reveal a debased religious sensibility rather than scientific rigor: Right thinking will be rewarded, Zubrin writes of global-warming thought police like Al Gore and economist Paul Krugman. Wrong thinking will be punished. Many will be sacrificed. All will be controlled. The gods will take back their fire. The warmists growth-killing programs, if implemented, would lead to mass immiseration.
As Zubrin concludes, antihumanist ideas and programs represent a war against human freedom and global solidarity: If the worlds 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. Contrary to the arguments of the terrible simplifiers, as historian Jacob Burckhardt called those who reduce people to mere matter, humans are capable of freedom, creativity, compassion, and love. We should cherish these unique qualities rather than succumbing to antihumanism and self-hatred.
Zubrin is a genius and visionary.
The man should be in charge of NASA.
Great review of what looks like an excellent book. With all the nonsense coming from Rio and the radical left, people need to understand the roots, and the end game for Agenda 21 and all of the UN’s wacky ideas for the earth.
Thanks for posting the link.
Scientists not driven to false conclusions by ideology and bigotry of some sort have long separated form the eugenics / population control in their thinking about human evolution and evolution in general. Long gone is an idea that evolution must lead to the survival of the fittest to be replaced by survival in the current environment combined with genetic drift. Further, there is much thought about what exactly separates us from other creatures. Paleontologist Ian Tattersall clearly acknowledges the large cognitive gap between people and all other species. This leads inevitably to valuing the individual.
Empathy is found in other species with high intelligence for other individuals of that species and in some domesticated animals for humans they are closely associated and dependent upon. Nothing begins to approach the wide range of empathy the individual is capable of. Empathy is essential for any “community” beyond say ants. Certainly one where membership is partly voluntary. However, only people can have the empathy of a Jain who agonizes over the pain an insect feels (an extreme only humans are capable of).
This is one of many reasons eugenics and radical environmentalism is eventually unworkable outside of cults. We can begin to eliminate an “enemy” but eventually the effort will “run out of steam” as we observe the pain we cause. Even Tamerlane eventually took pity on his enemies.
In (partial) defense of Malthus, at the time he wrote he was more or less accurate.
1798 was right at the start of the Industrial Revolution and right in the middle of a huge UK population explosion. It is not reasonable to expect him to have been able to foresee how industrial and agricultural technology would change things.
IOW, projecting the situation when he wrote into the future, he was more or less right.
If you study Chinese history, you see a series of Malthusian events, with population pressures at the root of disruptions that eventually bring down a dynasty, the resultant chaos resulting in 50% to 75% drop in population.
New dynasty eventually emerges, brings stability, population growth resumes. Rinse and repeat.
IOW, most of the criticism of Malthus is based on 20/20 hindsight.
I should also have pointed out that when Malthus wrote no society had yet been through the demographic transition by which rising prosperity results in a drastic drop in the birth rate. There was no particular reason for him to believe that increased prosperity would result in anything other than increased survival rate of children, worsening the over-population problem.
If the USA had maintained the birth rate it had when Malthus wrote till now, we’d have somewhere around 1B people, quite probably a good deal more as the death rate declined.
Just downloaded it into my Kindle.
This sounds like a beautiful and timely book.
I wouldn’t, however, be so quick to include genetically modified foods and vaccinations into the benefits column when discussing antihumanists and the Club of Rome - these technologies have been badly abused by those globalists most determined to “reduce” the population by any means. And their ferocious battle against effective oversight of these technologies proves it, not to mention that they are obvious potential carriers of just as much ill, as the good they could provide.
In any event, it’s incredibly refreshing to see a scientist take the position that consciousness was not somehow generated from matter through mere “complexity.” Watching this denial of the Second Law take root among neurobiologists has been most depressing.
Very interesting read. Thanks for posting.
Well, of course he was wrong. The point is that his view of humanity neglected to account for human ingenuity.
I've referred, in the past, to the "herd of deer" fallacy.
The rains stopped, the grasses withered, and the herd of deer died of starvation.
Malthus thought of us as nothing more than a herd of deer. Man attempts to innovate when faced with hardship. Malthus doesn't deserve defending.
turning the culture of death into a science. the ultimate vanity.
Obamas Catch-22 Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Washington-based Justice Department officials had earlier [in 2010] discussed bringing Attorney General Eric Holder to Phoenix for a triumphant press conference with Arizona U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke to herald the conclusion of the Departments flagship firearms trafficking case. In the aftermath of Agent Terrys death, the task of announcing indictments at a press conference fell to ATF Phoenix Division Special Agent in Charge William Newell and Burke. Holder did not attend.
The last link should open on my comment with a link to the printer friendly version. It was a newbie's very first post. The story was just linked.
Some noteworthy articles about politics, foreign or military affairs, IMHO, FReepmail me if you want on or off my list.
Thanks for the ping!
Thanks for the link.
Thanks for posting!