Some critics of neoreactionary thought (nearly all of them) accuse reactionaries of having fantasies of personally ruling over other people.
When children think about monarchy, that naturally tends to enter their minds. They envision themselves, or their father, as monarchs. What child hasn’t thought about it?
Serious reactionary thought, however, begins when people move beyond this and consider monarchy as a real option for government in the real world, not as an egoistic fantasy. So, ironically, it’s everyone else who only thinks of the organic state as a a self-indulgent fantasy, whereas reactionaries are among the few who take it seriously enough to know their personal power under such a system would be very limited. We’ve arrived at neoreactionary thought through the route of studying what makes for good governance.
The organic state is a natural extension of human nature. Hierarchies emerge naturally among children playing with blocks. The artificial application of ideas such as the democratic process is an unnatural addition; it conflicts with human nature in ways that the organic state does not. If you transported thousands of newborn babies to an unpopulated Eden and observed them grow and organize themselves, their society would be based on the organic state, not democracy. There is no need to postulate a “something extra,” like an obsession with authority, that makes a normal person advocate the organic state. Advocating it and understanding it is our natural condition. It takes a something extra, indoctrination, to make a person believe in a democratic republic. And still, the organic state is constantly bubbling up from beneath the surface.
Part of reactionary thought is accepting the reality of inequality. There are people smarter than you, more just than you, more attractive than you, more ambitious than you; simply better. Society works better when these people naturally rise to the top and preserve their status through family alliances. A democratic society that chooses its leaders through voting is controlled by those who control the media and their advisors in academia telling people how to vote. This fluctuates wildly, causing social and economic chaos.
Accepting the reality of inequality means we realize we are not the best, and probably not close to it. Democrats (in the sense of believers in democracy) like to lie to themselves that they are equal to everyone else. Everyone knows we are not equal, and this system causes problems where it conflicts with reality.
Among reactionaries, our fantasy is to live a normal life without politics. We see the government’s invitation for every citizen to participate in politics as a disaster. Governance, like fine painting, is best performed by experts raised for the role from birth, not by popular vote. Democracy is too many cooks in the kitchen. This elimination of participation in governance by the masses, what Evola called apoliteia, is our goal. In contrast to the Marxist/progressive doctrine, which seeks to politicize absolutely everything in daily life, we seek to depoliticize life and let natural human social reality take its course. Instead of fantasies of power, we have fantasies of only being responsible for local events and circumstances which directly relate to us and our communities.
The motivation for our “love of authoritarianism” (or, as it used to be called, normalcy) is based on our love for order and culture. Everyone knows that a company fails without real leadership. A CEO who is cycled out every four years cannot realistically pursue any long-term projects, and has no incentive to do so. For governments, it is the same. By recreating governments where a ruling family has a personal stake in and deep cultural connection to the people, we anticipate improvements in factors like crime rates, social cohesion, long-term projects, happiness of the people, health of the economy, and so on. We are not utopian—advocating for private government is not a Utopian plan, just a proposal for incremental improvement. To us, private government is common sense.
Of course, our critics will continue to misrepresent us with tactics that are tried and true since the French Revolution, but we must make our stance clear.
Scott Alexander wrote, on the topic of military spending (emphasis mine):
In the absence of war – a condition which has mostly held for the past fifty years – all this does is sap money away from infrastructure, health, education, or economic growth.
Since Dr. Alexander is not known to be a blithering idiot, but rather the opposite, I cannot simply assume he is being dense. Charity forbids me to immediately assume the other explanation supplied by Hanlon’s razor, so I’ve definitely got a bit of a problem here. Perhaps Dr. Alexander is simply ignorant in this specific area. Ignorance, unlike stupidity, can be cured by education, so let’s try that!
The post where the quote comes from was published on the 30th of July, 2014 AD. Let’s see what’s been happening in terms of war since fifty years before that. (I’ve limited myself to conflicts involving army-sized forces and/or those having corps-sized casualty counts; else I should become a living offense to brevity, in the likes of Mencius Moldbug or Scott Alexander himself. I’ve also helpfully marked the conflicts occurring in the Middle East, since that’s one way of interpreting the ‘mostly’ qualifier.)
Internal conflict in Burma, 1948-present. One of the longest-running civil wars, started the moment Burma achieved independence from the UK. Left-wing and ethnic rebels are the primary troublemakers here.
First Sudanese Civil War, 1955-72. Ethno-religious conflict, due to the British placing both Sunni Arabs and Christian Africans together in one administrative district ruled by the former. The latter gained autonomy in the resulting peace.
Vietnam War, 1955-75. The proxy war in the Cold War. United States and friends back South Vietnam, while the Soviet Union and friends back North Vietnam. The North wins, and annexes the South.
Congo Crisis, 1960-65. Proxy war between the Allies and the Soviets. The result was the establishment of an independent Congo. (Notable due to casualties.)
Guatemalan Civil War, 1960-96. Long civil war between various leftist militias and the government, supported by the Soviets and the West, respectively. Ended in a truce.
Nicaraguan Revolution, 1960s-90. Rebels backed by the United States and company seek to overthrow the government, backed by the Soviet Union – successfully. (Troop counts not listed, but casualties huge.)
First Iraqi-Kurdish War, 1961-70. Attempt by ethnic Kurds to become independent. Ended in a stalemate. (Casualties are notable, if not the forces.)
North Yemen Civil War, 1962-70. Republicans supported by Egypt crush the monarchists supported by Saudi Arabia, Jordan and European mercenaries.
Portuguese Colonial War, 1961-74. Portuguese colonial possessions achieve independence, even though Portugal wins in military terms. Economic devastation is a bitch.
Colombian conflict, 1964-present. Ongoing civil war between the government of Colombia and partisans.
Indo-Pakistani War, 1965. White peace mandated by United Nations.
South African Border War, 1966-90. South Africa withdraws from Angola, Namibia achieves independence.
Six-Day War, 1967. Israel demolishes and humiliates a coalition of thirteen Arab nations.
Cambodian Civil War, 1967-75. Communists achieve victory over the United States-supported republicans.
Nigerian Civil War, 1967-70. Biafran rebels supported by a mismatched coalition of meddlers are crushed by Nigeria (supported by a completely different mismatched coalition of meddlers).
War of Attrition, 1967-70. Israel schools Egypt and Jordan again.
Naxalite-Maoist insurgency, 1967-present. Ongoing communist uprising in India.
The Troubles, 1960s-98. Irish nationalist insurgency in Northern Ireland. Ended with a ceasefire, though low-level partisan warfare is still carried out by dissenters. (Wikipedia doesn’t list troop counts, but amount of people killed suggests large forces.)
Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, 1968. Communist bloc enforces communism in Czechoslovakia.
Insurgency of the Communist Party of the Philippines, 1969-present. Ongoing communist uprising in the Philippines. (There are other conflicts there, but this is the big one.)
Sino-Soviet border conflict, 1969. White peace.
Papua conflict, 1969-present. Ongoing low-level war between the government and indigenous peoples. (Again, casualty counts suggest high amount of belligerents.)
Black September in Jordan, 1970-71. Palestinians try to achieve supremacy over the Jordanites, fail.
Bangladesh Liberation War, 1971. India helps the eastern half of Pakistan become independent as Bangladesh. Also counts as a proxy war between the Soviets and Americans, Soviets victorious.
Yom Kippur War, 1973. Military victory for Israel against the Arabs, but leads to political cessions in the peace treaty.
Ethiopian Civil War, 1974-91. Imperials fight democratic and communist rebel scum; democratic rebels end up on top. Eritrea uses the commotion to achieve independence.
Second Iraqi-Kurdish War, 1974-75. Iraqi government crushes separatists.
Western Sahara War, 1975-91. Morocco and Algeria both claim the region now known as West Sahara, formerly a Spanish colony. Ends in a ceasefire, both sides sitting on their conquests.
Lebanese Civil War, 1975-90. Free for all between ethnic and religious groups, with intervention by meddlers such as USA and Israel. Ended in a coexistence agreement.
Cambodian-Vietnamese War, 1975-89. Vietnam, backed by the Soviets, overthrows the Khmer Rouge and establishes a new communist government. Low-level clashes continue for quite some time.
Indonesian invasion of East Timor, 1975. Indonesia annexes East Timor.
Mozambican Civil War, 1977-92. Spat between two parts of the independence movement. Ends in a UN resolution and peacekeeping mission.
Ethio-Somali War, 1977-78. Somalia claims Ogaden. Soviets back Ethiopia, USA backs Somalia. Soviet-backed forces eject invaders.
Uganda-Tanzania War, 1978-79. Successful Tanzanian war to depose Idi Amin.
Turkey-PKK conflict, 1978-present. Kurdish separatists make war on the Turkish government. Currently seems to be winding down, with both sides exhausted.
Sino-Vietnamese War, 1979. Chinese punitive expedition to Vietnam. Brief and largely inconclusive.
Soviet war in Afghanistan, 1979-89. Afghani insurgents backed by China and the United States force Soviets to withdraw from the country.
Iran-Iraq War, 1980-88. Iraq, supported by both the Soviet Union and the United States, invades Iran. The war ends inconclusively, with both sides claiming victory.
Ugandan Bush War, 1981-86. Pretender rebels try to overthrow the Ugandan government, and succeed.
1982 Lebanon War, 1982-85. Failed Israeli invasion of Lebanon to remove Palestinian influences.
Sri Lankan Civil War, 1983-2009. Tamil rebels crushed by the Sri Lankan government.
Second Sudanese Civil War, 1983-2005. South Sudanese separatists achieve independence. (Notable due to casualty count.)
Civil war in Afghanistan, 1989-92. Spat between various independence factions. Mujahedins come out on top. This is a phase of the general state of perpetual warfare in Afghanistan since 1978.
First Liberian Civil War, 1989-97. Rebels overthrow government. (Notable due to casualties.)
Insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir, 1989-present. Ongoing insurgency in north-western India. Seems to be subsiding at the moment.
Gulf War, 1990-91. A coalition of powers led by the United States intervenes in the Iraqi conquest of Kuwait, and forces them to withdraw.
Yugoslav Wars, 1991-99. The constituent republics of communist Yugoslavia declare independence from the federal government. This heading includes the Ten-Day War, the Croatian War of Independence, the Bosnian War, and the Kosovo War.
Algerian Civil War, 1991-2002. Islamic insurgency eventually crushed by government forces. Amnesty given to quell dissent.
Somali Civil War, 1991-present. Ongoing free-for-all between the many competing governments in Somalia.
1991 uprisings in Iraq, 1991. Government forces crush popular uprisings following the Gulf War.
War in Abkhazia, 1992-93. Separatists backed by Russia succeed in de facto independence against Georgia. This is part of the greater Georgian Civil War. (I lack figures, but the casualty count suggests large forces.)
Civil war in Tajikistan, 1992-97. Ethnic uprisings in Tajikistan, ended in an armistice.
Burundian Civil War, 1993-2005. Ethnic conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes, ending in reconciliation. Sporadic fighting since then. (Notable due to casualties, strength figures incomplete.)
Iraqi Kurdish Civil War, 1994-97. Spat between rival Kurdish groups in Iraq. Ended in a ceasefire and establishment of two governments.
First Chechen War, 1994-96. Chechen separatists achieve crushing victory over Russian government forces, becoming de facto independent.
First Congo War, 1996-97. Disgruntled rebels overthrow the Zairan government.
Republic of the Congo Civil War, 1997-99. War between two presidential candidates. One of them won.
Eritrean-Ethiopian Civil War, 1998-2000. Ethiopia attempts reconquest of the regions lost in their recent civil war. They succeed militarily, but lose later in international court. Eritrea’s independence stands. (Strength figures lacking, casualty figures make it notable.)
Second Congo War, 1998-2003. Incredible, far-reaching clusterfuck of gigantic proportions. No clear victor, and I struggle to find reasons for this happening. (Those casualties, man, those casualties.)
Second Liberian Civil War, 1999-2003. Democratic rebels succeed in overthrowing the government of Liberia.
Ituri conflict, 1999-2007. Ethnic conflict in Congo, inconclusive. (Notable due to casualties.)
Second Chechen War, 1999-2009. Russia reconquers the rebel Chechen state, and fights insurgents for nine years thereafter.
War in Afghanistan, 2001-present. The ongoing conflict started with the American invasion of Afghanistan, on grounds of them supporting Al-Qaeda, who are responsible for terrorist activity in the United States. Taliban government falls, replaced by American satellite regime, but continues as an insurgency thereafter.
War in Darfur, 2003-present. Ethnic rebels rise up against the Sudanese government. Conflict ongoing.
Iraq War, 2003-present. USA invades Iraq on grounds that they’re harbouring weapons of mass destruction. Iraqi government replaced with American puppets, but insurgency continues ever since. This includes the current Caliphate-themed war in Iraq and Syria.
Balochistan conflict, 2003-present. Nationalist rebels and others fight the Pakistani and Iranian governments over a range of issues. Ongoing conflict.
War in North-West Pakistan, 2004-present. Ongoing insurgency against the Pakistani government, which is supported by the United States.
Shia insurgency in Yemen, 2004-present. Ongoing. Shia rebels fight the Yemeni and Saudi Arabian governments.
Mexican Drug War, 2006-present. Ongoing criminal insurgency against the Mexican government.
Libyan Civil War, 2011. Rebellion, aided by America and its subject states, overthrow the Libyan government.
Syrian Civil War, 2011-present. Ongoing civil war between the Alawite Syrian government, and several Sunni rebel groups. Has spilled over into neighbouring countries.
Sudan-SRF conflict, 2011-present. Ongoing insurgency by several rebel groups in southern Sudan and northern South Sudan.
Heglig Crisis, 2012. Brief territorial conflict between Sudan and South Sudan, won by Sudan.
Operation Protective Edge, 2014. Israel launches a punitive expedition to the Gaza Strip, to combat Hamas. Both sides claim victory.
Here’s a map with the conflicts above are marked (locations of conflict marked, rather than participants):
Tallying up the numbers from these listed conflicts, I estimate between 15 million and 32 million dead due to warfare – and that’s just these select few wars. It could be another helping of the same magnitude from the ones I’ve skipped (anyone want to crunch the numbers for all of them?). Plus about an order of magnitude more of those who are affected by war otherwise – wounded or displaced.
That’s it for the last 50 years’ of major wars. (This list may be incomplete. If I missed something big, please contact us via the regular channels.) Let’s round this out to a nice map which shows where current wars are happening, courtesy of Wikipedia:
So why – and how – can an intelligent and educated individual, such as Dr. Alexander, come to believe that the times are substantially peaceful ones? Why, there’s an ongoing major civil war happening right on America’s doorstep! Not to mention the incredible crime levels that only recently began to decline.
Perhaps it has to do with the hegemony of the American empire. Wars are few and far between among the client countries of the United States of America (but not completely absent, see for instance the Falklands War between the UK and Argentina). Western Europe hasn’t quite fought a real war on its own territory since the Second World War, and so didn’t America or Canada, which definitely could explain the feeling of security and peace.
Another explanation could be the segregation of the Brahmin population from the non-ruling castes and from any possibility of violence. The results appear to be women who think they can win a physical confrontation with any man, people whose standards as to what constitutes violence have slipped a bit and people like Dr. Alexander – who possibly have the most reasonable take on the situation, simply considering the circumstances substantially utopic with some minor alterations that could be done to improve things a bit more.
In the absence of personal experience of violence, people grow soft. I just wonder whether it will be Alaric or Abd al-Mu’min who will strike the decisive blow to this complacency. I’m not sure I like either option.
The present system is quite meritocratic in the way it awards intelligence, even if you completely avoid any career paths that require active ideological conformity and status-whoring. Almost anyone smart (who doesn’t have some awful defect negating this advantage) will somehow find a way towards a decent level of social status and accomplishment.
Intelligent people are a valuable resource. They run organizations, build machines and think up arguments. They impress and outmaneuver others, thereby influencing them and the world. They are a lush habitat, not just with better rewards but more room. Ideas would have good cause to mark them as prime targets for capture.
That conservatives are, on average, less intelligent that their opponents is pretty well established. I’m not bringing this up to mock how IQ tests suddenly become excellent measures of intelligence when they give lower scores among conservatives, but when it comes to the low IQ scores under-performing minorities or explanations for why some children are left behind suddenly intelligence is a mystical and unquantifiable. No dear conservatives, I’m not going to be taking you seriously either if your first thought on this is how IQ doesn’t really measure intelligence. It is the single most robust result from psychometrics and it has strong predictive power for everything from income to health. Not only is it a good enough fit for intelligence, I without reservation claim it measures the ability to succeed at the only game in town.
So why not just go home and trust Harvard to do this questioning modernity thing for us? Who are we to talk about schools, marriages and parliament? I certainly don’t feel qualified. Our advantage over them in figuring out what is good or least bad socially can not possibly be cognitive or even access to particular information, but only raw sanity. How can that be? Either we are unusually sane or the alternative is unusually insane. The source of unusual sanity is overall questionable. There is some evidence in favor, prediction power on a certain class of questions. And there are several candidate theories I won’t explore in detail, that make the case. For example Jim thinks some kind of “temperamental atheism”, a kind of sacredness blindness, might help many of our thinkers be unusually right on things others think sacred to be wrong on.
Now what of the alternative of them being unusually insane? Most of the intellectual work of Neoreaction has been focused on why Harvard might not have good incentives for sanity on schools, marriages and parliament, so I won’t waste my breath here either. For now let us accept that ideas capture human intelligence, as I hinted earlier. There has been more intellectual capital, especially that of brilliant minds, expended on figuring out Roman Catholic theology than quantum mechanics or computer science. We are currently not in an age of Enlightened mastery of human intelligence over ideas, them being discarded and accepted according to their merits and use. If the 20th century has given any lesson, it is that ideas discard and accept people according to their use.
You can certainly call that a consequence. Fundamental assymetry in the war of ideas, a corruption in the market of ideas that is supposed to reveal truth. Jim has argued that greater demands for declarations of pious insanity are locking away the intelligent from important positions. I am not as optimistic. Neoreaction will necessarily have fewer brains than the ideologies that currently get preferentially access to brains. Pretending or worse thinking we aren’t overpowered, by a factor of ten thousands to one, in sheer mind power dedicated to rationalization and belief propagation is folly.
What remains is dealing with it. Find pieces of reality where one requires little thought or computation to verify validity, even if the problem itself is a hard one. This applies to your selection of cognitive tools as well. For epistemic sanity on questions where this isn’t the case, remember the differential at play. Ceteris paribus one set of ideas has had a lot more motivated cognition going into it than another. A big chunk of that motivated cognition was spent researching ways to subtly hack you. The hard and long term goal is discovering how to change the incentive structure of idea competition to favor either truth or your own values. Or possibly replace idea competition with a much better mechanism.
I’ll conclude for now by emphasizing the key modification of your naive tribal intuitions that flows from this: Don’t pursue tactics that focus on winning over most or even many intellectuals, no matter how good it feels to you as an intellectual. Don’t ever pander to the groups gang signs for their own sake. Focus only on acquiring specific intellectuals you need to fulfill particular needs of a strategy that recognizes the reality of the inherent and unbridgeable gap.
Part of Towards An Institution Building Institution
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Previous Post: “Conquest’s Second Law“
If an upright woman’s daughter be a wastrel, and the wastrel in turn bear a daughter who is a whore, by what right can the upright woman disclaim kinship with the whore? None, for sin does not destroy lineage, regardless of the dissimilarity of grandmother and granddaughter. Yet such a right is what Bonald implicitly asserts when he denies that Leftism is a Christian heresy, arguing on the basis of dissimilarity, for the current strain of Leftism that scars the world bears at least so close a relation to Bonald’s Holy Mother Church. (This is not to deny that there can exist other strains of leftism, of which the Persian Mazdakists and Chinese Agriculturalists seem to be historical examples.)
Let us be charitable towards Bonald and assume arguendo his position that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true expression of the Christian faith. Then no reasonable man can deny that Protestantism is an outgrowth of the Catholic Church, and therefore, a Christian heresy. Furthermore, the early stages of modern Leftism are witnessed to have emerged from Protestantism, and the ongoing drift and conversion is easy to find repeated again and again at smaller scales when some heretic demands the faux-ordination of persons living in sin or otherwise disqualified to the priesthood.
In 1942, it was super-Protestant to be in favor of world government. Organized Protestantism was backing a planned economy. The seminary heads of Yale and Princeton called for the deconstruction of nations. At best Bonald can assert that Leftism is a heresy once removed, but that still belies other similarities such as the term “social justice” which appears to have largely been appropriated directly from Catholicism to Leftism and is only very rarely found in Protestantism, indicating closer relation. But more on the similarities after I answer a few of Bonald’s points.
1. Bonald denies that Christianity teaches all men are brothers, specifically contradicting the call to human brotherhood in canon 1939 of the Catholic Catechism and more generally contradicting most of the article on social justice in which 1939 is contained, with phrases such as “all men have the same nature and the same origin”. Bonald denies that Christianity teaches equality before God, contradicting the same article again and also contradicting an intuitively available interpretation of the latter half of Galatians 3 – and here it is not enough merely to dispute the proper interpretation, for that still allows for Leftism to be a Christian heresy; no, Bonald would have to argue it is entirely unreasonable to interpret phrases such as “you are all sons of God…you are all one in Christ Jesus” as teaching any sort of equality before God. Then I know not whether Bonald has constructed a strawman or if his interlocutor has merely made a terrible argument, but to bring up God’s distinct treatment of the reprobate is hardly a difference from Leftism, which proclaims internal equality but calls for the death of its own designated reprobates such as kulaks, wreckers and white males with alarming frequency.
2. Bonald asserts that “government exists for the good of the governed” is a commonplace belief among pagans, which I find to be nonsense on stilts unless one fiercely equivocates on “good of the governed”. Many believe that government exists for the good of the governors, as one can occasionally observe in some nations where democracy was recently brought and superficially installed, and the winners of a democratic election proceeded with gratuitous abuse of power because they had not only won, they had won with Western approval, which in their opinion clearly entitled them to the spoils of the losers. Yet more have believed that government exists to fulfill the will of Heaven, or to maintain Order, and benefit to the populace is a pleasant side-effect. Then there are those who reject or have not grasped the concept of telos, and do not admit that government exists for anything in particular.
A more effective rebuttal here, as I see it, would have been to argue that medieval Christians did not invent the social contract.
3. Regarding cultural particularity and the truth of belief for everyone, Bonald rightly eviscerates a terrible argument, but it seems obvious to me that a far stronger charge of similarity can be made with a slight modification, and perhaps the word “belief” was abused at some point during the original formulation.
Here is my charge: that Leftism, like Christianity, is an evangelizing religion which sends emissaries across the globe, dispatching its development advisors to Djibouti as Christians sent their missionaries to Mozambique in a way that the Norsemen never sent their godis to Gloucester. A Viking might expect everyone to believe in Odin and Thor – after all, had he not just demonstrated their strength by his raiding? – but he would scarcely demand that the monks of Lindisfarne convert to their worship.
I have less argument with the rest of Bonald’s points, so instead I argue another likeness as promised: that Leftism, like Christianity, glorifies the victim and the martyr. This the pagans rarely did. The Christian martyr goes to his death recalling the crucified Christ, and the Leftist sloganeer proclaims his superior sympathy with the oppressed, the minority, and the poor. But the pagan says “Vae victis” and demands more gold than what he had already said would be the tribute; says “Qiáng dǎo zhòng rén tuī” and kicks a man while he’s down, taking advantage of the disadvantaged. The pagan distances himself from failure and weakness lest they be contagious. The Viking who died in battle was held to go to Valhalla but the one who died in bed to Hel.
In summary: I object to several of Bonald’s claimed dissimilarities, I claim similarities not mentioned, but most importantly, I believe I have shown lineage. TIME Magazine caught the worm in the act of turning – Leftism growing out of Christianity in America.
The incomparable Fred Reed, whose polite orneriness I have great respect for, recently posted a column with some questions about evolution: “Me, Derbyshire and Darwin”.
Being broadly accepting of the theory of evolution myself, while disdaining the way the term “evolution” has been turned into a cheerleader’s chant that one team in American politics uses to assert their superiority to the other, I feel I am well placed to offer some answers to Fred’s questions, even though they were largely directed to Derbyshire. The full-length questions can be found on Fred’s page, and I will merely provide one-line summaries of them here to assist the reader in keeping track of which one I am answering at any given time.
1) What selective pressures lead to a desire not to reproduce, and how does this fit into a Darwinian framework?
Organisms don’t necessarily feel a desire to reproduce, in itself. There’s a layer of indirection here: In the past, those people who found sex pleasurable tended to have more sex than those who did not, for obvious reasons. As contraception was rather haphazard in those days, sex would frequently lead to children. Thus, the Darwinian framework could select for the desire to have sex, because it’s much easier to keep track of whether one is engaging in pleasurable activity (i.e. having sex) than whether one has taken silphium recently. The appearance of reliable condoms and similar devices happened an eyeblink ago in evolutionary terms – only about four generations – and has yet to spread worldwide. In the short term, a surprise move like contraception can trump evolution, because evolution is a weak process playing the long game.
One could fruitfully compare evolution to gravity on this point: a common fridge magnet is overcoming gravity, with some help from friction. A child’s sucker-dart fired to the ceiling and sticking there is overcoming gravity by suction, but I expect it to fall down eventually. “Eventually” in this context may of course be far longer than the child is willing to wait to get his dart back, necessitating the acquisition of a ladder. When I lift a cup, I am also overcoming gravity, but it would be tiresome to do so indefinitely, and I cannot overcome gravity for every object in my household at once. In the long run, and where I am not exerting effort, gravity will likely have its way – and so too with evolution. If things continue in their present course, our species might, for instance, develop an instinctive horror of contraception – because if those with that horror have fertile sex, fifteen children and live in a shack, and those without it have mostly sterile sex, two children, and live in a nice condo, future humans will mostly be descended from the former, though this might take a thousand years. But for the moment, our mind and will run amok, proliferating traits most contradictory to evolutionary principles, and doing things that evolution hasn’t gotten a chance to react to yet.
2) Why should I not indulge my hobby of torturing to death the severely genetically retarded?
Evolution can’t provide much of an argument against this. Prudence might suggest that you should limit yourself to dysthanizing your own severely genetically retarded family members, particularly under conditions where manpower is plentiful but resources are scarce – because if you go off to torture to death someone else’s retarded relative, that someone else might object on the grounds that they’d still rather have a retarded family member than the unrelated you, and try to torture you to death in response. But this still only holds under conditions of extreme resource scarcity – in most cases, it’s “better” (very very crudely speaking from a genetic-interest standpoint) to instead use the genetically retarded as cannon fodder or something, rather than kill them off outright.
I feel it is worth stating here that “evolution” is to a great extent an after-the-fact description of what happened and what worked. “Evolution” did not make one creature have more offspring than another; “evolution” refers to the result that the first creature’s genes were copied more times than the second creature’s genes. Anthropomorphizing or reifying evolution is a convenient mode of speech when saying something like “evolution selected for this trait“, and a more accurate phrasing would go along the lines of “In the relevant population under consideration of organisms with or without this trait, those organisms with the trait had higher proportions of offspring surviving to reproduce than those organisms without the trait, over a sufficiently long period of time that the accumulated reproductive differential overcame chance“. Phew, that’s a mouthful.
3) How many years would have to pass without replication of abiogenesis, if indeed it be not replicated, before one might begin to suspect that it didn’t happen?
No idea, and the question is somewhat out of bounds for evolution, which mostly deals with the development of organisms over time, not their origin. But it might be happening outside our notice. The First Critter, by hypothesis, came into being in a vast lifeless sea, in which nothing existed that could prey on it. It was probably quite incompetent, as newcomers usually are, so the empty sea must have been a blessing. These days the descendants of the First Critter are presumably a lot more badass, and likely to eat any Second Critter resulting from another case of abiogenesis. Perhaps there were even Third, Fourth, and Five-Hundred-Seventeeth critters replicating abiogenesis, and they all got slurped up by a blue whale, which eats eight thousand pounds of krill a day and would be unlikely to notice if it also slurped up a primitive critter which had just abiogenesis-ed into existence.
4) What are the viable steps needed to evolve into a creature with a multi-step, metamorphosing lifecycle?
I don’t know the specific answer, but I think starting from the butterfly is taking the hard case first, something which is often a recipe for confusion when trying to reason about a subject.
Consider instead that everything developing from an egg is, in principle, a creature with a multi-step lifecycle. At one point it’s only a few cells large and suspended in fluid; later it’s much larger with well-defined limbs and breathes air. Every creature not assembled at scale has to grow in some way from an infant form which lacks the full parts of the adult form, and having those parts grow in is the easier option than having the parent assemble them manually.
Once that begins to seem normal, I’d move on to the tadpole, which undergoes a similarly drastic transformation to the butterfly, but a far more gradual and well-understood one. After first being an egg, it’s then a lump with a long tail, before undergoing another change of losing the tail and growing tetrapodal limbs. But, again, the parent does not construct these limbs. They grow out of the tadpole by nature, and from an egg-tadpole-egg cycle (which would resemble a tiny kind of eel) I find it easier to see how some tadpoles could evolve another step of growing limbs.
Finally I would consider the role of specialization. A hypothetical ancestor of proto-butterflies might not have such a sharp divide between steps of its lifecycle. Instead, it might be a centipede-like creeper with weak glider wings through all its life. When great amounts of nutrition are available, the creeper can grow its wings more. Gradually a pattern develops where the creeper will binge-eat immediately before mating season so as to use its wings for greater mobility during that season, increasing its chances of a successful mating. Then it specializes for use of wings during mating season; it ceases to be born a glider, but the wings only grow out once it has binged. Now, the creepers have something like “puberty” where their wings emerge. Then they start to create protective coatings at the start of puberty to protect their newly-sprouted wings, and they have invented the cocoon. Now we are almost to a butterfly, and the next step is perhaps flight from predators driving the evolution of larger and stronger wings.
I stress that this is merely hypothetical and speculative, but at least it suggests to me that there can exist a viable path of evolving from centipede to caterpillar to butterfly.
5) Does not genetic determinism lead to the paradox that we’re not actually thinking about genetic determinism?
The full text of this question suggests to me two subjects which deserve to be answered separately.
I tentatively reject genetic determinism when it comes to abstract thought, as part of a wider impression that one must implicitly reject the determinist-physicalist-nihilist-materialist-reductionist complex of ideas to discuss any ideas without implicit absurdity. This rejection was first argued that I’ve seen by CS Lewis in Miracles and more formally propounded by Plantinga. For an extreme example of the contrary point of view one has Alex Rosenberg in volumes such as The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, which is an exercise in practical bullet-biting: it argues that our thoughts aren’t about anything, we have no thoughts, there is no “we” to not have thoughts because we are merely the inexorable workings of physics and chemistry, and even “there is no we” is meaningless because it’s a positive assertion which might be true or false, and the inexorable workings of physics and chemistry don’t deal in true or false. This is contradicted in yet another way by Alrenous of Accepting Ignorance, who takes the position that there’s thought and consciousness all the way down to the chemical level, albeit quite small amounts of it. Opinions on this topic vary.
When it comes to walking and talking, though, genetic determinism is partly true, but incomplete. One has to ask “relative to what?”
If one asks relative to Fred Reed, for instance, knowing the genetic programming of a wolf lets us predict the vast majority of the different behavior the wolf is likely to engage in, such as walking on all fours and never speaking English.
Knowing the genetic programming of a typical Lithuanian citizen gives us less information about how this person will behave differently relative to Fred, but still some information.
Finally, knowing the genetic programming of Fred’s hypothetical brother gives us almost no new information – we could have guessed much of it from Fred’s genetic programming, and the differences between the two will be mostly non-genetic.
6) Why do seemingly trivial traits proliferate while clearly important ones do not?
For several reasons, among which are (a) nature disagrees what is trivial or important, (b) it’s a random process that takes time, and (c) traits cluster, rather than proliferating a la carte.
Under (a), there are two sub-points. The first is tradeoffs. The brain, for example, constitutes less than five percent of the body by mass, but uses twenty-five percent of the body’s energy. It’s the first thing to go in emergencies – malnourished children wind up retarded before they wind up crippled. In short, it’s a resource hog. Stephen Hawking’s intelligence is like buying your sixth car: very nice, I’m sure, but is it really the most productive use of your money? I’m sure you could afford to raise more kids if you were to get a nanny or something instead, which brings me to sub-point two: payoffs. The importance of 20/5 vision, in evolutionary terms, is measured by how many more children, on average, it gets you compared to 20/20, which doesn’t seem like all that many. Stephen Hawking’s intelligence may have played a part in his having three children, which is above his present-day, local average of two, but at the time he was born, the world-wide average for number of children had was about five. I’m told that in Niger, one has an average of seven children. To evolution, it would seem that being Nigerien is presently more important than being Stephen Hawking.
As for (b), the randomness of the process was quantified by the very clever fellow J.B.S. Haldane. Suppose a new trait appears, which provides its bearers with P percent more children, on average, than those who don’t have the trait. Then the chance of this trait eventually proliferating to everyone is approximately 2*P, to a maximum of one hundred percent. Thus a trait which gives its bearers an average of 10% more children has only a 20% chance of proliferating once it appears, and an 80% chance of disappearing. Hence the “noise level”. Evolution doesn’t perfectly pick the best things, merely picks better things more often in proportion to how much better they are – and if the margin of differential success is less than about 0.003%, it rounds off to randomness, because about 0.003% of our genes mutate every generation anyway, providing the base material for later selection.
(c) is mediated in several ways. The most famous one is perhaps the chromosome – one of 23 pairs of big lumps of genetic material, which is mostly copied as a unit during reproduction, and thus brings several traits as a group or none, providing trivial traits with a free ride of sorts. Even when a single gene is cross-copied separately from the chromosome, that gene might work to increase the production of a hormone (say, estrogen) that has different effects in different parts of the body, or affects the operation of multiple other genes.
 For those unsatisfied with the 2*P approximation, http://rsif.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/5/28/1279.full has detailed equations.
7) What is the reproductive advantage of crippling pain (migraines can be crippling) about which pre-recently, the sufferer could do nothing?
I see no advantage to the crippling pain itself. I speculate that it might be a side effect of the pain system not only existing in the first place but having been toned up in response to people blithely ignoring lesser pain, much as I must regularly dismiss every day a dozen popups, dialog boxes, and tooltips on my computer telling me that my computer wants to restart, my java needs updating, my cookies are out of date, and one of my applets has frozen. (Whose brilliant idea was it to use all these culinary terms in computing, anyhow?)
It provides reproductive advantage for the pain system to be very attention-grabbing in the first place to warn us that we are sticking our hands in a fire, which is a really bad idea, and we should stop RIGHT NOW. But once this system is in place, there’s a possibility that it might be malformed or get damaged in some way, and will overload and send pain signals for no good reason. So on the whole, having the system is better than not having it, as one can see with leprosy, which damages the sensory and nervous systems, diminishing the feeling of pain – but God, at what cost!
8) If one believes in or suspects the existence of God, how does one exclude the possibility that He meddles in the universe?
One doesn’t. But there’s a sort of etiquette which suggests that it’s ‘impolite’, for lack of a better word, to invoke the possibility that God was meddling without a good reason to suspect this in the particular case. If I lose my watch, I don’t put this down to an act of God, except in the abstract sense that the creator of the universe is indirectly responsible for every event that happens in it, including me losing my watch. I should rather put it down to my own forgetfulness, or perhaps a petty thief. Maybe the cat did it. Even the possibility that the neighbor’s cat came over and knocked my watch off the desk before stealthily fleeing the scene is more respectable than jumping directly from a missing watch to divine intervention. Perhaps it’s something I haven’t yet thought of, and it would be intellectually lazy of me to say “God did it” without better reason.