The New Know-Nothings: The Political Foes of the Scientific Study of Human Nature
a book by Morton Hunt
(our site's book review)
Even though he’s been a political liberal for over half a century, Morton Hunt can still write intriguing Culture War documents. This book is a case in point. It examines the relatively recent trend of special interest groups standing in the way of science when said science doesn’t happen to be in harmony with the particular beliefs of said groups. “Our society urgently needs the information and insights yielded by social science research . . . But research in these areas, unlike most research in the physical and biomedical sciences, impinges on religious, moral, and political beliefs. Moreover, as several social scientists I spoke to commented, many of the issues that social science researchers investigate are aspects of everyday life about which most people feel they have a right to opinions, even though in the past the majority have so often been wrong about such realities. Accordingly, these are the very areas in which the New Know-Nothings most actively attempt to halt studies they see as jeopardizing their beliefs and values.”
He goes on to say that religious conservatives used to be the only ones blockading and attacking science—but now everyone is doing it. Some of the attacks are against teachers. Others are against institutions and corporations. Some attacks have graduated from verbal to physical.
Inquisition ass-clowns loved burning witches alive
He traces the repression of science back to the Inquisition, and no thinking person can doubt the immense harm this era did to individuals and groups (especially women), but particularly to science and knowledge. The fact that the repressive factions are out again in force is very troubling to Hunt—as it should be to all of us. If they’re going to stop science, at least let it be limited to the technologies that may spell the end to humanity if someone makes a serious goof: (See the comments on Bill Joy’s article about robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotechnology in Why the Future Doesn't Need Us.)
If they’re going to stop science, at least let it be limited to the technologies that may spell the end to humanity if someone makes a serious goof, like nanotechnology
This retreat from Enlightenment insights is nothing new in more repressive countries, but most true, red-blooded Americans have always hoped that it wouldn’t happen here too. Will the new repressors halt or even reverse the advent of the Third Wave and the Information Revolution? “The diffusion of antiresearch attitudes and behavior throughout the body politic should deeply disturb all those that believe that science, rather than religious, political, or philosophical doctrines, offers the best hope of understanding the world and human nature.”
Hunt outlines the reasons for the willingness of groups to trample the rights and freedoms of those whose ideas they dislike:
- The awareness that confrontation and disruption worked in the 60s and early 70s
- A loss of faith in the democratic system to dispense fairness and justice
- A fear of science due to ignorance about same and the rise of pseudoscience and religious fundamentalism to help the confused and bewildered citizens of our dangerous modern world try to find at least the pretense of security, comprehension and safety
- The Religious Right-backed Republican revolution of 1994. The latter presented the repression of research as protective of the American family—even though it was anything but
Science itself has been under suspicion by the ignorant and/or the credulous subscribers to pseudoscience, proselytizing that science findings are merely opinions which aren’t even objective, since many scientists have an agenda and their research will slant in the direction of the wallets of the funding sources—a claim that has enough truth in it to turn any scientist’s face pink.
Hunt rehashes the old nature-nurture controversy, once again concluding what we’ve all known all along: the two interact as a complex system to produce behavior and characteristics. The idea that one or the other of these factors is the main or only cause of human’s behavior is as silly as it is naïve.
His update on radical conservative political-action groups’ 1995 political manipulations to attempt to render all family-related research useless was chilling and a sign of the times. When the truths coming out of a certain type of research tend to invalidate many beliefs and parenting practices of an entire constituency, then at the start of the 21st century one can bet that someone will launch an all-out assault on said research! And they did.
This is worth thinking about: Authoritarian practices have been failing at parenting for many decades now, but they seemed to work in the early 1900s and prior to that, at least, in conservatives’ eyes. Such people are nostalgic about the good old days and cynical about the now, and they resent the change from Second Wave, autocratic families with patriarchal control to Third Wave, democratic families with control by consequences, agreement, and knowledge. They hate to admit how badly their authoritarian family tactics are working, since they feel it would render them impotent. So they fight all science in this area, since when it is done objectively and correctly it always seems to invalidate the anachronistic practices of the worshippers of power and authority.
Hence, the attempted family research blockade of 1995. (Incidentally, it’s easy to see why conservatives always seem to relate to the silly nature-nurture question by coming down on the side of nature: The way they muck up the nurturing side with their authoritarian obsessions leads to mucked up kids, and by coming down on the side of nature, it renders their erroneous attempts at nurturing not only innocent but irrelevant as well! Worse, they now have Big Pharma on their side, saying it's all brain chemistry and parenting is irrelevant so let us drug our children. This is a tragedy for our culture!)
This is your child's brain. This is your child's brain on Big Pharma's drugs. Any questions?
Big Pharma spreading "good health via medicine" across the land
Big Pharma's Drugs will 'fix our defective brains'
There’s another side to all this which in no way mitigates the last paragraph, but in many ways mitigates the suspect motives of conservatives towards research. We’ve examined the rather cowardly, ignorant and selfish reasons that the Right wanted to defund the family areas of social science research. Now let’s look at the wise, prudent, noble and commendable ones: (This would have been gladly addressed by Hunt except for the fact that he’s a liberal. So he addressed it grudgingly, obviously not agreeing with it.)
In the 60s and thereafter there was hasty social science research to back the goals of the Great Society programs. In the 70s and beyond, America was a guinea pig for the experiments in social engineering that derived from this—and earlier—research. The results were often messy or just plain bad, and spit in the face of something conservatives have known for centuries: remove consequences from actions and you breed irresponsibility. Those of us who’ve seen the big picture, who’ve taken the holistic systems view of the effect these experiments have had on our culture and our society, and who’ve seen the error of our ways in letting the liberal do-gooders treat our great country like a rat in a maze to experiment with—we now realize why social science has become the bad boy of conservative circles: Look what it can lead to!
When liberals decide that we can replace functioning families and functioning communities with a cadre of experts and bureaucrats, it’s time for someone to stand up and cry “Foul!” And, thank heavens, that’s just what conservatives did.
If Marxism is the leftist social engineering experiment suggested by a reductionistic, class-based, economy-centered, revolutionary perspective of history that categorically rejects social Darwinism and the elitist capitalist imperialism it rationalized, and Hitler’s Third Reich is the social engineering experiment suggested by racial-purity- and racial-superiority-based social Darwinism, then today’s foundering, Culture War-obsessed, all-rights-and-no-responsibility, politically grid-locked, morally relativist American society is the social engineering experiment (and its results) suggested by liberal, Big-Government, welfare-state-centered, liberal capitalism.
This liberalism may have helped improve civil rights, but in its effort to refute and invalidate the bigoted ideas of the survival-of-the-fittest social Darwinists and anyone else fighting the cause of civil rights, the liberal politicians, instead of helping us dialectically transcend all three continuums defined by social Darwinism vs. socialism, society vs. the individual, and responsibilities vs. rights (either end of these continuums represents a type of dangerous extremism), made the classic error of either/or, black-or-white thinking, and pushed us nearly to the end of the latter two continuums—only succeeding to maintain some balance with the first one.
The liberal politicians' social engineering experiments mostly made things worse
In the attempt to neutralize the poison of the radical right, racists, sexists, and right-wing regressives who loved authoritarianism and hated change (and felt Calvinistically and somewhat Darwinistically that the rich deserve what they have because they are by definition the fittest and the poor are simply unfit), American liberal “political salvationists” in the late 60s and 70s decided that we should ingest nothing but the antidote for all this poison, and in so doing they forgot the basic rules of nutrition, if you will. The unfortunate legacy of this ill-considered decision (although it wasn’t the only cause of U.S. social decline) is that America can now lay claim to both the world’s highest crime rate and an irresponsible, immoral, drug-saturated underclass with no work ethic and little social conscience, and our culture must now endure a myriad of other symptoms like divorce, depression, alcoholism, hyper-stress, social isolation, loneliness, alienation, disconnectedness, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, cheating, hedonism, meaninglessness, and declines in many leading social indicators.
All this is the result of not only the awkward transition from Second Wave to Third Wave civilization, but also the attempt to assure equality and justice by liberal social engineering. This was and is a Second Wave, mass-man approach. Politicians seem to be very slow at dumping such contexts and adopting Third Wave contexts, so they keep thinking political salvationist nonsense when they need to be cheerleaders for spreading MC knowledge (but with NO government interference or engineering whatsoever, of course—MCs need to come from local, grassroots efforts effected by individuals getting together via computer matching).
Their political salvationism obsession manifests a belief in the worldview of the old, mechanistic-reductionistic paradigm. Some ignorant liberal do-gooders even take the miserable, discredited practice of permissive parenting and foist it on society as a whole, along with these beliefs: damn nearly everyone is a helpless victim, most of us are too weak to run our lives and take care of ourselves so we’re necessarily dependent, and we should all have blind faith in meddling bureaucrats and experts rather than relying on knowledge, initiative and self-reliance.
If you didn’t find yourself wincing at these ideas, it’s because of the great success the political salvationists have had at selling their bizarre ideas to American society. Note that said salvationists get themselves and their buddies elected only if and when they can make us realize just how much we need their help!
Hunt outlines the two reasons to prevent research: (1) if it’s unethical, and (2) if it’s too dangerous. Most of the interest groups that pressure, confront and harass researchers, however, have no such reasons. Their reason is to further their beliefs and interests, and eliminate or cripple the entities holding or researching opposing beliefs. Weren’t there supposed to be such things as a Constitution, a bill of Rights, a democracy and a free country, all of which many have bravely given their lives for, and all of which would help prevent just such things as Inquisitions, book burnings, the repression of science and the oppression of scientists?
The repression of science by the Religious Right
And wasn’t there such a thing as the Enlightenment? Since when should science be under the thumb of religious fundamentalists, Creationists, “stealth” candidates of the radical Right, political correctness fanatics, and other Know-Nothings? And how could we have let this happen? Have our schools ceased explaining to our young the basics not only of science but also of democracy and freedom? Have the political correctness crowd so confused us that we now will stop any science that somehow makes someone somewhere uncomfortable? Is there no one left on the planet that will stand up and assert “I am not a victim”?
Diversity is a main contributor to this problem, to be sure, but one suspects that figuring even more prominently in this science-bashing phenomenon is a lack of courage—perhaps on the part of both oppressed, who cave in too easily, and oppressors, who surrender to fear too easily. That (courage) they’ll never be able to teach in schools, churches, or anywhere else. It will always evolve from character, and said character comes from good parenting, good examples, good neighborhood and/or community connectedness, and good life decisions made by those who are most capable of making them well: those who have learned from natural and logical consequences to make responsible, wise choices.
The conservatives have always been correct that if you remove consequences from actions, you breed irresponsibility. And the best parents have always been right that the most effective way to promote consequences learning is neither authoritarian parenting nor permissive parenting, but the dialectical synthesis of these two: authoritative parenting. Such a synthesis absolutely does NOT take some of each and intermingle them. That is called mixed parenting and it often works worse than either authoritarian parenting or permissive parenting.
Authoritative parenting is ABOVE the continuum, transcendent to the failed approaches of mixed parenting, authoritarian parenting or permissive parenting
No, authoritative parenting is a transcendent synthesis not at either end of the continuum or anywhere in between (including the center). It is ABOVE the continuum, transcendent to the failed approaches of either authoritarian parenting or permissive parenting. There is power in this transcendent approach: the child's own, not the parents', who instead use guidance. There is non-interference in this transcendent approach: parents instead use guidance. Most of this guidance uses (mostly) natural and (occasionally, with some authoritative methods) logical consequences to encourage responsible, wise choices. The rest of this guidance relies on Third Wave knowledge, supplied when needed and appropriate but not forced. When possible, young ones are allowed to "adventure" (try things out, see for themselves, experiment, see if someone wishes their company, etc.) and find out for themselves. This is the Maslow-recommended way—see Toward a Psychology of Being.