Giving Dr. Vallicella a Breather: No Human Nature?

I have been preoccupied by discussions with Bill Vallicella in this space, and should give him a moment’s peace.

In a letter to the New York Times (fifth letter down), one Linnda Caporael shows us once again how deeply entrenched the perverse cultural doctrine that Steven Pinker calls “The Blank Slate”still is. Ms. Caporael writes (italics mine):

David Brooks is right to see that the “bursting point” has come (column, Sept. 4), but it does not include “the elemental violence of human nature.”

There is no such thing as human nature without culture and its institutions. The message of Katrina was not from Hobbes; it was from a neoconservative leadership: “Starve the beast,” feed the rich, abandon the poor, disgrace the nation. That’s not a natural disaster; it’s an American tragedy.

Quite apart from being a typically vitriolic and inaccurate caricature of neoconservatism, which concerns itself primarily with the idea that America should pursue a humanitarian and forward-leaning foreign policy, this letter shows that the pernicious denial of any sort of innate human nature – despite our being the product of eons of evolutionary tuning – lingers on, particularly among the Left. This maleficent and completely unsupportable view holds that newborn human beings are merely empty vessels into which society pours its language, culture, and morals, thereby completely defining both mind and behavior. Such thinking has been the manure from which has sprung the many utopian experiments that have wrought so much misery in the world in modern times, from Bolshevism, National Socialism, and the Cultural Revolution to the Khmer Rouge and the Sendero Luminosa. Desperate defense of this ideology against continuing erosion by scientific investigation and the ongoing lessons of history (and by common sense, and even human nature itself) has led to increasingly shrill protests from the social engineers and cultural critics of the academic Left as its claims have been shown again and again to be utterly baseless.

This topic is deserving of a longer post, but for now the reader is encouraged to see Pinker’s excellent book.

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  1. […] I have already posted about Steven Pinker’s excellent book The Blank Slate, a salvo against the modern denial of innate human nature. In today’s Wall Street Journal Charles Murray, who as one of the co-authors, in 1996, of The Bell Curve was pilloried by the Left for suggesting that there might be inherent statistical differences among human genetic groups, has returned to the battle with an essay arguing that subsequent study has buttressed his position. […]

  2. By waka waka waka » Blog Archive » Standard Equipment on October 18, 2005 at 11:01 am

    […] Some years ago anthropologist Donald E. Brown published a book called Human Universals. Its argument is that there are cultural traits that can be found in every human society – universal characteristics that, because they are manifest in all cultures throughout history and in all environmental settings, clearly must represent innate features of human nature. Such an idea, of course, flies in the face of the “progressive” intellectual fashions of the past century, fashions that persist to this day, as discussed in a previous post. […]