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Quote of the Day: A Leftist Describes Why Nature Is Horrible

 

George Williams, the revered evolutionary biologist, describes the natural world as “grossly immoral.” Having no foresight or compassion, natural selection “can honestly be described as a process for maximizing short-sighted selfishness.” On top of all the miseries inflicted by predators and parasites, the members of a species show no pity to their own kind. Infanticide, siblicide, and rape can be observed in many kinds of animals; infidelity is common even in so-called pair-bonded species; cannibalism can be expected in all species that are not strict vegetarians; death from fighting is more common in most animal species than it is in the most violent American cities. Commenting on how biologists used to describe the killing of starving deer by mountain lions as an act of mercy, Williams wrote: “The simple facts are that both predation and starvation are painful prospects for deer, and that the lion’s lot is no more enviable. Perhaps biology would have been able to mature more rapidly in a culture not dominated by Judeo-Christian theology and the Romantic tradition. It might have been well served by the First Holy Truth from [Buddha’s] Sermon at Benares: “Birth is painful, old age is painful, sickness is painful, death is painful…”” As soon as we recognize that there is nothing morally commendable about the products of evolution, we can describe human psychology honestly, without the fear that identifying a “natural” trait is the same as condoning it. As Katharine Hepburn says to Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen, “Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.”

— Steven Pinker

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There are 21 comments.

  1. Thatcher
    TG

    Ha! What’s the date for that Stephen Pinker quote?

    • #1
    • September 11, 2017 at 1:17 am
    • Like
  2. Member

    So is this supposed to be some new or enlightened insight? It is and has always been obvious and was true of humans and pre humans, but in case nobody had noticed the emergent system driven by accommodation to immediate interests, threats and opportunities that evolve in all species including humans continued as humans discovered behaviors and social norms and mores, notions of sin and good that allowed some groups, tribes to thrive and become civilizations. These were referred to by Katherine Hepburn and which we can call revelation or inherited wisdom, or as Burke referred to as the bank of nations and of ages. Progressives, as if to prove the species hasn’t really advanced, believe they can sweep away and replace accumulated civilization with their own “short sighted selfishness” which they inevitably call the right side of history or advanced thinking and compassion or the application of their superior reason, but which is fundamentally pre civilization, raw self interest.

    • #2
    • September 11, 2017 at 5:21 am
    • 9 likes
  3. Member

    Pinker? That’s as blood-red a quote as I have ever read.

    • #3
    • September 11, 2017 at 5:50 am
    • 1 like
  4. Member

    Henry Castaigne: As soon as we recognize that there is nothing morally commendable about the products of evolution, we can describe human psychology honestly, without the fear that identifying a “natural” trait is the same as condoning it.

    While building our pole barn yesterday (yes, I’m still at it) we were keeping an eye on our cat, who was playing with her food again. She might have let a chipmunk get away from her and live to tell about it, although usually she isn’t that careless. My son pointed out that man isn’t the only animal that hunts for sport, and cited Steven Pinker’s remarks (though not by quoting them).

    • #4
    • September 11, 2017 at 5:50 am
    • 2 likes
  5. Member

    I’m not sure I’d describe Steven Pinker as a “leftist”.

    • #5
    • September 11, 2017 at 7:12 am
    • 5 likes
  6. Member

    Nature is amoral, not immoral.

    • #6
    • September 11, 2017 at 9:44 am
    • 10 likes
  7. Member
    Henry Castaigne Post author

    Misthiocracy (View Comment):
    Misthiocracy

    I’m not sure I’d describe Steven Pinker as a “leftist”.

    He seems like less and less of one recently. Though, it seems more because of the shrinking intellectual freedom of the left than a a rightward shift in his thought.

    • #7
    • September 11, 2017 at 11:28 am
    • Like
  8. Member

    Thanks, Henry.

    This is an entry in Ricochet’s Quote of the Day Series. If you would like to join us, there are still several openings in September.

    • #8
    • September 11, 2017 at 11:59 am
    • Like
  9. Member

    One leftie who’s contradiction on this I’ve found pretty blatant was Jack London. He obviously understood nature incredibly well regarding animals, but he thought people could just wipe all that away and create a socialistic paradise.

    • #9
    • September 11, 2017 at 3:56 pm
    • 7 likes
  10. Coolidge

    As I’ve said to my kids many times: the first thing nature does with you after bringing you to life is try to destroy you and make you in to something else. And it does that with all your stuff. So bring your damn bike in out of the rain!

    • #10
    • September 12, 2017 at 9:49 am
    • 7 likes
  11. Moderator

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Henry Castaigne: As soon as we recognize that there is nothing morally commendable about the products of evolution, we can describe human psychology honestly, without the fear that identifying a “natural” trait is the same as condoning it.

    While building our pole barn yesterday (yes, I’m still at it) we were keeping an eye on our cat, who was playing with her food again. She might have let a chipmunk get away from her and live to tell about it, although usually she isn’t that careless. My son pointed out that man isn’t the only animal that hunts for sport, and cited Steven Pinker’s remarks (though not by quoting them).

    A webcomic called “The Oatmeal” had one that detailed the hunting actions of domesticated cats, noting that many of these cats were killing small animals and not even eating them. The summation was “Dogs are man’s best friend; cats are man’s adorable little serial killers.”

    • #11
    • September 12, 2017 at 10:30 am
    • 4 likes
  12. Member

    Pinker is an ass. What he doesn’t realize is that the object to life is not pleasure or luxury or accommodation or prosperity. He only sees the here and now and not the transcendent beyond death. As revealed in Christian revelation, the object of life is sacrificial love in which love for our neighbor and God forms us into the beings worthy of everlasting life. The hardships of life are prodding for humanity to care for each other, to let God’s love flow through you to bring you into righteousness with God. If you start with life as being meaningless and random and that life ends everything, then nature is something to be feared, but really that’s a useless exercise because it’s all meaningless. If there is a loving God, and He has shown us the means to salvation after this life, then nature is something we manage and embrace, the good and the bad.

    • #12
    • September 12, 2017 at 11:01 am
    • 1 like
  13. Member

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    Misthiocracy (View Comment):
    Misthiocracy

    I’m not sure I’d describe Steven Pinker as a “leftist”.

    He seems like less and less of one recently. Though, it seems more because of the shrinking intellectual freedom of the left than a a rightward shift in his thought.

    Pinker hasn’t been a standard-issue leftist for a long time, if he ever was. The Blank Slate was published 15 years ago. That book undermines much leftist orthodoxy.

    • #13
    • September 12, 2017 at 11:16 am
    • 3 likes
  14. Member

    Perhaps biology would have been able to mature more rapidly in a culture not dominated by Judeo-Christian theology and the Romantic tradition.

    That’s some sort of joke that went over my head, right? (Normally nothing goes over my head. My reflexes are too fast; I would catch it.)

    • #14
    • September 12, 2017 at 2:33 pm
    • 3 likes
  15. Member
    Henry Castaigne Post author

    Manny (View Comment):
    Pinker is an ass. What he doesn’t realize is that the object to life is not pleasure or luxury or accommodation or prosperity. He only sees the here and now and not the transcendent beyond death. As revealed in Christian revelation, the object of life is sacrificial love in which love for our neighbor and God forms us into the beings worthy of everlasting life. The hardships of life are prodding for humanity to care for each other, to let God’s love flow through you to bring you into righteousness with God. If you start with life as being meaningless and random and that life ends everything, then nature is something to be feared, but really that’s a useless exercise because it’s all meaningless. If there is a loving God, and He has shown us the means to salvation after this life, then nature is something we manage and embrace, the good and the bad.

    Well he is an atheist materialist with a weird animus towards Christianity but has Pinker ever been rude like Christopher Hitchens has been rude. If not, I object to your characterization of him on the basis of his beliefs.

    • #15
    • September 12, 2017 at 2:39 pm
    • 1 like
  16. Member
    Henry Castaigne Post author

    Isaiah's Job (View Comment):
    Isaiah’s Job

    Perhaps biology would have been able to mature more rapidly in a culture not dominated by Judeo-Christian theology and the Romantic tradition.

    That’s some sort of joke that went over my head, right? (Normally nothing goes over my head. My reflexes are too fast; I would catch it.

    George Williams wasn’t revered for his knowledge of comparative religions or Western Civilization. He was an evolutionary biologist guy.

    • #16
    • September 12, 2017 at 2:44 pm
    • Like
  17. Member

    Gary Larson, of Farside fame, wrote a book called There’s a Hair in My Dirt! that very cleverly shows how those who think they are protecting the environment are actually harming it. He talks about the interconnectedness of all the ugly critters and how saving only the cute ones unbalances the whole system. I highly recommend it to any and all eco-warriors.

    • #17
    • September 13, 2017 at 8:35 am
    • 1 like
  18. Member

    Fritz (View Comment):
    Nature is amoral, not immoral.

    That’s right. Judging aspects of nature as either “good” or “evil” requires a perspective beyond nature, since nature itself is not cognizant of ethical categories. The lion eats the deer because it is what lions do, no more no less. It’s neither good nor evil – from the perspective of nature itself.

    I wonder in what Williams and/or Pinker ground their judgments of nature as either good or evil?

    • #18
    • September 13, 2017 at 9:24 am
    • 2 likes
  19. Member

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):
    Pinker is an ass. What he doesn’t realize is that the object to life is not pleasure or luxury or accommodation or prosperity. He only sees the here and now and not the transcendent beyond death. As revealed in Christian revelation, the object of life is sacrificial love in which love for our neighbor and God forms us into the beings worthy of everlasting life. The hardships of life are prodding for humanity to care for each other, to let God’s love flow through you to bring you into righteousness with God. If you start with life as being meaningless and random and that life ends everything, then nature is something to be feared, but really that’s a useless exercise because it’s all meaningless. If there is a loving God, and He has shown us the means to salvation after this life, then nature is something we manage and embrace, the good and the bad.

    Well he is an atheist materialist with a weird animus towards Christianity but has Pinker ever been rude like Christopher Hitchens has been rude. If not, I object to your characterization of him on the basis of his beliefs.

    Yes he has. Perhaps not as viscous but insulting nonetheless.

    • #19
    • September 13, 2017 at 2:48 pm
    • Like
  20. Coolidge

    Nature wants to kill me and eat my corpse.

    And people wonder why I never went for the Gaia / nature-worship stuff emanating from the environmental movement…

    It’s amusing that he thought Christianity was hindering biology by revering nature as perfect. You’d figure he would have heard something about the Christian view of nature, or at least that little story involving naked people, reptiles, and fruit trees.

    • #20
    • September 18, 2017 at 2:13 am
    • 3 likes
  21. Member

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):
    It’s amusing that he thought Christianity was hindering biology by revering nature as perfect.

    That’s not how it hindered things. One way was through proscriptions on dissecting human cadavers, so many medical books were based on dissecting pigs and other animals. Another way was a misunderstanding of what the Bible was and said that tended to hinder some ideas from taking off even into the Nineteenth Century. There were plenty of other reasons, unrelated to Christianity, why science was hindered, too. Mostly it comes down to our being a stupid, bull-headed species, even if the smartest we know of on Earth.

    • #21
    • September 18, 2017 at 3:19 am
    • Like