Stalinist Science at the New York Times

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The quotation of the week last week had to be that of Harvard professor Daniel E. Lieberman in an opinion piece for the New York Times.

Lieberman, a professor of human evolutionary biology, was among those who publicly defended New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to ban the sale of sugared soft drinks in cups larger than 16 ounces.

And he did so using, of all things, evolution.

Now, we all know that humans have always needed — or evolved to need — carbohydrates for energy. So how could evolution argue for Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on sugar, a pure carbohydrate?

“We have evolved,” the professor concluded his piece, “to need coercion.”

In order to understand both how silly and dangerous this comment is, one must first understand the role evolutionary explanations play in academic life — and in left-wing life generally. The left has always sought single, non-values based explanations for human behavior. It was originally economics. Man is homo economicus, the creature whose behavior can be explained by economics.

Rather than dividing the world between good and evil, the left divided the world in terms of economics. Economic classes, not moral values, explain human behavior. Therefore, to cite a widespread example, poverty, not one’s moral value system, or lack of it, causes crime.

Recently, however, the economic explanation for human behavior has lost some of its appeal. Even many liberal professors and editorial writers have had to grapple with the “surprising” fact that violent crime has declined, not increased, in the current recession.

In the words of “Scientific American,” “Homo economicus is extinct.”

But the biggest reason for the declining popularity of economic man is that science has displaced economics — which is not widely regarded as a science — as the left’s real religion. Increasingly, therefore, something held to be indisputably scientific — evolution — is offered as the left’s explanation for virtually everything.

Evolution explains love, altruism, morality, economic behavior, God, religion, intelligence. Indeed, it explains everything but music. For some reason, the evolutionists have not come up with an evolution-based explanation for why human beings react so powerfully to music.

But surely they will.

Now, along comes Professor Lieberman, not merely to use evolution to explain human behavior but to justify coercive left-wing social policy.

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  • davarino

    People voting democrat shows entropy is increasing in the Universe.

    • intrcptr2

      Wouldn't that be Newton's first law?

      • Bartimaeus

        It's the second law of thermodynamics.

  • tagalog

    Maybe we have evolved PAST coercion and that's the reason why there is so much hand-wringing and calls for increased force from academia, reflecting concern that they might have to learn something new.


    Eliminate TENURE for professors.

    No protected classes in univesities.

  • clarespark

    There was nothing scientific about "dialectical materialism", moreover, Stalinists and communists used Darwin as cover: they were more indebted to Hegel and German Idealism. To throw out Adam Smith as Dennis Prager does, is to throw out capitalism itself. Smith wrote a famous essay Theory of the Moral Sentiments, which took the sting out of his notion of human tendencies to "truck and barter." Finally, religion is often the vocabulary by which economic interests are expressed. As for economic determinists, such as Ralph Bunche, he made the connection between economics and ideology. See…. Title: Ralph Bunche and the Jewish Problem.

  • zeggman

    Surely Mr. Prager would not argue that we as a society do not need coercion. The laws against stealing, murder, and reckless driving, and the penalties prescribed for breaking those laws, are all examples of our society as a whole imposing coercion and restricting the liberty of individuals. Our whole system of laws is coercive.

    What Mr. Prager deliberately chooses to ignore is that in our democracy, we all have a voice in specifying the extent of this coercion. I would probably agree with most here that banning soft drinks over a certain size is excessive coercion, but I also recognize that society has a legitimate interest in attempting to curb obesity. I would prefer to do it by education, discussion, and "marketplace coercion" of the vendors supplying such drinks, but to argue that saying we've "evolved to need coercion" is "foolish and dangerous" is to argue that every law on the books today is an unnecessary infringement on personal liberty and should be abolished. Certainly some of them are, and we should work to modify and repeal the laws which do not move our society in the direction we think it should go.

    • tagalog

      I've heard Prager say on his radio show that he believes as Hobbes did, that a government chosen by the governed may legitimately engage in coercion because governments are by nature given the power to control the people, and when the government rules by consent, its coerciveness is consensual. Prager differs from Hobbes, as Locke does, in that Prager (and Locke) believe that the people may withdraw their consent and change the government if it no longer rules by their approval. This moves the game dangerously close to direct democracy, "mobocracy," but it's better than Hobbes.

    • Liberty-Clinger

      “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.” Thomas Jefferson

      Wrongful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will in violation of the equal rights of others – unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the inferior rights of others. Stealing, murder and reckless driving violate the equal rights of others to their property and life, and so these unjust actions represent the tyranny of wrongful liberty. Coercive laws against wrongful liberty of the tyrant are just, since those laws secure the equal rights of others to their property and life. Law is not the tyrants will, but rather just law, when it secures the rights of the individual.

    • Liberty-Clinger

      “Government [law] is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” George Washington

      “No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another, and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him.” Thomas Jefferson

      The amount of law (coercion) required to ensure rightful human liberty is just that amount of law (force) needed to ensure equality of rights to life, liberty and the fruit of labor – a minimum of force.

  • Comrade Jim

    If "we have evolved to need coercion” were did the coercers like Bloomberg come from? Are they exempt from needing coercion? Their evolutionary model needs further refinement. Here, let me help them. The masses evolved to need coercion and the elite evolved to coerce them. There! Isn't that neat? We have evolved to need totalitarianism.

  • pagegl

    The vast majority of leftists pushing science as their new god have, at best, limited knowledge on how science really works. One of the best examples is the global warming crock.

  • Laura Walls

    Taking away man’s ability to self-discipline himself by ‘forced’ discipline is an insult and attack against the mind. It eliminates values, if everything that is bad for you is eliminated so is man’s ability of self discipline as it would not even exist not even knowing what it is.

    If everything that is good for you is the only choice therefore then there is no choice, no ability to determine any higher value to anything. Anyone with the ability of self-discipline would not even be known to exist, no rewards, no achievement, an inability at measuring anything, everyone would be the same hence; mediocrity = marxism/communism implemented by those with a catastrophic inferiority complex as they are compelled with the incessant need to dominate and control others in order to feel safe, secure and validated at the level of their own flawed mediocrity,

    I’d rather be living my Spartan lifestyle (competitive body-builder) by my ability to choose, and I’ rather others have the right to be of the contrary.

  • TomKinney

    This is but part of a larger scam. In recent weeks and months, we've seen a deluge of academic quasi-scientific "studies" that claim to prove the inferiority of conservatives and conservative thinking. This is the desperate left looking for a way out of the dead end street in which their dying religion now resides.

    Recently, Arthur Brooks made a great point about how conservatives have lost the "moral ground" on such issues as entitlement. That in fact welfare creates an sort of Entitlement Plantation Syndrome (my words, not his) that degrades its recipients and renders them impotent as future workers. There's no arguing Brooks' central idea, but his use of the word "moral" causes me pause. And alarm.

    Morals, like social justice, reside in the eye of the beholder. Your social justice may not be mine. Your morals may be in exact contradiction to mine. Stalin and Mao had their own ideas about both. In fact, most demagogues and dictators have strict morals that they enforce brutally. Totalitarian countries are almost always puritanical. Both morals and social justice are the slipperiest of slopes. Better not to go there.

    Smith's "invisible hand," and more recently the notion of "market discipline" point to an alternative. Humans are innately able to process "do unto others as you'd have them do unto you" standards as much out of self-interest as that of altruism. We get that when you do someone wrong, among other things you are putting yourself at risk. Something wrong will come back to you. Forget morals and social justice. As a species we're far more self-policing than we give ourselves credit for. How about relying on our instincts instead? Sounds flimsy, but no more so than morals, which are inevitably personal and ultimately idiosyncratic.

    BTW, just visited the Eisenhower Library in Abilene and saw at its museum the entirety of his 1961 Farewell Address. The one with his now famous warning about the "military industrial complex." Only recently has Ike been embraced by the left, long his enemies, mostly because of this comment, largely taken out of context, and because he's been dead long enough to not pose a threat to them.

    In fact, the most interesting part of his speech was the theme of this article: that we should be even more aware of this lesser 'axis of evil' of academe, science, and democrats. Here, for those interested, are his statements:

  • Federale

    Looks like the left has adopted the communist policies that the right accused it of in the 50s but leftists like Richard Hofstadter decried as paranoia.

  • 080

    Our system is majority rule with minority rights. I don't see much minority rights in the teachings of the left.

  • Bartimaeus

    If man were evolving morally, would he not need less coercion? We should soon reach a blissful utopian society without coercion where man would love his neighbor as himself and we would all in every particular ethnos “just all get along” no more warfare (a major form of coercion) no more strife and division. The fact is man has been stuck fast from the beginning of his history and every attempt to change man’s basic nature has failed. The fantasy of evolution when applied to politics is as disastrous as it gets. Both Nazism and Communism have had inflated ideas of how they would produce some kind of higher evolution of mankind. Professing themselves to be wise they became fools and have wrought untold misery in the world, and the sad thing is that it is not over yet. It is better to seek the wisdom that limits the power of government, and allow for individual freedom, as the American experiment has tried to do.

  • bubbaland1

    I know the professor quite well and he is, in my opinion, a pompous ass.

    • Kevin Stroup

      He certainly sounds like one with statements like that.

  • Ghostwriter

    I'm glad I didn't have this guy as a science teacher.