The hallmark of modernity is metaphysical materialism: the notion, as atheist Daniel Dennett put it, that “there is only one sort of stuff, namely matter––the physical stuff of physics, chemistry, and physiology––and the mind is somehow nothing but a physical phenomenon.” The consequences of proclaiming that immaterial reality––mind, soul, God––doesn’t exist has been the rise of antihumanism, the stripping from people of their transcendent worth, and the reduction of them to a “sort of stuff” in the world, to be studied, understood, reshaped, and ultimately controlled like any other bit of matter.
Our world increasingly over the last two centuries has seen not just man’s eternal inhumanity to man, the result of our destructive, immutable passions and impulses that have made history, as Edward Gibbon put it, “little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.” Now there’s antihumanism, a much more subtle danger, always cloaked in claims of progress and improvement in human affairs that are brought on by science, a pretension that has made it much more destructive.
Robert Zubrin writes in Merchants of Despair that “the founding prophet of modern antihumanism,” is Thomas Malthus and his 1798 An Essay on the Principle of Population. Malthus claimed that any population always grows geometrically larger than its food supply, a hypothesis which ignored the creative ingenuity of people. Worse were the consequences of his theories when applied to the real world.
For example, falsely believing that Ireland was overpopulated, the British government allowed this food-exporting island to spiral downward into famine partly because, as Malthus himself said, many agreed that “a great part of the population should be swept from the soil.” Over a million Irish died of starvation and diseases caused by malnutrition.
Thirty years later, the same policy of neglect in India contributed to a famine that killed as many as 10 million people, again because of the Malthusian fallacy that, as Sir Evelyn Baring told Parliament, “Every benevolent attempt made to mitigate the effects of famine and defective sanitation serves but to enhance the evils resulting from overpopulation.”
The same antihuman sentiments and amoral logic characterized the work of neo-Malthusian Paul Ehrlich, whose 1968 book The Population Bomb predicted hundreds of millions dead from mass starvation by the 1970s, and the disappearance of England by the year 2000. And like Malthus, Ehrlich proposed illiberal and inhumane interventions like involuntary sterilization, which China later imposed on millions of its people with its “one-child” policy. In 1977, Ehrlich co-authored a book, Chelsea Follet writes, that proposed “a program of sterilizing women after their second or third child,” and discussed “adding sterilants to drinking water or staple foods.”
Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection put the problem of overpopulation into a context even more ripe with antihuman barbarism and suffering. The malign effects of overpopulation were now the consequences of natural selection exterminating the “unfit” and clearing space for the better fit to survive and flourish. And this grim process, as Social Darwinism claimed, included human beings not just in their physical being, but also in their inferior cultures and racial characteristics.
Thus the inhuman, brutal logic of eugenics and “scientific racism.” As Darwin said in The Descent of Man, “At some future period . . . the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world,” because the superior intelligence of the “civilized” Northern European races, whose “intellectual faculties have been mainly and gradually perfected through natural selection.”
Also like Malthus, Darwin had no patience with sentimental Judeo-Christian ethics and scientific knowledge that sought to alleviate suffering and improve human life with medical advances like vaccinations, or social welfare institutions like asylums for the sick, insane, or poor. Because of this effort “to check the process of elimination,” Darwin groused in The Descent of Man, “the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man.”
We know the monstrous evil that ultimately followed from these antihumanist ideas, which accepted and promoted sacrificing unalienable human rights and humanity itself of the “inferior” ethnicities in order to achieve a “higher” type of human being. “Race hygiene” policies like eugenics which sheltered the “superior race” from “race suicide,” became the “settled science” of cognitive elites during the turn of the 20th century. Compassion, humanitarianism, and the Golden Rule were dismissed as irrational superstitions.
For example, Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton, who coined the word “eugenics,” decried the humanist and religious sentimentalism that endangered this progress toward “racial hygiene.” To avoid “race suicide,” the inferior “unfit” must be kept from procreating, for “if these continued,” Galton warned, “to procreate children, inferior in moral, intellectual and physical qualities, it is easy to believe the time may come when such persons would be considered as enemies to the State, and to have forfeited all claims to kindness.”
So too Theodore Roosevelt, who popularized the phrase “race suicide.” He wrote about his disdain for “the prevalent loose and sloppy talk about the general progress of humanity, the equality and identity of races, and the like” as the product of “well-meaning and feeble-minded sentimentalists.”
The ovens of Auschwitz––specifically engineered to quickly reduce murdered human beings to ashes––remain the gruesome outcome of this respectable antihumanism.
Finally, environmentalism––born along with eugenics and “scientific racism”–– is todays’ stealth antihumanism par excellence. From its beginning in the early 20th century, “saving the planet” has frequently accepted sacrificing human well-being and freedom to protect nature. One manifestation of this sensibility is the decrying of “anthropocentrism,” the smear-term for the belief that benefiting human beings should always take precedence in our environmental policies. We protect nature, husband our resources, avoid needless waste, and clean up pollution because doing so improves human life today and for the future.
But many “green” evangelists scorn such ideas as “speciesism,” an irrational bigotry aimed at other forms of life. As the founder of the radical Earth First! movement put it, “man is no more important than any other species.” So too Bill Devall and George Sessions, promoters of “deep ecology.” This movement calls for “ecocentrism, which means rejecting the position that some life forms (such as humans) have greater inherent worth than other life forms.” Such beliefs are the gateway ideology for murder and genocide, as demonstrated by the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, who in the mid-Nineties killed three people and maimed 23 with package bombs; and the eco-friendly Third Reich, the first nation to pass laws protecting nature.
Today, “green energy” policies and the war on fossil fuels if continued will not just economically damage Western nations by creating expensive and unreliable energy, but also further immiserate developing nations by denying them the cheap energy necessary for economic improvement.
But the damage of these policies are much worse for the developing world that does not have access to cheap electricity. For example, almost a billion people lack access to electricity, and three billion do not have clean fuels for cooking––only 14% of people in sub-Saharan Africa do. As the Wall Street Journal reported, moreover, “a majority of sub-Saharan African countries have per capita electricity consumption of only a few hundred kilowatt-hours per year—the dividing line between developing and developed countries in the U.N.’s Human Development index is 4,000 kilowatt-hours per person per year. More than 600 million Africans—roughly half the continent’s population—lack electricity.”
Given large emitters of CO2 like China and India have no intention of following the West in its anti-carbon cult, nothing the U.S., the British Commonwealth, and the E.U. do will stop temperatures from warming to the apocalyptic level the warmists have been predicting. This makes our antihumanist prescriptions not just economically disastrous, but morally idiotic.
Antihumanist cults that are willing to sacrifice human lives, rights, and freedom in order to achieve some utopian brave new world always devolve into despotism whether “soft” or hard. As Robert Zubrin writes of global warming zealots, “Right thinking will be rewarded, wrong thinking will be punished. Many will be sacrificed. All will be controlled.”
And in the end, our way of life and political freedom and equality will be degraded, and the global despots who want to replace and haven’t committed energy suicide us will inherit the world.