Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Ironies of Misunderstanding Misanthropy

With a title like this, I can hardly expect sympathetic readers. Aside from being needlessly wordy, it contains a double negative that stubbornly refuses to equal a positive. Somewhere someone quicker than I has a name for a literary device that combines double negation with alliteration. I only observe that the negated words both impinge upon us as human beings. Some human being has not understood what it is to disdain, hate, or not to trust human beings. Dreadful business. Hardly an encouraging reason to read on.

Misanthropy is a dangerous charge to throw around. Even if a person were to think another person misanthropic, common human decency cautions silence. It may be true. Then again, it may not. And if it's not, the accuser has opened themselves up to the same criticism. Because, in point of fact, they were the one's who lacked trust, misrepresented, and yes, most likely demonized the other person in the process. Had they trusted, had they given their interlocutor the benefit of the doubt, they would not have exposed themselves as the ass that they actually are.

I labour these points because I need to cover my own tracks. In a moment, I will point out that the misanthropic chickens in Wesley Smith article 'Environmentalism's Deep Misanthropy' could very easily come home to roost.  I rather think they do. But out of deference to Smith, I won't outright label his argument misanthropic. Instead, I want to tease some of the bits of his argument apart. The reader is more than able to pass their judgment on the matter.

Smith's basic contention is that environmentalism, through mouthpieces like David Attenborough or David Suzuki, is dangerously misanthropic. Attenborough is on record comparing the human race to a plague of locusts. Suzuki comes across no better, apparently suggesting we are fruit flies. If your mind immediately wanders to a vile Agent Smith from The Matrix describing the human race as a disease, you wouldn't be far off.

Except there is nothing to suggest that either Attenborough or Suzuki intend to channel Agent Smith's rather dim view of humanity. Ironically, and very much like Agent Smith, this Smith appears unable to distinguish between what we human beings are and what we do. (The distinction must be made if you to pass a moral judgment on someone's action.) In order for his argument to work, he stretches the critical comments of environmentalists make about human activities detrimental to the environment into determinative statements about human nature. And it is a stretch. For it amounts to saying, if we behave like fruit flies, locusts, or viruses, presto! ipso facto we are fruits flies, locusts, or viruses.

Smith's argument is an intellectual conjuring trick. The reason is that he deliberately indulges in exaggeration in order to vilify his opponents. Otherwise put: Smith is divining the 'signs of the times' with an impressionistic methodological approach on the level of a crystal ball or a Ouija board. He sees what he wants to see, but he doesn't hear what other people have to say.

That's not all. Smith falls on his own sword a second time. I note that Smith joins to misanthropy the charges of Malthusianism and radical wealth redistributionism. The Reverend Thomas Malthus claimed that population sizes increased exponentially, while the natural resources available to a population only increased linearly. The difference between incremental multiplication and incremental addition gave rise to a 'struggle for existence'. Charles Darwin borrowed the term in his Origin of the Species, which Herbert Spencer later described in more colourful terms as 'survival of the fittest'.

The second irony in the Smith article is that he confuses Malthusianism with grand attempts at social engineering. An actual example of Malthusianism would be the early 20th century German demand for more land, in order to secure natural resources for a growing population.

Translated into socio-economic terms, Malthusianism, which is also known as social-Darwinism, provides the basic argument 'I deserve to keep what's mine' against wealth redistribution. I quote from an online resource:
Social Darwinism also justified big business' refusal to acknowledge labor unions and similar organizations, and implied that the rich need not donate money to the poor or less fortunate, since such people were less fit anyway.
Environmentalists can be either Malthusian or proponents of wealth redistribution. They cannot be both.

Smith can oppose wealth redistribution, but that means he will end up looking a lot more like Malthus, and a little more misanthropic.

1 comment: said...

The notion of lebensraum cannot be reduced to Malthusianism. While the former is inspired by the latter there is the additional assumption of group selection (in racist ideology the group is the race). This tension is clear when you identify Malthusianism with social Darwinism. If one accepts the full implications of social Darwinism, then one cannot accept the organic unity of the race: the Darwinian struggle in the socio-economic sphere supersedes the unity of the race/nation. The full implication is the Nietzschean notion of an international aristocracy of supermen who rule their inferiors ruthlessly. The rabble are not marching with their superiors in lock-step as part of one nation, they live permanently under the boot of the higher types. On the other hand, wealth distribution is completely consistent with the supremacy of the race: everything, including the wealth of the rich, is to be sacrificed for the glory of the race.