One of the very interesting features about online social media like YouTube has been the appearance of online pundits like Alex Jones and Jerome Corsi and Michael Savage and Lionel Nation and Jordan Peterson. There are hundreds of them. They are people who can all talk for hours, non-stop, about anything and everything. They remind me a bit of 60s rock bands: They’ve all got a slightly different sound. And they can make a lot of noise.
Another one of them is Stefan Molyneux. He did a demolition job on Karl Marx the man (as opposed to Karl Marx the philosopher) which greatly impressed me. So yesterday I was listening to him again, firstly talking about the fall of the Roman Empire, and then about Why People Hate Donald Trump, and then about slavery. I think he’s an academic of some sort, and a student of philosophy. And he could talk the hind legs off a donkey.
Midway through one of these talks he mentioned, matter-of-factly, that Smoking Causes Lung Cancer. I haven’t managed to find where he said that, but I know that he said it, because when anyone says something like that, it goes off like a bomb. And I’ve come to believe that anyone who thinks that smoking causes lung cancer is someone who has been thoroughly propagandised. They’ve been told over and over again, and in the end they believe it. And more or less everybody believes it. It’s almost impossible not to believe it. But to me it’s a belief that’s an indicator of the degree to which someone has been successfully trained. In the West we’ve all been being trained to think this for the past 70 years and more. It’s been an incessant drumbeat. There’s been a similar drumbeat message in recent years that Carbon Dioxide Causes Global Warming, but a lot of people don’t believe this yet, probably because they haven’t yet been told enough times. I don’t know whether Stefan Molyneux believes that Carbon Dioxide Causes Global Warming, but because he believes Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, I won’t be too surprised if he believes that Carbon Dioxide Causes Global Warming as well.
Another thing that he is clearly fully signed up for is genetic determinism. It came through very strongly while he was talking about Donald Trump (in fact I never found out what his explanation was for why people hated Donald Trump). Here’s what he said 20 minutes and 15 seconds in, my emphases added:
…when we’re talking about rise of the agricultural revolution we are in general in Europe talking about the end of often a couple of hundred years of religious warfare where the most religious were killed off. There’s a reason why the West became less fanatical, less fundamentalist, and more secular in the 18th, 19th centuries and it had a lot to do with the fact that religious warfare had killed off the gene set of the most religiously fervent. They had attacked each other, they had killed each other, and therefore those who had not got involved in those fights, who more sceptical, who were more secular, who were more rational in that sense… Well, I think we all understand that. Unfortunately when I was younger I thought it was just intellectual change, it’s just ideas that come forward, and there’s certainly truth in that. But fanatical genes fight each other to extinction, and then you get a more rational society emerging from the bodies of the most fundamentalist, and they’re fine with the separation of church and state. The more fundamentalists weren’t, which is what they were fighting over, which was control of the state to have a mono religion imposed by the power of political might.
Fanatical genes? Are there genes for fanaticism? The West became less fanatical because fanatical genes had wiped themselves out in religious wars? I burst out laughing. Because the idea struck me as perfectly ludicrous. In fact pretty much every genetic explanation of anything always strikes me as implausible. I’ve read Richard Dawkins’ Blind Watchmaker, and many of his other books, and books by people like him, and I came away sceptical.
I suppose that one reason for my genetic scepticism is that, as best I understand them, genes code for proteins. And proteins are long chains of chemical compounds that make up the tissues in bodies. Genes provide the blueprint. But while I’ll accept that genes provide the blueprint for proteins, and maybe even the entire body forms of plants and animals, I don’t believe that there are genes for character traits like fanaticism.
For example, I don’t think I’m a smoker because I’ve got the smoking gene. And I don’t think I’m a blogger because I’ve got the blogging gene. And I don’t think I dislike celery because I haven’t got the celery gene. I don’t think this sort of genetic explanation is any sort of explanation at all. And also I don’t think that life and living things are quite so simple.
But Stefan Molyneux has clearly bought the whole neo-Darwinian genetic mindset lock, stock, and barrel. He describes (12:30) “the big five personality traits” – attractiveness, competence, smartness, industriousness, and conscientiousness – as being largely genetically determined. And for good measure he added that:
“levels of risk-taking have been measured as significantly genetic.”
How do you measure levels of risk-taking? And how do you measure attractiveness, competence, smartness, industriousness, and conscientiousness. When we measure the length of things, we measure them in units of inches or centimetres: what are the units of attractiveness? There are none. So I don’t think it’s possible to measure any of these things. They are incommensurable.
I think the same problems arise with notions like “happiness”. Utilitarianism calls for “the greatest happiness for the greatest number.” But, alas, we can’t measure happiness. There no Happiness Meters that you can buy on Amazon. There are also no Utility Meters there either. Nor are there Attractiveness Meters.
I often describe Idle Theory as a variant of Utilitarianism. But it’s a Utilitarianism from which Utility and Happiness and Pleasure and Satisfaction have been stripped, because all those things are things we can’t measure. But the idleness of some living thing – how much work it has to do to stay alive – is something that we can measure, in principle at least. And idleness is measured with clocks.
So I found myself disagreeing with Stefan Molyneux. I have similar disagreements with all these new YouTube motormouths. But that’s half the fun of it.