Friday, October 17, 2008

The Evolutionary Roots of The Base

We have had a long-standing high regard for Paul Rosenberg's devastating account of modern *conservatism*.
It’s my main thesis in this series that conservatism is not fundamentally about ideology, but about the preservation of elite power, maintained as a form of identity politics.
But now we've happened upon a compact treatment referencing extensive sociobiological research with even more devastating explanatory power concerning the evolutionary underpinnings of that most alarming element comprising the broad demographic so ruthlessly exploited by cunning conservative manipulators, you know who - The Base.
Here's a question for you. Why hasn't natural selection driven the religious right to extinction?

You should forgive me for asking. After all, here is a group of people who base their lives on patently absurd superstitions that fly in the face of empirical evidence. It's as if I suddenly chose to believe that I could walk off the edges of cliffs with impunity; you would not expect me to live very long. You would expect me to leave few if any offspring. You would expect me to get weeded out.

And yet, this obnoxious coterie of retards — people openly and explicitly contemptuous of "intellectuals" and "evilutionists" and, you know, anyone who actually spends their time learning stuff — they not only refuse to die, they appear to rule the world. Some Alaskan airhead who can't even fake the name of a newspaper, who can't seem to say anything without getting it wrong, who bald-facedly states in a formal debate setting that she's not even going to try to answer questions she finds unpalatable (or she would state as much, if she could say "unpalatable" without tripping over her own tongue) — this person, this behavior, is regarded as successful even by her detractors. The primary reason for her popularity amongst the all-powerful "low-information voters"1? In-your-face religious fundamentalism and an eye tic that would make a Tourette's victim blush.
OH MY GAWD!!! This fellow is off to a rip-roaring good start.
Surely, any cancer that attacks the very intellect of a society would put the society itself at a competitive disadvantage. Surely, tribes founded on secular empiricism would develop better technology, better medicines, better hands-on understanding of The Way Things Work, than tribes gripped by primeval cloud-worshipping superstition. Why, then, are there so few social systems based on empiricism, and why are god-grovellers so powerful across the globe? Why do the Olympians keep getting their asses handed to them by a bunch of intellectual paraplegics?

The great thing about science is, it can even answer ugly questions like this. And a lot of pieces have been falling into place lately. Many of them have to do with the brain's fundamental role as a pattern-matcher.
Julian Jaynes explained all of this and far more nearly forty years ago in his dazzling exploration of the origins of human consciousness The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. But these guys have whittled it down to its provable and repeatable dimensions and empirically demonstrated what Jaynes understood and described. Jaynes treatment of idols and idolatry as artifacts of precisely the type of surveillance community described by Watts is simply remarkable as a tour de force of deep psychopaleological insight. Understanding how these most primitive tribal formations are organized at a deep level provides no possibility of a cure of this persistent collective cognitive error, however, it informs you precisely how deep and intractable the problem is such that squander no valuable time, effort, or resources attempting to reason with it.