Just a quick note:
Dreher quotes Wieseltier favorably because he seems to think that W makes a good argument against a kind of ‘scientistic imperialism’ strawman, which would hold invalid all non-scientific claims to knowledge or wisdom, both religious and ‘secular humane’. Dreher really desires public, and especially elite intellectual, respect for the validity of religious claims, and so the response hit his soft spot and he swallowed the pill.
They both misunderstand Pinker, partly because, despite its mischievous title, the content of Pinker’s essay actually demonstrates conclusively that Science (excuse the personification) is most definitely the enemy of the Humanities, opposed to many of its pronouncements, and sees it as little better than religion.
At least, it is such an adversary if you define ‘Humanities’ by the opinions and methods of the current crop of those that claim to practice it. They believe a bunch of delusional, concocted hogwash; and they believe it with, at best, only the pretense of rigor, logic, or evidence. They make a lot of unsupported assertions, heavily laced with contemporary social justice concepts. In fact, any contradictions of certain parts of their gospel are very much taboo, and when you show them such evidence, they dismiss it out of hand, and are quick to dish out to such heretics a lot of vile accusations and ‘social consequences’.
Now, you could define ‘Humanities’ scientifically – just the human part of the quest for knowledge about natural reality, of which we are a part, and susceptible, perhaps with a bit more inherent challenge with regard to the feasibility of experimentation, to scientific reasoned inquiry. And a scientifically-minded person might hope that some public shaming might actually open some minds, especially among a new generation of practitioners, and transform the practice of Humanities into something more truth-discovering and disseminating, and less dogma fabricating and PC-Orthodoxy enforcing. The author of The Blank Slate may have just this object in mind.
In other words, professors of the Humanities are very much aware that their own human Orthodoxy, where it makes positive claims about physical human existence and experience (especially when those claims contradict the unanimous verdict of the collective wisdom of the ages – which was kind of the whole point), are going to be demolished by Science, if they haven’t been already. This is the parallel to what happened to the literalistic-reading of the historical claims of religion; dinosaurs, Noah’s flood, age of the earth, descent of man from lesser primates, and all that.
Back then, Humanities rejoiced. But the devil’s turned round. It’s coming for you too now, Humanities! Suck it. Science Proves Game Works! says Roissy. But Science is about to prove the whole lousy complex of leftist Humanities nonsense … inoperative.
And the favorite creation of Humanities professors over the past few generations, the one that has for generations ‘justified’ a naive optimism about the infinite malleability of human nature (a necessary condition for creating the New Men who will establish Utopia), and dead center in Science’s cross-hairs, first in the HVT priority list to go down in flames – is The Social Construct.
Claiming that some human tendency is socially constructed is to assert that it has no natural origin and, instead, is somehow acquired culturally. That we are built for language is natural, but the particular language we speak we learned from those around us. Everything about every language was invented by someone, somewhere, and can change anytime, perhaps completely arbitrarily if the users go along with it.
It is tempting to extend this notion to other human traits, and at various times professors in the Humanities have indeed tried to extend it to everything. Especially those things that piss them off. Controlling language is powerful. Controlling everything people think and feel could allow you to build Utopia … if you could actually do it. And if you really want to be able to do that, and you aren’t too concerned about actual rigor or evidence, then your motivated reasoning will lead you to the promised land of absurdities made ‘plausible’.
But facts are stubborn things, and reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away. By this logic, we can see that something is either or social construct (i.e. not real), or that the claim that it is a social construct is itself a social construct (i.e. false).
Folks around these parts are woefully familiar with the whole “Race is a Social Construct” lie. The pseudo-scientific ‘argument’ in favor of this notion has its own name after its author: the Lewontin Fallacy. Khan deftly disposes of the nonsense here, calling race a ‘biological construct’ – that is, you know, real, true, that kind of thing.
Now, just like literalistic religious geological History, it might be temporarily possible to be seduced by such nonsense before Science and Technology eventually catch up to pulverize the propagators into dust. But catch up it will, and for race, it already did. How the notion survives the era of cheap consumer DNA testing is a lesson in the power of modern motivated mendacity and willful ignorance. If a culture-less machine performing a biochemical analysis can tell you your ethnic origin with 99.99% accuracy, which lines up amazingly well with the way people use ‘racial’ labels, then it’s pretty hard to argue that society made it all up and it has no basis in reality. Or so one might think.
For another example of reality that won’t go away: beauty. The aesthetic sense is not uniform, but it has low dispersion, especially the closer it approaches objects which signal adaptive significance, i.e. the human form. But is our sense of human beauty natural, culturally concocted, or some combination thereof?
Well, as Jayman expertly argues, and much to the chagrin of
ugly, post-wall-collision, real feminists, it’s natural. I like the peacock example in particular because it’s a fun term from the Game community, and because we’ve got this awesome new research that tells us what the peahen is looking at.
How, one may ask, does the social constructivist understand what is going on in the tiny bird-brain of the peahen? Whence the peacock’s plumage? Why does the peahen look? What does she look for? What is the ‘experience’ of finding the thing she is looking for, or of regarding a suitor who doesn’t have it? Where do all these behaviors and mental processes come from, if not learned?
It’s the genes, stupid. Duh. Occam’s parsimony is one thing, but other ‘explanations’ don’t actually explain anything, and contend with plenty of those stubborn facts.
But that wouldn’t let people blame marketing corporations for their low self-esteem. And it won’t let them fantasize about a world where they might somehow capture and don this ring of Sauron, tell everyone what ‘beauty’ ought to be, and have them believe it. A real woman can always dream…