The three previous posts in this series have traced the events, ideologically and otherwise, that transformed ‘liberalism’ from one thing into nearly its opposite over the course of 200 years. In this post, we finally pick up the pieces after World War II.
WWI knocked the ‘liberalism’ clean out of many. But WWII… well, that really put a lot of folks on their heels.
However, all of the ideological elements discussed in the previous posts persisted. They were re-packaged, or in some cases, cloaked. One aspect that remained the same, and informs the first part of this post, is the conviction that “Man is an animal.” (Ie, Darwinism remains as true today as it did 100 years ago, and also accounts for humans.)
There is irony, here. Not too long ago, the American left had another one of its rage-ejaculations, and this time because they believed (falsely; its sad just how often it is falsely) that Trump had called immigrants ‘animals.’ (In fact, he was explicitly referring to MS-13.) Calling people animals??!?!? An outrage! Trump’s obvious next move? CONCENTRATION CAMPS!
Now, what’s funny about this is that believing that all humans are animals is the actual position of most leftists!
This is no trifling matter. It is absolutely true that dehumanization breeds murder. The modern left has an ideology which in its essence dehumanizes humans, ironically while humanizing animals. Fortunately, in this regard, leftists tend to be better than their ideology. Unfortunately, they relentlessly insist on telling young children that it has been scientifically proven that humans are only lately descended from pond-slop. It ought to surprise no one that, given this early and pervasive indoctrination, that there will be people who recognize the intellectual dishonesty involved in calling humans, animals, but not treating humans as animals… but instead of erring on the side of living as though Darwinism isn’t true, they decide to live as though Darwinism is true. [After penning my post, I saw this article, which illustrates every installment of my ‘what went wrong with the left?’ series.]
In this sense, you can place the blame for the persistence of social darwinism on liberals themselves, who insist on teaching Darwinism as unassailable SCIENCE.
Nonetheless, one’s response to the proposition that humans are just animals today, after World War II, versus one’s response before the war, has been dramatically colored in some important ways. But, one segment of the intelligentsia which did not feel the need to re-orient, and thus continued to operate more or less unfettered–as Darwinists–were the psychologists, especially of the behavioral school.
It would take 20 posts to lay this out, and though it is very important even for the question I am treating (thus, why I am talking about it), I am going to offer a few remarks. Part of the reason for that is that I doubt very much that what I will say will even be believed. Some will find what I say outrageous, and until they discover it for themselves, not even 20 posts would convince them.
So, here is the short story.
It did not take long for people to go from “SCIENCE! says Man = Animal!” to applying that to human psychology. And, since it was SCIENCE!, by golly, it follows that one ought to act scientifically. When it came to perfecting society via ‘progress,’ it was quickly recognized that what was really in view was treating human society as just one variation of other societies, such as colonies of bees or ants, or packs of dogs, or herds of cattle.
An early treatment on the matter was Wilfred Trotter’s 1916 Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War. (ISBN: 978-1947844940). I suppose you can see where he is going. Edward Bernays (a nephew of Freud’s) was heavily informed by Trotter and Lippmann (who also refers to Trotter), sharing the biological reductionist framework for interpreting and shaping human experiences, and eventually wrote the book, The Engineering of Consent. The reader can see where that is going, too.
All three men rooted their entire approach to shaping ‘public opinion’ on the idea that man was merely an animal, and like other animals of his sort, can, and ought to be, conditioned.
Of the three, most will only recognize the name of Lippmann, who, not incidentally, is regarded as a founder of modern liberalism–and the author of Public Opinion, in which he expressly advocates for using the media to shape, well, public opinion. Let this quote from that book stand in as reflecting the sentiment of this entire way of thinking:
And so before we involve ourselves in the jungle of obscurities about the innate differences of men, we shall do well to fix our attention upon the extraordinary differences in what men know of the world. I do not doubt that there are important biological differences. Since man is an animal it would be strange if there were not. But as rational beings it is worse than shallow to generalize at all about comparative behavior until there is a measurable similarity between the environments to which behavior is a response.
The pragmatic value of this idea is that it introduces a much needed refinement into the ancient controversy about nature and nurture, innate quality and environment. For the pseudo environment is a hybrid compounded of “human nature” and “conditions.” To my mind it shows the uselessness of pontificating about what man is and always will be from what we observe man to be doing, or about what are the necessary conditions of society. For we do not know how men would behave in response to the facts of the Great Society. All that we really know is how they behave in response to what can fairly be called a most inadequate picture of the Great Society. No conclusion about man or the Great Society can honestly be made on evidence like that.
This, then, will be the clue to our inquiry. We shall assume that what each man does is based not on direct and certain knowledge, but on pictures made by himself or given to him. [Public Opinion, pgs 15-16, ISBN: 978-1-947844-56-8, emphasis added.]
At the risk of simplifying to the point of absurdity, the upshot of this entire paradigm is that, like Pavlov’s dog, human behaviors can be understood simply as a response to stimuli. Want a better society? You need better, more precise, SCIENTIFIC, stimuli. And, the experts in such things, God bless them, will gladly take the job.
I have chosen these folks as good representations of larger trends. The world does not rise and fall according to what these people did. There were others. Check out this quote:
A man’s value depends on his capacity to face adverse situations rapidly and without effort. Such alertness is attained by building up many kinds of reflexes and instinctive reactions. The younger the individual, the easier is the establishment of reflexes. A child can accumulate vast treasures of unconscious knowledge. He is easily trained, incomparably more so than the most intelligent shepherd dog. He can be taught to run without tiring, to fall like a cat, to climb, to swim, to stand and walk harmoniously, to observe everything exactly, to wake quickly and completely, to speak several languages, to obey, to attack, to defend himself, to use his hands dexterously in various kinds of work, etc. Moral habits are created in an identical manner. Dogs themselves learn not to steal. Honesty, sincerity, and courage are developed by the same procedures as those used in the formation of reflexes— that is, without argument, without discussion, without explanation. In a word, children must be conditioned.
Conditioning, according to the terminology of Pavlov, is nothing but the establishment of associated reflexes. It repeats in a scientific and modern form the procedures employed for a long time by animal trainers. In the construction of these reflexes, a relation is established between an unpleasant thing and a thing desired by the subject. The ringing of a bell, the report of a gun, even the crack of a whip become for a dog the equivalent of the food he likes. A similar phenomenon takes place in man.
This mindset emerged unscathed by the World Wars, and, if anything, was enhanced. To those who had this mindset, the second world war was proof positive of just what could go wrong if people were not conditioned properly. Heading into the 1950s and 1960s, the technocrats began their work in earnest, and continued in the spirit of “Man = animal that is product of evolution.” [example]
But, before moving rapidly to the intersectionalists (part 5!), its important to point out one very big difference between the early manipulators of human behaviors and those coming after the war. When Lippmann was writing, the newspaper was the big dog. Radio was up and coming, and television barely existed at all. So, even if you wanted to manipulate Mass Man (and they very much did!), the tools were limited.
This changed dramatically after the war, putting more power into the hands of the Technocrats than they ever could have dreamed of having. This power and reach has not diminished in the slightest. It proceeds at breakneck speeds, even to this present day.
But as far as where liberalism went wrong, here is the bottom line: the Left embraced this outlook. How could it not? It accepted all of the core premises. Many on the Left figured Huxley must have been talking about them (linked again) and endeavored to be one of the Conditioners. [C.S. Lewis saw it all coming. Read his The Abolition of Man, written 1943.] My feeling is that pretty much everyone on the Left, almost as one of the membership requirements, views themselves as being in the elite Conditioner class to some extent.
Whether they do or not, they tend to believe that most human behaviors are the result of stimuli. Though they sometimes act as though they are the Smart People exempt from the conditioning process, they believe, generally speaking, that they are as conditioned as anyone else. Thus, what is the difference between a good modern liberal and your average reactionary conservative, on their view?
Simply this: the liberals not only know that they are being conditioned, but accept their conditioning, while those (evil?) conservatives resist being conditioned. (Think about the objection to home schooling about the kids not being ‘socialized.’ This is how the left views anyone who does not participate in their Great Society. Only those that submit to life in the Collective, managed by the Wise Managers, can be trusted not to erect new concentration camps.)
This is why Liberals are hell-bent on suppressing the speech of dissenters. It isn’t a matter of ideas and beliefs. They aren’t concerned about trying to persuade people. They don’t really believe arguments matter. They believe that people are conditioned into and out of positions… you know, just like they are. On their view, a swastika is a stimulus, the mere viewing of which might trigger a response. Indeed, the whole idea of behind all this talk about ‘triggering’ is that someone will be exposed to a stimulus which generated within that person a response which that person will have no control over whatsoever.
Examples of this are legion. Every time you hear about a conservative speaker disinvited or shouted down, or accused of actually hurting someone, merely by saying words, what you are witnessing is the logical outcome of the view that people are nothing more than Pavlov’s dog. The dog cannot help but slobber when the bell rings. Likewise, people cannot help but be injured when exposed to ‘hate speech.’ And what kind of monster are you who would do something so mean as to say ‘hateful’ things!?!?!?
(And, importantly, you are a monster in their view. An anti-social member of the herd, who will either conform and accept the conditioning, or else…. be culled?
‘Bad guy who thinks he is good‘ Mark Bray graciously allows that the anti-social won’t need to be executed. He writes: “This does not mean exterminating people [Praise Benevolence!] who are currently categorized as white, but abolishing the classificatory scheme that renders them so.” Ie, change the ‘environment,’ and a change in the people will necessarily follow.
How might this look? He writes later: “Our goal should be that in twenty years those who voted for Trump are too uncomfortable to share that fact in public. We may not always be able to change someone’s beliefs, but we sure as hell can make it politically, socially, economically, and sometimes physically costly to articulate them.” Read: ‘True, we can’t kill Trump voters. But, we can change their environment [politically, etc, “costly”] to generate a behavior [won’t defend Trump in public]. No anti-social behavior = path to perfect society, as no one will get injured [via triggering] and the ‘meme’ won’t further the ‘disease’ of ‘fascism’, because people who would have been prone to automatically helplessly resonating with ‘fascism’ will not be exposed to the stimulus that prompts it.)
On the views embraced by the modern left, the Great Society is not realized by logic, facts, reason, argument, and persuasion. It is realized by erecting a Social Environment in which the human animal reacts reliably and predictably to its conditioning.
Thus, all stimuli (audio, visual, mental, etc) within the environment which detract or distract from Optimal Herd Management must be eliminated. To them, a proposition isn’t to be evaluated based on whether or not it is true or false, but rather on whether or not it builds up society. Oh, and did I mention that they have appropriated to themselves the exclusive right to decide what counts as a good or great society?
Literally the only argument they offer for anything–if it even counts as an argument–is the converse of the ‘triggering’ argument. The ‘argument’ goes something like this:
Certain words and images, (stimuli), etc, will evoke pain inside a person just as inevitably as punching someone in the face causes pain (both of these being, on a materialistic outlook, merely the result of processes in nature, such as gravity). But why should we not want to cause someone pain, you ask? You mean, if noble ideas such as creating a Perfect Society doesn’t ‘trigger’ the right behavior in you? (You monster!) Well, then, think about how you feel when you are in pain. It hurts, right? How about relying on empathy, then. If you don’t like it, they probably don’t either. (Not that you would know how they feel, really, because unless you are a woman, a black person, a trans person, disabled, or X, etc, you can’t possibly know how they feel, so you must defer to their biologically prescribed response to their respective environments!) Empathy, man. That’s the ticket!
Well, that’s not an argument, is it? That’s an appeal. Ultimately, it is nothing more than a tactic. Never mind the merits or demerits of the proposition. The goal is ONLY to obtain a change of behavior (compliance) on your part.
‘Empathy’ is literally the only thing left that your modern leftist has to employ that is directed to the inside of a person. For reasons already discussed in the rest of the series, there can be none of this business about there being some kind of objective morality to appeal to. Certainly, the transcendental is ruled out. There is nothing left but to see man as an animal, and, more than that (or is it, less than that?), to see him as a mere biological machine. Or, as PZ Myers put it, ‘meat machines.’ That leaves just ’empathy’ to cover all bases and perform all ‘persuasive’ duties.
Internally, that is. If you don’t get compliance, that leaves external controls. Leviathan is your man for that job!
To the modern liberal progressive leftist technocrat, whether or not we get the perfect society depends on creating and refining a ‘perfect’ environment. But what is a perfect society?
There is still the un-repudiated Marx to guide the Left.
Which will bring us finally (I hope!) to intersectionality and why liberalism presents itself today in the way it does.