6 January 2001
U. S. Special Operations Command
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Strategic Defense-In-Depth of the Homeland and the Moral Hazards of Two New Materialist Ideologies of Science and their GNR Technologies<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>:
Sociobiology-and-Neuroscience’s View of Man in Full and
Their Likely Effects on the Moral Character of the Citizen
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Neuroscience, the science of the brain and the central nervous system, is on the threshold of a unified theory that will have an impact as powerful as that of Darwinism a hundred years ago. Already there is a new Darwin, or perhaps I should say an updated Darwin, since no one ever believed more religiously in Darwin the First than does he: Edward O. Wilson…. [who] has created and named the new field of sociobiology…. This, the neuroscientific view of life, has become the strategic high ground in the academic world, and the battle for it has already spread well beyond the scientific disciplines and, for that matter, out into the general public…. Here we begin to sense the chill that emanates from the hottest field in the academic world. The unspoken and largely unconscious premise of the wrangling over neuroscience’s strategic high ground is: We now live in an age in which science is a court from which there is no appeal. And the issue this time around, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, is not the evolution of the species, which can seem a remote business, but the nature of our own precious inner selves…. [T]he new generation of neuroscientists…. express an uncompromising determinism…. [i.e.,] that there is not even any one place in the brain where consciousness or self-consciousness (Cogito ergo sum) is located. This [consciousness or self-consciousness] is merely an illusion created by a medley of neurological systems acting in concert…. Since consciousness and thought are entirely physical products of your brain and nervous system--and since your brain is fully imprinted at birth [it is “an exposed negative waiting to be slipped into developer fluid” to develop what is “already imprinted on the film…. i.e., the individual’s genetic history”]--what makes you think you have free will? Where is it going to come from? What “ghost” [i.e., Geist, spirit], what “mind”, what “self”, what “soul”, what anything that will not be immediately grabbed by those scornful quotation marks is going to bubble up your brain stem and give it to you? (Tom Wolfe, Hooking Up--Chapter 5, “Sorry, but Your Soul Just Died”) [Given the inner logic of these neuroscientific premises, not only “free will”, but also “free reason” itself, is an illusion--and a self-refuting proposition, to boot! -- RDH Scriblerus]
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In the game of life and evolution there are three players at the table: human beings, nature, and machines. I am firmly on the side of nature. But nature, I suspect, is on the side of the machines. (George Dyson, Darwin Among the Machines)
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Faith in science, which after all exists undeniably, cannot owe its origin to a calculus of utility; it must have originated in spite of the fact that the disutility and dangerousness of the “will to truth”, of “truth at any price”, is proved to it constantly. (Friedrich Nietzsche)
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The impatient rejection of mystery is one of the main marks of stupidity. (Hilaire Belloc) (Nota Bene--“one of the main marks”)
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If materialism were true, our thoughts are the mere by-product of material processes uninfluenced by reason. Hence, if materialism be right, our thoughts are determined by irrational processes and therefore the thoughts which lead to the conclusion that materialism is right have no relation to reason. (Sir Arnold Lunn, The Revolt from Reason)
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In the language of our Founding Fathers and the Constitution, “providing for the common defense”, “promoting republican virtue”, and resisting “the natural man’s” subversive “spirit of faction”, under our increasingly un-Constitutional “consolidated government”, will be a very demanding strategic task, indeed. And this strategic “course correction” will be burdensome, and not otherwise, even when our often suffocating and swollen State-apparatus does not initially appear to the citizens to be “over-centralized” and “despotic”, or to use “the methods of tyranny”. Our provident and strategic (prudent and far-sighted) defense of the common good will be, however, an even greater test for us as a nation, in light of some very powerful, perhaps subtly ungovernable, and even dangerously self-replicating, new technologies, such as genetic engineering, bio-remediation, robotics, molecular electronics and other nano-scale technologies.
Yet a far more important challenge to our “providing for the common defense” will be the intimate moral effects of certain shocking new views, which derive from our predominant scientific culture, about “the nature of man” and the world. Even within our predominant culture of scientific materialism, some of these new views are altogether shocking and psychologically dislocating--and politically “radioactive”. Just as the theories of Darwin, Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche have had great effects upon man’s perception of himself, and also upon the character of his pervasive political culture and even his strategic revolutionary warfare, so, too, will the growing new theories of sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, and neuroscience touch him most inwardly; and especially since they may also make intimately manipulative use of psychotropic drugs and GNR technologies, and other bio-technologies of power. Although, like most of modern science, which characteristically shuns the deeper questions of “final causes” and human purpose--e.g., “What is man for?”--neuroscience and sociobiology will certainly compel us to re-examine the question “What is man?”
Drawing on the language of the vivid-souled Tom Wolfe<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>, we may frame our initial strategical admonition and challenge something like this: The “Confluence” or “Hooking Up” of the sociobiological-neuroscientific view of life (and the natural man) with the self-replicating application of GNR technologies is a terrible thing to think upon!<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> The allure of hermeticism--the temptation of this potent hidden knowledge--and of unbounded demiurgic engineering, in combination, will be very great and intimately consequential. Indeed, “If it weren’t attractive, it wouldn’t be a temptation.”
And, it is hard to hold “the Natural Man” down. The lure of unbounded liberation is seductive. We may remember that Shakespeare’s Caliban showed us that, very movingly. Nature itself is not enough. Neither is raw force, nor “power without grace”, some would say! Despite his beautiful poetry of heart and speech, Caliban himself was full of lust and spiritual astigmatisms. He had, as it were, a restive libido dominandi; a desire for “power without grace”--and for the raptures that came from a delusive sense of liberation and dominion. Let us think of utopian Caliban now amongst the scientists, and among the seductive new technologists, and we may see some of our strategic challenges more clearly.
Furthermore, given the current power of science as the court of last resort (and “from which there is no appeal”) and given the apparently increasing “power without grace” of these altogether intrusive modern GNR technologies, then what? Will we also be able to say to our children, as Prospero said to his gracious daughter, Miranda, in Shakespeare’s valedictory play, The Tempest: “tell thy gentle heart there’s no harm done”? Prospero’s generously applied “white magic” mitigated human suffering, even in Caliban, and brought an even greater good out of it all. To what extent, instead, will our “brave new world” be a “depraved new world” in “the tempest” of our own improvident design and hubris? And, will this world not be exacerbated by our restless “itch for innovation” (in the words of Dr. Johnston) as well as our rootless “roaming unrest of spirit”? To what extent will we strategically resist such seductive disorders with fortitude and with selfless generosity, rather than by being slothful and by so easily permitting ourselves “to drift into a position of such dependence on our machines that control will be in the hands of a tiny elite”, which, “due to improved techniques…, will have greater control over the masses.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
In a famous essay by the British military historian, Sir Michael Howard, entitled, “The Bewildered American Raj: Reflections on a Democracy’s Foreign Policy”,<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> he notes our confused American dominion and “mood of resentment” (55) over the ingratitude of the world towards our power. Even in 1985, this strategic-minded military historian argued that:
Throughout the world, the United States is widely seen not as a model and a protector but as a powerful and alien threat to indigenous values--a menace to that very “freedom” it claims to defend (55)…. The growth of self-government, wherever it has occurred, has made the conduct of international relations progressively more difficult. It is not only that people tend to pursue their own interests and to take a somewhat cavalier attitude toward the interests of others [as in “hooking up”!], but that they are generally unable to understand the attitudes, traditions, and perceptions of foreign cultures. They can develop such understanding only by the kind of cultivation and education for which most people--and Americans are not in the least unique in this--have neither the inclination nor the time. So [in the view of this oligarchically inclined British historian] as societies become more democratic, their foreign policy becomes not less but more ethnocentric. The assertion of the popular will makes mutual understanding between peoples more difficult, not less. (56--my emphasis added)
Michael Howard’s strategic point would also apply within the American homeland today, to the extent that we are now more and more riven by “the spirit of faction” and “Cultural Balkanization”.
Moreover, says Howard:
In dealing with foreign nations, military power is certainly important, and economic strength still more so. But neither can be effective without the third leg of the triad, which I term cultural empathy--an understanding not only of the economic interests and military strength of foreign peoples, but also of the cultures [e.g., the immemorial political and strategic culture of China, rooted in the synthesis and varieties of “Chinese Legalism”, so old and so new]--their perceptions, what the French call their mentalité. Without such an understanding, both economic and military aid are likely to do considerably more harm than good…. The problem has to be tackled at a more basic level of education and culture, through the media and the schools. But the growing bias in American education toward technology and away from the humanities is unhelpful; understanding foreign cultures--making our own less provincial--is what the humanities are all about…. Growth of ethnic diversity brings its own problems, not least the danger that the United States will more than ever become the focus of exile politics. It may become hard for America to discern its own interests amid the babble of conflicting exile and ethnic lobbies. (59-60--my emphasis added)
And to what extent does this insight not also apply within the specialties or “sub-cultures” of our larger scientific culture, arcane specialties which are often mutually unintelligible even within the community of scientists themselves, let alone for those outside?! It is less easy to find a common language even among the scientists, I have been told.
With these various considerations in mind from the political wisdom of our cautious Founding Fathers and from our disciplining Constitutional Order--while likewise mindful of America’s doubtful cultural dominion, “Caliban’s Bewildered Raj”, and modern science’s intrinsic and tendentious exclusion of telos and all Aristotelian “final causes”--a more descriptive and neutral alternative title for this essay might be: “The Great Power of GNR Technologies in Light of the World-View of Modern Neuroscience and Sociobiology, and their Combined Effect on the Moral Character of the Citizen and Honorable Fighting Man: A Strategic Defense-in-Depth of the Homeland under an Increasingly Centralized State and Balkanized-Uneducated Culture with Porous Borders”.
This paper, moreover, will build upon the paper I presented last year, entitled “An Inchoate and Growing Genetics-Based Revolution in Military Affairs: Some Implications for our Predominant Culture of Scientific Materialism and Uncertain Strategic Culture,”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> and likewise on some more recent essays in which I examine the relationships between certain new scientific world-views and their effects on moral character and human self-understanding, and especially their long-term strategic and spiritual implications.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
Attentive to a potential confluence of moral hazards, whereby we may bring about what we are purportedly trying to insure against, this present essay on strategic homeland defense thus further proposes to consider the self-sabotaging and subtly subversive effects upon the moral character of the citizen and fighting man of certain spreading hypotheses, or materialist ideologies, of modern science, especially sociobiology and neuroscience, and their derivatively applied, perhaps subtly ungovernable, genetic-nano-robotic technologies. And this situation will be exacerbated to the extent that our “public media” and political culture are dominated by “the flatulent political thimbleriggers”.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
We may well ask at the outset, therefore: “what would happen, and what should we philosophically consider and strategically anticipate or pre-empt, when explicitly materialist and determinist theories of sociobiology and neuroscience--and ‘evolutionary psychology’--attempt to apply subtle genetic engineering, nanotechnologies, and robotics--as well as psychotropic and neurotropic drugs--as therapies and purported solutions to heretofore difficult or intractable human problems?” That is to say, for example, the problems of human health and governance, or “attention deficit” and “drug control”. To what extent, finally, is there a technical or managerial or narcotic substitute for human virtue itself, which cultivates the “slowly fruitful” perfection of human capacities and endowments, and which derives from the premises of moral liberty, accountability, and human responsibility? Or, are free will and free reason, after all, only illusions, and sentimentalities, even when they appear to be, in the short term, convenient fictions and manipulatively or very opportunistically useful? It would seem, indeed, that there are some very seductive and subtly intelligent sophistries to be found in these new theories and applications of sociobiology and neuroscience, most especially after our preparatory demoralizing experience with the uppity “social engineers” and the long-standing fecklessness and “tyranny of the softer (or “squishier”) social sciences”.
Do not the Mensheviks, as Solzhenitsyn says, always prepare the way for the Bolsheviks, the Girondins for the Jacobins? Or, soft and sentimental “social engineers” for the hard and cold “genetic social engineers”? Moreover, the new sophistries are likely to be gravely consequential themselves upon human society, and of special moment to man, especially as to man’s intimate perception and understanding of himself and human purpose. Even moreso, I shall argue, will these newer “hard wired” sophistries be destructive and demoralizing, when condescendingly applied by spiritually frigid “neo-gnostics” and “genetic engineers” who facilely divide humankind, as it struggles amidst the overwhelmingly “hyperspeed” and purportedly advancing “Information Age”, into a new threefold caste or cold hierarchy of “The Brain Lords, The Upper Servers, and The Lost.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> This is no joke.
Therefore, in order to enhance a properly strategic defense-in-depth of our homeland and the human person, the sophistries of these recent developments, theoretical and applied, must be discerned and robustly resisted in full view. This is what I propose to do and argue, as well as I can, in the following inquiry, and to pursue the topic with a promptitude and thoroughness of candor.
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It is reported that Thomas Jefferson more than once said that the most important consideration of any public policy was its effect on the moral character of the citizens.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> He was always especially attentive to matters of conduct and character and culture, the cultivation of human faculties and moral responsibility along lines of excellence, thus under the proper and prerequisite conditions of liberty.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> He even made his own boldly censored “Deist” version of the Christian New Testament, in order to distill out its moral doctrine most fittingly formative of good character, but to exclude the supernatural substance of miracles, grace and the like, as “offensive to reason”! (This is a good example of philosophical and theological naturalism.) We may well imagine that Jefferson’s criteria and standards of judgment about the formation of good natural character were also a prominent part of his long-viewed decision, as President of the nation, to sign the legislation which led to the founding of West Point in 1802.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
In this context, perhaps, as we approach the bicentennial of the founding of that military academy where I became a man, and to which I owe so much (and through whose intimate four-year formation I was nourished in an inchoate life and love of virtue), I may usefully recall a few other insights of the far-sighted Jefferson, and his own provision for the common defense. His perceptive and prophetic discernments about matters of moment to man, and to our political and legal culture, will also aid our understanding of the topic upon which this essay proposes to concentrate, namely: the strategic defense-in-depth of the homeland and the effects of modern neuroscience and sociobiology and applied genetic-nano-robotic technologies upon our own current (and threatened) strategic-military culture, and, most especially, upon the moral character of the citizen and American fighting man, at home and abroad. For, the military’s proper role today in the strategic defense of the homeland raises many new Constitutional issues, especially under the conditions of modern technology (encryption, surveillance, foreign intelligence, and the like).
Given that President Jefferson intended West Point to be an institution of practical wisdom, to include military science and engineering, as a component of applied wisdom, what he says about science itself in late eighteenth-century France, in contrast to America, is, I think, very significant. In Albert Jay Nock’s words, which also quote Thomas Jefferson himself, we hear:
In science, he [i.e., Jefferson] discovers that their literati “are half a dozen years before us. Books, really good, acquire a just reputation in that time, and so become known to us and communicate to us all their advances in knowledge.” America, however, really misses nothing by being behindhand. Having few publishers and presses, American intelligence is saved the chance of suffocation under huge masses of garbage, such as are shot from the many presses of France. “Is not this delay compensated to us by our being placed out of reach of that swarm of nonsensical publications which issues daily from a thousand presses and perishes almost in issuing.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
And what might Mr. Jefferson think and say today about this “vortex of change”, about “the tyranny of the current”--current affairs, current fashions, current news, “current intelligence”, and the like? In light of its likely cumulative effects on an ordered and cultured civilization, what would Mr. Jefferson say about the vaunted speed and competitive tempo of our New Age, without real borders and boundaries, and so “nervous” in its febrile “globalism”, as depicted in Thomas Friedman’s aid to “understanding globalism”, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, though, admittedly, presented with intermittently mincing ambivalence? What would Mr. Jefferson say to Mr. Friedman about the indispensable preconditions of civilization, sustainable civilization, and one that is truly loved and cherished and sacrificially defended?
Moreover, given what recently happened in our own Presidential Election, aided by “the helpin’ hand” of “we, the lawyers”, who “done struck again”, the farsighted words of Jefferson (and the ironic Nock) about the Judiciary will further help the framing of our deeper strategic context and vulnerability. For, our strategic culture is, in part, dependent upon our political and legal culture, and today it is even more intimately rooted in our scientific-technological world-view and its implicit doctrines about life, which are also so consequential to the self-understanding of man. It is thus that Mr. Nock helpfully says:
Mr. Jefferson’s imperfect sense of the economic causes that lie behind political development did not permit him to foresee the shift of his adversaries [during his presidency] to their permanent stronghold in the Judiciary. Yet this shift was natural and inevitable. All that could be done [to advance the baneful consolidation of government] through the legislative and executive branches had been done. The thing now necessary [i.e., so as to effect an undesirable “consolidated government”] was to develop a central instrument of political power which should be permanent, independent of the elective principle and able to overrule it when, as happened in 1800, a popular majority should vote itself into control of these branches [i.e., Legislative and Executive] and administer them into inimical courses. [That is to say, “inimical to the consolidators”.] The power of the Federal Judiciary was available as an instrument of absolutism, and to it accordingly the monopolist and exploiting interests of the country immediately took recourse. [Two hundred years later, the Judiciary and our sophistical and metagrobolizing<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> litigious culture now have the additionally useful concept of the Constitution itself as a “living document”--a text which is now so ripely and temptingly available for further de-constructionist hermeneutics, is it not so?]<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
We may soon have a book, ironically entitled, Caliban’s Guide to the Law.
So clear was Jefferson’s view of the process, though not its purpose, Nock argues, that, in the last year of his life (1826), Jefferson even wrote, as follows:
At the establishment of our Constitution the judiciary bodies were supposed to be the most helpless and harmless members of the Government. Experience, however, soon showed us in what way they were to become the most dangerous; that the insufficiency of the means, provided [by the Constitution] for their removal gave them a freehold and irresponsibility in office; that their decisions, nevertheless, became law by precedent, sapping little by little the foundations of the Constitution and working its change by construction, before any one had perceived that the invisible and helpless worm has been busily employed in consuming its [the Constitution’s] substance.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
Commenting on these strong words of Jefferson, Nock says:
Nothing could be clearer than this view of the dangers of centralization in government, and that of the Judiciary as a centralizing agency. If this process went on, he saw plainly that the condition of America would be “as in Europe, where every man must be either pike or gudgeon, hammer or anvil. Our functionaries and theirs are wares from the same materials and by the same hands.” In 1800 he wrote Granger of his belief that “a single consolidated government would be the most corrupt government on earth” [In the words of Samuel Huntington, it might be even called a “rogue superpower” today]; and twenty-one years later  he remarked to Macon that “our Government is now taking so steady a course as to show by what road it will pass to destruction, to wit: by consolidation first, and then corruption, its necessary consequence. The engine of consolidation will be the Federal Judiciary; the other two branches the corrupting and corrupted instruments.” He also wrote William Johnson in 1823 that there was no danger he apprehended so much as “the consolidation of our Government by the noiseless and therefore unalarming instrumentality of the Supreme Court. This is the form in which Federalism now arrays itself, and consolidation is the present principle of distinction between Republicans and the pseudo-Republicans, but real Federalists.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
Now we turn from the description of this baleful process to a consideration of the latent purpose of this “noiseless” and initially “unalarming” process of “consolidation unto corruption”. Nock continues his own lucid analysis, and presents a concurrent challenge to our own moral and strategic military culture today:
But why? What was the substantial motive of this surreptitious movement towards centralization [i.e., towards a Unitary State, the Consolidated State, as distinct from the true Federalism of de-centralization and subsidiarity and the 10th Amendment’s “reserved powers” of the several States not “delegated” to the central government, in the words of the ratified Constitution]? Mr. Jefferson was almost in full view of it when he observed to Granger in 1800, “What an augmentation of the field for jobbing, speculating, plundering, office-building and office-hunting would be produced by an assumption of all the State powers into the hands of General Government!”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
Nock trenchantly adds the following words of comment:
Twenty-five years later, with almost his last breath, he speaks to Giles of those who “now look to a single and splendid Government of an aristocracy founded on banking institutions and moneyed corporations, under the guise and cloak of their favoured branches of manufactures, commerce and navigation, riding and ruling over the plundered ploughmen and beggared yeomanry.” Here he comes plump upon the essential fact of a government fashioned for the distribution of wealth by political means [i.e., distributive injustice, rather than distributive justice] rather than by economic means--for the economic exploitation of one class by another.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
A classically educated man, like his admirable exemplar Jefferson, Albert Jay Nock also had a longer view of history, and of the fuller composition of different ancient and contemporary civilizations and their deep cultures. He, like Sir Michael Howard, indefatigably opposed mere “instrumental” education and the pragmatic or shallow vocational theories of the “sainted” John Dewey, which were largely utilitarian and opportunistic, as well as superficial. This manipulative huckstering and pandering, under “the guise and cloak” of education, Nock contrasted with truly “formative” education, which deepened and disciplined and cultured the maturing mind of the young, and fostered thereby a widely experienced mind. Receiving a prestigious offer to convey his own views of culture and the humanities more fully, in 1931 Nock delivered the Page-Barbour lectures at the University of Virginia, the institution which Thomas Jefferson had founded, and Nock’s profound and charmingly eloquent lectures were published in 1932 as a book, entitled The Theory of Education in the United States. The title of this book, like so many of his other writings, was ironical, because Nock did not believe that there was any true, far-sighted theory of education in the U. S. in 1931, nor would Nock ever propose (except ironically) the presumptuous view that he possessed “the theory” himself, especially without first discussing his whole theory of life and of the nature of civilization. Certainly, Nock was resolutely opposed to what he called “the enemy’s whole theory of life”, which smugly degraded a fuller life into dreary work and a rank joylessness, along with a grimly earnest, but restless “prurient” experimentation to find out “what works” for the nonce. Nock did not believe that John Dewey’s unmistakably pervasive and intrusive theory of education was an adequate foundation for a sustainable, much less a praiseworthy and strategically defensible civilization and culture.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
But, because Nock died in 1945, he did not live to see and analyze the further corruptions of huckstering education and its propagandizing techniques of “mass psychology”, nor its fashionably evanescent experiments productive of more and more “shoals of serf-minded adults”.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Nor did he live to see the further political over-centralization by “the flatulent political thimbleriggers” of our nominally federal system unto an effectively Unitary State, all of which flagitious deformations and usurpations he so clearly (and charmingly) foresaw! However, Nock, like Thomas Jefferson, would most certainly and robustly resist any merely “top down” strategic defense-in-depth of the homeland--i.e., any “providing for the common defense” which was over-centralized and overly attentive to the “boobocracy” or to the self-described and inordinately privileged “Brain Lords” and their “Upper Servers”--or “Praetorian Guard”--of the “Consolidated Government”. An integrated defense-in-depth of the homeland we love would have to be more decentralized and deeply rooted, evocative of and responsive to local initiative and their families--and not doing what is slowly conducive to cynicism, local paralysis and futility, nor to intimately broken trust and the corrosion of hopelessness.
It is, therefore, reasonable to infer from Nock and Jefferson’s well-thought-out political and moral principles, that they would have promoted an integrated defense-in-depth of the homeland which gave great scope to local initiative and diversified responsibility, as in truly decentralized federalism that respectfully “delegates down” to a “humane scale” and with a well-proportioned “scope of command”, in accordance with the deeper principles of subsidiarity and analogy (or “proper proportion”). It is likely that they would not believe that a truly strategic defense of the homeland could be otherwise, especially against subtle and indirect strategic threats, such as attacks (negligences and accidents, as well as deliberate abuses) against agriculture or agrarian infrastructure and logistics, which may employ inherently dangerous micro-organisms and GNR technologies. Neither over-centralization nor a condescending one-way “democratic centralism” will be sufficient for the citizenry, nor sustainable, in a truly strategic defense-in-depth of the homeland--and especially not in the case of a malign use or negligent abuse of subtle genetic-nano-robotic technologies with the intentional effects of subversion and general disruption, or even in the case of its devastating accidental results, which may provoke “emergency measures” and even martial law! Both accidents and abuses will, in any event, be pervasively consequential. Do we agree?
Over-centralization conduces to the atrophy of the larger responsive powers, and of the even larger and strategic “cultural immune system”--especially under the conditions of suspicious and permeating mistrust. The greatest social effect of the lie (and the detected deception) is that it breaks intimate trust.
Moreover, in this important context of the long-standing institutional developments in our over-technical (and utilitarian) American educational apparatus and surreptitiously centralizing political structures (and even moreso, perhaps, in our long-standing deeper intellectual-legal-political culture), we may usefully consider the very brief but sobering insight of Professor Michael McConnell of the University of Chicago Law School, as he once put it to me, some fifteen years ago.
Michael McConnell had been the assistant to David Stockman in the first Reagan Administration when they had had the large popular mandate and explicit executive directive “to get the Government off our backs” and “to give power back to the States, away from the over-consolidated Central Government.” However, Mike McConnell soon starkly discovered that the individual States did not, in fact, want the powers that were openly “proffered” to them, for it would have meant for these reluctant Local and State officials more and more complex and debilitating responsibilities, more accountability, and more oppressive burdens. Moreover, these officials already had their own special arrangements and convenient connections with federal personnel and federal agencies, and had no desires nor incentives to take on what appeared to them to be new and malodorously onerous duties and altogether thankless toil. Professor McConnell then came to see in its sudden starkness that the gradual “evolution” (or centralization) of power--power without grace--had an entirely different “dynamic” and “psychology” from the more rapid (or even more gradual) “devolution” (or de-centralization) of power, even as a proffered gift! Too many comfortable (or opiate) habits would have to be overcome. It was--it is--very hard, it would seem, to de-centralize power, especially after a consolidation of centralizing power has surreptitiously and noiselessly, over a long time, accumulated and taken on a new color, as if by a staining titration.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> It would therefore seem to be the case that any truly provident, strategic defense-in-depth of the homeland must face this stark fact--which is, in my judgment, also a sorrowful fact and a debilitating fact, which will not be easily bypassed or offset.
Such insights from such an honest and intelligent man such as Mike McConnell also have important implications for our own developing inchoate strategic culture as the “world’s sole superpower” or the “New American Imperium” (Irving Kristol), as some would have it. However, it may be necessary, and more fitting, that our putatively “humanitarian and globalizing interventionist democracy” consider some provident and truly strategic “course corrections”, which Sir Michael Howard might also farsightedly encourage.
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The third of four major parts of this essay will examine, first, the inherent dangers of GNR technologies and the manifold difficulty of limiting their use and abuse, especially in their uncontrolled replication and self-replication. Only after this unsettling examination will we be able to take a fuller measure of the scientific world-view of sociobiology and neuroscience and evolutionary psychology, especially their view of the whole man-- man in full--and some of its implications for man’s self-understanding and his despairing, consequently tempting, resort to the alluring instrumentalities of the GNR technologies. We may also thereby come well to realize that, lest we become an imperiously over-reaching and self-sabotaging “sole superpower”, we should become much more cautionary and attentive to our strategic defense-in-depth of the homeland--securing both our strategic base and mastery of our communications, without peremptory and centrifugal over-extensions abroad, and certainly without our currently altogether debilitating “warp-speed operational tempo”.
Therefore, by now analyzing and counterpointing especially three acutely apt and cautionary essays, one by Bill Joy and (in Part IV) two by Tom Wolfe, this paper hopes to advance and sustain its general thesis about certain self-sabotaging materialist ideologies (and dangerous technologies) of modern science and their subversive effect on the moral character of the citizen and the strategic defense of our homeland. But, first, another pre-emptive caution, and suggestive literary allusion.
A Message to my Gentle Reader:
If, unlike exile Ishmael on the first page of Moby Dick, you are unable first to “sail about a little and see the watery part of the world”, thereby “driving off the spleen and regulating [your sluggish] circulation”, you should certainly not too rashly read what follows! For, the subject matter is (in the words of Master Rabelais) “a terrible thing to think upon”--especially if it is also now “a damp and drizzly November in [your] soul” and if you are likewise psycho-cramped and “grim about the mouth”, as Ishmael alas was! Rather, you should, like him, “account it high time to get to sea as soon as [you] can”. And, I wish you good sailing! For the rest of you, we may continue.
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Bio-remediation, as a currently lucrative field of applied science, provides one such example of the frightfully equivocal developments deriving from modern biological science and applied by its powerful technologies. Whether, once again, we speak merely of the possibility of accidents, or whether we speak of the graver front and plight of negligent, as well as deliberate abuses of those powerful, engineered micro-organisms designed to alleviate the “world trash-and-refuse problem”, we speak of a great and precarious potential for easy misuse, either by a lone individual or by small groups. The potently “dissolvent” micro-organisms used in the “environmentally friendly” field of bio-remediation (avidly endorsed even by the Green Movement) can all too easily be turned to a different objective and be applied, for example, as an anti-matériel weapon against our society’s critical infrastructures, to include agricultural infrastructure and the logistics that support our indispensable food-safety. The current crises in Europe concerning food contaminations, transmissible infections through the blood, and contagious brain-wasting diseases--e.g., bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE/“Mad Cow Disease”) and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (the human form of BSE)--might suddenly concentrate our attention, no matter how slothful or indifferent we be, or nonchalantly detached.
Those novel contagions coming from misapplied agents of bio-remediation would also be very grave indeed, and psychologically contagious, too, on many fronts and with far-reaching consequences. Stealthy and latent agents would have even more of a “time-bomb” effect. Psychological dislocation, once again.
Let us now, however, turn to two very thoughtful men--Bill Joy and Tom Wolfe--who take an even longer view of things, concerning the implications of modern science and its most powerful technologies, both for the individual human person in full, and for the human species itself. Although he treats of less fundamental matters than Tom Wolfe, it is fitting that we analyze Bill Joy’s essay first, as a kind of preparation for the deeper issues, so wittily discussed by the inimitable Wolfe.
Within the compass of only thirteen pages of Wired Magazine (April 2000) Bill Joy, a computer architect and the Chief Scientist at Sun Microsystems, has written a succinctly revelatory and unmistakably cautionary article, entitled “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us: The Most Powerful 21st-Century Technologies--Robotics, Genetic Engineering, and Nanotech--are Threatening to Make Humans an Endangered Species.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Although he is not writing the Memoirs of a Superfluous Man (the ironic title of Albert Jay Nock’s own 1943 intellectual and spiritual autobiography), Joy is also explicitly concerned with “the ethical dimensions” that are “involved in the creation of new technologies” (238), as he says at the outset. Joy, like the Unabomber (Theodore Kaczynski), is very concerned about their adverse effects on man, especially, his propensity to drift. For, “only a live dog can swim against the stream”.
Nevertheless, he surprisingly says, without hesitation nor any essential qualification, that “I already knew that new technologies like genetic engineering and nanotechnology were giving us the power to remake the world (238)”.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> (These shocking, demiurgic words recall the equally surprising subtitle of Jeremy Rifkin’s 1999 very cautionary book, entitled The Biotech Century: Harnessing the Gene and Re-Making the World.) But, despite Joy’s much larger menacing expectations, he admits that “a realistic and imminent scenario for intelligent robots surprised me (238)”. Joy himself was responding here to his “futurist” friend, Ray Kurzweil, and his even bolder words than Rifkin, “that the rate of improvement of technology was going to accelerate and that we were going to become robots or fuse with robots (238).” Did you get that? Hyperspeed and fusion.
Indeed, Ray Kurzweil, soon after this unsettling discussion with John Searle and Bill Joy, published his own book, The Age of Spiritual Machines, which, Joy comments, “outlined a utopia he foresaw--one in which humans gained near [?] immortality by becoming one with robotic technology (238).” The earlier and original “technological utopianism” and “neo-Gnosticism” of H.G. Wells is still apparently alive and well, but now aided by discoveries of modern science and its technological applications, which were unforeseen even by the far-sighted Wells.
One of Bill Joy’s friends, John Searle, the philosopher from Berkeley, does not, however, believe that Kurzweil’s prediction would ever come to pass “because the robots couldn’t be conscious (238)”. But wait a little! For, when we come to examine Tom Wolfe’s essays, we shall see that prestigious modern materialist neuroscience itself denies this unique consciousness even to man. Admittedly, these highly intelligent and zealous neuroscientists, with whom the keen-mined and tenacious Tom Wolfe has had so many conversations, do not at all seem to address the deeper challenge to their own fundamental position, as expressed so eloquently, for example, by the 20th-Century Sir Arnold Lunn in the last of my Epigraphs, and by the great Sir Arthur Balfour in the 19th-Century during the debates back then about Darwinism and its own Reductionist Materialist Science and Naturalism.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> In his profound book, The Foundations of Belief--to include scientific as well as religious belief, or faith, i.e., the twofold Glaube, in German--Arthur Balfour writes with stylistic elegance of the nineteenth century, as follows:
On the naturalistic hypothesis, the whole premises of knowledge are clearly due to the blind operation of material causes, and in the last resort to these alone [i.e., no “final causes”, no “formal causes”, no “efficient causes”, finally]. On that hypothesis we no more possess free reason than we possess free will. As all our volitions are the inevitable [i.e., determined, unshunnable] product of forces alien to morality, so all our conclusions are the inevitable product of forces which are quite alien to reason [hence to consciousness].<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
This materialistic naturalism notwithstanding, Bill Joy’s increasingly cautionary and implicitly desperate essay proceeds in a threefold sequence: from a consideration of robotics, then to genetic engineering (especially as it applies to agricultural topics and genetically modified foods), and, finally, to nanotechnology. Along the way his “sense of unease” and malaise seem to increase, exponentially! But his main contention is that:
We have not yet come to terms with the fact that the most compelling 21st-century technologies--robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotechnology--pose a different threat than the technologies that have come before….
[For,] robots, engineered organisms, and nanobots share a dangerous amplifying factor: They can self-replicate…. One bot [as distinct from a “bomb”] can become many, and quickly get out of control…. [Given] the opportunity for out-of-control replication…. [we must also “face the issue” that] uncontrolled self-replication in these newer technologies runs a much greater risk: a risk of substantial damage in the physical world. (240)
Similar to our above-discussed gradual, even surreptitious, “litigious and flagitious” consolidation of political power, Joy forebodingly notes that, “with each of these [GNR] technologies, a sequence of small, individually sensible advances leads to an accumulation of great power and, concomitantly, great danger (242).” Consolidation on many fronts! An amalgamation unhelpful to an “integrated defense-in-depth”, I think.
Joy had earlier spoken of “sentient robots”, in light of the hypothesis about “human consciousness”, and of our liminally “becoming one with robotic technology”, or our “merging with robots”, even to “fuse with robots” themselves! Did you get that? But he is increasingly attentive to the companion-issue of “unintended consequences”, which is, he says, “a well-known problem with the design and use of technology” (239); and he is likewise alert to our propensity for “understating the dangers” and for “understating the probability of bad outcomes”. He thus becomes more attentive to “robotic dystopias” and “dystopian scenarios” and man-machine projects of various sorts that might even produce “The Borg”--“a hive of partly biological, partly robotic creatures, with a strong destructive streak (240)”.
Given “our overuse of antibiotics” (239), for example, he says, that we may well have fostered “the emergence of antibiotic-resistant and much more dangerous bacteria” (239), as in the case of new forms of tuberculosis today, in America and Europe, inasmuch as “parasites likewise [have] acquired multi-drug-resistant genes”(239).
Another one of Bill Joy’s friends--who will also later be hilariously quoted by Wolfe! --Danny Hillis, who is “the cofounder of Thinking Machines Corporation” and who has great “knowledge of the information and physical sciences”--and “a highly regarded futurist who thinks long-term” and “started the Long Now Foundation” (240)--now assuringly speaks to us. Hillis tends to support and applaud the changes predicted in “Kurzweil’s scenario of humans merging with robots” (240). But, Hillis said “the changes would come gradually, and that we would get used to them” (240)! A strategic titration! Little by little. Indeed, Hillis is “at peace with the process and its attendant risks” (240). Perhaps, Hillis will also be tranquilized by the event of our increasing and self-enhancing cyborganization; not unto Borgs, but unto more efficient Cyborgs at the exciting “interface” of semiotic cybernetics and the biological organism, as in the case of us “technologically extended” human beings--or of the new, nearly immortalized humanoids “with a body of silicon” (240)?!
In contrast to his many optimistic friends, however, Bill Joy himself is utterly convinced that GNR technologies “are so powerful that they can spawn whole new classes of accidents and abuses”(242). Moreover, “these accidents and abuses are widely within the range of individuals of small groups” (242), not just the Unabomber. They will not require large facilities nor rare raw materials. Knowledge alone will enable use of them” (242), in order to make what Joy calls weapons of “knowledge-enabled mass destruction (KMD)” (242), in contrast to the customary “WMD”. For, in the case of “KMD” weapons, “this destruction is hugely amplified by the power of self-replication”, thereby leading “on to a surprising and terrible empowerment of extreme individuals” (242) and further suggesting that “we are on the cusp of the further perfection [sic] of extreme evil” (242), which is much more facilely achieved than the slowly and self-disciplining fruitful perfections of the human cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, as well as faith, hope, and love).
Admitting that it is hard to be strategic, i.e., that it is “always hard to see the bigger impact while you are in the vortex of change” (243), Bill Joy makes a further acknowledgement about his own equivocal and ambiguous profession:
Failing to understand the consequences of our inventions while we are in the rapture of discovery and innovation seems to be a common fault of scientists and technologists; we have long been driven by the overarching desire to know [cf., the Greek “gnosis”, implying also “secret knowledge” as with homeward-bound Odysseus confronting the deepest sensuous temptation of “the Sirens”] that is the nature of science’s quest, not stopping to notice that the progress to newer [and faster] and more powerful technologies can take on a life of its own. (243--my emphasis added)
Dangerous replication, again, is his theme--and even more dangerous self-replication! Furthermore, says Joy, given “the recent and rapid progress” and “the incredible possibilities of molecular electronics” (243), “where individual atoms and molecules replace lithographical drawn transistors” (243), there is also the advent of “this enormous computing power” (243) which, when “combined with the manipulative advances of the physical sciences and the new, deep understandings in genetics, enormous transformative power is being unleashed (243--my emphasis added). We may rightly ask: “transformative howso? From what to what?”
Unable himself to resist altogether the allure of this demiurgic hermeticism, Bill Joy, still trying sincerely not to be an uppity “energumen”, says:
These combinations open up the opportunity to completely redesign the world, for the better or worse: The replicating and evolving processes that have been confined to the natural world are about to become realms of human endeavor. (243)
Human endeavor now goes beyond the natural world, it seems. Will Dr. Strangelove please call home? It is hard to hold the Natural Man down! Isn’t that so, gentle Caliban? And it seems even harder to hold the Gnostic Man down, and to resist the Allure of Hermeticism, and the testimony of history so eloquently confirms the potent pervasiveness of this recurrent temptation. Once again, we may consult the venerable Hans Jonas on this point, especially in his book, The Gnostic Religion--and also the works of the more voluminous Eric Voegelin on the subtle forms of “neo-Gnosticism”.
However, Bill Joy still admirably tries to resist this disordered and disordering allure: “But now,” he says, “a new idea suggests itself: that I [“in designing software and microprocessors” (243)] may be working to create tools which will enable the construction of the technology that may replace our species” (244)! Did you get that? Indeed, Joy’s friend, Hans Moravec, “one of the leaders in robotics research” (239) and author of Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind, somewhat agrees with this point about “human extinction”, as does George Dyson (already quoted in the “Epigraphs”). For, Moravec himself believes that “we may not survive our encounter with the superior robot species” (244)! For, the luminous Moravec had already earlier noted that “Biological species almost never survive encounters with superior competitors” (240), for example, species “with slightly more effective metabolisms and reproductive and nervous systems” (240-my emphasis added). Is this not good self-parody and even the seed of a comic epic in prose, like Don Quixote or Tom Jones?
Furthermore, and building on these manic delusions, Bill Joy explains that there are at least two “dreams of robotics”:
The dream of robotics is, first, that intelligent machines can do our work for us, allowing us lives of leisure, restoring us to Eden…. A second dream of robotics is that we will gradually replace ourselves with our robotic technology, achieving near immortality by downloading our consciousness…. [A]s Ray Kurzweil elegantly details in The Age of Spiritual Machines (We are beginning to see intimations of this in the implantation of computer devices into the human body….)…. But if we are downloaded into our technology, what are the chances that we will thereafter be ourselves or even human? (244--my emphasis added)
“Downloading our consciousness into our technology”--did you “log on” on to that?
And, now let us move on to the second class of the “compelling” new technologies! Even though “genetic engineering promises to revolutionize agriculture” (244) amidst “the likely dangers in moving genes across species barriers” (244), Joy concedes, with apodictic boldness, that “We now know with certainty that these profound changes [into what?] in the biological sciences are imminent and will challenge all our notions of what life is” (244--my emphasis added). And, as we shall see, so will neuroscience and sociobiology challenge us, and most acutely! And they promise to be even more conducive to our despondency.
Since Joy also acknowledges “the dangers inherent in genetic engineering” and in “genetically modified foods” (244), he flatly rejects the notion (or deliberate deception) that “such [subtly modified] foods should be permitted to be unlabeled” (244), hence concealing from the “at-risk consumer” the true identity of the altered contents. “Deception in the labels”--ruses in the specious cant--must be resisted, as well as “illegalized”.
Recalling Frank Herbert’s novel, The White Plague (240), Bill Joy realizes that genetic engineering fearsomely “gives the power--whether militarily, accidentally, or in a deliberate terrorist act to create a White Plague” (244). And he goes on to explain the meaning of this novel for him--and for us.
But, even after his prior discussion of robotics and genetic engineering, Joy seems most fearful of “the many wonders of nanotechnology” and their potentialities for intimate manipulation and concealment and destruction--especially to the whole, sustaining “biosphere”. Indeed, he says, “with these wonders came [have come] clear dangers” (244), especially from “the manipulation of matter at the atomic level” (244), even if it imprudently and rashly promises, for example, “the augmentation of the human immune system” (244) or “a utopian future of abundance” (244), as distinct from the normal, “un-Edenic” economics of scarcity. For, “in a world where we had [and soon might have] molecular-level ‘assemblers’” (244), we would all too soon find out “how nanotechnologies can become ‘engines of destruction’” (246). Agreeing with the earlier under-appreciated “cautionary material” (246) to be found in Eric Drexler’s 1989 book, Engines of Creation (especially the section “Dangers and Hopes”), Bill Joy himself now sees the many “technical and political problems with nanotechnology” (246--my emphasis added), but also “how naïve” most of Drexler’s own “safeguard proposals” (246) then were, and even after he very wisely started “The Foresight Institute” in the late 1980’s and co-wrote a second ambivalent book with the Promethean-Faustian title: Unbounding the Future: The Nanotechnology Revolution (244).
Eric Drexler’s strategic Foresight Institute was intended to have a long-range, timely, and timeless purpose, “to help prepare society for anticipated advanced technologies” and for what, after all, was “most important, nanotechnology” (246), inasmuch as “nanotechnology has clear military and terrorist uses” (246) and since “such devices can be built to be selectively destructive, affecting, for example, only certain geographical areas or a group of people who are genetically distinct” (246--my emphasis added). Nanotechnology may thus help genetic weapons. Hence, a nanoscale genetic weapon, maybe also a “neo-Malthusian” demographic weapon or even an “eugenic weapon”, may be in our future and in the hands of the warm-hearted “population controllers” or the saturnine neo-Malthusian “Brain Lords”. (The “neo-Malthusians” say that Malthus was an optimist!)
Likely within twenty years, says Joy, will come “the enabling breakthrough assemblers” (246), part of the new specialty of “molecular electronics--the new subfield of nanotechnology where individual molecules are circuit elements” (246). Bill Joy then very softly wonders about our wisdom, the wisdom of “the Faustian bargain in obtaining the great power of nanotechnology” (246), an “immediate consequence” of which is “the grave risk” that “we might destroy the biosphere on which all life depends” (246). For example, “the dangerous replicators” (246) might be found crowding the biosphere with inedible foliage [and foxes?!]” (246--my emphasis added). (It will be remembered that, critical of the decadent and insufferable English upperclasses, Oscar Wilde defined “a fox hunt” as “the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible”!)
Joy furthermore says that, even “among the cognoscenti of nanotechnology” (246), among “the religiosi themselves” (in Wolfe’s words), there are fears of “the gray goo problem” and tremors about “masses of uncontrolled replicators” (246), “replicators able to obliterate life” (246). Given “the gray goo threat,” he adds, “We cannot afford certain kinds of accidents with replicating assemblers” (246), not even accidents, much less designed or deliberate abuses with them (242).
Most emphatically, Joy says:
It is most of all the power of self-replication in genetics [even with very small peptides, and neuropeptides!], nanotechnology, and robotics (GNR) that should give us pause…. It is even possible that self-replication may be more fundamental than we thought, and hence harder--or even impossible--to control. A recent article by Stuart Kauffman in Nature<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> titled “Self-Replication: Even Peptides Do It” discusses the discovery that a 32-amino-acid peptide can “autocatalyse its own synthesis”. (248--my emphasis added)
With these potential dangers, amidst our more precarious strategic and historical predicament, we may soon, in the famous words of Eric Voegelin, even impetuously “immanetize the eschaton”, although he always disapproved of that apocalyptic Gnostic Temptation!
On the assumption that GNR technologies create “world-altering contrivances” (248), the cautionary Joy wants to leave us with his “clear warnings of the dangers inherent in widespread knowledge of GNR technologies--of the possibility of knowledge alone enabling mass destruction” (248), even though “There is no profit [to him] in publicizing the dangers” (248). And it is, he aptly stresses (in implicit agreement with his grandmother), “greatly arrogant for us now to be designing a robotic ‘replacement species,’ when we obviously have so much trouble making relatively simple things work, and so much trouble managing--or even understanding--ourselves” (248)! Promoting “an awareness of the nature of the order of life, and the necessity of living with and respecting that order” (248), Bill Joy adds: “With this respect [pietas, or “respect for our roots”] comes a necessary humility that we, with early 21st-century chutzpah lack at our peril” (248--my emphasis added). With specific reference to his own professional sub-specialization, he observes:
The clear fragility and inefficiencies of the human-made systems we have built should give us all pause; the fragility of the systems I have worked on certainly humbles me. (248)
And Bill Joy does not want to be like those participants in the early nuclear-weapons program, in which “nobody had the courage or the foresight to say no” (250). “The physicists have known sin, and this is a knowledge they cannot [or should not?] lose” (250), nor should we forget “the scientific attitudes that brought us to the nuclear precipice” with the aid of a seductive itch for innovation, or what Freeman Dyson called “an illusion of illimitable power” (250) and what Joy himself calls our “technical arrogance” (250).
Then, Mr. Joy tells us that some, however, now protectively propose to “build an active nanotechnological shield--a form of immune system for the biosphere--to defend against dangerous replicators” (254--my emphasis added). This proposed shield would ostensibly defend against “dangerous replicators of all kinds that might escape from laboratories or otherwise be maliciously created” (254). Similar to the situation of “unintended consequences” or “externalities”, and the even more intractably terrible, unexpected by-products, Joy offers his own trenchant objection to this illusionary defense and the “moral hazards”:
But the shield proposed would itself be extremely dangerous--nothing could prevent it from developing autoimmune problems [like some defective vaccines with poisonous adjuvants] and attacking the biosphere itself. (254--my emphasis added)
The concept of autoimmune problems is effectively equivalent to the concept of moral hazards, whereby we bring about what we are purportedly trying to insure against. In this case, it is the destruction of the human immune system and his ecological or cultural immune system that was to have been protected and insured against, but was unexpectedly sabotaged or subverted, by our own improvident conduct.
Accentuating his point, Joy adds, with respect to other technologies, besides nanotechnology:
Similar difficulties apply to the construction of shields against robotics and genetic engineering. These technologies are too powerful to be shielded against in the time frame of interest [before our “extinction” or “many horrid outcomes that lie short of extinction” (254)]; even if it were possible to implement defensive shields the side effects of their development would be at least as dangerous as the technologies we are trying to protect against. (254--my emphasis added)
Again we see the import of moral hazards and other human limits, and how it should further limit and modify our unreflectingly “hi-tech” strategic defense-in-depth of the homeland, to include our “National Nanotechnology Initiative”, perhaps. For, it should cause us to consider alternative courses of action and strategic planning. But what is Bill Joy’s pointed summation and final recommendation?
He says, by way of essential recapitulation:
These possibilities [to construct defensive shields] are all thus either undesirable or unachievable or both. The only realistic alternative I see is relinquishment: to limit the development of the technologies that are too dangerous, by limiting our pursuit of certain kinds of knowledge [Gnosis]. (254--my emphasis added)
What the specific criteria and standards are for judging what is “too dangerous”, he never says. Nevertheless, Joy finally proposes not just the giving up of an evil, but, rather, the constructive form of sacrifice traditionally known as abstinence: i.e., “the giving up of a lesser good for a greater good”! (That generous attitude goes far beyond the mere “giving up an evil to avoid an even greater evil.”)
How should such reflections of this thoughtful man affect our own national strategic orientation and defense? Is he only a feckless and morose sentimentalist, who is trying to reconcile opposites and to avoid the law of contradiction, like all Hegelian, Marxist, or softer-headed technological utopians, like H.G. Wells?<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Indeed, Bill Joy is writing as “an insider”, not as “a luddite” (243), and he writes as a knowledgeable insider who has had “second thoughts”. So, too, was it in the case with the charming Clifford Stoll, who after writing the remunerative The Cuckoo’s Egg, wrote Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway (1995), which is also still very worthy of our deep examination and reflective savor!
But, moving on from Bill Joy’s admonitions, we shall now see, with the lucid and winsome help of the inimitable Tom Wolfe, that there is not yet any sign of “second thoughts” bubbling up from the zealous ranks of sociobiology and neuroscience, much less from the ranks of “evolutionary psychology”! And yet the implications of these sciences--or new forms of snake oil--and psychobabble--are perhaps even more important than GNR technologies for the future of man and human society, and certainly for man’s perception of himself and his sense of hope and meaning, or of despair and meaninglessness.
Let us now therefore consider how Darwin II (Edward O. Wilson) has prepared the way for Nietzsche II, and what this may mean for us all. But, as with Bill Joy at the end of his essay, during our own ongoing analysis and even profounder discoveries, let us not merely repose in our deeper knowledge, “as if awareness of what could happen is response enough” (262). More is required. “To whom much has been given, much will be expected. To whom much is entrusted, more will be required.” (To whom we are accountable and by whom we shall be finally judged is a deeper matter, and still an unmistakably contentious issue.)
But, even when we are examining these grim topics that could increase “the damp and drizzly November in [our] soul,” when we do it in the company of Tom Wolfe’s character and culture of “right stuff”, prompted by his coruscating style and intellect, we are invariably uplifted and comforted! We are even robustly transfigured for the fuller (and necessary) strategic combat against self-sabotaging untruths and self-refuting (but seductive) illusions and their “armed ideologies” (“constricted para-realities”).
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In Tom Wolfe’s recently released book, Hooking Up<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>, he has written two, profound and brilliantly expressed chapters which are very effectively counterpointed and winsomely complementary. The first of the two, which focuses on “the Digital Age” and Darwinian Sociobiology (genes and memes), is entitled “Digibabble, Fairy Dust, and the Human Ant Hill” (66-88). The second essay, which focuses on modern neuroscience as a further development of sociobiology (along with evolutionary psychology), is entitled “Sorry, but Your Soul Just Died” (89-109). These last two essays also subtly build upon the first of the three essays, in Part II (“The Human Beast”) of Hooking Up, called “Two Young Men Went West”, which treats of the adventuresome establishment of Silicon Valley itself: its history; the main founders and their characters and view of life; their high-technology projects; the tempo of their competitive and feverishly driven lives; and their unexpected, sudden deaths.
The second part of the book, Hooking Up, is also, I believe, very significantly entitled “The Human Beast”. Whyso? Because the subtle progression of Wolfe’s three essays in Part II gradually discloses the inner logic of several false or unexamined premises of modern science, and more and more reveals to us the sophisticated materialist ideology that suffuses our culture of science, resulting in a reductive truncation in which man is only a “sophisticated beast”, after all.
This truncated reductive ideology about the “true status of man”, supplemented by the precisions of modern neuroscience (and its increasingly refined “brain imagery”) recalls us to Bernard Mandeville’s famous eighteenth-century poem (and parable), The Fable of the Bees, and his companion “interpretive essays” of eloquent cynicism and philosophical materialism. For, Dr. Mandeville effectively says that man, a sophisticated beast, must be “civilized” and “governed” by deceit, by the manipulation of his illusions, i.e., by using flattery to manipulate man’s intellectual pride. That is to say, deception is indispensable (though it breaks trust), since force (power without grace) is insufficient for “managing” this thing called “man”.
And, furthermore, just as I would recommend that strategic and military journals publish at least parts of Bill Joy’s own above-analyzed essay, so, too, would I earnestly recommend that a wider circulation and re-publishing be given of Tom Wolfe’s two very timely and truly strategic essays, which I shall now examine.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Strategic-minded military audiences should read such reflective writings more often, I think, for such men are sensitive “tuning forks” of our culture.
Moreover, Wolfe’s vivid language and modulations of tone, as well as his insights and admirable integrity, should be slowly imbibed, savored, not just rapidly read. Alas, I can only provide an introduction or an aperçu or two of his achievement.
“Digibabble, Fairy Dust, and the Human Anthill” begins in Japan, “in an auditorium so postmodern it made your teeth vibrate” (66), and the essay gradually reveals what some think to be the altogether irreversible movement “from the Manual Age” (66) to “the Digital Age” (67). And his essay depicts with subtle irony “the children of the dawn” (67) so radiant and energetic in the “here and now in the Digital Age” (62). Indeed, says Wolfe:
In the Digital Age, [artistic] illustrators “morphed” existing pictures into altered forms on the digital screen. The very concept of postmodernity was based on the universal use of the digital computer…whether one was morphing illustrations [or counterfeiting digital imagery from satellites?!] or synthesizing music or sending rocket probes into space or achieving, on the Internet, instantaneous communication and information retrieval among people all over the globe. The world had shrunk, shrink-wrapped in an electronic membrane. No person on earth was more than six mouse clicks away from any other. The Digital Age was fast rendering national boundaries and city limits and other old geographical notions obsolete. Likewise, regional markets, labor pools, and industries. The world was now unified…online. There remained only one “region”, and its name was the Digital Universe. Out of that fond belief has come the concept of convergence (67--my emphasis added, Wolfe’s nuanced and artful ellipses are original and often ironical). <![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
Thus, he deftly speaks of the utopian movement from folly to illusionary convergence. Wolfe notes, moreover, that “Thousands of dot-com dreamers are busy amplifying the message [and “that faith” in “the concept of convergence” or “the global village”] without the faintest idea where it came from” (68), namely from the Frenchman Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and, later, from the Canadian Professor, Marshal McLuhan. From these two men, Wolfe argues, derives, in large part, “the current Web mania” (68). Indeed, “Since the microchip and the microprocessor had not yet [in the time of Teilhard] been invented” (69), “just what kind of technology was going to bring about this convergence, this noösphere?”(69). That is to say, this noetic movement from “expansive convergence” to “compressive convergence” … “by means of technology” (69)?!
With “stunning prescience,” says Wolfe, “Half a century ago, only Teilhard foresaw what is now known as the Internet” (69).<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> How many “dot-com dreamers” (68) know of this?
More surprisingly, since he was a priest, “Teilhard accepted the Darwinian theory of evolution” (69), and this unmistakably heterodox and equivocal Jesuit priest dared to go even further: “He argued that biological evolution had been nothing more than [good old reductionism!] God’s first step in an infinitely [sic] greater design” (69--my emphasis added).<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> But, did this imply, for example, that the created finite cosmos (intelligible and knowable, but abidingly unfathomable) was now, or potentially, infinite? And, is that not a form of evolutionary pantheism? That is to say, a dubiously “christianized” form of dialectical Hegelianism?
Wolfe then valuably traces how the Canadian professor, Marshal McLuhan, made a further “synthesis of the ideas of two men” (72): Teilhard de Chardin; and Harold Innis, “the economic historian” and McLuhan’s “fellow Canadian” (72). But, McLuhan, had “presented his theory in entirely secular terms, arguing that a new, dominant medium such as television altered human consciousness by literally changing what he called the central nervous system’s ‘sensory balance’” (73--my emphasis added). Indeed, says Wolfe:
These are matters that today fall under the purview of neuroscience, the study of the brain and the central nervous system. Neuroscience has made spectacular progress over the past twenty-five years and is now the hottest field in science and, for that matter, in all of academia. (73-74)
At least, says Wolfe, McLuhan can be said to have “successfully established the concept that new media…have the power to alter the human mind and thereby history itself” (74). Moreover, “by 1980 he had spawned swarms of believers who were ready to take over where he left off” (74), and it is they themselves, as “entirely secular souls, who dream up our fin de siécle notions of convergence for the Digital Age” (74), but they know not their roots nor their intellectual forbears, thinking themselves so original! Tom Wolfe then drolly adds, in his inimitable style:
Today [2000AD] you can pick up any organ of the digital press, those magazines for dot-com lizards that have been spawned thick as chad since 1993, and close your eyes and ruffle through the pages and stab your forefinger and come across evangelical prose that sounds like a hallelujah! for the ideas of Teilhard or McLuhan or both. (74--my emphasis added)
Lest my gentle reader be deprived of hearing one such rapturous voice of fideistic ideology and utopian burblings from Bill Joy’s good old friend “Danny Hillis” (74), I shall relate what Tom Wolfe himself has so exquisitely chosen for our delectation. Wolfe tells us that, “in Wired magazine my finger landed on the name Danny Hillis, the man credited with pioneering the concept of massively parallel computers, who writes”:
‘Telephony, computers, CD-ROMs are all specialized mechanisms we’ve built to bind us together. Now evolution takes place in microseconds…We’re taking off. We’re at the point analogous to when single-celled organisms were turning into multicelled organisms. We are amoebas and we can’t figure out what the hell this thing is that we’re creating…We are not evolution’s ultimate product. There’s something coming after us, and I imagine it is something wonderful [like “Fairy Dust” or “The Human Anthill”?]. But we may never be able to comprehend it, any more than a caterpillar can comprehend turning into a butterfly’. (74-75--my emphasis added)
Hillis is expectant of our substitutes. He awaits the advent of our replacement. (And Joy had said that Hillis himself was “at peace with this process”.)
In light of these imminently mysterious transformations, Danny Hillis may soon be in a good position to write, unto our greater good, and in his own vivid verse, an update of Ovid’s own poetic Metamorphoses. Hillis could then “morph” out of his own feverish “evangelical prose” into “evangelical verse” and something more subtly gracious, and, perhaps, less Kafkaesque. For Franz Kafka (1883-1924) also wrote his own bizarre story, “The Metamorphosis” (1916), during World War I, a story about “troubled individuals in a nightmarishly impersonal world…. marked by surreal distortion and often a sense of impending danger.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Hillis’ own temporary euphoria might turn out, after all, to be fragile or senile. His own evangelical dystopia may be imminent, or not be too far away. May he be mercifully preserved from Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”--“the horror, the horror!”
But, Tom Wolfe has much more in store for us than “dot-com dreamer” Hillis. Like Bill Gates, whom he also quotes, Wolfe (from a very different viewpoint) will also help our own discernment, by “squinting into the future and catching the first revealing hint of revolutionary probabilities” (75) which “will affect the world seismically” (75).
Tom Wolfe now starts to reveal his own subtle judgments, when he says:
Such speculations quickly degenerate into what all who follow the digital press have been accustomed to: Digibabble. All of our digifuturists, even the best, suffer from what the philosopher Joseph Levine calls “the explanatory gap”. There is never an explanation of just why or how such vast changes, such as evolutionary and revolutionary great leaps forward, are going to take place. McLuhan at least recognized the problem and went to the trouble of offering a neuroscientific hypothesis, his theory of how various media alter the human nervous system by changing the “sensory balance”. (75--my emphasis added)
Everyone coming after McLuhan, Wolfe contends, “has succumbed to what is known as the ‘Web-minded fallacy’, the purely magical assumption that as the Web, the Internet, spreads over the globe, the human mind expands with it” (75)--and thus we have “the current magical Web euphoria” (76). With characteristic charm, Wolfe further reveals himself:
I hate to be one who brings this news to the tribe, to the magic Digikingdom, but the simple truth is that the Web, the Internet, does one thing. It speeds up the retrieval and dissemination of information, partially eliminating such chores as going outdoors to the mailbox or the adult bookstore, or having to pick up the phone to get hold of your stock broker or some buddies to shoot the breeze with. That one thing the Internet does, and only that. All the rest is Digibabble. (76--my emphasis added)
Speaking in the longer light of history now--“May I log on to the past for a moment?” (76)--Wolfe then examines, especially in view of “the Balkans today” (76), “the assumption…that only good could come of the shrinkage” whereby “technology was making the world smaller” (76). This beneficial shrinkage, he finds to be utter nonsense, “sheer Digibabble” (77), especially since “The very Zeitgeist of the twenty-first century is summed up in the cry ‘Back to Blood!’” (77), as is the case in the Balkan “cluster of virulent spores” which are so “bloody-minded” (76), vengeful, cold, and cruel.
But, what finally led Wolfe to “neuroscience’s most extraordinary figure, Edward O. Wilson” (77) was the intrusive fact that “so many theories of convergence were magical assumptions [and untested febrile ideologies!] about the human mind in the Digital Age, notions that had no neuroscientific foundation whatsoever” (77). It was thus that he soon very shockingly came to discover “what was going on in neuroscience” (77). And, he might have been more comfortable, had he not. For, the tidings were troublesome and unsettling, indeed.
In Wolfe’s words, E.O. Wilson’s “thesis” is that “among humans, no less than among racehorses, inbred traits will trump upbringing and environment every time” (77). And it is of value to note, for our strategic purposes, that “Wilson’s field of study within the discipline of biology was zoology; and within zoology, entomology, the study of insects; and within entomology, myrmecology, the study of ants” (78). The study of ants! Here lies the bridge to the last part of Wolfe’s title “the Human Anthill”, since that is where the ideology of sociobiology tendentiously points.
“In 1971 Wilson began publishing his now-famous sociobiology trilogy” (78), and Volume I was entitled The Insect Societies, “starring the ants, of course” (78), but, “so far, Ed Wilson had not tipped his hand” (78)! Nevertheless Wilson, in examining what it was that “steered the bugs into their various, highly specialized callings” (79) had concluded that, indeed, it was “genetics, the codes imprinted (or hardwired, to use another metaphor) at birth” (79--my emphasis added).
And, while searching to “find deep principles” (80), E. O. Wilson and his colleagues came up with a name for their new “discipline”: “‘sociobiology’, which would cover all animals that lived within social orders, from insects to primates” (80), to include man.
In 1975, Wilson published the second volume of his sociobiology trilogy, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, which was also a statement of sociobiology’s “central thesis” (80). For, “only sociobiology, firmly grounded in genetics and the Darwinian theory of evolution, could do the job” (80) of explaining how “man and all man’s works were the products of deep patterns running throughout the story of evolution, from ants one-tenth of an inch long to the species Homo sapiens” (80). That is to say, these things could not be explained by “such superficial, external approaches as history, economic, sociology, or anthropology” (80--my emphasis added).
Emphasizing the “The with a capital T” (81), Wolfe says that Chapter 27 of Sociobiology: The New Synthesis became most famous “during the furor that followed” (80). Helping those who would understand him better, “Wilson [therefore] compressed his theory into one sentence during an interview” (80). In Wolfe’s words, which also quote Wilson himself,
Every human brain, he said, is born not as a blank state [i.e., tabula rasa] waiting to be filled in by experience [i.e., the empirical] but as “an exposed negative waiting to be slipped into developer fluid.” The negative might be developed well or it might be developed poorly, but all you were going to get was what was already on the negative at birth. (80)
In my judgment these words should be read and re-read and deeply thought upon. And what are the implications, if true, or if believed to be true, for man’s perception of himself in the universe, and most inwardly?
E.O. Wilson’s blunt statement and its implications certainly “wounded Marxist chauvinism” (80), in Wolfe’s finely ironical words about the “antiseptic squad” and others who immediately attacked him, so as “to demonize Wilson as a reactionary eugenicist” (81), even sending a letter of protest “to the leading American organ of intellectual etiquette and deviation sniffing” (80)!
Indeed, adds Wolfe, “The long smear campaign against Edward O. Wilson was one of the most sickening episodes in American academic history”--but “it could not have backfired [on “the cadre” (81) of “goonies and goonettes” (83)] more completely” (81), even “while [other, “less-advanced” Darwinian materialists] Gould and Lewontin seethed…and seethed…and contemplated their likely place in the history of science in the twentieth century: a footnote or two down the ibid. thickets of the biographies of Edward Osborne Wilson” (82)!
In 1979, Wilson, however, was finally even awarded the Pulitzer Prize “for nonfiction for the third volume of his sociobiology trilogy, On Human Nature” (82) and his “smashing success revived Darwinism in a big way” (82), in as much as “sociobiology had presented evolution as the ultimate theory, the convergence of all knowledge” (82). No small claim, even for a Gnostic!
No longer, it appeared, would the neo-Darwinists--“the new breed, the fundamentalists” (80)--be “overshadowed by the Freudian and Marxist stories” (82), now that we all supposedly know (and were presumably convinced) that “the genes the infant was born with determined his destiny” (82), not, thank God!, his “social class” nor his “Oedipal drama” (82), pace Marx and Freud.
Indeed, on the way to further “loopiness”, “a field called evolutionary psychology became all the rage, attracting many young biologists and philosophers who enjoyed the naughty and delicious thrill of being Darwinian fundamentalists” (82).
That is to say:
The influence of genes was absolute. Free will among humans, no less than among ants, was an illusion. The “soul” and the “mind” were illusions, too, and so was the very notion of a “self”. The quotation marks [ironical and sarcastic ones] began spreading like dermatitis all over common sense beliefs about human nature [hence about the essence of man, not just his existence]. (82)
Wolfe charmingly concedes, however, that there is still “always the danger that the antiseptic squads…and…goonies and goonettes might come gitchoo” (82-82), and even the “deviation sniffers”, but, we must realize, “all the bright new [“hard-wired”] fundamentalists were Ed Wilson’s offspring, nevertheless” (83).
We shall, of necessity, now pass lightly over how Wolfe treats the “memes” and “the literature of Memeland” (83), which he calls “Fairy Dust”--the fundamentalist Darwinian effort to account for culture, as anthropologists had once so rashly called it! “Genetics had to be the answer” (83) and Richard Dawkins’ “memes are seen as the missing link in Darwinism as a theory” (84), as Dawkins’ own 1976 book, The Selfish Gene, tries to explain. In Wolfe’s summary, “memes were viruses in the form of ideas, slogans, tunes, styles, images, doctrines, anything with sufficient attractiveness to infect the brain” (83--my emphasis added)! Are you convinced? William Blake’s “mind-forged manacles” may soon become the updated “meme-forged manacles”, in the fine words of “Lady Psteiger”. (“Leave it to Psteiger!”)<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
Wolfe then even dares to say: “There turns out to be one serious problem with memes, however. They don’t exist” (80), no matter what Professor Richard Dawkins, “the postmodern equivalent of the Archbishop of Canterbury” (84), addlepatedly says. Although acknowledging Dawkins himself to be “now Archbishop of Darwinism and Hierophant of the Memes” (84), Wolfe points out another inconvenience:
A neurophysiologist can use the most powerful and sophisticated brain imaging now available--and still not find a meme. (84)
Can you imagine that! Another “explanatory gap” (84)--merely the matter of understanding just “how, in physiological, neural terms, the meme ‘infection’ is supposed to take place” (84). According to the last reports, however, Dawkins still seems to be unruffled.
Just like “one of the little people” (84), Wolfe says, it is “thus also with memes” (84), for “memes are little people who sprinkle fairy dust on genes to enable them to pass along [i.e., in tradition!] so-called cultural information to succeeding generations in a proper Darwinian way” (85--my emphasis added)! Moreover, in his book, How Brains Think, William H. Calvin, “came up with a marvelously loopy synonym for fairy dust: ‘Darwinian soft-wiring’” (85--my emphasis added). Remember that “memes”--mental genes--are a “soft-wiring” for survival, as well as a benevolent aid from the antic “little people”. “Darwinian soft-wiring” and “meme-forged manacles”, all “Hooked Up”.
Clearly, “Wilson, who has a lot to answer for, transmitted more than fairy dust to his progeny” (85), for he also “gave them the urge to be popular” (85). Meanwhile, “as far as Darwin II himself”--E.O. Wilson--“is concerned, he has nice things to say about [Richard] Dawkins and his Neuro Pop brood, and he wishes them well in their study of the little people, the memes” (85). Yet, Wilson himself now “theorizes about something called ‘culturgens’, which sound suspiciously like memes, but then goes on to speak of the possibility of a ‘gene-culture co-evolution’” (85).
Nevertheless, says Wolfe,
I am sure that he [E.O. Wilson] believes [still] just as absolutely in the idea that human beings, for all their extraordinary works, consist solely of matter and water, of strings of molecules containing DNA that are connected to a chemical analog computer known as the brain, a mechanism that creates such illusions as “free will” and…“me”. (86)
But, he adds, “Darwin II is patient, and he is a scientist” (86), as well as a reductive ideologist of materialism, and “he is not going to engage in such sci-fi as meme theory” (86), given the need to “fill in two vast Saharas in the field of brain research”, namely “memory and consciousness itself” (86).
Anticipating his own further exploration of the frontier field of neuroscience, which is even more aggressively ideological, Tom Wolfe says that:
Wilson is convinced that in time the entire physics and chemistry, the entire neurobiology of the brain and the central nervous system will be known, just as the 100,000-or-so genes are now being identified and located one by one in the Humane Genome Project. When the process is completed, he believes, then all knowledge of living things will converge…under the umbrella of biology. All mental activity, from using allometry to enjoying music, will be understood in biological terms. (86--my emphasis added)
A further noetic convergence in liminal form, it would seem. Does this passage not help convey the meaning of a reductive ideology within the culture of modern scientific materialism, and some of its practical implications, in addition to its infliction of arrogance? “The Progressive Doctrine, the granite ideology” (Solzhenitsyn).
Even some twenty-five years ago, “in the opening paragraph of Sociobiology’s incendiary Chapter 27” (86), the humanities and social sciences themselves, Wilson claimed, would appropriately “shrink to specialized branches of biology” (86), and even such “venerable genres as history, biography, and the novel” (says Wolfe) would become mere “‘research protocols,’ i.e., preliminary reports of the study of human evolution” (86). And “this convergence of all human disciplines and literary pursuits” (86)--even “anthropology and sociology”--is aptly to be “subsumed by ‘the sociobiology of a single primate species’, Homo sapiens” (86).
But, even moreso, as Wolfe stresses, only a quarter of a century later, as it turns out:
In 1998 Wilson spelled it out at length and so clearly that no one inside or outside of academia could fail to get the point. He published an entire book on the subject, Consilience, which immediately became a best seller despite the theoretical nature of the material. The term, “consilience” was an obsolete word referring to the coming together, the confluence, of different branches of knowledge. (87)
To be sure, “Consilience was a stick in the eye” (87)--“a stick in the eye of every novelist [like Wolfe!], every historian, every biographer, every social scientist--every intellectual of any stripe, come to think about it” (87), for “they were all about to be downsized, if not terminated, in a vast intellectual merger” (87--my emphasis added). And, once again, “Wilson saw himself tried and hanged on a charge of hubris” (87), but Tom Wolfe has a charming magnanimity to contribute, when he compassionately (but ironically) says, in Wilson’s defense:
As for me, despite the prospect of becoming a mere research protocol drudge for evolutionism, I am willing to wait for the evidence. I am skeptical, but, like Wilson, I am willing to wait. If Wilson is right, what interests me is not so much what happens when all knowledge flows together as what people will do with it once every nanometer and every action and reaction of the human brain has been calibrated and made manifest in predictable statistical formulas. (87--my emphasis added)
And they may include, maybe, a new “Hooking Up”, even “to predict, with breathtaking accuracy, the effect that certain types of illustrations will have on certain types of brains” (87)?!
When Tom Wolfe finally moves from “Digibabble, Fairy Dust, and the Human Anthill”, to his deeper essay “Sorry, but Your Soul Just Died”, he especially moves to the likely and menacing advent, not of Darwin III, but of Nietzsche II, in light of the harder evidence now coming in from the latest neuroscience.
Proposing a briefer examination of this richly interwoven complementary essay, we now turn to Tom Wolfe’s second essay, “Sorry, but Your Soul Just Died” (89-109).
After drolly admitting to “being a bit behind the curve” (89), and altogether shocked to hear someone “announcing the dawn of the twenty-first century’s digital civilization” (89) creating, as well, “a ‘noösphere’, and electronic membrane covering the earth and wiring all humanity together in a single nervous system” (89), Tom Wolfe charmingly trumps them all:
But something tells me that within ten years, by 2010, the entire digital universe is going to seem like pretty mundane stuff compared to a new technology that right now is but a mere glow radiating [for the new “children of the dawn” (67), “our children of the dawn” (87)] from a tiny number of American and Cuban (yes, Cuban) hospitals and laboratories. It is called brain imaging, and anyone who cares to get up early and catch a truly blinding twenty-first-century dawn will want to keep an eye on it. (89-90--my emphasis added)
Without now going into “the most advanced forms” (90) currently in use, “brain imaging refers to techniques for watching the human brain as it functions, in real time” (90).<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> They show such things as “brain blood-flow patterns” (90) and measures of “biochemical changes in the brain” (90), and one new “reporter probe” device even “pinpoints and follows the activity of specific genes” (90). Moreover, “on a scanner screen you can actually see the genes light up inside the brain” (90), but even this will, in ten years, “seem primitive compared to the stunning new windows into the brain that will have been developed” (90).
But, now we come to the heart of the matter, to which strategists concerned with homeland defense and human moral character should be particularly attentive. From Wolfe’s own earnestness of tone, the reader will soon grasp how concerned Wolfe himself is, despite his Rabelaisian and Balzacean “pantagruelisms” about the whole folly of man in The Human Comedy (88) and how he ostensibly “will love it all, cherish it, press it to my bosom” (88)! For does he really believe what he says at the conclusion of the previous chapter: “and I promise you, you will laugh your head off…your head and that damnable, unfathomable chemical analog computer inside of it, too.” (88)?! Is he trying to convince us, or to convince himself? Or?
More earnestly, Wolfe thus begins to worry, I think, and he says:
Brain imaging was invented for medical diagnosis. But its far greater importance is that it may very well confirm, in ways too precise to be disputed, current neuroscientific theories about “the mind”, “the self”, “the soul”, and “free will”. (90--my emphasis added)
As “the science of the brain and the central nervous system” (90), neuroscience is apparently “on the threshold of a unified theory that will have an impact as powerful as that of Darwinism a hundred years ago” (90). Furthermore, as already noted and discussed, “Already there is a new Darwin, or perhaps I should say an updated Darwin, since no one ever believed more rigorously in Darwin the First than does he: Edward O. Wilson” (90). A Novus Homo Religiosus.
Since Wilson believes that, at birth, we are “already imprinted on the film” (91) and “the print [“hardwiring’] is the individual’s genetic history over thousands of years of evolution” (91), “there is not much anybody can do about it” (91)! Tom Wolfe then comments how far Wilson’s “determinism” goes, even unto our so-called “moral life”:
Furthermore, says Wilson, genetics determine not only things such as temperament, role preferences, emotional responses, and levels of aggression but also many of our most revered moral [sic] choices, which are not choices at all in any free-will sense [i.e., liberum arbitrium] but tendencies imprinted in the hypothalamus and limbic regions of the brain, a concept expanded upon in 1993 in a much-talked-about book, The Moral Sense, by James Q. Wilson (no kin to Edward O.). (91)
As the first of this paper’s epigraphs has already quoted,
This, the neuroscientific view of life, has become the strategic high ground in the academic world, and the battle for it has already spread well beyond the scientific disciplines and, for that matter, out into the general public. Both liberals and conservatives without a scientific bone in their body are busy trying to seize the [strategic] terrain. (91--my emphasis added)
To what extent is it true, for example, that “men’s and women’s brains are wired so differently, thanks to the long haul of evolution, that feminist [or “politically correct”] attempts to open up traditionally male roles to women are the same thing: a doomed violation of Nature” (91), as would also be the case if “homosexuality” (91) or “racism” or “anti-Semitism” were likewise “a genetically determined trait” (91). And this argument would mean, if so, that any “law and sanctions against it are [futile] attempts to legislate against Nature” (91)! And is that not, indeed, what used to be said about God’s “Manufacturer’s Instructions” in the Natural Moral Law, as an essential part of the human constitution in being? We have drifted such a long way into modern science and its ideologies, that we may have forgotten such antiquities and insights from the philosophia perennis.
But, that worthy strategist, and “the most prominent feminist in America, Gloria Steinem”(92), did dare to go on television itself and has even “insisted that studies of genetic differences between male and female nervous systems should cease forthwith” (92)! (How open-minded of her! What could she be afraid of, I wonder?) But, adds Wolfe, “that turned out to be mild stuff in the current political panic over neuroscience” (92--my emphasis added). Howso? To what extent are we now moving beyond “political ‘radioactivity’” and “political panic”, on to something else, with more mandatory suppression and “self-censorship”?
Well, there comes before us the case of Dr. Frederich K. Goodwin, “a renowned psychiatrist, head of the federal Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration” (92), who in February 1992, showed himself, says Wolfe, to be “a certified yokel in the field of public relations” (92)! Oops, he announced in public “the National Institute of Mental Health’s ten-year-old Violence Initiative” (92), which is an “experimental program whose hypothesis was that…much of the criminal mayhem in the United States was caused by a relatively few young males who were genetically predisposed to it; who were hardwired for violent crime, in short” (92--my emphasis added). What might be done about this minority, merely “a handful of genetically twisted young males”, as seems to be the case among “the chimpanzees”, who cause all the trouble, “including the physical abuse of females” (92)?! That is to say, “What if the same were true among human beings?” (92), where “a handful of young males with toxic DNA” (93) might be “pushing statistics for violent crime up to such high levels” (93)?
Let us savor the priceless humor of Tom Wolfe, as he explains how:
The Violence Initiative envisioned identifying these individuals in childhood, somehow, some way, some day, and treating them therapeutically with drugs. The notion that crime-ridden urban America was a “jungle”, said [Dr.] Goodwin, was perhaps more than a tired old metaphor. That did it. That may have been the stupidest single word uttered by an American public official in the year 1992. (93--my emphasis added)
This is high comedy and rumbustious “Panagruelism”, is it not?--“a certain jollity of mind pickled in the scorn of Fortune!” And, we so much need this tonic, antic jollification today amidst our morbidly “flinchy” culture of adamantine witlessness.
To continue. Soon Goodwin was fired and “the government, with the Department of Health and Human Services now doing the talking, denied that the Violence Initiative had ever existed” (93)--so niggardly and not such a worthy way to foster trust! For, it is so, says Wolfe, that “It [the Institute, and maybe more] disappeared down the memory hole, to use Orwell’s term [from 1984]” (93).
In this context, however, we must, of necessity, pass over all the subsequent deceptions and clumsy ruses, which Wolfe so deftly traces, “proving that it [i.e., “the State”] was a hard learner” (94)--to include the NIH (National Institutes of Health) itself--unable once again “to fireproof the proceedings” (94), in order to examine “the notion of a possible genetic genesis of crime” (94) and to attempt to do it, without fumbles, even more covertly. Wolfe’s comic narrative deserves to be read in full!
But, as the book by Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein, The Bell Curve, amply proves, “even more radioactive is the matter of intelligence, as measured by IQ tests” (94), since the uproar it provoked is likely to be “just the beginning of the bitterness the subject is going to create” (95). No, the public will not likely receive well even what “the vast majority of neuroscientists believe” (94), although only “privately--not many care to speak out” (94), for fear of “the deviation sniffers”; namely that “the genetic component of an individual’s intelligence is remarkably high” (94). These “private” (self-censored) views may be disturbingly confirmed, however, by such things as “the IQ Cap” (95), which was invented by “the firm called Neurometrics” (95), “for analyzing brain functions”, as does the patented “Neurometric Analyzer” (95), making predictions, in some cases, “all from sixteen seconds’ worth of brain waves” (96)! After only sixteen seconds, “this is where you fit”!
Although “Neurometric’s investors” (96) were “rubbing their hands and licking their chops” (96), “in fact--nobody wanted the damnable I.Q. Cap!” (96)
Whyso? Because, says Wolfe, “nobody wanted to believe that human brainpower is… that hardwired. Nobody wanted to learn in a flash that …the genetic fix is in” (96). More poignantly, “Nobody wanted to learn that he was…a hardwired genetic mediocrity…and that the best he could hope for in this Trough of Mortal Error was to live out his mediocre life as a stress-free dim bulb” (96), and “a Superfluous Man”. “Cognitive Neurometrics” and “brain-wave technology” (96) are a congealing thing, alas, to think upon.
It is, therefore, very significant and revealing of Tom Wolfe’s deeper concern that he continues to plumb the depths of this whole matter. Are we ready to accompany him?
Here we begin to sense the chill that emanates from the hottest field in the academic world. (96--my emphasis added)
Recalling this paper’s first epigraph, once again citing Wolfe himself, we see his deep discernment:
The unspoken and largely unconscious premise of the wrangling over neuroscience’s strategic high ground is: We now live in an age in which science is a court from which there is no appeal. [Such is the ideology of scientism, so reductively constraining!] And the issue this time around, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, is not the evolution of the species…but the nature of our own precious inner selves. (96--my emphasis added)
Although “the elders of the field” (97) are more cautious, or covert, “the new generation of neuroscientists” (97)--especially “in private conversations…that create the mental atmosphere of any hot new science” (97--my emphasis added)--do so unmistakably “express an uncompromising determinism” (97)! Given the fearsome precision of their instruments, we are all too shaken to hear that:
Neuroscientists involved in three-dimensional electro-encephalography will tell you that there is not even one place in the brain where consciousness or self-consciousness (Cogito ergo sum) is located.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> This is merely an illusion created [sic] by a medley of neurological systems acting in concert. (97)
However, the “uncompromising determinism” (97) of “the young generation [of neuroscientists] takes this one step further” (97)! They say that,
Since consciousness and thought are entirely physical products [i.e., derivatives, epiphenomena] of your brain and nervous system--and since your brain arrived fully imprinted at birth--what makes you think that you have free will? (97)
The Marxist determinist, Friedrich Engels, himself expressed his higher “dialectical” sense of “freedom” in his famous formula that “Freedom is the recognition of necessity”. That is to say, a true revolutionary consciousness, a true notion of freedom unflinchingly recognizes your own pre-conditioned “determinism”--and this is a true liberation from “false consciousness”.
But, again, the new neuroscientist go even further:
Where is it [your “free will”] going to come from? What “ghost” [“ghost in the machine”, Geist, spirit]? What “mind”, what “self”, what “soul”, what anything that will not be immediately grabbed by those scornful quotation marks is going to bubble up your brain stem to give it to you? (97--my emphasis added)
Then, Tom Wolfe makes a connection between this new “religious” faith of neuroscience and an old “predestinarian” or “determinist” theology. He says:
I have heard neuroscientists theorize that, given computers of sufficient power and sophistication [as Bill Joy discussed], it would be possible to predict the course of any human being’s life moment by moment, to include the fact that the poor devil was about to shake his head [in doubt] over the very idea. I doubt that any Calvinist of the sixteenth century ever believed so completely in predestination as these, the hottest and most intensely rational [sic] young scientists in the United States in the twenty-first. (97-98--my emphasis added)
It is certainly so that “since the late 1970’s, in the Age of Wilson [as distinct from “the Digital Age”?], college students are heading into neuroscience in job lots” (98), and “in the venerable field of academic philosophy, young faculty members are jumping ship in embarrassing numbers and shifting into neuroscience” (98).
And, here, we may be approaching the minatory advent of a new prophetic Nietzsche, Nietzsche II, an updated Nietzsche, inasmuch as “it is only a matter of time before neuroscience, probably through brain imaging, reveals the actual physical mechanism that fabricates these mental constructs, these illusions”(98)--such as “Kant’s God, Freedom, and Immortality” (98). We may here also recall, says Wolfe, “the most famous statement in all of modern philosophy: Nietzsche’s ‘God is dead’”, uttered in 1882 in his book Die Fröhliche Wissensschaft--The Gay Science (or The Cheerful Knowledge). Nietzsche claimed to be merely announcing “the news of an event” (98), but “he called the death of God a ‘tremendous event’, the greatest event of modern history” (98). What was this prophetic news?
The news was that educated people no longer believed in God, as the result of the rise of rationalism and scientific thought [i.e., “naturalism” as Sir Arthur Balfour also meant it], including Darwinism, over the preceding 250 years. But before you atheists [said Nietzsche] run up your flags in triumph think of the implications. (98--my emphasis added)
Quoting Nietzsche’s own words about “The story I have to tell is the history of the next two centuries [the 20th and 21st]” (98), Wolfe eloquently assembles the German philosopher’s farsighted predictions about “wars” and “guilt”, about how “human beings would no longer have a god to turn to to absolve them from their guilt; but they would still be racked by guilt” (98); and “As a result, people would loathe not only one another but themselves” (98). Wolfe himself is unmistakably stunned by the detailed accuracy of Nietzsche’s predictive understanding.
Moreover, with Wolfe quoting Nietzsche’s own trenchant words, we hear: “If the doctrines…of the lack of any cardinal distinction between man and animal, doctrines I [Nietzsche] consider true but deadly’--he says in an allusion to Darwinism in Untimely Meditations--‘are hurled into the people for another generation…then nobody should be surprised when…brotherhoods with the aim of the robbery and exploitation of the non-brothers…will appear in the arena of the future’” (99--my emphasis added). In Wolfe’s paraphrase, “The blind and reassuring faith they formerly poured into their belief in God, …they would now pour into a belief in barbaric nationalistic brotherhoods” (99). And may we now add “barbaric scientific and technical brotherhoods”?
How might this far-sighed 19th-century prediction also apply to neuroscience? Wolfe reminds us that:
Nietzsche’s view of guilt, incidentally, is also that of neuroscientists a century later. They regard guilt as one of those tendencies imprinted in the brain at birth. In some people the genetic work is not complete [and needs to be re-engineered?], and they engage in criminal behavior without a twinge of remorse. (99)
Respectfully, Tom Wolfe adds, while recalling Nietzsche’s book, Ecce Homo,
Ecce vates! Ecce vates! Behold the prophet! How much more proof can one demand of a man’s powers of prediction? (99)
What “moral ballast” (99) for man will be provided, Wolfe asks, “if, as seems likely, the greatest marvel of modern science turns out to be brain imaging” (100)? And, “What if, ten years from now, brain imaging has proved, beyond any doubt, that not only Edward O. Wilson but also the young generation [of neuroscientists] are, in fact, correct?” (100--my emphasis added), since, currently, “neuroscience is not rippling out on waves of scholarly [and superficially cheerful] reassurance” (100--my emphasis added). Wolfe adds a sharp contrast:
But rippling out it is [i.e., this neuroscience]. The conclusion people out beyond the laboratory walls are drawing is: The fix is in! We’re all hardwired! That, and: Don’t blame me! I’m wired wrong! (100--my emphasis added)
So goes moral responsibility and the belief in attainable self-discipline or virtue.
And what is the further implication? Wolfe will have us consider that:
This sudden switch from a belief in Nurture, in the form of social conditions [and “social engineering”], to Nature, in the form of genetics and brain physiology, is the great intellectual event, to borrow Nietzsche’s term, of the late twentieth century. (100)
Indeed, argues Wolfe, “Freudianism and Marxism--and with them, the entire belief in social conditioning--was demolished so swiftly, so suddenly, that neuroscience has surged in, as if into an intellectual vacuum” (102-103)--“nor do you have to be a scientist to detect the rush” (103) into the vacuum! What is more, “to parents caught up in the new intellectual climate of the 1990’s, that approach [i.e., self-discipline] seems cruel, because my little boy’s problem is …he’s wired wrong! The poor little tyke--the fix has been in since birth!” Thus cometh a new fatalism and personal sense of futility--without the aid of psychotropic-neurotropic drugs (e.g., Ritalin or Prozac) or of new gene therapies (which will also permanently affect one’s offspring thereafter).
“Meanwhile, the notion of self,” says Wolfe, “a self who exercises self-discipline, postpones gratification, curbs the sexual appetite, stops short of aggression and criminal behavior…is already slipping away…slipping away” (104). Furthermore, “the peculiarly American faith in the power of the individual to transform himself from a helpless cypher into a giant among men…that faith is now as moribund as the god for whom Nietzsche wrote an obituary in 1882” (104). Such fatalism will also further the slothful drift--our sleepwalking into servitude--which Bill Joy himself, as we have seen, is fearful about.
I other words, “Sorry, …but…the genetic fix is in, and the new message is now being pumped out into the popular press and onto television at a stupefying rate” (104)! And “who are the [stupefying] pumps?”--they are a new breed who call themselves “evolutionary psychologists” (104-105), and “they are genetic determinists, and the press [not to be specifically named in polite company] has a voracious appetite for whatever [cant] they come up with” (105--my emphasis added)--one of the newest intellectual fashions. And, the power of “intellectual fashion” is very great upon restive and shallow minds, as history eloquently testifies, and it is usually unto their pathetic servility, as “useful idiots” in the service of mind-stunting ideologies.
Are some “hardwired to be happy, and some aren’t” (105)?
Do you not “judge the facial beauty or handsomeness of people…by criteria hardwired in your brain from the moment you were born” (105)?
Is it not true that “beauty is not in the eye of the beholder but embedded in the genes” (105)?
Wolfe continues to “discover”, from these worthy “evolutionary psychologists”, what is “genetically predetermined” (105) and he reveals this new wisdom with splendid humor and irony, beginning his narration of his own new “enlightenment” by the polite request: “If I may mention just a few things the evolutionary psychologists have illuminated for me recently:” (105)!
“I’m just a lifeguard in the gene pool, honey.”
“The male…is genetically hardwired to be polygamous, i.e., unfaithful to his legal mate, so that he will cast his seed as widely as humanly possible.” [Remember John Dryden’s mock heroic poem, “Absalom and Achitophel”.]
“Don’t blame me, honey. Four hundred thousand years made me do it.” (105-106)
Do you want some more?
“Most murders are the result of genetically hardwired compulsions.” (106)
“Teenage girls, being in the prime of fecundity, are genetically hardwired to be promiscuous and are as helpless to stop themselves as minks or rabbits.” (106)
Tom Wolfe, after this sequence of insights from a heap of “recent studies”, asks:
Where does that leave “self-control”? In [“scornful”, ironic] quotation marks, like many old-fashioned notions--once people believe that the ghost in the machine, “the self”, does not even exist and brain imaging proves it, “once and for all”. (106)
Moreover, says Wolfe moving to his conclusion,
Eventually, as brain imagery is refined, the picture may become as clear and complete as those see-through exhibitions, at auto shows, of the inner workings of the internal combustion engine. At that point it may become obvious to everyone that all we are looking at is a piece of machinery, an analog chemical computer, that processes information from the environment. “All”, since you can look and look and you will not find [sic] any ghostly self inside, or any mind, or any soul. (107--my emphasis added) [How many “memes” can be found on the head of a pin?]
And then what? Tom Wolfe comes and takes us further to the heart of things:
Thereupon, in the year 2010 or 2030, some new Nietzsche will step forward to announce: “The self is dead”--except that being prone to the poetic, like Nietzsche the First, he will probably say: “The soul is dead”. He will say he is merely bringing the news, the news of the greatest even of the millennium: “The soul, that last refuge of values [and indwelling grace?], is dead, because educated people no longer believe it exists. (107--my emphasis added)
With his own ironic “desperation”, but arrant and effective feebleness, Wolfe adds an anemic “unless”, and then makes a fearsome conclusion:
Unless the [superficial, utopian] assurances of the Wilsons and the Dennetts and the Dawkinses also start rippling out [as a counter-current and mitigating counterpoise!], the madhouse that will ensue may make the phrase [Nietzsche’s] “the total eclipse of all values” seem tame. (107--my emphasis added)
Concerning “the riddle of the human mind” (107) and the consequences of its fearsome and soul-congealing self-knowledge, Wolfe goes on to say:
In any case, we live in an age in which it is impossible and pointless to avert your eyes from the truth. Ironically, Nietzsche said, this unflinching eye for truth, this zest for skepticism, is the legacy of Christianity (for complicated reasons that needn’t detain us here)…. He predicted that eventually modern science would turn its juggernaut of skepticism upon itself, question the validity of its own foundations, tear them apart, and self-destruct. (107--my emphasis added)
This predicted, self-sabotaging process seems similar to what Protestant Christianity actually did. Having set up “The Book” as the sole norm of faith (i.e., the norm of Scriptura Sola--Scripture Alone as the source of Revelation), they then hermeneutically proceeded to shred the Book itself, to de-construct it, as it were, either as a “living document” or as a hopelessly obscure pastiche of fact and fiction.
Truth matters. The Logos, too! And self-destructing science could destroy much else, besides, in the physical world--thus the danger.
There was, says Wolfe, a 1994 conference at the Santa Fe Institute (where Dr. Stuart Kauffman himself had resided for many years) on “Limits to Scientific Knowledge”, and it came to a consensus, according to Wolfe:
The consensus was that since the human mind is, after all, entirely physical apparatus [in the view of philosophical and scientific materialism], a form of computer, the product of a particular genetic history, it is finite in its capabilities [even--or especially--in the application of the inherently dangerous GNR technologies]. Being finite, hardwired, it will probably never have the power to comprehend [i.e., to know completely] human existence in any complete way…. So any hope of human beings arriving at some final, complete, self-enclosed theory [or gnosis] of human existence is doomed, too. (108--my emphasis added)
That is to say, it is doomed on natural grounds. From the very premises of Naturalism itself, it is doomed. Nature is not enough. Man is not a causa sui--i.e., not a cause of his own existence. He is contingent. He is dependent, dependent upon the gift of being, even as “a gift from we know not where” (in the words of the great translator of the ancient Classics, Robert Fitzgerald).
Moreover, “a prominent California geologist” (109) recently told Tom Wolfe the following:
When I first went into geology, we all thought that in science you create a solid layer of findings, through experiment and careful investigation, and then you add a second layer,…all very carefully, and so on…. But we now realize that the very first layers aren’t even resting on solid ground. They are balanced on bubbles, on concepts that are full of air, and those bubbles are being burst today, one after the other. (109--my emphasis added)
Under these conditions, to what extent do we want GNR technologies and other “moral hazards” in the hands of those who feel such futility and desperation? What does a strategic defense mean, under these conditions?
Like Bill Joy, Tom Wolfe--groping for some glimpse of light and hope in the circumambient suffocation has a kind of “vision”. “Suddenly [as if by “a gift from we know not where”, he] had a picture of the entire astonishing edifice collapsing and modern man plunging back into the primordial ooze” (109)--or “gray goo” (as Joy might say). But, for Wolfe, while man is still “floundering, …gulping for air,” suddenly “he feels something huge and smooth [not “Moby Dick”] swim beneath him and boost him up, like some almighty dolphin. He can’t see it…. He names it God” (109). He is rescued, as if he is held in the palm of a merciful hand, after all.
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This paper has proposed to build upon the paper presented at the last JSCOPE Conference (January 2000), an essay which I entitled An Inchoate and Growing Genetics-Based Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA): Some Implications for our Predominant Culture of Scientific Materialism and Uncertain Strategic Culture; and also to build upon some other subsequently written essays with a similar purpose and content. All of them touch upon the defense of the nation and of the citizen’s sustainable moral character in a more abundant life of virtue.
If, in the befittingly strategic and integrated-defense-in-depth of our Homeland (which is increasingly vulnerable and psychologically fragile), we are not wisely attentive to the self-sabotaging possibilities of “GNR Technologies”--i.e., “Genetics, Nanotechnology, and Robotics”--and the like, we may bring about what we are purportedly (and desirably) trying to defend and insure against. It is very difficult to set limits even in the benevolent use of GNR technologies, to include our own easily rash and short-sighted resort to them, and not just in our initiatives to prevent or to mitigate their hostile use against us, especially on our home front. The individual developments in genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics--and in related fields and “subfields” such as molecular electronics and bio-remediation--are going at a very fast pace, and so, too, is it the case with their experimental confluence or “consilience” (in the conceptual language of sociobiologist E. O. Wilson).
The risk-assessment of such subtle and even irreversibly consequential technologies will be very difficult, and will require much foresight and patient intelligence. Some of their likely consequences are so frightening that they could easily produce dangerously irrational reactions and over-reacting reprisals which would be self-sabotaging and intimately destructive. The anti-matériel, bio-remediation agents, for example, which are used to dissolve refuse, in light of the world’s great problems with inordinate amounts (and intractable kinds) of trash, can also be easily and treacherously used against other targets, with very destructive consequences. Moreover, there are currently no legal prohibitions against the developments of bio-remediation technologies, all of which are very lucrative and very welcome, as in the treatment of oil spills and other environmental clean-ups.
Given the need for a joint-force military and inter-agency approach to a truly strategic, long-term defense of the Homeland, even against subtle attacks on our food and our agricultural or medical infrastructure, we must also be discerningly prepared to face other limits--to include legal and Constitutional barriers, deeper cultural-moral barriers, and the seemingly exacerbated (and growing) distrust which permeates our current civil-military relations and demoralized military culture (and not just the warp-speed operational tempo and problems of low recruitment and retention).
Amidst such complexities and fearsome mutabilities and uncertainties, the temptations to “terrible simplifications” and the seductions of “the terrible simplifiers” will be very potent, but they are to be maturely and resolutely resisted, especially against an overreaching, rash, and myopic resort to dangerous GNR technologies, whose long-term effects and whose risks of “uncontrolled replication” are still too little known, but are often enough ominous.
This paper has examined such moral hazards and other limits--especially the congealing world-view and doctrine of man put forth by modern sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, and neuroscience--so as to enhance our resilient, truly prudent, and long-range strategic defense of our homeland base and vulnerable lines of communication. Also very important to the paper has been the elucidation of some of these GNR technologies, both individually and in their consilience (or confluence) with other sciences and technologies such as neuroscience, nano-medicine, micro-encapsulation technologies, and information science. Such considerations, I have argued, will help us more humbly and soundly make the indispensable assessments of risk, vulnerability, and threat. What can we afford to lose and how much will it cost us? And what are our moral criteria and standards to measure loss and cost?
Finally (making use of a slightly more technical and metaphorical formulation), we may ask, to what extent might we imprudently produce self-sabotaging “autoimmune problems”, even while eagerly and sincerely striving to implement a strategic defense of our Homeland and moral culture?
Certain self-sabotaging (and soul-congealing) ideologies of modern science and their inherently dangerous GNR technologies present grave moral hazards to a strategic defense-in-depth of the homeland, inclining us to bring about what we are purportedly trying to defend against, to include the further subversion of our Constitutional order by political (and educational) over-centralization and the instrumental destruction of the moral character of the citizen and American fighting man. An adequate doctrine of man and of what man is for--to include a true philosophical (and theological) anthropology rooted in virtue, ontology, and the wisdom of the philosophia perennis--is, I believe, indispensable for a deep defense of the homeland and common good.
Truth matters. Our assumptions about “the purpose of it all” are decisive, and, so, too, our views about human nature and ultimate human purpose. By recalling Jonathan Swift’s profound moral narrative and parable, Gulliver’s Travels, we may further appreciate the importance of our defining doctrine of man.
The narrator of Swift’s parable, Lemuel Gulliver, starts off his tale and trials of adventure animated by a “Rousseauean” and “Pelagian” doctrine of man, or what Arthur O. Lovejoy called the romantic and sentimental doctrine of “soft primitivism”. That is to say, the Nature of man is good, as is. Let him, therefore, have permissive scope, uncorrupted by constraining institutions and uncramped by imperious constricting authorities, and, then, “a thousand flowers will bloom”!
But, as Lemuel Gulliver proceeds to encounter more and more human evil and the various “disproportions” of human malice and other vices--whether on a tiny Liliputian scale or a large Brobdinagian scale--he withdraws more and more into self-imposed isolation, exile, and misanthropy. It is a dangerous, sad, self-sabotaging “isolation of the human soul”, unto despair and insanity.
Having started out with the seductively false premises of “soft primitivism”, Lemuel Gulliver lives out “the inner logic” of these defective premises and winds up with the dark world-view of “hard primitivism” (Arthur O. Lovejoy’s complementary concept). Unlike the “soft primitivism” of Rousseau, Thomas Hobbes’ dark view of “the life of man” in “the State of Nature” is that it is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. So, too, is it the case, in the end, in the perceptions and desolation of Lemuel Gulliver--as Friedrich Nietzsche himself, before his own final insanity, would have so well understood! Start out with “soft primitivism” and you’ll wind up with “hard primitivism”. And you’ll get it “good and hard” (in the words of H.L. Mencken).
Any truly far-sighted, strategic defense-in-depth of the homeland will have to take these deeper issues of philosophical anthropology into account--and be prepared to render an account. And we shall likewise, for the sake of our children, too, have to be ready to give the reasons for the hope that is in us, unto their greater defense. For, the more defenseless someone is, the more that person calls out for our defense.
In light of the powerful influence of modern science--especially the growing sociobiological and neuroscientific view of life and man--and modern science’s increasingly intimate technologies of manipulation, any truly strategic defense-in-depth of our homeland will have to draw upon the depth of our own hearts; and, about the intimate and ultimate matters of moment to man, to draw out, as well, our true convictions. For, we are only as courageous as we are convinced.
--Finis-- © Robert D. Hickson, 2001
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<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> “GNR” constitutes a common shorthand for “Genetic, Nanotech, and Robotic” Technologies, as applied by the guiding hypotheses of modern science, to include sociobiology and neuroscience, both of which are materialist ideologies and increasingly aggressive ones, especially among the younger practitioners and advocates, as we shall see.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Tom Wolfe’s subtle ironies and gradually developing view and attitude, as we shall see, are an illuminating contradistinction to the “boosterism” of Thomas Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree (2000). Keeping his tonic spirit about the borderless Brave New Age, Wolfe is much more skeptical and intrinsically admonitory, as well as corrective. Wolfe, as we shall also soon see, speaks of “Digibabble”; the “Fairy Dust” of the new magical “Little People” of the “Digikingdom”; and “the Human Anthill” without “a Soul”. Friedman, however, speaks of the “Electronic Herd”, “the Fast World”, desirably being an “Integrationist”, and trying to “Democratize Globalization”, and to give greater “access to globalization”; promoting “sustainable globalization” and “greening globalization”. He also speaks of “DOS capital”, “hyperspeed”, “supermarkets” for “finance and foreign policy”, and the necessity of the discipline of “the golden straitjacket”, while somehow trying to preserve your “olive tree”, or rootedness and meaning amidst the speed and flux. We shall soon be examining (in Part IV, especially) two of Tom Wolfe’s profound, finely ironical, and comically coruscating essays: “Digibabble, Fairy Dust, and the Human Anthill”; and “Sorry, but Your Soul Just Died”.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> See especially the first two chapters of Tom Wolfe’s new book, Hooking Up (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000) to appreciate the further nuances of this indecent coupling. Wolfe characteristically works many variations of meaning into this new idiom of the youth. He says, for example: “ ‘Hooking up’ was a term known in the year 2000 to almost every American child over the age of nine…. Among the children, hooking up was always a sexual experience, but the nature and extent of what they did could vary widely” (7). Common characteristics included impersonality, nonchalance, anonymity, selfishness, and frigidity of soul. It implies a degraded and self-degrading copulation or conjunction.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> See Bill Joy, “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us”, in Wired Magazine (April 2000), p. 238. See also, Lord Bertrand Russell’s books, such as The Scientific Outlook (1931), especially his chapter on “Education in a Scientific Society”, and also his bluntly candid, self-revealing book, twenty years later, entitled, The Impact of Science on Society (1951) which treats of “mass psychology”, which he thinks will be “the subject which will be most important politically…. [since] its importance has been enormously increased by the growth of modern methods of propaganda. Of these the most influential is what is called ‘education’.” My friend, Jeffery Steinberg, recently drew my attention to these timely passages and demiurgic works, which even proposed (without irony) a “scientific dictatorship” of the new managerial elite.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> See his essay in Harper’s Magazine (March 1985), pp. 55-60
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> The longer paper (29 pages) was presented in summary form at the January 2000 Joint Service Conference of Professional Ethics, usually known under the acronym, “JSCOPE”. Because of its then (and still) sensitive nature, I refrained from putting it on the Internet, a decision I am now re-considering, however.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> These essays include the following:
“Restless Hebetude and Our Sleepwalking into Servitude: From the Softening Drug Culture to Hard Eugenics” (25 August 2000--34 pages)(presented at Feldkirch, Austria, early September 2000)
“Resisting the Democratic Deception and the Oligarchic ‘Chaos Manager’, and their Seductively Growing Bio-Technologies of Power” (22 October 2000--18 pages)(presented at Salzburg, Austria, late October 2000)
“Strategic Indirect Warfare and Latent Agents of Aggression against Agricultural Targets: The Test and Effects of Spongiform Encephalopathies and Subversive Micro-Organisms Against the Drug Crops” (9 November 2000--33 pages)(presented at the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, early December 2000)
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> A fine phrase from the Honorable Albert Jay Nock, emphasizing the mephitic turpitude and deceitfulness of dim-bulb politicians--especially those who are “inebriated by the exuberance of their own verbosity” and by the manipulation of others under the compulsion of an “utterly flagitious” libido dominandi. As in this instance, the cultivated Nock often charmingly combines learned words and allusions with colloquial diction and idiomatic expressions. He is seldom short of elegant irony, or tonic self-irony.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> These were the categories presented at a Washington D.C. conference some four years ago by a respected intellectual consultant of a well-known Member of Congress. The conference addressed the “hard realities” of the “clear and present” and “further-to-be permeating” Information Age. The threefold hierarchies of precedence, and maybe also of contempt, suggest the ancient spiritual hierarchy of the Gnostics: Pneumatikoi, Psychoi, and Hyloi. See, for example, Hans Jonas’ The Gnostic Religion. For a view of the speed (as distinct from the weight) of our “New Age”, see Thomas Friedman’s recent book of proponency, The Lexus and the Olive Tree? (New York: Anchor Books, April 2000--the newly updated and expanded edition), although even Friedman is admittedly worried about the accelerating rate of change and concomitant sense of weightlessness, or vertigo, as well as our rootlessness and drift, unto despair. The many robots that help make the Japanese car, the Lexus, appear to Freidman to have an advantage over those who would cultivate the Olive Tree, and cherish its roots, and try to increase its fertility.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Albert Jay Nock’s book, Jefferson, published in 1926 (New York: Harcourt Brace—340pp) on the centennial year of Thomas Jefferson’s death, conveys this motif very eloquently and appreciatively. Focusing on Jefferson as a private person, Nock strives to show the man’s true qualities. Nock did not call his book a biography, but “a mere study—a study in conduct and character” (p. 333). For Nock, Jefferson was a “libertarian practitioner of taste and manners” (p. 293) to “whom conduct was three-fourths of life and good taste nine-tenths of conduct.” Summarizing the conduct and character of Jefferson, Albert Jay Nock respectfully says:
A dominant sense of form and order, a commanding instinct for measure, harmony and balance, unfailingly maintained for fourscore years towards the primary facts of human life--towards discipline and training, towards love, parenthood, domesticity, art, science, religion, friendship, business, social and communal relations--will find its final triumph and vindication when confronting the great fact of death…. (p. 329) [At death, too, Jefferson was magnanimous.]
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Speaking of Jefferson’s brief ambassadorship and residence in pre-Revolutionary France, commencing in 1784, Nock says, while also quoting Jefferson, as follows:
Yet, making the most of all that was good in French life, admiring its virtues, delighting oneself in its amenities, one could not feel oneself properly compensated for the missing sense of freedom. There was no freedom in France, and therefore there was no real happiness. The immense majority was in bondage to its masters; the masters were in bondage to vices which were the natural fruit of irresponsibility, and which kept them [i.e., the masters] in a condition really worse that that of those they exploited. “I find the general fate of humanity here most deplorable. The truth of Voltaire’s observation offers itself perpetually, that every man here must be either the hammer or the anvil.” Even the sense of taste and manners, so admirable, so interesting and prepossessing, is superficial and ineffectual in the absence of liberty. (pp. 88-89—my emphasis added)
In this moral and spiritual context, St. Augustine’s well-known words of insight may take on for us a new and clarifying aspect: “We have as many masters as we have vices”—and even moreso when the purported human masters themselves have vices a-plenty, as Jefferson himself observed among the French of the time.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> We may also well imagine what Thomas Jefferson would have foreseen and said about President Jimmy Carter’s 1979 permissive, or promiscuous, Bankruptcy Law, which allowed a citizen to declare bankruptcy without thereby having his own personal assets touched, whereas and while the little family businesses dependent upon him were irrecoverably destroyed. Some of my friends, who were Credit Managers of large and prosperous corporations, at the time, saw in detail the devastating effects of just this one measure, the ill fruits of an improvident law so seemingly inattentive to the selfish propensities of human nature, as it is now constituted, especially--some would say--when it is bereft of grace, or unresponsive to it, and voluntarily uncoöperative. (But, we are touching here upon a mystery.)
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Albert Jay Nock, Jefferson (1926), p. 88--my emphasis added
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> A fine word from Françios Rabelais, who promoted “Pantagruelist education” and the deeper “Spirit of Pantagruelism”, which he defined as “a certain jollity of mind, pickled in the scorn of Fortune.” “Metagrobolize” means to “obscure” or “obfuscate”.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Albert Jay Nock, Jefferson (1926), pp. 267-268--my emphasis added
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Ibid., pp. 268-269--my emphasis added
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Ibid., p. 269--my emphasis added
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Ibid., pp. 269-270--my emphasis added
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Ibid., p. 270--my emphasis added
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Nevertheless, John Dewey gave surprising attention to Nock’s radically counter-cultural book in his several comments in the 13 April 1932 issue of The New Republic (pp. 242-244), saying, for example, as follows: “Since anything Mr. Nock writes is worth pondering both for its style … and for substance, it is to be hoped that the extreme exaggeration [?] of his book will not repel educators and trainers from giving it serious consideration.” Would that Dewey had also been more convinced by Nock’s humanistic, strategic, and moral-cultural arguments--and, also, Dewey’s far less gifted ideological disciples and “social engineers” still running amok in our “educationalist Nomenklatura”, still thriving all about us!
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> This is Nock’s own plucky phrase. And we may recall what Karl Marx once waggishly said: “Serfs up!” and “They also surf who stand and wait”, in apparent mockery of the Protestant Capitalist Poet, John Milton. Or, so my colorful authorities tell me.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Professor Michael McConnell expressed these very significant insights during our long trip together in the car from Yale University, where we had been together at a Federalist Society Meeting, and while on the way back to our duties in Washington D.C. Also in the car, and driving, was Stephen Galebach, a Harvard Law School Graduate, former Marine Officer, and himself a later official of the Reagan White House and in the Department of Justice.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> See Wired Magazine (April 2000), pp. 238-240, 242-244, 246, 248, 250, 254, 256, 258, and 262. See also, p. 247 for another cautionary essay, an abridged version of a longer essay, both of which are entitled “A Tale of Two Botanies”, by Amory B. Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins. These authors also want us to resist the hubris and dangerous experimentation in modern agriculture, as their sense of ecology sees it.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> “Nano” implies a very small size, 10-12, one billionth of a meter or gram or second, and a nanotechnologist is involved in the science and technology of building electronic circuits and devices from single atoms and molecules.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Naturalism in the philosophical sense means, essentially, that system of thought which holds that all phenomena can be explained in terms of natural causes and laws alone. Naturalism in the theological sense means that all religious truths are derived from nature and natural causes, and not from Divine Revelation or the aids of supernatural Grace.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> See Sir Arnold Lunn, Revolutionary Socialism in Theory and Practice (London: The Right Book Club, 1939), pp. 217-235 on “the philosophic bases” of “dialectical idealism” and “dialectical materialism”, in Chapter XXI, especially, pp. 231 and 234. At the very end of his chapter, he says:
If there was no intelligence presiding over the beginning of the world process, it is impossible to suggest any natural method, dialectical or otherwise, for the introduction of reason, thought and consciousness into an irrational universe of inorganic matter. (p. 234) (The words of Sir Arnold Lunn, commenting on the influential book of Sir Arthur Balfour--my emphasis added.)
See, also the profound pages from Alexandre Solzhenitsyn’s, The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956 (New York: Harper & Row, 1973)--Part I, Chapter 4 (“The Bluecaps”, especially pp. 173-178. Solzhenitsyn speaks of how ideology contributes a principle of unlimit to evil and evildoers. For example, “The imagination and spiritual strength of Shakespeare’s evildoers [Macbeth, Iago, et.al.] stopped short at a dozen corpses. Because they had no ideology” (174). “Macbeth’s self-justifications were feeble--and his conscience devoured him. Yes even Iago was a little lamb too…. Ideology--that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination…. Thanks to ideology, the twentieth century was fated to experience evildoing on a scale calculated in millions. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and others’ eyes…. That [limit] is the precise line the Shakespearean evildoer could not cross. But the evildoer with ideology does cross it, and his eyes remain dry and clear.”)( 173-174)
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Nature, 382 (8 August 1996) p. 496 In the summer of 1999, when Dr. Kauffman and I met in Santa Fe, New Mexico at his newly established BIOS Group, he emphasized how easily in biology “a signal” can be turned to “a poison”. He had just come from years at the Santa Fe Institute and we were speaking about “indirect, strategic biological warfare.” See Stuart Kauffman’s two excellent books on complexity theory and much more: (1) The Origins of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution (1993); and (2) At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity (1995). The latter work is more accessible to the general reader. Both books should be savored.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> It is significant that H.G. Wells’ final book is entitled The Mind at the End of its Tether. It is a book of despair, and of sad, defeated self- renunciation.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Tom Wolfe, Hooking Up (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2000) The book is a mixture of fiction and non-fiction, to include a novella, although most of the entries are non- fiction. The book is partitioned into the following five sections, in order: “Hooking Up”, “The Human Beast”, “Vita Robusta, Ars Anorexia”, “Ambush at Fort Bragg: A Novella”, and “The New Yorker Affair”. The two essays we shall now examine come from the second section, “The Human Beast”.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Back in March 1988, the Army War College Journal, Parameters, published an excellent essay by Tom Wolfe, entitled, “The Meaning of Freedom”--and wisely published it as the lead article. Earlier in the autumn of 1987, Tom Wolfe had delivered a talk to the cadets at West Point, with the same title--and this talk he later slightly revised for written publication. It is a brilliant article, to be read again in our current context. For example, the last of the four freedoms he discussed in the Parameters article--“the 4th Freedom”--was, he said, not “freedom of religion, but, rather, freedom from religion”--a new liberation ideology, as it were, with grave effects, especially on the culture of the military, as “sentinels at the bacchanal”, against the “new Huns” from within and from without.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Once again, Tom Wolfe’s subtle ironies and gradually developing point of view and attitude are an illuminating contradistinction to the un-ironical enthusiasm and the “boosterism” of Thomas Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree (2000). Notice Wolfe’s title word, “Digibabble”, for example, in contrast to Friedman’s unfazed promotion of “the golden straitjacket” for the sake of progress and development.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> There were others, I believe, also working in this direction, and not only people like Norbert Wiener and John von Neumann, but other members of “The Cybernetics Group”, sponsored by the Josiah Macy Foundation and known among its members as “The Man-Machine Project”; and there were also such things as “the Research Laboratory of Electronics” and “Artificial Intelligence Lab”, both at MIT. My friend, Jeffrey Steinberg, allowed me to read a draft of his paper on this important topic--soon to be published, I hope.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> For those who wish to read more about this hypothesis, “his great work, The Phenomenon of Man” (71) is still in print, although “his great masterwork” (71) by a man with “a certain shady eminence” (71) had already, for years, circulated “sub rosa, sotto voce, in a Jesuit samizdat” (71), say Wolfe. It was a kind of “forbidden fruit”, an alluring “underground classic”.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> I just chanced on these apt words in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th Edition), p. 952.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> You will remember P.G. Wodehouse’s Leave It to Psmith, a delightfully comic novel. “The ‘P’ is silent.”
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> See Hooking Up, p. 90, for a description of these technologies and techniques.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Descartes’ famous formula implies that “thinking is prior to being”--“I think, therefore, I am--I exist”, which is itself a very subversive (and contumelious) principle and conduces to ingratitude, if not to the corrosion of hopelessness. Many things follow when existence itself is not received as a gift.