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Escoffier on “Was Marriage 1.0 Dysgenic?”

Nova has covered the religious objections to the “Marriage 1.0 is Dysgenic” thesis, and he asked me to say a few words about what (non-corrupt) philosophy might say.

The gist of the thesis seems to be another reductionist account of man. Two such ideas are equated, first the homo economicus or “rational actor” thesis of the economists—man always seeks to maximize his monetary well-being in the most efficient manner possible—and second, a kind of social Darwinism centered around “good genes”, the latter defined as more or less the brutish or assertive side of alpha.

In no particular order:

First—and this is a very common problem in ’sphere discourses—it is far from evident that characteristically “thug alpha” traits are in fact “eugenic.”  Yet too often the ’sphere seems to take this for granted: “alpha” is better.  Well, some is and some isn’t; and sometimes some is, and other times it isn’t.  And sometimes one kind of alpha is good while at other times it is bad, and other times other kinds of alpha are good or necessary, but harmful elsewhere.  In other words, it’s not so simple and depends very much on a range of circumstances.

It’s been pointed out many times that beta traits are the sine qua non of civilization.  If we hold civilization to be good (an important philosophic point to which I will return) then it must follow that those traits which are essential to the establishment and maintenance of civilization must also be good (in the sense of necessary to a higher good) and hence cannot be “dysgenic.”  That these traits are not always attractive to women, and are often even actively repulsive to women—this alone does not make them “dysgenic.”  Rather, what it suggests is that women’s attraction vectors, for whatever reason, sometimes and in some ways veer toward the dysgenic and way from the eugenic.

Broadly speaking, three possible reasons for this seemingly perverse “veering” away from the stable and good are proffered: the ev-psych, the Biblical, and the classical-philosophic explanations.  The latter two have much in common.  The first seems to stand out.

The underlying assumption of the ev-psych explanation is that humans are simply bio-mechanical beings (“bio-mechanics is God”) seeking to reproduce and nothing else.  Hence, if thug-alpha traits are more effective at spreading seed, then they are “eugenic.”  If civilizational-beta traits are not as effective at spreading seed, they are “dysgenic,” full stop.  Now, the obvious problem with this is that it assumes that man is no different in kind, only in degree, from the other animals—we are nothing more than exceptionally clever apes.  This is incoherent on a number of levels which I will address.

The Biblical explanation for why women are attracted to thug traits is that women, no less than men, have a fallen nature, but that women have particular failings of their own.  That is, human nature is itself fallen in ways that are common to both sexes, and then it is also fallen in ways that are specific to or characteristic of each sex.  And that of course includes women as well as men.

This idea has been hashed through thoroughly in recent posts on Dalrock’s blog and I am semi-convinced that it is THE most important insight that the ’sphere has to offer our blinkered contemporary discourse.  We contemporary people have no problem whatsoever naming, describing, ridiculing, and reveling in all the ways men can be pigs.  It’s one of the most persistent themes of pop culture.  But we are in absolute full denial that there are any vices that are characteristic of the female sex. This may be THE biggest blind spot in our culture.

I and others have bumped up against resistance to this idea many times among nominally “red pill” women bloggers and commenters.  Many of them simply bristle at any suggestion that women have their own characteristic vices which men in general do not share.  They especially bristle at the suggestion that any of those vices were sexual in nature.  According to this view, which is really the broad cultural view, there human vices such as greed, pettiness, envy and such, which are common to both sexes.  And then there are some characteristically male vices, such as a propensity for violence.  But there NO corresponding or parallel characteristically female vices.  And, really, the acknowledgement that even females are subject to the basic human vices is often nothing more than lip service.  Women, like the culturati generally, know that the reality of sin in both sexes must be acknowledged to maintain credibility.  Like the way anyone who’s proud of a particular person or nation or institution says “Of course X has done some bad things, who hasn’t, but look at his fantastic record of A, B, C and so on and on.”  Everything before the word “but” is just rhetoric to deflect a likely attack or rejoinder.  What the culture really believes is that women are FAR less prone even to the vices common to both sexes than are men.  This fits in with Dalrock’s frequent criticism of Christian leaders who insist that women are inherently pure.

The truth about vice is, it seems to me, is that there are vices that are more or less evenly spread across both sexes.  Then there are vices which both sexes share but that are more prevalent in one or the other. And finally there are vices that are characteristic—not merely prevalent but characteristic—of one sex or the other.

The culture can admit the second and third points, but only when it comes to men.  This is a long digression and I’m going to make it slightly longer, but where does that come from?  The roots are deep but I want to examine one of the upper layers for a moment.  Basically, it’s obvious to anyone who’s not a complete idiot that men are responsible for nearly everything tangible that makes up civilization—whether that be technology, cities, sewage systems, running water, the arts, literature—everything.  Hence there is an implicit acknowledgement that men must be superior, at the very last at the non-trivial task of building and maintaining civilization.  You don’t even have to say this aloud or make any kind of argument.  All you have to do is be awake enough to notice that men have built and done all this stuff and women have not and the mind naturally admires these accomplishments more than their lack.  And so the mind defaults to admiring men more than women.

Or, look at it this way.  Imagine humans finally learn to do interplanetary travel and we find a plant with two very similar looking beings.  They look almost the same.  But one set of them has built cities and a civilization and the other set of them is living in caves and trees.  We would naturally, instantly, unconsciously classify the first set as superior and the second as inferior.

And the fact (if it is a fact) that men would not or could not have done all they have done without women around is irrelevant to this point.  The fact remains that men are the efficient cause of civilization.  Male hands built it and maintain it.  Everyone sees this with their own two eyes.

This sense then that men are winners or are superior collides with various late modern corruptions of certain older ideals, not least equality, humility and noblesse oblige.  The equality point is obvious.  If all people are equal, and if the sexes are equal, then only two conclusions can follow: either civilization is just not that important, not important enough so that the building and maintenance of it is enough to make men superior to women; or else the reason men have accomplished so much relative to women must be oppression.  I.e., either the alleged accomplishment is not really an accomplishment at all; or if it is, it is the result of injustice.  Actually there is a third response which is relatively trivial, and that is to troll through history to find examples of female accomplishment which demonstrate equality and allege that they are under-appreciated because of oppression.  The obvious problem with this line of thinking is that there just aren’t that many examples.  And once you exhaust the genuine ones that really are on a par with the peaks of male accomplishment (e.g., the novels of Austen or the statesmanship of Elizabeth I), you have to start elevating lesser examples and alleging that they are equal to men’s; for instance, Mary Cassat = Monet (nothing against Cassat, I like her work, but she is not a top-rank artist).  And EVEN THEN you run out of examples fairly quickly.  You become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of male accomplishment with respect to female, at every level.  See, for instance, Charles Murray’s Human Accomplishment for a vivid cataloguing of this point.

So, again, of these three options, the first blows itself out fairly quickly when thought through.  The idea that civilization is valueless, beyond being absurd, is contradicted every day by the way people live.  Nearly all of us don’t want to revert to “noble savagery” even though a small minority of intellectuals still romanticize it (it’s not a coincidence that the root philosopher of the noble savage, Rousseau, is also the implicit founder of the Romantic movement),  So that one goes pretty quickly.  The third is really just an exercise in tu quoquebean counting.  It’s enough to sustain some trivial academic careers and has been very corruptive of intellectual discourse but it’s ultimately not that powerful.

That leaves the second: oppression.  This remains very popular in our time and it plays into the other element that I mentioned.  If men are obviously superior—whether that arises from nature or oppression—then it must follow then men have an obligation to be gracious about that—self-deprecating, modest, humble, deferential, and so forth.  (I want to pause to point out another contradiction, namely that even if the differential in accomplishment is owing to oppression, then there must be SOME ways in which men are superior because oppression requires that.  The weak do not oppress the strong without the strong’s consent.  This argument can devolve into an apologia for tyranny and I don’t want to digress further, merely to point out the problem.)

 All right, so men are obviously superior to women in nearly all forms of human accomplishment, hence it’s incumbent on men to downplay or even deny their superiority.  This is akin to basic good manners of, say, a star athlete not treating all the rest of his classmates like ants, except in this case on a societal scale.

 What has gone horribly wrong, however, is that societally we have come to “believe our own bullshit” as the saying goes.  That is, what began is a kind of good manners—don’t rub women’s noses in the fact that men invented the automobile and everything else—has now reached absurd levels of denial and false counter-narrative. Now we are actually expected to believe the equality thesis even when our eyes see the opposite every day. (Again, this is a perverted idea of equality, but I won’t go into that now.)

The way this plays out in every day conversation and discourse is, we emphasize, exaggerate and even outright make up ways in which men are bad.  And we deemphasize, downplay, and even outright deny the ways in which women are or can be bad.  Tear down the strong, build up the weak.  The initial impulse to do so is again good manners, coupled with the idea that our belief in the moral principle of equality demands as much.  But naturam expelles furcatamen usque recurret.  No matter how much we try to equalize the sexes, natural inequality keeps reasserting itself.  So before long it’s evident that it’s not enough for men to be a little deferential and to help out the ladies on the margins.  No, we have to actively tamp men down and actively prop women up.  And even that doesn’t equalize things.  So the pressure is always on for more, more, more.  More punitive actions against men, and more subsidies and AA and so on for women.  What Dalrock calls the “massive pumping operation” to level the waters.  Even with the pumps running 24/7, the waters still don’t even out fully.

That is, in my view, the top-layer explanation of why we insist on bashing men in all public discourse and pedestalizing women.  The same dynamic incidentally works for every group which exhibits different (inferior) outcomes again and again across a range of issues: lionize that group’s achievements, elevate the trivial ones to the level of real achievement, deny all its shortcomings, attack anyone who brings them up.

All right, back on track now.  The third explanation for why women’s attraction triggers veer in unhelpful directions is the classical-philosophic, which rather frankly says that while women are no less human than men, they are nonetheless less rational, and rationality is THE defining trait of man.  This is all rather shocking to modern ears, which is but one reason why classical philosophy is either condemned, or else this point is simply skipped, as if it didn’t exist.  Or, dismissed as “a product of their times.”  I’ve been looking into this for a while now, after 25+ years of reading the classics, and while there is not much, I have found things that are highly consistent with ’sphere findings, above all that passage in Xenophon that I blogged about for this site.

So where is this going?  Basically, the Biblical idea that man is made in the image of God and the classical teaching that man is not a mere animal but the highest of the earthly beings precisely because of his reason or logos are highly compatible, not to say identical.  Surely, “image of God” does not mean that God has arms and legs and a head.  Rather, it means that God is a thinking being, a moral being, a contemplative being who grasps the whole—the material essence of the whole and the meaning or normative aspects of the whole—both the IS and the OUGHT.  Man is made in the image of God in that he can do the same things, obviously to magnitudinally lesser degree, but the scope of the inquiry, the outline of the things under study, is the same.

What this means, and I apologize for how long it’s taken me to get to this, the decisive point, is that man is not merely another animal but the difference between man and beast is fundamentally one of kind, not degree.  The same type of gap that separates man from the beast, and sets man above the beasts, also separates man from God and sets him below God.

Hence, civilizationally useful traits cannot be “dysgenic” for man as man but only for man as beast.  The very claim that the species thrives when thug-alpha traits rule seems implausible at best even on that idea’s own terms.  For, reproductively speaking, the human population has exploded with civilization, after millennia of being comparatively tiny.  So, even by the reproductive success standard, beta traits would appear to be evolutionarily eugenic and not the opposite.

Man is what he is by virtue of his reason and the product of his reason is civilization.  Because man has a body, he has appetites, some of them low, others neutral but abusable.  Because man’s reason is imperfect, he is tempted to focus on his appetites and passions to the exclusion of his higher self.  To the extent that civilizational restraints are weak or absent, he will do this more rather than less.

For the Bible, the meaning of life is to live in harmony with God’s word and to understand the meaning of God’s word and to experience His love.  For the pagan philosophers, the meaning of life is contemplation of the whole and of the idea of the good.  There is a kinship here which is light-years away from bio-mechanical determinism.  Civilization is therefore not the very highest thing; it is a necessary but insufficient condition of the highest life.  But it is truly NECESSARY, apart from being beautiful, majestic and wonderful in itself. Hence to say that civilizational-beta traits are dysgenic is to deny the nature of man.  It is to be in unconscious league with corrosive modernity.  I never ceased to be amazed at how nearly all persistent critics of our present corruption turn out to be moderns underneath it all.  Modernity runs deep, everywhere you look or dig.

There is implicit in the idea under discussion that “nature” means—and only means—“whatever happens without thought, deliberation, choice or constraint.”  So, remove all sanction, strip away reason, and let man act according to his base appetites and passions, that is “natural.”  But man acting rationally, morally, building civilization, getting and staying married, raising and education children, creating and appreciating great art, worshiping God and so on—these things are not “natural.”  Perhaps not actively unnatural or anti-natural, but at best ancillary to nature, purely man-made and conventional.  There is, again, something of Rousseau in this, for whom civilization is the “barnacles on the statue” (Discourse on Inequality, Preface) and the purpose of the social contract is to serve as a necessary evil, to restore to man those aspects of pre-political life that can be restored within the civilizational framework.  The “clock cannot be turned back” and for Rousseau, this is a tragedy.

Ironically, Rousseau thought he was restoring, to the extent possible in the modern world, a classical understanding of man.  But it appears to me to be flatly against the classical notion of nature and, I believe, flatly wrong.  What is natural to man, above all, is what is highest in man.  It’s absurd to insist that the one being who can build civilization, read and write, philosophize and worship God—the only being in the entire universe that we know of who can do these and many other things—is acting unnaturally when he does so. These activities are natural to man and to no other physical being.

The reason we moderns are so myopically stupid on this point is that we have spent 500 years in denial of two of Aristotle’s four fundamental causes, the formal and the final causes.  The only way out of the present morass is to see clearly that classical metaphysics is true and modern metaphysics is wrong.

Finally, and this is a related point, the whole notion of “dysgenic” v. “eugenic” is inherently incoherent except on ultimately classical grounds.  For what makes one outcome “good” and the other “bad”?  We need some standard for evaluating and judging and bio-mechanics does not provide such a standard.  Only classical philosophy and the Bible do.  And the conclusion they would come to is that a world dominated by the alpha thug traits is not “good.”

11 Responses

  1. Höllenhund

    Well, I mean no disrespect, but yes, this IS long-winded.

  2. Lightning Round – 2014/08/20 | Free Northerner

    […] 1.0 was not dysgenic. Related: Career women are […]

  3. Jenny


  4. SfcTon

    Not really sure where these themes are mutually exclusive.

  5. Nemester

    I posted this article in the darkenlightenment subreddit and figured I would share my comment here as well.

    >Hence, if thug-alpha traits are more effective at spreading seed, then they are “eugenic.” If civilizational-beta traits are not as effective at spreading seed, they are “dysgenic,” full stop.<

    I think there is a misunderstanding about what eugenics means in your article. Or else, the average person in the manosphere does not quite get it. Eugenics is not the same as natural selection. Natural selection is mindless and will favor whichever traits work better in an environment. It doesn't care about civilization, only successful reproduction.

    Eugenics implies that humans actively manipulate the environment to promote traits that they have determined are good based on practical and rational analysis. For example, civilization is good and we can determine which traits are better for civilization and set up our policies and laws to make sure people with those traits have the most children. (for example, biblical marriage). How do you determine what is good? Maybe classical philosophy like you suggest.

    We do the same thing with our agricultural plants like corn or apples. We select the plants that have the biggest nicest fruit. However, the plants we choose to be most successful often would not survive very well in the wild. A man made system is needed to govern fertility and survival or else the plants would die or weaken. Natural selection and artificial selection (eugenics when applied to humans) thus diverge in the ultimate evolution of the plants.

    Left to its own devices, there is no reason to think that natural selection would favor the same traits that a rational eugenicist would choose. To say that anything natural selection happens to favor is "eugenic" and anything that it doesn't favor is "dysgenic" betrays a lack of understanding of a subtlety of the term. In many cases there is a lot of overlap between what a eugenicist would choose and natural selection would mindlessly favor, but not in all cases. Alpha traits having an advantage is a very good example of the divergence between what the eugenicist would choose and what natural selection would favor.

  6. Sam

    Men have the propensity for violence as their vice, which sex specific.vice do women have?

  7. ElectricAngel

    I wonder if you have read “The Difference of man and the difference it makes,” by Mortimer Adler? He makes the same point about man, that language separates us. en archei Ein ho logos.

    This article’s going in the Evernote.

  8. Escoffier

    Adler got it from Aristotle, which is where I got it (via my teachers, of course).

  9. Escoffier

    Nemester, I was trying to use the terms in the same sense in which the post that both Nova and I responded to used them. I am not, I admit, particularly well versed in genetics. FWIW, I did read Origin of Species in grad school and took a very informative class on evolution. Haven’t really studied it with any care since then, beyond reading certain pop-gen blogs.

    In any case, I see what you mean and I think it basically agrees with what I wrote. The original argument was that “beta” (or civilizational) traits are “dysgenic” because they lead to low fertility (women don’t want to bang men who are civilizationally competent but boring, among other reasons). And, it is probably true that “alpha” traits would do better in the wild than “beta” traits.

    But human beings are not wild animals, our purpose is not merely to reproduce. We have a special, unique status among all the living beings, one that is not reducible to mere biology.

    It’s not that beta traits are genuinely “dysgenic.” It’s that we as a civilization have lost touch with our true nature, the full complexity of our nature, and hence have lost confidence in those ideas and principles—truths—that used to undergird civilization. The result is a perverse combination. On the one hand, “civilization” or modernity is better than ever at “the conquest of nature for the relief of man’s estate.” On the other hand, we use the techno-trappings of modernity to animalize man and make life all about the satisfaction of base instincts. That’s the ugly reality, but it’s not “dysgenic,” it’s primarily a failure of thought, a failure to live how we ought to live, according to our full nature.

  10. Exfernal

    “Men have the propensity for violence as their vice, which sex specific.vice do women have?”

    The ‘common core’ to these labels: manipulation, two-facedness, deceit.

  11. The pretty lies of Chultu | Dark Brightness

    […] What has gone horribly wrong, however, is that societally we have come to “believe our own bullshit” as the saying goes. That is, what began is a kind of good manners—don’t rub women’s noses in the fact that men invented the automobile and everything else—has now reached absurd levels of denial and false counter-narrative. Now we are actually expected to believe the equality thesis even when our eyes see the opposite every day. (Again, this is a perverted idea of equality, but I won’t go into that now.) […]

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