Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gerald R. Ford (1913-2006)

Gary Varvel

Heading into the Past

Byron passes along an article by James Howard Kunstler, writing for Orion Magazine, who argues that because so much of our present culture is centered around the gasoline engine and because gasoline is going to become increasingly expensive to market in the years ahead, our future will be very different from the present but, perhaps, surprisingly similar to our past.

Whether Kunstler is correct or not about oil supplies being outstripped by demand, I think he's right that we need to begin now to become less dependent upon it. I also believe that he's correct when he asserts that there's not much hope that alternative fuels will be able, by themselves, to sustain our current standard of living.

I especially liked this:

If you really want to understand the U.S. public's penchant for wishful thinking, consider this: We invested most of our late twentieth-century wealth in a living arrangement with no future. American suburbia represents the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. The far-flung housing subdivisions, commercial highway strips, big-box stores, and all the other furnishings and accessories of extreme car dependence will function poorly, if at all, in an oil-scarce future. Period.

This dilemma now entails a powerful psychology of previous investment, which is prompting us to defend our misinvestments desperately, or, at least, preventing us from letting go of our assumptions about their future value. Compounding the disaster is the unfortunate fact that the manic construction of ever more futureless suburbs (a.k.a. the "housing bubble") has insidiously replaced manufacturing as the basis of our economy.

In other words, our exalted standard of living and our related way of life are unsustainable and will at some point collapse. It's hard to see how this can be avoided given the growing world demand for oil.

Our dependence upon the gasoline engine is surely going to have to change. Mass transit, electric cars, nuclear energy, less sprawl, and more urban living are all in our future, and I think that's a good thing. On the other hand, I think there will be much greater use of coal, at least for a time, and much pressure to lower emissions standards for motor vehicles and coal-burning facilities. That won't be so good.

Although he doesn't put it quite this way, Kunstler's vision implies a return to the nineteen thirties' through fifties' style of social organization, decentralized government, local control, and dependence upon family and community rather than government. This may sound shocking to some who have been reciting for decades the conventional wisdom that we can't turn back the clock, but it should warm the hearts of those conservatives who want to see us at least try.

It would warm mine if I thought the transition would be painless, but I'm afraid it won't be. In fact, I fear that it will be quite convulsive with violence from both within and without instigated by enemies who will seek to take every advantage of our instability.

The challenge will be to dampen the convulsions as much as possible and to maintain our power as we do so. This will not be an easy task, but that the challenge is looming within the next decade or so seems all but certain. Read Kunstler's article and see if you don't agree.

Ideas Have Offspring

Christianity Today has a review by Edward Oakes of Richard Weikart's new book From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany the thesis of which is that Darwin's ideas led pretty much directly to the holocaust. It's a thesis guaranteed to produce howls of protest from Darwinians, but one which Oakes' review certainly confirms:

According to the myths of standard historiography, Darwin confined himself strictly to matters biological-even in The Descent of Man, when he finally came, late in life, to apply his theory to man's place in the evolutionary tree. So whatever damage came to the poor and downtrodden from Darwin's theory is due to others, above all Herbert Spencer. Here, in Spencer, can be found the villain of the piece: that second-rate thinker ruined a perfectly good biological theory by hijacking it for cutthroat capitalism, contempt for the poor, laissez-faire lassitude about social legislation, and so forth. Spencer, the claim goes, was the first to transpose ethics into evolutionary terms, defining as good whatever promoted the "progress" of evolution and as bad whatever hindered it.

Unfortunately for Darwin's own reputation, this thesis does not bear scrutiny. Spencer might well have been the first to coin the phrase "survival of the fittest." But Darwin enthusiastically adopted it in the 6th edition of his Origin of Species as a substitute term for "natural selection." Nor did he ever demur when other advocates of evolution's social application came pleading their case. Karl Marx asked if he might dedicate Das Kapital to Darwin, which request Darwin declined only because he did not want to offend the religious sensibilities of his deeply Christian wife.

Nor were Darwin's own musings on the social implications of his theory limited to private correspondence. In one particularly chilling passage in Descent of Man he asserted, "At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races." Even more ominously, this insouciantly expressed sentiment cannot be regarded as an illegitimate conclusion from the earlier and more reliable Origin of Species.

In a passage historians often cite to prove that at the time of the Origin Darwin was still struggling to maintain his belief in God, Darwin actually, if unwittingly, promulgated the charter for all later social Darwinists: "Let the strongest live and the weakest die.... Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows." In effect, this passage turns Christian theodicy on its head and gives St. Paul's line "Death is swallowed up in victory" a total reversal of meaning. Victory now belongs only to the fittest.

Don't miss Oakes' review. It's lengthy, but it's chock full of important information establishing the link between Darwin and the social Darwinists and through them to Nietzsche and ultimately the Nazis. Every twentieth century Western calamity seems traceable to some 18th or 19th century philosophical enthusiasm, and the Nazis' "final solution" is no exception.