Being Wrong

When I read the founding texts of Western Liberalism, I’m often struck by how right they were about some things. Read Rousseau and you see that the men of the Enlightenment were figuring out evolution long before Darwin came along. They did not call it evolution and they were not approaching it from a biological perspective, but they understood there was a period before human settlement. They knew that period of human organization required different men than the world at that time produced.

That said, they got some big stuff wrong too. The “state of nature” was nothing like Hobbes imagined. It was not men in a constant state of warfare against one another. Of course, the blank slate stuff upon which Rousseau built his moral philosophy is, we now know, complete nonsense. We are what our DNA instructs, for the most part. There’s not only variation between people, there’s diversity between groups of people due to generations of inherited traits, within isolated groups of humans.

There are two things to learn from that. One is that tens of millions of people were murdered because Rousseau was completely wrong about the nature of man. That’s a big mistake. The other take away is that even when a theory seems to explain what we observe, it could still be wildly wrong. For instance, the ruins at Gobekli Tepe are forcing archaeologists and historians to rethink the civilization timeline.

On the day I visit, a bespectacled Belgian man sits at one end of a long table in front of a pile of bones. Joris Peters, an archaeozoologist from the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, specializes in the analysis of animal remains. Since 1998, he has examined more than 100,000 bone fragments from Gobekli Tepe. Peters has often found cut marks and splintered edges on them—signs that the animals from which they came were butchered and cooked. The bones, stored in dozens of plastic crates stacked in a storeroom at the house, are the best clue to how people who created Gobekli Tepe lived. Peters has identified tens of thousands of gazelle bones, which make up more than 60 percent of the total, plus those of other wild game such as boar, sheep and red deer. He’s also found bones of a dozen different bird species, including vultures, cranes, ducks and geese. “The first year, we went through 15,000 pieces of animal bone, all of them wild. It was pretty clear we were dealing with a hunter-gatherer site,” Peters says. “It’s been the same every year since.” The abundant remnants of wild game indicate that the people who lived here had not yet domesticated animals or farmed.

But, Peters and Schmidt say, Gobekli Tepe’s builders were on the verge of a major change in how they lived, thanks to an environment that held the raw materials for farming. “They had wild sheep, wild grains that could be domesticated—and the people with the potential to do it,” Schmidt says. In fact, research at other sites in the region has shown that within 1,000 years of Gobekli Tepe’s construction, settlers had corralled sheep, cattle and pigs. And, at a prehistoric village just 20 miles away, geneticists found evidence of the world’s oldest domesticated strains of wheat; radiocarbon dating indicates agriculture developed there around 10,500 years ago, or just five centuries after Gobekli Tepe’s construction.

To Schmidt and others, these new findings suggest a novel theory of civilization. Scholars have long believed that only after people learned to farm and live in settled communities did they have the time, organization and resources to construct temples and support complicated social structures. But Schmidt argues it was the other way around: the extensive, coordinated effort to build the monoliths literally laid the groundwork for the development of complex societies.

The model of human development has been based on the idea that humans began to learn how to farm and domesticate animals while living as hunter gatherers. Groups of humans figured out that they could improve their prospects by cultivating wild crops, thus providing a hedge against the bad times. This led to the slow development of cooperative societies and eventually settled agriculture-based communities. Large scale social organization beyond blood relations happened after agriculture, not before.

The existence of large structures requiring lots of people working together over a long period of time, perhaps across generations, before the advent of agriculture is a big deal. It means cooperation is the result of something other than economic necessity. In other words, people started cooperating for some reason other than it made for better living conditions. The theory presented in the linked story suggest the motivation was spiritual. The people who built Gobekli Tepe did it to please the gods in some way.

This may not sound like a big deal, but consider that the last 300 or so years of Western political debate has been between Team homo economicus and Team homo reciprocans. If both are just manifestations of a basic human drive for spiritual salvation, then basing economic and political systems on either is only going to end in tears, which would be a good way to describe the 100 million or so dead trying to prove Rousseau was right. It means our self-interest and cooperation are bound by something else.

I’ve written a lot about how our ideological impulses are just channels through which our natural religious impulse flows. Those of us less inclined to believe, tend toward political skepticism. Those more inclined to believe, tend towards mass movements like socialism, communism, libertarianism, etc. Much of what vexes the modern West is the deluded belief that we have evolved past our superstitions and spiritual impulses. Maybe that’s all wrong and maybe it is important.

31 thoughts on “Being Wrong

  1. “I’ve written a lot about how our ideological impulses are just channels through which our natural religious impulse flows. Those of us less inclined to believe, tend toward political skepticism. Those more inclined to believe, tend towards mass movements like socialism, communism, libertarianism, etc.”

    I don’t think I agree. Those whom I know who are very religious, including myself in this, tend to be very conservative in their political leanings, with a healthy dose of skepticism. Those I know whom are atheist, agnostic, or loosely tied to religious life, tend to be leftist/progressive, socialists, etc.

    What is that saying? If you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything? Easy extrapulation, If you believe in nothing, you will believe in anything. Religion is a cultural anchor. Without it, most of us are adrift.

    • I agree with you, Kathleen. Progressivism has become a religion for those who sneer at God. People with an actual spiritual component to their lives tend to be conservative.

    • I agree, but I try to keep my posts to a certain length and this is a topic I could do a week’s worth of posts on. To your point, yes, many with a high degree of belief channel it into conventional religion, rather than politics/social causes. The result is they are skeptical or politics in general and repulsed by Progressive causes.

  2. Hola Z!

    I have been fascinated by Gobekli Tepe for nearly 10 years, since I stumbled upon the site at that time. I was trying to track down the possible location of and timing of the domestication of grasses into grain cultivars. The find at Gobleki Tepe, and the precision of the stonework and the quality and representational accuracy of the bas reliefs is stunning. And the dating, circa 12K to 13K yeas ago blew up all my beliefs on the relationship between agriculture, beer and the development of civilization because it predated earliest known grain cultivars by at least 2,000 years!. I had always believed (H. Economicus) that the development process had been domestication of grains and bovines simultaneously, followed by the accidental discovery of beer. This, I thought, might have led to development of technocrats (farmers, brewers, etc.) and shortly, military castes and proto-urbanism because of the need to defend the beer, the bread and the beasts.

    I really enjoyed reading Curry’s article (in the link above) about Schmidt’s discoveries and subsequent theories about the relationship between belief-worship-temples because it brings closure to a question that had been open in my mind for a long time. Now, where we go from here is an entirely different issue…

  3. Hey, you made it onto Instapundit! Glen should dump that twerp Driscoll, and let you post there 😛

    • IIRC, Driscoll is a regular reader. They have linked to me in the past, but more so lately. Eventually, everyone will be assimilated into the Z Blog.

    • Z “Made it”, into Instapundit?
      I guess you mean “cited by”. …or something.
      Imagine this,
      Maralyn Vos Savant “Made it” into Parade Magazine.

  4. I’ve always loved the paradox of homo economicus. It’s a dogma of the anti-religious, and compared to, say, an English professor’s faith in Karl Marx, Torquemada was wishy-washy about Catholicism. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Reductionism is the intellectual’s original sin — as David Stove put it, the very second someone discovers a causal factor in human affairs, along comes some “intellectual” to declare that this is the ONLY causal factor in human affairs….after which, he could’ve added, that “intellectual’s” disciples start killing unbelievers. Want to improve the world? Teach your kids that it’s OK to say “I don’t know.”

    • The problem with economics is few, if any, economists can understand the limits of their narrow models. I’ve yet to encounter an economist who was not blinkered. Tyler Cowen is a fun guy to read because he simply cannot look up and see what’s going on around him.

      • I’ve seen people quoting him (usually to make fun of him). He strikes me as the same as the What’s the Matter with Kansas? guy — just as Thomas Frank can’t grok that most people don’t think of themselves as members of Marxist class categories, so Cowen can’t see that people don’t make many, if any, of their decisions based on an Excel sheet. Chesterton or somebody said that the purely rational man won’t marry, and the purely rational soldier won’t fight. He could’ve added, Cowen style, that the purely rational man wouldn’t buy shoes…. he’d just cut off his feet, because peg legs don’t wear out, you don’t have to worry about fashion changes, etc. etc. It’s just silly, but noting the real behavior of actual humans over time doesn’t get you tenure or page views or NY Times op eds, I guess.

  5. When actual good things evolve by trial, error, and happenstance, we examine what happened and call it theory. When theory precedes precedent the only happenstance is error and there is no trial, not even to hang the guilty.

  6. Sounds like this Belgian Anthropologist should get a real job and try fending for himself for awhile. Just who pays for his “living” studying all those bones? I have a bone or two to pick with him over splitting hairs about something he can only, as much of today’s science is about, speculate on with subjective evidence and leaps of logic that can astound.

    • I read it years ago, and could never forget it. But you didn’t discuss the character of the famous Russian author who defects in Paris just before the imminent invasion. He’s finally free to write the truth, instead of the pro-Soviet propaganda he’s pushed for years, and finds he’s completely unable to write a word. He ends up a hopeless alcoholic, and is even relieved when the Soviets appear to take him back to Russia to be punished. For me, his story was the best thing about the whole book. The girl was such a ninny with all her sex problems, I couldn’t take her seriously.

  7. “The great line of demarcation in modern politics, Eric Voegelin used to point out, is not a division between liberals on one side and totalitarians on the other. No, on one side of that line are all those men and women who fancy that the temporal order is the only order, and that material needs are their only needs, and that they may do as they like with the human patrimony. On the other side of that line are all those people who recognize an enduring moral order in the universe, a constant human nature, and high duties toward the order spiritual and the order temporal.”

  8. I don’t see why Homo Economicus and Homo Reciprocans can’t both be correct. Human nature covers a range of behaviors. Organizational modes that take that range into account as normal and acceptable (if not necessarily optimal) would likely stand a better chance of success, assuming a solution can be found to the other normal human behavior of hitting people on the head until they obey you and give you their stuff that doesn’t involve inviting that very behavior itself.

    • Good point. Unfortunately, too many are not happy letting others “live and let live.” Their is that ugly strain that wants to dominate and rule over everyone with malevolent motives. Every age has its megalomaniacs.

  9. The right has its religious zealots too. Worshipping at the altar of Ayn Rand, libertarianism, the Austrian school, Ronald Reagan, “principled conservatism”, ect.

    I think one of the smartest things in the Hebrew/Christian bible is the first commandment: Thou shalt worship no other god but me. When you start taking subjective ideas and start inflating them to religious truth bad things happen.

    • Taco, your comment is related in a way to my own perceptions, as in “Equality”, “Civil Rights” are dress rehearsal for civil war. It is all one big lie, a ruze that is cultural marxism writ large. Its the theory of Schrodingers Cat, bullshit emotion, dressed up to con the rest of us with an assumption of some fucking irrelevant retarded alternative reality. And we all been sucked in, fell for it hook line and sinker. Where in all of Christianity and our primal freedoms is there any concept of “civil rights”.
      There is no such things as “civil rights”, there is only the rights of men, and defense of those rights.
      “Civil Rights” is the meddling yankeedom’s 21st century gateway social meme to pogrom of the South, another tactic in the long march to emasculate white Christian heritage and culture, rub out southern history, and destroy the South. “Civil rights” is Stalin and Beria’s Kill The Kulak amerikan style. And they won’t stop with the South if they ain’t stopped. Look at the crap they are selling now, just by being white you are a racist, your very existence is a micro agression. Invented out of whole cloth. And the “conservative” wing of the cultural marxists has essentially sold us dirt people out so they can remain relevant in politics and keep their money and jobs and power. They sold us out for thirty pieces of silver. Talk about being wrong? The fuckers are complicit, they single handedly enabled cultural marxism to flourish. Who are the greatest traitors to liberty, really? At least with commie scum you know what your getting, the slimy bastards on “the right” are quislings, judas of of worst kind.

  10. The disciples of Marx are more devout than the disciples of Jesus, consider meekness a fault, and viciousness a virtue. All of which they have in common with Muslims.

    Bit harsh on Hobbs.

      • My understanding of who is who and what is what on the right needs constant updating, but I wouldn’t take any instruction from Stephens. “I most certainly will not vote for Donald Trump,” Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal said. “I will vote for the least left-wing opponent to Donald Trump and I want to make a vote to make sure that he has — that he is the biggest loser in presidential history since, I don’t know, Alf Landon or going back further. It’s important that Donald Trump and what he represents — this kind of ethnic quote, ‘conservatism,’ or populism be so decisively rebuked that the Republican Party, the Republican voters will forever learn their lesson that they cannot nominate a man so manifestly unqualified to be president in any way, shape or form. So they have to learn a lesson in the way perhaps Democrats learned from McGovern in ’72. George Will said let’s have him lose in 50 states. Why not Guam, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, too?”

  11. It may be these guys miss one of the most dynamic activities through human time, war, and how people have waged it. These basics are irrefutable, and without an accounting of these things, another theory of man is just barking up a tree. It is common sense Bitchez. Families, tribes, villages, agrarian living, protecting these things, and the style of fighting to defend and protect those resources necessary to basic sustenance, have long determined the shape of humanity. Only have to extrapolate to our present point in history to see where I’m going with my perspective. What are people who choose to be prepared in these times do to protect and defend the four basic necessities of life? Water, food, tribe/family, land,(land for shelter, grow food, and territory in order to have a place to defend in the first place, being a refugee is a no win situation). Like this is the first time in history, people eat food that has never been alive, (wow), it is the first time in history billions have no direct connection to the earth. It is unique time too in billions have no means, no skills, no tribal recollections how to defend themselves from predation and such. (something really fucked up with that picture) These are humans who are almost helpless in the self determination business.

    What is termed 4th-5th generation war, insurgency warfare, guerrilla war, (verses “1st” generation war aka Westfallah treaty), is original warfare, small unit infantry warfare, the basis of all combat, all war fighting whatever springs from small unit tactics. The original basis of which comes from family/tribe/village protecting, defending, fighting to preserve from other humans who wish to take these basic necessities of life from others.

    Looks like we as a civilization may be on the brink of things returning to these basic actions and way of life.
    History isn’t a lineal line, it is circular, circles overlapping circles, it is holistic and agrarian and provincial at its roots.

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