Retired, sometime civil servant, sometime consultant, active intellectual, former lawyer, active property manager, and on rare occasions in the past a political activist. He has recovered from the experience.
“One of the most remarkable discoveries is that even most measures of the environment that are used in psychology—such as the quality of parenting, social support and life events—show significant genetic impact. How is this possible when environments have no DNA themselves? Genetic influence slips in because the environment is not randomly “out there” independent of us and our behavior. We select, modify and even create our environments in line with our genetic propensities. Correlations between such so-called environments and psychological traits don’t necessarily mean that the environments cause the traits. For example, parental negativity correlates with their children’s antisocial behavior, but this doesn’t mean that the parents cause their children’s antisocial behavior. Instead, this correlation is substantially caused by parents responding negatively to their children’s genetically-driven propensities.
“A second crucial discovery is that the environment works completely differently from the way environmentalists thought it worked. For most of the 20th century, environmental factors were called nurture because the family was thought to be crucial in determining environmentally who we become. Genetic research has shown that this is not the case. We would essentially be the same person if we had been adopted at birth and raised in a different family. Environmental influences are important, accounting for about half of the differences between us, but they are largely unsystematic, unstable and idiosyncratic—in a word, random.
“The DNA differences inherited from our parents at the moment of conception are the consistent, lifelong source of psychological individuality, the blueprint that makes us who we are. A blueprint is a plan. It is obviously not the same as the finished three-dimensional structure. The environment can alter this plan temporarily, but after these environmental bumps we bounce back to our genetic trajectory. DNA isn’t all that matters, but it matters more than everything else put together in terms of the stable psychological traits that make us who we are.
“These findings call for a radical rethink about parenting, education and the events that shape our lives. It also provides a novel perspective on equal opportunity, social mobility and the structure of society.
“The nature-nurture war is over. Nature wins, hands down.”
George Will has not endeared himself to me for his opposition to Trump, but he is a fine thinker, an elegant writer and profoundly knowledgeable about the US Constitution and its various schools of interpretation. I came across this review of The Conservative Sensibility this morning, and I recommend it for those who might be tempted by a big book of American constitutional thought.
The review itself is found here. It is fair, and it is favourable in the main to Will’s outlook.
As to whether George Will is properly called a conservative, we encounter another of those vexed questions of definition. James Piereson of the Manhattan Institute writes:
“Finally, on the evidence of this book, can we say that Will really is a conservative, as he has described himself over these many decades? When the reader adds up the author’s case—his defense of markets, limited government, the Madisonian constitution, modern science, and natural rights, along with his reservations about religion and his criticisms of Burke, progressivism, and the welfare state—he is apt to conclude that these are more the thoughts of a classical liberal than those of a modern conservative. His book contains many favorable references to Adam Smith, the first of that line of thinkers, but also to Friedrich Hayek, the great twentieth-century proponent of classical liberalism. Will promotes a free society, with ordered liberty as its foundation, much as Smith and Hayek did, in contrast to conservatives who stress the importance of religion, consensus, and community morals and mores. Hayek inserted into The Constitution of Liberty a chapter titled “Why I Am Not a Conservative,” where he wrote that
“Conservatism by its very nature cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving. It may succeed by its resistance to current tendencies in slowing down undesirable developments, but, since it does not indicate another direction, it cannot prevent their continuance. It has, for this reason, invariably been the fate of conservatism to be dragged along a path not of its own choosing.
“In order to reverse the direction of events, someone must formulate an alternative to it—which George Will has done in this fine book.
“Will writes much as Hayek did in calling for a restoration of Madison’s Constitution and a politics that emphasizes liberty, rather than like the conservatives who want to slow down the general direction of affairs. In this, Will’s advice may seem impractical or even utopian, but it has the virtue of being principled—and entirely honest about our situation.”
The Coronavirus pandemic has brought certain things into relief. One of them is the importance of people who do not work from home: the workers, truckers, cops, paramedics and others who have kept food stores open and food being produced while we have sat on couches or chairs before computers.
“For decades, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) has been charting wages and wealth in this country. For example, here are nine charts EPI released about American wages and income inequality back in 2015, well before Donald Trump’s election; as we can see, they make two key points about conditions under Trump’s predecessors:
“First, productivity has soared much faster than median wages, which is to say, American workers are no longer gaining the benefit of their own hard work as a factor in rising productivity and wealth; the benefits are being captured by others. And that leads us to …
“Second, the income of the top one percent has risen nine times faster than the income of the bottom 90 percent. And much of the reason, of course, is that the one percent typically gets its income from capital and investments, and so one percenters make their money from the stock market. And big corporations have found it easy, and profitable, to outsource production overseas, especially after China opened up in the ’90s.
“We might add that EPI admits there’s been some improvement in the years since 2015, which is to say, Trump’s policies have made a positive difference. And yet still, it’s obvious that the gap between labor and capital has widened vastly.”
The upshot of the article’s proposals is that the Republican Party needs to become the first home of the American worker. This is not as strange as it may appear. The Republican Party emerged from the northern and north western state of the United States in 1860 to combat the forces of the Democrats, which were preponderantly the slave owning wealthy of the South and their northern peace at any price allies. They were primarily the party of the independent farmer and Northern working man. The Republicans were for a long time (1880-1980) the party of the WASPy centre, the higher income earners, big business, and the suburbs. Once again the respective bases of the two American parties are shifting, leaving some groups aside wondering which way to jump (Catholics, gays, and national security voters) and causing others to reconsider whose interests are best served by the Democrats and Republicans. These shifts in party support occur periodically. Another such shift is now underway.
People have rediscovered or are rediscovering that they are a nation first, and an economy second. That is why the transition of the Republicans to a nationalist party is underway, and it scares the intelligentsia because the baddies of Wall Street and Silicon Valley are primarily rich, Democrat and, to a considerable extent, Jewish. All that the Democrats are selling is cultural fragmentation (endless nonsense about race and sexuality) with a visibly senile Joe Biden as its standard bearer, packaged in proposals for open immigration and anti-whiteness. It is not an attractive proposition if you are white or working class.
A great deal of shouting about Trump will seek to prevent people from these realizations.
Herakles takes a break: Athena pours him a libation
Greetings readers, fellow Barrelstrengthians, strangers:
Barrelstrength dot com is in the process of being discontinued and carried over to Barrelstrength dot ca.
Our former webmaster died untimely a few months ago – we suspect of a very early case of Covid19 flu. In any case we had no access to our management files so that we could renew the payment for the website and renew the domain name with certainty of success. Thus we were forced to relocate in subspace. Our archives will be gradually moved to Barrelstrength.ca.
The same gallery of writers, some steady, some intermittent, continue their labours. The fifth labour of Hercules was to clean out the stables of King Augeas, where for some reason the cattle had been left untended. We are still trying to clean out the stables, as it were, in a never ending struggle against the build up of mental manure in every corner of society, including especially academia.
Hercules was cheated out of his payment by King Augeas for cleaning the stables. We have not been cheated; we work for free. We defy the adage of Samuel Johnson that “Only a fool writes for anything but money” . We were paid quite well in our careers for writing, but now we get to say what we like, which is payment enough.
This is self-explanatory.
Our California correspondent writes from his bunker in ultra-liberal Berkeley:
“Whether it’s gene editing human babies, irresponsible AI research, creating space junk on purpose, or their ruinous virus research; China has way too little ethical/moral awareness for how much access they have to global catastrophe- causing technology.
“They either need a cultural realignment (ie elevation from their “insectoid” attitude), or the world (ie the western world) has to take their toys away (which they won’t allow – meaning global conflict).”
It is confession time. I was watching the interview between Peter Robinson of the Hoover Institution and Kim Strassel of the Wall Street Journal yesterday. There came the moment at minute 41:00 of the interview when Peter Robinson expressed perfectly how I feel about Trump, as Peter described Trump’s leadership style. Peter holds his forehead and gropes for the right closing question to ask Kimberly Strassel, and he says, “…a lot of people who like Trump (small pause) can’t stand him up to this point” and then he notes how people may have shifted to a more positive view over the past few weeks as the Donald has handled the coronavirus epidemic.
I think I will adopt that phrase as exactly capturing my ambivalent feelings: “Even people who like him can’t stand him“.
I would still vote for him in a heartbeat.
Robinson’s comment was the preface to a more comprehensive question to Strassel about whether in the past few weeks Trump has become “the country’s President”, the guy we need to succeed. To that I say, yes, we need him to succeed.
To the Trumpophobes my reaction may be seen as tragically inadequate, and to the Trumpophiles it may be seen as insufficiently zealous, perhaps. Insufficient zeal is not yet a thought crime. As a position on the Donald I am sticking to it. I like him but I can’t stand him. But he has my vote.
Which is about as relevant as approving of Caesar Augustus if you had lived during his reign, I suppose.
One is by Charles Eisenstein, which will beguile you in its loveliness and wisdom. He may be right. It is a long read but worth the effort. (Even if by the end you suspect it to be hippie shit). There are many insights along the way that resonate with me, about “safety culture”, the dreadful epidemic of “staying safe” at all costs. Eisenstein concludes:
“The virus we face here is fear, whether it is fear of Covid-19, or fear of the totalitarian response to it, and this virus too has its terrain. Fear, along with addiction, depression, and a host of physical ills, flourishes in a terrain of separation and trauma: inherited trauma, childhood trauma, violence, war, abuse, neglect, shame, punishment, poverty, and the muted, normalized trauma that affects nearly everyone who lives in a monetized economy, undergoes modern schooling, or lives without community or connection to place. This terrain can be changed, by trauma healing on a personal level, by systemic change toward a more compassionate society, and by transforming the basic narrative of separation: the separate self in a world of other, me separate from you, humanity separate from nature. To be alone is a primal fear, and modern society has rendered us more and more alone. But the time of Reunion is here. Every act of compassion, kindness, courage, or generosity heals us from the story of separation, because it assures both actor and witness that we are in this together.”
There are days I can believe this.
Then there is the old-fashioned realist, Fred Reed, talking about men and their favourite activity, war.
“Nobody (except feminists) says the obvious, that all of these evils are committed by….
“It is always men–some other men, of course, men of another race or country, or religion or tribe or social class. We ourselves–men–are pure. But however you cut it, it is men.
“The crucial problem for humanity is, probably always has been, how to control men, how to to harness their vigor and inventiveness for the common good while restraining their penchant for destruction, mass homicide, individual murder, rape, pillage, depravity, and foolishness.
“Wars are the vilest masculine behavior. They never end. Wars are not about anything. They are just wars. Men always find something for them to be about, but really they are just what men–men–do.
“The martial urge is deep in the steroid chemistry. Little boys want to play with guns. If you force dolls upon them, they shoot each other with dolls. When grown up, to the extent they ever are, they fight wars. If there is no reason for war, as for example now, they invent reasons. The Russians are coming. The Chinese are coming. North Korea will nuke us. So will Iran. We must gird our loins and fight, fight, fight.”
By the time you have finished reading Fred Reed, you may be ready for Charles Eisenstein’s more idealistic approach. Maybe.
- 7-8 am – Walk and a solitary breakfast
- 8-9:30 – Work in the study
- 9:30-10:30 – Join family in the drawing room, look over the mail, read family letters and occasionally listen to a novel being read aloud
- 10:30 – noon – Work in the study
- noon -inspect plants in the greenhouse and then walk further, but still on the property, for a specified number of turns around the gravel path
- Read the newspaper.
- Write letters
- 3 pm – rest and nap, smoke cigarette, listen to his wife read a novel
- 4pm – walk
- 4:30 pm – back to work
- 5:30 – read novels
- 6:30 pm – dinner
- After dinner – two games of backgammon with Mrs Darwin
- 10 to 10:30 – retire to bed
“What rescued Darwin from the indolence that might so easily have settled upon a man with a good wife, an ample income, and a chronic illness were the daily discipline and the methodical habits of work – virtues he said had been instilled in him on the Beagle. Darwin must take his place alongside Anthony Trollope and the other great Victorians whose creativity has been impugned by their methodicalness, on the supposition that genuine creation can only be erratic. Unlike Trollope, however, who was methodical in work so as to be prodigal in leisure, Darwin’s methodicalness had no other intention than to extract from the day a few good hours of work.” – Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution, by Gertrude Himmelfarb