Let me be positive and pick a few things about Bregman’s book I endorse (partly or fully). Improve upon the world, ask a question - yes please. Limit your empathy and exercise compassion - yes (not wholeheartedly). Try to understand those whom you do not understand - emphatically yes. Avoid the news - even more emphatically yes.
These points come from the last chapter of the book and actually, that chapter can stand on its own. It contains some constructive perspectives on how to behave and try to be a better person (basically) towards others not part of your incrowd.
It seems, I think, that Bregman has a lingering theology in the back of his mind that can be summarised (in part) by Romans 12: 14-21:
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. … Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. … If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Be that as it may, Bregman fully embraces the blind evolutionary outlook: There we are, Homo sapiens, the product of a brutal and an interminable process. Of all species ever to flock the earth, 99.9% died off, but we are still here. We have conquered the earth, and perhaps in the future we will take over the galaxy. (Chapter 3; my translation.)
To follow Bregman in his argument, morality, partly the subject of the previous and present post, is emergent. Good and evil, and understanding the difference between the two, developed in us via the evolutionary path. Result: Homo puppy; cooperative and friendly creatures that are slow to do evil. And if they do evil, they are subverted to do so by those in power.
In a nutshell: our moral habits are due to the fact that, on average, ‘cooperative and friendly’ human genes have been better at getting into the next generation than ‘uncooperative’ ones. This is the Darwinian imperative: maximising fitness and reproduction. Bregman proposes the ‘survival of the friendliest’ instead of the ‘survival of the fittest’, as he sees that scientific research shows that to be the case. The friendliest prehistoric humans thus produced the most offspring.
And indeed, most individuals I encountered in my life, just as Bregman I presume, are the friendliest of people. Rarely did I ever meet dangerous, spiteful, vindictive, evil people. And I am sincerely grateful that that is the case!
Putting our (presumably) continuous merry encounters aside for a moment, why should I, or anyone else, believe Bregman? Doing good instead of evil, in Bregman’s book, is not objective in any way but solely an evolutionary adaptation put in place to further our reproductive ends and our individual fitness; the Darwinian imperative.
But surely, everything is the product of evolution. And that by default includes the sciences. Science, jus as morality, is fully covered by the Darwinian imperative.
Let that sink in: all the scientific material Bregman puts forward, or anything else for that matter, is nothing but biological evolutionary produce. More precisely: the ‘scientific evidence’ that supposedly underscores Bregman’s perspective is solely adaptive in nature to maximise (Bregman’s?) fitness and promote reproductive ends.
Therefore, we have no reason whatsoever to believe Bregman in his claims about Homo puppy, good and evil, power and what have you. The deep and rarely grasped irony is that those who wholeheartedly defend the Darwinian perspective on, say, good and evil, science and religion and the like, do so not because of some compelling scientific evidence but because they are, by necessity, driven by the Darwinian imperative. They are only promoting their own fitness and reproductive capacity under de guise of science.
Mikael Stenmark, in his book Scientism: Science Ethics and Religion drives this point home brilliantly. A worthwhile read and antidote to books such as Bregman’s.
Inadvertently then, Bregman eliminates everything he has worked for so hard to defend. Yet he cannot escape his own conundrum as he sees our evolutionary coming on stage “thoughtless”, “without design”, “blind”. And that exactly renders all his arguments impotent.
Good, evil, power? We are left in the dark on this. Indeed, why think that power has the potential to morph good into evil, and why would the average foot soldier be seduced by that? That would sound positively evil!
In order to salvage the wreck that is De Meeste Mensen Deugen, we need to return to our moral duties that transcend our existence. Next blog we wrap up this review …