The Nudnik File

Nudnik - n. U.S. colloq. Esp. in Jewish usage: a pestering, nagging, or irritating person

Thursday, January 06, 2005

              Not Better, Just Different
A few years ago I started reading Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, which was the hot book at the time. I soon put it down, completely annoyed with his arguments, which seemed simplistic and didn't take into account any kind of potential individual achievement - In his universe, any given culture was determined by its surroundings and external circumstances, destined never to overcome them. Apparently he has a new book out, and probably in connection with that wrote a long piece for the New York Times on January 1st. Bruce Thornton dissects that article and Diamond's arguments.
Two of this cohort's orthodox dogmas are multiculturalism and materialist determinism, and Diamond's book confirms both. Multiculturalism is a species of cultural relativism: no culture, no matter how successful, is "better" than another, just different. But maintaining this belief is difficult in the face of the West's remarkable dominance of the planet and its success at providing the highest living standards and greatest political freedom to the largest numbers of ordinary people.
Diamond's solution to this disconnect between empirical fact and intellectual prejudice is ingenious: he admits the West's superiority, but attributes it not to a superior culture but to the accidents of climate, geography, and species availability. Western culture and ideas and values are not better than any other, but simply the accidental beneficiary of random material causes. This idea brings us to the second dogma dear to the hearts of the intellectual establishment, material determinism. To the determinist of this stripe, all causes are material; culture, religion, ideas, art, and the actions of people all have their origins in the material world and its forces. This superstition is one of the modern world's most important dogmas, and can be seen in Darwinism, Marxism, the "selfish gene" cult, sociobiology, and most species of psychology, all of which discount spiritual reality, culture, free will, and everything else that does not fit into the materialist calculus.

|| Nudnik 1:09 PM
Listed on BlogShares