Dennis Prager, one of my two favorite radio hosts, had a great insight this morning. My wife was at home listening to him in the kitchen and called to alert me at the office, where I instantly tuned in. As Prager points out, whereas race, class, wealth, and poverty were once held up, in Marxist fashion, as the explanations for every social ill and necessary social reform — the ultimate rationale for every “enlightened” political plan to perfect humanity — now evolution fills that role:
What is happening is evolution is supplanting economics as the non-values-based explanation for human conduct. It’s a very big moment in history.
Yes, exactly! Go, Dennis, go!
Prager was commenting on an op-ed in the New York Times by Daniel Lieberman, a Harvard professor of human evolutionary biology. Lieberman wrote to defend Mayor Bloomberg’s mission to ban jumbo soft-drink servings, on the grounds that “We have evolved to need coercion.”
Wow, that is a stark way of putting it. Kudos to Lieberman for his candor:
The obesity epidemic has many dimensions, but at heart it’s a biological problem. An evolutionary perspective helps explain why two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese, and what to do about it. Lessons from evolutionary biology support the mayor’s plan: when it comes to limiting sugar in our food, some kinds of coercive action are not only necessary but also consistent with how we used to live.
Lieberman holds that our ancient ancestors automatically ate a healthy diet and got plenty of exercise. We inherited their physiology, which, however, evolved for a historical situation very different from ours. Thanks to technology, notably the abundance of sugar, we can afford all the cheap garbage we care to consume and, likewise, we can avoid almost all physical exertion.
Adults, like children, can’t be trusted to make their own responsible decisions and pursue a healthy lifestyle, or not, based on their own rational calculations. In this materialist view, everything is determined by biology, nothing by free will, rational choice, or moral values. Personal responsibility is out the door. It’s all, at heart, “a biological problem.”
Adults need help, too, and we should do more to regulate companies that exploit our deeply rooted appetites for sugar and other unhealthy foods. The mayor was right to ban trans fats, but we should also make the food industry honest about portion sizes. Like cigarettes, mass-marketed junk food should come with prominent health warning labels. It should be illegal to advertise highly fattening food as “fat free.” People have the right to be unhealthy, but we should make that choice more onerous and expensive by imposing taxes on soda and junk food.
We humans did not evolve to eat healthily and go to the gym; until recently, we didn’t have to make such choices. But we did evolve to cooperate to help one another survive and thrive. Circumstances have changed, but we still need one another’s help as much as we ever did. For this reason, we need government on our side, not on the side of those who wish to make money by stoking our cravings and profiting from them.
Economic-determinists and evolutionary-determinists are united in seeking to explain everything humans do in terms that are non-moral, having zero to do with values and everything to do with reductionist material factors. Marxists of the old school were never very shrewd as students of the human personality and neither are Darwinists.
Political materialism has simply exchanged one obsessive focus for another. Prager was rightly struck by his formulation of the insight, and repeated it to hone his wording. It’s indeed worthy of making a note: “Evolution is supplanting economics as the single non-values explanation for human behavior.”