Culture & Ethics
#5 of Our Top Stories of 2019: Shapiro, Berlinski on the Reversion to the Primitive in Modern Life
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The following article was originally published here on November 25, 2019.
Yesterday’s conversation between David Berlinski and Ben Shapiro, an hour long thanks to the generous medium of Shapiro’s Sunday Special, is so full of treasures, it’s hard to distill it down to an essence. But I’ll try. One theme, which Dr. Berlinski expands on in his new book Human Nature, is the unexpected return of the primitive in modern life. By modern he means from about 1914 on, in areas ranging from warfare to science to personal adornment and beyond.
David points to the sudden collapse of Enlightenment values in the face of barbarism in the 20th century that, in 1912, no informed man or woman could ever have predicted. He would ask Steven Pinker and other boosters of the Enlightenment: If those values were powerless to stop the horrors of the First World War, of Nazism, of Communism, and more, what good are they?
A Primitive Theory of Origins
Berlinski points to the intellectual primitivism of evolutionary biology, in contrast with the great structures of science (mathematics, physics). How about personal adornment? He comments on tattoos: once they were regarded as Neanderthal and a signifier of low social status. Now those associations have flipped. He delightfully invokes his own seniority (age 77) and memories of Columbia University in the late 1960s, the student rebellion and the precipitous “collapse of institutional authority” that put foolish young people in charge instead of scholars and administrators, with a predictable turn toward adolescent chaos.
That collapse continues, even accelerating, today. Ben Shapiro mentions that, just the night before they recorded the interview, he was at Stanford University where the now expected mob of rabid children tried to shout him down. Speaking of which, David comments on the “rabidity” of the contemporary social and political scene with its “synthetic anger,” reminiscent of France prior to the Revolution, just before the horror, the bloodletting, the earnest experimentation with genocide got underway.
You Must Watch This
I can’t do David Berlinski, or Ben Shapiro, justice as communicators. Aptly, David mentions at one point that evolutionary theory has only the most primitive explanation of human speech. We can speak. A few of us, vanishingly few, can speak like David Berlinski. As Berlinski asks of speech, beyond the most primitive grunting: Where did that come from? Most of us take its existence for granted. Laughably, evolutionists claim that speech, like other human endowments, is just the fruit of a struggle to compete sexually with your neighbor. Can they really believe such a foolish thing?
You must watch this. The hour goes by very quickly. And consider subscribing to The Daily Wire just to hear Berlinski’s answer to the bonus question at the end where Shapiro invites him to comment on “vulgar politics” of the moment. But I’m not going to say more on that, as this is a non-political website where such topics are, like tattoos in former days, themselves taboo.