Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Condoleezza's Deluded Darwinism

Condoleezza Rice spoke of 'an Afghanistan that does not complete its democratic evolution'. This is a metaphor based on bad science. There is no evidence of an evolutionary process in politics and history. There is certainly no evidence that democracy represents any kind of end point of any such process. But the metaphor was intended, consciously or not, to evoke a benign, directional process that leads from worms to apes to people. Democracy thus become the crowning achievement of politics just as people are the crowning achievement of evolution. But evolution has no direction and we are no kind of achievement. We just happened and we could equally easily cease to happen. Rice's words betray the scientistic nature of both her imagination and that of the secular neo-cons. In the end, Bush's failure should be seen not as the result of an excess of God - as many claim - but as an excess of science. No image more precisely captures baffled and frustrated scientism than the crumpled, crushed features of the increasingly inarticulate Donald Rumsfeld.


  1. Isn't it more an excess of pseudo-science? The kind of Darwinistic platitudes favoured by our elites masquerading as fact? Nothing is proved in this bad science and the effect of constant exposure to it is depressing. In the void between human values, common sense and supposed scientific economic/political/ethical truth that opens up these days when those paid to lead us speak, swirls meaningless, empty banality. Beware that void: we're no achievement? An ethical position, a scientific one? Or have the bastards brought you down?

  2. Well, Anon, if I may, you are entirely right, it is pseudo-science, as are all forms of scientism. You are also entirely right that the bastards have brought me down, happened decades ago. I accept your point completely in that scientistic 'science' - ie a faith believes without evidence in the completion of the project and its immediate applicability to human affairs - is a disastrous way rto run a chip shopt, whelk stall or whatever is very easy to run in the country where you live. 'We're no achievement' was meant to indicate - clumsily, I'm afraid - our place in the correctly Darwinist world view. This is not to endorse this view, merely to point out that, if Rice is to evoke evolution, then she ought top take care to get it right. Thanks for a brilliant comment.

  3. Well I dunno, I think you're a little hard on Condy here (okay I adore her, but that's beside the point). Isn't she merely using 'evolution' in the loose sense of a process of becoming? The delusion that democracy is, as it were, the climax vegetation of the political biosphere, the final default position of any polity, is a thoroughly political one. Any even vaguely quasi-scientific view of the world would have to conclude that representative democracy is a fragile growth that occurs rather rarely and only in a very specific environment. Those Americans - just so bloody optimistic...
    An other onymous

  4. Dear Dr. Appleyard,

    I should first mention that I was led to your website upon reading your enjoyable and challenging book "Understanding the Present" (haven´t finished it yet).

    I find in your book an echo of your comment on Rice´s remarks on Afghanistan.

    In the first chapter of your book there is an evocative line: "local wisdom is humiliated by science and local culture is drawn into scientific civilization..." You make this comment in the context of an example about how penicillin can be useful to a culture flung far from Western shores and displace thereby, much that might have been of value there.

    The West has been busy doing precisely this to most of the world for the past several centuries (roughly coinciding with the period since 1609 that you describe as the modern age). And now, as a consequence of such misplaced conquests (whereby it has not only made other cultures give up their wisdom but also forgotten its own - philosophy and poetry, the wombs of human wonder which gave birth to science in the first place) it has well and truly lost all direction. Surprising? Not really.

    But if you are throwing away your own wisdom in the interests of growing your power, at least you should let others keep theirs. But no, to do so will in fact undercut your own influence and so you must make sure that the wisdom of other cultures gets obscured, if not entirely crushed, by the onslaught of history, whose onward march you lead. (It must be possible to declare "our own" continuously "the best".)

    In your book you emphasize that it is the effectiveness of Western science which has made (the ultimately cultural) conquest possible. Don´t you think that this could not have been achieved without the military and economic power to impose Western "solutions" in the first place? That not only were the armies of the trading empires necessary to sell "efficiently" (by slaving women and children for 12 or 14 hours a day) produced cotton (which violently displaced hand-crafted muslins in Bengal for instance) in the empire, but even today you need the drug transnationals backed by the military firepower (which does not usually have to come into play) to administer the necessary pills, a lot else going down with it?

    Much as I am learning from your book and admiring your perspective, I find it lacking in one crucial area, without which the story - of the success of Western science and technology and the appaling spiritual impoverishment that has followed in its train - cannot be complete. If Western Europe had not been a conquering part of the world and been able ultimately to hold the world´s resources and peoplĂ©´s labor (not to speak of markets, increasingly significant) in its growing fist - in other words, without imposing its conquering will upon the world - it could hardly have achieved its pre-eminence in science and technology, regardless of its autonomous genius (which other cultures have had too, perhaps in different shades and guises).

    This, I am aware, is a complex topic. But the silence about the role of power and military force, not to list the subterfuges and deceits involved, is deafening, typical of conquering cultures, destiny-bound to defend their conquests through further aggression (which obviously demands moral apologetics: hence Rice and Rumsfeld, Bush and Blair are rightly falling over their words and metaphors these days).

    Spiritually speaking, the words of Diogenes to Alexander are appropriate. From his barrel-home, so the story goes, he cried: "Just stand out of my sight of the sun. You have conquered the world and are still so miserable..." (roughly)

    Afghanistan, as most cultures, has a wisdom of its own, but it is inaudible amidst the bombers and missiles unleashed by Western technological superstition. After speaking to some immigrants I wrote up the story of one of them, which I share with you:


  5. What was that elsewhere about the Father of Lies? Are we supposed to take this crap seriously from Rice and the Bomb Them Back to the StoneAgers seriously about Afghnaistan not finishing its democratic evolution? Good God.

  6. Aseem,
    I take your points. That book was written more than 14 years ago and in a different global climate. There are two "yous" in your remarks - the West and me. I suppose they are co-extensive, but not quite. I am not sure military power and technological progress can be separated in the way you seem to suggest. They seem to travel hand in hand, accompanited, moreover, by human imperiousness, found in all cultures. Thanks for your fascinating remarks and I hope you continue to enjoy the book.

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