Archives for category: Biology

Gad Saad, the evolutionary scholar who has devoted his career to explaining consumer behavior, celebrated Charles Darwin’s birthday with a new “Saad Truth” video:

Professor Saad is one of my favorite arguers, interviewers, and monologists on YouTube. I like almost all of his online contributions, and am head-over-heels for not a few of them.

Alas, this is not up to his usual stellar standards.

He defends evolutionary theory against its many unlearned critics. Many of whom have the temerity to attack his evolutionism on Twitter and similar venues. But there are problems as to how — not that — he has done so.

Full disclosure: I am on his side. I do not see how evolution cannot be the basic view of life. But I admit: I did not really believe it until after I had abandoned theistic belief. (I exited the fold of believers, long ago, for scientific and rational reasons that were tangential to evolutionary theory proper. Psychology was a major concern, however. I abandoned a supernaturalistic explanation for all the human behavior I witnessed, and after that it proved too difficult to maintain any sort of theism. I moved to incredulity, coupled with curiosity.) But in this video he spends most of his time engaging in ad hominem arguments and the argument from authority.

img_2320Which is not wholly disreputable. It is sometimes legitimate to attack the motivations and character and methods of those one disagrees with. Sometimes it is this practice, more than rational argument, that proves the only thing carable of nudging some folks out of dogmatic slumbers.

Similarly, appeals to authority (which the professor also marshaled) are not wholly out of line. When we suggest that experts generally support some conclusion or another, those who doubt the conclusion should take pause.

But there is no logical reason to side with authorities. Authorities can be, and often are, wrong.

I can cite many cases.

But all this is moot. The reason the vast majority of biologists and allied scientists support evolutionary explanations is that these explanations are the best we have available, and the alternatives just do not seem very persuasive. If you bracket out religion, especially religious motivation, from the picture.

And Saad is quite right, the standard charge that “evolution is only a theory” is silly in the extreme. First, it is not true: evolution is not “only a theory.” And second, there are a lot of now universally accepted truths that we ordinarily view primarily as theories, since our everyday perceptions would indicate that Occam’s Razor better slices in a completely different direction.

Example? Flat Earth. It is not the spherical planet theory that seems to make sense in terms of normal, everyday experience. One must broaden one’s experience (say, fly in a jet, or travel on the open seas) and engage in some tricky mental operations (noting the round and apparently spherical character of heavenly bodies, the disappearance first of ship and then of shipmasts at the horizon, etc.) to see that a spheroid Earth better describes terrestrial shape.

Most creationists, today, seem uninterested in the vast evidence gathered by geology and paleontology. Most of which backs up the evolutionary approach. But once you begin to engage in hands-on work with rock and fossils, and then look at the huge collections of fossilized life and their origin in geological strata, then the creationist and “intelligent design” quibbles are eclipsed by the huge mass of accumulated evidence, and evolution becomes pretty darn obvious.

One of the best early arguments for the facticity of evolution was written nearly a decade before Darwin’s Origin of Species, and was acknowledged by him (along with many other precursors) in a later volume of the work. That argument is “The Development Hypothesis,” by Herbert Spencer.

“Aha!” exclaim the creationists. “You admit, it is less than ‘just a theory’ — it is a mere hypothesis!”

No. I encourage a reading of the actual text. For, as one quickly learns, even seven years prior to Darwin’s explanation of speciation, Spencer made a quite convincing case. “Those who cavalierly reject the Theory of Evolution, as not adequately supported by the facts, seem quite to forget that their own theory is supported by no facts at all.” As Darwin wrote in the Historical Sketch preceding later editions of his first ground-breaking work, Spencer makes the case with “remarkable skill and force.” If one looks at facts further away from one’s normal pathway between work and home, one sees that the case for evolution is quite clear. Even sans the Darwinian advance.

The only real reason (from what I can tell) that anyone puts any stock at all in the theory of special creation is the result of being “born to a given belief” — that is, because they accept certain ancient beliefs in the supernatural, beliefs that they find comforting or exalting or in some other way psychologically attractive.

For my part, those ancient beliefs seem not in the tiniest bit persuasive. The people who first advanced them, and the books that they produced, were not at all conducive to rational thought. Doubt and incredulity and curiosity were not attitudes they sought to inculcate. Instead, they promoted dogma and something called “faith.” They were engaging in a mythological mode, intent on fulfilling purposes other than careful inquiry. None of their writings gives off the odor of reliable reportage.

Let us move on. To the next step. The fact of evolution is one thing. The explanatory principles are another. And, yet further, the extrapolations from those principles, and their applications to other questions not directly and obviouosly related to the long course of evolution, are different yet.

Darwin helped many believe the first aspect of the problem — the actual occurrence of the development of life over many, many thousands and millions of generations of living beings — by providing a startling set of principles that helps explain how organisms adapt to environments, and, over time, change structures and behaviors so that the natures of the descendants are remarkably distinct from that of their ancestors.

There are a lot of “theories” involved at every level, here. But it is not as if the initial speculations have not been backed up by later accumulations of evidence. And while it is also true that some evidence has falsified some aspects of Darwin’s (and, more obviously, Spencer’s) notions, this is not cause for alarm — evolutionary science has itself evolved, adapting to newly discovered facts, modifying to reflect reality. Increment by increment.

Creationism, on the other hand, has mostly been restricted to apologetics, to bolstering up received notions. The expansion of its “research program” has not given us many (any?) useful new insights, much less promising avenues for further exploration. And, unlike evolutionary science, it has not produced useful technological advances in medicine or anything else.

But evolutionists have.

The distant past is difficult to explain, since it is indeed long past — and we naturally enough lack direct access to the facts of the past, especially before living memory, and most especially before the human record, reliable or not. And yet, we do possess the geological record; we also understand (in part) the astronomical context, the rapidly expanding information about genetics and epigenetics, and the massive evidence of a diversity of beings distributed throughout the world (in patterns that suggested to Alfred Wallace and Charles Darwin a difficult-but-powerful idea, natural selection).

And the people Gad Saad calls morons and Dunning-Kruger-affected nincompoops? They think they understand creationism. But they do so mainly on faith, or by metaphor — they still are infat Yates with Priestley’s found artifact. The Argument from Design. But they have no real grasp of even their own theory, for, as Spencer explained,

This is one of the many cases in which men do not really believe, but rather believe they believe. It is not that they can truly conceive ten millions of special creations to have taken place, but that they think they can do so. Careful introspection will show them that they have never yet realized to themselves the creation of even one species.

Of course, “careful introspection” is not something everyone has a knack for. And it is certainly not something that our schoolmasters and institutions have spent much effort in inculcating.

I quote this passage not only because it is relevant to the folks Gad Saad laments and pillories. It helps to explain their error. And, on a personal note, it was with careful introspection that I started the intellectual journey that has not yet ended, but has led me to positions not too far from Professor Saad’s.

Yes, I came up from the ranks of [what Saad sadly thinks of as] the Yahoos. It was an ascent, if not an evolution. But, like an evolutionist, I never really stop trying to understand my ancestors. Which includes my very own past self.

And, we must remember, that the greater nescience of others is tragic not because of what they do not know, but because they do not know that they lack important knowledge. For the rest of us, our growing knowledge is comic: as science expands, the surface where knowledge meets nescience also expands, and we know more and more of how much we do not yet know. Knowledge increases, but so does the realm of the known unknowns.

twv

img_2322


Americans have had more than one red-headed president before Trump and his weird orange hair. Here is what I found during a few quick searchs — Americans, I give you the red-headed Presidents of the United States:

  • George Washington
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Andrew Jackson
  • Martin Van Buren
  • Ulysses Grant
  • Calvin Coolidge
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower

That’s an awful lot of redheads. We’re working on our 45th president, making redheads 17.77 percent of the presidential population. Worldwide redheadedness is at 1 to 2 percent — perhaps as high as 6 percent of white European populations. The American presidency is more than twice the average. What’s going on here?

There is some evidence that one reason America split from the union might have had something to do with red hair. The British soldiers wore red suits, but most of Virginia’s military commanders were red-heads, as was commented on at the time. 

OK, that was a stretch. Borderline ridiculous. But with two of the most important figures in our country’s founding being “gingers,” it does seem interesting how heavily weighted redheads are in American history.

Full disclosure: I am, if not a redhead, at least a redbeard. Though at my age the red is slowly fading: soon no one will be able to tell I was once a redbeard, just as few knew that Washington or Eisenhower were redheads.

twv


The evolutionary strategy of the cuckoo is well known. It led to the traditional term for a man cheated upon: cuckold. Which led to the sexual kink of a man who enjoys watching his wife being fucked by another man, also known as a cuckold.

More interestingly, the metaphor was then stretched along civilizational lines, into the politics of race, subsidy and much more, all focused on a new term of abuse: cuck. This is the alt-right contribution to modern debate and invective.

There is something to it.

But the alt-right trolls and lolsters were not the first to expand upon the paradigmatic bird, the cuckoo. There was John Wyndham and his science fiction masterpiece, The Midwich Cuckoos, filmed as The Village of the Damned — a great little film, that.

Thus I justify the following visual “meme”:

img_1271

 

It is trending again, according to The College Fix: “Universities across the nation are taking steps to actively purge male students of what’s been labeled ‘toxic masculinity.’”

William Nardi — an almost Dickensian name, eh? — delivers the news. “On campus, toxic masculinity is often blamed for sexual violence, body shaming, a ‘hyper-masculinized sporting culture,’ acts of domestic terrorism and much more.”

For example, a class at Dartmouth College this semester, “The Orlando Syllabus,” identifies so-called toxic masculinity as playing a role in the mass murder spree at a Florida club during the summer. This despite the fact that the gunman, Omar Mateen, told police on the phone as he committed the massacre he did it on behalf of ISIS.

Nicely, Nardi expresses some skepticism. Modish terms do deserve scrutiny and some hesitation before adoption.

I have done that, yet I do think there is such a thing as “toxic masculinity.” The term seems apt to designate the abuse of an excess quality for rude, criminal, or disturbingly hierarchical purposes.

But the sauce suited for ganders serves Ms. Goose just as well. Yes, there is also such a thing as “toxic femininity.” That would be when a surfeit of feminine characteristics is bent towards furthering anti-social or personally unbalanced behavior. The femme fatale is, indeed, a thing. We’ve all known bitch goddesses.

Worse yet may be when such toxicity crosses sex lines and leads to an excess in the counterbalance, in the corrective:

  • Toxic masculinity in the female results in Third Wave feminist misandry.
  • Toxic femininity in the male leads to White Knighting and a sort of simpering, pathetic deference to the women.

The etiology of the “disease” that is modern feminism may now be clear.

I just watched a neutral presentation of interviews with college students about the difference between sex and gender. Poor kids. They have been taught sanctimonious theory, and can regurgitate it upon demand, but the Rousseauvian nature of their goofball ideas they have no comprehension of.

Sex is a huge subject, and everything I hear from young folk strikes me absurd and unscientific — and based upon political pressure and ideological need, not upon biological reality.

I believe that we live in a new age of a rampant fear and hatred of the biological reality of sex.

It is a sort of mirror image of the traditional fear of sex.

Whereas the old fear was based on the notion of the consequences of action, and the centrality of the idea of responsibility, the new fear is based upon a notion of cosmic fairness, and the centrality of identity (what we used to call personhood).

In olden times, religion was the dominant institution of social control, and people imagined that their selves, their persons, were ghosts stuck in the icky machinery of biology. Fearing being trapped in the consequences of unrestrained sexual passion — disease, death, children one could not provide for — the traditional sex fear expressed itself in a euphemestic manner of speaking about the subject, with extensive social pressure to refrain from sexual behavior except in limited circumstances, socially valorized.

In modern times, political government is the dominant institution of social control, and people imagine that their very selves, their identities, are social constructs imposed on the malleable matter of the brain’s tabula rasa. Today’s taboos center around protecting a person’s expression of what used to be called (incessantly so, by women) their “sexuality.” This expression is said to be their “gender,” which constitutes the sum total of their desires, affects, self-regard, and choice in pronouns.

Both models strike me as absurd. But at least the older paradigm recognized the inherent power of carnality.

Postmodernity sucks, and “gender” theory — its shiniest, newest offspring — is cretinous.

My advice to the youngsters? Forget your “gender.” Sure, folks make hasty judgments and may express biased expectations about you based on your sex. But have a little gumption. Construct your own life according to your own lights, and deal with your biological heritage prudently, and not as a slave either to tradition or fashion.

Be individuals. Persons.

Grow up.

For the record, I am not a “climate change denier.” Climates change. Our climate is changing. No denial.

IMG_5126But I am a “climate science denier.” I deny that you know enough about climate to

  • shame me for my skepticism,
  • call the study of Earth’s climate a “settled science,”
  • or oust anyone from a position of employment or station for not agreeing with you.

How can I be so confident? Well, all my life I’ve avidly read about how science gets done. And I know that shaming and bullying tactics are not part of the “public testing” of conjectures and hypotheses that do constitute the mainstay of science.

Further, I grew up within a religion, and I know a cultist when I encounter one — and every anthropogenic global warming (AGW) activist I have ever met is a cultist. And, from my reading, many, many scientists are cultists too. And worse: too many scientists serve as the charlatan “prophets” who run the cult.

And I know a little something about economics, enough so that I cannot be fooled into thinking that public policies may be primarily judged according to the standard of good intentions. To the contrary, climate policy, like any other policy, requires a truly scientific scrutiny. Any proposed program requires the careful comparison of the likely benefits of the program with the costs of said program, and those costs must be understood in terms of lost opportunities. Making an argumentative gambit like “we cannot afford to do nothing” will not cut it with me. I know that doing nothing is often better than doing a risky and dangerous and costly something.

Further, I have a bit of common sense, too. And I know that the common charge by AGW fanatics, against skeptics like myself, that any corporate grant ever taints every pronouncement by a skeptic, much more plausibly counts against current AGW “climate science.” If “he who pays the piper calls the tune” applies against corporate grants, it applies even stronger to the government grants sector. Government grants are easier to get, and the money is more plentiful — other people’s money, unattached to the standard of profit and loss, corrupts more universally and with general negative effect. A never-ending tax-funded gravy train is hugely corruptive of science. The subsidized university system itself has corrupted science in many fields, with replicability rates of published study results having been demonstrated, recently, to be alarmingly low.

Model-based “science” of complex phenomena, whether of climate or society, is rarely anything more than mere scientism, and when such work is accompanied with heresy hunting and doubt shaming, the models can be dismissed — especially if they never are successfully predictive — or even retrodictive (that is, prediction of the past). Climate scientists who sport alarmist models of climate change have yet to trot out a model that even predicts recent trends, much less future trends along with future magnitudes.

Arguably, climate science jumped the shark years ago. And the damage it is doing to public appreciation of science and the calling that is science is as incalculable as . . . future climate.

Some day, I suppose, there may be a science of climate with some predictive validity. That day is not here yet.

The crazy extent to which seemingly legitimate scientists have nosed themselves into cultish climate dogmatism is, in fact, very funny. But they aren’t laughing. They are so serious they do not see the ultimate joke that they’ve perpetrated upon themselves. Mark Twain once quipped that “Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” That was a joke. We are not meant to take the joke seriously.

Being a smart person means not falling into traps easy to spot. Mark Twain was jesting. If you try to change the weather system, the climate, you will make of yourself a laughing stock.

Accept your limitations. Deny certainty in the sciences of complex phenomena, and accept that the role of the scientist is not that of priest or court wizard. Give up the hubris of World Savior, and, in accepting these limitations, accept your limited responsibility, too.

Become an apostate to cultism, and, by doubting, deny intellectual legitimacy to all cults. Including the cult of “science.”

intrinsic

Amusingly, the sign to the right, explaining the motto on the big sign, quickly shifts to talking about “roles” played in any given animal’s “environment.”

It doesn’t take long for intrinsicism to devolve into some relativist conception. For example, as soon as one talks of roles, and animals, this pops to mind:

Every Dead Animal Has a Role to Play in the Environment

Food, at least for maggots and bacteria, if not larger animals.

I know an unkindness of ravens that, could its members understand the concept, would have every reason to chuckle at “intrinsic value.” The other day I drove by a lovely roadkill deer, with three buzzards picking at it. My cat has so far killed three rabbits, one of them larger than himself.

The roles animals play to each other does not bolster the case for their intrinsic value. Only clueless human beings could concoct such a contrary-to-fact notion. Which is why the arguments for the notion are so idiotic.

Note: The above photo was something I found batted around on the Internet. I have not tried to track down its source.

Courtesy of Upworthy, the premiere prog-link pusher, today’s lesson is all about sex differences in the human animal.

In the comedy video “HBO Should Show Dongs,” a number of putative college women make the case for a ramp-up in sexual explicitness. They demand to “even the score.” The point seems to be, we see a whole lot of skin on premium TV these days, but no “dong.”


These young women want to see male members on screen. Their excuse is that they have to wade through a lot of female mammaries onscreen. They want parity!

How droll. But notice: At no point do the young women mention what is still unmentionable in some contexts: vaginas. They go on about penis, dong, “magic wand.” But nowhere do they recognize that female genitalia is the exact parity of male genitalia, and that the male “equivalent” of female breasts is . . . male pectoral muscles, complete with nipples and ripples and . . . well, you get the idea.

Screenshot 2013-09-16 14.34.55

Yes, men have breasts too — they were even commonly called that in the old days, and, in some contexts (“breast cancer”) still are. The thing is, we have become inured to their possible sexual allure. Heterosexual women tend not to find male chests as sexually arousing as heterosexual men find female chests. To demand some sort of sexual parity here is not possible. We are unequal. Nature, it could be argued, has made us so. Women’s chests are more sexually attractive than men’s.

Now, I’m not saying that women do not have opinions on male chests. But they tend not to get worked up into the lather of desire that many, many men do when seeing female breasts.

So the argument that, because women see (or “have to” see) female breasts all over the place on premium TV, they should also “get to” see (or be shown) male genitals, may be funny, but is witless, or at best half-witted.

Further, ramped-up demands for parity can have unintended consequences. Once the cock is out of the bag, so to speak, then, too, will follow the female counter-genitals: soon there would be no beating around the bush, but every fold and flavor of femalia valiantly exposed. Not long after the HBO showtime for the erection would follow the Showtime honing in on the clitoris. Discussions of genital size might become not merely common for one sex, but the other as well. Progress? Equality? Nincompoopery?

The only reason to take this little comedy sketch seriously, however, is that one often comes across self-defined “feminists” making similarly boobish demands. I just saw one last month, but I’m not going to link to it — to protect the feminist from shaming (not slut-shaming, but intellectual shaming, which has to be worse, because more definitive).

Sexual realism is, apparently, still an elusive feature of today’s sex chat. And where realism isn’t in evidence, sexism is likely to follow.square-tao-icon

Stephan Kinsella, libertarian anarchist, has begun a series of polls on Facebook, starting with one asking libertarians to select their “biggest influence.”

Image

How best to parse the different kinds of influence that people have had on your own thinking?

Robert Nozick’s first book, Anarchy, State and Utopia, was the first libertarian book I read, not counting John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government, or the Declaration of Independence. Nozick didn’t convince me of libertarianism, on that first reading, but he did

  1. Impress me that it was worth considering,
  2. Convince me that mainstream interventionism is a crock, and
  3. Solidify my basic approach to politics as that of establishing a framework for experiments in human betterment — that is, as constitutional, broadly speaking, and not that of piecemeal social engineering, today’s dominant model.

So Nozick was a huge influence. But I was not a libertarian — and even scoffed at the doctrine — for another three years.

When I finally got around to really considering libertarian ideas, I quickly read

  • Rothbard’s FOR A NEW LIBERTY and other books and essays
  • Hayek’s INDIVIDUALISM AND ECONOMIC ORDER
  • David Friedman’s MACHINERY OF FREEDOM
  • Lysander Spooner’s NO TREASON: THE CONSTITUTION OF NO AUTHORITY
  • Ludwig von Mises’ PLANNED CHAOS and THEORY OF MONEY AND CREDIT and ULTIMATE FOUNDATION…

it was the latter book that made me realize how central and useful liberty was in solving the value diversity problem. I became a libertarian at that time.

But was Mises my biggest influence?

I was not convinced of a unitary method to doing social science. And in normative matters, I believed my new libertarian friends simplified too many problems out of existence, or didn’t fully confront issues of ideal and expediency in social change with any thoroughgoing method. They seemed careless, haphazard, and dogmatic all in one.

So when I found Herbert Spencer — who at least attempted to address such issues — I was impressed. I had pretty much set the tone of my political philosophy before ever reading one sentence of his works, and yet I felt such a respect for his aim, and for parts of his method, and for the breadth of his vision, that even today I list him as my major influence. And that’s who I selected for Kinsella’s poll.

But in a sense, reading Destutt de Tracy concurrently with Carl Menger taught me more about the theory of marginal utility than any other writer, though Rothbard and F.W. Taussig helped. But it was Destutt de Tracy’s errors as much as his successes in speculation that influenced me, more. And sometimes, as Nietzsche put it, the errors of great men are more important than the truths of little men. So, Bentham’s and Sidgwick’s errors were as important to my education as Spencer’s successes.

Among contemporary thinkers, philosophers Loren Lomasky and Jan Narveson are the two philosophers I feel closest to…. though they, too, didn’t influence me much, either. Same for Thomas Szasz, whose basic attitude towards liberty in society is so very close to mine: liberty is freedom from coercion (or “interference”) plus responsibility. And we live in a society where the division of responsibility has shifted away from individuals and towards groups. We live in a society of status, where my station and its duties define life, rather than in a society of contract, where one meets obligations and accepts and rejects new ones based on uncoerced action.

In looking over Kinsella’s list of possible influences, it is gratifying to see such a long one, and to note that no longer is it the case that “It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand.” I was an outlier in the libertarians of my generation, in not having read much Rand, and never having been influenced by her. My former boss R. W. Bradford (on the list! — and no, he was not an influence for my political philosophy) used to ridicule the idea that there could be libertarians like me. Because i was influenced by Nozick and Rothbard and even Tuccille, her influence of them meant I was influenced by her, if indirectly. But then, the same can be said for Isabel Paterson, who tutored Rand in liberty.

Bradford’s prioritization of Rand seemed strange to me. Why select her out as the one to be pumped up, when so many others meant more to me, and so many others influenced her?

And the gray eminence of Thomas Jefferson was there from my childhood; the green eminence of Henry David Thoreau; the deeply ironic and critical traditions of the Hebrew Bible, especially the prophets — all these counted as influences to my selection of freedom as paramount. A study of Church history surely didn’t help me admire men with power. And a reading of T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, at age 16 — before I heard of Nozick — suggests to me that influences come from everywhere, at least for some of us, and just as King Arthur, on his last battlefield, realized that the problem was territory, borderlines, I realize, today, that selecting just one influence among many encourages just the kind of thinking that leads to political ruin. Diversity saves; diversity nurtures. The unitary idea prejudices young souls to accept the weird, twisted hierarchy of the State. Or accept one guru as one’s own cult’s Maximum Leader.


P.S. I really enjoyed Stephan Kinsella’s poll, in part because he included “obscure” figures and, apparently in jest, non-libertarians like “Gingrich,” “Clinton,” and “O’bama.”


The recent Nova Science Now special on canine intelligence was an eye-opener for me, and, no matter how simple and “dumbed down” the presentation, I heartily recommend it as a provocative introduction to the subject.

The most interesting segment, for me, was of the attempts (started by the Soviets) at breeding a tame race of canines from wolves. Ninety-nine percent of all specimens captured from the wild were either too fearful or too aggressive. But that 1 percent of curious canines who did not go into fight-or-flight mode at the sight of humans were selected for breeding. And then the process was repeated, over and over, until the behavior of the animals became “tame.”

By which we could mean: civil. Civilized.

And smart.

Tame enough to enjoy human company; smart enough to track human eye movements, and our sense of direction, of pointing.

This latter is something even chimpanzees cannot do. Dogs are more in tune with humans than are any non-human primate.

Truly, this is an interesting aspect of intelligence. Recent work by Jonathan Turner suggests that intelligence to “read” emotions is the crucial feature on the road to what made hominids human.

The lesson I draw, though, is not about dogs. It is about man.

The ancient Greeks believed that virtue was to be found in moderation, the moderation of impulses and proclivities, between contrary passions. And here this research bears this ancient idea of virtue out. What makes for a civilized person is to avoid the instinctual fight-or-flight tendencies. A virtuous human is one that does not leap to aggression, nor sink into fear. The civilized stance — as opposed to the “wild” stance — is to stand one’s ground, and accept (perhaps even expect) co-operation from the other.

To see the other primarily as the enemy is, at core, an uncivilized habit. And when human beings  fall into that habit — either because others are, indeed, doing the same, or for less realistic reasons — civilization is lost. An essential element of “humanity” is lost.

In this we see something like a “natural end,” to use the much-overused and misunderstood terminology of the Aristotelians. It’s not that “Nature” cares one whit about whether the human species remains civilized, progresses in its civilization, or regresses. It is that, by choosing and expecting and daring to co-operate — and to treat others as non-enemies, at the very least — the natural consequence is the improvement of human nature, the gradual modification of human institutions that, in turn, buttress that motion towards improving peaceful habits and inclinations, and the opening up of new vistas of expanding options that this civilization affords.

Not discussed in the Nova program was the possibility that the breeding of dogs was co-evolutionary rather than pure artificial selection, “breeding.” The first dogs may have hung closer to human beings simply because they were curious, and gained an advantage. They may have domesticated themselves.

This is especially interesting, for human beings learned early to see the advantages in their new friends, the dogs. As the show explained, without dogs, civilization may not even have been possible. Early agriculture and the domestication of other animals was dependent upon canine assistance. Dogs were absolutely vital in defense of property and territory as well as in hunting.

It interests me that some early civilizations were more keen on honoring their dogs than others. I think one might say there is something perverse about those cultures that look down on dogs. They have forsaken an element of civilization. And maybe we should be a tad wary of any group of people that doesn’t like dogs.

But, to return to the upbeat moral of this story: the balancing point between conflicting instincts and habits, the “sweet spot” of moderation, is the key to virtue. And we now know that this key spot was found, early in the human story, by dogs. And that made a huge difference.