16 Jun 2012

Harvard Prof: Evolution Endorses Nanny-State Coercion

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Daniel E. Lieberman, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University

It was not for nothing that the late William F. Buckley, Jr. declared: “I would rather be governed by the first two thousand people in the Boston telephone directory than by the two thousand people on the faculty of Harvard University.”

Daniel E. Lieberman, a Harvard-educated Anthropologist who has managed to segue smoothly from his native social science to teaching Evolutionary Biology, won recent top marks in Scientism, the inappropriate and hubristic application of scientific theories to political and moral issues, when in a New York Time’s editorial last week, he informed readers that Evolution was voting in favor of Mayor Bloomberg’s soft drink ban specifically and government coercion in general.

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. …

Since sugar is a basic form of energy in food, a sweet tooth was adaptive in ancient times, when food was limited. However, excessive sugar in the bloodstream is toxic, so our bodies also evolved to rapidly convert digested sugar in the bloodstream into fat. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors needed plenty of fat — more than other primates — to be active during periods of food scarcity and still pay for large, expensive brains and costly reproductive strategies (hunter-gatherer mothers could pump out babies twice as fast as their chimpanzee cousins).

Simply put, humans evolved to crave sugar, store it and then use it. For millions of years, our cravings and digestive systems were exquisitely balanced because sugar was rare. Apart from honey, most of the foods our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate were no sweeter than a carrot. The invention of farming made starchy foods more abundant, but it wasn’t until very recently that technology made pure sugar bountiful.

The food industry has made a fortune because we retain Stone Age bodies that crave sugar but live in a Space Age world in which sugar is cheap and plentiful. …

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. [Emphasis added] We have evolved to need coercion.

Professor Lieberman neglects to explain how Evolution effectively draws the line between acceptable, desirable, and morally justifiable forms of state coercion, including taxes, regulations, and special paternalistic supervision of children, and even more effective and draconian measures, for instance, the Khmer Rouge marching the overweight urban inhabitants of Cambodia back into the country at machine gun point, aimed at “restoring a natural part of our environment. ”

He doesn’t offer any general principled account of why Evolution supports this and doesn’t support that precisely because he hasn’t got one. Professor Lieberman simply assumes that Evolution and Science (and Progress and the God of History) is embodied in the world by the consensus of people like himself, by the current opinions of the educated elite community of fashion.

One can find the scientific way of deciding things simply by reading the editorial pages of the Times.

All this, of course, is rubbish. The opinions and theories of Evolutionary Biology (let alone Anthropology) are anything but set in stone. Someone may discover next week the intense Neolithic cultivation of sugar beets in the Fertile Crescent. Medicine may decide that obesity is really caused by a particular gene, and that the specifics of diet play only a small role.

In the 1950s, Evolution would have decreed that you must drink milk to cure ulcers produced by the unnatural stress of modern capitalist life. Our latest information contends that bacteria are to blame and milk-drinking doesn’t do a thing.

More importantly, though, mere scientific facts are incapable of addressing philosophical questions of individual rights and the proper role and limits of the powers of government. Those issues have nothing to do with imaginary dietary teleologies and have to be debated on an entirely different level.

Scientism, the presumptuous attempt to misapply scientific theories or data in contexts in which they cannot possibly be determinative, is actually, I would argue, decisive evidence of bad education and intellectual incompetence.

It has been recognized for many decades now, certainly back to the 1960s or 1970s when Bill Buckley offered his famous apothegm concerning the faculty of Harvard, that there exists a tremendous and thoroughly alarming disconnect between our establishment intelligentsia and wisdom and common sense. Professor Lieberman is simply the most recent in a long series of wise fools.

3 Feedbacks on "Harvard Prof: Evolution Endorses Nanny-State Coercion"


Our bodies run on sugar. 100% of the carbohydrates you eat are turned into glucose and used as fuel to power your brain and muscles. While it is true that pure sugar is tempting to our taste buds and can be overdone unless you have one of a handful of diseases that require a special diet sugar will not hurt you. Without sugar you would die.


“There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.”
― George Orwell


A thug in academic clothing


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