Creative Destruction and Extended Phenotypes
Evolution and Spontaneous Order in the Market Place
Blueprints are instructions for building top down designs. This is our everyday ordering and commonsense preoccupation with myth and we have developed a natural disposition to find a pattern or a designer in things; however, it’s an illusion, even a false notion, or at least leads to a lot of superstition (by seeing patterns where there are none, i.e., the Null Hypothesis, explained eloquently here). Do crops perform better after the virgin is thrown into the volcano? We now know that appeasing the gods is a waste of human talent but we’ll be damned if the crops didn’t get better when we killed a few virgins. We also miss obvious patterns that are right before us as this Youtube clip will reveal. Human subjectivism is a very real and present setback which is why we have to take so much care to try and be objective with superior scientific/metaphysical explanations. DNA is the living instructions for bottom up design: its precursor was RNA, (Ribonucleic acid), the original form of life on earth. An exemplar of this human proclivity to see top-down blueprint is when we see in the bird flock, a pattern so mind-boggling that we think that some boss bird, like a symphony conductor, is leading the flock; until now: now we can build drone flocks (see, Army of None) and we see for ourselves that one-drone design, and adding more identical drones, leads to the exact same phenomena as we see in living flocks or even computer programs which design one-bird flight and if you add more and more of the same digital birds it becomes a flock ballet just like real life.
What happens when true believers, subjectivists and ideologues are contradicted by reality? The Christians, Moslems, Marxists, Mormons and all the tribal manifestations of irrational collectivists, (Platonists), often just double-down, ignoring the empirical data; reality is optional. A false negative is failing to notice a pattern when there really is one like that, four seasons explains the earth spinning on its axis. Another pattern to baffle humanity for so long is a rat causing a pandemic which is actually a bacterium carried by a flea which killed rat and human alike (and cows, sheep and other domesticated animals). Natural-selection in evolution and spontaneous order in the unfettered market explain the human condition but stump the pedestrian; they long for God and the state to bring about cosmic righteousness. These explanations constantly cause confusion, and especially so to religious and political intellectuals who sincerely believe that facts are non-compulsary. A false positive is seeing God the designer when it does not exist or believing in the need for state intervention in the market when it is superfluous, even deleterious.
Surprises exist all around us, even in the middle of this horrible and boring pandemic, there are meta-ramifications, reactions and unplanned consequences, the biggest one being that the world came together to face this challenge; that is as startling and wonderful as the hope someday of ending human poverty completely. In 1950, two years before I was born, our life expectancy for the entire world was 48.7 years and extreme poverty was over 70% of its population; in 2020 in the middle of this viral event, life expectancy for the eight billion souls was well over 72 years and extreme poverty for the globe was under 10 percent; and moreover, now that we are in 2023 and getting more of an objective scientific view, are we sure that Covid was even a minor threat to regular healthy middle-aged folks and their kids but rather just a real danger to anyone with metabolic syndrome or some other serious immune compromise?
I read The Pathologies of Power (published 1988) after I’d finished The Code Breaker (published 2021). Sometimes I find that there are folks out there always reading the wrong old books and getting sorely depressed for nothing. As sure as it is immoral to be a holocaust-denier or a global-warming denier, it is just as immoral to be a progress-denier. It is also outright wrong to gloom and doom on principle, debilitating pessimism is as wrong as Pollyanna optimism, such as Leibniz framed it to defend divinity and Voltaire satirized in Candide those many years ago. Doom and gloom leads unnecessarily to much human suffering today especially among the young who are often being told that the world is melting, running out of everything and days away from some horrible calamity, or that God’s return is only a kiss away or that everyone is going to die (not eventually) but entirely and all too soon.
Hard sciences (math, physics, biology, medical research and the like) all follow Popper’s scientific criterion (see, Conjectures and Refutations) with, as always, some peer conformity in the enterprise, (see, Structures of Scientific Revolutions); plus a lot of worthwhile Hume scepticism, (see, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding). "While Karl Popper supported the idea that good science was always trying to refute its own conclusions . . . Thomas Kuhn suggested that “normal science” operated within the limits of a prevailing paradigm with little questioning until overwhelming new data caused the scientific community to overthrow the model in what Kuhn termed as a “paradigm shift.” We believe that Kuhn’s is a more accurate description of the history of science, whereas Popper’s is a better account of the logic of science" from Factory Physics.
Social scientists, especially the neo-Marxist types (phenomenologists, existentialists and Catholic Liberationists etc.,) do not, and thus, are more likely to be subjectivists, ideologues and religiously blind when it comes to elucidation and superior explanations when approaching the subject of humankind with our awkward scientific tools in the soft sciences. Why it behoves one to be cautiously hopeful and embrace possible progress in a democratic and human rights setting in 2023 is because the empirical data, though sometimes wrong, overstated or controversial, is becoming overwhelming, even irrefutable. I.e., in 1988 Haiti’s life expectancy was 50 years. In 2020 despite the worst run of luck for this tragic nation, it was over 64.
Paul Farmer doesn’t explain, as Jarred Diamond does (see, Collapse), why the Haitians are, (or their history is), partly culpable. They deforested their whole country for the briquette and charcoal industry. You can stand on the border between Dominican Republic (whose 2020 life expectancy is over 74—so more than a whole decade longer than Haiti and two years above the global mean), and Haiti, turn toward the Dominican Republic and you will see lush green forests. Then spin 180 degrees and see in Haiti, utter devastation, and gray barrenness. Though on the one side the Dominican Republic was conquered by Columbus’ Catholic Spain, this Spanish colony was settled and influenced over the centuries by protestant Europeans like the Germans versus in Haiti the French Catholics who perhaps at the time were less enthusiastic or intelligent about creating continual wealth in their French Colony on their half of the island. They certainly share the blame in denuding Haiti.
In the end, Farmer and Sachs may indeed be right about wealth and health and the end of poverty: that health, housing, transportation, education and good governance must be produced in tandem to beat the poverty trap and that extreme poverty is a stifling thing wherever it occurs; however, we must never panic. It is our duty to be optimistic and the empirical data is indicating that we have a shot at completely ending extreme poverty in the world and very soon.
You can’t talk about the HIV rates in Haiti and not discuss the Catholic Church unless if you overemphasize class and identity politics. The dissimilarity here (between Dominican Republic and Haiti) is also astounding, rates of differences of AIDS in some years are as large as by a factor of ten and it often comes down to the lack of availability of condoms in Haiti. This blame, like many places in Africa, falls directly on religion, and specifically, the irrational refusal to condone condoms and make their availability as easy to access as it would be in Toronto or New York City. That Mother Theresa visited Haiti so often (see, Hitchen’s The Missionary Position) and took their money preaching against birth control is a sin (to use their term). The Roman Catholic Church is as much an evil force in the world as the military industrial complex; and thus, it may indeed not necessarily be the market place itself causing poverty and rank inequality everywhere in this world of rue and woe as Farmer seems to assert. It perhaps has also some ideological causes as well; we need be prepared to admit Economic Free Zones do seem to point to part of an overall solution.
We could go country by country which Farmer visits; life expectancy in Mexico in 2020 is over 75 (three years behind America and Cuba), or Brazil over 76, two years behind them. I won’t belabour the point but he deals with these two places and fails to mention for instance that the Aztecs used humans as a protein source (see, White’s, The Great Big Book of Horrible Things) and were so easily defeated by a few hundred Spaniards because all the surrounding tribes joined Cortez to overthrow this horrible cannibalistic regime that was practicing human sacrifice at an alarming rate (and using their subjugates’ daughters and sons as the sacrifice), (see, Hanson’s, Carnage and Culture); for current life expectancy go here.
Moreover, he repeatedly uses the now worn expression ‘Third World’; however, there is no longer a Third World. The World is now first world (the industrial West), the second world (industrialized Asia and India who are a mere 25 years from economically over-taking the West and already have a larger middle-class population than the entire West), third, South and Central America, who will soon (50 years or so) also have a larger middle-class population than the West) and Africa, fourth. Why are they fourth and last? That continent was isolated the longest, conquered the most recent, (and the least), has few natural harbours, has a huge desert to the north, (i.e. a firewall for many centuries against the conquering Asians and Europeans), rivers which cascade (i.e., the opposite of the Mississippi and don’t lend themselves to trade) and diseases that Europeans had no immunity to, such as malaria which may be the biggest killer of humanity in all history; (see Sowell, The Cultural Series).
Does it in some ironical historical manner pay to be conquered in your past? The counterintuitive and unlikely answer is yes. Every part of the world was both trading and fighting with each other (from the first Sumerian, Chinese, Egyptian, Indus, Hittitean and Middle Eastern civilizations 8 - 12,000 years ago) and it produced sideways progress with of course inconceivable violence and suffering everywhere at all times until very recently, and incredible amounts of slavery in every part of the world including inside the societies of the Incas, Aztecs, Mayans, Africans and North American Native Indians; however, ironically, isolation means over historical times, lack of human progress in these times. No half-mad killer-autocrat like Genghis Khan conquered, united Africa in blood and turned it into a tour-de-force military unit which it eventually had a sense of a national identity like India, China, Mongolia or whoever else. So when the West (Dutch and English) showed up in long-boats on the southern tip to settle in (see, E Huxley’s Red Strangers), the Africans were still practicing ritual tribal magic of the late hunter-gatherer stage.
The Althusserian Theory as an aspect of the neo-Marxist’s tradition of un-decipherable gobbledygook, in that, all economy is fundamentally structured by only exploitation and conflict, and moreover that morality is mute and ideology a hand-maiden to the process of the evil oppressor-class, i.e., the capitalists, who use the power structure and social order to exploit the worker class is laughably bad philosophy. Indeed, those standing in the guilt-ridden first world today are not lucky because their ancestors exploited others, but also because their precursors in their past were exploited, enslaved, brutalized, conquered and suffered all those indignities over and over again by not being isolated. It is isolation itself in historical terms that is the most common factor in poverty today.
Speaking of which, Hunter-gatherers’ life expectancy is under 30 years. Where is the righteous concern for them? They are human beings in every way we are. The “uncorrupted” tribes in the Amazon Rain Forest have no written language. We could school them. They can’t count past ten. We could teach them rudimentary math. They live in terror of spiders, hornets, snakes, vipers and jaguars. They have no clothes; we could assist in this way as well. Birth-deaths for Hunter-gatherers are 300 in 1000 because of an evolutionary fluke of svelte mothers and big-headed babies; we could give them obstetrical help, vaccinations and let them decide whether they wanted to join the human race. Hunter-gatherers live in an unending camping trip with no modern conveniences: "For hunter-gatherers, there is no escape from this way of life: no opportunities to pick up food at the grocery store, no telephones, no emergency services, no artificial water supplies, no fuel deliveries, no guns or animal control officers to protect one from the predatory animals."
In the world at large presently, birth-deaths have fallen from 300 to 30 deaths in 1000 births in just 300 years; in Canada it is now under 5 in 1000. Of course ideologues don’t want to rescue these types of human beings (hunter-gatherers), they’re not exploited by imperialistic, evil, greedy, selfish, uncaring and “extreme advocates of total tyranny”, free-market capitalists such as me, but rather by predation be it bacteria or larger predators like caimans. They are the uncorrupted dignified hunter-gatherer that the true-believers base their gloom and doom utopian ideology partly on, not realizing that our starting position as hunter-gatherers is utter poverty and early death; The Noble Savage is as ridiculous a myth as there is out there on the Left, every bit as dense as what Trump or Bolsonaro could come up with on the Right or wherever direction the idiotic wind blew them in from. Think for a minute to 60, 50 or 40 years ago in the social sciences and psychology, i.e., the behaviourists, the cognitivists, the culture absolutists, the social psychologists, (Watson, Mead, Freud, Durkheim, the neo-Marxists, Gassset, Geertz, Skinner to name a few), who all defended in faith (and in science too I suppose), some sort of Lockean or empiricist’s tabula rosa, an absence or lack of predetermined data or innate programmed goals; a blank slate, in regards to how we grow, learn and reason, and that Human Nature was malleable almost without limitations. In a sense, they had a want of neo-evolutionary understanding of how all this evolved in nature over millions of years; I sympathise. How much is this an exaggeration of the myth of the Noble Savage though? I ask you in all sincerity: What more argument do you need, to see it all in a most permanent way: “We are always at the beginning of knowledge” . . . period? Now know that by evolution we are partly pre-programmed. Anyway, this is what we know now—but let's wait for another 40, 50, or 60 years from now, what will we know then? Do you see what I mean by, "At the beginning of knowing?" There is no certitude, no knowing beyond debate, and no absolute knowlege; there is only tentative knowlege.
Here’s a short reading list to see the world from a different perspective: Enlightenment Now, Factfulness, (see endnote), The Good News Is the Bad News Is Wrong, The Idea of Decline in Western History, It’s Getting Better All the Time, The Good Old Days—They Were Terrible!, The Case for Rational Optimism, The Improving State of the World, The Progress Paradox, The Flynn Effect, The Rational Optimist, Getting Better, and The Better Angels of Our Nature. All of these well-known books are easy to get and are straightforward. At any rate, Farmer’s claim to reduce suffering I hope is true, and perhaps he has—he seems like an exceedingly caring person—however, he and many like him who do good works in places around the world spread their (anticapitalistic) resistance and revolution folklore which only increase the overall distress in the societies they assist. Many of them are prejudiced against private property, the market place in general, trading in particular which is very ancient indeed and they do not understand a simple economic fact like that it is better to manufacture a smart-phone for $10 than it is to give a person $10—there are 4.5 billion cell phones (and over seven billion users) in the world today and 30 years ago there wasn’t a single one available to even the wealthiest person on the planet. Besides the cheapest phone is not $10 US, it is $3.50 US, the Indian smart-phone, Freedom 251 (251 rupees).
Jennifer Doudna along with Emmanuelle Charpentier (the 2020 recipients of the Noble prize in chemistry), are true life heroines depicted in Isaacson’s excellent, The Code Breakers. Their CRISPR research/technology and the teams of chemists and bio-geneticists they brought together from all over the world when the pandemic struck to help facilitate the Pfizer vaccine against COVID will indeed save millions of lives through hard science, and certainly will reduce much human suffering and death on a less than theoretical basis like the collectivist’s ones many intellectuals from the soft social sciences endorse.
To quote from Robert Sapolsky: "Let’s contrast genotype and phenotype. Genotype = someone’s genetic makeup. Phenotype = the traits observable to the outside world produced by that genotype. Neuroscientists often use the term 'endophenotype,' which basically means: 'a trait that we used to be unable to detect at the phenotypic level but now can, thanks to some invention, so we’re going to call it an endophenotype, meaning a newly observable trait that is kind of inside you.' Your blood type is an endophenotype, detectable with an assay on a blood sample; the size of your amygdala is an endophenotype, detectable with a brain scanner." To assume the identical twin will develop as its schizophrenic sibling did in a deterministic universe, is to not understand the phenomena of extended phenotypes, in quite possibly, an in-deterministic multiverse, which seems incrementally all the time more likely. An extended phenotype is one that is not limited to the individual body in which a gene is housed and it includes all the effects that a gene causes on the world. For instance big-headed babies brought death and destruction to their svelte human mothers and themselves for many thousands of millennia. Now through obstetrical science their mothers and they themselves live, and in the living, the bigger heads perhaps bring smarter humans, and this maybe explains some of the global Flynn Effect. A gene can influence the environment in which an organism lives through the behaviour of that organism and the results can be startling. A recipe is a genotype, and how the meal tastes is the phenotype.
The downside of capitalism is creative destruction which is the upside of human progress. With individual freedom, property rights and human innovation to transform modern civilization, we move forward in a painful cycle; so, the downside is the upside. (This is some of the message so poignantly delivered in Taleb’s Antifragile and with completely different language and tools in Peterson's Beyond Order). We create problems such as global warming when we create wealth to which we must then find solutions. In life many things are counterintuitive and all life accomplishments have tradeoffs. Human beings cannot get from the pyramids to air-conditioned condominiums, (or from slavery to a modern workweek with adjacent labor laws), without working through our problems and finding new resolutions every generation. In some sense, judging human quality of life by a singular fairness doctrine i.e., perfect justice, is using the wrong ruler to measure humankind’s progress. What must be demanded of every nation is a deployment of a de-regulation of their markets wherever they can do so without civil conflict and to adopt an optimistic outlook for their citizens’ children’s future and to allow everyone as much freedom of conscience and speech as humanly possible. Africa will indeed rise, without a doubt already rising.
Why do “atomistic” libertarians like me want liberty at all costs? It is the issue of freedom of choice for individuals, and all human choice has a moral element. But why economic liberty—is it so important to own property? This might for some intellectuals be quite puzzling; for what does freedom mean if you are in want and are suffering in poverty? I can only answer that humans (as Hunter-gatherers) start in poverty. The restless young start also in (a kind of) poverty for knowledge, wealth and wisdom, and if they ever come, it takes many years. It is wealth that must be created, and for this to happen in any meaningful way, human liberty is the prerequisite, and so are property rights of some sort. They don’t have to eclipse everything; however, a house and a small plot of land go a long way to secure individual borders. Also, individual human capital is wealth-to-go so to speak. You can take it with you anywhere in the world. A learned skill is in your head and it is why education (and not necessarily a state-supplied one) is so important. But here, acquiring human capital is an individual commitment. You must choose for yourself and it is hard work. I didn’t mean to read thousands of books but I sure as hell didn’t trip over a branch and fall into one, then another and another. As the puzzle got bigger and bigger, I had to read more books to solve it. When I realized it couldn’t really be solved but only partially understood, seven decades had slipped by.
Endnote on Factfulness, From, Of Boys and Men added in 2023: In Factfulness, he describes various biases, including the “straight line instinct,” an assumption that a historical trend line will continue unaltered into the future; the “negativity instinct,” which is a tendency to think things are likely getting worse; and the “gap instinct,” which is a “basic urge to divide things into two distinct groups, with nothing but an empty gap in between.”²⁵ As Rosling puts it, “We love to dichotomize.”