July 18, 2005

Why Foucault shouldn't be lumped with Derrida:

My man in Istanbul has been thinking about why Darwin is not as popular in France and why Foucault is misinterpreted by both the Left and the Right in the Anglosphere:

Anglos, in contrast to the French, have managed to create globe-spanning empires and commonwealths. This put their [natural, as it is for all tribes] chauvinism to test: how do I get the Bantu to do my bidding in the British way?

The French very quickly gave up on their imperial ambitions. And even today, when they discuss "humanity" or "history", their main reference is at most the West continental Europe, but more often than not solely France - i.e. Netherlands of Belgium. That is, for them, humanity = the French.

Now, when an Anglo studies "humanity", he, more often than not, includes the Bantu, the Maya, the Afghani, the Eskimo, etc. under that heading. In that case, the biology of differences is relevant.

However, when we're studying, as Foucault, the punitive systems and incarceration between the 16th and 20th centuries, mostly in France, Germany, and Holland, what part of biology shall we include? They're all white, more or less from the same genetic/tribal ancestry, and of the same I.Q. points. This leaves only "nurture".

Residents of Anglosphere - I'm afraid yourself included - tend to misinterpret this. For example, I know Foucault quite well, and in none of his works has he ever claimed that he had set on a journey to explain "human behavior". He made it very specific: what has changed from a system in which a monarchical rule reigned to one which involved the modern nation-state, with an anonymous and dispersed power network, in which we saw the emergence of institutions like the military, the school, the hospital, etc.

If you believe one day you'll be able to explain the development of the Napoleonic army in genetic terms, well, good luck and be my guest, because you have a very, VERY long way to go - to developl a whole paradigm of genetic reductionism in which every human endevaour is foreordained in the genetic code; a type of biological fatalism. I humbly believe that explaining the differences in civilization between the Afghanis and the Netherlanders is a more realistic goal for that perspective.

But this fails to deal with one problem.

The underlying model for many social sciences - including bio-sociology - is still historicistic and uses, unknowingly, some Hegelian notions of organic development, the primary one being that of a human baby or a flower: the idea that a seed contains all the information for growth, and its development is only the realization of that blueprint. We can call this the "organic determinism" model.

(Marxist "historical determinism" uses the same model.)

If we accept that, given the same genetic profile, people will achieve not only more or less similar "levels of complexity" in civilization building, but they should all fatalistically follow the same paths. According to this, we should have not only a German Beethoven but also French, Dutch, Spanish, Belgian, etc. Beethovens. Or, similarly, by now we should have had not only a British America, but a French, Spanish, Dutch, etc. one.

I'm sure there is at least one fool - probably more - out there trying to prove this absurdity, but I'll beg to differ. I believe biological regularities govern how we are formed in our mothers' wombs, or how our brains uses glucose, but it cannot possibly shape the process through which one composes a piano concerto (other than only providing the genetical infrastructure for the talents required for that).

This means the work of historians - such as Foucault, who was a historian of systems of thought - is still valid. (Remember: Darwinian biology is also historicistic; it explains how change takes places and causes evolution among species.)

History - or sociology -, too, has to work ceteris paribus. If we're studying Bantu and Scotts for historical insight, there's a methodological problem. The only way to do that is to study groups with the same genetic profile (i.e. "fix" that "other" factor), to see which processes are specifically historical - i.e. what the nature of "temporally bound" developments are.

This is also what underlies the confusion in America regarding people like Foucault. He doesn't claim, or even try, to explain anything other than a historical process that is peculiar to France, and part of continental Europe. But almost everyone in America, including both progressive doofuses and conservatives, lumps him with irrelevant fools like Derrida - even Lacan - under the label "deconstructionist" (just to give you an idea, this is like grouping Adam Smith, Charles Darwin, and George Frazier together, calling them "Brits", and then labelling their works under a heading like "pro-analyzers") and claims that "Foucault and Derrida claimed that all reality is a passing idea on society's mind" or some other sophomoric crap.

(Note: Almost all of Foucault work is EMPIRICAL, based on actual historical records and data. None - repeat none - of it is speculative nonsense. He has actually demonstrated everything he claimed factually. FYI.)

Every discipline has to define a proper object of study for itself. If you say, like Derb did in a recent article, "dump sociology, pick biology" (I just don't know what kind of an adrenaline rush this gives to him), with all due respect, I cannot take you seriously.

To understand what biology does, we must isolate those phenomena that remain constant regardless of species, societal structure, received education, etc.

To understand whether there are specifically sociological parameters that shape our lives, we must observe only those with the exact same biological profiles, but cross-historically - that is, ignoring historical specificities so that we can generalize that the social network will produce certian effects regardless of temporal change. This may require a solid knowledge of biology of humans - to separate what is biologically governed - and psychology (the evolutionary school to understand how that psychology is shaped, and the cognitive school to see how the mind works regardless of social and historical setting.)

To understand how history operates and whether being temporally-bound has any impact on the social (I'd be very surprised if it didn't), we must study a given society from a given racial pool, and contrast at least three different periods in their social entities and relations throughout. A "multivariate" study may strengthen our observations if we pick another society from the same racial stock and observe, again, at least three peroids of it. Mixing it with biology will only confound our observational design, make it needlessly complicated, and may even distort the picture.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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