Philosophy, religious news briefs

Staff and wire reports

Jerry Gross arrives at the federal courthouse in Asheville, NC., Friday, May 25, 2018. He and his son, who belong to a secretive evangelical church in North Carolina called Word of Faith Fellowship Church, pleaded guilty to the criminal charges in an unemployment benefits scheme that former congregants have said was part of a plan to keep money flowing into the church. (Jennifer Emert/WLOS via AP)

Jerry Gross arrives at the federal courthouse in Asheville, NC., Friday, May 25, 2018. He and his son, who belong to a secretive evangelical church in North Carolina called Word of Faith Fellowship Church, pleaded guilty to the criminal charges in an unemployment benefits scheme that former congregants have said was part of a plan to keep money flowing into the church. (Jennifer Emert/WLOS via AP)

FILE - This 2016 image from video shows the entrance to the Word of Faith Fellowship church in Spindale, N.C. A father and son who belong to the secretive evangelical church in North Carolina pleaded guilty Friday, May 25, 2018, to federal criminal charges in an unemployment benefits scheme that former congregants have said was part of a plan to keep money flowing into the church. As part of an ongoing investigation into physical and emotional abuse at the Word of Faith Fellowship Church. The Associated Press reported in September that authorities were looking into the unemployment dealings of congregants and their businesses. (AP Photo/Alex Sanz)

Jason Lee Gross arrives at the federal courthouse in Asheville, NC., Friday, May 25, 2018. He and his father, who belong to a secretive evangelical church in North Carolina called Word of Faith Fellowship Church, pleaded guilty to the criminal charges in an unemployment benefits scheme that former congregants have said was part of a plan to keep money flowing into the church. (Jennifer Emert/WLOS via AP)

Father, son plead guilty to fraud involving secretive sect


Associated Press

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — A father and son who belong to a secretive evangelical church in North Carolina pleaded guilty Friday to federal criminal charges in an unemployment benefits scheme that former congregants have said was part of a plan to keep money flowing into the church.

As part of an ongoing investigation into physical and emotional abuse at the Word of Faith Fellowship Church in Spindale, North Carolina, The Associated Press reported in September that authorities were looking into the unemployment dealings of congregants and their businesses.

Dr. Jerry Gross, 72, and his son, Jason Lee Gross, 51, pleaded guilty to one count each of wire fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. They were charged earlier in May. Both men are pictured on the Word of Faith Fellowship’s website under a section for pastors and ministers, though the church was not mentioned during the hearing.

Other than the men’s spouses, no church members attended Friday’s hearing in federal court in Asheville.

Jerry Gross owned the Foot & Ankle Center of the Carolinas in Forest City, North Carolina. His son worked there, managing business operations, including payroll and personnel decisions, according to court records.

As part of his plea deal, Jerry Gross agreed to cooperate with the government. The criminal investigation into Word of Faith is ongoing. Former church member John Huddle of Marion said Friday he was interviewed several months ago by state criminal investigators and U.S. Department of Homeland Security agents. He said he was asked not to discuss the topic of his interview.

The U.S attorney’s office said the Grosses’ scheme netted nearly $150,000 for which employees were not entitled from September 2009 to March 2013. The two made it appear that they had laid off employees, including themselves, making them eligible for unemployment benefits. But prosecutors said the workers remained on the job.

“The scheme enabled Foot & Ankle Center to survive the economic downturn during those years by creating a free labor force — one paid for by the government, not the business itself,” court records said.

Both men were released on $200,000 unsecured bonds. Jerry Gross was ordered to forfeit about $43,000 that prosecutors said was obtained illegally, while his son agreed to forfeit about $38,000, according to court documents. They surrendered their passports and were ordered to give up any guns they have. They also were instructed not to discuss the case.

AP cited 11 former congregants in September who said dozens of church members filed bogus claims at various times at the direction of church leaders. Interviews with former followers, along with documents reviewed by the AP, indicated at least six companies owned by church leaders were involved with filing fraudulent unemployment claims between 2008 and 2013. Most of those businesses’ employees are congregants, the AP found.

Former church member Randy Fields told the AP that his construction company faced potential ruin during the struggling economy, so he pleaded with church leaders to reduce the amount of money he was required to contribute every week.

Fields said church founder Jane Whaley proposed a plan that would allow him to continue contributing at least 10 percent of his income to the church while helping his company survive: He would file fraudulent unemployment claims on behalf of his employees.

“The justification was to keep God’s businesses afloat. That was the reason 100 percent, for the people who were doing it, they didn’t feel like they were necessarily defrauding anybody,” said Vicenta del Toro of Shelby, a church member until 2015 who said her daughter-in-law worked as a nurse for Jerry Gross. “That’s how they justified it, and they were told to do that by the pastor. That it was OK.”

The unemployment allegations were uncovered as part of the AP’s ongoing investigation into Word of Faith, which had about 750 congregants in rural North Carolina and a total of nearly 2,000 members in its branches in Brazil and Ghana and its affiliations in Sweden, Scotland and other countries.

In February 2017, the AP cited more than three dozen former Word of Faith Fellowship members who said congregants were regularly punched and choked in an effort to beat out devils. The AP also revealed how, over the course of two decades, followers were ordered by church leaders to lie to authorities investigating reports of abuse.

AP later outlined how Word of Faith created a pipeline of young laborers from its two Brazilian congregations who say they were brought to the U.S. and forced to work for little or no pay at multiple businesses owned by church leaders.

Those stories led to investigations in the U.S. and Brazil. In March, Brazilian labor prosecutors filed suit to shut down one of the church branches and its school in Sao Paulo, saying the church and its leaders “reduced people to a condition analogous to slavery.”

Mohr contributed from Jackson, Mississippi.

Trump Could Feed Every Homeless Veteran for the Cost of His Military Parade, Even Conservatively Estimated

By Ryan Sit 3/11/18


President Donald Trump’s military parade is set to kick off on Veterans Day, but at a cost that even conservative estimates show could feed every homeless veteran for at least two weeks, a Newsweek analysis found.

The military showcase was initially estimated to cost $10 million and $30 million, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney told the House Budget Committee in February. That cost accounted for Trump’s vision of tanks rolling through Washington DC—not unlike what he witnessed in France during its Bastille Day celebration, or what occurs in North Korea, China and Russia—though a Pentagon memo originally obtained by CNN on Friday nixed the use of heavy military vehicles.

Though not an exact science—parade cost estimates included using tanks et al., and it’s impossible to determine exact figures of homelessness by nature of their transience—these numbers provide a financial comparison and a look at the Trump administration’s priorities.

Using the most conservative estimates available from federal agencies and non-profit organizations, Newsweek found Trump could completely eliminate hunger among homeless veterans, serving them three meals a day, for at least 14 days.

The Numbers

There were 40,056 homeless veterans in the United States in 2017, according to a Department of Housing and Urban Development report published last December. The finding marked a 1.5 percent increase from the 39,471 homeless veterans in 2016—the first such increase in seven years.

Feeding America, a non-profit organization and the nation’s largest hunger-relief and food rescue group, found the average cost-per-meal in the U.S. was $2.94 in 2015, the latest data available. The organization culled data from several organizations and agencies, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and found the cost-per-meal ranged from a low of $2.04 in Maverick County, Texas to a high of $5.61 in Crook County, Oregon.

A $10 million military parade—Mulvaney’s lowest estimate, granted it included tanks—could provide $249.65 for all 40,056 homeless veterans. That could provide each of those veterans 44.5 meals priced at $5.61 per meal—the highest national cost estimate, according to Feeding America—enough for three meals a day for 14.8 days.

Adjusting the cost per meal to the national average of $2.94, homeless veterans could eat three meals a day for nearly a month, 28.3 days.

In February, Trump told Fox News he wouldn’t hold the parade if the cost was exorbitant.

“We’ll see if we can do it at a reasonable cost, and if we can’t, we won’t do it, but the generals would love to do it, I can tell you, and so would I,” he said.

On Thursday, the Pentagon sent the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff a memo saying the military showcase would be integrated with the annual Veterans Day parade in DC and have an “an emphasis on the price of freedom.”

From Facebook

Who would have believed a couple years ago that we would have a president for over a year now who:

Has lied to us more than 3,000 times in a year

Paid a porn star to be silent about their affair during the campaign

Dismantled our trade agreements

Started a trade war

Alienated all of our allies while befriending dictators

Refused to denounce nazi/white supremacists even after they murdered a protester

Recognised Jerusalem as the Capitol of Israel against the UN and world opinion

Changed tax laws to further separate the wealth gap

Caused the UN to downgrade us to a “flawed democracy”

Caused MIT to report us as a developing nation

Cancelled a nuclear treaty without any alternative plan

Demonstrates flagrant racism in many ways, including the reversal of all possible Obama accomplishments

Claims persecution by the press and blames all things on Obama & Clinton

Disbands clean air and clean water regulations

Leaves the climate change Paris Accord

Trump Fires So Many People Because of ‘Darwinian’ Management Style, Says President’s Longtime Confidant

By Paul Leblanc On 5/29/18

Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of conservative news outlet Newsmax and longtime confidant of Donald Trump, has explained the turnover in the Trump administration as a part of the president’s “Darwinian” management style.

“The president was going to replace weaker people with stronger people,” Ruddy told The Washington Post. “He brought on people, saw what worked, and those that worked, like [Secretary of State] Mike Pompeo, got promoted, and those…who were considered weak aren’t there anymore.”

Turnover in top Cabinet positions has become routine for the Trump administration since the president took office in January 2017. Through his first 14 months in office, Trump had made changes to nine of the 21 top White House and cabinet positions, according to an analysis from The New York Times. By comparison, only two positions had changed hands at the same point of Barack Obama’s presidency and only one under George W. Bush.

One current White House official told the Post that the Trump administration’s high turnover can feel like an episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones.

“I would liken it to Game of Thrones a little bit, not for the obvious reason, but from a factual standpoint,” said the official. “No one knows where anyone else is, and everyone is playing everyone else a little bit. Everyone is essentially in business for themselves.”

Notable departures during Trump’s first 16 months in office include Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, national security adviser H.R. McMaster, FBI Director James Comey, acting Attorney General Sally Yates, chief strategist Steve Bannon and communications director Anthony Scaramucci, who held his position for just 11 days.

The Trump administration has also seen resignations from key positions including press secretary Sean Spicer, communications director Hope Hicks and national security adviser Michael Flynn, who left his position following reports he had misled Vice President Mike Pence over his contact with the then-Russian ambassador.

Trump defended his staff turnover on Twitter in March writing that he was seeking perfection from his staff, “The new Fake News narrative is that there is CHAOS in the White House. Wrong! People will always come & go, and I want strong dialogue before making a final decision. I still have some people that I want to change (always seeking perfection). There is no Chaos, only great Energy!”

Katheryn Dunn Tenpas, a political historian and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute who tracks turnover during presidential administrations told The Washington Post in March that Trump’s staff turnover is unlike any she’s ever followed.

“It’s not just unprecedented,” she said. “I would call it off the charts.”

Darwin Applied to Trump: Can Evolutionary Theory Help Us Understand the Appeal of Donald Trump?

The Evolution Institute

Many Americans were shocked at Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 election but those with graduate degrees in the social sciences and humanities were among the most mystified. These men and women may be paid a good salary to profess their knowledge and understanding of humans and their societies, but this expertise didn’t allow them to predict that someone like Trump could capture the vote of so many of their fellow Americans.

The 2016 election tightened the grip that conservatives have on US politics and this could pose a severe threat to the funding of scholarship in the social sciences and humanities in the country. But even though there is much discussion of the election result among these scholars, there have been few scholarly attempts to understand the appeal of the conservative message to so many Americans or why Trump’s rendering of it was particularly appealing.

The reasons for the Trump victory that have been proffered so far are mostly the opinions of pundits rather than scholars. Putting aside for a moment the outrage over lies, fake news, and interference from Russians, they are same tired old economic explanations. It’s claimed that Trump voters feel economically insecure, dissatisfied, envious, or just plain neglected. That phrase: “It’s the economy, stupid”, still resonates. We’re in the habit of looking at the economy to find post hoc explanations of people’s behavior and people themselves are inclined to point to the economy to justify their opinions and actions.

But if we want a fuller explanation of the appeal of conservatism, isn’t it time we tried exploring other approaches?

What does Darwin have to offer?

Hearing the name “Darwin” may cause many readers to anticipate a story of evolved genes that cause some people think in more conservative ways. Some evidence does suggest a very weak link between one gene and political affiliation1 but this isn’t our story. Darwin’s theories can be applied to more than the evolution of genes. In fact, Darwin knew nothing about genes. Biologists didn’t begin to understand genetic inheritance until some years after Darwin’s death.

What Darwin did (in his book On the Origin of Species published in 1859) was to provide a theory that made sense of patterns in the variation of living organisms. His theory, which he summarized as “descent with modification” has proved very successful in explaining change and diversity in the genes of populations. But there’s no reason that the same basic theory can’t help to explain patterns in cultural variation. Just as genes are passed from parent to child, cultural information passes between people as they interact. Children don’t “inherit” the beliefs of their parents because we can get our cultural information from many other people as well. We can also modify our beliefs based on our experiences and often pass on these personalized beliefs rather than exact copies of what we acquired from others. Nevertheless, most of what we “know” is based on what we have “inherited” from others.

Culture has been evolving very rapidly in almost all human populations for several generations and so it’s reasonable to assume that Darwin’s theory can provide insight into the patterns of cultural variation that have emerged from this evolutionary process. Overall, life for humans has improved. All over the world, people are healthier and more prosperous than they were a century ago. But the distribution of the benefits has been patchy and there have also been costs. Higher tech weaponry has made killing easier. Old ways of living and making a living have become impossible. These costs have also been unevenly distributed.

A Darwinian explanation of cultural change must look at changes in the pattern of social interaction. It’s through these interactions that we inherit our cultural information. Each one can result in the cultural equivalent of “mating”, with information passing from one mind to the other. No offspring is conceived as a result of this transfer, but the mind of one or both of the participants comes out of the experience subtly altered.

“The Family”

Patterns of social interaction have profoundly changed in almost all human populations during the last 300 years. For almost all of human history and pre-history, going back maybe two million years, “The Family” was the main social institution organizing people’s lives.

Human biology makes it essential that our young be raised in families. This isn’t the case for the species closest to us on the evolutionary tree. Like most mammals, chimp, bonobo, gorilla and orangutan females can successfully raise their young without help. It’s likely that this started to change in the human lineage as our ancestors began to evolve larger brains. In order to grow their large brain, our babies have to be born large but helpless. Once born, they grow very slowly and require a regular supply of energy-rich nutritious food. A human can only survive to adulthood if its mother receives a considerable amount of help – help from several people, not just the baby’s father.

Families are child-rearing teams. Not all team members do a lot of hands-on childcare but all members are expected to play a role, perhaps by helping to gain resources or by providing protection, advice or useful connections. Over the years our ancestors evolved a wide variety of ways to organize these teams. Families vary enormously in size, complexity, and behavior. But the basic function of the family is always the same – or at least it was until recently. Families were a bit like primitive living organisms. Their members worked together to keep their family going, acquiring resources from the environment to maintain themselves and create a new generation of members.

As brain size increased in the human lineage, the amount and quality of the help mothers received also had to increase. The pattern of growth and development that produced large-brained humans co-evolved with the pattern of “team parenting” behavior that supported this growth and development. This could not have been simple co-evolution of genes. Our genetic inheritance may be responsible for the emotional foundation of human family behavior, helping to create and maintain bonds between family members, but we clearly don’t have genes that program us to either be good mothers or to provide appropriate help to mothers. We learn how to be family members as we grow up in a family. Our early experience of receiving and giving care in a family influences how we behave for the rest of our lives. The environment in which we learn about the world and how to survive in it is part of our family inheritance. The influence it has on our behavior is at least as important as our genetic inheritance.

Over thousands of generations in the distant past, the genetic changes associated with the increase in human brain size evolved in concert with the cultural changes necessary to support young with resource-hungry brains. Families which were most successful in raising young were those that maintained beliefs, rules, customs and habits which kept a group of people working together as an efficient child-raising team. Those which were less successful died out. It was natural selection, between families. Information (cultural information and genetic information) associated with the most efficient conversion of resources into offspring was most likely to be passed on to the next generation.

The origins of conservatism

A brief consideration of the beliefs, rules, customs and habits consistent with the efficient conversion of resources into offspring yields a list that nowadays typifies “extreme conservatism.” The most successful families would have members who saw it as natural that:

1. The interests of the family must come first.

− Members must try not to even think about what might be in their own personal interests. “Obey and respect your elders” is a good general rule.

2. It must always be assumed that people will put the interests of their family first.

− It, therefore, doesn’t make sense to trust a friend as much as a family member and non-family members will never see you as completely trustworthy.

3. Strangers who act friendly or generous are particularly untrustworthy.

− Why would anyone do this? They are insulting your intelligence.

4. Children are a blessing and should behave like blessings.

− They should be eager to perform as much work as their age and skill level allows, including the care, supervision, and correction of younger children.

5. Women and girls should want to be mothers and perform work compatible with motherhood and childcare.

− The future of the family depends on having reproductive age females willing to endure the discomfort and risks of pregnancy and childbirth. They should not want to waste their time doing things that men and boys can do.

6. Sexual behavior likely to result in pregnancy must be controlled by the family so that births are controlled.

− A baby can’t survive unless it’s born within a team that is able and willing to raise it. Producing babies that can’t be raised is upsetting and wasteful.

7. Mating outside one’s immediate family is necessary but ideally, a match can be arranged between members of related families or family friends.

− This makes it more likely that relatives of the bride and groom can agree and work together providing help to the children that result from their marriage.

Maintaining a set of cultural traits that caused people to behave in accordance with these basic rules not only enabled a family to successfully compete against other families; it also made it likely that individual members of the family enjoyed greater genetic “fitness” than members of families which were less efficiently turning resources into offspring. Future generations included more genes from members of efficient families.

Historical and anthropological studies suggest that, despite vast cultural variation, respect for elders, primacy of family, xenophobia, child labor, gender division of labor, high birth rates, and arranged marriages were commonly considered to be “normal” in most parts of Europe until the 18th or 19th century and in most non-European countries until the 20th century. Of course, families had “black sheep”. There was disobedience, unfairness, jealously, and occasional cuckoldry. And, in the places and times that are of most interest to historians, normal behavior was often suspended. In cities and during wartime, prostitution, venereal disease, destitute orphans and all manner of sin and vice could be found.

But most of our ancestors were born, grew up and raised their children well away from cities and wars. The majority of them were members of the more efficient childcare teams, thriving in the good times and surviving the bad. Natural selection favored behaviors that added to the efficiency of those teams and the genetic and cultural traits associated with these behaviors.

A Darwinian view of “modernization”

In the last few centuries, family-promoting cultural traits began to weaken and this has revolutionized the way humans live. Most humans alive today don’t belong to teams that efficiently turn resources into offspring. Even though we’re more prosperous than our ancestors, we produce very few offspring. Fertility is very low or falling rapidly in almost all human populations.

And it isn’t just norms about family size that have changed; the whole suite of the family-promoting cultural traits has been affected. The effect has been largest in Western populations. Far from seeing elders as worthy of respect, we Westerners often see them as time-expired, an awkward burden. We see our offspring as a responsibility rather than a blessing. Instead of being taught that they have a duty to contribute to their family, Western children are urged to figure out what will make them happy in life and to work for that. We can’t imagine giving an eight-year-old the responsibility of caring for a three-year-old and believe child labor to be immoral. The idea of parents being allowed to control their children’s choice of marriage partner also appalls us. For Westerners, marriages are about adults seeking happiness. We long ago ceased to see marriage as a partnership for the raising of children.

Why did these cultural changes happen? A superficial look might suggest that it was the result of rational reasoning. Individuals might have simply seen that maintaining a strong family was no longer a practical necessity and so they changed their minds about how to behave. But the idea of rational reasoning being involved seems laughable given the emotion generated by discussion of changes in “family values.”

It couldn’t have been that that simple. The family-promoting culture of our ancestors was not the work of ancient social engineers. It was the product of many generations of gene-culture co-evolution. When our forebears acquired beliefs, rules, customs and habits which caused them to be hard working members of an efficient child-rearing team, it was not because they judged these cultural traits to be of practical value. They began to acquire them when they were too young to be capable of rational thought. We humans learn how to behave by observing and experiencing the people around us and by feeling the consequences of our own actions.

Also, the weakening of the family-promoting cultural traits didn’t happen all at once, as one would expect if it was simply the reasoned abandonment of outmoded ideas. The weakening has been an evolutionary process. For example, the grandmother of one of us (Lesley), born in England in the early 20th century, was less assiduously devoted to the interests of the family than her own mother. She only produced two children, even though she had grown up in a family of five surviving children. Nevertheless, many of the family-promoting traits were strong in her. By today’s standards, she was very “conservative”. Her son became an engineer but she expected her daughter (Lesley’s mother) to work as a secretary and to quit working as soon as she married. Her mother complied.

Our training in Darwin’s theory of evolutionary change suggests that the gradual weakening of family promoting traits can be thought of as the accumulation of mutations in the cultural information that had previously encouraged people to devote their lives to the interests of their family. By 1800, women in some parts of France were already choosing to limit the number of children they had, suggesting that they no longer possessed a complete set of fulling functioning family-promoting cultural variants. Over the next few generations, more and more Europeans failed to inherit the idea that children were a blessing. By the early 20th century, fertility was falling rapidly in most European populations, including populations descended from people who had migrated from Europe to other continents.

At the same time, new mutations were appearing in the cultural information that Europeans were inheriting. By 1900, many new social institutions were organizing the lives of Europeans and the role of The Family was much diminished. And yet, judging by the writing of the time, including diaries, letters, and memoirs, most Europeans retained the belief that it was their duty to respect those in authority and put the interests of the larger group ahead of their own interests. In many people’s minds, the concept of “my family” had been partly replaced with the larger social groups they felt they belonged to, such as “my nation”, “my church” and “my race”. This was a time of intense nationalism, religious fervor, and racism in Europe. Between 1914 and 1918 millions of Europeans dutifully laid down their lives to further what their leaders told them were the interests of their nation.

The evolution of Western culture has continued steadily over the last 100 years but remnants of family promoting beliefs are still retained. For example, we still consider it “natural” that wealthier and better-connected families will strive to obtain superior schools and more lenient justice for their children.

The weakening of the family promoting cultural traits coincides very closely with the change in the pattern of social interaction and the emergence of other social institutions to take over the role of the family. Both happened first in Europe. In 18th century Europe, social, technological and economic change began to make it both possible and advantageous for people to form strong social connections outside the family. Travel became easier and more and more families found that their young people could gain a better living if they left home and joined a workforce. As more people learned to read, more books, pamphlets, and newspapers became available to satisfy their curiosity about life outside their local communities. Within a few generations, non-European populations also started to experience widening social interaction and increased exposure to media.

Such changes transform the flow of cultural ideas. People gain wider social identities. In towns, clubs, religious congregations, political parties, unions and secret societies provide lonely newcomers with new comrades and brethren. Most people continue to see themselves as members of a family living within a local community but they also began to identify themselves as members of a workforce, a social class, an ethnic group, a religion or a nation.

As a result, the constant trickle of information from family members re-enforcing ideas of duty to family becomes diluted by other information streams. There’s no reason to believe that this will instantly wipe out the beliefs, rules, customs and habits that had been passed down the generations for thousands of years. But there is every reason to believe that the dilution of the message will make it less likely that populations will maintain complete and accurate versions of the cultural traits that had kept their forebears loyal to the interests of their families. Before long, the trickle of information from family members starts to alter and become less coherent. An easily observed effect of this is a sharp reduction in the number of children people have. And as time goes on, more and more “mutations” appear in the family-promoting cultural traits. Loyalty to family becomes loyalty to the fatherland, the motherland, the King, “God, the Father” etc.

Red states, blue states and failed states

Patterns of cultural variation are the result of many influences but explanations of these influences are of two types. They can be historical, such as Fischer’s observation that regional voting patterns in the United States can be tied to the point of origin in the British Isles of people who settled in the region in previous centuries. Or they can be environmental, such as Inglehart’s observation that what he calls the “political style” of a group of people can be tied to the level of security in the environment in which they were socialized. No explanation can be the whole story and new ideas are not necessarily a threat to old ones.

A Darwinian view of modernization suggests another way that a population’s history can influence its culture. The amount of time that has passed since the widening of social interaction is revealed to be potentially important in explaining the pattern of cultural differences. The more time that has passed, the more changes are likely to have accumulated in the population’s family-promoting cultural traits. This predicts that, because the widening of social interactions happened first in Europe, the feeling of family obligation will be stronger in non-Western populations. This has been observed, even in among non-Western immigrants to Western countries.

Populations which began to experience widening social interactions most recently, such as those in many parts of Africa and the Middle East, appear extremely conservative to Westerners. Elders are still honored and marriages are still arranged. Sexual behavior is kept under strict social control and girls are brought up differently from their brothers. People in these populations are so loyal to family, tribe, and religion that they seem unable to see where their own individual best interests lie. Westerners find these frustrating places to do business, distribute aid, or broker peace deals. Modern social institutions premised on individual autonomy cannot work effectively if feelings of family loyalty are strong.

A Darwinian approach also suggests explanations for cultural differences between sub-populations within a country such as the United States. Immigrants to Western countries from populations of non-European descent are likely to be more conservative than the native population. If they integrate well, the differences are much reduced in their children but they don’t always integrate well. In places where these immigrants come to make a large proportion of the population, they may influence Westerners in their communities to become more conservative.

The observation that the older people in a population tend to be more conservative can be explained by the fact that they have lived during an earlier time in the modernization process and experienced interaction with people who lived during an even earlier time. In Western populations, their conservatism may not explicitly promote the family because it consists of only remnants of the family promoting cultural traits. These remnants can generate a range beliefs and feelings. They may cause people to feel that sexual behavior needs to be kept within strict bounds, that youngsters should respect authority and that everyone should love their country. It’s easy to see how such feelings could make people suspicious of foreign-seeming “experts” claiming that their pronouncements are supported by incomprehensible evidence. And it’s easy to see how such feelings could make people inclined to give unexamined credence to the statements people who look, sound and behave like their friends and countrymen.

A Darwinian approach suggests that people who, by choice or accident, do not live in urban areas and did not attend college, are likely to be more conservative. They have been exposed to a narrower range of social interactions. Their parents and grandparents may have also been isolated from the variety of social interactions that are available to more cosmopolitan Westerners. Extreme examples of rural isolation arresting modernization can be seen in the Old Order Anabaptist communities that have spread through rural areas of the United States and Canada. These are descended from European immigrants of strict Protestant sects – Amish, Mennonite, and Hutterite. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many of these communities chose to continue to live “simply” in small family-based communities, avoiding education beyond age 13, friendships with outsiders and exposure to non-permitted books and most modern media. By and large, these communities maintain a complete and functioning set of family-promoting cultural traits and have very high fertility.

Members of the Old Order Anabaptist communities keep themselves so separate that they rarely vote. But the rural and suburban Americans, whose isolation is less extreme, generally choose to vote Republican and in 2016 the vast majority voted for Donald Trump.

Trump’s behavior may not be consistent with some people’s view of “family values” but there are several reasons why conservative Americans might find him appealing. Now in his eighth decade, he has acquired the air of a patriarch. Family is clearly is important to him and his five children. And, while the liberals and the US constitution urge people to greater inclusiveness, Trump’s beliefs are more consistent with the remnant of the family promoting idea which insists that we need to put “our own” first. He and his daughter, Ivanka, have explicitly stated that once he is president, “his own” will include all law-abiding American citizens. Some of his statements have implied that “his own” especially includes Americans who, like himself, are of European and Christian descent. Such statements appeal to the nationalism and ethnocentrism strongly felt by many living in rural areas.

The Darwinian approach makes no specific predictions about African American and Native American populations. They have shared a continent with people of European descent for many generations and yet continue to be seen as separate. This is more a matter of identity than culture, however. Like European Americans, those with African and Native ancestry are modern and, like Europeans, they vary in the extent to which they retain remnants the family-promoting cultural traits of their forebears.

Is this the end of “modernization”?

There is reason to look back at the cultural changes of the last couple of centuries with feelings of satisfaction. For most of our history and pre-history human populations were divided up into myriad competing families, each trying to survive and grow in a world of limited resources. This is often seen as a trap – the Malthusian Trap that kept our ancestors living to the limits of their means and prevented them seeing the benefits of forming wider social partnerships and pursuing other goals. It was in Europe that humans first broke out of this trap by gradually abandoning the beliefs and habits associated with efficiently turning resources into offspring. They stopped believing that they should accept as many children as fate (or God) would give them. This change occurred decades before the development of modern contraceptive technology but couples still large succeeded in limiting the number of children they had. And, instead of bringing these children up to simply be good family members, they prepared them to pursue the other goals the modern world was beginning to offer.

The pursuit of other goals has made our lives far richer. The coming together of more and more minds has brought an explosion of innovation, not just technological innovation but new ideas about how it is possible to live and behave. It’s been a wild ride, terrifying from time to time and more uncomfortable for some than for others.

Is it now over?

It appears that large numbers of Westerners want to secure their borders and exchange ideas only within the safety of their Facebook communities. Many members of non-Western populations are striving and sometimes fighting to stop or reverse the cultural changes that modernization is bringing to their people. This is bound to disappoint members of academic and business elites who can more clearly see the benefits which emerge from interaction and trade between peoples and nations.

If the Darwinian mechanism described here has merit, the cultural changes of modernization will continue. They’re part of an evolutionary process triggered by changes in the pattern of social interaction that occurred several generations ago. But as Westerners interact with people at an earlier point in this process, their modernization may slow down. Because most humans live in the moment, Westerners perceive a great moral divide between themselves and the peoples in the Middle East and African who have begun to modernize recently. But this Darwinian view suggests that what seems to be a great divide is simply the result of populations being at different points in the process of cultural change. The same moral divide would exist between ourselves and our own great-grandparents if we could meet them in their youth when they were giving voice to the racism, sexism, homophobia and bellicosity which caused so much bloodshed and misery in the 20th century.

The long term future for modernization is very uncertain. Even though the fertility of the human population is falling rapidly, it continues to grow because in many populations fertility was still high 20 to 40 years ago. The children born then are now having their own children. They may be choosing to have far fewer children than their parents did but because there are so many people of reproductive age, the birth rate still outstrips the death rate in most populations. Humans are living longer and the mean age of the population is rising, bringing additional problems. But more problematic is the increasing rate at which we are using resources and creating waste. It’s possible that we will succeed in culturally evolving institutions or technology that will help us to continue to prosper. Success is more likely if we continue to make new links between peoples so we can tackle problems together. And this will be more likely if we can learn to be less judgmental of people who happen to be at different stages of the modernization process. We may feel that we want to argue and fight in hopes of changing views but if the understanding provided by Darwinian theory has merit, their view will change. It will just take time.

And in the meantime, the political struggle between more and less modern people seems fated to continue. Our differences are more a matter of emotional commitment than reason. But even in the midst of a fight, wisdom lies in trying to understand and respect one’s “enemies”. Blind hatred or contempt makes the fighting worse and the prospects of peace more distant.

Trumpery and Social Darwinism

By M. D. Aeschliman

National Review

August 10, 2016

The worship of success is all too evident in the current presidential campaign.

We urgently need to resurrect the useful old word “trumpery” to describe and understand the current wearer of the presidential mantle of the party of Lincoln and the phenomenon he has recalled into vigorous, unseemly life. Samuel Johnson, in his great 1755 Dictionary of the English Language, defined “trumpery” as “something fallaciously splendid; something of less value than it seems.” This is a perfect place to start, as Johnson’s definition reminds us of the massive fact that Trump’s vulgar splendor is based on virtually nonstop rational, rhetorical, and moral fallacies. Dr. Johnson’s predecessor Alexander Pope, widely read in the American colonies before the War of Independence, said the rational person must always distinguish between “solid worth” and “empty show”: again, the perfect test for Trumpery, which is based on a vast trompe l’oeil, on full-strength tromperie, pervasive, promiscuous fraud and demagoguery.

That noble American William James (1842–1910) deplored, in a late letter (September 11, 1906), “the moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess success. That — with the squalid cash interpretation of success — is our national disease.” Trumpery has restored this disease to vigorous, shameless, toxic health. James was writing at a high point of an earlier epidemic of Social Darwinism, and Trump has revived this unclean and destructive ideology.

The great historical-etymological Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was built on and succeeded Johnson’s lexicon. It gives revealing histories of word usage, including developments and dated or obsolete forms. Deriving from medieval French, “trumpery” is identified as being in use in English from 1456 to Disraeli’s novel Tancred (1847), with the sense of “deceit, fraud, imposture, trickery,” which are again perfect for our current, opportunistic presidential candidate, only recently reborn as a Republican. But the more commonly operative modern sense of the word is given by the OED, which quotes Johnson and builds on him: “‘something of no value’; … worthless stuff, trash, rubbish.” A second facet of meaning is identified in the OED as being “applied to abstract things [such] as beliefs, practices, discourse, writing,” and adds to “rubbish” the sense “nonsense.” This again helps us to focus on an aspect of the current Trumpery: the nonsensical, incoherent discourse — populist, demagogic, and irrational. John Dryden’s 1693 translation of Juvenal’s Sixth Satire is quoted as illustration: “with all their Trumpery of Charms.” A further citation concerning the adjectival use of trumpery — “worthless, rubbishy, trashy” — comes from Matthew Arnold (1865): “the accents of a trumpery rhetorician.”

Of course “nomen omen” — destiny in a name — can be taken too far, but there is a powerful literary tradition of the usage of ironic names for human types by satirical writers such as Ben Jonson, Pope, Dickens, Mark Twain, and Sinclair Lewis. Indeed, with Elmer Gantry and Babbitt, Lewis added names to this stock of recurrent types. Today, many Evangelical supporters of Trumpery mix the two types — the religious huckster and the self-serving booster — in particularly noxious, depressing ways. As Peter Wehner noted in a July 6 New York Times op-ed, “The Theology of Donald Trump,” Trump is an obvious Nietzschean and post-Christian. Evangelical followers of Trump forget that it is one thing to be willing to be on occasion a “fool for Christ” (consider St. Francis, Erasmus, William Blake, G. K. Chesterton, or Malcolm Muggeridge); it is quite another thing to make a fool of Christ.

Of course the worship of “the bitch-goddess success” that William James rightly disdained — a big part of the appeal of Trumpery — is by no means only an American disease. The English Christian-socialist historian R. H. Tawney (1880–1962) — a veteran of the sanguinary Battle of the Somme just a century ago — called “the reverence for riches” the “lues Anglicana, the hereditary disease of the English nation” (Equality, 1931). It is surely a perennial human tendency, now immensely magnified by the shameless, promiscuous audio-visual advertising and entertainment culture that has inundated us all over the last 50 years. “Trump Institute offered get-rich-quick schemes with plagiarized lessons” reads a July newspaper headline. Take a few moments to unpack that one: Donald Trump as educator!

The even deeper worry is that Trumpery has vigorously resuscitated that shadowy, sneering, behind-the-hand pop ideology that has been a proximate cause of so much tragedy and evil since its conscious emergence in the 1860s: Social Darwinism. Anyone who doubts the longevity, durability, revivability, and destructiveness of this ideology — and the plethora of forms that it can take — should take the trouble to consult the English scholar Mike Hawkins’s authoritative 1997 study, Social Darwinism in European and American Thought, 1860–1945. Hawkins is keen to vindicate the essential theme, argument, and insights of the Columbia historian Richard Hofstadter’s great 1944 book, Social Darwinism in American Thought, against revisionists who downplay the book’s thesis. Taking Hofstadter’s argument forward in time to treat recent “sociobiologists” such as E. O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins, Hawkins writes: “It is pointless and misleading to present this popularization as a vulgarization of Darwinism. The application of Darwinian theory to human society and psychology was an explicit goal of Darwin and the early Darwinians,” a contention Hawkins documents in detail. “There is, therefore, no such thing as ‘vulgar’ or ‘crude’ Social Darwinism.”

To be sure, the most spectacularly evil and destructive Social Darwinism was found in its virulent, militaristic, racially eliminationist German form (1860–1945), as a large body of scholarship has shown over the last 100 years, from the great French physicist Pierre Duhem’s German Science in 1915 down to the American historian Richard Weikart’s 2004 volume, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany, and his subsequent book on Hitler. And, as Hawkins points out, it is not credible to exempt Darwin from applying his theory to human beings and human societies. Having reread all of Darwin’s major works in a new edition edited by the sociobiologist E. O. Wilson of Harvard, the distinguished English biographer, intellectual historian, and novelist A. N. Wilson (no relation) concludes a 2006 London Daily Telegraph review by saying: “The domination of one race over another is inherent in his story. This is not what most of us call humanism. Darwin, the product of British imperialism, was surely the father, among other things, of European fascism.”

Unfortunately, in its other, less spectacularly evil forms, as Hawkins says, “evidence for the penetration of popular culture by Social Darwinism is readily available” today. The Trump phenomenon is a good example, with its invidious, macho categories of “winners and losers” and “us and them.” Thirty years ago, in her fine book Evolution as a Religion, the English philosopher Mary Midgley argued that “Social Darwinism or Spencerism is the unofficial religion of the West.” It was Herbert Spencer (1820–1903) who gave Darwin the phrase “the survival of the fittest” and helped impart a veneer of philosophical coherence and respectability to the theory. In The Descent of Man, Darwin called him “our great philosopher”; Darwin cited him in the book seven times, while citing the proto-Nazi German biologist Ernst Haeckel eleven times. The huge popularity of Spencer extended to the United States, where Harvard president (1869–1909) Charles W. Eliot, a chemist, praised the increasing influence of his ideas in 1911: “they will prevail more and more.” They did.

Before the catastrophe of the two world wars, very few intellectuals, and even fewer scientists, realized what the desertion of Platonist, Kantian, and Christian epistemology and ethics — that is, of traditional rationality and morality — could or would lead to. Still infected with varieties of Nietzschean irrationalism and immoralism, usually via French scholarly siren songs (une trahison des clercs), many intellectuals today still play a dangerous intellectual game with their students and the readers of their books. In a nominalistic, relativistic, perspectival world, how can Donald Trump — or anybody else — be wrong or evil? The very words sound melodramatic, overwrought, as do necessary words such as “villain” and “scoundrel.” Our ethical and rhetorical resources are depleted. Progress, this is not.

Trump’s variety of Social Darwinism is of course the preening vanity of the man born on third base who thinks the world will believe that he got there by hitting a triple.

Trump’s variety of Social Darwinism is of course the preening vanity of the man born on third base who thinks the world will believe that he got there by hitting a triple. But it is a perennial pretense. Even before Darwin or Spencer wrote, that great, morally orthodox literary visionary Charles Dickens depicted the type in the arrogant, allegedly self-made industrialist Josiah Bounderby (another “nomen omen”) in Hard Times, as well as in the Malthusian laissez-faire utilitarianism of Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. Again, as Peter Wehner argues, Trump is really a Nietzschean, for whom the will-to-power is the prime fact of life: the “art of the deal” is the shrewd practice of successfully screwing people. Mark Twain! Thy pen is needed!

In his 1972 book The Suspecting Glance (recently republished by Faber), the versatile, cosmopolitan Irish scholar, statesman, editor, and man of letters Conor Cruise O’Brien has brilliant chapters on Machiavelli and Nietzsche. However intellectually incontinent and verbally incoherent Trump is compared with those two serious intellectuals, he is surely a lineal successor to their central beliefs about the amorality of politics and of life itself. O’Brien has little trouble showing that the “gentle Nietzscheans” who claim that Nietzsche did not mean what he clearly says have done us a disservice by muddying the waters as to what Nietzsche (and Machiavelli before him) obviously did say and mean. For three or four generations of students from the late 1950s on, Professor Walter Kaufmann of Princeton and his influential Portable Nietzsche helped domesticate, complicate, and mystify Nietzsche’s meanings, despite their clear import, and despite great scholarly evidence documenting it (Carlton J. H. Hayes, Erich Heller, J. P. Stern, O’Brien). In a nominalistic, relativistic epistemological and ethical climate, “all cats are grey” — that is, all positions and perspectives are equally true (and equally false). We get “liberated” altogether from normative truth and ethics: Aristotle, Christianity, and the “self-evident” truths of the Declaration of Independence lose momentum and credibility; Trumpery flourishes at all levels of discourse and behavior. The “bonfire of the vanities” incinerates truths, virtues, and values in the interest of the vanities themselves.

The ambiguity and ambivalence of many of our educators augment this damage to the “res publica” of human decency and dignity, weakening the accumulated common sense of the race and making it hesitant in the face of barbarism and nonsense. Thus the Darwinian philosopher James Rachels, writing 25 years ago, insouciantly described the intellectual-moral effects of Darwinism: “Darwin’s theory does undermine traditional values. In particular, it undermines the traditional idea that human life has a special, unique worth.” Rachels continues: “Darwinism undermines both the idea that man is made in the image of God and the idea that man is a uniquely rational being. Furthermore, if Darwinism is correct, it is unlikely that any other support for the idea of human dignity will be found.” Thus, the “idea of human dignity turns out … to be the moral effluvium of a discredited metaphysics” (Created from Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinism). So much for Plato, the Jewish Law, the New Testament, Shakespeare, Descartes, Kant, the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln, Jacques Maritain, and the main tradition of Western ethics that has intermittently civilized us to some degree across 2,500 years.

The greatest land of philosophy over the last 250 years was Germany: but its enactment of the novel effects of feckless, elaborate intellectual speculation, from Hegel and Marx to Nietzsche, Haeckel, and Heidegger, led to unparalleled, undeniable barbarity over the last century. Thus, in civilized reaction, the first line of West Germany’s 1949 Basic Law is: “Human dignity shall be inviolable.” But what if “human dignity,” as Rachels and many others argue, is “discredited metaphysics” and moral excrement? It was perceptive and pertinent of Edward Luce to write a column in the Financial Times with the title “Trump leads the west’s flight from dignity.”

The popularization and mainstreaming of Darwin and Nietzsche has helped intensify in Western people an “absence of mind,” as the novelist Marilynne Robinson put it in her recent Terry Lectures at Yale, leading to “the dispelling of inwardness,” of elementary rational-ethical self-awareness. We live “after dignity,” and “after virtue,” as Alasdair MacIntyre put it in a great book. Assisted by the nonstop audio-visual assault of an eccentric, amoral culture of neophilia (that’s real “moral effluvium” for you), Trumpery re-emerges from its shallow grave or inadequately bolted basement. The scholar John G. West is surely right to entitle his 2007 book Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science. The argument is also made in such books as the Cambridge research scientist Rupert Sheldrake’s The Science Delusion and the mathematician David Berlinski’s The Devil’s Delusion, and we see it in the noble worries of the distinguished biologist Stephen Jay Gould, as laid out in his Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life.

At the root of Social Darwinism is an allegedly omnicompetent Darwinian materialism. In his great book Social Darwinism in American Thought, Richard Hofstadter even had the temerity and panache to give qualified praise to William Jennings Bryan’s long battle against the Darwinians. “For many years Bryan had been troubled about the possible social implications of Darwinism,” he wrote. “In 1905 E. A. Ross, then teaching at Nebraska University, had found Bryan reading The Descent of Man, and Bryan had told him that such teachings would ‘weaken the cause of democracy and strengthen class pride and the power of wealth.’” Hofstadter concludes: “Here, as in other matters, Bryan had sound intuitions that his intellect had not the power to discipline.”


The distinguished contemporary philosopher Thomas Nagel — no Christian or even theist — has had the necessary, disciplined intellectual power. In 2012 he published Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. At the outset of his sharply argued treatise, he writes: “I would like to defend the untutored reaction of incredulity to the reductionist neo-Darwinian account of the origin and evolution of life. It is prima facie highly implausible that life as we know it is the result of physical accidents together with the mechanism of natural selection… . What is lacking, to my knowledge, is a credible argument that the [Darwinian] story has a non-negligible probability of being true.” Nagel’s book vindicates thoughtful dissenters, from Darwin’s contemporary Alfred Russel Wallace, through G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis, Jacques Barzun in the 1940s, and Gertrude Himmelfarb in the 1950s, down to Berlinski, Sheldrake, and Himmelfarb’s more recent writings. Himmelfarb has praised the qualified, traditional dualism of the great ethical Victorians (a category that would include Lincoln and Dickens): “they accommodated themselves to that dualism, suspecting that the alternative was worse, that any attempt to assimilate man more completely with nature would result in something like the ‘abolition of man,’ in C. S. Lewis’s memorable phrase.”

The history of the world since 1914, the catastrophes largely wrought by the scientistic mind and ideologies of Marxism and Social Darwinism, have proved the Victorians’ suspicion of Naturalism to be profoundly warranted. The Trumpery of the current bearer of the mantle of the party of Lincoln is a living illustration of profound educational and cultural decline and disorientation.

Jerry Gross arrives at the federal courthouse in Asheville, NC., Friday, May 25, 2018. He and his son, who belong to a secretive evangelical church in North Carolina called Word of Faith Fellowship Church, pleaded guilty to the criminal charges in an unemployment benefits scheme that former congregants have said was part of a plan to keep money flowing into the church. (Jennifer Emert/WLOS via AP) Gross arrives at the federal courthouse in Asheville, NC., Friday, May 25, 2018. He and his son, who belong to a secretive evangelical church in North Carolina called Word of Faith Fellowship Church, pleaded guilty to the criminal charges in an unemployment benefits scheme that former congregants have said was part of a plan to keep money flowing into the church. (Jennifer Emert/WLOS via AP)

FILE – This 2016 image from video shows the entrance to the Word of Faith Fellowship church in Spindale, N.C. A father and son who belong to the secretive evangelical church in North Carolina pleaded guilty Friday, May 25, 2018, to federal criminal charges in an unemployment benefits scheme that former congregants have said was part of a plan to keep money flowing into the church. As part of an ongoing investigation into physical and emotional abuse at the Word of Faith Fellowship Church. The Associated Press reported in September that authorities were looking into the unemployment dealings of congregants and their businesses. (AP Photo/Alex Sanz) – This 2016 image from video shows the entrance to the Word of Faith Fellowship church in Spindale, N.C. A father and son who belong to the secretive evangelical church in North Carolina pleaded guilty Friday, May 25, 2018, to federal criminal charges in an unemployment benefits scheme that former congregants have said was part of a plan to keep money flowing into the church. As part of an ongoing investigation into physical and emotional abuse at the Word of Faith Fellowship Church. The Associated Press reported in September that authorities were looking into the unemployment dealings of congregants and their businesses. (AP Photo/Alex Sanz)

Jason Lee Gross arrives at the federal courthouse in Asheville, NC., Friday, May 25, 2018. He and his father, who belong to a secretive evangelical church in North Carolina called Word of Faith Fellowship Church, pleaded guilty to the criminal charges in an unemployment benefits scheme that former congregants have said was part of a plan to keep money flowing into the church. (Jennifer Emert/WLOS via AP) Lee Gross arrives at the federal courthouse in Asheville, NC., Friday, May 25, 2018. He and his father, who belong to a secretive evangelical church in North Carolina called Word of Faith Fellowship Church, pleaded guilty to the criminal charges in an unemployment benefits scheme that former congregants have said was part of a plan to keep money flowing into the church. (Jennifer Emert/WLOS via AP)

Staff and wire reports