Saturday, February 27, 2016

David Sloan Wilson on Evonomics: An Agenda Cloaked in Science

After David Sloan Wilson wrote the article, The Road to Ideology: How Friedrich Hayek Became a MonsterPeter Boettke invited him to give a seminar at the F.A. Hayek Center for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. On February 11, 2016, Wilson presented the seminar, which is summarized here with a link to a video that incorporates a recording of the seminar and the slide presentation. I suggest that those interested in Austrian economics or coming from a non-leftist position watch the presentation as it will give you a clear idea of what we are up against. Make no mistake, Wilson and his comrades at Evonomics are heavy hitters and have an agenda that you won't like. Having listened to the presentation once, I have a few thoughts.

First, Wilson alleges that laissez-faire has its roots in the Christian worldview of universal harmony. Doing so is an attempt to discredit it as mystical and unscientific, and rob it of its roots in the Enlightenment. The reality is that Christianity was the home of top-down, unrelenting authoritarianism until it was tamed by the realization that markets tended to reduce or eliminate the antagonisms between religious groups. The resulting intellectual movement, in which those such as Voltaire argued that religion and aristocracy should be de-emphasized and commerce elevated, was probably more of an influence on Christianity than the other way around (see Jerry Z. Muller, The Mind and the Market, p 23).

Wilson goes on to state that progress came from the societal suppression of "disruptive, self-serving behaviors," rather than the realization on the part of individuals that cooperation was to their advantage in achieving goals that would have been difficult or impossible for them on their own (see Ludwig von Mises, Human Action, p 143). This view results in a bias toward top-down (coercive) rather than bottom-up (evolutionary) thinking. Wilson is definitely pushing methodological collectivism. He believes societies were successful because they dragooned their members into following the rules, not because they had rules that helped individuals flourish, thereby attracting and keeping members. Group selection is a reality, but only in the context of the feedback of individual selection that makes one group prosper over another.

While wanting to speed up group selection, Wilson fails to realize that the state suppresses selection by bypassing the feedback mechanism of profit and loss, and even imprisons its victims within its boarders, preventing the possibility of "voting with your feet." Failing the latter, there may be an effort for governments to form cartels or impose rules through a world-wide body, eliminating the possibility of selection still further. After all, if there is only one body, we are done with selection. The feedback of money profit and loss in an environment of open competition is superior, and the only objective method I can see that can facilitate group selection.

When watching Wilson's slides you will see that he believes the Earth is being destroyed by human activity. The Evonomics agenda is to reverse that perceived destruction by imposing an "intelligent design," cloaked in science, that has no possibility of effective criticism or reversal--of negative selection. Only by critically developing our own arguments and pointing out that their approach is actually anti-evolution can we succeed in defeating their effort.


Luke Avedon said...


Troy Camplin said...

Agreed. They do not apply evolutionary logic in any sort of truly systematic way, that history is outright bizarre, and in the end they recommend top-down intelligent design solutions in complete opposition to everything they should know and understand about evolutionary processes.