Friday, June 10, 2005

Another Thought on Diamond

Just a quick follow up to my last post....

When you look at the specific reactions both left and right have had to Diamond's books and thinking, and you look a little beneath the surface of the cultural debate going on in the US right now, I wonder if part of the divide between "left" and "right" has to do with their respective attititudes toward the idea of "meritocracy."

All Americans believe in the value of meritocracy--it's one of the defining elements in our national ideology and identity. Is there an American who won't affirm the importance of effort and intelligence and character?

But maybe folks in the US who tend to identify more with the left have a deeper recognition of the critical role of fortuitous accident (in secular terminology) or "grace/divine sovereignty" (in religious parlance) in the way lives or nations or even global history work out.

I don't know how true that is, but it's an interesting question.

When you look at the way people on both left and right in the US tend to respond to various social issues, it sure does look that way. Certainly, the right's reaction to Diamond--who is simply suggesting that forces outside of the control of Europeans and their descendants played a dramatic and decisive role in the dominance and advantages they've enjoyed--would suggest this kind of conclusion.

If so, that's got to be one of the great ironies of recent American history.

Who would have guessed that the 'religious' and/or 'more traditional' right would have more easily jettisoned the ideas of God's graceful sovereignty and the important role of simple "good luck" or "bad luck" in the way things turn out for people or nations.

Could the "immoral" and "anti-traditional" left be better preservers of some very basic traditional values and ways of perceiving the world?

At the very least this all suggests that a lot of the stereotypes being thrown around in the broader cultural debate aren't very accurate. Most of us already knew that, but the reaction to Diamond is pretty interesting and potentially revealing in my mind.


Blogger ruth said...

yes. good thoughts!

I heard Diamond speak several years ago in one of my ecology classes. Scientists tend to like him. I can't speak for non-scientist secular liberals, but scientists generally like things that show that cultural patterns actually have biological and physical causes at their roots. Diamond's ideas fit well with a deterministic, reductionist way of looking at the world. This gets rid of meritocracy as well as divine sovereignty. However I don't find that people are totally sold on his book- they treat it as an interesting hypothesis.

I had no idea he was so hated by the culture wars zealots. Jeez. I'm burned out on that right now, otherwise I would read those articles...

4:58 PM  

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