February 5th, 2004


Mechanical arguments to explain man

I often run across what one might call "socio-mechanistic" arguments. These arguments explain something utterly obvious by means of something utterly obscure. Two examples, from recent conversations, spring to mind: a liberal friend of mine argued that the "taboo" against homosexuality was due to the underpopulation of primitive hunter-gatherer bands, and that, in an overpopulated world, the taboo would soon vanish. My wife tells me that the "taboo" against incest is caused by the dangers of birth defects due to inbreeding.

Here is what I see as wrong with both arguments: they conflate two distinct types of causation.
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The problem of all such arguments is that they reduce the contents of one's consciousness (something all men are aware of) to an epiphenomenon, a by-produce, of inhuman mechanical and biological forces, something no one is aware of. As such, the socio-mechanical argument is always mildly offensive.

And also silly. What I find particularly comical about this argument is that it attributes human notions of fairness and unfairness to inhuman mechanical processes.