Just be Reasonable – Science, Toeing the Line, White Supremacy … and Robert Henryson

Bruce Nauman, Some Illusions: Videos and Drawings


This morning, I got a bug in my ear to look into Nick Land again. Full confession: I wasn’t into him in the 90s, like a lot of gloomy types; I wasn’t ever into him; and the very first I heard of him was not long ago, in association with something called the “Dark Enlightenment,” a movement that grows at once more frightening and more hilarious the more I learn about it. For treatments, see here (which may be a dubious source, but it makes a great story) and especially here. There you’ll learn about this movement’s hatred of democracy and social justice movements, its love for “ancestral neopaganism” (to which, as a medievalist, I ask: what are your sources? and could you share them with us?), and especially their championing of HBD, or “Human Biodiversity,” about which Land says:

HBD, broadly conceived, is simply a fact. It is roughly as questionable, on intellectual grounds, as biological evolution or the heliocentric model of the solar system. No one who takes the trouble to educate themselves on the subject with even a minimum of intellectual integrity can doubt that.

On the one hand, sure, humans are biologically diverse. On the other hand, it’s clear, very clear, that HBD is just a cover for white supremacism. At least that was the case with everyone I tweeted with today. For more, keep reading.

Feeling frisky, I took some time on twitter to mock the movement, for example, simply by linking to a poll that asks, hilariously? pathetically?, “How long until the paradigm of political correctness / Cultural Marxism is destroyed in the West?” (options: 1) Less than 15 Years; 2) 15 – 50 Years; 3) 50 – 100 Years; 4) More than 100 Years). Here’s another sample tweet:

And if you’re waiting for medieval content, hang on. It’s coming. Below. First, though, the reactions, which were thick (in all senses of the word) and which still continue. They got really nasty very quickly. It wasn’t just the befuddlement over me being a professor and a medievalist; it’s not just that they tried to convince me that religious belief is genetically inheritable; nor just that a bunch of mostly white guys — or at least twitter personae presenting as white men, living or dead — tried to get me, a non-geneticist, to argue with them, non-geneticists, about genetics; nor that they believe in some kind of immemorial animality that’s the real truth of humankind (is this Freud or Nietzsche they’re borrowing?); nor that they combine this belief in the deep truth of human nature with their certainty that they’re the real defenders of culture (to which, what?); nor is it that I’m a “feminized,” “state school” (?), “unwashed prog” who is a “faggy New York Jew who attends [?] liberal art colleges” (I wish! some of my favorite people are faggy New York Jews).

It’s that they’re horrified by a “rising tide of diversity” (edit for example, this banner) and that they believe that the only bulwark against it is something they call SCIENCE. For example.

I’m not here to debate science or human potential (but, you know, here and here and here and EDIT especially (b) here and, why not keep going: herehere, and here (whose abstract doesn’t really do it justice), and, since they believe nonscientist journalists might be convince me otherwise, here too), because there’s no point in legitimizing this crap by carrying on the debate on the terms they demand. I’m more interested in the white supremacists’ insistence that I face facts and be reasonable.

I’ve been thinking about that phrase “be reasonable” since I taught Robert Henryson’s Fables. Now, there are other lessons we can take from the Fables to combat the white supremacists, namely, that the racist certainty about what constitutes “intelligence” (coupled with a refusal to define it) runs counter to the fables’ pragmatism, where corporeal- and neurodiversity thrive more than any singular “intelligence,” with the lion needing mice, the strength of wolves being useless before the quite different strength of lions, and so on. Since this counterargument would tend to support the way they wield HBD, I see a stronger counterargument, though, in the whole issue of “reason.” Over at my animal studies course wiki (about which more in a later post), I observe:

“Reason” works oddly in the Fables. Reason is of course that thing that separates humans from animals. But what is it? When Henryson says that Aesop’s fable had “ane sentence according to ressoun” (1894), what does that mean? If animals have only inclination and not discretion, as Henryson tells us in the opening to the “Cock and the Fox” (398-9), then they don’t have choice. They’re mechanical creatures, bound by the laws, essentially, of physics, while we at least have choice. Supposedly.

But there’s another meaning of “reason,” namely, when someone says “be reasonable,” that is, “accord with the fact as they stand.” Here “reason” is perfect description, perfect measure, and thus the very opposite of that “extra” something that reason-as-choice would seem to grant. This is the reason that is “according to ressoun,” like Aesop’s writing, which perfectly matches its circumstances, like water in water.

Given this, what animal is the “most reasonable” in the fables? The fox, with its craftiness (or is its “inclination” just to be excessive?)? The sheep clever enough to disguise itself as a dog (but not clever enough to resist the brave dogginess that the disguise grants it)? Or the country mouse, whose life accords best with the mousy way of life and indeed the contempt for worldly glory Henryson’s morals preach ad nauseum?

Or maybe there’s no one reason whose character we would know in advance?

To take this further, the demand “be reasonable,” in purpose, the same idiom as “face facts.” It’s a demand to give up on trying, to stop fighting back, to just go along with the single option that’s available. It’s the certainty that there’s only one right solution to a problem. It’s an abandonment of creativity, an abandonment of skepticism, an abandonment of, well, hope, which might account for why the white supremacists and their Dark Enlightenment allies are so very, very gloomy.

If there’s a lesson we should draw from the fable tradition, particularly if we free it Henryson’s mostly dreadful Christian moralizations, let’s not face facts. Let’s work with them, instead, and see what we can do. Let’s get pragmatic, in the more hopeful sense Tom Tyler gives the word. And let’s not abandon our decisions to a mechanistic science that we let do all our thinking for us. Reason, in the best sense of the word, demands we do otherwise.

Edit: for an exercise in completely missing the point, see this response here. There’s something fascinating about the post’s contempt for my field of study, and for the middle ages as a whole, when we combine it with the same writer’s own wish that he “should’ve been a goddamn Viking.”

Here’s how it ends, spectacularly missing the point and neatly proving my argument simultaneously:

And here’s the thing about facts: there really is “one right solution”. That’s pretty much what truth means.

You know he’s a serious Viking because italics.