October 31, 2007

Larry Auster on Michael Hart's "Understanding Human History"

Larry Auster has a long review of a book I reviewed over the summer, Michael A. Hart's Understanding Human History. Here's an interesting section:

The reason for Hart's low opinion of India become evident from his similarly (and unfashionably) low opinion of ancient Egypt. Egypt, he tells us, was not nearly as important a civilization as everyone thinks. This is because Egypt was relatively poor in the sorts of inventions and innovations that are influential and useful for other civilizations. In other words, Hart's criterion of the worth of a civilization is its material contributions to general human progress. Which means that the internal structure and inner life of a society, what it is subjectively for its own members, is of no interest to him. Because the Egyptians did not add a great deal to civilizational advance, ... they are of no importance to him, even though, as many other observers and students of Egypt have seen it, the Egyptian society achieved a kind of perfection. The Egyptians experienced their earthly life as so beautiful, pleasant, harmonious, and stable (as one can glean from their paintings), that their idea of the afterlife was to continue in that experience forever. Once we understand this, the Egyptian cult of the afterworld, with its mummies and monumental tombs and pyramids, starts to make sense in terms of the Egyptians' own experience of life and of eternity. Seen from this perspective, the pyramids are not just very large and very impressive structures, they are representations of the cosmos. Of course this Egyptian culture with its focus on eternity was not as innovative as, say, fifth century Athens; indeed, it led to a static conception of society with little room for human freedom and creativity. But at the same time it represents an awe-inspiring human achievement, which explains Egypt's continuing hold over men's imagination.

In other words, Hart misses the Egyptians' experience of order. Every society and civilization is an attempt to create order, an orientation of men's lives toward nature, society, and the divine, which will be different in each society. But to grasp a civilization's order, we must attempt to see the civilization whole, and this is impossible if we reduce its meaning to a comparative list of its material and even its intellectual achievements. What was most remarkable about the Egyptians--and what still draws us to them today, even if we can't explain the nature of the pull--was not this or that achievement, but the underlying vision of order that each of those achievements expressed. A materialist will have little interest in all this. It doesn't come within his ken. He wants solid, useful accomplishment and that's that.

With the obvious caveat that this assessment of Egyptian civilization applies more to the Egyptian on top of the social pyramid than to the poor bastard down at the bottom, this is a good point. But I also admire Hart's reductionism. With history, you can profitably move in both directions.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hart makes makes educated guestimates about the average IQs of pre-Binet peoples, such as Arabs, Egyptians, and Chinese. This is a speculative enterprise to say the least. But as researchers continue to collect the catalog of DNA haplotypes that are associated with IQ, we may be able to reconstruct actual measures of pre-modern IQs from extant skeletal remains.

Mr. F. Le Mur said...

He wants solid, useful accomplishment and that's that.

Making up superstitions is really easy, and one's about as good as another. Kids are pretty good at it.

Making big piles of rocks based on those supersitions, though, that's really...something. Namely stupid.

dearieme said...

And very sound on cats.

Svigor said...

In other words, Hart misses the Egyptians' experience of order.

Maybe Hart didn't miss it. Maybe he just remembered his high school history; the Nile probably had more to do with the Egyptian sense of order than anything particular inherent in the Egyptians; the wonderfully stable Nile, with its ebb and flow and floodings you can set your watch by, instilled this sense of order in the Egyptians. Well that, and its absolute centrality to Egyptian civilization.

tggp said...

Auster almost sounds po-mo here: "You can't judge them by our standards because every culture is special in its own way". I also doubt Auster would have so much reverence for the "order" of the Soviet Union.

Anonymous said...

:::The Egyptians experienced their earthly life as so beautiful, pleasant, harmonious, and stable (as one can glean from their paintings), that their idea of the afterlife was to continue in that experience forever.:::

What a howler! Imagine abstracting one cultural artifact from American life and intuiting anything about the entire emotional life of the people from it!

Still, I'm no Egypt-expert, and I'd hate to ally this Sailer-contingent with reflexive dismissal of say, Egyptian cultural advances. I know how silly Afro-centic historicism has gotten, on the opposite side. People reading this blog are like the mine-canaries, but largely succumbing first because of temperamental characteristics overlapping with tendencies to conservative thought-forms that have been somewhat-rewardingly critiqued by liberals over the years. One should watch one's assumptions.

Mark said...

Making big piles of rocks based on those supersitions, though, that's really...something. Namely stupid.

They didn't have TV to waste their time on. Or basebell.

coalmine canary said...

Speaking of Mr. Auster. Today he has this tidbit on the front door:

A passing question on the Jews

As is often said, Judaism, unlike Christianity and Islam, is not a religion of conversion; it does not actively seek to convert non-Jews to Judaism.

How is then that Jews as individuals are typically the most zealous of all people in trying to convert other people to their own point of view?

People should write to Lawrence and explain to him that the Jewish obsession with dominating gentiles means that "their own [Jewish] point of view" is inevitably a defense of and/or promotion of a tactic or system that functions to weaken and subvert any established gentile social order.

Therefore "converting people to their own [Jewish] point of view" is a step toward ingroup control over the outgroup. Which, while risky business, has generated a 5,000 year old track record of survival.

I would write to him but ... well, you know.

http://amnation.com/vfr/

Sam Rosen said...

"People should write to Lawrence and explain to him that the Jewish obsession with dominating gentiles means that "their own [Jewish] point of view" is inevitably a defense of and/or promotion of a tactic or system that functions to weaken and subvert any established gentile social order."

Jews are good verbally. Because of this they are good debaters and like argument. This causes them to debate people. Steve is a fan of William of Ockham. Perhaps, it would be wise to consult some of that Franciscan's ideas.