David Brooks’ Leash

One of the most prominent examples of experimental genetics is the infamous domesticated silver fox:

The domesticated silver fox …is a domesticated form of the silver morph of the red fox. As a result of selective breeding, the new foxes not only became tamer, but more dog-like as well…
Domesticated foxes exhibit both behavioral and physiological changes from their wild forebears. They are friendlier with humans, put their ears down (like dogs), wag their tails when happy, and vocalize, and bark like domesticated dogs. As a consequence of breeding, they also developed color patterns like domesticated dogs and lost their distinctive musky ‘fox smell’…
The experiment was initiated by scientists hoping to produce easier to handle fur animals and who were interested in the topic of domestication and the process by which wolves became tame domesticated dogs. They saw some retention of juvenile traits by adult dogs, both morphological ones, such as skulls that were unusually broad for their length, and behavioral ones, such as whining, barking, and submission…
[Project founder Dmitry] Belyaev believed that the key factor selected for [in the] domestication of dogs was not size or reproduction, but behavior; specifically, amenability to domestication, or tameability. He selected for low flight distance, that is, the distance one can approach the animal before it runs away. By selecting this behavior it mimics what happened through natural selection in the ancestral past of dogs. More than any other quality, Belyaev believed, tameability must have determined how well an animal would adapt to life among humans. Because behavior is rooted in biology, selecting for tameness and against aggression means selecting for physiological changes in the systems that govern the body’s hormones and neurochemicals. Belyaev decided to test his theory by domesticating foxes; in particular, the silver fox, a dark color form of the red fox. He placed a population of them in the same process of domestication, and he decided to submit this population to a strong selection pressure for inherent tameness.
The result is that Russian scientists now have a number of domesticated foxes that are fundamentally different in temperament and behavior from their wild forebears. Some important changes in physiology and morphology are now visible, such as mottled or spotted colored fur. Many scientists believe that these changes related to selecting for tameness are caused by lower adrenaline production in the new breed, which causes these physiological changes in a very small number of generations, thus allowing for these new genetic offshoots not present in the original species.

Bryant Gumbel once observed of former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and his relationship with late NFL Players Union head Gene Upshaw:

Before he cleans out his office, have Paul Tagliabue show you where he keeps Gene Upshaw’s leash. By making the docile head of the players union his personal pet, your predecessor has kept the peace without giving players the kind of guarantees other pros take for granted. Try to make sure no one competent ever replaces Upshaw on your watch.

While watching this TEDtalk by New York Times columnist David Brooks, I thought of silver foxes, Gene Upshaw, and how David Brooks would be the ideal sire for a selective breeding program to produce a tamer right-winger. Generation after generation, you’d just have to breed for floppy ears, wagging tails, and low flight distance and you’d eventually end up with a more amenable Loyal Opposition. American politics would be a simple matter of showing your successor where you kept David Brooks’ leash.

For the record, Brooks does take some well-aimed potshots at his TEDset/Davos-set masters. But his digs are in that long tradition of peasant humor where the serf was allowed to let off some steam while the lord of the manor reached for his knout to give the recalcitrant peasant a good whipping.

I’m confident the next generation of TED-ready, Davos-approved conservative will offer less lip.

And have floppier ears.

[props Isegoria]

17 thoughts on “David Brooks’ Leash”

  1. I think Aldous Huxley has addressed this subject. Indeed there is a great deal of speculative fiction about genetic mutations. Breeding is very important in class theory although using leashes is usually done in private clubs and seldom in polite company. A good deal of effort has been aimed at breeding “good” leaders. Mostly the results have been disparaged by people who did not participate in the programs.

  2. when it comes to breeding republicans for “tameability”, select for smaller testicle size. of course this does have a built-in “floor” as related to such creatures being able to reproduce.

  3. Brooks is no right-winger…not sure what breed he is (maybe he’s former minority leader Michaels kid:)).

  4. I wish that people would give David Brooks some slack here. The TED audience is an incredibly difficult one for any conservative. Think of Brooks’ performance as Shylockian, an attempt to take a room full of self-centered, self-congratulatory people so sure of the barbarity of conservatism that they hardly ever bother to encounter it honestly and penetrate that with one simple concept, that conservatives can say things worth listening to.

    It’s an incredibly difficult task and David Brooks pulled it off. Kudos to him for it.

  5. If you want to add some support for your hypothesis, look up the political views of his wife and kids.

    (For the record: I have mixed feelings about Brooks. He has been incredibly silly about Barack Obama, but is still sometimes very good on other subjects.)

  6. Excellent post.

    I don’t think Brooks is or ever was a “movement conservative”, a religious conservative or a libertarian intellectual nor should be expected to write like one. If Brooks was, he’d never have been hired by the NYT in the first place. If the Times editors wanted a writer to upset their subscribers’ breakfasts, they would have hired Charless Murray, Thomas Sowell or any number of high profile, harder-edged partisan conservative pundits instead.

    They are not looking for a conservative equivalent to Paul Krugman but a tactful, pragmatic, counterpoint to the excesses of their own side that can still garner a lot of letters to the editor from the zealously intolerant true believers on the Left. It’s a business, the NYT need to sell papers and advertising to their base and Brooks as is about as much conservatism as they can stomach without rebelling

  7. Zenpundit – Exactly, and Brooks is doing a good job if after he leaves the NYT the readership can stand a bit more than Brooks and they hire someone more to the harder edged right.

  8. Though most Moldbuggery is high level ideological performance art that should be clearly labeled FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY, MM’s thought that there’s been a secular ideological drift leftwards in the English-speaking world starting from the emergence of Puritanism in the mid-16C (or even Lollardry in the mid-14C) is useful. Every American right-winger should pause for a moment and consider the ramifications of being a former left-wing isolate that has been left behind as the vanguard of the proletarian revolution has moved on leftward. His ideology, even if victorious, may contain the seeds of his undoing. In a sense we are all Mensheviks now.

    A retreat to overt Jacobinism under the banner of Hereditary Prince Alois seems extreme though.

  9. If we think of Leftism as the political tool for the advancement of articulate/manipulative intellectuals, then it would seem that anyone who makes his living as an articulate intellectual must always be tempted to slide to the Left because Leftism will always have more emotional and intellectual resonance that the Right.

    It somewhat like the paradox of the fiscal conservative who gets elected to Washington. Once in office, expansion of government spending and power become expansions of the power for the conservative. His interest begin to align with that of the state against the people.

  10. Joseph, yes, I have no doubt about Mencius’s assertion that the most conservative American alive now (whoever he or she is) is far to the left of anyone from, say 1900 America. “American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward towards perdition.” Nobody could affirm either half of that sentence in America today.

    I was thinking more about his contention that conservatives vs. liberals in America are sort of like the Washington Generals vs. the Harlem Globetrotters – stooges deliberately picked/cultivated to display the superior team’s virtuosity.

  11. Brent,

    MM’s two-body problem formula is interesting. I’d propose a three-body problem formula in its place:

    American “free-range” Left = Washington Generals
    Institutional Revolutionary Left = Harlem Globetrotters
    American Right = Los Angeles Clippers

    If we posit that the National Basketball Association is the Valhalla of Sovereignty, the Washington Generals and the Harlem Globetrotters have the hypothetical capacity to become NBA teams. The Los Angeles Clippers, on the other hand, can never become an NBA team. You could form a team composed of 3-year old girls coached by “Field Marshall” Bernard Law Montgomery (complete with giant beret) and they’d still have a better chance of becoming an NBA team than the Clippers.

    One curiosity is whether MM’s secular drift to the left over the past half-millennium is linear or cyclical. If you follow the logic of the ancient Greek cycle of Kyklos:

    monarchy -> tyranny -> aristocracy -> oligarchy -> democracy -> ochlocracy

    The ultimate form of ochlocracy (mob rule) is the dictatorship of the proletariat, after which the cycle reverts back to point 0, monarchy, which would be MM’s hypothetical undivided sovereignty. Pure reaction contains the seeds of the secular drift to the left, possibly driven by the fact that classical European reactionaries triggered the most hardened left-wing movements of the time.

    While I’m primarily unsympathetic to Jacobite revanchism based on an ancestral blood feud between my own clan and the accursed House of Stuart, reaction of the Moldbug type is not quite reactionary enough. The primal form of North European sovereignty is the Three Estates of monarch, aristocracy, and commons. Reaction a la Moldbug is a fifteenth century innovation, much too recent for a true apostle of reaction. The design of the American formal system of sovereignty drew on this ancient inheritance since the High Toryism of George III and his placemen was based on modern innovations in the British constitution. The reactionary nature of the American Revolution is better understood with three bodies rather than two.

  12. Brent,

    “American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward towards perdition.”

    I don’t think that is true. It might look true on the face of it but that is because Leftists see to it that we remember only the successes of each eras “radicals” while forgetting their many, many failures.

    The real dividing line between “conservative” and “radical” is each’s means of validating ideas. Radicals validate ideas based on articulated argumentation i.e. if it sounds good or looks good on paper, then it must be correct. Conservatives validate ideas by empirical testing over long periods of time i.e. they only accept ideas that have persisted for long periods under real world conditions.

    Every eras “radicals” or political/social innovators churn out a vast number of ideas the vast majority of which are gibberish and quickly die within a few years and pass from memory. Like mustard seeds upon the wind, only a tiny, tiny few prove to have merit enough to find purchase and grow. If a “radical” idea does stand the test of time then conservatives will adopt it.

    This creates the illusion of “radical” infallibility and even historical inevitability.

  13. Joseph, thanks for the followup. I would like to see MM get over his obsession with absolute and undivided sovereignty (and with finding some political system that will not / cannot decay). In general I think Moldbug would benefit by looking further back into history, say 500-1300 A.D., and by engaging with Germanic “folk law” over against the Roman imperial conception of law.

    Shannon, I appreciate your thoughtful reply. You propose a very rational model for political experimentation. I disagree that that is how things have proceeded in America, at least with the key achievements of the left. This is probably where my reactionary convictions diverge from the Chicago Boyz, much as I like your blog. I don’t see unlimited suffrage, or women’s suffrage, or the New Deal state, or any number of once “radical” ideas that have become long-lived achievements of the left, as ideas that have intrinsic merit or that have stood the test of time. Except in the sense that, say, the Soviet Union “stood the test of time” – by mass propaganda and by force.

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