This is the first part of a three-part review:
Anyone who claims, “There is a human nature” inevitably follows it with, “and I know what it is!” In his new book, Suicide of the West, Jonah Goldberg thinks he knows that there is “human nature” is and, unsurprisingly, claims to know what it is. “Human nature is real” he declares (p. 23) and is the result of “innate programming” we acquired 200,000-300,000 years ago and has held constant ever since. We are programmed to live in small groups that max out at about 150 people–Dunbar’s number (p. 63). Because of this “genetic programming” (p. 63) we tend toward a sense of unity within our group and hostility toward strangers which are “universal human tendencies” (p. 25). In other words, “Violence is the natural way to get what you want from strangers” (p. 11). This tendency toward ingroup unity and outgroup of hostility is only a sample of the extensive list of universals that Goldberg claims have been documented by “thousands of researchers” (p. 26). Capitalism and its concomitant individualism have proven to be the best way to overwrite our natural tendencies toward distrust since they demand we see individuals, not groups, and that peaceful exchange is mutually beneficial.
Despite its blustery assurance Suicide of the West is based on some very suspect evidence and equally poor argumentation. My task here is to explain why he is wrong about human nature. Subsequent posts will take up other claims he makes.