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Tom Wolfe — wading into deep water, treading water, . . . and drowning


[From a colleague:] Last night author Tom Wolfe gave the annual Jefferson Lecture sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. His two hour long speech was entitled “The Human Beast.” In more words (sometimes explicitly stated) he said that determinism is true, there is no free will, there is no I , evolution is a fact, there is no nature to man, and God is dead. He spoke of Darwin, Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche as if speaking of a beloved children.

The interesting part was that he slammed the neo-Darwinian synthesis. He said that it’s not all in the genes. According to Wolfe (paraphrasing from what I remember) “Evolution ended 11,000 years ago when man acquired language. Once man acquired language he could rule over animals, so animals stopped evolving because man controlled their reproduction by way of animal farming. So now we have a new evolutionary pressure, STATUS.”

He basically made the claim that everything from fishes to human beings are not evolving by way of social status. Trying to be cool, trying to be the top dog.

On top of all that he made the claim (paraphrasing from what I remember) “John 1:1 has baffled biblical scholars for ages. They haven’t been able to figure out who or what is the WORD? Now that we know about evolution we know that the WORD is LANGUAGE. Once man acquire language he could evolve and make religion.”

The worst part by far was when he started talking about NASCAR. He said (paraphrasing from what I remember) “The drivers meet before the race and PRAY? Can you believe that? It baffles me. Trying to persuade the Gods to keep them safe. (shakes head).”

LOTS of people didn’t clap for him at the end. Lots of people were muttering under their breath during the talk. Luckily I got my tickets for free from a friend. I’m sure the people who paid a fortune to go didn’t appreciate being preached materialism for TWO HOURS.

The Washington Post covered the lecture: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/11/AR2006051100022.html.

The transcript of the speech will be made available here: http://www.neh.gov/whoweare/wolfe/lecture.html.

Here's a good article by Wolfe where he shows more of his hand on free will, determinism, and neo-Darwinisms influence on these matters: http://orthodoxytoday.org/articles/WolfeSoulDied.php. paulp
Tom Wolfe: “John 1:1 has baffled biblical scholars for ages. They haven’t been able to figure out who or what is the WORD?" Word = W or D (I Am or 360/2) Word = one x one week (22,680) Word = 135 x 168 (22,680) Word = First x last x "it" (22,680) Word = I Am x 180 (22,680) Word = nc squared x one fold (22,680 ) (14 x 9 x 180 ) Word = 63 x 360 (22,680) Word = 18 x 1260 (22,680) Word = love x G x O x D (22,680) Word = God x G x O x D (22,680) Word = Zec 9:9 (AZ x foal) Word = John 1:1 (God x God) "What God" hath (fold) "joined together" + 60 = 360 (3 x God) + (3 x Jesus) + 60 = 360 Zero Zero
If I may clarify. He may not be using the word "I" to be assuming the concept "I". geoffrobinson
FYI - there is an anti-ID article up on the National Review website by Anthony Dick, whoever that is. Dave T. taciturnus
Wolfe has been on this eliminativist kick since probably around when he started researching for Charlotte Simmons. He really ought to research some rudimentary philosophy of mind. An idea has to at least be coherent before it can be true, and elminativism is for loonies. Deuce
Wolfe's comments remind me afresh of how anti-man and rationally stultifying these materialist ideologues really are. "There is no I." Can you get any more, well, stupid than that? OK, Tom, whatever you say. Wolfe and his ilk should spend less time blowing hot air, and more time pondering the nature of inference and insight. If he's right about what he is saying, he could only be right by a fluke, and not by any genuine insight. Therefore his words are nonsense. No, I have a feeling that what movitates guys like him is a deep pride and hatred of "higher powers" that might have an opinion about Tom himself and who's will he is doing. People like him don't fool me. And I'm an agnostic! Nothing here. Move along. mike1962
I look forward to reading the revised version of your theodicy, WmAD. I wonder about the stoicism of the ancient philosophers, and will now make a point of reading Epictetus. The determinism to which Wolfe refers seems far more profound than even the determinism of a belief in fate, or in a necessity of certain events happening, precisely because the evil of modern scientific materialism has penetrated into the very body of the individual human being, claiming to eradicate the need for "spirit" and making even the ability to choose a hoax; a delusion of freedom which is ultimately only another pre-determined event. The sad part is that the psychic reality one inhabits quite naturally becomes the horizon-line by which all things are judged. Once one sinks into the morass of materialism, its gravity sucks away all lighter and freer experiences, and the individual literally cannot percieve the trap. Sad to see someone, like Wolfe, who clearly posesses a tortured idealism beneath this overlay, give up and jump in with the rest... tinabrewer
I never liked his fiction. I don't particularly respect his intellect (or lack of it), either. mike1962
I'm not sure what is linked to at NEH is actually a transcript. The top says it is "speech as prepared for delivery", and it certainly would not take two hours to say what is written. Nor does it contain anything denying the "I" or affirming determinism per se... it looks like these are the notes Wolfe used and he expanded on them during the actual speech. But you can see why Wolfe would affirm determinism. He's tried the same thing as did Hobbes, Darwin, Nietzshe, Freud, etc., etc., which is to claim to have discovered the fundamental driving force of human nature and history. With Darwin it was the struggle to survive, Nietzsche it was the will to power, Freud it was the sexual drive. For Wolfe, it is the struggle for status that is supposed to be at the bottom of everything. Like all the others, of course, Wolfe fails because he must ignore phenomena that do not fit his theory. He mentions Jesus, for example, but does not explain how offering yourself up to torture and crucifixion is really a play for status. And he ignores himself, since if the drive for status explains everything, then it must also explain why Wolfe himself is driven to invesitigate the drive for status. Cheers, Dave T. taciturnus
Did he say "I don't believe there is an I"? geoffrobinson

I'm disappointed. i love Tom Wolfe's novels, especially A Man in Full, in which the hero, a student of the stoic philosophers, overcomes incredible suffering and the cruelties of fate through the exercise of his capacity to choose his inward attitude to his circumstances. Hardly a deterministic philosophy. or maybe it is. maybe this character had no choice but to develop stoicism in the face of his conditions because such a development was predetermined...what nonesense!

[Hi, Tina. I enjoyed that novel as well. Stoics had a way of overcoming fatalism while retaining determinism with their doctrine of condestinate events -- events are destined to go together, so unless you act, something else is not going to happen. In light of this doctrine, the Stoics cultivated a generous spirit, realizing that things were determined for a purpose by an all pervasive reason, but also accepting that the action of reason could only be appreciated by seeing the big picture. Epictetus is terrific in this regard. Unfortunately, Wolfe in his senescence seems to have utterly lost that generosity of spirit that characterized ancient Stoicism and, in my view, made it the next best thing to Christianity, albeit a very distant second. By the way, I'm revising my theodicy paper and addressing some of your concerns. --WmAD] tinabrewer
"he said that determinism is true, there is no free will" I wonder if he ever thought about the idea that if his words were totally irrational, that there would be (a) no indication to him that this were the case, and (b) absolutely nothing he could do about it. Perhaps the materialist mantra might be "I'm ignorant and it's not my fault." johnnyb

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