Though it’s debatable that his name means anything to anyone under the age of 30, Jonas Salk is known as of the inventor of the polio vaccine. If his name registers at all, he is likely to be seen as a fearless champion of scientific progress and a paragon of enlightened modernism whose contributions to medical science have elevated Western society out of the backwardness of religious superstition. So when Jonas Salk writes a speculative tract called Survival of the Wisest which spells out the type of individual best suited to guide humanity into its new age of enlightened virtue, it is meant to be accorded the reverence one would normally reserve for religious doctrine. Survival of the Wisest is, in fact, a quintessentially scientistic work. It has the veneer of scientific rigor. It is filled with charts and fancy scientific words like “metabiology”. Make no mistake though, Salk has donned the miter of the scientific priesthood and has issued what amounts to a proclamation of Scientific Prophecy.
Survival of the Wisest is a short read, but it’s dense and by his own admission, it’s not a work of actual scientific theory. It is a speculative, philosophical work which presents itself as authoritative prescription for humanity as we march forward into the new age of global liberalism. Salk posits that scientists’ “attention must turn increasingly to questions of of general human concern.” While he claims that his concern is for the general welfare of humanity, it comes across like a justification for the existence of a scientific dictatorship. By synthesizing Darwinism, Malthusian warnings of cataclysmic overpopulation, Freudian psychoanalysis, and a quasi-Lockean post-Enlightenment outlook on Natural Law, Salk tries to manufacture a telos for the entire human race.
This book demonstrates the hubris of placing scientific materialism as the foundational propositions for modern society. Salk claims that true wisdom is the product of those who are able to negotiate inexorable forward march of competing dialectical tensions. Man is simultaneously the author of his evolutionary progress and the victim of his lethal excesses. By ensuring that the “wisest” among us are able to guide this forward march of evolution, we are fulfilling the purpose that’s in accord with “nature”.
Needless to say, Salk is engaging in a long form circular argument. In order to attain wisdom, you must first dismantle the “illusion” that man is a purposeful being in the first place. Because after all, there is an order and a direction to the evolutionary flow of the universe. And it’s only properly understood by the Wisest among us. And the Wisest are the ones best adapted to discern true wisdom. See how this works?
While presenting abstract concepts such as “being” and “ego” as though they’re objective phenomena and their relationship to somatic biology over time as an ironclad fact, Salk is trafficking lots of metaphysical assumptions that he cannot prove through pure scientific empiricism. He comes across like the illuminated Platonic mystic who apprehends the world of true forms and is simply here to decode the shadows of the cave wall for all you rubes. Everything in the natural world is in a state of evolutionary flux except for his speculative prescriptions for the future. His talks of the synthesis of the scientific and the artistic, but his language is freighted with an aura of moral imperative and absolute necessity.
The truth is that Salk and the adepts of the scientific priesthood have already prevailed. Science is used to rationalize anything and for the most part, no one can distinguish between the science and the moral prescriptions wrapped around the rhetoric. If depopulation and eugenics can be justified by the “wisest” among us and they have the sanction of the media, political and academic classes, who can stand in their way? Better yet, if you can manage to make people believe it’s virtuous through popular culture, you won’t face opposition when the laws are passed. How else do you explain the Thanos Did Nothing Wrong subreddit?
Survival of the Wisest seems indistinguishable from the likes of HP Blavatsky, Alice Bailey and Annie Besant who have proclaimed that we’re in a new Age of Aquarius. Post-Enlightenment liberalism has demolished the traditional cornerstones of the classical worldview. Subsequently, the void of meaning and purpose needs to be filled with substitutes. However, the task of filling this void has laid bare the numerous contradictions of the neverending pursuit of liberation. The perpetual quest for infinite tolerance and freedom cannot be reconciled with a society that respects boundaries and limits. You got a problem with womyn of size, bigots? Do you object to cannibalism or something? Do you oppose progress?
Even the academic elites cannot avoid confronting the fact that liberalism has only compounded the problems against which it rebelled in the first place. Of course, the solution cannot be a rejection of liberalism. It must be a reaffirmation of liberalism. You know. Just cede the tedium of thinking to Wisest among us. They’re only concerned with their Survival.
I mean OURS.