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Religion for Infidels, Part 2 
Nature Red in Tooth & Claw

2,241 words

Part 2 of 5

BOO179100Editor’s Note:

Religion for Infidels (London: Holborn, 1961) was Anthony Ludovici’s last book. In it, he addresses the increasing population of individuals who have religious or spiritual inclinations and yet find it impossible to believe in revealed religions such as Christianity. 

John Day’s The Lost Philosopher: The Best of Anthony M. Ludovici (Berkeley, Cal.: ETSF, 2003), contains well-chosen selections from Religion for Infidels which present its argument in abridged form. I am reprinting those selections in five parts. The title for this selection is my own.

As a result of a close and steady observation of [natural forces], above all as they reveal themselves in the behaviour of living things, we feel entitled to draw the following conclusions:

(a) They give fair field and no favour to all alike, no matter of what kind. This is shown not only by the indiscriminate attacks of pathogenic organisms on both men and animals, not only by the enormous amount of distress, irritation, pain and even lethal disease which may afflict both men and animals through the action of microorganisms and insects of all kinds, and not only by the bellum omnium contra omnes [the war of all against all] that never ceases among plants and animals, but also by the multitude and wide dissemination of parasitic organisms. L.A. Bor­radaile tells us, for instance, that ‘from the amoeba to man there is probably no animal which is not attacked by some parasite and, and as many species of parasite are confined to one host, it is probable that parasitic animals are not greatly inferior in numbers to all the others together, though their habits prevent the fact from being generally re­alized’ . . .

(b) They are quite indifferent regarding what we human beings of a late civilization call ‘quality’. In other words, they show no ‘taste’ or fine discrimination in our sense. This is shown by the vast amount of what we cannot help considering as ‘ugly’ or ‘repulsive’ features in Nature. Indeed, the whole gamut of her achievements, from the transcendent beauty of some of the cats down to the least attractive of her batrachians and gastropods, some venomous snakes, some fishes, and ‘certain hideous bats’ (The Origin of Species, chapter 15), seems to indicate that no distinguishable inclination to beauty rather than to ugliness characterizes the life-processes, and that what appears to take place is a random production of either, according to the exigencies of the evolutionary hazards.

(c) They give no sign of favouring any upward trend in the evolution of living things, whether plants or animals. ‘Natural selection’ occurs destitute of all civilized humanity’s estimates of desirability. Indeed, the evolutionary steps securing survival are so often steps downward or backward that the examples of ‘retrograde metamorpho­sis’ in Nature, as Spencer pointed out some ninety years ago, ‘out­number all others’ . . .

(d) A more dynamic and upsetting principle than the so-called ‘struggle for existence’ (urged on by the self-preservative instinct) or, as Schopenhauer termed it, ‘the will to live’ animates all living creatures and plant life, and the forces governing life’s processes have im­planted in all their creatures a will much more extensive, which takes the ‘will to live’ in its stride.

For we see animals and plants doing not merely the bare necessary to keep alive, but also everything possible with the view of overcoming other species. They do not merely sustain their own lives; they obtrude themselves on other lives, even other lives belonging to their own species. They all assault, invade and trespass on alien territory. We need only watch them for a little while in order to be convinced of the error of assuming existence as the be-all and end-all of their striving. For what soon strikes us—chiefly in contemplating animals, even quite young ones—is that they feel above all, and coûte que coûte [at all costs], the need to discharge their strength, to make something else pay for their good fettle and high spirits. Their first concern, as soon as they stir, is to importune their surroundings, to enjoy using and expressing energy, if possible at the cost of some other life—that is to say, in overpowering, subduing or merely intimidating and scaring other creatures.

The unleashed dog rouses the neighbourhood with his bark, seizes a fallen branch and shakes it, growling angrily the while. He charges other dogs on his path, fights them and chases every creature within sight. He will even chase and try to bully the fast-revolving wheels of a passing car. He revels in his strength and fleetness . . .

Indeed, we have the highest authority for declining to set man outside Nature. Even if it may be extravagant to claim that Nature has become wholly conscious in him, his affinity to her as her child makes him as reliable an exponent of her deepest currents and trends as any animal or plant. Here most thinkers are in agreement with Professor A.N. Whitehead, who stated the case with commendable clarity when he said: ‘It is a false dichotomy to think of Nature and man. Mankind is that factor in Nature which exhibits in its most intense form the plasticity of Nature’ . . .

Thus, when we inquire of the deepest thinkers, ‘What is Nature’s most fundamental urge as manifested in man?’, we are not surprised to find them confirming the conclusions we have formed from our survey of animals and plants, and supporting the generalizations of both Plato and Nietzsche.

Aristotle says outright that all men aspire to ascendancy . . . Hobbes unhesitatingly concurs. ‘I put for a general inclination of all mankind’, he says, ‘a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death’ . . . In the discourse entitled ‘Von der Selbst-Ueberwindung’ (On Self-Mastery) in Thus Spake Zarathus­tra, Nietzsche expounds the doctrine of the will to power as basic in man. But the principle is repeated in all his works and, especially in the two posthumous volumes of The Will to Power, is postulated of the universe in general . . .

So there appear to be substantial grounds for the view that a striv­ing after supremacy or power is the basic trend of all Nature, and that Schopenhauer’s ‘will to live’, like the ‘struggle for existence’ of our nineteenth-century biologists, gives but an inadequate idea of the radi­cal trend of the forces governing life’s processes. In other words, there is more in these forces than a mere readiness to vegetate or survive even on a lavish scale, and, unless we turn a blind eye to most of the more disturbing, importunate and gratuitously obtrusive tendencies of both animals and plants, we are constrained to postulate a basic drive in Nature, more dynamic, convulsive, upsetting and consequently, of course, more ‘evil’ than merely the will to persist and keep one’s head above water.

Indeed, it must have struck the kind of thinker who has been led to read the will to power between the lines of Nature’s picture-book that it is otiose and romantic to hope ever to overcome what the moral idealists in our society regard as ‘evil’, unless means are found for uprooting from the character of every living thing, including man, this fundamental drive, acknowledged by many leading modern psychologists to be the will to power.

What can be the good, then, of speaking of ‘eternal peace’, or a future of ‘loving concord’ for all mankind, or of any state in which rivalry of some kind, violence, high-handed appropriation and expropriation, oppression of some kind, and discord have been wholly elimi­nated? What possible trace of realism remains in Shaw’s attribution of all wickedness to poverty, or in Marx’s implication that what men call ‘evil’ will disappear when once a classless society is established? . . .

To hold typically liberal views, therefore, and to assume that if we liked we could all settle down to love one another and live in perfect amity and harmony together, is possible only to those idealists who are congenitally blind to the true character of all life; whilst, as for those numbskulls who begin to see and think of the will to power only when figures like Napoleon, Stalin or Hitler appear, and who overlook it wholly in themselves, their wives, their children and their cat, they are even more dangerous than the idealists aforesaid, because they scent and suspect an awkward and unamiable feature of existence only when it is already thundering down upon them, and are like people who are not aware of the volcano at the end of their garden before they and their home are smothered in tons of burning lava.

It is very probable, however, that this one dynamic factor informing all living matter—the will to power—may be the major, if not the only, element in the life-forces which, by constantly contending with and often defeating the trends implicit in factors (a), (b) and (c), whose influence, if not actually favouring degeneration and survival by backward rather than forward steps, at least offers no potent resistance to it, has accounted for all those triumphs of the evolutionary process, all those relatively rare but upward and progressive changes in both the vegetable and animal kingdoms that have culminated in producing the highest examples still extant of our plants and living creatures, including even man himself . . .

(e) The fifth conclusion which it seems to me legitimate to draw concerning the forces behind phenomena relates to their amorality, or their lack of all those moral principles with which civilized societies regulate human intercourse.

It hardly needs saying that in all Nature there is no trace of any such morality. On the contrary, every kind of thuggery, deception, fraud, duplicity and mendacity finds its ablest and most unscrupulous exponents in Nature. It is true that much of this criminality is designed to protect the creatures practising it, just as much of the thuggery contributes to their survival, but the practices in question remain dishonest and immoral (in our sense) notwithstanding. We find caterpillars imi­tating twigs to such perfection that their worst enemies fail to recog­nize them. We also see butterflies mimicking dried leaves and beetles resembling moss so exactly that their disguise completely deludes the rest of living creatures. On the other hand, we find innumerable species of harmless animals and insects protecting themselves by resembling noxious or dangerous species, or by actually descending to the ruse of representing excrement. The drone-fly, thanks to its mimicry of the large hive- or honey-bee, which is distasteful and has a sting, is left entirely alone. Many edible insects, in fact, save their lives by masquerading as inedible ones; among them are several species of ants, beetles and spiders. In animals, a good example of the same phenome­non is the little bush-dog of Guiana and Brazil, which, by closely ap­proximating to the form and colour of the weasel-like tayra, protects himself from the attacks of pumas, jaguars and ocelots.

Often the deceptive mimicry works the other way about—that is to say, not to protect an insect or animal but to hoodwink its prey. Thus, the camouflage of stripes or cloudy patches on many cats’ coats, including those of the tiger and leopard, by imitating the play of light and shade in long grass or brushwood enables beasts of prey to approach the quarry, or to lie in ambush for it, whilst remaining unobserved. An Oriental tree-shrew, by its likeness to a squirrel, is enabled to approach and pounce on small birds or animals which mistake it for a vegetable-feeding squirrel. But of all these devices, whether for facilitating or preventing capture, the fundamental feature is their mendacity, their intent to defraud, and this, in some form or another, is common to all life . . .

It is thus as hopeless to seek the sources of human morality in Nature as to try along evolutionary lines to derive it from obscure rudiments in natural phenomena. To this, however, it may be objected that since, as I have argued, man is not to be separated from Nature, his morality must be natural.

This is of course true. But it is natural only in the sense that honey or silk or a pearl is natural. Like them, however, it is a peculiar prod­uct of a particular species in special circumstances and not necessarily repeated elsewhere. In the social life of man, morality becomes a means, sine qua non, of regulating the customary conduct that made communal survival possible; hence the name. It curbed the instincts where they threatened to interfere with conduct that promoted orderly communal life, and controlled primitive impulses so as to adapt them to social order. Consequently, in the world of Nature, which is entirely run by instinct, morality plays no role and is not required to play any. Could it play such a role it would be wholly destructive. It is therefore not a necessarily pervasive feature of natural life and can no more be postulated of all Nature than can honey or silk. Indeed, except for theological purposes, there seems to be no reason whatsoever to extend its incidence outside human societies, and only sentimentalists feel the need of imagining it mirrored in the world about them. From the point of view of the man investigating the attributes of the forces governing life’s processes, it is thus only misleading to speak of Nature as ‘amoral’ for, to us humans, Nature, unless we wish to mince matters, is frankly immoral and behaves in a way that conflicts radically with what is called ‘moral’ in our societies . . .


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