Tuesday, November 18, 2008

'10 Books That Screwed Up the World: And 5 Others That Didn't Help' by Benjamin Wiker, Ph.D

Despite an interesting premise, with ‘10 Books That Screwed Up the World’, Doctor Wiker ultimately falls foul of his own double standards.

It’s a bold challenge Doctor Wiker makes with ‘10 Books That Screwed Up the World: And 5 Others That Didn't Help.’

He argues that some of the most infamous literature in history has become so ingrained in modern culture that people have accepted the ‘concept’ of these books without actually reading or contesting the original material.

These commonly accepted, yet half-understood ‘truths,’ he contends, are what’s responsible for promoting our materialistic, Godless and sexually promiscuous culture – of ‘screwing up’ the world, as he puts it.

But despite coming up with a fascinating premise for his book, Doctor Wiker sets off down the wrong path from step one – illustrating that the 10 books he’s highlighted haven’t so much ‘screwed up’ the world – just ‘the world’ as he believes it should be.

It’s clear Doctor Wiker is promoting an agenda simply by reading the list of the ten works be believes ‘Screwed Up the World.’ There are some logical choices there, like Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf.’ However, the rest reads like a Conservative shit-list, encompassing Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Alfred Kinsey and Friedrich Nietzsche.

Taking into account Ben Wiker’s previous books, like “Answering the New Atheism: Dismantling Dawkins’ Case Against God,” and “Moral Darwinism,” it’s fair to suggest that Doctor Wiker reached his condemning conclusions about ‘the worst books ever written’ before even bothering to examine them.

That much is clear in the attacks he makes: With Descartes' ‘Discourse on the Method,’ for example, Doctor Wiker’s own theological beliefs become so entangled in his quarrel with Descarte’s ontological argument that his conclusion winds up being utterly subjective and unconvincing.

Similarly, his interpretation of ‘The Descent of Man’ attempts to bulldoze Darwinism into the role of the founder of the Eugenics movement, despite the fact that Darwin himself argued in that very book against the idea of using Darwinian methods in civilized human society.

Margaret Mead and Alfred Kinsey, perhaps the mother and father of the ‘sexual revolution’, are demonized for popularizing the study of human sexuality and breaking down the boundaries of traditional (in Wiker’s case, read ‘Christian’) morality. His evaluation of ‘The Communist Manifesto’ is clearly colored by the supposed ‘evils’ of socialism once popularized by McCarthy.

From start to finish, Doctor Wiker’s evaluation of these ’10 books’ originates from such a rigid and inflexible position that it makes his arguments and conclusions somewhat blithe. For readers coming from a similarly Conservative, Christian standpoint, they might find a lot they agree with in Doctor Wicker’s appraisals of the ‘ten worst books.’ For everybody else, you’ll have to make several leaps of faith just to keep up with his ‘logic.’

I think Thomas E. Woods sums up the intended audience of ’10 Books That Screwed Up the World’ best with his quote on the back cover: “Benjamin Wiker has read the worst books in Western civilization so you don't have to.”

It’s the ‘…so you don’t have to’ which sums it all up. If you’ve already reached your conclusion about the evils of books like The Descent of Man and the Kinsey Report, ideally without reading them, you’ll find '10 Books’ to be well written and comforting, agreeing with everything you believe you know about these ‘terrible works.’

If you’ve got a slightly more open mind, however, you’ll find Doctor Wiker’s appraisal of these books to be shamelessly one-sided and his conclusions less than watertight.


Coffee Bean said...

Didn't this come out some time ago? I seem to remember seeing this list before. I didn't pay much attention to it because it seems to rest on the premise that things were fine before these books came along. As a Christian he should have the understanding that this world has been screwed up since the fall. Works such as these are not the root of the problems in our society today.

I have not read all of these works but, I have read books by Hitler, Neitzsche, and Descartes in their entirety. I found Hitler's book to be quite illuminating in terms of history... as well as the parallels between his and Nietzsche's ideology. Personally, I consider books of this sort to be important to the understanding of where these people were coming from.

As to why this world is screwed up... I think we all need to look in the mirror.

The Chemist said...

In general, as a bibliophile, I find people who try to ban or otherwise say, "No decent person should read this." to be generally prudish, nasty, and short- um, sighted.

I wouldn't call Mein Kampf a book that screwed up the world. The reason for this is simple- Hitler was very banal. His charm, such as it was, was in his speeches and forceful manner.

I doubt, with his extensive use of propaganda that a mere book written by him had that much of an effect.

It was his charisma that sold the book, not the other way around, as I understand it. Post war, only ardent Nazis and neo-Nazis read it. They are hardly to blame for screwing up the world, however much trouble they've caused.

One Salient Oversight said...

It is so important to have "dodgy" books freely available for people to read. For every anti-semite who reads Mein Kampf there are dozens of others who read it to understand the mind of one of the world's most horrible people.

In short, we can learn lots from reading things we disagree with.

And that's why Christians should read Darwin, or the Koran.

Coffee Bean said...

I very much agree with OSO!

jpbenney said...

Your point that "despite the fact that Darwin himself argued in that very book against the idea of using Darwinian methods in civilized human society" is surprising but worthwhile.

When I read my mother's copy of Silent Spring, which Wiker omitted but which some sympathetic observers no doubt think should have been included, I found that Rachel Carson actually did not support a ban on DDT as so many of her critics say.

However, this misuse of arguments to justify something an argument's actual source does not is something I have heard no doubt occurs with critics of every book. The Right believe claims the Bible supports slavery or violence are exactly analogous to what I am saying to claims Silent Spring supported a DDT ban that has led to hundred of millions of malaria deaths.

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