We are a species. And there are laws of nature, that we have to respect. Many of the people of the sixties thought that everything was "socially constructed" and that there was no reality outside of our wish fulfillment.
SdB was already arguing for this in the 40s -- that women were the same as men, and that gender was a social construction. LANGUAGE itself -- as a poetic movement -- was on the side of social construction, and was an attempt to investigate the ways in which language constructed reality -- the fascination with Jacques Lacan was part of that denial of biological reality and part of the interest in "the imaginary." Lacan argued that the imaginary was everything. Nothing at all fell outside of this domain. Even the psychiatric hour was flexible, so that if he got his work done in a few seconds, the patient went home. Time held not objective reality to Lacan, in spite of his many references to Kant -- who argued that place and time do exist for humanity.
I tend to see immutable laws that lie outside of us as very real. I see time as real, and clocks as measuring something that we have in common, and I think a mountain is a mountain and not a social construct.
I didn't mind Larry Summers bringing up the possibility that there is a gender difference in regards to the ability to learn math. I don't think that women have less ability in that area. Perhaps there is less interest. That could still be a social construction. There are social constructions, but not everything is a social construction.
Strict social constructionists argued implicitly that gender difference or race difference is a taboo that can't be looked into -- Summers lost his job the way Galileo was shut down for looking at the sun incorrectly and displacing humanity as the center of God's creation.
There are all kinds of hilarious shibboliths in the new secularism.
They take the notion that all humans are created equally as a biological statement, rather than a legal statement, which raises interesting questions.
Biological reality is something that can't be socially reconstructed -- death for instance, has a biological aspect that the children of the sixties haven't been able to wish away -- AIDS, herpes, chlamydia, and other diseases have not boded well for the sexual revolution. We remember Erica Jong and her Fear of Flying, and the notion of the zipless F. An F that would just happen, without any preliminaries, or any sense of responsibility. Viral opportunists loved the sixties.
It turns out that there is an objective reality. What then is the role for poetry, or religion?
Midgley writes that some proponents of positivism attempted to oust anything unscientific "as a way of cutting out the metaphysical extravagances of religion. The only question then was how to spell out these simplifying, reductive explanations in detail across the full range of the humanities -- across, for instance, geography, history, logic, law, musicology, linguistics and ethics as well as nascent social sciences" (116-117).
"early in the twentieth century, then, serious supporters of the reductive project turned from imperialistic conquest to isolationism. Rather than try to turn history, poetry, ethics and the rest into parts of science, they worked to restore scientific purity by shutting these strangers out. Finally, following Popper, they narrowed the definition of science so far that it excluded, not just Marx and Spengler and Freud, but much of the social sciences as well. (By an unlucky oversight they also shut out Darwinian evolutionary theory, which had to be brought back as an awkward exception" (117).
"On the one hand, they hold that science is the only reputable form of thought, everything else being either religion or 'pseudo-science.' On the other hand, they now define science so narrowly that this story cannot possibly be true" (117).
All quotes from Poetry and Science, pp. 116-117, by Mary Midgley.
Along with the rise of science as the only valid form of thinking, there has been a renewed emphasis on what she calls "moral minimalism" (159). Concern for those outside of our social contract are difficult to articulate. Our responsibility to the Iraqi people, for instance, is thought to be almost impossible to articulate by many on the left. One feels that we ought to care about animals, but on what basis? The notion of St. Francis preaching to the birds, and talking to them of God's creation, and having them as a respectful audience, would seem laughable to a bunch of men in white coats, who would probably put St. Francis in the nut bin.
"Contract thinking sought to abolish the ideas towards anyone or anything outside that society. Of course the more subtle contract theorists, such as Kant and John Rawls, have not treated these duties simply as flowing from self-interest, as Hobbes did. But the original point of the model was to limit the scope of the duties within a definite society, not to enlarge that scope... The real target of contract thinking was a distorted notion of duties towards God, and towards earthly rulers who claimed to be God's regent. But this move had an unintended side-effect. It now makes it quite hard for us to make sense of our responsibility towards humans outside of our own society, and almost impossible to explain our responsibilities toward non-human nature" (Midgley 159).