A Transcription of a Part of Nick Land and Peter Wolfendale’s Debate

[NOTE: I typed all this out, so I removed stuttering, repeats, etc. You can find the full debate here. This is a typed transcription of the portion 18:23–28:57 of the video]

Wolfendale: Why are we interested in success or failure at all? Why is there any rhetoric of success and failure involved in this?

Land: Well because it is just on Darwinian grounds that something that doesn’t succeed dies, and so it writes, [or rather] it edits itself out of reality. Anything wants to succeed if they want something

Wolfendale: Why is [competition for success] a norm? Why is this something we are saying we should have as much as possible? Why?

Anonymous #1: That should be more normatively obvious to a human being I think than anything you’ve discussed so far. If you’re asking why humans should exist then you’re already lost.

Wolfendale: No, no, I’m not asking why humans should exist, right. I’m asking why-

Anonymous #1: Why there should be more of them? Why should there be more societies?

Wolfendale: No, no, no, why should the norm that we’re interested in, right, be brute Darwinian.

Anonymous #1: It’s inescapable. There is no alternative, that’s what it is.

Wolfendale: No, brute Darwinianism is the way things are, it’s not the way things should be. It’s not actually normative at the end of the day. It’s just a brute existential fact if you’re interpreting that-

Anonymous #1: Well, that’s what normativity is.

Wolfendale: Not at all. Screw the naturalistic fallacy in all its forms.


Wolfendale: Whenever you just appeal to Darwinianism as just a brute normative given from which political philosophy will start, you’re admitting you don’t have an argument.

Land: No, I think that’s right because an argument implies agreement. We’ve given up on agreement.


Anonymous #1: It presumes that agreement is even a rational possibility.


Wolfendale: As soon as you’re talking about stuff like the correct system of society, you’re outside of Darwinianism.

Anonymous #1: Right.

Land: No, I don’t think that’s necessarily true. There’s a Darwinian translation of that which is just a functional adaptive system of governance that will survive in a fragmented environment.


Anonymous 2#: [Wolfendale], you’re arguing that this assumption of like a Darwinian fundamental bedrock upon which the organization of governmental structures is kind of founded is an avowed norm. It is a norm, and its completely unavowed.

Wolfendale: Yep.

Anonymous #2: Whereas [Land] is kind of saying: this is the structure of the universe, and anything that is pretending that [competition] is not in play is in a political fantasy land.


Wolfendale: [If] we are talking about […] the survival of intelligence […] then that’s where the normative content has been reduced in your framework.


Land: But I’ve just got a problem with this way you’re using normative. Which I’m assuming is within this big sort of fact value distinction, all of this western structure which I think is deeply problematic. If it wasn’t that intelligence is demonstrably adaptive, then I don’t think there would be any defense of intelligence worth a doubt […] If it wasn’t that descriptively intelligence was demonstratively adaptive, then it would just be a bullshit arbitrary normative element, and I would totally agree […] So, the only reason intelligence plays this role, is the fact that it’s not on one side of the fact-value distinction. If your, you know, intelligence optimization is not a normative decision any more than it is a descriptive evaluation of what is successful in an absolutely stripped down Darwinian environment. So, I just don’t think that the fact-value distinction has the kind of purchase on this that you’re wanting to give it.


Wolfendale: The difference between saying that saying that intelligence is essentially adaptive and saying what we should do is act in order to maximize it, that’s your normative claim. Right?

Land: But is there a difference there? Is that recommendation not exactly synonymous with saying that we should aim for adaptive success, we should aim to survive?

Wolfendale: No, it absolutely isn’t the same thing because there are all alternatives.

Land: Because what?

Wolfendale: There are descriptively alternative paths other than the optimal. We are saying we should actively intervene to produce some optimal state, at least, on your position, right? Obviously, I have my own claim about what is optimal and about what I think we should be doing, right.

Land: Yeah, but are you also making the claim that it is intrinsically adaptive or not?


Wolfendale: No, I just have a very different conception of intelligence and adaptation […] We’re saying that we shouldn’t [do things that don’t end up at the optimal state], we should do things such that we reach some optimal state, but that’s a substantive claim. You can’t get to that claim simply from defining intelligence as adaptability, you can’t get there from here. That’s the naturalistic fallacy.

Land: I reject the whole notion of the naturalistic fallacy. I think it’s an occidental philosophical illusion based on having taken a very wrong path.



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Evan Jack

How sweet terror is, not a single line, or a ray of morning sunlight fails to contain the sweetness of anguish. - Georges Bataille