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    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 7th September 2014 (All posts by )

    Megan McArdle:  Are Liberals the Real Authoritarians?  See also Ed Driscoll, with several links and excerpts on this topic.

    Why Sally can’t get a good job with her college degree

    Happy families know their history.  See also the family meal and benefits of family dinners.

    Study suggests that waiting on experiences can be pleasant, whereas waiting on things just tends to be frustrating.   (But what about things that are purchased in order to have experiences?…is waiting for the delivery of a boat really that different psychologically from waiting for a boat-charter vacation?)

    Pioneering 3-D printed houses in Amsterdam (with video)

    Thoughts about blank-slate theory and its consequences

    To train a horse and ride it to war.  Thoughts on chivalry, feminism, and horsemanship.

    The biology of risk.  Hormones and the Federal Reserve, among other things.  A couple of years ago I briefly reviewed The Hour Between Dog and Wolf, written by the author of this article, John Coates.

     

    Posted in Education, Human Behavior, Leftism, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Urban Issues, War and Peace | 5 Comments »

    Book Review: That Hideous Strength, by C S Lewis

    Posted by David Foster on 24th June 2014 (All posts by )

    That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis

    —-

    This was the first thing Mark had been asked to do which he himself, before he did it, clearly knew to be criminal. But the moment of his consent almost escaped his notice; certainly, there was no struggle, no sense of turning a corner. There may have been a time in the world’s history when such moments fully revealed their gravity, with witches prophesying on a blasted heath or visible Rubicons to be crossed. But, for him, it all slipped past in a chatter of laughter, of that intimate laughter between fellow professionals, which of all earthly powers is strongest to make men do very bad things before they are yet, individually, very bad men.

    Mark Studdock is a young on-the-make sociologist, a professor at Bracton College, in an English town called Edgestow. He is is far more interested in university politics than in his research or teaching. and as a member of the “progressive element” at the college, he strongly supports Bracton selling a tract of property to a government-sponsored entity called NICE. The NICE is the National Institute for Coordinated Experimentation,which Lewis describes as “the first fruits of that constructive fusion between the state and the laboratory on which so many thoughtful people base their hopes of a better world.”  What excites Mark most about the NICE is this:

    The real thing is that this time we’re going to get science applied to social problems and backed by the whole force of the state, just as war has been backed by the whole force of the state in the past.  One hopes, of course, that it’ll find out more than the old freelance science did, but what’s certain is that it can do more.

    Trigger Warning: There is something in this book to offend almost everybody.  It contains things that will offend technologists and believers in human progress…social scientists…feminists…academic administrators…bioscience researchers…and surely many other categories of people.  It will probably also offend some Christians, for the way in which Christian theology is mixed with non-Christian magic. By the standards now becoming current in American universities, this book, and even this book review, should be read by no one at all.  But for those who do not accept those standards…

    The Basic Story. Mark has recently married Jane, a woman with strong literary interests and with vague plans for getting an advanced degree. She has recently started having disturbing, indeed terrifying, dreams, which suggest that she has a clairvoyant ability to see distant events in real time. Afraid that she is losing her mind, Jane seeks advice, and is told that her dreams are actually visions, they are very real, will not stop, and are of utmost importance:

    “Young lady,” said Miss Ironwood, “You do not at all realize the seriousness of this matter. The things you have seen concern something compared with which the happiness, and even the life, of you and me, is of no importance.”

    Miss Ironwood warns Jane that extremely evil people will seek to use her gift, and that she would do well–both for her own interests and those of the entire human race–to join the community of which Miss Ironwood is a part, located at a place called St Anne’s. Jane responds quite negatively to the invitation, afraid that membership in the St Anne’s group will limit her autonomy. She is not interested in the dreams’ meaning; she just wants them to go away.

    Mark, on the other hand, responds enthusiastically when he is invited to take a position at the NICE, temporarily located at an old manor called Belbury.  One of the first people he meets there is the Head of the Institutional Police, a woman named Miss Hardcastle (picture Janet Napolitano), nicknamed the Fairy, who explains to Mark her theory of crime and punishment:

    “Here in the Institute, we’re backing the crusade against Red Tape.”  Mark gathered that, for the Fairy, the police side of the Institute was the really important side…In general, they had already popularized in the press the idea that the Institute should be allowed to experiment pretty largely in the hope of discovering how far humane, remedial treatment could be substituted for the old notion of “retributive” or “vindictive” punishment…The Fairy pointed out that what had hampered every English police force up to date was precisely the idea of deserved punishment. For desert was always finite; you could do so much to the criminal and no more. Remedial treatment, on the other hand, need have no fixed limit; it could go on till it had effected a cure, and those who were carrying it out would decide when that was.  And if cure were humane and desirable, how much more prevention?  Soon anyone who had ever been in the hands of the police at all would come under the control of the NICE; in the end, every citizen.

    Another person Mark meets in his first days at Belbury is the acclaimed chemist William Hingest…who has also come down to investigate the possibility of a job at Belbury, has decided against it, and strongly advises Mark to do likewise:

    “I came down here because I thought it had something to do with science. Now that I find it’s something more like a political conspiracy, I shall go home. I’m too old for that kind of thing, and if I wanted to join a conspiracy, this one wouldn’t be my choice.”

    “You mean, I suppose, that the element of social planning doesn’t appeal to you? I can quite understand that it doesn’t fit in with your work as it does with sciences like Sociology, but–”

    “There are no sciences like Sociology. And if I found chemistry beginning to fit in with a secret police run by a middle-aged virago who doesn’t wear corsets and a scheme for taking away his farm and his shop and his children from every Englishman, I’d let chemistry go to the devil and take up gardening again…I happen to believe that you can’t study men, you can only get to know them, which is quite a different thing. Because you study them, you want to make the lower orders govern the country and listen to classical music, which is balderdash. You also want to take away from them everything that makes life worth living and not only from them but from everyone except a parcel of prigs and professors.”

    Nevertheless, Mark decides to remain at Belbury, and is drawn ever-deeper into its activities–which, as only those in the innermost circles of that organization realize, are not only consistent with the goals of the 20th-century totalitarianisms, but go considerably beyond them.  The NICE seeks to establish a junction between the powers of modern science and those of ancient magic, accessing the latter by awakening the medieval wizard Merlin and using him for their purposes.  At the same time, Jane–despite her reservations–becomes increasingly involved  with the company at St Anne’s and is entranced with its leader, a Mr Fisher-King. (His name comes from the Wounded King in Arthurian legend.)  The St Anne’s group is aware of the truth about NICE and its ultimate goals, and exists for the primary purpose of opposing and, hopefully, destroying that organization.

    I will not here describe the war between the forces of Belbury and those of St Anne’s (in order to avoid spoilers), but will instead comment on the characters of some of the protagonists and some philosophically-significant events in the novel, with appropriate excerpts. Hopefully this will be enough to give a sense of the worldview that Lewis is presenting in this book.

    Mark Studdock. His character is largely defined by his strong desire to be a member of the Inner Circle, whatever that inner circle may be in a particular context.  The passage at the start of this review where Mark agrees to engage in criminal activity on Belbury’s behalf is proceeded by this:

    After a few evenings Mark ventured to walk into the library on his own; a little uncertain of his reception, yet afraid that if he did not soon assert his right to the entree this modesty might damage him. He knew that the error in either direction is equally fatal.

    It was a success. Before he had closed the door behind him all had turned with welcoming faces and Filostrato had said “Ecco ” and the Fairy, “Here’s the very man.” A glow of pleasure passed over Mark’s whole body.

    That “glow of pleasure” at being accepted by the Belbury’s Inner Circle (what Mark then thinks is Belbury’s Inner Circle) is strong enough to overcome any moral qualms on Mark’s part about the actions he is being requested to perform.  Lewis has written a great deal elsewhere about the lust for the Inner Circle, which in his view never leads to satisfaction but only to a longing for membership in another, still-more-inner circle. In That Hideous Strength, there are concentric Inner Circles at Belbury, which Mark does penetrate–and each is more sinister than the last.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Anglosphere, Arts & Letters, Bioethics, Book Notes, Britain, Christianity, Civil Society, Conservatism, Crime and Punishment, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism, Morality and Philosphy, Philosophy, Political Philosophy | 12 Comments »

    The Limits of Expertise

    Posted by T. Greer on 19th June 2014 (All posts by )

    I originally published this essay on the 18th of January, 2014 at The Scholar’s Stage. David Foster’s recent post on “credentialed experts” has prompted me to resurrect it here. I have not otherwise changed it from the original.

    —-

    Last month Tom Nichols, professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College  and a well regarded authority on Russian foreign policy and American nuclear strategy, published a thought-provoking essay on his blog titled “The Death of Expertise:”

    …I wonder if we are witnessing the “death of expertise:” a Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between students and teachers, knowers and wonderers, or even between those of any achievement in an area and those with none at all.

    By this, I do not mean the death of actual expertise, the knowledge of specific things that sets some people apart from others in various areas. There will always be doctors, lawyers, engineers, and other specialists in various fields.

    Rather, what I fear has died is any acknowledgement of expertise as anything that should alter our thoughts or change the way we live. A fair number of Americans now seem to reject the notion that one person is more likely to be right about something, due to education, experience, or other attributes of achievement, than any other.

    Indeed, to a certain segment of the American public, the idea that one person knows more than another person is an appalling thought, and perhaps even a not-too-subtle attempt to put down one’s fellow citizen. It’s certainly thought to be rude: to judge from social media and op-eds, the claim of expertise — and especially any claim that expertise should guide the outcome of a disagreement — is now considered by many people to be worse than a direct personal insult.

    This is a very bad thing. Yes, it’s true that experts can make mistakes, as disasters from thalidomide to the Challenger explosion tragically remind us. But mostly, experts have a pretty good batting average compared to laymen: doctors, whatever their errors, seem to do better with most illnesses than faith healers or your Aunt Ginny and her special chicken gut poultice. To reject the notion of expertise, and to replace it with a sanctimonious insistence that every person has a right to his or her own opinion, is just plain silly.
    (emphasis added) [1]

    I encourage visitors to the Stage to read Dr. Nichol’s entire piece. It was prompted by what has become a common experience every time he (or fellow UNWC professor and former NSA employee John Schindler) decides to publish a new essay or speak publicly about a pressing issue of the day. Soon after his work is published a flood of acrimonious tweets and e-mails follow, declaring that he does not really understand how American intelligence agencies, the Kremlin, or the Obama administration actually work

    Most of these responses are misinformed. Many are simply rude and mean. They are not an impressive example of what laymen commentators can add to America’s political discourse. Dr. Nichols suggests four rules of thumb for engaged citizens that he believes would improve matters:

    1.The expert isn’t always right.

    2. But an expert is far more likely to be right than you are.

    3. Your political opinions have value in terms of what you want to see happen, how you view justice and right. Your political analysis as a layman has far less value, and probably isn’t — indeed, almost certainly isn’t — as good as you think it is.

    4. On a question of factual interpretation or evaluation, the expert’s view is likely to be better-informed than yours. At that point, you’re best served by listening, not carping and arguing. [2]

     ·


    The trouble with this advice is that there are plenty of perfectly rational reasons to distrust those with political expertise. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Management, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Predictions, Science, Statistics | 21 Comments »

    Education for America 3.0 – now

    Posted by leifsmith on 29th March 2014 (All posts by )

    Interview with Isaac Morehouse, co-founder of Praxis Institute, about their programs for (in my words) people who want to live in America 3.0. The interview is by Bill Freeza, Competitive Enterprise Institute, on Real Clear Radio. If you like America 3.0 you will think this is a great interview!

    blog.discoverpraxis.com/2014/03/04/praxis-interview-on-real-clear-radio

    Also posted on one of my own sites: http://www.scoop.it/t/freeorder

    Posted in Academia, America 3.0, Education, Entrepreneurship, Philosophy, Society | Comments Off

    Spiritual Battles and Contemporary Politics, continued

    Posted by David Foster on 21st March 2014 (All posts by )

    A couple of weeks ago, I commented on an article by Joseph Bottum about the search for spiritual meaning as a driver of “progressive” politics.

    Comes now an essay by David Goldman–The Rise of  Secular Religion–which is in part a review of Mr Bottum’s new book, An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America. Recommended reading. Excerpt:

    America’s consensus culture, Bottum argues, is the unmistakable descendant of the old Protestant Mainline, in particular the “Social Gospel” promulgated by Walter Rauschenbusch before the First World War and adopted by the liberal majority in the Mainline denominations during the 1920s. Although this assertion seems unremarkable at first glance, the method that Bottum brings to bear is entirely original. A deeply religious thinker, he understands spiritual life from the inside. He is less concerned with the outward forms and specific dogmas of religion than with its inner experience, and this approach leads him down paths often inaccessible to secular inquiry. The book should be disturbing not only to its nominal subjects, the “Poster Children” of post-Protestant America, but also to their conservative opposition. The battle is joined on a plane far removed from the quotidian concept of political debate.

    Closely related: Carbon Dioxide as Original Sin. Excerpt:

    Thanks to this new green faith, our smallest acts have incalculable repercussions. The world seems literally to hang on whether we leave the water running as we brush our teeth, take the subway rather than drive, or flick off the switch as we exit a room. The humblest objects are alive with meaning. Bruckner calls it “post-technological animism” (33). Environmentalist discourse, he suggests, is a variation on the Fall of Genesis: eating of the fruit of the tree of scientific knowledge has driven us from God-given Paradise.

    (link via American Digest)

    Also see Paul Gottfried on the lack of interest in logical argument prevalent among today’s leftist campus professors, and how this differs from the attitudes of their predecessors of a few decades ago. Indeed, if contemporary “progressivism” is a religion, it is not a religion of the intellectual system-building type represented by, say, Saint Thomas Acquinas or William of Ockham, but rather of the most emotionally-driven type of snake-handling fundamentalism.

    Also related to this topic of spiritual hunger as a driver of political belief: Arthur Koestler’s novel of ideas The Age of Longing, which I reviewed at length here:  Sleeping with the Enemy.

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Environment, Human Behavior, Leftism, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Politics, Religion, USA | 25 Comments »

    Selected Posts from 2013, continued

    Posted by David Foster on 7th January 2014 (All posts by )

    A Winter’s Tale. An appropriate post given today’s temperatures.

    Saint Alexander of Munich. Alexander Schmorell, a member of the anti-Nazi student resistance group known as the White Rose, has been canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.

    Deconstructing a Nazi Death Sentence. The transcript of the verdict passed by the “People’s Court” on members of the White Rose provides a window into the totalitarian mind.

    Despicable. US Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in Istanbul, compared the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing to the nine Turkish activists killed by the IDF as they tried to break Gaza’s naval blockade.

    Appropriate Reading and Viewing for Obama’s Surveillance State.

    Six Hundred Million Years in K-12.

    Some 3-D Printing Links.

    Aerodynamics, Art History, and the Assignment of Names.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Aviation, Christianity, Current Events, Education, Energy & Power Generation, Environment, Israel, Obama, Philosophy, Religion, Tech | 1 Comment »

    An Essay about Essays

    Posted by David Foster on 20th August 2013 (All posts by )

    …and lots of other things, by the always-interesting Paul Graham. Excerpt:

    People trying to be cool will find themselves at a disadvantage when collecting surprises. To be surprised is to be mistaken. And the essence of cool, as any fourteen year old could tell you, is nil admirari. When you’re mistaken, don’t dwell on it; just act like nothing’s wrong and maybe no one will notice.

    One of the keys to coolness is to avoid situations where inexperience may make you look foolish. If you want to find surprises you should do the opposite. Study lots of different things, because some of the most interesting surprises are unexpected connections between different fields. For example, jam, bacon, pickles, and cheese, which are among the most pleasing of foods, were all originally intended as methods of preservation. And so were books and paintings.

    Whatever you study, include history– but social and economic history, not political history. History seems to me so important that it’s misleading to treat it as a mere field of study. Another way to describe it is all the data we have so far.

    Read the whole thing.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Blogging, History, Human Behavior, Lit Crit, Philosophy, Society | 4 Comments »

    How to Lose a War: A Primer

    Posted by Zenpundit on 29th July 2013 (All posts by )

    cross-posted from zenpundit.com

    Since Pakistan is now attempting to get its victory over the United States in Afghanistan formally ratified, now seemed to be a good time to reflect on the performance of American statesmen, politicians and senior generals.

    It has occurred to me that we have many books and papers outlining how to win wars. Certainly the great classics of The Art of War, The History of the Peloponnesian War and On War are the foremost examples, but there are also other useful classics in the strategic canon, whole libraries of military histories, memoirs of great commanders and an infinite number of PDFs and powerpoint briefs from think tanks and consultants. Strangely, none of these have helped us much. Perhaps it is because before running this war so few of this generation’s “deciders” read them en route to their law degrees and MBAs

    We should engage in some counterintuitive thinking:  for our next war, instead of trying to win, let’s try to openly seek defeat. At a minimum, we will be no worse off with that policy than we are now and if we happen to fail, we will actually be moving closer to victory.

    HOW TO LOSE A WAR

    While one of these principles may not be sufficient cause for losing an armed conflict, following all of them is the surest road to defeat.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Big Government, Book Notes, Current Events, History, International Affairs, Iraq, Military Affairs, National Security, Philosophy, Politics, Society, USA, War and Peace | 10 Comments »

    Famous quotes from famous people

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 21st June 2013 (All posts by )

    Chelsea Clinton is starting on her career in feminist politics.

    At a “Women Deliver” meeting:

    Chelsea Clinton said that her much-admired maternal grandmother was the child of unwed teenage parents who “did not have access to services that are so crucial that Planned Parenthood helps provide.”

    I have to acknowledge that I agree with her. Imagine no Hillary Clinton !

    This is what we have to look forward to in politicians and news readers.

    “I hope that telling stories through ‘Making a Difference’ – as in my academic work and nonprofit work – will help me to live my grandmother’s adage of ‘Life is not about what happens to you, but about what you do with what happens to you.’”

    Is that the grandmother who shoulda been aborted ?

    Posted in Biography, Current Events, Philosophy, Speeches | 21 Comments »

    Aerodynamics, Art History, and the Assignment of Names

    Posted by David Foster on 19th June 2013 (All posts by )

    Several years ago, I was having lunch on the restaurant deck at my local airport. At the table next to me was a couple with a young girl, maybe about 4 years old.

    “What makes the airplane fly?” asked the mother.

    “Buh..buh,” said the little girl.

    “That’s right,” the beaming mother completed the phrase, “Bernoulli’s principle!”

    Now, I give this couple credit for taking the kid to the airport and trying to encourage cause-and-effect thinking about why things happen. But I really don’t think that teaching a 4-year-old to parrot “Bernoulli’s Principle” is the right way to do it. Far better, IMO, to say something like “When the airplane goes fast, that makes a wind under the wings, and that holds the airplane up.” This explanation would not pass muster with an aerodynamicist, but is far more useful, in terms of actual understanding, than giving the girl a keyword as explanation. To tell someone that Bernoulli’s Principle makes airplanes fly, when they don’t know what Bernoulli’s Principle IS,  is no more useful than telling them that lift is generated by friendly invisible fairies under the wings. (And the fairies are much more charming.)

    I was reminded of this little incident by a story in the Nov/Dec 2011 issue of Scientific American MIND. The headline says that “the trend in early education is to move from a play-based curriculum to a more school-like environment of directed learning.” An excerpt from the story:

    On a perfect Southern California morning not long ago, a gaggle of children gathered in the backyard of a million-dollar home in an upscale Los Angeles neighborhood to celebrate the birthday of twin four-year-old girls…Most of the kids at the party attend the same preschool. The father of one child enrolled there, where tuition is $14,300 a year for half a day, was asked what he likes about it.

    “I like that my daughter can tell me what kind of whale it is we see in a movie,” said the man, sporting a seersucker jacket. “They seem to be teaching things that other schools don’t.”

    “You ask them what they did in school today,” chimed in another day, “and they’re like, ‘Oh, today we learned about pointillism.’ There’s a whole series on Picasso, a four-month project on Klimt.”

    I submit that, for a four-year-old, it would be much, much more valuable to spend time doing their own painting and drawing than on learning to categorize well-known works according to the accepted categorization scheme. Having them also view the works of great artists is also fine, but should be done with an emphasis on seeing, not on name and category recognition.

    Forty years ago, in The Age of Discontinuity, Peter Drucker commented on the role of the arts in education:

    Today music appreciation is a respected academic discipline (even though it tends to be a deadly bore for the kids who have to memorize a lot of names when they have never heard the music). Playing an instrument or composing are considered, however, amateurish or “trade school.” This is not very bright, even if school is considered vocational preparation for the scribe. When school becomes general education for everyone, it is lunacy.

    The art program in the preschool described above sounds a lot like the kind of music appreciation courses that Drucker was criticizing.

    I’m afraid that American society is increasingly dominated by a kind of faux intellectualism that values “smartness” very highly (Smart cars! Smart diplomacy! Smart power!) but defines such smartness largely in terms of being able to fit everything in the world into approved categories.

    Moliere, in The Imaginary Invalid, mocked a group of physicians whose “explanation” of the effects of opium was that the drug induced sleep because it contained “dormative powers.”  There is still plenty of this kind of “thinking” going on today.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Aviation, Education, Human Behavior, Philosophy | 12 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 1st June 2013 (All posts by )

    Here’s some color footage of London in the 1920s

    For comparison: Bill Brandt’s photos of London from 1974 (more here)

    More old color film: New York City in 1939

    38 foreign words we could use in English

    Why so few French kids have ADHD

    Following a scary mammogram experience, a GE researcher is working on the development of high-resolution MRI technology

    Using 3-D printing to make a dress

    The trouble with taxonomies

    Posted in Britain, History, Human Behavior, Medicine, Philosophy, Photos, Tech, USA | 7 Comments »

    RERUN–The Scribes and the Idea of Freedom

    Posted by David Foster on 29th March 2013 (All posts by )

    (Originally posted in October of 2010. I was reminded of this post by Stuart Schneiderman’s post here about the growing acceptance of the idea that government knows best what’s good for everyone..and should have the power to make them do it. I should note that Cass Sunstein is no longer an Obama Czar but is back to being a law professor.)

    I haven’t read Jonathan Franzen’s novel, Freedom, but Erin O’Connor has been reading it and reviews it here. Based on her summary, it seems that Franzen’s basic opinion about freedom is this: he doesn’t like it very much. Consider for example these excerpts:

    …the American experiment of self-government, an experiment statistically skewed from the outset, because it wasn’t the people with sociable genes who fled the crowded Old World for the new continent; it was the people who didn’t get along well with others.…also: The personality susceptible to the dream of limitless freedom is a personality also prone, should the dream ever sour, to misanthropy and rage.

    Erin summarizes:

    “Freedom,” for Franzen, is a red herring. As a national ideal, it paralyzes us, preventing government from behaving with the rationalism of European nations (there are passages about this in the book). And, on a personal level, it is simply immiserating. Every last one of Franzen’s major characters suffers from the burden of too many choices.

    In a novel, of course, one cannot assume that opinions expressed by the characters are those of the author himself–but in this case, it seems to me that they likely are, and this opinion appears to be shared by most commenters at Erin’s post.

    What really struck me in Erin’s review is her remark that I am starting to think that this novel may amount to a fictional companion piece for Cass Sunstein’s Nudge..the referenced work being not a novel, but a book about social, economic, and political policy co-authored by Cass Sunstein, who is now runnning the Office of Regulatory and Information Policy for the Obama administration. (See a review of Nudge, Erin’s post about the book, and my post about some of Sunstein’s policy ideas.)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Philosophy, Political Philosophy | 2 Comments »

    The Phobia(s) That May Destroy America

    Posted by David Foster on 21st October 2012 (All posts by )

    I am continually amazed by the level of fear, contempt, and anger that many educated/urban/upper-middle-class people demonstrate toward Christians and rural people (especially southerners.) This complex of negative emotions often greatly exceeds anything that these same people feel toward radical Islamists or dangerous rogue-state governments. I’m not a Christian myself, or really a religious person at all, but I’d think that one would be a lot more worried about people who want to cut your head off, blow you up, or at a bare minimum shut down your freedom of speech than about people who want to talk to you about Jesus (or Nascar!)

    It seems that there are quite a few people who vote Democratic, even when their domestic and foreign-policy views are not closely aligned with those of the Democratic Party, because they view the Republican Party and its candidates as being dominated by Christians and “rednecks.”

    What is the origin of this anti-Christian anti-”redneck” feeling? Some have suggested that it’s a matter of oikophobia…the aversion to the familiar, or “”the repudiation of inheritance and home,” as philosopher Roger Scruton uses the term. I think this is doubtless true in some cases: the kid who grew up in a rural Christian home and wants to make a clean break with his family heritage, or the individual who grew up in an oppressively-conformist Bible Belt community. But I think such cases represent a relatively small part of the category of people I’m talking about here. A fervently anti-Christian, anti-Southern individual who grew up in New York or Boston or San Francisco is unlikely to be motivated by oikophobia–indeed, far from being excessively familiar, Christians and Southern people are likely as exotic to him as the most remote tribes of New Guinea.

    Equally exotic, but much safer to sneer at…and here, I think, we have the explanation for much though not all of the anti-Christian anti-Southern bigotry: It is a safe outlet for the unfortunately-common human tendency to look down on members of an out group. Safer socially than bigotry against Black people or gays or those New Guinea tribesmen; much less likely to earn you the disapproval of authority figures in school or work or of your neighbors. Safer physically than saying anything negative about Muslims, as you’re much less likely to face violent retaliation.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Britain, Medicine, Philosophy, Photos, Recipes, Urban Issues | 31 Comments »

    RERUN–Worth Pondering

    Posted by David Foster on 4th October 2012 (All posts by )

    The seed haunted by the sun never fails to find its way between the stones in the ground. And the pure logician, if no sun draws him forth, remains entangled in his logic. I shall not forget the lesson taught me by my enemy himself. What direction should the armored column take to invest the rear of the enemy? Nobody can say. What should the armored column be for this purpose? It should be weight of sea pressing against dike.

    What ought we do? This. That. The contrary of this or that. There is no determinism that governs the future. What ought we be? That is the essential question, the question that concerns spirit and not intelligence. For spirit impregnates intelligence with the creation that is to come forth. And later, intelligence is brought to the bed of creation. How should man go about building the first ship ever known? Very complicated, this. The ship will be born of a thousand errors and fumblings. But what should man be to build the first ship? Here I seize the problem of creation at the root. Merchant. Soldier. In love with the prospect of faraway lands. For then of necessity designers and builders will be born of that love. They will drain the energy of workmen and one day launch a ship. What should we do the annihilate a forest? The question is not easy. What be? Obviously, a forest fire.

    –Antoine de St-Exupery, Flight to Arras (1942)

    (The above quote is one of a thread of 54 Worth Pondering posts at Photon Courier–the thread starts here)

    Posted in Book Notes, France, Philosophy | 2 Comments »

    Paint-by-numbers versus Connect-the-dots

    Posted by David Foster on 24th September 2012 (All posts by )

    Citrix CEO Mark Templeton, in his NYT interview, made an interesting point:

    There are two strategies for your life and career. One is paint-by-numbers and the other is connect-the-dots. I think most people remember their aunt who brought them a gift for their birthday or whatever and it was a paint-by-number set or a connect-the-dots book.

    So with the paint-by-number set, you know ahead of time what it’s going to look like. Then, by contrast, with a connect-the-dots puzzle, you can only guess at what it might look like by the time you finish. And what you notice about that process is the further along you get, the more clear it becomes. It might be a beach ball, or a seal in a Sea World park or something. The speed at which you connect dots gets faster as the picture starts coming into view.

    You probably get the parallel. This isn’t about what’s right and what’s wrong. This is about getting it right for you. Parents often want you to paint by numbers. They want it so badly because they have a perception that it’s lower risk, and that’s the encouragement they’re going to give you. They’re going to push you down this road, and faculty members will, too, because they want you to deliver on what they taught you. It doesn’t make it wrong; it’s just that there’s a bias in the system. You have to decide for yourself. The earlier you actually get it right for yourself, the faster and the better that picture is going to look.

    And the more time you spend on paint by numbers when you’re a connect-the-dots person, and vice versa, the harder it’s going to be.

    I think he’s correct that parents, in an attempt to guarantee success for their children in an uncertain world, often steer them toward a paint-by-numbers approach to life–and that this is likely to be counterproductive. Today’s credentials obsession, coupled with the nature of most of the educational system, also points toward the paint-by-numbers approach.

    I’ve noticed that people who are overly impressed with their own educational credentials–especially those with advanced degrees of one sort or another–often tend strongly toward wanting to paint by numbers, and want to avoid the (perceived) risk of connecting the dots.

    Related post: Management education and the role of technique

    Posted in Business, Human Behavior, Management, Philosophy | 11 Comments »

    RERUN–Sleeping with the Enemy

    Posted by David Foster on 20th September 2012 (All posts by )

    (originally posted 2/26/10)

    Why has the western world shown such loss of will in defending itself from radical Islamic terrorism? Why, indeed, do substantial numbers of people–particularly those who view themselves as intellectuals–endlessly make excuses for dictatorships and terrorist movements whose values are completely at odds with their own stated values–and even romanticize these goons? I think some clues can be found in a forgotten novel by Arthur Koestler.

    The Age of Longing (published in 1950) is set in Paris, “sometime in the 1950s,” in a world in which France–indeed all of western Europe–is facing the very real possibility of a Soviet invasion. Hydie Anderson, the protagonist, is a young American woman living in Paris with her father, a military attache. Hydie was a devout Catholic during her teens, but has lost her faith. She was briefly married, and has had several relationships with men, but in none of them has she found either physical or emotional satisfaction…she describes her life with a phrase from T S Eliot: “frigid purgatorial fires,” and she longs for a sense of connection:

    Hydie sipped at her glass. Here was another man living in his own portable glass cage. Most people she knew did. Each one inside a kind of invisible telephone box. They did not talk to you directly but through a wire. Their voices came through distorted and mostly they talked to the wrong number, even when they lay in bed with you. And yet her craving to smash the glass between the cages had come back again. If cafes were the home of those who had lost their country, bed was the sanctuary of those who had lost their faith.

    Through her friend Julien DeLattre, Hydie is introduced to a number of Paris intellectuals and and East European emigres. Members of the former group are mostly in denial about the danger of a Soviet attack…many of them have indeed convinced themselves that Communist rule wouldn’t be all that bad. For example, there’s Professor Pontieux (modeled on Sartre)…”He did not believe that the Commonwealth of Freedomloving People had solved all its problems and become an earthly paradise. But it was equally undeniable that it was an expression of History’s groping progress towards a new form of society, when it followed that those who opposed this progres were siding with the forces of reaction and preparing the way for conflict and war–the worst crime against Humanity.” Vardi, another intellectual, says that if he had to choose between the (American) juke box on one hand, and Pravda on another, he isn’t sure which he would pick.

    Madame Pontieux, modeled on Simone de Bouvoir (with whom Koestler had a brief affair) is less ambiguous about her choice among the alternatives. “You cannot enter a cafe or a restaurant without finding it full of Americans who behave as if the place belonged to them,” she complains to an American official. When the Russian emigre Leontiev suggests that France would not survive without American military support, pointing out that “nature abhors a vacuum,” she turns on him:

    “I am surprised at your moderation, Citizen Leontiev,” Madame Pontieux said sarcastically. “I thought you would tell us that without this young man’s protection the Commonwealth army would at once march to the Atlantic shore.”

    “It would,” said Leontiev. “I believed that everyone knew that.”

    “I refuse to believe it,” responds Madame Pontieux. “But if choose one must I would a hundred times rather dance to the music of a Balalaika than a juke box.”

    (The French intellectuals Koestler knew must have really hated juke boxes!)

    Julien is romantically interested in Hydie, but she is not attracted to him, despite the fact that he seems to have much to recommend him–a hero of the French Resistance, wounded in action, and a successful poet. On one occasion, she tells him that she could never sleep with him because they are too similar–”it would be like incest”..on another occasion, though, she tells him that “what I most dislike about you is your attitude of arrogant broken-heartedness.” Parallel to Hydie’s loss of religious faith is Julien’s loss of his secular faith in the creation of a new society. He does not now believe in utopia, or any approximation to same, but he does believe in the need to face reality, however unpleasant it may be. Hydie argues that the Leftists of their acquaintance may be silly, but at least they believe in something:

    “Perhaps they believe in a mirage–but isn’t it better to believe in a mirage than to believe in nothing?”

    Julien looked at her coldly, almost with contempt:

    “Definitely not. Mirages lead people astray. That’s why there are so many skeletons in the desert. Read more history. Its caravan-routes are strewn with the skeletons of people who were thirsting for faith–and their faith made them drink salt water and eat the sand, believing it was the Lord’s Supper.”

    At a diplomatic affair, Hydie meets Fedya, a committed Communist who works for the Soviet Embassy. She is powerfully attracted to him: things get physical very quickly and, from Hydie’s point of view, very satisfactorily. (Fedya is one of Koestler’s best-developed characters. His boyhood in Baku is vividly sketched, and Koestler–himself a former Communist–does a good job in showing how a political faith can become core to an individual’s whole personality.)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Christianity, Civil Liberties, France, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Terrorism | 30 Comments »

    Harvey Mansfield on Elections and Democracy

    Posted by Zenpundit on 1st September 2012 (All posts by )

    Cross-posted from zenpundit.com

    Professor Harvey C. Mansfield of Harvard University and a fellow at the Hoover Institution is famous for his scholarship on classical political philosophy (I often recommend his edition on Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy) as well as his provocative commentary on social and political issues.  While I liked his take on Machiavelli, I warmed to him further when, after his book on manliness came out and some reporter asked Mansfield if it was “manly” to carry a gun? He answered to the effect, “Yes, but not as manly as carrying a sword”.

    Mansfield has a new article out in Defining Ideas  on the nature of elections and democracy worth reading:

    Are You Smarter Than a Freshman? 

    ….Machiavelli believes that human beings are divided into the few who want to rule and the many who do not care to rule themselves but do not want to be ruled by others either. Then those who want to rule must conceal their rule from the many they rule if they wish to succeed. How can they do this? Machiavelli went about conceiving a “new mode of ruling,” a hidden government that puts the people “under a dominion they do not see.” Government is hidden when it appears not to be imposed on you from above but when it comes from you, when it is self-imposed.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Elections, History, Human Behavior, Morality and Philosphy, Philosophy, Politics | 2 Comments »

    Bourgeois Dignity

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 4th August 2012 (All posts by )

    I was struck yesterday by a post on Ann Althouse’s blog, and by a Virginia Postrel piece that makes the same point, how wrong Obama was to say “You didn’t build that..”

    The incident, so characteristic of this leftist ideologue president, is the stimulus for theorizing about how economies work, and perhaps why this one is so stuck with Obama in the White House.

    There is an excellent analysis by David Warren printed last year in Canada and which I have saved. It is a comparison of Obama with Gorbachev and brings considerable light on the subject of success of nations.

    Yet they do have one major thing in common, and that is the belief that, regardless of what the ruler does, the polity he rules must necessarily continue. This is perhaps the most essential, if seldom acknowledged, insight of the post-modern “liberal” mind: that if you take the pillars away, the roof will continue to hover in the air.

    Gorbachev seemed to assume, right up to the fall of the Berlin Wall and then beyond it, that his Communist Party would recover from any temporary setbacks, and that the long-term effects of his glasnost and perestroika could only be to make it bigger and stronger.

    There is a corollary of this largely unspoken assumption: that no matter what you do to one part of a machine, the rest of the machine will continue to function normally.

    This brief discussion fits well with the book that was recommended by the Postrel piece.


    The Bad History Behind ‘You Didn’t Build That’
    By Virginia Postrel

    The controversy surrounding President Barack Obama’s admonishment that “if you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen” has defied the usual election-year pattern.

    Normally a political faux pas lasts little more than a news cycle. People hear the story, decide what they think, and quickly move on to the next brouhaha, following what the journalist Mickey Kaus calls the Feiler Faster Thesis. A gaffe that might have ruined a candidate 20 years ago is now forgotten within days.

    Three weeks later, Obama’s comment is still a big deal.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Britain, Business, Civil Society, Conservatism, Economics & Finance, Entrepreneurship, France, Human Behavior, Judaism, Leftism, Morality and Philosphy, Philosophy | 9 Comments »

    Trees: Phototropic Simplexities

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 25th June 2012 (All posts by )

    [ Cross-posted from Zenpundit -- this one's a prose poem: it begins with a statement so tight it needs to be unwound, & unwinds it ]
    .

    I wrote this urgently starting when it “woke” me at 4am one morning in the late 1990s or 2000, and as soon as it was out, I found myself writing another piece in the series, a game design. Together, the pair of them represent a stage in my games and education thinking intermediate between Myst-like Universities of 1996 and my vision today of games in education. In this posting, I have added the words “figuratively speaking” for absolute clarity: otherwise, the piece remains as written all those years ago.

    ***


    A copse. Photo credit: Ian Britton via FreePhoto.com under CC license. Note how the wind sweeps the trees into a group shape.

    ***

    Trees: Phototropic Simplexities

    Trees are phototropic simplexities, no wonder we like them they cowork so well too: copses, see.

    *

    Meaning:

    Trees we know: I as writer can refer you, reader, safely to them, “trees”, in trust that the word I use will signal to you too — triggering for you, also — pretty much the assortment of branching organic thingies about which I’m hoping to communicate that they are complex entities whose complexity comes from a simplicity of rule — branching — repeated with variations, said variants doing their branching in thirst of light, each trunk rising, limb outpushing, branch diverging, twig evading other twig much as one who seeks in a crowd a clear view of a distant celebrity shifts and cranes and peers — branching, thus, by the finding of light in avoidance of nearby shadow and moving into it, into light as position, that light, that position, growing, and thus in the overall “unified yet various”, we, seekers of the various and unified love them, to see them in greens themselves various in their simplexity is to say “tree” with a quiet warmth; while they themselves also, by the necessity of their branching seeking, if clumped together seek in an avoidance of each other’s seeking, growing, thus space-sharing in ways which as the wind sweeps and conforms them to its own simplex flows, shapes them to a common curve we call aerodynamic, highlit against the sky huddled together as “copse” — this, in the mind’s eyes and in your wanderings, see…

    *

    Meaning:

    Trees we can talk about. Simplexity is a useful term for forms — like trees — which are neither simple only nor complex only, but as varied as complexity suggests with a manner of variation as simple as simplicity implies.

    Trees? Their simplexity is conveyed in principle by the word “branching”. Its necessity lies in the need of each “reaching end” of the organism to ascertain from its own position and within the bounds of its possible growing movement, some “available” light — this light-seeking having the name “phototropism”.

    Simplexities — and thus by way of example, trees — we like, we call them beautiful.

    Clustered together, too, and shaped by the winds’ patterns of flow, these individual simplexities combine on an English hilltop (or where you will) to form yet other beauties.

    *

    Thus:

    Trees are phototropic simplexities, no wonder we like them they cowork so well too: copses, see.

    *

    Meaning:

    I love trees. Want to talk about simplexities, beauty.

    I wish to talk about beauty because it is beauty that I love, if I love it, that is beauty: love is kalotropic, a beauty-seeking. I am erotropic, love seeking — you can find in this my own simplexity, my own varieties of seeking, of the growths that are my growth, and clumping me with others under the winds, the pressures that form and conform us, you can find also the mutual shapes that we adopt, beautiful.

    Simplexity, then, is a key to beauty, variety, self, character, cohabitation… Tropism, seeking, is the key to simplexity. Love is my tropism. Ours, I propose.

    *

    Meaning:

    Beauty is one simplexity perceived by another: the eye of the beholder, with optic nerve, “brain”, branching neuron paths that other simplexity, “consciousness” the perceiving.

    *

    Meaning also:

    That all is jostle, striving — a strife for life, in which the outcome overall is for each a “place in the sun” but not without skirmishes, shadows. The overall picture, therefore, beautiful — but this overall beauty hard to perceive when the specific shadow falls in the specific sought place of the moment, the “available” is not available, and the strife of the moment is paramount.

    Branching being the order behind simplexity, differentiation…

    Differentiation for maximal tropism at all levels — life seeking always the light, honey, beauty, is always and everywhere in conflict also with itself, competitive: and competition the necessary act of the avoidance of shadow, and the shadow creating act.

    And beauty — the light, thing sought, implacably necessary food and drink, the honey — thus the drive that would make us kill for life.

    I could kill for beauty.

    I could kill for honey.

    Figuratively speaking.

    *

    Implying:

    Paradise and Fall, simultaneous, everywhere.

    It is at this juncture, at this branching, that we are “expelled from the garden” — can no longer see the beauty that is and remains overall, that can allow us to say also, “we are never outside the garden” — for the dappling of light on and among the leaves has become to us, too closely jostled, shadow.

    And shadow for shadow we jostle, and life is strife.

    *

    Thus:

    The dappling of light on leaves, beautiful, is for each shadowed leaf, shadow, death-dealing, is for each lit leaf, light, life-giving: a chiaroscuro, beautiful, see.

    Roots, too, have their mirror branchings.

    Posted in Miscellaneous, Philosophy, Photos, Poetry | 1 Comment »

    On “Leverages”

    Posted by onparkstreet on 11th January 2012 (All posts by )

    In a previous post, I asked a question about leverages in terms of foreign policy:

    A key–an essential–question on leverages at Abu Muqawama (Dr. Andrew Exum):

    Where things get tricky is when one tries to decide what to do about that. The principle problem is one that has been in my head watching more violent crackdowns in Bahrain and Egypt: the very source of U.S. leverage against the regimes in Bahrain and Egypt is that which links the United States to the abuses of the regime in the first place. So if you want to take a “moral” stand against the abuses of the regime in Bahrain and remove the Fifth Fleet, congratulations! You can feel good about yourself for about 24 hours — or until the time you realize that you have just lost the ability to schedule a same-day meeting with the Crown Prince to press him on the behavior of Bahrain’s security forces. Your leverage, such as it was, has just evaporated. The same is true in Egypt. It would feel good, amidst these violent clashes between the Army and protesters, to cut aid to the Egyptian Army. But in doing so, you also reduce your own leverage over the behavior of the Army itself.

    Okay, so we have leverage with an Army cracking down on its own people, an Army fattened on US military aid and training. I thought bilateral military training was supposed to mitigate the worst instincts of some armies? Isn’t that the theory? What does it mean to have leverage? To what end? To what purpose? I don’t know the answer and I don’t think anyone does, so Dr. Exum has a point. We have no strategy (link goes to Zen) within which to place “trade offs”. Well, if we do, I can’t see it.

    Greg Scoblete at The Compass (RealClearWorld) asks the question in a much better fashion (I enjoy reading that blog, whether I agree or disagree with specific points):

    But all of this begs an important question – leverage for what? The idea is that the U.S. invests in places like Bahrain and Egypt because it needs or wants something in return. During the Cold War, it was keeping these states out of the Soviet orbit. In the 1990s and beyond, it was ensuring these states remained friendly with Israel and accommodative to U.S. military power in the region. Today, what? What is it that U.S. policy requires from Egypt and Bahrain that necessitates supporting these regimes during these brutal crack downs?

    How should we view American policy toward the Middle East? What is the larger strategic framework within which we ought to view the various relationships? What is the optimal posture for the United States? Folks, I don’t know. I’d love to know your opinions on the subject.

    Posted in Blogging, History, Human Behavior, International Affairs, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Middle East, Military Affairs, Morality and Philosphy, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Politics, Russia, Society, Terrorism, United Nations, USA, War and Peace | 8 Comments »

    Book Review: A Terrorist’s Call to Global Jihad

    Posted by Zenpundit on 29th December 2011 (All posts by )

    A Terrorist’s Call to Global Jihad: Deciphering Abu Musab al-Suri’s Islamic Jihad Manifesto by Jim Lacey (Ed.)

    Cross-posted at zenpundit.com

    Previously, I read and reviewed Brynjar Lia’s Architect of Global Jihad , about Islamist terrorist and strategist Abu Musab al-Suri. A sometime collaborator with Osama bin Laden and the AQ inner circle, a trainer of terrorists in military tactics in Afghanistan and an advocate of jihadi IO, al-Suri was one of the few minds produced by the radical Islamist movement who thought and wrote about conflict with the West on a strategic level. Before falling into the hands of Pakistani security and eventually, Syria, where al-Suri was wanted by the Assad regime, al-Suri produced a massive 1600 page tome on conducting a terror insurgency,  The Global Islamic Resistance Call, which al-Suri released on to the jihadi darknet.

    Jim Lacey has produced an English digest version of al-Suri’s influential magnum opus comprising approximately 10% of the original  Arabic version, by focusing on the tactical and strategic subjects and excising the rhetorical/ritualistic redundancies common to Islamist discourse and the interminable theological disputation. There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Afghanistan/Pakistan, Book Notes, International Affairs, Islam, Middle East, Military Affairs, Philosophy, Religion, Terrorism, War and Peace | 3 Comments »

    Knowledge, Stability, and Black Swans

    Posted by David Foster on 4th December 2011 (All posts by )

    The sense of security more frequently springs from habit than from conviction, and for this reason it often subsists after such a change in the conditions as might have been expected to suggest alarm. The lapse of time during which a given event has not happened is, in this logic of habit, constantly alleged as a reason why the event should never happen, even when the lapse of time is precisely the added condition which makes the event imminent.

    –George Eliot in Silas Marner

    I was reminded of the above passage by a couple of recent posts:

    Claire Berlinski excerpts some thoughts by Hernando De Soto, asking “Is the knowledge system broken?” Some good discussion in the thread at Claire’s post; see especially the concept of a “knowledge bubble” in the comment by Late Boomer. Although I’d say that it’s more a matter of an assumed-knowledge bubble.

    Richard Fernandez suggests that “too big to fail” really means “wait for it,” where “it” means a failure on a very large scale. He cites Nassim Taleb:

    Complex systems that have artificially suppressed volatility tend to become extremely fragile, while at the same time exhibiting no visible risks. In fact, they tend to be too calm and exhibit minimal variability as silent risks accumulate beneath the surface. Although the stated intention of political leaders and economic policymakers is to stabilize the system by inhibiting fluctuations, the result tends to be the opposite.

    Both of the above are very worthwhile reading. See also my related post penny in the fusebox.

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Management, Markets and Trading, Philosophy, Political Philosophy | 12 Comments »

    Thanksgiving 2011: What I’m Thankful For

    Posted by Shannon Love on 24th November 2011 (All posts by )

    What am I thankful for?

    I’m thankful that I can crush my enemies and see them flee before me, that I can take their horses and belongings and hear the lamentations of their women.

    Okay, I’m not thankful for that today but 1,000 years ago I probably would have been. Today, I am thankful that we do not have to repeat the mistakes and evils of our ancestors but that we can go forth to make our own, hopefully lesser, mistakes.

    What else?

    I thank with brief thanksgiving
    Whatever gods may be
    That no life lives for ever;
    That dead men rise up never;
    That even the weariest river
    Winds somewhere safe to sea.

    If it is sad that good people do not live forever, it is joyful that evil ones do not as well. I think Shakespeare’s Anthony was wrong and it is the evil that men do that is (eventually) interred with their bones. The good we leave behind accumulates over the generations. This would not happen if everything lived forever. So, I am thankful that nothing lasts forever and that things and people change. I am thankful even when that change is death.

    I am thankful that the preacher of Ecclesiastes was literally wrong and that there are new things under the sun and that each day brings some new wonder to explore. I am thankful that, even if he was correct in his metaphor that human nature never changes, then at least we can change how we act on the impulses that come from that nature.

    I am thankful that I live in America, where each morning is the beginning of the great tomorrow promised yesterday. I am thankful that I have the right to strive, to experiment and to improve. I am thankful I have the right to fail, to fall and get back up again.

    Most of all, I am thankful that I know to be thankful for these things.

    Posted in Personal Narrative, Philosophy | 3 Comments »

    A Star Trek Utopia? We’re Living in It

    Posted by Shannon Love on 7th September 2011 (All posts by )

    An era of the conceivable made concrete…And of the casually miraculous.

    Adrian Veidt, The Watchmen by Allan Moore

    A while back I found a post by pseudo-intellectual Peter Frase, pulling several mental muscles trying to imagine what it would be like to live in a Star Trek utopia if only it didn’t have intellectual property laws. [h/t Instapundit-->Overcoming Bias] That got me to thinking about how our contemporary world stacks up against Star Trek’s utopian vision.

    Star Trek is often used as a starting point for musing about this or that utopia because everything in Star Trek seems so wonderful. Star Trek is Gene Roddenberry‘s vision of New Frontier democratic socialism evolved to a utopia so perfect that individuals have to head out into the wilds of deep space just to find some adventure. Watching Star Trek, one naturally begins to wonder what it would be like to live in a world so advanced that all of the problems we deal with today have been resolved or minimized to insignificance.

    Well, we don’t actually have to imagine what it would be like to live in a Star Trek-like, radically egalitarian, technologically advanced, “post-scarcity” society because we live in a Star Trek-like utopia right now, right here, in contemporary America.

    How can I say that? Simple, Star Trek the Next Generation takes place 353 years in the future from 2364 to 2370. If we were to think of ourselves as living in a futuristic science-fiction society we would likewise look back 353 years in the past to 1658.

    Image what modern America would look like to the people of any of the world’s major cultures back in 1658! Any novel, movie, TV or comic book set in day-to-day middle-class America would read like astounding science fiction to anyone from 1658. Our society looks even more utopian in comparison to 1658 than Star Trek world 2370 looks to us today.

    I’m not just talking about all the amazing and frightening technology like nuclear power/weapons, spacecraft, cars, cell phones, computers, the Internet, etc. I’m also talking about issues of want, individual dignity and social/political equality.

    Just to start, by the standards of anywhere 1658 ,contemporary America is a land completely devoid of material poverty. No one in 1658 would consider anyone in America, even a street person, to be even marginally materially poor. Poor people today in American have a material standard of living that surpasses that of even the wealthiest individual in 1658.

    For example, just turning on a faucet and getting safe, clean drinking water would look as amazing to a 1658 person as a Star Trek replicator looks to us today.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Human Behavior, Morality and Philosphy, Philosophy, Science, Society, Tech | 12 Comments »

    Carl Prine: recommended reading

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 30th August 2011 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit -- war, reading lists ]

    .

    Not exactly delighted by the reading list recently provided by the inbound Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Carl Prine at Line of Departure will be offering a “weekly discussion about how one might know one’s self” – Sun Tzu suggests that such knowledge is of value to the professional soldier — via texts other than the “middlebrow books of a recent vintage, pulp paperbacks” of the Army’s recommended readings.

    Today he opened with an essay on the First World War poet Siegfried Sassoon, and quoted the final paragraph from Sassoon’s Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man:

    And here I was, with my knobkerrie in my hand, staring across at the enemy I’d never seen. Somewhere out of sight beyond the splintered tree-tops of Hidden Wood a bird had begun to sing. Without knowing why, I remembered that it was Easter Sunday. Standing in that dismal ditch, I could find no consolation in the thought that Christ was risen. I sploshed back to the dug-out to call the others up for “stand-to.”

    I could only respond with a passage that I first encountered, likewise, on a blog – Pat Lang‘s Sic Semper Tyrannis – from Sassoon’s friend and fellow poet of the Great War, Wilfred Owen:

    For 14 hours yesterday, I was at work-teaching Christ to lift his cross by the numbers, and how to adjust his crown; and not to imagine he thirst until after the last halt. I attended his Supper to see that there were no complaints; and inspected his feet that they should be worthy of the nails. I see to it that he is dumb, and stands mute before his accusers. With a piece of silver I buy him every day, and with maps I make him familiar with the topography of Golgotha.

    And I think to myself how much more power there is in either one of those paragraphs, than in that quip about “no atheists in foxholes”.

    * * *

    It’s not a matter of one of those “God or no God” debates in which some clergyman might triumph over some atheist, or vice versa, on TV or at the town or village hall. It’s a matter of cultural riches, of having a reference base of image and story that’s strong enough to express the horrors of Passchendaele or the Marne in a way that speaks to the hearts of those who were not there — and of those who will find themselves there, all too really, in other times and other lands.

    It’s about narrative deep enough to go with you to Golgotha and back. It’s about the words, and about the furnace.

    Prine himself puts it like this:

    I care only of your soul and how it might be fired in the smithy of this blog and then hammered by your experiences in the coming years.

    Our culture is the smithy.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Biography, Blogging, Book Notes, Military Affairs, Personal Narrative, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Rhetoric, War and Peace | 2 Comments »