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    Seth Barrett Tillman: The European Parliament’s 2016 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought

    Posted by Jonathan on 18th September 2016 (All posts by )

    Excerpt:

    I suspect there is no General James Longstreet Prize, and if someone asked me if such a prize should be created, I would say “no”.
     
    There is no Rommel Prize, and if someone asked if such a prize should be created, I would say “no”. (And—just to be clear—I am not comparing Longstreet and the Confederacy to Rommel and Nazi Germany.)
     
    There is a Sakharov Prize, and if someone had asked me prior to its creation whether it should be created, I hope I would have had the moral clarity to say “no”. There were and there are other people in Europe and elsewhere who this prize could have been named for: persons who were not quite so morally ambiguous. E.g., Average people—people who were not heroic or even particularly bright. Perhaps it could have been called the Ivan Denisovich Prize. It speaks volumes about the modern European zeitgeist that a major prize is named for Sakharov, but the founders of NATO—which protected Europe from Sakharov’s warheads—remain largely unknown. It goes without saying that the American taxpayer who paid for Europe’s defence (and who continues to do so) is entirely lost from sight. Europe’s cosmopolitan transnational elites much prefer believing that the years of peace and plenty were their creation, as opposed to their being the beneficiary of American good will beyond their control.

    Seth’s argument is well worth reading in full.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Europe, History, International Affairs, Military Affairs, Morality and Philosphy, National Security, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Politics, Russia, USA, War and Peace | 1 Comment »

    Faustian Ambition (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 21st August 2016 (All posts by )

    A post on ambition at another blog (in 2010) , which included a range of quotations on the subject, inspired me to think that I might be able to write an interesting essay on the topic of ambition in Goethe’s Faust. This post is a stab at such an essay.

    The word “Faustian” is frequently used in books, articles, blog posts, etc on all sorts of topics. I think the image that most people have of Faust is of a man who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for dangerous knowledge: sort of a mad-scientist type. This may be true of earlier versions of the Faust legend, but I think it’s a misreading (or more likely a non-reading) of Goethe’s definitive version.

    Faust, at the time when the devil first appears to him, has devoted his entire life to the pursuit of knowledge–in many different scholarly disciplines–and is totally frustrated and in despair about the whole thing. It is precisely the desire to do something other than to pursue abstract knowledge that leads him to engage in his fateful bargain with Mephistopheles.

    If it’s not the pursuit of abstract knowledge, then what ambition drives Faust to sell his soul? C S Lewis suggests that his motivations are entirely practical: he wants “gold and guns and girls.” This is partly true, but is by no means the whole story.

    Certainly, Faust does like girls. Very early in the play, he encounters a young woman who strikes his fancy:

    FAUST: My fair young lady, may I make free
    To offer you my arm and company?
    GRETCHEN: I’m neither fair nor lady, pray
    Can unescorted find my way
    FAUST: God, what a lovely child! I swear
    I’ve never seen the like of her
    She is so dutiful and pure
    Yet not without a pert allure
    Her rosy lip, her cheek aglow
    I never shall forget, I know
    Her glance’s timid downward dart
    Is graven deeply in my heart!
    But how she was so short with me–
    That was consummate ecstasy!


    Immediately following this meeting, Faust demands Mephisto’s magical assistance in the seduction of Gretchen. It’s noteworthy that he insists on this help despite the facts that (a)he brags to the devil that he is perfectly capable of seducing a girl like Gretchen on his own, without any diabolical assistance, and (b)a big part of Gretchen’s appeal is clearly that she seems so difficult to win–a difficulty that will be short-circuited by Mephisto’s help.

    Mephisto, of course, complies with Faust’s demand…this devil honors his contracts…and Faust’s seduction of Gretchen leads directly to the deaths of her mother, her child by Faust, her brother, and to Gretchen’s own execution.

    Diabolical magic also allows Faust to meet Helen of Troy (time and space are quite fluid in this play) whom he marries and impregnates, resulting in the birth of their child Euphorion.

    So, per Lewis, yes, Faust is definitely motivated by the pursuit of women. But this is only a small part of the complex structure of ambition that Goethe has given his protagonist.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Boyd/Osinga Roundtable, Deep Thoughts, Germany, Philosophy, Poetry, Political Philosophy | 6 Comments »

    Feminism and Victimhood Culture.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 8th April 2016 (All posts by )

    We are living an age when any reference to women runs the risk of violating the “victimhood” rights of feminist women.

    What is “Victimhood?” It was explained by two sociologists in 2014.

    We’re beginning a second transition of moral cultures. The first major transition happened in the 18th and 19th centuries when most Western societies moved away from cultures of honor (where people must earn honor and must therefore avenge insults on their own) to cultures of dignity in which people are assumed to have dignity and don’t need to earn it. They foreswear violence, turn to courts or administrative bodies to respond to major transgressions, and for minor transgressions they either ignore them or attempt to resolve them by social means. There’s no more dueling.

    The “Honor Culture” requires that one avenge insults to preserve honor. The law and third parties are avoided and this culture is typical of areas where law and authority is mostly absent. A classic example is the American West in the Age of the Frontier. As law and authority became available, the culture gradually changed to one of The Culture of Dignity in which people are assumed to have dignity and don’t need to earn it. They foreswear violence, turn to courts or administrative bodies to respond to major transgressions, and for minor transgressions they either ignore them or attempt to resolve them by social means. There’s no more dueling. Lawyers have made this culture ubiquitous, even in war.

    Now, we have a new phenomenon.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Culture, Feminism, Morality and Philosphy, Personal Narrative, Philosophy, Politics | 14 Comments »

    Intelligent Design

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 26th March 2016 (All posts by )

    Sistine_Chapel

    I believe in the evolution of life, I think there’s lots of fossil evidence for it and none for a single-point-of-time creation of mankind. I also believe in the evolution of the universe for the same reason. 14.5 billion years ago the universe came into existence as a hot plasma, from which galaxies, stars and planets condensed. How simple and straightforward is that?

    It could hardly be more complex. Starting with the universe, no one can explain from where the universe came or into what it is expanding. In other words, we can say “The following things have happened and here’s the evidence”. And that’s fine, I accept the evolutionary description. What’s missing is how a universe of material was born from a point in nowhere. No one wants to talk about that and will cry “No fair!” if you try to discuss it. It is unanswerable, apparently. How does one discuss what happened or even what existed in a time before time existed? And no one wants to think about the consequences of that violating every principle of what we call science and physics. It’s too uncomfortable to confront.

    Biologists will tell you life is easy to create. It seems to have existed on Earth within a few hundred million years of its formation. Provide a suitable habitat that’s warm and stable, wet with water or suitable liquid, add energy and a few raw materials like carbon and hydrogen, and bingo! you get life. We’ve been trying that for 50 years and can’t get that experiment to work. We get complex chemicals forming similar to the ones we see in life forms, but nothing that’s alive.

    Something fundamental bothers me about all this. Why? There’s no answer to that question. It’s the question we seem to be asking from the moment we’re born, children ask it endlessly. Why should a universe pop into existence out of nothing? Why should life exist in it? What is the purpose of either? For all of our ability to describe what happened, we cannot answer the why of it. How could something like life come into existence from inanimate matter unless it was designed to do so? Carl Sagan famously quipped, “If you want to make an apple pie, first you must create the universe.” That’s very profound in its way. The simplest things, like a pie, require the inexplicable to have occurred, and on a scale beyond human comprehension.

    In the end, it seems, I have no answers, only questions. But I reject the notion that all of this is meaningless. A universe does not exist for no reason. Life does not exist for nothing. It all exists for us to learn, to experience it. It’s where our souls grow up. It’s where our spirit evolves. That’s what I think.

     

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Philosophy, Science | 54 Comments »

    Terror Is Glamour as War is Game

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 18th March 2016 (All posts by )

    [ by Charles Cameron — on the necessary simultaneity of temporal and eternal perspectives ]
    .

    quote-terror-is-glamour-salman-rushdie

    **

    First as to glamour -– it may help to reflect that glamour, our word, comes not from Vogue but from the same origins as grammar (referring to languages) and grimoire (a book of spells, spelling also being a matter of language), and means something along the lines of “luminous illusion”. If we say terror is glamour, then, we mean that it “casts a spell” — and thus creates an appealing, indeed compelling, mirage. It lies, then, in the realm of magic, image, imagination, so ably delineated by Ioan Couliano in his great book, Eros and Magic in the Renaissance.

    The best of contemporary advertising draws on precisely the same Renaissance principles of persuasion — principles of extraordinary power which we nowadays tend to dismiss as “magical thinking”.

    **

    Thus Virginia Postrel, in Terror Is Glamour:

    Glamour can sell religious devotion or military glory as surely as it can pitch lipstick or island vacations. All promise a way to transcend our everyday circumstances, to experience more and become better than ordinary life allows. All invite us to imagine escape and transformation.

    Postrel continues:

    From Achilles and Alexander to “national greatness,” the glamour of battle is remarkably persistent. So is the glamour of martyrdom, as any trip through a Western museum or perusal of a Lives of the Saints (or its Protestant equivalent) will demonstrate. Nor is martyrdom’s appeal to Christians merely historical, as Eliza Griswold reported in this 2007 TNR piece.
    .
    Glamour appeals to our desires, whatever they may be, and Jihadi glamour offers something for everyone: from historical importance to union with God, not to mention riches and beautiful women.

    Postrel then quotes Egyptian cleric Hazem Sallah Abu Isma’il, indicating that the “beautiful women” in question are “black-eyed virgins” from a world conceptually above our own:

    If one of these virgins were to descend to this world, her light would extinguish the light of the sun and the moon. That’s how beautiful she is.

    Yet as Postrel comments, “glamour proves perishable”:

    As Rushdie suggests, of course, glamour always leaves something out, in this case the literally gory details of the act .. Either aspirations change, entropy and boredom set in, or the audience learns too much, destroying the mystery and grace on which glamour’s beautiful illusion depends.

    She concludes with a significant question and preliminary response:

    How do we puncture the glamour of Jihadi terrorism? The first step is recognizing that such glamour exists.

    That may seem like CVE 101, but the deeper our understanding of magic, imagination, image — and hence the power of glamour — the deeper our understanding of the deep problem that CVE presents will become.

    **

    Next we turn to Richard Fernandez, writing in A Bellyful of War, picking up the themes of war’s attraction, and the carnage its glamour omits from mention, and tying both to the notions of war as game and war as brutal reality:

    William Tecumseh Sherman understood what many modern theorists have forgotten: war can be attractive to young men for as long as long as it remains a game. War in small doses is supremely thrilling, even glamorous. It is peace which can be routine and boring.
    .
    And so it goes until war stops being a game and the going gets really rough. “Its glory is all moonshine,” said Sherman. “It is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated … that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.” To Sherman a “bellyful of war” was ironically the psychological foundation of generational peace.

    Not only is that last sentence a profound statement worthy of the contemplation of all who love peace – it is also far more subtly convincing than the old Strategic Air Command motto, Peace is Our Profession, which sounds more like one of Rochefoucauld’s tributes that vice pays to virtue than anything, and yet is presumably intended to convey the same insight.

    **

    Finally we have Plotinus, for whom – in a manner richly echoed by Shakespeare — life itself is a dream, a play, a sport, a game:

    Murders, death in all its guises, the reduction and sacking of cities, all must be to us just such a spectacle as the changing scenes of a play; all is but the varied incident of a plot, costume on and off, acted grief and lament. For on earth, in all the succession of life, it is not the Soul within but the Shadow outside of the authentic man, that grieves and complains and acts out the plot on this world stage which men have dotted with stages of their own constructing. All this is the doing of man knowing no more than to live the lower and outer life, and never perceiving that, in his weeping and in his graver doings alike, he is but at play; to handle austere matters austerely is reserved for the thoughtful: the other kind of man is himself a futility. Those incapable of thinking gravely read gravity into frivolities which correspond to their own frivolous Nature. Anyone that joins in their trifling and so comes to look on life with their eyes must understand that by lending himself to such idleness he has laid aside his own character. If Socrates himself takes part in the trifling, he trifles in the outer Socrates.

    Plotinus is correct, I would suggest, sub specie aeternitatis, just as is Sherman sub specie incarnationis — and it is the role of the artist to hold both visions, trivial and eternal, as Koestler suggests.

    **

    I am again grateful to David Foster for his ChicagoBoyz post The Romance of Terrorism and War which triggered this exploration and the one on Getting Deeper into Koestler which preceded it.

    Posted in Advertising, International Affairs, Miscellaneous, Philosophy, War and Peace | 4 Comments »

    Getting deeper into Koestler

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 18th March 2016 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit — on creativity at the intersection of the fleeting and the eternal ]
    .

    centaur skeleton
    Centaur, displayed in the International Wildlife Museum, Tucson, AZ

    **

    You know Lao Tzu’s “uncarved wood” (pu) — and Spencer Brown’s “Mark” or “first distinction? It is hard to speak of “the one and the many” without language itself favoring the many, the one being “one” and the many “another”. The Greek phrase “Before Abraham was, I am” attributed to Christ may be as close as we get.

    The “uncarved wood” is not some definite -– named and thus defined -– “one” -– it is also “raw silk” (su), the simple -– the natural way or stream, from which things have not yet been separated out by naming.

    There is delight, however, both in one becoming two and thus many, in the making of distinctions and naming of names, and no less in two (or the many) becoming one, in the resolution of paradox, the release of tension, peace after strife. In human terms, there is joy in both solo and collaborative achievement.

    What better, then, than the perfect fit between disparate entities?

    I have written often enough about Arthur Koestler and the place where two disparate spheres of thought link up — the centaur links horse and man in an indissoluble unity — there’s no question here of dismounting after a ride, giving the horse a rub down and some feed, then retiring to the verandah for a whiskey…

    The mythological aha! we get from the centaur displayed in the museum hinges on the fit of horse and human skeletons, the perfection with which disparates are joined.

    **

    Thus far, whenever I’ve discussed Koestler‘s notion of bisociation, I’ve focused on the sense that it liea at the heart of creativity. Koestler himself takes it deeper. Here’s Nicholas Vajifdar, in a review titled Summing Up Arthur Koestler’s Janus: A Summing Up:

    Koestler .. asserts that there are two planes of existence, the trivial and the tragic. The trivial plane is the stage for paying bills, shopping, working. Most of life takes place on the trivial plane. But sometimes we’re swept up into the tragic plane, usually due to some catastrophe, and everything becomes glazed with an awful significance. From the point of view of the tragic plane, the trivial plane is empty and frivolous; from the point of view of the trivial plane, the tragic plane is embarrassing and overwrought. Once we’ve moved from one plane to the other, we forget why we could have felt the way we used to.

    That’s not just any old distinction between two realms, that’s the one Koestler himself prioritizes. And following his basic principle that a creative spark is lit when two disparate “planes of ideas” intersect, we shouldn’t be too surprised to find Vajifdar continuing:

    “The highest form of human creativity,” Koestler writes, “is the endeavor to bridge the gap between the two planes. Both the artist and the scientist are gifted — or cursed — with the faculty of perceiving the trivial events of everyday experience sub specie aeternitatis, in the light of eternity…”

    William Blake made a similar observation in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, writing:

    Eternity is in love with the productions of time.

    Finally, Vajifdar tells us why he finds Koestler’s definition of art maybe the best he’s ever read:

    What I value in this definition of creativity is its emphasis on the subjective being of those who experience the work of art or scientific theory, a surer gauge than cataloguing formal properties or whether it's "interesting." Art has always seemed like a kind of sober drunkenness, or drunken sobriety. Most people probably have wondered whether the feelings they felt while drunk were more or less real than their sober feelings. Koestlerian art joins these seemingly irreconcilable feelings together.

    Let’s just go one step further. In Promise and Fulfilment – Palestine 1917-1949, Koestler specifically singles out this intersection as an aspect of the experience of warfare:

    This intense and perverse peace, superimposed on scenes of flesh-tearing and eardrum-splitting violence, is an archetype of war-experience. Grass never smells sweeter than in a dug-out during a bombardment when one’s face is buried in the earth. What soldier has not seen that caterpillar crawling along a crack in the bark of the tree behind which he took cover, and pursuing its climb undisturbed by the spattering of his tommy-gun? This intersecting of the tragic and the trivial planes of existence has always obsessed me in the Spanish Civil War, during the collapse of France, in the London blitz.

    **

    I am grateful to David Foster for his ChicagoBoyz post The Romance of Terrorism and War which triggered this exploration, and that on the glamour of war which will follow it.

    Posted in Advertising, Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Culture, Miscellaneous, Philosophy, War and Peace | 2 Comments »

    “Return of the Letter to a Young Social Justice Warrior”

    Posted by Jonathan on 20th January 2016 (All posts by )

    Tillman on Lamya H: “Your complaint is that your psychology professor was too—fat? I am so sorry. I can see that that would ruin your freshman experience. You were expecting? Luke Skywalker during his youth? Princess Leia Organa during her Jabba the Hutt years?”

    From: Seth Barrett Tillman, Return of the Letter to a Young Social Justice Warrior—responding to Lamya H.’s: A personal history of Islamophobia in America, Vox (January 15, 2016), http://ssrn.com/abstract=2719141.

    (Related post: “Dear Young Social Justice Warrior”.)

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Civil Society, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Law, Leftism, Lit Crit, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Rhetoric, Society | 4 Comments »

    Lewis vs Haldane (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 6th November 2015 (All posts by )

    (I cross-posted my 2014 review of C S Lewis’s novel That Hideous Strength over at Richochet, where a good comment thread has developed. Some of the comments reminded me of the extremely negative review of the book written by JBS Haldane in 1946, and Lewis’s response thereto.)

    Haldane was an eminent British scientist (population genetics) and a Marxist. C S Lewis was…well, you probably already know who C S Lewis was.

    Haldane’s critique was directed at the series of novels by Lewis known as the Ransom Trilogy, and particularly the last book of the series,  That Hideous Strength . Lewis responded in a letter which remained unpublished for many of years. All this may sound ancient and esoteric, but I believe the Lewis/Haldane controversy is very relevant to our current political and philosophical landscape.

    To briefly summarize That Hideous Strength: Mark, a young sociologist, is hired by a government agency called NICE–the National Institute for Coordinated Experimentation–having as its stated mission the application of science to social problems. (Unbelievably, today the real-life British agency which establishes rationing policies for healthcare is also called NICE.) In the novel, NICE turns out to be a conspiracy devoted to very diabolical purposes, as Mark gradually discovers. It also turns out that the main reason NICE wanted to hire Mark is to get control of his wife, Jane (maiden name: Tudor) who has clairvoyant powers. The NICE officials want to use Jane’s abilities to get in touch with the magician Merlin and to effect a junction between modern scientific power and the ancient powers of magic, thereby bringing about the enslavement of mankind and worse. Jane, though, becomes involved with a group which represents the polar opposite of NICE, led by a philology professor named Ransom, who is clearly intended as a Christ-figure. The conflict between NICE and the Ransom group will determine the future of humanity.

    A brilliantly written and thought-provoking book, which I highly recommend, even if, like me, you’re not generally a fan of fantasy novels.

    With context established, here are some of the highlights of the Lewis/Haldane controversy:

    1) Money and Power.

    In his article, Haldane attacks Lewis for the latter’s refusal to absolutely condemn usury, and celebrates the fact that “Mammon has been cleared off a sixth of our planet’s surface”…clearly referring to the Soviet Union. Here’s part of Lewis’s response:

    The difference between us is that the Professor sees the ‘World’ purely in terms of those threats and those allurements which depend on money. I do not. The most ‘worldly’ society I have ever lived in is that of schoolboys: most worldly in the cruelty and arrogance of the strong, the toadyism and mutual treachery of the weak, and the unqualified snobbery of both. Nothing was so base that most members of the school proletariat would not do it, or suffer it, to win the favour of the school aristocracy: hardly any injustice too bad for the aristocracy to practise. But the class system did not in the least depend on the amount of pocket money. Who needs to care about money if most of the things he wants will be offered by cringing servility and the remainder can be taken by force? This lesson has remained with me all my life. That is one of the reasons why I cannot share Professor Haldanes exaltation at the banishment of Mammon from ‘a sixth of our planet’s surface’. I have already lived in a world from which Mammon was banished: it was the most wicked and miserable I have yet known. If Mammon were the only devil, it would be another matter. But where Mammon vacates the throne, how if Moloch takes his
    place? As Aristotle said, ‘Men do not become tyrants in order to keep warm’. All men, of course, desire pleasure and safety. But all men also desire power and all men desire the mere sense of being ‘in the know’ or the ‘inner ring’, of not being ‘outsiders’: a passion insufficiently studied and the chief theme of my story. When the state of society is such that money is the passport to all these prizes, then of course money will be the prime temptation. But when the passport changes, the desires will remain.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Big Government, Britain, Christianity, Crime and Punishment, Deep Thoughts, History, Human Behavior, Law, Leftism, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Religion, Society | 18 Comments »

    What Are the Fundamental Axioms of “Progressivism”?

    Posted by David Foster on 5th August 2015 (All posts by )

    Arthur Koestler, himself a former Communist, wrote about  closed intellectual systems:

    A closed sysem has three peculiarities. Firstly, it claims to represent a truth of universal validity, capable of explaining all phenomena, and to have a cure for all that ails man. In the second place, it is a system which cannot be refuted by evidence, because all potentially damaging data are automatically processed and reinterpreted to make them fit the expected pattern. The processing is done by sophisticated methods of causistry, centered on axioms of great emotive power, and indifferent to the rules of common logic; it is a kind of Wonderland croquet, played with mobile hoops. In the third place, it is a system which invalidates criticism by shifting the argument to the subjective motivation of the critic, and deducing his motivation from the axioms of the system itself. The orthodox Freudian school in its early stages approximated a closed system; if you argued that for such and such reasons you doubted the existence of the so-called castration complex, the Freudian’s prompt answer was that your argument betrayed an unconscious resistance indicating that you ourself have a castration complex; you were caught in a vicious circle. Similarly, if you argued with a Stalinist that to make a pact with Hitler was not a nice thing to do he would explain that your bourgeois class-consciousness made you unable to understand the dialectics of history…In short, the closed system excludes the possibility of objective argument by two related proceedings: (a) facts are deprived of their value as evidence by scholastic processing; (b) objections are invalidated by shifting the argument to the personal motive behind the objection. This procedure is legitimate according to the closed system’s rules of the game which, however absurd they seem to the outsider, have a great coherence and inner consistency.

    The atmosphere inside the closed system is highly charged; it is an emoional hothouse…The trained, “closed-minded” theologian, psychoanalyst, or Marxist can at any time make mincemeat of his “open-minded” adversary and thus prove the superiority of his system to the world and to himself.

    In debating with “progressives,” one often encounters this kind of closed-system thinking:  there is absolutely no way you are going to change their minds, whatever the evidence or logic.  (I don’t think this is true of  all  “progressives”–otherwise the situation in America today would be even more grim than it actually is–but it’s true of a lot of them.)

    But what are the “axioms of great emotive power” in which “progressives” believe?  It is pretty easy to write down on one sheet of paper the basic beliefs of Christianity, or of Marxism, or of American Democratic Republicanism.  The fundamental tenets of Naziism…Nationalism, Socialism, anti-Semitism, etc….were well summarized by Joseph Goebbels in this pamphlet.

    I find it difficult to summarize today’s “progressive” belief system.  It does not seem to be a coherent intellectual system, not even a faux-coherent intellectual system such as Marxism.  But it clearly appeals deeply to millions of people, and has largely pervaded many if not most institutions, ranging from academia to popular media, throughout America and Western Europe.

    So let’s try to identify these axioms.  What are the things in which one must believe if one is to be a good “progressive”?  Please try to be maximally objective and to maintain emotional distance, as if you were describing the religious beliefs of a lost tribe in South America or a band of Christian heretics in the Middle Ages, and try to separate the intellectual content of the belief system from the emotional drivers of those beliefs.

    Posted in Europe, History, Human Behavior, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, USA | 38 Comments »

    “Dear Young Social Justice Warrior,”

    Posted by Jonathan on 24th July 2015 (All posts by )

    From an open letter by Seth Barrett Tillman:

    To sum up, if you decide to publish an article, and your article gives rise to a response or responses taking issue with your ideas, that is cause for genuine pride and congratulations, as most ideas are never even noticed. But, if instead, your reaction to such responses is to claim that you have been injured (i.e., your feelings are hurt because you have become aware that others see the world differently from you), then it seems to me that your purported injury is not meaningful or cognizable. If mere hurt feelings were a recognized injury, then no one could possibly disagree with anyone else, and all intellectual inquiry, in law and in other fields, would be at an end. You do see that, right? At a time when free speech is in decline all over the world, when free speech is threatened by government monitoring, by ever expanding legal liability, and by criminals who respond with violence to speech with which they disagree, are you sure you are on the right side of this issue? Exactly whose side are you on?

    Worth reading in full.

    (SSRN link.)

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Civil Society, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Law, Leftism, Lit Crit, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Rhetoric, Society | 6 Comments »

    Nature and Nurture.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 21st January 2015 (All posts by )

    I have long been a fan of Steven Pinker’s books.

    I have read many of them, beginning probably with his books on speech as he is a linguist first. This was probably the first as I was intrigued by his theories about irregular verbs and how children learn language.

    He points out, for example, how normal construction in archaic forms such as “Wend, went and wended” have become “Go, went, gone.”

    The child makes an error he or she may not understand that “Goed” is not a used form for past tense, whereas “Wend” is an archaic form whose past tense has been substituted. The child is using language rules but they don’t account for irregular verbs. He continues with this thought in The Language Instinct, which came later. Here he makes explicit that this is how the mind works. One review on Amazon makes the point:

    For the educated layperson, this book is the most fascinating and engaging introduction to linguistics I have come across. I know some college students who had received xeroxed handouts of one chapter from this book, and these were students who were just bored of reading handouts week after week… but after reading just a few paragraphs from The Language Instinct, they were hooked, fascinated, and really wanted to read the whole book (and did). I wish I had come across such a book years ago…

    Now, this is interesting but Pinker has gotten into politics inadvertently by emphasizing the role of genetics in language and behavior. I read The Blank Slate when it came out ten years ago and loved it.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Architecture, Book Notes, Civil Society, Education, Human Behavior, Leftism, Philosophy, Science | 11 Comments »

    Book Reviews – 2014 Summary

    Posted by David Foster on 12th January 2015 (All posts by )

    Last year I reviewed quite a few books, including several that IMO are extremely important and well-written.  Here’s the list:

    The Caine Mutiny.  The movie, which just about everyone has seen, is very good.  The book is even better.  I cited the 1952 Commentary review, which has interesting thoughts on intellectuals and the responsibilities of power.

    To the Last Salute.  Captain von Trapp, best known as the father in “The Sound of Music,” wrote this memoir of his service as an Austrian submarine commander in the First World War–Austria of course being one of the Central Powers and hence an enemy to Britain, France, and the United States.  An interesting and pretty well-written book, and a useful reminder that there are enemies, and then there are enemies.

    That Hideous Strength.  An important and intriguing novel by C S Lewis. As I said in the review, there is something in this book to offend almost everybody.  So, by the standards now becoming current in most American universities, the book–and even my review of it–should by read by no one at all.

    The Cruel Coast.  A German submarine, damaged after an encounter with a British destroyer, puts in at a remote Irish island for repairs.  Most of the islanders, with inherited anti-British attitudes, tend toward sympathy with the German:  one woman, though, has a clearer understanding of the real issues in the war.

    Nice Work.  At Chicago Boyz, we’ve often discussed the shortage of novels that deal realistically with work.  This is such a novel: an expert in 19th-century British industrial novels–who is a professor, a feminist, and a deconstructionist–finds herself in an actual factory.  Very well done.

    Menace in Europe.  Now more than ever, Claire Berlinski’s analysis of the problems in today’s Europe needs to be widely read.

    A Time of Gifts.  In late 1933, Patrick Fermor–then 18 years old–undertook to travel from the Holland to Istanbul, on foot. The story of his journey is told in three books, of which this is the first.  This is not just travel writing, it is the record of what was still to a considerable extent the Old Europe–with horsedrawn wagons, woodcutters, barons and castles, Gypsies and Jews in considerable numbers–shortly before it was to largely disappear.

    The Year of the French.  The writer, commentator, and former soldier Ralph Peters calls this book “the finest historical novel written in English, at least in the twentieth century.”

    Posted in Academia, Biography, Book Notes, Britain, Business, Christianity, Deep Thoughts, Europe, Germany, Ireland, Islam, Management, Morality and Philosphy, Philosophy, Terrorism | 7 Comments »

    Women, Islam, and the West’s Loss of Cultural Self-Confidence

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd October 2014 (All posts by )

    Young European women, as well as young European men, are joining ISIS, in numbers which–while not huge–are still large enough to raise concern.

    And in the United States,  more Hispanics are turning towards Islam, and  more than half of Miami’s 3,000 Hispanic Muslims are female.  One converted-Muslim Latina, who holds a masters degree, explained the appeal of the religion partly as follows:

    It defines their world on a clear grid of what’s permitted or ‘halal,’ and what’s prohibited which is ‘haram’. So they know exactly where they stand. So the Qur’an becomes this guidebook that tells you exactly what to wear, what to eat, how to wash, how to behave, when to pray.

    From the above-linked article about European girls converting to Islam and joining ISIS:

    The girls sought out IS fighters because the West seems weak and unmanly and they pine for real men who are willing to kill and die for what they believe in.

    Why? Europe’s got great health care, welfare, and lots of attractive young men and attractive women who, unlike the vast majority of women in the Middle East outside of Israel, are sexually available. So, why given a choice between a comfortable, if somewhat boring, life as a pharmacist in Hamburg, or fighting and dying in the desert, are thousands of Western Muslims opting for the latter?

    Because, for all the awesome social services and consumer goods it can offer, Europe has become incapable of endowing the lives of its citizens, Muslim or not, with meaning. A generation of young European Muslims are giving up their relatively easy lives in Malmö, Marseilles, and Manchester for the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, because Europe is devoid of values worth living—or dying—for. They are leaving for the same reason that Europe’s Jews are moving to Israel: Strength and a sense of purpose can be found elsewhere, whether it’s ISIS, Vladimir Putin, Ali Khameni, or the IDF.

    Karim Pakzad, of the French Institute of International and Strategic Relations, said some young women had “an almost romantic idea of war and warriors.  I think this has been true in many if not most places throughout the world and many if not most times throughout history…but today’s West, in many if not most of its subcultures, does not honor its own warriors very much these days.

    The motivations of the women referenced in these articles are similar though not identical to the motivations of Arthur Koestler’s protagonist Hydie Anderson, in the 1950 novel The Age of Longing.  (My review of the book is here.)  Hydie is a young American woman living in Paris, a former Catholic who has lost her faith.  She is not attracted to any of the American or European men she knows, but falls hard for a committed Russian Communist. Koestler makes it clear that Fedya’s sexual appeal to Hydie is due in large part to his cultural self-confidence:

    “Listen, please,” (Fedya) said. “We have talked about these matters often before. You don’t like that we make scientific studies of human nature like Professor Pavlov. You don’t like revolutionary vigilance and lists on the social reliability of people, and discipline and re-education camps. You think I am brutal and ridiculous and uncultured. Then why did you like making love with me? I will tell you why and you will understand…”

    “I am not a tall and handsome man…There are no tall and handsome men who come from the Black Town in Baku, because there were few vitamins in the food around the oilfields. So it was not for this that you liked to make love with me…It was because I believe in the future and am not afraid of it, and because to know what he lives for makes a man strong…I am not handsome, but you have felt attracted to me because you know that we will win and that we are only at the beginning–and that you will lose because you are at the end…”

    In my review, which was originally posted almost 5 years ago, I linked a British Muslim woman who said that ““Since 9/11, vast numbers of educated, privileged middle-class white women have converted to Islam”…she identified these converts as including women at “investment banks, TV stations, universities and in the NHS.” Her concern was not that they are converting to Islam…something I’d presume she would applaud…but that they were converting to “the most restricted forms” of the religion.

    In the review, I said:

    I don’t think Koestler’s protagonist would have been attracted to a fundamentalist Muslim in the way that she was drawn to the communist Fedya. The gap in values would have been far wider: while Communism is a bastard child of the Enlightenment, radical Islam is counter-Enlightenment, and does not make the kind of universalist, humanitarian, and secular promises that the Communists made–the cruelty is closer to the surface.But the loss of Western self-confidence has greatly accelerated since Koestler wrote, and today’s Hydies are unlikely to share the educational and religious depth of the woman Koestler imagined.

    Posted in Book Notes, Britain, Christianity, Deep Thoughts, France, Islam, Philosophy, Society, Terrorism, USA | 24 Comments »

    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 | No Comments »

    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 »