Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

A prehistoric village, found beneath the sea near Haifa

A timelapse video of the Albuquerque balloon festival

Steven Pinker and Andrew Mack assert that actually, the world is not falling apart: “Never mind the headlines. We’ve never lived in such peaceful times”

Also, Richard Fernandez argues that the American can-do spirit continues to exist

The allure of omnipotent explanations

Is Washington the new Wall Street?

Ideology and closed systems, at Grim’s Hall

In France, criticism of Islam can get you prosecuted. Basically, we are seeing the return of laws against blasphemy–and not only in France–but with this difference: I don’t think ever before have governments forbidden criticism of a belief system that is not held by the majority of their citizens, or at least of their ruling classes

14 thoughts on “Worthwhile Reading & Viewing”

  1. There was a spell in England, I think under Elizabeth I, when an effort was made to stop people using words that tended to raise the temperature of religious debate, specifically “Papist” and “Protestant”. I don’t know what the preferred alternatives were: I’d guess at “Roman” and “Reformer”. I wouldn’t be surprised to be told there were periods when the powers that be tried to stop the bating of economically valuable religious minorities e.g. Jews.

    I admire the policy of the East India Company on religion; it did its best to keep Christian missionaries out of India, on the grounds that they’d only rock the boat.

  2. There is a great underwater archeological site at Alexandria and nearby.

    Goddio’s most ambitious project is conducted off the coast of Egypt, in Alexandria’s ancient eastern harbour and in the Bay of Aboukir (30km east of Alexandria). In partnership with the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities a vast area the size of Paris has been mapped and investigated since 1992. In 2000, the ancient city of Heracleion and parts of the city of Canopus were discovered. The research is ongoing to this date.

    Great photos at the site.

  3. “Never mind the headlines. We’ve never lived in such peaceful times”: that was probably true in 1913 too.

  4. Dearieme…reminds me of a quote from George Eliot, in Silas Marner:

    “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.”

  5. The French people and state have no more right to exist than Israelis and Israel. I’m sure people in the future will feel simlarly about French culture as we do about the cultures of Greeks and Romans of two thousand years ago: “good food, good literature, losers.”

    Whatever actions the French government takes or refuses to take has been approved by the French voters, citizens, and subjects for generations. As I recall, one or another of the kings Charles allied with sultan; Napoleon proclaimed himself a savior of Islam; and republican France acquired colonies in the Moslem world.

    Whatever the cause, the attraction of the French governing elite for Islam is deeply and longly rooted, and won’t be changed easily or quickly or in time.

  6. The time lapse of the Albuquerque Balloon Festival is very nice.

    I’d like to make the trip sometime, but His Majesty demurs: “If I want to follow the ascent of gasbags, there are any number of political blogs on the Internet.”

  7. “I don’t think ever before have governments forbidden criticism of a belief system that is not held by the majority of their citizens, or at least of their ruling classes.”

    Beg to differ. The belief system of radical Islam and the French elite are both, at root, nihilism.

  8. David,

    I’m not sure I can adequately articulate it in a few paragraphs, but perhaps I can get to the nub of it with this observation: The older I get, the less I care about what people say, and the more I care about what they actually do.

    Radical Islam talks about a transcendent afterlife for the martyr, and I acknowledge that that doesn’t sound much like a nihilistic worldview. But it’s all talk. It seems to be that the actions of radical Islamists and the driving, inarticulate passions behind them are nihilistic in character. The Islamists are the eyeless, brutal Sampson pulling down the pagan temple for the sheer joy of acting out his rage in bloody slaughter, not caring that he is himself among the slaughtered. I see this as nihilist at its roots.

    There is an analogy here with the kamikazes of imperial Japan. Allied soldiers and sailors assumed the kamikazes were religious fanatics driving by a deep religious (Shinto) devotion to the Emperor. Postwar historians have exploded this view, showing that the kamikazes were mostly college students with no particular religious views acting under intense social pressure. Like the leading Islamists of our day, the kamikazes were middle class and better educated than most of their peers, but saw no future befitting their educational attainments (albeit for different reasons.)

  9. Thanks. When I think of nihilism, I think of the “why bother to get up in the morning?” attitude. For example, at the end of this really nifty timeline post:


    …the author engages in some amateurish philosophy/theology along the lines of “we humans are a tiny, tiny part of all space and time, so why does anything we do matter?” This is very different, psychologically speaking, from getting up in the morning to kill infidels as part of a centuries-long mission to create a global caliphate.

  10. Re the Japanese kamikazes, there is a very interesting memoir titled “I was a Kamikaze”…the author was obviously an *unsuccessful* kamikaze….his portrayal of himself and his comrades is not of either fanatics or nihilists, but of men whose frustration at being able to stop the Allied advance (the B-29 was especially frustrating) combined with social pressure (mostly implied) to cause them to volunteer for the kamikaze missions. At that point in the war, the odds of survival for an ordinary Japanese fighter pilot were not all that high, so the step of becoming a kamikaze probably did not seem as huge as it would have had it been taken ab initio.

  11. The case of surviving kamikazes is pretty interesting. With one remarkable exception, we of course are talking about kamikazes who did not carry out their mission, either because of lack of fuel, equipment malfunction, or inability to find the enemy. For example, there was a Baka pilot whose suicide rocket aircraft failed to detach from its mother bomber, who recalls rocking back and forth to try to get the thing to release while screaming “Come on! Kill me now! Get it over with!” There was a manned suicide torpedo pilot who likewise went on three missions, only to have each thwarted by depth bomb attacks that wrecked his midget submarine before it could be released from its mother submarine.

    These men saw no future for Japan in any rational course of action. So they threw themselves into an irrational course of action, under intense social pressure, in a state close to fatalistic despair. Fatalistic despair is not a bad definition of nihilism.

    Incidentally, the survivors had an extremely hard time reintegrating into Japanese society after the surrender, more than the average Japanese veteran. Not surprise, I suppose. Their families had already held their funerals and they were in a state of mind I can only imagine. Then they suddenly find themselves with a future in an utterly defeated Japan. A number were gathered up by their retired commander into what can best be described as a kind of monastic life, gardening for food and apart from what was left of Japanese society, until they regained some kind of contact with the mundane world.

    About the remarkable exception: http://www.kamikazeimages.net/stories/hasegawa/index.htm The fellow was shot down as he tried to make his attack, and somehow survived.

  12. You know the old joke about the missionary who’s about to be killed and eaten by cannibals who will use his skin to make a canoe? He grabs a fork and starts poking holes all over his body, yelling “I’ll fix your damn canoe.”

    That’s my image of fatalistic despair, combined with a good dollop of spite. It explains better how the Muslim countries are destroying themselves than why they’ll commit suicide in aid of destroying us. But I agree it can be a kind of nihilism to give up hope of ever building anything useful and instead to turn all your energies to tearing down the infidels: the destruction becomes its own end.

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