Annie Proulx National Book Award Speech
The happy ending still beckons, and it is in hope of grasping it that we go on. The poet Wisława Szymborska caught the writer’s dilemma of choosing between hard realities and the longing for the happy ending. She called it “consolation.” Darwin: They say he read novels to relax, but only certain kinds—nothing that ended unhappily. If he happened on something like that, enraged, he flung the book into the fire. True or not, I’m ready to believe it. Scanning in his mind so many times and places, he’s had enough with dying species, the triumphs of the strong over the weak, the endless struggle to survive, all doomed sooner or later. He’d earned the right to happy ending, at least in fiction, with its micro-scales.

Hence the indispensable silver lining, the lovers reunited, the families reconciled, the doubts dispelled, fidelity rewarded, fortunes regained, treasures uncovered, stiff-necked neighbors mending their ways, good names restored, greed daunted, old maids married off to worthy parsons, troublemakers banished to other hemispheres, forgers of documents tossed down the stairs, seducers scurried to the altar, orphans sheltered, widows comforted, pride humbled, wounds healed, prodigal sons summoned home, cups of sorrow tossed into the ocean, hankies drenched with tears of reconciliation, general merriment and celebration, and the dog Fido, gone astray in the first chapter, turns up barking gladly in the last. Thank you.
6 hours ago
The Russia investigation’s spectacular accumulation of lies - The Washington Post
What does public life look like without the constraining internal force of character — without the firm ethical commitments often (though not exclusively) rooted in faith? It looks like a presidential campaign unable to determine right from wrong and loyalty from disloyalty. It looks like an administration engaged in a daily assault on truth and convinced that might makes right. It looks like the residual scum left from retreating political principle — the worship of money, power and self-promoted fame. The Trumpian trinity.

But also: Power without character looks like the environment for women at Fox News during the reigns of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly — what former network host Andrea Tantaros called “a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency and misogyny.” It looks like Breitbart News’s racial transgressiveness, providing permission and legitimacy to the alt-right. It looks like the cruelty and dehumanization practiced by Dinesh D’Souza, dismissing the tears and trauma of one Roy Moore accuser as a “performance.” And it looks like the Christian defense of Moore, which has ceased to be recognizably Christian.

This may be the greatest shame of a shameful time. What institution, of all institutions, should be providing the leaven of principle to political life? What institution is specifically called on to oppose the oppression of children, women and minorities, to engage the world with civility and kindness, to prepare its members for honorable service to the common good?

A hint: It is the institution that is currently — in some visible expressions — overlooking, for political reasons, credible accusations of child molestation. Some religious leaders are willing to call good evil, and evil good, in service to a different faith — a faith defined by their political identity. This is heresy at best; idolatry at worst.
politics  christian 
9 hours ago
The Tragedy of Liberalism | Patrick Deneen
Liberalism is failing not because it fell short but because it was true to itself. Liberalism is failing because liberalism succeeded. As liberalism has “become more fully itself,” as its inner logic has become more evident and its self-contradictions manifest, it has generated pathologies that are at once deformations of its claims and realizations of liberal ideology. But because our normal politics have led us to operate entirely within the liberal frame, we assume that the various ills of our politics can be cured by applying a better liberal solution—whether a classical or progressive solution to an ill that is viewed as arising from the ills of the opposite. Rather than see the accumulating evidence of rolling systemic blackouts as a failure to live up to liberalism’s ideals, we need to see clearly that the ruins liberalism has produced are the very signs of its success.

To this end, I want to offer three areas for consideration where one can see liberalism’s two opposing parts advancing a consistent and uniform end by effectually engaging in a pincer movement from two different directions, and in the process destabilizing the very possibility of a shared political, civic, and social life. These areas are, first, liberalism’s hostility to culture, with preference given to a pervasive and universalized anti-culture (to borrow sociologist Philip Rieff’s term); second, liberalism’s assault on the liberal arts and humanistic education; and third, liberalism’s creation of a new and fully realized aristocracy, or what I call a “liberalocracy.”
liberalism  politics 
Answering the Alt-Right | National Affairs
In their series of debates, Douglas often accused Lincoln of threatening sectarian conflict over the issue of slavery. Douglas believed Lincoln's language was too moralistic, and that it would overturn the careful balance that had developed in the slavery debate. But Lincoln saw that slavery itself was slowly eroding the American commitment to its founding principles. Once the Civil War erupted a few years later, Lincoln came to understand it as a historical inevitability. It was the painful result of a nation that had formed two distinct national identities: one still tenuously committed to its founding proposition of equality, no matter how slow the march and imperfect the understanding; the other developing a revisionist history to reject that founding proposition, so that it might reconstitute itself according to a racial ideology.

Today the alt-right is attempting to revive the ideological project of the antebellum and Jim Crow South, and, should they succeed, we may lose those values that have made America such an exceptional nation. As a people unified by the shared principles of equality and liberty, we must reject the alt-right's radical identity politics and white supremacy, and reaffirm a commitment to our founding ideals. While still a fringe movement, the alt-right's influence in politics has already contributed to the degradation of our civic bonds, and, as we saw this past August in Charlottesville, threatens the lives and safety of our fellow citizens.
politics  altright 
2 days ago
Year One: Rhetoric & Responsibility | by Marilynne Robinson | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books
Persuasive speech is an ancient art, practiced with distinction in American public life since Washington, to our great benefit. The nature of the good society is a philosophic question, debated by great minds over centuries. For some reason, Americans are reluctant to speak of our experiment with democracy as rooted in a tradition of thought and aspiration stretching back to antiquity, though those Founders we invoke from time to time were certainly aware that it is. Our history reflects the fact that this question is never closed, that its terms evolve, as Jefferson anticipated they would. The good society depends for its life on insights into present circumstances and into present tendencies in the culture, insights that arise out of honest and open discussion, that is, on intellectually competent citizens, people capable of clarity and attentiveness. Yet we have allowed our thinking to be conformed to the model of ideology, which is the old enemy of ideas, as it is of plain realism. The language of ideology has all its conclusions baked into it. It is wholly unsuited to the life of an open and evolving society. Our higher education has been in part responsible for our decline. If we have let ourselves become inarticulate in the terms of our own, highly particular civilization, to the point that we cannot sustain a democratic politics, then it is more than time for our splendid universities to take a long look at themselves.
academentia  university 
3 days ago
The Ghost of Cognition Past, or Thinking Like An Algorithm – BLDGBLOG
Assuming I have read Bridle’s essay correctly—and it is entirely possible I have not—he seems disturbed by the content of these videos. I think the more troubling aspect, however, is in how they suggest kids should think. They replace narrative reason with algorithmic recommendation, connecting events and objects in weird, illogical bursts lacking any semblance of internal coherence, where the sudden appearance of something completely irrelevant can nonetheless be explained because of its keyword-search frequency. Having a conversation with someone who thinks like this—who “thinks” like this—would be utterly alien, if not logically impossible.

So, to return to this post’s beginning, one of the thrills of thinking like a writer, so to speak, is precisely in how it encourages one to bring together things that might not otherwise belong on the same page, and to work toward understanding why these apparently unrelated subjects might secretly be connected.

But what is thinking like an algorithm?
algorithms  socialmedia 
3 days ago
Kids These Days by Malcom Harris | Hachette Book Group
The moderate consensus view on American Millennials is that we don’t represent anything new. Boomers and Gen Xers whining about us are creating moral panics out of the standard evolution of social and cultural habits, just like their parents did. It’s true that the reaction to every successive set of tools and toys and their effects on our lives—especially the lives of children—sounds a lot like last year’s and the year before’s. Commentators worry about what cell phones do to our sociality, but before that it was Walkmen and long before that it was newspapers. And though it’s fun juxtaposing covers of newsweeklies from different decades, all of them fretting about how this or that generation will be the end of us all, it also turns us into the boy who gets tired of crying wolf. But sometimes there is a wolf. It’s worth an occasional check.

One of the consequences of “how we live now” is that we have more access to way more information about ourselves than ever before. This data is used to manage and control us in all sorts of ways—not the least of which is encouraging us to better self-manage and self-control—but it’s also a tool in our critical hands if we choose to wield it so. A long hard look at the historical circumstances that have birthed Millennials can tell us more about our nature than any number of snapshot trend pieces or shallow surveys. The only way to understand who we are as a generation is to look at where we come from, and the social and economic conditions under which we’ve become ourselves. What I’m attempting in this book is an analysis of the major structures and institutions that have influenced the development of young Americans over the past thirty to forty years. That means parenting, schools, the criminal justice system, higher education, and the job market; it means looking at the changes in technology, psychology, sexuality, and other elements of social life that have shaped the adults Millennials are becoming. Without the full constellation, all we have is blinking epiphenomena: entertaining at a glance, but not enough context to guide a ship.
socialmedia  sociology 
3 days ago
The American Scholar: The Fate of Rome - Charlotte Salley
Recent scientific evidence suggests two of the forces that caused Rome to crumble were climate change and pandemic disease. Historian Kyle Harper examines how, even after hundreds of years as the powerhouse of the Mediterranean and beyond, Rome ultimately could not withstand the debilitating effects of a “little ice age” and a population dwindling from plague. In this excerpt, though, the miasmic Italian terrain actually serves—temporarily—to protect its citizens from the invading Huns.
history  Rome 
4 days ago
A review of Paul and the Faithfulness of God, by N.T. Wright
From the perspective of some (myself included), the principal matter at stake is divine agency to elect freely, apart from the covenant. One need not deny the faithfulness of God to Israel to find divine agency extending beyond the covenant to incorporate non-Israel along with Israel in the new creation revealed in Jesus Christ. Indeed, at key moments Paul seems to read Israel’s scripture in the direction of inclusion of the whole creation under divine mercy, not exclusively through Israel, but in a universal gesture both including and transcending covenant identity. Although there is no question that Paul argues from scripture, many would agree with Francis Watson that “Paul shows himself to be a scriptural theologian, not a covenantal one.” That is to say, he finds in scripture the signs of divine sovereignty even over covenant.

Wright’s narrative demands a co­v­enantal literalness, tied to a particular and narrowly selected set of covenant definitions, that stands opposed to Paul’s pervasive language of new creation and his location of the scandal of the cross in its demonstration of divine agency to save apart from any prerequisite, Jewish or gentile. What Wright gains, if one accepts his argument, is a kind of ecclesiological and ethical coherence: new Israel—that is, the church—is empowered only by faithful acceptance of Jesus as Messiah to move now into the restoration of justice and peace that God promised Israel, and through Israel to the nations. What is lost is ample evidence—particularly when Paul speaks of the cross, the cosmos, and ways of knowing—that Paul’s own transformation and the gospel he preached were both more radical and more far-reaching than Wright’s “freshly reworked” covenant allows.

Whereas for Wright there is nothing apocalyptic that is not also covenantal, for others (myself included), Paul’s apocalyptic vocabulary and worldview reflect shifts in perception about divine agency so powerful, so stunning that they cause him to testify that God creates ex nihilo, elects freely out of mercy and compassion, and creates a new world against every human convention of distinction and division. By this account, Paul’s realization that God’s faithfulness extends beyond the covenant with Israel to embrace the whole creation calls for the “reworked epistemology and cosmology” Wright accuses some of imposing on Paul at the expense of a thoroughgoing covenantal theology. From that point of view, Wright’s own project appears to restrict the range of divine action and divine mercy, limiting it to a controlling and singular pattern of exile and restoration that effectively precludes divine agency apart from that pattern.
bible  theology 
4 days ago
When ‘Conservatives’ Turned Into Radicals - The New York Times
From my first year of college to the weeks in which, as editor in chief, I closed my final edition of the paper, I came to a realization: Whatever conservatism told me it was intellectually — whatever ideas we discussed, whatever policy papers I read — could never compete with what conservatism was in practice. At the conferences the Collegiate Network sent me to, no one was discussing tax policy or the nature of effective governance; they were debating whether Barack Obama was a “real” American and whether Sarah Palin could unseat him in 2012, based on pure and unfettered loathing. Nothing was being conserved.

Conservative voters have known this for some time. This is why they voted last year for a president who swore not to preserve but to upend. Since Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign for the presidency, Republicans have worked to maintain a two-tiered party — one for the ideologues who believed in Burke and Buckley, free markets and free minds, and one for the voters, who are often moved less by a system of ideas than by id and grievance. It was always the voters, though, who really mattered. And it was the voters who won.
conservatism  politics 
5 days ago
The Book’s The Thing
With so much more known about what was printed before 1800, minute bibliographical analysis, while not abandoned, has given way to speculating about the contexts and ways in which the books were used. As a result, the reader as much as the author, printer and publisher, has come into clearer focus. Also, because numerous aspects of consumption and consumerism are attracting the attention of writers on the eighteenth century, books as objects and artefacts have taken their place alongside other accessories of domestic lives. Dr Williams’s study favours this approach. Confidently and convincingly, she returns the books to the settings in which they were enjoyed. She stresses how books were valued as adjuncts of and conduits for refinement and self-improvement. While not dropping the notion of the solitary and silent reader, she shows through a wealth of examples the frequency of reading aloud and in a group. Much of this activity was intended to divert and to banish boredom, but more was to teach and improve the listeners. Attention is given to the skill needed for the recitations. Guides as to how to perform effectively proliferated. Some were aimed at those whose vocations obliged them to speak in public: notably clergymen, and also lawyers, teachers and officials. But, as Williams argues, the manuals were used much more widely. Following instructions too slavishly could court the pitfalls of artifice and theatricality, which were mocked and had to be avoided. Nevertheless, eloquence, oratory and rhetoric were highly valued, and generated treatises, including those of the Irish actor-manager Thomas Sheridan. Even for the young not intending a public career, elocution lessons were useful, helping towards success in polite company. Conversely, regional accents – especially Scotticisms and the Irish brogue – were to be obliterated, not just as a barrier to understanding but as a badge of backwardness.
books  reading 
5 days ago
How smartphones hijack our minds | ROUGH TYPE
It turns out that we aren’t very good at distinguishing the knowledge we keep in our heads from the information we find on our phones or computers. As Dr. Wegner and Dr. Ward explained in a 2013 Scientific American article, when people call up information through their devices, they often end up suffering from delusions of intelligence. They feel as though “their own mental capacities” had generated the information, not their devices. “The advent of the ‘information age’ seems to have created a generation of people who feel they know more than ever before,” the scholars concluded, even though “they may know ever less about the world around them.”

That insight sheds light on society’s current gullibility crisis, in which people are all too quick to credit lies and half-truths spread through social media. If your phone has sapped your powers of discernment, you’ll believe anything it tells you.

Data, the novelist and critic Cynthia Ozick once wrote, is “memory without history.” Her observation points to the problem with allowing smartphones to commandeer our brains. When we constrict our capacity for reasoning and recall or transfer those skills to a gadget, we sacrifice our ability to turn information into knowledge. We get the data but lose the meaning. Upgrading our gadgets won’t solve the problem. We need to give our minds more room to think. And that means putting some distance between ourselves and our phones.
intelligence  psychology  smartphones 
5 days ago
Saving Science - The New Atlantis
In this light, Susan Fitzpatrick faces a particularly difficult challenge. She wants the philanthropic foundation that she leads to maximize the potential for neuroscience to help reduce human suffering, but she doesn’t think that this field has much to say yet about lessening the terrible burdens of most brain diseases. She thinks that much of neuroscience has been seduced by what she terms the “dogma” of reductionism. “Everyone is convinced that if you can find the genetic molecular explanation for something now then you understand it and hence you can fix it, even though there is literally no evidence for this.” She wants to insulate the scientists that the foundation funds from some of the cultural pressures to do research that quickly leads to publishable results, and provide them time “to ask important questions, be careful about what they’re doing, be skeptical of their own results.” One project underway looks at extreme long-term survivors of malignant brain cancer to see how their tumors interact with the rest of the body and other environmental influences. Why do treatment technologies that are ineffective for most patients show positive results for a very few? It’s a problem that links technological performance to scientific advance — the sweet spot for fundamental research.

But Fitzpatrick also wonders if biomedical science undervalues other kinds of research that could offer solutions to pressing problems. “There’s not a lot of research on how best to socially, emotionally, environmentally, support Alzheimer’s patients, that might ameliorate their own anxiety, their own stress — maybe the disease, as horrible as it is, would be less horrible through a better care structure, but we do very little research on that.” Perhaps for now, research to help people with these diseases ought to aim at more practical questions. “I don’t think you can tell people ‘Well, we’ve got another forty years of research that we’re going to have to do’ when we also don’t know if there are better ways of supporting people.” And maybe in the process of understanding how better to help patients, scientists will discover things about the course of the disease and its varieties that can lead to effective therapies. “What’s been lost is the continual back-and-forth between the science and the real disease” that has, historically, been the source of major medical advances.

Advancing according to its own logic, much of science has lost sight of the better world it is supposed to help create. Shielded from accountability to anything outside of itself, the “free play of free intellects” begins to seem like little more than a cover for indifference and irresponsibility. The tragic irony here is that the stunted imagination of mainstream science is a consequence of the very autonomy that scientists insist is the key to their success. Only through direct engagement with the real world can science free itself to rediscover the path toward truth.
5 days ago
Germany's Romantic literary revival built on Blade Runner and seven deadly sins | World news | The Guardian
“In Germany, we have a tendency to focus on romanticism’s perversion rather than its original promise,” replied Strauss when confronted with the criticism. “But there was something powerful in the Romantic movement’s origins: an attempt to explore humanity in its inner form, to search inside ourselves for hidden currents. It was a rejection of uptightness and Biedermeier conformity.”

“Romanticism should be like religion in that way: an individual affair, rather than the opium for the masses it became under National Socialism.”
5 days ago
Does Age Bring Wisdom? | Slate Star Codex
And if I accept my intellectual changes as “gaining wisdom”, shouldn’t I also believe that old people are wiser than I am? And old people mostly seem to go around being really conservative and saying that everything was better in the old days and the youth are corrupt and Facebook is going to be the death of us. I could model this as two different processes – a real wisdom-related process that ends exactly where I am now, plus a false rose-colored-glasses-related process that ends with your crotchety great-uncle talking about how things have been going downhill since the war – but that’s a lot of special pleading. I remember when I was twenty, I thought the only reason adults were less utopian than I was, was because of their hidebound rose-colored self-serving biases. Pretty big coincidence that I was wrong then, but I’m right about everyone older than me now.

There’s one more possibility that bothers me even worse than the socialization or traumatization theory. I’m going to use science-y sounding terms just as an example, but I don’t actually think it’s this in particular – we know that the genes for liberal-conservative differences are mostly NMDA receptors in the brain. And we know that NMDA receptor function changes with aging. It would be pretty awkward if everything we thought was “gaining wisdom with age” was just “brain receptors consistently functioning differently with age”. If we were to find that were true – and furthermore, that the young version was intact and the older version was just the result of some kind of decay or oxidation or something – could I trust those results? Intuitively, going back to earlier habits of mind would feel inherently regressive, like going back to drawing on the wall with crayons. But I don’t have any proof.
5 days ago
Concept-Shaped Holes Can Be Impossible To Notice
I’m looking back on my book review of After Virtue, a seminal philosophy book which won a bunch of awards and recognition from important philosophers. My review was that it seemed very confused. It kept claiming to have an important insight, but every time it said it was going to reveal the important insight, it actually said a bunch of platitudes and unrelated tangents. This is a huge red flag. Which makes more sense – that I was the lone genius able to see that the emperor had no clothes and Alastair McIntyre is really dumb? Or that he’s saying something really hard to understand, and I haven’t understood it yet?

Maybe there are fields doing the intellectual equivalent of gaslighting, insisting they have really profound points when they’re just vapor. But err on the side of caution here. Most of us have some hard-won battles, like mine understanding atomization. Where after a lot of intellectual work, a concept that seemed stupid suddenly opens up and becomes important. Sometimes it’s about anarchism, or reactionary philosophy, or privilege, or religion as benevolent community-building institution. Erring too hard on the side of “that’s dumb, they’re probably just gaslighting” closes off those areas to you forever.

I don’t think it’s always worth delving deep into a seemingly-meaningless field to discover the hidden meaning. That rarely works – if you had the concepts you’d need to understand it right now, you would have done so already. But I think it’s worth leaving the possibility open, so that later if something clicks you’re not too embarrassed to return to it.
10 days ago
No. Religion is not the common denominator… – The Immanent Frame
Religion is not an explanation for what happened in Tennessee that weekend. Religion in general is never an explanation—except for atheists and secularists. There is no referent for the word religion. We know that by now. When religion is offered as an explanation, it blocks rather than enhances understanding, as Beth Hurd so eloquently explains in her book Beyond Religious Freedom and elsewhere.

In my view, we have to let go of this word, at least as a dependent variable. That is difficult to do because we rightly want to insist on the importance of the stuff that has been excluded by hyper- rationalist and materialist secularizing narratives of human life. We want to insist that this stuff—prayer, bible-reading, pastoral care, sermonizing, church suppers—matters. It does matter. We cannot understand what people are up to if we patronizingly regard these activities as meaningless superstition. But ironically the word religion seems to have the same effect as secularizing omission. It gathers together, separates, and homogenizes a mass of complex human activities that might better be seen to overlap with and exchange meaning with what often might be wrongly taken as distinctively or even exclusively religious. We need to talk about the significance of this stuff without essentializing or hypostasizing the word religion.
11 days ago
The University is Dead, Long Live the Academy! Reflections on the Future of Knowledge – Opinion – ABC Religion & Ethics (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
I think it is increasingly important to distinguish The University from The Academy because contemporary universities, especially those in the United States, are better understood as "multi-versities" - a term coined by the president of the University of California, Clark Kerr, in 1963 to make sense of his own post-war institution.

Consider the University of Virginia (UVA) where I teach. It is an entertainment and production company (UVA's concerts and events), a healthcare provider, a start-up incubator, a federally-financed research unit, a philanthropic behemoth, a sports franchise and, perhaps incidentally, a community devoted to education and the creation and transmission of knowledge. And these multifarious activities correspond to a range of distinct purposes. Contemporary universities are expected to educate, democratize, credentialize and socialize. Over the past century, universities have become all-purpose institutions bound together, as Kerr put it, by little more than "a common governing board" that manages disparate interests and oftentimes competing purposes.

At this point it might be tempting to turn critique into elegy, to indulge a desire for a time that was otherwise. But that would be irresponsible and delusional. The university as a fully coherent, autonomous institution guided by a singular and shared purpose never existed. In a way, universities have always been "multi-versities" - institutions serving multiple and sometimes competing ends.
academe  university 
11 days ago
The New Campus Censors - The Chronicle of Higher Education
A response favored by constitutional liberals has been to argue that the new wave of academic censorship will ultimately fail because the Constitution forbids it. This tactical line is followed, up to a point, by Erwin Chemerinsky and Howard Gillman in Free Speech on Campus (Yale University Press, 2017), but they also believe it would be wrong, even if it were possible, to enforce a regime of campus censorship. Their argument is moral as well as tactical, and it calls attention to the fact that constitutional law allows more freedom of speech than is likely to be experienced in universities today.

Might colleges think of aiming even higher? If they care about education as the first of their concerns, they should aspire to be not just as free as the First Amendment permits, but the widest-open of all environments for political and cultural debate. Such a renewal would have practical value. Though a vein of anti-intellectualism may be part of the national character, Americans like to think of universities as places where good minds are at liberty. They are willing to believe there is such a thing as intellectual virtue, and the stature they accord to higher education is connected with that belief.

The fortunes of free speech and the fate of the universities have been intertwined for most of a century. If, by a series of expedient adjustments, the universities now weaken their claim on intellectual prestige — a prestige associated with the idea of free inquiry — they will give up the authority they can still command in arguments about justice, peace, and human survival that have an impact far outside education.
academentia  freespeech 
11 days ago
What My Latest Research on Christianophobia Means | The Stream
Many believers have complained about the increase of anti-Christian bias in our society. The fact is, in my research I’ve found no evidence that it has been increasing in raw numbers. But I have found a shift in its locus, moving toward increasing social power among those who hate conservative Christians. While being white, male and highly educated puts one in an excellent position to have social power, having wealth really increases the damage one can do to others. So the increase many are feeling in anti-Christian bigotry isn’t the result of more people hating them. It’s the effect of having more powerful people hating them, and wielding that power against them.
religion  freedom  politics  christian 
12 days ago
Paleo Politics | New Republic
It isn’t just that the barbarians are gone. The sense in which we are caught in a world we have built is even stronger than that. The built world that sustains us is so vast that, for every pound of an average person’s body, there are 30 tons of infrastructure: roads, houses, sidewalks, utility grids, intensively farmed soil, and so forth. Without all that, global population would fall to ten million or so, where it stood during much of Scott’s story, or perhaps 200 million, as it was at the beginning of the Common Era. We are creatures of the artificial world that began with Scott’s walls and canals. The Earth is so thoroughly the world we have made that our domestic animals outweigh wild terrestrial mammals by a factor of 25 to one.

We are the only things here, and “here” is a planetary version of the infrastructure state. There really is no more outside. All of this leaves us to ask how far we, on the inside, can overcome the inherited logic of our exploitation machine, and how much of the nonhuman world will be left if we do. Any answers will unavoidably come through political projects to remake this world in gentler and more inclusive forms, so that it can house more kinds of lives. The state got us into this. It is only by using the state for new purposes that we can hope to get ourselves someplace else.
politics  history  anthropocene 
13 days ago
Four Points About Martin Luther on 31 October 2017 | Mockingbird
1. As a theologian, I return again and again to Luther’s theological method, especially his highly dynamic and creative way of transmuting his own sufferings and experiences into theological insight on behalf of others, in dialogue with Scripture. In this again I think he is usefully understood as a kind of artist or poet rather than simply as a thinker or exegete, and I think this is part of what Kierkegaard meant in his journals when he called Luther an ‘extremely important patient for Christianity’. As Luther puts it, ‘in tribulation [the exegete] learns many things which he did not know before; [likewise,] many things he already knew in theory he grasps more firmly through experience’ (WA 3:44; LW 10:49). We can seek to follow this method without having to agree with what Luther actually concluded at any given point. And I do personally think that a dose of this kind of experientialism, done well, is what theology today needs more than anything.

2. Luther’s account of the persistence of sin in the Christian in the later parts of Against Latomus is probably the darkest such account we have anywhere in the tradition, and in this it is enduringly profound. ‘[T]he motion of anger and evil is exactly the same in the godly and the godless, the same before grace and after grace’ (WA 8:91; LW 32:207). Luther argues at one point here that the way that sin persists in Christians is quite precisely analogous to the way that physical death persists: its ‘reality’ and ‘substance’ is unchanged, but its ‘sting’ is taken away. In this he is taking a major strand of Christian tradition and turning it up to eleven. In practice, the account in Against Latomus can and should function as a kind of firewall of divine mercy for Christians who feel like failures; there is no circumstance it cannot encompass. These bits of Against Latomus are not all that Luther had to say on the subject of the Christian life but they are the parts that have stood out the most to me over the years.

3. Luther’s distinction between Law and Gospel, loosely held and experientially/affectively understood, remains one of the most powerful diagnostic tools for making sense of what people I see around me actually do in their lives – all the anxious striving – and why it so rarely feels like ‘enough’, and for explaining the power of Christianity as a clear-eyed but utterly compassionate response to this. It is a shame that this aspect of his thought which pastorally-speaking has dated so little in 500 years (in our cultural moment of performancism and overwork) has been so misunderstood in recent theology.

4. The theology of the cross, as expressed with such simplicity and depth in the Heidelberg Disputation, seems to me to match the reality of life as it is very often actually experienced by human beings in the world, better than any other such category I have come across. ‘God can be found only in suffering and the cross’ (proof of thesis 21). Whatever their tradition (or anti-tradition), students always respond to this extraordinary text, which (with the Disp. Against Scholastic Theology) is I think the paradigmatic example of Luther’s art.
theology  reformation 
14 days ago
What's Your Institutional IQ? | Comment Magazine
The greatest challenge our institutions face, it seems to me, is not at the top but in the middle: the alarmingly thin pipeline of younger leaders who are motivated to pursue the breadth and depth necessary to move into senior roles in established organizations. How do you maintain creativity and energy when your job comes with inescapable constraints and sometimes deals with relatively mundane functions—along with a nagging sense, at least some days, that you're ultimately rewarded more for preserving an institution than for serving its underlying mission? How do you defer the instantaneous gratification offered at every turn by social media's substitutes for real, thick community, instead devoting much of your waking life and emotional energy to people you would never bother to follow on Twitter? How do you envision meaningful, sustained collective action in a world where the most striking examples of collectivity are public rallies (on both the left and right) with a notable lack of structure or durability and a barely restrained oppositional violence at their core, and where 46 percent of American voters selected a presidential candidate who had built his entire career on, shall we say, a notable deficit of "institutional intelligence"? Until we can offer a meaningful answer to these questions for people in their twenties and thirties, they may never get to the point where they can benefit from Smith's wisdom in their forties and fifties.
sociology  church  institutions 
14 days ago
Protestantism's Dangerous Idea: How the Reformation Redefined the Church – Alister McGrath
Calvin's definition is significant as much for what it does not say as for what it does explicitly affirm. There is no reference to the necessity of any historical or institutional continuity with the apostles. For Calvin, it was more important to teach what the apostles taught than to be able to show an unbroken line of institutional continuity with them. (It should be remembered here that Calvin himself was never really "ordained"; he was simply licensed as a pastor by the city council of Geneva.)

For Calvin, institutional continuity was not sufficient to guarantee intellectual fidelity. For Calvin, the medieval Catholic church had suffered from institutional drift, losing its grounding in the fundamental ideas of the apostles, which were, of course, expressed in the Bible.

This radical new understanding of the church in effect envisaged the church as a community which gathered around the preaching of the word of God, and celebrated and proclaimed the gospel through the sacraments. Where the gospel is truly preached, there a church will gather. Protestant theologians, sensitive to the charge that this new approach represented a distortion of a proper theology of the church, pointed to a classic statement of the first-century Christian writer Ignatius of Antioch: "wherever Christ is, there is also the church (ubi Christus ibi ecclesia)." Gathering together in the name of Christ ensures his presence - and with that presence, a church comes into being. […]

Now many Protestants would rightly wish to point out that much more can be said about ecclesiology than this. Anglicans, Lutherans and Mennonites, for example, would want to amplify (though in somewhat different ways) the minimalist Protestant ecclesiology outlined here. Such amplifications are, of course, to be welcomed. Yet they do not invalidate the fundamental point being made here - namely, that the 1520s Protestant vision of what is the "basic kit" of a true Christian church enables precisely the entrepreneurial and innovative approaches to church structures, growth and outreach that have proved so important to contemporary American Christian life. The same point could be made with reference to the "cell churches" that are playing a growing role in Protestantism in large Asian cities, such as Seoul and Manila.

Some will see this, for entirely understandable reasons, as a potentially negative development, leading to fragmentation, division and an erosion of the historical roots of Protestantism. I concede these dangers, to which others might easily be added, while believing that steps can be taken to deal with them. Yet one of the great historic roles of Protestantism has been to create conceptual space for these pioneering new models of "being church," and encourage highly entrepreneurial leaders to identify and rectify weaknesses in more traditional approaches to Christian ministry. One of the most distinctive and energizing features of Protestantism is its commitment to an agenda of self-examination and self-criticism, often summed up in the slogan ecclesia semper reformanda.
church  christian 
17 days ago
Letter to 
a Campus Activist by Vincent Lloyd | Articles | First Things
We live in a world that is deeply flawed. We must struggle to see this without forgetting that each one of us is no less flawed. Those whom the world captures with the language of race have it especially hard, but we also have a special privilege. Rebellion that involves beer and debauchery rings hollow when one bears the bruises of racist violence. Our rebellion tends in loftier directions than that of your peers, but the risk of self-satisfaction is also greater.

You, my campus activist, have the misfortune to live in a secular age, an age when rebellion against the world means embrace of the self—which really means embrace of the worst that the world has on offer. Be careful. Seek out communities and relationships that orient you beyond yourself, toward others and toward the God who promises peace and justice. There is no single roadmap to rebelling rightly, or to living rightly, and we all inevitably fall short. I pray that you fail better than I did.
17 days ago
Revisiting Sola Scriptura | Comment Magazine
Luther both denounced subjectivism and affirmed the necessity of standing with the historic witness of the ancient Church—which, though covered by the medieval accretions that had obscured the heart of the faith, nonetheless found its witnesses in all the centuries of the Church. For Luther and the other Reformers, sola scriptura did not imply a free-wheeling individualism that could engage in subjective expositions of Scripture, unrelated to the historic faith. When they encountered that, they repudiated it vigorously—Philip Melanchthon's denunciation of Servetus (who denied the deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity) is a fine example of a Reformer standing against the misuse of sola scriptura. Instead, Melanchthon gladly pointed out that Luther stood humbly with the church fathers as they taught Scripture well and embraced the creeds as defenses of the faith "once for all delivered to the saints." In all this, the other Protestant Reformers held the same viewpoint.

For them, sola scriptura meant that Scripture was the only unquestioned religious authority, not the only religious authority. Patristic teaching stood as a subsidiary religious authority, as did the creedal deliverances of the ecumenical councils. As conforming to Scripture, they were beneath it and were normed by it—but they were religious authorities, for all that. Scripture was the only ultimate religious authority, normed by none other. For the Reformers, a freebooting, individualistic subjectivism could not defend itself by appeal to sola scriptura. For the Reformers, rather, it entailed following in the hallowed path of the faithful teaching of the church fathers and adhering to the creedal statements adopted at the ancient ecumenical councils.
theology  bible  reformation 
18 days ago
Professors like me can’t stay silent about this extremist moment on campuses - The Washington Post
No one should have to pass someone else’s ideological purity test to be allowed to speak. University life — along with civic life — dies without the free exchange of ideas.

In the face of intimidation, educators must speak up, not shut down. Ours is a position of unique responsibility: We teach people not what to think, but how to think.

Realizing and accepting this has made me — an eminently replaceable, untenured, gay, mixed-race woman with PTSD — realize that no matter the precariousness of my situation, I have a responsibility to model the appreciation of difference and care of thought I try to foster in my students.

If I, like so many colleagues nationwide, am afraid to say what I think, am I not complicit in the problem?

At Reed and nationwide, we have largely stayed silent, probably hoping that this extremist moment in campus politics eventually peters out. But it is wishful thinking to imagine that the conversation will change on its own. It certainly won’t change if more voices representing more positions aren’t added to it.
academentia  censorship  HTT 
18 days ago
To Keep Up With AI, We’ll Need High-Tech Brains - WSJ
Another exciting prospect is melding two or more brains into a single conscious mind by direct neuron-to-neuron links—similar to the corpus callosum, the bundle of two hundred million fibers that link the two cortical hemispheres of a person’s brain. This entity could call upon the memories and skills of its member brains, but would act as one “group” consciousness, with a single, integrated purpose to coordinate highly complex activities across many bodies.
[What could go wrong?]
18 days ago
How Twitter Killed the First Amendment - The New York Times
What can be done? It is time to recognize that the American political process and marketplace for ideas are under attack, and that reinvigorating the First Amendment is vital. First, it is an imperative that law enforcement and lawmakers do more to protect journalists and other public speakers from harassment and threats. Cyberstalking is a crime. And as the Supreme Court has made clear, threats of violence are not protected speech. A country where speaking one’s mind always results in death threats is not a country that can be said to be truly free.

Second, too little is being done to protect American politics from foreign attack. The Russian efforts to use Facebook, YouTube and other social media to influence American politics should compel Congress to act. Social media has as much impact as broadcasting on elections, yet unlike broadcasting it is unregulated and has proved easy to manipulate. At a minimum, new rules should bar social media companies from accepting money for political advertising by foreign governments or their agents. And more aggressive anti-bot laws are needed to fight impersonation of humans for propaganda purposes.
socialmedia  freespeech 
20 days ago
Peer review: the end of an error?
Why does any of this matter? Defenders of formal peer review usually admit that it is flawed, but go on to say, as though it were obvious, that any other system would be worse. But it is not obvious at all. If academics put their writings directly online and systems were developed for commenting on them, one immediate advantage would be a huge amount of money saved. Another would be that we would actually get to find out what other people thought about a paper, rather than merely knowing that somebody had judged it to be above a certain not very precise threshold (or not knowing anything at all if it had been rejected). We would be pooling our efforts in useful ways: for instance, if a paper had an error that could be corrected, this would not have to be rediscovered by every single reader.

An alternative system would almost certainly not be perfect, but to insist on perfection, given the imperfections of the current system, is nothing but status quo bias. To guard against this, imagine that an alternative system were fully established and see whether you can mount a convincing argument for switching to what we have now, where all the valuable commentary would be hidden away and we would have to pay large sums of money to read each other’s writings. You would be laughed out of court.
academe  scholarship 
21 days ago
On the edge, calling back: Barry Lopez – The Alpine Review – Medium
The dilemma that you describe though, I don’t know how to answer. I’ve entered a period in my life where I think so much of what I’ve seen and celebrated has been pulverized. My own effort to understand what’s there and to try to communicate it to a reading audience, I don’t know anymore what the point of it is. I’ve made an effort over the past ten years to insert myself in places that are truly desecrated — in the Middle East, places like northern Sumatra that were devastated by tsunami, desertification. If you took aerial photographs over the past sixty years, you’d see the Sahara moving south, where there once was greenery. So all of these changes, it seems a juggernaut. The momentum is something impossible.

So at this point in my life I’m very, very interested in talking to other writers who work in the world that I do — Elizabeth Kolbert, Bill McKibben, David Quammen. What is it that we’re supposed to be doing now? We’re all reporting on dire straits, and is that what we should be doing? I just don’t know. It’s much more complicated than it was thirty or forty years ago.
nature  ecology  wilderness  writing 
21 days ago
The Primal Scream of Identity Politics | The Weekly Standard
Yes, conservatives have missed something major about identity politics: its authenticity. But the liberal-progressive side has missed something bigger. Identity politics is not so much politics as a primal scream. It’s the result of what might be called the Great Scattering—the Western world’s unprecedented familial dispersion.

Anyone who’s ever heard a coyote in the desert, separated at night from the pack, knows the sound. Maybe the otherwise-unexplained hysteria of today’s identity politics is just that: the collective human howl of our time, sent up by inescapably communal creatures who can no longer identify their own.
politics  identity 
21 days ago
How Did New Atheism Fail So Miserably? | Slate Star Codex
This is 90% of popular intellectual culture these days: progressives regurgitating progressivism to other progressives for nothing but the warm glow of being told “Yup, that was some good progressiving there”. Conservatives make fun of this incessantly, and they are right to do so. But for some reason, in the case of New Atheism and only in the case of New Atheism, Progressivism itself suddenly turned and said “Hey, you’re just repeating our own platitudes back to us!” And New Atheism, caught flat-footed, mouth open wide: “But…but..we thought we were supposed to…we thought…”.

Think of one of those corrupt kleptocracies where the dictator takes bribes, all his ministers take bribes, all their assistants take bribes, the anti-corruption task force takes bribes, etc. Then one day some shmuck manages to get on the dictator’s bad side and – bam – the secret police nab him for taking bribes. The look on his face the moment before the firing squad shoots – that’s how I imagine New Atheists feeling too.

So who’s the dictator in this analogy? And what did New Atheism do to get on their bad side?
atheism  religion  culture 
23 days ago
The American Scholar: A Jane Austen Kind of Guy - William Deresiewicz
What occurred to me, as I listened to the panel, was that Austen’s world does function as an arena for the unbridled expression of female desire, but that desire is the reader’s. The impulses that her heroines must conceal or repress, out in the intensely public spaces of her novels, her readers are encouraged to indulge in the privacy, as it were, of their bedrooms. And that indulgence is all the greater precisely because it is denied to the heroines. More demonstrative characters would get between the reader and the hero, would take up all the emotional space. Readerly imagination, as is often said, is incited by what is omitted. Austen’s readers, indeed, can be said to desire her heroes, at least some of the time, even more than do her heroines, because they often get there first. They have no ambivalence about Mr. Darcy, no ignorance about their feelings for Mr. Knightley, no indifference to Colonel Brandon. They are only waiting, as it were, for the heroines to catch up.
lit  criticism 
24 days ago
Getting Religion - Mark Lilla
Yet that can't be all. Yes, I hoped that redemption in the afterlife would mean self-transformation in this one. Already I wanted to start over, to be popular with my schoolmates, loved by my parents, healed of my acne scars. I wanted to be "other." But, at some level, I also wanted to encounter an "other" -- the "wholly other," as the theologian Karl Barth called God. One thing Jesus seems to be telling Nicodemus is that he must recognize his own insufficiency -- that he will have to turn his back on his autonomous, seemingly happy life and be reborn as a human being who understands his dependency on something greater. "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). That seems a radical challenge to our freedom, and it is. But one of the dirty little secrets about adolescence is that the young fear the very freedom they crave. They intuit the burden of autonomy and want, quite literally, to be "saved" from it. That is no doubt why, as researchers tell us, the average age of conversion is in the early teens. But the desire to escape is something we probably all want, at one time or another, and for some it is overwhelming enough to make them answer Billy's altar call. A holiday from the self -- who could resist? [...]

These are powerful forces, and they can also lead a soul out of faith, as they eventually did with me. When my small group finally disbanded not long after I finished high school, some friends and I tried to start another one in a poor black Catholic parish in the burned-out center of Detroit, where I was then living and putting myself through college. But that group failed, too, so I made my way to Ann Arbor, Mich., which was then home to one of the largest Catholic Pentecostal groups in the country, the Word of God Community. Leaving Detroit, I felt I was going up to Jerusalem, never to return. It turned out to be a crushing disappointment. The community had hundreds of members, hierarchically organized, and the outsize prayer meetings left me cold. The members also struck me as dogmatic, a little too eager to bring me into line doctrinally. After a few months I got myself into a squabble with someone over Scripture, and sat down the next day to study the verses my adversary had marshaled against me. To my surprise, I concluded he was right about what the Bible said. But in my heart I also knew he had to be wrong about the doctrine at hand. Which meant -- it was the first time the thought really penetrated my mind -- that the Bible might be wrong. My face flushed and I closed the book. It was my first step out of the world of faith and toward the world I live in now.
religion  christian 
24 days ago
Artificial Intelligence and Human Nature - The New Atlantis
One must start with the problem that arises if human beings abandon their bodies in the pursuit of electronic immortality. Because of his belief in “pattern identity,” Moravec speculates about an essentially seamless transition between “me” as a biological entity and “me” as a machine. Bodies are treated as a trivial component of personality; after all, they change dramatically over time and we do not lose our sense of identity as a result. But this argument is clearly a vast overstatement. Most (perhaps all) people’s identities are sufficiently bound up with their bodies that such changes are humanly and morally significant. And anyone would have to admit that the “I” he was at 16 is not the same “I” that exists at 45, however much one may “still feel 16 inside” (which a real 16-year-old may have good reason to doubt). These changes obviously reflect the loss of physical vigor and the new burdens of age and illness; but they also involve a deeper transformation of our longings, our understanding of the world, and our duties that cannot be separated from our existence as embodied creatures. Given these psycho-physical realities, it seems amazing that extinctionists are so willing to write off the bodily component of who we are.

And so, it seems all too possible that the coming of post-biological life would mean the death of the self, not the immortality of the self. The robotic “I” will think far faster, dramatically affecting “my” subjective sense of time. Memory will be significantly expanded and its character changed. The robotic “I” will have access to more information and experience, and (accepting the conceit of these authors that my hardware and software will function perfectly) will never have to forget anything. Its sensory inputs will be different, as will the mechanisms by which they are processed. But the “I” who can do all the things that the virtual world makes possible is increasingly hard to understand from the point of view of the “I” that started out as an embodied and biological being. It would have radically different abilities, talents, and interests. If there is any likeness at all between the machine and its embodied precursor, the closest analogy to that relationship might be between adults and the babies they once were. It seems we have no readily recoverable memories of our infant period; I have only the word of others that that picture of a little baby really is a picture of me. From a subjective point of view, the relationship is highly tenuous.
24 days ago
White Working-Class Populism & Conservatism Are Incompatible | National Review
White people acting white have embraced the ethic of the white underclass, which is distinct from the white working class, which has the distinguishing feature of regular gainful employment. The manners of the white underclass are Trump’s — vulgar, aggressive, boastful, selfish, promiscuous, consumerist. The white working class has a very different ethic. Its members are, in the main, churchgoing, financially prudent, and married, and their manners are formal to the point of icy politeness. You’ll recognize the style if you’ve ever been around it: It’s “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am,” but it is the formality of soldiers and police officers — correct and polite, but not in the least bit deferential. It is a formality adopted not to acknowledge the superiority of social betters but to assert the equality of the speaker — equal to any person or situation, perfectly republican manners. It is the general social respect rooted in genuine self-respect.

Its opposite is the sneering, leveling, drag-’em-all-down-into-the-mud anti-“elitism” of contemporary right-wing populism. Self-respect says: “I’m an American citizen, and I can walk into any room, talk to any president, prince, or potentate, because I can rise to any occasion.” Populist anti-elitism says the opposite: “I can be rude enough and denigrating enough to drag anybody down to my level.” Trump’s rhetoric — ridiculous and demeaning schoolyard nicknames, boasting about money, etc. — has always been about reducing. Trump doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to duke it out with even the modest wits at the New York Times, hence it’s “the failing New York Times.” Never mind that the New York Times isn’t actually failing and that any number of Trump-related businesses have failed so thoroughly that they’ve gone into bankruptcy; the truth doesn’t matter to the argument any more than it matters whether the fifth-grade bully actually has an actionable claim on some poor kid’s lunch money. It would never even occur to the low-minded to identify with anybody other than the bully.
politics  ethics  class  populism 
28 days ago
The Age of Consent and Its Discontents - The New York Times
Across all of these counts the Western sexual order just doesn’t seem to be working out very well. We are several generations into the post-sexual revolution world, and women are less happy than they were before, people are marrying less and (despite what you would expect from self-selection) the marriages that do happen are less contented than in the past, people are consistently missing their desired fertility, a huge share of children (especially the poorest and most vulnerable children) are growing up without both their biological parents, and some of the wealthiest societies in the world are headed for a demographic cliff. And then there’s the fact that the sexes are politically polarized as never before, that both smug marrieds and singletons are having less sex than in the past, the recrudescent of toxic misogyny (among woke Marxist bros as well as alt-righters, in some cases) now that the internet has removed certain social filters, and more.

Looking out across this landscape, a renewed social conservatism isn’t the only plausible response; there’s always the more radical Marxist and feminist alternatives, which argue that the sexual revolution we did have was fatally compromised by capitalism and male privilege. But I think a second look at sexual conservatism is much more plausible than a status quo bias, in which sexual liberalism is supposed to have created a level of social happiness and personal fulfillment that is simply not in evidence from data or anecdote alike.
sexuality  politics  ethics 
29 days ago
Christ and Nothing by David Bentley Hart | Articles | First Things
Nor will the ululations and lugubrious platitudes and pious fatalism of the tragic chorus ever again have the power to recall us to sobriety. The gospel of a God found in broken flesh, humility, and measureless charity has defeated all the old lies, rendered the ancient order visibly insufficient and even slightly absurd, and instilled in us a longing for transcendent love so deep that—if once yielded to—it will never grant us rest anywhere but in Christ. And there is a real sadness in this, because the consequences of so great a joy rejected are a sorrow, bewilderment, and anxiety for which there is no precedent. If the nonsensical religious fascinations of today are not, in any classical or Christian sense, genuine pieties, they are nevertheless genuine—if deluded—expressions of grief, encomia for a forsaken and half-forgotten home, the prisoner’s lament over a lost freedom. For Christians, then, to recover and understand the meaning of the command to have “no other god,” it is necessary first to recognize that the victory of the Church in history was not only incomplete, but indeed set free a force that the old sacral order had at least been able to contain; and it is against this more formless and invincible enemy that we take up the standard of the commandment today. [...]

It means also to remain aloof from many of the moral languages of our time, which are—even at their most sentimental, tender, and tolerant—usually as decadent and egoistic as the currently most fashionable vices. It means, in short, self-abnegation, contrarianism, a willingness not only to welcome but to condemn, and a refusal of secularization as fierce as the refusal of our Christian ancestors to burn incense to the genius of the emperor. This is not an especially grim prescription, I should add: Christian asceticism is not, after all, a cruel disfigurement of the will, contaminated by the world-weariness or malice towards creation that one can justly ascribe to many other varieties of religious detachment. It is, rather, the cultivation of the pure heart and pure eye, which allows one to receive the world, and rejoice in it, not as a possession of the will or an occasion for the exercise of power, but as the good gift of God. It is, so to speak, a kind of “Marian” waiting upon the Word of God and its fruitfulness. This is why it has the power to heal us of our modern derangements: because, paradoxical as it may seem to modern temperaments, Christian asceticism is the practice of love, what Maximus the Confessor calls learning to see the logos of each thing within the Logos of God, and it eventuates most properly in the grateful reverence of a Bonaventure or the lyrical ecstasy of a Thomas Traherne.
4 weeks ago
Author discusses his new book on why liberal arts majors make great employees
Q: What information about career options should liberal arts colleges (or departments with liberal arts majors at institutions with a range of programs) provide?

A: I’ve become convinced that conventional career counseling -- setting out the most traveled paths for a given major -- has not been particularly helpful to students. The well-trod destinations are obvious to students anyhow, and the opportunities that they remain unaware of are best uncovered by the students’ own investigations in the real world. Career centers can best help by redoubling their efforts to enlist alumni to serve as peer counselors: current students listen to recent graduates with the greatest interest. In the book, I call attention to how a number of the students I followed found first jobs via connections that were not found through the career center, or even through roommates or the closest of friends, but from less than closest of friends. (This was nicely anticipated long ago in sociologist Mark Granovetter’s “The Strength of Weak Ties” published in 1973.) One student, a history major, would be most helped in landing a job at Google by a woman for whom she babysat.

Q: Many employers say they care more about skills such as critical thinking, ability to work in a team, ability to write well, etc., more than a major. These factors should boost confidence in liberal arts study. Why hasn’t that been the case?

A: Chief executives tend to advocate for hiring graduates with the analytical and communication skills that a liberal education sharpens, but the managers or teams who make the actual hiring decisions have in recent years sought instead something else, what they like to call the ability of a new hire “to hit the ground running.” This drastically shrinks the pool of prospective candidates. It’s also shortsighted in its failing to acknowledge the usefulness of having more people who, once they have learned what they need to about the particularities of an entry-level position, are going to be able to make more creative, or more clearly explained, contributions on day 180 compared to many of their running-on-day-one peers. I hope that the detailed stories of 10 humanities majors who were able to make outsize contributions in their first professional jobs will serve to nudge more hiring teams at other companies to expand their nets and give liberal arts majors the chance to show how quickly they can learn and what they then will be able to do.
humanities  liberalarts  education 
4 weeks ago
Children Of The Anthropocene | Future Unfolding | Heterotopias
Adopting this shift in perspective allows us to understand the scope of the Anthropocene as well as a way out of it. In his 2016 book, Dark Ecology, the philosopher Timothy Morton, wrote that “ecological awareness forces us to think and feel at multiple scales, scales that disorient normative concepts such as ‘present’, ‘life’, ‘human’, ‘nature’, ‘thing’, ‘thought,’ and ‘logic.’” But in traversing and reconciling these eerie phenomena we might reach a state of intimacy with nonhumans. “Coexisting with these nonhumans is ecological thought, art, ethics and politics.” For Morton, such a coexistence doesn’t entail a deferral to primitivism but an embracing of technologies amidst a transforming viewpoint. Play is crucial to the process and Future Unfolding gives us a space where we might test out these ideas for size to see how they fit, feel and taste.

Future Unfolding’s childlike gaze gently encourages a flexibility of thinking within us. It asks us to forget old cognitive pathways and instead forge new routes of thought. It is sometimes a sticky, unsettling process and, eschewing formal instructions or direction, the game reflects our current state of unknowing. We are prone to flailing in the murky darkness of the forest. But as we reformulate our relationship with nonhumans, Future Unfolding asks us to push through the uncomfortable anxiety of dawning ecological intimacy. Only then might we reach the ecstasy the Biologist experiences in Area X.
4 weeks ago
Blade Runner’s 2019 Los Angeles helped define the American city of the future - Vox
Walk through Midtown Manhattan and it’s hard not to see it as a better-lit cousin of Ridley Scott’s LA, packed with fascinating fashions and endless commerce, building-size advertisements and sizzling street food. (The movie’s LA was, after all, built out of a New York set.) It bustles with life and energy and industry. It’s Blade Runner, but without the darkness and depression.

Urban centers have staged a comeback in the decades since 1982, and in the process, they have come to resemble sunnier versions of the gloomy urban landscape that Scott dreamed up. Yes, they are brighter and happier places, but they speak in the same visual language. In attempting to show us how cities would decay, the movie inadvertently ended up offering a reminder of many of the ways they are attractive and appealing.

Blade Runner, in other words, helped set our expectations for what cities should look like. And although it was far from a positive vision, it has, over time, become one.
movies  city  design 
4 weeks ago
How To Fall Asleep And Why We Need More : Shots - Health News : NPR
The amount of sleep — the total amount of sleep that you get — starts to decrease the older that we get. I think one of the myths out there is that we simply need less sleep as we age, and that's not true, in fact. We need just as much sleep in our 60s, 70s [and] 80s, as we do when we're in our 40s. It's simply that the brain is not capable of generating that sleep, which it still needs, and the body still needs. So, total amount of sleep actually decreases.

We also know that the continuity of sleep also starts to fall apart. Sleep becomes much more fragmented. There are many more awakenings throughout the night — pain, bathroom trips, etc. But we also know that it's not the quantity of sleep that changes with aging, it's also the quality of sleep.

It seems to be particularly the deepest stage of sleep — something that we call non-rapid-eye-movement sleep, or non-REM sleep, the very deepest stages of non-REM sleep — those are selectively eroded by the aging process. By the time you're in your 50s, you've perhaps lost almost 40 to 50 percent of that deep sleep you were having, for example, when you were a teenager. By age 70, you may have lost almost 90 percent of that deep sleep.

Unfortunately the current set or classes of sleeping pills that we have do not produce naturalistic sleep. So they are all a broad set of chemicals that we call the sedative hypnotics, and sedation is not sleep, it's very different. It doesn't give you the restorative natural benefits of sleep. ... If you look at the electrical signature of sleep that you have when you're taking those medications, it's not the same as a normal night of sleep.
health  sleep 
4 weeks ago
Thinking Like a Mountain | Issue 29 | n+1
Wohlleben’s emphasis on interdependence and mutual aid is part of a recent tendency to recast nature in an egalitarian fashion — as cooperative, nonindividualist, and, often enough, hybrid and queer, in contrast to the oaks of generals and kings. Nature does answer faithfully to the imaginative imperatives and limitations of its observers, so it was inevitable that after centuries of viewing forests as kingdoms, then as factories (and, along the way, as cathedrals for Romantic sentiment), the 21st century would discover a networked information system under the leaves and humus, what Wohlleben calls, with an impressive lack of embarrassment, a “wood wide web.” But where he is really unchecked is in his inferences from events to behavior, from pattern to consciousness. The subtitle of the English translation of The Hidden Life of Trees is What They Feel, How They Communicate. Wohlleben tells us that trees have “experience,” that some “true friends” check their growth out of self-restraint (these are also the trees that keep their friends’ roots alive for centuries after logging), and that when plants respond to a vibration at 220 hertz, “the grasses [are] registering this frequency, so it makes sense to say they ‘heard’ it.”
trees  nature 
4 weeks ago
Study finds that students themselves, not professors, lead some to become more liberal in college
Dodson's analysis of the data shows that students who get engaged academically are likely to increase their time talking about political issues and becoming engaged in civic life.
With regard to political views, academic engagement promoted moderation. "[T]he results indicate -- in contrast to the concerns of many conservative commentators -- that academic involvement generally moderates attitudes," Dodson writes. "While conservative students do become more liberal as a result of academic involvement, liberals become more conservative as a result of their academic involvement. Indeed it appears that a critical engagement with a diverse set of ideas -- a hallmark of the college experience -- challenges students to re-evaluate the strength of their political convictions."
The data on student activities demonstrate the opposite impact: The more involved that liberal students get, the more liberal they become, while the more involved conservative students get, the more conservative they become."This finding suggests that students seek out and engage with familiar social environments -- a choice that leads to the strengthening of their political beliefs."
academentia  academe  politics 
4 weeks ago
The relentless honesty of Ludwig Wittgenstein | Ian Ground
The Philosophical Investigations discusses the nature of language and mind, and the confusions about both to which Wittgenstein thought we and our culture are inevitably prone. He seeks to explore the conception of ourselves he had so completely articulated in the Tractatus: that we are fundamentally thinking, knowing, representing beings. And to expose this conception as a deeply engrained set of mutually reinforcing illusions and confusions, mistakes and myths. He attempts this not or not mostly by what philosophy traditionally regards as argument. For a picture is not the kind of thing against which one can argue. Rather his aim is to break the grip of the pictures of mind and meaning that “hold us captive”. Thought experiments, reminders of perfectly ordinary facts of life or ways of speaking, striking juxtapositions, elaborate lists of examples and a host of disputing voices are all brought into play. All the time, he is criss-crossing the same landscape in different directions, offering sketches, partial and incomplete, of what he finds and trying to map how apparently distinct positions on the nature of mind and of language are connected together. Just as in the Tractatus, in the Philosophical Investigations, the task of philosophy is not to advance claims or theories, but to be a never-ending activity of seeking clarity about the ways that we think. One difference from the earlier work is that the Philosophical Investigations gives us not a single ladder to climb. Instead it shows us the paths up a series of hills and promontories, from which we may gain different overviews of the landscape and, with luck, see the light gradually dawn.
5 weeks ago
Andrej Babis: The Czech Republic has a Trump of its own.
At this point, authoritarian populists are in power in a large part of the world: They are reshaping the political system in India and the United States, in Turkey and the Philippines. In a huge swath of Central and Eastern Europe, they dominate outright. A few weeks from now, it will likely be possible to drive all the way from the North Sea to the Aegean without ever leaving what we might call the “populist belt”: Populists already dominate the governments of Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, and Greece. If Babiš wins in the Czech Republic, and a coalition between the conservative People’s Party and the far-right Freedom Party takes power in Austria, the populist realm will cover a vast contiguous landmass in the heart of Europe.

This scary transformation is thoroughly disheartening in its own right. Central Europe’s liberation from Soviet domination has been one of the great, inspiring victories for human freedom in the twentieth century. Now, many of the same countries that finally found the power to determine their own fate some three decades ago are voluntarily surrendering it to a homebred flavor of suppression. In a young century already rich in ironies, freedom’s suicide in Central Europe deserves pride of place. But at the same time, the threat to liberal democracy in Central Europe also holds two lessons that are of great relevance well beyond the region, including the United States.

First, political scientists have long been far too optimistic about the ultimate fate of democracy. They were dangerously mistaken when they concluded that democracy in countries like Poland, Hungary, or the Czech Republic had consolidated. They were dangerously naïve in thinking that Polish democracy could weather the election of a populist like Lech Kaczynski or that Hungarian democracy would weather the election of a populist like Viktor Orban. And this means that they may also be dangerously wrong in thinking that the United States is almost sure to weather a continued onslaught by Trump (or the more competent populists who may one day succeed him).

Second, and just as importantly, the comfortable assumption that no true ideological alternative to liberal democracy would emerge over time has turned out to be wrong. While authoritarian countries like Iran or China have long been expanding their influence, they never represented a true ideological threat to the democratic heartland: Islamist theocracy was never likely to conquer Iowa. State capitalism under the guise of communism was unlikely to win many adherents in South Dakota.
politics  Europe  populism 
5 weeks ago
Is the American Idea Doomed? - The Atlantic
With democracy in retreat abroad, its contradictions and shortcomings exposed at home, and its appeal declining with each successive generation, it’s 1857 all over again. But if the challenges are the same, the solution may also be familiar. Vitriol and divisiveness are commonly blamed for the problems of contemporary politics. But Americans aren’t fighting too hard; they’re engaged in the wrong fights. The universalism of the left and cultural nationalism of the right are battering America’s sense of common national purpose. Under attack on both flanks, and weakened by its failure to deliver exceptional results, the nation’s shared identity is crumbling.

Americans have been most successful when fighting over how to draw closer to the promise of their democracy; how to fulfill their threefold commitment to equality, rights, and opportunity; and how to distribute the resulting prosperity. They have been held together by the conviction that the United States had a unique mission, even as they debated how to pursue it.

The greatest danger facing American democracy is complacence. The democratic experiment is fragile, and its continued survival improbable. Salvaging it will require enlarging opportunity, restoring rights, and pursuing equality, and thereby renewing faith in the system that delivers them. This, really, is the American idea: that prosperity and justice do not exist in tension, but flow from each other. Achieving that ideal will require fighting as if the fate of democracy itself rests upon the struggle—because it does.
politics  democracy 
5 weeks ago
How the Academic Elite Reproduces Itself - The Chronicle of Higher Education
What we are imagining, by contrast, is a new form of algorithmic openness, in which computation is used not as an afterthought or means of searching for things that have already been selected and sorted, but instead as a form of forethought, as a means of generating more diverse ecosystems of knowledge. What values do we care about in terms of human knowledge and how can we use the tools of data science to capture and more adequately represent those values in our system of scholarly communication? Instead of subject indexes and citation rankings, imagine filtering by institutional diversity, citational novelty, matters of public concern, or any number of other priorities. How might we encode these values to create smarter, more adaptable, and more open platforms and practices?

It is clear from our study and others like it that elite institutions continue to be the locus of the practices, techniques, virtues, and values that have come to define modern academic knowledge. They diffuse it, whether in the form of academic labor (personnel) or ideas (publication), from a concentrated center to a broader periphery. Using digital technologies to guide the circulation of knowledge does not inherently make one complicit in the "neoliberalization and corporatization" of higher education or a practitioner of "weapons of math destruction," to use the data scientist Cathy O’Neil’s well-turned phrase. Wisely and openly used, such technologies can help us not only reveal, but potentially undo, longstanding disparities of institutional concentration. It is time we built a scholarly infrastructure that is more inclusive and more responsive to a broader range of voices, including those outside of the academy.
theory  criticism 
5 weeks ago
How do novelists write about faith in a culture that's moving past it? | The Christian Century
But although people go on writing this kind of story of religious life all over the planet, there hasn’t been a lot of Trollope or of Pym produced locally, lately; not in Western Europe, not in England. And I think our position in a culture where the religious tide has gone a very long way out, by global standards—leaving us on these secular mudflats, surrounded by curious shells and rusty bicycles—shows us something that may not be apparent in other places, which is that the apparently descriptive, merely curious village-life novel of faith did in fact quietly depend on a metaphysical commitment. It was (is) built on a shared assumption between writer and reader that a disposition of life around religion makes sense. Makes, in fact, such basic sense that the sense it makes can be left offstage and the author can concentrate on all the secondary human consequences of that sense, ramifying all over the place in lovely narrative patterns. But when that underlying assump­tion is removed, the village life of Christians stops being just another intelligibly villagey panorama and becomes mysterious. It dwindles into anthropology, to be explained as it goes; it becomes exotic, science-fictional, a zoo for the bizarre; it becomes a mode of story, often, whose point is to criticize, to indicate a confinement from which the characters could—should—break free.

To say this is not to buy into the legend that some kind of definitive secular disenchantment is available, after which everything will only mean what it really means, and our lives, and presumably our fictions, will stand on the plain, real ground. The Christian mythology may go away, but the mythic dimension of experience will not; any plausible human life will remythicize far faster than Richard Dawkins can keep up with, brandishing the hedge trimmer of “reason.” The New Atheists are trying to carve the Green Man into static topiary, and it won’t work. But particular bonds of sympathy can certainly be severed. The simplest way of putting this is that there won’t be much of a market for a book called Scenes from Clerical Life if no one has a clue what the life of the clergy is like.

Oddly, then, the further that Chris­tianity recedes from most people’s everyday experience, the less available be­comes the apparently most straightforward way of representing it. And the more important become the other ways in which the life of faith can take on fictive life.
fiction  writing  christian  religion 
5 weeks ago
An Oral History of ‘Batman: The Animated Series’
I had worked on a bunch of action-adventure shows for TV before, and every single one of them, I thought, was overdesigned. They were trying to impress people with the amount of detail. On G.I. Joe, especially, it wasn’t enough just to draw a belt on a character, the belt had seams and buttons and snaps and pockets. There’s no good reason to draw every shoelace on a shoe. Just make it a simple shape. That was Eric’s and my basic idea for the entire series, to simplify everything. The characters and the vehicles and the props and the cars and everything — just boil everything down to its essential ingredient. We both were big fans of the Fleischer Studios cartoons from the 1940s. It was a combination of that and film-noir movies and things like Citizen Kane. We did get a lot of pushback from different people, even people who had seen the pilot and were impressed by that. They would say, “Oh, you’re gonna make the show look more detailed and it’ll look more like a comic book, right?” And we were like, “No, it’s gonna look like this. This works. And we know this is gonna work.”
animation  art  design 
5 weeks ago
Intelligence Reconsidered
This also leads to an obsession with the goals an AI might pursue through its thinking. Functional thinkers seem to unconsciously conceive of AIs in their own image, via projection: as means-ends reasoners that think in order to achieve something, not because they enjoy it. They might be conceived as vastly more capable, and harboring goals that are be inscrutable to humans ("maximizing paperclips collected" has traditionally been the placeholder inscrutable goal attributed to superintelligences), but they are fundamentally imagined as means-ends functional superintelligences, that use their god-like brains as a means to achieve god-like ends. We do not ask whether AIs might think because they enjoy thinking. Or whether they might be capable of experiencing "interestingness" as a positive feedback loop variable driving open-ended, energy "wasting" pleasure-thinking.

This would be a remarkably interesting project incidentally, trying to develop an interestingness powered AI that thinks because it likes to, in a spirit of playfulness, not because it thinks curiosity-driven exploration will gain it more paperclips. To my knowledge, Juergen Schmidhuber is the only prominent researcher thinking along these lines to some extent. The only place I've seen this distinction made clearly at all is Hannah Arendt's book, The Human Condition (she made a distinction between "thought" as brain activity qua brain activity, and "cognition" as brains engaged in means-end reasoning, and argued that the latter necessarily leads to nihilism, which, if you think about it, can be defined as thought annihilating itself). Mihaly Csikzentmihaly's work on "flow", from where I am borrowing the term "autotelic," touches on the role of such thinking in creative work, but oddly enough fails to explore the deep distinction between functional and autotelic intelligence. 
AI  intelligence 
5 weeks ago
Blade Runner and the power of sci-fi world-building.
The most powerful idea to come from Minority Report may not be any of its particular tech innovations or predictions, but rather the filmmakers’ methodology for world-building itself. Production designer McDowell has created a whole academic program around the Minority Report approach to world-building, with which he hopes to “bring a narrative lens to bear on real-world situations.” He and his students at the World Building Media Lab at the University of Southern California have envisioned the future of sustainable transportation with the Ford-sponsored City of Tomorrow project, worked with the Obama White House to design the refugee camps of the future, and imagined what life in the floating village of Makoko in Lagos will be like in 2036. As McDowell told me, “The big difference between what we’re doing with world-building and what you might call ‘futurism’ or ‘science fiction prototyping’ is that we are using fiction as a disruptor,” seeking not just to predict but to change the future:
We have control over the narrative here. We want a different outcome. So, let’s create a narrative—a fictional world space with multiple narratives—that is moving in the direction we want it to go. Extrapolate that forward over the near horizon, then thread our discoveries back into the present and use that to change direction in our present and move towards a new future.

At their best, dystopian visions like those in Blade Runner—and now Blade Runner 2049—are helpful self-preventing prophecies, warning us about the futures we want to avoid. But it turns out that the most lasting gifts of movies like Blade Runner, 2001, and Minority Report may be world-building techniques like McDowell’s, which can help us build our own world and design a future that we actually want to live in.
futurism  SF 
5 weeks ago
The Lost Books of Photios' Bibliotheca - History for Atheists
Far from being less likely to still be extant, the non-Christian works in Photios’ list are actually slightly more likely to survive (60.29%) than the Christian works he mentions (54.16%). This is despite the fact that most of the “pagan” and Jewish works he mentions are much older than most of the Christian works. Of course, Photios only tells us about the books he has read so his list is a snapshot, not a fully representative sample. The Christian books he mentions are heavily skewed toward theological disputations, sermons and scriptural commentaries and the non-Christian works are mainly historical works, speeches and lexicons rather than philosophy or the natural sciences. But probably the other key finding here is exactly how much of the Christian material is no longer extant: a full 45.84% of the works he mentions. If it were mainly “indifference” that accounted for the loss of ancient works, this percentage would be much lower for the works that Christians cared more about. The fact it is so high indicates that while some indifference probably played a part, keeping any work in circulation in this period was a battle against the historical odds.
history  atheism 
5 weeks ago
A Europe We Can Believe In
2.Europe,inallitsrichnessandgreatness,isthreatenedbyafalseun- AfalseEuropethreatensus. derstanding of itself. This false Europe imagines itself as a ful lment
of our civilization, but in truth it will con scate our home. It ap-
peals to exaggerations and distortions of Europe’s authentic virtues
while remaining blind to its own vices. Complacently trading in one-sided caricatures of our history, this false Europe is invincibly prejudiced against the past. Its proponents are orphans by choice, and they presume that to be an orphan—to be homeless—is a no- ble achievement. In this way, the false Europe praises itself as the forerunner of a universal community that is neither universal nor a community. [...]

21. Europe’s intellectual classes are, alas, among the chief ideolog- ical partisans of the conceits of the false Europe. Without doubt, our universities are one of the glories of European civilization. But where once they sought to transmit to each new generation the wis- dom of past ages, today most within the universities equate critical thinking with a simpleminded repudiation of the past. A lodestar of the European spirit has been the rigorous discipline of intellectual honesty and objectivity. But over the past two generations, this noble ideal has been transformed. The asceticism that once sought to free the mind of the tyranny of dominant opinion has become an often complacent and unre ective animus against everything that is our own. This stance of cultural repudiation functions as a cheap and easy way of being ‘critical.’ Over the last generation, it has been rehearsed in the lecture halls, becoming a doctrine, a dogma. And to join in professing this creed is taken to be the mark of ‘enlightenment,’ and of spiritual election. As a consequence, our universities are now active agents of ongoing cultural destruction.
5 weeks ago
Overcoming Bias : Foom Justifies AI Risk Efforts Now
Returning to the basic problem of rogue systems, some forsee a rapid local “intelligence explosion”, sometimes called “foom”, wherein one initially small system quickly becomes vastly more powerful than the entire rest of the world put together. And, yes, if such a local explosion might happen soon, then it could make more sense for the rest of us today, not just those most directly involved, to worry about how to keep control of future rogue AI. [...]

Note that to believe in such a local explosion scenario, it is not enough to believe that eventually machines will be very smart, even much smarter than are humans today. Or that this will happen soon. It is also not enough to believe that a world of smart machines can overall grow and innovate much faster than we do today. One must in addition believe that an AI team that is initially small on a global scale could quickly become vastly better than the rest of the world put together, including other similar teams, at improving its internal abilities.

If a foom-like explosion can quickly make a once-small system more powerful than the rest of the world put together, the rest of the world might not be able to use law, competition, social norms, or politics to keep it in check. Safety can then depend more on making sure that such exploding systems start from safe initial designs.

In another post I may review arguments for and against the likelihood of foom. But in this one I’m content to just point out that the main reason for society, as opposed to particular projects, to be concerned about AI risk is either foom, or an ambition to place all future generations under the tight control of a current generation. So a low estimate of the probability of foom can imply a much lower social value from working on AI risk now.
6 weeks ago
The Perils of Confession as a Public Act | Comment Magazine
ll of which points to a realization now dawning on a great many Christians, including even some hitherto entirely nominal ones, that nothing less than an intense, whole‐souled, and seriously demanding church life is adequate to the conditions of today's world. For many years we have been able to rely on a mainstream public culture that carried along much of the form and weight of Christian moral commitments, even if it did not consciously or explicitly carry the substance of them. But that is no longer the case. The culture cannot be relied on, not for now or for the foreseeable future, particularly in matters as delicate as the forms of public confession, where it distorts what it does not abjure entirely. Perhaps it could never be relied on. The persistence in our public life of pathological levels of guilt and moral accusation, accompanied by false forms of pseudo‐expiation, which so often work to poison our common life rather than cleanse it, is an indication that the forms themselves have taken on a perverse life of their own, separated from the moral and transcendental convictions that gave rise to them.

This does not mean that the only answer is wholesale withdrawal from the world, although some might feel legitimately called to that. But it does mean the sustenance of thick and morally demanding ecclesiastical communities, willing and able to be "against the world for the world," if we are to carry these things forward and nurture them. We have settled for too long for an emaciated and diminished idea of what the church can and should be. Circumstances now have delivered us from that illusion. We should be thankful for that.
church  BenOp 
6 weeks ago
Barbarian Virtues | The Nation
But in the end it is not so much that Scott is unfair to what people have long glorified as civilization, since he shines a powerful light on its dark side. It is not so much, either, that he romanticizes the lives of those who were dismissed as “savages” by their often murderous enemies, dazzlingly highlighting strategies of resistance by ordinary people past and present. In fact, Scott’s case for the prosecution, and his attempt to bear witness to those defending themselves against states, have always been the most arresting and unforgettable features of his work. But when he turns judge, Scott condemns civilization according to standards that are civilization’s—and modernity’s—own, without ever reflecting on this fact.

“Philosophers who have examined the foundations of society have all felt the necessity of going back to the state of nature,” Jean-Jacques Rousseau once remarked, “but none of them has reached it.” A sometime primitivist like Scott, Rousseau wanted to overturn his predecessor Thomas Hobbes’s depiction of pre-state life as nasty, brutish, and short, by showing that civilized life had produced the evils superimposed on the natural condition of humanity. But two can play that game. What if the very standards by which its inhabitants find their civilization still wanting are owed to civilization itself? If freedom and equality are things that only a specific set of events in the modern history of the state has allowed us to value, then Scott’s project to go back before its origin to find earlier expressions of them is a projection onto our ancestors, not the discovery of an alternative world to be won by turning our backs on modernity. And it is surely no excuse to give up the task of saving our civilizations and states in the name of the modern values only they have allowed propounding.

Yet Scott is so enamored with the versatility of our hunting-and-gathering ancestors—especially when compared with the monotonies of grain cultivation—that he never thinks to describe how they -interpreted the freedom and equality he assigns to them. He never confronts the possibility that only a new kind of state could make new kinds of ideals possible, including his own. His fascinating presentation of human self-domestication is a highlight of Against the Grain. But like Clastres—and, more indirectly, Friedrich Nietzsche before him—Scott is implicitly judging the state wanting by criteria that are unthinkable without its rise. He not only ignores the tremendous defects of “uncivilized” life, but he also fails to reflect on the absence in it of the ideals of liberty and equality that alone could justify his admiration. Scott is a product of the modern state who does not care to know it.
politics  history  economics 
6 weeks ago
Litigating the Line Between Past and Present — Bunk
Gill has also attracted a “historians’ brief”—a type of amicus brief that has become increasingly common in recent years. But the past it returns to is not the 1960s, but the 1780s. “Having rejected and cast off the British notion of ‘virtual representation,’” the brief explains, the revolutionary generation of Americans “demanded a close correspondence between the sovereign people and their legislative assemblies.” Partisan gerrymandering thus violates “the vision of actual representation that was central to the Framers.” Perhaps the Gill historians’ brief, structured around the 18th-century concepts of “actual” and “virtual” representation, will speak to the justices in a way that John Lewis’s memory of getting bludgeoned could not. For it’s a telling paradox about American legal culture that those jurists most eager to invoke the 18th-century past—under the banner of the various modes of “originalism” long in vogue on the legal right—often display less interest in more recent events. Such as the Reconstruction-era debates that forged the Fourteenth Amendment – the provision ostensibly at issue in “equal protection” cases like Gill. Or what happened on the Pettus Bridge almost a century later, within the lifetime of every member of the Supreme Court that decided Shelby County. As children or young adults, the justices may well have watched Bloody Sunday unfold on television, and yet five of them concluded that it must have happened someplace else, in some erstwhile country.
law  politics  history 
6 weeks ago
Revolutionary Possibility
The argument of Embassytown is itself a simile, struggling to become a metaphor, which is in turn struggling to become a truth. The simile is between the revolution the Arieki undergo and the revolution that Miéville wants to see us embark upon. He depicts the aliens changing through revolution from creatures whose thinking is ontologically different to our own (is, in a sense, not thinking at all), to creatures who share our condition, with all its possibilities and ambiguities. Miéville suggests that if we were to undergo revolution, we would ourselves be as radically transformed as the Arieki, so that the world in which we are now trapped would seem incommensurable and inexplicable to our future selves or descendants. For us, too, the possibility of revolution seems like a lie. Yet that lie can be transformed into a truth.

The hope that revolution promises can never be realized by us as we are now. More profoundly, the hope that it actually embodies is unimaginable, since to be able to imagine it is to have undergone it. From this side, we cannot see what the other side looks like. The promise of revolution is inevitably a lie, right up to the moment when the revolutionary transformation occurs, because the person making the promise cannot possibly understand that to which she is committing.
politics  history  SF 
6 weeks ago
i would take the ‘not critical enough’ gesture in a different direction. That is, the prevalent historical interpretive discourse persists in treating the most recent historical interpretations as self-evidently ‘true’ or ‘correct’. But if we have any historical awareness at all, we recognise that today’s self-evidently true conclusions are tomorrow’s risibly out-dated error. The biblical interpretation indistry invests contemporary historical discernment with an authority incommensurate with its inevitable transience. Miracle stories may be accurate or not, but the restless necessity that interpretive judgement keep changing is a matter that any casual observer can verify.
bible  interpretation 
6 weeks ago
Trump’s Empty Culture Wars - The New York Times
A good culture war is one that, beneath all the posturing and demagogy and noise, has clear policy implications, a core legal or moral question, a place where one side can win a necessary victory or where a new consensus can be hashed out. A bad culture war is one in which attitudinizing, tribalism and worst-case fearmongering float around unmoored from any specific legal question, in which mutual misunderstanding reigns and a thousand grievances are stirred up without a single issue being clarified or potentially resolved.

Unfortunately for us all Donald Trump is a master, a virtuoso, of the second kind of culture war — and a master, too, of taking social and cultural debates that could be important and necessary and making them stupider and emptier and all about himself.

He is not the only figure pushing American arguments in that direction — cable news, reality TV, campus protesters and late-night political “comedy” all have a similar effect these days. But he is the president, which lends him a unique deranging influence, and he is unique as well in that unlike most culture warriors — who are usually initially idealists, however corrupted they may ultimately become — he has never cared about anything higher or nobler than himself, and so he’s never happier than when the entire country seems to be having a culture war about, well, Donald Trump.
politics  election2016 
7 weeks ago
Noahpinion: What we didn't get
Unlike faster-than-light travel and artificial gravity, we have no theory telling us that we can't have strong AI or a Singularity or personality upload. (Well, some people have conjectures as to reasons we couldn't, but these aren't solidly proven theories like General Relativity.) But we also don't really have any idea how to start making these things. What we call AI isn't yet a general intelligence, and we have no idea if any general intelligence can be self-improving (or would want to be!). Personality upload requires an understanding of the brain we just don't have. We're inching closer to true nanotech, but it still seems far off.

So there's a possibility that the starry-eyed Singularitan sci-fi of the 00s will simply never come to pass. Like the future of starships and phasers, it might become a sort of pop retrofuture - fodder for fun Hollywood movies, but no longer the kind of thing anyone thinks will really happen. Meanwhile, technological progress might move on in another direction - biotech? - and another savvy generation of Jules Vernes and William Gibsons might emerge to predict where that goes.
7 weeks ago
Truth? It’s not just about the facts – TheTLS
Once we prise open a distinction between truth-as-meaning and truth-as-fact, all sorts of “truths” become possible beyond what can be established by reason and evidence alone. Contemporary religion has been good at exploiting this opportunity. In response to the charge that science has made religion redundant at best, demonstrably false at worst, many believers have retorted that religion is concerned with a different kind of truth from that of science and so cannot be falsified by it. Most famously, Stephen J. Gould argued that while “Science tries to document the factual character of the natural world”, religion  “operates in the equally important, but utterly different, realm of human purposes, meanings, and values”.

Many find this idea of “Non-Overlapping Magisteria” of human inquiry attractive but keeping them apart is easier said than done. The religious tend to end up concerned with facts about the world as well as values. With Christians, I find this is usually made clear by the “empty tomb test”. When an articulate, theologically sophisticated believer starts expressing some version of the two magisteria view, one can ask: is it important for your faith that Christ’s tomb was found empty, and not because someone had sneaked his body out? It’s a rare Christian who says this doesn’t matter at all. Central to the faith of most is a supposed fact about a historical event, the everyday kind of truth which we are all concerned with.
[This is exactly correct]
philosophy  atheism 
7 weeks ago
AA Milne, Christopher Robin and the curse of Winnie-the-Pooh | Books | The Guardian
The House at Pooh Corner stands in a glade between two dark shadows – the aftermath of one war that had just finished and the dread of one coming. No one who fought in the first world war knew it was the first world war. On the contrary, they had been told that they were fighting the war that would end all wars. It must have been with the most bitter irony and failure, then, that Milne’s generation watched their children march away to a war that they had been told would never happen. The Milnes received that dreaded telegram telling them their son was missing in action and presumed he was dead. This could have happened to anyone; this was feared by everyone. It’s there – something you can build a film around. It’s the shadow that makes the carefree days in the Hundred Acre Wood tremble and shimmer with their own fragility. They are suffused with a sense that happiness is possible and valid even though we know it is short-lived. It’s a feeling that is expressed with peculiar intensity in the political situation of the between-the-war years, but which applies to everyone everywhere all the time.
childhood  modbrit 
7 weeks ago
Liturgy and Theology | Kurt Marquart
Aidan Kavanagh:

Theology on this primordial level is thus a sustained dialectic. Its thesis is the assembly as it enters into the liturgical act; its antithesis is the assembly's changed condition as it comes away from its liturgical encounter with the living God in Word and sacrament; its synthesis is the assembly's adjustment in faith and works to that encounter. The adjustment comprises whole sets of acts both great and small, conscious and unconscious, all of which add up to a necessarily critical and reflective theology. . . .

One was called secondary theology, about which we talk a lot. The other was called primary theology, about which we talk little if at all. . . . A liturgical act is a theological act of the most all-encompassing, integral, and foundational kind. . . . It is this constantly modulating, self-critical, and reflective adjustment to God-wrought change in the assembly's life of faith which constitutes the condition for doing all other forms of theology and of understanding the Word of God. It is not so much an isolated act as it is a state of continuing discourse within the worshipping fellowship, and the state is graced, self-critical, reflective, and altogether primary. It is the wellspring out of which the river of secondary theology arises and begins its flow by twists and turns to the sea. It is what liturgy enacts. ..the immense gravitational pull exerted by secondary theology makes all this not easy to do.
theology  liturgy  Catholic  Anglican 
8 weeks ago
How political ignorance strengthens the case for libertarianism - The Washington Post
Foot voters face information problems just like ballot box voters do. But they usually handle them better. Most people probably devote greater time and effort to seeking out information when they choose which car or television set to buy, than when they decide who to vote for in even the most important election. The reason is simple: the decision you make about the car or TV set is likely to make an actual difference to the outcome, whereas the chance that a ballot box voting decision will ever do so is infinitesimally small. Both historical and experimental evidence suggest that foot voters both acquire more information than ballot box voters and evaluate it in a less biased way.

Just as foot voting can help diminish the harm caused by voter ignorance, it can also alleviate the dangers of planner ignorance. Unlike government planners, foot voters can take advantage of market prices to make decisions, thereby availing themselves of the information about resource trade-offs contained in them. In addition, they, unlike the planners, have what Hayek called “local knowledge” of their own preferences. Thus, they are in a better position to judge whether, for example, a particular risk is worth taking, given those preferences.
libertarian  politics 
8 weeks ago
Reasons to tolerate - The Washington Post
Our social and political lives are far more complex than our market lives – why would we think that a central planner, whether that came in the form of a single person, or a single way of thinking embodied by a perspective and its attendant political philosophy, could do a good job of determining the right rules or policies for governance? No political theory captures everything that we have reason to care about – the world is far too messy. Instead, we need a competition amongst various perspectives, bringing new insights to bear on how we can piece together the rules for living together.

This way of thinking, which I develop in considerably more detail in my recent book, Social Contract Theory for a Diverse World: Beyond Tolerance, suggests that we have a self-interested reason for not just tolerance, but a positive interest in fostering a more diverse society. All of our perspectives are limited, but creating a political environment where many different perspectives compete helps us discover a better set of rules for all of us to live by.
libertarian  politics 
8 weeks ago
Not Trained By Angels | Comment Magazine
Althusius would've been quite happy to endorse Wolterstorff's description of the church as an institution born from above by the power of the Spirit—the community to which God has specifically gifted his presence, his sacraments, and his Spirit. At the same time, the church comes together in ways that are analogous to other human communities. We (in principle, at least) recognize Christ as Lord, desire to live in accordance with the norms of Christian discipleship, and hope to share in the fellowship promised to us through the power of the Spirit. The content of these common goods may differ from those in the political community, but they function in a similar way. These two communities are two different species, we might say, of the same genus.

If all of this is true, it shouldn't surprise us that the ways we are formed by the church affect our other relationships—and also the ways we are malformed. This is the flipside: vicious forms of power corrupt all sorts of communities, not just the church, and not just the political community. Since structures of authority do not drop out of heaven, since we are not in fact trained by angels, we must be on the lookout for the ways human communities may have warped our desires and our very selves. Since authority emerges from the ground up, we'll need to work doubly hard to pursue safeguards and structures that protect social relationships from the forces that threaten them.
8 weeks ago
Latin Mass: William F. Buckley Jr. Lamented Its Passing | National Review
And the translations! Happy the Humble — they shall inherit . . . One cannot read on without the same sense of outrage one would feel on entering the Cathedral of Chartres and finding that the windows had been replaced with pop-art figures of Christ sitting-in against the slumlords of Milwaukee. One’s heart is filled with such passions of resentment and odium as only Hilaire Belloc could adequately have voiced. O God O God O God, why has thou forsaken us! My faith, I note on their taking from us even the Canon of the Mass in that mysterious universal which soothed and inspired the low and the mighty, a part of the Mass — as Evelyn Waugh recalled — “for whose restoration the Elizabethan martyrs had gone to the scaffold [in which] St. Augustine, St. Thomas à Becket, St. Thomas More, Challoner and Newman would have been perfectly at their ease among us,” is secure. I pray the sacrifice will yield a rich harvest of informed Christians. But to suppose that it will is the most difficult act of faith I have ever been called upon to make, because it tears against the perceptions of all my senses. My faith is a congeries of dogmatical certitudes, one of which is that the new liturgy is the triumph, yea the Resurrection, of the Philistines.
8 weeks ago
Never Stop Making Moral and Religious Arguments | National Review
There are two things (at least) that render these arguments utterly absurd. First, I note that the admonitions about moral arguments tend to run only one way. The Left’s cultural success isn’t built on charts and graphs and health statistics but rather on moral arguments about dignity, fairness, and fulfillment. And yes they “judge” their ideological and religious opponents. Accusations of bigotry are intended as deeply personal condemnations.

The bottom line is that moral arguments have real power, and they’re even more powerful if only one side is making them. That’s doubly true for religious arguments. Progressive Christians have no trouble quoting scripture to support progressive arguments. Yet all too many conservatives fall for the claim that “no one cares” what the Bible says when standing on orthodox Christian moral principle.
ethics  religion  politics  HTT 
8 weeks ago
Iain Sinclair’s farewell to London | Books | The Guardian
I carried with me the imprint of fire and water: repeat excursions over the same ground. Fractal patterns of pondweed on which new coots have to learn to walk rather than paddle. Viridian swirls of instant derangement from tattered nitrous oxide balloons on London Fields are earthed by the heat from old bricks in the wall of the Beehive Foundry. Physical work is still going on. All the dramas of our lost London are enacted within a few yards of the railway bridge crossing the Regent’s Canal at Mare Street, Hackney.
8 weeks ago
A Tragedy of Manners | Angela Nagle
The problem in our current, unacknowledged controversy over manners is that while both sides seem to implicitly accept this premise, they have directly opposing views of what our system of manners should be doing and what values it should be normalizing. As a result, a chaos reigns on all sides; constraints are eagerly thrown off in a gesture of liberation but then elsewhere more harshly enforced than ever. The incoherent tumult of the present moment’s culture wars masks what is, at bottom, a battle over what this shared system of manners will be. And if Trumpism has taught us nothing else, it should be this: the prim-sounding process by which our public manners are defined and negotiated may well be the key to everything else.
9 weeks ago
Sapping Attention: "Peer review" is younger than you think. Does that mean it can go away?
Historian of science Alex Czsisar wrote a short piece for Nature in 2016 ... where he says this, which is very much along the same lines.
'Peer review' was a term borrowed from the procedures that government agencies used to decide who would receive financial support for scientific and medical research. When 'referee systems' turned into 'peer review', the process became a mighty public symbol of the claim that these powerful and expensive investigators of the natural world had procedures for regulating themselves and for producing consensus, even though some observers quietly wondered whether scientific referees were up to this grand calling.

All of this suggests, though it doesn't prove, that the shift to a language of "peer review" involves a model of research that draws on a nationally organized scientific funding system that merges with a series of older traditions. Most of the histories of peer review in the sciences note how late journals were to adopt it: leading British publications like the Lancet and Nature don't take up outside peer reviewers until the 1970s.

If the history of peer review in the sciences is young, the history of peer review in the humanities is even younger.
9 weeks ago
Seeing the Confederacy Clear: On the terrible issue of monuments and all that | National Review
What was the Confederacy? Earlier this week, I recorded a podcast with George F. Will. What he said, spoke for me. “The Confederates tried to destroy our country. That’s kind of a serious business. … And they tried to destroy our country in the name of the ultimate human evil, which is the complete annihilation of freedom we call slavery. So there’s no point in investing the Lost Cause with glamour and romance. It was an execrable movement with a hideous objective.”

If I were a reporter in Virginia, I would like to ask Ed Gillespie, “Are you glad the Confederates lost the war?” Another way to say that is, “Are you glad the United States hung together and that slavery was abolished?” I wonder what he would say — in the home stretch of the campaign, I mean.

Lately, I have taken to adapting a comment I once heard Richard Brookhiser make. My line is, “I come from the pro-freedom, anti-slavery branch of conservatism.” I have no nostalgia whatsoever for the Confederacy or the Lost Cause. I’m glad that the Lost Cause is a lost cause, and not a won cause. I believe that the cause of the Confederacy was evil. (According to Norman Podhoretz, “evil” is “the strongest of all epithets.”) And I count it a great blessing of human history that this cause lost.
politics  south 
9 weeks ago
Will social media kill the novel? Andrew O'Hagan on the end of private life | Books | The Guardian
The other day I taped over the camera on my computer. Then I went upstairs and disabled the data collection capability on the TV. Because of several stories of mine, I’d suffered a few cyber-attacks recently, and, though a paragon of dullness, I decided to greet the future by making it harder to find me. One of the great fights of the 21st century will be the fight for privacy and self-ownership, which is also, to my mind, the struggle for literature as distinct from the dark babble of social media. Writers thrive on privacy, not on Twitter, and so do readers when the lights are low. Giving your sentences thoughtlessly away, and for nothing, seems a small death to contemplation, and does harm to the profession of writing, where you’re paid because you’re good at it. We are all entertainers now, politicians are theatrical in their every move, but even merely passable writers have something large at stake when it comes to opposing the global stupidity contest. Literature, which includes great journalism, might enhance the public sphere but it more precisely enriches the private one, and we are now at the point where privacy, the whole secret history of a people, might be the only corrective we have to the political forces embezzling our times. [...}

It is the habit of the times to organise the ironies embedded in this state of affairs and call it culture. (Just look at reality TV.) And the creative writer, given what I’ve said about metaphor, may have a head start when it comes to investigating that culture – which is why we might do well, now and then, to open the notepad and turn on the recording device. Asked which of the arts was closest to writing, Norman Mailer once told me the answer was “acting”. He talked about an essential loss of ego, a circumstance that most people wouldn’t associate with him. But the principle will be familiar to writers of fiction and non-fiction who are always on the lookout for another life, believing it must be a writer’s business to invest freely in self-transcendence. I believe that is what F Scott Fitzgerald meant when he said there can be no reliable biography of a writer, because “a writer is too many people if he’s any good”.

We were addicted to the ailments of the web long before we understood how the technology would change our lives. In a sense, it gave the tools of fiction-making to everybody equally, so long as they had access to a computer and a willingness to swim into the internet’s deep well of otherness. JG Ballard predicted that the writer would no longer have a role in society. “Given that external reality is a fiction, he does not need to invent the fiction because it is already there,” he wrote. Every day on the web you see his point being made; it is a marketplace of selfhood. With email, everyone can communicate instantly and invisibly, either as themselves or someone else. There are upwards of 67m “invented” names on Facebook, many of them clearly living another life less ordinary, or at any rate less checkable. Encryption has made the average user a ghost – an alias, a simulacrum, a reflection. In this climate, only our buying power makes us real, and what self we have is open to offers of improvement – new eye colour, better insurance, slimmer body – from marketing firms and mobile phone companies who harvest our data before they hand it to governments, who aim to make us visible again in the interests of national security. Maybe Ballard was too pessimistic about the writer’s role: what if she didn’t unplug when confronted with the new fictionalities but inscribed herself into the web and reported back?
media  socialmedia 
9 weeks ago
Civility, Consensus, Constructivism | Peter J. Leithart | First Things
Sartre may be ignored these days, but his “constructivism” has won the day. And here, finally, we get to the ground floor of our “crisis of civility.” Obama spoke for many when he lamented that “we’re unable to listen to one another,” but why should we listen if each of us inhabits a world of his own making? Why should I assume that your world has anything to say to mine? Not even the thin consensus of liberalism can survive Sartre.

Hand-wringing over the harshness of public discourse is understandable, but it’s a classic rearranging-Titanic-furniture phenomenon. We can’t establish or re-establish civility without common adherence to a common good, and we can’t adhere to a common good without a common belief in the very possibility of commonness.
politics  publicsphere 
9 weeks ago
Evangelicalism's Flight 93 Moment: Reflections on the Nashville Statement
The Nashville Statement is the Flight 93 statement. It is striking how similar its defenses have been to arguments that evangelicals should vote for Trump. The sense of crisis the preamble announces is so pervasive that it justifies not just any statement, but this one. Anything else makes the perfect the enemy of the good. One signer told me Article 10 alone should impel me to sign, because the urgency of the hour demands it. ‘Choose ye this day’, the statement announces, and voting third party is clearly a waste. The impulse to close ranks and reassert evangelicalism’s identity publicly and the eagerness to indulge in the rhetorical excess of the statement’s importance have the same roots in the despair that governs our politics. Those Nashville pastors were right to detect an elusive commonality between evangelical support for Trump and the dynamics surrounding this statement, even if the vast majority of its signers were strong and faithful critics of Trump’s campaign.

Only time will tell, but I fear the Nashville Statement will be no more a win for conservative evangelicals than the election of Donald Trump. While it has exposed the silliness of progressive foes, it has also galvanized them and dangerously inflated our confidence in our own rightness and strength. The statement draws some of the right boundaries, but in the wrong way. And at least one boundary ought not to be drawn, or needs to be clarified. It comes to many right conclusions, but reflects principles and ideas that have born bad fruit within evangelicalism.

It is not my perfectionism that animates my resistance to this statement. Rather, it is my abiding concern that the church of Jesus Christ not pursue short-term “wins” like the Nashville Statement at the expense of sowing seeds for the long-term renewal of our own sexual ethics. My concern for the Nashville Statement is thus pastoral; my critique is that the document is not pastoral enough. It is not perfection I am seeking, but the humility to name our sin. The only way forward for an evangelicalism broken by the sexual revolution begins not with the announcement of the truth, but by confessing all those things we have both done and left undone.
9 weeks ago
Orion Magazine | Two Kinds of Wilderness
Though some estimates say that as little as 1 percent of Europe remains in a pristine, wild state, there are thousands of square miles of land that are “near-wilderness” quality. And unlike in the United States where decrying public lands as part of a long-running federal land grab has become a conservative cause célèbre, in Europe there is growing political will to bolster its own inventory of wilderness. In 2009, the EU issued a resolution calling for the “strengthening of wilderness-related policies and measures.” The key piece of that resolution is to “develop” wilderness areas across the eurozone. This legislative effort has given rise to a new ecosystem of environmental NGOs pushing ambitious restoration goals. One group, Wild Europe, for example, is working in various countries to protect old-growth forests and endangered species and is sponsoring restoration projects in eastern Europe. Another organization, Rewilding Europe, is calling for the designation of one million hectares, or 3,800 square miles, of wilderness by 2020. The group is also advocating for the reintroduction of iconic megafauna, such as the European bison, lynx, timber wolf, and red deer.

Unlike the doctrinaire foundational principles of the US Wilderness Act—“an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain”—Europe is working with a more general definition. According to the European Commission, “A wilderness is an area governed by natural processes. It is composed of native habitats and species, and large enough for the effective ecological functioning of natural processes. It is unmodified or only slightly modified and without intrusive or extractive human activity, settlements, infrastructure or visual disturbance.” Where the American definition traffics in philosophical absolutes about what wilderness should be, the European definition presents a more general set of ecological guidelines about what a wilderness could be.
nature  wilderness 
9 weeks ago
Reconstruction of a Train Wreck: How Priming Research Went off the Rails | Replicability-Index
I knew, of course, that the results of priming studies were based on small samples, that the effect sizes were perhaps implausibly large, and that no single study was conclusive on its own. What impressed me was the unanimity and coherence of the results reported by many laboratories. I concluded that priming effects are easy for skilled experimenters to induce, and that they are robust. However, I now understand that my reasoning was flawed and that I should have known better. Unanimity of underpowered studies provides compelling evidence for the existence of a severe file-drawer problem (and/or p-hacking). The argument is inescapable: Studies that are underpowered for the detection of plausible effects must occasionally return non-significant results even when the research hypothesis is true – the absence of these results is evidence that something is amiss in the published record. Furthermore, the existence of a substantial file-drawer effect undermines the two main tools that psychologists use to accumulate evidence for a broad hypotheses: meta-analysis and conceptual replication. Clearly, the experimental evidence for the ideas I presented in that chapter was significantly weaker than I believed when I wrote it. This was simply an error: I knew all I needed to know to moderate my enthusiasm for the surprising and elegant findings that I cited, but I did not think it through. When questions were later raised about the robustness of priming results I hoped that the authors of this research would rally to bolster their case by stronger evidence, but this did not happen.
9 weeks ago
History and theorizing the secular – The Immanent Frame
We are by now intensely familiar with the various critiques that scholars have levelled at notions of the secular in recent decades. These include secularism’s mythologization as an intrinsic feature of modernity, its functions as a cypher for racism and xenophobia, its disavowed legacy to a Christian (or especially Protestant) conception of religion, and so on.

Within such critiques, or in their wake, history most often tends to function as critical genealogy. Retracing the various formations of the secular highlights their embeddedness within contexts (and thereby critiques their assumed universalism) and reveals their culturally specific blind-spots. The point is usually to draw revealing comparisons with contemporary debates. For a historian of nineteenth-century Europe the most prominent example is obviously the French Third Republic, whose earth is perpetually tilled by policymakers in search of justifications, and scholars in search of nuances that reveal the problems inherent in precisely such acts of appropriation.

While I reject neither the desirability nor the unavoidability of history having a political function in the present, I wonder whether this use of the past—and particularly certain pasts, such as that of nineteenth-century France—as the conduit for a critique of contemporary European politics might be yielding diminishing returns. The best work today serves a similar function in relation to the bold claims of contemporary social-scientific theory as it does to the grand narratives of contemporary politics: as a critical friend with its own insights to offer, rather than just a source of case studies. I hope historians will continue to think creatively about the role they can play in contributing to debates over religion and the secular beyond simply providing legions of long-dead reinforcements.
secularity  history  disenchantment 
9 weeks ago
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