Fundamental Materials Research and the Course of Human Civilization - Nicola Spaldin
But this silicon revolution will soon be forced to come to an end as we start to run into fundamental physical limits, set by the size of the individual atoms that make up the silicon material. And this means that the steady march towards faster, smaller lighter products with more and more functionality can't continue within our existing framework. Now, while this might not seem so disastrous (certainly the controls on my smartphone are already smaller than I can see without my reading glasses), it is in fact a profound problem for society: As living standards improve in emerging regions and the “internet of things” becomes more widespread, worldwide use of microelectronics is expanding more rapidly than ever before, so that by most projections more than half of the world’s energy will be consumed by information technologies within a couple of decades. And this is not sustainable. So, we need to take the step beyond the silicon age, we need to develop an entirely new device paradigm, and to do this we need a new material. Without a new material, we are stuck with our existing concepts for information technol- ogy and we have an energy bottleneck in human progress. And fundamental research in Materials Science – very likely with a complete change in direction – underpins the invention of this material. [...]

So, what next? Well, like many others in the Materials Physics community, I’m working to understand the so-called strong correlations between electrons in solids. Why, if one electron somewhere in a material rearranges a little bit, this explicitly and profoundly a ects all of the other electrons. is research is very fundamental and might never lead to anything useful. Even in that case I would argue that it is worthwhile: Exposing the profound beauty of interacting electrons is comparable to imaging the complexity of our galaxy, the satisfaction of finding a new elementary particle at CERN, or the joy of listening to the Tonhalle Orchestra play a Brahms symphony; all activities which as a society we find worthwhile to invest in. On the other hand, understanding strong electron correlations could be the first step towards making a room-temperature superconductor, a material that conducts electricity without any resistance, under everyday conditions. Such a material would revolutionize energy production, transmission and storage: Imagine power grids that don’t lose energy, portable MRI machines, cheap and widespread “Maglev” trains and paradigm shifts in computing technologies. A room-temperature superconductor would be utterly geopolitically transformative. Then I would bet that the next era of human civilization would be named after this as-yet undiscovered material.
science  tech  engineering 
8 hours ago
Mark Lilla Vs. Identity Politics | The American Conservative
I guess that if I were a reformist Republican the lessons I would draw from The Once and Future Liberal would be two. The first is to abandon dogmatic, anti-government libertarianism and learn to start speaking about the common good again. This is a country, a republic, not a campsite or a parking lot where we each stay in our assigned spots and share no common life or purpose. We not only have rights in relation to government and our fellow citizens, we have reciprocal duties toward them. The effectiveness, not the size, of government is what matters. We have a democratic one, fortunately. It is not an alien spaceship sucking out our brains and corrupting the young. Learn to use it, not demonize it.

The second would be to become reality based again. Reaganism may have been good for its time but it cannot address the problems that the country – and Republican voters – face today. What is happening to the American family? How are workers affected by our new capitalism? What kinds of services (i.e., maternity leave, worker retraining) and regulations (i.e., anti-trust) would actually help the economy perform better and benefit us all? What kind of educational system will make our workers more highly skilled and competitive (wrong answer: home schooling)? If you don’t believe me, simply read Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam’s classic The Grand New Party, which laid this all out brilliantly and persuasively a decade ago. It’s been sitting on shelves gathering dust all this time while the party has skidded down ring after ring of the Inferno. (A conservative publisher should bring out an updated version…) Or take a look at the reformicon public policy journal National Affairs.

Oh, and a bonus bit of advice: get off the tit of Fox News. Now. It rots the brain, makes you crazy, ruins your judgment, and turns the demos into a mob, not a people. Find a more centrist Republican billionaire to set up a good, reality based conservative network. And relegate that tree-necked palooka Sean Hannity to a job he’s suited for, like coaching junior high wrestling… [...]

Third, for the conservative movement, the lesson is that you own this. Yes, you are horrified by what happened and you condemn it in no uncertain terms. But you have failed to police your side, you have sanctioned indifference to truth, fallen silent in the face of demagogues (Beck, Palin, Hannity, Trump), tolerated a horrifying internet subculture, demonized your opponents, and inflamed hysteria. By not attacking white nationalism you have abetted it. Just as moderate imams in Europe preferred not to see what was happening in their mosques, so you have been in denial about the environment you created. It is time to pluck the identity beam out of your own eye before complaining any more about left identity politics.
politics  liberalism  conservatism 
13 hours ago
What Swedes Give Up for ‘Free’ Money - WSJ
Six months ago, my 2-year-old niece broke her leg. The physician who treated the girl told my brother-in-law that his daughter would be given a full-body CT scan. The doctor insisted that the procedure was mandatory, but not for any medical reason. Rather, the Swedish social-services administration requires such scans to look for evidence of child abuse. While the doctor did note that the broken leg was the result of an accident, he told my brother-in-law the matter was “out of my hands.”

When the girl’s parents refused to subject her to this unnecessary procedure, the hidden machinery of the Swedish welfare state sprang into motion. My brother-in-law and his wife were required to attend multiple interviews with social workers and to submit friends and neighbors in their small town for questioning. Social workers even inspected their home. Suddenly, decisions as benign as what milk to buy seemed potential evidence of parental deficiency. My in-laws feared their two children might be taken from them.

In Sweden, the state reserves for itself ultimate responsibility for children’s well-being. As a parent my job is to give my kids the trygghet necessary to become productive, tax-paying members of Swedish society. This is why I receive financial support and medical benefits. The state is paying me to be a parent. I am, in effect, an employee—and if I do a poor job, my responsibility as a parent might be taken away from me.
Europe  politics  parenting 
Shtetl-Optimized » Blog Archive » What I believe II (ft. Sarah Constantin and Stacey Jeffery)
I don’t think Google was right to fire Damore. This makes me a minority among people with whom I have discussed this issue. Hopefully some people come out in the comments in support of the other position, so it’s not just me presenting that view, but the main argument I encountered was that what he said just sounded way too sexist for Google to put up with. I agree with part of that, it did sound sexist to me. In fact it also sounded racist to me. But that’s not because he necessarily said anything actually sexist or actually racist, but because he said the kinds of things that you usually only hear from sexist people, and in particular, the kind of sexist people who are also racist. I’m very unlikely to try to pursue further interaction with a person who says these kinds of things for those reasons, but I think firing him for what he said between the lines sets a very bad precedent. It seems to me he was fired for associating himself with the wrong ideas, and it does feel a bit like certain subjects are not up for rational discussion. If Google wants an open environment, where employees can feel safe discussing company policy, I don’t think this contributes to that. If they want their employees, and the world, to think that they aim for diversity because it’s the most rational course of action to achieve their overall objectives, rather than because it serves some secret agenda, like maintaining a PC public image, then I don’t think they’ve served that cause either. Personally, this irritates me the most, because I feel they have damaged the image for a cause I feel strongly about.

My position is independent of the validity of Damore’s attempt at scientific argument, which is outside my area of expertise. I personally don’t think it’s very productive for non-social-scientists to take authoritative positions on social science issues, especially ones that appear to be controversial within the field (but I say this as a layperson). This may include some of the other commentary in this blog post, which I have not yet read, and might even extend to Scott’s decision to comment on this issue at all (but this bridge was crossed in the previous blog post). However, I think one of the reasons that many of us do this is that the burden of solving the problem of too few women in STEM is often placed on us. Some people in STEM feel they are blamed for not being welcoming enough to women (in fact, in my specific field, it’s my experience that the majority of people are very sympathetic). Many scientific funding applications even ask applicants how they plan to address the issue of diversity, as if they should be the ones to come up with a solution for this difficult problem that nobody knows the answer to, and is not even within their expertise. So it’s not surprising when these same people start to think about and form opinions on these social science issues. Obviously, we working in STEM have valuable insight into how we might encourage women to pursue STEM careers, and we should be pushed to think about this, but we don’t have all the answers (and maybe we should remember that the next time we consider authoring an authoritative memo on the subject).
[Stacey Jeffery is a quantum computing theorist at CWI in Amsterdam]
google  gender 
The Law that Dare Not Speak Its Name - The Catholic Thing
Thus, we can ask Hart, why should one embrace your argument? Is it because it provides truth to us, and it is good to embrace the truth? And if it is, what is the basis for believing that embracing the truth is good?

One answer – and the one that seems to make the most sense – is that the human mind is ordered toward the truth: because of its form, the mind’s end is the acquisition of knowledge and wisdom. For this reason, if Hart is correct, one would lack virtue if one intentionally and willfully rejected his case.

But such a judgment depends on deriving an “ought” from an “is,” precisely because our knowledge of what “is” includes not only its material and efficient causes, about which we are conspicuously aware, but also our tacit apprehension of its formal and final causes that dare not speak their name.

Hart is certainly correct, as he notes in his essay, that we live in an age in which this understanding is denied by many in our culture who have embraced a mechanistic view of nature. But as we have seen from Hart’s own example, a verbal denial is not the same as an actual denial. Sometimes people practice what they don’t preach. Our duty, as Christians, is to draw their attention to this fact, to tell them of the unknown God they worship in ignorance. (Acts 17:22-23)
theology  law  argument 
2 days ago
Increasing Minimum Wage Puts More Jobs At Risk of Automation
Of course, we know that automation is already gobbling up jobs in the U.S. (see "Who Will Own the Robots?"). This latest study suggests that even wage policies designed to help America's workforce may instead be speeding up that process.
[This ought to be a useful reminder that people who oppose a particular policy do not necessarily oppose the good that the policy is meant to achieve]
economics  politics  from instapaper
2 days ago
Perspective | Conservatives say campus speech is under threat. That’s been true for most of history.
"If we look back over the past 100 years, perhaps the lowest tolerance for academic freedom has coincided with war and global tensions. The enemies of dissent frequently invoked menaces from abroad as they clamped down on speech.

For example, in 1917, Columbia University, where I teach, held two professors guilty of “disloyalty” and fired them for opposing U.S. entry into World War I. The following year, 12 members of the faculty at the University of Nebraska were made to go before “loyalty trials” convened by the state-designated Nebraska Council of Defense. Although all were cleared, the university proceeded to force out three of them for “inciting public criticism” of the school.

Likewise, the Cold War, at its peak, fueled clamor for uniformity. In 1950, 31 professors at the University of California were fired after refusing to sign a loyalty oath.

The pressures could be public — helped along by the FBI and congressional investigators — or behind office doors. The eminent sociologist Robert Bellah characterized the behavior of Harvard University administrators in the mid-1950s as “discreet collaboration with McCarthyism with the primary concern of avoiding criticism.”"
from instapaper
2 days ago
Meta-analysis of faculty's teaching effectiveness: Student evaluation of teaching ratings and student learning are not related
Student evaluation of teaching (SET) ratings are used to evaluate faculty's teaching effectiveness based on a widespread belief that students learn more from highly rated professors. The key evidence cited in support of this belief are meta-analyses of multisection studies showing small-to-moderate correlations between SET ratings and student achievement (e.g., Cohen, 1980, 1981; Feldman, 1989). We re-analyzed previously published meta-analyses of the multisection studies and found that their findings were an artifact of small sample sized studies and publication bias. Whereas the small sample sized studies showed large and moderate correlation, the large sample sized studies showed no or only minimal correlation between SET ratings and learning. Our up-to-date meta-analysis of all multisection studies revealed no significant correlations between the SET ratings and learning. These findings suggest that institutions focused on student learning and career success may want to abandon SET ratings as a measure of faculty's teaching effectiveness. [...]

In this view, SETs are some sort of measurement instrument device enabling professors to find what students' perceive to be an appropriate workload and an appropriate amount to learn for specific grades, in short, an appropriate academic standard from students' perspectives. Professors who do this well, argue Abrami and d'Appolonia, will get high SETs. In contrast, professors who are either unable to do it well or do not do it because they believe that such student determined academic standards are detrimental to the students' themselves and/or to the society at large will get poor SETs. It follows that if the student determined standards are too far off from the standard necessary to pass the next course, attain a degree, or succeed in a new career after graduation, a professor is faced with a stark dilemma: teach to the SET and be promoted and tenured, or teach to prepare students for the next course, graduation and future careers, and be terminated.
education  academentia 
2 days ago
Robert Jenson, “Can Ethical Disagreement Divide the Church?”
Supposing that divisions in ethics sometimes truly divide the church, how do we tell when that is the case? What are the criteria? If, as seems likely, some ethical divisions are tolerable within communion and some are not, how do we tell the difference? And the third question is, When it appears that some of us cannot for reasons of ethics be in full fellowship with others whom we nevertheless regard as church, what are we to do about that? […]

I will argue that the unbroken unity in Christ of baptized believers divided in moral discipline or public moral witness obtains at the *same* level as does the unity of baptized believers divided in doctrine. In the case of doctrinal division, the contradiction between broken fellowship and deep unity in Christ is the very motive of ecumenical dialogue. That doctrinally separated communities of the baptized are nevertheless somehow one in Christ is a mandate to *argue* the differences, not permission simply to live with them. Indeed, this shared effort is itself a necessary part of their remaining unity. Just so, I propose, the contradiction between “unity in Christ” and division about what sorts of sexual behavior are blessed, for example, is a mandate for something much like traditional ecumenical dialogue, not permission to live with the dissensus. And the necessity of that effort is again an essential part of remaining unity in Christ. […]

Now, what about that label for such regulation, the word *marriage*? Plainly, a use of the noun *marriage* paired with, for example, *same-sex* has no overlap at all with its historical use. Much public discourse about *marriage* does not notice that, and thus is mere babble; The *New York Times*’ editorial discussions of the matter seem to be produced by someone who would think that the use of the vocable *ball* both for a spherical toy and for a formal dance must indicate some common essence.

But if the culture of the world decides in its own discourse to abolish the label’s previous use, there is not much the church can do about it. Maybe it will have to find a new label for the ontological fact affirmed in Christian doctrine. Anyway, the churches within their own discourse must reckon with what the word *marriage* now denotes — or rather fails to denote — for many others, and not allow their own discourse to be confused by mere linguistic mishap. We need to rule for our own discourse: what the world (or much of the world) now means by *marriage* is not what we mean by it — if indeed we are to continue using the word at all. […]

But sometimes also, as the structure of the American churches collapses, confusion will be the determining factor. Morally opposed groups may have no alternative but to live with *partly* broken fellowship. In strict logic, eucharistic and ministerial fellowship is either intact or simply broken, but history does not always obey strict logic and neither then does God’s providence—or indeed churches’ practice....
Christianity  ethics  ecumenism  from notes
3 days ago
Wonder Women » Education & Culture
When NOW’s God chose to fully reveal himself, moreover, he would not incarnate as a female. Again, that’s far too easy, and would put we men to flight. A more subtle subversion would be to have the incarnate deity enter the world as a man, but without any help from men whatsoever. The male member—frequently intruding in procreative enterprise—would be, for once, silenced. The incarnate God of NOW would therefore not be a mother, a pagan strategy which has been tried and found wanting. Instead, he would have one, honoring the female sex by humbling himself beneath it in dependence. And as for this woman through whom God entered the world? She would not be a goddess, for such status, in addition to being another failed pagan strategy, would erect an unpassable gulf between her and real women. Instead, she would be God’s actual human mother. Men, to be sure, would really hate this part of NOW, but would ultimately have no choice but to acknowledge it as an unavoidable consequence of the new religion’s logic. Only at this point, with NOW’s God fully revealed, would that phallus ritual be forsaken, in favor of a more inclusive initiation that mystically united men and women into the NOW God’s mystical body.
theology  gender  from instapaper
5 days ago
That Google memo about women in tech wasn't wrong
And yet, you still have to ask whether shamestorming Damore and getting him sacked was really the best way to convince him — or anyone else — that he's mistaken. Did anyone's understanding of the complex quandaries of gender diversity advance? If there were guys at Google wondering whether the women around them really deserved their jobs, did anyone wake up the morning after Damore's firing with the revelation: "Good God, how could I have been so blind?" No, I suspect those guys are now thinking: "You see? Women can't handle math or logic."

The mob reaction did prove that women indeed have some power in tech. But the power to fire people is not why most people get into engineering. Good engineers want to make things. The conversation around Damore's memo hasn't made the world a better place, as they say in Silicon Valley. It has just made a lot of people angry.
tech  gender  sociology  from instapaper
5 days ago
What We Mean When We Say 'Orthodox Christianity' - Derek Rishmawy
As I said, though, I don’t mind using a different term, so long as we all agree that orthodox means only “signs off on the right propositions on some foundational issues settled by church creeds and definitions.” But what needs to be made absolutely clear at that point is that orthodoxy would then be an extremely limited concept for determining ecclesial boundaries and distinguishing normative Christian belief and practice. Orthodoxy would be necessary but nowhere near to sufficient for flagging the totality of beliefs within the acceptable spectrum of normative Christianity.

With that said, what different word would do? I suppose traditional could work, for the reasons Smith mentions. But that seems to lack something of the moral and ecclesial force it needs in order to flag the importance of the uniformity of opinion on the issue in church practice and history. What’s more, the implied binary term, un-traditional, still manages to carry with it a bit of cachet in our culture that is unhelpful.

I’m tempted to suggest a difference between a catholic sexual ethic versus an un-catholic or revisionist one. That term would be close in sense to traditional but give a clearer testimony that this view is the only one that could plausibly fit the Vincentian Canon or criterion of catholicity (“what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all”). In which case, someone could be “orthodox” creedally while “un-catholic” as to ethical practice, and we would have a better sense of the situation.

I am not committed to that language. Perhaps apostolic could do. Or maybe I’m being too finicky and traditional is enough. The point is that whichever term we might choose, it would need to give an unambiguously clear signal that this is a very, very serious deviance from historic Christian belief. And it’s an issue that, if gotten wrong, has serious moral and spiritual repercussions.
christian  ecumenism  sexuality 
6 days ago
Politics and the Progressive Christian - George Yancey
Now what do the results of this study mean? Basically when you look at what we found, it becomes clear that theological conservatism tends to manifest itself most strongly as it concerns theological distinctions between Christians and non-Christians. However theological progressiveness tends to manifest itself most strongly as it concerns political distinctions between progressives and conservatives. When I lump the results of this research with my previous study I come to a conclusion. Theological issues matter more to theological conservatives while political issues matter more to theological progressives.

Now I move from the results of my research to speculate as to the different ways conservative and progressive Christians approach issues. This speculation is not directly linked to my results, but I think it is reasonable given what is now known. I speculate that when it comes to how a Christian is supposed to think of an issue, a conservative Christian first considers the theological application of the issue and then makes his or her decision. The progressive Christian first considers the political implications of the issue and then makes his or her decision. In other words, for conservative Christians religious beliefs drive political beliefs, while for progressive Christians political beliefs drive religious beliefs. [...]

I have a frustrated desire to see unity between Christians. But if progressive Christians prioritize political legitimation and conservative Christians prioritize theological concerns, then how they can work together for common purposes beyond very general goals? Indeed, I have begun to wonder if conservative and progressive Christians are two distinctive religious groups. They may be so distinctive that the sort of reconciliation I have dreamed about is not possible. I think we should conceptualize conservative and progressive Christian as separate religious groups. They are both technically “Christian” but what that means is drastically different for each group.

I normally am a pretty optimistic fellow. But I have had to let go the dream of a united Christian presence in the United States. Rather than trying to figure out how to work together, it seems that conservative and progressive Christians have to find ways to tolerate and live with each other. Learning how to get along with each other is valuable. Looking to be allies is likely a waste of time.
religion  christian  politics  sociology 
6 days ago
Evolution and the Purposes of Life - The New Atlantis
Evolution-based pronouncements have somehow become far too easy. When theorists can lightly pretend to have risen above the most enduring mysteries of life, making claims supposedly too obvious to require defense, then even questions central to evolution itself tend to disappear in favor of reigning prejudices. What is life? How can we understand the striving of organisms to sustain their own lives — a striving that seems altogether hidden to conventional modes of understanding? What makes for the integral unity and compelling “personality” of the living creature, and how can this personified unity be understood if we’re thinking in purely material and machine-like terms? Does it make sense to dismiss as illusory the compelling appearance of intelligent and intentional agency in organisms?

It is evident enough that the answers to such questions could crucially alter even our most basic assumptions about evolution. But we have no answers. In the current theoretical milieu, we don’t even have the questions. What we do have is the seemingly miraculous agency of natural selection, substituting for the only agency we ever actually witness in nature, which is the agency of living beings.
evolution  biography  philosophy  life 
6 days ago
The Problem With Participatory Democracy Is the Participants - The New York Times
Americans who live in relative comfort are emotionally invested in politics, especially after the election, but in a degraded form of politics that caters to the voyeurism of news junkies and the short attention spans of slacktivists. They are engaging in a phenomenon I call “political hobbyism.” They desperately want to do something, but not something that is boring, demanding or slow.

Political hobbyists want easy ways to register their feelings. Democrats in particular embrace tools like Resistbot that offer instantly gratifying participation. Beyond the current political climate, Democrats, more than Republicans, believe in mass participation as a core value and also believe it empowers their side.

But cheap participation reflects a troubling infirmity in how partisans of both parties engage in politics. In fact, it is not because of gerrymandering, Citizens United, cable news or any of the other common scapegoats that our system is broken, but because of us: ordinary people who are doing politics the wrong way.
politics  stupidity 
6 days ago
Editorial: Renewing the Church for the Sake of the World
As we're never shy to admit, Comment is nourished by the legacy of Abraham Kuyper, whose robust vision for healthy society and well-functioning social architecture accorded an important role to the church. While Kuyper is often (and, to an extent, rightly) invoked to emphasize the distinction between the church and the state as different "spheres" with different jurisdictions and responsibilities—different "sovereignties," he would say—we often forget that he emphasized the centrality of church-shaped citizens inhabiting every sphere.

Kuyper made this point by carefully distinguishing between the church as "institute"—where the Word is proclaimed, the sacraments administered, and discipline exercised—and the church as "organism"—the Christian sent from the sanctuary into an array of vocations to be undertaken coram Deo. The church as institute, he said, should be a "city on a hill amid civil society" and from which the church as organism infiltrates and leavens civil society. "Though the lamp of the Christian religion only burns within that institute's walls," he remarked, "its light shines out through its windows to areas far beyond, illumining all the sectors and associations that appear across the wide range of human life and activity." Thus he pictures church and civil society as concentric circles, with the church as institute nourishing a vibrant core of believers who, as an organism, infiltrate and leaven civil society.

What's important today is not just the distinction but also what Kuyper describes as the "necessary connection" between the two: "Aside from this first circle of the institute and in necessary connection with it, we thus recognize another circle whose circumference is determined by the length of the ray that shines out from the church institute over the life of people and nation." The church is integral to civil society not only because it has a "sphere" to manage but also because it is the sanctifying space for citizens of the city of God who can point the earthly city toward shalom. With Kuyper, we think hope for cultural renewal is, scandalously, pegged to the life and health of the body of Christ. The energies of the organic church at work in culture are not a substitute for the mundane realities of congregational life. To the contrary, only if there are healthy, transformative congregations where people encounter the risen Christ can we hope to have a transformative effect on the world around us. If you care about civil society, you should care about the health of the church.
church  christian  social  culture  politics  from instapaper
6 days ago
How Identity Became A Weapon Against The Left | Current Affairs
Having an “identity politics” is incredibly beneficial. Identity politics, which emphasizes the unique concerns of different communities and demographic groups, shows how historical inequities have been distributed across different races, genders, religions, abilities, and sexualities. In doing so, it allows us to better understand how to critique and reform the systems that replicate those inequities. It reveals how the foreclosure crisis disproportionately hurt black home owners, how health issues manifest differently across populations, and how various forms of “hidden taxes” penalize women in professional life. To ignore identity is to ignore injustice. Yet there are risks to viewing the world through the prism of identity. If people are defined by their demographic characteristics, they can be reduced to those characteristics in a way that obscures differences within groups. If “identity” becomes synonymous with “perspective,” dissenting members within the identity group risk having their viewpoints erased and their humanity diminished. And when used cynically, as a political weapon, a simplistic view of identity can allow people of a particular political faction to wrongly imply that they speak for all members of their racial or gender group.
politics  liberalism  from instapaper
6 days ago
Seminaries Reflect Struggles of Mainline Churches - WSJ
Lisa Devine, who graduated from [Episcopal Divinity School] in May, is typical of many mainline seminary students these days. At 36, she lived in California most of the time she attended EDS.

She said she doesn’t “feel called to parish ministry.” Instead, her family plans to start a “therapeutic farm.”

“I think theological education needs to change, and in many ways it already is,” Ms. Devine said. “No one can take three years out of their life.”

Other Christian denominations are confronting similar challenges recruiting and training a new generation of clergy. For Roman Catholics, there is now one priest for every 1,800 Catholics in the country—more than twice what the ratio was in 1970. More than 3,000 parishes in the country now lack a full-time priest. [...]

Skye Jethani, an evangelical Christian pastor and author, said falling seminary attendance is a symptom of a growing “consumerism” in American Christianity.

“Fewer churches have the expectation that pastors have gone to seminary,” Mr. Jethani said. “In popular evangelicalism, they don’t really care about your theology. What they care about is, are you an entertaining speaker, or can you run a complicated business like a megachurch?”
christian  church 
6 days ago
The Past, as Zombie Hazard and Consolation - Francis Spufford
The same appetite for connection despite and because of disconnection manifests itself over and over again. We are fascinated by the past, puzzled by the past, horrified by the past; we are unable to look away. The stories we tell ourselves at the moment have an avidly historical bent, and I say this as someone who has just themselves published a historical novel. The lawns of 21st-century British culture are littered with time-machines, dramatised and filmed, broadcast and written, all offering to transport us (but with the option of instant return) out of Now and into Then. The Tardis would be hard put to find a parking space. [...]

There’s always been costume drama, but a wild multiplication has taken place. We want the wars; but we also want the Tudor past, where the origins of the state we inhabit can be seen in rudimentary, barbarous, unshielded form. We want the past of domestic service, with its deference and its hierarchies and its radically different class destinies running along side by side in single households. Explicit subordination is exotic to us; but troublingly interesting, as we come to suspect that the fluidity of contemporary manners is disguising a return to grotesquely unequal life-chances. We want the past just before we were born, when people like us (but not quite) lived in cities like ours (but not quite) and organised experiences like ours (but not quite) according to rules that seem alien now (but not quite). Ancestors are more of a challenge to British sensibilities than migrants or refugees, because they are so indissolubly linked to our intimate self-understanding. They are where we came from, and yet they cannot be assimilated, they will not conform to the expectations of the present. We have to go to them, trying our best to translate their passions into terms we can make sense of. The historian and critic Alison Light, a professional interpreter of the past’s lost social hierarchies, nevertheless came up against an indigestible difference, when she discovered in her family history Common People (2014) that for a century and more her ancestors had been fervent Baptists. She did her best to view this as a form of social defiance on their part, but something remained stubbornly other in it, impossible to dissolve. Similar challenges await the hundreds of thousands of individuals who do genealogy now as a hobby, creating a private origin story for themselves; their own creation myth, if they could but read it.

The forces making the past illegible are our irreligion, when most of our ancestors, even after the Industrial Revolution, still lived within a domain structured to some extent by the sacred, by Whitsun picnics and chapel-influenced or church-influenced politics and Christian behavioural ideals as a default; and our emotional assumption, because our culture has taken ‘the expressive turn’, that to be real feeling must be labile and vivid and performative, when our ancestors filtered their equally passionate lives through more stoical codes; and our prosperity, which makes the old poverty of the past hard to enter into, either as a condition of real limit, or as a condition made survivable by resources of tradition, politics, ritual, solidarity, and working-class self-organisation. The new poverty of the foodbanked present has the limits but (so far) mostly lacks the resources.
history  memory  christian  from instapaper
6 days ago
What Is Handed Over: Maundy Thursday, Memory and the Gospel – Opinion – Richard Hays
When we remember, then, what has been handed over, we will recall not only the words of the transmitted tradition; we will recall also Jesus himself as the one who was handed over - handed over by God for our sake. Paul writes in the eighth chapter of Romans, "He who did not withhold his own Son, but handed him over for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?" (Romans 8:32).

That is what we are summoned to remember.

Remembering is a subversive communal activity in an age that coaxes us to drift in the constantly streaming, twittering present, forgetful of history, forgetful of the past. But Paul reminds us: Jesus urged us to break the bread and share the cup as an act of remembrance - remembering his own death. [...]

So Paul retells the remembered tradition, and then he adds his own pithy commentary to sum up its meaning: "As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." The sharing of the bread and wine is itself the proclamation. The Authorised Version makes the point well: "For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come." If we truly share with one another, we show the Lord's self-giving. We show what it means to be handed over.

The Supper that we share is an enacted parable - like Jesus's action of stripping off his clothes and washing the feet of his disciples. He who formed humankind out of the dust of the ground now kneels, stripped naked before us in a wet towel, to wash off the dust of our feet. That is what this day proclaims; that is what we remember. And that is what our common meal embodies.

So, no more strife and rivalry, no more shunning the poor and weak. No more amnesia about the night when Jesus was handed over. If we remember the Lord's death, we will live in responsive gratitude for the Lord's generosity by handing our own lives over, and sharing generously with our brothers and sisters in the new covenant.
christian  theology  memory  bible  from instapaper
6 days ago
Floating Utopias
The libertarian seasteaders are heirs to this visionary tradition but degrade it with their class politics. They almost make one nostalgic for more grandiose enemy dreams. The uncompromising monoliths of fascist and Stalinist architecture expressed their paymasters’ monstrous ambitions. The wildest of the libertarian seasteaders, New Utopia, manages to crossfertilize its drab Miami-ism with enough candy floss Las Vegaries to keep a crippled baroque distantly in sight. Freedom Ship, however, is a floating shopping mall, a buoyant block of midrange Mediterranean hotels. This failure of utopian imagination is nowhere clearer than in the floating city of the long defunct but still influential Atlantis Project.
utopia  libertarian  from instapaper
6 days ago
Negative Piety - American Affairs Journal
Last fall, I signed a letter in support of Trump for president. Some of my friends were appalled; others thought such a public endorsement unwise. These were not unreasonable reactions. Today’s populism has a revolutionary character, and revolutions are perilous. But I was and remain convinced that we cannot live in metaphysical poverty. We need to be empowered by loyalties and devotions that stir our hearts. Populism may be dangerous, but it reflects the correct intuition that my country and my citizenship cannot be bought and sold, nor can it be subordinated to institutions and agencies devoted solely to the protection and promotion of individual rights.
[Donald Trump as a remedy for metaphysical poverty. Just when you think you’ve heard it all... ]
politics  election2016  from instapaper
6 days ago
Nearly 50% are of no religion – but has UK hit ‘peak secular’?
The secularisation of Britain has been thrown into sharp focus by new research showing that for every person brought up in a non-religious household who becomes a churchgoer, 26 people raised as Christians now identify as non-believers.

The study also shows that inner London is the most religious area of the country, mainly because of its large Muslim and migrant communities. The least religious areas are the south-east of England, Scotland and Wales. People identifying as non-religious are typically young, white and male – and increasingly working class.
secularity  religion  London  from instapaper
7 days ago
Deprovincializing Philosophy - Los Angeles Review of Books
Adamson deliberately wrote a book on “philosophy in the Islamic world,” not on “Islamic philosophy.” This points to a further important innovation of his account: he doesn’t divide up the material artificially according to religious affiliation — Muslim, Jewish, and Christian. The intellectual space I’ve outlined above, following al-Ghazālī, is one that Jews and Christians shared. While Christians mainly contributed to kalām and falsafa, Jews were eager to take up the full gamut of emerging new intellectual discourses. Thus, we find Jewish mutakallimūn like Saadia Gaon, Jewish falāsifa like Abraham ibn Daud and Maimonides, Jewish Sufis like Baḥya ibn Paqūda and Abraham ben Maimonides, and Jewish appropriations of Shīʿite concepts — for example in Judah Halevi. Indeed, thinkers in the Islamic world often felt more affinity to members of rival religions who shared their intellectual commitments than to co-religionists who did not.

The falāsifa, for example, preferred each other’s intellectual company to that of the mutakallimūn in their own religious tradition. Thus, the 10th-century Christian philosopher Yaḥyā ibn ʿAdī was a student of the Muslim philosopher al-Fārābī and corresponded on philosophical problems with the Jewish scholar Ibn Abī Saʿīd al-Mawṣilī.
philosophy  enlightenment  from instapaper
7 days ago
The Lizard People Of Alpha Draconis 1 Decided To Build An Ansible
Philosopher Richard Chao combines these and other refinements of the utilitarian method into a moral theory he calls negative average preference utilitarianism, which he considers the first system of ethics to avoid all the various traps and pitfalls. It says: an act is good if it decreases the average number of frustrated preferences per person.

This doesn’t imply we should create miserable people ad nauseum until the whole world is a Third World slum. It doesn’t imply that we should kill everyone who cracks a frown. It doesn’t imply we should murder people for their organs, or never have children again, or replace everybody with identical copies of themselves, or anything like that.

It just implies faster-than-light transmission of moral information.
philosophy  from instapaper
7 days ago
The energy expansions of evolution
From the start, fire has had both geological and biological impacts. Fire regimes drive the evolution of plant traits; fires affect soils and air quality; and although, each year, a significant amount of biomass goes up in smoke, fire can promote biodiversity. Fire may even have driven the initial spread of flowering plants—an event that led to radiations of many other groups, including ants, bees and mammals. Furthermore, fire contributes new material to the Earth—charcoal, ash and soot—and may also act as a control on planetary oxygen levels. But as an energy source, per se? That's a more recent development, and has come in two phases.

The first phase began with the evolution of a fire creature. This creature—a member of the genus Homo—began to control the use of fire, deliberately setting fires alight and using fire for cooking. Exactly when cooking began remains controversial, with possible dates ranging from 1.5 Ma to 0.4 Ma. The important point, though, is that cooking is a kind of predigestion: cooked food, be it meat, vegetable or lipid, delivers more energy than the same food eaten raw. In using fire to cook food, hominins thus developed a way to extract more energy from their diets, and to eat a wider variety of food.

The second phase of fire as an energy source is even more recent—but the onset is nonetheless difficult to pinpoint. Does it start with the use of fire to manufacture labour-saving tools? With the smelting of iron, something otherwise energetically impossible? With the burning of fossil fuels such as coal to generate heat and light? With the invention of the internal combustion engine? Or with the discovery of the Haber–Bosch process for fixing nitrogen—which, in 1925, Alfred Lotka described as the start of “a new cosmic epoch”? Perhaps these last three are the most important contenders, as together, they have transformed the planet. In particular, the human input of energy to manufacture and deliver an otherwise limiting nutrient has produced far higher crop yields, enormously larger human populations, and gigantic populations of human-associated animals such as pigs, cows, horses and chickens. Erisman and colleagues estimate that between 1908 and 2008, industrially produced nitrogen fertilizer supported an additional four billion people and that by 2008, nitrogen fertilizers were responsible for feeding 48% of the human population. Meanwhile, Pimm and colleagues judge that extinction rates are now 1,000 times greater than the typical background rate. In sum, in this epoch of fire, total biomass has remained high, but biodiversity has begun to fall.
climate  energy  science  anthropocene  from instapaper
7 days ago
rhetoric in the late age of the internet
As much as the needed response is not a technological fix, it also is not not a technological fix. We simply need, for one thing, a better understanding of our digital media-ecological rhetorical situation. That’s something rhetoricians can provide, and while I wouldn’t say it’s the biggest piece of the puzzle, there’s still plenty of work to do. The question the late age of the internet poses is what will follow. That is, what follows on the social media communities and digital marketplaces that typify our daily engagement with the web and represent the globe’s most visited websites? The web began in the nineties as a fantasy about escaping the real world, as a place where we would have separate second lives and form parallel virtual communities. And the social web that followed in the next decade largely built on that fantasy by making it more accessible. But we can’t really think about the web that way. The digital world is not a separate world, as if it ever really was. We need a new web, one that supplants the social web as the social web supplanted web 1.0, one that recognizes the rhetorical-material stakes differently.
tech  technique  Technopoly  socialmedia  from instapaper
7 days ago
A conservative case against ‘conversion therapy’ | Shored Fragments
I have also argued before now that this pathological—idolatrous—assumption is deeply embedded within our churches, perhaps especially within the more conservative Evangelical traditions. Offered a single senior pastor, congregations demur, fearing that s/he is not adequately adult; faced with an adult celibate, we strain a young adults group to make space for them, and then give up, implying by our programme construction that there should be no celibate adults beyond the age of 30. (Forget Jesus. Forget Paul. Forget the gospel.)

Surrendering completely to this contemporary idolatry, that proper adult humans must be sexually active, we discover lesbian and gay people, who are sexually attracted only to people of the same sex. We might attempt to deny the existence of such people, but reality intrudes, and, if we are convinced that marriage can only be between man and woman, we therefore propose that it must be possible to change sexual orientation, and so we invent conversion therapy, and invest deeply in its plausibility.

On this telling, the practice of conversion therapy is a surrender to idolatry: to the idea that healthy and adult humanity demands sexual activity.

In the face of this idolatry Christian ethics can say one word only, the first word of all real Christian ethics: ‘Jesus’.

The moment we say ‘Jesus’ we admit that true, fulfilled, adult, humanity is possible without sexual activity, and so the moment we say ‘Jesus’ we deny the need for conversion therapy. More, the moment we say ‘Jesus’ we acknowledge that, in the Kingdom, celibacy is the normal and natural way of being human; the ethical question is whether sexual activity, marriage, is ever truly Christian.
[I don't know that I agree with all this — for one thing, I don't think "sexual desire" and "lust" are synonyms — but I love reading an argument that arises from the careful reading of Scripture and reflection on theology rather than arising from the need to "take a side" in current intraecclesial culture wars.]
christian  theology  sexuality  from instapaper
7 days ago
Why Libertarians and Conservatives Should Stop Opposing the Welfare State - Niskanen Center
But if libertarians and conservatives are really serious about reducing demand for the welfare state, they will need to go beyond politics and create new non-state institutions and organizations that provide a viable alternative. Over fifty years ago, Richard Cornuelle issued a challenge to small-government supporters in his book Reclaiming the American Dream: roll back the welfare state, not by complaining about it, but by outcompeting it. Cornuelle urged libertarians and conservatives to turn their energies to what he called the “independent sector,” building new institutions and organizations in civil society to meet the public needs currently addressed by government. “The independent sector will grow strong again when its leaders realize that its unique indispensable natural role in America is to compete with government,” he argued. “It must be as eager as government to take on new public problems.”

A half-century after Cornuelle wrote those words, the gap between public needs and the capacity of civil society has only grown. I have concluded that this fact discloses a failure of libertarian ideas: I don’t believe it is possible for the nonprofit sector to outperform government in protecting people from certain downside risks of life in a complex, highly urbanized, individualistic society. At the very least, though, it reveals a failure of effort. I would be happy for opponents of the welfare state to prove me wrong. But first they have to try.
libertarian  from instapaper
7 days ago
Richard Rorty: Life, Pragmatism, and Conversational Philosophy - Los Angeles Review of Books
Rorty did not believe that this transformation — or, as his enemies prefer to call it, “subversion” — of philosophy’s traditional goals would solve all our problems. But it might allow us to get a better sense of everyone’s limitations, diversities, and uniqueness, and therefore increase our concern for society and the freedom of all. In this spirit he genially suggested that “if you take care of freedom, truth will take care of itself.” In other words, truth ought to become simply what a free community can agree on as true, not what foundationally makes the community true. In this way our moral duty would not be toward “rational reasons” but rather toward our fellow citizens. This idea is not really a “subversion” if we recall that the notion of “responsibility” existed in Athens even before Plato invented what we now call “reason.” If we agree that democracy is a system in which we are allowed, from time to time, to change the governors, laws, and rules of the game, then Rorty’s suggestion that it could also begin to set the goals of philosophy might help different philosophical positions receive the recognition they merit. [...]

The concept of irony has not only allowed Rorty to outline his antifoundationalist philosophy but also to articulate a different attitude toward political and religious beliefs. Irony for Rorty has nothing to do with passiveness, irresponsibility, and the cruel denigration of the beliefs, values, and vocabularies of others. The ironist instead is someone “who faces up to the contingency of his or her own most central beliefs and desires — someone sufficiently historicist and nominalist to have abandoned the idea that those central beliefs and desires refer back to something beyond reach of time and chance.” Instead, these beliefs and desires must refer to a larger “we” that has abandoned the narrow, cruel, and exclusivist versions of our inherited “we.” In this condition the ironist’s “sense of human solidarity is based on a sense of a common danger, not on a common possession or a shared power.”
philosophy  politics  ethics  from instapaper
7 days ago
Implementing Webmentions
As social media sites gained traction, those communities moved away from blog commenting systems. Instead of reacting to a post underneath the post, most people will now react with a URL someplace else. That might be a tweet, a Reddit post, a Facebook emission, basically anywhere that combines an audience with the ability to comment on a URL.

Oh man, the memories of dynamic text replacement and the lengths we went to just to get some non-standard text. https://t.co/f0whYW6hh1 — One Bright Light ☣️ (@onebrightlight) July 13, 2017

Whether you think that’s a good thing or not isn’t really worth debating – it’s just the way it is now, things change, no big deal. However, something valuable that has been lost is the ability to see others’ reactions when viewing a post. Comments from others can add so much to a post, and that overview is lost when the comments exist elsewhere.
tech  socialmedia  from instapaper
7 days ago
The Opposite of Glamour | A New Essay by Delia Falconer | Sydney Review of Books
"Still, it is hard to miss what you haven’t seen. This problem of only being able to judge loss within our own lifespan has a name: ‘shifting baseline syndrome’. Fisheries scientist Paul Daniel coined the term in 1995 when he noticed that each generation of scientists tends to use the status of fish stocks during its own lifetime as the baseline from which it conducts further studies. Psychologist Peter H Kahn has also described this phenomenon in which each generation accepts its degraded environment as normal as ‘environmental generational amnesia’. In his book Wild Ones, journalist Jon Mooallem writes about taking his very young daughter with him to see and write about America’s engendered species in order to extend this baseline, in this one small human at least."
from instapaper
7 days ago
The Invisible Poems Hidden in One of the World's Oldest Libraries
"“There are two palimpsests here that have Caucasian Albanian text in the erased layer,” says Michael Phelps, the director of the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library and leader of the project. “They are the only two texts that survive in this language. … We were sitting with one of the scholars and he was adding to the language as we were processing the images. In real time he was saying ‘now we have the word for met’ and ‘now the word for fish.’”

Another dead language to be found in the palimpsests is one used by some of the earliest Christian communities in the Middle East. Known as Christian Palestinian Aramaic, it is a strange mix of Syriac and Greek that died out in the 13th century. Some of the earliest versions of the New Testament were written in this language. “This was an entire community of people who had a literature, art, and spirituality,” says Phelps. “Almost all of that has been lost, yet their cultural DNA exists in our culture today. These palimpsest texts are giving them a voice again and letting us learn about how they contributed to who we are today.”"
from instapaper
7 days ago
There’s No Such Thing as an ‘Illiberal’ - WSJ
“Il­lib­er­al­ism” doesn’t ob­jec­tively de­scribe any nat­ural group­ing of po­lit­i­cal phe­nom­ena. It’s a syn­onym for op­po­si­tion to—and now, per­haps, the im­pend­ing fail­ure of—the regime of uni­ver­sal in­di­vid­ual rights that Amer­i-can power was sup­posed to es­tab­lish. Any­one whose goals are counter to this par­tic­u­lar aim—whether so­cial­ist, con­ser­v­a­tive, na­tion­al­ist, trib­al­ist, Is­lamic fun­da­men­tal-ist, or what­ever else—con-tributes to what one head­line calls “Il­lib­er­al­ism: The World­wide Cri­sis.” [...]

The pol­i­tics of lib­er­als vs. il­lib­er­als, if adopted as the ba­sis for pub­lic dis­course, will mean the end of the old de­mo­c­ra­tic sys­tem of two le­git­i­mate po­lit­i­cal par­ties. A few con­ser­v­a­tives, hop­ing to main­tain their stand­ing in the face of in­creas­ing in­tol­er­ance, will break left, fram­ing their sup­port for hu­man rights and eco­nomic growth as a form of lib­er­al­ism. But most con­ser­v­a-tives will con­tinue to see na­tion­al­ism and re­li­gion—no less than in­di­vid­ual lib­erty and the free mar­ket—as in­dis­pens­able in main­tain­ing a strong and free na­tion. They will find them­selves mem­bers of an il­le­git­i­mate party, even as jour­nal­ists and pub­lic in­tel­lec­tu­als dis­cover that, for them, stamp­ing out il­lib­er­al-ism is sim­ply more im­por­tant than main­tain­ing a two-party sys­tem of de­mo­c­ra­tic gov­ern-ment.
politics  liberalism 
7 days ago
The Motte and the Bailey: A rhetorical strategy to know
"The retreat to the motte at any sign of attack is a manipulative rhetorical trick to brand the opponent as unreasonable when in fact the opposition may not be unreasonable at all. Even more nefarious, the tactic also creates and reinforces echo chamber behavior; it allows one to easily dismiss critique without having to do the intellectual work necessary to critically examine one’s positions. By its nature, it divides people and stifles true argument.

The motte and bailey tactic is most dangerous when it stands in the way of legitimate, deliberation and debate. An argument that relies on this rhetorical ploy–that gets to avoid defending its weakest points, and obscures differences and logical links between different beliefs–is exactly what we need to avoid. As campuses become more and more philosophically homogeneous, it should be more socially acceptable to point out and criticize argumentative fallacies and spurious reasoning in classrooms, at protests, and even in day-to-day conversation, not less. In order to maintain and promote viewpoint diversity on campuses and beyond we should not shut down ideological diversity."
from instapaper
7 days ago
Orthodoxy, Sex Ethics, and the Meaning of Nature
In that sense, “sexual ethics” both are derived from the creed and its embedded anthropology, and a means of entering into their logic and their structure. To admit two signs of permissible sexual unions—different-sex and same-sex—into a community, and to treat them as equally normative and permissible, equally disclosive of the reality of God’s love to the world, reduces the witness of the church to incoherence. Who is named “Father” in a lesbian union, such that they can equally claim to be a family who have derived their name from God the Father?

It is for this reason, I think, that “sexual ethics” actually function on a different logic than pacifism or other ethical questions. It seems to me that the pacifist and the just warrior agree on the nature of the eschatological peace to which the church is ordered and moving. They disagree about the licit means by which individual Christians might strive to secure the limited and partial peace of our time. To put it differently, they might both agree on the contents of the ethics of reconciliation, but disagree about the timing and means of its worldly implementation.

However, it seems to me that if same-sex unions are a contrary sign to the anthropology disclosed by Christ and his church—which is the only theological grounds on which I think they are impermissible—then the eschatological vision cannot hold them both, at least not unless we adopt the ethical equivalent of twice two being five.
christian  theology  sexuality  from instapaper
7 days ago
throwing out the individual differences baby with the group differences bathwater
Regular readers will know that I reject the idea of biological or genetic explanations for academic differences between races. Instead I follow most progressive people in thinking that the differences are socioeconomic and environmental in origin. There, too, I’ve often seen people make the same bad leaps: they tend to reject the idea of innate or genetic differences in individual academic ability or intelligence too. It’s not hard to understand why; talking about genetic differences in intelligence at all may seem like fruit from a poisoned tree, and why not just reject the whole idea altogether? But understanding the difference in group-level claims and individual-level claims is hugely important, both analytically and morally. It’s the difference between contributing to stereotypes that have contributed to marginalization and injustice of vulnerable groups, and accepting the reality that not all individual people are equally gifted in all areas.
intelligence  gender  from instapaper
7 days ago
Ritual Defamation
The power of ritual defamation lies entirely in its capacity to intimidate and terrorize. It embraces some elements of primitive superstitious belief, as in a "curse" or "hex." It plays into the subconscious fear most people have of being abandoned or rejected by the tribe or by society and being cut off from social and psychological support systems.

The weakness of ritual defamation lies in its tendency toward overkill and in its obvious maliciousness. Occasionally a ritual defamation will fail because of poor planning and failure to correctly judge the vulnerability of the victim or because its viciousness inadvertently generates sympathy.

It’s important to recognize and identify the patterns of a ritual defamation. Like all propaganda and disinformation campaigns it is accomplished primarily through the manipulation of words and symbols. It is not used to persuade, but to punish. Although it may have cognitive elements, its thrust is primarily emotional. Ritual Defamation is used to hurt, to intimidate, to destroy, and to persecute, and to avoid the dialogue, debate and discussion upon which a free society depends.
HTT  ethics  groupthink  from instapaper
7 days ago
Yes, Campus Indoctrination is Real | Minding The Campus
Probably the most common political orientation among college students is a soft libertarianism that tolerates anything that doesn’t get in the way of the student’s preferred social activities. These students have no fondness for the hard left radicals with their Bias Response Teams, Title IX tribunals, protests, and occupations, but neither do they have much interest in putting up a fight. The soft libertarians seldom give a thought about the longer-term consequences of the left’s initiatives, and they are entirely satisfied with the consumerist curriculum they have been offered.

To my way of thinking, this libertarian silent majority on campus has created the condition in which a radicalized minority can exert its tyranny. College administrators don’t worry about the leave-me-alone crowd. But they are ever eager to placate Mattress Girl, Black Lives Matter, and the students who want to run Charles Murray into the Vermont forest.
academentia  from instapaper
7 days ago
Cosmology for the Curious | Not Even Wrong
Eleven years later I’m as baffled by what has happened to the field of fundamental physics as I’m baffled by what has happened to democracy in the US. As all attempts to extract a testable prediction from the multiverse have failed, instead of going away, pseudo-science has become ever more dominant, with a hugely successful publicity campaign (including a lot of “Fake Physics”) overcoming scientific failure. Now this sort of thing is moving from speculative pop science to getting the status of accepted science, taught as such to undergraduates.

Many are worried about the status of science in our society, as it faces new challenges. I don’t see how the physics community is going to continue to have any credibility with the rest of society if it sits back and allows multiverse mania to enter the canon. Non-scientists taking science classes need to be taught about the importance of always asking: what would it take to show that this theory is wrong? how do I know this is science not ideology?
science  from instapaper
7 days ago
How does the Spirit help us think critically about the Bible?
So why have we ended up ourselves with seeing a gulf between the ideas of judgement and discernment, a discriminating evaluation of different viewpoints on the one hand, and the work of the Spirit on the other? In part, the answer is rooted in the Enlightenment paradigm of rational enquiry that has shaped our intellectual life. Discernment is the work of the autonomous, sensing self who sits at the centre of his or her world, and needs no outside agency to help in this process. Indeed, any outside agency is just that—outside the individual, and therefore not to be trusted until sifted and evaluated by the individual.

But another reason is the way we have configured our expectations of the work of the Spirit as we read Scripture within our pietistic spirituality.
bible  christian  reading  from instapaper
7 days ago
The Google Memo: Four Scientists Respond - Quillette
As a woman who’s worked in academia and within STEM, I didn’t find the memo offensive or sexist in the least. I found it to be a well thought out document, asking for greater tolerance for differences in opinion, and treating people as individuals instead of based on group membership.

Within the field of neuroscience, sex differences between women and men—when it comes to brain structure and function and associated differences in personality and occupational preferences—are understood to be true, because the evidence for them (thousands of studies) is strong. This is not information that’s considered controversial or up for debate; if you tried to argue otherwise, or for purely social influences, you’d be laughed at.

Sex researchers recognize that these differences are not inherently supportive of sexism or stratifying opportunities based on sex. It is only because a group of individuals have chosen to interpret them that way, and to subsequently deny the science around them, that we have to have this conversation at a public level. Some of these ideas have been published in neuroscientific journals—despite having faulty study methodology—because they’ve been deemed socially pleasing and “progressive.” As a result, there’s so much misinformation out there now that people genuinely don’t know what to believe.

No matter how controversial it is or how great the pushback, I believe it’s important to speak out, because if we can’t discuss scientific truths, where does that leave us?
gender  google  thoughtcrime  science 
8 days ago
Contra Grant On Exaggerated Differences
It doesn’t have to be this way. Nobody has any real policy disagreements. Everyone can just agree that men and women are equal, that they both have the same rights, that nobody should face harassment or discrimination. We can relax the Permanent State Of Emergency around too few women in tech, and admit that women have the right to go into whatever field they want, and that if they want to go off and be 80% of veterinarians and 74% of forensic scientists, those careers seem good too. We can appreciate the contributions of existing women in tech, make sure the door is open for any new ones who want to join, and start treating each other as human beings again. Your co-worker could just be your co-worker, not a potential Nazi to be assaulted or a potential Stalinist who’s going to rat on you. Your project manager could just be your project manager, not the person tasked with monitoring you for signs of evil to be rooted out. Your female co-worker could just be your female co-worker, not a Strong Grrl Coder Who Has Overcome Adversity And Is A Symbol Of Everything Good In The World. Your male co-worker could just be your male co-worker, not a Tool Of The Patriarchy Who Is Keeping Everyone More Talented Down. I promise there are industries like this. Medicine is like this! Loads of things are like this! This could be you.
gender  google  thoughtcrime  science  from instapaper
8 days ago
David Shields’s “Reality Hunger” in the Age of Trump; or, How to Write Now - Los Angeles Review of Books
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of rereading Reality Hunger is how its most sophisticated and nuanced ideas of the interplay between memoir and reportage, between facts and identity, have been utterly assimilated into everyday life. You don’t need to explain to the alt-right, or to most college students for that matter, that “the illusion of the facts will suffice.” Everyone understands, implicitly and instinctively, that you have your identity first and you make up your facts after.

The reality hunger is a hunger for a shared worldview, a shared identity around which a reality can be fashioned, not a hunger for facts or for policy. That’s what Shields understood so clearly, so presciently. Nobody wants the truth. They want reality. The market, and even the legal system, increasingly obeys this principle. Remember: Gawker Media went out of business for presenting a fact. The audience for Alex Jones’s InfoWars has swollen to 7.5 million unique readers a month, even as his own lawyer described his journalism as the work of a “performance artist.” Shields dreamed of a post-fact world, and it has come to pass. He imagined it as the purview of a cadre of bold literary experimentalists; instead it belongs to a Republican president of the United States, who happens to be a reality television star with the world’s most elaborate comb-over.
politics  journalism  from instapaper
8 days ago
When Silicon Valley Took Over Journalism
Makers of magazines and newspapers used to think of their product as a coherent package—an issue, an edition, an institution. They did not see themselves as the publishers of dozens of discrete pieces to be trafficked each day on Facebook, Twitter, and Google. Thinking about bundling articles into something larger was intellectually liberating. Editors justified high-minded and quixotic articles as essential for “the mix.” If readers didn’t want a report on child poverty or a dispatch from South Sudan, they wouldn’t judge you for providing one. In fact, they might be flattered that you thought they would like to read such articles.

Journalism has performed so admirably in the aftermath of Trump’s victory that it has grown harder to see the profession’s underlying rot. Now each assignment is subjected to a cost-benefit analysis—will the article earn enough traffic to justify the investment? Sometimes the analysis is explicit and conscious, though in most cases it’s subconscious and embedded in euphemism. Either way, it’s this train of thought that leads editors to declare an idea “not worth the effort” or to worry about whether an article will “sink.” The audience for journalism may be larger than it was before, but the mind-set is smaller.
journalism  from instapaper
8 days ago
The Triumph of Obama’s Long Game
It’s a free country, after all. But you can’t subvert something that you simultaneously argue doesn’t exist. And this strikes me as the core contradiction of ideological transgenderism. By severing the link between sex and gender completely, it abolishes the core natural framework without which the transgender experience makes no sense at all. It’s also a subtle, if unintentional, attack on homosexuality. Most homosexuals are strongly attached to their own gender and attracted to traditional, natural expressions of it. That’s what makes us gay, for heaven’s sake. And that’s one reason the entire notion of a common “LGBT” identity is so misleading. How can a single identity comprise both the abolition of gender and at the same time its celebration?

Exceptions, in other words, need a rule to exist. Abolish gender’s roots in biology and sex — and you abolish gay people and transgender people as well. Yes, there’s a range of gender expression among those of the same sex. But it’s still tethered among most to the forces of chromosomes and hormones that make us irreducibly male and female. Nature can be interpreted; it can even be played with; but it cannot be abolished. After all, how can you be “queer” if there is no such thing as “normal”?
politics  gender  sexuality  from instapaper
9 days ago
Confessions of a Carioca: Reconciling the Irreconcilable
There are many--probably from within TEC, though most of the ones I have in mind are outside it--who would pose the stark question: Why? The moral legitimation of same-sex sexual relationships is effectively a "done deal" in the Episcopal Church, and we are on a pretty clear glide path toward the imminent redefinition of marriage to embrace such relationships. I can hear the voices from within my own church (well, more like thoughts--few would actually give voice to these notions yet) saying, "Why don't you move on to a church home that is more congenial to your traditionalism and let us proceed peacefully in the direction we're headed?" And I can hear voices from outside my church, many of them the voices of beloved friends and former co-laborers, who say, "How can you live and work alongside--indeed, be reconciled with--those who are contributing to the death of souls for whom Christ died? How can light be reconciled with darkness? How can life be reconciled with death?" And I find those voices sobering. I find them nearly convicting. Almost.

But not quite. And here's why: Reconciliation is a non-negotiable gospel imperative. It's not just "nice if you can get it." It's not adiaphora; it is essential. I am not suggesting that light should or can be reconciled with darkness, or death with life. What I am contending is that those who have been clothed with Christ in the waters of baptism, those who name Jesus as Lord, are constitutionally and irrevocably of one blood, one family. And in a family, you don't get to choose your siblings. You may not like them. You make think they're off the rails. You may find them insufferably boorish and be embarrassed by them. But you don't get to deny them. When they knock on your door, you suck it up and invite them in and fix them something to eat and drink.

And here, perhaps, lies the clue to going about reconciling the irreconcilable. Cognizant of an element of irony in doing so, I would point to Martin Davie's most salient point in his review of Living Reconciliation:"The New Testament’s emphasis is not on people learning to live with what divides then, but learning to live out what unites them." Those colleagues and friends of mine who are desperately wrong about the moral theology of sex? Most of them--not all, but most of them--say the Nicene Creed every Sunday without crossing their fingers. Most of them--not all, but most--will sing full-throatedly this Easter about Jesus rising from the dead and walking away from his tomb, and really mean it. Really. Most of them--not all, but most--sincerely believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the word of God (and, of course, to contain all things necessary to salvation). Most of them--not all, but most--desire and intend to follow Jesus the Christ, the Risen One, as Savior and Lord, to be his faithful disciples. They get one very important thing very wrong. But they get a whole bunch of equally or more important things very right. I cannot in good conscience presume to unchurch them, nor allow them to presume to unchurch me. Rather, I am obligated as a disciple of Jesus to "live out what unites" me to them, which is none other than the blood of Christ and the water of baptism.

So I will accept part of the critique from my GAFCON brothers and sisters toward the model of reconciliation put forward by Archbishop Justin, in that merely learning to live with what divides us as Anglican Christians (or any division among Christians, for that matter) is too meager an aspiration. We need to set our sights higher. But neither, in the meantime, may we set them any lower, and this is where Continuing Indaba and related projects are of value: they keep us at the same table, in the same room, even while we faithfully hold our sharply irreconcilable differences. Nobody is talking about compromising, meeting each other halfway, splitting the difference. Nothing of the sort. We hold on to our convictions. But we do so in a space where the Holy Spirit has some room to act, to (in the words of the Nashotah House Prayer) "melt the heart of sinners to the love of [God]." Maybe my "team" is right, and will prevail in the end. I hope and expect so. Maybe my opponents are right and will be shown to be so as history unfolds. I doubt it, and expect it not. But the greater likelihood is that neither "side" is entirely correct, and that both are to some extent holding on to idols of their own making. We can't know in the present moment. I will probably no longer be in this world when that verdict is read. But I believe it my duty in the meantime to "seek peace and pursue it" (Psalm 34:14), to remain in communion with all who are marked by the sign of the cross and labor under that banner, even in the midst of very deep divergences. Jesus deserves no less. The gospel deserves no less. The life of the world deserves no less.
10 days ago
The Second Person Standpoint: Morality, Respect, and Accountability // Reviews // Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews // University of Notre Dame
What then is the second-person standpoint? Here is Darwall: "Call the second-person standpoint the perspective you and I take up when we make and acknowledge claims on one another's conduct and will" (3). A few examples to help fix ideas: feeling that I have insulted your family, you insist that I give you satisfaction; I ask you, the waiter, for another round; issuing an order to the private, the sergeant says "You must do ten push-ups." Consider the last: in making the demand, the sergeant is not merely informing the private of something or "directing him epistemically," as he might be were he to tell the private that Patton commanded the Third Army, or that one must not infer p from p or q, or that one shouldn't count one's chickens before they hatch. Instead, the sergeant aims to immediately direct the private's will; he purports to "address a second-personal practical reason" to the private. Of course, not just any demand is a valid demand, and thus not just any such demand has rational bearing on what to do -- suppose the sergeant is Red Army and the private White. Whether the sergeant's demand is valid, and thus whether he succeeds in "giving a second-personal reason," depends on whether the demand is "grounded in (de jure) authority relations" (4) holding between the two agents. If the sergeant does have the relevant practical authority, the private has a second-personal reason to do the push-ups. This does not simply mean that something speaks in favor of his doing push-ups, even something involving the sergeant, say, that it would greatly please the sergeant who, as it happens, loves watching the soldiers exercise. If the demand is valid, the private is accountable to the sergeant for compliance: the private would not merely make a mistake in failing to comply but would in some sense wrong the sergeant. The second-personal reason to do the push-ups is not "the value of any outcome or state" (78) but simply that doing so is complying with an authoritative demand and thus is doing what one is accountable to another for doing: second-personal reasons are thus "authority- rather than outcome-regarding" (248). These concepts -- valid demand, practical authority, second-personal reason and accountability to -- constitute an "interdefinable" and "irreducible" circle of second-personal concepts, according to Darwall. And occupying the second-person standpoint just is being in the distinctive normative space shaped by these concepts, the space of second-personal reasons. Chapter 3 outlines its structure, while Chapters 1 and 2 sketch the main concepts and arguments of the entire book.
16 days ago
Universities need to plan for a dark future if academics prefer their own Plan B | THE Features
Viewed positively, the exit of high-level expertise from the academy into a variety of other socially valuable sectors where it might not ordinarily have gone, such as school education, is a good thing. And even those who do not end up in such careers – an educationalist I interviewed had left to sell gelato; the cancer geneticist was seriously considering insurance – often find energising and productive ways of using their intellect outside the academy.

Still, most skilled and economically significant professions in which almost 40 per cent of workers want to leave would be viewed as being in crisis. Even if there are plenty of young would-be academics in the queue to replace them, universities’ relinquishment of specialists from virtually all fields of knowledge, often at the peak of their capacities, has to be seen as a threat to sustainable, long-term knowledge production.
4 weeks ago
Culture and Social Behavior
Neither psychology nor economics is currently theoreti- cally well-equipped to explain the origins of institutions [53]. To get there, to build a theory of cultural evolution capable of explaining where institutions come from, researchers have gone back to the basics, to reconstruct our understanding of human evolution and the nature of our species [54,55,56 ,57]. These approaches, rather than ignoring our species extreme reliance on culture, have used the logic of natural selection and mathematical modeling to ask how natural selection might have shaped our learning psychology to most effectively extract ideas, beliefs, motivations and practices from the minds of others. This intellectual move dissolves the destructive dichotomy between ‘evolutionary’ and ‘cultural’ explana- tions and fully incorporates cultural explanations under an expanded Darwinian umbrella. The hypothesized cultur- al learning mechanisms can, and have been, empirically tested in both the laboratory and field, in infants, children and adults from diverse societies [54,58–63].
This foundation then allows theorists to model cultural evolution by building on empirically established psycho- logical mechanisms. The result is cultural evolutionary game theory [64]. This powerful tool has already been deployed to understand the emergence of a wide range of social norms and institutions, including those related to social stratification [65], ethnic groups [66], cultures of honor [67], signaling systems [68], punishment [69–71] and various reputational systems [72,73]. Of course, this research program is really just getting started.
culture  evolution  sociology 
4 weeks ago
Why China May Never Democratize - Bloomberg
there are two powerful arguments that China will not become democratic. First, China never has been democratic in thousands of years of history, and perhaps that history simply will continue. 

Second, the middle to upper middle class is still a minority in China, and will stay so for a long time. A smaller country can build up in percentage terms a larger middle class, by exporting, than can a very large and populous country. There’s just not enough demand in global markets to elevate all or even most of the Chinese people, and so Chinese inequality likely will stay high, to the detriment of democratic forces.

In essence, many of the wealthier Chinese trust the Communist Party to look after their interests more than they trust elections. Furthermore, the current political performance of the West is not in every way the ideal exemplar for democracy.
china  democracy  politics 
5 weeks ago
Friedrich Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography // Reviews // Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews // University of Notre Dame
But there are three distinctive interpretive claims Young makes that are sure to invite challenges from the specialists. (The first two claims will be familiar to those who have already read Young's Nietzsche's Philosophy of Religion.) The first is that an overarching aim of Nietzsche's philosophy is to provide "a new religious outlook to re-found culture" (181, my emphasis). This may seem a wholly implausible claim to make on behalf of the man who wrote "God is dead" and was the author of the Antichrist. But what is meant by "religious"? If we suppose that what Young means is not much more than having a certain reverential attitude toward, well, something, then the claim is quite plausible. For Nietzsche certainly had that: he revered many things, including life, nobility, health, hardness, strength, and cultural achievement. And there certainly is a religious fervor permeating Zarathustra as well as Nietzsche's other passionate texts. So, to the extent that Young means only to say that Nietzsche had a kinda religiousy outlook upon what he understood as virtues, he is surely right. But in fact Young often means more than just this. He thinks Nietzsche maintains that the "higher men" will need to raise up divine beings, at least as heuristics to guide their efforts and orient their post-Christian society, and he comes awfully close to claiming that Nietzsche proposes a return to Greek polytheism (518). That is a bit much. Surely, one thinks, we can draw some distinction between the sort of "life-attitude" Nietzsche advocates and a temperament that is more properly understood as religious -- a distinction arising perhaps from the icy intellect Nietzsche thinks one must have in order to see things properly. It is hard to imagine returning to our idols, even as heuristics, once we have seen through them.

The second controversial interpretive claim is that Nietzsche, far from trying to demolish traditional morality, was out to "re-found" the sorts of values we might today identify with communitarianism. Young returns to this claim frequently throughout his book, and it must be said that he gathers up surprisingly good evidence for it. Nietzsche did see himself as a "good European," and consistently despised the growing German Reich, so it is no stretch to see his overall concerns as cosmopolitan. But in the end, on Young's reading, when we find out that Nietzsche wants a society infused with compassion and high culture, and that he might look favorably upon one that finds its unity in a shared effort to combat global warming (! - 479), one is left wondering whether Nietzsche has been tamed into something more familiar and friendly to our own moral sensibilities. Indeed, why would Nietzsche prophesy that someday his name would be associated with "something frightful -- of a crisis like no other on earth, of the profoundest collision of conscience, of a decision evoked against everything that until then had been believed in, demanded, sanctified" -- if in the end all he wanted to establish was that we as a community need to care more about one another and about higher culture? Young writes, thinking of Zarathustra, "For the ideal leader, indeed for any truly healthy person, the prosperity of the community (of humanity) as a whole is the defining meaning of their lives. For the healthy person, personal meaning is communal meaning" (516). But this would mean that very little of Young's Nietzsche would present much of a challenge to any contemporary liberal, which should alert us to the possibility that something important has gone missing. When Nietzsche urged that we move beyond good and evil, did he really just mean trading in the Ten Commandments for the Green Party?

The third controversial claim is that, by the end of his life, Nietzsche had repudiated the "will to power" doctrine, or at least had backed off it so that it was only a claim about the value of health to bring happiness to a human life. This brings us to a fine example of Young's sleuthing through texts. The short version of Young's careful account (over 536-549) is that Nietzsche started working on a sizable, definitive work entitled The Will to Power in 1885. It was to be his theory of everything. And so we find, in notes and publications continuing through 1888, many attempts to advance the will to power as a metaphysical doctrine. But in letters to his friends Nietzsche began to confess that the project was not coming together as he had hoped, and indeed "had gone down the plug hole [ins Wasser gefallen]." Some of his materials were repackaged into what became Twilight of the Idols, and other materials were designated for a new multi-volume work, the Revaluation of All Values. According to Young's account, the change in strategy resulted principally from Nietzsche (a) recognizing that the will to power doctrine, in its most sweeping, metaphysical guise, was simply implausible, as well as (b) coming to conclude that the overly systematic nature of the enterprise was in conflict with his own philosophical temperament. Vestiges of the will to power doctrine remain in Nietzsche's mature account of what constitutes a healthy psychology, Young maintains, but the big systematic metaphysics finally disappears from his horizon. I find Young's arguments for this claim compelling (though I do not fully agree with his account of Nietzschean health).
Nietzsche  religion  Christianity 
5 weeks ago
Anglicans on the Wittenberg trail – Covenant
What makes me grateful for Luther, I said to my friends on our trip to Germany, was that he was the theologian who, more than any other, put into words the treasure I had found in Anglicanism. It was Luther who had taught me what I might have learned just as well from Augustine, Hooker, or Ramsey, but in God’s providence didn’t: that the point of my weekly cupping of my hands to receive the body of Christ and my opening my mouth to drink his blood was that I might receive a “visible word,” a palpable, edible reminder that my standing with God didn’t depend on some experience or attitude or posture I could drum up on my own but rather on God’s own unilateral gift. For that reason, Wittenberg, no less than Canterbury, feels like home.
6 weeks ago
3 April 2010: Easter Vigil | BENEDICT XVI
An ancient Jewish legend from the apocryphal book “The life of Adam and Eve” recounts that, in his final illness, Adam sent his son Seth together with Eve into the region of Paradise to fetch the oil of mercy, so that he could be anointed with it and healed. The two of them went in search of the tree of life, and after much praying and weeping on their part, the Archangel Michael appeared to them, and told them they would not obtain the oil of the tree of mercy and that Adam would have to die. Later, Christian readers added a word of consolation to the Archangel’s message, to the effect that after 5,500 years the loving King, Christ, would come, the Son of God who would anoint all those who believe in him with the oil of his mercy. “The oil of mercy from eternity to eternity will be given to those who are reborn of water and the Holy Spirit. Then the Son of God, Christ, abounding in love, will descend into the depths of the earth and will lead your father into Paradise, to the tree of mercy.” This legend lays bare the whole of humanity’s anguish at the destiny of illness, pain and death that has been imposed upon us. Man’s resistance to death becomes evident: somewhere – people have constantly thought – there must be some cure for death. Sooner or later it should be possible to find the remedy not only for this or that illness, but for our ultimate destiny – for death itself. Surely the medicine of immortality must exist. Today too, the search for a source of healing continues. Modern medical science strives, if not exactly to exclude death, at least to eliminate as many as possible of its causes, to postpone it further and further, to prolong life more and more. But let us reflect for a moment: what would it really be like if we were to succeed, perhaps not in excluding death totally, but in postponing it indefinitely, in reaching an age of several hundred years? Would that be a good thing? Humanity would become extraordinarily old, there would be no more room for youth. Capacity for innovation would die, and endless life would be no paradise, if anything a condemnation. The true cure for death must be different. It cannot lead simply to an indefinite prolongation of this current life. It would have to transform our lives from within. It would need to create a new life within us, truly fit for eternity: it would need to transform us in such a way as not to come to an end with death, but only then to begin in fullness. What is new and exciting in the Christian message, in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, was and is that we are told: yes indeed, this cure for death, this true medicine of immortality, does exist. It has been found. It is within our reach. In baptism, this medicine is given to us. A new life begins in us, a life that matures in faith and is not extinguished by the death of the old life, but is only then fully revealed.
christian  death 
6 weeks ago
Where Weird Music Meets Mindfulness: At Church, Apparently | Pitchfork
Why people all over aren’t organizing more secular performances at churches—discovering what beauty lurks right in their neighborhoods even if they aren't religious—remains a mystery to Sweeny. He says it’s as easy as picking up the phone and asking who minds the calendar there. “Churches are specifically designed to be acoustically and architecturally beautiful, but they're the least utilized venues,” he says. “There’s an event every Sunday, but for the most part it's empty. I don't want to just use a venue. It's like it's commodified then. People go there, they pay the price, they know what they're going to see.” Sweeny hopes to use as many churches around New York City as he can, his dream being to book something special at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the fourth largest church in the entire world.

For practical reasons, churches also make great venues in these mercurial times. DIY spaces like Brooklyn’s 285 Kent and Glasslands were shuttered by the pressures of the real estate market earlier in the decade, while others including Denver’s Rhinoceropolis and L.A.’s Non Plus Ultra have closed over safety concerns, police/fire department attention, and landlord disputes. Churches are neighborhood hubs that local law enforcement are likely to leave alone—perhaps the last sanctuaries in heavily policed cities. [...]

In the past, Sweeny would refer to the BAC as a temporary autonomous zone—a kind of space where the event-goers could change and make their own. In a way, that’s what he’s doing with churches around Brooklyn, helping others to activate sacred buildings in alternative, but equally spiritual, ways. That idea may not seem radical these days—church shows aren’t a new thing, and Sweeny himself saw the potential of First Unitarian after attending events there thrown by Issue Project Room—but even a half-century ago, the image would have seemed like something out of a science fiction novel. Still, Sweeny maintains, “I think the people who designed and built these buildings, brick by brick, in the 1800s would be delighted to see how they are being used now.”
church  music  culture  spirituality 
6 weeks ago
Burgess as Historical Novelist | Unbound
To write historical fiction well, an author needs to be able to bring together two skill-sets that aren't always found together in the same writer. On the one hand, he or she must be able to do all the things that make a ‘regular’ or set-in-the-present-day novel work: narrative, characterisation, style and form. On the other, s/he must be able to do what the best Science Fiction and Fantasy writers do—worldbuilding, as it is sometimes called: the creation, without strain or infodumping, of a world radically different to the one in which we happen to live.
Bad historical novels tend to be full of historical cliché, as a sort of shorthand way of indicating that otherness. Worse, they tend put basically modern characters in period costume and stick a sword, or a fan, in their hands: always a betrayal of the radical difference of history as such. Whatever else your chosen historical period was to the people who lived in it, it was certainly more than just fancy dress. Burgess did neither thing. The same skill that created the powerfully estranged worlds of A Clockwork Orange and The Wanting Seed enabled him to mark out the worlds of his historical novels vividly and deftly, and always in a maner that respected the past's contrariety. The same insight into character, and extraordinary command of style and form, enabled him to put together novels that work brilliantly on their own terms as novels.
history  fiction 
6 weeks ago
How the Southern Poverty Law Center Enraged Nominal Conservatives Into Betraying Free Speech Values | Popehat
But the SPLC's conduct is core, classic political speech. Ranting political generalizations about other people and groups and parties is exactly what the First Amendment protects. The SPLC's classification of a dizzying array of entities as "hate groups" may be unfair, unprincipled, immature, and even immoral. But it's also opinion absolutely protected by the First Amendment. Only provable statements of fact can be defamatory. It's certainly possible that the SPLC could make a false and defamatory statement of fact about a group in the course of classifying it as a "hate group" — for instance, by falsely attributing a statement to the group, or falsely claiming the group participated in some specific act. But that's not what's at issue in Liberty Counsel's cowardly-indirect attack on the SPLC. Their complaint says the defamation is the "hate group" classification. "Hate" and "hate group" are not provable statements of fact. They're opinion. You may think the opinion is stupid and without basis, but that doesn't magically turn it into a fact. You may think that having such an opinion expressed about you is very harmful, but that doesn't turn it into a fact either. "Hate group" occupies a place in the American lexicon with "SJW" and "cuck" and "fake news" and "far left" and "extremist" and "death party" and "party of death" and "libtard" and "wingnut" and anything else you'll see people shout at each other on Twitter. "Hate" and "hate group" aren't factually provable, because they're based on opinion. The opinion that being against gay marriage or affirmative action or generous immigration makes you a "hate group" may be stupid, but it's inescapably an opinion. [...]

Liberty Counsel knows this. These are not stupid lawyers. These are unethical lawyers, abandoning core American civic virtues to indulge in politics by other means. Liberty Counsel is part of the "do it to them because they did it to us" movement — the belief that, because some liberals someplace supported restrictions on free speech, it's acceptable to abuse the system to go after the free speech rights of these liberals here.
6 weeks ago
Shock, Dismay In Academia At Scorpion Acting Like Scorpion | Popehat
Nobody realized this could happen, unless you count everyone who isn't a moron or a dogma-blind partisan. Exceptions to free speech — like exceptions to rights in general — are applied disproportionately by the powerful against the less powerful. That's the way the system works. Expecting other results is idiotic.

Vapid orthodox censorious hordes who have been pushing for the ouster and marginalization of conservative voices on campus: go back and rethink your life. Conservatives crowing over this worm turning: stop being assholes and step up to defend speech consistently. I don't care who started it; you're not an eight-year-old. Act like a grown-up with principles.
6 weeks ago
The Class Renegade | by Colm Tóibín | The New York Review of Books
Those of us who move from the provinces pay a toll at the city’s gate, a toll that is doubled in the years that follow as we try to find a balance between what was so briskly discarded and what was so carefully, hesitantly, slyly put in its place. More than thirty years ago, when I was in Egypt, I met a cultivated English couple who invited me to stay in their house in London on my way back to Ireland. They could not have been more charming.

The only problem was that they had an Irish maid who, as soon as I arrived as their guest, began to talk to me in the unvarnished accent of home, as though she had known me all of her life. Since she was from a town near mine, we spoke of people we knew in common or knew by name or reputation. It was all very relaxed and friendly.

Later, after supper, my two English friends asked me if I minded them raising a subject that troubled them. Did I know, they asked, that my accent and tone, indeed my entire body language, had changed when I met their maid? I was almost a different person. Was I aware that I had, in turn, changed back to the person they had met in Egypt once I was alone with them again?

I asked them, did they not also speak in different ways to different people? No, they insisted, they did not. Never! They seemed horrified at the thought. They looked at me as if I was the soul of inauthenticity. And then I realized that those of us who move from the periphery to the center turn our dial to different wavelengths depending on where we are and who else is in the room. In this world, memory becomes a form of reparation, a way of reconnecting the self to a more simple time, a way of hearing an old tune before it became textured with orchestration.
6 weeks ago
Turn Off, Drop Out: Why Young Chinese Are Abandoning Ambition
Sang culture is actually an evolved form of the once-prominent notion of xiaoquexing — fleeting moments of joy found in everyday life. For instance, buying a loaf of fresh bread — still hot from the baker’s oven — taking it home, and gnawing on the heel as you cut the rest into slices. Slipping through the undisturbed surface of a deserted swimming pool in the early hours of the morning, and pushing off from the wall with your foot. Listening to the chamber music of Brahms as you contemplate the silhouettes of leaves on a paper window, created by the gentle sunlight of an autumn afternoon.

If xiaoquexing is an appreciation of the little triumphs to be found amid life’s monotony, then sang culture is a similar emphasis, even an exaggeration, of a pervasive feeling of loss.

Fleeting joy forms the underlying context of sang culture. To be sang is not to be in a state of complete despair; instead, the term evokes the sense of disenfranchisement that certain young people feel as a result of being excluded from some of life’s supposedly greater pursuits, such as home ownership, the accumulation of personal wealth, and the attainment of social mobility. Sang culture is a first-world problem: Its adherents wallow in grievances that contrast starkly with the much more pressing problems faced in most other developing nations.
china  Japan  ethics  youth 
6 weeks ago
Digital humanities as a semi-normal thing | The Stone and the Shell
If “data” were a theme — like thing theory or the Anthropocene — this play might now have reached its happy ending. Getting literary scholars to talk about a theme is normally enough.

In fact, the play could proceed for several more acts, because “data” is shorthand for a range of interpretive practices that aren’t yet naturalized in the humanities. At most universities, grad students still can’t learn how to do distant reading. So there is no chance at all that distant reading will become the “next big thing” — one of those fashions that sweeps departments of English, changing everyone’s writing in a way that is soon taken for granted. We can stop worrying about that. Adding citations to Geertz and Foucault can be done in a month. But a method that requires years of retraining will never become the next big thing. Maybe, ten years from now, the fraction of humanities faculty who actually use quantitative methods may have risen to 5% — or optimistically, 7%. But even that change would be slow and deeply controversial.

So we might as well enjoy the current situation. The initial wave of utopian promises and enraged jeremiads about “DH” seems to have receded. Scholars have realized that new objects, and methods, of study are here to stay — and that they are in no danger of taking over. Now it’s just a matter of doing the work. That, also, takes time.
8 weeks ago
Symposium: Is Free Speech Under Threat in the United States? | commentary
While politically correct shaming still has great power in deep-blue America, its effect in the rest of the country is to trigger a furious backlash, one characterized less by a desire for dialogue and discourse than by its own rage and scorn. So we’re moving toward two Americas—one that ruthlessly (and occasionally illegally) suppresses dissenting speech and the other that is dangerously close to believing that the opposite of political correctness isn’t a fearless expression of truth but rather the fearless expression of ideas best calculated to enrage your opponents.

The result is a partisan feedback loop where right-wing rage spurs left-wing censorship, which spurs even more right-wing rage. For one side, a true free-speech culture is a threat to feelings, sensitivities, and social justice. The other side waves high the banner of “free speech” to sometimes elevate the worst voices to the highest platforms—not so much to protect the First Amendment as to infuriate the hated “snowflakes” and trigger the most hysterical overreactions.

The culturally sustainable argument for free speech is something else entirely. It reminds the cultural left of its own debt to free speech while reminding the political right that a movement allegedly centered around constitutional values can’t abandon the concept of ordered liberty. The culture of free speech thrives when all sides remember their moral responsibilities—to both protect the right of dissent and to engage in ideological combat with a measure of grace and humility.
8 weeks ago
Divided on Reconciliation – The Living Church
There may be some who are not comfortable about engaging in ministry with the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, but Truro has a long history of joint ministries involving EDV, including Five Talents and the Lamb Center. While we recognize our deep differences on some issues, we have chosen to focus on what unites us as people who believe in the resurrected Lord, rather than on what divides us. With this ministry, Truro is following a long heritage. We also take comfort in the three-year test period which will let all parties determine if we are truly following God’s calling. We have discerned that this ministry is indeed a calling from God, and events have lined up to reinforce that discernment. But if it is not of God, not infused with the Holy Spirit, then it will not produce Godly fruit. Both parties are happy to submit to this testing/discernment period to be sure we are following God’s plan for us. [...]

A letter from the Rt. Rev. John Guernsey, Bishop of the ACNA’s Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic:
Truro leaders have made clear to me that the heart of this initiative is evangelistic. They desire to build loving relationships and, through them, to win back to the truth of the Scriptures those who have departed from the historic Christian faith. And they desire to lead to Christ those who do not know Jesus as the Crucified and Risen Lord, the only Savior of the world. I certainly support such goals and pray for even more fruit from Truro’s dynamic evangelism ministries.

At the same time, as I have been made aware of the vision for this Institute, I have repeatedly expressed to the Truro leadership my deep concerns over the possibility of their conducting this ministry in partnership with the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. Because of the false teaching of the Episcopal Church, I asked them not to enter into a joint ministry with the Episcopal Diocese. The issues that divide us are of first importance and to partner with the Episcopal Church is to give the mistaken impression that these concerns are merely secondary. If I thought that the issues that divide us were secondary, I would never have left the Episcopal Church.

The Truro leadership has chosen to proceed in joint ministry with the Episcopal Diocese in spite of my opposition. I am deeply grieved by this, and I hope Truro will reconsider.

[FWIW, I see Bishop Guernsey's response as encapsulating everything that's wrong with ACNA]
ecumenism  Anglican 
8 weeks ago
John Stuart Mill’s Intolerant Faith and the Religion of Liberalism
The use of the suffix -phobe by liberals to describe dissenters’ positions on such issues suggests that holding particular views is akin to suffering from a mental illness. Such demagoguery is increasingly accompanied by soft sanctions such as mandatory diversity training. Sometimes liberal censuring assumes harder forms such as hauling people before Star Chamber-like human rights commissions that make a mockery of due process. In these and other ways, contemporary liberalism exhibits tendencies toward what the conservative Cambridge historian Maurice Cowling described in his 1963 book Mill and Liberalism as “moral totalitarianism.” In the same book, Cowling challenged the widespread view of John Stuart Mill as the secular saint of tolerance. According to Cowling, Mill’s liberalism constituted nothing less than an alternative religion: one that turns out to be a rather fideistic faith that demands submission from nonbelievers. Not surprisingly, reactions to Cowling’s thesis were almost uniformly hostile. Fifty-four years later, however, Cowling’s analysis of Mill’s liberalism provides insights not only into liberal intolerance in our time but also into how to address it.
8 weeks ago
Free Speech, The Goose, And The Gander | Popehat
And yet, the "we're just applying their rules to them" theory has some heft. It's not because of the nasty, disruptive little totalitarians themselves. Antifa scum and pseudo-educated campus thugs are not legitimate foundation for any adult's philosophy. No, the bit of plausibility comes from the reaction of people in authority, people who ought to know better, people whose conduct is somewhat more fairly attributed to a larger political groups. A few hysterically censorious kids screaming for a professor's termination for crimethink do not threaten the foundations of free speech, but Yale lauding them does. Relatively few thugs disrupting a speech and even physically assaulting a professor don't call into question the culture's support for free speech, but Middlebury offering weak slaps on the wrist and shrugs for that violent behavior does. A violent mob in Berkeley does not undermine the legitimacy of free speech doctrine — a mob is a mob — but Berkeley's timorousness or indifference in the face of violent censorship does. Students furious at a professor disagreeing with them don't call into question the nation's commitment to freedom, but state officials refusing to guarantee a professor's safety do. In short: the regrettable behavior of officials who have failed to stand up to disruption of speech are the people most responsible for legitimizing further disruptions of speech, whoever commits them.

But we can, and should, do better. Commitment to free speech as an American value — as an element of American exceptionalism — has always required tolerating evil and injustice and idiocy. We don't refrain from disrupting speech because the speakers deserve it, or because we've been treated fairly by the speakers or their allies. We refrain from disruption — and ought to punish those who disrupt — because free speech is the necessary prerequisite of a society based on individual rights and freedoms. It's the right that's the gateway to all other rights. Shrugging and abandoning it as a value is an abandonment of our commitment to all rights.
academentia  freespeech 
8 weeks ago
The Sovereign Myth - Niskanen Center
I suggest that the sense of control that is often attributed to voters in the olden days was really a sense of satisfaction with outcomes. Long years of economic growth in the West, broadly shared in, and in excess of the expectations of people who had lived through wars and economic collapse, propelled this satisfaction. In retrospect, though, it’s easy to flatter ourselves that, if things went well, it’s because we made such good decisions. Things look rather different when expectations are suddenly, sharply disappointed, as in the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath. It’s all too easy for opportunistic politicians in such moments to tell the story: the reason why things went so badly is that control was taken away from you — whether by faceless international bureaucrats, greedy financiers, or alien others, whether they have immigrated or are still in their countries of origin, producing and competing against you.

This doesn’t, of course, amount to a strictly economic explanation of support for populist authoritarianism. The simple versions of the “economic anxiety” explanations for who supports such political movements have been widely debunked. But I think it is part of what makes fertile ground for such holist and fear-based political movements. The loss of the feeling of control can, moreover, go past economic questions; the demagogue can promise a restoration of control to the real people on social and cultural matters, too.
politics  economics 
8 weeks ago
The Man in the Box | The New Yorker
That’s how the Tardis got stuck as a police box, but it doesn’t explain why it started out that way. That explanation may lie in the history of policing. Beat policing is a British invention. British police are called bobbies because the London Metropolitan Police, a model for police forces all over the world, was created by Home Secretary Sir Robert (Bobby) Peel, in 1829. Doctor Who polices worlds. The idea of a world’s policeman dates to the First World War and began to come into common usage near the end of the Second. In 1943, during a birthday dinner for Winston Churchill, F.D.R. called upon the allied powers—the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and China—to serve as the world’s “four policemen.” In 1945, the four policemen became the United Nations Security Council.

“Doctor Who” is, unavoidably, a product of mid-twentieth-century debates about Britain’s role in the world as its empire unravelled. It is also one of the stranger means by which British culture has reckoned with the horrors of the Second World War, the apocalyptic doomsaying of the Cold War, and the lasting madness of twenty-first-century terrorism. Superman, who first appeared in 1938, thwarted gangsters and thugs and criminal masterminds. But Doctor Who, created in the postwar, postcolonial, atomic age, inherited the agony of helplessness: he believes he can use his power to travel through time and space to undo unspeakable slaughter, only to find that, very often, he cannot. “Imagine you were in Pompeii and you tried to save them but in doing so you make it happen,” he says, trying to explain to a woman who is about to die in a nuclear explosion that he is powerless to prevent it. “Everything I do just makes it happen.” (He tries anyway. Moments after he saves her life, she kills herself.)

Doctor Who” is a chronicle of the impossibility of rescue. Yet it contains within it both a liberal fantasy about the heroism of the West in opposing atrocity and a conservative politics of self-congratulation, which, in the end, amount to the same thing. “You act like such a radical,” an alien said to the Doctor, not long ago, “and yet all you want to do is preserve the old order.”
tv  history  England 
8 weeks ago
Our Common Creed: The Myth of Self-Authorship - Julian Baggini
The shift to belief in sole self-authorship was not a step in the wrong direction but a step too far. That is why it is misleading to describe what we believe in today as individualism. The Enlightenment emphasis on the rights and responsibilities was progressive and we should not seek to reverse it. All we need to do is to accept that this was never meant to be a new religion in which humans became gods. Sustainable individualism requires us to accept that our individuality is only made possible by the society we grow up and live in. We should indeed strive to be the authors of our own lives, but we must acknowledge that the setting and the other characters are not under our control and that even we were sketched out before we could start to write our own scenes.

In place of the myth of sole self-authorship we need a different creative metaphor, perhaps that of jazz musicians, who must try to forge their own creative paths but are never anything like the sole authors of their lives. In such a life there are chances for individuality to shine, through solos and compositions. But even these are not isolated achievements. Every performance comes in the context of a history, a tradition, a discipline. To play is almost always to play with others, and to get the best for yourself you need them to get the best for themselves too.
8 weeks ago
The ‘Global Order’ Myth | Andrew Bacevitch
Yet collectively, the actions and episodes enumerated above do not suggest a nation committed to liberalism, openness, or the rule of law. What they reveal instead is a pattern of behavior common to all great powers in just about any era: following the rules when it serves their interest to do so; disregarding the rules whenever they become an impediment. Some regimes are nastier than others, but all are law-abiding when the law works to their benefit and not one day longer. Even Hitler’s Third Reich and Stalin’s USSR punctiliously observed the terms of their non-aggression pact as long as it suited both parties to do so. My point is not to charge à la Noam Chomsky that every action undertaken by the United States government is inherently nefarious. Rather, I am suggesting that to depict postwar U.S. policy in terms employed by the pundits quoted above is to whitewash the past. Whether their motive is to deceive or merely to evade discomfiting facts is beside the point. What they are peddling belongs to the universe of alt facts. To characterize American statecraft as “liberal internationalism” is akin to describing the business of Hollywood as “artistic excellence.”
politics  history 
9 weeks ago
Bob Dylan - Nobel Lecture
I had all the vernacular down. I knew the rhetoric. None of it went over my head – the devices, the techniques, the secrets, the mysteries – and I knew all the deserted roads that it traveled on, too. I could make it all connect and move with the current of the day. When I started writing my own songs, the folk lingo was the only vocabulary that I knew, and I used it.

But I had something else as well. I had principles and sensibilities and an informed view of the world. And I had had that for a while. Learned it all in grammar school. Don Quixote, Ivanhoe, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, Tale of Two Cities, all the rest – typical grammar school reading that gave you a way of looking at life, an understanding of human nature, and a standard to measure things by. I took all that with me when I started composing lyrics. And the themes from those books worked their way into many of my songs, either knowingly or unintentionally. I wanted to write songs unlike anything anybody ever heard, and these themes were fundamental.

Specific books that have stuck with me ever since I read them way back in grammar school – I want to tell you about three of them: Moby Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front and The Odyssey.
dylan  music  lit  bloggable 
9 weeks ago
What Gershom Scholem and Hannah Arendt Can Teach Us About Evil Today - Los Angeles Review of Books
The first letter Scholem wrote Arendt after reading her book — the initial broadside in an exchange that was ultimately made public — began with a number of concessions to Arendt’s position on the Jewish role in facilitating the operation of the Holocaust. Having spent the past 50 years occupying himself with Jewish history, Scholem declares, he is well aware of the abysses in this narrative: “a demonic decay in the midst of life, insecurity in the face of this world […] and a weakness that is perpetually confounded and mingled with debasement and with lust for power.” It’s invariable, he asserts, that in times of catastrophe these tendencies come to the fore. The question that the young were asking in Israel of how all those millions could have allowed themselves to be killed was valid, he allowed. Arendt was right to want people to reflect on such matters. What he cannot countenance is the idea that such a harrowing dilemma could be resolved with a snappy formula. What is unbearable to him, Scholem writes, is the “malicious tone” Arendt has adopted to discuss matters of such profundity. It is Arendt’s “light-hearted style,” the note of “English flippancy” she has favored over that of pity for Eichmann’s victims — just as she has preferred snarkily caricaturing Eichmann himself to seriously analyzing his character — that repulses Scholem.
history  ethics  evil  politics  war 
9 weeks ago
Our Common Creed: Secular Humanism, Reimagined - @theosthinktank - Theos Think Tank
The strange fact is that secular humanism is rooted in Christianity. Its moral universalism is an adaptation, or mutation, of Christianity. And it is not just the humanism that is rooted in Christianity: the secularism is too. It is a paradox: secularism has Christian roots. And it is this interestingly paradoxical story that can give the creed solidity. Because of its surprising religious roots, secular humanism is not the bland obviousness that it is assumed to be.
Let’s put it this way. Our public creed, secular humanism, has two major problems. It seems vague, insubstantial, it melts into air. And it is difficult to articulate one aspect of it, its secularism, without alienating religious believers. These problems are largely solved when it is seen as a tradition deriving from Christianity. This story of its origins thickens it up, and involves rather than alienates religious believers. [...]

We must tell and retell this simple yet paradoxical story. Christianity gave rise to a post-religious creed, secular humanism. This story used to be widely accepted in some form: it was basic to the Whig worldview, and to British socialism (Tony Benn, for example, often highlighted the origin of socialism in the biblical prophets and radical reformers). Perhaps it is implied in the British constitution, which is narrative-shaped: religious unity gradually gives way to post-religious liberty. But increased secularization and multiculturalism edged it aside, made it seem a defunct assumption. And of course it was the sort of narrative that postmodernists competed in rubbishing. To some extent, such developments were healthy: the story of Christianity-begets-humanism had become complacent, unconsidered, stale. Clumsy versions of it had to be cleared away. But what other story do we have? If we do not tell this story, we have no serious story to tell about the nature and origin of our values. We either imply that they arise naturally, if people are rational (which is false), or we evade the issue altogether.

Our task is to find new freshness in this story. Only so can our shared creed be solidified, built up.

Will this task fall to Christians? To a large extent yes (semi-Christian agnostics might lend a hand, and so might Jews and others). But such Christians must defy the majority Christian view, which disparages secular humanism. The relationship between secular humanism and Christianity is inevitably tense. For secular humanism has an air of superiority: it is a non-religious form of moral universalism, and this allows it to be more fully universalist, in that it overlooks religious difference in asserting fundamental human unity. Of course this makes Christians wary: this creed seems to imply that religion is superseded, exposed as limited, divisive. But Christians should resist this reaction. The proper Christian attitude to secular humanism is to affirm it as the right public ideology, but to say that it is nevertheless thin, that it has no strong account of life’s meaning and purpose, but gravitates to an evasive shrug. It cannot say why we should affirm this moral universalism; it does not understand that this vision derives from the thicker narrative of religion. In other words, the right public (or political) ideology is necessarily thin. So the Christian should think on two levels: secular humanism is the right public creed, for the unifying of a diverse nation, and yet Christianity is very much still needed, as it provides meaning on a deeper level.
humanism  secularity  Christianity 
9 weeks ago
Hilary Mantel: why I became a historical novelist | Books | The Guardian
The pursuit of the past makes you aware, whether you are novelist or historian, of the dangers of your own fallibility and inbuilt bias. The writer of history is a walking anachronism, a displaced person, using today’s techniques to try to know things about yesterday that yesterday didn’t know itself. He must try to work authentically, hearing the words of the past, but communicating in a language the present understands. The historian, the biographer, the writer of fiction work within different constraints, but in a way that is complementary, not opposite. The novelist’s trade is never just about making things up. The historian’s trade is never simply about stockpiling facts. Even the driest, most data-driven research involves an element of interpretation. Deep research in the archives can be reported in tabular form and lists, by historians talking to each other. But to talk to their public, they use the same devices as all storytellers – selection, elision, artful arrangement. The 19th-century historian Lord Macaulay said, “History has to be burned into the imagination before it can be received by the reason.” So how do we teach history? Is it a set of stories, or a set of skills? Both, I think; we need to pass on the stories, but also impart the skills to hack the stories apart and make new ones.
history  fiction 
9 weeks ago
Analysis finds significant drop in humanities majors but gains in liberal arts degrees at community colleges
Most of the data released today will likely depress humanities professors. But those at community colleges may have reason to celebrate an analysis released on their institutions.
Much of the data about associate degrees at community colleges does not break out majors with the same granularity as can be found for bachelor's degrees. So the data that follow use a combination of degrees, including the popular liberal arts and liberal studies degrees, to track trends in the humanities at community colleges. Almost all of those programs involve substantial instruction in humanities disciplines.
Using that definition of humanities, the study found that 2015 saw a continuation of a trend in which associate degrees conferred in the humanities have increased in number every year since 1987, by an average of 4.3 percent per year.
humanities  academe 
9 weeks ago
Notes From An Emergency
Given this scary state of the world, with ecological collapse just over the horizon, and a population sharpening its pitchforks, an important question is how this globalized, unaccountable tech industry sees its goals. What does it want? What will all the profits be invested in?

What is the plan?

The honest answer is: rocket ships and immortality.

I wish I was kidding.

The best minds in Silicon Valley are preoccupied with a science fiction future they consider it their manifest destiny to build. Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are racing each other to Mars. Musk gets most of the press, but Bezos now sells $1B in Amazon stock a year to fund Blue Origin. Investors have put over $8 billion into space companies over the past five years, as part of a push to export our problems here on Earth into the rest of the Solar System.
politics  tech  internet 
9 weeks ago
Israel Proves the Desalination Era Is Here - Scientific American
We are standing above the new Sorek desalination plant, the largest reverse-osmosis desal facility in the world, and we are staring at Israel’s salvation. Just a few years ago, in the depths of its worst drought in at least 900 years, Israel was running out of water. Now it has a surplus. That remarkable turnaround was accomplished through national campaigns to conserve and reuse Israel’s meager water resources, but the biggest impact came from a new wave of desalination plants.
Bar-Zeev, who recently joined Israel’s Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research after completing his postdoc work at Yale University, is an expert on biofouling, which has always been an Achilles’ heel of desalination and one of the reasons it has been considered a last resort. Desal works by pushing saltwater into membranes containing microscopic pores. The water gets through, while the larger salt molecules are left behind. But microorganisms in seawater quickly colonize the membranes and block the pores, and controlling them requires periodic costly and chemical-intensive cleaning. But Bar-Zeev and colleagues developed a chemical-free system using porous lava stone to capture the microorganisms before they reach the membranes. It’s just one of many breakthroughs in membrane technology that have made desalination much more efficient. Israel now gets 55 percent of its domestic water from desalination, and that has helped to turn one of the world’s driest countries into the unlikeliest of water giants.
science  water 
9 weeks ago
How to Worry about Climate Change | National Affairs
A more dispassionate placement of climate change alongside a range of worrying problems does not mean there is nothing to worry about. But it points away from sui generis mitigation at all costs and toward an existing model for addressing problems through research, preparation, and adaptation. It suggests that analytical exercises that would never be applied to other worrying problems, like assigning a "social cost" to each marginal unit of carbon-dioxide emissions, are as inappropriate as estimating a "social cost of computing power" as it brings humanity closer to a possible singularity, or a "social cost of international travel" as it elevates the risk of a global pandemic. Taxes on any of them are closer to political statements than efficient corrections of genuine externalities, and each would be more likely to stall meaningful economic and technological progress than to achieve a meaningful reduction of risk.

Lessons might run in the other direction as well: We are not focusing as much on other challenges as we should. And perhaps, if climate change were consigned to its rightful place in the crowd, some additional attention might be available to concentrate elsewhere. If the level of research support, policy focus, and international coordination targeted toward climate change over the past eight years had gone instead toward preventing and managing pandemics, imagine the progress that could have been made. For a fraction of the cost of de-carbonizing an industrial economy, it could be hardened against cyber attacks; with a fraction of the attention corporations pay to their own purported climate vulnerability, they could make real strides in their own technological security.
9 weeks ago
The New Idolatry: On the (Mis)Uses of Diversity in Academia Today – Opinion – ABC Religion & Ethics (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
Yet precisely this is what the prevailing use of diversity stubbornly fails to recognize. The underlying problem here is that even as the concept of diversity serves manifestly normative (moral) purposes, it does so in an environment - that of contemporary, liberal-secular academia - characterized by fierce, indeed irrational resistance to all forms of normativity. Yet where normative assumptions shape moral claims and administrative decisions, even as normativity is routinely disavowed and disparaged as so much metaphysical backwardness, the result is not knowledge but idolatry.

It is this destructive habit of equivocation, whereby moral claims are routinely advanced and enforced even as their normative foundations are strenuously disavowed, that is particularly troubling. For it prevents us from understanding and prioritizing the metaphysical foundations on which, modern liberal-secular protestations notwithstanding, a just and humane community will always depend.

The present generation of faculty, administrators and public intellectuals ought to resist the temptation of catechizing the next generation into an idolatrous parroting of political notions such as diversity, while simultaneously refusing to scrutinize their normative foundations. Otherwise, modern academia will end up corrupting its core values of research and teaching, reflection and dialogue, values that today no less than in Plato's Athens or thirteenth-century Paris remain the foundation any authentic intellectual community.
9 weeks ago
In Defense of Cultural Appropriation - The New York Times
In 1955, Emmett Till’s mother urged the publication of photographs of her son’s mutilated body as it lay in its coffin. Till’s murder, and the photographs, played a major role in shaping the civil rights movement and have acquired an almost sacred quality. It was from those photos that Ms. Schutz began her painting.

To suggest that she, as a white painter, should not depict images of black suffering is as troubling as the demand by some Muslims that Salman Rushdie’s novel “The Satanic Verses” should be censored because of supposed blasphemies in its depiction of Islam. In fact, it’s more troubling because, as the critic Adam Shatz has observed, the campaign against Ms. Schutz’s work contains an “implicit disavowal that acts of radical sympathy, and imaginative identification, are possible across racial lines.”

Seventy years ago, racist radio stations refused to play “race music” for a white audience. Today, antiracist activists insist that white painters should not portray black subjects. To appropriate a phrase from a culture not my own: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
ethics  politics  art 
9 weeks ago
Bernie’s Relativism Test Is Bad for Muslims and All Religious Believers | Public Discourse
Vought’s critics have accused him of “demonstrating a clear hostility to religious pluralism.” For them, this supposed “hostility” lies in Vought’s assertion that his own religious beliefs are true and that others’ are false. On the contrary, it is his critics who are hostile to religious pluralism. They do not simply object to the way he expressed himself, but to the fact that he expressed himself. They seek to allow in the public square only those who believe as they do: that all religious beliefs are equally true. The notion that all beliefs are true, otherwise known as relativism or postmodernism, is of course a creed in its own right, holding that nothing is objectively true or false, and that there is no absolute right or wrong. Requiring all government officeholders to be relativists is precisely the opposite of what was intended by the framers of the Constitution.

The obvious irony is that if this were the case, Muslims themselves would be banned from public office—at least if “Muslim” means a believer in a religion rather than simply a member of an amorphous identity group. The Qur’an states: “And whoever desires other than Islam as a religion, never will it be accepted from him, and in the Hereafter he will be among the losers” (Qur’an, Ali ‘Imran 3:85). This verse is as far from relativism as Vought’s comments that Muslims are condemned. Thus, any Muslim unwilling to repudiate the belief that Islam is objectively true and that other religions are, at least in critical respects, objectively false, would be unqualified to serve under Bernie’s relativism test.
politics  religion 
9 weeks ago
Outskirts by John Grindrod review – life in the green belt
Grindrod’s evocative and intelligent exploration of the green belt and its place in our national consciousness is part history and part memoir. He deftly weaves the two together, transforming what might otherwise have been a dry, technical discussion of planning and housing policy into a heartfelt narrative. The author of Concretopia, a celebration of postwar British architecture (“I do love a bit of concrete”), Grindrod considers the green belt to be “as much a part of the postwar city as tower blocks, flyovers and streets in the sky”. But the idea of a green buffer between town and country is not new. It reaches back to Thomas More’s Utopia, with its towns separated from each other by swaths of countryside in which citizens could “walk abroad in the fields”. In 1580 Elizabeth I tried to impose a green belt on London to curtail the city’s growth. But her diktat was ignored by the wealthy and merely increased the population density within the city, making life worse for ordinary Londoners – plus ça change.
nature  city 
9 weeks ago
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