First Words by Stephen M. Barr | Articles | First Things
But evolutionary theory and evolutionary data have come a long way since Darwin. It is now thought that a number of evolutionary developments may have involved fairly large qualitative jumps, including the first appearance of DNA, of cells with nuclei (eukaryotes), of multicellular organisms, and of sexual reproduction. Such jumps are very rare “one-off” events. So it must have been, argue Berwick and Chomsky, with Merge. It presumably had to happen in a single individual:

Such a change takes place in an individual—and perhaps, if fortunate, in all of [his or her] siblings too, passed on from one or (less likely) both parents. Individuals so endowed would have advantages, and the capacity might proliferate through a small breeding group over generations.
What advantage did Merge and hierarchical language confer? Here Berwick and Chomsky make one of their most important claims: Merge and syntactically hierarchical language were not, to begin with, an instrument of communication at all, but of thought. This makes sense, as it would have been valueless for communication when only one person possessed it. Externalization developed later and more gradually.
Whit Stillman and the art of the courteous comedy | Film | The Guardian
In Damsels in Distress, Violet is something of a female Samuel Johnson (Stillman is known to be a fan), sharing his decided opinions, his moral questioning, even his neurotic compulsive habits. She declares her faith in clichés and hackneyed expressions, seeing these as repositories of the wisdom of the ages. It's a paradox that unsettles cliché itself, its conservatism in fact disquieting the stale response. There are many similar contrarian moments in the films, from the character who in watching The Graduate prefers Carl Smith, the blond make-out king jilted at the altar, to the seedy stalker, Dustin Hoffman, or another who finds Scottie the true loyal hero of The Lady and the Tramp, as opposed to the philandering Sinatra-figure that's Tramp. This inversion of expectations even extends to his characters' religious sympathies. At a screening of Damsels in Distress at the Rotterdam Film Festival, Violet's declaration that "We're all Christians, or Judaeo-Christians" evoked a collective gasp of horror – the only one I heard at a festival that prided itself on displaying the taboo-breaking.
2 days ago
Obamacare: The Republican Waterloo - The Atlantic
I take no pride or pleasure in saying “I told you so.” We’ve all been wrong about enough things to teach us humility about our rare bursts of foresight. What I would urge is that those conservatives and Republicans who were wrong about the evolution of this debate please consider why they were wrong: Consider the destructive effect of ideological conformity, of ignorance of the experience of comparable countries, and of a conservative political culture that incentivizes intransigence, radicalism, and anger over prudence, moderation, and compassion.
2 days ago
The Never-Ending Lukács Debate - Los Angeles Review of Books
Western audiences know only liberal anticommunism, the kind created by antifascist émigrés such as Karl Popper, Hannah Arendt, and Michael Polanyi, as well as by former far-left figures such as George Orwell, Ignazio Silone, and Arthur Koestler. After 1968, this type of anticommunism was picked up by East and Central European and Russian dissidents and clandestine human rights groups. But relatively little is known in the West about the “White Guard” type of anticommunism, which was prevalent on the European continent in the interwar period, and which is now triumphantly reborn in contemporary Eastern and Central Europe, including Hungary. The latter has tended to see socialism and communism as the uprising of the Untermensch, the biologically and spiritually inferior members of society. For these anticommunists, communism does not mean too little, but too much freedom, and the idea of equality is a sin against nature.
politics  marxism 
2 days ago
Was Francis Fukuyama the first man to see Trump coming? | Aeon Essays
Fukuyama predicted that such restlessness and resentment would eventually need a political outlet – and when it came, it would be explosive. The anti-capitalist Left, however, was a busted flush. Communism was now a known fraud and failure, and post-Historical people driven by megalothymia would have no truck with its egalitarian pretensions, or its nakedly tyrannical realities. Far more threatening to the stability of liberal capitalist societies would be the emergence of demagogic strongmen from the fascistic Right, cynically feeding narrow self-interest and popular discontent, preying on human impulses for mastery and domination that the hollow comforts of consumer capitalism could not hope to appease.

Fukuyama was here looking to a future that still lies beyond our present (although we might be taking the first steps towards it). His was a grim warning that if overly recognition-thirsty individuals lived in a world ‘characterised by peaceful and prosperous liberal democracy, then they will struggle against that peace and prosperity, and against democracy’. More starkly: ‘Modern thought raises no barriers to a future nihilistic war against liberal democracy on the part of those brought up in its bosom.’
history  election2016 
2 days ago
What a Democracy Needs in an Editor - Bloomberg View
Some of his writers were famous for their polemical skills, but, in my own experience, he valued fairness and honesty above all else. I had only one difficult editorial experience with him, and, in retrospect, the difficulty stemmed from his (undoubtedly accurate) sense that I was reading an author unfairly -- that I was putting his argument in the weakest possible light. Bob did not appreciate unearned victories. In his view, it was far more important to be clear on the underlying arguments than to establish that one person was right and another wrong.
2 days ago
Catacombs or Cloister? | Blog & Mablog
We should be grateful to Dreher for the wake-up call. Things really are bad.

But what kind of bad? Bad news could include the fact that you have bone cancer, or it could alternatively mention the fact that an asteroid is going to land on your house. Both of these things are sufficiently bad, but the remedial measures will look completely different in each case. And this means that before taking remedial measures, you have to decide what kind of bad you are up against. If it is going to be the asteroid, there will be no point standing on your front porch with a bottle of chemo pills.

Dreher appears not to have settled this crucial question in his mind, and unfortunately it affects his entire Benedict thesis. This is what I mean. In the ancient world, Christians were up against it in the first century, when Rome began her first persecution of the Christians, and they were up against it in the sixth century, when Benedict laid down his rule. But in the first case, they were up against a hegemonic, swollen, persecuting world power, and in the latter case they were up against the disarray and ruin that had resulted from the collapse of that civilization.

There is a difference, in other words, between a totalitarian surveillance state and a failed state. Now if I were seeking to prepare Christians for the coming hardscrabble times, it would matter whether I was preparing Christians in Beijing for another crack-down from the commies, or Christians in Somalia, preparing for a period of anarchistic foment and unrest. The difference in response is the difference between the catacombs and the cloister.
2 days ago
Q&A with Bill Flanagan | The Official Bob Dylan Site
Rock and roll was indeed an extension of what was going on – the big swinging bands – Ray Noble, Will Bradley, Glenn Miller, I listened to that music before I heard Elvis Presley. But rock and roll was high energy, explosive and cut down. It was skeleton music, came out of the darkness and rode in on the atom bomb and the artists were star headed like mystical Gods. Rhythm and blues, country and western, bluegrass and gospel were always there – but it was compartmentalized – it was great but it wasn’t dangerous. Rock and roll was a dangerous weapon, chrome plated, it exploded like the speed of light, it reflected the times, especially the presence of the atomic bomb which had preceded it by several years. Back then people feared the end of time. The big showdown between capitalism and communism was on the horizon. Rock and roll made you oblivious to the fear, busted down the barriers that race and religion, ideologies put up. We lived under a death cloud; the air was radioactive. There was no tomorrow, any day it could all be over, life was cheap. That was the feeling at the time and I’m not exaggerating. Doo-wop was the counterpart to rock and roll. Songs like “In the Still of the Night,” “Earth Angel,” “Thousand Miles Away,” those songs balanced things out, they were heartfelt and melancholy for a world that didn’t seem to have a heart. The doo-wop groups might have been an extension, too, of the Ink Spots and gospel music, but it didn’t matter; that was brand new too. Groups like the Five Satins and the Meadowlarks seemed to be singing from some imaginary street corner down the block. Jerry Lee Lewis came in like a streaking comet from some far away galaxy. Rock and roll was atomic powered, all zoom and doom. It didn’t seem like an extension of anything but it probably was.
3 days ago
Mary Midgley on cooperative thinking - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
Midgley quotes Colin McGinn describing his own philosophical education at Oxford, thirty years later, especially in classes with Gareth Evans: “Evans was a fierce debater, impatient and uncompromising; as I remarked, he skewered fools gladly (perhaps too gladly). The atmosphere in his class was intimidating and thrilling at the same time. As I was to learn later, this is fairly characteristic of philosophical debate. Philosophy and ego are never very far apart. Philosophical discussion can be ... a clashing of analytically honed intellects, with pulsing egos attached to them ... a kind of intellectual blood-sport, in which egos get bruised and buckled, even impaled.” To which Midgley replies, with her characteristic deceptively mild ironic tone:

Well, yes, so it can, but does it always have to? We can see that at wartime Oxford things turned out rather differently, because even bloodier tournaments and competitions elsewhere had made the normal attention to these games impossible. So, by some kind of chance, life had made a temporary break in the constant obsession with picking small faults in other people’s arguments – the continuing neglect of what were meant to be central issues – that had become habitual with the local philosophers. It had interrupted those distracting feuds which were then reigning, as in any competitive atmosphere feuds always do reign, preventing serious attempts at discussion, unless somebody deliberately controls them.

And Midgley doesn't shy away from stating bluntly what the thinks about the intellectual habits that Gareth Evans was teaching young Colin McGinn and others: “Such habits, while they prevail, simply stop people doing any real philosophy.”
4 days ago
Remembering Bob Silvers
Bob kept a mental list of what he called “non-words”—that is, expressions so over-used that they had lost all their force. In one of my first articles, back in 1973, I used the phrase “in terms of.” He insisted on deleting it, because, he explained, writers used it as filler when they thought there was some relation between A and B but did not know what the relation was. Never again did I use “in terms of,” and I have blue-penciled it whenever I’ve found it in the papers of my students. Bob left a mark on writing and reading that will last for generations.
5 days ago
The Iron Law Of Evaluation And Other Metallic Rules - Gwern.net
• The Iron Law of Evaluation: The expected value of any net impact assessment of any large scale social program is zero.

The Iron Law arises from the experience that few impact assessments of large scale2 social programs have found that the programs in question had any net impact. The law also means that, based on the evaluation efforts of the last twenty years, the best a priori estimate of the net impact assessment of any program is zero, i.e., that the program will have no effect.

• The Stainless Steel Law of Evaluation: The better designed the impact assessment of a social program, the more likely is the resulting estimate of net impact to be zero.

This law means that the more technically rigorous the net impact assessment, the more likely are its results to be zero - or not effect. Specifically, this law implies that estimating net impacts through randomized controlled experiments, the avowedly best approach to estimating net impacts, is more likely to show zero effects than other less rigorous approaches. [pg5]

• The Brass Law of Evaluation: The more social programs are designed to change individuals, the more likely the net impact of the program will be zero.

This law means that social programs designed to rehabilitate individuals by changing them in some way or another are more likely to fail. The Brass Law may appear to be redundant since all programs, including those designed to deal with individuals, are covered by the Iron Law. This redundancy is intended to emphasize the especially difficult task in designing and implementing effective programs that are designed to rehabilitate individuals.

• The Zinc Law of Evaluation: Only those programs that are likely to fail are evaluated.

Of the several metallic laws of evaluation, the zinc law has the most optimistic slant since it implies that there are effective programs but that such effective programs are never evaluated. It also implies that if a social program is effective, that characteristic is obvious enough and hence policy makers and others who sponsor and fund evaluations decide against evaluation.
sociology  politics 
5 days ago
Mark Ravenhill on the trouble with television | Media | The Guardian
"The thing about TV drama," she said after a few ladles of punch, "is whatever they commission - docs or cops or drama-doc - what they really want is a little half-hour or 50-minute morality play." I almost understood her, but I wanted more. "TV drama hates a loose ending - it hates an unanswered question," she explained. "Script editors and directors and producers always feel they have to teach the viewer something. They always want you to get to the scene where you say, 'And the moral of the story is ...' It's very boring to write."

She's right, of course. There's a tablet of commandments in soap opera (Lou Beale has them with her, I imagine, on Mount Walford) - a set of liberal values. "Be true to yourself"; "talk about your feelings"; "learn to forgive and move on"; "accept difference"; and "you're still family even after the murder/arson/substance abuse". Most of the plots of the soaps are generated when one of the characters strays from these commandments and the others rush around the Street or Square or Village trying to get them back living by these liberal values until - whoops! - another character slips and the game is on again. And again and again. The message is clear: learn these values or be ostracised by your community and banished to panto in Crewe.

This teaching of moral values is spreading across the TV drama spectrum. The wards of Holby City now live by the same principles, as do the cops at Sun Hill. Even Billie and the Doctor had to learn this time around, in a way that Tom Baker would never have done, that "Daleks have feelings too", and "you can travel in time but you mustn't forget your family". It seems there's nowhere in time or space, or the TV schedule, that can fully escape what they call in American sitcom script meetings "hugs and learning".
tv  ethics 
6 days ago
The Benedict Option or the Augustinian Call? | Comment Magazine
The uniquely Dreher-ish rendition of these analyses and proposals by others repurposes them within a project that is narrow and reactionary, with little of the outlandish beauty of grace. This is probably my biggest concern: that Dreher's idiosyncratic repackaging of the historic disciplines and formative practices of the church retroactively makes newcomers and outsiders mistake the Great Tradition with the narrowness of the Benedict Option—that the catholic heritage of the faith gets owned by the BenOp™, thereby associating the treasures and riches of the tradition with a particular take that is ultimately parochial and reactionary.

For example, was John Calvin extolling Rod Dreher's Benedict Option when he hoped that the entire city of Geneva could be reformed as a magnum monasterium? When Abraham Kuyper founded a Christian political party, a Christian newspaper, and a Christian university, was he unwittingly a practitioner of the Benedict Option? When Reformed communities in Michigan or Ontario built Christians schools alongside their churches, were they building arks in despair of the culture around them? Is Stanley Hauerwas merely an early adopter of the BenOp™? No, because they all had a fundamentally different posture and hope. Their proposals and actions grew out of the logic of mission and not merely as a "strategy" reacting to the times. They had fundamentally different understandings of the relationship between the church and the world.
6 days ago
Can Trees Save the World After We’re Gone? | Literary Hub
Can a tree be feral? I return to my starting question with the sense that, in this emergent Anthropocene, ferality indeed might offer the best hope for trees, and a boost for human prospects as well. I’m back with the copse of Ailanthus in Bussey Brook Meadow, watching their lithe boles bend springily in the city breeze. A steel howl rises from beyond the trees where the Acela train slices through the neighborhood on its way out of the city; lazy motes of passenger jets high above contrast with the staccato flocks of sparrows rippling the sky into tweed. On the tangled bank of the mesa, refuse peeks out from beneath the bittersweet underbrush: a bruised shoe, a tangle of copper flashing, a torn page of roofing paper, all nestle together in the loose black soil. And the slender Ailanthus, towering above, dapple these mingled objects and the promiscuous vines with a softening light. Throughout the city, stands of Ailanthus such as this mark provisional and temporary demarcations of property; they fill the vacant lots, springing from amid the tires and wreckage of fences. They shelter the trash-pickers and the gleaners, clutch and hold the poisoned soils that would otherwise run off the salvage lots into sewers that flow into Boston Harbor. These trees treasure up their carbon in dark abundance, in compounds that compose fungible resources of elemental matter and overflowing possibility. A century ago, from the dizzy imperial heights of industrial progress, it was possible to envision the city after us returning to wild forest; today, we might do better to acknowledge that a city is a feral forest, always and already; to know that forms of life are forever branching, and that bewilderment is our natural habitat.
6 days ago
The lie of the land: does environmentalism have a future in the age of Trump? | Books | The Guardian
This sense of the uniqueness of places, and of the cultures that sprang from them, had been what pushed me towards green activism in the first place. From a young age I had an inchoate sense that much of the world’s colour, beauty and distinctiveness was being bulldozed away in the name of money and progress. Some old magic, some connection, was being snuffed out in the process. It must be 20 years since I read the autobiography of the late travel writer Norman Lewis, The World, The World, but the last sentence stays with me. Wandering the hills of India, Lewis is ask by a puzzled local why he spends his life travelling instead of staying at home. What is he looking for? “I am looking for the people who have always been there,” replies Lewis, “and belong to the places where they live. The others I do not wish to see.”

As a writer, whether of fiction or non-fiction, I have been looking for the same thing. That first book of mine, it turned out, was a journey in search of people who belong. It was a defence of a threatened fragility. A few years later, I wrote another, this time about globalisation’s impact on England, my home country. I’ve since written novels and essays and poems and they always seem, however hard I try to write about something else, to circle back around to that primal question: what does it mean to belong to a place, to a people, to nature, in a time in which belonging is everywhere under attack? Does it mean anything? Why should it matter?
6 days ago
Classical architecture makes us happy. So why not build more of it? | Coffee House
There are two major reasons that more British cities are not beautiful. Firstly, there are the architects themselves, who tend to prefer innovative buildings over traditional ones. In 1987 a psychologist called David Halpern did a survey of students rating buildings by attractiveness and while almost everyone had similar tastes, uniquely the architecture students rated everyone else’s favourite as their least favourite and vice versa. Curiously the longer someone had been studying architecture the more contrarian their tastes.

This makes sense, in the same way that people who study music their whole lives tend to prefer more idiosyncratic and unpopular artists and styles than what’s played on Capital Gold. But there may be a status aspect too; just as deliberately unpopular modern art is a status signal – because any idiot can like a Rembrandt – so unloved architecture sends a similar message.

However the bigger problem is British planning law, under which Georgian architecture is impossible to build because of well-meaning regulations; some of the most beautiful and sought after houses in London break up to 12 different rules.
6 days ago
How the stress industry is gaslighting Britain
My work, which recommends traditional problem-solving skills and robustness training rather than soothing and drugs, has led to accusations that I am ‘a heartless bitch’. But my books present evidence that ‘stress management’ has not just failed to halt spiralling mental health casualties and work absenteeism; it has itself helped to create the pandemic. Despite the Health and Safety Executive’s new ‘stress’ standards and costly initiatives, the number of cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2014/15 was unimproved at 440,000, with 234,000 new cases. [...]

The sociologist David Wainwright, a senior lecturer in the health department at Bath University, is an opponent of playground ‘stress awareness’ and ‘safe spaces’ on campuses: ‘Over the past 40 years there has been an inversion of traditional values of courage, resilience and stoicism,’ he says. ‘A “stiff upper lip” is increasingly seen as a problem and encouraging people to confront their fears is viewed as grossly insensitive or damaging. The outcome is an amplified sense of emotional vulnerability and the widespread belief that the challenges and problems of everyday life cannot be managed without professional intervention.’
6 days ago
Now 87, Norman Podhoretz has outlived his friends and adversaries
“My view of life is, most people mind their own business,” he said. “They go to make a living, they got marriages, they got kids. And only a small minority of people venture forth into things that don’t have a direct bearing on their lives.” After the battles of the 1960s and ’70s, he said, the air has gone out of such disputation. “All Americans really care about is sports,” he said. “They pretend to care about other things, but what they care about is sports.”
politics  culture 
7 days ago
A ‘Digital Alchemist’ Unravels the Mysteries of Complexity
You’re absolutely right that it’s completely counterintuitive. We typically think entropy means disorder, and so a disordered structure would have more entropy than an ordered structure. That can be true under certain circumstances, but it’s not always true, and in these cases, it’s not. I prefer to think of entropy as related to options: The more options a system of particles has to arrange itself, the higher the entropy. In certain circumstances, it’s possible for a system to have more options—more possible arrangements—of its building blocks if the system is ordered. What happens is the particles try to maximize the amount of space that they have to wiggle around in. If you can wiggle, you can rearrange your position and orientation. The more positions, the more options, and thus the more entropy. So you imagine these baseballs in water. They are moving around—translating, rotating. They’re jiggling, because of the thermal motion of the water molecules. And what these systems want to do is space out the particles enough so that it maximizes the amount of wiggle room available to all the particles. Depending on the particle shape, that can lead to extremely complicated arrangements.
science  math 
7 days ago
'London Bridge is down': the secret plan for the days after the Queen’s death | UK news | The Guardian
More overwhelming than any of this, though, there will be an almighty psychological reckoning for the kingdom that she leaves behind. The Queen is Britain’s last living link with our former greatness – the nation’s id, its problematic self-regard – which is still defined by our victory in the second world war. One leading historian, who like most people I interviewed for this article declined to be named, stressed that the farewell for this country’s longest-serving monarch will be magnificent. “Oh, she will get everything,” he said. “We were all told that the funeral of Churchill was the requiem for Britain as a great power. But actually it will really be over when she goes.” [...]

The second Elizabethan age is likely to be remembered as a reign of uninterrupted national decline, and even, if she lives long enough and Scotland departs the union, as one of disintegration. Life and politics at the end of her rule will be unrecognisable from their grandeur and innocence at its beginning. “We don’t blame her for it,” Philip Ziegler, the historian and royal biographer, told me. “We have declined with her, so to speak.” [...]

What we think of as the ancient rituals of the monarchy were mainly crafted in the late 19th century, towards the end of Victoria’s reign. Courtiers, politicians and constitutional theorists such as Walter Bagehot worried about the dismal sight of the Empress of India trooping around Windsor in her donkey cart. If the crown was going to give up its executive authority, it would have to inspire loyalty and awe by other means – and theatre was part of the answer. “The more democratic we get,” wrote Bagehot in 1867, “the more we shall get to like state and show.”
England  history  London 
8 days ago
Why Spelling Counts | John G. Stackhouse, Jr.
The ugly truth about work in this Real World, despite a generation or more of affirmation of each student’s precious wonderfulness—or, to be sure, in the alternative situation of a ruthless passing-along of barely educated pupils to the next grade level by overworked teachers whose attentions are disproportionately occupied by the variously troubled “problem children” in each excessively large class—is that few jobs, even in the Information Age, require and reward originality, or even creativity to any significant degree.

All jobs, however, require correct and complete following of instructions.

Those jobs—again, that would be all jobs—require, furthermore, such following of instructions regardless of whether one sees and agrees with the value of each instruction.

Failing to comply with the express directives of one’s supervisor is not generally understood as a mark of individual specialness. Nor do supervisors typically strain to “see past” such deviations into some underlying brilliance that more than compensates for this disappointment of expectations. No, not following instructions to the letter is more typically termed “cause for termination.”
9 days ago
(Re)Secularizing the University | The American Conservative
I think that Marcuse’s stance represents a slippery slope, establishing as it does a tribunal of censorship consisting of ideologically-charged activist milieus. It effectively means that illiberalism must be a characteristic of “liberal” society. This principally represents a contradiction and fails to consider the strong possibility that, sooner or later, the continually narrowing Overton window will close on the speech of the very people who sought to bar the speech of others. In any case, one must wonder: just who is fit to be arbiter, and what makes them—and not others—the interpretative conscience of society, suited to ban expression they deplore? In our contemporary moment, the strange irony is that these arbiters aim to foreclose lines of inquiry they have never even directly encountered or considered. But if they had, the irony would be even greater. The arbiters have survived, so why wouldn’t others? Marcuse’s advocacy of social and legal intolerance toward supposed intolerance reproduces the very repression that he lamented and hoped to prevent. And one wonders just how he managed to arrive at such conclusions as early as 1965. Not that he was prescient; as a prominent communist theorist, had he already completely forgotten the McCarthy hearings?
politics  academentia 
9 days ago
The Academic Home of Trumpism - The Chronicle of Higher Education
In other words, one of the things that is most disturbing about Trump for liberal and conservative elites (including some East Coast Straussians) — his utter disdain for expertise and convention — is what is most promising about him from the point of view of the Claremonsters. "There’s a fundamental clash between the self-evident truths of the Declaration and the worldview of the progressives," said Voegeli. "Our view is that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, whereas progressives are inclined to think that government derives just powers from the expertise of the experts." Voegeli’s sense that Trump drew his power from the consent of the governed, often in open opposition to the expertise of the experts, connected with what Kesler had earlier praised to me as Trump’s "willingness to fight and his openness to changing both the Democratic and the Republican establishments." Or, as Anton put it in "The Flight 93 Election": Only a "loudmouth" could outshout the "bipartisan junta."
politics  election2016  strauss 
9 days ago
The War of the Worlds (1898)
The War of the Worlds is as much metaphorical fiction as rational extrapolation, and that the many touches of carefully observed verisimilitude in the novel reinforce rather than contradict this metaphoricity. Big guns are explosive. Big guns are the technology of big war, and war, bigger even than the one Lieutenant-Colonel Chesney foretold, was the coming thing. We can, in other words, take seriously the ‘war’ in Wells’ title, here. It’s yet another way in which he was surprisingly prescient, treating war not as warriors meeting on a battlefield but as massed tides of refugees. As civilians terrorised and massacred, living under bombardment and gas-attack. The final chapter of the novel’s first book (16: ‘the Exodus from London’) is not only one of the first but also one of the most powerful representations in fiction of the way war would come to figure in the 20th-century: huge crowds of non-belligerents flooding away from the fighting in fear of their lives. War in The War of the Worlds is no longer a horizontal interaction between two armies. It now has a terrible vertical vector—something the 20th-century world would come to know only too bitterly, from shells and bombs to V2s, cruise missiles and drones plummeting down from on-high. When the narrator says ‘suddenly, like a thing falling upon me from without, came fear [Wells, War, 24] he is describing the Martians s externalisations of a state of mind. Indeed that, in a crucial sense, is what The War of the Worlds is about.
SF  modernism  war 
9 days ago
Two Feeds, Two Scarcities
As we think about the firehose of the Stream — that never-ending reverse-chronological scroll of events that has become the primary metaphor of the web, via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and who-knows-what-else — it’s worth noting that the Stream was originally a solution for scarcity, not abundance. That is, the reason that Facebook made the News Feed was that people got tired checking out all of their friend’s Facebook walls only to find there were no updates. So Facebook borrowed a lesson from RSS, that had solved this problem years earlier: serialize contributions from different places into a single reverse chronological feed. This made sure that when ever you logged into Facebook you were guaranteed there was some activity with which to engage. To repeat, the Stream here was a solution for too little activity. By pooling activity and time-ordering it, a sense of abundance was created.
10 days ago
Making Athens Great Again - The Atlantic
Socrates’s compatriots wanted to make Athens great again. They wanted to restore the culture of kleos that had once made them feel so terrific about themselves. It’s not hard to understand why Plato fled a citizenry that, in struggling to recover from its sense of diminishment, was prepared to destroy what had been best about the polis—the extraordinary man whose subversive challenges to blinkered opinion and self-righteous patriotism held the key to resurrecting any exceptionalism worth aspiring to.

And yet eventually, after his years of self-imposed exile, Plato came back to Athens, bringing his newly gathered learning along with him, to take up where Socrates had left off. Except Plato didn’t philosophize where Socrates had. He abandoned the agora and created the Academy, the first European university, which attracted thinkers—purportedly even a couple of women—from across greater Hellas, including, at the age of 17 or 18, Aristotle. Foremost among the problems they pondered was how to create a society in which a person like Socrates would flourish, issuing stringent calls to self-scrutiny, as relevant now as ever.
politics  philosophy 
10 days ago
Why check-cashing stores are a good deal, according to a UPenn professor - Business Insider
Outsiders may think the signage at a check casher — resembling that of a fast-food menu — is gauche compared with simple, polished interiors of their local bank branch. But that's a feature, not a bug.

Customers "felt like they knew exactly what they were paying when they went to the check casher. And if you go into a check casher, you will see there are signs that span the teller window that list every product that's for sale and how much it costs," Servon said. "The transparency is really critical."

On the contrary, customers couldn't predict when banks would charge them a fee or what that amount would be — a deal-breaker when you're operating on a tight budget.

"Walk into your bank branch and you'll see there's no literature like that that makes it obvious what's on offer," Servon said.

Moreover, Servon writes, checking accounts were the antithesis of transparent. The terms and conditions were long, technical, and laden with jargon. Many people can't afford to wonder when their deposit will clear, and they prefer paying a small fee for the clarity and speed offered by check cashers.
10 days ago
Book Review: Seeing Like A State
But psychiatric patients have a metis of dealing with their individual diseases the same way peasants have a metis of dealing with their individual plots of land. My favorite example of this is doctors who learn their patients are taking marijuana, refuse to keep prescribing them their vitally important drugs unless the patient promises to stop, and then gets surprised when the patients end up decompensating because the marijuana was keeping them together. I’m not saying smoking marijuana is a good thing. I’m saying that for some people it’s a load-bearing piece of their mental edifice. And if you take it away without any replacement they will fall apart. And they have explained this to you a thousand times and you didn’t believe them.

There are so many fricking patients who respond to sedative medications by becoming stimulated, or stimulant medications by becoming sedated, or who become more anxious whenever they do anti-anxiety exercises, or who hallucinate when placed on some super common medication that has never caused hallucinations in anyone else, or who become suicidal if you try to reassure them that things aren’t so bad, or any other completely perverse and ridiculous violation of the natural order that you can think of. And the only redeeming feature of all of this is that the patients themselves know all of this stuff super-well and are usually happy to tell you if you ask. [...]

Maybe instead of concluding that Scott is too focused on peasant villages, we should conclude that he’s focused on confrontations between a well-educated authoritarian overclass and a totally separate poor underclass. Most modern political issues don’t exactly map on to that – even things like taxes where the rich and the poor are on separate sides don’t have a bimodal distribution. But in cases there are literally about rich people trying to dictate to the poorest of the poor how they should live their lives, maybe this becomes more useful.

Actually, one of the best things the book did to me was make me take cliches about “rich people need to defer to the poor on poverty-related policy ideas” more seriously. This has become so overused that I roll my eyes at it: “Could quantitative easing help end wage stagnation? Instead of asking macroeconomists, let’s ask this 19-year old single mother in the Bronx!” But Scott provides a lot of situations where that was exactly the sort of person they should have asked. He also points out that Tanzanian natives using their traditional farming practices were more productive than European colonists using scientific farming. I’ve had to listen to so many people talk about how “we must respect native people’s different ways of knowing” and “native agriculturalists have a profound respect for the earth that goes beyond logocentric Western ideals” and nobody had ever bothered to tell me before that they actually produced more crops per acre, at least some of the time. That would have put all of the other stuff in a pretty different light.
thinking  from instapaper
10 days ago
Spiritual Literature for Atheists by Francis Spufford | Articles | First Things
And if we do this, we will also be true to the shock and disorentiation of such encounters. Anyone who has had anything resembling Ehrenreich’s experience, and such an experience is surprisingly common, will tell you that the presence they met did not so much contradict their religious expectations as stand in a kind of orthogonal relationship to them, so much more than and other than expectation that expectation seemed almost beside the point. Wild justice—justice unmediated and unfiltered—is different from the thing we painstakingly try to make in courtrooms. Wild charity—love unmixed and uncompromised—is fearfully unlike the adulterated product we are used to. It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God. To call the presence you meet “amoral” is at least to acknowledge its difference—to allow awe, bafflement, and uncertainty their honest place.

Three months ago, I was standing in a wood on a hilltop in England with two Anglican priests. The beech trees were in new, intensely green leaf, and the spring sun came through in shifting specklings of brightness; the bluebells were in full flower on the forest floor, and drifted the ground in all directions with a fine-grained blue mixed with the bright white of wild garlic. The silence between the gray uprights of the beeches was expectant, intent, and more vivid and demanding than was strictly comfortable. Because we were who we were, and knew what we knew, and believed what we believed, for us it was natural to infer, from the ground we could see, a figure just out of sight, and to name the wild moment by saying, Surely the holy one of Israel is here. But if we had been standing in the same wood two thousand years ago, we might well instead have left an offering to the genius loci. Or, like Barbara Ehrenreich, have improvised an altar to an unknown god.
religion  atheism 
10 days ago
Forgive Us Our Trespasses? The Economics of the Lord's Prayer
Luther rendered Luke 11:4 as "Forgive us our sins (Suenden) as we forgive all who are indebted (schulden) to us." Schulden means to "owe" monetarily as well as non-monetarily, continuing the dual senses of forgiveness. Following this, the German Lord's Prayer uses the noun Schuld, which, until the mid-twentieth century, carried both financial and moral connotations. All early English translations of the Bible except two (the Matthew and Tyndale Bibles) preserved the double meaning of debt, using both debt/indebted (with financial overtones) and sin/trespass. The exception to this tradition is the English Lord's Prayer, which has only trespasses. The connotation of forgiving financial debt recedes. Why should this have happened after 1,500 years?
bible  theology 
10 days ago
All Hail the Mountain Goats: 20 Essential Songs | PopMatters
The 2002 release All Hail West Texas marked a turning point for the Mountain Goats, as John Darnielle went from underground home recording cult hero to wider acclaim. With this weeks reissue of All Hail West Texas, we review essential tracks from the Mountain Goats back catalog.
11 days ago
And finally, if I may be so bold as to supplement Piketty’s Three Laws by yet another, here it is:

The Fourth Fundamental Law of Capitalism. Uneven growth or not, there is invariably a long run tendency for technical progress to displace labor.

There is a simple argument why this law must hold. It is this: capital can be indefinitely accumulated, while the growth of labor is fundamentally limited by the growth of population. Therefore there is always a tendency for capital to become progressively cheaper relative to labor, and so all technical progress must be fundamentally redirected away from labor. But there is a subtlety here: that redirection must of necessity be slow. If it is too fast, then the demand for labor must fall dramatically, resulting in labor being too cheap. But if labor is too cheap, the impetus for labor-displacing technical progress vanishes. So, this change must be slow. But it will be implacable. To avoid the ever widening capital-labor inequality as we lurch towards an automated world, all its inhabitants must ultimately own shares of physical capital. Whether this can successfully happen or not is an open question. I am pessimistic, but the deepest of all long-run policy implications lies in pondering this question.
economics  from instapaper
11 days ago
Thomas Piketty Is Absolutely Right
"This is Piketty’s main point, and his new and powerful contribution to an old topic: as long as the rate of return exceeds the rate of growth, the income and wealth of the rich will grow faster than the typical income from work. (There seems to be no offsetting tendency for the aggregate share of capital to shrink; the tendency may be slightly in the opposite direction.) This interpretation of the observed trend toward increasing inequality, and especially the phenomenon of the 1 percent, is not rooted in any failure of economic institutions; it rests primarily on the ability of the economy to absorb increasing amounts of capital without a substantial fall in the rate of return. This may be good news for the economy as a whole, but it is not good news for equity within the economy.

We need a name for this process for future reference. I will call it the “rich-get-richer dynamic.” The mechanism is a little more complicated than Piketty’s book lets on. There is some saving from labor income, and thus some accumulation of capital in the hands of wage and salary earners. The return on this wealth has to be taken into account. Still, given the small initial wealth and the relatively low saving rate below the top group, as well as the fact that small savings earn a relatively low rate of return, calculation shows that this mechanism is not capable of offsetting the forecast of widening inequality."
from instapaper
11 days ago
The Benedict Option in Percentages < Andy Crouch

1. Social hostility and legal restrictions will undermine the viability of many Christian institutions, and significantly limit individual Christians’ participation in many professions and aspects of public life, in the United States within a generation or so.

Portion of The Benedict Option devoted to this claim: 20%

Portion of journalistic coverage of the book devoted to this claim: 90%

Portion of social media buzz (pro and con) devoted to this claim: 98%

Likelihood of this claim being true: 50%

How much this should cause acute distress for those who believe that Jesus is Lord: 5%

2. Due to a lack of meaningful discipleship and accommodation to various features of secularized modernity and consumer culture, the collapse of Christian belief and practice is likely among members of the dominant culture (and many minority cultures) in the United States within a generation or so.

Portion of The Benedict Option devoted to this claim: 80%

Portion of journalistic coverage devoted to this claim: 10%

Portion of social media buzz (pro and con) devoted to this claim: 2%

Likelihood of this claim being true: 90%

How much this should cause acute distress for those who believe that Jesus is Lord: 100%
12 days ago
The bare reading of Scripture and Anglican hermeneutics – Covenant
Oliver O’Donovan points out that any attempt to grasp the heart or essence of historical Anglicanism is complicated by the fact that it is not “susceptible to the kind of textual definition which the Confessions (on the Protestant side) and the conciliar decrees (on the Catholic) afford.”[2] Anglican catechetical works that mirrored the great catechetical monuments on the Continent were published at various points during the 16th and 17th centuries. These works, however, failed to gain traction, partly because of divisions within Anglicanism. But divisions abounded on the Continent too, and they alone cannot account for the difference. The Continental project of establishing ecclesial identity through doctrinal precision failed in Anglicanism because a different sort of ecclesial identity was already being forged through the Book of Common Prayer.

In the prayer book, Cranmer bequeathed the Anglican Church far more than a rule for common worship. He bequeathed a program for establishing Christian unity in England. Cranmer dreamed that by praying in common Christians would become one in heart and mind.[3] For Cranmer, however, it wasn’t enough just to pray the same words as other Christians: the words Christians pray must be grounded in Scripture. Thus, to read the prayer book is to witness how scriptural texts can be transformed into prayers. And to pray these prayers is to be drawn into what Ephraim Radner calls the “formative Scripturalism” of the prayer book.[4]
12 days ago
America’s Empty-Church Problem - The Atlantic
How might religious nonattendance lead to intolerance? Although American churches are heavily segregated, it’s possible that the modest level of integration they provide promotes cross-racial bonds. In their book, Religion and Politics in the United States, Kenneth D. Wald and Allison Calhoun-Brown reference a different theory: that the most-committed members of a church are more likely than those who are casually involved to let its message of universal love erode their prejudices.

Whatever the reason, when cultural conservatives disengage from organized religion, they tend to redraw the boundaries of identity, de-emphasizing morality and religion and emphasizing race and nation. Trump is both a beneficiary and a driver of that shift. [...]

Read Milo Yiannopoulos and Allum Bokhari’s famous Breitbart.com essay, “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right.” It contains five references to “tribe,” seven to “race,” 13 to “the west” and “western” and only one to “Christianity.” That’s no coincidence. The alt-right is ultra-conservatism for a more secular age. Its leaders like Christendom, an old-fashioned word for the West. But they’re suspicious of Christianity itself, because it crosses boundaries of blood and soil. As a college student, the alt-right leader Richard Spencer was deeply influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche, who famously hated Christianity. Radix, the journal Spencer founded, publishes articles with titles like “Why I Am a Pagan.” One essay notes that “critics of Christianity on the Alternative Right usually blame it for its universalism.”
religion  politics 
12 days ago
Bonhoeffer’s Argument Against Religious Blackmail | Wesley Hill
I submit that Bonhoeffer may provide us with a way out of this conundrum. Avoiding what he calls “an attack on the adulthood of the world,” we may realize that it isn’t part of our Christian calling to first expose (or conjure) guilty feelings before we commend, say, a traditional Christian vision of marriage. Rather, we can simply acknowledge that human emotions are unpredictable; “peace” and “fulfillment” may indeed be the outcome of practices and behaviors that, from a Christian vantage point, we must deem sinful. But no matter. The gospel lays claim to the whole human being in the midst of that “peace.” Here in Advent, we remember the One who told us he did not come to bring peace (Matt. 10:34). He came to demand our all -- to ask for our death and our life. No matter how robust our consciences may be, he came to save us all.
theology  religion  from instapaper
12 days ago
The Fate of the Critic in the Clickbait Age - The New Yorker
Cultural criticism is a form of journalism—odd journalism, but journalism nonetheless. The Times film critic A. O. Scott mounted a vibrant defense of this sour science in his recent book “Better Living Through Criticism.” He writes, “As consumers of culture, we are lulled into passivity or, at best, prodded toward a state of pseudo-semi-self-awareness, encouraged either toward the defensive group identity of fanhood or a shallow, half-ironic eclecticism.” The role of the critic, Scott says, is to resist the manufactured consensus—to interrogate the successful, to exalt the unknown, to argue for ambiguity and complexity. Virgil Thomson immortally defined criticism as “the only antidote we have to paid publicity.”

Criticism can assume many forms: essays, profiles, reported pieces, opinionated rants. Ultimately, though, the review is the grounding of what critics do and is the source of whatever authority they possess. Furthermore, criticism is cumulative: its impact can’t be measured by however many hits one piece receives. One common complaint in newsrooms is that reviews—especially reviews of one-off events, like concerts—appear after the fact. Readers can’t act upon such writing as they do with, say, movie or food criticism. Yet reviews are the shoe-leather journalism of the cultural sphere: they convey what happened, however subjectively or impressionistically. No editor would ask that political reporters deliver forecasts of what might happen in a debate, or candidates’ assessments of how they will perform, in place of accounts of the debate itself. This is the ridiculous position in which the non-criticizing critic is placed.
criticism  art  journalism 
12 days ago
makeDoc — toketaWare
makeDoc will convert Markdown, plain text and OPML into Microsoft Word format (also supported by Apple Pages.) Once converted, you can view the document, email it, print it and send it to another app (e.g. Dropbox, Pages, Goodreader etc.)

Text, Markdown or OPML files can be sent directly to makeDoc by using the 'Open In' feature supported by many apps (e.g. OmniOutliner, Dropbox, GDrive etc.)

makeDoc will also look on the clipboard and convert any text or Markdown it finds there.

x-callback-url is also supported - meaning you can integrate makeDoc into your workflow (eg. Editorial, Launch Center Pro, Drafts, Workflow etc.)
12 days ago
How to live a fulfilling life on the internet
As much as you can, ditch Instagram and Facebook for older forms of social networking: message boards and other exchange groups. That's where the good stuff is still happening. Here are two examples. If you wanted to learn a new language in the past, you used to buy expensive courses at local schools or at a Rosetta Stone kiosk in the mall. But language learning has become a community on the internet, and as its members share tips, they've mostly exposed the old methods for not delivering on their promises. And now the community is building new ones. You can trade digital flashcards for language study on Anki. Or you can connect with language learners across the world on italki.com and HelloTalk. There you can use the internet's powers to hire native speakers to tutor you over Skype. Or you can do something even more powerful for language learning: Make friends in your target language. You can trade a half hour of your English for a half hour of another person's Mandarin or Tagalog.
12 days ago
Reviewing Rod Dreher’s “The Benedict Option”
This brings me back to the opening of this now almost certainly over-long review. In the lede I distinguished between two sorts of critics of the basic premises of Rod’s book. On the one hand, I said, there are orthodox Christians who disagree with Rod’s diagnosis but who are worth engaging because our basic goals and ambitions are the same. On the other, I said there are critics who we ought to just ignore because our foundational values and beliefs are so different that we can’t really do productive work together. The challenge here is that the lines between these two groups are not always clear. Jamie Smith and Katelyn Beaty are two people whose core principles and theological orthodoxy I trust and so I put them both in the former category. Someone like Rachel Held Evans obviously belongs in the latter category. But our churches are full of people whose position is not going to be nearly so obvious. Indeed, many of them probably are in the first group right now but could easily drift into the second if those orthodox believers around them conduct themselves badly.
12 days ago
City of Rod : Democracy Journal
Christians who engage in politics have reason to engage beyond their own interests; politics can’t save one’s soul, but it can decree that children receive health care, or that poor families be able to purchase food, or that mothers can take time off work after a birth without suffering poverty or unemployment. Building communities of virtue is fine, but withdrawing from conventional politics is difficult to parse with Christ’s command that we love our neighbors. Politics order our society on every level, from deciding property laws to housing codes to social welfare policy to war and foreign intervention. An individual Christian might comfortably abandon the whole filthy mess of it, but she can’t do so cleanly: Her neighbors still need her, and not just personally, but politically. So long as we live in a democracy, each of us has agency and a responsibility for the stewardship of our fellow citizens, and though we may not succeed in all our goals, we are obligated to try.
[This argument would seem to make monasticism morally illegitimate -- and indeed any model of loving one's neighbors that neglects voting. The person who is too busy feeding the hungry or comforting the dying to get to the voting booth is, by Bruenig's logic, morally deficient.]
12 days ago
On Gay Loneliness
I don’t want to be misunderstood here. If gay loneliness can be alleviated through greater understanding of its causes, then by all means let’s pursue its alleviation. If any homophobia or bigotry, Christian or otherwise, is contributing to the alienation and marginalization of gay men, then by all means let’s renounce those things and redouble our efforts to fight against it. I hope I’m not advocating quietism here. But, as we fight, and as we experience the travails of the status viatoris, the ache of not having arrived at our destination yet on the pilgrim road, I hope we can cultivate some empathy and solidarity in the meantime. Wright again:
We [Christians] are to stand or kneel at the place where the world [is] in pain and need, and, understanding and feeling their sufferings, to pray with and for them, not knowing… what precisely to ask for, but allowing the Spirit to pray within us with groanings that cannot come into articulate speech.

Reading this HuffPo article on gay loneliness, in short, made want me to compare notes with my gay friends, especially my gay friends who aren’t Christians. It made me want to say, “I feel this loneliness, or at least a deeply related kind of loneliness, too.” If in some small way that instinct can lead to any kind of deeper hope, for all of us, and maybe also some kind of deeper camaraderie or loyalty between us, I would be glad.
sexuality  theology  ethics 
12 days ago
To See Things as They Are | George Weigel
"First, as I argued at some length in Evangelical Catholicism, the Church must discipline its public witness by resisting the temptation to comment on virtually every contested issue of public policy and by focusing primary attention on two key issues: the life issues and religious freedom. These are the points of maximum confrontation with the dictatorship of relativism; vigorously and doggedly contesting for life and for religious freedom in full can reopen the necessary public conversation about the moral and cultural bases of democratic order. And in that conversation, America could be reminded that it takes a certain kind of people, living certain habits of the mind and heart, to make the machinery of democracy work so that the net result is human flourishing, not human degradation. Advances on those fronts just might, as well, reopen the public conversation about the nature of freedom, offering opportunities to challenge the debasement of freedom into willfulness (license) and reconnecting freedom to the true and the good."
from instapaper
13 days ago
The Civic Project of American Christianity | Michael Hanby
"Broadly speaking, we may characterize the civic project of American Christianity as the attempt to harmonize Christianity and liberal order and to anchor American public philosophy in the substance of Protestant morality, Catholic social teaching, or some version of natural law that might qualify as public reason. George Weigel articulated one of the assumptions animating protagonists on all sides of this project when in Tranquilitas Ordinis he wrote that “there is no contradiction between the truth claims of Catholicism and the American democratic experiment.” This assertion rests on some form of Murray’s familiar distinction between articles of faith and articles of peace. This view defines the state as a juridical order that exists principally for the purpose of securing public order and protecting our ability to act on our own initiative. It therefore renounces all competence in religious and ontological matters. This ostensibly modest view of government opens up space that is then filled with the Christian substance that animates civil society.

One needn’t be ungrateful for the genuine achievements of American liberalism in order to question the wisdom of this project and its guiding assumptions."
from instapaper
13 days ago
Book Review: "The Benedict Option" — Conciliar Post
No conservative I know would defend Bob Jones University’s racist policy on its merits. But the logic of Bob Jones University suggests that when sufficiently compelling antidiscrimination interests are juxtaposed against religious freedom claims, religious freedom claims lose. And on the other side of the political spectrum, Bob Jones University helps explain why so many progressives are uncomfortable supporting religion-based exceptions to secular antidiscrimination laws: arguments for religious freedom have periodically been deployed in support of racial separatism.

I’m certainly not implying that religious freedom claims should consistently lose to antidiscrimination arguments—after all, the very existence of religious institutions is predicated upon the ability to set group boundaries and define the terms of membership. Rather, I mean to point out that in the legal/political sphere, these types of arguments aren’t just about sexuality. Dreher doesn’t comment on the fact that conflicts between secular antidiscrimination law and the free exercise of religion are not new.
BenedictOption  from instapaper
13 days ago
Philosopher of Love
To live well, Schindler argues, is to live in a way that is proper to our being. Conversely, when a misapprehension of being structures our thinking and actions, we experience unhappiness, brokenness, and poverty in its deepest sense—the absence of meaning. He believes that the modern liberal project from Descartes to Rawls is based on a radical misunderstanding of the nature of reality.

Specifically, liberalism fails to apprehend that “love is the basic act and order of things.” Love brings all there is into existence, it is through love that all there is continues in existence, and it is for love that all things exist. Reality is in this sense triadic: all things are in, through, and for love. Being might therefore be said to be an order or “logic” of love.
philosophy  theology  from instapaper
13 days ago
Why We Need the Benedict Option and How It Doesn’t Have to Return to Fundamentalism
For my own setting, my ears are deaf to accusations that Dreher is fearmongering regarding the loss of job and educational opportunities for conservative Christians. I work at an evangelical postsecondary institution, and among such universities we are currently planning for not if we lose our accreditation or our students become ineligible for state and federal loans but when in respect to our institutional stances on traditional sexual ethics.

When recent alums have talked to me about career aspirations as faculty in conservative Christian universities, I have praised their desires but told them that they may need to consider one of the parallel structures that Dreher writes about: Christian study centers near major public universities. Perhaps more shocking, a friend of mine is reconsidering his option to send his graduating high schooler to a prestigious evangelical institution because he’s concerned his child will have less job opportunities with that institution’s name on her resume.
BenedictOption  from instapaper
13 days ago
A Catholic Showdown Worth Watching | The American Conservative
The “radical” school rejects the view that Catholicism and liberal democracy are fundamentally compatible. Rather, liberalism cannot be understood to be merely neutral and ultimately tolerant toward (and even potentially benefitting from) Catholicism. Rather, liberalism is premised on a contrary view of human nature (and even a competing theology) to Catholicism. Liberalism holds that human beings are essentially separate, sovereign selves who will cooperate based upon grounds of utility. According to this view, liberalism is not a “shell” philosophy that allows a thousand flowers to bloom. Rather, liberalism is constituted by a substantive set of philosophical commitments that are deeply contrary to the basic beliefs of Catholicism, among which (Catholics hold) are the belief that we are by nature relational, social and political creatures; that social units like the family, community and Church are “natural,” not merely the result of individuals contracting temporary arrangements; that liberty is not a condition in which we experience the absence of constraint, but the exercise of self-limitation; and that both the “social” realm and the economic realm must be governed by a thick set of moral norms, above all, self-limitation and virtue.

Because of these positions, the “radical” position—while similarly committed to the pro-life, pro-marriage teachings of the Church—is deeply critical of contemporary arrangements of market capitalism, is deeply suspicious of America’s imperial ambitions, and wary of the basic premises of liberal government. It is comfortable with neither party, and holds that the basic political division in America merely represents two iterations of liberalism—the pursuit of individual autonomy in either the social/personal sphere (liberalism) or the economic realm (“conservatism”—better designated as market liberalism). Because America was founded as a liberal nation, “radical” Catholicism tends to view America as a deeply flawed project, and fears that the anthropological falsehood at the heart of the American founding is leading inexorably to civilizational catastrophe. It wavers between a defensive posture, encouraging the creation of small moral communities that exist apart from society—what Rod Dreher, following Alasdair MacIntyre, has dubbed “the Benedict Option”—and, occasionally, a more proactive posture that hopes for the conversion of the nation to a fundamentally different and truer philosophy and theology.
Catholic  BenedictOption 
13 days ago
IASC: The Hedgehog Review - Volume 19, No. 1 (Spring 2017) - Whatever Happened to General Education? -
We all love and relate to the world differently. To expect that we cease to be who we have become is both naive and wrong-headed. And yet we come to a common and historical institution, the university. We arrive with a shared commitment, however inarticulate and inchoate, to its purposes and virtues: the creation, discovery, curation, and transmission of knowledge. The modern research university has long embodied these ideals and maintained the scholarly practices and virtues necessary for their flourishing: a devotion to open discussion, a critical disposition, a commitment to rational argument based on evidence and exactitude, and a love of learning.32 Now, more than ever, we have to identify these practices and virtues and defend them. We must also acknowledge that the university will and should transform us all.

To do so, however, we also need to acknowledge that these practices, virtues, and ideals are, on their own, insufficient. Like any robust civic institution in a democracy, the university can’t merely tolerate differences. As even mainstream liberal theorists such as Jürgen Habermas and John Rawls have acknowledged, the university community needs to draw upon the same motivational resources provided by plural religions, traditions, and cultures that enable the members of the greater society not only to survive but to flourish.33 Our differences may well keep us from embracing a common, singular vision of the good, but they motivate us to commit to common projects, common purposes, and shared goods. We are, as the legal theorist John Inazu writes, “unlikely to agree upon the meaning of abstract notions” such as justice, truth, dignity, or the fundamental purposes of our lives and communities.34 But at least most of us in the university accept that these are fundamental concepts calling for passionate yet generous debate. Given its history and the continued strength of its ideals, the university may be the institution best equipped to sustain such an experiment in pluralism and democratic discourse.35
academe  university 
13 days ago
The Decline of Religious Freedom and the Return of Religious Influence – Opinion – ABC Religion & Ethics (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
Therefore, if it is indeed true, as Brad Gregory argues, that the more the modern State reduces religion to a matter of private belief the more it both maintains and extends its control over religious belief and practice, one should still beware of pre-dating this eventual development, which always remained gradual. Insofar as religion has remained an assumed part of the necessary fabric of civil society, its pure privatisation is not fully achieved even today, while the effective Erastianism of which Gregory rightly speaks was nonetheless qualified in the past by a real confessional shaping of the character of the State itself (as Manent argues), including the Protestant character of the United States.

In this way, the religious toleration of the West in modern times is to a degree considerably in continuity with Patristic and the more generous among mediaeval and renaissance Christian attitudes, even if it is true that this toleration was forced upon the West by the collapse of a more unitary and intolerant mediaeval Christendom and the subsequent wars of religion. Yet that intolerance often does not seem retrospectively justifiable in terms of the fundamental theological norms which the Church Fathers like Tertullian and Augustine laid down, even if, once more, we may surmise that their tolerance was partially forced upon them by circumstances of persecution. Beyond that again in any case lies the witness of the New Testament for tolerance as free assent to God and Christ, albeit within the limits any notion of tolerance necessarily requires.
religion  toleration 
13 days ago
Making Sense of “The Weird and the Eerie” - Los Angeles Review of Books
The uncanny, Fisher says, puts the “strange within the familiar” and “operates by always processing the outside through the gaps and impasses of the inside.” In other words, for all its interest in boundary breaches, it is still centered on the self. The weird and the eerie work at this from the other direction, Fisher suggests: “they allow us to see the inside from the perspective of the outside.” The weird is a disturbing obtrusion of something from the outside in. It is the insidious intrusion, the confounding juxtaposition, the thing found in the wrong place. As Lovecraft put it in his essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” the weird is “a certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces.” Lovecraft’s fictions, at their evocative best, are about a steady dethronement of anthropocentric models. This explains the embrace of Lovecraft’s weird realism by philosophers challenging phenomenological paradigms, or leaning toward the radical end of “Thing Theory,” where things escape routine imprisonment inside the implicit hierarchy of the subject/object binary.
SF  fantasy  from instapaper
14 days ago
Using natural language processing to reverse engineer code
The source code of computer program is text, but not a text. That is, it consists of plain text files, but it’s not a text in the sense that Paradise Lost or an email is a text. The most efficient way to parse a programming language is as a programming language. Treating it as an English text will loose vital structure, and wrongly try to impose a foreign structure.

But what if you have two computer programs? That’s the problem I’ve been thinking about. I have code in two very different programming languages, and I’d like to know how functions in one code base relate to those in the other. The connections are not ones that a compiler could find. The connections are more psychological than algorithmic. I’d like to reverse engineer, for example, which function in language A a developer had in mind when he wrote a function in language B.
programming  language  from instapaper
14 days ago
The Invention of Philosophy
Over six lucid and engaging chapters, Smith presents a lexicon of the philosophically learned and able: the philosopher as curiosus, the early modern natural philosopher devoted to finding and explaining res singulares and the multifarious wonders of the natural world; the philosopher as sage, the midwife of wisdom and the mediating figure between “immanent and transcendent realms”; the philosopher as gadfly, the irascible and persistent critic of the reigning social order; the philosopher as ascetic, the suppliant committed to molding his soul to an order more eternal than the state or society; the philosopher as mandarin, the credentialed professional at least as committed to the maintenance of definitive and exclusive distinctions as to the pursuit of truth; and, finally, the philosopher as courtier, the thinker who argues for money and thinks in public or on stage.

Philosophy reconceived as philology allows, at the very least, for a different approach to some of the more recent controversies in academic philosophy, such as the lack of curricular and faculty diversity in philosophy departments. Is philosophy by definition, as some have suggested, white and Eurocentric? Smith interweaves his rich descriptions of philosophical personae with thoughtful discussions of just these types of timely and difficult questions. And he reframes them through a vision of what philosophy could fully be.
philosophy  from instapaper
15 days ago
The End of Theology « The Immanent Frame
So long as a classical foundationalism is in place, rather than a modest notion of revisable basic beliefs, we are unlikely to be open to true self-criticism. So long as a modernist approach to nonnegotiable theological truth operates instead of a postmodern appreciation of the hermeneutic necessity of epistemic humility, we are unlikely to be transformed by the missional theology that we advocate. So long as Scripture is allowed to stand as providing obvious truths about God such that we, “of course,” know how to live such truths out in the world, we are unlikely to find the theological fortitude required to speak risky truth to stable power, especially when those powers are the largely evangelical sub-culture promoting such foundationalism, modernism, and troubling Biblicism as simply the absolute Truth (always with a capital-T) of Christianity itself.
[Someday I'd like to visit this world where foundationalist biblicism is Power to which academics fear to speak Truth]
theology  from instapaper
16 days ago
Everything About Mars Is The Worst
There’s more bad news: When colonists venture outside to work or take in the Martian vistas, the very ground will pose a threat. Without water, the only force of erosion on Mars in the past three and a half billion years has been wind. Mars is the most wind-dominated planet in the solar system, said Mackenzie Day, a doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin who studies wind erosion. Wind takes its time when it comes to altering the landscape, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a force to be reckoned with. The upshot is that there is a lot of soft, slippery sand, with rocks rudely carved into sharp, dangerous points.

“It’s sort of a pick your poison from a rover perspective. You can drive through the nice, soft sand dunes, where you’re going to get stuck, or you can drive across the hard, sharp bedrock, where it will chew up your wheels,” Day said.
mars  from instapaper
16 days ago
Liberal Democracy Is Suffering From a Concussion
Like the Puritanism once familiar in New England, intersectionality controls language and the very terms of discourse. It enforces manners. It has an idea of virtue — and is obsessed with upholding it. The saints are the most oppressed who nonetheless resist. The sinners are categorized in various ascending categories of demographic damnation, like something out of Dante. The only thing this religion lacks, of course, is salvation. Life is simply an interlocking drama of oppression and power and resistance, ending only in death. It’s Marx without the final total liberation.

It operates as a religion in one other critical dimension: If you happen to see the world in a different way, if you’re a liberal or libertarian or even, gasp, a conservative, if you believe that a university is a place where any idea, however loathsome, can be debated and refuted, you are not just wrong, you are immoral. If you think that arguments and ideas can have a life independent of “white supremacy,” you are complicit in evil. And you are not just complicit, your heresy is a direct threat to others, and therefore needs to be extinguished. You can’t reason with heresy. You have to ban it. It will contaminate others’ souls, and wound them irreparably.
16 days ago
Creating Tables
Tables are a great way to quickly create and communicate information. To create a table:

Add a shape to your canvas (if you don't have one already) and select it.
Touch and hold your selection, then release. Tap more... in the context menu that appears; then, tap make table.

OmniGraffle will automatically group and arrange your shapes to create a table. The table will have one column and as many rows as shapes in your original selection. For example, if you had three shapes selected, you will end up with one column and three rows.
16 days ago
The Kantegorical Im-Pratchettive
We could, for instance, argue that the most Kantian, in the sense of the most universalising, creatures in all of Discworld are the Auditors of Reality. They first appear in Reaper Man (1991), where we're told they ‘see to it that gravity operates and that time stays separate from space’ (and where we learn they have conversations with one another without speaking: ‘They didn't need to speak. They just changed reality so that they had spoken’. Which I've always thought was a very cool notion). The Auditors hate mess and unpredictability and they particularly hate life because it is messy and unpredictable. They would much prefer a cosmos made up of lifeless balls of rock circling stars in mathematically predictable orbits. Indeed, they would like to eliminate humanity, although they can't simply do so because it is ‘against the Rules’ (the Auditors can't break the Rules because, in a certain sense, they are the Rules). They can use proxies, though, and do so to try and extirpate the messiness of life. This drives the plots in Hogfather (1996, where they try to eliminate the titular Santa-Claus-alike because he's so messy and irrational) and Thief of Time (2001, where their plan is to stop time and so deprive humanity of its necessary element). In terms of sheer dedication to the mass genocide, the Auditors are perhaps the most evil characters in the Pratchettverse; although in fact we're told that they lack the imagination to be truly evil.
SF  ethics  from instapaper
17 days ago
The Bursting of the Middlebury Bubble
The Higher Education Research Institute has asked tens of thousands of professors nationwide if they agree or disagree with the notion that colleges should prohibit racist and sexist speech on campus. Nationally, 33 percent of faculty strongly agreed with the idea of speech prohibition, while 12 percent strongly disagreed. The remaining 55 percent of faculty were in the middle, where they somewhat agreed or somewhat disagreed with the idea.

When I looked at the numbers for the private liberal arts schools of New England, however, things were different. I drilled farther into the data, focusing specifically on the academic departments of professors who signed the letter to Middlebury’s president. While I do not have data on Middlebury faculty specifically, we know which departments the signatories are from. Looking at those departments—sociology, anthropology, film and media studies, among others—almost 50 percent of faculty members from them strongly agreed that colleges and universities should prohibit speech on campus if it can be considered racist or sexist.
academentia  from instapaper
17 days ago
The Bughouse by Daniel Swift review – Ezra Pound, antisemitic and in the asylum
Swift is himself an academic, and yet The Bughouse depicts other academics as if they belonged to some weird species with which he was wholly unfamiliar. The Pound scholars who assemble at the biennial international Pound conference are portrayed as “confused migratory birds”, and much fun is poked at their earnest expositions and disputes. Swift also attends a session of the Ezra Pound reading group in Senate House, University of London. After the obligatory scene setting (“It is darkening outside in Bloomsbury and I walk quickly across the slip of marble, through art deco halls, past pale wood double swing doors”) we are invited to join him in some genial derision of the group: “There are hearing aids, worn faces. The light is hard and bad … The men wear dark shirts and shiny jackets with sharp lapels.” A serious “young apostle” discusses “Canto 93”, some footnote-skirmishing follows, after which the Poundians go for pizza in the Bloomsbury dark. Swift pointedly does not accompany them. He is not one of their tribe: as that simile comparing a winter’s day in New York to a sharp new haircut so dramatically insists, he is a writer.
academentia  modernism 
17 days ago
Mere Civility: A reply « The Immanent Frame
What makes Williams so interesting, then, as well as worthy of emulation, is that he did not do this. For him, to call a Catholic an “Anti-Christian” and never converse with him thereafter would be pointless. Hertzberg suggests that this curious combination cannot be separated from Williams’s theological conviction that all might be saved. But this mischaracterizes his position as more skeptical about salvation than it in fact was. Williams relished the prospect of hellfire for men like Gorton but insisted that the saints must witness even to the damned. Is such an ethical posture possible when the stakes of disagreement are no longer “transcendental”? I think so, but it does require an equivalent leap of democratic faith in the people with whom we share a commonwealth—who believe themselves to be as righteous as we do.
politics  from instapaper
18 days ago
Moral Minority | Patrick J. Deneen
“Politics will not save us,” Dreher concludes. Perhaps—but in the absence of a good polity, it’s unlikely a healthy culture can be cultivated and sustained. The monasteries were not only religious institutions, but also served as the center of political life for many medieval towns, with abbots functioning as civic as well as religious leaders. The Church was the source of Christian culture in no small part because she developed systems of law and courts, in addition to rules and practices governing markets. Aristotle understood that law and culture, like ethics and politics, must be mutually reinforcing. (One of the marked shortcomings of MacIntyre has always been his greater attentiveness to Aristotle’s Ethics than to his Politics, a reflection of MacIntyre’s Marxism rather than his Catholicism.)

Christianity is inevitably political. If Christians are to eschew Washington, D.C., as a lost cause, they should not imagine they can just build familial monasteries. Instead, we need to focus on our town and city halls, our neighborhood associations, seeking to foster the kinds of communities where our children can—and will—roam the fields again. At some scale, however small, the moral minority must become a majority again.
politics  Christianity  BenedictOption  from instapaper
18 days ago
Neil Gaiman on Will Eisner: 'He thought comics were an artform – he was right'
I’ll step forward here: I bought my first copy of The Spirit in 1975, in a basement comics shop in south London. I saw it hanging on a wall and knew that, whatever it was, I wanted it. I would have been about 14. Reading it on the train home, I had no idea that the stories I was reading were 30 years old. They were fresher and smarter than anything I’d seen in comics – stories that somehow managed to leave out everything that wasn’t the story, while telling wonderful tales of beautiful women and unfortunate men, of human fallibility and of occasional redemption, stories through which the Spirit would wander, bemused and often beaten up, a McGuffin in a mask and hat. I loved The Spirit then. I loved the choices that Will made, the confidence, the way the art and the story meshed. I read those stories and I wanted to write comics, too.
comics  from instapaper
18 days ago
Social Media’s Silent Filter
This CCM worker, whose identity I am ethically bound to protect as a condition of my research, pointed out that such content violated the company’s own community codes of conduct by showing egregious violence, violence against children, blood and gore, and so on. Yet a decision came down from the group above him—a policy-setting team made up of the firm’s full-timers—to allow the videos to stand. It was important to show the world, they decided, what was going on with Syria and to raise awareness about the situation there. Meanwhile, the employee explained to me, other videos flooded the platform on a daily basis from other parts of the world where people were engaged in bloody battle. Juárez was one pointed example he gave me. Although the motives of the uploaders in those cases were not always clear, no leeway was given for videos that showcased violence toward civilians—beheadings, hangings, and other murders. Whether or not the policy group realized it, the worker told me, its decisions were in line with U.S. foreign policy: to support various factions in Syria, and to disavow any connection to or responsibility for the drug wars of Northern Mexico. These complex, politically charged decisions to keep or remove content happened without anyone in the public able to know. Some videos appeared on the platform as if they were always supposed to be there, others disappeared without a trace.
18 days ago
IASC: The Hedgehog Review - Volume 18, No. 2 (Summer 2016) - Pining Away in the Midst of Plenty -
To acknowledge the priority of philosophy-as-inquiry is not, as perhaps Rorty supposes, to deny the legitimacy of philosophy-as-aspiration, or to deny the role of imagination in inquiry, or the role of imaginative literature in enabling us to conceive of ways we might change the world. And neither, as perhaps Rorty imagines, is it to assimilate philosophy to the sciences. Here, I’m with Peirce. Like the sciences, philosophy is at its core a form of inquiry; and, like the sciences, it seeks to discover truths about the world, and so is not purely a priori, but needs both reasoning and experience. But philosophical inquiry is nevertheless different from scientific inquiry in requiring, not the specialized, recherché kind of experience obtainable only through instruments, excavations, etc. but, instead, close attention to features of everyday experience so familiar we hardly notice them. As Peirce says, to conduct an experiment to determine whether induction is valid would be like “adding a teaspoonful of saccharine to the ocean in order to sweeten it.”5 We can neither hand over philosophical questions to the sciences to resolve, nor abandon them in favor of scientific questions.

One of the questions that falls to philosophy is “What is real?” An adequate answer would acknowledge that the world is various and multi-layered, that there is both natural and social reality. There is, first of all, physical stuff, physical objects, and physical phenomena, events, kinds, and laws, making up a vast universe that may, according to some cosmologists, be only one of many “multi-verses.” The earth we humans inhabit is just one small corner of this universe, a planet that happens to be hospitable to life, and specifically to human life. But we human animals are, so far as we know, distinctive in our capacity for a rich mental life, for complex beliefs, hopes, fears, aspirations, plans, designs, imaginings, etc. And so, in this small corner of the universe, natural reality is overlaid and permeated by our human creations: an enormous array of physical artifacts made from natural stuff, or from stuff made from natural stuff or, these days, “bioengineered”; a wide range of social institutions; a wealth of intellectual artifacts; and a welter of imaginative artifacts. Here on earth, the trail of the human serpent really is, as James put it,6 over everything.
19 days ago
Against Everything | George Scialabba
Illich proposed “a new kind of modern tool kit”—not devised by planners but worked out through a kind of society-wide consultation that he called “politics,” undoubtedly recognizing that it bore no relation to what currently goes by that name. The purpose of this process was to frame a conception of the good life that would “serve as a framework for evaluating man’s relation to his tools.” Essential to any feasible conception, Illich assumed, was identifying a “natural scale” for life’s main dimensions. “When an enterprise [or an institution] grows beyond a certain point on this scale, it first frustrates the end for which it was originally designed, and then rapidly becomes a threat to society itself.”

A livable society, Illich argued, must rest on an “ethic of austerity.” Of course, he didn’t mean by “austerity” the deprivation imposed by central bankers for the sake of “financial stability” and rentier profits. Nor, though he rejected affluence as an ideal, did he mean asceticism. He meant “limits on the amount of instrumented [i.e., technical or institutional] power that anyone may claim, both for his own satisfaction and in the service of others.” Instead of global mass society, he envisioned “many distinct cultures . . . each modern and each emphasizing the dispersed use of modern tools.”
tech  sociology 
19 days ago
What should you think about when using Facebook? – Vicki Boykis
Facebook data collection potentially begins before you press “POST”. As you are crafting your message, Facebook collects your keystrokes.

Facebook has previously used to use this data to study self-censorship. The researchers write,
We report results from an exploratory analysis examining “last-minute” self-censorship, or content that is filtered after being written, on Facebook. We collected data from 3.9 million users over 17 days and associate self-censorship behavior with features describing users, their social graph, and the interactions between them.

Meaning, that if you posted something like, “I just HATE my boss. He drives me NUTS,” and at the last minute demurred and wrote something like, “Man, work is crazy right now,” Facebook still knows what you typed before you hit delete.
privacy  socialmedia 
19 days ago
Free Inquiry on Campus: A Statement of Principles by a Collection of Middlebury Faculty | HeterodoxAcademy.org
These principles are as follows:

• Genuine higher learning is possible only where free, reasoned, and civil speech and discussion are respected.
• Only through the contest of clashing viewpoints do we have any hope of replacing mere opinion with knowledge.
• The incivility and coarseness that characterize so much of American politics and culture cannot justify a response of incivility and coarseness on the college campus.
• The impossibility of attaining a perfectly egalitarian sphere of free discourse can never justify efforts to silence speech and debate.
• Exposure to controversial points of view does not constitute violence.
• Students have the right to challenge and to protest non-disruptively the views of their professors and guest speakers.
• A protest that prevents campus speakers from communicating with their audience is a coercive act.
• No group of professors or students has the right to act as final arbiter of the opinions that students may entertain.
• No group of professors or students has the right to determine for the entire community that a question is closed for discussion.
• The purpose of college is not to make faculty or students comfortable in their opinions and prejudices.
• The purpose of education is not the promotion of any particular political or social agenda.
• The primary purpose of higher education is the cultivation of the mind, thus allowing for intelligence to do the hard work of assimilating and sorting information and drawing rational conclusions.
• A good education produces modesty with respect to our own intellectual powers and opinions as well as openness to considering contrary views.
• All our students possess the strength, in head and in heart, to consider and evaluate challenging opinions from every quarter.
• We are steadfast in our purpose to provide all current and future students an education on this model, and we encourage our colleagues at colleges across the country to do the same.
academentia  academe 
19 days ago
11 CSS Template Sites: Don't Start From Scratch!
There are thousands of free CSS templates available online, all embracing modern design trends and technologies. You can use them in their original form, or customize them to make them your own.

In this guide we’ll take a closer look at CSS templates, and where to find them.
19 days ago
Murray and Middlebury: What Happened, and What Should Be Done?
Two days before Murray’s talk I spent my entire weekly politics luncheon discussing Murray’s research in the Bell Curve, and acquainting students with many of the critiques of his findings. My presentation was attended by a packed audience of students and local residents, and many of the students went away primed to do battle with Murray. A few of them, drawing in part on my slide presentation, put together a pamphlet outlining five criticisms of Murray’s argument in the Bell Curve, which they placed on every seat in Wilson Hall. Unfortunately, due to the actions of protesters, my students never had the opportunity to engage Murray beyond a few questions directed at him via Twitter. What’s worse, they now find themselves inaccurately characterized in media outlets as coddled, immature “snowflakes” and “liberal fascists” bent on promoting intolerance and hate.

The ability of a vocal minority of students to impose their will on the majority of their peers – and evidently to feel no compunction in doing so – raises some important questions regarding Middlebury College’s central mission and whether and to what degree it is in danger of slipping away.
academentia  from instapaper
20 days ago
Zuckerberg World President
Let’s think this through again: Facebook is accountable to no one but Mark Zuckerberg, an immensely intelligent and long-range thinker. His company sells persuasion tools to manufacturers of consumer (and industrial) goods and services producers. These tools are invisible, buried in the bowels of Facebook’s servers, they’re opaque algorithms that offer a pretense of objectivity — it’s just a bunch numbers, after all — while being designed and tuned by humans. We now face the prospect of Facebook selling political influence to the highest bidder, or, worse, to the bidder who is deemed the “most correct” according to the company CEO’s taste and goals.
Was Zuckerberg’s decision to visit all 50 states this year a prelude to a run for office as postulated by so many? What are we to make of the fact that Zuckerberg maintains a staff to curate his Facebook page as well as his and his family’s pictures? Or of his recent 5735 words Building Global Community manifesto?
That said, I’m not sure Facebook’s creator wants the unpleasantness of running for office. He’s already an unelected supranational leader.
algorithms  socialmedia  politics 
20 days ago
On Political Correctness - William Deresiewicz
What does it mean to say that these institutions are religious schools? First, that they possess a dogma, unwritten but understood by all: a set of “correct” opinions and beliefs, or at best, a narrow range within which disagreement is permitted. There is a right way to think and a right way to talk, and also a right set of things to think and talk about. Secularism is taken for granted. Environmentalism is a sacred cause. Issues of identity—principally the holy trinity of race, gender, and sexuality—occupy the center of concern. The presiding presence is Michel Foucault, with his theories of power, discourse, and the social construction of the self, who plays the same role on the left as Marx once did. The fundamental questions that a college education ought to raise—questions of individual and collective virtue, of what it means to be a good person and a good community—are understood to have been settled. The assumption, on elite college campuses, is that we are already in full possession of the moral truth. This is a religious attitude. It is certainly not a scholarly or intellectual attitude.

Dogma, and the enforcement of dogma, makes for ideological consensus. Students seldom disagree with one another anymore in class, I’ve been told about school after school. The reason, at least at Whitman, said one of the students I talked to there, is mainly that they really don’t have any disagreements. Another added that when they take up an issue in class, it isn’t, let’s talk about issue X, but rather, let’s talk about why such-and-such position is the correct one to have on issue X. When my student wrote about her churchgoing friend, she said that she couldn’t understand why anyone would feel uncomfortable being out as a religious person at a place as diverse as Scripps. But of course, Scripps and its ilk are only diverse in terms of identity. In terms of ideology, they are all but homogeneous. You don’t have “different voices” on campus, as these institutions like to boast; you have different bodies, speaking with the same voice. [...]

The assumption on selective campuses is not only that we are in full possession of the truth, but that we are in full possession of virtue. We don’t just know the good with perfect wisdom, we embody it with perfect innocence. But regimes of virtue tend to eat their children. Think of Salem. They tend to turn upon themselves, since everybody wants to be the holiest. Think of the French Revolution. The ante is forever being upped. The PC commissariat reminds me of the NRA. Everyone is terrified of challenging the NRA (everyone in a position to stop it, at least), so it gets whatever it demands. But then, because it can, it thinks up new demands. Guns in playgrounds, guns in bars.

So it is with political correctness. There is always something new, as my students understood, that you aren’t supposed to say. And worst of all, you often don’t find out about it until after you have said it. The term political correctness, which originated in the 1970s as a form of self-mockery among progressive college students, was a deliberately ironic invocation of Stalinism. By now we’ve lost the irony but kept the Stalinism—and it was a feature of Stalinism that you could be convicted for an act that was not a crime at the time you committed it. So you were always already guilty, or could be made to be guilty, and therefore were always controllable.
20 days ago
The Ways to Destroy Democracy
"Over the years, there have been many biographies of Hitler, most of which have, in some way, underestimated his talents or underplayed his personal life. Alan Bullock’s Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1952) was the first serious life of the German dictator, but it depicted him primarily as an opportunist with no consistent ideas or purposes except the gaining and wielding of power. In Joachim C. Fest’s Hitler (1973), he’s an ignorant, unintelligent, vulgar petty bourgeois whose rise to power owed much to his ability to articulate the resentments of his class at the coming of the modern world. For Ian Kershaw, whose two-volume biography currently holds the field, Hitler was almost an unperson, a man without a meaningful personality or private life, the creature of larger forces in German history. Others have seen him as a psychopath, a warped personality, a man who didn’t conform to the normal standards of human behavior. None of these pictures really grasps the man, however. Volker Ullrich provides a more complex and, perhaps for this reason, an even more troubling account of Hitler’s ascent to power. His Hitler is one whose personal life provides a key to understanding how he achieved and used supreme power, and his biography—by providing the wider context of German society and politics in which Hitler ascended—also attempts to explain why so many Germans were willing to allow him to do so."
from instapaper
21 days ago
Reflections on the revolution in Middlebury - AEI | Society and Culture Blog » AEIdeas
Absent an adequate disciplinary response, I fear that the Middlebury episode could become an inflection point. In the twenty-three years since The Bell Curve was published, I have had considerable experience with campus protests. Until last Thursday, all of the ones involving me have been as carefully scripted as kabuki: The college administration meets with the organizers of the protest and ground rules are agreed upon. The protesters have so many minutes to do such and such. It is agreed that after the allotted time, they will leave or desist. These negotiated agreements have always worked. At least a couple of dozen times, I have been able to give my lecture to an attentive (or at least quiet) audience despite an organized protest.

Middlebury tried to negotiate such an agreement with the protesters, but, for the first time in my experience, the protesters would not accept any time limits. If this becomes the new normal, the number of colleges willing to let themselves in for an experience like Middlebury’s will plunge to near zero. Academia is already largely sequestered in an ideological bubble, but at least it’s translucent. That bubble will become opaque.
21 days ago
A troubling sign that the will to combat clerical child abuse is waning
"For sceptical observers of the church scene, the news of Ms Collins' resignation confirmed their worst suspicions about the Holy See's inability to clean up its own act. In the view of Keith Porteous Wood, director of Britain's National Secular Society, the latest development "destroys the little remaining credibility of the Commission's power, or even resolve, to force the church to bring perpetrators to account in secular courts....it is now clear that in respect of clerical child abuse, the church and the Vatican are both unwilling to and incapable of following international norms of justice and human rights."

John L Allen, a writer for the Catholic news service Cruxnow, suggested a slightly more optimistic interpretation. Deeply embarrassing as it was, the departure from the papal commission of Ms Collins (and of another abuse survivor who has ceased to play an active role) might lead to a more open, frank and ultimately fruitful dialogue on how to crack down on abusers. Having victims serve on Vatican bodies, however well-intentioned, was never going to work because it put those survivors in a "politically untenable spot" where they would always be conflicted about how bluntly to express their views in public. "Survivors...need to be free to speak out and to help keep the church honest, cajoling it to remain eternally vigilant, if necessary even shaming it into action.""
from instapaper
21 days ago
Utopia for Realists and How We Can Get There by Rutger Bregman – digested read
"Here’s some other things I’d like to happen. We all work far too many hours, except for people who don’t work at all. The ideal should be for everyone to work 15 hours a week and spend the rest of the time watching TV. And that is perfectly possible, though I agree it might be rather annoying to find that everywhere you wanted to go with your new time off was closed because staff are on a 15-hour week. Our kids might also be a little thicker because the schools would only be open for three hours a day, but at least they’d happier – and I have a case study of a primary school in Amsterdam to prove it.

GDP is another downer. Countries swear by it, forgetting it never existed before the 1930s. So let’s get rid of it and measure things differently. Let’s do away with robots and bankers, too, as they have all proved more trouble than they’re worth. Cast your mind back to a time when your boss couldn’t email you with a pointless query at 10.30 at night. Wasn’t it so much nicer to get a good night’s sleep? Ignorance is utopian bliss. And as for immigration, if there was free movement of labour, all the world’s problems would be sorted. Everyone who is starving in South Sudan could come over here to do the jobs the rest of us don’t have time to do as we’re only working 15 hours a week. Win-win!"
from instapaper
21 days ago
Mary Lefkowitz reviews ‘In and Out of the Mind’ by Ruth Padel and ‘The Age of Grace’ by Bonnie MacLachlan · LRB 4 November 1993
... it is a relief to turn to a book that considers one of the ancient Greeks’ most attractive concepts, charis, the grace or pleasure that results from mutual exchange. Bonnie MacLachlan shows, with a light touch appropriate to her subject, that the term can be applied to almost all aspects of life. The standard farewell, chaire, means (in effect) ‘charis to you.’ An honorarium or tip is a form of charis; charis quite literally resides in an attractive young man, or in a grove of apple trees frequented by young women in love. It is the gift that praise poetry can bestow on human achievement, or that a cure can bring to someone suffering from disease. In and before the age of tragedy the goddesses who dispensed charis were worshipped and invoked by separate names: Brilliance (Aglaia), Joy (Euphrosyne) and Conviviality (Thalia). Only later were they lumped together in the anonymous and largely ornamental collectivity of the Three Graces.

Although nowadays manners are usually considered separate from morals, the Greeks rightly regarded the reciprocity of charis as a moral force, because it served as a glue that held society together. As such, it plays a major role even in the dark world of tragedy. In Aeschylus’ Agamemnon the old men of Argos complain that ‘somehow the charis of the gods comes with violence,’ since mortals must commit murder and suffer the consequences to enforce a justice that appears beautiful to the gods. MacLachlan suggests that it is this beauty, however unattainable, that attracts us, and leads us to believe human suffering will bring wisdom. Such hard-won wisdom will be of little benefit to many characters in tragedy, who die or suffer irreparable loss before they have an opportunity to learn. The only certain beneficiaries of tragedy are the audience: they will attain wisdom as a result of the suffering of others, and of the painful invasive learning processes portrayed on the stage.
criticism  ethics 
21 days ago
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