Thus spake Hitchens:
Until about 10 years ago, the main figure in American atheism was Madalyn Murray O’Hair. She was a madwoman ... [American atheism] had a crackpot fringe.
It won’t happen this time. It’s more serious. It just is. I got an invitation from a group called the Atheist Alliance—they’re holding a conference in Washington in the fall, where Harris and Dawkins and Dennett and myself are all going to be. And Matthew Chapman, Darwin’s great-great grandson, who has done a brilliant book about the Pennsylvania case, and maybe Victor Stenger. Whatever you think of us, we’re not a completely negligible crew.
If you're an Unholy Roller, you might be inclined to consult the Atheist Alliance's "Freethought Directory Online." Similarly, you might be drawn to "Atheist Alliance Internet Outreach." You see, this time it's more serious. It just is.
Time will tell where Dawkins sits on the bell curve of open-mindedness concerning group selection in general and religion in particular. At the moment, he is just another angry atheist, trading on his reputation as an evolutionist and spokesperson for science to vent his personal opinions about religion.
I have emerged from my cave ...
to commend to your attention a recent review of Hitchens' God is Not Great, penned by a theist.
Even as an unbeliever, I must confess to a sort of embarrassment over the recent spate of atheistic manifestos. I'm no fan of Dick Dawkins (The Blind Calumniator), and have not been favorably impressed by Sam Harris' anti-theistic writing either. While I admire Hitchens a great deal, I believe that, by venturing into this territory, he's decidedly out of his element . There is such a thing - a rare thing, indeed - as a profound atheism, but I have yet to detect evidence of it in the polemics of the aforesaid atheistic evangelists.
I'm now off to Alaska, but hope to get the 'ol quill more regularly in hand, here at my blog, in a few weeks time
Now there's a surprise
' The European Union grappled with a double bind over
Iran Saturday - the country's nuclear program and its seizure of the
British troops - and reported no progress on either issue.
'A debate about Iran's nuclear ambitions had been scheduled as a key agenda item but "was overshadowed to a certain extent by the issue of the sailors and marines," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said after hosting a two-day EU foreign ministers meeting in Bremen, Germany. '
IPCC Summary Statement
One can certainly do better than quote oneself, but hopefully do worse as well.
"... [C]onfronted with the reality of climate change and a human role therein, the central question for deliberation - What is to be done? - is an ethical-political one, not primarily a scientific one (not "primarily" because, while sober scientific judgment undoubtedly must inform deliberation, the answer eludes science's competence). In other words, to suppose that science simply "tells" us how to address [climate change] is a blatant category mistake."
Put another way ... even assuming that we could believe, to a reasonable level of certainty, that a certain course of action would ameliorate climate change significantly, it still doesn't follow that it ought to be undertaken. The costs of so doing may be unjustifiable.
Ouch: Fuck Peter Beinart
Though for rather different reasons, I was most unimpressed with Beinart's piece, not least because he omitted to mention TNR's own Leon Wieseltier as amongst those who, "across ideological lines," think that, uh, a little "blame" is due those who actually wield the knives and drills that are applied to the heads and throats of their confessional nemeses.
I'm not sure why Beinart doesn't entertain the prosaic notion of varying degrees of (shared) responsibility - co-responsibility. On second thought, I think I know why he doesn't ...
I respect the righteous fury of those who opposed this "adventure" from the start infinitely more than the hand-wringing Sullivans, Beinarts, et al. whose "idealistic" little war was ruined by their bugaboo - the malign and incompetent Bush.
Don'tcha know, Imperialism is malum en se
As usual, I'm woefully late to comment on "current events" - nearly all of my meditations here are untimely.
Although, in a pinch, I'll still describe my political sympathies as lowercase-l-libertarianism, these days I prefer more obscure descriptors such as "Ordo Liberalism" or Liberalisme Triste. Like many "libertarians," I harbor a wish to reclaim the august mantle of "Liberalism" from its modern expropriators - the statocrats and securitarians - who besmirch that noble name with the advocacy of a markedly illiberal political and economic program.
I join libertarian orthodoxy in some of my negative assessment of Milton Friedman - both qua economist and philosopher. Notably, I differed with Uncle Miltie over, for example, his repudiation of the Gold Standard and the privatization of roads, and his enthusiasm for "flexible exchange rates" (not to mention the whole "monetarism" can of worms).
Nevertheless, in addition to being a vigorous and powerful voice on behalf of Economic Liberty - or, in deference to Anatole France, the "right to be allowed to starve" - Friedman earned my esteem both for his vigorous opposition to the "War on Drugs" (including a critical open letter addressed to William Bennett) and his key role in ending conscription in this country. He aimed to embrace the dimensions of liberty consistently.
Although Uncle Miltie often engaged in controversies and polemics that took him outside of his area of expertise as a technical economist (and did so with self-awareness of such a shift in categories), perhaps the following criticism of "economism" might apply to him in the end as well; it certainly does to many of the economist-heroes of libertarian orthodoxy.
"... Whenever the current concepts of right conduct are disturbed, the social harmony in in danger ... and it happens almost inevitably in a rapidly developing society, in which new functions and new ways of life are continually coming into being.
"... Once the complexity of the problem is grasped, the functional disorders which in fact occur in a developing society seem less matter for surprise than the high degree of adjustment secured it by a hidden automatism; the admiration felt by the men of the nineteenth century for self-regulating mechanisms is understandable ... [but] these mechanisms are much misconceived ...[T]here lies the mistake, in thinking that the whole problem in its entirety falls within the province of the economists.
"What makes it possible for political economy to be a science at all is that it looks on social life, and all the activities, relationships, and satisfactions of human beings, as the regular flow of one and the same energy: sometimes - as in the case of labour - active, sometimes - as in the case of wealth - potential. But the very feature which makes a science of it makes it incapable of explaining the whole of social reality, or even of taking account of all the phenomena which occur within its proper sphere. It reveals the reasons for which local savings are diverted from accounts into vast central reservoirs from which they are distributed nationally and even internationally; but it is no part of its business to stress the fact that the manipulators of th savings are now not the same set of men, and that the old and the new types are quite different, in nothing more unlike than in their respective concepts of right conduct. It justifies the money market as a useful piece of regulative machinery, but is not concerned to know what temperaments it attracts and what characters it develops. It is a valuable science, but one grafted on to a false psychology, which regards the race of men as a physical mass pin-pointed in place and acted upon only by the mechanical force of self-interest.
"Hence it is that the point of view of the economist is the worst of all for discerning social disharmonies: these must react on quantitative adaptations before they receive his attention. That is what in the end happened. Disturbance in the sphere of economic functions appeared as a sort of tertiary ague compelling attention to a social disease which had been long in progress."
De Jouvenel, On Power: The Natural History of Its Growth, pp. 408 - 410
The Plebiscitary Regime
Friend and foil Roger wrote to encourage me to comment on the recent elections. I'll call to my assistance two trenchant thinkers to commemorate our acquisition of new Masters.
'As it is a feature of democracies that to all appearance the people does almost exactly what it wishes, men have supposed that democratic governments where the abiding-place of liberty: they confused the power of the people with the liberty of the people.'
- Montesquieu, Esprit des Lois, Book XI, chap ii.
'When, as happens in democracies, the representative assembly becomes the repository of Power, the appetite for command impels members to group themselves in permanent factions, thereby sacrificing something of their own personalities to the effective cohesion of the group in its quest for victory.
'The forthcoming elections are no longer regarded as held with the object of bringing to the assembly an accession of fresh talent but rather of strengthening or weakening the various groups to which all belong. Anxious to strengthen itself, the group makes its presence felt in the electoral body, from which it asks that it choose a man who stands in the name of the group in preference to a man with distinguished personal qualifications. "In voting for a man as such, you are abandoning your sovereignty to him," is the way in which it is put to the electors - and it is true. "Vote rather for an opinion; that is to say in practice for a man of whose merits, like himself, you are necessarily ignorant, but who is the standard bearer of an opinion. In this way you will be exercising your sovereignty, and will be impressing on the government the way in which it is to go." Through the prestige of its leaders and the popularity of its principles the group brings victory to its candidates, whom it has chosen less for their personal worth than for their pledge of their obedience to itself; moreover, they will be the more faithful to their party from the inability to make their way without it.
'The first result of this is a degradation of the assembly, which no longer draws its recruits from the best men. A man must now be ready to rely on the support of the controller of his group's votes and to let his name be boosted for election by his whip. He must be ready to become a mere numerical, and not a qualitative, addition to the assembly.
'Another result is the debasement of the elector's position. He is now regarded only for the weight which he can throw into one or the other of the scales. By hook or by crook the vote of which he disposes must be got from him. When the Reform Act of 1832 had widened the franchise, the chief preoccupation of the two English parties was to get put on the register the electors whose support each believed itself to have won, and to fetch them in carriages on polling day, for fear that otherwise they would omit to record their vote. The spectacle was not so much that of people proudly exercising their rights as citizens, as of two factions touting in every way open to them for the votes which could confer Power.'
De Jouvenel, On Power, XIV: Totalitarian Democracy
In the normal course of things, my sense of whether I have "enough" is not conditioned by the judgment that others have more.
The Rise of the Righteous
We look to "poets" - or the articulate in general - to give voice to something we've felt, or intuited, but lacked the wherewithal to express clearly.
Even speaking extemporaneously to Bill Mahrer, Hitchens finds rough and ready words for a certain self-important sort that ones meets ever more frequently these days:
I've been on the Jon Stewart show, I've been on your show, I've seen you make about five George-Bush-IQ jokes per night. There's no one I know who can't do it. You know what I think? - this is now the joke that stupid people laugh at. It's the joke that any dumb person can laugh at because they think that they ... can prove they're smarter than the president (like the people that make booing and mooing noises in your audience ... none of whom are smarter than the president). [The transcription is mine - see original video here - at approx. 1:50]
As I often say, I had a very dim opinion of GW Bush in the run-up to the 2000 election; the patent hyperbole and unjustness of his critics gave me pause, and then cause to reconsider my initial opinions of him. While no great admirer, I - to put the matter in negative terms - think of him neither as devil nor idiot. But I guess that if you're not with his fervent detractors, you're against them; this is an entailment of their demonology.
Though an atheist, I do believe in a congenital religious impulse or instinct which all-too-often - because its very existence is denied, driving it into the subterranean realms - seeks to apply its suction to whatever creed or cause promises a kind of "redemption." The secular-but-religious haters of GW Bush are a case in point.
Macarena Monkey Madness
Today is a dark day.
Having returned from a quick lunch-run with some colleagues, I proceeded to my desk to discover that our team's - for want of a better word - mascot had disappeared, having been replaced with a sinister note that raised as many questions as provided answers. Later in the day, an anonymous message was sent to one of our company-wide email aliases. The text is as follows.
[Company Employees]. A
new day is upon thee.
Have you noticed that a new peace has settled on our digs? No? Maybe you don’t sit in the general vicinity of engineering. If you did, you might have noticed. Noticed what, you ask? You would have noticed that you have been enjoying a day blissfully devoid of the soaringly inelegant voices of Los del Rio. Who? Los del Rio.
Yes. Yes. Yes. It is true. The moment that some of us have dreamed about has finally, joyfully come to pass. Specifically, Paul Craddick’s clap-activated, gyrating, singing-the-Macarena-every-10-minutes-all-flippin’-day monkey has been kidnapped.
By the time you read this the monkey will already be on a plane. Fear not, he is being treated with utmost care. However, as he is clearly a dangerous threat to society, his rendition to another geographic location was deemed necessary.
Paul Craddick. We have your monkey. Updates and proof of your monkey’s health can be found here.
We will notify you of our demands shortly,
The West is again paralyzed by a morally confused political debate over whose fault it is that our enemies hate us so much and are growing stronger. (Mario Loyola)
Worldview on a dustjacket
The back cover of Plato's World: Man's Place in the Cosmos, by Joseph Cropsey, in part summarizes the book's unorthodox thesis in the following terms.
The cosmos Plato depicts ... is haunted by the irrational, populated by human beings unaided by gods, and dealt with equivocally by nature.
Plato's World -- our world.