Why have so many people promoting gender and racial equality been allowed to pass as mainstream liberals…and not have to answer for the inherent threat their ideas can pose to our liberal democracy and the institutions that support it?
It’s a good question.
“More recently Richard Rorty made an attractive attempt to reconcile the most avant-garde postmodern theory with a defence of the institutions of the Western liberal democracies, but the Mill of On Liberty still reigns supreme.”
He’s not impressed with the set of largely conservative ideas he finds there, a few of which are rooted in Catholic doctrine. Who’s putting them foward?
“…a group of intellectual activists, many of whom had jumped from the radical left to the radical right, has urged that we rethink the Enlightenment roots of the American social order. The recognition of a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and the mandate of government to secure these rights are too tepid, they argue, for a morally worthy society.”
A group grimly attaching its interests to politics and enfringing upon our cherished enlightenment values as enshrined in the Constitution.
So is Pinker trying to define himself as closer to national goals? His concept of “dignity” is:
“…a phenomenon of human perception…
…Just as the smell of baking bread triggers a desire to eat it, and the sight of a baby’s face triggers a desire to protect it, the appearance of dignity triggers a desire to esteem and respect the dignified person…”
“…This explains why dignity is morally significant: We should not ignore a phenomenon that causes one person to respect the rights and interests of another. But it also explains why dignity is relative, fungible, and often harmful. Dignity is skin-deep:”
In this view, “dignity” is not a deep enough argument upon which to base the kind of moralism that will end up restricting progress. Instead, Pinker is seeking to define and create more freedom for this progress to occur where biology, medicine and technology meet.
“Even if progress were delayed a mere decade by moratoria, red tape, and funding taboos (to say nothing of the threat of criminal prosecution), millions of people with degenerative diseases and failing organs would needlessly suffer and die. And that would be the biggest affront to human dignity of all.”
These people are morally responsible to all the sick people that would have been helped had they not gotten in the way!
That seems a little extreme. I’m glad that neither Pinker nor the “dignity” crowd is the final word on any of this, nor solely responsible for our moral thinking.
“The new atheists hate religion for causing between-group conflict and especially for its wanton disregard of the canons of rational thought. Yet, both of these problems extend far more widely than religion”
“The new atheists will need to display a virtue typically associated with religion–humility–if they wish to join this enterprise.”
Yes, they will, if they wish to honor the free thinking that helped create the intellectual roots of their atheism….but what enterprise would that be?
“…the circle of cooperation…”
Is there something about evolutionary biology that appeals to liberalism? liberals to evo-biology? liberals to less objective fields of science? Karl Popper seemed to think evolution wasn’t a science, but why were Popper and the Vienna Circle so interested in a radical empiricism in the first place?
Or does politics have nothing to do with science unless we insist that it does?
“Real” beauty in Dove’s opinion is distorted by commercial advertising and high-end fashion magazines. Most models are already known for their ideal looks, but after the photo shoots, people like Pascal Dangin re-touch, cut-out, stylize, and alter them.
This kind of thing, Dove claims, presents an impossibly narrow ideal. It creates “self-limiting” norm for impressionable young girls. They’ve even created a self-esteem fund.
In the New Yorker, Dangin admits to having worked for Dove, applying some of his techniques (with heavy use of mathematics and computer graphics) to touch-up their photos. You know the kind.
The patient is etherised upon a table…or so suggests our author. It’s now time:
“…[to] spur a process whereby not just literature, but the larger field of the humanities recover some of the intellectual momentum and “market share” they have lost to the sciences.”
Copy “science” and regain “market share?”
“So instead of steadily building a body of solid knowledge about literature, culture, and the human condition, the field wanders in continuous circles, bending with fashions and the pronouncements of its charismatic leaders.”
Well, this should come as no surprise. Shakespeare and Melville were artists. Studying them gives pleasure, enhancing linguistic expression and understanding within the scope of their creative imaginations. I suspect most literature students want to be great artists as well.
The scientists are…well…doing science.
As Camille Paglia has pointed out, many literature departments have gone the way of cultural relativism. Too often do they confuse literature with politics and current thinking. As a result, they’re particularly aimless right now…
“The first strand in explaining educational romanticism is a mythic image of the good old days when teachers brooked no nonsense and all the children learned their three R’s.”
“When I was your age we walked uphill both ways…” Is that going anywhere?
“The second strand in explaining educational romanticism is the periodic discovery of magic bullets for raising classroom performance.
“The third and probably most powerful strand for explaining educational romanticism in the last quarter-century has been Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, introduced in Frames of Mind (1983).”
On the positive side: Charles Murray has stood for the IQ test actually measuring something and reminding us that the black/white achievement gap is statistically valid…He has become an active and important educational reformer, wresting it away from people and ideas who can do more harm than good.
On the negative side: I would question whether or not Murray achieves this criticism by adhering to certain libertarian political principles…sometimes even adhering to current political thinking. As an active reformer, what is the endgame? Politics? Education?
Addition: The best thing to do, I think, is to look at Murray’s data, and his fidelity to it. I already agree that the claims for most social programs success are dubious.
Quite apart from the science (which is clearly the best place to start), it’s so often the interpretation of the science and the media presentation of global warming as an inevitability…which is not always reasonable.
An Inconvenient Truth: Where science is used to serve a genuine moral concern, but largely to unify people around a moral concern which happens to correspond nicely with a set of political ideas…er…which could eventually serve Al Gore’s political career.