Watching The Shadows Go By-A Few Links & Thoughts On Romantic Primitivism, ‘Culture’ And Political Idealism

Let me project some of my own interpretations onto the cave wall.

Photo taken by Nikola Solic (a fine photographer) of a display at the Neanderthal Musuem in Krapina, Croatia.

For many Westerners, perhaps there is no longer a God revealing Himself to Man, but there are expanding fields of knowledge and human endeavors able to light the way forwards onto a future of hope and progress; backwards onto human origins.

In the popular media (such as in the publications displaying the photo above), perhaps this knowledge can align with current popular sentiment and belief.  An imprimatur, of sorts.

Such thinking can also coincide with a rather Romantic Idealization of Nature; a vision of Man without dominion over Nature, necessarily, but rather men, women, children and an ever growing list of humans (and animals, even) living both frustratingly apart, but also interconnected within Nature, following Nature’s lead alone and with each other.

Most people, I suspect, often without such specialized knowledge (not specifically trained in the sciences), require a lot of moral oughts and shoulds regarding how to live and what to do.

Furthermore, people tend to organize into groups united by shared principles and beliefs, and so often, in the modern world, beneath political ideals and political ideologies.  Even if these political ideals and ideologies aren’t explict moral philosophies, necessarily, they can certainly end-up engaging the moral sentiments, basic human desires and motivations of the people within them.

Such movements are certainly understood by many of their members as posessing truth and knowledge enough to write the laws and rules we all must follow, prescribing our own personal moral behavior enough to align us with the people who ought to be in charge of us.

Perhaps the poet or Romantic genius can help guide Man into the Self and the Self into Nature.  The poet/thinker’s example can be full of grief, anguish and Nature’s brutality, indeed, but it can also offer moments of self-actualization, beauty, consolation and transcendence. It can be taught as part of a civilizing hierarchy or canon, a reef of traditions and structure enough to develop seriously good artists and produce quite a few educated citizens.

I suspect there’s always been a tension between the poet/artist and the Man of Science and Mathematics; people generally more concerned in seeking the underlying order and patterns within Nature, discovering the probabilistic and mathematical laws able to accurately describe and predict the strange world in which we seem to find ourselves. Such laws can be beautiful, and symmetrical, and true just for their own sake, sure, but like a good poem, a mathematical law remains curiously silent about how to live and what to do.

Addition: Perhaps, I might add, but perhaps not. Perhaps it’s worth thinking about just which dangers accompany such lights, and which problems endure.

The late Roger Sandall, here:

‘The claim that “open societies” are now increasingly threatened would probably meet with little argument. But what is the nature of the threat, and what are its roots? Here less agreement might be found. Some would say an essentially religious clash of civilizations is the main cause, and point to the growing struggle between Islam and the West.

Others might point to Russia under President Putin, finding evidence of a long-standing political tradition that owes relatively little to the Russian Orthodox Church, but has always found liberty odious.

And then there’s a third and troubling possibility — that from an evolutionary perspective, taking a long view of our historic and prehistoric origins, open societies where voluntaristic principles prevail are new forms of human association only recently arrived from the distant tribal past, and in the more violent trouble spots around the world they never arrived at all.’

The late Ken Minogue:

On the many dangers of political idealism, and using political theory as the limits of your field of vision:

‘We may sum this up by saying that the more the style of what used to be called politics becomes theorized, the more political problems come to be reintrepreted as managerial.  Working out the least oppressive laws under which different and sometimes conflicting groups may live peaceably together is being replaced by manipulation and management of the attitudes different groups take towards each other, with the hope that this will ultimately bring harmony.  In other words, in the new form of society, human beings are becoming the matter which is to be shaped according to the latest moral idea.’

-Minogue, Kenneth.  Politics.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1995. (Pg 111).

Related: A definition of humanism:

“‘…a morally concerned style of intellectual atheism openly avowed by only a small minority of individuals (for example, those who are members of the British Humanist Association) but tacitly accepted by a wide spectrum of educated people in all parts of the Western world.”

Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’

Related On This Site: From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution

Denis Dutton suggested art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth…the money and the fame) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’…

Roger Sandall, Australian critic of romantic primitivism and the Western’s Left’s penchant for the Noble Savage: His home page where his essays can be found. Here’s “The Rise Of The Anthropologues“ and…

Robert Hughes, Australian and often fierce critic of modernism and post-modernism.

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

A Few Links On Human Rights Idealism

There are many people pursuing secular human rights ideals within many a Western governmental agency, international institution, and activist quarter these days.  They claim the person who seeks to be virtuous, pursuing an ideal vision of the good society, simply by sharing in this ideal, has immediate access to a global human community and as such, moral duties to this community.

Many ambitious and reasonably well-intentioned young people are hearing its call.

On some level, most of us seek some kind of greater life purpose (guiding ideals and principles) and we seek for our inborn talents and natural abilities to merge hopefully, with our responsibility to feed ourselves and serve others in making a living.

These ideals allow some people, some of the time, to transcend many personal responsibilities along with many of the duties of family, neighbor, friend, the local, the state, the national.

Yet, at what cost? How are they working out in the world, our institutions, and in our lives?

During the recent migration crisis, Sweden took in more refugees per capita than any other country in Europe. However, the exact link between sex crimes and immigration is not known, since the Swedish government will not update its statistics, and the data, which are still being collected, have not been made available to the public.

If there’s anything universal in human affairs (math, the sciences, music, self-interest?), how is the universal to be codified into laws (rules), rights and responsibilities, and who makes the laws and who enforces them?

What is right, exactly, and where do ‘rights’ come from?

How does one person do lasting good for another while pursuing his/her own self-interest within the institutions and organizations that have developed and are often controlled by those adhering to such ideals?

As posted (may you find the thread running through the post, dear reader.  I know it’s a lot to ask…especially with all the unanswered, open-ended questions):

What is humanism?

“‘…a morally concerned style of intellectual atheism openly avowed by only a small minority of individuals (for example, those who are members of the British Humanist Association) but tacitly accepted by a wide spectrum of educated people in all parts of the Western world.”

A Roger Scruton quote that stands out in the video below, while discussing moral relativism to an audience in a country once behind the Iron Curtain:

‘There’s an attempt to produce a universal, objective morality, but without any conception of where it comes from.’

Where does the moral legitimacy come from to decide what a ‘human right’ is? A majority of ‘right-thinking’ people? A political majority? Some transcendent source? German Idealism?

As sent in by a reader: Louise Arbour displays this thinking in spades below (you are bad, and maybe even wrong for disagreeing):

Full paper here.

Perhaps modern American liberalism can claim other roots for itself.  Here’s a quote on Leo Strauss, who has influenced American conservative thought heavily:

“As Strauss understood it, the principle of liberal democracy in the natural freedom and equality of all human beings, and the bond of liberal society is a universal morality that links human beings regardless of religion. Liberalism understands religion to be a primary source of divisiveness in society, but it also regards liberty of religious worship to be a fundamental expression of the autonomy of the individual. To safeguard religion and to safeguard society from conflicts over religion, liberalism pushes religion to the private sphere where it is protected by law. The liberal state also strictly prohibits public laws that discriminate on the basis of religion. What the liberal state cannot do without ceasing to be liberal is to use the law to root out and entirely eliminate discrimination, religious and otherwise, on the part of private individuals and groups.”

 

Repost-The Lockerbie Bombing, Jeremy Corbyn, John Gray And The Planets To Scale-Some Links

The Avenger--The brother of an American killed in the 1988 Pan-Am Lockerbie terrorist bombing goes on a decades long quest to uncover the truth. Robert Nozick is mentioned.

***Because you didn’t ask-The New Yorker is where I go for high-quality writing, excellent reportage and eclectic editorial choices, though I stay for the frequently stale humor, dreary secular sermonizing, and polished cosmo-modern New York City brownstone activist enviro-evo-pop-neuro-social-science-secular-creative-writing-postmodern establishmentarianism.

Unlike NPR, in whose broadcasts can be heard the constant far-off, folksy hum of ‘This Land Is Your Land’ keeping the collective time, the New Yorker reminds me of a tone-poem spoken by a rather accomplished poet over a be-bop beat, with an NYU faculty member sitting-in on drums for an exploration of the latest word on the street, Daddy-O.

Other excellent pieces published in the New Yorker on Islamic terrorism:

The Man Behind Bin Laden by Lawrence Wright, a deeply researched piece.

Dexter Filkins on ISIS and the Kurds.

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–The election of Jeremy Corbyn (Labour opposition leader in the British Parliament) may have actually caused a man to utter these words:

Left-wing thought has shifted towards movements it would once have denounced as racist, imperialist and fascistic. It is insupportable.’

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John Gray loves to take on post-Enlightenment hubris of a certain sort:

‘If The Evolution of Everything has any value, it’s as a demonstration that, outside of science, there isn’t much progress – even of the vaguer sort – in the history of thought. Bad ideas aren’t defeated by falsification, and they don’t fade away. As Ridley’s book shows, they simply recur, quite often in increasingly primitive and incoherent forms.’

Addition: Ridley and Gray have butted heads before regarding Ridley’s last book:

‘John Gray, in his review of my book The Rational Optimist accuses me of being an apologist for social Darwinism. This vile accusation could not be farther from the truth. I have resolutely criticised both eugenics and social Darwinism in several of my books. I have consistently argued that both policies are morally wrong, politically authoritarian and practically foolish. In my new book I make a wholly different and more interesting argument, namely that if evolution occurs among ideas, then it is ideas, not people, that struggle, compete and die.’

Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

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The sizes of the sun and planets, as well distances between them done to scale in the Nevada desert. Via David Thomspon:

Skepticism Regarding The Moralizing Impulses Of Modern Political & Social Movements-A Few Links

Richard Feynman Cargo Cult Science lecture here.

Feynman (wikipedia) wonders what makes science science.  He manages to argue quite well why he doesn’t think psychology meets a certain standard.

At least, he says the following:

‘I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science. In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas–he’s the controller–and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all theapparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but  they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.’

What is the bar as to when the social sciences become a science?

One place I find myself often retreating (knowledgeably, and sometimes not) is a place of skepticism when it comes to such fields gaining earthly authority and becoming conventional wisdom.

What if the latest research on a certain psychological disorder, early-educational practice, or thinking about certain mental-states and their treatment, because of this potential ambiguity, simply doesn’t hold up well over time and under greater scrutiny?

How much cost of error can be borne through political/legal channels?  Is there room for self-correction and protection of individual liberties regarding movements which are essentially moralizing and reformist in nature?

Few with money, reputation, political power and influence to bear those costs will do so readily, for that’s not how man’s nature is constituted, especially when asses are on the line.

Just observe any politician come election time.  Or your own behavior when you trip on a toy left on the stairs (you’ve probably resisted the urge to smash that toy at some point).  Rather, I’d prefer holding many idealists and social reformers/do-gooders of all stripes to account for outcomes, not intentions.

How about some healthy skepticism?

***This is to say nothing of the anti-science, ideological and radical base often driving political/social influence upon reformers and public sentiment.

Food for thought: Rarely do those upholding an ideal or principle in the public square stop to reflect upon the possibility that their burgeoning political movement might eventually devolve into a racket.  The injustice, and perceived injustice, is too great.  The urgency of now becomes overwhelming.  Thus, what is noble in true in a movement also contains that which is ignoble and untrue, for there are always the unbalanced and power-hungry seeking more influence as they are attracted to the movement.

If this movement doesn’t constrain the worst impulses, it can be relatively easy to predict where it may end-up.

On that note, a Theodore Dalrymple piece here.

Say it ain’t so:

‘Medical journals have thus gone over to political correctness—admittedly with the zeal of the late convert—comparatively recently. Such correctness, however, is now deeply entrenched. With The New England Journal of Medicine for July 16, 2016 in hand, I compared it with the first edition I came across in a pile of old editions in my slightly disordered study: that for September 13, 2007, as it happened, which is not a historical epoch ago. What started as mild has become strident and absurd.’

Another Dalrymple piece here:  Via A Reader-Theodore Dalrymple At LibertyLawSite.Org: ‘How Modern Psychology Undermines Freedom and Responsibility’

Dalrymple takes care to respond to many modern knowledge claims and ‘cult of the expert’ tendencies with literary wisdom, criticism, and skepticism.  Perhaps modern psychology, in trying to explain the world and soothe men’s souls, also pathologizes and medicalizes what are otherwise quite normal impulses and duties we human beings have in a pretty harsh world, with plenty of suffering.

See Also: Karl Popper’s metaphysical theory on much the same subject: Falsifiability

This, unlike the system highlighted in the below quote from the late Robert Conquest, steadfast chronicler of Soviet authority and leadership in practice:

But, he does point out certain dangers and makes me laugh at the same time:

“Those teach who can’t do” runs the dictum,

But for some even that’s out of reach:

They can’t even teach—so they’ve picked ’em

To teach other people to teach.

Then alas for the next generation,

For the pots fairly crackle with thorn.

Where psychology meets education

A terrible bullshit is born.’

As previously posted:

Ken Minogue framed it thusly:

‘Olympianism is the characteristic belief system of today’s secularist, and it has itself many of the features of a religion. For one thing, the fusion of political conviction and moral superiority into a single package resembles the way in which religions (outside liberal states) constitute comprehensive ways of life supplying all that is necessary (in the eyes of believers) for salvation. Again, the religions with which we are familiar are monotheistic and refer everything to a single center. In traditional religions, this is usually God; with Olympianism, it is society, understood ultimately as including the whole of humanity. And Olympianism, like many religions, is keen to proselytize. Its characteristic mode of missionary activity is journalism and the media.’

The Same Old Quote From Samuel Huntington While Watching Current Events In Syria

Perhaps now, after eight years, we’ve returned towards some semblance of what came before, but now with many changes in the American cultural/political landscape duly reflected in foreign policy.

The more liberal internationalist and humanitarian discontents (neo-neo-conservatives?) seem ok using American military force to draw clear lines against the use of chemical weapons.

Or perhaps better said: Some liberal internationalists are ok using American military force and patriotism right now for these aims if the international institutional authority to which they are predisposed isn’t forthcoming.

While Donald Trump has triggered many into foaming domestic mistrust, weirdly, he may end-up uniting many humanitarian realpolitikers and pro-military, anti-terrorist, anti-Islamist types with this strike.

Subject to change.

Syria, you’ll recall, was teetering early-on during Obama’s tenure (when Libya involvement was chosen instead), and soon devolved into the horrendous civil conflict we see today:

Many in Russia, China, North Korea and Iran are paying pretty close attention and strategizing accordingly.

In other words, we’ve gone from Peace-Activist-In-Chief back towards the center with a more pro-union, pro-military and socially liberal New York excutive-in-chief making strange bedfellows while also shaping and seeking public sentiment.

A quote from this piece over at the Atlantic: From The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s Work

“Although the professional soldier accepts the reality of never-ending and limited conflict, “the liberal tendency,” Huntington explained, is “to absolutize and dichotomize war and peace.” Liberals will most readily support a war if they can turn it into a crusade for advancing humanistic ideals. That is why, he wrote, liberals seek to reduce the defense budget even as they periodically demand an adventurous foreign policy.”

Are we back here again or someplace like it?

My two cents, dear reader.

From Via Media-Obama’s Syria Play A Failure…Michael Totten On The Problem From Hell In Syria

Related On This Site: More Syria-From Via Media: ‘Congress on Syria: Going In On A Wing and A Prayer’From Slate: ‘In Aleppo, Syria, Mohamed Atta Thought He Could Build The Ideal Islamic City’

Michael Totten At World Affairs: ‘Syria’s Regime Not Worth Preserving’James Kirchik At The American Interest: 

Michael Totten’s piece that revisits a Robert Kaplan piece from 1993, which is prescient:  “A Writhing Ghost Of A Would-Be Nation”.  It was always a patchwork of minority tribes, remnants of the Ottoman Empire

Christopher Caldwell At The Claremont Review Of Books: ‘The Hidden Costs Of Immigration’

The idea that immigration comes with costs and benefits is a pretty basic one.

The briefest sketch: On the top-end of the labor-market, let’s say a host country receives a talented, well-skilled couple willing to contribute to the economy, pay taxes, raise children and give them a good life.  The immigrant family raises their own overall standard of living, benefiting from relative political stability and economic opportunity, finding a way to both enjoy new freedoms and share in many new obligations (as mundane as mowing the lawn every weekend).  The economy grows, and barring some occasional tension, misunderstandings and mutual ignorance, both host country and immigrant family’s fates have been bettered.  A new, shared destiny is forged.

Hey, what’s not to like?

Let’s say, though, this particular immigrant family, because of the global labor market and host country incentives, eventually finds themselves doing pretty well.  They start to bring over more family members to the host country.  These family members often choose to segregate into certain parts of the host cities and keep speaking their own language and eating their own food as often as they can.  A few don’t care too much for the new place, though it’s safer than home.

Overall, despite the gains, social trust in the host city diminishes a bit. Intermarrying, it turns out, is frowned-upon in this particular family’s culture while the family’s religious beliefs (which they’re free to practice and whose practice keeps them in good stead in the home country) might eventually put them in serious crisis and conflict with many traditions and duties of the host country.

This is a rather reasonable-enough scenario I mean to present without too much in the way of value-judgment.  People are people, after all, and while some you want to have close, contributing much, others are better far, far away.  How do you know who’s who?

It seems the melting-pot model requires enough people already in the pot not hating the the pot on principle.

On that note, Christopher Caldwell highlights one of the prevailing turns of mind found throughout our academies and chattering classes these days (the ones often drafting laws and shaping public opinion around immigration):  Many promote a brand of secular humanism too easily passing the costs of immigration onto others (some of your security could well be traded for lofty goals and political promises at first…later on left unguarded by diminished choices, political expedience and mush-mouthed nonsense).

Such folks may also be cowed by the radical practitioners of the ideologies-which-function-much-as-religions these days, especially within our universities; those who claim ANY discussion of negative immigration outcomes is a violation of the sacred ‘-Isms’.

Caldwell:

‘Among academic economists, George Borjas, a professor at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, has a reputation as a debunker of pro-immigration myths and narratives. This is not out of any a priori hostility to immigration. Having left Cuba as a child in 1962 after the Castro government confiscated his family’s clothing factory, he is himself a beneficiary of American openness.

But four decades in academic life have convinced Borjas that most of those who claim to study immigration—in academia, journalism, and politics—are better thought of as advocates for it.’

Let’s find some balance and keep making good things better.

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

On this site, see: From The NY Times: Review Of Christopher Caldwell’s Book “Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West”

Insights Into Equality Of Opportunity

As I see it, one major purpose of institutions is to to not interfere too much with genius, to get the best people working on specific problems and challenges, and to try and give talented others on down (the rest of us, per IQ tests and abilities) opportunities to succeed.

Once you start demanding equality of outcome, you’ve gone too far, in my estimation.

There seems a lot of going too far in many parts of our institutions lately, demanding utopian ideals be their guides and that nature/human nature/reality submit to these utopian, post-Enlightenment ideals guiding these institutions.

Henry Kissinger here.

“The purpose of bureaucracy is to devise a standard operating procedure which can cope effectively with most problems.  A bureaucracy is efficient if the matters which it handles routinely are, in fact, the most frequent and if its procedures are relevant to their solution.  If those criteria are met, the energies of the top leadership are freed to deal creatively with the unexpected occurrence or with the need for innovation.  Bureaucracy becomes an obstacle when what it defines as routine does not address the most significant range of issues or when its prescribed mode of action proves irrelevant to the problem.”

and:

“Moreover, the reputation, indeed the political survival, of most leaders depends on their ability to realize their goals, however these may have been arrived at.  Whether these goals are desireable is relatively less crucial.”

In the world of politics and the political economy, there is endless competition over limited resources and their allocation, hence the bloodsport and all the fighting.

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Here’s another take, the entirety of which can be found here.

“[Thomas] Sowell’s argument is a relatively simple one:  “innate” mental abilities do not develop spontaneously but must undergo development, which is differentially fostered by different cultures, even when the abilities are general and abstract and do not consist of items of cultural knowledge.

“…Sowell’s approach splits the difference between “nature” and “nurture“…

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With Larry Summers being pushed out by members of the Democratic party for his nomination as chairman of the Federal Reserve, it reminds of when he was pushed out of the role of President at Harvard.  For the many reasons that may be involved, I suspect the notion of a faint, scarlet ‘S’ for ‘sexist’ marked on his chest is one.  You don’t need much logic or reason to make that charge.

I keep putting this post up, because, one hopes we’ll arrive at a little sanity in pursuit of truth.

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He may have been fired for many reasons, but Summers off-the-cuff Remarks at NBER Conference on Diversifying the Science & Engineering Workforce had a lot to do with it:

1.  The first is what I call the high-powered job hypothesis-Summers notes that high positions demand high commitment.  Science could be analogous to other professions like law.   He appeals to a longitudinal study that suggests that fewer women may agree to, or be willing to, devote such time and energy to their jobs over their careers as do men.  Changing the nature of these professions to higher female ratios may change some of the fundamental ways we arrange our society:

“…is our society right to expect that level of effort from people who hold the most prominent jobs?”

Perhaps…though the subtext might be:  are some members of our society right to expect that the guiding ideas of diversity and equality won’t come with a host of other problems…?

What about biology?

***Charles Murray takes it a few steps further, asserting that our social sciences are leading us to become more like Europe (less dynamic and less idealistic in our pursuit of Aristotelian happiness)  He also argues that there is a sea-change going on in the social science that will come to support his thinking. This last part could be a few steps too far…but it’d be nice.

2.  The second is what I would call different availability of aptitude at the high end-The bell curve argument that there are more genius and idiot men.  When you get to MIT, 3 and more standard deviations above the mean…means a lot.

3.  The third is what I would call different socialization and patterns of discrimination in a search-If discrimination is such an important factor in there being a lack of women scientists, then economic theory holds that there are going to be:

“…very substantial opportunities for a limited number of people who were not prepared to discriminate to assemble remarkable departments of high quality people at relatively limited cost simply by the act of their not discriminating.”

So if the theory holds…where are the science departments scooping up all women scientists at low cost…who’ve been rejected elsewhere due to discrimination?

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I believe there is quite arguably discrimination against women in the sciences, and they have a harder road to reach success.  But there is also substance here…and clearly politics was a factor in Summers’ firing as well;  the women’s groups who viewed his ideas as an attack on their belief appealed to public sentiment in the worst kind of way.

Will social science ever be enough to address such an issue…or is it possibly changing to adapt to the demands people require of it?

On This Site:  Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People

Addition:  I always get an email or two that suggests I’ve joined the ranks of those who don’t fully understand the problem and seek to oppress women.  I don’t think I’ve done such a thing, and if women are going broaden and deepen feminism, they may well have to answer to arguments like these.

It’s not like there aren’t women in the sciences either, Vera RubinLisa Randall and Lise Meitner come to mind, but this debate is clearly not just about science.  It’s also about feminism, the social sciences, money, politics, public opinion etc…

Larry Summers - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2007 by World Economic Forum