Friday, August 30, 2013

Writing about "Race" and "Intelligence"

Since putting up "Blaming the Victims, II" the other day I've had repeated bouts of blogger's remorse.  Let's face it: blog posts are always premature births.  It seems no matter how many times my eyes scan a given post before allowing it to leave the nest, I only ever see what I remember writing in my head, and not the actual words on the screen.   Thus, rather obvious typos continually slip through the cracks.  "By" instead of "But."  "Is" instead of "It."  It's like that email to your boss you read twenty hundred times looking for unprofessional gaffes only to realize immediately after sending it that you signed off with "Thanks you very much" or "God to see you."  This latter, especially if you are already under suspicion as a religious type, is a real boner.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Blaming the Victims, Part II

Noah Millman seems to be coming in for a bit of a drubbing on this blog, which fails to do justice to the fact that Ajay and I are both avid Millmaniacs and my intuitive response to most of what he has to say is "Amen, brother!"  But that would not make for interesting reading, whereas those rare occasions when he provokes me to anger make me more loquacious.  This is one of those occasions, and once again, it was sparked by a debate over the age-old nature vs. nurture (or, in Millman's rendering, genetic vs. cultural determinism) question.  More specifically, it had to do with a predictable back-and-forth between Richard Dawkins and the liberal commentariat about whether Islam has stood in the way of the intellectual development of the Muslim world.  Dawkins thinks it has.  Other people don't.... This is the sort of exchange that I hope will never make it onto the front of this blog on its own merits-- the roles assumed by all the usual suspects are too predictable for that.  But the role played by Millman is more bizarre and perturbing, and therefore worthy of note.  As he did in a post that was previously defeathered by the Six Foot Turkey team, Millman here implies (by roundabout means) that there is a genetic basis to the differential economic and intellectual outcomes of the world's societies-- meaning in this context, I guess, that Muslim societies make fewer contributions to international scholarship because of the innate ethnic handicap of their members.  One expects this sort of neo-racist drivel from wingnuts over at the National Review Online, but coming from Millman it is surprising, if not unprecedented, and therefore worth arguing against on this blog.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Blaming the Victims

Nothing is more likely to turn me into a foreign policy hawk than to learn that Thomas Friedman is not one-- at least not any longer.  And indeed, it would appear from his more recent columns that he has been deeply chastened by the events that have unfolded in the Middle East over the last decade and a half.  True, Thomas Friedman supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  Yes, he was firmly within the ranks of the "liberal hawk" Establishment.  But no longer.  He stands before you now as a man profoundly humbled and altered by his experiences.  And what is this lesson he has learned at such great cost to human life and international security?  It is this: If the people of the Middle East are the victims of civil war and social collapse, it's their own fault in the first place, so there's nothing we can do about it:

Thursday, August 22, 2013

John Yoo is Deeply Concerned about Lack of Accountability

Ladies and gents, remember John Yoo?
He has, you could say, a distinct point of view
He'll not just sit by
While a traitor and spy
Is allowed to walk free-- would you?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Martin Amis and the Politics of Cliché

If you spend too much time in or adjacent to academic circles, you start to develop a coldly utilitarian approach to prose-- words are simply the medium through which you convey ideas and "facts, facts, facts."  Or, if you belong to certain humanistic disciplines, your approach becomes not so much utilitarian as sadistic.  Language is no longer an instrument to be used and discarded, but a structural element of imperialism which must be savaged to pieces, one unnecessary "post-" prefix and "-ology" suffix at a time.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


The doctrine of Hell-- by which I mean the ancient teaching that God condemns a portion of humanity after death to eternal torture-- has been pretty much retired by mainline and liberal Protestants (and it has even begun to face challenges in Evangelical circles).  Over the course of the last two centuries, there has been an extraordinary sea-change in the moral sentiments of Christians regarding this issue, such that John Edwards (a pillar of New England Orthodoxy in his day) could write in the eighteenth century without raising any eyebrows that God would “crush” the sinner “under His feet without mercy,” “stain all His raiment” with the sinner’s blood, and so on-- and yet these very lines would strike a Congregationalist writing on the same subject in the 1870s as a "revolting image."  

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Ontological Argument and the Limits of Philosophy

If you find an argument in a philosophy text which is left deliberately shrouded in obscure terminology, chances are it is because it is transparently fallacious and disobeys the fundamental principles of philosophic reasoning.  Ontological arguments are a family of arguments for the existence of God which belong in this category.  Put simply, they take the form: "God, by definition, is perfect.  One of the qualities of perfection is existence.  Therefore, God exists."

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Bit of Uninformed Speculation about Obama's Anti-Leaker Campaign

The recent announcement of the verdict in the trial of Bradley Manning has brought President Obama's unusually harsh attitude toward leakers back into the news. Manning is the American soldier who leaked a large set of diplomatic cables and other national security documents to the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks. In its story on the verdict, the New York Times notes once again the now widely-reported fact that he's "one of seven people to be charged in connection with leaking to the news media during the Obama administration; during all previous administrations, there were three."

Friday, August 2, 2013

A Dialogue

A: I hate philosophy.
B:  But you are a philosopher!  You've devoted your life to that field of study!
A: I didn't want to.  I wanted to be an agronomist.  I wanted to grow grass and revive the natural splendor of America's great plains.
B: So why didn't you?
A: I got as far as elementary grass studies.  I raced through all the different kinds-- crab grass... regular green grass... and... well, there were some others, at any rate.
B: What went wrong?