Attempts to understand the rise of the modern are challenged to the limit by the rise of ‘classical’ (it should be call ‘early modern’, or ‘transition emergent’ as in the eonic effect) music in the seventeenth century (?/) and then climaxing at the ‘divide’ so-called, then damping out in the nineteenth century. So how do we explain this phenomenon?
Reminder to those who refuse to read WHEE: I won this argument many years ago.
Discussions of the problems with Kantian morality are as important as the paeans to Kant’s brilliance. Brilliant he was, but his own perspective reminds the attempt that it cannot succeed: the issues of will, reason, and free are at the core of Kant’s work, but they express antinomian perplexities. I have a feeling that too much effort goes into trying to create a practical morality from the ‘Groundwork’: that’s an important exercise, and research program in progress, but the questions arise as to the noumenal aspect of what is being enquired into. But even if we admit to the possible failure of Kant’s project his remains the most seminal, and brilliant work on the subject: the Old Testament children’s stories are brought ruthlessly into the realm of the Enlightenment ‘flashlight of Reason’, and show a canonical and world historical first in the realm of ‘models of ethical behavior’. We often wonder if we are reading a tract of theory, or a means to the (really) practical. The answer is both, with a taste of the ‘science fiction of the future’, the evolutionary future of man who is not some Nietzschean scofflaw but a being who can assess the complexities of the issues Kant raises. One of the traps of Nietzsche’s attempt to zero out morality (based in part on his hatred of Kant, and the curious vanishing act of morality in Hegel) is that we end up in a really silly, where not absolutely dangerous, version of the overman beyond morality. That’s a fantasy from comic books. The real overman has struggled through the theories of morality to a knowledge of ‘will’, ‘reason’, and self-consciousness. In a funny way Kant seems to be ‘communicating with the supersmart aliens’, to pose a serious (and seriously funny) metaphor of the ‘last and first me’ who can evolve to the intelligence required to see Kant’s supercomplex ruminations a step toward simplicity. Kant is filled with these pathways to the future evolution of man that are so far dead ends for the current ape we call ourselves (the last i heard it was ‘sapiens’ or ‘sapiens sapiens’??). Between Kant (and Schopenhauer) we see a hint of the solution of the problem of will in a Newtonian universe (which is actually another fiction) and this is perhaps the main achievement, for starters, in the reckoning of newtonian confusions, still very much alive in the successions of secular humanism.
WHEE Kindle at $3.49, a bargain.
I am staring work on a new book trying to simplify WHEE, but the original text in its fourth edition is a revolutionary work, as I must insist, because it completely reworks the much abused term ‘evolution’. We cannot arrive at the solution to the evolution riddle with the means of science currently adopted. Science has itself revolutionized the subject, not through theory, but through empirical discovery which has posed a problem, not a solution. The question lingers: must we adopt an view of teleology to deal with the question of evolutionary directionality. The way to do that is not clear to scinetists, to say the least, but WHEE offers a way to study the question. That, and much more.
One of the confusions of the new atheist position as with Sam Harris is the question of ‘jewish’ identity. Harris denounces religion but compromises on the issue of Judaism and Israel. One of the dangers of demanding the end of religion is that you unwittingly demand the end of Judaism, and jews?!! You would think that this issue would be solved by a jewish person becoming ‘secular’ and adopting a disbelief in the Judaic religion. But the reality is more complex: if you persist with jewish identity religion as you abandon jewish belief religion a kind of snafu arises: you have renounced religion at all, but adopted a pernicious new form of that religion: this is completely apparent in the hopeless confusion in Israel over this issue, which beggars Harris’ presumed ‘freedom from religion’. I think that the only resolution here is for jews who wish to carry out a program to move beyond religion renounce their jewish identity and assume the stance of generalized citizenship in a community of equals. The jewish birth coordinates are a very definite denial of religious equality, and this, as Israel shows, persists beyond the lapse of ‘judaic beliefs’. It is especially puzzling in Harris’ case given his outright chauvinism on the question of Gaza and Palestine.
I have often taken both sides on the debates over modernity and religion. We discuss ‘religion’ as an abstraction, but the real issue is the ‘Axial Age religions’ whose passing can be ‘predicted’ on the basis of my historical model of the ‘macro effect’. I always said as much, but was suddenly confronted with the confusing issue of the New Atheists who have produced a bizarre and flawed version of the secular in their mix of atheism, scientism, and darwinism. Those who are in a quandary over the issue of science and religion, and the usual bogus ‘Reason’ projects, should realize that while ‘religions’ may pass away there is a content that stands beyond the framework of religion as such. Harris, especially, falls in this trap by equating secularism with atheism, and ‘reason’ with the methods of scientism. But the reality is far more complex. Look at buddhism: the religion might pass away but the ‘path to enlightenment’ is not buddhist and has existed in many eras back to the Neolithic. Harris wishes to ‘fix’ this supposed delusion with a sterilized brand of ‘waking up’ pegged to neuroscience, and reduced to an ideology of scientism. The phenomenon of enlightenment is filtered out of the discussion. What on earth for? There may be a temporal limit to a given religion, but their content persists in a timeless state.
One of the problems with these narrow formulations is the failure to study the real complexity of modernity. We can see that atheism and scientism are deviations or oversimplifications. The issue of atheism is not intrinsically connected with ‘reason’ or the ‘secular’. The distortion of these terms simply confuses everyone.
In the same way the place of monotheistic religions may well be subject to a ‘passing away’ effect. But the issues of theism/atheism remain as central outside of the religions that carried the ideas.
Those who wish to embrace the secular should study the larger context of the early modern to see the breadth of its innovations, beside which the brands of atheism and scientism are merely offshoots. The question of ‘god’ is especially troubling for many. To me, the issue is beyond solution. It is easy to see problems with belief, but then you turn to atheism and find its foundation almost as problematical. This effect was clearly studied by Kant in his thinking on metaphysics, which encompasses not just one, but a set, of beliefs, and their opposites. These ‘antinomies’ show us why debates over ‘god’ and/or a new religion of atheism, as the New Atheists clearly intend, will suffer the same metaphysical liabilities.
The war in Gaza was a watershed: the strange new reality is inescapable: the jewish (what to say of the Israeli) legacy is dead. It is a routine now of idiotic clinging to Old Testament fantasies, next to the corruption of american politics, the embrace of american imperialism via Israel, and a genuine fear on the part of gentiles their unlimited philosemitism in the wake of the holocaust has backfire.
I think that our world system is in motion and moving past such things as Judaism, with Xtianity not far behind. But the two are not in the same position.
In any case, the issue of Israel has entered the realm of tragic drama, and in that context there is no solution (save doing it right) in the monomental blindness and stupidity of thugs in motion.
The old marxist left ended up crippled by the embrace of darwinism, despite Marx’s early warning of the trap. It is time to face reality: there is no future left that simply gives darwinism a pass. The flaws of this theory are too out in the open (from scientists themselves, followed by ID/religious groups who take up the call) to bluff one’s way here. And it is hard to consider the current hard line stance as anything more than a bluff.
The new approach to the left in Last and First Men creates an historical outline/model that can easily move beyond darwinism, not to another theory, but to a larger chronicle of historical development. This can free the typical marxist from being wrong from the start on a fundamental issue of science (not religion). It is an accident of history that placed the birth of marxism at the onset of nineteenth century positivism.
The debate over empiricism, as in the previous post, is laced with a kind of unwitting hypocrisy by biologists on the evolution of man: we have no real theory of human evolution because we haven’t observed how it happened. We just don’t know, and yet the automatic assumptions of darwinism get a pass without proper validation.
Defending scientism: mathematics is a part of science
on August 21, 2014
It is remarkable how scientism persists so naively as if Kant never existed. The issue of empirical knowledge is problematical. We would like it to be true that it can serve as the fundamental test of knowledge, but this position fails, and the result is the endless debates with all sorts of metaphysical positions, including those of science. This issue has been muddled by theological debaters over ‘god’ and ‘faith’. But the real issue is that there are noumenal/phenomenal distinctions/boundaries/limits that make reliance on pure empiricism fail.
We must suspect this connects with evolutiolnary confusions in the ‘noumenal’ aspects of teleological questions.
While the term “scientism” is often a rebuke to those considered to be overstepping the proper boundaries of science, plenty of scientists will plead guilty to the charge so long as they get a say in how the term is defined. The “scientism” that I defend is the claim that, as far as we can tell, all human knowledge is empirical, deriving from contact with empirical reality. Further, that empirical reality seems to be a unified whole, and thus our knowledge of reality is also unified across different subject areas so that transitions between subjects are seamless.
What we call “science” is the set of methods that we have found, empirically, to be the best for gaining knowledge about the universe, and the same toolkit and the same basic ideas about evidence work in all subject areas. Thus there are no “other ways of knowing,” no demarcation lines across which science cannot tread, no “non-overlapping magisteria.”
A related but different stance is expounded by Pigliucci in his critique of scientism . Pigliucci instead prefers the umbrella term “scientia,” which includes “science, philosophy, mathematics and logic.” This sees mathematics and logic as epistemologically distinct from science. Indeed, Pigliucci has remarked:
“it should be uncontroversial (although it actually isn’t) that the kind of attention to empirical evidence, theory construction, and the relation between the two that characterizes science is ‘distinctive enough’ … to allow us to meaningfully speak of an activity that we call science as sufficiently distinct from … mathematics.”
The Guardian 27 August 2014
The US still decides the future of capitalism, not the G20, and not the Brics nations
A new development bank, launched by leading emerging nations, has stolen the G20’s thunder. But it won’t pose a real challenge to US dominance of global markets
International attention has been diverted away from this year’s G20 meetings in Australia by the declaration from the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, at their meeting in Fortaleza Brazil this July, that they would launch a new “Brics bank”.
[Read more →]
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK
The world’s entire food system is under threat, according to a new study from the University of Exeter
By Tom Bawden, Environment Editor
The Independent – UK, August 28, 2014
Britain has “significantly underestimated” the risk that crop pests pose to its food supply. Fungi and viruses present so great a danger to staples such as wheat and potatoes that they may force the nation to change its diet, an academic has warned.
The rise of deadly pests poses a threat to the world’s entire food system, but the UK is among the most vulnerable countries, according to a new study from the University of Exeter. It forecasts that food-growing nations, including the UK, will be “overwhelmed” by pests within the next 30 years as climate change, inadequate biosecurity measures and new variants help them spread.
[Read more →]
Dear friends of NCSE,
Further details about Ohio’s antiscience bill. And the American
Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists calls for a repeal of
Tennessee’s antiscience law.
CREATIONISM AND OHIO’S ANTISCIENCE BILL
[Read more →]
The function of IDiots
There aren’t very many big questions left to answer. Most ot the great debates have been settled and we’re now in a mopping up situation.
One of the few remaining questions concerns the function of IDiots. The Intelligent Design Creationist Movement has been a spectacular failure. The Wedge Document is a joke. They’ve failed to get creationism into American schools. People are abandoning Christianity. Their books have all been trashed by critics.
One wonders why they’re still around.
This is a bit much! Only a cadre of entrenched true believers and/or ideologists could still be getting away with this kind of statement. We have critiqued ID here many times, without undermining the basic point, beyond the ID question, that darwinism is a flawed theory. The thesis of natural selection, almost unbelievably, is till promoted as if no critics had ever existed. The public deserves better than this.
This must be a simple bluff.
Flapping baby birds give clues to origin of flight
August 28, 2014
University of California – Berkeley
The origin of flight is a contentious issue: some argue that tree-climbing dinosaurs learned to fly in order to avoid hard falls. Others favor the story that theropod dinosaurs ran along the ground and pumped their forelimbs to gain lift, eventually talking off. New evidence showing the early development of aerial righting in birds favors the tree-dweller hypothesis.
Educating the Uninformed
The Cruel Myths About Teachers
by WALTER BRASCH
It’s Labor Day weekend, the schools have been in session about a week, and the disgruntled voices of a minority drone on. Their screeching refrain, often in letters to the editor and talk show call-ins, is familiar:
–Teachers only work half a year.
–Teachers are overpaid.
–Local school districts and their taxpayers shouldn’t have to hold the burden of teacher salaries.
Often, those who complain the most are those who were average or below-average students who blame teachers, not themselves, for their mediocrity. Although most claim to be strong free-market capitalists, they believe teachers should not have much higher wages and benefits than they do, a philosophy bordering on socialism.
NY Times, August 29 2014
With Gaza War, Movement to Boycott Israel Gains Momentum in Europe
By STEVEN ERLANGER
LONDON — A branch of Sainsbury’s grocery store removed kosher products from its shelves, it said, to prevent anti-Israel demonstrations. The Tricycle Theater in north London, after hosting a Jewish film festival for eight years, demanded to vet the content of any film made with arts funding from the Israeli government. George Galloway, a member of Parliament known for his vehement criticism of Israel, declared Bradford, England, an “Israel-free zone.”
Mr. Galloway, in comments being investigated by the police, said, “We don’t want any Israeli goods; we don’t want any Israeli services; we don’t want any Israeli academics coming to the university or college; we don’t even want any Israeli tourists to come to Bradford.”
The war in Gaza and its aftermath have inflamed opinion in Europe and, experts and analysts say, are likely to increase support for the movement to boycott, disinvest from and sanction Israel, known as BDS.
“We entered this war in Gaza with the perception that the Israeli government is not interested in reaching peace with the Palestinians,” said Meir Javedanfar, an Israeli analyst at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, a private university. “Now, after the casualties and the destruction, I’m very worried about the impact this could have on Israel. It could make it very easy for the BDS campaign to isolate Israel and call for more boycotts.”
Gilead Sher and Einav Yogev, in a paper for the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, warn that Gaza means Israel pays “a much heavier price in public opinion and in erosion of support for its positions in negotiations with the Palestinians.”
Along with reports of “familiar anti-Semitic attacks on Jews,” they said, “the movement to boycott Israel is expanding politically and among the public.”
Daniel Levy of the European Council on Foreign Relations points to the debate over halting arms exports to Israel, which has been given new momentum in Britain and Spain by the asymmetry of the Gaza war.
“You’re beginning to see the translation of public sympathy into something politically meaningful,” he said. He noted two tracks — the governmental one, which distinguishes between Israel and the occupied territories, and the social one of academic, commercial and artistic boycotts.
But for all the new attention around the BDS movement, the economic impact has been small, experts say. The European Union, which has been looked to for leadership on the issue, does not support the idea.
Instead, the Europeans are drawing a legal distinction between Israel within its 1967 boundaries and Israeli towns and settlements that are beyond them in occupied land. Brussels regards all Israelis living beyond the 1967 lines, including those in East Jerusalem, as settlers living in illegal communities whose status can be regulated only through a negotiated peace agreement with the Palestinians.
In matters such as scientific cooperation, funding for research, import duties and labeling requirements, Brussels has sought a strong relationship with pre-1967 Israel, while demanding a different status for institutions and products from beyond the Green Line, the armistice lines that ended the 1967 fighting but did not fix borders or create a Palestinian state.
Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, said before the Gaza conflict that “there is no boycott” of Israel by the European Union, citing trade and scientific cooperation. “The European Union defends the right of existence of Israel with all its means,” he said. “The view that the Europeans are against Israel, I repeat it, is wrong.”
Some members of the 28-nation European Union are closer to Israel than others, but the bloc is united on Israel within its 1967 boundaries.
“Our relationship with Israel is close and one of the best we have in the region, but only with Israel in its 1967 lines unless there is a peace agreement,” said a senior European Union official who spoke on the condition of anonymity in keeping with diplomatic protocol. “We are clear, however, that what came under Israeli control in 1967 is not a part of Israel, so the settlements are illegal under international law and not helpful in the peace process.”
To that end, the European Union has demanded that all products produced by Israelis beyond the 1967 lines be labeled differently, and they are excluded from the duty-free trade agreement the bloc has with Israel proper. Goods from settlements are imported, but under different labels and tariffs. “There is no question of a boycott,” the European official said.
In an agreement last December on scientific exchanges and funding, known as Horizon 2020, Brussels insisted, despite fierce opposition from the Israeli government, on keeping Israeli institutions in the West Bank, like Ariel University, out of the deal. Since European funding is so important to Israeli academic institutions, the Israeli government gave in, attaching a legally meaningless appendix opposing the distinctions.
While some Israeli companies label goods produced in the West Bank as Israeli, the Europeans have tried to crack down, insisting that permits have a physical address attached and not simply an Israeli post office box. Goods can be labeled “West Bank” or as coming from a particular place, but cannot say “Made in Israel.”
The European Union has gone considerably further than the United States, declaring that Israeli settlements over the Green Line are “illegal” under international law; the United States simply calls them “illegitimate” and “obstacles to peace.”
Israel says its settlement activity is consistent with international law, although it accepts that some settlements are built illegally on privately owned Palestinian land and says that all will be resolved as part of a final deal with the Palestinians.
The United States also has no regulations requiring separate labeling of products from Israeli-occupied land.
The recent fuss over SodaStream and one of its spokeswomen, the actress Scarlett Johansson, was indicative of the passions raised. Oxfam insisted she quit SodaStream, which has a factory in the large West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim, or quit her work with Oxfam; Ms. Johansson chose to quit Oxfam. SodaStream defended itself by citing the number of jobs it was providing for Palestinians, who were being paid the same wages as Israeli workers.
The debate was indicative of shifting attitudes. During the period around the Oslo Accords, in the early 1990s, when peace seemed close and economic cooperation between Israel and the new, interim Palestinian Authority was considered an important part of a future relationship built on mutual dependency and confidence, factories in occupied territory were praised.
With the failure of Oslo to produce a Palestinian state, the tone has changed, and companies once seen by many as in the forefront of economic cooperation are now being seen by some as colonial occupiers undermining a future Palestinian state.
But the interconnection of Israel with the settlements is difficult to untie — every major Israeli bank has a branch in the settlements.
Some countries, like Britain, have gone further. Britain issued voluntary labeling guidelines in December 2009 “to enable consumers to make a more fully informed decision concerning the products they buy,” according to the UK Trade and Investment agency, because “we understand the concerns of people who do not wish to purchase goods exported from Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”
More troubling to Israel, in December the agency warned companies and citizens to be “aware of the potential reputational implications” of investments in settlement areas. “We do not encourage or offer support to such activities,” it said.
But even these concerns should be distinguished from the organized BDS campaign against the state of Israel itself. Begun in 2005, the campaign is supposed to last, the Palestinian BDS National Committee says, until Israel “complies with international law and Palestinian rights.”
Its three goals are “the end of Israeli occupation and colonization of Arab land and dismantling the Wall,” “full equality” for “Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel,” and respect for the right of return of Palestinian refugees. Israelis see the first two as compatible with two states, but the third as the end of the Jewish state.
Then there is the associated effort at an academic and cultural boycott of Israel, which has attracted well-known figures like Stephen Hawking and Sinead O’Connor. Others defend artistic freedom or the unifying nature of culture, or believe, as the writer Ian McEwan said, “If I only went to countries I approve of, I probably would never get out of bed.”
The Half Has Never Been Told
Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism
By Edward E. Baptist
A sweeping, authoritative history of the expansion of slavery in America, showing how forced migrations radically altered the nation’s economic, political, and cultural landscape.
Americans tend to cast slavery as a pre-modern institution—the nation’s original sin, perhaps, but isolated in time and divorced from America’s later success. But to do so robs the millions who suffered in bondage of their full legacy.
As historian Edward Baptist reveals in The Half Has Never Been Told, the expansion of slavery in the first eight decades after American independence drove the evolution and modernization of the United States. In the span of a single lifetime, the South grew from a narrow coastal strip of worn-out tobacco plantations to a continental cotton empire, and the United States grew into a modern, industrial, and capitalist economy. Until the Civil War, Baptist explains, the most important American economic innovations were ways to make slavery ever more profitable. Through forced migration and torture, slave owners extracted continual increases in efficiency from enslaved African Americans. Thus the United States seized control of the world market for cotton, the key raw material of the Industrial Revolution, and became a wealthy nation with global influence.
Told through intimate slave narratives, plantation records, newspapers, and the words of politicians, entrepreneurs, and escaped slaves, The Half Has Never Been Told offers a radical new interpretation of American history. It forces readers to reckon with the violence at the root of American supremacy, but also with the survival and resistance that brought about slavery’s end—and created a culture that sustains America’s deepest dreams of freedom.
Edward E. Baptist is an associate professor of history at Cornell University. Author of the award-winning Creating an Old South, he grew up in Durham, North Carolina. He lives in Ithaca, New York.
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