Archive: Unenlightenment

The left’s totalitarian vision

Our future according
to Liberals
Dr. Helen, who comments on society “from a (mostly) psychological perspective”, lays it out in all its horrifying detail. Liberals want to turn America into
a college campus with free food, shelter and recreation.
The good doctor’s perspicuous view of liberal aims owes something, no doubt, to her having interviewed Jonah Goldberg, author of Liberal Fascism, a book that has already received the strong endorsement of Charles Murray. Goldberg believes that
[…] for a lot of liberals and progressives, the end of history is a giant college campus, or increasingly, Europe. You know, this place where you’ve lost any great ambition, everyone’s much more concerned with self-esteem, with caring for each other.
What Goldberg means by ‘ambition’ is something like this:
I’ve long been an admirer of, if not a full-fledged subscriber to, what I call the “Ledeen Doctrine.” I’m not sure my friend Michael Ledeen will thank me for ascribing authorship to him and he may have only been semi-serious when he crafted it, but here is the bedrock tenet of the Ledeen Doctrine in more or less his own words: “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.” That’s at least how I remember Michael phrasing it at a speech at the American Enterprise Institute about a decade ago.
It’s true that no university has yet thrown any small countries against the wall. I’m afraid that in all likelihood none has even wished to do so. That is a definite flaw in their character. Only the School of the Americas has shown some gumption in this respect.
So there you have it: caring for each other is bad, whacking small little countries is good. Anti-fascism in a nutshell.
As an antidote to Goldberg’s pretenses to scholarship, Jean-Pierre Faye’s work on “totalitarian language” is a good starting point. See
Langages totalitaires. Critique de la raison narrative, l'économie (Hermann, 1972) German translation: Totalitäre Sprachen (Ullstein, 1977).
Théorie du récit. Introduction aux Langages totalitaires (Hermann, 1972) — a briefer presentation.
La Raison narrative (Balland, 1990).
Le Piège (Balland, 1994)—on Heidegger and the language of National Socialism.
Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be any translations of these works into English, but see “The critique of language and its economy”, Economy and society 5.1 (Feb 1976) 52–73. Langages totalitaires is a minute examination, first of narratives and events in the French Revolution, and then of key phrases like “conservative revolution” and “national socialism” in Germany during the 1920s and 30s. The bits and pieces that were compounded to form the ideology of Nazism were indeed more complicated than one might have thought. But they don’t amount to anything resembling liberalism. Not if by that you mean a historically real liberalism—the New Deal, say, plus the anti-racism and anti-bigotry that became part of the Democratic party’s platform in the sixties.
Added 31 Dec: The “Ledeen Doctrine” could just as well be called the “Presidential Initiation Rite Doctrine”. See R. W. Apple, Fighting in Panama: The Implications; War: Bush’s Presidential Rite of Passage, New York Times 21 Dec 1989. See also Spiderbytes; Allan Nairn, “No More Coddling Big Criminals. Huckabee Fails to Get Tough on Crime”, News and comment 18 Dec 2007.

LinkDecember 28, 2007

David Brooks on the emotions of boys and men

It’s time for a new stereotype: Right-wingers don’t know science. But they still make propaganda from what they think they know. Exhibit #1 is from Mark Liberman at LanguageLog:
Mark Liberman, “David Brooks, cognitive neuroscientist”, LanguageLog 12 Jun 2006.
—, “Are men emotional children?”, LanguageLog 24 Jun 2006.
David Brooks makes dubious use of neuroscience to argue that in order to increase reading among boys, they should be given Hemingway and the like, not Jane Austen.
In his first post Liberman looks at one paper, presumably representative, on the topic of sex differences in learning. The paper concludes that for pictures that aroused intense negative emotions, women’s memories were, in a group comparison, somewhat better than men’s.
Turhan Canli et al., “Sex differences in the neural basis of emotional memories”, PNAS 99.16 (6 Aug 2002).
Associated with that finding were differences in activation patterns in the brain. But those differences must be set against a background of community. The two sexes “share an extensive network of structures associated with attention, language, and motor control that are associated with emotional arousal”; and, as Liberman notes, if we could see the raw data we would likely find a great deal of variation among individuals.
Even more telling is a second post. Brooks’s source turns out to be Why gender matters by Leonard Sax. Sax grossly misinterprets a paper concerning responses to pictures of faces exhibiting various negative emotions.
Killgore, William D. S.; Oki, Mika; Yurgelun-Todd, Deborah A., "Sex-specific developmental changes in amygdala responses to affective faces," Neuroreport 12.2 (Feb 2001): 427-433.
He claims that “the locus [in male brains] of brain activity associated with negative emotion remains stuck in the the amygdala”. In girls responses to negative emotion are supposed to shift to cerebral cortex during adolescence, in boys they don’t. From Liberman’s careful examination it is apparent that the study by Killgore et al. proves very little. The samples are very small, and individual differences between members of the same sex come close to swamping supposed differences between the sexes. The paper certainly does not support the claims of Sax or Brooks.
Brooks admits to being scientifically illiterate. Sax has an M.D. He also has an agenda, which is to promote single-sex public schools. The National Association for Single Sex Public Education (NASSPE), which seems to consist in Sax and an assistant, advertises his book prominently. The NASSPE has regional meetings every year. The Northeast Conference is co-sponsored with a charter-school outfit, Victory Schools, and a Transformation Life Coach who has founded the Academy For Leadership and Transformation (which seems to be nothing other than the Coach herself). It will set you back $325 plus $165 for accommodations.
Single-sex education may be a good thing, although memories of high-school gym, admittedly a special case, suggest that it has its drawbacks. But misinterpreting science is not. And even if the conclusions of the paper by Killgore et al. had been correctly stated, the inferences Brooks wants to draw from them are far from being justified.

LinkJune 25, 2006

No, no, no. It can always get worse.

(i) A red giant. (ii) Planetary nebula surrounding white dwarf remnant. (Source: National Schools’ Observatory (UK), Astronomy Textbook).
Don’t worry, kids. This won’t ever happen to our Sun. God will sustain it with energy from our prayers.
In a different example of spinning science news last month, NASA headquarters removed a reference to the future death of the sun from a press release about the discovery of comet dust around a distant star known as a white dwarf. […]
“We are seeing the ghost of a star that was once a lot like our sun,” said Marc Kuchner of the Goddard Space Flight Center. In a statement that was edited out of the final news release he went on to say, “I cringed when I saw the data because it probably reflects the grim but very distant future of our own planets and solar system.”
An e-mail message from Erica Hupp at NASA headquarters to the authors of the original release at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said, “NASA is not in the habit of frightening the public with doom and gloom scenarios.”
Never mind that the death of the sun has been a staple of astronomy textbooks for 50 years.
Ms. Hupp was a colleague of the former NASA flack, George Deutsch III. Deutsch, who didn’t quite finish his BA at Texas A&M, was discovered to be trying to censor press releases. Before she started telling NASA’s scientists what to say, Erica Hupp was a PR person for the Colorado Springs and the Kansas City airports. She wrote stories like this: “COS Gears Up for the Annual Holiday Travel Rush” (Colorado Springs Airport Press Release 19 Nov 2003). You can certainly see how she’d be qualified for her present position.
Now tell me again what’s so bad about solipsism.
Link to the Times story via Seed’s “Daily Zeitgeist”.

LinkFebruary 15, 2006

Jean or Paul. Or maybe both of them. Some French guy, anyway.

Pat Robertson knows why Europe has low birth rates.
ROBERTSON: Studies that I have read indicate that having babies is a sign of a faith in the future. You know, unless you believe in the future, you’re not going to take the trouble of raising a child, educating a child, doing something. If there is no future, why do it? Well, unless you believe in God, there’s really no future. And when you go back to the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre, the whole idea of this desperate nightmare we are in—you know, that we are in this prison, and it has no hope, no exit. That kind of philosophy has permeated the intellectual thinking of Europe, and hopefully it doesn’t come here. But nevertheless, ladies and gentlemen, Europe is right now in the midst of racial suicide because of the declining birth rate. And they just can’t get it together. Why? There’s no hope.
See what happens when you read too much atheist philosophy? Racial suicide! Ignorance is bliss, isn’t it?
Extra credit: develop a theory of time according to which the existence of the future depends upon your current mental states.

LinkFebruary 8, 2006

The march of nescience

Two more items for the bulging Less Science file.
Adjust the facts, Ma’am
Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa) wants to forbid the Weather Service from publishing its forecasts, which would henceforth be available only from places like Accuweather. (See Neil Johnson, “Senate Bill Hobbles Weather Service”, tbo.com News 28 May 2005.)
Stranger Fruit summarizes a survey of scientists at NOAA by the Union of Concerned Scientists. The tale is one of interference from above, alteration of reports, and an atmosphere of intimidation.
I may be wrong, but it seems to me that there was, when NOAA and other agencies were established, an understanding among Democrats and Republicans alike that the government, if it is to make reasoned decisions in the best interests of the country and its people, needs accurate information. Disagreement about policy is one thing; polluting the data is another. That understanding is being undermined by the current administration, with no greater interest in mind than the profit of a few.
The real “science war”
Pharyngula (P. Z. Myers) and others comment on a series of interviews at The New Republic Online. The topic was evolution. Myers helpfully classifies the respondents according to their positions on the intellectual tree of ascent from sheer stupidity to getting One Thing Right. The worst, I think (in agreement with Myers), are those who can’t bring themselves to say that evolution is true or false, or that they have no basis for an opinion, but instead cravenly waffle.
See also Myers’ response to Todd Zywicki and Jacques Distler’s list of awards (example: the Unclear on the Concept Award goes to Patrick Buchanan for saying “I don’t believe evolution can explain the creation of matter”; though who knows?—maybe he has Gustave Le Bon in mind).

LinkJuly 10, 2005

And I’ll build a tiny Red Sea for them to drown in…

Tom the Dancing Bug (Ruben Bolling) shows us how creationism will benefit us all. At Salon (subscription or click through ad). Via The Panda’s Thumb.
Also at The Panda’s Thumb: a response by Ed Brayton to a proponent of intelligent design who holds that although intelligent design has “metaphysical implications”, he is not a creationist. The gist of Brayton’s response is that combining “cosmological” and “biological” intelligent design entails a “metaphysical designer”—i.e. a supernatural agent or agents, God or the angels.
I’m still puzzled about inferring infinite power from finite effects… As I’ve said before (“Less Science”), Medieval theologians were too acute to believe that the design argument alone yields the Perfect Being (omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent). For that you need—metaphysics. So the oddity here is that the intelligent design proponent is right when he says he’s not doing metaphysics, but wrong if he thinks that without doing metaphysics he can get God. (Now that I think about how the earlier arguments work, I’m not sure you can even get creation from design. Not ex nihilo.)
Addendum 2 Jul: Storkism in Tom Tomorrow. Can a storkist be a pro-lifer?

LinkJune 30, 2005

Why does Lou Dobbs hate Christmas?

Lou Dobbs holds that Christmas is not a holiday (or perhaps only that it is not a happy holiday). How else can you construe the claim that Macy’s is “excluding” celebrants of Christmas when it greets customers and the public at large with “Happy Holidays”?


LinkDecember 24, 2004