Finding a Happier Place

We are species built on tribe; yet we live increasingly alone in societies so vast and populous our ancestors would not recognize them; we are a species designed for scarcity and now live with unimaginable plenty; we are a species built on religious ritual to appease our existential angst, and yet we now live in a world where every individual has to create her own meaning from scratch; we are a species built for small-scale monocultural community and now live increasingly in multiracial, multicultural megacities.

Andrew Sullivan: The World Is Better Than Ever. Why Are We Miserable?

Sullivan’s point makes intuitive sense to me, but acknowledging that my prejudices may be motivating my agreement, I want to dive deeper.

Modern enlightened thinking suggests that blaming human nature for our alienation or other ills is bogus, not least because doing so denies our own agency in our own actions. I cannot completely disagree with that: a core tenet of my ethos is that part of our mission on earth is to elevate ourselves beyond our base nature and mere instinct, to act in ways that are subjectively right and good even when those actions are at odds with our own best interests.

At the same time, we would do well to recognize that in wishing to be angels we cannot shed our sheaths of clay. We should never excuse our choices or surrender our wills to our human nature, but neither should we ignore or paper over those aspects of our hard-wiring that vie against our virtues.

You do not defeat an enemy by wishing him away: you do so by recognizing his nature and either defeating him or coming to an acceptable accommodation. To Sullivan’s point, the satisfaction of our material needs and wants has failed to elevate us as a society or as a species. The nearer we get to the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the deeper our disaffection.

And so, Sullivan suggests, we need to ask whether part of our problem is that we are forcing ourselves to adjust to an existence for which we are, at a deep sub-conscious level, utterly ill-equipped,  whether therein lies a partial cause for social ills, and whether we can change this or whether we need to search for a mode of living that accommodates – but does not surrender to – our nature.

Advertisements

Opening Up the Identity Conversation

Men should have the same right to opine on gender issues as women. Having an identity doesn’t give you total authority over certain issues.

Source: Christian Alejandro Gonzalez, Rejecting the Left’s Conversation-Ending Identitarianism | The American Conservative

Agreed. And first principle.

But let’s open this up:

  1. Atheists and agnostics should have the same right to opine on religious issues as the faithful.
  2. All Americans should have the same right to opine on Veteran’s affairs as those who have served.
  3. All people should have the same right to opine on accessibility issues as do those with disabilities.
  4. People of all ethnic backgrounds – including those of us who find ourselves insensitively lumped into the derogatory catch-all category of “white” – should have the same right to opine on racial issues as do people of color.
  5. People of all sexual preferences – including monogamous heterosexuals – should have the same right to opine on sexuality as those identifying themselves as lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgendered, queer, asexual, or polyamorous.
  6. People of any one culture should have the same right to experience and adopt aspects of any other culture as those who are born into or who have hereditary ties to that culture.

The minute you start quashing debate about any of these issues, you have killed democracy and ended the American experiment. That’s a line we cannot afford to cross, even at the cost of causing offense and even hurt feelings.

When the Left Denies Science

Galileo’s Middle Finger is one of the most important social-science books of 2015 because of how thoroughly it punctures liberal smugness about science.

Jesse Singal
When Liberals Attack Social Science
The New Yorker
December 30, 2015

I spare no virtual ink in this forum excoriating those who would deny science in the name of political ideology, and am studiously non-partisan about this: the conservatives who still refuse to consider the possibility of climate change, end stem-cell research, or keep evolution out of textbooks come under as much fire as the liberals engaged in a jihad against GMOs, who deny the role of evolution in the human brain, and who in the words of Michael Shermer, maintain that “everything natural is good, and everything non-natural is bad.”

So it is encouraging to come across Jesse Singal’s moving review of Galileo’s Middle FingerAlice Dreger’s new book about what happens when science clashes with activist liberal dogma. In the book, Dreger documents in meticulous detail two specific cases of when this happens, and the results are disturbing. I won’t go into specifics, but suffice to say that both researchers collected evidence that pointed in a direction that challenged liberal dogma, and as a result, faced baseless academic and popular witch hunts aimed at ruining their lives and their careers, not simply challenging their conclusions.

That this is reprehensible is axiomatic. As Singal notes:

We should want researchers to poke around at the edges of “respectable” beliefs about gender and race and religion and sex and identity and trauma, and other issues that make us squirm. That’s why the scientific method was invented in the first place. If activists — any activists, regardless of their political orientation or the rightness of their cause — get to decide by fiat what is and isn’t an acceptable interpretation of the world, then science is pointless, and we should just throw the whole damn thing out.

These accusations are not being flung by some right-wing PAC. Not only is The New Yorker somewhere to the left of center in its own editorial policies, Dr. Dreger is a genuine progressive who has spent years working with the transgendered. Her conclusions are thus animated by a desire to rid science of politics rather than score points on the opposition.

Read the entire review, and then do what I did: pick up Dregel’s book. This nonsense has to end, and we, by being informed, can help end it.

Yale and the Apotheosis of Infantile Leftism

“Free speech is all well and good, apparently, when the speaker is a bigoted lunatic from a “marginalized” group; not so good when the person in question is a Yale professor advocating for her students’ freedom to choose a Halloween costume.”

Source: Where Are The Adults at Yale? – Tablet Magazine

Read James Kirchick’s article. It is not perfect – he tries to make too many points at once – but he manages to make many that are worth positing.

First, that there are better ways to handle hateful speech, much less moderate arguments from a “well-meaning child developmental psychologist,” than plead for safe-rooms and the elimination of opposing voices on campus. He did so when he was a student, engaging in open debate without calling for institutional retribution against the individual (or the campus groups that sponsored him) who attacked both his identity and him personally.

Second, that any parallels between what is happening at Yale and the campus uprisings of the 1960s is superficial at best. Five decades ago the demand was for student empowerment and the freedom of speech on campus; now students are demanding protection from emotional pain and the end to free and open debate.

Third, that the current issue at Yale is the natural evolution of an identity politics that has devolved to ” ‘grievance mongering,’ which holds that the relative virtue of an argument is directly proportional to the professed ‘marginalization’ of its proponent,” and that whatever the virtues of such thinking may be, it is inimical to the goals of a liberal education.

Fourth, that the condemnation of such behavior comes not just from conservative old white men, but from acknowledged liberals like President Barack Obama.

And finally, that a university is not and should not be a democracy. It is, rather, an environment run by leading educators with the advice and input of students and primarily for the benefit of those students. Thanks to the efforts of the student movement of the 1960s, those being educated have a vote in the way a university is run. But they do not be pandered to and allowed to run rampant over the operation of the university, if for no other reason than their short-term desires are often at odds with the long-term interests of the university and the wider community it serves.