While some interesting argument continues re the most recent postings -- both about Intelligent Design and the administration’s abuse of our military (please feel free to continue in comments here) -- let me offer a few pieces of miscellany...
* See a fascinating article briefly summarizing the history of US efforts to stimulate and promote pan-Islamism, as a counter to the Soviets, during the Cold War... and how we are paying for shortsightedness today.
* See a fascinating article about the “bottle messages” that have gone out on various space probes. I am on a committee or two with Jon Lomberg (see below) who has been involved in most of these endeavors.
“The Cassini probe, which is currently exploring Saturn and its moons, was launched with a DVD -- one containing 614,420 signatures. Meanwhile, a rather different message was imagined for the Huygens probe, now resting on the surface of Titan. Jon Lomberg, design director for the Voyager Record (see his Web site at www.jonlomberg.com), pondered sending a message aboard Huygens. His answer, arrived at with help from physicist and science-fiction writer Gregory Benford: a diamond wafer that would survive for billions of yeas after Huygens disintegrated. (Mr. Lomberg calls the wafer an effort to make "an artificial fossil.") The wafer would contain a photograph of people and photographs of astronomical objects intended to help a potential discoverer figure out how old it was.
“DeBeers donated diamond wafers and the "Portrait of Humanity" photo was taken, but Cassini went to Saturn without the message, which Mr. Lomberg says was scrapped amid NASA concerns about who'd get credit for the project and the fact that Fuji-Xerox had sponsored it. (He wrote an interesting article about the project for the journal Contact in Context -- you can read it and see the photo and read extensive ruminations etc at http://www.jonlomberg.com/articles-APOH.html
I must thank “PiMal” again for linking us to "Political bias affects brain activity, study finds." I must say the MSNBC article fits nicely into the case I am making at: http://www.davidbrin.com/addiction.html.
I wish I could interest researchers in broadening such studies, to a scale that might actually save civilization from today’s plague of dogmatism. (Anyone care to point the authors of this study toward my “Open letter...”?)
And now the political lamp is lit... but NOT in order to rant against the Monsters. Instead, it is to deliver a poke in the eye in a fresh direction. Well, somewhat fresh. As a contrarian, I like to be seen prodding almost as much at friends as at enemies. Hence I quite-willingly eviscerate fallacies of liberalism and libertarianism... and even science. The difference is that many of these pokes are aimed at flaws in these movements that make them less effective at combatting the real enemies of the Enlightenment. Consider my criticism an attempt to be helpful.
But of course it is more complicated than that. In fact, there are influential members of all of these movements who are - by personality and behavior - in effect enemies of the Enlightenment. But I digress...
* For those of you who have friends with a libertarian leaning (don’t we all?), let me recommend that you have them drop by http://www.reformthelp.org/home/intro/ and especially the theory page at http://www.reformthelp.org/theory/intro/
Partly inspired by my 2002 address to an LP convention (half the delegates wanted to lynch me, prevented only by the other half who were giving me a standing ovation), several groups are trying to pull the Libertarian movement away from the iron grip of dogmatists... the same basic personality type that controls the GOP, the Greens, and keeps trying to control the Democrats. (So far, the Democratic Party remains the last American Institution marginally led by modernists, though only by a thread.) Platonist-essentialists who preach the drug-high of ideological purity at the expense of the pragmatic enlightenment revolution of Locke and Franklin.
As for the agenda offered at that web site, imagine the possibilities. An incrementalist-practical libertarian movement? One that does not grab lapels and scream at voters about how stoopid the average citizen is, for not realizing that all guv’mint is eeeeeevil? But instead offers to push a few, pragmatic steps toward the furtherance and empowerment of individual autonomy and citizenship? In other words, imagine, suddenly, a home for the 40 million somewhat-libertarian-leaning voters who now hold their noses and vote for the GOP, even though they despise Karl Rove’s Culture War.
I don’t agree with every single thing you’ll find at http://www.reformthelp.org/theory/intro/ But it is a step. And it inspired me to add few minor points.
1. I find it effective to note that Natural Rights proclaimers are essentially Platonists, in that they follow the prescription of Plato -- and Marx and Strauss and most religions, for that matter. The deep philosophical underpinning of essentialism is that the imperfect senses rule out any value for pragmatism, or studying the gritty real world, because you will never get perfect answers. (See Plato's Allegory of the Cave.) Therefore, any intelligent person should turn away from gritty pragmatism in favor of essentialist argument and dogma. (Varieties range from logic to faith to incantations to “reason” to “objectivism” even! But it’s all the same under the skin.)
What is stunning is that anyone would swallow the core essentialist assumption: that our imperfect senses are somehow less reliable than the imperfect IMAGINATIONS that carry out so-called reasoning! If we are master self-deluders in the area of perception, often mis-interpreting real world events, shouldn’t that worry go double for self-delusion inside our own heads?
At least when you are dealing with the real world, there remains the ever-present possibility of delusion-correction through CITOKATE. But a dogma that takes memic residence entirely within neurons can be impervious, even to reasoned argument. Even to overwhelming counter-evidence. It can self-reinforce by provoking the release of addiction chemicals. This happens so often that any mature person is obliged to assume that it is reinforcing his or her best-cherished belief, especially if it it held indignantly, self-righteously. With certainty, in a world whose complex and contingent nature seems to preach the sermon of self-doubt.
2. Many of these arguments rage around unspoken assumptions about human nature. But what is our natural condition? Elsewhere I speak of Rousseau, Hobbes and Locke. Here I want to mention a fourth guy .... Thog. Our ancestor, the caveman.
We spent 99% of human generations living like Thog. In other words, the circumstances that channeled baseline human nature -- those for which our genes adapted and evolved... in other words, what is "natural" -- can only be understood by peering at our life during the Neolithic.
I defy anybody, while squinting at our ancestral life in caves -- or primitive wandering tribes -- to seriously support the view that this life was some kind of libertarian/freemarket/creative paradise, rather than a Lord of the Flies era of brutal bullying, perhaps occasionally moderated with a few chastening fables. Test: if that vast expanse really were an era of individual reification and freedom, why was there only glacial progress during that million years?
Progress -- and crude markets -- only began with the arrival of cities. And those cities were managed -- at first -- by brutally hierarchical governments, only a slim improvement on bully clans. The brutality only eased gradually, and markets improved, as progress fed progress and education empowered larger fractions of the population. Incrementally.
In other words, history supports the image of markets and freedom as EMERGENT PROPERTIES of complex systems that are called human societies. Some societies develop good methods that help these properties to continue emerging. For example the traditions of the pragmatic wing of the Enlightenment -- individualism and autonomy, freedom and suspicion of authority.
These memes HELP the synergistic advance of markets and progress, because markets and progress still have enemies. Especially in the kingly and priestly aristocratic modes that habitually seek to restore rule-by-hierarchy. The libertarian reflex (a version of SOA) is generally healthy and right. But we must not focus so hard on the memes that we forget the PROCESS.
And the process is undeniably incremental.
Which is why essentialists hate history! Especially any thought to humanity’s formative years, the million years when our nature took shape. Marx utterly ignored Darwin. So does Ayn Rand. As - of course - does every dogmatist of the far right. They like to grab a few choice historical quotations, pretend they are historically literate, and then ignore the gritty sweep of it all.