Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Back to the war against Modernism

My review of Mooney’s The Republican War on Science had the cover of the San Diego Union Book Review... one of only a dozen separate book review sections left today in metropolitan newspapers. How ironic, that I am among the reviewers who seems LEAST laudatory. Yes, it is valuable. Buy and read it and use it in the war. But it buys into left-right and thus is too myopic for my full praise.

Mooney is a bit unfair in lumping millions of sincerely modernist and pro-science Republicans. What is being done by the Troika was not their choice. Not specifically.

Still, these are the people who -right now - need to stand up and save this republic and civilizations, the way moderate democrats did in 1947. By stepping forward and denouncing "their" side's monsters. By admitting that any movement can go mad... or be taken over by madmen... and now it is their side's turn.

Taking a somewhat different and refreshing look at the Romantic/Reactionary Movement that opposes pragmatic modernism, my friend, eminent futurist Paul Saffo, wrote a fascinating article that describes the anti-modernist romantic movement as part of a long tradition of “Ghost Dance” mysticism. Interestingly, he includes the techno transcendentalists, such as Ray Kurzweil and the Extropians, because, despite their pro-technology vigor and optimism, they are still yearning for rescue by something miraculous, instead of what has truly done the great work of the last Century.

And now:

Firms with Bush-Cheney Ties Clinching Katrina Deals Companies with ties to the Bush White House and the former head of FEMA are clinching some of the administration's first disaster relief and reconstruction contracts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

In fact, I try only to cite Truthout when the articles are rich in facts. Their full-fledged buy into a left-right view of the Culture War is not my bag. Nor is BillMoyers my favorite commentator. I find him often tendentious and his softball-worshipful interviews with Joseph Campbell helped to spread lefty-mysticism, even while Moyers claims to be fighting mysticism of the right. Still, the following transcribed speech shows him at his best, as he accepts an award for promoting moderate dialogue between science and faith, at a time when others want war between these two human traits.

Bill Moyers on 9/11 and the Sport of God  Excerpt follows (read the paragraph all the way to its scary end.)

Excerpt: ”Suddenly we were immersed in the pathology of a "holy war" as defined by fundamentalists on both sides. You could see this pathology play out in General William Boykin. A professional soldier, General Boykin had taken up with a small group called the Faith Force Multiplier whose members apply military principles to evangelism with a manifesto summoning warriors "to the spiritual warfare for souls." After Boykin had led Americans in a battle against a Somalian warlord he announced: "I know my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his God was an idol."

“Now Boykin was going about evangelical revivals preaching that America was in a holy war as "a Christian nation" battling Satan and that America's Muslim adversaries will be defeated "only if we come against them in the name of Jesus." For such an hour, America surely needed a godly leader. So General Boykin explained how it was that the candidate who had lost the election in 2000 nonetheless wound up in the White House. President Bush, he said, "was not elected by a majority of the voters - he was appointed by God." Not surprising, instead of being reprimanded for evangelizing while in uniform, General Boykin is now the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence.”

Did you really need more evidence about the fervid takeover and purge of the US Officer Corps that I’ve been talking about? Throttling and force-retiring generals, intimidating and transferring mid-grade officers, and using congressional appointments to stock as much as a third of every class at the military academies with religious fanatics. The failure of the democrats to perceive this pattern, and stand up to defend our brave and suffering defenders, is utterly shameful.

And yes, it is time to start talking about next year’s elections. I plan to update some of the suggestions I made at - especially the one about how to deal with gerrymandering.


Anonymous said...

@michael vassar:
"he asserts that "we must join in a new Ghost Dance now". Huh? The article becomes a rorschach test."

I think Saffo means that the world should take a good look at what Californias "cultural responses to technology’s challenges" are and learn from them.

Anonymous said...



After refusing free assistance volunteer assistance from the National Funeral Director's Association, FEMA outsourced the work of gathering bodies to a funeral home chain with close ties to the Bush family. My cousin Julia ties the threads together here:

The Onion's parody of the subject:

Anonymous said...


You suggest that those of us who are modernist, pro-science Republicans need to step up and speak out about our own side's monsters. Which we're doing, but it's been difficult at best -- they're a lot louder than we are.

Back with the Democrats in 1947, most people were registered with one of the two major parties, even if they didn't always agree with them. So moderate Democrats could make a big difference because there were a lot more of them as a percentage of the party. Today, on the other hand, there's a large and still growing segment of people who are Independant -- no longer registered with either major party. Their voices aren't heard during the primary elections, where, IMHO, the party direction is determined.

*Those* people are who we have to convince to rejoin our party (or the Dems, as long as they join and VOTE...). The only way we're going to make a lasting difference in either party's makeup is if we can get like-minded people to vote in the primary, and that means they have to be registered with the major parties in most states.

I feel this tendency for people to stay Independant nowadays is a major cause (possibly the *biggest* cause...) for the party extremism we're seeing today, because without that center segment actually making their voice heard during the primary elections, the moderate candidates simply don't have a chance.

So where I'm focusing my efforts is in trying to convince anyone I know who hasn't registered for a major party to do so and actually vote in the primaries. It's the only way I see that the current situation could change for the better.

David Brin said...

Steve B wins post-of-the-day.

Yes, getting people who are moderates to re-register is part of the solution.

But HOW to re-register? Stay tuned. I am going to surprise you.

(Though you can find a spoiler in my "Culture War" article.)

David Brin said...

The Kleiman blog is grotesquely unfair to the officer corps. Yes, many military officers class themselves as "conservative republican", but from what I can see, their VERSION of those words would resemble Barry Goldwater far more that neocons. Many are deeply devoted to constitutionalis,

In any event, Kleiman misses the point. We have to act AS IF I am right, and stand up for these men and women, and make much of the efforts at politicization.

Because Kleiman's approach will only continue the split and deepen it, driving them further away.

These men and women are the defenders of our way of life. Even as I speak up for an Age of Amateurs, I recognize that we need the professionals. We need their skills and dedication and professionalism.

We need to defend them from elites who want to turn them into cult holy warriors and sepoy enforcers of a feudal-theology and pyramidal social order.

mapletree7 said...

Did you really need more evidence about the fervid takeover and purge of the US Officer Corps that I’ve been talking about?

Yes, you do need more evidence. You're not preaching to the choir. You are preaching to people who don't want to believe anything like this is happening. Evidence of some guy who likes to spout off about God inappropriate getting promoted is NOT the same as evidence of officers getting penalized for their political beliefs. It's at most evidence of a potential trend.

What I'd like to see is a compilation of credibly attested incidences. Something I can show to my Republican in-laws and impress them with.

David Brin said...

In SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, the Navy was shown as apolitical while the Air Force Chief was the coup-plotter.

Seems to be the cultural norm. Also, more Navy guys (ironically) come from urban areas.

And the navy is the true high tech unit.

Spoken as one who came within a hairs breth of becoming one of Rickover's boys, back in 72...

Anonymous said...

Science writer Carl Zimmer suggests a few more subjects for life-affirming animal documentaries:

Dinner of the Redback Spiders: This documentary follows the heartwarming romance between two spiders that ends with the male somersaulting onto the venomous fangs of his mate, his reproductive organs still delivering semen into the female as she devours him.

Toxic Love of the Fruit Flies: In this movie, male fruit flies demonstrate their ingenuity and resourcefulness by injecting poisonous substances during sex that make it less likely that other males will successfully fertilize the eggs of their mates. Sure, these toxins cut the lifespan of females short, but who said life was perfect?

Harem of the Elephant Seals: Meet Dad: a male northern elephant seal who spends his days in bloody battles with rivals who would challenge his right to copulate with a band of females—but doesn’t life a finger (or a flipper) to help raise their kids.

Step-fathers of the Serengeti: Guess who’s moving in? It’s a male lion taking over a pride of females. Watch him affirm traditional norms by killing their cubs so that they can father his own offspring.

Funky Love of the Bonobos: The sexual shenanigans of some of our closest living ape relatives. Male-female, female-female, and on and on it goes. Warning: Definitely not suitable for children.

Anonymous said...

Steve B
Agree with you 100% on the 'register to vote and vote in the primaries' thing. I've registered with a party after being independent since 1988. And to the independents: If you live in a solid gerrymandered district (too many of us do), register with the dominant party for that district. The primary is where the decision is made who will represent you in those districts, and unless you vote in that party's primary, your vote won't matter (much). Keep the frothing out the mouth extremists from winning the primaries and you've solved half the problem.

Mr. (Dr?) Brin, the Navy always tries to paint itself as 'above politics'. The Army tries like crazy to at least appear nuetral. The Air Farce has always been a political creation from day one. They kowtow to whoever holds power, out of fear that they'll be made part of the Army again.

Oh, and I won't hold it against you that you almost became a bubblehead.

SM1(SurfaceWarfare), USN (ret)

sure said...

All that this has really proven, at least as I see it from my own experiences (as a former Marine enlisted and current USAANG) is that this goes a long way to proving that our system works at all levels.

Once upon a time it would have been difficult for anyone of certain religious persuasions (i.e. Catholicism) to advance in the US military. This demonstrates that there is no such thing as a "religious test" in the military nowadays. In my time in uniform I have encountered Wiccans, Secular Humanists (which could arguably be considered a form of worship depending on their fervor), ancestor worship, Muslims and all sects of Christianity. And yes, even Satan worship is recognized as a religion, although I have never met anyone who subscribed to THAT.

Furthermore, it also shows that there is a freedom to express opinions in the military on a limited basis. The comments about Bush being appointed by God show us that he has the right to say such things so long as they do not impact the mission at hand. I would hate to live in a country where someone could not state their religious beliefs because they were afraid of hurting their career.

With that said, I doubt that his statements truly helped General Boykin's career in any meaningful way.

Also, I would hesitate to use anything from Bill Moyers. The man is such an extreme idealougue that he is often hard to take seriously. A clue to this is how he says Bush lost the election in 2000. Anyone who truly believes that was reading the newspapers with their eyes closed. If this is truly the case, then why did Gore concede the election?

I truly respect your views on many subjects David, but I feel that I must caution you not to go down the road you are travelling.

Science and religion are not mutuall y exclusive. While our understanding of the universe is great, there are still many holes that science alone cannot fill. Science by itself also is completely devoid of any sort of moral compass. Remember "scientific socialism"? We do not live in an age where science is on trial. That is long past. BUt the feeling that science is under assault persists at all levels. I could point to the Society of Jesuits as an example of where modern thinking and science mix quite well.

I would also say that most of the tender notions of morality that a lot of scientists espouse come from our background in judeo-christian ethics.

I strongly object to any sort of religious test for federal or military work. Not only is it completely unconstitutional, but it takes the country to a place that I would not want to see it go. Conforming to religious practices and punishing people who publicly express their religion are equally odious.

Religious belief is not a "pathology" any more than homosexuality is a pathology UNLESS it leads to a person doing things that are destructive to themselves or the people around them. The only people really hurt by a belief in God as the good general expressed are vampires. Or fervent sescularists, who want to stifle public religious expression altogether.

”Suddenly we were immersed in the pathology of a "holy war" as defined by fundamentalists on both sides." This line is a doozy, because Mr. Moyers states that religion is a mental disorder but that our fundamentalists are a danger equal to the Islamic ones. Not so.

Every day leaders at all levels in Islam make speeches advocating the use of violence to topple governments and kill innocents around the world. Mainstream leaders, often literally within shouting distance of the hajj in Mecca. While I cannot deny that there are extremeists in America, and General Boykin is high on that list, no one of any standing has advocated and stuck by a proclomation demanding that their followers go overseas and use their bodies as weapons against innocents.

To say that Christianity, Judaism and Islam are all equally dangerous is being willfully ignorant of the facts of the world we live in.

Recently, the Manchester Guardian did a poll of Muslims living in England-and the results are shocking. 10% of the respondents said that they support suicide bombing and terrorism in general. 30% said that they would refuse to help officials ferret out extremists and 60% said they prefer Shariah law over British Common Law. Remember, this is a poll in England, not Syria or Iran.

Compare and contrast with our religious "fanatics" who are doing tremendous amounts of work in the Gulf Coast and his analogy falls flat.

Or maybe I just don't like being called a fanatic because of my constitutionally protected right to worship.

David Brin said...

Blandland, what can a strawman say?

Seriously, What can a scarecrow carricature, a two -dimensional cartoon, say to you?

Because that is what you just made of me.

You wanted to oppose something and you presented a series of opinions that you considered unreasonable. And then you oh-so reasonably argued against those outrageous opinions.

One problem. I do not and never have held any of the opinions ascribed to me above.

It happens that I AM a religious person. As you'll see in coming weeks, I think deeply about theological issues. Moreover, I parse among religions as I do politics and I know that much that is good & noble has arisen from the religious impulse.

Here is what happened. You saw me pointing out that a raging hypocritical fanatic -- one who is deeply bigoted and represents the kind of militant HATING type of religion we should all fear -- has been given huge political and command power over our portions of military.

Moreover, he is an EXAMPLE of a huge tsunami of such appointments, like the FEMA head, who have been chosen by this administration for ideological correctness rather than professional skill.

Instead of seeing my point, that he is not an isolated case, but an example of an attempted takeover of our government by a very narrow, militant and bigoted theological movement, you chose to do the opposite... interpret me as objecting to people in office having religious principles.

Baloney. Born again Jimmy Carter preached a little, but always about love and kept it out of policy. I do not mind people in office letting their hearts be moved by faith. But POLICY is the business of the LAW and professionalism... and a deep awareness that you are NOT supposed to push religion at people from high office.

You pose these aggressive, would-be tyrants as VICTIMS? While they pack a third of every military school class with their fellow fanatics and bully into retirement all the officers who dare to disagree?

Oh, and by the way, I have proved that I don't like lefty ideologues either. Boyers rubs me the wrong way. But he is a choir boy compared to Linbaugh and that howling mob.

Rob Perkins said...

Linbaugh? David, I think you misspelled "Michael Savage" there...

Hurry up with the religion piece. That's a conversation i want to have.

Hawker, as someone who has been in the Air Force, albeit only peripherally, I don't think that's true. Well, it *was* a political creation, but the rest of it doesn't seem true, unless it's become true since H.W. was President, which is when I got out.

But one thing I don't understand is how y'all can have it both ways, both criticising the Federal government for not relieving fast enough, and then when they do it quickly by hiring people they know under longstanding law, why, that's a crime too!

Unless you want a protracted bidding process with the possibility of union-organized employees striking before the job is done? (Hyperbole, I know, but I hope it's valid on at least one level...)

sure said...

Well, I was mainly worried that you were taking the ravings of some idealouges too close to the vest...and Moyers definitely fits into that mold. His remarks make me furious at times.

I did not mean to make assumptions about your character. I try to reserve such judgements for individuals who deserve them. Such as Bill Moyers and yes, Rush Limbaugh and all the other baying hounds in the chattering class.

My venom was aimed squarely at Moyer's comments about religion and some assumptions that are floating around out there. I apologize if you feel that you were on the receiving end of it. It is not the fault of your perception but rather my inability to write clearly, or as well as you do at any rate.

What can a strawman say to me? Nothing. If I thought that you were a strawman I would not bother posting on your site at all. I deeply respect you not because of your success as a writer or scientist but because you take the time to discuss these things with your fans and anyone else who walks in off the digital street. How often does someone like me get to speak one on one with someone like you? Without the interference of flappers,that is.

That's why I love the internet. Keep up the good work. While I may not agree with your conclusions, you never fail to raise some interesting topics in intelligent ways.

Peter Bland

PS: in my own humble experience, I have found one universal truth. Politics is infinitely fascinating, and politicians almost universally are not.

Anonymous said...

Assuming that only the one paragraph was addressed to me... (I don't remember complaining here about the slow response)

First off, my comments about the USAF are based on my own experiences... yours may vary. In the 'game' played by the armed services for funding, it always seemed (to my perception) that the Air Force played direct politics, the Navy tried to be indirect, the Army tried to be nuetral, and the Marines were, well, Marines.

Oh, and I 'retired' (transfered to the Fleet Reserve and subject to recall) in 2004 after 20 years of service. Forced into retirement against my will, so the Navy could save money and the Army spend it in Iraq. I'm not happy about that.

SM1(SW)USN (ret)

Rob Perkins said...

After 20 years, you'll have a better picture than I, Hawker.

Isn't 20 a full-benefit retirement? Can't see how that saves DoD any money.

Anonymous said...

20 years is half pay. That's half of base pay. Between Base Pay, Sea Pay, Housing Allowance, I was pulling in just under $4,000 a month. Now I pull in (from the government) just over $1000. Also, my health benefits went down (I pay a few hundred a year for my promised 'free' lifetime health care, extra to cover my wife and kids). And, in the long run, it saves them a little money because every year I stay in over that 20 year mark is a larger percentage of my base pay as my retirement (50% at 20 years, going up by 2.5% a year to a max of 75% at 30 years).
I'm just one of some 10,000 sailors in 2004 who found our services were 'no longer needed'. Meanwhile, the Army has trouble meeting recruiting goals. You'd think they'd transfer some of the work to the Navy. I'd make a lousy combat infantryman, but it wouldn't take much training to make me into, say, a prison guard. Or any of a couple dozen other jobs that exist where it takes a military man, not a ground combat type.

W.B. Reeves said...

I have to agree with Michael Vassar that Saffo's article lacks coherence, though he is a gifted and facile stylist.

Such gifts may be a part of the problem. His rhetorical conceit of using the Ghost Dance analogy leads him astray.

It may be, as Saffo asserts, that the Ghost Dance has become:

"... an anthropological shorthand for any millennial movement preaching a rejection of alien novelties and a return to traditional ways."

If so, I was unaware of it. It would seem to be a questionable usage since millenial movements are ubiquitous, emerging in widely varying societies not reducible to the condition of a fragmented tribal order teetering on the edge of extinction.

Beyond this obvious objection there is the apparent contradiction between Saffo's discription above and this earlier characterization:

"We engage in the “Ghost Dance,” a painful and contradictory accommodation that at once reaches back to grasp disappearing cultural norms while simultaneously rejecting and embracing disruptive alien novelties."

Exactly what "alien novelties" did the Ghost Dancers embrace? How did this "embrace" come to be dropped in the latter passage where the rejection of novelties is presented as absolute? We don't know because Saffo doesn't tell us.

Saffo's on fairly firm ground with his comparisons to various religious fundamentalism. It could hardly be otherwise since all of them share, to a degree, the Ghost Dance theme of apocalyptic redemption.

I find his passages about the New Guinea cargo cults interesting and certainly more useful to his argument that:

"Embracing coveted portions of what one opposes in the service of returning an old order is a signature of the Ghost Dance".

Here though, it appears to be a bit of rhetorical substitution, providing the "embrace" missing from the historic Ghost Dance.

These logical and factual lapses aside, Saffo presents us with a central paradox:

"It is not just the past-lovers who embrace the Ghost Dance, for the Ghost Dance often exhibits itself as an utter rejection of the old in favor of leaping into appealing but unknown new worlds."

So now we are to understand that the Ghost Dance is both the rejection and the embrace of the new. It is, as a practical matter, any reaction to the onrush of modernity, regardless of content. It is everything and therefore nothing. The analogy loses any objective meaning.

This explains why it is difficult tell if Ghost Dance carries a positive or negative connotation for Saffo. It really depends on the reader's subjective reaction to whatever movement/event Saffo yokes to it.(Fundamentalism bad, Burning man good) In the end, we really have no concrete idea of what Saffo is calling for other than some ill defined movement for salvation.

This is too bad since I think Saffo is trying to do something alluded to by another post. Using mythic constructions to forward the modernist project. To do this properly one has to have a comprehension of the power that mythic belief infuses in the believer. Not the appreciation of the abstract observer but the subjective experience of the adherent.

Can the skeptic enter entirely into the interior life of the believer? Unlikely but there are some methods of self education. To suggest one: find the largest charismatic church in your community. Attend a service or, preferably, a revival meeting there. Experience the glossalalia, the casting out of demons, miraculous healings, the entrancement of those "slain in the spirit". Most of all, experience the tidal wave of collective emotion, so powerful as to feel like an actual, physical force. Afterwards, examine your own emotional responses.

It isn't a full education but it would be a start. I guarantee that the experience would be informative.

It will take much more than strained analogies to Amerindian rituals to inspire a competitive degree of passion and commitment on behalf of modernism. I find Dr. Brin's approach much more compelling in this regard.

A lesser but significant question. How is it possible to reach all the way back to the Ghost Dance in a essay on anti-modernism and omit Fascism/National Socialism? To date these remain the most prominent examples of destructive anti-modernism.

W.B. Reeves said...

To say that Christianity, Judaism and Islam are all equally dangerous is being willfully ignorant of the facts of the world we live in.

Just so. Tell me, how many Islamic nations have nuclear arsenals comparable to those of the U.S., Europe or Israel?

My venom was aimed squarely at Moyer's comments about religion and some assumptions that are floating around out there.

The last time I checked, Bill Moyers was a church going Baptist. Whatever your opinion of his opinions, to imply that he is hostile to religion is a canard. He may well be hostile to your brand though.

You're right that there is no necessary conflict between religion and science. Scientists don't need to be convinced of this since they're not waging a jihad against Religion. The assaults are against Science and they emanate, in large part, from the Religious fringe. Your blandishments are more properly directed towards them, as they are the aggressors.

David Brin said...

Blandland, all is well. I reacted sharply. But we have thick skins here. House Rule. You hokay, I’m hokay.

Rob, here’s more proof I am evenhanded. I think the left is completely loony in its attacks on the boy Sprouts... I mean Boy Scouts. (I was a Life Scout and on staff at Philmont.) Both of my sons are members and it is the finest single way to ensure that you dot all the i’s in raising a boy, covering bases that you might otherwise leave out.

The Cub Scout and BSA manuals - all by themselves - are this guidebook of benchmarks. Flipping through each, you say - “I meant to get around to that... and that... and that.” Also, it ensures that they GET OUT OF TOWN once in a while, learning self- and mutual- reliance.

I got no beef with a little patriotism and bland, nondenominational “under god”... (And I think this business with the Pledge of Allegiance is a perfect example of lefty indignation junkies falling right into Carl Rove’s game plan.)

In fact, I do have a beef with the BSA. I think they should admit girls. Heretical, yes. But when I look at my daughter’s life - totally confident and liberated (this is the best time in all of humanity to be a girl) and about to get her black belt, I can see only one thing she’s been denied... scouting. (I am bribing her to at least read the manual.) (By the way, she finds Girl Scouts utterly “prissy.”)

The gays thing is absurd. These days, it is reasonable to ask that males - inherently dangerous creatures - not hang around near the pubescent objects of their desire. I would look suspicious trying to hang around girl scouts and cheerleaders, wouldn’t I? Apply EXACTLY the same logic to male homosexuals and boy scouts.

This is not prejudice against gays. This is prejudice - in the sense of “pre-judging” or profiling - all males. THAT is how it should be viewed, since I would be treated the same trying to become a girlscout leader.

Yes, it is somewhat unfair to be profiled. And yet, as a pragmatist, I refuse to say that a general pragmatic caution toward male strangers is unjustified. I am not only a male. I am also a dad.


Rob, you are simply flat-out wrong about the Sierra Club being off the deep end. That is not their role. They are the environmental organization that corporations rush to negotiate with, when Greenpeace etc are making their lives miserable. You may not like the SC’s negotiating positions. But if you are listening to Limbaug, you are perceiving a strawman that is not the Sierra Club.

The Blood Bank prions thing is so totally loony it goes beyond all reckoning. Just assume your time in Europe was in dog years.


sayeth michael vassar : “I honestly don't understand why one would donate money to more than one organization...”

You are right that it is partly creating a profile of your own identity. Yes! and that’s bad?

Also, you miss an added point. You are not only sending each group money. You are also adding to their political momentum and influence by increasing their paid membership base. This is, in fact, as important in some aspects as your dues. Finally, you can blot out your name/address and give the glossy magazine someplace where it will do some good.

Rob Perkins said...

Incidentally, Girl Scouts might be "prissy", but they have the most incredible monopoly this good country has ever seen. You *know* what I'm talking about! To think I have to wait until the next fund drive for more Samoas, it's just not fair!!!! :-)