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Self in Society Roundup 39

John Gray on religion and progress, tears for Argentina, The Bear, Christian love, Eve, "racial liberalism," Buddhism, libertarianism, and more.

Copyright © 2024 by Ari Armstrong
December 3, 2023, ported here on January 1, 2024

Gray on Progress

Here's what John Gray says about some sorts of atheism (this would include my sort) supposedly following theology:

[T]he dominant traditions of atheist thinking in Europe and America and elsewhere . . .  reproduce the central categories and concepts of the religion they deny, even as they deny the beliefs. A lot of atheism is categories taken from theism but then turned upside down. . . .

And the key kind of atheism I attack . . . is the one which attributes to the human species some of the characteristics that used to be attributed to the deity, to God. That's to say they think that the human history is a narrative with some kind of built-in structure. Doesn't necessarily produce inevitable results, but there is a providential move from ignorance to knowledge which has consistently greater benefits over time.

That seems to be a secularization of Christian and other ideas of divine providence in history.

Gray writes as if there were no obvious naturalist theory behind the progression of human history. There is. Humans have the capacity for reason, making possible conceptual thought and symbolic language; hence, we are a cultural species that can accumulate knowledge, including from people long gone. No other species can pass on accumulated knowledge to anything like this degree.

We don't need anything like a god or a Hegelian force to explain the potential for human advancement; we need only to observe that people can learn. I mean, hello: I'm typing this message on an electronic computer connected to a global internet as I watch airplanes fly by outside my window. A better future is not inevitable, but it is possible.

Tears for Argentina

Cowen: Dollarization is likely to be messy.

Agustina Vergara Cid: "When not in power, they [peronistas] create chaos, protests and national strikes and do everything in their power to overthrow the government. . . . They control social organizations, paramilitary organizations and unions. It's a literal mafia of massive proportions. They will try to not let Milei govern. . . . It's going to get ugly."

G. Patrick Lynch: "Milei's . . . firm commitment to abolishing Argentine central banking and cutting social spending is straight out of Ludwig von Mises and Milton Friedman."

Matt Zwolinski: "Some commentators have described Milei as a 'right-wing,' 'far-right,' or 'populist' candidate, and not without good reason. He has loudly supported populist politicians like Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, and during a recent interview with the far-right broadcaster Tucker Carlson, he dismissed Black Lives Matter, LGBT ideology, feminism, and climate change as part of a global 'socialist agenda.' Others have argued that Milei is best understood as a principled libertarian, and they, too, have evidence to support their view."

Milei (via Cowen): "We aren't above the ones we represent. . . . In financial terms: The derivative is never worth more than the underlying asset. The derivative exists because the underlying asset exists. . . . In our government the politicians will have the same privileges that the common citizen has. They will have to internalize their externalities! . . . If they screw up, not only will honest Argentines suffer the consequences, the politicians are going to suffer even more. . . . Their privileges are over, the party is over. . . . That's why they want to smear me. . . . That's why the prebendary businessmen attack me. Because the party is over. . . . The population is shouting freedom. . . . I did not come here to guide lambs. I came here to awaken lions. . . . They are waking up. They will devour the thieving politicians [and others who] advocate for the religion of the state because they steal from it."

The Bear and More Great TV

Recently I finished watching the first season of The Bear, the Hulu show about a Chicago restaurant. It's a rough, anxiety-inducing show with a lot of shouting and some violence. It's also an amazing ode to love of work. Sydney longs to improve the restaurant in myriad ways and turn it into something special. Marcus pursues his passion for making great pastries. Tina finds new pride in her improved artistry. On the whole, I love this show.

I also watched the first season of Apple's Lessons in Chemistry, starring Brie Larson. I confess I was not impressed by Larson in the Marvel films, but here she shines as a chemist who, because of her gender (this is set in the 1960s), is mistreated at school and then at work. Despite the serious obstacles she faces, she manages to pursue important research, fall in love, raise a child, and start a successful cooking show. The show can feel a bit all over the place; for example, one of the episodes features the family dog narrating. But very often the show is magnificent.

After rewatching all of The Orville, which is a lot like Star Trek but better than most Star Trek (especially the newer stuff), I restarted Firefly, the Joss Whedon sci-fi that's one of my favorite shows of all time. The stories are poignant, the writing is clever and funny, the actors are magical together. If you watch the TV episodes, be sure to also watch the follow-up film Serenity. See also Gage Skidmore's great photo of part of Team Firefly.

Quick Takes

Christian Love: Stephen Hicks describes how Augustine expressed his Christian love by calling for the torture of those with "wrong" beliefs. Augustine called for "the stripes of temporal scourging." He wrote, "What then is the function of brotherly love? Does it, because it fears the short-lived fires of the furnace for a few, therefore abandon all to the eternal fires of hell?"

Eve: Cat Bohannon joins Andrew Sullivan to discuss the evolution of the woman's body; she touches on pregnancy, lactation, and learning language. Something I didn't know: During lactation, some of the child's saliva enters the woman's breast, which can signal changes in milk production, say, if the child is sick.

New Segregation: Did you hear about how the Neo-Nazis are calling for racially segregated classes? No, wait, that's the "equity" group. Jerry Coyne summarizes, "[A] high school in the Chicago-adjacent town of Evanston, Illinois, is offering voluntarily race-segregated classes as a way to achieve 'equity.' These classes, called 'affinity classes,' are of course optional, because mandated race-segregated classes are illegal." Here's the Wall Street Journal article.

Human Kindness and Meanness: Steve Stewart-Williams puts things in context: "Humans come factory equipped with the brain areas involved in caring and empathizing, and with the brain areas involved in hatred and aggression. But these brain areas—these evolved propensities—are activated by environmental circumstances." I would add that the choices we make, including our choices about how we develop our minds, profoundly affect how and when we display kindness and aggression.

'Racial Liberalism': What in the hell is "racial liberalism"? Offhand the expression seems like a contradiction in terms; liberalism entails a commitment to end racism. I saw the term in a post by Matthew Yglesias. If we turn to the report that Yglesias references, we find, "Neoliberalism held that markets would bring both economic and political freedom." I don't know what "neo" adds here; liberalism rightly holds that generally free markets promote, but by themselves are insufficient to maintain, economic and political freedom. Anyway: "Racial liberalism developed within that market-based framework." It "saw achieving racial equality as primarily about disavowing personal bigotry and overt discrimination" but "largely denied the role of the racialized and unequal structures that perpetuate domination and injustice." But there's nothing in liberalism per se that denies potential problems with institutional rules and traditions. But then we quickly get to the crux: "racial justice," as opposed to "racial liberalism," seeks "an equitable distribution of resources, decision-making, power, and material outcomes." It seems to me we have quickly moved from the position that we should root out racism to the position that we should assume that any nonegalitarian outcome is the result of racism. But that doesn't follow at all.

Buddhism and Liberalism: Aaron Ross Powell points out that Buddhism makes a lot of not harming others, which, Powell points out, also is central to liberalism. But I have two main questions for Powell. 1) Is the Buddhist stance against "craving" fully compatible with striving for a good-quality, materially prosperous existence? 2) Does the Buddhist focus on impermanence fully recognize the importance of the individual and of the individual's long-term goals?

Anti-Gay: AP: "Police raid Moscow gay bars after a Supreme Court ruling labeled LGBTQ+ movement 'extremist.'"

Realities of Socialism: Check out the new multimedia project.

Misinformation: Michael Shermer has on Dannagal Young to discuss her book Wrong: How Media, Politics, and Identity Drive Our Appetite for Misinformation.

Liberalism: Paul Crider's 2017 essay sheds some light.

Military: The U.S. needs to ramp up its production capabilities, argues Noah Smith.

Commercial YIMBY: Tyler Cowen: Legal limits on the construction of tall buildings probably costs Americans substantial wealth.

Stagnation: James Pethokoukis: The Ottoman Empire suppressed the moveable-type printing press for some quarter-millennium, partly to "protect" the jobs of calligraphers, leading to technological and cultural stagnation.

Immigration: Noah Smith via Kling: The U.S. asylum program incentivizes illegal border crossing, because asylum-seekers who don't cross the boarder face interminable waits. So stupid. But most people in Congress would rather use immigration as a wedge issue than actually fix our immigration system and make it functional. We are not acting like a serious country.

Population: How far we've come from the "population bomb"! Douthat via Cowen: South Korea, for example, has scarily low birth rates.

Libertarianism: Ben Bayer and Nikos Sotirakopoulos discuss Matt Zwolinski and John Tomasi's book on libertarianism. They discuss Murray Rothbard's troubling "strategic alliances" with the Communist left, which, Bayer argues, arise from Rothbard's anarchism. They also talk about today's libertarian links to the "alt-right." Bayer accurately says that many libertarians are "more anti-state than . . . pro-individual rights."

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