Religion

Sean Illing in particular, here is one excerpt:

Overrated/Underrated

Nate Silver

Underrated. Nate Silver is famous, and he writes on topics where everyone has their own view. When you do that, people think you’re always wrong, and when you are actually, as he was on Trump, people don’t give you a break for it. So he has designed his life to be the kind of person who is condemned by others, so that means he almost has to be underrated.

Karl Marx

Right now he’s probably underrated, but for almost all of history he’s been overrated. He makes very basic errors in economics. People put Marxism into practice and everywhere it has failed, and it failed in very dramatic, sometimes violent ways. But that said, he’s a brilliant and deep thinker. He understood the 19th century in capitalism better than almost anyone.

Kanye West

Underrated. I think Kanye is the musical mind of our time. Every one of his albums is different, original, takes chances. My favorite is the 808 album and then Yeezus.

Do read the whole thing.

Anti-mind, anti-man, anti-life

by on September 24, 2016 at 7:30 am in Medicine, Religion, Science | Permalink

Curing disease is good, right? No. Jemima Lewis, writing in the Telegraph, says curing disease is a sickeningly bad idea:

…the Zuckerberg-Chans have the most ambitious vision yet: developing new technologies and medicines to tackle every disease ever invented.

We’d better hope they don’t succeed. What would it do to the human race if we were granted eternal health, and therefore life? Without any deaths to offset all the births, we would have to make room on earth for an extra 208,400 people a day, or 76,066,000 a year – and that’s before those babies grow old enough to reproduce themselves.

Within a month of Mr Zuckerberg curing mortality, the first wars over water resources would break out. Within a year, the World Health Organisation would be embarking on an emergency sterilisation programme. Give it a decade and we’d all be dead from starvation, apart from a handful of straggle-bearded tech billionaires, living in well-stocked bunkers under San Francisco.

I’m shocked that anyone can write such depraved things in a major newspaper. In a decent culture this kind of thing would be relegated to some sick corner of the dark web. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, however. Ayn Rand villains exist. Look around.

Londonderry Derry

by on September 22, 2016 at 1:42 pm in History, Law, Political Science, Religion | Permalink

The city’s name is a point of political dispute, with unionists advocating the longer name, and nationalists advocating the shorter. A common attempt at compromise is to refer to the county as “Londonderry” and the city as “Derry”, but this is by no means universally accepted. Because of this, a peculiar situation arises as there is no common consensus either in politics or elsewhere as to which name is preferred; the city council is officially known as “Derry”, but the city is officially recognised as “Londonderry” by the Northern Ireland Executive and the UK government. Whilst road signs in the Republic of Ireland use “Derry”, alongside the Irish language translation “Doire”, road signs in Northern Ireland will always read (unless vandalised) “Londonderry”.

Here is the link.  I hope someday to go.

Why stick with that NGO when global markets beckon?:

In the northwest corner of Phnom Penh’s Boeng Keng Kang market, a new stall is creating a buzz among shoppers.

Its occupant is a 28-year-old former U.S. Peace Corps volunteer who offers tarot-card readings in Khmer. And customers say her predictions are on point.

With strings of fake leaves hanging from the ceiling, colorful paper butterflies affixed to one wall, and a sign that reads “Mantis Magic,” the booth—which has been open for two weeks—stands out from the neighboring hairdressers and food stalls.

“I didn’t have a job, I needed something to do and I wanted to help people through my spiritual work. I was getting messages to do this, so I just followed my gut,” said Eileen, who speaks conversational Khmer and asked to be identified only by her first name so that her mother in the U.S. would not find out about her new trade.

Originally from New York, Eileen said she graduated from West Virginia University with degrees in gender studies and criminal investigations before relocating to Cambodia nearly five years ago with the Peace Corps.

After spending two years writing grant proposals for a local NGO while pursuing a master’s degree in development at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, she grew restless and earlier this year decided to pursue a passion for mysticism she had cultivated since the age of 10.

A Cambodian friend helped her lease the market stall two weeks ago, Eileen said. She said she had met with unexpected financial success, earning about $450 since opening while charging 10,000 riel (about $2.50) per session.

Here is the full story, by Maria Paulo Brito and Ouch Sony, it has other interesting points, and for the pointer I thank Dustin Palmer.

And, via Kaushal Desai, here is a 16-year-old British girl who earned £48,000 helping Chinese parents name their babies.

*The Fall of Heaven*

by on September 7, 2016 at 12:43 am in Books, History, Political Science, Religion | Permalink

I loved this book, the author is Andrew Scott Cooper, and the subtitle is The Pahlavis and the Final Days of Imperial Iran.  It is the best book I know for understanding the Iranian revolution, and it is compulsively readable throughout.  Did you know for instance that the Ayatollahs were deeply disturbed by the presence of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and also Rhoda on Iranian TV?

Here is one excerpt:

Iran’s political and economic malaise gave a renewed sense of urgency to the Shah’s top priority, which was to settle the question of the Imperial succession once and for all.  His initial preference was for a European princess who could provide the House of Pahlavi with the luster of dynastic legitimacy.  He soon ran into trouble.  The Windsors rebuffed his interest in Queen Elizabeth II’s cousin Princess Alexandra of Kent, while his favorite, Princess Maria Gabriella, the Catholic daughter of the deposed King Umberto of Italy, was ruled out owing to opposition from the Vatican and Iran’s ulama.

And this, from the Shah himself:

“When everybody in Iran is like everybody in Sweden, then I will rule like the King of Sweden,” he declared.

I would describe this book as relatively sympathetic to the Shah, and also arguing that the oppressions and tortures of Savak are sometimes overstated.

This one makes my best non-fiction of the year list, and it will be in the top tier of that list.

No, that is not enlightenment about life, that is enlightenment about Enlightenment, as in the eighteenth century phenomenon.  P., a loyal MR reader, wrote to me with such a request, noting correctly that “I usually find that broad, ambitious survey books are not the answer.”

That survey would be Peter Gay, recently a bestseller in China by the way, and then Ernst Cassirer, Jonathan Israel, and Roy Porter, but let me outline an alternative program of study.  The goal here is to be practical, engaging, and vivid, not comprehensive or scholarly per se:

Books:

Geoffrey Clive’s short book The Romantic Enlightenment.

James Boswell, Journals, selected excerpts, he was an early blogger by the way, and David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.  I find that to be one of the wittiest of books.  Plus Hume’s Essays.

Diderot, Rameau’s Nephew, and Rousseau’s Second Discourse.  Condorcet, Essay on the Progress of the Human Mind.  Voltaire I consider overrated.

Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, yes I know it is arguably “anti-Enlightenment,” better yet.  If you insist on another Irishman, Bishop Berkeley is an entertaining writer as well.

Founding documents of the United States, and Ben Franklin, Autobiography.

Kant, Perpetual Peace, “What is Enlightenment?”, and Lessing, Nathan the Wise.

Beccaria, Of Crimes and Punishments.

If you have the time to tackle longer books, start with Smith’s Wealth of Nations and Boswell’s Life of Johnson and then Casanova and Tristram Shandy (there is by the way a splendid book on the postmodern in the Enlightenment but I can no longer remember the cite).  Leave Montesquieu to the Straussians, although the returns are high if you are so inclined.

For history, read up on eighteenth century scientific societies, Robert Darnton on the rise of publishing and the book trade, Habermas on the coffeehouse debate culture and the public sphere, and Brewer and McKendrick on the rise of consumer society in England.  Try Wikipedia for Catherine the Great, Frederick the Great, and other rulers of the time.  There is also Margaret C. Jacob, The Radical Enlightenment, and books on 18th century Freemasonry.  The French Revolution seems to require its own blog post, as does the Industrial Revolution, slavery too, in a pinch resort to the MR search function box on this blog.  Foucault will give you a sense of the dark side of the Enlightenment, his history is unreliable but read him on Discipline and Punishment and on ideology try the rather dense The Order of Things.

That all said, I would start with music and the arts first.

Music:

Haydn, the London symphonies and late piano sonatas and string quartets Op.76.

Mozart, the major operas, including reading through the libretti while listening.  If you can only do one thing on this list…

Gluck, assorted operas, noting he is not nearly the equal of Haydn or Mozart as a composer but he did capture the spirit of Enlightenment.

C.P.E. Bach, the Prussian Sonatas.

Painting:

Study French painting from Chardin through David, picture books will do if you can’t visit the original works.  Focus on Watteau, Boucher, Fragonard, Vigée-Le Brun, Boilly, Hubert Robert, and others, how their works tie into the history of the period and how the styles transformed over time.  Visit Paris, Huntington Gardens, and Tiepolo’s work in the Residenz in Würzburg.  Do a tour of Georgian architecture in England, in a pinch visit the derivative works at Harvard, Yale, and Alexandria, Virginia.  Study Tiepolo more generally, Goya, and also Antonio Canova.

Canova

Movies:

Why not?  I’ll toss up Dangerous Liaisons (Vadim and Malkovich versions), Barry Lyndon, Casanova, Amadeus, A Royal Affair (can’t forget Denmark!), Marie Antoinette, Ridicule, and The Madness of King George.

What did I leave out that is of utmost importance?

I can think of a few reasons:

1. Many of the structures in places are perceived as failing, even though in absolute terms they are not obviously doing worse than previous times.

2. There is a rise in nationalist sentiment and a semi-cosmopolitan ethic is starting to lose influence.

3. The chance of violent conflict is rising.

4. Dialogue is becoming more polarized and bigoted, and at some margins stupider.

5. Tales of gruesome torture are being spread by new publishing and communications media.

6. The world may nonetheless end up much better off, but the ride to get there will be rocky iindeed.

I have been reading Carlos M.N. Eire, Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650.  Yes I know it is 893 pp., but it is actually one of the most readable books I have had in my hands all year.

Swedish church to use drones to drop thousands of Bibles in ISIS-controlled Iraq

The story is here, via Joel Grus.

The young are more hostile to refugees than their parents: over 80% of Poles aged 18-34 oppose taking them in, compared with 52% of those over 65. They are also more in favour of border controls within the EU. Many of the teenage pilgrims in Krakow say they fear a wave of “Islamisation” or “secularisation” from western Europe. (Oddly, they sometimes conflate the two.) The Pope is “great on faith but not on politics”, says a young street sweeper from Nowa Huta, an industrial area of Krakow.

That is from The Economist, the article is interesting more generally.  I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: the important European thinkers of the next generation will be religious, not left-wing and secular.

Here is the latest report:

The man behind the Nice truck attack drank alcohol, beat his wife and has been described as “not a Muslim but a shit”.

Furthermore about a third of the dead from the attack were Muslims (NYT).

One form of radical Islam is Sufism, many strains of which are pacifist in nature.  It was not too long ago that Amjad Sabri, of Sabri brothers fame, was shot dead in Pakistan by terrorists.  Was he the radical or were they?  And which do we want more of?

Recently I had a long lunch with a researcher in Brussels who was studying terrorism in the city.  He was very much of the view that most of the terrorists and terrorist-candidates are not very religious, although most did end up latching onto Islam as an identity marker and source of group support.

In other words, they are not “radical Islam.”  Here is a Vox piece on why the term “radical Islam” is not always productive.

In general, I am suspicious when someone dismisses a view for being “radical” or “extreme.”  There is usually sloppy thinking behind that designation.  Why not just say what is wrong with the view?  How for instance are we supposed to feel about “radical Christianity”?  Good or bad?  Does it mean Origen or Ted Cruz or something altogether different?  Can’t we just debate the question itself?

The same is true in politics.  Let’s say someone favors free trade and the First Amendment.  Is that “radical”?  Or is it mainstream and thus non-radical?  Does labeling it radical further the debate on whether or not those are the correct positions?

For similar reasons, don’t be too quick to call someone or someone’s views “divisive.”  If the status quo is problematic, a good reform might be divisive in some critical regards.  Arguably the modern world is specializing in “non-divisive” means of creating an ultimately divisive state of affairs.

More generally, when that term “radical” or “extreme” is introduced, there is a presupposition  that no external argument or perspective can be so strong to counter what one’s own swarmy group takes for granted.

This topic seems to have entered the news cycle.  I am not sure how, so I thought I would add a few observations in the interests of clarity:

1. Under the most plausible “yes” scenario, Lucifer inhabits the corpus of us all, not just the Clinton family grandchildren included.

2. The correct answer is still “probably not.”

3. Is there a greater chance that Hillary Clinton is in fact Lucifer himself, rather than merely being possessed by him?  (Would that not also be a new kind of transgender relation?)  No, more likely she would have a Satanic familiar.  In most equilibria, the number of familiars is greater than the number of Satans.  Far greater.

4. Saul D. Alinsky once cited (Milton’s) Lucifer: “Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins — or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer.”  Who does that sound like?  Not Hillary.

5. I find it striking how many observers can so suddenly grow intolerant of religious sentiment, once such sentiment upsets the status relationships they are so intent in seeing through.  It is considered politically incorrect and indeed downright unacceptable to mock those who believe the Deity is present in various religious ceremonies.  Yet may not the Deity’s former premier angel also reside somewhere?  Is it more plausible to believe the demoted angel haunts an obscure mold or grape than that he has carved out a small corner in the crook of the elbow of Hillary Clinton?  What if someone held the latter to be true on grounds of religion and faith?  Is the chance there simply too low compared to the chance of other specific religious beliefs being true?  Where exactly is the probability threshold set for allowed mockery?  How many other people would you need to have believing that with you before it would be “a religion” rather than…?

6. No sir, the separation of church and state will not save you here.  If you indeed felt Lucifer inhabited the corpus of Hillary Clinton, it would be strange to stay silent about such ontology on the grounds of the First Amendment.  So any potential ridiculousness of said belief must derive from epistemic grounds, and not its political implications or uses.

7. The Straussian interpretation of the Republican Convention is the correct one, which is perhaps one reason why Peter Thiel will be speaking there.  They are not saying what they are saying, in fact they are saying “the world is going to hell, and many of those amongst us have been traitorously disloyal.  That is why we scream out stupidities, debase ourselves, and court attention by waving our arms in ridiculous ways.  We are a small church seeking to become larger.”  Is that not how many smaller churches behave?  Is that not how some of the early branches of the Christian church behaved?  Did they have any influence?  See also the remarks of Cass Sunstein.

8. You may or may not agree with the true message of the Convention, but if you think it is merely stupid you are, sooner or later, in for a big surprise.

It seems Millennarian cults really mean it, at least in the experimental context:

We model religious faith as a “demand for beliefs,” following the logic of the Pascalian wager. We show how standard experimental interventions linking financial consequences to falsifiable religious statements can elicit and characterize beliefs. We implemented this approach with members of a group that expected the “End of the World” to occur on May 21, 2011 by varying monetary prizes payable before and after May 21st. To our knowledge, this is the first incentivized elicitation of religious beliefs ever conducted. The results suggest that the members held extreme, sincere beliefs that were unresponsive to experimental manipulations in price.

That is from Ned Augenblick, et.al., forthcoming in the Journal of Public Economics.  Here are ungated copies.

The original pointer was from Robin Hanson.

I have pre-ordered this forthcoming Robert P. Jones book, here is the Amazon description:

Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), challenges us to grasp the profound political and cultural consequences of a new reality—that America is no longer a majority white Christian nation.

For most of our nation’s history, White Christian America (WCA)—the cultural and political edifice built primarily by white Protestant Christians—set the tone for our national policy and shaped American ideals. But especially since the 1990s, WCA has steadily lost influence, following declines within both its mainline and evangelical branches. Today, America is no longer demographically or culturally a majority white Christian nation.

Sam Tanenhaus called it (NYT): “…quite possibly the most illuminating text for this election year.”

Very often they are passed down father to son.  Here is a recent paper by Avdeenko and Siedler:

This study analyzes the importance of parental socialization on the development of children’s far right-wing preferences and attitudes towards immigration. Using longitudinal data from Germany, our intergenerational estimates suggest that the strongest and most important predictor for young people’s right-wing extremism are parents’ right-wing extremist attitudes. While intergenerational associations in attitudes towards immigration are equally high for sons and daughters, we find a positive intergenerational transmission of right-wing extremist party affinity for sons, but not for daughters. Compared to the intergenerational correlation of other party affinities, the high association between fathers’ and sons’ right-wing extremist attitudes is particularly striking.

Here is a sentence from the paper:

Young adults whose parents were very concerned about immigration to German during their childhood years have a 27 percentage point (60 percent) higher likelihood of also expressing strong concerns about immigration as young adults.

This of course should make you less confident of your anti-immigrant views, if indeed you hold them.  Similarly, the intergenerational transmission of particular religious beliefs is also a strong reason not to be very confident in them.  If you get your religious beliefs from your parents and other relatives, through whatever mechanism, rather than from God, well…why are your parents a more reliable source of knowledge about this question than anyone else’s parents?

Maybe so, here is the latest:

Where witchcraft beliefs are widespread, American University Economics Professor Boris Gershman found high levels of mistrust exist among people. Gershman also found a negative relationship between witchcraft beliefs and other metrics of relied upon for a functioning society, including religious participation and charitable giving.

It’s long been argued that witchcraft beliefs impede economic progress and disrupt social relations, and Gershman’s statistical analysis supports that theory. From a policy perspective, Gershman’s results emphasize the importance of accounting for local culture when undertaking development projects, especially those that require communal effort and cooperation. Gershman and other social scientists believe that education can help foster improved trust and decrease the prevalence of witchcraft beliefs.

Furthermore:

Parents in witchcraft-believing societies inculcate antisocial traits in children.

Second-generation immigrants from witchcraft-believing nations are less trusting.

Here is the summary statement, here is the full article.  Here are related papers by Gershman.  For the pointer I thank the excellent Samir Varma.