Rational Choice & Cold War Philosophy

With market fundamentalism dominating the US government, and with phantasms being paraded in the media under the sobriquet of ‘alternative facts’ that you can choose or reject, forgetfulness of the McCarthy era and the Cold War philosophy it spawned is no longer a rational option.

This fascinating essay on Aeon discusses the rise of rational choice theory in the context of the anti-communism of the early Cold War and how its theory about the freedom of choice came to dominate American philosophy.

I have never heard this history and was glad to read it, though it is deeply disturbing.  As a pragmatist I had long been troubled by the abandoning of America's philosophy in the post-War period as analytic philosophy was embraced.  Twenty years ago, had I entered full-time into the philosophy profession, I had considered researching and writing a book on this history and recovering our philosophical tradition.  I did not then realize, nor did I realize until today, the role that Cold War politics played.

Nor did I understand how this philosophical shift underlies some of the political problems we currently endure.


Moderation

A nice essay on the ethical and social importance of moderation.

Although our democratic institutions depend on political actors exercising common sense, self-restraint and moderation, we live in a world dominated by hyperbole and ideological intransigence in which moderates have become a sort of endangered species in dire need of protection. Can we do something about that to save them from extinction? To answer this question, we should take a new look at moderation, which Edmund Burke regarded as a difficult virtue, proper only to noble and courageous minds.

 


Neutrino's

One reason I reject reductivist materialism is because it seems to be an empirically bad description of physical reality. Physical reality (as Whitehead noted long ago) is more complex than the reductivists claim. As this view about neutrinos demonstrates.

 


The Three-Body Problem

The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1)The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Enjoyable to read a science fiction novel where the Cultural Revolution is the background. Also one so full of actual science and not just a fantasy set in space. The long section during which the protagonist plays a video game that serves as exposition wasn't fully my cup-of-tea, but I did rush through the book, intrigued by where it was going. And I'll likely read the other two in this trilogy.

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Panpsychism

When I was writing my dissertation almost twenty years ago and defending a panexperientialist physicalism, I was considered to be on the wild fringes.  Now it seems that an even more radical idea, panpsychism, is en vogue, according to this post by Marcelo Gleiser.

Is this coherence an accident or the product of something deeper, perhaps some kind of proto-consciousness that permeates the universe and gives it purpose? This is the question many physicists, cognitive scientists and philosophers have been asking lately, leading to a sort of reawakening of panpsychism.


I Am Abraham Lincoln

I am Abraham LincolnI am Abraham Lincoln by Brad Meltzer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I saw this book at the Lincoln Memorial so ordered a copy for my son when I returned home. I read it yesterday and cried while reading it, moved by its story of compassion, kindness, and justice.

When I ordered I discovered that it is one of an entire series, and so I ordered two more and will probably order even more of them.

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Red Sorghum

Red SorghumRed Sorghum by Mo Yan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set in a small village surrounded by fields of red sorghum mostly during the Japanese invasion of China, this magnificent story is filled with rich characters and delightful episodes, all while detailing the horrors of war for the village people. The only reason I failed to give it five stars was because I thought the final two sections were confusingly organized (the entire book is non linear in its narrative style, which is fine until those sections) and seemed to me to get distracted by some minutiae instead of completing some of the main story. But that said, I still greatly enjoyed the novel. Among its unique features is a section narrated from the perspective of one of the village dogs. I've enjoyed the novel so much I intend to read more of Mo's novels in the years to come.

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Death of God & Mainline Protestantism

An interesting essay on how Death of God theology from the 1960's was more influential than most people have realized and that much of what it predicted has come true.  This rich essay concludes:

Are the Church and her historical teachings therefore necessary? Only so long as the wider culture has not yet adopted its message of tolerance, pluralism, and individual freedom. Once it does, the Christian mission is complete, and secular society itself becomes the kingdom of God.

In this we see the larger ambition of Death of God theology—and its enduring relevance. The Gospel forms a community that, following the biblical injunction to die in order to live, extinguishes itself so as to spread its message into the secular world. And has not exactly that come to pass? The central fact of American religion today is that liberal Protestantism is dead and everywhere triumphant. Its churches are empty, but its causes have won. In 1995, the sociologist N. J. Demerath observed that mainline Protestantism has a paradoxical status in American life. It has experienced both “institutional defeat” and “cultural victory.” Mainline Protestantism has succeeded in communicating its progressive moral and political values to the surrounding culture. On virtually every issue that consumed its postwar energies—from civil rights to feminism and gay rights—the mainline churches have been vindicated by elite opinion. At the same time, their membership has evaporated. The institution that once brokered the postwar cultural and moral consensus for America has now almost vanished.

Peter Berger, who argued against Death of God theology, died recently.  Here is his NYTimes obituary.


The problem in rural America

I was annoyed by the reductionistic accounts after the election that liberals don't understand the heartland or rural folk.  Baloney.  For one, many of us live in the heartland or are from the heartland.  Plus most liberals I know go out of their way to try to understand diverse perspectives, it's part of what it means to be a liberal. 

Yes, I too have experienced the annoying trait of folks on the coast (both liberal and conservative) for not understanding or caring to understand the heartland, but that's a slightly different thing.

What I've also experienced in the complete unwillingness of many people, including many in the heartland, to not engage in any open-minded exploration of ideas. 

This good article on fundamentalism and its affects upon American life gets to that point.  

The real problem is rural America doesn’t understand the causes of their own situations and fears and they have shown no interest in finding out. They don’t want to know why they feel the way they do or why they are struggling because they don’t want to admit it is in large part because of choices they’ve made and horrible things they’ve allowed themselves to believe.

The author explains further:

In deep-red white America, the white Christian God is king, figuratively and literally. Religious fundamentalism is what has shaped most of their belief systems. Systems built on a fundamentalist framework are not conducive to introspection, questioning, learning, change. When you have a belief system that is built on fundamentalism, it isn’t open to outside criticism, especially by anyone not a member of your tribe and in a position of power. The problem isn’t “coastal elites don’t understand rural Americans.” The problem is rural America doesn’t understand itself and will NEVER listen to anyone outside their bubble. It doesn’t matter how “understanding” you are, how well you listen, what language you use…if you are viewed as an outsider, your views are automatically discounted. I’ve had hundreds of discussions with rural white Americans and whenever I present them any information that contradicts their entrenched beliefs, no matter how sound, how unquestionable, how obvious, they WILL NOT even entertain the possibility it might be true. Their refusal is a result of the nature of their fundamentalist belief system and the fact I’m the enemy because I’m an educated liberal.

More than a decade ago I began arguing that LGBT rights really wasn't advanced through education, but more like a conversion experience.  Older liberals often strongly disagreed with me; they hold such romantic ideas about the efficacy of being exposed to new information.  This article makes a similar point for how fundamentalism is changed: "Deeply held beliefs are usually only altered, replaced under catastrophic circumstances that are personal."