Friday Ephemera
Cheap and Nasty

Elsewhere (11)

Oliver Kamm on the inversions of being “progressive”:

Notions once considered reactionary, even extreme, have insinuated themselves into the mainstream of right-thinking (that is, left-thinking) social idealism. When you encountered someone of professed left-of-centre opinions, you used to be able to draw broad but important, and generally reliable, inferences about what these entailed. They included, at a minimum, commitments to secularism, freedom of expression, individual liberty against collective authority, women’s rights, homosexual equality and the combating of xenophobia. Times have changed. Now these stances are unusual, even heterodox. […]

When, last year, suicide bombers attacked the Danish Embassy in Pakistan, killing six people and wounding more than 20, a Danish journalist writing for The Guardian commented that the attack was “of course, indefensible, but it raises questions about the wisdom of the much-debated cartoons and Danish reactions to Muslim wrath.”

(For more on the Guardian journalist in question and his “of course, but” manoeuvre, see, for instance, this.) 

The “of course, but” formulation is worse than a dreary cliché. It indicates a liberalism evacuated of content. Those who prize social unity and order will tend to believe that people’s deepest feelings and beliefs should be accorded respect. But respect for ideas is never an entitlement. It depends on their intellectual resilience in public debate. No free society can treat people’s deepest beliefs as sacrosanct. They are fair game for hostile and derisive criticism. That is how knowledge advances. […]

No one has a right to the protection of feelings. If politics concerns itself with mental states, there is no limit to how far legislation can intrude on people’s lives. The task of progressive politics is to protect liberty, not least by attacking the accumulation of bad ideas. Yet to many on the Left, the individual, inquiring mind is of far less importance than the representation of designated groups.

Evan Coyne Maloney on suckers and slaves:

People who would never think of stealing from their neighbours don’t seem to mind using government for the same purpose. And there are plenty of willing accomplices: what politician passes up an opportunity to buy votes using money earned by others?

Mark Bauerlein on belief in social construct theory:

But even though Newton’s laws arose at a particular historical moment, in one man’s mind, why assume that the laws are inextricable from that moment? There is abundant evidence for believing that the truth of Newton’s laws is independent of Newton’s mind, language, class, education, etc. The simple fact that persons of different languages and cultures implement those laws effectively implies their transhistorical and cross-cultural capacity. Engineers and physicists confirm the laws daily without any knowledge of Newton’s circumstances. Three hundred years of experimentation and theory have altered Newton’s laws only by restricting their physical purview. In short, Newton’s laws have been justified in vastly different times and places. Yes, scientists and engineers have de-historicized Newtonian knowledge, pared it down to a few set principles (nobody actually reads the Principia). But though abstract and expedient, the laws of Newtonian physics still have a truth-value, and that value is related not to Newton’s world, but to how well the laws predict outcomes, how reliably they stand up to testing, how useful they are in physical domains.