Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Archive for October 2010

Oct/10

20

“Right Atheists” channel on Reddit

It has come to my attention that Reddit has a channel for right-wing atheists. The description:

Atheist conservatives, right-wing Darwinists, South-Park conservatives, right-wing libertarians, anti-Sharia activists, non-conformists, controversialists and other politically incorrect freedom fighters: This is your community. Enjoy.

Seems like one person is currently contributing all the submissions.

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Oct/10

19

The Skeptical Conservatives

skeptconCONSVLTVS of RESPVBLICA has created a nifty little badge for “Skeptical Conservatives”. The aim is to indicate a very small affinity group, bloggers and thinkers who are not religious, conservative, and, not necessarily libertarian in their presuppositions. The intersection of these traits is quite small indeed. At least in public. For myself it is rather obvious that direct electoral politics is not an animating passion of my life (you can see the more central passion on display at Discover Blogs). But by disposition and outlook I have a preference for what can loosely be termed the bourgeois world which arose in the West in the wake of the Enlightenment, and would prefer to conserve it, and at most evolve it from within. I have come to reject excessive axiomatic constructs in political theory and politics, and also believe from an empirical evolutionary perspective that the methodological individualism at the heart of modern liberalism may at root be a quirk of the preferences of the intellectual classes in general.

In any case, we are few. But we exist. And I like to think that what sometimes matters is not the most, but the best. Because of our peculiarities skeptical conservatives in some ways are the heretics of our age, and we take a little bit of pleasure in our role as the smasher of idols.

Oct/10

19

Don’t be shocked by polls

You all know about the issues of weighting samples to achieve representativeness. In polling this is an art. But even if you get to representativeness, depending on the average sample sizes the polls themselves will exhibit a distribution of outcomes about a mean. Therefore with a large enough sample space of polls you can find one at a tail of the distribution of outcomes. Today with the proliferation of polling this is getting to be more and more of a problem. Look at this musing by Joshua Micah Marshall: A Feingold Comeback? He notes: “A new independent poll has Feingold down by only 2 points.” A thickly polled state will come back with a range of results. Even non-internal polls (which are often curated for maximum effect on the press, and so shouldn’t be trusted) will exhibit a normal distribution of results, so if you want to hinge an argument on one poll, it is fast becoming a trivial task to find that poll to satisfy your needs. In 2008 the less intelligent set of conservative bloggers expressed ideologically motivated skepticism of polls (grounded in the fact that they were too stupid to know any better). What excuse does the self-proclaimed “reality based” party of pointy-headed intellectuals have in 2010?

Whatever happens, 2012 will be even worse. The number of polls is going to up, and verbally oriented bloggers and reporters will cherry-pick outliers to produce whatever narrative they wish to roll out.

Oct/10

19

Rand Paul is probably not an atheist

In defending his criticisms of Jack Conway’s behavior the liberal columnist Jonathan Chait says the following about Rand Paul:

Is Rand Paul misleading the electorate about his religion? Sure. But he’s not running on a religious platform. It’s Conway who’s making religion an issue. I think an atheist, which is what I’m petty sure Paul is, ought to be able to run for office without having his belief system publicly interrogated.

Perhaps Jonathan Chait has some inside information, but it seems that all he’s going on is Paul’s admiration of Ayn Rand, whose Objectivist philosophy is necessarily atheist. The problem is that Rand Paul is not an Objectivist, and his father is not an Objectivist. The Paul family variant of radical libertarianism probably owes more substantively to Murray Rothbard than Ayn Rand. Like Rand Rothbard was a secular Jew, but, unlike Rand he exhibited a philo-religious attitude. In particular toward Roman Catholicism, the faith of his wife. The broader paleolibertarian movement which is strongly associated with Rothbard’s followers, in particular Lew Rockwell, is not atheistic. On the contrary many paleolibertarians are religious, often Roman Catholic such as Rockwell himself. Paleolibertarianism explicitly supports and values “bourgeois virtues,” of which religion is one, as necessary preconditions for a free market order.

Jason Zengerle has a more informed take:

What it says is that, unlike so many politicians who cast themselves as outsiders, Paul is the real deal. Time and again throughout his life—first as a student at Baylor; then as a renegade ophthalmologist who tried to secede from the specialty’s leading professional organization in protest of its membership rules; and finally as a Senate candidate who ran against the state’s Republican establishment in the GOP primary—Paul has demonstrated a profound lack of respect for authority and institutions. In this, he’s very different from the typical Republican senator. And if Paul makes it to Washington, it stands to reason that he’ll display a similar attitude toward the powers that be in the Senate Republican caucus, occasionally making Mitch McConnell look like Dean Wormer.

Note: I am aware that Rockwell disavowed the term paleolibertarian in 2007. But it is still a pointer to a real phenomenon of populist right-libertarianism.

Oct/10

17

So How Come Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots?

This piece (from Mims’ Bits) on the difference between western and Japanese attitudes to robots is a stretch. Read the whole thing, but here’s an extract:

Heather Knight, founder of the world’s first (non-industrial) robot census, has made the study of robot / human interaction her life’s work. She posits that the difference between Japanese and American attitudes toward robots is rooted in something much older than even the idea of robots: religion. “In Japan… they’re culturally open to robots, on account of animism. They don’t make a distinction between inanimate objects and humans.”

…Given that Japanese culture predisposes its members to look at robots as helpmates and equals imbued with something akin to the Western conception of a soul, while Americans view robots as dangerous and willful constructs who will eventually bring about the death of their makers, it should hardly surprise us that one nation favors their use in war while the other imagines them as benevolent companions suitable for assisting a rapidly aging and increasingly dependent population.

Oh sure, that’s it. Western culture shown to be hopelessly morally inferior yet again (or something). Give me a break.

H/t: Andrew Sullivan

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Oct/10

17

Kentucky Fried

The Democrat takes the high road in the Kentucky race.

Some background on the Aqua Buddha here.

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Oct/10

17

Godwin’s Pope (4)

The New York Times ran a piece yesterday on a new exhibit on Berlin dedicated to the Third Reich.

This passage in particular caught my eye:

BERLIN — As artifacts go, they are mere trinkets — an old purse, playing cards, a lantern. Even the display that caused the crowds to stop and stare is a simple embroidered tapestry, stitched by village women. But the exhibits that opened Friday at the German Historical Museum are intentionally prosaic: they emphasize the everyday way that ordinary Germans once accepted, and often celebrated, Hitler. The household items had Nazi logos and colors. The tapestry, a tribute to the union of church, state and party, was woven by a church congregation at the behest of their priest.

And yet the pope, a “subtle historian”, people tell me, is a man, who despite education, heritage and, quite possibly, the experiences of his youth, who chooses to claim that the Nazis were atheists. Odd that.

And it’s not just the pope. Here we have Chris Patten, a less than positive presence in British public life and the individual given the task of extricating the recent papal visit from the chaos to which the church’s incompetence had reduced it, writing in the latest European Voice:

Many secularists argue that ever since the Enlightenment, reason has been enough to guide governance and policymaking, buttressed by the rule of law if a community is lucky. But Benedict asserted the importance of faith alongside reason and law in safeguarding our civilisation. Europe’s foundations lie not just in Aristotle, reason, and classical Greece, and not just in Rome with its understanding of the importance of the law, but also in Jerusalem and the Abrahamic faith groups – Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. Reason devoid of ethics can prove insufficient to support the survival of civilisation, a point that the pope’s own homeland, Germany, discovered in the 1930s.

“Reason devoid of ethics” has to be one of the more boneheaded descriptions I have yet read of Nazi ideology, a mish-mash of beliefs that were, at their core, not only profoundly irrationalist but also explicitly and perversely “moral”. That morality may have been grotesque, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was quite deliberately intended to supplement and, where necessary, supplant the exercise of reason.

The whole Patten piece is instructive reading, both for its exaggerated sense of the importance of the papal visit (in the end, a modest success that confounded some of its more dunderheaded critics, but which is likely to prove of little lasting significance) and for the usual hymn to Thomas More, a man who certainly stood up with some courage for what he believed to be right, but also an apparatchik with relatively few qualms about using state power to crush the freedom of conscience of others. More should be judged by the standards of his time, not ours, but it is still possible to discern within this tough, convinced and clever thinker the first glimpses of the Bolshevik nightmare to come. I’ll pick someone else to mourn, thank you.

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Oct/10

16

Breaker of idols

Jacob Weisberg, Yale graduate, and defender of the Center-Left Establishment (e.g., In Defense of Robert Rubin), has a long piece out in Slate attacking Peter Thiel. Thiel’s heresy is to encourage young university-aged students to work outside of traditional educational institutions by offering monetary inducements. Weisberg concludes:

Where to start with this nasty idea? A basic feature of the venture capitalist’s worldview is its narcissism, and with that comes the desire to clone oneself—perhaps literally in Thiel’s case. Thus Thiel fellows will have the opportunity to emulate their sponsor by halting their intellectual development around the onset of adulthood, maintaining a narrow-minded focus on getting rich as young as possible, and thereby avoid the siren lure of helping others or contributing to the advances in basic science that have made the great tech fortunes possible. Thiel’s program is premised on the idea that America suffers from a deficiency of entrepreneurship. In fact, we may be on the verge of the opposite, a world in which too many weak ideas find funding and every kid dreams of being the next Mark Zuckerberg. This threatens to turn the risk-taking startup model into a white boy’s version of the NBA, diverting a generation of young people from the love of knowledge for its own sake and respect for middle-class values.

Knowledge for “its own sake”? What planet does Jacob Weisberg live on where American university students are seeking knowledge for “its own sake”? The American university racket is by and large one of credentialing and signalling. Most college graduates are unabashed philistines. Their primary goal in life is to seem intelligent, not be intelligent.

Oct/10

16

Benedict & Bruni

Le Canard Enchainé is far from being the most reliable news source, but this story is too entertaining not to repeat (via the First Post):

The Pope reportedly told French president Nicolas Sarkozy that his wife, Carla Bruni, was ‘not welcome’ at the Vatican when he visited for a private audience last week. Sarkozy was hoping the half-hour meeting with Benedict XVI would allow him to claw back some of the Catholic voters who have deserted him following his deportation of Roma gypsies over the summer – a policy that has also elicited criticism from the Vatican. But Sarkozy’s visit to the Pope was unusual because it was arranged at such short notice – and because Bruni did not travel with him. Now the French satirical magazine Le Canard Enchaine has claimed that the reason she stayed in Paris is because “Carla Sarkozy is not welcome at the Vatican.”

But why? Carla Bruni has history with the Pope. Last year, she hit out at the pontiff after he said that Africa’s HIV epidemic could not be solved with condoms. She said she felt the Church ought to “evolve” on this issue. “I was born Catholic, I was baptised, but in my life I feel profoundly secular,” she added.

But apparently that is all water under the bridge. According to Le Canard, the real reason for Bruni’s ban is because the Vatican does not want coverage of Sarkozy’s trip to be illustrated in the Italian press with pictures of the Pope juxtaposed with older, saucier pictures of Bruni, who made her name as a model…

Good grief.

For a different approach, here’s a photo of another elderly German (Britain’s Prince Philip), with Ms. Bruni during a recent French state visit to Britain. The good duke does not appear unduly worried by the thought of those old pictures. Nope, not worried at all.

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Oct/10

16

The Uses of Skepticism

In a political era in which an Inquisitor DeMint can flourish, this little snippet from a recent Spectator piece by Toby Young was a bracing reminder of an altogether tougher-minded conservatism:

Maurice Cowling, the late right-wing historian, used to ask first-year students of his at Peterhouse [Cambridge] whether they were conservative because they believed in conservative values or because they believed in nothing. The correct answer was that they believed in nothing.

A clue to what Cowling (an interesting writer, if very far from always being my cup of tea, and, incidentally, a religious man of sorts) meant by that can be gleaned from this extract from his Daily Telegraph obituary:

He believed that the strength of Conservatism lay not in any particular set of principles, but in its appeal to a “combination of unashamed materialism and disbelieving scepticism about the power of political parties to give effect to Utopia”.

There are worse things.

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