Secular Right | Reality & Reason



Next Up: YHWH vs. Godzilla

Hinduism is of course pantheistic. One of the most revered gods is  Ganesh, the elephant-headed “Remover of Obstacles.” (And the god involved in the  Milk Miracle of a few years ago.)

The other part of this story is the swastika symbol, which Hindus have been using as a good-luck charm for millenia. The word “swastika” is  actually of Sanskrit origin.

Now read on.

Ganesh Versus the Third Reich is yet to open at the Melbourne Festival, but news of its storyline has caused consternation among the  Indian community.

In the play, which has been described by its producers as rambunctious fable brimming with humour, the elephant-headed Hindu god rampages through Germany on a quest to reclaim the ancient Hindu symbol of goodwill from the Nazis.

As a long-time fan of the great Barry Humphries, I thought I had a handle on Australian humor. Now I’m not so sure.

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Diversity at the NIH


Good post on the Columbia "diversity" rackets.

On the general issue of racially-proportionate representation in this and that, I’ve done a couple of rounds with the NIH’s Office of Extramural Research at their website.

The topic is the recent NIH study on the lack of diversity in grant awards.

If you look at the Office of Extramural Research website you’ll see my comment at 11:09 am on September 1.

This raised outrage from "Saddened by Blatant Racism in Science" at 9:43 pm (oh, cheer up, there!) and an incomprehensible, and statistically illiterate, critique from "DrugMonkey" at 7:34 am on September 2.

My responses are "awaiting moderation." In case they don’t make it, they are:

•  To "Saddened by Blatant Racism in Science":

Alas, in science data is countered by data, not by disgust or offense.

To "DrugMonkey":

I cannot see what range restriction has to do with it.

Let us suppose, as a fair approximation, that the U.S. population contains 40m blacks, 40m Hispanics, and 220m non-Hispanic whites. Let us further suppose that the IQ distributions have means 85, 89, and 100, with standard deviations 15 in each case. Then the numbers of Americans out beyond 130 IQ are, b-H-w, in thousands: 54, 125, 5000. The numbers out beyond 3SD are, also in thousands: 1.3, 4, 297. This is the most elementary statistics (I used Microsoft Excel). These numbers offer a perfectly sufficient explanation for the observed disparities at the grant-awarding level. If they do not, tell me why they do not.

You say that success in science is not correlated with "mental horsepower" (which I suppose means IQ). Two sentences later you say that: "You don’t get very far in these careers with a population mean IQ." These statements seem to me to be contradictory.

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Helping Out

On the general matter of assisted suicide:

(1) I couldn’t care less what people with ideological or theological fixations think.  They are entitled to their intellectual pleasures, but they have no right to foist their conclusions on citizens of a free society.

(2) The only jurisprudential objection to assisted suicide is that if it is permitted, then it will be easier for ingenious people to commit homicide.

This seems to me to be true. However, I can’t believe it is beyound the wit of our jurists to devise laws that (a) accommodate the sincere, reasonable, non-transient wish to die of  a Daniel James while thwarting the fellow who wants to bump off Granny for his inheritance.

If that is beyond the wit of our jurists, we are paying them too much.

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The Place of Suffering

[Cross-posted to NRO’s The Corner.]

Tangential to the exchange between Wesley Smith and Andrew Stuttaford on the death of Jack Kevorkian:

Here is something I was reading last week. It’s from the 1991 book In Search of Human Nature by Stanford historian Carl N. Degler. The book tracks the influence of biological ideas on the human sciences from the time of Darwin to the mid-1980s. (The book’s subtitle is The Decline and Revival of Darwinism in American Social Thought.)

Degler’s subject here is the great German-American anthropologist Franz Boas (1858-1942). Boas taught at Columbia University from 1896 on and was a tremendous influence on modern American anthropology. He was a key figure in the establishment of the Standard Social Science Model (SSSM) that prevailed in the human sciences through the middle decades of the last century. This was the system that sought to expunge (“decouple” is Degler’s word) biology altogether from anthropology, sociology, and psychology.

The key word in the SSSM is “culture,” used in the anthropological sense. (Which Boas seems to have invented. He was, according to Degler [p. 71] the first person to use the plural form of “culture,” in 1895. In We Are Doomed I tag the SSSM as “Culturism” [p.137].) A friend of mine, a geneticist, when someone ascribes some feature or other of human life to culture, snarls: “Culture? What is that? What are the upstream variables?” The answer, if you are a Culturist, is: “More culture!” It’s turtles all the way down.

Boas was not actually as dogmatic a Culturist as all that. He was a great admirer of Darwin and often left the door open for biology. The really dogmatic, Marxist-tinged Culturism that E.O. Wilson deplores in On Human Nature was really the work of the following generation of anthropologists and social scientists … though many of them, to be sure, had studied under Boas. Certainly there was more to Boas than the two-dimensional ethnic booster (he was Jewish) in Chapter Two of Kevin MacDonald’s Culture of Critique. He was a brilliant and subtle man, a committed empiricist who would, I am sure, easily have bested his current detractors in open argument. Culturism is false, but it was not preposterous in its time.

At any rate, here is the extract from Carl Degler’s book that came to mind when reading the Smith-Stuttaford exchange. It relates to the place of suffering in human life. Carefully read, there are all sorts of connections to our current concerns about demography and the affordability of entitlements. The included quotes from Boas all come from his essay “Eugenics” in Scientific Monthly 3 (Nov. 1916).

In his final objection to eugenics, Boas, the prime advocate of a cultural interpretation of man, skirted very close to accepting a biological basis
of human nature. One of the admitted attractions of eugenics, he acknowledged, was its aim of “raising a better race and to do away with increasing suffering by eliminating those who are by heredity destined to suffer and to cause suffering.” Particularly attractive, then, was “the humanitarian idea of the conquest of suffering, and the ideal of raising human efficiency to heights never before reached.” To that ideal his response was bold and uncompromising, but its premise smacked of biology: “I believe that the human mind and body are so constituted that the attainment of these ends would lead to the destruction of society.” The burden of his objection was that for human beings suffering was at once desirable and necessary. “The wish for the elimination of unnecessary suffering,” he insisted, “is divided by a narrow margin from the wish for the elimination of all suffering.” Such a goal “may be a beautiful ideal,” he conceded, but “it is unattainable.” The work of human beings will always require suffering and “men must be willing to bear” that suffering. Besides, many of the world’s great works of beauty “are the precious fruit of mental agony; and we should be poor indeed,” he was convinced, “if the willingness of man to suffer should disappear.” The worst thing of all, he warned, was that if this ideal were cultivated, “then that which was discomfort yesterday will be suffering today, and the elimination of discomforts will lead to an effeminacy that must be disastrous to the race.”

To Boas, “effeminacy” was the tendency of the people he saw around him to reduce suffering in the name of efficiency. “We are clearly drifting toward the danger-line,” he feared, “where the individual will no longer bear discomfort or pain for the sake of continuance of the race, and where our
emotional life is so strongly repressed by the desire for self-perfection — or by self-indulgence — that the coming generation is sacrificed to the living.” In modern society he saw a repetition of that tendency, which “characterized the end of antiquity, when no children were found to take the place of the passing generations.” To the extent that the “eugenic ideals of the elimination of suffering and self-development” are fostered, the sooner human beings will drift “towards the destruction of the race,” he gloomily predicted. The irony of Boas’s objections was that similar apocalyptic fears animated the eugenicists’ demands for their program. They saw the danger and the inevitable national decline as emanating from the reproductive reluctance of the educated classes, whereas Boas seemed to embrace all classes in his jeremiad.

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Happy Birthday, Mr Hume!

The Great Empiricist was born 300 years ago this weekend (May 7, 1711, N.S.)

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Your Ancestors Were Zombies

At a gathering the other day I mentioned Julian Jaynes, who caused a stir back in the 1970s with a very odd book about religion and human consciousness.

Roger Kimball was present.  He later forwarded to me an essay on Jaynes by the Australian philosopher David Stove.  I thought the essay so interesting I have put it on my website here.

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Update to Previous Post

In a very friendly & gentlemanly email, Nick Schulz assures me that his post on the AEI blog was meant as a fun tweak, not a sneer.  My apologies to Nick.

After all those columns I’ve written about everyone being far too quick to take offense nowadays, perhaps I’ve inhaled a bit of the zeitgeist at last.

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Working Hard, Working Smart

Mark Krikorian and I have been singled (doubled?) out for a sneer from AEI’s Nick Schultz. Are our heads exploding (he wants to know) at the news that Mexicans lead the world in “total minutes worked, paid and unpaid, per day”?

Mark is very well able to speak for himself. My own reaction on seeing the OECD chart Nick displays was that Mexicans are getting dismally little bang for the industrious buck. After five hundred years of toiling away for 594 minutes a day they have nothing much to show but a mediocre economy propped up by oil revenues and expatriate remittances, dysfunctional politics, and wellnigh zero achievement in the cultural or
intellectual spheres.

A few minutes’ number-crunching confirms the impression. Remember how your Uncle Stan used to tell you that while working hard is good, working smart is better? OK, let’s create an Uncle Stan index. I’ll divide annual per capita GDP (from the CIA World Factbook) by the daily number of minutes worked to see how much annualized per capita GDP each minute generates. For Mexico I’m dividing $13,800 a head by 594 minutes, to get annualized $23.22 per person per minute worked in the day.

On the Uncle Stan Index (USI) Mexico ranks 27 out of 29 on the OECD list. That is to say, it’s one of the least efficient nations in the world at turning work into wealth.

Here’s the table. I’ve included a column for mean national IQ, these numbers taken from Tatu Vanhanen’s latest book. The last two columns correlate quite well:  r = 0.47.

Country USI         Mean National IQ
Norway 131 100
U.S.A. 96 98
Netherlands      90 100
Belgium 89 99
Australia 86 99
Denmark 83 98
Germany 81 99
Austria 79 100
Sweden 79 99
Finland 78 99
Ireland 78 92
Canada 77 99
France 74 98
U.K. 74 100
Italy 65 102
Japan 63 105
Korea 62 106
Spain 62 98
Slovenia 57 96
New Zealand 56 99
Portugal 44 95
Hungary 40 98
Poland 39 99
Estonia 37 99
Turkey 25 90
South Africa 24 72
Mexico 23 88
China 15 105
India 7 82

Now, see how unfair life is. Here’s me, a poor freelance drudge, doing all this math, while Nick Schultz has a nice cushy number at AEI where apparently he is required to do nothing but strike politically-correct moral poses. Nick doesn’t even bother to source his data: I had to Google for the spreadsheet link.

I guess Uncle Stan was right …

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Templeton Prize

[Cross-posted from The Corner at NRO]

Astrophysicist Sir Martin Rees, who has a walk-on part in We Are Doomed (and who is properly written of as “Lord Rees,” though nobody seems to bother any more) has been awarded the Templeton Prize  “for career achievements affirming life’s spiritual dimension.”

Previous winners of the prize, which seeks to promote better understanding between science and religion, include Catholic nun Mother Teresa, U.S. preacher Billy Graham and Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn as well as many leading scientists.

This will be good for some rhetorical fireworks from the more militant kind of atheists. In those precincts, unbelievers who accept the  Templeton Prize are regarded as wishy-washy “accommodationists.” Richard Dawkins has already harrumphed.

Sir Martin has described himself as “an unbelieving Anglican who goes to church out of loyalty to the tribe.” I’d suspect that this position is utterly incomprehensible to anyone not (a) raised an Anglican, (b) in England, and (c) more than 50 years old. Compare George Orwell’s oft-quoted remark — it’s in Jeffrey Meyer’s biography  somewhere — that “I like the Church of England better than Our Lord.”

My NRO review of Sir Martin’s splendid gloomy look at the human race’s near future (he doesn’t think we have one) is here.

The converse of an unbeliever who goes to church is a believer who doesn’t. The Audacious Epigone has crunched some numbers from the General Social Survey on this (though I think that “less than” in his penultimate paragraph should read “more than”).

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What Would Jesus Cut?

Lunchtime mail brought my April copy of The Dominion, “News of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island.” The front page leader was by my local prelate, The Right Reverend Lawrence C. Provenzano, Bishop of Long Island.   Titled “Budgets, Leadership, and Public Service,” it is an angry broadside against the cutting of public services — any public services.

The approach to addressing the fiscal crisis in New Jersey and in a host of other states across the country appears to be to assault those who do the public’s work as state employees, to imply that they receive benefits and salaries that go far beyond what they deserve and that they immorally avail themselves of these benefits.

His Grace recommends that his parishioners join in a new initiative from the religious left under the slogan “What Would Jesus Cut?”  If you join in, you can get a WWJC bracelet!

Would Jesus cut Head Start — a bureaucratic extravaganza of no proven value whatever?  Would he cut foreign aid — correctly described by Peter Bauer 30-odd years ago as “The transer of money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries”?  Where would the Saviour have stood on defined-benefit vs. defined contribution pension plans?  We know what he thought of tax collectors (e.g. Matt. 18:17), but where did he stand on tax payers vs. tax eaters?

We hear so much about the Religious Right, far too little about the Religious Left and its maleficent works — it is, for example, the main motive force behind the refugee resettlement rackets.  From the Rev. Jeremiah Wright to the Right Rev. Lawrence Provenzano, what I mostly see in the pulpits are lefties. 

The pity of it is that elsewhere in The Dominion and its national-level equivalent, Episcopal Journal, I read of good and commendable works by church groups in, for example, relief for victims of the recent earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan.

Do these Christian lefties not see the contradiction between encouraging voluntary charity and demanding that ever more of the work of comforting the afflicted be transferred to government functionaries whose benefit packages are written into their state constitutions?

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