Secular Right | Reality & Reason

CAT | Conferences

I should announce it somewhere on the web, and this is the best place I can think of. In one of the fall issues of Free Inquiry (probably the one right before the election, so October) I will be making the case of secular conservatism. The article is written, and we’re basically at the final proofing stage. Just thought I would put it out there if want to buy a copy.

Additionally, I want to take an opportunity to “promote” this comment, as I think it’s very interesting. I’m in some sympathy for it, even if I disagree in the details.

… the social conservative who is wary of science in their rhetoric, but will always avail himself of the newest gadgets and best medical care.

Guilty as charged, but perhaps by reason of insanity.

You may have been thinking of social conservatives who have religious motivations — sometimes called the Christian Right. But there are social conservatives such as myself with no religious agenda whatsoever, who both embrace science (I’m a former computer network engineer, avid techie and gadget freak, and a firm believer in heart transplants, for instance) and fear it (I think there are social consequences of “transhumanism” we will not like and I wouldn’t want to see a robot become President {go ahead, laff … but in some circles, that is contemplated}). More realistically, I think “human colonies on Mars” is one of the biggest government hornswoggles ever devised (at least let the private sector do it, if it can afford it). So it’s all a bit more complicated than the picture you give above. What I, as a social conservative, object to about science is its potential to de-humanize humans. I don’t like its ability to look at a woman’s ovaries as a spare parts farm, because it reduces the value of the (potential) human being or embryon to its mechanical minimum so much that life becomes cheap. There is not enough intellectual and political space (not to mention moral space) between using conceived unborn human beings as disposable sources of cheap DNA and eating old people for lunch. This might sound like a crank comment (yes I’m being dramatic), but I do not want to slip down the slope to a world where nobody can tell the difference. If it’s done right, science is valuable and beneficial things can be done with it that nobody but a religious zealot could object to. But the scientific attitude does not naturally accommodate ethics; everything in the universe is a machine at some level. But ethics observes the non-mechanistic humanity in humans as a premise, not an afterthought and I’d rather live in a world like that, than in hubcap heaven. LOL …

Moving Secularism Forward:

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) and the Council for Secular Humanism will hold their annual conference “Moving Secularism Forward” March 1–4, 2012 at the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport in Orlando, Florida.

At “Moving Secularism Forward”, learn about one of Florida’s most dramatic church-state battles regarding the Blaine Amendment, and much, much more; including an optional motorcoach excursion to Kennedy Space Center.

Topics:

Situation Review: The International Academy of Humanism, Outreach and Advocacy Strategies, Does Secularism Have a Political Agenda? What Are Our Objectives as Secular Humanists?

Speakers:

Daniel C. Dennett, Sir Harold Kroto, Steven Pinker, Rebecca Goldstein, PZ Myers, Katrina Voss, Russell Blackford, Stephen Law, Rita Swan, Anthony Pinn, Victor Stenger, Elisabeth Cornwell, Eddie Tabash, Ophelia Benson, Lionel Tiger, Ronald Bailey, Razib Khan, Jamila Bey, Sikivu Hutchinson, David Silverman, Bill Cooke, Steven K. Green, Ellenbeth Wachs, Ronald A. Lindsay, Debbie Goddard and Tom Flynn.

Mar/11

26

Secular Celebration

From this weekend’s Radio Derb (transcript here):

As an unbeliever, I have naturally asked NRO to give me paid leave for the entire month of May so I can celebrate the tercentenary of the birth of David Hume, taking a trip to the great philosopher’s birthplace in Scotland and devoutly attending the four-day public reading of the Treatise being planned by my colleagues at Secular Right.

Have we fixed a location for the party yet?

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Feb/10

22

How Liberty Dies

Outrage of the week last week was the shutting down of the American Renaissance conference by anti-racist activists.

It impacted my schedule. I was planning to attend the conference (which was scheduled for Feb. 19 to Feb. 21).

It would have been a first for me. I’ve been a subscriber to the AR magazine since the mid-1990s, when I read Jared Taylor’s 1992 book Paved With Good Intentions.  Jared is the moving spirit of American Renaissance (and a former National Review contributor). I debated — as in: took an opposing point of view to — him in 2006 at an event since made famous by 14-year-old Trotskyist Max Blumenthal, who knows absolutely everything about the world. The transcript of my address is here. You can hear a recording of the entire event here.

I’ve encountered Jared half a dozen times since then, and had dinner with him once when he was in New York. I like the guy a lot. He’s terrifically well-read and well-educated. Quite a good orientalist, too: he grew up in Japan — I think his parents were missionaries — and we once spent a happy half-hour comparing the odd semantic shifts between Japanese kanji and the ancestral Chinese ideograms. He’s also fluent in French: studied at the Sorbonne, I believe. I visited at his home once: Jared was raising his younger daughter — she was four years old at the time — to speak French. She chirruped “Bonjour, Monsieur” at me when I met her, with a very authentic accent. I consider Jared a fine American gentleman and patriot, with the exquisite manners of the old South, and the strong devotion to his family that a man should have.

My fondness for Jared notwithstanding, I don’t really think of myself as an American Renaissance type. For one thing, there is that ethos of the South, which I don’t really … get. I wonder if a foreigner ever can get it. It’s as odd and particular, in its own way, as Tibetan Buddhism.

For another thing, there is the antisemitism of the AR followers, which rubs me the wrong way. I fall in line with the long tradition of British philosemitism (Cromwell, Victoria, Lloyd George, Maggie Thatcher), and just have no patience with the other thing. I’d excuse Jared from that: in several hours of private conversation with him, I’ve never caught a whisper of antisemitism. The only remark I ever heard him make on the subject, to a third party, was: “They look white to me!” He has in fact taken pains to get Jewish writers and speakers into AR. His enemies say this is cynical “covering,” but my best guess, from my acquaintance with the man, is that it’s sincere. (My car-pool ride down to the AR conference, by the way, was to have been with Bob Weissberg.)

I had therefore turned down Jared’s invitations to the AR conference (which is held every other year). I wasn’t planning to attend this year, either. Then I read on one of the paleocon websites that the conference hotel had canceled AR’s booking after harassment by some hostile activists.  I thought this was very shocking. Whatever you think of the AR ethos, they are genteel types (including a lot of academics, like Bob) who would no more think of burning a cross on someone’s lawn than they would of garotting their own grandmothers. They are people with opinions, that’s all — opinions, furthermore, that were perfectly mainstream 40 or 50 years ago. Well, they found another hotel.

In a fit of righteous indignation on hearing of the first cancellation, I had signed up for the conference & been duly registered. I set up the car pool with Bob and told Mrs. Bradlaugh I’d be away for the weekend. Then on Tuesday of the week of the conference, I got an email from AR saying the new venue had also canceled, after more intimidation from the anti-”hate” thugs. The email said AR would refund our conference fees, but I donated mine to AR in disgust.

The next day another email came saying that AR had found yet another hotel and the conference was on after all. This new hotel (we were assured) would stand up to any threats. In the event, they didn’t, and the conference was finally and thoroughly off. Jared set up some sort of truncated event, with some of the speakers, but by the time I found out about it, it was too late to go down to Virgina. He put out a press release through one of the regular services, but only Breitbart seems to have picked it up.

It is a shameful thing that the AR conference was shut down — an ominous thing too, in that this is the first time it’s happened. We may be losing our freedoms of speech and association, as they have in Britain and Europe. So much for American exceptionalism.

And just as shameful as the success of the anti-racist bully-boys is the utter silence of the media. I haven’t even heard one of those “First they came for American Renaissance …” admonitions. It’s as if the AR people are utterly beyond the pale. Yet why should they be? If they are wrong, why not expose their error in open debate, as I tried to? Isn’t that the civilized way to do things? (When I took on Jared in that 2006 debate, the organizers told me they’d invited a number of conservatives, but all had backed out when they heard they’d be sitting in a room with Jared. What on earth is the matter with people?)

AR’s position, in a nutshell, is that if it’s OK for blacks, Hispanics, Asians, etc. to organize in defence of their group interests, and to promote pride in their ancestry, why isn’t it OK for white Americans to do the same? It seems to me there is no very satisfactory answer to this question.  The one usually given (by the aforementioned Blumenthal wunderkind here, for example) is that whites are a majority and the others are minorities, so it wouldn’t be fair. But this is already untrue in four states, and by 2042, according to the Census Bureau, will be untrue of the entire nation. Will American Renaissance be respectable then ?  If not, why not?

My own strong preference, as I argued in that debate with Jared, would be for everybody to shut up with the race business. There doesn’t seem to be much prospect of this happening, though, so it’s not hard to see the AR-ers point of view. In any case, I say again, whatever you think of that point of view, it’s a point of view. It shouldn’t be shut out of the public square; and if it is so shut out, by goons phoning in death threats to hotel employees, there ought to be a fuss made. Well, here I am on Secular Right, making a fuss as best I can. Freedom of speech! Freedom of assembly! Liberty! Liberty!

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Nov/08

24

The H.L. Mencken Club

Just back from a weekend down in Baltimore, where I gave a talk to the H.L. Mencken Club.  Nice people; well-organized event; good reception for talk.  However, I can’t forbear noting some dissonances pertinent to the theme of this blog.

Among the things H.L. Mencken is best remembered for is his coverage of the 1925 Scopes trial in Tennessee, in which he dealt quite mercilessly with the creationists and their champion, William Jennings Bryan.  Mencken was an atheist, though not an angry or obsessive one, except when confronted with extreme fundamentalism.   Try his essay titled “Sabbath Meditation” (though note that the one in the original American Mercury is significantly different from the version printed up later in the Chrestomathy).

Well, so there I was sitting down to dinner on the first evening of this Menckenfest.  Seeing a plate of salad in front of me, I applied some condiments and started eating.  In between the second and third mouthfuls I heard an amplified voice coming from the speakers’ tables: “All right, everybody, we shall now say Grace.  Bless us O Lord and these thy gifts …”  I felt as if I’d been caught picking my nose on live TV.

Somewhat later I got into conversation with the lady who had given out the Grace.  She was very charming and friendly, and had been instrumental in getting the conference organized, so is obviously very capable.  It emerged, however, in the course of our conversation, that she is a Young Earth Creationist!

What Mencken would have made of this, I don’t know.  What I make of it is, that the prospects for a godless American conservatism are not very bright.  Still, at least we have a blog up and running.

And in fairness, I should say that a full range of religiosity was present at the conference, from God-is-dead-get-over-it Nietzscheans to Blue Scapular RCs.  We actually had two fine presentations on the mustachioed metaphysician (the excuse being that Mencken was an early admirer and translator of Nietzsche).

In some of the other addresses and commentary I am pretty sure I detected efforts by RC ideologues to “recruit” Mencken.  They have gotten awfully good at “recruiting” historical persons and movements, like Latter-Day Saints baptizing their ancestors.  Did you know that the scientific revolution was inspired by Catholic teaching?  That the American Founders were crypto-Catholics?  (Yes, even Jefferson — see e.g. Damon Linker’s book, p.71.) That Shakespeare was Catholic?  Etc., etc.  Whether the RC ideologues have yet managed to recruit Nietzsche, I couldn’t say, but I bet they have tried.

All ideologues go in for this kind of thing.  Homosexualists are perhaps the worst.  From my review of Louis Crompton’s Homosexuality and Civilization:

Julius Caesar?  Gay!  Jesus of Nazareth?  Gay!  Leonardo?  Gay!  Frederick the Great?  Gay!  All of them — gay, gay, gay!  I do not recall having seen it argued that George Washington was gay, but I have not the slightest doubt that the argument has been made by somebody, somewhere.

Communists do it too. I used to teach English literature in Maoist China from locally-produced textbooks. All the “approved” writers turned out, in the accompanying notes, to have been socialists and revolutionaries, or at the very least “friends of the common people,” though of course their revolutionary sentiments were often suppressed and muddled, not having the pure light of Marxism-Leninism-Mao-Tse-Tung-Thought as a guide.  This was even the case — I am pretty sure I remember this right — with such specimens as Wilde and Galsworthy.  To the committed ideologue, it is unbearable to think that any worthy person or project, from any time or place, was not inspired in some way by the Cause.

Was Mencken, in between hooting at the backwoods glossolalists of Tennessee and telling us that “my true and natural allegiance [is] to the Devil’s party, and it has been my firm belief that … all persons who devote themselves to forcing virtue on their fellow men deserve nothing better than kicks in the pants” — was he actually sneaking off to do his beads in some dark corner?  I expect to see it confidently asserted, if it hasn’t already been.

A deathbed conversion, too.  Godly ideologues are fond of conjuring those up.  At least, I have seen deathbed conversions argued for David Hume and Charles Darwin.  These stories have inspired Richard Dawkins to insist that his own death be recorded on film, to foil any attempts to recruit him into the company of those who see the Light just as the actual light is fading.

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