Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Dec/08

15

Miscellany, December 15

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  • Someone has called us the “world’s most boring blog“. I think not everyone must agree, because in the three and a half weeks since we launched we’ve had more than 100,000 page views and, remarkably, 2,300 reader comments.
  • Confirming the descent of the whole topic into absurdity, Fred Phelps’s Westboro Baptist Church of funeral-picketing infamy has jumped into the controversy over the Christmas display at the Washington State Capitol in Olympia by demanding that it be allowed to put up a sign saying “Santa Claus will take you to hell”.
  • Another occasion for mirth: in a full-page Times ad promoting the anti-anti-Prop 8 cause, the Becket Fund announces that the undersigned “commit ourselves to opposing and publicly shaming anyone who resorts to the rhetoric of anti-religious bigotry”. So who’s prominently featured among the signers? Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, famous for such outbursts as “Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity, in general, and Catholicism, in particular. It’s not a secret, okay?” along with other noted voices of moderation like Chuck Colson and Alveda King. [P.S.: Thanks to Ken in comments for pointing to this post exposing the dodginess of the actual content of the Becket statement.]
  • Yes, the phrase was floating around long before we appropriated it for a blog title. Here’s Robert Tracinski in 2006 with a column entitled “The Secular Right”, which begins:

    We all know the basic alternatives that form the familiar “spectrum” of American politics and culture.

    If a young person is turned off by religion or attracted by the achievements of science, and he wants to embrace a secular outlook, he is told–by both sides of the debate — that his place is with the collectivists and social subjectivists of the left. On the other hand, if he admires the free market and wants America to have a bold, independent national defense, then he is told — again, by both sides — that his natural home is with the religious right.

    But what if all of this is terribly wrong?…

    Tracinski goes on to engage with Heather’s writing, mostly favorably, but argues against her embrace of “skepticism” as a basic posture.

  • I think Ken Silber is right to express frustration with the nowadays standard bit of traditionalist Unified Kvetch Theory that makes much of the “accusation that the left is all about ‘the self,’ as if collectivism and egalitarianism were not leftist tendencies.”

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12 comments

  • Author comment by David Hume · December 15, 2008 at 11:07 pm

    Someone has called us the “world’s most boring blog“. I think not everyone must agree, because in the three and a half weeks since we launched we’ve had more than 100,000 page views and, remarkably, 2,300 reader comments.

    It’s kind of weird to call out a blog for being boring…and continuing to read it, as evidenced by the fact that Thrasymachus left comments after he posted that :-) But perhaps I’m the weird one; if I find something boring I stop subjecting myself to it.

    but argues against her embrace of “skepticism” as a basic posture.

    This is a standard Objectivist position (Tracinski identifies himself as such). They believe that skepticism is a barrier toward a full appreciation of the power of rationality. The anti-skeptical stance is at the heart of George H. Smith’s The Case Against God.

    Obviously I stand with Heather. Reason is overrated….

  • Author comment by ◄Dave► · December 16, 2008 at 12:28 am

    But perhaps I’m the weird one; if I find something boring I stop subjecting myself to it.

    Perhaps loneliness trumps boredom. His (self-proclaimed)”Sophistry” hasn’t attracted a comment since 11/20 and the one before that was on 9/06. :) ◄Dave►

  • Benzo · December 16, 2008 at 2:53 am

    Posting a link to Thrasymachus is sure to be provocative.

  • Heather Mac Donald · December 16, 2008 at 7:31 am

    I largely agree with Robert Tracinski’s column and appreciate his comments. I used “skepticism” to signal an unwillingness to take a claim on faith unless it can provide a grounding in reason or evidence. I see no meaningful difference between an empirical argument for the superiority of the two-parent family in raising children and an empirical argument for the superiority of free market capitalism in providing prosperity and freedom to the greatest number of individuals. But just because we believe that ample evidence supports both claims today does not mean that we should not constantly be open to possibly refuting evidence.

  • Gary McGath · December 16, 2008 at 8:54 am

    Leonard Peikoff’s courses in philosophy defined “skepticism” as the position that one can’t know anything whatsoever for sure. This is a rather odd definition of skepticism.

  • Grant Canyon · December 16, 2008 at 9:52 am

    I think Tracinski should be given credit for trying to address the issue, but not much more. His analysis is populated by poorly drawn caricatures, which suggests to me that his exposure to the ideas and people he rejects is not based on any first-hand experience but is, rather, limited to repeating things that he read by other writers and observers.

    Indeed, he notes that people should actually converse with a leftist to rebut the notion of the left being populated by rationalists, but displays no evidence of ever, himself, having such a conversation, as his exemplars of the left is almost exclusively made up of Josef Stalin, hippies, and Post-Modernist philosophy professors (who seem to exist more in the fears of social cons than in reality). To the extent that he discusses multiculturalists, for example, he seems to reduce it a label that means, roughly, “people insufficiently fearful of the great Muslim menace..”

    Would anyone with real-world exposure to, you know, real people, think that this is an accurate cross-section of that part of the political spectrum?? (Of course, it simply may be a by product of his Randian fandom. If “Atlas Shrugged” is any guide, Rand seems to have been unable to think of people who differed with her in any realistic or rational manner, favoring, instead, to populate her story with buffoonishly unrealistic heroes and ridiculous antagonists. One must wonder whether the cartoonish nature of her characters was a reflection of her poor abilities as a writer or of the fact that her philosophy lends itself to viewing the world in such starkly unrealistic terms.)

  • Caledonian · December 16, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    Leonard Peikoff’s courses in philosophy defined “skepticism” as the position that one can’t know anything whatsoever for sure. This is a rather odd definition of skepticism.

    It’s actually quite standard in philosophy.

    This sort of thing is a large part of why philosophy, or at least the academic discipline given that name, is almost completely garbage.

  • Ken · December 16, 2008 at 12:11 pm

    With respect to that Becket advertisement, the new related web site — Nomobveto.org — now has a blog that permits comments. Most of the blog entries are rather defensive reactions to criticism.

    Personally I find the advertisement obnoxious not just because some of its signatories are advocates for religious intolerance and orthodoxy (Colson, another signatory, has a history of wetting himself if anyone dares say that Mormons are Christians), but because the advertisement is — how do I say it — cowardly. It employs ambiguity to imply, without having the stones to say, that boycotts and other protest measures are inherently beyond the scope of acceptable discourse.

  • Grant Canyon · December 16, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    “With respect to that Becket advertisement, the new related web site — Nomobveto.org — now has a blog that permits comments.”

    I also think that the website name is interesting, given how Proposition 8, itself, is a kind of “mob veto” of the California Supreme Court recognizing the equal protection rights of homosexual people.

  • igor · December 17, 2008 at 3:45 am

    This is a great blog, the first time I found a ‘home’ for people like me: rightwing atheists.
    I never understood why all vocal secularists appear to have a fixed set of dogmas (pro-abortion, pro-government intervention in the economy, pro-gay marriage, pro-euthanasia, etc.)

  • Joanna · December 17, 2008 at 9:39 am

    A blog like this was definitely needed and its anything but boring (“Ayn Rand prayer meeting”?? dumb). Keep up the good work y’all.

  • J. · December 17, 2008 at 10:12 am

    Leonard Peikoff’s courses in philosophy defined “skepticism” as the position that one can’t know anything whatsoever for sure. This is a rather odd definition of skepticism.

    That’s the naive objectivist’s reading of skepticism. Hume for one does not deny the reality of the external world (as say Descartes seemed to, or other metaphysicians). Humes’ points on skepticism concern the reliability of perception, and the difficulties of proof. Hume’s really sort of questioning the old Aristotelian idea (Randians take Aristotle for a sort of guru) that nature is logical. The truths expressed in the periodic table may be regular and nearly necessary in a sense (–you don’t want to drop a chunk of potassium into H20, today, or a year from now–) but it’s hardly deductive logic.

    His other skeptical point relates to the difficulties of proving causal relations (say, what caused WWI)–which applies to evidentiary questions as well (who can establish whether there was sufficient justification for the Iraqi War Effort).

    Yes, skeptics can go too far. But it’s probably better to retain doubts about various bizarre claims (say, in regards to astrology….or religious orthodoxy, which holds a virgin gave birth, a man rose from the dead etc.) until convincing evidence demonstrates otherwise. Hume deserves some credit for, well, questioning authority; his skepticism regarding ethical objectivity also worth a perusal, even if one disagrees. Of course Humeanism does not lack a, je ne sais quoi, Marquis-like aspect which tends to bother moralists, both left and right. Hitchens has a Humean sensibility to some degree (for better or worse).

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