Your meme for today is the phrase Mark Steyn is touting as the catch-all explanation for Western cultural decline: the nationalization of the family.
My problem with Steyn is a complete inability to think of any better explanation when I read him.
The lure of cosmic cultural pessimism is strong, and the 20th and 21st centuries offer much confirmation that Western civilization is in the tank.
But for every Spengler, or David Bentley Hart, life offers rational optimists, like Matt Ridley. And to tell you the truth, I do not know where I sit between these uncomfortable prophets of doom and the dwellers in the sunny uplands of improvement.
The obvious point is that the physical circumstances of life are improving for all, and the cultural milieu in which we live is largely the wasteland of post-Christianity. And some react to the wasteland by going for the black and white certainties of Islam.
Multicultiuralism and anti-whitism have left us defenceless before the Ebola of religions.
Twenty years ago Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray published The Bell Curve. It had the effect of a large stone thrown into the still pond of “settled science”.
a) there is such a thing as g, general intelligence
b) it is largely heritable
b) IQ tests measure g quite well
c) IQ test outcomes predict a great many social results, including propensities to success or pathologies with better accuracy than any other measure, including years of education, family income, and social status;
d) social factors interact with genetic endowments, and
e) IQ results differ by race.
The Left has been in paroxysms of rage and denial ever since.
Charles Murray was interviewed about the Bell Curve recently in the policy blog of the American Enterprise Institute. Here is a snippet. Go the article for more.
American political and social life today is pretty much one great big “Q.E.D.” for the two main theses of “The Bell Curve.” Those theses were, first, that changes in the economy over the course of the 20th century had made brains much more valuable in the job market; second, that from the 1950s onward, colleges had become much more efficient in finding cognitive talent wherever it was and shipping that talent off to the best colleges. We then documented all the ways in which cognitive ability is associated with important outcomes in life — everything from employment to crime to family structure to parenting styles. Put those all together, we said, and we’re looking at some serious problems down the road. Let me give you a passage to quote directly from the close of the book:
Predicting the course of society is chancy, but certain tendencies seem strong enough to worry about:
An increasingly isolated cognitive elite.
A merging of the cognitive elite with the affluent.
A deteriorating quality of life for people at the bottom end of the cognitive distribution.
Unchecked, these trends will lead the U.S. toward something resembling a caste society, with the underclass mired ever more firmly at the bottom and the cognitive elite ever more firmly anchored at the top, restructuring the rules of society so that it becomes harder and harder for them to lose. (p. 509)
Remind you of anything you’ve noticed about the US recently?
As you were growing up, were you served on a plate? Then your family were Platists. Did you serve yourself from a platter passed around on the table? Then your family were Platterists.
The difference in family style may explain a lot. Platists control the food portions. Mother and dad served the plates. The food was arranged. You got the food they thought you should eat. You got the portions, the kinds of food, and the amounts of food that they thought were appropriate. Platists are top-down directors, and the children are taught from the beginning that what is required is to eat the food on the plate, whether or not they want it. It is superfluous to tell a child to eat its vegetables, say, when he has not served himself any. A Platist parent is always telling the child to eat up the food he has been served, because the decision as to what the child is to get has been made by the authority.
Platterists, by contrast, pass the food around on a big platter. You get the food in the amount you choose, within limits set by the hunger of others at the table. The decision as to what to eat has been devolved to the child. Mother might tell a child to eat some vegetables, but that is not the same as deciding how many or of what type to place on a plate.
I was brought up in a Platist household. My mother had had servants in her youth, and never questioned the assumption that food was something that was to be served. She and dad became both the distributors of food. The child might be consulted, but whether his plate was loaded with disgusting turnips or not was not the child’s choice.
My wife was brought up in a Platist household, where five pork chops were bought for five people. There were no leftovers, by design. The only time they experienced plenty was at the Sunday lunch, where they served themselves from a platter.
How can you tell when another person has been brought up in a Platist household? There is one infallible sign. After the main course has been eaten, they take the plates out to the kitchen, but before the dessert is served, they attack the haunches of meat served for dinner like ravenous beasts, because they have not eaten enough of the main course.
I once knew a most elegant lady, at whose home I dined. Her taste and comportment were impeccable. After the main course, I took my plate out to the kitchen. She was already there, ripping wings off the chicken carcase, fingers greasy, and scoffing it down as if she were hungry. I knew immediately what kind of family she came from, one like mine, one where you never got enough to eat at dinner. It had never occurred to us from Platist households that the purpose of dinner was to satisfy hunger. For a Platist, dinner was a long exercise in self control, and overcoming or managing one’s dislikes of dreadful food. Hunger was something you satisfied in raids on the fridge, or stripping the thighs off the chicken in the kitchen, after dinner.
Platterist families, when I first encountered them, seemed a little odd. You mean you can actually pass a plate of food around at a dinner table? And not knock over the glasses? Shocking. And there is no authority deciding how much you get? Only the desire not to appear too piggy restrains the inner barbarian? Wow!
Since having eaten with Ukrainian, Italian and Jewish families, where the assumption was that, if you had food, you should not go hungry, I have come to wonder whether Platism is of British origin.
Anthropologists need to explore the implications of Platism and Platterism in more depth. A doctorate lies here somewhere. As most politics is the playing out of how you were raised, and what roles father and mother had, the differences between Platism and Platterism may be the basis of some attention-grabbing pseudo-science for someone somewhere.
An important funding source for neuro-imaging via MRIs will no longer fund studies concerned with showing which parts of the brain light up when certain activities are engaged. The funding source is the James S. McDonnell Foundation. The reason why it will not longer do so was given thus:
“Proposals proposing to use functional imaging to identify the ‘neural correlates’ of cognitive or behavioral tasks (for example, mapping the parts of the brain that ‘light up’ when different groups of subjects play chess, solve physics problems, or choose apples over oranges) are not funded through this program. In general, JSMF and its expert advisors have taken an unfavorable view of . . . functional imaging studies using poorly characterized tasks as proxies for complex behavioral issues involving empathy, moral judgments, or social decision-making.”
The heartland of neuroimaging has decided that areas of the brain lighting up tell us nothing about empathy, judgments, and decision-making. Bravo! Another blow against neurotwaddle.
The most significant critic of neurotwaddle, a man who is himself a physician and an atheist, is Raymond Tallis. Tallis has written several important critiques of materialist reductionism – the “we are nothing but a bunch of neurons” school, in which Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Crick and their useful idiot Hitchens are to be found.
I found an article of Tallis’ on the same subject in the New Humanist magazine of January 2010. It is worth reading. Tallis finds all talk of neuroimaging techniques identifying “God-spots” in the brain as utter rubbish.
At first sight, it might seem that a humanist atheist like me should welcome the reduction of religious belief to tingles in parts of the brain. It will be evident now why I do not. The idea of God is the greatest, though possibly the most destructive, idea that mankind has ever entertained. The notion that all there is originated from and is controlled by a Maker is a profound and distinctively human response to the amazing fact that the world makes sense. This response is more, not less, extraordinary for the fact that it has no foundation in truth and, indeed, God is a logically impossible object.
How mighty are the works of man and how much more impressive when they are founded on an idea to which nothing corresponds! Cutting this idea down to size, by neurologising and Darwinising it, is to deal not only religion but also humanity a terrible blow. It undermines our uniqueness and denies our ability, shared by no other creature, to distance ourselves from nature. In defending religious belief against neuro-evolutionary reductionism, atheist humanists and theists have a common cause, and in reductive naturalism, a common adversary.
Readers will know I am not an atheist; I find greater truth in belief, and I find works like David Bentley Hart’s The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness Bliss more persuasive than Tallis’ non-materialist humanism. For me, Tallis is on a narrow ledge between materialist reductionsim, which he rightly rejects, and belief in a supernatural ordering Creator, in whom we move and have our being. But that is possibly a matter of taste, and is certainly not a matter for compulsion. His attacks on neurotwaddle are more welcome because he is an atheist.
Here is David Bentley Hart on the issue of reductionism – the school of thought that asserts “we are nothing but _________ neurons, genes, dancing atoms (pick one)”.
Once more, the physicalist reduction of any phenomenon to purely material forces explains nothing if one cannot then reconstruct the phenomenon from its material basis without invoking any higher causes; but this no computation picture of human thought can ever do. Symbols exist only from above, as it were, in the consciousness looking downward along that path of descent, acting always as a higher cause upon material reality. Looking up from the opposite direction, from below to above, one finds only an intraversible abyss, separating the intentional nullity of matter from the intentional plenitude of mind. It is an absolute error to imagine that the electrical activity in a computer is itself a computation….All computation is ontologically dependent on consciousness.” (p.223)
“Ontologically” means “having to do with being itself”, an idea more easily rendered in Greek than English.
A parting shot from Hart:
The mechanical picture of reality, which is the metaphysical frame within which we pursue or conquest of nature, is one that forecloses, arbitrarily and peremptorily , a great number of questions that a rational culture should leave open”.
There are vast questions that should be left open. Raise a ragged cheer for a rational culture!
A video service called Flixster aggregates trailers for newly released and impending films. It’s like a testing valve on a sewage system, offering two minute samples of what film-makers think you will like. In effect, it is a picture of who they think you are. In a half hour or so, you can look at the distillation of the efforts of the world’s greatest film-writers, directors, actors and craftspeople. Unfortunately, their genius is mediated by producers and investors, the very last people who should be guiding and controlling the efforts of these artists. Lust and sadism contend with brutality and betrayal to tempt the fickle eye. One flawed gem I glimpsed flickering in the slurry is called “The Humbling”, which degrades the talents of Al Pacino, Susan Sarandon and others possibly as gifted as they are. (When I saw it was based on something by Philip Roth, I knew it could not possibly instruct or enlighten, let alone entertain.) Of all the many samples I scented, only one appeared to have any professional integrity or internal consistency, only one appeared to respect its audience and correctly frame the talents of its performers – I commend to you “Dumb and Dumber To”. It appears to be an honest piece of work, posing as nothing more meaningful than the laughter it evokes.
Dear Jonathan Kay,
You wrote that an adult conversation about Islam is nearly impossible. You have my sympathy. You do a good job of trying to allow that conversation in your paper, but the reasons for the difficulty derive from the fact that a full discussion of Islam requires a discussion of what the religion prescribes that its followers should do. In the name of God they are compelled, if they wish to be orthodox, to wage war, enslave, distrust, and display contempt for all beings not Muslims, and express disgust for women. So it is difficult to have an adult conversation when you cannot say what Islamic doctrine is, in current liberal society.
An adult conversation about Islam is difficult because most people are finding a wide gap between what they perceive, and what they are allowed to say.
If I ran around in a black uniform with a Nazi armband shouting abuse at Jews, most observers would conclude there was an obvious link between my anti-Jewishness and my being a Nazi. (We fought and won a world war to say so).
But if I do the same as a Muslim, in the current environment, cursing the Jews and calling for their extermination as my holy duty, many people would feel cowed into not saying there was a link. The recent case of Ben Affleck going postal on television shows the depth and strength of the denial.
The same forces of anti-racism that we have been fostering since WW2 prevent accurate conclusions regarding the relationship of Islam and jihadist violence from being drawn, and if drawn, from being freely discussed.
For a Muslim, jihad is a sacrament. If Muslims behave reasonably and peacefully, as they do (thank God), it is not because they are orthodox but because they have fallen away from orthodoxy. Islam is a direct revelation from God, and it is immutable. So as the discussion of Islam’s doctrines is shoved underground, the public view of Islam gets darker and darker, while the chattering classes re-assure each other of their baseless confidence that Islam is not what they fear it is, a bananarama totalitarian ideology, whose idea of God is of an immeasurably distant, irrational force, where both theology and science is impossible.
Why impossible, you ask?
Because for there to be theology, God must be rationally knowable in some important senses, and for there to be science, there must be a belief that the universe is a rationally discoverable emanation of God’s laws.
Neither of these conditions is met in Islam.
In Islam the whole universe is sustained instant to instant by God’s will alone. Causal relationships between match and flame need not be looked into, because the match is only the occasion for the flame, not the cause. Looking into the operations of God’s will is haram. I recommend The Closing of the Muslim Mind for further information on the baneful effects of Islam’s greatest philosopher, Al-Ghazali.
All of these facts are available on reading about the issue. However, few do so, and those who do are silenced by the general prohibition on discussing Islam as if its doctrines were real and intended. Religion has been tamed in the post-Christian west. In Islam, it is everything, and its teachings are horrifying to those who contemplate them, and more so to those who suffer persecution and death because of its adherents.
We are not responsible for Islam’s doctrines. We are, however, responsible for the poor state of thought and speech in the West today. We have only ourselves (or the forces of political Leftism) to blame for this gap between what is being observed, and what can be discussed.
Don’t fly to Africa.
And don’t let Africans from afflicted countries fly from Africa.
These would seem to be reasonable precautions.
At 40-70% lethality per infection, the crisis will soon be upon us.
Epidemiologists are invited to correct me if I am wrong,
Few are more bigoted in European circles than the fashionably anti-Christian. How safe! How trendy! Gaia approves!. The Post reports the case of a Canadian Christian being rudely treated by a group of self-styled Norwegian pagans. Her internship with Norwegian wilderness outfitters who lead expeditions in the British Columbia.
“The Norse background of most of the guys at the management level means that we are not a Christian organization, and most of us see Christianity as having destroyed our culture, tradition, and way of life,” Amaruk’s hiring manager, Olaf Amundsen, wrote last month to Vancouver-area job applicant Bethany Paquette, the first in a series of bizarre, angry emails sent from company officials in Norway.
According to a complaint she has since filed with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal (BCHRT), Ms. Paquette’s Christian education cost her an “assistant guide internship” position at Amaruk.
She received a snarky letter back from the head of the outfitting group, who explained that, since they “embraced diversity”, they could not hire someone who had been to Trinity Western University. The rest of the management of the Norwegian outfitters piled on with further emails of derision and contempt.
A lack of irony is a marked feature of bigotry. And the more unconscious the bigotry, the greater the self-righteousness.
The human resources director of the Norwegian firm, Amaruk, sent this beauty:
And an hour later, Ms. Paquette received yet another snide note, this one from Amaruk’s human resources boss. “You are free to your own opinions and to live your life as you see fit, but you have no right to force your opinions onto others and control their innate behaviour,” it read.
Uh, dudes, she merely sent an application for an unpaid position. Who is forcing opinions on others here? The macho fags of Amaruk or the Canadian applicant for an internship?
And this lady has mastered a wide variety of language sounds; she babbles in many saying nothing but sounding exactly like each language.