Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dawkins sucks

I guess he doesn't really - I noticed from The God Delusion that I place myself exactly into the same category as he does as regards the existence of God, i.e. that it is something exceedingly unlikely and that one should live one's life as if she/he/it didn't exist. That is with the knowledge that gentleness and love will not necessarily be rewarded and that cruelty and aggression will not often be punished, that there are no happy endings, only endings. Strange, perhaps, but I think that this attitude to life is more virtuous and more serious than basing one's ethics on rewards and punishments. This said, Dawkins does seem awfully brittle, light - there is no sense of tragedy there, no sense of sorrow. Also no understanding of religion in its essence as being serious speech about our human condition (the religious themselves are not of help here).  Well, perhaps I'm led astray by subjective sentiment, but I'm not convinced - at heart I suppose this is an argument about the nature of reason. Though as usual I seem to lack both the time and the capability to formulate the argument more precisely. Oh well.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Failed nations all around

Scott Peterson's excellent Me Against My Brother is one the very few first hand accounts that I have come across of the bloody and tragic events in Somalia in the early 1990's - a place and time that have for a long time interested me. Not a very comfortable view of humanity emerges: when order collapses we seem to turn invariably into beasts, and prey. And certainly not a very comfortable view of the developed countries - as much as the responsibility (as far as there is such a thing) lies in deep seated local cultural conflicts: a nomad society encountering modernity, and modern weaponry. But if there is one thing certain, it is that we are no innocent bystanders in this tragedy. There is no question that the Western audiences are frivolous and decadent, and kept frivolous and decadent by solely profit seeking, ad and subscription centred corporate media. Peterson's style of journalism is probably a dying art, and even if not, very few will care. There is a Burkean defence for this state of affairs: we don't have the capability to do the right thing, a mere attempt would end in tragedy and blood path. But that defence is wearing rather thin. We can't do what we should do - but we can be more intelligent, more responsible, more aware. That is not too much to ask. Should the civilization progress (at the moment a somewhat daring proposition) the posterity will surely only see failed nations in this era of opulence, starvation and blood.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Turing and humanity

Oddly I chose for morning work trip reading Andrew Hodges’ description of the chemical castration of Alan Turing. Once the bile had receded I was once again struck how beautiful and how serious Hodges’ writing is. It is not as odd a pair as one might think: so often, it seems to me, ethics and esthetics do cohere. In good writing it is most obvious. And the text, the seriousness of it, did get me thinking about the sordid, the brutal affair (or perhaps actually my private reaction to it),  in a larger context. I suppose we should always also beware these so selfevident dualities: the cruelty and the innocence, the aggression and the openness. We none of us are completely innocent, and our monstrous society only reflects (and encourages in turn) the monsters inside us all. This is obvious, of course: there is a danger in righteous rage, of whitewashing and denial. But to accept totally is surely the greater crime than to rage partially hypocritically. The society is the arena where we can most easily progress and through that progress start an inner healing process. That can be the only realistic way forward for us.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Liberalism and Nietzsche

I’m sure this only makes sense to my own idiosyncratic sense of liberalism but essentially I have come to place it as the boundary that permanently separates Nietzsche from acceptablity. To phrase it overly glibly... For me the essence of liberalism lies in its permanent uncertainty as to what degree do meanings rise out of the objective, commonly observable state of affairs and what  and how large then is the role of individual experience and will in shaping and creating these meanings. The foundation is the trust in and the certainty of doubt – that there is no human way in these circumstances to achieve a meaningful basis for any kind of certainty on this fundamental dilemma. This quite naturally leads to ad hoc, pragmatic and provisional, moderate settlements – to a permanent acceptance of pluralism in human affairs.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The audacity of good writing

I have been fascinated and much impressed by Obama’s Dreams from My Father – I roughly knew about his eccentric background and expected an interesting and much better than average aspiring politician’s memoir. But I certainly didn’t expect this: genuinely good writing – which in this form requires high, disinterested intelligence, honesty and a robust, unsentimental moral vision of life. All factors surely more or less grave hindrances in an aspiring politician. This is not to say that the text wouldn’t hide things and wouldn’t paper over some serious counter-points. But the reader has the feeling of engaging in a serious and open intellectual argument. With a mainstream politician, of all people, quite a surreal experience I have to say. What on earth is this man doing presiding over a corrupt and decadent, decaying political system? The beginning has certainly not been very good – surely an FDR would have radically seized these opportunities? Instead we have had overly cautious, overly modest half-hearted approaches. And FDR was a deceitful, devious, egocentred person, not interested in abstract thought or robust moral views of life. An intelligent and honest person might not be the best choice for that position. Well, with these poisonous and hateful forces rampant in the USA, it might not be the era for an FDR at all, probably a Father Coughlin would have rather better chances. Perhaps overly dramatic, but I could not avoid some dark forebodings reading this excellent, perceptive book - he is made for a perfect hate figure for these atavistic, hysterical reactionary forces.