A plea from someone who enjoys Sam, Glenn, and Noam. 

 
Heterosaucer
 
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Heterosaucer
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02 December 2016 17:15
 

I hope this is taken in the spirit in which it is intended.


For some time now Glenn and Sam have been engaged in a spat. This has been disconcerting for me as I enjoy both the Intercept and the Waking up Podcast. Focusing on the specifics of who said what is pointless and unproductive. Although many specifics have cropped up since this spat began, it seems to me that in a general sense, it began with a disagreement over the causes of Jihadi terrorism and the potential remedies for terrorism. Furthermore, I think it’s fair to say that the interaction between Sam and Noam Chomsky was part of the greater disagreement we see before us.

  I think all parties involved share some degree of blame for the current state of affairs, but I am not interested in trying to determine which party was a worse actor.

  Too my mind, both parties have raised valid points about the causes of terrorism. Chomsky and Glenn support the view that the United States and other western powers have through various actions, created miserable conditions in the middle east and elsewhere which are so miserable that they engender terrorism. Finally, Glenn seems to view Islam as incidental to these conditions, and so the ideology of Islam has been coopted and put to use as a rallying cry for people who would be organizing around different principles were Islam not available.

Sam’s view is interesting because, as usual, Sam is raising a subtle and nuanced point. If I have interpreted him correctly, he is arguing that Islam is an especially pernicious ideology that would be dangerous even in the absence of terrorism. Sam often points to opinion polls from Islamic countries that tend to show that people who adhere to Islam in those countries are particularly intolerant of other views and of people who do not adhere to its strict admonitions regarding how life ought to be led.

Both of these views have had immense value for me. When this conflict began unfolding I was far more aligned with the view Greenwald espouses, but since that time my view has been tempered by many reasonable points made by Sam. I am now convinced that a blend of the two is the best framework for analyzing the situation.

So why can’t Sam and Glenn find a way to have a reasonable discourse regarding the weight that should be assigned to these two considerations? Both Chomsky and Glenn seemed to feel that Sam was too aggressive in the way he stated his views. However, it is unclear to me why what happened next occurred. Around the same time, both parties began to vocalize doubts about the other’s sincerity or commitment to solving the problem.

The most obvious example of this would be Omer Aziz’ statements on “The Best Podcast Ever” episode of Waking Up. Omer said that he believed that a work of Sam’s was created solely for personal gain. The argument struck me as ridiculous because even if it were true, how could you prove that you understand someone’s intentions that clearly from afar?

However, Sam has also said some harsh things about the intentions of Greenwald and everyone around him in addition to the things he has said about Chomsky. For example, during “Final Thoughts on Chomsky” Sam said that he was interested in “helping to build a bridge off this island of masochism where Chomsky readers reside. I could have allowed myself, as someone who believes he has learned a lot from Chomsky, to become offended, but I was not emotionally engaged so I could see it for what it was.

No matter how rational we would like to believe we are, the attention that is focused on all parties in this fight has a tendency to distort and exacerbate intentions. An example from my own life is in order, people often criticize me for being “too intense.” I have been told that my intensity negatively affects the perception of statements I make that are otherwise reasonable. I do not feel or perceive that intensity. I have ruminated on why I am perceived that way for many hours and have come up with reasons such as the positioning of my eyebrows or the rate at which I speak. As a result of my nascent quest for self-knowledge I have had to factor in the effect I have upon others when I am confronted by someone who seems antagonistic. Because I know that I have this unintended characteristic, whenever confronted by anger, I invoke a question that I learned from a heroine addicted friend of mine who in turn learned it from AA. I pause and consider what my part in creating this conflict has been. What have I done that has contributed to this state of affairs.

I can only apologize for my own actions, and I am the only person who is under my control. Hoping the other person will change is pointless. So I have three options, try to destroy the other person, avoid them, or I can take the lead by apologizing and starting over.

However this can only be achieved under certain conditions, and so I want to ask Sam and Glenn this question: do you actually believe that the other party is completely insincere? Do you believe that Sam/Glenn is purely motivated by some vainglorious desire for fame, wealth, or status? If so, why is Sam/Glenn doing what they do with their life. Sam/Glenn is smart and would have no doubt been capable of going into finance or some other more remunerative and less intense career. The life of a public intellectual can hardly be described as obviously desirable. Of course there are people who have become part of the media for purely selfish reasons, but both Sam and Glenn have histories that seem to be dispositive of that. Glenn was a constitutional lawyer and Sam a budding neuroscientist. They are both curious and remarkable people.

I want to conclude with an exhortation. I hope both Sam and Glenn consider whether they actually believe the other party has bad intentions. I know that apologizing can be difficult, and that it is more difficult when one is convinced of the truth of their own position. However, if both Sam and Glenn can say of each other that, in spite of their disagreements, they believe the other is sincere in their intentions then I see no reason why they should not try to find a way forward by sharing some blame through a mutual apology. The point of apologizing is not to allocate blame, but to find a way forward. The common ground that can serve as a way forward could be the belief held by each about the other that they are not cynical opportunists. Both Sam and Glenn strike me as thoughtful caring people. I hope they can find the will to try to find a way forward.

 
FSO
 
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03 December 2016 14:50
 

so I want to ask Sam and Glenn this question: do you actually believe that the other party is completely insincere?

I dunno about you but I’d trust Sam with a bottle of Viagra and my girlfriend. He wrote a book on lying. And just the way he carries himself.  I think Sam believes that Glenn is insincere and for good reason. You seem to want to relativize their conflict in the spirit of getting along.  That’s understandable since you are a fan but a judgement needs to be made here. The conflict exists because Glenn sn’t being genuine

 
NL.
 
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03 December 2016 17:20
 

Glenn and Sam seem more like quarreling siblings to me than anything. I think they kinda exacerbate each other’s weak spots. Greenwald, to me, almost (almost… occasionally he descends into true douche-baggery) always has the slightly impish, vaguely tongue-in-cheek attitude of a perspectivist who views the expression of all human opinions, including his own, as a kind of theater, something to be held lightly. Harris on the other hand is a moral realist who not only, I assume, finds this notion somewhat insulting but often seems to see Greenwald as dead serious when I don’t actually think he is. On the flipside, I think Greenwald is more empathic (yes, I know some people would say he’s anything but, but I stand by that statement,) and Sam can get a teeny bit Spock-like and cold utilitarian at times, which I think comes across as cruel to Greenwald (who, despite his love of verbally bashing people, does seem very across-the-board squeamish about seeing anyone being treated really badly in the real world, be they a wealthy politician or a poor villager in another country.) They both seem like “would give you the shirt off their back but also sometimes harsh” kinda people, just with incompatible styles of being harsh.


FSO… wait… what? Like seriously, what, ha ha?! That is like the weirdest new version of “would give you the shirt off their back” that I’ve ever heard!

 
Heterosaucer
 
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05 December 2016 07:25
 
FSO - 03 December 2016 02:50 PM

so I want to ask Sam and Glenn this question: do you actually believe that the other party is completely insincere?

I dunno about you but I’d trust Sam with a bottle of Viagra and my girlfriend. He wrote a book on lying. And just the way he carries himself.  I think Sam believes that Glenn is insincere and for good reason. You seem to want to relativize their conflict in the spirit of getting along.  That’s understandable since you are a fan but a judgement needs to be made here. The conflict exists because Glenn sn’t being genuine

Relativize is a term I am unfamiliar with, but my intention is slightly different. On this issue of shared blame, I don’t feel their is a need to use chicanery to allocate some blame to both Sam and Glenn. I am not sure how much could be fairly allocated to either, but I perceive fault on both sides for this conflict.

Please respond to this question regarding your second point, why do you think Glenn has been disingenuous? I am not trying to be combative, I tend to think he is genuine, but I have a tendency to make mistakes so please share your perspective with me.

 
Heterosaucer
 
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05 December 2016 08:10
 
NL. - 03 December 2016 05:20 PM

Glenn and Sam seem more like quarreling siblings to me than anything. I think they kinda exacerbate each other’s weak spots. Greenwald, to me, almost (almost… occasionally he descends into true douche-baggery) always has the slightly impish, vaguely tongue-in-cheek attitude of a perspectivist who views the expression of all human opinions, including his own, as a kind of theater, something to be held lightly. Harris on the other hand is a moral realist who not only, I assume, finds this notion somewhat insulting but often seems to see Greenwald as dead serious when I don’t actually think he is. On the flipside, I think Greenwald is more empathic (yes, I know some people would say he’s anything but, but I stand by that statement,) and Sam can get a teeny bit Spock-like and cold utilitarian at times, which I think comes across as cruel to Greenwald (who, despite his love of verbally bashing people, does seem very across-the-board squeamish about seeing anyone being treated really badly in the real world, be they a wealthy politician or a poor villager in another country.) They both seem like “would give you the shirt off their back but also sometimes harsh” kinda people, just with incompatible styles of being harsh.


FSO… wait… what? Like seriously, what, ha ha?! That is like the weirdest new version of “would give you the shirt off their back” that I’ve ever heard!

 

Thank you so much for this response. I’d like to start with this line because I think you’ve hit on something that matters,

“They both seem like “would give you the shirt off their back but also sometimes harsh” kinda people, just with incompatible styles of being harsh.”

There’s one word you used in the statement that gives rise to a question in my mind that can provide us with a very useful direction in this inquiry. That word is harsh. I have found that most people who become public intellectuals tend to harden over time for sad reasons.

Noam Chomsky was one the very first people in the Vietnam war movement in the 50s. As a result of his activism, he was almost imprisoned many times, and his wife had to back to school so that if he were arrested she could support their children. Chomsky has also spent his life trying to warn a lot of people about things that concern him, and very few have taken him seriously even though he basically predicted the rise of trump in 2012.

Sam may have been the first liberal to begin criticizing the stances taken by Democrats on our policies and thinking about Islamic terrorism. He is the only liberal who is fighting to prove that democrats need to have a more limited view of who can be included in a free society if that society wants to be free. He is under attack by many in the mainstream for this nuanced view, and rather than giving Sam a chance to explain his argument people like Ben Affleck scream at him and others call him a biggot. In addition to that, Sam has referenced the fact that he has to worry about security concerns because of death threats.

Glenn Greenwald is the archetypal bleeding heart attorney. I know, because I just passed the California bar and I too want to waste my life helping others as a lawyer rather making the big bucks in a “Big” firm. To do this Greenwald, who seems to be a good attorney, had to accept less compensation. Greenwald then helps Edward Snowden. I am sure there was a chance he could have been disbarred for doing this. Since then, Glenn has been fighting, as he is wont to do, for radical transparency rights. I specialized in privacy in law school so I love what he is doing for us in the area of privacy.

I think the reason these men have a sub-conscious tendency towards harshness because they have been under constant threat and because they are constantly attacked for expressing their views. Just look at how people speak on twitter and elsewhere. I think you would have to be a total sociopath to be able to shrug off all of the hostility these guys endure regularly.

I think that there’s a chance that Sam Glenn and Noam have become harsh as a result of the unavoidable conflict that comes from being a public intellectual. They deal with so many hostile people on a regular basis that they begin to struggle with or lose the ability to tell the difference between honest interlocutors who radically disagree with their views and those trolls and irrational mouthbreathers who just want to abuse Greenwald for being a traitor to the country, Harris for being a biggot, and Chomsky for being a subversive anarcho-syndicalist.

 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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05 December 2016 08:59
 

“Subversive anarcho-syndicalist” FTW.

 
 
NL.
 
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05 December 2016 17:39
 

Thoughts:


- Before I say anything else, let me say that, while I love to psychoanalyze and ponder and pontificate, I feel that to be realistic I must throw in that some large part of this is probably just dudes being dudes. I am perpetually caught off guard by the nuances of maleness, but life is always reminding me of this fact. I was waxing poetic not long ago to a volunteer at a barn about what wonderfully peaceable animals horses are, because the males live together in equality, and she was like “Um, only the geldings. Stallions will beat the shit out of each other.” (Then I was like “Screw you Mel Gibson reenactment of Guilliver’s Travels, I feel completely deceived!!”)


- I think Chomsky is just cranky as hell because Chomsky is cranky as hell. I don’t deny he’s been through some rough things in life, but I put him in a somewhat different category that Greenwald and Harris. He seems like on the “thinking-feeling” scale he leans way, waaaaay towards thinking, and is cantankerous about not suffering fools gladly in a world where, by virtue of his IQ, pretty much everyone probably looks like a fool to him, making his basic orientation towards the world a bit churlish. (Chomsky vexes me because on the one hand he triggers a sort of random “lost soul maternal instinct” that makes me feel vaguely doting towards him, on the other I realize he would have no part of that, especially from someone who can’t find the majority of countries in the world on a map, so I am already irritated with [but vaguely protective of] him in an entirely hypothetical way even though I’ve never met him and have no plans to ever meet him.) Also, he kinda reminds me of the guy in “Up”, who made me bawl, so whenever I look at him I’m kinda like “Baaaah, poor Chomsky with the wife and the house and the travel jar and the cub scout or whatever, baaaaah!”.


- I think it’s funny you call Greenwald a “bleeding heart”, because I actually agree (in a positive way, not bleeding heart as in overly or ornamentally sentimental,) but I don’t think most people view him that way, ha ha! I love that he and Harris both have random cute stories involving being nice to dogs in their autobiography - Greenwald pulling over and feeding the groceries he just bought to a pregnant stray, going home, being racked with guilt, then going back and adopting it; Harris literally getting knocked unconscious (if I remember that passage correctly) while defending a dog being harassed by a gang of guys on the street.


- I haven’t read Chomsky’s work so I may be off on this, but I’m a bit skeptical that he predicted Trump - I feel like given the nature of his writings (as I perceive them,) that might be a “stopped clock being right twice a day” thing. Not to say he’s a one-note writer but on that particular point - I mean, it’s kind of like saying conservatives “predicted” it every time there’s a threat to national security or an issue with unions. I mean, maybe, kinda, but given the nature of that model (consistent statistical possibility over time and a group that is consistently talking about it,) I don’t know if “prediction” is quite the way to describe it. I don’t know how specific his predictions were, granted, but if they were something like “We’ll have an uber right wing President”, well yeah, people on the right also say we’ll end up with an uber left wing President all the time.


- Regarding this:


Sam may have been the first liberal to begin criticizing the stances taken by Democrats on our policies and thinking about Islamic terrorism. He is the only liberal who is fighting to prove that democrats need to have a more limited view of who can be included in a free society if that society wants to be free. He is under attack by many in the mainstream for this nuanced view, and rather than giving Sam a chance to explain his argument people like (he who shall not be named) scream at him and others call him a biggot. In addition to that, Sam has referenced the fact that he has to worry about security concerns because of death threats.


He who shall not be named is dead to me. Ok, maybe that’s mean. And Jennifer Garner still likes him enough to let him squat on her lawn or whatever, so, fine, but I am still greatly displeased with him. That aside, I have to say, my first intuition is to be offended when you talk about having a limited view of who can be included in a free society. To my mind we have limits in the form of law, and that’s enough. I disagree when people go to either side of that argument - on the one hand, saying “Law is not enough, there should be some kind of thought policing involved to make sure we hold the same beliefs internally”; on the other saying “Law is too much, it shouldn’t actually be equal across all groups” (this is more an issue in Europe where there are controversies over things like Sharia courts and FGM).


Having said that, I will also say, I just started listening to Will Durant’s “The Lessons of History” and based on what was coming through my cars loudspeakers, I was like OH MY GOD WHAT THE HELL and started Googling to see if Durant was a white supremacist at the next stoplight. He was not considered that at all, it seems- and in fact, as I heard him speak more, I realized he was laying out ideas about race that he essentially disagreed with, but the Overton Window of that time (this was not eons ago, we’re talking late 60s,) meant that he address the merits of white supremacy as an actual academic argument, which was just unthinkable to me (I mean if it was a 100 or 200 year old book maybe, but almost the 70s?). Not to mention he freely used words like ‘stock’ and ‘breed’ and mused about the implications of poor people ‘breeding’ so rapidly while people he considered educated throughout history tended not to (he actually seemed to mean that as a compliment, like “Way to win the long game with fertility!” but still, I was like WHAT IS THIS?!). He also concluded that racial superiority is a bunk idea but thought it might be somewhat healthy in small amounts, a sort of invigorating ego boost to get groups to compete and produce more effectively.


To see how fast intuitions change is stunning - that was just a generation ago, and today I, who could hardly comprehend hearing someone say those things in a serious way, would not even be considered particularly progressive overall. ‘Real’ progressives who talk about cisgender and micro aggressions and the newest, most obscure place you can buy yogurt from (“Oh, Icelandic yogurt. Um, ok 2105 and a few months ago. Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to go eat this Australian yogurt and update my nonbinary gender library app on my iPhone like a real progressive, ‘mkay?) don’t consider me particularly progressive at all. So I get that no matter what one’s gut says, yes, there are a wide range of opinions there - but even saying that, no, I don’t always like where Harris “goes with” some of those conversations. I like him, as a human being, and I think he’s well-intended, which counts for a lot with me, but I understand the differing intuitions that people have in that area because I experience them myself.


- Also regarding harsh criticism - Harris has made some more outlandish statements, like proposing we barge in to other countries and establish ‘benign dictatorships’, which yeah, rates high on the “What the actual fuck?!” scale. Personally I think statements like that are largely outliers from earlier in his career when everyone was still reeling from 9/11 and more fist-shaking angry venting than actual worldview - I would have a different opinion of him if I thought that encompassed his worldview pretty succinctly today, but I don’t think it does. For others, though, they may see those comments as more representative. And yes, I can understand why Muslims would be royally pissed at hearing someone say those things to them, even if, again, I like to think that was just a bit of ranting that happened during an incredibly emotional time. Based on his current writings I assume he no longer holds those views, but I do think he should apologize for statements like that and make it clear that he regrets making such statements.


- I don’t know if I agree with the interpretation that Harris feels we should actually be excluding people - aside from actual criminals - from society, I think he is more of the stance that people should focus on education and a certain degree of normed values. A similar example might be refusing to teach evolution in schools - people who are opposed don’t say we should kick creationists out of the country, but they do make their viewpoint clear and try to engage in outreach - sometimes diplomatically, sometimes not-so-nicely. My sense is that Harris thinks the stance people sometimes take with religion is akin to going “Well, that’s their culture, we shouldn’t be interfering with teaching creationism.” (To avoid confusion on two subtly different topics - I think he has talked about screening for terrorists - although I’m not actually sure what he’s said on that - but I think people are pretty much 100% in agreement that we can’t allow terrorists into the country, the disagreement is more over how to deal with the fact that this is a very, very small subgroup of a much larger group comprised of innocent people [people who are themselves often the victims of these very terrorists]. I think he fully supports the rights of peaceful, law abiding Muslims to live in and immigrate to the US, however.)

[ Edited: 05 December 2016 18:10 by NL.]
 
Heterosaucer
 
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06 December 2016 09:52
 

Wow. I really enjoyed this post. Thank you for taking the time to write all of this out with such digestible organization. Responses and corrections necessitated by my failure to be clear below:

1. I’m sorry for derailing with the psycho analysis. The point of my post was to exhort Sam and Glenn to start thinking about a way to develop the conditions for a rapprochement because the issue they disagree about is very narrow, and I think it would be better to have their voices unite on issues where they agree. As I said, I think they both do pretty good work.

2. “He seems like on the “thinking-feeling” scale he leans way, waaaaay towards thinking, and is cantankerous about not suffering fools gladly in a world where, by virtue of his IQ, pretty much everyone probably looks like a fool to him, making his basic orientation towards the world a bit churlish.”

I couldn’t agree more but I’m glad you said it. I may not have had the guts to say it here. Also, I haven’t heard anyone use the word Churlish other than Christopher Hitchens so thank you for that pleasant surprise.

3. On Greenwald’s bleeding heart, I just graduated from Law School and passed the California bar. If you haven’t done that, it’s probably hard to comprehend what a huge loss you have to choose to take in order to become a Public Interest Lawyer. Glenn (EDIT) worked at a corporate law firm for some time after he graduated after law school, but then he went the public interest route(EDIT). Very few people aren’t cynical after their legal education is complete so I think it’s fair to say that he genuinely cares about making the world a better place. That doesn’t excuse some of his misguided defensiveness, but intentions matter so I think he should be viewed in a balanced way.

4. He didn’t predict Trump specifically, but he said long ago that the type of conditions that were developing in this country would soon create a political environment that would be conducive to electing a demagogue. I was wrong to say he “predicted” Trump. He just foresaw what increasing income inequality would bring, but every political science major learns that income inequality that grows unabated will inevitably cause the collapse of a democracy. Unfortunately we can’t reduce that historical observation into a useful predictive tool yet.

5. I loved your diatribe about Will Durant, I just don’t have anything to say in response. It’s interesting that you brought up the Overton Window concept because it sheds light on something else. If someone put a gun to my head and forced me to describe Chomsky’s political work in one sentence I would say, “He is trying to explain how Overton Windows are imposed on popular thinking by those in power.” ‘

6. On the harsh criticism, I agree. Let me say this though, I would like to believe that when I become a public intellectual (just a matter of time right? right!?) I will be able to keep my calm and never get angry or emotional, but I know that I would lose it and become harsh on occasions so I never take it personally.

7. OK I definitely misspoke on this and you reasonably perceived that I was saying that Sam believes we could exclude people. This was my problem with Sam for awhile before I got over it. I came to Sam as a determinist. I have been wandering around for about 15 years wondering about Determinism since first reading War and Peace. I thought that this whole Islam issue deserved less attention for a lot of reasons. First, I didn’t understand why he felt the need to focus on Islam over other religions. They all seem strange and silly too me, but I slowly decided to accept his point about Islam being a better excuse for violence than Christianity. The second problem I had with this relates to solutions. So we think Islam promotes more violence than other religions and has a view that is antithetical to critical thought. I agree with all of that, but what can we do about that in America?

I can imagine solutions like creating rules that promote cultural integration like no foreign language in school rules and stuff like that. Other than that I don’t perceive many solutions. So I was always wondering how Sam believes his nuanced but justifiable views of Islam could be translated into policy because I cannot see that path clearly.

Again, thank you for the response. To reiterate, I really hope Sam or Glenn put out the olive branch and find a way to work together where they agree.

[ Edited: 06 December 2016 12:26 by Heterosaucer]
 
NL.
 
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06 December 2016 13:49
 

Going with a general thoughts format again as quoting gets messy with longer posts:


- I have no problem with psychoanalyzing people (provided one knows they’re doing it and so doesn’t take it so seriously) - in fact I think a human face is one of the best ways to get people engaged in ideas (probably because of the “social coding advantage”, I think - a social psychologist named David Hamilton, for example, did experiments wherein he found that if you have people read an article and tell the first group to memorize facts, and ask the second group social questions about the author, like “Would this person prefer watching a movie or going hiking?”, the second group will remember more of the article, as our brains are more wired to track social vs. academic information.) So that wasn’t a criticism, just saying I think it’s easy to overanalyze. Also, while I used to share your wish that Greenwald and Harris get along, I’ve had a weird month with some health stuff (for want of a better term) going on, and while I’m ok now, I find this has either given me a new broader perspective or I still have a vague malaise that leaves me mildly disinterested, one or the other I guess. I’m tired and I have other things to think about, and while I am still happy to have my favorite authors to read on an individual basis, suddenly I find I could care less if they get along with each other. They can fight until the end of time if they want.


- I agree that Glenn practices what he preaches (even if I think he can get swept up in dramatics sometimes,) and I like that he is kind of this sweet, third party alternative to individual competitiveness vs. idealism - I guess it’s a brand of humanism, maybe. Sometimes it’s a stray pup and sometimes it’s a stray person who wound up in jail for some reason (I have mixed feelings about some of the people Greenwald has defended, but I’m talking about his general approach, not theirs,) but he often seems vaguely like a harried dad running around after and trying to look out for various wayward sentient beings, ha ha, and I find that endearing. Sam too, of course, but as you specifically mentioned Glenn in your post commenting on him here.


- I don’t think Islam promotes any more violence than any other religion (and, on a greater level, I think most religions are just a subset of ideologies, a specific type of ideology that doesn’t always have to involve a God per se). I shudder to think of what Dark Age era Christians would do if you gave them modern weaponry. I do, however, think that many of the places in the world where Islam is practiced are in something of a different era regarding what mores make sense and are functional for them. I’ll quote what will fit of a Will Durant chapter on morality in my next post - while Durant was a product of his time and says some things that I strongly oppose (he considers homosexuality a sin, for example,) I share his general intuitions on moral codes generally being an effect, and not a cause, of people’s current environment (although I always add the caveat here that there is no doubt some feedback in both directions, but I don’t see religious texts as the primary driver of morality, I see circumstance as the primary driver for a story that is later justified with things like religion.)


- Again, not really familiar with Chomsky’s work, but I, in a horribly cliched fashion, kinda wish he’d get into spirituality. I think he has a tendency to blame alleged nefarious groups for things that are more features of the universe and the equations that dictate large human groups and structures, not the machinations of specific individuals.

[ Edited: 06 December 2016 13:56 by NL.]
 
NL.
 
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06 December 2016 14:04
 

Chapter 6 of The Lessons of History. Again, very dated in some places, but some of the basic themes. Morality as subservient to the needs of a society, more or less, even though this fact tends not to be apparent in the moment) I tend to intuitively agree with. That’s not to say morality doesn’t suffer when it’s based on lack of knowledge, of course, but I think in that case the underlying problem is the lack of knowledge:


Morals are the rules by which a society exhorts (as laws are the rules by which it seeks to compel) its members and associations to behavior consistent with its order, security, and growth. So for sixteen centuries the Jewish enclaves in Christendom maintained their continuity and internal peace by a strict and detailed moral code, almost without help from the state and its laws.

A little knowledge of history stresses the variability of moral codes, and concludes that they are negligible because they differ in time and place, and sometimes contradict each other. A larger knowledge stresses the universality of moral codes, and concludes to their necessity.

Moral codes differ because they adjust themselves to historical and environmental conditions. If we divide economic history into three stages— hunting, agriculture, industry— we may expect that the moral code of one stage will be changed in the next. In the hunting stage a man had to be ready to chase and fight and kill. When he had caught his prey he ate to the cubic capacity of his stomach, being uncertain when he might eat again; insecurity is the mother of greed, as cruelty is the memory— if only in the blood— of a time when the test of survival (as now between states) was the ability to kill. Presumably the death rate in men— so often risking their lives in the hunt— was higher than in women; some men had to take several women, and every man was expected to help women to frequent pregnancy. Pugnacity, brutality, greed, and sexual readiness were advantages in the struggle for existence. Probably every vice was once a virtue— i.e., a quality making for the survival of the individual, the family, or the group. Man’s sins may be the relics of his rise rather than the stigmata of his fall.


History does not tell us just when men passed from hunting to agriculture— perhaps in the Neolithic Age, and through the discovery that grain could be sown to add to the spontaneous growth of wild wheat. We may reasonably assume that the new regime demanded new virtues, and changed some old virtues into vices. Industriousness became more vital than bravery, regularity and thrift more profitable than violence, peace more victorious than war. Children were economic assets; birth control was made immoral. On the farm the family was the unit of production under the discipline of the father and the seasons, and paternal authority had a firm economic base. Each normal son matured soon in mind and self-support; at fifteen he understood the physical tasks of life as well as he would understand them at forty; all that he needed was land, a plow, and a willing arm. So he married early, almost as soon as nature wished; he did not fret long under the restraints placed upon premarital relations by the new order of permanent settlements and homes. As for young women, chastity was indispensable, for its loss might bring unprotected motherhood. Monogamy was demanded by the approximate numerical equality of the sexes. For fifteen hundred years this agricultural moral code of continence, early marriage, divorceless monogamy, and multiple maternity maintained itself in Christian Europe and its white colonies. It was a stern code, which produced some of the strongest characters in history.


Gradually, then rapidly and ever more widely, the Industrial Revolution changed the economic form and moral superstructure of European and American life. Men, women, and children left home and family, authority and unity, to work as individuals, individually paid, in factories built to house not men but machines. Every decade the machines multiplied and became more complex; economic maturity (the capacity to support a family) came later; children no longer were economic assets; marriage was delayed; premarital continence became more difficult to maintain. The city offered every discouragement to marriage, but it provided every stimulus and facility for sex. Women were “emancipated”— i.e., industrialized; and contraceptives enabled them to separate intercourse from pregnancy. The authority of father and mother lost its economic base through the growing individualism of industry. The rebellious youth was no longer constrained by the surveillance of the village; he could hide his sins in the protective anonymity of the city crowd. The progress of science raised the authority of the test tube over that of the crosier; the mechanization of economic production suggested mechanistic materialistic philosophies; education spread religious doubts; morality lost more and more of its supernatural supports. The old agricultural moral code began to die.


In our time, as in the times of Socrates (d. 399 B.C.) and Augustus (d. A.D. 14), war has added to the forces making for moral laxity. After the violence and social disruption of the Peloponnesian War Alcibiades felt free to flout the moral code of his ancestors, and Thrasymachus could announce that might was the only right. After the wars of Marius and Sulla, Caesar and Pompey, Antony and Octavius, “Rome was full of men who had lost their economic footing and their moral stability: soldiers who had tasted adventure and had learned to kill; citizens who had seen their savings consumed in the taxes and inflation caused by war;… women dizzy with freedom, multiplying divorces, abortions, and adulteries…. A shallow sophistication prided itself upon its pessimism and cynicism.” 15 It is almost a picture of European and American cities after two world wars.


History offers some consolation by reminding us that sin has flourished in every age. Even our generation has not yet rivaled the popularity of homosexualism in ancient Greece or Rome or Renaissance Italy. “The humanists wrote about it with a kind of scholarly affection, and Ariosto judged that they were all addicted to it”; Aretino asked the Duke of Mantua to send him an attractive boy. 16 Prostitution has been perennial and universal, from the state-regulated brothels of Assyria17 to the “night clubs” of West-European and American cities today. In the University of Wittenberg in 1544, according to Luther, “the race of girls is getting bold, and run after the fellows into their rooms and chambers and wherever they can, and offer them their free love.” 18 Montaigne tells us that in his time (1533– 92) obscene literature found a ready market; Gibbon’s echo of that summary.


We must remind ourselves again that history as usually written (peccavimus) is quite different from history as usually lived: the historian records the exceptional because it is interesting— because it is exceptional. If all those individuals who had no Boswell had found their numerically proportionate place in the pages of historians we should have a duller but juster view of the past and of man. Behind the red façade of war and politics, misfortune and poverty, adultery and divorce, murder and suicide, were millions of orderly homes, devoted marriages, men and women kindly and affectionate, troubled and happy with children. Even in recorded history we find so many instances of goodness, even of nobility, that we can forgive, though not forget, the sins. The gifts of charity have almost equaled the cruelties of battlefields and jails. How many times, even in our sketchy narratives, we have seen men helping one another— Farinelli providing for the children of Domenico Scarlatti, divers people succoring young Haydn, Conte Litta paying for Johann Christian Bach’s studies at Bologna, Joseph Black advancing money repeatedly to James Watt, Puchberg patiently lending and lending to Mozart. Who will dare to write a history of human goodness?


So we cannot be sure that the moral laxity of our times is a herald of decay rather than a painful or delightful transition between a moral code that has lost its agricultural basis and another that our industrial civilization has yet to forge into social order and normality. Meanwhile history assures us that civilizations decay quite leisurely. For 250 years after moral weakening began in Greece with the Sophists, Hellenic civilization continued to produce masterpieces of literature and art. Roman morals began to “decay” soon after the conquered Greeks passed into Italy (146 B.C.), but Rome continued to have great statesmen, philosophers, poets, and artists until the death of Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 180). Politically Rome was at nadir when Caesar came (60 B.C.); yet it did not quite succumb to the barbarians till A.D. 465. May we take as long to fall as did Imperial Rome!


Perhaps discipline will be restored in our civilization through the military training required by the challenges of war. The freedom of the part varies with the security of the whole; individualism will diminish in America and England as geographical protection ceases. Sexual license may cure itself through its own excess; our unmoored children may live to see order and modesty become fashionable; clothing will be more stimulating than nudity. Meanwhile much of our moral freedom is good: it is pleasant to be relieved of theological terrors, to enjoy without qualm the pleasures that harm neither others nor ourselves, and to feel the tang of the open air upon our liberated flesh.