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H-Diplo Commentary 1 on Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress | H-Diplo | H-Net
Reviewed by Nicolas Guilhot, CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) and the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton

The crippling division between the natural sciences and the social sciences is a thing of the past, and economic science is now firmly established on laws that are also those commanding the development of human societies and of nature throughout history.

Science and technology also project their light into the deepest recesses of human nature: while past centuries gave credence to metaphysical speculations about the inner workings of the mind, there is now a true and materialistic science of it.

magic—“something in the nature of technology, particularly information technology, works to decouple human flourishing from the exploration of physical stuff”—but more generally the unidirectional flow of all the trends Pinker claims to map “makes it seem as if there really is a mysterious arc bending toward justice”

Pinker’s proposition that humanity is on its way to solving all the problems that have beset it since the origins of time, thanks to the global diffusion of a set of ideas that, according to him, define the Enlightenment.

any urge to interfere with the course of progress is misconceived,

There is indeed an explanation for progress and it can be captured in one sentence: “The Enlightenment has worked”

the more problematic confusion that undergirds Pinker’s narrative: his vision of what constitutes the Enlightenment is highly idiosyncratic and its connection to the historical record tenuous, to say the least. Pinker takes as intellectual pillars of the Enlightenment elements that emerged later but also, decisively, in reaction to it.

offshoots of the tradition they represent: entropy, evolution, and information.

deliberative reason, which is utterly different and in many ways opposed to the algorithmic rationality of twentieth-century economic theory,

despite paying lip-service to reason and rationalism, Pinker can admit in the same breath that most people are not rational after all

an ideological argument in favor of the status quo and against political alternatives.

It is because we see things through our own limited, cognitively biased perspective,

we should not trust people’s opinions and anything that does not look like a PowerPoint chart.

The only thing that matters is aggregate figures.

its history without historical agents and without power, in which “science,” “reason,” “capitalism” or “industrialism” dispense their benefits to an ungrateful mankind.

the marketplace of ideas will soon be flush with solutions to the problem of securing sufficient food for a growing population while diminishing the impact of agriculture on the environment:

Cognitive psychologists, behavioral geneticists, and neuroscientists could thus help “innumerate” political theorists or impaired literary scholars think better about “human nature,” which is what political theory and literature are about

Like general systems theory in the 1950s or logical positivism in the 1920s, the cognitive sciences are yet another pipe dream of unification of the social and the natural sciences, with the humanities now thrown in for good measure.

Not all important questions can be answered in such terms. Evidence is not always easy to define, nor is it always quantifiable.

Bringing the issues of life and death, war and peace, population and poverty, race and inequality into a PowerPoint-like narrative of universal and linear human progress that dispenses with the complexities of history and politics is meaningless.
critic  book  enlightenment  to:marginnote 
september 2018 by aries1988
Glossary – Isaac Meyer
I’ll be updating this term glossary with relevant terms in alphabetical order and their kanji where appropriate. If I used a term you can’t remember the meaning…
september 2018 by aries1988
The False Allure of Group Selection |

I want to point out a potentially important example of group selection that Pinker overlooks: human languages. The function of language is to build communities and groups, as I have argued in many places. If an individual lacks the ability to talk, he or she will still survive. But a group of Homo sapiens that cannot talk will not be competitive with another group that can.

Dawkins, for instance, opines in the opening pages of The Selfish Gene, "We are survival machines—robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.... a predominant quality to be expected in a successful gene is ruthless selfishness. This gene selfishness will usually give rise to selfishness in individual behavior.... Anything that has evolved by natural selection should be selfish."
gene  debate  evolution  concept  groupe  biology  human  society  to:marginnote 
april 2018 by aries1988



to:marginnote  review  book  history  ming  china  globalization  xvii 
march 2018 by aries1988
The True Believers: Sam Harris
# Instapaper (2017/02/24)
## Added on Saturday, February 24-25

What I’m arguing for in the piece is not to discard either type of explanation but to remember the latter one and take the words of these ISIS people seriously. Even though at various points in the past we’ve ignored political or material causes, this doesn’t mean that ideology plays no role, or that we should ignore the plain meaning of words.

that’s really one of the things that social sciences have triumphed in doing: explaining that within certain boundaries, rationalities lie behind what at first looks like mere craziness or barbarity. Just calling behavior craziness is a trap that a lot of ISIS-watchers have fallen into. If you see members of the Islamic State as thrill-kill nihilists, then you’re not giving them enough credit.

There’s also a deep urge to deny agency to the Islamic State, and I think it’s fundamentally connected to a reluctance to see non-Western people as fully developed and capable of having intelligent beliefs and enough self-knowledge to express them. These people articulate well-thought-out reasons for what they do. And yet ignoring what they say somehow gets camouflaged in the minds of liberals as speaking up for them. It’s delusional.

although the Islamic State wants a civilizational war, of Muslims versus Crusaders, I think they’re consciously avoiding terrorist attacks on Western targets that would provoke too strong a response too soon. If they bombed the Super Bowl, they’d probably be looking at a ground invasion within weeks. They want the invasion, but on their own schedule.

I think we might be in a situation analogous to seeing someone writhing around on the ground in front of us, showing every symptom of having appendicitis. But instead of being surgeons, armed with sterile scalpels, we are just laymen who once read a first aid manual and have no tools other than a rusty soup can. There’s no good option, even though we recognize the problem. The overwhelming probability is that the patient will die a terrible death, and we will have to watch.

it’s abundantly clear that we are not good at massive occupations of countries we poorly understand. Not only that, we just don’t have the appetite for it.

The point of all propaganda is to create narratives about the world. Their view—and the view of jihadis everywhere, really—is that Muslims are under attack by a Crusader West.

confirm their narrative for other Muslims who are already inclined to believe that the West is at war with Islam. That’s not a view I would like to encourage.

The idea is that if we don’t walk on eggshells until the end of history as we fight jihadis, taking great pains to deny any link between the chaos they cause and the doctrine of Islam, then we’re doomed to provoke more-mainstream Muslims into choosing the wrong side in this conflict.

One of the things that is so refreshing about your article is that you didn’t do that. But you now seem to be saying that we must be very careful not to do anything that could give fodder to a “clash of civilizations” narrative.

The Islamic State leader identifies as Salafi, which means that he takes as his sources of authority the Qur’an, the hadīth of the Prophet Muhammad, and the actions of the generations immediately succeeding Muhammad.

The percentage of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims who identify as Salafi—who subscribe to this literalist version of Islam—is quite small, probably single-digit. The percentage of Salafis who would identify as jihadis is vanishingly small. And then, of course, within that population a lot are going to be noncombatants because they’re too old, or too young, or whatever. So we’re still talking about large, but perhaps now manageable, numbers.

The point of bringing up this quietist group is to say that the problem isn’t Islam, or even Islamic literalism. Most literalist Muslims are essentially harmless, or even better than harmless—nice people you would like to have as neighbors. So the specificity of interpretation that leads to the Islamic State is really quite narrow.

What you seem to be expressing is a fear that there could be a mass changing of sides based on some secret sympathy, or some susceptibility to moral confusion, even in the face of the clearest case for a just war that may have ever existed. Whatever the underlying causes of this form of jihadism, at the end of the day we have pure, fanatical, implacable evil vs. basic human sanity.

in the face of the clearest case for a just war that may have ever existed. Whatever the underlying causes of this form of jihadism, at the end of the day we have pure, fanatical, implacable evil vs. basic human sanity.

The Salafi neighbor may not be the neighbor you’d choose, if you could pick from a menu of atheists and liberals and, more generally, people who didn’t care what you thought about god.

there are many religious people whose beliefs about a far-off apocalyptic battle, and mass conversion at the sword, do not affect their lives much at all. People are good at compartmentalizing, and if they weren’t, the world would hardly be livable.

it is a lack of meaning or fulfillment in their lives, related to deep malaise and feelings of rejection or dissatisfaction with the worlds where they live.

If you think the high point of your life in England is going to be eating KFC, the promise of joining the greatest battle the world has ever known might be pretty attractive.

many of us experience such existential concerns early in life.

Where are your scholars?

huge numbers of scholars have been co-opted by politics—either the politics of the Middle East or the politics of the United States.

These differences between the palace scholars and ISIS seem minor, but I would encourage you to see them as significant.

I try studiously not to take a position on which one of these views is correct. I just don’t have any credibility as a non-Muslim to say whether one scholar or another espouses the best form of Islam. However, if I were able to choose what people believed, I’d hope it was the caliphate-later view.

Of course, there are Christians who think about the end times, which are also not envisioned as very pleasant. If you ask them, “Is it happening now?” some of them will say yes. But very few of them will act as if they actually believe it’s happening now. If they’re envisioning a terrible bloodbath at some unimaginably distant time, I can live with that.
illusion  debate  to:marginnote  islam  warrior  middle-east  religion  war  crisis  terrorism  explained  interview  muslim 
february 2017 by aries1988

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