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jerryking : free_speech   20

Opinion | Useless Knowledge Begets New Horizons
Jan. 3, 2019 | The New York Times | By Bret Stephens, Opinion Columnist.

Fundamental discoveries don’t always have practical uses, but they have soul-saving applications......In October 1939, as Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin were plunging the world into war, an American educational reformer named Abraham Flexner published an essay in Harper’s magazine under the marvelous title, “The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge.”

Noting the way in which the concerns of modern education increasingly turned toward worldly problems and practical vocations, Flexner made a plea for “the cultivation of curiosity” for its own sake.....The marriage of disinterested science and technological wizardry on the farthest-flung adventures of the human race is what John Adams had in mind when he wrote that he had to “study Politicks and War that my sons may have the liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy.” It is among the greatest fulfillments of the American dream.....Typically, we think of the American dream in materialistic terms — a well-paid job; a half-acre lot; children with better opportunities than our own. Or we think of it in political terms, as an ever-expanding domain of ever-greater freedom and equality.

But prosperity, freedom, equality for what? The deep critique of the liberal society is that it refuses on principle to supply an answer: Each of us lives in pursuit of a notion of happiness that is utterly subjective, generally acquisitive and almost inevitably out of reach — what psychologists call the “hedonic treadmill.” Religious cults and authoritarian systems work differently: Purposes are given, answers supplied, questions discouraged or forbidden, and the burdens of individual choice and moral agency are largely lifted. They are dictatorships of meaning.....Flexner’s case for such untrammeled freedom isn’t that it’s a good unto itself. Freedom also produces a lot of garbage. His case is that freedom is the license the roving mind requires to go down any path it chooses and go as far as the paths may lead. This is how fundamental discoveries — a.k.a., “useless knowledge” — are usually made: not so much by hunting for something specific, but by wandering with an interested eye amid the unknown. It’s also how countries attract and cultivate genius — by protecting a space of unlimited intellectual permission, regardless of outcome....All of this, of course, has its ultimate uses — hence the “usefulness” of Flexner’s title. Newton’s third law of motion begets, after 250 years, the age of the rocket; the discovery of the double helix delivers, several decades later, Crispr. It’s also how nations gain or lose greatness. The “reorganized” universities of fascist Italy and Germany had no place for Leo Szilard, Enrico Fermi or Albert Einstein. They became the Allies’ ultimate weapon in World War II.

Which brings us back to New Horizons, Osiris-Rex, InSight and every other piece of gear flying through the heavens at taxpayer expense and piling up data atop our already vast stores of useless knowledge. What are they doing to reduce poverty? Nothing. Environmental degradation? Zippo. The opioid crisis? Still less.

And yet, in being the kind of society that does this kind of thing — that is, the kind that sends probes to the edge of the solar system; underwrites the scientific establishment that knows how to design and deploy these probes; believes in the value of knowledge for its own sake; cultivates habits of truthfulness, openness, collaboration and risk-taking; enlists the public in the experience, and shares the findings with the rest of the world — we also discover the highest use for useless knowledge: Not that it may someday have some life-saving application on earth, though it might, but that it has a soul-saving application in the here and now, reminding us that the human race is not a slave to questions of utility alone.
breakthroughs  Bret_Stephens  broad-based_scientific_enquiry  Colleges_&_Universities  Crispr  curiosity  exploration  expeditions  free_speech  free_will  freedom  fundamental_discoveries  human_race  Joseph_Stalin  knowledge  op-ed  serendipity  soul-enriching  space_exploration  the_American_dream 
january 2019 by jerryking
The Dying Art of Disagreement
SEPT. 24, 2017 | The New York Times | Bret Stephens.

The title of my talk tonight is “The Dying Art of Disagreement.”.......But to say, I disagree; I refuse; you’re wrong; etiam si omnes — ego non — these are the words that define our individuality, give us our freedom, enjoin our tolerance, enlarge our perspectives, seize our attention, energize our progress, make our democracies real, and give hope and courage to oppressed people everywhere. Galileo and Darwin; Mandela, Havel, and Liu Xiaobo; Rosa Parks and Natan Sharansky — such are the ranks of those who disagree......The polarization is geographic.......The polarization is personal........Finally the polarization is electronic and digital, .......What we did was read books that raised serious questions about the human condition, and which invited us to attempt to ask serious questions of our own. Education, in this sense, wasn’t a “teaching” with any fixed lesson. It was an exercise in interrogation.

To listen and understand; to question and disagree; to treat no proposition as sacred and no objection as impious; to be willing to entertain unpopular ideas and cultivate the habits of an open mind ....uChicago showed us something else: that every great idea is really just a spectacular disagreement with some other great idea....to disagree well you must first understand well. You have to read deeply, listen carefully, watch closely. You need to grant your adversary moral respect; give him the intellectual benefit of doubt; have sympathy for his motives and participate empathically with his line of reasoning. And you need to allow for the possibility that you might yet be persuaded of what he has to say........there’s such a thing as private ownership in the public interest, and of fiduciary duties not only to shareholders but also to citizens. Journalism is not just any other business, like trucking or food services. .....But no country can have good government, or a healthy public square, without high-quality journalism — journalism that can distinguish a fact from a belief and again from an opinion; that understands that the purpose of opinion isn’t to depart from facts but to use them as a bridge to a larger idea called “truth”; and that appreciates that truth is a large enough destination that, like Manhattan, it can be reached by many bridges of radically different designs. In other words, journalism that is grounded in facts while abounding in disagreements.

I believe it is still possible — and all the more necessary — for journalism to perform these functions, especially as the other institutions that were meant to do so have fallen short. But that requires proprietors and publishers who understand that their role ought not to be to push a party line, or be a slave to Google hits and Facebook ads, or provide a titillating kind of news entertainment, or help out a president or prime minister who they favor or who’s in trouble.

Their role is to clarify the terms of debate by championing aggressive and objective news reporting, and improve the quality of debate with commentary that opens minds and challenges assumptions rather than merely confirming them.

This is journalism in defense of liberalism, not liberal in the left-wing American or right-wing Australian sense, but liberal in its belief that the individual is more than just an identity, and that free men and women do not need to be protected from discomfiting ideas and unpopular arguments. More than ever, they need to be exposed to them, so that we may revive the arts of disagreement that are the best foundation of intelligent democratic life.
assumptions  Bret_Stephens  civics  Colleges_&_Universities  courage  critical_thinking  dangerous_ideas  demagoguery  difficult_conversations  disagreements  discomforts  dissension  dual-consciousness  free_speech  good_governance  high-quality  identity_politics  journalism  liberalism  open_mind  polarization  the_human_condition  uChicago 
september 2017 by jerryking
Bill Maher Isn’t High on Trump: The State of Free Speech in a New Era - The New York Times
Jim Rutenberg
MEDIATOR JAN. 15, 2017
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Bill_Maher  funnies  Donald_Trump  insularity  free_speech 
january 2017 by jerryking
On campus, it’s good to be bothered by a diversity of ideas - The Globe and Mail
KONRAD YAKABUSKI
The Globe and Mail
Published Monday, Sep. 05, 2016

consider the advice U.S. President Barack Obama gave last spring to the graduating class of Howard University, a historically black college in Washington, D.C.

“Don’t try to shut folks out, don’t try to shut them down, no matter how much you might disagree with them,” Mr. Obama said in May. “There will be times when you shouldn’t compromise your core values, your integrity and you will have the responsibility to speak up in the face of injustice. But listen. Engage. If the other side has a point, learn from them. If they’re wrong, rebut them. Teach them. Beat them on the battlefield of ideas. And you might as well start practising now, because one thing I can guarantee you, you will have to deal with ignorance, hatred, racism, foolishness, trifling folks … at every stage of your life.”

Better yet, students should, in Prof. Levinovitz’s words, see university as a “boot camp, not a hotel.” You’re there to toughen up for real life, not shield yourself from its infuriating injustices, painful conflicts and, yes, even the Donald Trumps of this world. Because they’re everywhere.
Konrad_Yakabuski  Colleges_&_Universities  diversity  ideas  intellectual_exploration  political_correctness  censorship  political_orthodoxy  free_speech  hate_speech  safe_spaces  civility  polarization  intellectual_diversity  disagreements  argumentation  heterogeneity  core_values 
september 2016 by jerryking
Culture of disrespect: What’s the minister’s remedy? - The Globe and Mail
LAWRENCE MARTIN
Special to The Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Jun. 21, 2016

All of my colleagues in the Alberta Legislature deserve respect, including Premier Notley.”

There’s that word “respect” again. It’s everywhere, a lack of it being at the heart of most conflicts.

The social climate is much tamer in Canada than in the United States or in parts of Europe where parties of the far right flourish. But our society has been hit, too.

As Mark Kingwell wrote in The Globe and Mail on Saturday, rationalism is losing ground. Respect for fact, for truth, for evidence is on the wane. They no longer exert their traditional pull. Lose those anchors and what’s next?

As for the chief cause, many point to the unfiltered Internet world, which has given megaphones to the angry and unhinged. They are empowered like never before. The social climate is polarized. Thunder from the fringes silences the stable centre.
disrespect  politics  Lawrence_Martin  remedies  social_climate  rationalism  free_speech  political_satire 
june 2016 by jerryking
We must never censor ourselves for fear of offending the faithful - The Globe and Mail
ELIZABETH RENZETTI
The Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Jan. 16 2015

The New York Times, along with the majority of North American newspapers, did not print the most inflammatory cartoons. The paper’s public editor, Margaret Sullivan, described a difficult decision made by executive editor Dean Baquet: “Ultimately he decided against it, he said, because he had to consider foremost the sensibilities of Times readers, especially its Muslim readers.”

But isn’t that defence not only self-serving, but insulting as well? Infantilizing, even. It assumes that all Muslim readers will react to the cartoons in the same way, as if they are incapable of filtering their opinions through any lens other than religion. A set of beliefs is just that; it is not a hive mind. The religious scholar Reza Aslan was all over television this week, repeating the idea that there is no one “Muslim world” – there are hundreds of millions of individuals who share some of the same beliefs. But not, by any means, all.

Self-censorship is a form of slow suicide for those of us in the news business, and a news outlet that tries to avoid giving offence will soon be printing one page a week
self-censorship  Charlie_Hebdo  hard_choices  identity_politics  religion  Elizabeth_Renzetti  free_speech 
january 2015 by jerryking
I Am Not Charlie Hebdo - NYTimes.com
JAN. 8, 2015 | NYT | David Brooks.

most of us know that provocateurs and other outlandish figures serve useful public roles. Satirists and ridiculers expose our weakness and vanity when we are feeling proud. They puncture the self-puffery of the successful. They level social inequality by bringing the mighty low. When they are effective they help us address our foibles communally, since laughter is one of the ultimate bonding experiences.
David_Brooks  free_speech  speech_codes  Colleges_&_Universities  #JeSuisCharlie  satire  freedom_expression  cartoons  insults 
january 2015 by jerryking
Diversity and Dishonesty - NYTimes.com
APRIL 12, 2014

Continue reading the main story
[Ross Douthat]

both cases illustrate, with their fuzzy rhetoric masking ideological pressure, is a serious moral defect at the heart of elite culture in America.

The defect, crucially, is not this culture’s bias against social conservatives, or its discomfort with stinging attacks on non-Western religions. Rather, it’s the refusal to admit — to others, and to itself — that these biases fundamentally trump the commitment to “free expression” or “diversity” affirmed in mission statements and news releases.

This refusal, this self-deception, means that we have far too many powerful communities (corporate, academic, journalistic) that are simultaneously dogmatic and dishonest about it — that promise diversity but only as the left defines it, that fill their ranks with ideologues and then claim to stand athwart bias and misinformation, that speak the language of pluralism while presiding over communities that resemble the beau ideal of Sandra Y. L. Korn.

Ross Douthat
diversity  freedom_expression  free_speech  Colleges_&_Universities  self-deception  censorship  Ivy_League  Mozilla  Brandeis  controversies  academic_freedom  Ayaan_Hirsi_Ali  discomforts 
april 2014 by jerryking
Gee on Western governments' response to the cartoons | Bill Doskoch: Media, BPS*, Film, Minutiae
Comments on Marcus Gee's commentary, "Oh how the west is grovelling", in the G&M February 15, 2006.
cartoons  Denmark  tolerance  Danish  free_speech  Marcus_Gee 
march 2013 by jerryking
Hamas and democracy
Jul 9, 2007 | The Globe and Mail. Toronto, Ont.: pg. A.12| by
James A. Duthie.

Democracy is much more that winning more votes than the other party, it
also includes the concepts of "loyal opposition" the freedom to
criticize and to suggest alternative policies, and the rule of law.
letters_to_the_editor  Hamas  democracy  howto  rule_of_law  free_speech  loyal_opposition 
april 2009 by jerryking

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