Mark Sundeen looks for a better way to live – Missoula Independent

Mark Sundeen, as his books attest, is a seeker. His novel Car Camping chased enlightenment through travel and came up with comedy. The Making of Toro was a meta (and also pretty comic) quest, identified right there in the subtitle, for the authorial “acclaim he deserves.” The Man Who Quit Money projected his seeking onto another seeker, Daniel Suelo, a man refusing the shackles of currency in an attempt to create a better way to live in the world.

With The Unsettlers, he’s zoomed out from the micro of Suelo’s search and into the encompassing big-picture: What might it mean, and how might it work, to live well?

It’s a timeless question, and it’s also a zeitgeisty one. Why do Trump supporters want to make America great again? Because they don’t think America is very great right now. Why are progressives always complaining about everything? Because progressivism is built on the belief that the-way-things-are can always be improved on. Either way, whichever ideology gives the search shape, it’s self-improvement that we’re ultimately after, and America, from Gatsby to Oprah, has never been short of self-improvement strategies.

And maybe that’s because Americans are so often disappointed. Baked into the idea that the good life requires a search is the premise that the life we’re already livingright here and right nowisn’t it. (Also baked into any quest to “live well” is the privilege implied by the phrase’s second worda privilege Sundeen does well to acknowledge and navigate).

Sundeen blessedly skips the rhetorical bother of building a case or even identifying a cause for the nagging imperfectness of the world, but he convincingly sketches the shadows thrown on human satisfaction by the numbing bombardments of what we’re probably safe in oversimplifying as late-stage capitalism: disconnection from community, dependence on institutional injustice and the commodification of fulfillment.

Ostensibly incited by the compromises and opportunities of a new marriage, and armed with a skeptic’s suspicion that he might harbor room for some self-improvement of his own, Sundeen hits the road in search of anyone who looks like they might have figured it all out.

His thematic roadmap, as his title suggests, is Wendell Berry’s 1978 classic The Unsettling of America. That book made Berry’s agriculture-centric case that the growing cultural distance in America between livelihood and land accompanies and probably causes a whole host of ills (like disconnection from community, dependence on institutional injustice and the commodification of fulfillment). Racism, sexism, addiction, appetite for destructionall, in Berry’s scheme, are part and parcel of the country’s tilt away from Jeffersonian farmdom and toward rootless cosmopolitanism.

That map steers Sundeen toward the landed. First in Missouri, where an idealistic young car-foregoing couple scrapes together enough cash to start the latest in a long American line of intentional communities in flyover country, where water is plentiful, land is cheap, and building codes are lax. Then in Detroit, where an urban farming movement has established itself in the ruins of a gutted industrial powerhouse. And finally in Montana, where Sundeen, a former Missoula resident, turns away from such upstarts to see if anyone has managed to make a good lifewith all its deprivations and difficult choiceslast. He finds that sustained integrity inspoiler alertVictor, where Steve Elliot and Luci Brieger have spent the last 30-plus years building their good life at Lifeline Farm.

If Sundeen’s subjects’ attempts to live in harmony with land connects them, so does the fact that they are, or become, couples. The good life in Sundeen’s sights is clearly built for, if not by, two. This choice of paired characters has the happy effect of making each of Sundeen’s vignettes also a love story of sorts, which provides him a nice prism through which to view his own coming to terms with marriage, after what he presents as a thoroughly bachelorized life beforehand.

It’s probably not giving too much away to note that Sundeen eventually decides that the life of ethical denial and honest toil that drives his characters isn’t really for him, as much as he’s intellectually attracted to the idea. Sundeen’s searching ultimately leads him not back to the land, but to a reaffirmation of his own “practice,” which is research and writingthe acts of creation that brought us this book. There’s even a nice little love story of his own tucked away in the realization. And good thing he recognizes it, too. This fallen world has quite enough wannabe farmers, and long may they thrive. But it’s frankly hard to imagine the bunch of carrots, however lovingly husbanded, that would be more nourishing than the body of work Sundeen is building.

Mark Sundeen reads from The Unsettlers at Shakespeare & Co. Mon., Feb. 27, at 7 PM.

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Mark Sundeen looks for a better way to live – Missoula Independent

The Dark State of Political Correctness – American Spectator

Strange, but in the final editing of my book, which is much concerned with the American conservative movement, I cannot find a single mention of the alt-right. I dont know what the alt-right is, or anyone in it. Perhaps it supplants the New Right which was more aggressive than the Old Right?

Ive never liked the term right; it reinforces the mythology that conservatism is even remotely aligned with fascism and Nazism. Such regimes, in their expansive power, have more in common with the Big Government of so-called progressives. And nationalism is inconclusive; FDR was no shrinking violet, and it was JFK who urged what you can do for your country.

Jake Turx is a correspondent for Brooklyn-based Ami Magazine. The orthodox Jewish reporter is one of many little-known journalists now permitted to participate in White House press briefings and news conferences. This is an affirmative action program hugely disfavored by the mainstream media. Thats because its real diversity.

Heres the background: Over last weekend vandals toppled headstones at the Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery in St. Louis. Recently there were reports of bomb threats to 48 Jewish centers. These reportsprompted Mr. Turx (pen name) to ask President Donald Trump what Turx thought was a friendly softball question about the president addressing anti-Semitism.

In response, it would have been both desirable and appropriate, and expedient, for President Trump to condemn anti-Semitism and racial and religious hatred. He should have done so, then. Instead President Trump called the question repulsive and insulting; but he might have added demeaning. (A) The presidents generic is not to reply to an attack, not yield even one inch to an unacceptable premise. (B) The presidents specific is that associating him in any way with anti-Semitism is outrageous. (C) The president saw the question premised on the political correctness of Jewish victimhood, and the thing Jews in the U.S. are victims of, is political correctness.

President Trump likely (and incorrectly) felt that responding properly would dignify the rap against him and his team and perhaps even be patronizing. He likely wanted to avoid a headline like Trump Denies Anti-Semitism or Trump Finally Condemns Hate. But his rhetorical diversion to the Electoral College convinced conspiracists the president had a sinister agenda. He supposedly did not want to disillusion his presumed anti-Semitic base.

I am the least anti-Semitic person that youve ever seen in your entire life, President Trump responded. His inelegant syntax, Bill Buckley would say, enabled CNN talking heads to conclude, as they did, that if President Trump is the least, then he is somewhat anti-Semitic. That may not qualify as Fake News; it is Fake Analysis.

The controversy has its roots in the relentless character assassination of candidate and now President Trump. First, there was the canard that he is an anti-Semite. That became implausible given, for example, his love for his daughter and his proximity to his son-in-law, both Orthodox Jews who raise Trumps grandchildren in that rigorous observance. In much greater detail I explained this and more to a vitriolic Trump hater who happens to be Jewish; he responded, But some Jews supported Hitler. There seems the inevitable comparison of Trump to Hitler, encouraged by CNN, which keeps replaying that neo-Nazi creep, who has almost no following, chanting Heil Trump.

Candidate Trump might not hate Jews, Trumps detractors said, but Trumps campaign is full of dog whistles because his campaign ads were coded to appeal to anti-Semites. That became implausible since only the liberal Jewish complainers deciphered the code. In reality, the only dog whistle to the anti-Semites is each time President Trump appoints to a major position someone who happens to be Jewish.

But if you accept the premise that Trump and his team are evil, the explanation is always ominous, and that helps explain the reaction on January 27, when the White House issued President Trumps statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The statement inexplicably and inexcusably failed to mention the Jewish victims; it was worse than insensitive. It sounded like Barack Obama; had President Obama issued the same statement, I would have criticized it.

Trumps adversaries had a theory: Presidential Senior Counselor Steve Bannon is a historical revisionist. Allegedly Bannon aligned with the alt-right and its anti-Semites who want to minimize the extermination of Jews.

It turns out the author of the statement was Boris Epshteyn, an assistant to President Trump. Epshteyn was born in in 1982 in Moscow, then in the Soviet Union; in 1993 he emigrated to the U.S. In 1979, when I visited communist-ruled Leningrad (St. Petersburg), the Red hosts insisted on a cemetery commemoration for the quarter of the citys population killed by the Nazis. The communists played down the genocide of Jews. If you visited Auschwitz when the communists controlled Poland, the exhibit and tour guide alluded to the victims Polish opponents of the Nazis, communists, gypsies, and, almost parenthetically, Jews; in fact, Jews were overwhelmingly the carnage at what evolved from a concentration camp into a death camp. After Poland became free of communism, the Auschwitz exhibit and guides properly emphasized that Auschwitz was dedicated overwhelmingly to the annihilation of Jews. In other words, it was the communists the Left that minimized the Holocaust.

Perhaps before 11-year-old Epshteyn emigrated to the U.S., the Soviet education system had inculcated the party line World War II, not the Holocaust. In any case, Boris Epshteyn is no anti-Semitic lackey. Like many Jews from the former Soviet Union, Epshteyn is proud of his Judaism and his political conservatism.

For leftists born into a Jewish family, anti-Semitism is not about people who hate Jews. Its about people that the Jewish leftists hate, notably President Trump and, guilt by association, his advisers.

Rabbi Marvin Heir of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles prayed at the Trump swearing-in. A few days ago a reporter asked Heir about President Trumps failure to condemn anti-Semitism. Rabbi Heir replied that the president would pick the time and place. And so it was yesterday, at the end of a tour of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, that President Trump said the venue showed why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms.

About reports of increased anti-Semitism, he said, The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.

After reporting this, CNN interviewed one Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect. My question to him: Do you think Anne Frank was murdered because of a lack of mutual respect?

Asked on CNN if he was satisfied with Trumps condemnation of anti-Semitism, Goldstein said absolutely not. To prove his good faith, Goldstein emphasized, Trump must fire Steve Bannon, supposedly (and with no evidence) an anti-Semite. Trump used to complain that in repudiating hatred and prejudice, he could never satisfy his critics. And Goldstein proved Trump correct.

So who is Steven Goldstein? Like Boris Epshteyn, Goldstein lived in New Jersey; both started in politics with former Sen. Frank Lautenberg. Thats where the resemblance ends. Goldstein epitomizes the Dark State of philanthropy, using tax-free dollars for political polemics. Goldsteins Anne Frank Center is a progressive voice for social justice, fighting hatred of refugees and immigrants, anti-Semitism, sexism, racism, Islam phobia, homophobia, transphobia Did Goldstein leave anything out? Is the legacy of Anne Frank now reduced to this potpourri of political correctness?

Steven Goldstein reminds me of a variation of a current cartoon. A man says, Women and gays should have no rights. Jews are pigs. Goldstein, gay and Jewish, would likely reply, You must be one of those alt-right creeps behind Donald Trump! The man might respond, No, actually these are my religious beliefs. Im a devout Muslim. And Goldstein, who presumes to judge Trump and demands that Bannon be fired, would likely respond, I apologize. I hope you dont think Im Islamophobic!

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The Dark State of Political Correctness – American Spectator

Jones: It’s not political correctness, just common decency –

Milo Yiannopoulos, now the former senior editor at right-wing Breitbart News after being forced to resign, has finally found the boundaries of free speech.

After President Trump and others fiercely defended Yiannopoulos’ right to speak hatefully about blacks, Muslims, transgender people, and immigrants online and on college campuses, the provocative writer and commentator finally went too far.

In a video released online by the Reagan Battalion, a conservative group, Yiannopoulos condoned sexual relations between men and 13-year-old boys, and joked about Roman Catholic priests and pedophilia. His words not only cost him his job at Breitbart. They also cost him an invitation to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). In addition, Simon & Schuster will not release his book, Dangerous.

In short, Yiannopoulos has been brought low by his own twisted comments.

Which brings me to my point. Limiting one’s hate speech is not “political correctness,” as some would have us believe. No, limiting hate speech is common decency. That’s the price we all should pay for the freedoms we’re afforded. But too many on both sides of the aisle have forgotten that simple truth.

We have become a culture where the kind of outlandish behavior that used to bring swift rebuke can lead to fame and fortune. People like Yiannopoulos, a gay man who should have long ago been censured by his own LGBT community for his verbal attacks on transgenderpeople, was allowed to speak hatefully about everyone who was not like himself. As long as his antics entertained, no one, it seems, had the courage to stop him.

Twitter tried. In a nod to common decency, the social media platform banned Yiannopoulos for his relentless trolling of blacks, Muslims, immigrants, and others. Liberals and some conservatives also raised alarms about Yiannopoulos’ hate-filled commentary.

But as the young writer and commentator ratcheted up his hate speech to levels that prompted protests at universities where he was invited to speak, his fame only grew.

President Trump, via Twitter, threatened to yank federal funding from universities that would not allow Yiannopoulos to appear. Former Brietbart publisher and current White House Chief strategist Steve Bannon, who counted Yiannopoulos among his protgs, was also a staunch defender. Simon & Schuster, a major publisher, rewarded Yiannopoulos’ hate speech with a six-figure book deal.

Then the video from a radio program appeared, and it all came crashing down.

“No, no, no,” Yiannopoulos says on the tape. “You’re misunderstanding what ‘pedophilia’ means. Pedophilia is not a sexual attraction to somebody 13-years-old who is sexually mature. Pedophilia is attraction to children who have not reached puberty.”

In the video, he goes on to call the idea of consent “arbitrary and oppressive” before crediting a Catholic priest with teaching him about sex.

The negative response to Yiannopoulis’ comments was swift and sure, but in my view, they were also hypocritical.

We can’t be a society in which everything that everyone says or does is OK, and then recoil when someone crosses a line no one bothered to define.

We elected a reality-show star as president even after he bragged on tape about grabbing women’s genitals without their permission, called Mexican undocumented immigrants rapists and criminals, and made disparaging comments about blacks, Muslims, immigrants, and refugees.

Now those who were silent during the campaign are up in arms when the president’s executive orders reveal that what he showed us on the campaign trail was real.

But the hypocrisy does not only exist on the right. It exists on the left as well.

We elevate people who appear in sex tapes to stardom and call it shaming if anyone dares to say anything about it. We tell ourselves it’s OK to use one drug and then wonder why we are in the midst of an unwieldy epidemic when it comes to another drug.

We run to airports to defend the rights of refugees, but refuse to condemn police officers who unjustly take the lives of unarmed black and brown people on our streets.

In other words, Milo Yiannopoulos is not an aberration in our society. He is rapidly becoming the norm.

We can’t pretend to be outraged when he pushes beyond boundaries we never set. We can’t now be offended when we laughed at his previous stunts. We can’t condemn his abhorrent behavior when we helped to create him.

We empowered Yiannopoulos by creating a society in which the lines are invisible. Then we pounced on him when he crossed them.

Freedom of speech is not a pass to act without shame, to speak without limits, or to move without consequences, because freedom of speech is not free. It comes with a cost that was perhaps too steep for Milo Yiannopoulos to pay.

It costs us just a bit of common decency.

Trump’s America will be on vivid display at annual conservative gathering Feb 22 – 9:01 AM

Milo Yiannopoulos apologizes for remarks, quits Breitbart Feb 21 – 6:12 PM

Conservative group cancels speech by Yiannopoulos Feb 20 – 9:34 PM

Published: February 22, 2017 9:52 AM EST | Updated: February 22, 2017 11:29 AM EST The Philadelphia Inquirer

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Jones: It’s not political correctness, just common decency –

PREVIEW: ALLELE Neurology and Evolution Lecture – The Crimson While

By Jake Howell | 02/21/2017 10:54pm Jake Stevens / Alabama Crimson White

The “Neural reuse in the evolution and development of the Brain lecture will take placeat 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 23.

Cognition, one of the great mysteries of life, is a debate-riddled topic. Many scientists cannot decide whether it belongs to the discipline of psychology, philosophy, biology, or still other fields, or even a combination of these endeavors.

On Feb. 23, The University of Alabamas ALLELE lectures will continue, featuring Dr. Michael Anderson, a professor of cognitive psychology at Franklin & Marshall College. Dr. Andersons research probes questions about cognitive behavior and its evolution over time. His lecture, which will be in North Lawn Hall at 7:30 p.m., is titled Neural reuse in the evolution and development of the Brain.

WHO: Dr. Michael L. Anderson studies cognitive psychology by integrating the disciplines of psychology, philosophy, computer science, and neuroscience to pursue information about the structural foundation of neural networks.

The lecture is open to all students.

WHAT: Dr. Anderson will give a lecture on his theory of neural reuse, discussing how it could explain evolution of the human brain.

WHEN: The lecture will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 23.

WHERE: The lecture will be held in the North Lawn Hall auditorium.

WHY: Dr. Anderson has been influential in the field of evolutionary cognition, and his 2014 book, After Phrenology: Neural Reuse and the Interactive Brain, was published by the MIT Press. According to the Evolutionary Studies website, the book has been called hugely significant and the ‘best thing written about the brain this century.’

For questions regarding the lecture, e-mail Firat Soylu at

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PREVIEW: ALLELE Neurology and Evolution Lecture – The Crimson While

For Automation to Benefit Society, It Must Serve Humans, Not Replace Them – YES! Magazine

A recent episode of CBC Radios Day 6 featured an interview with David Levy, artificial intelligence expert and author of Love and Sex with Robots. Levy discussed a line of robotic sex dolls to be released in 2017 that can speak and respond to touch. He reaffirmed his 2007 prediction, in his book Love and Sex with Robots, that humans will be marrying robots by 2050. He suggests this will be a step forward.

There are millions of people out there who, for various reasons, dont have anyone to love or anyone who loves them. And for these people, I think robots are going to be the answer, he said.

I suspect that Levy sees this as a lucrative business opportunity for Intelligent Toys, Ltd, a company the article mentions he founded.

The profit potentials of automation are not limited to robot spouses.

Front and center is the issue of jobs. Donald Trump promised to bring back millions of jobs that globalization outsourced at the expense of U.S. workers. According to a 2014 MIT study recently cited by the New York Times, 2 million to 2.4 million jobs have been lost to China alone since 2000. People living in areas of the country most impacted by those job losses suffer long-term unemployment and reduced income for the rest of their lives. They are understandably angry and constitute an important segment of Trumps political base.

But, as former President Barack Obama noted in his farewell address, those jobs are gone forevernot because of globalization, but because of automation. The next wave of economic dislocation wont come from overseas. It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good, middle-class jobs obsolete.

Gartner, an information technology consulting firm, estimated in 2014 that by 2025, a third of current U.S. jobs will be replaced by some form of automation. Indeed, China itself has become a world leader in automation, threatening both Chinese and U.S. workers.

Trump touted United Technologies as his first victory in convincing a corporation to keep a factory in the U.S. But UT has announced plans to use automation to do the jobs it would have moved. So, in the name of saving jobs, Trump is subsidizing with tax breaks their elimination by automation.

We are seeing a flood of predictions in business media from artificial intelligence experts that jobs at risk include pharmacists, cashiers, drivers, astronauts, soldiers, babysitters, elder care workers, sports writers, and news reportersamong others. On Wall Street, the jobs of most floor traders have already been automated, and the jobs of hedge fund managersand stock market analysts may soon be on the chopping block.

These predictions suggest we face the prospect of an economy with little need for humans. As with any technology, however, artificial intelligence is not inherently good or bad. The issue is how we choose to use it and who makes the choice.

The economy is a human creation. The only reason for its existence is to support peopleall people in securing material well-being sufficient for their good health and happiness. For most people, there is no happiness without relationships, a sense of being needed by others, and opportunities to express their creativity. That most always includes some form of work. Thus, while the automation of dirty, dangerous, and boring tasks can be a blessing for humanity, the need for meaningful work remains an imperative.

Our vision of how to deal with the coming workforce disruption must be guided by our common quest to actualize the fullness of our human possibility, not by the quest for corporate profits. The primary decisions regarding how to use artificial intelligence and how to distribute the benefits must be in the hands of self-governing human communities rather than profit-maximizing corporations.

The social isolation of which Levy speaks is realthe product of economic forces that undermine the family and community relationships that for millennia sustained our species and defined our humanity. Our need to relate to one another is foundational to our humanity.

Attempting to meet that need by turning to machines that look, feel, and act like humans would be a further step toward our dehumanization. If we want our children to learn to relate to humans and if we are more comfortable being treated by human doctorsthen let our primary care providers be humans aided by machines as appropriate. But let us not confuse the two. The creation of machines that look, feel, and act like humans should be prohibited. If it looks, feels, and acts like a human, it should be a human.

In our current political climate, everything is up for grabs. This is a timely moment to stretch our imaginations and envision the lives and the society we want. Let us be clear that a world in which we are distracted from our lonelinessby electronic games, animated videos, and robot sex is more appropriate as a horror movie plot than as a desirable vision for society.

Let us strive for an economy in which a primary goal and responsibility of business is to make work meaningful, build relationships of internal and external community, and heal the Earth. A combination of the appropriate use of automation and of worker and community ownership would make this possible. This might be a foundational element of a positive democratic vision for a living Earth economy, around which all people of good will can enthusiastically unite.

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For Automation to Benefit Society, It Must Serve Humans, Not Replace Them – YES! Magazine

‘Sensitivity’ or Self-Censorship? – The Weekly Standard

Here’s an excerpt from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451:

Now let’s take up the minorities in our civilization, shall we? Bigger the population, the more minorities. Don’t step on the toes of the dog-lovers, the cat-lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico. The people in this book, this play, this TV serial are not meant to represent any actual painters, cartographers, mechanics anywhere. The bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy, remember that! Authors, full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did.

There you have it, Montag. It didn’t come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no!

Farhrenheit 451 was published in 1953.

Here’s an excerpt from a Washington Post news story:

Before a book is published and released to the public, it’s passed through the hands (and eyes) of many people: an author’s friends and family, an agent and, of course, an editor.

These days, though, a book may get an additional check from an unusual source: a sensitivity reader, a person who, for a nominal fee, will scan the book for racist, sexist or otherwise offensive content. These readers give feedback based on self-ascribed areas of expertise such as “dealing with terminal illness,” “racial dynamics in Muslim communities within families” or “transgender issues.”

Sensitivity readers have emerged in a climatefueled in part by social mediain which writers are under increased scrutiny for their portrayals of people from marginalized groups, especially when the author is not a part of that group.

The Washington Post article was published in 2017.

As Post reporter Everdeen Mason points out, if you’re an author of best-selling renown whose published works include Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone just for starters, you might think you don’t need to be screened by a sensitivity reader. You’d be wrong:

Last year, for instance, J.K. Rowling was strongly criticized by Native American readers and scholars for her portrayal of Navajo traditions in the 2016 story “History of Magic in North America.” Young-adult author Keira Drake was forced to revise her fantasy novel “The Continent” after an online uproar over its portrayal of people of color and Native backgrounds. More recently, author Veronica Rothof “Divergent” famecame under fire for her new novel, “Carve the Mark.” In addition to being called racist, the book was criticized for its portrayal of chronic pain in its main character.

Furthermore, sensitivity readers aren’t even controversial in the eyes of a surprising number of the media. “What’s not to like?” asks Claire Fallon of the Huffington Post:

There’s really no meaningful difference between the content editing any reputable publisher would offer and sensitivity readingexcept that most agents and editors, to this day, are white, straight, cisgender, able-bodied women. The average editor at a publishing house isn’t personally familiar with the experiences of an American bisexual child of Chinese immigrants, or a black teenager, or a deaf woman. An editor can and will alert their author that an odd coincidence reads as ridiculously contrived, or that a character’s dialogue seems stiff and unrealistic; that’s part of helping a writer hone their craft and polish their book. What, then, if the book’s flaw lies in a cultural detail misrepresented, or a glaringly dated stereotype of a person of color? Unless the editor has more fluency in a given culture than the author, the editing process could skip right over that weakness.

And Slate’s Katy Waldman, although not quite so enthusiastic about the sensitivity industry as Fallon, still thinks it’s a generally good industry to have around:

As a push for diversity in fiction reshapes the publishing landscape, the emergence of sensitivity readers seems almost inevitable. A flowering sense of social conscience, not to mention a strong market incentive, is elevating stories that richly reflect the variety of human experience. Americaspecifically young Americais currently more diverse than ever. As writers attempt to reflect these realities in their fiction, they often must step outside of their intimate knowledge. And in a cultural climate newly attuned to the complexities of representation, many authors face anxiety at the prospect of backlash, especially when social media leaves both book sales and literary reputations more vulnerable than ever to criticism. Enter the sensitivity reader: one more line of defense against writers’ tone-deaf, unthinking mistakes.

Even authors these days seem to see no problem in having to rewrite their books to fit the exquisite sensitivities of sensitivity readers. Waldman mentions one author “who totaled 12 sensitivity reads for her second novel on LGBTQ, black, Korean American, anxiety, obesity, and Jewish representation issues, among others.”

There’s another name for sensitivity screening, of course. It’s called self-censorship. In Fahrenheit 451 some 64 years ago, Ray Bradbury prophesied that ever-increasing authorial sensitivity to the demands of an ever-increasing group of aggrieved minorities would result in books so blandly inoffensive that no one would care about books anymore. And then you’d have actual censorship.

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‘Sensitivity’ or Self-Censorship? – The Weekly Standard

What a 19th-century French aristocrat can teach us about freedom – Vox

We grow up too quickly in some ways and too slowly in others. And so has our country. James Poulos

America is a weird country with a weird history and a weird culture. We live frenzied, fortunate lives and spend most of our time lost in diversion. Were both unfulfilled and unfree, rebellious and conformist.

This is the argument James Poulos, a columnist at the Week and the Federalist, makes in his new book, The Art of Being Free: How Alexis de Tocqueville Can Save Us From Ourselves. Poulos believes that America is exceptionally weird, and he draws on the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville, the French sociologist and historian who traveled to America in the 1830 and wrote Democracy in America, as a way of exploring this weirdness.

Tocqueville considered America a historical oddity, a democratic country without an aristocratic or feudal past. We were a political experiment, held together less by tradition than by an informal constellation of norms and civic associations. This, Tocqueville argued, colored our conception of freedom and democracy; it also produced peculiar pressures and anxieties, which Poulos says persist today.

In this interview, Poulos and I talk about those pressures and anxieties. I ask him why its so difficult to live freely and what the French author of a famous book about America can teach us about freedom.

Tocqueville published the first volume of Democracy in America in 1835 and the second in 1840. Why did he come here? Why did he write this enormous book?

In 1831, Tocqueville is sent to America by the French government to study the American prison system. Tocqueville was a very young, very smart aristocrat. He was interested in the changing social and economic conditions of his time, and in the global movement toward greater democracy and equality.

He saw America as a kind of laboratory of democracy. He sat down with John Quincy Adams a couple of years after his presidency and talked about slavery. He had access to the highest levels of American society. He was also able to go off the beaten path. He got to see America from the bottom up and the top down, and he got to see it through the eyes of an aristocrat that knew aristocracy was finished.

What was his most relevant observation or lesson?

Tocqueville has many lessons for us, but the biggest one is that we are not fully in the democratic age, the age where the equality of conditions, mores, habits, and thought patterns have slowly set in. But we’re no longer in the aristocratic age, the age of great structural inequalities that persisted over centuries and are based in the fabric of life. Things like hereditary wealth, things like noble titles, monarchy, feudal culture, generation after generation of people tied to their land. All the stuff you see in the Old World, a tight, intimate connection between religious institutions and political institutions. All that kind of stuff has passed away into the irretrievable past, but it hasn’t been fully destroyed. Some of these things persisted into our transitional era.

Tocqueville observed that Americans are fortunate to not have an aristocratic past annihilated by a democratic revolution like Europe experienced, which caused a great deal of pain and anxiety. But he thought we had a very different kind of pain and anxiety. We feel the tweens of history. It’s a long tweendom. This is not a brief moment.

As worried as we are that we’re going to get spun out into some dystopia sooner rather than later, Tocqueville’s warning to us is that this is a long period of weirdness as we become what we are as a nation, and theres no escaping from it, and it is going to make us weird and encourage our weirdness.

I understand that Americas uniqueness, culturally and politically, stems from our experimental nature. Were a young country, without the baggage of the Old World, but also very much a work in progress. But what does all of this have to do with the kind of freedom we experience?

The best way to answer that question is to invite people to think about adverbs, the way or manner in which we do what we do. Sometimes freedom, if you think of freedom too much as a noun, it can become an abstract idea, or it can become, as social scientists might say, reified. If you go looking for freedom, it’s like looking for the American dream. You’re not going to turn a corner while you’re walking down the street with your magnifying glass and go, Holy shit, there it is, I found it!

It is a posture and disposition but also a kind of practice that colors your being. I know this sounds quite abstract, and this is why coming to this inquiry with a decent amount of life experience is important, because we can only talk about it so much. There’s this passage early in my book where I mention one of Plato’s dialogues where Socrates says: Yeah, it’s great to write this down and read it, but it’s ultimately like having a conversation with a statue or a painting.

You mentioned this historical tweendom phase a minute ago, but its not clear to me how this manifests in American life today. Your conception of freedom as an activity rather than a condition is apparent enough. What remains somewhat vague is how the peculiar character and history of America shapes or constrains our efforts to live freely right now, in this moment.

We grow up too quickly in some ways and too slowly in others. And so has our country. Look at the way Europeans tend to see us in a bad mood as reckless, undereducated babies driving the future without a license. We left the aristocratic age first, and without any real trauma. But because of that, we’ve been able to stretch out our transition to the full-blown democratic age. We’re truants from the logic of history as the Old World knows it.

In some ways, that opens up huge new vistas of chill and leisure only stylishly laced with brooding affectation. In other ways, though, it creates spaces where this crushing confusion and dislocation and emotional vertigo floods in. Sounds a lot like being a tween morphing into a teenager, or a teenager with unresolved tween issues morphing into a 20-something with unresolved teenage issues.

And how does this emotional and historical vertigo bleed into our culture? How does it influence our view of money, religion, success?

With money, we develop this insanely weird notion that we deserve to make a decent living pursuing coming-of-age quests to discover our true identity in our true calling. We get trapped in that, yet we persist.

And that dilemma suffuses our sex lives and our love lives, which are largely shaped by the historically weird idea that romantic unions only last as long as neither partner’s identity drama seems to diminish the other’s. Another trap. No wonder we see teenage infatuation and youth! the Katy Perry way, as a precious get-out-of-psychic-jail card you can only play once when you get one.

It makes us all the more deeply weird and awkward about death, which calls us to attend maturely to mortality in a way that’s apt to cripple us in what we feel are already heroically against-the-odds quests for what we fear is more significance than we deserve. Trap number three.

No wonder our sense of religion is so weird too, then, right? Ours is not a cathedral civilization. It’s folding chairs and bad coffee. It’s revival meetings in strip malls. The people with the biggest temples, the Mormons, have the “craziest” Christianity.

Tocqueville suspected we’d run ourselves ragged a fourth, paradoxical trap without a deeper, slower, more universal religious experience. He guessed all future Americans would either be secular or Catholic. But then he said the genius of Christianity was it offered the simple vision of equal souls loving God and loving their neighbors. If we help one another stay free of the traps we set for ourselves, there’s a lot of room for wonderful weirdness in religion and well beyond.

That last point about Christianity reminded of something else that interested me in the book, which is this paradoxical notion that individual freedom depends upon others. Living freely, you seem to suggest, means escaping from the prison of selfhood.

I think almost all of us are experienced enough to know that when you’re excessively inward-facing or excessively outward-facing, it tends to not go very well.

There’s a middle zone, a sweet spot, where we are pulled out of the solitude of our hearts, where bitterness and envy and rancor and self-flattery lives. But we’re not propelled too far into the madness of the world. In that sweet spot resides true friendships, and not like the Facebook friends who you went to high school with, whose baby pics you occasionally like. The sweet spot is the zone of true friendship, and it’s a site where being freely can appear for you in your life.

I think the more we sit with that idea, the more we discover that being freely is something we can do sometimes on our own, but we can’t do it only on our own. We need to do it together.

So freedom, in order to be fully exercised, needs to be recognized as such by other people?

I’d put it this way: If you look into someone’s eyes for any extensive period of time, and they look into yours, you’ll pretty quickly discover that the self is kind of a construct, and whatever your you-ness is, it shows up more for you outside of you than inside of you in real life.

If you’re Descartes and you shutter yourself up in your house and you’re a genius, then you can convince yourself it’s some sort of thing that lives inside of your brain. But if you’re not a mad genius shuttering yourself up in this house, what you’ll discover is that your being is outside of your form. And that is how it can be that we’re relational beings and how it can be that we have relationships and how it can be that we feel so close to other people.

Tocqueville says the heart can only be enlarged by the reciprocal effect of one of us on the other. That’s not just a clever turn of phrase. I think that’s a statement about our nature as human beings, a fixed point that often feels like a world that has lost its rudder.

Its hard to talk about freedom without also talking about conformity. One of the things that Tocqueville noticed about America is that despite our expansive freedom, the pressures to conform were overwhelming. This was both a good and a bad thing, but also a quintessentially American thing.

Competitive conformity is real, and it’s especially real here. But Tocqueville saw the general phenomenon going global, to the many places where the protective and redemptive qualities furnished by our unique American character weren’t present.

Peter Thiel talks about “the convergence of desire” any exclusive nightclub around the world is basically the same experience, same drinks, same songs, same fashion, same goals. We Americans are particularly advanced in our experience of the complex of conformity. But the pressure to conform is becoming less distinctive as a rule, which makes us more indifferent to our fate as individuals in some ways and more anxious about it in other ways.

Do you think most Americans live in a kind of self-imposed unfreedom?

Surely most of us would wind up saying something like this about ourselves in a safe enough space to speak vulnerably. This is the root of the grievance culture this stricken cry of, “You can’t expect me to do X or Y, my hands are tied, my constraints are beyond my agency.” It crosses all political categories.

Which is why we’re not even trying to persuade those who disagree with us anymore. It’s just, “Shut up, it’s my turn at the mic, it’s my turn to be the world.”

What undergirds this obsession with attention or gratification?

I think beneath the sound and fury and the mic grabbing and mic dropping is a profound and crushing sense of true guilt. That despite how poorly we feel we were prepared for the trappings of the world we were thrown into, it’s ultimately on us to deal with it, and we’re failing; we can’t hack it. We know in experience what Tocqueville saw so seemingly long ago, that we’re increasingly isolated and thrown back on our own resources, shut up in our weeping hearts, and we blame ourselves, and we want absolution.

We don’t want to expose ourselves to others as we are and be thrown back by that inexorable wall of indifference. I wrote The Art of Being Free because I couldn’t figure out any better shot for right now at helping us crack that fear and crack that indifference.

Whats the closing message of this book? Whats the truth you want the reader to confront?

That’s a great question. I want the reader to confront the truth that being human is good news. But its also hard to be human, and in some ways its even harder to be an American. I know it sounds strange, because there are many people around the world who are in much, much worse situations than nearly all Americans. But being American involves being constantly exposed around the clock to new kinds of dilemmas and challenges and struggles. It’s hard on the mind, and it can wear away the soul as well.

We need to forgive ourselves for that, because if we dont forgive ourselves, were screwed. I think we have to rediscover the art of forbearance in order to get some traction on the art of being free. We have to look at each other and recognize that we are in a hard predicament, and in so doing, we also need to understand that it’s okay. Our longings and our dreams are always going to be bigger than our little lives can satisfy. That melancholy cannot be expunged from human life. There will be tears. Sometimes there will be tears of joy, and sometimes there will be tears of great disappointment.

Nevertheless, it’s still good to be human. It’s still good enough. We don’t need to become subhuman. We don’t need to become trans-human. If we go looking for technology to fix us or make us free, we will get burned. We have to reckon with our humanity and reconcile ourselves to our humanity and we have to understand that although identity is important, who we are is important, the most important thing about who we are is that we’re human. Even more important than who we are is how we are, because it’s on us to choose how we are. I think if we focus on those things, life is manifestly worth living.

So much of life today conspires to make us less free, less alive, less happy, more self-conscious, less other-oriented. But maybe it’s always been that way. Maybe it’s not new.

It’s probably always been that way, but the noise is piling up all around us. The internet has not particularly helped us in this way. The mid-20th-century German philosopher Martin Heidegger refers to this as the thrownness of the world, the frantic way we fill up the world in order to compensate for what sometimes feels like a yawning emptiness within. That is a problem because the alternatives can lead us down a very dark road. Heidegger was definitely right about how bad it is to try and fill up the world.

Heidegger was certainly right that our instinct is to shrink from our own being, from our own freedom, and just give ourselves over to the crowd, to the they-self, as he called it.

Tocqueville is aware of that too. At the end of a chapter on religion in America and why Americans are so religious, he says that you almost get the impression in America that religion is so strong because it’s so popular, not because of some other reason. It’s kind of a backhanded compliment. But on the other hand, it raises the question of what happens when the public’s mood changes? What happens when there’s some other shiny object that offers us a false escape from the hell of selfhood? I don’t think the answers to that question give us much to be excited about.

There are all kinds of problems with the way organized religion has interfaced with politics, and doctrinal ideology tempts us to give up reconciling ourselves to the weirdness of life. Comprehensive doctrines create the illusion that we can just disappear into a way of life and not have to play the game.

And yet here we are, playing the game of selfhood and freedom, without the balm of a unifying religion and under the sway of a shallow but pervasive culture.

Well, it’s ultimately in our hands now. It’s not going to be politics that saves us. It’s not going to be science that saves us. It’s not going to be one particular church that saves us. We are going to continue to be stuck in this milieu, and we have to reckon with that.

Originally posted here:

What a 19th-century French aristocrat can teach us about freedom – Vox

The true story behind the Marie Stopes eugenics trial of 1923 – Catholic World Report

In the 1920s, a legal victory against the rising eugenic tide was won by a Catholic doctor over prominent birth control advocate Marie Stopes. While Stopes is lauded today at a feminist hero, the story of the eugenics libel trial has been largely overlooked.

Marie Stopes in her laboratory in 1904. (Image via Wikipedia)

In 1923 in Britain, a Catholic doctor won an important victory in the battle against one of the most harmful ideologies of the 20th century: eugenics. The battle was fought in the law courts when British birth control advocate Marie Stopes sued Dr. Halliday Sutherland for libel.

Had Sutherland lost the case, opposition to eugenics in Britain would have suffered a blow, and would possibly have been silenced altogether. Sutherlands success was in large part because he was supported by the most consistently vociferous critic of eugenics in Britain at that time: the Catholic Church. But having won the legal battle, Sutherland subsequently lost the history war when the narrative of the losing side became the received history.

It is time to correct the record and, whats more, demonstrate why it matters today. Recent developments in biotechnology mean that eugenics is back. The issues in Stopes v. Sutherland are still relevant today and, when the centenaries of past events are commemorated in the next few years, it is essential that the correct narrative is used to influence the contemporary debate.

The centenary in 2023 of the Stopes v. Sutherland trial will be an opportunity to challenge the falsehoods of the last 100 years. Catholics can reflect on the Churchs record of standing up for ordinary people against the master plan of the elites. Remembering these events will help to educate and inspire those who will take up the cause in the contemporary debate.

Fake histories are warehouses to store fake news.

Theres lots of fake news around these days, isnt there? This article is about one of the sources of fake newsfake history.

Heres an example from the BBCs online biography of Marie Stopes:

In 1921, Stopes opened a family planning clinic in Holloway, north London, the first in the country. It offered a free service to married women and also gathered data about contraception. In 1925, the clinic moved to central London and others opened across the country. By 1930, other family planning organisations had been set up and they joined forces with Stopes to form the National Birth Control Council (later the Family Planning Association).

The Catholic church was Stopes fiercest critic. In 1923, Stopes sued Catholic doctor Halliday Sutherland for libel. She lost, won at appeal and then lost again in the House of Lords, but the case generated huge publicity for Stopes views.

Stopes continued to campaign for women to have better access to birth control

A second example of fake history is a 2015 press release from Marie Stopes International celebrating the 90th anniversary of the establishment of Stopes second London clinic:

90 years ago a woman called Marie Stopes made an extraordinary decision. She would open a service in the heart of London that offered women access to free contraception. In 1925, three years before women would win the right to vote, Marie Stopes bucked convention by showing women they had a choice regarding whether and when to have children.

On what grounds do I say that these items are fake? In my opinion, they are fake because of what they leave out.

There is no mention of Stopes eugenic agenda or of her intention to achieve, in her own words, a reduction of the birth rate at the wrong part and increase of the birth rate at the right end of the social scale.

No mention of her view that, as she put it in 1924:

From the point of view of the economics of the nation, it is racial madness to rifle the pockets of the thrifty and intelligent who are struggling to do their best for their own families of one and two and squander the money on low grade mental deficients, the spawn of drunkards, the puny families of women so feckless and deadened that they apathetically breed like rabbits.

No mention was made that she advocated the compulsorily sterilization of the unfit, nor of her lobbying the British Prime Minister and the Parliament to pass the appropriate legislation.

No mention of the vituperative language she used to describe those whom she desired to see sterilized: hopelessly bad cases, bad through inherent disease, or drunkenness or character wastrels, the diseasedthe miserable [and] the criminaldegenerate, feeble minded and unbalancedparasites.

No mention is made of the bedrock tenets of the Society for Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress, set up by Stopes to run her clinics: to furnish security from conception to those who are racially diseased, already overburdened with children, or in any specific way unfitted for parenthood.

No reasons were given as to why the doctor opposed her. Dr. Sutherland opposed Stopes because he opposed eugenics. His opposition began many years before, when he was nominally a Presbyterian and in practice an atheist.

No mention was made of the fact that Dr. Sutherland specialized in tuberculosis, an infective disease of poverty. This fact is key, because it brought him into direct conflict with eugenicists (more commonly known at the time as eugenists). Eugenists believed that susceptibility to tuberculosis was primarily an inherited condition, so their cure was to breed out the tuberculous types. While Sutherland and others were trying to prevent and cure tuberculosis, influential eugenists believed their efforts were a waste of time. Furthermore, these eugenists thought tuberculosis was a friend of the race because it was a natural check on the unfit, killing them before they could reproduce.

Of course, both the BBC biography and the press release are brief summaries and, as such, cannot include all of the details that I have outlined. But thats not the point. The point is that neither item properly summarizes the issues. The excision of Stopes eugenic agenda makes her a secular saint. How could anyone oppose her in good conscience?

And thats the question that brought me to where I am now. As a grandson of Dr. Sutherland, I often wondered why he opposed her, because I used to believe the fake version of this story myself. No onefamily or otherwisetold me differently. Following many hours of research, including the examination of Dr. Sutherlands personal papers, I now know a different version of events.

Halliday Gibson Sutherland was born in 1882, and was educated at Glasgow High School and Merchiston Castle School, Edinburgh. He studied medicine at Edinburgh and Aberdeen, and he graduated in 1908. At that time, he came under the influence of Robert Philip, who pioneered modern anti-tuberculosis treatments.

Tuberculosis was responsible for one-ninth of the total death-rate in Britain at the time. Tuberculosis killed over 70,000 victims, and disabled at least 150,000 more each year. Given that the disease often killed the bread-winner of a family, it was the direct cause of one-eleventh of the pauperism in England and Wales, a charge on the State of one million sterling per annum, Sutherland wrote in 1911.

In 1910, Sutherland was appointed the Medical Officer for the St. Marylebone Dispensary for the Prevention of Tuberculosis. In 1911, he edited and contributed to a book on tuberculosis by international experts.

Sutherlands religious journey is pertinent to this story. He was baptized a Presbyterian. In August 1904, at the age of 22, he was in theory an agnostic and in practice an atheist, he would later write. Ten years later, there came the hazards of war, and for me the time had come when it was expedient to make my peace with God. At that point he was admitted to the Church of Scotland. He became a Catholic in 1919.

Also relevant to this story is the falling birth rate, and two groups which had strong views about population.

Britains birth rate increased from 1800 onwards. In 1876, it peaked at 36.3 per thousand, and began to fall. By the end of 1901 it had fallen 21 percent, and by nearly 34 percent by 1914.

Not everyone was worried about the fall in birth-rate; one group in particular, the Malthusians, welcomed the fall.

It was T.R. Malthus (1766-1834) who had observed: The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man.

He drew up his natural law, that when the population increased beyond subsistence, the resulting competition for resources would lead to conflict, famine, and disease. Sexual abstinence was the way to keep the population at manageable levels. In the period of the Stopes v. Sutherland libel trial, the term Neo-Malthusian was used to differentiate Malthusians who advocated the use of contraceptives instead of abstinence.

Another group keenly interested in population were the eugenists. The word eugenics was coined by Sir Francis Galton, cousin of the naturalist Charles Darwin. But while the word was new, the idea was not; G.K. Chesterton described it as one of the most ancient follies of the earth.

In the decades before the Stopes v. Sutherland libel trial, eugenists were concerned about the differential birth rate, so-called because the poor were producing more children than the rich. Given that British eugenists used social class as a proxy for a persons racial fitness, it was clear that the worst stocks would be the progenitors of Britains future population. For this reason, British eugenists fretted about degeneration and race suicide.

While there was rivalry between the Malthusian League and the Eugenics Education Society, and they differed strongly over the use of contraceptives, both groups agreed that in relation to population, quality mattered. The areas of overlap meant that some people were members of both the League and the Society. One such person was Marie Stopes.

The reader of this article might assume that doctors cure diseases; this, however, was not always a pressing concern for some influential minds in medicine and science at the beginning of the 20th century, particularly in relation to tuberculosis.

Sir James Barr, president of the British Medical Association (BMA), provides an excellent example of the attitude of many of those in the medical establishment of the time. At the BMAs annual conference in Liverpool in 1912, Barr was explicit that moral and physical degenerates should not be allowed to take any part in adding to the race. He then he turned his attention to tuberculosis:

If we could only abolish the tubercle bacillus in these islands we would get rid of tuberculous disease, but we should at the same time raise up a race peculiarly susceptible to this infectiona race of hothouse plants which would not flourish in any other environment. Nature, on the other hand, weeds out those who have not got the innate power of recovery from disease, and by means of the tubercle bacillus and other pathogenic organisms she frequently does this before the reproductive age, so that a check is put on the multiplication of idiots and the feeble-minded. Natures methods are thus of advantage to the race rather than to the individual.

Sutherlands opposition to this mindset and to eugenics can be traced to the article The Soil and the Seed in Tuberculosis, published in the British Medical Journal on November 23, 1912. In it, he recognised that doctors had traditionally believed in an inherited disposition to tuberculosis, and admitted that he had been one of them. Now he had changed his mind.

Sutherland again spoke out against eugenics on September 4, 1917, when he addressed the National Council of the YMCA. He rebutted the notion that consumption was hereditary, and he attacked the eugenists:

But why should you set out to prevent this infection and to cure the disease? There are some self-styled eugenistswho declaim that the prevention of disease is not in itself a good thing. They say the efficiency of the State is based upon what they call the survival of the fittest. [World War I] has smashed their rhetorical phrase. Who talks now about survival of the fittest, or thinks himself fit because he survives? I dont know what they mean. I do know that in preventing disease you are not preserving the weak, but conserving the strong.

His disagreement with eugenists, previously on medical and scientific grounds, was now on ethical and moral grounds as well.

In March 1918, Marie Stopes book Married Love was published, became a bestseller, and made her a celebrity. According to biographer June Rose:

Marie had written Married Love for women like herself, educated middle-class wives who had been left ignorant of the physical side of marriage. Her tone in her book and in the letters of advice sent to readers implied that they shared a community of interests and of income. She had no particular interest in the lower classes and in Wise Parenthood had written censoriously of the less thrifty and conscientious who bred rapidly and produced children weakened and handicapped by physical as well as mental warping and weakness. The lower classes were, she wrote in a letter to the Leicester Daily Post, often thriftless, illiterate and careless.

It was in her other books that the eugenic agenda was more clearly expressed. In Radiant Motherhood, she urged the compulsory sterilization of wastrels, the diseasedthe miserablethe criminal.

Stopes and her husband opened the Mothers Clinic in Marlborough Road, Holloway on March 17, 1921. She established the Society for Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress to run the clinic. She engaged eminent people as vice-presidents of her society, including Bertrand Russell, H.G. Wells, John Maynard Keynes, and Sir James Barr.

Birth Control

On July 7, 1921, Sutherland attended a talk at the Medico-Legal Society by Dr. Louise McIlroy, professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and first female professor at the Royal Free Hospital. In the discussion that followed her presentation, McIlroy addressed the negative physical effects of contraceptives. Sutherland, by this time a Catholic, wrote an article in which he observed that the medical profession now concurred with Catholic doctrine. The editor of The Month, in which the article appeared, suggested that he develop it into a book.

Sutherland wrote Birth Control: A Statement of Christian Doctrine Against the Neo-Malthusians. Despite the title, the book was very political and it described Malthusianism as an attack on the poor. It was a polemic for the fair treatment of the poor, and for an equitable structure in society to share the abundance of wealth. His conclusion foreshadows the demographic problems that developed nations face today:

The Catholic Church has never taught that an avalanche of children should be brought into the world regardless of the consequences. God is not mocked; as men sow, so shall they reap, and against a law of nature both the transient amelioration wrought by philanthropists and the subtle expediences of scientific politicians are alike futile. If our civilisation is to survive we must abandon those ideals that lead to decline.

In Birth Control, under the heading Exposing the Poor to Experiment, Sutherland wrote:

But, owing to their poverty, lack of learning, and helplessness, the poor are natural victims of those who seek to make experiments on their fellows. In the midst of a London slum a woman, who is a doctor of German philosophy (Munich), has opened a Birth Control Clinic, where working women are instructed in a method of contraception described by Professor McIlroy as the most harmful method of which I have had experience. When we remember that millions are being spent by the Ministry of Health and by Local Authoritieson pure milk for necessitous expectant and nursing mothers before and after childbirth, for the provision of skilled midwives, and on Infant Welfare Centresall for the single purpose of bringing healthy children into our midst, it is truly amazing this monstrous campaign of birth control should be tolerated by the Home Secretary.

Shortly after the book was published on March 27, 1922, Humphrey Roe, Stopes husband, wrote to Sutherland inviting him to publicly debate his wife. Sutherland did not respond to the letter, and a month later, he received a writ for libel.

Part II of this story will be published at CWR next week.

Read the original post:

The true story behind the Marie Stopes eugenics trial of 1923 – Catholic World Report

The Magical Rationalism of Elon Musk and the Prophets of AI – New York Magazine

Photo: Justin Chin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

One morning in the summer of 2015, I sat in a featureless office in Berkeley as a young computer programmer walked me through how he intended to save the world. The world needed saving, he insisted, not from climate change or from the rise of the far right, or the treacherous instability of global capitalism but from the advent of artificial superintelligence, which would almost certainly wipe humanity from the face of the earth unless certain preventative measures were put in place by a very small number of dedicated specialists such as himself, who alone understood the scale of the danger and the course of action necessary to protect against it.

This intense and deeply serious young programmer was Nate Soares, the executive director of MIRI (Machine Intelligence Research Institute), a nonprofit organization dedicated to the safe which is to say, non-humanity-obliterating development of artificial intelligence. As I listened to him speak, and as I struggled (and failed) to follow the algebraic abstractions he was scrawling on a whiteboard in illustration of his preferred doomsday scenario, I was suddenly hit by the full force of a paradox: The austere and inflexible rationalism of this mans worldview had led him into a grand and methodically reasoned absurdity.

In researching and reporting my book, To Be a Machine, I had spent much of the previous 18 months among the adherents of the transhumanist movement, a broad church comprising life-extension advocates, cryonicists, would-be cyborgs, Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs, neuroscientists looking to convert the human brain into code, and so forth all of whom were entirely convinced that science and technology would allow us to transcend the human condition. With many of these transhumanists (the vast majority of whom, it bears mentioning, were men), I had experienced some version of this weird cognitive dissonance, this apprehension of a logic-unto-madness. I had come across it so frequently, in fact, that I wound up giving it a name: magical rationalism.

The key thing about magical rationalism is that its approach to a given question always seems, and in most meaningful respects is, perfectly logical. To take our current example, the argument about AI posing an existential risk to our species seems, on one level, quite compelling. The basic gist is this: If and when we develop human-level artificial intelligence, its only a matter of time until this AI, by creating smarter and smarter iterations of itself, gives rise to a machine whose intelligence is as superior to our own as our intelligence currently is to that of other animal species. (Lets leave the cephalopods out of this for the moment, because who knows what the hell is going on with those guys.) Computers being what they are, though, theres a nontrivial risk of this superintelligent AI taking the commands its issued far too literally. You tell it, for instance, to eliminate cancer once and for all, and it takes the shortest and most logical route to that end by wiping out all life-forms in which abnormal cell division might potentially occur. (An example of the cure-worse-than-the-disease scenario so perfect that you would not survive long enough to appreciate its perfection.) As far as I can see, theres nothing about this scenario that is anything but logically sound, and yet here we are, taken to a place that most of us will agree feels deeply and intuitively batshit. (The obvious counterargument to this, of course, is that just because something feels intuitively batshit doesnt mean that its not going to happen. Its worth bearing in mind that the history of science is replete with examples of this principle.)

Magical rationalism arises out of a quasi-religious worldview, in which reason takes the place of the godhead, and whereby all of our human problems are soluble by means of its application. The power of rationalism, manifested in the form of technology the word made silicon has the potential to deliver us from all evils, up to and including death itself. This spiritual dimension is most clearly visible in the techno-millenarianism of the Singularity: the point on the near horizon of our future at which human beings will finally and irrevocably merge with technology, to become uploaded minds, disembodied beings of pure and immutable thought. (Nate Soares, in common with many of those working to eliminate the existential threat posed by AI, viewed this as the best-case scenario for the future, as the kingdom of heaven that would be ours if we could only avoid the annihilation of our species by AI. I myself found it hard to conceive of as anything other than a vision of deepest hell.)

In his book The Singularity is Near, Ray Kurzweil, a futurist and director of engineering at Google, lays out the specifics of this post-human afterlife. The Singularity, he writes, will allow us to transcend these limitations of our biological bodies and brains. We will gain power over our fates. Our mortality will be in our hands. We will be able to live as long as we want (a subtly different statement from saying we will live forever). We will fully understand human thinking and will vastly extend and expand its reach. By the end of this century, the nonbiological portion of our intelligence will be trillions of times more powerful than unaided human intelligence. This is magical rationalism in its purest form: It arises out of the same human terrors and desires as the major religions the terror of death, the desire to transcend it and proceeds toward the same kinds of visionary mythologizing.

This particular Singularitarian strain of magical rationalism could be glimpsed in Elon Musks widely reported recent comments at a conference in Dubai. Humans, he insisted, would need to merge with machines in order to avoid becoming obsolete. Its mostly about the bandwidth, he explained; computers were capable of processing information at a trillion bits per second, while we humans could input data into our devices at a mere ten bits per second, or thereabouts. From the point of view of narrow rationalism, Musks argument was sort of compelling if computers are going to beat us at our own game, wed better find ways to join them but it only really made sense if you thought of a human being as a kind of computer to begin with. (Were computers; were just rubbish at computing compared to actual computers these days.)

While writing To Be a Machine, I kept finding myself thinking about Flann OBriens surreal comic masterpiece The Third Policeman, in which everyone is unhealthily obsessed with bicycles, and men who spend too much time on their bicycles wind up themselves becoming bicycles via some kind of mysterious process of molecular transfer. Transhumanism a world as overwhelmingly male as OBriens rural Irish hellscape often seemed to me to be guided by a similar kind of overidentification with computers, a strange confusion of the distinct categories of human and machine. Because if computation is the ultimate value, the ultimate end of intelligence, then it makes absolute sense to become better versions of the computers we already are. We must optimize for intelligence, as transhumanists are fond of saying meaning by intelligence, in most cases, the exercise of pure reason. And this is the crux of magical rationalism: It is both an idealization of reason, of beautiful and rigorous abstraction, and a mode of thinking whereby reason is made to serve as the faithful handmaiden of absolute madness. Because reason is, among its other uses, a finely calibrated tool by which the human animal pursues its famously unreasonable ends.

Gender Discrimination at Uber Is a Reminder of How Hard Women Have to Fight to Be Believed

Dylan is in fourth grade and believes communism is the future of the United States.

The controversy-courting figure nets another loss.

Uber with wings.

Ex-employee Susan Fowler documented everything during her time at the company, but management still found ways to deny her claims.

When austere and inflexible rationalism leads into a grand and methodically reasoned absurdity.

Hunting down mechanical dinosaurs with a bow and arrow looks and feels great. So why is it such a chore to finish?

A trippy new video meme shoots across the web.

The company is moving fast following harassment allegations from a former employee.

No more tracking down a mysterious vending machine.

CEO Travis Kalanick promised to conduct an urgent investigation and fire anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is okay.

Several young women, one rat, and an incredible plot twist.

Raccoons day off.

Today marks day one.

No more waiting half a minute to get to your content.

Zuck finally grapples with the power of his creation.

So many white dudes. So little time.

The blob has suddenly become very popular among meme connoisseurs in Russia.

The YouTube star lashed out at The Wall Street Journal.

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The Magical Rationalism of Elon Musk and the Prophets of AI – New York Magazine