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The Evolutionary Perspective
Category Archives: Rationalism
Posted: July 5, 2020 at 10:29 am
While others look upon an eclipse as a catastrophe and disaster waiting to strike, we rationalists look upon it as a natural occurrence to be viewed and enjoyed," Narendra Nayak, president of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations (Fira) and managing trustee of Aid Without Religion Trust, wrote in a press release circulated ahead of the event. Similar plans are afoot for 5 July, when a lunar eclipse is set to occurfollowing the solar eclipse on 21 June and another lunar eclipse on 5 June.
At a time when the public is consumed by fear, panic and misinformation regarding the covid-19 pandemic, with many clutching at the straws of superstition and rituals, defiant gestures as such these send out a strong message.
For years, the 90-odd rationalists associations across India affiliated to Fira have publicly denounced the belief that some activities are harmful to undertake during eclipses. Debunking myths about eclipses is one of the many activities that are part of their mission. The rationalists have shown up miracles" performed by godmen to be bogus; they have explained supernatural" phenomena using scientific principles; and, in general, tried to inculcate a rational temper among ordinary people.
Not surprisingly, the tireless crusade of the rationalists against blind faith has met with violent opposition from lobbies that have felt threatened by their sobering influence. In the last seven years alone, four activists and rationalistsNarendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare from Maharashtra, M.M. Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh from Karnatakahave been murdered openly. Nayak, who is often called the macho man of rationalism" and a one-man institution", has narrowly escaped multiple attempts on his life. Currently, he lives under police protection at his home in Mangaluru.
Its not all doom and gloom, though. The rationalists efforts have also brought about slow change in the social fabric. In December, a samosa-eating party was organized in a village in Goa where an enthusiastic crowd of 100-150, mostly youngsters, came together to view a solar eclipse, following safety protocols. Until a few years ago, there was much more reluctance to participate in such gatherings," says R.G. Rao, president of the Goa chapter of Fira. Even college and school teachers used to take the day off and stay homesome of them still dobecause thats what tradition demands."
Now, while the elderly remain hesitant about crossing the line, the youth are open to taking bolder strides. I have friends employed in high places who agree with me that theres no rational basis to their beliefs," Rao adds. But such is their conditioning since childhood that they feel guilty if they dont follow rituals dictated by tradition." Education is no guarantee of a rationalist mindset. People can be literate in physics, chemistry and medicine without being truly educated," as Nayak tersely puts it.
Faith versus fact
As early as the 17th century, European astronomers understood eclipses to be natural phenomena and explained their occurrence scientifically. But the primal fear of these occurrences goes back to millennia and is alive and kicking in the 21st century. In Hindu astrology, Rahu, a fearsome demon, is believed to swallow celestial bodies, casting a pall of darkness over the world. Eating during an eclipse, it was believed (especially in the pre-electricity era), was inauspicious. Women were told not to cook or chop vegetables. Pregnant women were asked to stay indoors. A miasma of myths accrued gradually.
What I have found is that more often than not these rituals are rooted in scientific reasoning. Over time, unfortunately, the reasoning is forgotten and what is left is only a ritual practice," says Simran Lal, CEO of Good Earth and Co-founder of Nicobar. For example, the belief that you should not look at an eclipse is actually backed by sciencelooking at an eclipse without the eye-aids that modern science has only now made possible can lead to irreversible damage to the eyes, including loss of vision."
But to hold on to these myths in the 21st century, with the hindsight of science and technological progress, is unwarranted. The hype over the latest triple eclipse, for instance, is largely unfounded. Contrary to the belief that such series of eclipses occur after hundreds of years, the phenomenon was observed as recently as in 2018 and 2013.
As a rationalist, Rao says he walks the talk. When he addresses the public, he carries a photograph of his 22-year-old daughter to show the audience. I tell them that my wife chopped vegetables, cooked, ate, stepped outside, looked at the sun and moon during eclipses with adequate protection while she was pregnant. There is nothing wrong with our daughter. People are welcome to medically test her if they like," he says.
But during an unfolding pandemic, injecting such a scientific temper into the public can be tougher than usual. With no vaccine or reliable cure against covid-19, people are understandably desperate for whatever glimmer of hope they can find.
In the early days of the pandemic, many Indians who were stuck overseas reached out to us," says Shivani Hariharan, co-founder and head of the Mumbai chapter of The Ochre Tree, a brand that is dedicated to energy healing, meditation, spirituality and other self-development programmes". Our focus was to remove their fear psychosis, which was causing stress and anxiety in them," she adds. The clients who already had covid-19 reported an improvement in their conditions after a few sessions of healing, alongside medical treatment, Hariharan says. Their recovery time was quicker than expected.
The link between stress and a compromised immune system is an established fact. But seeking relief in cures that are not clinically proven, or have no sound scientific basis, can be a tricky business. Since the early days of the lockdown, Indias political classes have offered a range of placebos to people. Drinking cow urine, chanting Go, corona, go" in public, violating physical distancing, taking the names of favourite deities for half an hour at homethe list goes on. The latest entrant into this fast-growing club of such cures is Coronil, an alleged panacea promoted by Baba Ramdev.
This explosion of false cures and beliefs is symptomatic of the times. Superstitions have a way of flaring up when people are at their most fragile, mentally. Since 95% of those affected by covid-19 recover on their own, it is easy to make wild claims about the efficacy of drugs that havent undergone clinical trial," Nayak says. By applying their research on patients with no co-morbidities, these quacks are bound to get successful results. But who wants treatments for mild and moderate cases? I am much more interested in the effect of these treatments on the 5% who dont recover on their own."
The steady 5%
It is not just the ignorant" or uneducated" sections that are vulnerable to pseudo-science. When politicians and other influential people make unsubstantiated claims, they create a panic situation among the masses," says Sudesh Ghoderao, secretary of national and international coordination at the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (Mans), founded in 1989 by Dabholkar. For over three decades, Mans has been running campaigns across Maharashtra using slogans, posters, workshops and social media to counter myths and superstition. At present, with physical distancing norms in force, its modus operandi has shifted to webinars to train volunteers.
Ghoderao is also cognizant of the mental health costs of living through a pandemic. He admits that daily stressors may push people into seeking relief in unscientific beliefs. Mans has been working with a collective of mental health workers called Manasmitra, which is providing counselling and mental healthcare support across rural Maharashtra during the pandemic," he says. In Goa, too, a major target audience for the rationalists is the rural population, especially women. If we can educate one woman, she can pass on the knowledge to many others," says Rao.
For all the dangers they have faced over the decades, the rationalists have succeeded in bringing about tangible legal changes through their campaigns. The Maharashtra Protection of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2016, which was passed after years of activism by Mans, has proved especially useful during the pandemic in protecting health and sanitation workers from social ostracization. Mans volunteers are helping victims to file police complaints and also alert the police about violations of the law.
About 85% of the people we address during our campaigns appear convinced by our arguments but a majority of them revert to their old beliefs the moment they leave the meeting," says Nayak. They cite personal majboori (compulsions) as being inimical to altering their ways, he explains. Our target is the steady 5%, who hold on to our ideas and dont change their minds."
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Posted: at 10:29 am
Independence Day: July 4th. Wave the flag. Set off fireworks. Celebrate.
For many people, patriotism is easy. All it takes is being born in a country, something everyone accomplishes. Then, wow, what a great country. Wave the flag. Set off fireworks. Celebrate. USA, Albania, France, Australia: it doesnt matter.
But Lincoln wisely said more than just a new nation on this continent was founded. He described it: Conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. This was unique at a time of monarchies, theocracies, castes, feudalism, aristocracies, censorship and the like.
The Declaration of Independence did not claim sanction by divine guidance, but, reflecting the rationalism of the Founding Fathers, instead purposefully explained its basis and reasoning because, as it states, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
July 4th is a day for Americans to recall not only the long fight for independence which succeeded the declaration, but the revolutionary thoughts, ideals and goals of our forefathers who broke from engrained tradition.
It truly was a revolution in thought. Soon after, the French had their revolution, much along the same philosophic lines, and abolished the aristocracy, the accepted calendar, state religion, etc. It was a tumultuous time, much more than simply separating from England.
So I think it patriotic to demand more from my country, to earn my patriotic zeal, than just the accident of being born here. I think it appropriate each year to reflect upon what remains to be done to achieve political liberty and equality for all. Rather than slaver unconditional praise, I choose to exercise my political liberties to advocate for further progress of my country toward those goals.
The Founding Fathers would, I believe, expect much more than My country, right or wrong.
They would demand: Right the wrong.
Jed Somit is a resident of Kapaa.
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Posted: at 10:29 am
Dear Reader, (Including those of you who had a crush on Jennifer instead of Bailey from the WKRP crew, you traitors),
Thats some bad hat, Harry.
Thats a line from Chief Brody in Jaws. An old dudenamed Harryannoys Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) by making fun of the chiefs mild aquaphobia while he is trying to spot a shark that will likely eat another kid.
Brody responds, Thats some bad hat, Harry.
Now, Ive seen Jaws many, many times. And its not like I had actually forgotten the scene. But it wasnt until I saw it at drive-in last weekend that I connected the dots to Bad Hat Harry Productions, the production company founded by Bryan Singer, responsible for many of the X-Men movies, The Usual Suspects and the TV show House. They werent hard dots to connect. The companys original logo was literally a drawing of the Jaws scene.
So those are easy dots to connect, and I failed. If I were a member of a pop culture-obsessed offshoot of the Yakuza, I might have to remove the tip of my pinky as penance. Fortunately, thats not the case.
But Ive got other dots to connect (warning: Dot connection addiction is dangerousyou have to know where to draw the line). As I mentioned on the podcast the other day, watching Jaws during a pandemic was interesting. Obviously, the movie is not an intentional allegory about a virus that wouldnt hit until nearly five decades later. But its hard not to see some of it that way. In particular, nearly every scene with the mayor feels awfully familiar. Watch this:
Dreyfuss is basically an epidemiologist explaining that the shark doesnt care about the crucial summer months for Amitys economy. And theres the mayor playing, well, not quite Donald Trump, but certainly one of dozens of Republican politicians looking for excuses not to listen to the scientists. Dreyfuss says he found the tooth of the shark in the hull of a boat. And despite being informed that the owner of the boat, one Ben Gardner, wasto use a scientific termeatenby the shark, the mayor wont believe any of it because Dreyfuss cant produce the tooth. I mean, maybe Brody could have brought Ben Gardners head?
Anyway, what really gets the mayors goat (presumably so long as the goat doesnt go swimming) is the fake news contained in a vandalized billboard.
Remember, a bunch of people have already been eaten by the shark. But closing the beachesnot the bars, not the restaurants, just the beachesis too terrible a thing to contemplate, so the mayor and most of Amitys residents simply pretend theres no shark. It feels amazingly familiar.
The one scene where the mayor isnt analogous to our moment is when the moral enormity of his reluctance finally hits him and Mayor Vaughn comes to his senses.
We havent had that scenenot really. Some of the politicians and pundits who ridiculed those who took the pandemic seriously in March have changed their tunes. But none of them, as far as I know, have admitted to any serious failure, moral or intellectual. Most of the people who said its just the fluor something similar have either stuck to their guns or just gone silent. And, until about a month ago, this asininity was disproportionately a partisan affair. But you cant have asininity without an assand an ass, just like the old French General Assembly, is divided on a left-right spectrum (lets forgo the easy quips about what this says about the center).
Prior to the George Floyd protests, Jaws worked mostly as a parable for a big chunk of the Republican party, starting with Donald Trump. Shark repellent is for cucks and cowards! This is just a typical shark season, you stupid galeophobes! You just want to use this shark to defeat Mayor Vaughn in the next election!
But then the tables turned. The Richard Dreyfusses, righteously dismissive of the bourgeois and commercial concerns of the gentry, suddenly insisted it was fine to get in the water. Hell, while youre at it, defund the lifeguards and tear down the lifeguard towers!
Not only did they say it was fine to get in the water, they said it was fine to stay in the water indefinitely. Was there a single prominent public health expert who initially supported the protests but, after say, the second week, said, Okay you made your point?
If there was, I missed it.
Covid, Chapter 2.
I never thought Donald Trump deserved much blame for the initial outbreak of the coronavirus in the U.S., or even for our faltering early responses. America rarely gets anything right on the first try. As Winston Churchill reportedly said, You can always count on Americans to do the right thingafter they've tried everything else.
President Trump often says that he saved millions of lives by closing down travel from China. He didnt really close down travel as much as he claims, but what he did was better than nothingand given that he was condemned for it by Biden and many other Democrats he has every right to brag about it. But the move surely didnt save millions of lives. The EU didnt ban air travel from China (or anywhere at all) until mid-March. Theyre doing much better than the U.S. Oh, and Italy closed down travel from China before the U.S. did, how much good did it do them?
The only point to closing borders during a pandemic is to buy yourself some time. We wasted whatever time Trump bought us. When he says he saved millions of lives, it is only to make it sound that were lucky to have lost only 131,544 Americans (as of this writing). Thats a quarter of the global reported COVID-19 deaths. America, the richest country in world, with 4.25 percent of the world population, is punching way above its weight
This chart alone tells the tale:
The romantic pandemic.
In Suicide of the West I argued that perhaps our biggest problem is romanticism. Romanticism is a complicated term because, for even the fairly educated layman, it conjures everything from painting and poetry to Lifetime Movies of the Week. Even Isaiah Berlin, who literally wrote the book on Romanticism, considered offering a clear definition of the term to be a trap.
For our purposes, Romanticism as a philosophical movement was all about the primacy of emotions and feelings, a rebellion against reason and rationalism. Romanticism, Joseph Schumpeter observed, arose almost immediately as a part of the general reaction against the rationalism of the eighteenth century that set in after the revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Hegel described it as absolute inwardness. When Blake wrote, A Robin Red breast in a Cage / Puts all Heaven in a Rage, the cage he had in mind were the coldly scientific rules and codes of the Enlightenment. The hero of Franz Sternbalds romantic novel Wanderings declared: Not these trees, not these mountains do I wish to copy, but my soul, my mood, which governs me just at this moment.
Donald Trump is an amazing example of one form of the romantic spirit. He often says his instincts are more important than expertise and experience. He even recently told Sean Hannity that he always believed talent is more important than experience. He famously explained in a deposition that the best metric for measuring his net worth was how he feels about himself any given morning. (Im not even going to get into the Romantic roots of modern nationalism, including Trumps version of it). His response to the pandemic has been a textbook case of romanticism trumping (no pun intended) reason. The virus will just disappear because he feels that it will. He scorns masks because he feels that wearing one is a sign of weakness.
But our problems are so much greater than Donald Trump. One of Jonathan Haidts Great Untruths is Always Trust Your Feelings.
A word about feelings.
Let me interrupt my extemporaneous diatribe for a moment.
Im okay with telling people Always listen to your feelings because I think your feelings and instincts tell you important things. A lesson I learned too late in life is that fear alone is never a good reason not to do anything. You need to ask yourself why you fear something. Sometimes your fear is well-placed, other times its not. You need to use your intellect to figure out the difference.
Which is to say, theres a difference between trusting and listening, because when you listen you still have the option to say No. Think of all the things youve learned to do or succeeded in doing because you didnt listen to your feelings. Would you have learned to swim? To dive into water? Ride a horse? Pet a dog? Gotten or stayed married? And then theres the problem of bad feelings. Suffice it to say, that if everybody did whatever their feelings told them to do in a particular moment, groin punching would be our national sport (Tonight on ESPN, The Ocho!).
Woe, woe, feelings.
Okay so where was I? Oh right, Haidts Great Untruth. I think so many of our problems these days stem from the fact that Americans, regardless of ideology, trust their feelings too much. If you find yourself throwing punches or having what looks like a nervous breakdown, because a private business asked you to wear a mask during a pandemic, youre listening to your feelings too much. If you think its outrageous to open churches in a pandemic but awesome to occupy City Hallbecause that will end racism or somethingyou should stop trusting your feelings.
More broadly, so many of the policy disputes we have these days seem to have less to do with things like math or experience and more to do with feelings. It just feels like disparities in male-female pay across a wide variety of occupations can be explained solely by sexism. It just feels like we should be able to afford a Green New Deal. It just feels like abolishing the police should work.
I think intellectual honesty requires admitting that people have been saying Go with your gut for a very long time. Even Obi Wan Kenobi said trust your feelings a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (personally given how far away the nearest galaxy is, I always thought the second far was gratuitous). And, I suspect that feelings always played a bigger role in policymaking than we might like to think. I mean, FDR set the price of gold based on what numbers he thought were lucky.
The difference now is that were not just telling people to trust their own feelings. Were creating a worldview that other peoples feelings are sovereign. The intentions of the offender do not matter, only the feelings of the offended. Even when the offenses happened doesnt matter. Five minutes ago or five years, its all the same. An official at Boeing was just forced out of his job for being wrong about something 33 years ago.
Instead of clear rules, rationally conceived and universally applied, the new rules are opaque, emotionally conceived and subjectively applied. If we lived under some fickle absolutist king, who arbitrarily decided what was offensive, outrageous, or even criminal, wed all recognize the illiberalism of it. But when a mob arbitrarily rules the same way, we call it social justice. Its really just the tyranny of feelings.
Various & Sundry
Goldberg update, four-legged and two: I finished writing this from the front passenger seat of the family funwagon barreling toward NYC. Were spending the Fourth with Grandma and Fafoon (Id watch that cop show). The quadrupeds are in good hands with Kirsten and she will be sending proof of life both this weekend and next week when we go to Alaska. Pippa continues to roll sporadically in stygian foulness. Zo continues to make outsized threats to critters. Ralph is warming to me, Gracie remains demanding. And I gotta go.
Last weeks G-File
Last weekends Ruminant
Pull out your Remnant bingo cards, everyone; its time for The Parties Are Weak!
Politics infects everything: NBA Edition
The weeks first Remnant, with return favorite Kevin Williamson
The members-only Midweek Epistle, in which the culture suddenly comes over to my side on the legacy of Woodrow Wilson
My appearance on Dan Crenshaws podcast, Hold These Truths
The weeks second Remnant, with the mellifluous Niall Ferguson
What if we voted like Belgians for a day?
The rest is here:
Posted: at 10:29 am
Those who took the 16 Personalities quiz and come up with the Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, and Judging personality traitsareamong the rarest personality types around, making up just 2% of the population.
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The Myers-Briggs INTJ personality type is associated with some of the most capable people, acting as an enigma to all who think they know them. People with this personality type are imaginative yet decisive, ambitious yet private, curious but focused. They love applying creativity and rationality to everything they do, working to the beat of their own private, complex inner minds. Heres an INTJs perfect Pokmon team, based on their personality type.
This Pokmons brain constantly grows, multiplying an infinite number of brain cells. This means Alakazam is one of the smartest Pokmon in the world, with an IQ that is said to be around 5,000.
INTJs approach life like a chessboard, always planning every move with precise consideration for the consequences. This personality type frequently outsmarts their opponents and peers, achieving any analytical goal they put their minds to. INTJs are also quick and imaginative, utilizing their strategic mind to improve their knowledge and plan for unforeseen abilities. They are the human equivalent of the move Future Sight, which makes Alakazam a perfect fit for this Trainer.
Alakazam is also said to remember and foresee everything that ever happens in history, as confirmed by the Pokmon Mystery Dungeon series. This ability will play to an INTJs highly curious nature, allowing them to see things from many different angles.
INTJs are often called the Architechs of society, referring to their hard-working and determined nature. They get stuff done, and they get it done well. If something takes their interest, they will see it through to the end, often putting in long hours and intense effort. The burly Machoke might seem like a contrast to the psychic strength of Alakazam, but this juxtaposition perfectly encapsulates the two sides of an INTJ.
INTJs are goal-oriented and if tasks lead to something clear and relevant, they strive to accomplish those tasks. If players pick up a copy of Pokmon Ruby, Sapphire, or Emerald, they will be able to see a team of Machoke helping the player move into the Littleroot, which sums this personality type up perfectly.
Mewtwo is a Psychic-type Pokmon created by science. If players read the records found in Cinnabar Island's Pokmon Mansion, they can learn some details about the origins of Mewtwo, which somewhat explain its arrogant, vicious, and judgemental nature.
Born from a pregnant Mew, Mewtwo was restrained and analyzed in the Mansion, where evil scientists conducted gene-splicing experiments that eventually led to thePokmon destroying the Mansion and escaping. The experiments made Mewtwo extremely vicious, with a powerful disdain towards humanity.
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Its common to see an INTJ taking their confidence too far, believing that intelligence is what determines another persons worth. They sometimes believe that their analytical abilities set them apart from everyone else, which can come across as arrogant. This superiority complex is similar to Mewtwos, who believes they are the strongest Pokmon in existence.
INTJs also have complete confidence in their thought processes, which often leads to them rejecting other peoples opinions. Rational arguments are almost by definition correct, Mewtwo really probably is the strongest Pokmon in existence. However, emotional considerations led to Ash and Pikachu defeating Mewtwo in the anime. In a heartbreaking scene that scarred an entire generation, Ash sacrifices himself to stop Mew and Mewtwos battle. Illogical, yes, but it worked.
Ashs Charizard in the anime is renowned for originally loathing highly structured environments, breaking the rules, and ignoring Ashs commands whenever he could. This obstreperous nature is indicative of INTJs, who hate blindly followinganythingwithout first fully understanding why.
This dislike for authority is not nearly as strong as their dislike for authority figures who go around forcing others to obey laws and rules if they dont understand the purpose of the standard themselves. Power-hungry individuals should stay well clear of an INTJ, for their sake.
Charizards independence epitomizes an INTJs creativity, logic, and confidence. Ashs Charizard isnt afraid to stand on their own and take responsibility for their actions if he believes Ashs commands are wrong or irrational.
This Pokmon is the epitome of high self-confidence its glare can halt its opponent's movement in their tracks. INTJs trust their rationalism more than anything else so when they decide on something theres very little reason to doubt it. They will hold their ground and refuse to hold back.
RELATED:Pokmon: Which Grass-Type Are You, Based On Your D&D Alignment?
This honest, direct style of communication plays into their overly analytical personality. Serperiors noble stance channels the same vibe as an INTJs critical tone and their high level of picky thoroughness when dealing with others. Its a shame Serperior cant learn Mean Look to stop everyone except for extremely loyal and understanding friends, from fleeing.
This powerful Psychic/Fairy-type Pokmon is the embodiment of an INTJs open-mindedness, as long as the points are argued well. Gardevoir is also a Jacks-of-all-Trades, much like an INTJ, boasting impressive base stats and a powerful bond with its trainer, whom it will protect with its life.
If this Pokmon focuses its training on maximizing Special Attack and Speed to invest in its offensive capabilities, it can protect Alakazam from troublesome Dark-types with access to Moonbeam and healing moves like Healing Wish. Because of an INTJs open-mindedness, willpower, independence, confidence, and planning abilities, this Psychic-type Pokmon is a must for any INTJ team line-up.
NEXT: Which Pokmon Starter Suits You Best Based On Your Zodiac Type?
Next Pokmon: The 5 Ugliest Grass-Type Pokmon (& The 5 Cutest)
Sara Heritage is a freelance journalist for The Gamer. She is a First Class Honours graduate in Television and Radio from the University of Salford. You can find her searching for Raymond in Animal Crossing: New Horizons and looking forward to the day where she can get an irl cat of her very own.
Posted: June 20, 2020 at 10:18 am
Rationalism, or a belief that we come to knowledge through the use of logic, and thus independently of sensory experience, was critical to the debates of the Enlightenment period, when most philosophers lauded the power of reason but insisted that knowledge comes from experience.
Define rationalism and its role in the ideas of the Enlightenment
Rationalismas an appeal to human reason as a way of obtaining knowledgehas a philosophical history dating from antiquity. While rationalism, as the view that reason is the main source of knowledge, did not dominate the Enlightenment, it laid critical basis for the debates that developed over the course of the 18th century. As the Enlightenment centered on reason as the primary source of authority and legitimacy, many philosophers of the period drew from earlier philosophical contributions, most notably those of RenDescartes(1596-1650), a French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. Descartes was the first of the modern rationalists. He thought that only knowledge of eternal truths (including the truths of mathematics and the foundations of the sciences) could be attained by reason alone, while the knowledge of physics required experience of the world, aided by the scientific method. Heargued that reason alone determined knowledge, and that this could be done independently of the senses. For instance, his famous dictum, cogito ergo sum, or I think, therefore I am, is a conclusion reached a priori(i.e., prior to any kind of experience on the matter). The simple meaning is that doubting ones existence, in and of itself, proves that an I exists to do the thinking.
Ren Descartes, after Frans Hals, 2nd half of the 17th century.
Descartes laid the foundation for 17th-century continental rationalism, later advocated by Baruch Spinozaand Gottfried Leibniz, and opposed by the empiricistschool of thought consisting of Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. Leibniz, Spinoza, and Descartes were all well-versed in mathematics, as well as philosophy, and Descartes and Leibniz contributed greatly to science as well.
Since the Enlightenment, rationalism is usually associated with the introduction of mathematical methods into philosophy, as seen in the works of Descartes, Leibniz, and Spinoza. This is commonly called continental rationalism, because it was predominant in the continental schools of Europe, whereas in Britain, empiricism, or a theory that knowledge comes only or primarily from a sensory experience,dominated. Although rationalism and empiricism are traditionally seen as opposing each other, the distinction between rationalists and empiricists was drawn at a later period, and would not have been recognized by philosophers involved in Enlightenment debates. Furthermore, the distinction between the two philosophies is not as clear-cut as is sometimes suggested. For example, Descartes and John Locke, one of the most important Enlightenment thinkers, have similar views about the nature of human ideas.
Proponents of some varieties of rationalism argue that, starting with foundational basic principles, like the axioms of geometry, one could deductively derive the rest of all possible knowledge. The philosophers who held this view most clearly were Baruch Spinoza and Gottfried Leibniz, whose attempts to grapple with the epistemological and metaphysical problems raised by Descartes led to a development of the fundamental approach of rationalism. Both Spinoza and Leibniz asserted that, in principle, all knowledge, including scientific knowledge, could be gained through the use of reason alone, though they both observed that this was not possible in practice for human beings, except in specific areas, such as mathematics. On the other hand, Leibniz admitted in his book, Monadology, that we are all mere Empirics in three fourths of our actions.
Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz are usually credited for laying the groundwork for the 18th-century Enlightenment. During the mature Enlightenment period, Immanuel Kant attempted to explain the relationship between reason and human experience, and to move beyond the failures of traditional philosophy and metaphysics. He wanted to put an end to an era of futile and speculative theories of human experience, and regarded himself as ending and showing the way beyond the impasse between rationalistsand empiricists. He is widely held to have synthesized these two early modern traditions in his thought.
Kant named his brand of epistemology (theory of knowledge) transcendental idealism, and he first laid out these views in his famous work, The Critique of Pure Reason. In it, he argued that there were fundamental problems with both rationalist and empiricist dogma. To the rationalists he argued, broadly, that pure reason is flawed when it goes beyond its limits and claims to know those things that are necessarily beyond the realm of all possible experience (e.g., the existence of God, free will, or the immortality of the human soul). To the empiricist, he argued that while it is correct that experience is fundamentally necessary for human knowledge, reason is necessary for processing that experience into coherent thought. He therefore concluded that both reason and experience are necessary for human knowledge. In the same way, Kant also argued that it was wrong to regard thought as mere analysis. In his views, a priori concepts do exist, but if they are to lead to the amplification of knowledge, they must be brought into relation with empirical data.
Immanuel Kant, author unknown Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) rejected the dogmas of both rationalism and empiricism, and tried to reconcile rationalismand religious belief, and individual freedom and political authority, as well as map out a view of the public sphere through private and public reason. His work continued to shape German thought, and indeed all of European philosophy, well into the 20th century.
Since the Enlightenment, rationalism in politics historically emphasized a politics of reason centered upon rational choice, utilitarianism, and secularism (later, relationship between rationalism and religion was ameliorated by the adoption of pluralistic rationalist methods practicable regardless of religious or irreligious ideology). Some philosophers today, most notably John Cottingham, note that rationalism, a methodology, became socially conflated with atheism, a worldview. Cottingham writes,
In the past, particularly in the 17th and 18th centuries, the term rationalist was often used to refer to free thinkers of an anti-clerical and anti-religious outlook, and for a time the word acquired a distinctly pejorative force (). The use of the label rationalist to characterize a world outlook which has no place for the supernatural is becoming less popular today; terms like humanist or materialist seem largely to have taken its place. But the old usage still survives.
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Frontispiece to the 1772 edition of the Encyclopdie by Diderot and d'Alembert. At the center, crowned Reason attempts to remove the veil from Truth. Image: Wikimedia Commons
In a sweeping new history of Western philosophy,Jrgen Habermas narrates the progress of humanity through the unfolding of public reason. Missing from that story are the systems of violence and dispossession whose legacies are all too visible today.
Auch eine Geschichte der Philosophie (This Too a History of Philosophy)Vol. 1, Die okzidentale Konstellation von Glauben und Wissen (The Occidental Constellation of Faith and Knowledge)Vol. 2, Vernnftige Freiheit. Spuren des Diskurses ber Glauben und Wissen (Rational Liberty: Traces of the Discourse on Faith and Knowledge)Jrgen HabermasSuhrkamp Verlag, 98 (cloth)
No one in the world feels the weakness of general characterizing more than I. So lamented Johann Gottfried von Herder, towering figure of the German Enlightenment, in his 1774 treatise This Too a Philosophy of History for the Formation of Humanity. One draws together peoples and periods of time that follow one another in an eternal succession like waves of the sea, Herder wrote. Whom has one painted? Whom has the depicting word captured? For Herder, the Enlightenment dream of grasping human history as a seamless whole came up against the irreducible particularity of individuals and cultures.
At a time of crisis, Habermas suggests that humanity already possesses the resources for levelheaded debate oriented toward the common good.
The German philosopher and social theorist Jrgen Habermas, among the most influential thinkers of our time, grapples with much the same problem in his new work, the title of which reverses the order of Herders terms: This Too a History of Philosophy. Published in German last September, Habermass History spans over 3,000 years and 1,700 pages. It marks the apogee of a singular career. Like his eighteenth-century precursor, Habermas seeks a thoroughgoing reconceptualization of the sweep of human history. Philosophical problems, he writes, are distinctive from merely scientific ones in their synthetic force. For Habermas, the fragmentation of modern life has hardly exhausted philosophys capacity for bold questions and architectonic structure.
To be sure, the work pays homage to the legacy of postmodern critique. Wary of Herders pitfalls of general characterizing, Habermas eschews airy speculation for dense textual reconstruction. But this history of philosophy, no less than Enlightenment philosophies of history, is driven by a teleological intent, a principle that threads through historys seeming randomness and contingency. For Herder, that principle was humanitys formation (Bildung), a foundational concept of the German Enlightenment linking the moral development of the individual with the progress of civilization. For Habermas, it is instead a collective learning process (Lernprozess). History, in Habermass telling, is the story of humanitys learning, a record of problems solved and challenges overcome. New knowledge about the objective world alongside social crises, he explains, create cognitive dissonances. These dissonances propel societies to adopt novel modes of understanding and interaction.
The vehicle of Habermass learning process is language: the source of human rationality, the storehouse of humanitys accumulated knowledge, and the medium by which that knowledge can be challenged and improved. Here too Habermas plays variations on an Enlightenment theme. But there is a catch. Although immersed in the give and take of rational argument, Habermass protagonists develop metaphysical systems that obscure their own intersubjective meaning-making. For Habermas, only with the rise of modern, postmetaphysical thinking does philosophy become conscious of the learning process itself.
Tracing a continuous learning process across three millennia of Western philosophy, This Too a History of Philosophy is a masterpiece of erudition and synthesis. Habermass command of the philosophical canon astounds, and even experts will find fresh insight in his searching portraits. At the same time, his narrative of humanitys rational development invites us to pose Herders challenge anew: Whom has Habermass History captured? Most urgent is the questionraised, but not resolvedof how the learning process traversed by the West interacts with wider histories of the modern world.
Born in 1929 into Western Germanys Protestant middle class, Habermas is contemporary Europes most prominent philosopher and public intellectual. Over a prodigious career stretching nearly seven decades, he has set out a system linking epistemology, linguistics, sociology, politics, religion, and law. His philosophical texts have appeared in over forty languages. But more than that, Habermas has distinguished himself as a staunch advocate of the intellectuals public role. His exchanges with interlocutors from John Rawls to Michel Foucault have generated debate across the humanities, and his political interventions have shaped controversies on themes from historical memory to European unification to genetic engineering.
Habermass ninetieth birthday last year initiated spirited discussions of his lifes work. His lecture marking the occasion at the University of Frankfurt drew a crowd of over 3,000 listeners, while the appearance of the eight-hundred-page Cambridge Habermas Lexicon set the stage for the next phase of his reception in English. More controversially, a polemic by the political philosopher Raymond Geuss challenged the very foundations of Habermass thought and sparked a contentious exchange among scholars of critical theory. Habermas turns ninety-one today, remaining no less active and continuing to inspire and provoke.
Democracy, for Habermas, is a system where uncoerced communication triumphs over naked power, where rational argument among equal citizens forms the basis of political legitimacy.
An overarching project connects Habermass philosophical writing with his public advocacy and helps to account for his global reach: the elaboration of what he terms a theory of communicative rationality. When we address ourselves to another human being through language, Habermas argues, we assume the possibility of mutual intelligibility and rational persuasion. In an ideal speech situation, where no coercion is present save the unforced force of the better argument, dialogue would foster consensus based on rational agreement. Habermas recognizes that most communication is far from this ideal. Yet he insists that the ideal remains the prerequisite even for ordinary speech, and contains the seedbed of radical democracy. Democracy, for Habermas, is a system where uncoerced communication triumphs over naked power, where rational argument among equal citizens forms the basis of political legitimacy.
Habermass project emerged from the traumas of postwar Germany. Fifteen-years-old at the time of the Nazi collapse, Habermas had narrowly escaped military conscription and listened, horrified, to radio broadcasts of the Nuremberg trials. Determined to uncover where German history had gone so wrong, and whether German culture possessed resources for the countrys reconstruction, the Gymnasium student abandoned a planned career in medicine to pursue philosophy. In what has become a set piece of his biography, it was the 1953 republication of a Nazi-era tract by the philosopher Martin Heidegger, extolling the inner truth and greatness of National Socialism, that led the young Habermas to reject the reigning existentialism and cultural despair. He would instead find his academic home at the University of Frankfurt, among the returned German-Jewish exiles Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno. Their reconstituted Institute for Social Research served as a haven for critical debate amidst postwar West Germanys hidebound academic culture.
Yet even as he quickly gained recognition as the leader of the Frankfurt Schools second generation, Habermas diverged from his predecessors. Whereas Horkheimer and Adornos Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947) tracked the decay of Western rationalism into a self-destructive instrumental reason, Habermas sought out a mode of rationality that escaped a narrow means-ends logic. This he would locate in intersubjective communication. Habermass habilitation thesis and the book that made his name, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1962), foreshadowed the centrality of communication for his lifes work. Embedding philosophical argument in historical sociology, Habermas traced the rise of a bourgeois public sphere in the coffee houses and print culture of eighteenth-century Europe. The new domain of reasoned deliberation, between the official institutions of politics and the private sphere of the family, challenged ruling authorities and fomented the spread of republican ideas. Although Structural Transformation concluded by charting the decline of the public sphere in modern mass mediaa pervasive concern in todays talk of disinformation and fake newsthe work announced its authors lifelong identification with the unfinished project of Enlightenment.
If Structural Transformation made Habermas a rising star, it was his 1981 magnum opus, The Theory of Communicative Action, that established him as a premier philosopher of the twentieth century. Theory bore the fruits of two decades of intellectual exploration, including a stint as director of the Max Planck Institute in Starnberg, Bavaria, and an ambitious program of reading across classical sociology, systems theory, ordinary language philosophy, and American pragmatism. The book marshaled all of these influences to uncover the rational foundations of communication as a path toward reenergizing democracy. The modern system of economy and bureaucracy, Habermas concluded, must be subjected to rigorous oversight by the lifeworld, the spaces of society and culture where free communication can flourish. While accepting the structures of the capitalist welfare state, Habermas warned against the colonization of the lifeworld by private interests. He would return to this theme over subsequent political writings.
When we address ourselves to another human being through language, Habermas argues, we assume the possibility of mutual intelligibility and rational persuasion. He recognizes that most communication is far from this ideal.
This Too a History of Philosophy marks the culmination of a third stage of Habermass career, one in which questions of faith and religion have assumed increasing prominence. Habermass earlier work hinged on a theory of secularization. Whatever ones private convictions, the public sphere depended on the exchange of validity claims accessible to all citizens; appeals to faith had to be checked at the door. Yet in an address one month after the attacks of September 11, 2001, Habermas characterized contemporary Western democracies as postsecular societies. The public sphere, he now argued, should accommodate religious diversity and permit the participation of religious citizens. Habermas went further in a 2005 essay that followed a public discussion with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI). Not only should religious and secular citizens have equal access to the public sphere, but the latter can be reasonably expected not to exclude the possibility that [religious] contributions may have cognitive substance.
For some of Habermass secular-minded interlocutors, these apparent concessions to religion betrayed the rational promise of critical social theory. Yet as with so much in Habermas, what seems an about-face reflects a deepening of earlier concerns. My own research on Protestant intellectual networks in early postwar Germany uncovered evidence of Habermass participation in Christian-Marxist working groups during the early 1960s. And since the 1980s, Habermas has engaged in philosophical exchanges with prominent Christian theologians, most notably his Catholic contemporary Johann Baptist Metz. Habermass recent writings build upon his longstanding view that religious citizens can contribute moral insight to the public sphereand that they did so in a democratizing Germany. As Europe absorbs new waves of Muslim immigrants, Habermas has sought to combat xenophobic discourses of cultural difference, while fostering democratic deliberation across religious divides.
But more provocative convictions drive Habermass writings on religion as well. Notwithstanding his advocacy for a religiously plural public sphere, Habermas has remained emphatic about the foundational role of Western Christianity. Already in The Theory of Communicative Action, he drew on the classical sociologist Max Weber to trace the rise of modern purposive rationality out of the Protestant idea of vocation. More recently, Habermas has distanced himself from claims of Weberian disenchantment to suggest that the process of secularization remains incomplete. Universalistic egalitarianism, he stated in a 2002 interview, is the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love . . . Up to this very day there is no alternative to it. Drawing a dubious contrast between the two monotheistic religions, Habermas articulated what would become the core of his intellectual program. The Wests Judeo-Christian heritage was not a passing phase in the emergence of modern thought and politics, but contributedand perhaps still contributesits essential core.
This Too a History of Philosophy is the realization of Habermass claim on a grand scale. At its most basic, the work provides a historical survey linking Habermass longstanding theory of communication with his more recent argument for the preeminence of Judeo-Christianity. The central thesis is expansive but straightforward. Communicative rationality as well as constitutional democracy emerged out of a three-thousand-year dialogue between the two poles of Western thought: faith and knowledge. Through a protracted history of intellectual debate and social transformation, the moral universalism at the core of Christianityhaving evolved out of its Jewish precursorwas subsumed into modern, postmetaphysical thinking. Habermass account of secularization departs from what the philosopher Charles Taylor has termed the subtraction story, by which irrational beliefs are stripped away with the forward march of science. Instead, Habermas reconstructs the interactions of Christian faith and worldly knowledge as a process not of conflict, but of mutual learning and translation.
Habermass learning process is rooted in the very nature of Homo sapiens as a linguistic being. Drawing on the research of the developmental psychologist Michael Tomasello, he begins with a sharp distinction between human and animal cognition. Other primates, Habermas explains, communicate to indicate objects in their own environments. But the unique social complexity of human life, manifested in the monogamous family and paleolithic hunt, catalyzed a distinctive ability to communicate intersubjectively about a shared objective world. This unique form of language allowed human beings to formulate collective solutions to common problems. Humanitys social and cultural learning could thereby outpace its biological evolution.
The Wests Judeo-Christian heritage was not a passing phase in the emergence of modern thought and politics, Habermas argues, but contributedand perhaps still contributesits essential core.
Habermas proceeds to narrate the early development of human societies along a hierarchy of communicative forms. Ritual served as the primordial medium of symbolic communication, bridging the individual and the collective. Habermas locates a shift to myth in the Near Eastern high cultures of the third millennium B.C.E., characterized by written language, scientific advancement, and political hierarchy. But the crucial transformation came in the Axial Age of Moses, Buddha, Confucius, and Platoa term Habermas borrows from the philosopher Karl Jaspers. Whereas myth collapsed god and man into one another, the Axial worldviews accomplished the seminal distinction between sacred and profane, eternal and temporal. In Judaisms omniscient God, Buddhisms doctrine of reincarnation, and Platos Forms, Habermas locates the foundations for the transcendental perspective of both objective science and universal morality.
Jaspers developed the concept of the Axial Age, Habermas notes, to overcome the Eurocentric narrowing of view to the Western path of cultural development. But Habermass own study takes a sharp turn toward the West. It is the particular history of Western Christianity, he argues, that leads from the nascent universalism of the Axial Age to modern postmetaphysical reason and constitutional democracy. Eastern religions became amalgamated to state power or declined in competition with new sciences. Judaism remained too bound to its sacral language and text to interact productively with its surroundings. But the unique circumstances of early Christianitys confrontation with Greek philosophy and Roman state power catalyzed a process of mutual learning. The cross-pollination of faith and knowledge found an early apex in Augustines fourth-century synthesis of Christianity and Platonism. And at the same time that Augustine introduced philosophy to the Church, Western Christianitys Roman-inspired legal system brought the Church into the realm of power politics.
Traversing the church-state conflicts of medieval Europe, Habermas arrives at thirteenth-century Italy as a new turning point: a site at which the earliest forms of proto-capitalism inaugurated the functional differentiation of modern society. Thomas Aquinas, the central thinker of the period, departed from Augustines Christian-Platonist synthesis to establish theology and philosophy as separate disciplines. Reason and faith now offered firmly independent paths toward salvation. Though Aquinas remained a monarchist, his formulation of natural law, implanted by God in human reason, opened the door to nascent democratic theories. With unprecedented criticisms of the pope, Aquinass late medieval successors theorized law as a limit on both church and state power. They prefigured an age when law would become an object of contestation among citizens.
Yet ironically, perhaps reflective of Webers ongoing influence, it is the political reactionary Martin Luther who is accorded pride of place in Habermass narrative of secularization. Luthers attack on ecclesiastical authority, Habermas argues, not only exacerbated the cleft of church and state, but located faith in the intersubjective exchange between the human being and God. Protestant hermeneutics, in which every believer became an interpreter of Scripture, foreshadowed a communicative rationality in which authority is accorded to the most convincing argument.
Habermas reconstructs the interactions of Christian faith and worldly knowledge as a process not of conflict, but of mutual learning and translation.
At the same time, Luthers attempt to secure faith from the incursions of worldly authority set up its own undoing. The Reformation, in addition to the scientific and political revolutions of the seventeenth century, tore apart the Augustinian and Thomist syntheses of ontology (what is there?) with practical philosophy (what should I do?). The secularization of state power, epitomized in the English constitutional revolution, eroded the Christian foundations of political order; the determinism of Newtonian laws threatened to undermine human free will, the kernel of Christian morality. The question of legitimacy emerged as the Achilles heel of modern thought.
David Hume and Immanuel Kant are the eighteenth-century thinkers who, for Habermas, articulated the paradigm-shifting responses to this problem. Seventeenth-century philosophers could reconcile faith and knowledge only at the expense of inconsistent foundations: consider Thomas Hobbess argument for religiously based monarchy despite his avowed atheism and John Lockes return to divinely ordained natural law. Only in Hume and Kant was the breakthrough to postmetaphysical thinking achieved. Hume disaggregated human subjectivity into a succession of sense-impressions, dissolving Christian metaphysics. But Kant emerges as the hero of Habermass narrative, the figure who reconstructed the rational core of Christianity in the wake of Humes withering critique. Kants categorical imperative, which called on individuals to posit their actions as the basis for a universal law, established a universal morality on purely rational grounds.
Habermas presents the history of post-Kantian philosophy as a short path toward his own theory of communicative action. The key challenge was to ground the concept of rational libertywhich Kant defined as the subjects obedience to a self-willed lawin an account of society. G. F. W. Hegel, building on Herders turn to history and culture, identified reason with an objective Spirit unfolding through time. Yet if Hegel took a step forward beyond Kants isolated subject, his valorization of state-imposed morality (Sittlichkeit) was a step back to Christian monarchism. Only Hegels leftwing successors of the 1830s developed a social theory of language to mediate between subject and object. The Young Hegelian Ludwig Feuerbach located the potential for human freedom not in a transcendent God but in everyday social relations, constituted through language.
For Habermas, modern constitutions create the institutional framework for a participatory public sphere, the heart of democratic life. Citizens are bound only by the force of the better argument and can reach agreement across cultural divides.
Habermas titles his last chapter The Contemporaneity of the Young Hegelians, underscoring an enduring shift in the locus of reason from subjective consciousness to intersubjective communication. He dismisses Karl Marxs critique of ideology, which situated the theorist over the heads of the participants themselves. Instead, Habermas regards Charles Sanders Peirce, the founder of American pragmatism, as the true successor to the Young Hegelians. Peirce developed Feuerbachs philosophy of language into a full-fledged theory of knowledge. For Peirce, scientific knowledge obtained solely in intersubjective understandings. Language was the essential medium coordinating between the external world and the research of the scientific community.
Habermas, finally, draws a line to his own writings. Whereas Peirce uncovered linguistic learning processes in science and technology, Habermass own work since the 1980s has shown how communication fosters progress in moral and political life as well. Habermas elects not to engage the late twentieth-century debates that surrounded his corpus. That, he writes, would have required at least one more book. But this decision only contributes to the air of inevitability surrounding This Too a History of Philosophy. Habermass theory of communicative rationality emerges as the outcome of, and explanation for, the trajectory he has traced since the Axial Age. The learning process, it would seem, culminates in its own self-awarenessrealized in Habermass oeuvre.
This brief summary can hardly do justice to the staggering array of texts and debates that Habermas explores. The architecture of the work is ingenious, if its teleology does not fully convince. Most pressing, however, Habermas intends his History not only as a historical exercise, but as a record of the ideas that have furnished the political foundations of the modern West. The work invites readers to consider the resonancesand contradictionsbetween philosophy and politics.
Habermas himself, as in his previous works, sees a close alignment of the two. The normative implications he draws will not surprise veteran readers. A detranscendentalized concept of rational libertythe result of the three-thousand-year dialogue of faith and knowledgeforms the key to a universalist rational morality that makes possible the discursive resolution of moral conflicts, even with a multiplicity of heterogeneous voices. In turn, the historical traces of those moral-practical learning processes traced over his study are deposited in the practices and legal guarantees of democratic constitutional states. In short, modern constitutions create the institutional framework for a participatory public sphere, the heart of democratic life. Here, citizens are bound only by the force of the better argument and can reach agreement across cultural divides.
A tension persists between Habermass political ideals and his historical framework. His storys European origin collides with its universal intent.
It is an appealing vision. At a time when a global pandemic has only exacerbated spiraling inequalities, pervasive racism, and xenophobic insurgencies on both sides of the Atlantic, Habermas suggests that humanity already possesses the resources for levelheaded debate oriented toward the common good. Yet a tension persists between Habermass political ideals and his historical framework. The gap is not so much one of theory and practice, which Habermas readily acknowledges. Instead, his storys European origin collides with its universal intent. Habermas insists that postmetaphysical reasonbecause it refuses to take refuge in foundational certaintiesprovides a basis for the inter-cultural dialogue necessary to confront global crises of climate change, mass migration, and unregulated markets. But by tracing the emergence of modern rationality solely to a Western, and Christian, learning process, he elides the historical reckoning necessary for any such dialogue.
The same problem faced Habermass Enlightenment precursors, who equally saw Europe as the source of universal ideals. Yet philosophical histories of the German Enlightenment also recognized the role of power in history, and the violence that saturated Europes interactions with the non-European world. Kants 1784 essay Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose, which informs Habermass argument for a global public sphere, predicted the achievement of world peace through the improvement in the political constitutions of our continent (which will probably legislate eventually for all other continents). Herder more directly confronted the nexus of European global domination and colonial violence, and suggested that history would have its revenge. Europe must give compensation for the debts that it has incurred, make good the crimes that it has committednot from choice but according to the very nature of things.
Even Hegels history of Absolute Spirit, the most bluntly Eurocentric teleology of classical German Idealism, attests to counter-narratives that shook the self-certainties of revolutionary Europe. As the political theorist Susan Buck-Morss has pointed out, the Haitian Revolution of 17911804, the slave uprising that overthrew French rule over the Caribbean island, may well have motivated Hegels early account of freedom. Though Hegel would later become an apologist for slavery, his dialectical theory of history modeled how political ideals emerge out of struggle, not only consensus. At the same time that Idealist philosophies of history enacted colonialist apologetics, they could also, if inadvertently, subvert them.
This Too a History of Philosophy, by contrast, devotes limited attention to the contradictions of European slavery and colonialism, as well as their problematic treatment by contemporaries. Habermas instead frames colonial encounters as moments in the learning process, way stations on the path toward moral universalism. He addresses the conquest of the Americas only to conclude that Francisco de Vitoria, the sixteenth-century Scholastic who defended the property rights of indigenous peoples, exemplified the universal reach of Catholic natural law. A long section on Lockes theory of natural rights omits their use to justify colonial expropriations.
Haiti, too, is absent from Habermass History, as is the centuries-long, intra-Christian debate over the legitimacy of slavery. Instead, Habermas tells a more straightforward story. The abolition of slavery, he argues, is a popular and really striking example of moral learning:
While the slaves always should have been understood as persons who were denied the social status of free people, the masters first had to learn to recognize and acknowledge in the Other the same person that they were in themselves.
But this description is misleading. It elides not only slaverys enduring legacies, but the histories of resistance, civil war, and violent backlash that paved the twisted road to emancipation. And these histories can hardly be decoupled from the emergence of human rights. Habermas takes the enactment of democratic constitutions to mark the historical embodiment of reason, but the North Atlantic constitutions of the Age of Revolution continued to authorize slavery at the same time that they expanded the rights of privileged groups.
Habermas proceeds similarly through nineteenth- and twentieth-century social reform, passing over the contested, politicized, and still ongoing struggles by which marginalized groups claimed legal rights. Like the abolition of slavery, Habermas regards the authorization of religious tolerance, freedom of opinion, [and] sexual equality, increasingly also the recognition of sexual freedom as the results of moral learning processes. Such learning occurs when
relevant parts of the population discover new connections to other people, toward whom until then they had felt little or only weak obligation . . . allowing them to understand that even these strangers are in no relevant manner different from themselves.
Habermas does not further specify who stands on each side of these learning processes, the active bestowers of rights and the receptive strangers. The implication, however, is that extensions of rights tend to proceed from the moral learning of societys dominant groups.
Habermass account of Western moral progress not only stands apart from classics of critical theory like Horkheimer and Adornos Dialectic of Enlightenment. It is also, arguably, in tension with his own earlier work on the public sphere. In an essay for Habermass ninetieth birthday, the philosopher Mara Pa Lara underscores how Habermass concept of publicity provides tools for feminists and other excluded groups to challenge power structures and demand recognition as political subjects. Yet stories of excluded groups and individuals who inserted themselves into the public sphereand the canon of Western philosophyare all but absent from This Too a History of Philosophy. For its many twists and turns, the history Habermas tells is linear and aggregative, the unfolding of an immanent logic. Rarely do we learn of realizations that were unjustly discarded, knowledge suppressed, experiments failed. In the learning process, it would seem, little is forgotten.
Habermas might object that such a critique misses the point. Painful histories of slavery and colonialism are not at issue, since Western political thought has still come to hold the abolition of racism (or sexism, religious discrimination, or homophobia) as a normative ideal to orient action. And to challenge Habermass conception of the learning process might appear to forfeit the Enlightenment promise of the rational improvement of the human condition.
By tracing the emergence of modern rationality solely to a Western, and Christian, learning process, he elides the historical reckoning necessary for inter-cultural dialogue.
To raise questions of historical accuracy, however, is not to reject Habermass ideals. His goalsconstitutional democracy buttressed by a robust public sphere, equal rights realized in both law and practice, and international cooperation around global problemsremain critically important, even as their attainment appears ever more remote. But a history oriented toward the realization of these ideals would require fuller examination of the contexts under which they were formed and contested. To narrow the genesis of moral universalism to a Western, Christian learning process limits our understanding of how political change happened in the past. Transforming the contingent into the inexorable, such a narrative constricts social theorys thinking of possible futures.
Habermas draws to a close with a reference to Theodor Adornos late essay, Reason and Revelation. Reflecting upon on the modern revival of irrational faiths, Adorno concluded that a return to religion could not be sustained. Nothing of theological content will persist without being transformed, Adorno pronounced. Every content will have to put itself to the test of migrating into the realm of the secular, the profane.
Adorno wrote these words in homage to his friend and interlocutor Walter Benjamin, who committed suicide in 1940 fleeing Nazi persecution at the French-Spanish border. Its inclusion is a fitting tribute to Adorno, Habermass teacher and the thinker who articulated the crisis of modern civilization to which Habermass career has responded. And Habermas answers Adorno in a manner fitting of Benjamin, whose late writings perceived the glimmer of messianic hope peering through histories of suffering:
So long as religious experience can still support, on the basis of ritual praxis, the presence of a strong transcendence . . . the question remains open for secular reason whether there are uncompensated semantic contents that still await a translation into the profane.
Religion, Habermas suggests, might retain a sacral core that resists secularization.
Yet Habermass concluding reflection is also jarring, underscoring his departure from the Frankfurt Schools first generation. For Adorno and Benjamin, the experience of brute suffering, epitomized in their own time with the rise of National Socialism, revealed the falsehood of progressive teleologies of human reason. Habermas, by contrast, alludes only once to the historical conditions of his predecessors thought, at the end of a long introduction. Regression, he notes, remains the constant shadow of progress:
What we experienced in the twentieth century as a true break in civilization is anything other than a relapse into barbarism, but the absolutely new, and from now on always present possibility of the moral collapse of an entire nation.
Habermas goes on to concede that unreason in history will be a neglected theme in what is to follow. The Nazi period does not reappear.
Set in the context of German history, an implicit premise of Habermass work may well be that the Federal Republic of Germanys democratic transformation, what Habermas earlier termed its unconditional opening toward the West, vindicates the long arc of the learning process. The unreason that preoccupied his forebears, Habermas seems to suggest, should not blind us to the Wests historical achievements. Habermas has been rightly lauded for seeking a way forward beyond his precursors totalizing critique of reason. His own public contributions proved vital to fostering democratic culture in postwar Germany. But Habermass History avoids linking the emergence of Western-cum-universal rationality with systems of violence and dispossession whose legacies are all too visible todayand that also shaped the history of philosophy.
The unreason that preoccupied his forebears, Habermas seems to suggest, should not blind us to the Wests historical achievements.
Still, by any measure, This Too a History of Philosophy is a landmark achievement. The text caps a generative intellectual career, clarifying how Habermas understands the historical and conceptual foundations of his lifelong project. Most significantly, the work will inspire the next cohort of critical theorists to confront anew the problem of philosophys historical ground. Challenges to democracy and struggles for justice in our own moment may belie the conviction that public reason is the sole heritage of the West, or the apex of its historical progress. But thinking with and against Habermas offers powerful tools for reconsidering the place of communicative action in social theory's project of emancipation. Returning to history as a critical lens on the discourse of philosophy, rather than the canvas of its rational development, offers one path forward.
Authors Note: The author would like to thank Liat Spiro for many conversations about the questions treated in this essay.
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An early, thorough intervention based on science laid solid foundations for the UAE to fight the coronavirus outbreak and has allowed it to be in a much more confident position, Dr Anwar Gargash said on Wednesday.
The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs said the UAE benefited from avoiding a total shutdown, doing as much as it could to protect lives without completely closing down the economy.
Dr Gargash said wide-ranging action was taken as soon as it became clear how dangerous Covid-19 was becoming.
That left the country with enough personal protective equipment for domestic needs, while allowing it to supply other countries as well.
Dr Gargash was speaking at an online seminar hosted by the Middle East Institute in Washington.
The seminar looked at the UAEs relations with the US and its foreign policy outlook, and included remarks on the Qatar boycott, the Iran nuclear deal and more.
Dr Gargash said the UAE was managing very well, as he pointed to the three million coronavirus tests carried out.
Early preparation for this, I think, has helped us a lot," he said.
"As soon as we saw developments and news coming out from the Far East, China, Korea and others, we realised that this is a pandemic.
We did not, naturally, know what the dimensions would be but we got ready very early on and we put together, in my opinion, a very active response.
"It was a response that depended on science and depended very early on on testing and tracing, and at the same time trying not to completely shut down society and the economy.
"We felt that a certain balance is required because a public health issue such as this will have repercussions in many other areas.
We are much more confident today. When Covid-19 started it was quite a novel challenge. You had to learn basically as you go and many of the steps that we took were the correct ones.
"Not every step was the right step but overall I think we did very well."
Dr Gargash said the preparation was shown in the amount of personal protection equipment, such as masks, and testing kits available.
The UAE has recorded 43,364 cases since the outbreak, 29,537 recoveries and 295 deaths.
Dr Gargash said that early on, authorities were keen to ensure that people from all parts of the UAE understood that the state would take care of them and provide necessary treatment.
Im very, very proud of how my country Im talking here as a citizen is handling this with, I think, the right balance of professionalism and rationalism, and at the same time a humanitarian urge, he said.
Tables are spread out at the Cafe Milano at the Four Seasons Hotel, Abu Dhabi. Victor Besa / The National
Maximum occupancy sign at the reception of Cafe Milano. Victor Besa / The National
American father-son duoRaj andSebastianDagstani last year opened a pizza restaurant in Abu Dhabi. Victor Besa / The National
Tables are placed at least two metres apart at the food court. in Al Wahda Mall, which reopened after a coronavirus-enforced shutdown. Victor Besa / The National
Tables are placed at least two metres apart at the food court. in Al Wahda Mall, which reopened after a coronavirus-enforced shutdown. Victor Besa / The National
Al Wahda Mall in Abu Dhabi is now open after a coronavirus-enforced shutdown. Victor Besa / The National
Wearing of masks has been made compulsory to beat the coronavirus.Victor Besa / The National
A woman wearing protective face mask as a preventive measure against the spread of coronavirus arrives at a bus stop in Abu Dhabi. UAE government has eased the coronavirus restriction for residents and businesses around the country. Pawan Singh / The National
A ban on driving in and out of Abu Dhabiemirate came into force on Tuesday, June 2 to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Pawan Singh / The National
Emirati security officers at a checkpoint at the entrance of Abu Dhabi, on the motorway linking Dubai to the capital, on June 2, 2020, after authorities cordoned off the city to fight the coronavirus. AFP
He spoke at length about the UAEs relationship with major powers including the EU, Russia, India and China.
Dr Gargash praised ties with India that have become stronger during the tenure of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the economic partnership with China and the increasing influence of Russia in the Middle East.
But he singled out the US for particularly commendation.
The United States is our single most important strategic partnership," Dr Gargash said.
"Sometimes people, when they think of our relationship with the US, they just look at the political/military angle. But this relationship is really much, much wider.
IT, in business, investment, in soft power, in the presence of institutions such as NYU Abu Dhabi, in people like me who spent some of the best years of their lives in America.
We recognise that there has been for a while now an internal debate and dialogue about US policy overseas and in the Middle East, and we follow that keenly.
"And all I want to say is we want America to remain engaged in the region. I think that is an important part.
Under President Donald Trump, the US and UAE outlook on Iran appears more similar than that under the previous administration of Barack Obama.
Mr Trump has been highly critical of the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, and withdrew the US from it in 2018.
Tehran has begun enriching uranium above the limits of the 2015 deal after Mr Trump renewed sanctions and diplomatic efforts have failed find a way to ease the dispute.
Pressure is particularly high in the Arabian Gulf, where Iran seized foreign-registered oil tankers last year.
Dr Gargash said it was unrealistic to go back to the nuclear deal but added that it was in the interests of everyone to reduce the tension.
We have to be clear and say that the we have a major issue of global significance, and this is not going to go away unless we create a process to resolve this issue, he said.
Having said that, I think clearly the countries of the region, the Arab countries of the region, dont believe that the 2015 [deal] was an effective formula.
"Were not part of the process, we were never involved.
Dr Gargash said he felt that exclusion hurt the process rather than supporting it.
I think that Iran understood the 2015 agreement as a carte blanche for it to play the role of a regional power, he said.
Dr Gargash said countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia needed to be involved in future discussions but Irans regional policy also had to be addressed.
What I know very clearly is that this time around, countries like ours, countries like Saudi Arabia, should be part of this process," he said.
"If were really talking about resolving this issue of irans relationship with the region and the relationship with the US and with the world, I think that we need to have something that is more thorough. There has to be our input.
Regional powers have clashed with Iran over its support for Lebanese group Hezbollah and Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The UAE, along with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain, is also in a dispute with Qatar over its support for extremism.
Dr Gargash said he backed the approach of the Saudis, who have taken the lead in solving the crisis.
But he said it depended on whether Doha wanted to change its behaviour.
You know Ive said publicly that we dont really want to spend too much time on it," Dr Gargash said.
"I think when the Qataris are ready and are willing to do some sort of self-analysis of where they went wrong with their policy, I think the doors will be open to their reintegration.
That is one thing, but you cannot also resolve an issue on the surface and have another crisis in six months time, four years time.
Dr Gargash also said that Turkey remained a major trading partner with the UAE, but Ankaras policies in the Arab region were not sustainable".
Updated: June 18, 2020 02:48 AM
Posted: June 17, 2020 at 1:53 am
Stirrings of religious rationalism were already felt in the Middle Ages regarding the Christian revelation. Thus, the skeptical mind of Peter Abelard (10791142) raised doubts by showing in his Sic et non (Yes and No) many contradictions among beliefs handed down as revealed truths by the Church Fathers. Aquinas, the greatest of the medieval thinkers, was a rationalist in the sense of believing that the larger part of revealed truth was intelligible to and demonstrable by reason, though he thought that a number of dogmas opaque to reason must be accepted on authority alone.
Religious rationalism did not come into its own, however, until the 16th and 17th centuries, when it took two chief forms: the scientific and the philosophical.
Galileo was a pioneer in astronomy and the founder of modern dynamics. He conceived of nature as governed throughout by laws statable with mathematical precision; the book of nature, he said, is written in mathematical form. This notion not only ruled out the occasional appeal to miracle; it also collided with dogmas regarding the permanent structure of the worldin particular with that which viewed the Earth as the motionless centre of the universe. When Galileos demonstration that the Earth moves around the Sun was confirmed by the work of Sir Isaac Newton (16421727) and others, a battle was won that marked a turning point in the history of rationalism, since it provided a decisive victory in a crucial case of conflict between reason and apparently revealed truth.
The rationalism of Descartes, as already shown, was the outcome of philosophical doubt rather than of scientific inquiry. The self-evidence of the cogito, seen by his natural light, he made the ideal for all other knowledge. The uneasiness that the church soon felt in the face of such a test was not unfounded, for Descartes was in effect exalting the natural light into the supreme court even in the field of religion. He argued that the guarantee against the possibility that even this natural light might be deceptive lay in the goodness of the Creator. But then to prove this Creator, he had to assume the prior validity of the natural light itself. Logically, therefore, the last word lay with rational insight, not with any outside divine warrant (see Cartesian circle). Descartes was inadvertently beginning a Copernican revolution in theology. Before his time, the truths regarded as most certain were those accepted from revelation; afterward these truths were subject to the judgment of human reason, thus breaking the hold of authority on the European mind.
The rationalist attitude quickly spread, its advance forming several waves of general interest and influence. The first wave occurred in England in the form of Deism. Deists accepted the existence of God but spurned supernatural revelation. The earliest member of this school, Lord Herbert of Cherbury (15831648), held that a just God would not reveal himself to a part of his creation only and that the true religion is thus a universal one, which achieves its knowledge of God through common reason. The Deistic philosopher John Toland (16701722), in his Christianity Not Mysterious (1696), sought to show that there is nothing in the Gospels contrary to reason, nor above it; any doctrine that is really above reason would be meaningless to humans. Attacking revelation, the freethinking polemicist Anthony Collins (16761729) maintained that the prophecies of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) failed of fulfillment; and the religious controversialist Thomas Woolston (16701733) urged that the New Testament miracles, as recorded, are incredible. Matthew Tindal (16571733), most learned of the English Deists, argued that the essential part of Christianity is its ethics, which, being clearly apparent to natural reason, leaves revelation superfluous. Thus the Deists, professing for the most part to be religious men themselves, did much to reconcile their public to the free play of ideas in religion.
The second wave of religious rationalism, less moderate in tone and consequences, was French. This wave, reflecting an engagement with the problem of natural evil, involved a decay in the natural theology of Deism such that it merged eventually with the stream that led to materialistic atheism. Its moving spirit was Voltaire (16941778), who had been impressed by some of the Deists during a stay in England. Like them, he thought that a rational person would believe in God but not in supernatural inspiration. Hardly a profound philosopher, he was a brilliant journalist, clever and humorous in argument, devastating in satire, and warm in human sympathies. In his Candide and in many other writings, he poured irreverent ridicule on the Christian scheme of salvation as incoherent and on the church hierarchy as cruel and oppressive. In these attitudes he had the support of Denis Diderot (171384), editor of the most widely read encyclopaedia that had appeared in Europe. The rationalism of these men and their followers, directed against both the religious and the political traditions of their time, did much to prepare the ground for the explosive French Revolution.
The next wave of religious rationalism occurred in Germany under the influence of Hegel, who held that a religious creed is a halfway house on the road to a mature philosophy, the product of a reason that is still under the sway of feeling and imagination. This idea was taken up and applied with learning and acuteness to the origins of Christianity by David Friedrich Strauss (180874), who published in 1835, at the age of 27, a remarkable and influential three-volume work, Das Leben Jesu (The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined, 1846). Relying largely on internal inconsistencies in the Synoptic Gospels, Strauss undertook to prove these books to be unacceptable as revelation and unsatisfactory as history. He then sought to show how an imaginative people innocent of either history or science, convinced that a messiah would appear, and deeply moved by a unique moral genius, inevitably wove myths about his birth and death, his miracles, and his divine communings.
Strausss thought as it affected religion was continued by the philosophical historian Ernest Renan (182392) and as it affected philosophy by the humanist Ludwig Feuerbach (180472) of the Hegelian left. Renans Vie de Jsus (1863; Life of Jesus) did for France what Strausss book had done for Germany, though the two differed greatly in character. Whereas Strausss work had been an intellectual exercise in destructive criticism, Renans was an attempt to reconstruct the mind of Jesus as a wholly human persona feat of imagination, performed with a disarming admiration and even reverence for its subject and with a felicity of style that gave it a large and lasting audience. Feuerbachs Wesen des Christentums (1841; Essence of Christianity) applied the myth theory even to belief in the existence of God, holding that man makes God in his own image.
The fourth wave occurred in Victorian England, following the publication in 1859 of Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (180982). This book was taken as a challenge to the authority of Scripture because there was a clear inconsistency between the Genesis account of creation and the biological account of humans slow emergence from lower forms of life. The battle raged with bitterness for several decades but died away as the theory of evolution gained more general acceptance.
Posted: at 1:53 am
The Conversation is running a series of explainers on key figures in Australian political history, examining how they changed the country and political debate. You can read the rest of the series here.
Paul Keating was one of Australias most charismatic and controversial prime ministers.
Born in Bankstown, New South Wales, into an Irish-Catholic, working-class and Labor-voting family, he left school before he turned 15. Keating joined the Labor Party as a teenager, quickly honing the political skills that would serve him so well in later life. He entered parliament as MP for Blaxland in 1969 at just 25 years old, and briefly served as minister for Northern Australia in the ill-fated Whitlam government.
He subsequently served as a very high-profile treasurer in the Hawke government from 1983-1991, before defeating Bob Hawke in a leadership ballot in December 1991. In doing so Keating became Australias 24th prime minister, serving until John Howard defeated him in the 1996 election.
To Keatings supporters, he is a visionary figure whose big picture ideas helped transform the Australian economy, while still pursuing socially inclusive policies. To his conservative critics, Keating left a legacy of government debt and rejected mainstream Australians in favour of politically correct special interests.
He was a skilled parliamentary performer, renowned for his excoriating put-downs and wit.
Keating played a major role in transforming Australian political debate. He highlighted the role of markets in restructuring the economy, engagement with Asia, Australian national identity and the economic benefits of social inclusion.
Keating is remembered most for his eloquent advocacy of so-called economic rationalism both as treasurer and later as prime minister.
Under Hawke and Keating, Labor advocated free markets, globalisation, deregulation and privatisation, albeit in a less extreme form than the Liberals advocated. For example, while Labor introduced major public sector cuts, it attempted to use means tests to target the cuts and protect those most in need. Nonetheless, Hawke and Keating embraced the market far more than previous Labor leaders had.
Along with New Zealand Labour, Australian Labor became one of the international pioneers of a rapprochement between social democracy and a watered-down form of free-market neoliberalism. Years later, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who had visited Australia during the Hawke and Keating years, was to acknowledge the influence of Australian Labor on his own Third Way approach to politics.
Keating justified his economic rationalism on the grounds that the Australian economy needed to transform to be internationally competitive in a changing world. To avoid becoming one of the worlds economic museums or banana republics, in Keatings view, there was no alternative but to embrace his economic rationalist agenda.
At the same time, Keating argued that his economic policies would avoid social injustices. This contrasted with the outcomes of the extreme economic rationalism of the Thatcher and Reagan governments.
Unlike in the UK or US, where anti-union policies were pursued, the Labor government was prepared to work with the trade union movement to introduce its economic policies. Under the Accord agreements, trade unions agreed to wage restraint, and eventually real wage cuts, in return for government services and benefits.
Read more: Australian politics explainer: the Prices and Incomes Accord
Hawke and Keating referred to this as the social wage. They claimed the resulting increased business profits would encourage economic growth and rising standards of living.
Keating saw his economic policies and progressive social policies as compatible. Increased social inclusion would contribute to economic growth.
Drawing on Hawke-era affirmative action legislation, Keating argued improved gender equality would mean women could contribute their skills to the economy.
Keating was also a passionate advocate for reconciliation with Indigenous Australians, including acknowledging the injustices of Australias colonial past and facilitating Native Title. He envisaged an Australia where Indigenous people would benefit from sustainable economic development, cultural tourism and could sell their artworks to the world.
In Keatings ideal vision, Australia would engage more with Asia and benefit from the geo-economic changes occurring in the Asia-Pacific region.
Then Opposition Leader John Howard accused Keating of rejecting Australias British heritage. In fact, Keating acknowledged many positive British influences on Australian society. However, he argued that Australia had developed its own democratic innovations such as the secret ballot long before Britain accepted these. He also suggested Australian values had become more inclusive as a result of diverse waves of immigration.
Consequently, it was time for Australia to throw off its colonial heritage, including the British monarchy, and become a republic. Keating believed that doing so would enable Australia to be more easily accepted as an independent nation in the Asian region. He established a Republic Advisory Committee as part of preparations for a referendum on becoming a republic.
Australias greater relationship with Asia has had major benefits for the economy, although Keating underestimated the downsides of increased competition. Recently, he complained about what he sees as excessive security fears in relation to China and their impact on Asian engagement. The republic remains unfinished business.
Keatings vision has also left some unintended consequences for Labor today. Despite his patchy record in achieving them, Keating argued that both tax cuts and budget surpluses were important, even at the expense of public sector cuts.
Read more: Vale Bob Hawke, a giant of Australian political and industrial history
Consequently, it became harder for Labor leaders to make a case for deficit-funded stimulus packages when needed (as Kevin Rudd tried to do during the Global Financial Crisis). Similarly, it became harder for Labor leaders to argue for increased taxes to fund a bigger role for government, as Bill Shorten attempted during the 2019 election.
In addition, as I argue in a recent book, Keating-era policy contributed in the longer term to poorer wages and conditions for workers. Labor is predictably loath to acknowledge this. Keating also underestimated the detrimental impacts of economic rationalism on other vulnerable groups in the community.
The 2019 election result suggests many Australians no longer believe Labor governments will improve their standards of living.
Rather than the prosperous brave new world he envisaged, parts of the Keating legacy may have made things harder for subsequent Labor leaders. Nonetheless, Keating remains a revered figure in the Labor Party and one of its most memorable leaders.
Posted: at 1:52 am
Jair Bolsonaro, the President of Brazil, rode during a march organized by his followers on May 31 in Brasilia.Ueslei Marcelino / .
PANAMA CITY It has become common to hear that the negligent policies of Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump regarding the pandemic respond to the fact that these presidents prioritize the economy of their countries over the health of their population. In the case of Trump, it is stressed that he needs to get to November without a ruined economy, otherwise his reelection is virtually impossible. I am not convinced. Or rather, this diagnosis, without being incorrect, is crucially incomplete: rather than presidents in favor of laissez faire, they are leaders who belong to an old anti-rationalist political tradition.
The rejection of science, reason and the disastrous consequences they have generated, must be taken seriously and not be minimized as electoral strategies. Still less, discard them as pedestrian imbecility.
AND its not just about Trump and Bolsonaro. To stay in our hemisphere, the policies of Daniel Ortega and his wife and vice president, Rosario MurilloNicaragua enters this mold; some of the decisions of Andrs Manuel Lpez Obrador in Mexico and Jeanine ez in Bolivia too. We are before a trend that combines anti-enlightened impulses with a way of acting tied to instincts and mysticism, and that privileges the bosss outburst over reason.
Some of these leaders had crossed lances against science before coming to the presidency. Their mandates have been consistent with it. And obscurantism, with impeccable logic, distilled dark consequences.
In 2016, Bolsonaro was baptized, like Christ, in the Jordan River. The brand new president imposed a slogan of panic: Brazil above all and God above all. Against the evidence, he denied the predation of the Amazon and threw out the director of the National Institute for Space Research who showed satellite images that proved it. When COVID-19 arrived, he called it a flu, dismissed two health ministers in the midst of the storm, and joined protests against the confinements. Of course, lets face it, he invited a religious fast to get rid of the disease. Now Brazil is the new center of the world crisis with the second global number of infected people and, it is estimated, it will soon be the second in terms of deaths as well.
A man with a mask walks in front of an advertisement with the photo of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua.Inti Ocon for The New York Times
Pink Revolution is the term to refer to the magical-socialist regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo. The political manifestations of Sandinismo resemble public homilies. She is an avalanche of mysticism: she assures that she speaks with Rubn Daro and that one of her children is the reincarnation of Sandino. When COVID-19 landed in Nicaragua, The esoteric dictatorship organized demonstrations, marathons, mass masses, processions, among other acts that seemed destined to infect the entire country as soon as possible.. After a long time without recognizing the progression of the disease, they have accepted that divine containment had limitations. The massive and clandestine burials reflect that the situation is out of control.
We have not seen Trump, like Murillo, with quartz rings and other stones with supposed magical powers, but he has shown a consistent rejection of science and evidence. Before becoming president, he spread the infamy of associating vaccines with autism. Considering that global warming is a concept that China invented to reduce the competitiveness of North American companies, it withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change. An article from the University of Melbourne demonstrates the presidents anti-science attitude. And from there he faced COVID-19. He confessed that he said things that doctors would surely advise him to keep quiet. He suggested that injecting bleach could be a home remedy. People close to Trump have endorsed the conspiracy theory that Bill Gates is seeking to inoculate us with a chip in the COVID-19 vaccine. The result of all this delirium is that today the United States has more than 100,000 deaths from coronavirus. That is to say, almost 30 percent of the world deceased, although its population is around 5 percent of the global total.
Donald Trump held the Bible in front of St. Johns Church on June 1, 2020.Patrick Semansky / Associated Press
The point is, then, that obscurantism is a way of understanding knowledge and the world and that these rulers have acted accordingly. And that therefore obscurantism must be taken seriously.
The anti-illustration is almost as old as the illustration. The illustration, as defined by Kant in 1784, seeks to emancipate humanity from the hand of reason under the tutelage of different forces. The French philosophes are the vanguard that introduces in the sciences of society the desacralizing will of the hard sciences. Newtons laws precede the spirit of Montesquieus laws by almost a century. Reason summons the general. And, therefore, the universal. Neither physics nor mans rights, then, depend on his province. The global, the cosmopolitan, the possibility of humanity is reaffirmed.
Anti-enlightenment is the reaction against that combo. Since the end of the 18th century, romanticism has emerged in what will be Germany. Science is rejected as a social tool. It awakens anti-intellectualism and the exaltation of religious, poets and mystics. The moral order that is not anchored to a specific cultural community is denounced. Rather than acting for reason, they follow the drives, the vigor and the emotion. So when romanticism leaves its natural artistic space and turns to politics, it will embrace nationalism.
In its political and radical version, the anti-rationalist impulse germinated in the interwar European fascisms. But in Latin America the genuinely fascist movements were anecdotal. Some of his paraphernalia and anti-Semitism stood out in the populisms of the 20th century (in Argentine Peronism, the Bolivian MNR or Peruvian Aprismo) and much of his state terrorism was present in the dictatorships of the Southern Cone in the 1970s. But generally speaking, we did not have an institutionalized anti-rationalist policy. When Bolsonaro promises that the next supreme judge he names will be terribly evangelical, we set foot on new ground.
The recent success of these positions in various countries indicates a transformation that cannot be ruled out as a political, strategic or temporary event.. Lets think about Costa Rica: 10 deaths from coronavirus. Copy. Without being a rich country, it has spent 8 years of its Gross Domestic Product on health, and there are the results. Now imagine that Fabricio Alvarado, the evangelical candidate who reached the second presidential round in 2018 and whose wife speaks in tongues had won. Would we have the same results? Probably not. So, as national discussions revolved around political or economic issues, the damaging consequences of anti-rationalism watered down. But When an epidemic arrives that places science at the existential center of the countries, anti-rationalism becomes deadly.
When post-truth was chosen the word of the year 2016, more than one skeptic thought that the concept, in fact, pointed to the lie of a lifetime. They were wrong. Disdain for experts and data revealed an obscurantist way of approaching knowledge. Actually, Timothy Snyder was correct in ensuring that post-truth was pre-fascism, because, indeed, fascism is the radical political expression of contempt for what is reasonable and universal.
The President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro. (Jodson Alves / EPA via Shutterstock)
At the moment, we have seen plots of fascism in these governments: the contempt for minorities, a traditional macho attitude against women and, above all, a general behavior that fits in the word that George Orwell claimed described fascism better than any other: bully. But with the exception of Nicaragua, where we can appreciate the stabilization of a regime with fascist features, in the United States and Latin America we have seen glimpses of fascism.
On the other hand, what COVID-19 has allowed us to see, clearly and in all its breadth, is the anti-rationalist ferment that distills those political positions. As Anne Applebaum has noted, the three closest officials to Donald Trump feel like they are waging a biblical battle where there is no room for doubt. Unfortunately, the death, famine and fear that this pandemic will generate can be fertile ground for this type of project. It pays to be forewarned and know that, whether we are right or left, it is better not to choose an anti-rationalist as a lesser evil. Nothing illustrates this better than the extent to which investors are withdrawing their capital from Brazil in these weeks. Bolsonaro, the pro-capitalist, was, in fact, an anti-rationalist. The rest of the hemisphere is warned.
Alberto Vergara is a professor and researcher at the Universidad del Pacfico, Lima.
(c) The New York Times 2020
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