Neil deGrasse Tyson may be a gifted popularizer of science, but when it comes to humanistic learning more generally, he is a philistine …
[I]t’s been definitively demonstrated by a recent interview in which Tyson sweepingly dismisses the entire history of philosophy. Actually, he doesn’t just dismiss it. He goes much further — to argue that undergraduates should actively avoid studying philosophy at all. Because, apparently, asking too many questions “can really mess you up.”
Yes, he really did say that … [B]ehold the spectacle of an otherwise intelligent man and gifted teacher sounding every bit as anti-intellectual as a corporate middle manager or used-car salesman. He proudly proclaims his irritation with “asking deep questions” that lead to a “pointless delay in your progress” in tackling “this whole big world of unknowns out there.” When a scientist encounters someone inclined to think philosophically, his response should be to say, “I’m moving on, I’m leaving you behind, and you can’t even cross the street because you’re distracted by deep questions you’ve asked of yourself. I don’t have time for that.”
“I don’t have time for that.”
With these words, Tyson shows he’s very much a 21st-century American, living in a perpetual state of irritated impatience and anxious agitation. Don’t waste your time with philosophy! (And, one presumes, literature, history, the arts, or religion.) Only science will get you where you want to go! It gets results! Go for it! Hurry up! Don’t be left behind! Progress awaits!
(Damon Linker; H/T Patrick Grafton-Cardwell on Facebook)
Every one of the popular modern phrases and ideals is a dodge in order to shirk the problem of what is good. We are fond of talking about “liberty”; that, as we talk of it, is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about “progress”; that is a dodge to avoid talking about what is good . . . The modern man says, “Let us leave all these arbitrary standards and embrace liberty.” This is, logically rendered, “Let us not decide what is good, but let it be considered good not to decide it.” He says “Away with your old moral formulae; I am for progress.” This, logically stated, means “Let us not settle what is good; but let us settle whether we are getting more of it.”
Patrick Deneen picks up on how Title IX is turning campus Orwellian, and traces how abandonment of explicit in loco parentis brought us here. The whole thing is worth reading, as Deneen always is, but here’s a snippet as he moves toward conclusion:
In this one corner of our nation’s activities, we see a microcosm of the trajectory of liberalism. Longstanding local rules and cultures that governed behavior through education and cultivation of certain kinds of norms, manners, and morals, came to be regarded as an oppressive limitation upon the liberty of individuals. Those forms of control were lifted in the name of liberation, leading to regularized abuse of those liberties. In the name of redressing the injustices of those abuses, the federal government was seen as the only legitimate authority for redress and thereby exercised powers (ones that often require creative interpretations of federal law to reach down into private institutions) to re-regulate the liberated behaviors. However, now there is no longer a set of “norms” that seek cultivate forms of self-rule, since this would constitute an unjust limitation of our freedom. Now there can only be punitive threats that occur after the fact. One cannot seek to limit the exercise of freedom before the fact (presumably by using at one’s disposal education in character and virtue); one can only punish after the fact when one body has harmed another body.
We don’t know what is good, but we’re pretty sure campus rape is
bad regressive because it makes co-eds unequal under Title IX.
It’s an ad hoc response worthy of a society that’s basically on board with progressives who have no time for deep questions.
Professor Howard Friedman notes (a few days ago) Two Less Expected Reactions To Yesterday’s Supreme Court Decision On Legislative Prayer. The second:
The American Humanist Association announced that in reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision it is launching a program to provide resources for atheists and humanists to deliver secular invocations at legislative meetings. A new website allows governmental entities to identify humanists within their borders who can be invited to deliver invocations.
Meanwhile, FFRF plans more of a guerilla operation:
“We’d like to see secular citizens flood government meetings with secular invocations that illustrate why government prayers are unnecessary, ineffective, divisive, embarrassing and exclusionary of the 20-30 percent of the U.S. population today that identifies as nonreligious,” Gaylor said.
If I was Congressman Todd Rokita, after challenger Kevin Grant got 29% of the vote with nothing besides a lousy $45 web page, I’d be feeling very vulnerable and would be trying to hire some talent to come up with (1) some principles and (2) a few non-platitudes for expressing those principles (since, if I was Congressman Todd Rokita, I’d clearly have forgotten how to do such things for myself).
Or maybe I’d be firing the people who turned me into a self-caricature for supposed political marketability. Here’s Tuesday’s victory speech from Todd Rokita, Inc.
I’m awfully fond of the First Amendment, and will miss it greatly when they’ve finally killed it. But it lives, tenuously, still:
Prosecutors had justified their dawn raids and harassment in the name of exposing illegal coordination between the Walker campaign and conservative groups. But Judge Randa ruled that the investigation was based on a mistaken reading of campaign-finance law that violated Mr. O’Keefe’s First Amendment’s rights. “The defendants are pursuing criminal charges through a secret John Doe investigation against the plaintiffs for exercising issue advocacy speech rights that on their face are not subject to the regulations or statutes the defendants seek to enforce,” the judge wrote.
(Political Speech Wins In Wisconsin) Did you get that? “Dawn raids” for a suspected illegal coordination of campaign expenditures?! Who knows how much in defense costs before the victim of the prosecutors blew the whistle and turned the tables?
A big problem with these people is that they take kernels of truth — philosophical, geopolitical, etc. — about the failures of the liberal, postmodern order, and spin grand theories out of them that amount to justifications for neofascism, race hate, and modern forms of national socialism.
(Rod Dreher) Unfortunately, I know some people who are uncomfortably close to that.
Forget the Birds and the Bees. The new challenge is telling you child about the “fly on the wall.” Cory Doctorow tries to explain Edward Snowden:
So I explained to my daughter that there was a man who was a spy, who discovered that the spies he worked for were breaking the law and spying on everyone, capturing all their e-mails and texts and video-chats and web-clicks. My daughter has figured out how to use a laptop, phone, or tablet to peck out a message to her grandparents (autocomplete and spell-check actually make typing into an educational experience for kids, who can choose their words from drop-down lists that get better as they key in letters); she’s also used to videoconferencing with relatives around the world. So when I told her that the spies were spying oneverything, she had some context for it.
Right away, we were off to the races. ‘‘How can they listen to everyone at once?’’ ‘‘How can they read all those messages?’’ ‘‘How many spies are there?’’ I told her about submarine fiber-optic taps, prismatic beam-splitters, and mass databases. Again, she had a surprising amount of context for this, having encountered digital devices whose capacity was full – as when we couldn’t load more videos onto a tablet – and whose capacities could be expanded with additional storage.
Then I talked about not reading everything in realtime, and using text-search to pick potentially significant messages out of the stream. When I explained the spies were looking for ‘‘bad words’’ in the flow, she wanted to know if I meant swear words (she’s very interested in this subject). No, I said, I mean words like ‘‘bank robbery’’ (we haven’t really talked about terrorism yet – maybe next time).
And immediately she shot back, ‘‘That silly! What if I just wrote ‘I played bank robbery this afternoon’ in a message. Why should a spy get to read it?’’
* * * * *
“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)