Tuesday, 8/26/14

  1. Denial isn’t a river in Libya
  2. Polanyi’s paradox
  3. The limits of good policing policy
  4. Living in the third great ecotone
  5. Keeping Napa Valley earthquakes in perspective


The Libyan war has been directly contributing to instability and violence in North and West Africa for years now, which is something that supporters of the intervention insisted wouldn’t happen and then denied it when it started to happen. I have written several times on the war’s destabilizing effects on Mali, so I won’t repeat all that again. Suffice it to say that the Libyan war had already done more harm than good long before now.

… The desire to “help” Libyans with military action has directly contributed to the wrecking of their country. The lesson from all this that the U.S. and its allies shouldn’t be forcibly overthrowing foreign governments is an obvious one, and one that I am confident that all relevant policymakers in Washington will be sure to ignore.

(Daniel Larison)


Will Robots replace us and leave us jobless?

Autor argues that “Polanyi’s paradox,” whereby “We can know more than we can tell…” saves us from the threat of total automation dislocation, because there will always be jobs that rely on a variety of particularly human skills and tasks, skills and tasks that we can’t entirely explain to ourselves, much less to a computer. As the philosopher Michael Polanyi himself put it, “The skill of a driver cannot be replaced by a thorough schooling in the theory of the motorcar; the knowledge I have of my own body differs altogether from the knowledge of its physiology.”

(Jonathan Coppage, Robot Employment Survival 101)


There are bad policemen who take perverse pleasure in hurting others. There are lazy precinct captains who don’t adequately control their men. There are scared policemen who might shoot too soon. There are poorly trained policemen who use bad judgment. There are drunk and high policemen. These realities—all of which good policies can limit, but none eliminate—increase the likelihood that police will do bad things, including kill innocent people. And it’s the law of probability that the segment of the population of “special concern” for law enforcement—young black men—will suffer those wrongs to a disproportionate degree.

(R.R. Reno)


We are now living in the third great ecotone. It is symbolized by the fall of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. I know that most of you were only five or six years old when that happened. If any of you have a memory of it, it is likely a vague memory, but you have heard a lot about it. It marks the transition from modernity to postmodernity.

What is postmodernity? It is an era that defies definition and yet has distinctive traits—the privileging of pleasure over identity, and the downplaying of rational truth claims supported by logical argument. Postmodernism discounts any overarching metanarrative in favor of local, privatized stories. It is a world marked by the visual, the emotional, the immediate, the dramatic, the disconnected, and the disengaged. This is your world! It is the age of Twitter and twerking, of selfies and MTV. This is your world!

As my friend Chuck Colson asked in a book published several years before he died, “How now shall we live?” I think we get some guidance if we look back to that first great ecotonic transition, the end of classical antiquity and the beginning of the medieval era, especially to the figure of Aurelius Augustine—St. Augustine.

First of all, he was not born a saint. His father Patricius was a pagan, and his mother Monica was a Christian. He went off to study in Carthage, the great metropolitan center of North Africa. There he excelled in the field of rhetoric. Rhetoric, in Augustine’s day, was a combination of what we would call today law, politics, theater, and media—all aimed at the ability to persuade with eloquence and power.

At the same time, he was drawn away by his own desires and self-absorption. He says in the Confessions, “I traveled very far from you, and you did not stop me. I was tossed about and spilt, scattered and boiled dry in my fornications. And you were silent” (II. i (I)). Augustine was interested in three things—there are only three things in life to which people with no ultimate purpose give themselves—money, sex, and power; or gold, glands, and glory. Those were the three things to which Augustine gave himself. But then he came across a line in a now lost treatise of Cicero called Hortensius. That one line said something like this, “Riches, gold, fame are not the telos of life”

(Timothy George, commencement address at The Geneva School, Winter Park, Florida, May 23, 2014.)


You can’t our landscape, that’s so wonderful for making wine, without having had and living in a seismically active place. So it’s hard to remember that when your house is shaking and things are crashing to ground, but in the cold light of day when everything seems okay, it’s probably good to remember that.

(David Graves, C0-Founder of Saintsbury Winery, on All Things Considered) Well, yeah, that and the wrath of God toward California drunkards and sodomites.

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“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)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.