Saturday, 2/21/15

  1. A Brief, Heartening History of Race
  2. Food scolds do a 180
  3. Imperialism Goes Mental
  4. A most dubious foundation
  5. Reason’s Faith
  6. Biology doesn’t matter (except when it does)


You might want to sit down for this.

Damon Linker threw down the gauntlet:

Tell me, Chief Justice Moore, what will make the battle against same-sex marriage different? Do you really doubt that 50 years from now the vast majority of Americans — yes, even in Alabama — will accept the legitimacy of same-sex marriage? Can you point to any socio-cultural revolution — in race, gender, and now sexual orientation — that’s ever been halted or reversed?

Me, neither.

Pascal Emmanuel Gobry picks it up and slaps Linker silly with it:

Well, actually, race itself is a “socio-cultural revolution” that’s been “halted or reversed.”

As people on the left of the left, who usually care more about the history of ideas than milquetoast progressives, never tire of pointing out (and rightly), race is a social construct.

While some forms of distinctions and prejudice based on ancestry have always existed, the specific idea of race and the ideology of racism — the linkage of skin color with natural, immutable, and global essential traits — is an idea that has a very specific history, whose birth can be dated, which came to dominate the cultural worldview, and thence changed law and behavior. In other words, it was a socio-cultural revolution.

The conventional wisdom sees our civilization’s still-incomplete turn away from racism over the past 50 years as the cornerstone case for the inevitability, goodness, and irreversibility of socio-cultural revolution. In fact, it was not a “socio-cultural revolution”; it was the halting and reversing of a socio-cultural revolution.

Read the whole delightful, heartening thing. Linker may be right that in 50 years, “everyone” will think people like me were homophobic bigots. But in 150 years, I’m betting (safe bet; I won’t be around to collect from) that the same-sex “marriage” promoters will be seen as the spiritual heirs of Louis Agassiz …


… or the people who have confidently warned us of the evils of dietary cholesterol.

I don’t want to stop with too facile a parallel, though. The food scolds were responding to actual, notorious problems of obesity, diabetes, and such, not just gaslighting us for fun and “scientific” prestige.*

Still, I am quite unconvinced that the people who could be mistaken about dietary cholesterol (about which I knew they were mistaken years ago) can command my unquestioning adherence when they assure me that the sometimes-tasteless foods from Monsaton (that’s a synechoche, son) are identical or superior in nutrition to foods from God (or from humbler, slower, trial and error attempts at improvement). They nevertheless know this to be true because Monsaton commissioned a study, which was scruplously fair and tested every relevant variable.

Again and again in my life, I’ve seen anecdotal evidence vindicated, starting with what Mama and Pops told me about tobacco use and continuing to dietary cholesterol. And I’m sure my memory’s not at all selective. I did a study that proved it’s not. Trust me.


The NGOs assumed that their understanding of trauma could be easily transplanted to other cultures, so they sent volunteers who didn’t even speak the local languages. Sri Lankans lacked water and medicine; they got puppet therapy and coping bracelets.

Eve Tushnet muses on American mental health meddling. “When it comes to mental illness, not only the diseases but the cures are culturally-conditioned.”


In a recent article on the psychological cost of sadomasochism, Aaron Kheriaty makes the point that consent is a complicated issue. Most obviously, it has a social context and is typically shaped by existing power relations. In short, consent can be manufactured or indeed cajoled. It is therefore a very dubious foundation for a social ethic.

(Carl R. Trueman) But, Trueman continues, it’s even more dubious than what one might think from the generalities of “social context and … existing power relations.”


For someone who takes, for instance, a rigorously Darwinian line, purged of all metaphysical postulates, there may exist a fortuitous correlation between mind and world, but certainly no essential harmony. Any congruence between thought and its objects is a kind of functional mechanical miracle, so to speak, achieved by incalculable ages of gradual adaptation and evolutionary attrition. So the world is not really known, it does not truly disclose itself as thought, because it has no ontological disposition to do so. And reason (whatever that may be) may work, but it cannot reveal. The division between mind and world admits of no mediation. All this being so, the unyielding rationalist turns out to be the most irrational fideist of all: one who believes in reason even though there cannot possibly be any reason for that belief.

It is tempting sometimes to read the whole history of modern continental philosophy as a cautionary fable regarding this divorce of reason from faith.

(David Bentley Hart, Reason’s Faith)


California recently passed a law altering the birth certificate. The new version will allow pretty much whomever to sign a newborn’s birth certificate in whatever way he or she ­wishes: father, mother, or just “­parent.” Same-sex couples who already have children can alter their children’s birth certificates retroactively as well. Meanwhile, in New Jersey, adoption activists applauded when Governor Christie signed a law giving them the right to gain access to original birth records, allowing them to know who their biological parents are. It’s a telling contradiction. We’re to pretend biology doesn’t matter—and we’re to respect the basic human instinct that tells us that biology ­matters.

(R.R. Reno)

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* Actually, I intend to read and try to absorb the linked article on “gender” more carefully than time thus far has allowed. For now, I’m a “gender” and “transgender” skeptic.

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“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.