I wish I could remember who it was on the internet who enthusiastically recommended Jared Diamond’s book The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? I’d like to discount that person’s recommendations in the future.
For my money, the best chapter was the one on “Constructive Paranoia.” I have put it to use by, for example, ceasing to listen to podcasts as I ride my bike on busy streets. Low risk, but really, really bad consequences if the risk eventuates.
The worst chapter (of the ones I read — I skipped a few) was Chapter 9, on Religion.
“Religion” is notoriously difficult to define, and to say that someone is “religious” doesn’t tell me much about whether he’s a kindred spirit.
I am not, for instance, reassured that “religion” likely will grow this century because of higher fertility when the biggest growth is projected for Islam. Muslims are projected to outnumber Christians by century’s end, in my grandchildren’s dotage.
This is no news to Diamond in one sense — he seems to enjoy blaming religious differences for brutal wars — but despite the fuzziness of its contours, religion is just about irresistible as a rhetorical category, and Diamond devotes a substantial chapter to it.
I got two things out of this chapter that Diamond never intended:
- If Diamond is right about the religions he’s sort of familiarish with (a very big “if”), then Orthodox Christianity is really a outlier in many way;
- Evolutionary Just So Stories about “religion” are among the stupider uses of paper and ink, and thus reveal an author’s human limitations. For instance, Diamond:
If you claim that the founder of your church had been conceived by normal sexual intercourse between his mother and father, anyone else would believe that too, and you’ve done nothing to demonstrate your commitment to your church. But if you insist, despite all evidence to the contrary, that he was born of a virgin birth, and nobody has been able to shake you of that irrational belief after many decades of your life, then your fellow believers will feel much more confident that you’ll persist in your belief and can be trusted not to abandon your group.
I’ve asked why it is if bureaucracy and government interference are the causes of bad urbanism that the places most known for those things have the best urbanism: The Northeast, The Pacific Northwest, and Europe.
(Rational Urbanism blog) The question isn’t rhetorical. His own Massachusetts city is succumbing to some bad projects.
[T]he curb cut between the Walmart and the Chuck E Cheese is not a noble enough cause for our young men and women to fight and die for in the deserts of a strange continent!
I posit that the core of the Strongtowns message is the idea of the traditional, walkable community: a place which minimizes infrastructural expenses relative to productivity such that plowing back a reasonable amount of those gains for maintaining the infrastructure upon which those gains depend is sustainable. Everything else in the Strongtowns message follows from that core message, that core belief.
Full confession; I’m a believer.
Name a place in the world outside the United States infamous for its bureaucracy, its tedious requirements that every “i” be dotted and every “t” crossed before doing this or that. Hint: “Britain” wants to leave “that place” in part because it wants freedom from that meddling bureaucracy.
Ding, ding, ding, ding! Did you say Europe? Of course you did. And is there an industrialized part of the world more Strong-townsy? Perhaps the least Strong-townsy part of Europe is England, and they want out!
What about here in the United States? What region has the most Strong-townsy, dense, walkable, places? The northeast. What part of the U.S. does Chuck [Marohn] reference as being the most obstructed by governmental red tape? Ditto. Interesting. What place comes next? Portland maybe? A well known bastion of conservative, laissez faire “keep the gubmint outta my Medicare” type of place for sure! Have you heard of the urban growth boundary?
(Rational Urbanism blog) Steve, who writes this blog, admits that correlation isn’t causation but kind of wants to believe that Europe, the Northeast and Portlandia are “strong towns” in part because of regulation and bureaucracy.
I’ve shed most of my libertarianish economic ideology, having formally identified with America’s version of a Christian Democrat party, but I’m still not quite buying this. The northeast has some of its attractive attributes at least partly as a result of being built up before the automobile age.
But Steve raises a decent question.
So, yeah, I consider myself a member of the American Solidarity Party, a Christian Democrat party in the United States. It’s committed to Catholic Social teaching, which has long intrigued me, and in 2016, the year when the two major parties issued a joint press release reading “mene, mene, tekel, upharsin,” the party’s formation couldn’t have been timelier.
“I consider myself a member” is about as strong as I can be in Indiana, which doesn’t register voters by party.
For my trouble, I’ve been called a commie — twice — by a Trump-supporting family member. Upharsin, I’m tellin’ ya.
It’s interesting to watch this new party grow. We have internal quarrels and attract people who are markedly out of the mainstream, such as moi.
But the truth is, I hold limited hope for what any political party can accomplish, and after an initial flush of enthusiasm that led me as far as a brew pub on Indianapolis’ north side, for an Indiana enthusiast meeting, I’ve been pretty much a bystander, feeling no calling to make politics my raison d’être.
I don’t support every item on our platform, nor am I equally committed to each of those I do support. But I mention this again because I suspect some of my readers (I write mostly from compulsion, but stumbled across a graph this morning that says I have more readers than I’d have thought – like 90 some times) will relate better to our platform than to the feticidal, racially divisive identity politics of one party, the insincerely anti-abortion, economically libertarian and hawkish politics of the other.
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Men are men before they are lawyers or physicians or manufacturers; and if you make them capable and sensible men they will make themselves capable and sensible lawyers and physicians. (John Stuart Mill, Inaugural Address at St. Andrew’s, 1867)
“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)