Some people only feel like this on Mondays

People keep telling me I’m gloomy these days. Very well; I’m gloomy. Let me share. Here are some fragments from the latest _NYRB._

bq. “Tim Garton Ash”: In the relationship with Islam as a religion, it makes sense to encourage those versions of Islam that are compatible with the fundamentals of a modern, liberal, and democratic Europe. That they can be found is the promise of Islamic reformers such as Tariq Ramadan — another controversial figure, deeply distrusted by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the French left, and the American right, but an inspiration to many young European Muslims. Ramadan insists that Islam, properly interpreted, need not conflict with a democratic Europe. …
Ultimately, this is a challenge as much for European societies as for European governments. Much of the discrimination in France, for example, is the result of decisions by individual employers, who are going against the grain of public policy and the law of the land. It’s the personal attitudes and behavior of hundreds of millions of non-Muslim Europeans, in countless small, everyday interactions, that will determine whether their Muslim fellow citizens begin to feel at home in Europe or not. Together, of course, with the personal choices of millions of individual Muslims, and the example given by their spiritual and political leaders.
Is it likely that Europeans will rise to this challenge? I fear not. Is it still possible? Yes. But it’s already five minutes to midnight — and we are drinking in the last chance saloon.

“John Gray”: on George Soros:

bq. Soros’s early experiences left him with a need to understand human behavior in extreme circumstances, which led to his lifelong engagement with the ideas of Popper. Popper never doubted that the ills of society could be remedied by the use of reason, and despite his criticisms of Popper’s philosophy Soros would like to agree. It is a belief — or hope — that has inspired him to promote intellectual and political pluralism throughout the world and it informs his admirable stand in opposing the follies of the Bush administration. Yet the searching self-criticism he undertakes in this book points in a different direction. If there cannot be a science of society, neither can society be expected to repeat the cumulative advance that has been achieved in science. The extreme situations that Soros experienced as a youth, and which in a different form he sees today, are not solely a result of fallibility — even of the radical kind he discusses in his account of reflexivity. They have a deeper source in irrational beliefs, which remain potent forces in politics. Over the long sweep of history, far-from-equilibrium situations are normal. Open societies can never be safe from the disorders of faith.

Some people may ask why, if I am so pessimistic about religion, and believe so much in its destructive power, I am then so rude about Dawkins. Sam Harris, and similar atheists. Don’t they agree with me? Yes. _But they’re optimists._ They hold out the hope that there can be democratic, peaceful societies committed to the (costly) effort of reason and self-criticism even when this has no obvious benefits, and irrationality no obvious costs. Actually, their assumption is stronger than that. They believe this is the natural, equilibrium state of any society that has discovered science. And it seems to me that this is one of the beliefs that has been completely exploded since about 1950. Or, as Housman put it, the love of truth is the weakest of all human passions.

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8 Responses to Some people only feel like this on Mondays

  1. Paul says:

    One danger is that immigrants will be dangerously alienated by discrimination from the whites. Another is that anti-discrimination measures will create a sense of victimhood among them that will itself alienate them. Perhaps Stoicism on their part and an understanding that integration takes generations might be a good idea?

  2. H. E. Baber says:

    They’re already alienated by discrimination: in interview after interview following the French riots, in spite of attempts by journalists to spin the affair as jihad, immigrants, their children and their children’s children complained that they faced discrimination in employment, were stuck in de facto segregated housing projects with poor access to city centers and even if they spoke perfect French, to the second and third generation they were not regarded as French because of their appearance. They complained that the French policy of denial did not facilitate integration, which is what they were after.

    Here in the US we had the mother of all race problems–second only to South Africa. I grew up with Jim Crow and I guarantee that unless you grew up in the US or another white settler country you can’t imagine how pervasive and how bad it was. The Civil Rights movement didn’t fix racism completely, and there’s backlash, but it’s chickenfeed compared to the improvement.

    Anyway, I’m both religious and optimistic, and don’t buy the notion that at some time mid-twentieth century or so the Enlightenment Myth of Progress was exploded. We keep racheting up and, on the average, the richer and more educated we get the more rational, humane and civilized we get. You can rehearse the standard story of how Germany, that most enlightened, cultured, educated nation, spawned Hitler and produced the Holocaust, but that kind of idiocy, tribalism, and brutality is anomalous in enlightened, affluent countries. It’s the norm in the third world where the results are less striking because the natives don’t have the means to conduct genocide on a grander scale.

  3. acb says:

    You, h.e., are proof that I should spend three months a year in California,among people who believe that the world can be fixed. Still, you misunderstand my pessimism a little. I don’t think we’re in danger of Hitler, but perhaps of Wilhelmine Germany, which was quite bad enough. And I really don’t think we’re _racheting_ up, a phrase which carries the implication that progress is irreversible. When I look at the statistics for violent crime, or rape in Sweden since 1975, I don’t see anything to suggest that society there has grown less idiotic, tribalistic, or brutal. But that’s another post, or a wormseye.

    I really don’t know anything about the French race problem, except that it isn’t a jihad; but it seems to me it might turn into one, or at least that Islam might become the religion for brown people here. Then there is an exacerbated problem.

  4. paul says:

    Already alienated by discrimination I am sure they are and the solution is a change of attitude on the part of Frenchmen (something that will take much time but seems to me a better solution than legislation which has any way been tried). But despite discrimination surely immigrants have better circumstances than their relatives who still live in the former Fr colonies? And surely discrimination cannot justify riots.

  5. Saltation says:

    > [re dawkins]
    >They believe this is the natural, equilibrium state of any society that has discovered science.

    i agree with the general thrust of your problem with dawkins, but, with reference to this sentence, would have rephrased it slightly:
    “They believe this is the natural, equilibrium state of humans, and that only particular memes are dragging them away from it.”

    essentially, dawkins and other such writers are “aspergic” — high on the “mundane” spectrum in my framework: they see reality before they see social hierarchy, they live in non-zero-sum worlds. if they go to the gym, they don’t believe other people get weaker.

    most humans are far far more human-oriented — high on the “social” spectrum in my framework: they’ll walk into a room and see details of the people there before details of the room. they’ll see humans and statuses and relationships and statuses and consensual memes and statuses before they see reality; they live in zero-sum worlds. if someone wins, then someone must lose. if someone is stronger than you, then you are losing.
    if someone goes up, then everyone else goes down. conversely, if someone goes down, then everyone else goes up, including you.
    so you can improve your own status in your own eyes by making someone else worse off, by putting someone else down.

    …throw in some irresponsibility and if you’re unhappy with your status (or, equivalently, ashamed of your behaviour), you can redefine the world (it’s not real, after all, only consensual) and blame someone else. outragedly.

    [those last sentences, incidentally, are well worth pondering on. well worth keeping in your mind the next time you read the paper or listen to people arguing.]

    dawkins is right normatively in isolation (in the sense that his approach is better for everyone), but is not right descriptively in the context of humans’ total genetic pool. individuals’ behaviours and weltanschauungs really do vary widely across that pool, and humans clump on likeness.

    i strongly prefer dawkins’ view, as its consequences are so much better for the world.

    but you’re more right than he is, in the world we’re living in.

    and yes, i do appreciate the irony that the implications of his own “selfish gene” book directly predict the benefit and hence growth of the strategy of parasitism of the reproductively-driven striving for social status, which leads to religion and politics.

  6. Saltation says:

    comment note:
    >I really don’t know anything about the French race problem, except that it isn’t a jihad
    definitely not a jihad. just individuals seeking a justification for what they want to do. irresponsibility and self-vindicating revisionism are both extraordinarily powerful DNA-level urges in most humans.

    >One danger is that immigrants will be dangerously alienated by discrimination from the whites.

    a danger never mentioned is that incumbents will be dangerously alienated by discrimination from the immigrants.

    flavours of this are starting to be floated in the UK papers. but it’s still too inflammatory to be widely stated.

    here’s an example.
    australia’s the least racist society i’ve come across, and i’ve travelled and worked widely. (the australians’ own meme re racism is a G√ľnter Grass-style attention-seeking self-clusterflagellation rather than based on fact.)
    take a trip through sydney’s western suburbs. a fast vast dumping of one culture into one particular air/port led to them geographically clumping and deliberately isolating themselves and their friends and family who followed in for the next 50 years. the 2nd generation is clumsy with english, 3rd generation too frequently speaks english with an accent as thick as a native of their grandparents’ country. mother crying for days when she learns her 28 year old daughter is not a virgin.
    cultural isolationism.
    their own choice.
    not forced on them. quite the opposite, in fact.
    in sydney, they now aggressively attack their hermetic context. the only place i’ve been spat on for being white is sydney. run 1,000 miles up the coast, and a slower introduction there encouraged diffusion and the stark divide does not exist. brisbane people will say “yeah, i was born in palestine”, sydney people will shout “I’m LebaNESE!” if their grandparents were born there.

    it is irritating and inflaming for the incumbents who have voluntarily provided so much and provided so much opportunity to the immigrants, to be attacked by those same immigrants for being different. it is irritating and inflaming for the incumbents when the newcomers are physically aggressive to, or express passive-aggressive loud outrage at, the incumbents for continuing to live the lifestyles they’d had before they allowed the newcomers to join them.

    how would you feel if you offer to share your house with someone, and they burn your furniture because they disapprove of the colour, then break your teeth when you object? is your resultant anger housemate-ist?

    you can see recent examples of this in australia, in france, and in britain. BNP election results, anyone?

    a related theme is:
    racism — more accurately: groupism — is not a one-way street.
    just because some whites are racist does not imply the same proportion of other races do not.

    “go back where you f**king CAME from, you asian b*tch!” shouted by a group of aborigines at my ABC (australian born chinese) friend as we walked past in melbourne. they ignored the white girl and white guy walking with her. we were locals like them, after all.

    go to a caribbean birthday or similar party in london (interestingly, i’ve only ever seen these when partners have invited me), and you see precisely the same isolationism: you’ll be the only white there. even more interestingly, people will avoid being seen talking to you. nervous eyes darting around their family and friends as they immediately wave their way away into the throng.
    see the same people later at a mixed party, and they’re embarrassedly over-friendly to compensate.

    the banglas around me are antagonistic to both the whites and the blacks, not the other way round. (brick lane, east end, london). this ranges from not-normal-but-still-too-frequent mute hostility when you walk into a shop, to groups of bangla teens chasing people down public streets, hurling abuse and bottles, like the 8 banglas chasing 2 blacks past me on petticoat lane, mid-afternoon mid-market sunday before last.

    jewish londoners and bangla londoners and greek londoners and palestinian londoners (from personal (repetitive) experience)) all know and emphasise (and some complain about) the problems they’ll have with their family if they try to “marry out”.
    “easier not to.”

    in both cases — immigrants evidentially rejecting incumbents, and racism evidentially being universal rather than unilateral —

    be careful of unreciprocal memes.

    they are dangerous for the blindspots they create.

  7. Saltation says:

    separate comment note:
    >We keep racheting up and, on the average, the richer and more educated we get the more rational, humane and civilized we get.

    2 things here:

    evolution of cultures, just like genes, is a Process, not a Progress

    seeing a result as Progress, rather than Consequence, stems from individual Social outlook of an aspirational nature.

    the Habsburg Lip was a triumph of evolution, the pinnacle of human existence? or just a result of a process confined to a too-small group, which in this case happened to be negative?

    cultural evolution is just the process of various eddies in local micro-dynamics’ micro-effects adding up in large to macro effects. sometimes the outcome is good, sometimes it’s not.

    the very next sentence underlines this:
    >you can rehearse the standard story of how Germany, that most enlightened, cultured, educated nation, spawned Hitler and produced the Holocaust
    this was just another example (albeit technology-assisted) of a well-established human pattern. quick large european examples: the Inquisition and The Terror. quick large asian example: china’s Mao and the Countryside Purges. i would argue that the Holocaust was even less damning than most instances because it involved only a truly microscopic fraction of the german population operating in secret, rather than being a population-wide country-wide movement or habit.

    >We keep racheting up and, on the average, the richer and more educated we get the more rational, humane and civilized we get.

    thought experiment: saudi arabia is one of the richest nations on earth, yet most of its population is poor and uneducated and the criminal penalty for theft is permanent physical mutilation.
    the congo & surrounds has HUGE mineral wealth, a population living in grimmest poverty, and a genocide record that catches the breath in the throat.
    britain has very little mineral wealth (barring cornwall’s dark ages tin & silver, and the last 50 years of north sea oil&gas), yet has historically been one of the wealthier and more educated countries on earth.


    a horrifically nonPC thought:
    imagine it turned the other way round:
    “the more rational, humane and civilised a culture becomes, on average it becomes richer and more educated.”

    which seems more likely? which way round provides an actual mechanism for providing that wealth and education? something has to provide it, after all. simply throwing aid and mineral deposits at a country clearly doesn’t.

    have you noticed that the more that individuals can trust each other, the wealthier a country tends to be? does wealth create trust? or does trust allow wealth to be created and maintained?

    my milk price does not go up because of the inflation figures. my milk price going up creates the inflation figures.

    macro effects tend to come from a multitude of micro contributions, rather than the other way round.

  8. Paul says:

    “does wealth create trust? or does trust allow wealth to be created and maintained?”

    this question rather shocks me. can anyone doubt that the latter is true? the liberal mind is indeed unfathomable

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