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.
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:
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.