In Culture, Politics on October 29, 2011 at 5:16 pm
In the Sixteenth century, the word “innovation” connoted a rebellion or an insurrection, a violent affront to the prevailing order. This usage suggests a small-c conservatism that’s largely lost out to the big-L Liberal value system in the West: in just about every sector of Western society we can locate something like a desire for progress, even if only on the personal level – personal progress being for the left, roughly, fulfilling one’s potential, and for the right, charitably, earning rewards. We can perhaps locate a descendant of the old contempt for the new in the religious-right emphasis on “family,” although that is debatable since a family is meant to be generative. Maybe it subsists in the anti-immigrant fringe, but it is difficult to find in its pure form. Unlike monarchs, those with the greatest interest in maintaining today’s institutions, financiers, are too embroiled in the quest for new markets to be small-c conservatives. But I wonder if those two different fundamental values, preservation and progress, are not really of a piece. In The Typological Imaginary Kathleen Biddick argues that the Christian idea of the present superseding the past, as the New Testament supersedes the Old and (in some theologies) the state of the soul at death supersedes what comes before, has dug itself into the foundations of Western thought more deeply than the religion itself. Perhaps this supersessionary notion of time makes it difficult to imagine a value system that doesn’t have something to do with the future, whether in the desire to make it better than the present or the desire that it be like the past. The thought of values that don’t involve the future in some way is alien indeed. Imagine valuing neither the continuation nor the change of a particular state of things, but something purely within a state of things, and purely in the present: imagine that what one fundamentally values in life is to eat apples, and nothing more, with nothing about the assurance of future apples underneath.
This would be, I suppose, to be satisfied being a ghost for Halloween, rather than struggling to be original.
In Politics on June 21, 2011 at 1:14 pm
You may have already heard about the Christian-right campaign against Ayn Rand (Brian Leiter on it), which aims to point out the incompatibility of Rand’s ideas with Christianity. Peter Laarman has an article in Religion Dispatches that makes a good point about something that Fred Clark at slacktivist has also written about recently, the relative importance of community and personal anecdote over such logical argumentation in the way that our beliefs change. I have to take exception, though, to Laarman’s invocation of Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber’s much-discussed-but-apparently-little-read article “Why do humans reason?” (about which I’m hoping to have a detailed post soon):
What is the point here? The point is that there IS no point to endless argumentation. Hearts and minds don’t change that way. They change when we share our stories and when we become present in a different way to those whom we wish to influence. The further point is that hearts change before minds do. It rarely works the other way around.
And now some scientists believe that we don’t actually argue to arrive at clarity or truth; argumentation is a “social adaptation,” they argue: we are in debates to win, and we will readily use flawed arguments if we think they will sway the other side. Irrationality is not merely a “kink” in the process of truth seeking. […]
Of course we are in debates to win. What Mercier & Sperber are arguing is that the primary function of reasoning is to produce arguments that are convincing to others rather than to produce better beliefs for oneself. This conclusion would obviously be false if it were uncommon that people be persuaded by arguments. It’s true that it’s not always logical validity that makes arguments persuasive (we’ve known that for millennia), but that’s not the issue here. The anti-Ayn Rand video is not going to fail for being too logical, because it’s not – it’s loaded with ad hominems of just the same sort that have been employed in scare-tactic campaigns for ages. I don’t think it’s likely that this campaign will cause hordes of people to change their beliefs individually, minds-before-hearts, but it could spark change if it becomes an object of discussion among churchgoers and in other community settings. Direct human relationships often do have more of an influence on our beliefs than arguments do, but arguments don’t exist in isolation from them.
Addendum: I was going to argue that the video is calling for people not to change their religious beliefs but to act on them, but being a holist I can’t say that adding a belief that Jesus is at odds with objectivism doesn’t change one’s belief in Jesus.