Posted by: N.S. Palmer | August 7, 2018

Neither to Praise Shakespeare Nor to Bury Him

It’s called “kin selection:” Evolution has programmed animals to help and cooperate with their genetic relatives (i.e., their kin).

Conversely, they tend to fight or flee their genetic competitors.

Kin selection applies to people, too. We are biological creatures who tend instinctively to help our genetic relatives and fight our genetic competitors.

But how do we decide who those people are?

We unconsciously look for the same cues as lower animals do: appearance, behavior, familiarity, and location. [1]

Why is it important?

Because it’s a major cause of social conflict, from racial or religious bias to war and mass murder.

We are intelligent beings, but not only that: we are also animals. Both intelligence and animal instincts affect how we feel, how we think, and how we behave.

Animals assume that other members of their species are genetic relatives if they:

  • Look like them,
  • Act like them,
  • Are familiar, or
  • Are in certain locations.

Humans use all of the same cues. Unlike lower animals, however, we also have language, culture, and history. Those affect our appearance and behavior, so they affect how we react to other people.

That came to mind when I recently wrote an article for the American Greatness website. In the article, I wrote:

“I come neither to praise Sarah Jeong nor to bury her.”

Most readers probably didn’t know the origin of that line. But to those who did know, it’s a powerful instinctive cue that they and I are genetic relatives. As a result, we will be inclined to help, trust, and cooperate with each other.

The line comes from William Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar.” After a coup has assassinated Caesar — much like the unhinged fantasies of leftists about President Trump — Marc Antony gives a speech at Caesar’s funeral. He begins:

“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.”

The line in my article — “I come neither to praise Sarah Jeong nor to bury her” — reminds those readers of Shakespeare’s play, part of our shared literary heritage. In turn, Shakespeare’s play reminds them of the Roman Empire, of our shared Western history and civilization. Those resonate with us both intellectually, at the human level, and instinctively, at the animal level. They help promote social harmony and cooperation among the people who share them.

That’s why schools and universities have so completely failed to help create social peace and a good society.

Instead of teaching our shared heritage and civilization — the things that unite us — they teach crackpot theories of identity politics that sow division and hatred.

Every day, we see the tragic results of our failed educational system.


[1]: If you want details, see “Kinship and Altruism” in the book Behaviour and Evolution edited by P.J.B. Slater, Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Posted by: N.S. Palmer | August 4, 2018

Why Sarah Jeong Hates White People

Sarah Jeong, newly-hired member of The New York Times’s editorial board, hates white people.

And Christians.

And police officers.

And heterosexuals.

And men.

May God have mercy on any white, heterosexual, Christian male police officer who falls under the gaze of The New York Times. Because Sarah certainly won’t.

The fact of her obsessive hatred seems clear. The reasons for it are less clear.

I come neither to praise Sarah nor to bury her.

My goal is merely to explain her and the thousands of other angry, half-educated social climbers like her.

Sarah is not consciously evil. That requires intellectual and moral depth that she lacks. She is merely confused, self-interested, and insecure. She needs to see herself as a member of an “intellectual elite” because she doubts her own ability and personal worth. She hates white people because it’s the fashionable thing to do. If it were fashionable to hate black people or midgets, she’d do that instead.

The pleasure of hating

The root cause of Sarah’s hatred for white people isn’t new, trendy, or postmodernist. It’s been around as long as humanity. British social critic William Hazlitt (1778-1830) summarized it in his essay “On the Pleasure of Hating:”

Read the rest at American Greatness!

Posted by: N.S. Palmer | July 29, 2018

How Does This End?

“How does this end?”

You need to ask that question.

Whether you’re a Trump-hater or Trump-lover, leftist or “Deplorable,” you need to ask it right now.

Because you’re hurting the very people and principles about which you claim to care.

If you’re a leftist

Leftists go first, but don’t worry. We’ll get to conservatives.

If you’re a leftist, you claim to care about the welfare of blacks, gays, women, and various “genders” too numerous to list.

Let’s talk about blacks. Compared to other ethnic groups, African-American unemployment is high and average wages are low. What do you think happens to American blacks when you bring in millions of Hispanics who compete for the same jobs? An increase in the supply of labor tends to decrease wages. More people competing for the same jobs means more black people will be unemployed, and even those who have jobs will make less money. You get a cheap nanny. Blacks get hurt.

What about gays? On average, American gays have slightly higher incomes and slightly higher IQs than straight white Americans. Gays are celebrated on television, in movies, and in news media. Anti-gay bias (real or imagined) is a career-ender in America. Do you know what they do to gays in Islamic countries? They terrorize them while they’re alive, and then they execute them. They throw them off the tops of tall buildings. They do the same to the gender-confused. And you want to bring more of those attitudes into the United States?

American women? They have more freedom than any other women in history. They drive. They vote. They hold political office. They’re welcome to do any job for which they have the ability. STEM fields are begging for more female applicants because not enough women are interested. And if any man hits a woman, everyone considers him a lowlife and a criminal.

Islamic countries think that feminism is insane and immoral. As left-leaning neuroscientist Sam Harris observed in Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue, “under Islam, the central message is that women are second-class citizens and the property of the men in their lives.” And you want to bring more of those attitudes into the United States?

What about your own rights? America’s culture and legal system, at least what’s left of them, come mainly from the Western European Enlightenment and the British common law. If you were accused of a crime, would you like a right to trial by jury, and to be presumed innocent until proven guilty? Do you think you have rights that government shouldn’t violate? Do you think you should be able to criticize government officials without going to prison?

Then why are you determined to drown America under a tidal wave of people who don’t believe those things, from regions where they’ve grown accustomed to despotism? Where if a woman is raped and reports it, she is the one who gets punished? Why do you relentlessly slander America’s history, Founders, Constitution, morality, institutions, and legal traditions as a nonstop parade of horrors — when it’s those very things that gave you the freedom to do so?

If you’re a conservative

And you high-principled conservatives: Don’t sit there feeling smug. Now it’s your turn.

You claim to believe that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. Relevant opinion polls are scarce, but it’s clear that a large number of people either no longer consent or never consented to the American form of government:

  • They do not consent to accept the results of elections unless their side wins.
  • They do not consent to law that applies equally to everyone regardless of race, sex, nationality, or religion.
  • They do not consent to tolerate opinions that disagree with their own.
  • They do not consent to any public expression of the Judeo-Christian tradition on which the country was founded.

The reasons are irrelevant. Some people are merely ignorant. Some have been brainwashed by universities to hate their own country and to believe that everything about it is evil. Some are migrants from barbaric regions who have never lived in freedom and don’t believe in it. And some are “Stalin’s grandchildren,” the biological or intellectual progeny of Marxists who have worked tirelessly since the 1930s to divide and weaken America from within. Ironically, they’re now doing it in the service of a Soviet empire that no longer exists.

I’ll tell you about a little experiment I did as an undergraduate student. I printed the U.S. Constitution’s first 10 Amendments (the Bill of Rights) and The Communist Manifesto’s 10 measures to transform a country’s economic and political system to Communism. Without identifying the sources, I polled other students about each list. More of them agreed with The Communist Manifesto than with the Bill of Rights.

Things are even worse now, as the rot in academia has eroded Americans’ knowledge of their own history and political ideals. And it’s not just knowledge: It’s our national character.

Conservatives claim to believe in the vision of the American Founders. De Montesquieu, whose book The Spirit of Laws influenced the Founders, observed that a nation’s government should be appropriate for its people. But is the American government appropriate for today’s population?

The American government and political system were designed for people who were self-reliant and proudly independent. Who took responsibility for their lives instead of blaming others. Who wanted an equal chance, not a guaranteed outcome. Who accepted life’s inevitable risks instead of trading their freedom for the false promise of a risk-free world. Who respected themselves and their history. Who despite their religious differences, accepted the Bible and the Judeo-Christian tradition as their shared foundation of life, morality, and government.

Those people still exist, but they’re no longer a majority. Too many people now believe that nothing is their fault. Instead, they blame racism, the patriarchy, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, arachnophobia, or cacomorphobia:

  • They believe that whatever they want is a Constitutional right, and that government should pay for it with other people’s money.
  • They believe that the purpose of government is to help them and hurt anyone they dislike.
  • They believe that “justice is the interest of the stronger party.”
  • They believe that words are violence and that physical violence is a legitimate response to disagreement.

Like it or not, a Constitutional American government is not appropriate for them.

The facts are what they are. In the short run, they’re not going to change. America can survive, but only confronting the truth instead of taking refuge in wishful thinking.

So how does this end?

Buckle up. There’s a rough road ahead.

Posted by: N.S. Palmer | July 3, 2018

Why I Love America

I love America for two of the same reasons I love my father.

That fits, since the word “patriotism” comes from the Greek pátrios, meaning “of one’s father.”

The United States is definitely the country of my father. He fought for it in war and lived for it in peace. He was a physician, educator, writer, lecturer, and civic leader. He would have run as a candidate for the U.S. Senate, but my mother wisely refused to allow it. He was too honest to be a politician, and too frank to get elected in the first place.

But he wasn’t a perfect person. That leads to the second reason I love him — and America.

Like all people, including you and I, my father had flaws. He was a child of his time. He absorbed its prejudices. He sometimes made mistakes.

But I don’t love him for his flaws. I love him for what he did about his flaws.

If he thought that he’d been unfair or had done something wrong, he would move Heaven and Earth to correct the situation. Just like our country does.

America and Americans aren’t perfect. We have flaws. But when we think we’ve been unfair or have done something wrong, we start working to correct it.

That’s the true greatness of America. In spite of our flaws, we are a humble, conscientious, and generous people who try to do the right thing. We’re not perfect — that’s impossible — but we’re always trying to do better. Sometimes, we get played for suckers. But we don’t give up. We keep trying to do better.

Compared to an impossible standard of utopian perfection, you can find all kinds of things wrong with America. And lots of people do.

Compared to other real countries that suffer injustice Americans can’t even imagine, the United States always has been and still is one of the greatest countries in human history.

We don’t always get it right the first time. But if we don’t get it right, we fix it. And we move forward.

That’s America.That’s my father. And that’s why I love both of them.

Posted by: N.S. Palmer | June 30, 2018

Unorthodox Wisdom from John Stuart Mill

For my website, I need a document file of Globalization and Culture, which was my 2001 Ph.D. dissertation in economics. I couldn’t find the original file, so I’m laboriously re-entering the text from my printed copy.

A quote from John Stuart Mill was inadequately footnoted, so I went looking for the source in his Principles of Political Economy, published in 1848. I had better luck that time. The book was right where I expected on my bookshelf.

Mill (1806-1873) is best known as the author of On Liberty (1859). He was also one of the great “classical” economists, along with Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and — yes, reallyKarl Marx. Some of Marx’s political and philosophical ideas were nuts, but his economic analysis was credible for its era. Brilliant, in fact. Whether or not it was true is a different question.

One of the central tenets of classical economics was the labor theory of value. It held that the prices of goods were determined mainly by how much labor it took to produce them. Supply and demand also affected prices, but mainly in the short run. A thing’s long-run “natural price” was determined by the quantity of labor required to make it.

Interestingly, contemporary (“neoclassical”) economics has a mirror image of the classical view. Instead of price being determined mainly by labor requirements but also affected by supply and demand, neoclassical economics argues that price is determined mainly by supply and demand, but can be affected by labor requirements. Instead of calling it the natural price like classical economists, they call it the equilibrium price. It’s kind of a “you say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to” dispute.

The last of the 19th-century classical economists wasn’t Mill, however. It was John E. Cairnes (1823-1875), whose book Some Leading Principles of Political Economy (1874) is still worth reading.

But I digress.

While paging through Mill’s Principles of Political Economy to correct my footnote, I found a passage that’s strikingly relevant to the present day.

Our social orthodoxy seems to change every few months. Viewpoints considered mainstream last year can suddenly become hateful, bigoted, and forbidden this year. Orthodoxy changed more slowly before the Internet era, but as described by Mill, it changed in pretty much the same ways:

“It often happens that the universal belief of one age of mankind — a belief from which no one was, nor without an extraordinary effort of genius and courage, could at that time be free — becomes to a subsequent age so palpable an absurdity, that the only difficulty is to imagine how such a thing can ever have appeared credible.”

I won’t mention any current absurdities (:: cough :: gender :: cough ::), lest I be consigned to the outer darkness with Milo Yiannopoulos. But there are plenty of them. John Stuart Mill would probably find them amusing.

Posted by: N.S. Palmer | February 4, 2018

When News Media Aren’t Exactly Corrupt

News-media

Are the news media corrupt?

Most people say “yes.”

Leftists point to Fox News and The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial page. Conservatives point to CNN and The New York Times.

They believe that such news outlets distort the facts and even lie about them.

Sometimes, that’s true. But there’s more to the story.

In the 1990s, I was a young newspaper reporter in Washington, DC. I was an accredited member of the U.S. House and Senate Press Galleries, covering Capitol Hill and several federal agencies. I saw from the inside how the news business works.

News versus opinion

Most people fail to make an important distinction. Editorial writers, columnists, and televised political commentators don’t report unbiased news. Usually, they don’t even pretend to do it. They’re arguing for their side of a debate.

If you read the editorial and op-ed pages of The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, then you either know what you’re getting or you’re very naive. The same applies if you watch Tucker Carlson on Fox News or Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. You know that they’re “on your side” of the debate. You want to learn things that reinforce what you already believe. Facts are okay, but you’re mainly looking for reassurance that you’re right.

As a result, there’s nothing dishonest about editorials or commentators arguing their case — as long as they don’t flat-out lie and as long as the other side is free to argue its case. None of it is straight news.

News reporting is different

News reporting is held to a higher standard.

Joseph Pulitzer, after whom the Pulitzer Prize is named, said that the three most important qualities of any news article were “accuracy, accuracy, and accuracy.”

My proudest claim as a reporter was this: That from reading my news articles, no one could discern what I personally believed about the subjects of the articles. I usually had opinions, but I kept them out of news writing. If I really wanted to argue a case, I wrote an opinion column.

It might surprise you to learn that a lot of other reporters felt the same way about their own work. They often agonized about how to present the news fairly and without bias. I attended several conferences about how to report the news professionally but truthfully. It’s not as easy as you might think.

News reporting vs. human nature

A big problem is that news reporters aren’t passionless robots. They’re fallible human beings. Despite their best efforts, human nature sometimes leads them astray.

One week when I was a reporter, there were rumors of a scandal at a certain federal department. In our daily staff meeting, the news editor asked if anyone could find out about it. I didn’t normally cover that department, but I had a friend who worked there. I volunteered to call him and ask about it.

When I called, he didn’t know anything about the rumors but he agreed to ask around. He later called back to explain that the “scandal” was just an acrimonious disagreement between two groups in the department. What he told me was “not for attribution,” which meant that I could quote him but not identify him by name.

We weren’t close friends, but I knew him fairly well. I knew his wife and children. He was a decent and honest guy. His explanation sounded reasonable, and I wanted to believe it. I checked around a little more, but I didn’t have any other good sources and I thought that I already knew the truth. So that’s what I reported in a news article.

It turned out that I was wrong. I misinformed my readers: unintentionally, to be sure, but I did.

After I called him, my friend probably went to his own boss to ask about the rumors. In turn, the boss probably asked his boss, who asked his boss, and they all agreed on what to tell the news media. That’s what they told my friend, and he relayed it to me.

The most dangerous media corruption

The most dangerous kind of media corruption doesn’t involve bribery, Russian hookers, or anything like that. It’s dangerous precisely because its origin is innocent. We want to believe in our friends. We want to believe that what’s good for them is also what’s true. We usually see the world in about the same way as they do: similar assumptions, moral beliefs, and feelings about political issues.

Now that news has become largely infotainment, there are plenty of dishonest reporters. Some less-experienced reporters probably have no idea of what “straight news” even is.

However, I’d bet that at least half of today’s biased news has a more innocent but equally harmful cause: Reporters are people. They know the people in the fields they cover. They believe their friends and they don’t want to hurt them. Even with the best intentions in the world, some biased reporting is impossible to avoid.

Getting a balanced perspective

As with buying sandwiches from street vendors, “caveat emptor” (let the buyer beware) is a good motto for reading the news.

If you want to know the truth and not just reinforce what you already believe:

  • Look at a variety of news outlets to get different perspectives. If you read Breitbart all the time, make a point of reading The New York Times. If you watch MSNBC, force yourself to watch some Fox News. Each will tell you things that the others omitted and will give you a different slant on the news. If you combine the opposing slants, they cancel each other out so you get a more accurate picture of what’s happening.
  • Don’t read only the headlines. The reporter doesn’t write the headline under which the article is published. Often, headlines give a misleading impression about what the articles say. Sometimes, they even contradict what the articles say.
  • Watch out for weasel words such as “alleged,” “might,” “possibly,” and “could.” Those are red flags, indicating a conclusion that is not supported by the evidence. Anyone can “allege” anything, but that doesn’t make it true.
  • Watch out for anonymous sources. Sometimes, anonymous sources tell the truth. Other times, they lie under the cloak of anonymity. Treat all anonymous statements with skepticism, even — or especially — if they support “your side” of an argument.
  • Read the last few paragraphs. Biased reporters often “bury” inconvenient facts at the ends of articles. That way, people who only read the first few paragraphs get a false impression about what happened. Occasionally, less-biased reporters do it as well. If a scrupulous reporter knows that the editor is biased and won’t allow the mention of certain facts, he or she might bury them at the end, hoping that the editor won’t notice them. I’ve seen several articles like that in The New York Times.
  • Beware of accusations phrased as questions. Neither the question “Did Obama order illegal spying on the Trump campaign?” nor “Has Trump sided with Nazis?” tells you anything. They’re questions. But if you’re not paying much attention, your mind will convert them into beliefs that “Obama did” and “Trump has.” That’s why they work as propaganda. You’ll often see that trick used in headlines at the bottom of the screen on cable news shows.
Posted by: N.S. Palmer | June 29, 2017

Work with Nature or Against It?

Paddling-Upstream-01b1

Should we work with nature or against it?

Yes, and yes. It depends.

The question assumes that nature is either on our side or against us. If nature supports us and our ideals, then we would work with it. If nature is against us, then we’d work against it. A third option is to get frustrated and deny that nature exists at all. In practice, the third choice means claiming that nature is whatever we want it to be.

Those choices lead some very smart people to say things like “nature is what we are put in this world to rise above,” or that ideologies like feminism can bring about ill-defined “race, class and gender equality” on some permanent basis.

But the assumptions are wrong.

Nature exists, but it doesn’t care what we want. It doesn’t try to help us or to hurt us.1 It simply is what it is. If the stove heats up our coffee, it’s not because it likes us. If a rock falls on our foot, it’s not because it hates us. Things act consistently with what they are: that is, consistently with their nature. So do people.

Because nature doesn’t care, it’s neutral. It’s neither consistently helpful nor harmful to us. We must look at the facts of each situation, and decide what to do on that basis:

“whether nature in this instance is to be regarded as a friend or as an enemy.”2

Our Basic Choice

Our most basic choice is not to work with or against nature. Instead, our choice is to accept or deny reality. Only if we accept reality can we act in ways that are likely to achieve our goals.

Accepting reality means recognizing, for example, that a river flows in one direction and not the other. If we paddle our canoe downstream in the direction of the current, we reach our destination easily because the current helps us. If we paddle upsteam against the current, we struggle to get there because the current hinders us. Our trip takes more time. If we stop paddling for a moment, the current carries us backwards.

If paddling downstream with the current won’t get us where we want to go, then of course we have to paddle upstream, or else find another way to reach our destination.

However, if both directions lead to an acceptable destination, then we should paddle downstream and let the river help us. We’d be foolish to claim that upstream is really downstream, or that the river has no direction at all. Paddling upstream is stupid.

That’s the point of Francis Bacon’s advice, usually paraphrased as “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed:”

“Human knowledge and human power come to the same thing, because ignorance of cause frustrates effect. For Nature is conquered only by obedience; and that which in thought is a cause, is like a rule in practice.”3

Accept Facts and Respond Appropriately

Recognizing nature doesn’t mean leaving it as it is: it means accepting it as it is. When we know the facts, we can decide whether they’re good or bad. If the facts are bad, we can try to change them. But pretending that facts aren’t true does nothing to change them. It usually makes the situation worse. It certainly handicaps our ability to change things for the better.

For example, good health is people’s natural state: it’s usually the “direction” of that particular river. As a result, we can paddle with the current to maintain and improve people’s health: encouraging them to follow a sensible diet, get regular exercise, and avoid harmful habits such as smoking or careless sex.

On the other hand, diseases are also natural but they flow in a direction we don’t want. In those cases, we should paddle against the current and cure the disease if we can. But even to paddle against the current, we need to accept the river as it really is, not as we might wish it to be. If we pretend to believe that influenza is caused by evil spirits instead of viruses, then our treatments will be ineffective.

Denial of Human Nature

Rodney-King-Get-Along

Nowhere is denial of reality more costly than in social issues. Particularly harmful is the belief that all people are the same; that differences are merely “social constructs” and that vastly different populations can live together harmoniously.

That denial starts with a commendable wish for universal goodwill. Then it mentions a few anecdotal encounters between highly educated, culturally assimilated, and morally pacifistic members of different groups. Finally, it concludes that what applies to a few very unusual people, some of the time, applies to people in general, all of the time.

Unfortunately, it isn’t true. It never has been. As long as people are humans and not angels, it never will be true.

To pretend otherwise is to pretend that the river has no direction: that up is down, that male and female are interchangeable (or “social constructs”), and that it makes no difference whether you drink coffee or cyanide. It is a prescription for social conflict, both violent and nonviolent. As Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson observed:

“Experiments conducted over many years by social psychologists have revealed how swiftly and decisively people divide into groups, then discriminate in favor of the one to which they belong. Even when experimenters created the groups arbitrarily … participants always ranked the out-group below the in-group. They judged their ‘opponents’ to be less likable, less fair, less trustworthy, less competent.”4

Recognition of Human Nature

It’s not as if recognition of “groupish” behavior is a new insight. Human beings’ preference for in-group members and hostility toward out-group members has been known for millennia.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, violent conflict resulted from the large communities of Greeks living in Turkey and Turks living in Greece. After World War I, the victorious Western powers:

”to end the ethnic tensions between Greeks and Turks that had sparked so much conflict over so many centuries … all ethnic Greeks living in Turkey were expelled to Greece and all ethnic Turks living in Greece were transferred to Turkey.”5

The separation worked as expected: social strife between Greeks and Turks subsided, and the two countries resumed friendly relations.6

As conservatives are fond of saying, “That’s what separate countries are for.”

When conducting experiments, scientists make changes to one group and compare its results to a “control group” that gets no changes. In the late 1940s, the British colony of India provided a kind of control group for the Greek-Turkish separation. India’s large Hindu and Muslim populations had frequently engaged in violent conflicts. To solve the problem, Britain divided the country into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. However, that half-measure didn’t stop the conflicts:

“In the months immediately following partition, inter-religious violence only intensified. The bloodshed eventually triggered a massive population exchange, as religious minorities sought safety among their coreligionists. Over seven million Muslims fled India for Pakistan. And approximately seven million Hindus and Sikhs fled Pakistan for India.”7

Human nature is a fact, based in biology. People belong to tribes in which authority is hierarchical. If there’s no obvious basis for membership or hierarchy, people will make something up. Tribe members often behave with hostility and suspicion toward non-members. Almost every major group difference in a society is a fault line along which the society can fracture into separate, warring tribes.

We can work with those facts, work against them, or pretend they don’t exist. The facts will stay the same. If we ignore them — or even worse, are guided by wishful thinking — then we doom our societies to strife and bloodshed.

Works Cited

Brog, D. (2017), Reclaiming Israel’s History: Roots, Rights, and the Struggle for Peace, Kindle edition. Regnery Publishing, Chicago.

Davies, P. (2008), The Goldilocks Enigma. Mariner Books, New York.

Jardine, L., ed. (2000), Francis Bacon: The New Organon. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

Stephen, J.F. (1993), Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. Liberty Fund, Indianapolis.

Wilson, E.O., The Social Conquest of Earth. Liveright Publishing, New York.

Footnotes


  1. At the level of individual events and actions, the universe neither favors nor opposes us. However, at the level of physical laws, the universe seems tuned to values that support life: it’s called “the anthropic principle.” Based on the anthropic principle, some people argue for God’s existence: physicist Paul Davies makes that argument in The Goldilocks Enigma. Others, such as popular science writer Neil deGrasse Tyson and entrepreneur Elon Musk, speculate that we live in a computer-generated virtual reality created by intelligent non-Divine beings. 
  2. Stephen, J.F. (1993), Chapter 1. 
  3. Jardine, L. (2000), Book I, Aphorism 3. 
  4. Wilson, E.O. (2012), p. 58. 
  5. Brog, D. (2017), loc. 166. 
  6. Ibid, loc. 174. 
  7. Ibid, loc. 
Posted by: N.S. Palmer | June 4, 2017

When We Got Expelled from Europe

London-terror-attack

It’s a terrible idea. Until now, people muttered it quietly to themselves or said it only to trusted friends. But a seemingly endless series of Islamic terrorist attacks has brought it into the open.

After last week’s Islamic terrorist attack that killed 22 youths and children at an Ariana Grande concert, psychologist James Thompson let it rip:

“Islamic terrorists are making a clear statement: We can kill you whenever we like; we can kill your children; we can kill you in your most important public places; we can make your leaders hide behind bodyguards; we can make you partly undress every time you go through an airport; we can make fools of you by using your laws against you; we can make you scared of making fun of our religion even while you make fun of what remains of your own … we can breed resentful losers in such large numbers that any one of them can become a murderer, and it is unpredictable which Mohammed will take the predictable step of murdering you; and you will accept our excuses that we had no idea that particular Mohammed would take the logical step of biting the hand that fed it …”

Frontpage Magazine is by no stretch of the imagination a mainstream news site, but it’s not a fringe site, either. Many people read it. After an earlier terrorist attack in London, writer Daniel Greenfield walked right up to the terrible idea:

“We don’t know when or where the next attack will come. But we know from whom it will come. What are we going to do about it? We can pretend to be baffled the next time some Jihadi with a rap sheet longer than London Bridge goes on a killing spree … Or we can end the flow of future terrorists and deport the existing ones. Because they can’t run us over if we don’t let them in. They can’t bomb us if we don’t let them stay.”

He does not say “Muslims,” but neither does he get specific about who would qualify for deportation as “future terrorists.” It’s unlikely to include Presbyterians.

Many terrorist attacks slip past our police and intelligence services because there are too many potential terrorists to watch. Unwisely, our political leaders have brought millions of people from hostile countries to settle in ours. And instead of insisting that they accept our culture, laws, and values, our governments have encouraged separatism, bowing to the sacred cow of “diversity.”

Most resident aliens and migrants aren’t terrorists, but some are. If we can’t tell which is which, then we must either accept increasing terrorist attacks or — or what?

We Jews haven’t quite seen this movie before, but we starred in a similar one. In the 14th and 15th centuries, our people were expelled from England, France, Spain, and parts of Italy.

That’s where the similarity ends. The differences spotlight the challenges that face us today.

Other than not being Christians, we didn’t even do anything to get kicked out. We paid taxes, ran businesses, provided a financial system, and mostly kept to ourselves. We certainly didn’t go around murdering innocents in the name of God. We didn’t vilify and spit on the countries in which we lived.

Another obvious difference is the number of people involved. We don’t know exactly how many Jews were expelled, but possibly “no more than five thousand in England, fifty thousand in Italy, and a hundred thousand in France and Spain.” Based on population estimates for 1500 CE, we were 0.24 percent of the population in England, 3.33 percent in Italy, 0.67 percent in France, and 1.43 percent in Spain.

The contrast with today is stark. In 2016, the Muslim population of the United Kingdom was 3,115,000 (5.4 percent of the total population); Italy, 1,583,000 (2.6 percent); France, 3,574,000 (5.7 percent); and Spain, 1,021,000 (2.3 percent). Even if there were no other issues, uprooting even a significant minority of those people would cause great suffering and disruption.

And that’s a best-case scenario. In our case, when the kings of England, France, Spain, and Italy ordered us to go, we went. Peacefully.

If you believe that millions of angry Muslims would go peacefully, raise your hand. Nobody? I didn’t think so.

Expelling Muslims would mean civil war. Western societies would “win,” but at a terrible cost in bloodshed and destruction.

It could have been avoided if Western governments had followed sensible policies about immigration and assimilation, but that ship has sailed — for Mecca. We’re in a terrible fix. What are we going to do about it?

Until now, we’ve been kicking the can down the road. But the end of the road is in sight. We can’t kick it much longer before it bounces back and hits us. What then?

I wish I knew.

Posted by: N.S. Palmer | May 13, 2017

My Two Moms

Mothers-Day

In celebration of Mother’s Day, this is the story of My Two Moms.

After all, if Ana Sagorsky could have two Dads, I can have two Moms. That’s equality.

My first Mom graduated near the top of her medical school class, where she met my Dad. He told me that back then, a female medical school applicant had to be at least twice as good as any male applicant for her to be admitted, and that Mom was every bit as good as that. He thought he had better marry her quick, so he did.

Her abilities weren’t limited to academics. She played piano and cello, wrote amazing poetry, and dabbled in philosophy. From my early childhood memories, it seems to me that she painted, but I’m not sure how much. She spoke several languages, including French, German, and some Yiddish. French was her favorite language.

Before she went to medical school — it must have been in her early 20s — she worked in Hollywood for a while. She also dated a movie star whose name you’d instantly recognize. When she had pneumonia one year, he visited her in the hospital, bringing roses and a bottle of champagne. She never got tired of telling that story. If she’d married him, I’d be much taller and better-looking. She knew a lot of television writers, and we occasionally spent time with them in the summers when I was a kid.

After medical school, she became a psychiatrist, and by all accounts was remarkably successful. Her reputation got a boost a few years later when, in the course of a speech at a convention of the American Psychiatric Association, a famous psychotherapist spent 20 minutes denouncing her ideas. As her Hollywood friends said, if people are talking about you and they spell your name right, almost all publicity is good publicity.

But everything has its price, and that includes genius. Mom was so smart that it was harmful for her. Geniuses see patterns that most people can’t see, but their problem is distinguishing real ones from imaginary ones. Just like mathematician John Nash, the subject of the movie “A Beautiful Mind,” she saw a lot of patterns that weren’t really there. As a feminist, she was also ambivalent about being a woman and rather hostile toward men. The latter wasn’t entirely without cause, since some of her older teachers in medical school thought women didn’t belong there.

I didn’t realize any of that when I was growing up, of course, and her psychological problems gave me a few of my own. However, in the same way as most benefits have a price, most prices have a benefit. I’m saner than most people precisely because I had to get there the hard way, figuring it all out for myself.

Not that I lacked help. And that’s where we get to my second Mom.

On paper, my second Mom hasn’t got a resume to match the first. However, she’s just as smart in ways that enabled her to avoid spending half her life in The Twilight Zone. She started out as a medical laboratory scientist, then went back to school and became an art historian.

If I make a joke about how medieval manuscripts were written or something equally arcane, she’s usually the only one in the family who understands the punch line. On the other hand, if she makes a joke about ornithology or botany, I’m usually the one who needs an explanation. She’s written several cookbooks.

Most important, she’s a good person, she’s rock-solidly sane, she likes being who she is, and unlike her predecessor, she wanted to be a mother.

After my birth parents divorced and I eventually ended up living with my Dad, I at first treated my second Mom terribly. I was negative, hateful, and — still residing in my first Mom’s Twilight Zone — a little crazy. I’m sure that my second Mom told Dad to back off and let her handle the situation, because otherwise he would have wanted to punch me. Instead, she bit her lip, took my verbal abuse, and kept treating me decently until I realized what an ass I’d been.

If my first Mom showed me a great mind, my second Mom showed me a great woman. One of my blessings in life is to have seen both.

For all that you have given me, My Two Moms, Happy Mother’s Day.

Posted by: N.S. Palmer | April 20, 2017

Good News: You Exist and You’re Not Made of Glass

Thomas Reid

Thomas Reid. He had just washed his hair.

Thomas Reid (1710-1796) is little remembered today, but he was the most perceptive critic of the philosopher Rene Descartes.

Apart from the sufferings of middle school students with the Cartesian plane in geometry, Descartes is best known for his “method of doubt.” He wanted to know if there was anything of which he could be certain, so he resolved to doubt anything he could.

The history of France? No, he’d only read and heard what others said about it. The existence of the world? No, he might be dreaming or deceived by an evil demon. The existence of his own body? Same problem. It seemed that there was nothing of which he could be completely certain.

Except for one thing: His mind existed, because if he could doubt that his mind existed, then he had to have a mind with which to doubt it. Whatever else might be doubted, he existed as a thinking being. He could know that for sure.

Cogito, ergo sum! he cried, and leapt to his feet, alarming the other patrons of the tavern in which he’d spent the evening.

“Cogito, ergo sum” means “I think, therefore I am.”

After hic haec hoc and Omnia Gallia in tres partes divisa est, those words are likely the most famous Latin quotation of all time.

Tragedy almost struck later that evening when the tavern was about to close. The bartender asked, “Would you like another drink, Mr. Descartes?” Descartes pondered for a moment and then replied, “I think not.” Poof! He disappeared in a puff of logic. Luckily for us, he reappeared a moment later, laughing. It was one of his favorite party tricks.

But this blog post is about Thomas Reid. To prevent misunderstandings, I should mention that he was related neither to John Reid (the Lone Ranger), Britt Reid (the Green Hornet, also the grand-nephew of the Lone Ranger), nor to Tara Reid (the actress, no relation to any of the other Reids). Thomas Reid’s ideas must stand or fall on their own.

Descartes’ argument “I think, therefore I am” is usually considered a pretty good one, but Reid would have none of it.

Reid argued that certain assumptions were necessary for any thought at all. As a result, you couldn’t prove them without circular reasoning because in order to prove them, you first had to assume that they were true.

According to Reid, it was completely nuts to reject such assumptions even though they could never be proven. And here’s where we get to his juicy critique of Descartes. It’s a marvelous piece of writing:

“A man that disbelieves his own existence is surely as unfit to be reasoned with as a man who believes he is made of glass. There may be disorders in the human frame that may produce such extravagances, but they will never be cured by reasoning.”

And Reid himself doubts that Descartes was really serious:

“Descartes indeed would make us believe that he got out of this delerium by his logical argument Cogito, ergo sum. But it is evident he was in his senses all the time, and never seriously doubted his existence. He takes it for granted in his argument, and proves nothing at all. I am thinking, says he, therefore I am: And is it not as good reasoning to say, I am sleeping, therefore I am? Or I am doing nothing, therefore I am?”

Common sense has always been in short supply, especially in philosophy. If Reid’s brand of clarity appeals to you, give him a read. It’s well worth your time.

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