Saturday, December 13, 2003

I went to this Bright site from James Randi's Then I started thinking, "Hey, how's this any different from good old-fashioned revivalist Objectivism?" Then I started thinking some more, "Hey, these guys think they're so "bright", how do they explain the absence from their ranks of some darn "bright" people?" And also, I mean, how dare they say they know what "Bright" is? And they pretend that they don't mean by "Bright" what we peons call "smart". Right. This is just Mensa lite or "brite"! I thought their hero Stephen Jay Gould demolished the concept of intelligence in "The Mismeasure of Man". But OK. How tiring. I guess I actually have to read some of their stuff, maybe even an article in the Jayson Blair Times, to figure out what they mean by "Bright". Like it's worth it. The prospect's almost as enticing as reading Andrew Sullivan's books to find out how he reconciles homosexuality with a Catholicism that has been burning faggots for millennia. Like I really want to wade through hours of poufter self-deception.

But I may do that. Right now, off the top of my head, I can name Einstein, Newton, Maxwell, Voltaire, Darwin, Faraday, Plato, Kant, Socrates, Aristotle and Augustine among those whose "worldview" was not "free of supernatural or mystical deities, forces, and entities". I guess they just weren't "Bright" enough to realize that the question of the existence and efficacy of forces unknown to Man had been settled once and for all. But as I say, I haven't read Brightthought. I'll check it out.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Hitchens the iconoclast

Frontpage has an interesting if frustrating interview with Christopher Hitchens, mostly about leftists and the War on Terror. Predictably, however, Hitchens is not predictable or ordinary. Sometimes it's hard to imagine what might be going on in his head. But the spectacle is entertaining.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Patriotism and America
I've been thinking about this for a long time. Patriotism is usually defined as a deep emotional loyalty to the land where one - or one's fathers (patri) - were born. Not very many Americans go back very far in America, compared to the rest of the world. My father was born in England. But I feel a deep sense of what seems like patriotism for America. I always felt somewhat guilty about this, growing up in liberal America and spending a good deal of childhood time in liberal Europe. The Europeans especially are eager to point out the irrationality of patriotism based solely on birth. Germans died by the millions for Hitler and Russians for Stalin because of a patriotism with little justifiable ideological basis. Their sacrifices arguably led to worse results for their homelands, not better. Even the "democracies" sacrificed generations of their young men just to see empires wither away and national glory decline. So how can an American feel patriotism? Isn't it just for suckers?

Once you remove the patriotism stemming from birth, the feeling for a patch of ground where your mother and sisters and children huddle together, counting on you in the front lines to protect them from a murderous enemy, a man can only feel patriotism that stems from a superior ideology. The only possible justification for fighting and dying for your country would be if that country's ideology would make mankind in general happier and safer and more prosperous. Certainly many young men died in the Spanish Civil War and in the Cold War for that sort of ideology. I don't doubt that the feeling that led Orwell and the other Republicans to risk their lives in Catalonia in 1936 and, as it turned out, futilely, was quite different from the patriotism of a Chinese villager fighting invading Japanese in the thirties and forties of the last century. But now their collectivism has been exposed as a fraud and sham, at the cost of millions of families starved and shot and transported and worked to death with nothing to show for their lives. So how can one possibly say that the American ideology is worth dying for. Every one of those soldiers in Iraq who dies from a cowardly roadside bomb or an RPG or a fanatic suicide bomber must have been motivated to risk his life by some ideology. Perhaps most of them went just because of old-fashioned patriotism, to protect Americans from another 9-11-01, perhaps some to gain glory, to test themselves as men in the ultimate video game.

But many Americans feel a different kind of patriotism, based on the conviction that limited constitutional government really IS superior to all other forms yet tried. This ideology specifically is not based on race or religion or language. It's based on hope. Optimism is the great gift that America has for the world. Oh, I don't think most soldiers think of things in technical political terms. They just have a sense of freedom, of what economic opportunity means to people. And when they get off the plane in the Middle East and hear the all-suffocating wail of the muezzin five times a day throughout every little hamlet and big city, see peasants plowing fields behind water buffalo and living in mud houses, barely able to feed their children, they inevitably compare their own childhoods, with universal education and food and hygiene and luxuries the average Iraqi could not dream of. And they must think, yes, it's true. Freedom is better.