Few intellectuals can match the extraordinary popular success of Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari. In two best-selling books, Sapiens and Homo Deus, he tackles the big questions about the human condition and its future. Harari’s wide-ranging, macro-histories have clearly struck a nerve with the public. Yet his account of our collective past assumes that the biological, scientific version of human nature provides the true and full explanation of what we are. Writing in City Journal, Sir Roger Scruton notes that Harari’s reductive view of history skirts the rather gaping matters of human self-consciousness and self-awareness. In the end, writes Scruton, Harari’s histories are about homo without the sapiens.
Author: Kathleen Welsch
The renowned Canadian physician Sir William Osler once observed that “the greater the ignorance, the greater the dogmatism.” No issue fits Osler’s words better than climate change. Contrary to global dogma, climate science is far from settled. Among the basic challenges facing climatologists is securing accurate records of the Earth’s temperature. John Steele Gordon, writing in Commentary, reports that when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration installed 114 state-of-the-art weather stations in 2005, it didn’t quite confirm global warming. As Mark Twain summarized, “Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.”
Three years after the British people voted to leave the European Union, Britain is still stuck. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s threat to leave without a formal Brexit deal has triggered a crisis in Parliament. Behind this commotion is an intransigent E.U., mindful that without the threat of a “no-deal” Brexit, the U.K. has no bargaining power. Christopher Caldwell, writing in The Claremont Review of Books, deftly fills in the blanks on the Brexit debate, especially regarding the Eurocrats. The E.U.’s ability to evade democratic responsibility, Caldwell warns, may be even more robust than its most vocal critics feared.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Count Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, arguably the greatest of all novels. Among the book’s central motifs is the fragility and contingency of human knowledge, and the subsequent futility of trying to create a social science. In an eternal warning to central planners everywhere, Tolstoy portrayed human beings as existing in a world of contingency and immediacy, continually forced to answer to events entirely unheralded and unexpected. Ultimately, humans need to be guided by something deeper than what can be found through an examination of the empirical world. Gary Saul Morson, writing in The New Criterion, shows how Tolstoy used his literary gifts to show the absurdity of what would become known as scientism, or any other reductionist account of the human.
Urban America is experiencing a widespread breakdown in public order. Cities such as Chicago and San Francisco are marked by homelessness, violent crime, an epidemic of drug abuse, housing shortages, a decaying infrastructure and a general erosion of the human ecology, while others, such as Portland, have added ongoing violent protests to the mix of woes. Among the major reasons for urban decline, believes Steve Malanga, was the championing of progressive social policies reflecting the cultural revolution of the 1960s. Writing in City Journal, Malanga argues that however well-intentioned such policies were, their practical effect was to produce a chaotic, dangerous, urban netherworld. Fortunately, the remedies are well-known; tragically, we appear to lack the political will to enact them.
Paul Valery, the great French poet and philosopher, held that, “It is impossible to think seriously with such words as Classicism, Romanticism, Humanism, Realism, and the other-isms. You can’t get drunk or quench your thirst with the labels on bottles.” Precisely so. Nor can one think seriously with labels such as feminism, liberalism, communism, populism or conservativism. Douglas Murray, writing in the Spectator UK, warns against the ideological lumping which conflates conservative parties with “far-right” policies. The commentariat needs to adopt a nuanced and intellectually robust political lexicon, Murray argues, one capable of delineating the requisite distinctions among parties on the right.
Mindfulness and meditation have entered the mainstream of western societies. Emerging from Buddhist traditions, mindfulness practices claim to be “non-judgemental” and compatible with any belief system. Advocates claim meditation can reduce stress, alleviate physical pain, boost productivity and creativity, and help adherents understand their “true” selves. Yet for Sahanika Ratnayake, a “cultural Buddhist” and a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy at Cambridge University, mindfulness and meditation are “metaphysically loaded.” In her evocative account, first published in Aeon, she suggests why mindfulness practices are unsuited for reaching real self-understanding, and warns against the tendency to view mindfulness as a panacea for the modern world’s ills.
When President Trump described Baltimore as “a disgusting, rat and rodent-infested mess,” and criticized Congressman Elijah Cummings, a predictable Greek Chorus arose from the Democrats and their enablers in the media: Trump is a racist! “King” Cummings is black, so naturally, any criticism of him or his leadership could only arise from racist motives. Writing in American Greatness, Roger Kimball argues that Trump’s twitter assault was calculated to make the Democrats own the problem of urban decay. And he may well be elbowing open the famed “Overton Window,” the range of ideas and rhetoric permissible in public discourse.
After the horrific mass murders in El Paso and Dayton, the Democrats immediately blamed President Trump. Blaming Trump, or any politician or public figure, is both intellectually irresponsible and socially divisive. As this unsigned editorial in the New York Sun points out, the motivations that spur these mad killers arise from both the left and right, including concerns about environmental degradation, as in Dayton and Christchurch, and fears over immigration, as in El Paso. We need to accept the grim truth that whatever our political leanings, the blame for these crimes attaches entirely to the killers.
“How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg?” asked Abraham Lincoln. “Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.” Alas, it appears that Mr. Lincoln was in error. As the enlightened among us now know, a tail is a leg — provided, of course, the dog says it is a leg. Brendan O’Neill, the editor of Spiked Online, looks at the bizarre case of Johnathan Yaniv, a transgender male. Yaniv is arguing before the B.C. Human Rights Council that female beauticians who refuse to perform a Brazilian wax on his male genitalia are violating “her” human rights.