Monday, August 04, 2014

You write the truth: who cares?

"A religion is sometimes a source of happiness and I would not deprive anyone of happiness.But it is a comfort appropriate for the weak - and you are strong. The great trouble with religion - any religion - is that a religionist, having accepted certain propositions by faith, cannot thereafter judge those propositions by evidence. One may bask at the warm fire of faith or choose to live in the bleak uncertainty of reason - but one cannot have both."
Robert A. Heinlein wrote these words in "Friday" (p. 306) published in 1982 - thirty two years ago. Last time I noticed, religion was still doing its magic.

There's a kind of self-importance writers have, that they possess important insights and truths, and that it is sufficient to take these to print and the world will be enlightened. I remember a while ago a smart music-scene reporter doing a feature on the band Oasis. The Gallagher brothers informed him they were going to be bigger than The Beatles. Our reporter answered that this was impossible: that band had been the voice of a vast, global social revolution - the sixties - but there was no such seismic shift right now. Then he shut up - he was wasting his breath. Good luck to those few authors who are truly the voice of a new generation, or the revolution!

As the judge said, "I may not be able to define pornography but I know it when I see it." Just as you know political correctness, or an author with an agenda, when you see it. Heinlein has many attractive virtues as a writer and as a social theorist but boy, does he have an agenda. I can't tell you how jarring it is to read "Friday" or "Methuselah's Children" or, God help us, "Stranger in a Strange Land" and be exposed to Heinlein's theory that men and women in an ideal state desire nothing more than to have no-strings sex with anyone they quite like. (He seldom features male-male sex for some reason).

The argument that his writing predates evolutionary psychology is a non-starter. Noticing how people normally react to marital infidelity would have been enough - or some introspection into his own emotions with regard to his beloved wife Ginny. Correction: it appears that Heinlein had open marriages with both his second and third wives (Ginny was number three). So guilty of sexual solipsism then. 

I'm disappointed in him!


I rather liked Peter Frost's recent article on how empathy (and its inverse, guilt) are particularly individualistic attributes of Europeans - it has been suggested that East Asians (Chinese, Japanese) express their prosociality through the more externalized traits of conformity and shame. Worth reading the article.


Gregory Cochran's recent post (Biology and Human Capital) attracted this comment from a Mr Boyle:
"It seems to me that the world should try to preserve the precious resource of Ashkenazi brains. I don’t follow the politics of the region all that closely but Arabs, Palestinians and the like are plentiful and not very talented. Jews however are rare and valuable. These basic facts to me argue for siding with Israel."
This is a scaringly controversial sentiment to express. It violates all our empathic instincts .. and the poster was immediately rebuked for 'autism'.  We can all think of scenarios where for the good of some section of humanity, other sections have to justifiably die. It's called backing one side in a war and we're all expected to do it under some circumstances - so perhaps it's disingenuous to beat up Mr Boyle for his unbearable frankness. Had he spoken instead of Israel being a first-world democracy in a third world region and thereby worth preserving as a beacon then I guess his remarks would have come across as more mainstream, at least in America.

For the record, Israel is of course worth preserving: I just wish they'd be smarter and more strategic about it.