Links Post 4/02/17

Links from the last week.

Fr Aidan Kimel quotes an interview with Oliver O’Donovan on subjects such as preaching politically:

It is less important that those who hear you should concur in your conclusions than that they should respond positively to the principles from which you reason. When I address political questions I almost always adopt an exegetical form of sermon-structure, follow my text and the argument that arises from it, until it points irresistibly to some theologico-political principle. Then, in the lightest way possible, I give concreteness to the principle by showing how it bears on the public issue in question. Usually I do not bother to indicate my own view; it will be evident enough from the argument. If anyone disagrees with me, I hope that person will have been helped to articulate a more authentically Christian response, one which will take seriously the issues of principle I have raised. Everyone needs to come out with a clearer sense of what is unnegotiable for Christian conscience, and what, by contrast, is merely a matter of differing emphasis or differing interpretation of a given situation.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb: The Most Intolerant Wins: The Dictatorship of the Small Minority

The main idea behind complex systems is that the ensemble behaves in way not predicted by the components. The interactions matter more than the nature of the units. Studying individual ants will never (one can safely say never for most such situations), never give us an idea on how the ant colony operates. For that, one needs to understand an ant colony as an ant colony, no less, no more, not a collection of ants. This is called an “emergent” property of the whole, by which parts and whole differ because what matters is the interactions between such parts. And interactions can obey very simple rules. The rule we discuss in this chapter is the minority rule.

The minority rule will show us how it all it takes is a small number of intolerant virtuous people with skin in the game, in the form of courage, for society to function properly.

An important insight, with application to the current sexuality debates, for instance.

J. Budziszewski: Interiority

Some pieces in response to the paper I linked last week on six-year-old girls and brilliance. Stereotypes can hold boys back in school, too. Some important stuff here, but stereotype threat is looking increasingly shaky as a concept, so we should beware of it. Was that new Science paper hyped and over-interpreted because of its liberal message? Quite probably, but we should beware of jumping to correlations ourselves. More generally, it can be good to be suspicious of stories that too closely fit the prevailing cultural narrative, and especially in cases where only one possible result could be published or certain ready explanations cannot even be explored. This is a principle with broad application in a media and social context as partisan as ours. There is a great deal of ‘research’ and ‘reporting’ to tickle the prejudices of whatever side you might be on.

Slate Star Codex blogger Scott Alexander defends his past posts on Donald Trump

Pope Francis and Donald Trump: the same man?

The Roots of a Counterproductive Immigration Policy

47% of Jobs Will Disappear in the next 25 Years, According to Oxford University

The jobs you will be doing in 10 years

What new technologies carry the biggest risks?

Blue Feed, Red Feed. Liberal and Conservative Facebook feeds side by side.

Race gaps in SAT scores highlight inequality and hinder upward mobility

The Rise and Fall of European Meritocracy

The ‘Weirding’ of Sex

Time Well Spent. Designing new technology around users and their values.

The opera-loving sisters who ‘stumbled’ into heroism

AI just won a poker tournament against professional players. I guess that’s the beginning of the end for online poker.

The Tricks of Blindfold Chess

The nuclear bunkers designed for luxury living

Greek teachers in epic battle to save classics: ‘Teachers in Greece have criticised plans by the left-wing government to scrap the mandatory study of Ancient Greek tragedy in high schools and introduce instead classes on gender and sex education, saying that this could bring about the end of classical studies.’

Microcephaly patient Ana Carolina Caceres: ‘I survived’

First Genetic Results From Scott Kelly’s Year In Space Reveal DNA Mysteries

Robots could help solve social care crisis, say academics

Streetview of Eastern State Penitentiary

Has the term ‘British’ lost all meaning? If and when the union breaks up, I will be fascinated to see how ‘English’ identity will develop and how immigrants will self-define, as ‘English’ is a far less open identity to non-native peoples.

Love in the Time of Capital. Stimulating interview with Eva Illouz [HT: Matt Petersen]

Rod Dreher: Hillbilly Energy

Noah Millman: You Don’t Kill the Scapegoat

Ben Myers: Tales of an Eccentric Theologian-Genius

Scott Alexander: Book Review: Eichmann in Jerusalem

Sarah Perry: After Temporality

C.S. Lewis on the relation between magic and technology

Amy Hall: Did Old Testament Men Treat Their Wives Like Property?

Peter Leithart: YHWH’s Sorrow
Priests, Levites, Bread
Games in the Streets
Aging and Ends
Anthropomorphism and Christian Humanism

Jake Belder: Meilaender on the Limits of Work

Matthew Lee Anderson: On the Executive Order Regarding Refugees

Brad Littlejohn: A Primer on the Meaning of Political Opposition

Derek Rishmawy: On Signalling Versus Displaying Virtue in a Trumpian Age

D.A. Carson: Subtle Ways to Abandon the Authority of Scripture in our Lives

Alan Jacobs: Judging Judges

The Rise of Populism and the Backlash Against the Elites: Jonathan Haidt and Nick Clegg in conversation

This Farm of the Future Uses No Soil and 95% Less Water:

Do you have any thoughts on any of the issues raised above?

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Over to you!

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
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17 Responses to Links Post 4/02/17

  1. Demo says:

    Thank you for continuing to put these together, Alistair. For those of us who don’t have time (or ability) to read as broadly as you do it is a tremendous service.

    Also, it was good to see that Brad Littlejohn has some new content up. Though I may have to go and contest some gross oversimplification in his global warming post.

  2. Ian Miller says:

    I thought the piece on coming unemployment was interesting, but I am unconvinced. I do not believe that it will stop being hard to earn a living (as in Genesis 3), nor do I think that the world’s problems will be so solved by technology that we will require so few people to keep working. (I’m also incredibly suspicious of anything that says we have a “right to employment.” That’s not a right – no one has the responsibility to provide you with work.)

  3. Geoff says:

    Clegg & Haidt and Populism.

    Not a commentary, but I’ve watched 28 mins so far and look forward to viewing the rest when not so tired, but Haidt is excellent and Clegg, so far, looks like a politician out of his depth and at odds with the one who pontificated in the Commons on triggereing of article 50. Did he absorb anything Haidt said up to min 28 event?
    He seems to have little self awareness, of his own place and espoused philosophy in UK’s, so called populism in the Brexit result. It seems that the new liberals have little ablility to empathise, to walk a mile in their (the other’s shoes) or articulate the other’s philosophy. It was pertinent that he thought immigration was largely about numbers.
    It was also amusing to see Cleggs non verbal response to Haidt’s quotation of John Lennon’s “Imagine” somewhere near the beginning.
    I’ve mentioned before, and I’ll mention again the highly relevant wisdom from GK Chesterton’s “Don’t take down the fence…..” which Haidt has demonstrated so far in his discourse.
    Many thanks for the link. I’ll seek to pass it on

  4. cal says:

    The BBC’s future jobs list was funny, even funnier that it seemed to be semi-serious. Yes, in 10-15 years we will be living in I-Robot, Surrogates, Repomen, Jurassic Park, Total Recall all combined!! Maybe when the robots take over, we can use the dinosaurs to retaliate.

  5. cal says:

    In addition: I thought Belder’s critique of Meilander was mostly empty headed. He doesn’t give an alternative besides special pleading. It’s easy to say we need a special place for the vocation of work when we live on the sunny-side of Capitalism, not grinding ourselves in menial tasks. More and more Americans are trapped in the vicious cycle of retail labor, and this is not even speaking to the horrible conditions elsewhere across the globe. It’s why Tim Keller is basically useless in this regard. Kuyperianism only works when you’re the Dutch and not the Indonesians or the Africans in the economic equation.

    If you’re going to critique you need to say a little more than “yeah, but…”, otherwise take the harsh medicine of the fact that most people’s work dehumanizes them than vice-versa. Yes, we want meaningful work, which does mean something, but the whole system is rigged against such a possibility, at least for the many.

  6. WenatcheeTheHatchet says:

    that bbc job list reads like pure fantasy.

    It’s been decades since I was in high school but I can still remember the optimistic proclamation that one day we would have paperless offices. Since the new millennium I’ve handled trees worth of paper in clerical tasks. The role of the hard copy in paper isn’t going to go away just because futurists imagine we’ll be free of paper. If anything we’re swimming in more paper now than before. Our contemporary judicial system simply does not take as given something on a screen says X is so. Vetted hard copies will have a role.

    We’ve gutted the non-skilled labor market and for futurists whose livelihood often depends on the administration of information as economy the future can always look bright. I think the ribbon farm essay “You Are Not an Artisan” was more cogent in proposing that the future of work looks okay so long as you bear in mind the future of labor is tedious scut work that can’t be handled by the scale of computation on the one hand and that requires human observation/participation on the other. The analogy was apt–people want to be the bard but the work is in being the chimney sweep.

    It can be easy for contemporary Westerners who are used to mobility to forget that the affection so many people have had was not for work-as-vocation in some numinous contemporary sense. The affection and bond was to a place, to a land. Conservatives should theoretically seem to be able to get this idea that you can be emotionally and socially bound to WHERE you do whatever you do because whatever you do may be cyclical and tedious and, in itself, not hugely invested with lasting meaning but the place you do it and the people you do it with can have a lot of fond memories attached to it.

  7. Geoff says:

    Breaking news -.crisis in the Academy alleviated by unthinking robotic cultural AI being replaced by wisdom, emotional intelligence, and robust peer reviewed research from non self-serving, first class, independent thinking academics.

  8. jacobther says:

    Hi Alastair,
    Regular reader. Infrequent commenter. I finally managed to kick off my blog with a post on free speech.
    Any comments are welcome!!

  9. Geoff says:

    It would be great/interesting/helpful to have your response/critique/commentary, to DA Carson’s article.

  10. James Cr says:

    First comment on a magnificent blog. Alistar, sir, I believe you are one of the most astute observers of western society writing today. I think it helps that you’re much younger than others I’d most recommend (R.R. Reno at First Things, Charles Murray at AEI, Rod Dreher at American Conservative, Theodore Dalrymple at City Journal/Takimag). This piece here, the 2nd part of your problem of gender essay (, is especially insightful. In the comments, by the way, you skewered me, in a way no one in the real world ever has, “One can often see a deep enervation of spirit among such men, when there is no easy way for them to achieve manliness. Perhaps the army is the only route for many of them. Beyond this, petty crime, promiscuous sexual relations, sports, violence, extreme physical exercise, video games, porn, etc. can be routes for salvaging some sense of manliness and things like drugs and drink means of escaping the despair. Working in unreliable jobs in the gender neutral atmosphere of the modern service industry, where they must constantly hold themselves back and suppress their masculine tendencies can be wearying. It simply does not offer the same sense of self-worth, shared manly identity, or deep community.” I’m a son of hard labouring men on both sides of my family, who went to university, got a good degree, but is stuck in the humdrum world of low-paid service sector work while searching for a real opportunity to prove himself a man (while spending too much time reading). I’m surrounded by young men you fit the above description to a T.

    Some gender-neutral utopian thinking from Naomi Alderman in the Guardian today. ( Her desired world, and one desired by a good proportion of the readership if the comment-voting tallies are any indication, is “a world where neither gender or sex are destiny.” Where there are no pre-requisites, no givens, where there are no male or female dominated job sectors, where a woman is as free to sleep around as lothario, where caring for children is equally distributed between the sexes. This is obviously fantasy – the kind of nonsense which the average man or woman in the street would laugh off, perfectly aware that men and women are fundamentally different in both biology and psychology, but which is accepted as orthodoxy by much of our liberal ruling class.

    She proposes a rather heavy-handed state directed apportionment of parental leave, 3 months each for the mother and father. If the father refused to take his share, he’d be unable to transfer it (surely this leaves the average couple much worse off than under out current, supposedly dystopian, arrangements?). But while she expressed concern about fathers who don’t have the chance to bond with their children, I couldn’t help but reflect on the roughly 30% of children who do not reside with their fathers at all (allowing that the overwhelming proportion of lone parents are women, and that the increase in unmarried cohabiting couples will inevitable lead to an increased in lone parent families in the medium term –

    She looks at the 22-1 male-female incarceration ratio and concludes “Let’s teach boys at school the personally and economically valuable skills of self-expression and emotional intelligence, of mediation and problem-solving.” I think we could do better than that; we could teach all our children the truth about our sexes. It wouldn’t lead them to utopia, but it might help them deal effectively with reality.

    • Yes, such sentiments are, admittedly, fairly par for the course over on the Guardian. It will have most of the readers nodding along approvingly, but it doesn’t take much probing of such a vision with carefully chosen questions to reveal that it collapses under any sort of close examination.

      The utopia-serving myth is not one that people will readily abandon. For too many people, the notion that gendered societies are an oppressive patriarchal creation is the convenient scapegoat for the problems and failures in their lives or a means of signalling their higher moral status. The significance of these beliefs is often exposed when they are challenged with facts and arguments (remember, remarkably few gender theorists are deeply acquainted with biological research on sexual difference). The high resistance, avoidance, and anger one often encounters suggests that they are sacred or play an important role in people’s psychological processes.

      More generally, these shallow myths serve many people’s purposes. They are cheap ways of signalling virtue and high status. They sell products. They please aggressive minorities. They are the myths that wounded and mistreated people tell themselves to make sense of the world. The frustrating thing is that the myths will probably persist in dominating our culture as long as these various groups are so invested in them.

  11. James Cr says:

    I’m the above poster. Could you please edit out my name and replace it with “James Cr”? I’d rather have some degree of anonymity, on reflection. Thank you.

  12. Paul Baxter says:

    Just saw a link to this today. And I agree with the writer that The American Conservative has had some of the best political writing I’ve seen in recent years. But that aside, I think this is a critical topic for Christians:

    • I was actually just discussing that very post on an email discussion list when your comment appeared. My suspicion is that a focus on catechising won’t address the deeper problem much and would be to put the cart before the horse. The more fundamental issues are those of socialization, as this drives our more basic ‘comportment to reality’ (to borrow the expression of one of my interlocutors) and neither better catechising nor Christian schools are straightforward solutions to this problem, as it is a problem that faces us on so many fronts.

  13. mnpetersen37 says:

    It’s worth noting that Pierre Hadot (in chapters 10 and 11 of The Veil of Isis), who probably had never even heard of Lewis, also claims that technology and magic are closely aligned (though he thinks both the Promethian technology/magic approach, and the more Orphic approach Lewis recommends have an ancient pedigree).

  14. Geoff says:

    Judging Judges.
    I think Jacobs is stepping out of his field of expertise (don’t we all) here, especially as he doesn’t delve into Constitutional law, separation of powers,the processes of appointment of judges, independence of the judiciary, rule of law and the various schools or thought in the field of jurisprudence.

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