Links Post 18/02/17

Links from the last week.


‘The Great Shame of Our Profession’. Brilliantly scathing piece on an immensely important issue:

You have asked me to speak to you today about literary criticism, and so we might note that the conditions ravaging our profession are also ravaging our work. The privilege of tenure used to confer academic freedom through job security. By now, decades of adjunctification have made the professoriate fearful, insular, and conformist. According to the AAUP, adjunct faculty are about half as likely to undertake risky research projects, and the timidity moves up the ladder. “Professionalization” means retrofitting your research so that it accommodates the critical fads that will make you marginally more employable. It means cutting and adding chapters so that feathers remain unruffled. Junior faculty play it safe—conceptually, politically, and formally—because they write for job and tenure committees rather than for readers. Publications serve careers before they serve culture.

Akhilesh Pillalamarri: Must We Have a ‘Melting Pot’? A thought-provoking piece. However, I have a few reservations about his arguments. Perhaps the greatest of these is the failure to distinguish between the very different sorts of diversity that pertained in more traditional societies and the diversity of modern individualistic multiculturalism. For instance, traditional sorts of cultural diversity were seldom about diversity as such, but about the socially choreographed interactions between certain very specific cultures, each of which had to keep in its proper place relative to the others. There were typically clear regional, class, caste, professional, or other boundaries between cultural or religious communities, boundaries that would be enforced by the state and other parties. Different cultures would also have legal, cultural, political, and geographic spaces in which to retain their distinctions.

There would often also be an imperial hegemony of one particular group over all others. It is also noteworthy that societies that protect a very specific interplay of distinct cultures are often among the most sceptical of and resistant to diversity and multiculturalism as such, or to indiscriminate immigration. National ecosystems can be fragile things and the interactions between the distinct groups within them can be radically unsettled by the influx of other parties.

Via Scott Alexander, Why We Culturally Profile. A long post calling for scepticism towards Muslim immigration, especially in its European form. Even beyond the security state and stifling of public life that have been encouraged by large scale Muslim immigration and the terrorism that has tended to accompany it, this raises difficult questions. The fact that there is such a groundswell of opposition to Muslim immigration in Europe is not an accident. Cultural and religious differences are real and don’t seem to be vanishing. Many Europeans are justifiably troubled and cynically accusing them of being racist or Islamophobic for drawing attention to uncomfortable realities is not an answer. Until we can honestly and directly address the particular concerns that people have about Muslim immigration and Muslim immigrant populations in particular, forthrightly wrestling with the facts and the prudential challenges that exist in this area, parties on the further right in Europe will continue to rise. What we really seem to need is a more pragmatic form of liberalism that recognizes the particularity of our historic cultural identities, the importance of liberal values for our societies, recognizes the importance and particularity of the socio-cultural foundations for those values, recognizes the challenge Muslim immigration presents to those foundations, while also recognizing that Muslims are already a part of our societies and are our neighbours. The right, for its part, must recognize that, even if immigration stopped overnight, Europe has been demographically transformed and we must make the new reality work for everyone, rather than nostalgically yearning for the past. Whatever injustices and failures might have led to this point, there are millions of Muslims who belong in our countries as our compatriots. While this does not mean that our countries’ native and historic cultures should be denied or reduced to just one option in a multicultural society, it does mean that we should beware of speaking in ways that either invalidate the rights of our Muslim neighbours that have been legally obtained or which fundamentally compromise our duties of hospitality and neighbourliness to them. For their part, the progressive left must recognize the empirical challenge to its orthodoxies about diversity and universalism and start to appreciate its own cultural contingency and that of liberal values more generally. This requires something beyond what either the left or the right are generally currently offering.

Interview with the historian Robert Tombs, on, among other things, British identity post Brexit.

4chan: The Skeleton Key to the Rise of Trump. This piece gets certain important dimensions of the gender dynamics wrong, but it gets a lot more right and is well worth a read.

These Conservative Christians Are Opposed to Trump—and Suffering the Consequences. I have mixed feelings about this piece, especially reflecting on what it does and doesn’t mention. Someone like Russell Moore would seem to be an obvious person to mention here, but it focuses almost exclusively on much less prominent women, which makes me wonder whether there is an implicit—and perhaps rather tendentious—story behind the story.

John Milbank: The Problem of Populism and the Promise of a Christian Politics

‘Every Racist I Know Voted For Donald Trump’. Particularly worth reading for Daryl Davis’ advice for changing opponents’ minds.

Donaeld the Unready’s Twitter account is a hoot.

Ben Sixsmith: A.C.’s Failings. ‘Appeals for reason are paper darts on the walls of human behaviour.’

Womanhood Redefined. Interesting exploration of the collision of transgenderism and certain forms of feminist ideology.

Scott Alexander follows up his post on Cost Disease with a post with highlights from its comments, accompanied with a few of his own further reflections.

Spotted Toad: Hubel, Wiesel, and Sensitive Periods. Some interesting reflections on the process of learning.

How to raise a genius: lessons from a 45-year study of super-smart children

Emmett Rensin: You Don’t Know Hannah Arendt. Criticizing facile appeals to Arendt in the current political context.

Terrorism Denial on the Left

Young People and Free Speech

Reconstruction of a Train Wreck: How Priming Research Went Off the Rails. Make sure that you read Daniel Kahneman’s response in the comments too: it is a notable example of scientific virtue.

Watching Wikipedia’s extinction event from a distance. Wikipedia as a dying coral reef.

Maryland ponders dangerous ‘affirmative consent’ proposal. The modern concept of consent in relation to sex is an increasingly problematic one.

Record numbers of couples living in sexless marriages in Japan, says report

Stop Freaking Out About CRISPR! (Except For One Thing). Although organisms in the wild are developing resistance to gene drives.

How the Battle Lines Over CRISPR Were Drawn

Major report prepares ground for genetic modification of human embryos

Gene editing, clones and the science of making babies. The ethical myopia attending many of these new developments is concerning.

Could we one day make babies from only skin cells?

Anxious Chinese parents cause gene testing boom as they try to discover young children’s talents

Elon Musk: Humans must merge with machines or become irrelevant in AI age

Rolls-Royce plans to launch crewless ships by 2020

The Science That Could Make You Crave Broccoli More Than Chocolate

Via Scott Alexander: Scientists Have Confirmed a Brand New Phase of Matter: Time Crystals

Humans Killed the Aral Sea. Now It’s Come Back to Life.

Scientists discover ‘Zealandia’—a hidden continent off the coast of Australia

In one year, 12 trillion locusts devastated the Great Plains—and then they went extinct

Collapse of Aztec Society Linked to Catastrophic Salmonella Outbreak

Dear Warren: Bill and Melinda Gates’ 2017 Annual Letter.

Americans Express Increasingly Warm Feelings Toward Religious Groups

Guildford Cathedral faces ‘probable closure’

8 Ways to Read (a Lot) More Books This Year. If you are really serious about reading more books, what are you doing looking at this list of links?

Momentous Historical Firsts That Happened Way Before Most People Think They Did

Bad Map Projection: Time Zones

Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra: The Story Behind John Piper’s Most Famous Attack on the Prosperity Gospel

Douglas Wilson: When Envy Tells

Scot McKnight: The Soul of Evangelicalism: What Will Become of Us?

Ian Paul:
Church Teaching and LGB Mental Health
On Synod, Sexuality, and not ‘Taking Note’

Matt Smethurst posts the video of Sam Alberry addressing the Church of England General Synod earlier this week

Andrew Wilson:
Trinity and Akedah
10 Reason You Should Read Fleming Rutledge’s ‘The Crucifixion’
What Happened to the Absurd?

Matt Colvin: Focalization in Genesis 8

J. Budziszewski: Is Toleration a Virtue?

Jake Belder: On not calling people ‘nominal’ Christians

Derek Rishmawy: Perichoresis in Aquinas: Fruit, Not Foundation

Alan Jacobs has a stimulating series of posts on the building of the tabernacle and Temple, en route to a theology of technology. Lots of thought-provoking observations and arguments, although I disagree strongly with some of them. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Peter Leithart:
Science of Division
Time Out of Joint
Art, Divine and Human
Passivity and Freedom
Descartes, Nihilist
Living Sacrifices
Architecture of Fancy
Slow Grow
Anthropology of Deficiency
On Separating Church and State
The State After ’68

Keeping Up With the Kattarshians—Live Kittens! Here’s one of their camera views:

See also the work of Tiny Kittens and their live videos here.

Weta Workshop Sculptor’s Labyrinth Model

Will Arnett: LEGO Batman Toy Shop Prank (I’m seeing LEGO Batman tomorrow and am rather excited about it…)

Incredible LEGO Wall Installation

Primitive Technology: Forge Blower

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

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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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19 Responses to Links Post 18/02/17

  1. My thoughts and writing style are very juvenile, but I just posted a paper I wrote during my undergraduate studies on the ethics of human cloning, for anyone who’s interested: Any thoughts, comments, pushback is welcome.

  2. cal says:

    Why do you include a number of sci-fi neo-Futurist posts about gene-splicing, alchemy about broccoli into chocolate, and Elon Musk’s insane ramblings? Is it mostly for the silliness or do you take this stuff seriously, or is it a thermometer of how it might seem like we’re living in the 1930s again?

    • Some of the stuff really should be taken seriously as new scientific possibilities on the horizon. Some is just curious, diverting, and/or entertaining. Some reveals the cultural traction of transhumanist visions and the corresponding notions of humanity. Some of it reveals a blind faith in cornucopian visions of a scientifically enhanced future as a secular eschatology. Some of the stories display a number of these things at once. Our expectations of the future disclose a lot about us.

  3. Ian Miller says:

    On nominal Christians – I’m a bit confused – I have not seen the phenomenon of pastors treating people who regularly attend church as “nominal” Christians. My understanding of the use of the term is generally those who call themselves Christian, but do not attend church or practice any aspect of their salvation (which, it is true, they may well have). Or the Easters and Christmas attendees. It seems that using “nominal” in a non-standard way to exhort pastors to work with Christians where they are, rather than where they should be, is to unhelpfully move the actual issue of nominal Christianity to an uncontested area.

    Tolerence seems to have become a word like fascist or democracy, as Orwell pointed out in Politics and the English Language. We are not really being asked to tolerate things – to have patience with them – but to approve of them. To tolerate gay marriage would be to say, “You can celebrate it, but I will not.” What we are being asked to do is to celebrate it ourselves. This is not to put of the true question of how to love our neighbors who practice evil or foolish things, a question I think the church has often failed to even ask, let alone try to answer with practice.

    The pressure to destroy the family, especially the family as including the duty and delight in procreation, will only get worse as artificial wombs and sex robots increase the ability of people to numb themselves to their loneliness. I really don’t see why people haven’t talked more about the prophetic power of Brave New World – perhaps because 1984 has a clearer villain.

    The wikipedia article interested and saddened me – I first started editing Wikipedia when political vandals started targeting biographical articles to demonize their opponents, and the culture of the place convinced me that it was only a matter of time until it became its own destruction. I still think it’s a phenomenal achievement, but it’s become too big and too self-cannibalizing of a culture to inspire much enthusiasm. I hope I and the article are wrong, because wikia culture – the culture of people attempting to improve knowledge themselves, rather than just accepting what is told them – is a great thing.

  4. Physiocrat1 says:

    This short article is worth a read just for the explanation as to why low interest rates reduce the cost of purchasing capital so relatively increase the cost of labour and lead to capital replacing labour at increased pace.

  5. WenatcheeTheHatchet says:

    It’s either Lego Batman or The Red Turtle but the next film I’m seeing in a theater is basically going to be some kind of cartoon.

    The first link I read earlier this week and it was a scathing indictment indeed! In the last four years I’ve tried catching up with arts journalism and scholarship and it’s hard to shake the impression that the great value of the Frankfurt school lies less in the substance of thei rcritique of the contemporary West as in the use by mainstream academia and arts publications of their work to self-exempt from participation in the ruling castes of society. If I can quote Benjamin or Adorno than my being able to get a liberal arts degree doesn’t mean I would be part of a ruling class that would be a class enemy in a traditional Marxist dialectic of history.

    Doug Wilson’s link was about as blustery as I’d expect of him. Ecclesiastes 4:4 would seem to have pre-emptively put the baby to bad that everyone is motivated by envy of neighbor. This “is” the guy who proposed Mark Driscoll’s fall was a “revenge of the beta males” moment. Incompetence and ethical lapses might have played a significant role in a guy’s own downfall, of course, but that wasn’t where Wilson chose to land–weird that inside of a few years Wilson had a book retracted in the wake of a plagiarism frackas. Sometimes people don’t like you because they envy your success and sometimes people don’t like you because you show yourself to be a preening blowhard who can’t be relied upon to cite your sources correctly in the first print edition of your book. 🙂 Just when I was thinking I might actually get A Justice Primer out of curiosity the boo got retracted.

    • quinnjones2 says:

      If anyone derogates DW, the derogation always stems from the envy of the derogating other, because DW is above reproach. If DW derogates another, it is because the other is worthy of contempt (and I am a pink-toed tarantula 😉 ).

  6. bethyada says:

    I had read that Atlantic article previously. I have gone back and looked up Dingle’s blog post that they referenced.

    Although I disagree with some of her positions, and would dispute some of her data, the most obvious issue here is that Dingle can hardly be called conservative. Sure, she is anti-abortion. But her talking points are all framed from a liberal perspective. She also noted that she agrees with the gay marriage law. Whatever the merits of her arguments (or not), I think conservative is a bit of a stretch.

    I think the whole framing of the conservatives against Trump are sidelined is not honest. There are conservatives who have opposed Trump quite loudly who are not being sidelined like this. And if the only examples are faux-conservatives…

    I am quite prepared to concede that some conservatives are very pro-Trump and could be antagonistic to never-Trumpers. Americans seem to polarise political opponents more than some other Western Liberal democracies do. Even so, prudence would dictate how you approach the issue. The examples in the Atlantic seem to be women who wished to use their position as a platform. I think that one should be very careful before making a political stance a condition of employment. That said, some situations are intentionally political. Communists won’t find a place a Cato. You cannot join an intrinsically political organisation and complain that they object to your antagonistic politics.

    Even non-partisan organisations may be set up to speak into the political environment. In such a situation it may be reasonable for the organisation to say that it’s members or employees refrain from being overly partisan outside the organisation so that the message can focus on the policy with less politics.

    • I think there are a number of things to be taken account of here:

      1. I don’t think most evangelicals are actually strongly pro-Trump, even though the majority may have voted for him. The problems described in the article are probably more limited to particular contexts. Ambivalence, concern, or even carefully articulated opposition to Trump are well within the Overton Window in most evangelical contexts.

      2. The more strongly pro-Trump evangelicals such as Eric Metaxas and Jerry Falwell Jr. have faced a lot of criticism in evangelical circles. The centre of the evangelical Overton Window doesn’t seem to be unreserved support of Trump, but reluctant support of him as the least worst option.

      3. There are underlying dynamics in the article, revealed in its almost exclusive focus on women, and statements such as ‘It seems like there is this silencing of evangelical women if we don’t stick with approved talking points.’ There is a conflict between the influence of the new online sisterhood—which is very vocally anti-Trump and more liberal leaning—and the established evangelical authorities, which have been much more supportive of Trump in various quarters. There is a conflict about authority here, with the online sisterhood increasingly supplanting pastors, church leaders, and the evangelical establishment. While a number of the women expressing opposition to Trump may not themselves be liberals, I suspect pastors and the leaders of evangelical institutions see them taking their cues primarily from women online and believe that they know where that tends to lead in the longer term.

      4. A further key issue here is the ambiguity of online media. Such media blur the divide between public and private and tend to put institutional representation and private expression of opinion at far greater odds with each other. As I’ve argued in the past, by substituting obscurity for self-publicity, we can be exposed to asphyxiating levels of scrutiny. The distinction between personal and official positions is unclear on social media and so organizations can be much more resistant to their employees expressing themselves in a forthright fashion.

  7. mnpetersen37 says:

    Regarding Galatians 3 (which came up in your response to SpaceBiship):

    Why does St. Paul in 3:29, refer to us as Abraham’s seed, singular? Elsewhere that the word is singular may not be that big of a deal, but St. Paul had just made a big deal of the singular seed in 3:16, and seems to have even tied the singular “seed” it to the Shemah (3:20). Furthermore, the singular “sperma” doesn’t match the verb “este”, which is plural. In that context, the singular in 3:29 seems extremely significant, and to underscore the unity (unity that’s even perhaps tied to the Shemah!). But St. Paul’s point regarding “seed” is enigmatic to begin with, and I’m not sure what to do with it here.

    • Because Christ secures the unity of the people of God as a single ‘seed’ in him, rather than as separate and distinct seeds of Abraham on differing bases.

      • mnpetersen37 says:

        The distinct seeds being “Jew and Greek; bond and free; male and female”? (So: Jews and godfearers both worshiped the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob, but only Jews were circumcised; Gentile slaves with Jewish masters, though in some ways included in the covenant, were different from from Jews, but now all are baptized and equally in the covenant; and men and women are both baptized, but, till Christ, men were members of the covenant on the basis of their circumcision; but women, by some other means–I’m not actually sure how women were made members of Abraham’s covenant?)

        Am I right to see a connection between the one seed in 3:16 being Christ; and the one seed in 3:29 putting on Christ (3:27)?

      • No, the distinct seeds would be Jews and Gentiles (not quite synonymous with ‘Greek’). He is making a more general point about inclusion in a single unified body on an equal footing arising out of his argument about Jews and Gentiles being members of the same body.

        The context of his remarks concerns inheritance, which was received differently from freeborn Jewish men by slaves, women, and Gentiles. All now enjoy the same covenant standing.

        Yes, I think you are right to see that connection.

      • mnpetersen37 says:

        I used “Greek” because that’s the term in the previous verse, but it seems that there he’s using it as a metonomy for all the nations, and so, in that context, it means “Gentile”. Is that not how you read v 28? (Though “ethnos” (v. 14) is a better translation of “goiym”.)

      • Yes. My point is that ‘Greek’ refers to something rather more specific than ‘Gentile’ (which also includes those beyond the world of the empire). Verse 28 is making a general, but contextually rooted, expression of the oneness of the Church. The Jew-Greek opposition was the primary operative one in the Galatian context, but the theological point about Gentiles has broader relevance than this (although the Jew-Greek relation is a paradigm case).

  8. WenatcheeTheHatchet says:

    anyone else spot this reply/response to the Birmingham presentation?

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