All posts by Jamie Freestone

#47 On real democracy

Dear Mat,

Do I not give Jesus’ teachings a fair go because of his reputation? I have to say, my major engagement with religion has been to read the holy texts as though they were written by unexceptional humans (which indeed they were).

In The Bible we get the opposite: the mother of all halo effects where people listen to what Jesus says not because of the quality of his teachings but because he is posing as the son of someone important. Evaluated as anonymous statements on how to live, the New Testament fails terribly. Nowadays, unfairly transplanted from the cultural context in which it was written, it recommends behaviour that is totally unethical and totally nuts given what we now know about human nature and the world. Love thy neighbour as thyself. Impossible. Give no thought for the morrow. Terrible advice guaranteed to ruin. Continue reading #47 On real democracy

Deduction, subjectivity & culture are all real enough

People and philosophers tend to get bogged down in binary oppositions like objective vs subjective, nature vs culture and inductive vs deductive knowledge. Continental philosophers tend to complicate such binaries, trying to show how both terms are inadequate. Analytic philosophers tend to talk themselves into the ground trying to prove or disprove the existence of one of the terms.

But I think the unusually practical philosopher Daniel Dennett goes about these things the right way and his method is quite generally applicable. Continue reading Deduction, subjectivity & culture are all real enough

#45 On Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour

Dear Mat,

You’ve triggered me. It surely won’t surprise you that citing Jesus as an ethical exemplar does nothing for me. “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Cesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” Nought.

Jesus offers spiritual balms for the dispossessed. For the powerful he offers a free pass. Worked OK for industrial capitalism, I admit, but it was even better suited to empire, feudalism and monarchy. It was a recipe for political acquiescence so good the Roman empire adopted it holus-bolus. The only piece of political action he did was to mess up the desks of some money changers, once. Jesus appears to have been a social conservative and an economic liberal. Not a great combo. Continue reading #45 On Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour

#43 On guilt

Dear Mat,

Conspiracy theorists miss a trick by alleging clandestine operations by shadowy cabals of powerful men who secretly run the world. They could simply point out the cabal of powerful men who openly run the world. Genuine, secret conspiracies occasionally happen as well. The CIA really did murder black leaders in the 1960s for COINTELPRO. But the surprising thing about COINTELPRO is not that public officials given ample funding and little oversight tend to abuse their power to control a populace, but that most people haven’t heard of COINTELPRO. The real conspiracy is languishing in the open, while febrile imaginings of the Illuminati and flat earths are common knowledge.

Describing Ta-Nehisi Coates’ account as “conspiratorial” is wrong because it implies secrecy. There are no secrets here, just very little awareness. Continue reading #43 On guilt

#41 On history

Dear Mat,

Can society be working for some but not others? Can it be objectively measured? This is a much more fascinating disagreement!

The left expect the perfect society; the right think there’s only the incumbent. But surely history demonstrates two things:

  1. the perfect society is impossible and thinking it possible ends in mass-murder;
  2. status quo supporters were consistently proved wrong by reforms that were just over the hill, but they enforced the status quo, generally through small scale murder.

There is the politics of eternity and the politics of inevitability. Both are ahistorical. Continue reading #41 On history

#37 On free markets

Dear Mat,

Good questions. I guess I am being ideological, in the sense that it’s impossible not to be. I take it that more freedom for more people is better ex ante: that’s an ideology. But I claim it’s an open-ended ideology that can lead to more goals being explored in the future and even re-writing or discarding older goals. Hence I think — in a necessarily changing world — it’s a superior ideology to any static ideology (theocracy, communism, agrarian utopianism, etc.). We agree on this basic liberalism.  Do you see that as an ideology?

I also like a  free market. It increases freedom, ratchets down people’s incentives to kill the shit out of each other, opens new options, etc. Obviously I think there should be some rules that prevent ruin or exploitation: contract laws, workers’ unions, punishment for white collar offences, no corporate welfare, etc. Capitalism with a human — neither male nor female — face. Continue reading #37 On free markets

#35 On representation

Dear M,

Our representations of the world are of roughly two kinds: innate (you call them “toolkits”) and ideological (which you call “maps”)*. The problem with maps, you say is that they’re rigid and predictable.

But surely our innate representations of the world — folk psychology, moral instincts, heuristic decision making — are more rigid. They’ve been honed by natural selection’s trial and error solutions that allow organisms to do a good enough job, in a limited but relevant domain. Maybe they work 90% of the time and there would be a massive opportunity cost to improve the other 10%, so they leave it at that.

One has to wait many lifetimes (generations) for our innate toolkits to change but one can change maps many times in a lifetime. Continue reading #35 On representation