November 2021

Selected articles, including Ilana Redstone and Paul Kingnorth on coercion, wisdom, and unintended consequences in the context of the vaccination conversation; Paul Bloom on parenting, struggle, and meaning; and Iain McGilchrist on the coming together of opposites.

America by Gaslight

Ilana Redstone in Tablet on coercion in the context of the settled-question fallacy, and how to apply such reasoning to controversial topics.

We commit the settled-question fallacy when we behave as if there is broad-based consensus on answers to important and controversial questions that aren’t actually settled. Often this comes up when there is evidence available to support competing answers to a question, or when a claim is nearly impossible to prove or disprove. A particularly pernicious form of the settled-question fallacy appears when one side of the political spectrum asserts that a question is no longer up for debate...

We can avoid this toxic combination [of coercive measures and misplaced confidence in our knowledge] and the inevitable resentment it creates by asking ourselves a simple question: Based on what we currently know, could a reasonably minded and informed person come to a conclusion considered by some to be objectionable?

The Vaccine Moment, part 1

Paul Kingsnorth in The Abbey of Misrule on vaccine mandates, freedom, tyranny, and how misundertsanding the realm of the sacred and the symbolic underpins deep and growing divisions in our culture.

Often, in an argument, what people think they are arguing about is not the real subject of disagreement, which is deeper and often unspoken, if it is even understood. So it is here. The divisions that have opened up in society about the covid vaccines are not really about the covid vaccines at all: they are about what vaccination symbolises in this moment. What it means to be 'vaxxed' or 'unvaxxed', safe or dangerous, clean or dirty, sensible or irresponsible, compliant or independent: these are questions about what it means to be a good member of society, and what society even is, and they are detonating like depth charges beneath the surface of the culture.
As freedom after freedom has been taken away, I have watched intellectual after intellectual justify it all. I have been reminded of what I always knew: cleverness has no relationship to wisdom.

Note: given that this article has put behind a paywall, you might consider watching the following interview with the author on UnHerd, which covers the same ideas:

Paul Kingsnorth: why I changed sides in the vaccine wars
Paul Kingsnorth sees the vaccine wars as symptomatic of a bigger division between two fundamentally different world views: he calls them “thesis” and “antithesis.” When it comes to Covid, “thesis” is the establishment viewpoint: that lockdowns are needed to contain the virus, masks work, vaccines ar…

What Becoming a Parent Really Does to Your Happiness

Paul Bloom in The Atlantic reasons through paradoxical findings in social psychology related to decreased "happiness" among parents, who nevertheless harbor no regrets about raising children—suggesting that those findings miss the deeper point about the relationship between struggle and meaning. (His latest book is The Sweet Spot: The Pleasures of Suffering and the Search for Meaning.)

The attachment we have to an individual can supersede an overall decrease in our quality of life, and so the love we usually have toward our children means that our choice to bring them into existence has value above and beyond whatever effect they have on our happiness.

This relates [the point] that there’s more to life than happiness. When I say that raising my sons is the best thing I’ve ever done, I’m not saying that they gave me pleasure in any simple day-to-day sense, and I’m not saying that they were good for my marriage. I’m talking about something deeper, having to do with satisfaction, purpose, and meaning.The question of why the masculinity gap has emerged is a fascinating one. But here I want to address something much simpler: evidence that the gap really exists.

The Threat From the Anti-Woke Right

David French in Common Sense reminds his readers that what you worry about depends on where you are, especially within the context of the struggle between the illiberal left and the right's increasingly illiberal counter-threat. A good reminder to not let the cure the worse than the disease.

America is confronting two powerful illiberal movements, and where you stand on their relative threats can depend greatly on where you live. If you’re a conservative professor or student under fire in the elite academy, the travails of elementary school teachers in a Nashville suburb aren’t much on your mind. You’re fighting for your reputation and career against some of the most elite and powerful cultural forces in the United States.

But if you’re the parent of a black child who comes home in tears explaining that she wasn’t allowed past “Trump’s wall,” if you later witness a member of a school board audience shout “you’re in the South” when another parent laments the omnipresence of Confederate symbols, then the struggles of Ivy League conservatives don’t have much purchase.

We can fight all day about the relative significance and injuries of these events, but the troubling trend in American politics is the growing embrace of the raw will to power.

The Coincidence of Opposites (reading and lecture)

Iain McGilchrist in gives a lecture for Ralston College on how opposites, far from being irreconcilable, are necessary for approaching truth, finding meaning and for existence, itself. A conversation with Stephen Blackwood follows.

All things arise from opposing, but in some form nonetheless related, drives or forces. Energy is always characterised by the coming together of apparent opposites – apparent because this is how we have conceived things left hemisphere fashion: as in the positive and negative poles of an electric circuit, the north and south poles of the magnet, or, in a quite different sense, the merging of male and female gametes in the origin of new life. To the imaginative mind, such a coming together of ‘opposites’ is, as Niels Bohr suggests, a sign that we are at last approaching a deeper level of truth.