Thursday, May 06, 2010

A Wishy-Washy Waste

Christopher Hitchens, 5/13/2010:

[Ralph Miliband's] best-known book was Parliamentary Socialism, in which he analyzed Labor's attempt to transform society through the ballot box. His conclusion was that a party too wedded to pragmatism and compromise would in the end sacrifice its principles, but in doing so it would also cease to work as an electoral machine. Perhaps I'll take this book down from the dusty old shelf on which I have preserved it.

(Italics mine.)

A.J.P. Taylor, 10/1957:

I doubt whether anyone with an Anglican background can become a true radical. George Lansbury came nearest to it. Yet there was always a subtle dividing line between him and the rebels around him. Gladstone tried hard, but he could never rid himself of the belief that a duke or a bishop had more political sense than Cobden or John Stuart Mill. The rule still applies in the Labour Party. Its leaders with an Anglican education seek radical ideas, but they lack radical instincts. Time and again they wind up on the Right without ever meaning to do so.

Throw out Taylor's "Anglican" and replace it with "professional" or even "typical" and it holds true for modern Labour and Democratic politicians. The result is or will be just as Miliband thought.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Like I Was Sayin'

Thanks, mostly, to American academics' misappropriation and misapplication of Foucault, science is considered merely an ideology or a "point of view," something to be weighed against emotion and feeling and superstition and mythology, to the point that stuff like this is supposed to be respected and indeed is listed in such a way as to make it equal to the other serious objections before it:

Members of the tiny, isolated tribe had given DNA samples to university researchers starting in 1990, in the hope that they might provide genetic clues to the tribe’s devastating rate of diabetes. But they learned that their blood samples had been used to study many other things, including mental illness and theories of the tribe’s geographical origins that contradict their traditional stories.


Another article, suggesting that the tribe’s ancestors had crossed the frozen Bering Sea to arrive in North America, flew in the face of the tribe’s traditional stories that it had originated in the canyon and was assigned to be its guardian.

Listening to the investigators, Ms. Tilousi felt a surge of anger, she recalled. But in Supai, the initial reaction was more of hurt. Though some Havasupai knew already that their ancestors most likely came from Asia, “when people tell us, ‘No, this is not where you are from,’ and your own blood says so — it is confusing to us,” Rex Tilousi said. “It hurts the elders who have been telling these stories to our grandchildren.”

(My emphasis.)

Clearly the scientists studying the DNA fucked over the Native Americans, and abused the limited permission implicitly given them by the natives. But that doesn't mean the science is somehow false or should somehow be censored because it conflicts with myth.

How should decent Americans want to help the most abused ethnic group in our history? Give them money, reparations, as much sovereignty as they demand, admit past abuses, demand that history be taught accurately, feel guilty and ashamed of our government's Indian policies and encourage that feeling in others, give Native Americans access to better services, stop abusing them.. the list is endless but one thing it does not include is giving in to this weird, identity politics-based form of Lysenkoism. Decent people don't give a shit if the theory of evolution "offends" creationists; neither should decent people care that Native American beliefs have been "offended" by the facts of science. If the scientific evidence says Kennewick Man, for instance, is one thing but Native American belief says he's another, there's only one side to take. Sadly, many on the left take the wrong side. In this regard there's no difference between Vine Deloria, Jr., and Jerry Falwell, except liberals think there is -- not because of their "white guilt", but because, first, academic culture and, now, the broader culture interprets and applies Foucault in a certain way.

It's as if, for such people, the world has been Rashomonified. All explanations of a given problem, issue, or event are possibly valid, possibly compromised; the truth being unknowable, everything's subjective; every point of view is basically equal (democracy, amirite?) so it's best to support the point of view of those who have been historically abused. Science, after all, had its origins with imperialistic peoples (racists!), has been abused imperialistically, and therefore empiricist is imperialist!

I've even had an especially fanatical Foucaultian tell me that math is at the very least culturally-loaded and dubious. Now I'm with Mark Twain when it comes to statistics, and know a great many sabermetricians who are total douchebag ideologues whose conclusions are complete crap, but math itself does not lie and the facts it proves are not mere "constructs" and means by which the powerful enforce their will.

[Yes, I'm thoroughly aware of the irony here: in the previous post I am demanding more relativism, but in this post I insist some things are universal, if not perfectly so.]