A Mind That Suits What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Sunday, September 21, 2003 :::
A pair of serious thoughts this Sunday morning.

This month's Wired brings a bit of special pleading by the philosopher Richard Dawkins, high priest of sociobiology and chief advocate for a completely Godless materialism.

Those are not unfair characterizations; those are the kinds of things he says about himself.

In his latest intervention, he advocates "the brights" as a replacement for such strictly descriptive terms as "atheists" or "materialists."

While he says that we are witnessing the term "at its birth," it is a rather old idea. The strict materialists of the 18th Century--anti-Christian, one and all-- were part of a movement that called itself "the Enlightenment," and in French, its votaries were known as "les lumieres," (the Natural Lights, or "lights from nature," with apologies for the missing accent marks.)

He draws an analogy with the word "gay," which many centuries ago was a euphemism for homosexual, and then lost that conotation, and then recently regained it to such an extent that one would never say "a gay fellow" about a normally bumptious heterosexual 20-year-old. When my grandfather was a kid, you would have.

But there is a big difference here. There are certain homosexual activists who indeed want people to think that the sex-without-procreation life of homosexuals is to be preferred to that of mere "breeders," although all the evidence points in the opposite direction. (See the September 18 report from the Zenit news service.

"Gay" was pressed into service for another reason, to de-stigmatize. At that, it has been something of a success, but it is important to note that it does nothing to stigmatize other ways of living. The word chosen was not "happy," as if to imply that other people were unhappy. The word is "gay," which had a rather special meaning, exemplified by a former colleague of A Mind That Suits, the queeniest young guy he has ever known. They worked in an exclusive DC restaurant together, and at the moments of greatest tension and overwork, said co-worker would lift his apron like a skirt and go skipping through the service area singing Broadway show tunes. Said young man was not happy; very far from it. "Tortured" would be the mot juste. But he was indisputably gay.

"The brights," however, seeks to end the argument, as is plain from the title of Prof. Dawkins tendentious article, "Religion be Damned." Prof. Dawkins even warns against people who consider the phrase arrogant, but it is, isn't it? That kind of defensive argument is known as leading with your chin.

Moreover, as a catchphrase, "the brights" is not euphonious, so one assumes that the centuries old, and inaccurate, description of materialists as "enlightened" will continue. The implication of both terms is that atheists are intelligent, and believers are not. A Mind That Suits has spent some time with the writings of Prof. Dawkins, and a great deal of time with the writings of Karol Wojtyla, known to most people as Pope John Paul II. By any objective standard of intelligence and learnedness, guess which one wins?

The topic of Y2K came up this morning over coffee, and it remains, in the mind of A Mind That Suits, the exemplar of the way that modern technology simply outstrips the imaginations of the average person. The fault lies with the average person, who prefers not to "be bothered."

There remains the perception that Y2K was all about nothing, a bald-faced attempt by Godless Capitalism to get money from unsuspecting laymen. Profiteering no doubt occurred, but that was not the most important part of what happened.

Part of the problem lies with the press. Much was made about not being able to use your ATM on Jan.1, 2000. This was never going to be a problem. The problem of Y2K made its way into computer textbooks in the 1960's. (Remember, just because no one you knew had a personal computer before 1980 does not mean that computer science was not a big deal long before then.) Computers became a central aspect of banking in the 1960's, when the average mortgage was 30 years. That means financial institutions had to begin working with Y2K problems in...1970. The fact that the average "what's hot right now" reporter did not notice until June, 1999, had nothing to do with the amount of time and money the banking industry had to spend over the previous 30 years compensating for one really stupid decision, the decision to leave "19" off dates entered in computer files.

And the fact is that a tremendous amount of small change was suddenly available in 1998 and 1999 for those with quick patches, and, suprise, suprise, quick patches became available. Most notable was a government contractor who qualified for "minority set-asides." As it happened, a tremendous scandal had broken out a short time before, in which it was revealed that many "minority-owned" corporations were shells that fronted for white-owned big corporations. This enterprising fellow--a Hispanic, if memory serves--saw gold in the combination of Y2K and the legitimate application of government procurement standards for minorities, and he came up with a solution that worked. More power to him, and one hopes he is now worth hundreds of millions.

But bad things did happen. If memory serves (again), the Defense Department lost its entire satelite network for two hours, and the air traffic control system for the East Coast slowly degraded until it was necessary to bring back on line a previously used system, which was suffering under the impression that it was still 1996 or something. (Computer programmers can lie shamelessly if they have to.) These are not minor occurrences, and one has to remember that only the US government practices the kind of "transparency" that lets us know such things. Even French employment statistics used to be considered "state secrets," so it is not hard to imagine how open the French might be about their military computer programs crashing.

Still, since everyone had money, and no rockets self-launched, most people think nothing happened.

While we are on science, one should give a very slow, careful, and considered reading to George F. Will's column this morning. It speaks for itself, although it happens to encompass many very important considerations entertained by the writer of this most illustrious blog.

Well, further reflection leads to this thought. A number of years ago, there was a small hoopla over a book called The Nurture Assumption, which claimed that family life played virtually no role at all in shaping children's character and emotional life. This of course was but the latest outburst from a very specialized but influential corner of "enlightened" opinion which believes that the state will do a better job than "mere" families, which means that the traditional reverence for families is misplaced.

The example used by the principle popularizer of the theory pushed in the book, a reporter for the New Yorker, was the tremendous influence that a group of 5-year-olds hold on the culinary preferences of any one 5-year-old in the group. This, of course, is an example completely off the point. No one would maintain that kids in 1984 listened to the same kind of rock as kids in 1967. (Kids today listen to all of that "classic rock," because they almost uniformly hate the rock bands of their own generation, with a few exceptions such as Green Day or Blink 182, but that is beside the point.) Tastes change, but taste is not that important a part of your character. If there is a fashion among kindergarteners for lemon sorbet, say, the pertinent questions are: Does the child follow the pack, or prefer to remain outside? Does the child horde sorbet, willing to part with it only in exchange for some other good, or does the child share? Does the child make fun of other children who do not share in the fashion? Does the child completely fail to notice that it is a fashion at all? Those are the enduring signs of character, of which the particular example is merely the window into a child's soul. And on all the important points, family and nurture play an important part.

But so does nature, as is made clear by the report discussed by George Will. You can find the report here.

Have a blessed Sunday...

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 12:45 PM



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