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For a weekend’s thought provoking post, we have Conor Friedersdorf’s Atlantic Monthly interview with David Gelernter. The interview breaks for five days while Gelernter provides 20 thoughts.
Last month, David Gelernter, the pioneering Yale University computer scientist, met with Donald Trump to discuss the possibility of joining the White House staff. An article about the meeting in The Washington Post was headlined, “David Gelernter, fiercely anti-intellectual computer scientist, is being eyed for Trump’s science adviser.”
It is hard to imagine a more misleading treatment. …
… Friedersdorf: One of the few newspaper columns that has stuck with me for years is Charles Krauthammer’s meditation on Fermi’s Paradox and what he calls “the high probability that advanced civilizations destroy themselves.” This is a fear Baby Boomers associate with nuclear weapons. How do those products of the World War II era compare to other advances in technology that stoke existential worries? …
… Gelernter: Charles Krauthammer runs to pessimism, and I think he has this wrong—in fact backwards. The striking thing is that Stalin had the bomb and Mao had the bomb and neither ever used it. If both of those mass-murdering thug-tyrants were able to restrain themselves, it’s not too surprising that their successors did too. You worry that “advances in science and technology are always outpacing our ability or inclination to guard against them,” but it seems to me that this is exactly what hasn’t happened.
The U.S. and our allies have escaped nuclear, chemical, and bio attacks not because of the humane ideals of our enemies, but because we devote huge energy and effort to defense, and to our own mass-destruction weapons. Of course terrorists would love to murder huge numbers of westerners, and chemical weapons and perhaps some kinds of bio-weapons are easier to acquire and handle than nuclear weapons; and terrorists don’t have hostage states and populations like a Stalin or Mao. But we have to assume that the terrorists have been trying this sort of attack since at least October 2001.
What’s amazing isn’t that they nearly always fail but that occasionally, on a small but tragic scale, they succeed. If you think about it, they have men willing to die for the cause but so do we—every American infantryman, every front-line soldier of the U.S. and our allies has put his life on the line; and our police, FBI and their allies do it routinely, too. We don’t call them suicide fighters, we call them brave, patriotic, big-hearted Americans—or British, French, Israelis—but that doesn’t change the facts.
And our soldiers are about 1,000 years further along in technology, much better-trained and equipped, and fighting for their homes and families, and freedom, which are better causes than medieval tyranny, the annihilation of Jews and Christians, and the enslavement of women—not the most inspiring ideas to fight and die for. …
Here’s Gelernter’s 1st Thought;
Letting toxic partisanship heal. Everyone knows that we live in politically superheated times; partisanship feels more bitter and more personal than it ever has in my lifetime.
There are many reasons, but here is one: we all know that faith in the Judeo-Christian religions is dramatically weaker than it used to be. But human beings are religious animals, and most will find an alternative if the conventional choices are gone.
The readiest replacement nowadays for lost traditional religion is political ideology. But a citizen with faith in a political position, instead of rational belief, is a potential disaster for democracy. A religious believer can rarely be argued out of his faith in any ordinary conversational give-and-take. His personality is more likely to be wrapped up with his religion than with any mere political program. When a person’s religion is attacked, he’s more likely to take it personally and dislike (or even hate) the attacker than he is in the case of mere political attacks or arguments. Thus, the collapse of traditional religion within important parts of the population is one cause of our increasingly poisoned politics. Yet it doesn’t have to be this way.
Turn back to the generation after the Second World War. The collapse of religion is well underway, but there is another alternate religion at hand: art. …
And the 4th;
It used to be that nearly all American children were reared as Christians or Jews. In the process they were given comprehensive ethical views, centering on the Ten Commandments and the “golden rule,” and God’s requirements as spelled out by the prophet Micah: “Only to do justice, and love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”
As a result American were not paragons; but they had a place to start. Today many or most children in the intellectual or left-wing part of the nation are no longer reared as Christians or Jews. What ethical laws are they taught? Many on the left say “none, and it doesn’t matter”—a recipe for one of the riskiest experiments in history.
The left, and my colleagues in the intelligentsia, need to come to terms with this issue. Rear your children to be atheists or agnostics—fine. But turning them loose on the world with no concept of right and wrong is unacceptable. …
They’ve nothing to do with today’s topic, but some of the ‘toons are laugh out loud funny.