Month: September 2014

An Atheist And An Absurdist

Although I prefer the Christian brand of existentialism, I’ve always admired Camus for his joy in life and heroic response to the human condition as he perceived it. If you haven’t read any of his works, I recommend you start with The Stranger or The Plague then proceed to The Myth of Sisyphus.

The Dish

Michael W. Nicholson claims that the atheists he most wants to engage are those “who wrestle seriously with the implications of their affirmation that the Deus Absconditus is finally the Deus Absentia.” He puts Albert Camus at the top of that list:

Beginning with his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus,” Camus focused his literary investigations on the question of 640px-Albert_Camus,_gagnant_de_prix_Nobel,_portrait_en_buste,_posé_au_bureau,_faisant_face_à_gauche,_cigarette_de_tabagismehow to overcome nihilism in an absurd world in which, he believed somewhat paradoxically, reason and logic pointed to a cosmos with no meaning for man: “The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need [for happiness and reason] and the unreasonable silence of the world.”

Camus’s starting-point was the assumption that humanity’s own rational, scientific enterprise had revealed that the heart of existence was a closed material universe that itself was utterly indifferent to the deepest human longings. In such a universe, “suddenly divested of illusions and lights, man…

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Thinking Like A Conservative, Ctd

The Dish

Last weekend we flagged philosopher Roger Scruton’s new book, How to Be a Conservative. In an interview he expands on his distinctive style of conservatism:

Q: It struck me that the empirical side of your conservatism is also underpinned by what might be call a metaphysics of personhood, a conception of the nature of the human person.

RS: That’s absolutely true. I think it’s what conservatism—my kind of conservatism, at least—shares with liberalism: an attempt to found things ultimately on a vision of what the human person is. Of course, it is the case that conservatism as I envisage it distances itself always from abstract conceptions and tries to find the concrete reality… the good in the present.

Related to this is the emphasis you place on what you call the “first-person plural,” a phrase that occurs several times in the book.

Yes. Ultimately, political order does not generate…

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How to be a conservative

Here is an enlightening interview with Roger Scruton from Prospect magazine. Here is the intro:

Conservatism, the philosopher Michael Oakeshott once wrote, is not a creed so much as a “disposition,” a cast of mind rather than a set of beliefs. Roger Scruton echoes Oakeshott when he writes, in the preface to his new book “How To Be a Conservative” that the “conservative temperament is an acknowledged feature of human societies everywhere.” The conservative, in Scruton’s sense, asserts that “we have collectively inherited good things that we must strive to keep,” and is sceptical of large-scale attempts to remake the world in the image of abstract ideals. “Good things,” Scruton writes (and among those good things he numbers “law, civility, public spirit, the security of property and family life”), “are easily destroyed, but not easily created.”

Read the whole interview here and buy one of Scruton’s books.

The Scent of a Conservative

The Pacific Standard reports on a new study that suggests some people are attracted to “the body odour of others who share their political ideology”.

That’s right: To some extent, we emit red smells or blue smells, and consciously or not, potential mates can and do notice the difference.

“It appears nature stacks the deck to make politically similar partners more attractive to each other in unconscious ways,” a research team led by Brown University political scientist Rose McDermott writes in the American Journal of Political Science. As she and her colleagues note, this dynamic can be explained using evolutionary theory, noting that such compatibility increases the odds of successful mating and compatible child-rearing.

Read the whole article here.

Five articles you need to read today

From the Washington Post, Five economic lessons from Sweden, the rock star of the recovery, of particular interest to Ontario is lesson number one:

1. Keep your fiscal house in order when times are good, so you will have more room to maneuver when things are bad.

In 2007, before the recession, the U.S. government had a budget deficit equivalent to 3 percent of its economy, as did Britain. Sweden, meanwhile, had a 3.6 percent surplus.

So when the recession hit, that surplus gave its government a cushion in the downturn and it didn’t run up the huge debts that in other advanced nations have now created the risk of a future crisis. Sweden’s gross debt is set to reach 45 percent of the size of its economy this year, as the United States closes in on 100 percent.

This was a lesson Sweden learned from its early 1990s crisis, in which a collapse in commercial real estate and the banking sector was exacerbated when the budget deficit rose to such high levels that the country had trouble borrowing money and the value of its currency collapsed.

The nation set a goal of averaging a 1 percent budget surplus over time and held to it — which left the government with lots of flexibility to engage in deficit spending when the economy went south.

“If you don’t have a fiscal problem, you have more degree of freedom,” said Stefan Ingves, governor of Sweden’s central bank, the Riksbank, in an interview. “This time around, the issue was not ever even close to being about solvency.”

From The Guardian (UK), Why it’s so much harder to think like a Conservative, by Roger Scruton.

Conservatism, I [Scruton] argue, is not a matter of defending global capitalism at all costs, or securing the privileges of the few against the many. It is a matter of defending civil society, maintaining autonomous institutions, and defending the citizen against the abuse of power. Its underlying motive is not greed or the lust for power but simply attachment to a way of life. [emphasis is mine]

From Patheos, a review of Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry.

A number of prominent Bible scholars believe that Richard Bauckham’s book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses just might be the most important book of New Testament scholarship in many decades–the kind of paradigm-shifting work that will be ignored by most current scholars and only taken up by a new generation, as science advances “one funeral at a time”.

In a word, the book argues that the Gospels are books of oral history; in other words, that they are based on the direct accounts of specific, named eyewitnesses to the life and ministry of Jesus. This is contrary to the assumption of most New Testament scholarship, drawn from the form criticism of the early 20th century, that the Gospels are works of oral tradition, in other words collections of anonymous traditions passed down through many iterations between the actual witnesses and the writers of the Gospels.

From Urban Velo, a mini review of Trek’s new commuter bike, Lync:

Trek has upgraded their commuter line with the Lync, a commuter ride decked out with integrated lighting and bluetooth compatible monitoring. Instead of buying a commuter and having to select various lighting, phone mounts, and software additions, new purchasers can have a ride that is ready to go without aesthetic adjustments.

From First Things, A Theory for Tattoos.

That’s the theory of body art. It spells a transition from the body as physique to the body as text. You can write yourself upon it. As a friend put it to me: A tattoo isn’t the Word made flesh, but the flesh made word. It may strike old-fashioned types as pedestrian narcissism and adolescent conformity, and sometimes it surely is. But in a deeper and more troubling way, it is canny and subversive artifice, spiced with a moralistic claim to personal liberation. A tattoo is a personal statement but also an anthropological position that accords with the prevailing transvaluations of our time. It’s a wholly successful one, too, judging from the entertainment and sports worlds, and youth culture. With the mainstreaming of tattoos, another factor in the natural order falls away, yet one more inversion of nature and culture, natural law and human desire. That’s not an outcome the rationalizer’s regret. It’s precisely the point.


Bike Lanes Are Racist

WARNING: This post contains foul language at the end.

The Birmingham Post (UK) reports today on the political shenanigans of transforming the northern English town into a “Cycle City”:

A £23 million scheme intended to transform cycling in Birmingham has been blasted as discriminatory and only benefiting “white, young men”.

The Department for Transport has given Birmingham £17 million to become a “Cycle City” which will create a network of safe new routes aimed at tempting commuters out of their cars.

The council will also put £6.3 million into the project which will see an upgrade to some of the busiest routes in the city including Hagley Road and Bristol Road, with dedicated cycle lanes and safety improvements at junctions to encourage more cycling.

After the views were published in the Post, there was a strong backlash on social media.

But at the Edgbaston District committee Coun Deirdre Alden (Con, Edgbaston) said she was concerned that such a large amount of effort and investment was being spent on a mode of transport predominantly used by young men.

“The vast majority of cyclists on our roads are young, white men,” she said.

So let’s follow this logic. The argument for bike lanes goes something like this:

– cyclists are part of the transportation mix and should be provided with a safe way to travel

– bicycle lanes make the road safe for cyclists

– if we build more bike lanes, more people will cycle

– cycling is good for the environment, reduces traffic congestion, and benefits everyone

– so let’s build bike lanes

Councillor Alden says:

– only young, white men use bike lanes so FUCK THEM!

Putting aside the fact I don’t like bike lanes for a variety of reasons, I would never think to argue that they are racist. Perhaps I’m not trying hard enough. Ageist maybe? After all, I am white but I’m not young.


I wish we had one of these at my university

U of Winnipeg bike lab becomes a hub of campus activity

Get active and get riding is the goal of the student-run facility.

by Léo Charbonneau

Opening day at the Bike Lab in 2011. Photo courtesy of University of Winnipeg.

The University of Winnipeg Students’ Association wanted a campus bicycle repair shop. The university’s sustainability office was looking for ideas to promote active and sustainable transit options. Bingo. “It didn’t take very long for the administrative folks and the students to realize that there was an opportunity for cooperation,” says Alana Lajoie-O’Malley, director of the campus sustainability office.

Ms. Lajoie-O’Malley stresses, however, that the bike shop was very much a student-led initiative. In 2009, the student association won a referendum to begin collecting an annual student levy of two dollars to pay for a facility. A private capital donation of $100,000 from an alumnus sealed the deal. The UWSA Bike Lab was opened in October 2011 and has since become a major hub of campus activity.

“We’ve seen an overwhelming response to what we’re trying to do. So much so that we’re looking at expanding the facility to accommodate more users,” says Rorie McLeod Arnould, UWSA president for 2014-15. Users can drop in during set hours to fix their bike under the guidance of on-site volunteers. The Bike Lab also organizes numerous community outreach activities and advocates for better cycling infrastructure at the municipal level.

Users can drop in during set hours to fix their bike under the guidance of on-site volunteers. The Bike Lab also organizes numerous community outreach activities, including “build a bike” workshops, a bike mechanics training program, cycling safety sessions and special group rides. The Bike Lab also accepts donor bicycles, which are then restored and offered to those without bikes.

Read the rest of the article at University Affairs.