Top 10 uncogitated posts of 2013, part I

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Hi cogitators!  Somehow it came upon me, now that we’re at the end of the year, to post a list of of the top 10 posts that did not make the cutting floor in 2013.  Since I have written a bit on each item, I will split the list into two posts, counting down to the most remarkable posts of the year.  I will supply the top five on the flip side of Christmas.  Without further ado.

10. Sam Harris’ s Free Will.  A Facebook conversation about the implications of a Libet-type neurological study prompted me to Sam Harris’ brief 2012 monograph Free Will.  He attempts to bury the concept by inviting us to imagine a hypothetically completed science.  That is, we are meant to indulge a  science of the gaps.

As for the root of cognition, Mr. Harris thinks free will libertarians are hopelessly lost in the blizzard that is the unending chain of causality.  He doesn’t consider that he is equally adrift as a determinist.  Neither does he engage much philosophy beyond Daniel Dennett.   Hardly a comprehensive take on the question.

I think Harris tries to be clever in his final pages with a “meta” discourse about what he is thinking and writing on the page as he is writing it.  But the worst offense is his reverse psychological claim that people who earn their income and wealth are not actually responsible for the acquisition, and are therefore not entitled to it.

I’ve mentioned Ayn Rand’s statist scientist character, Floyd Ferris before.  Dr. Ferris authors a book titled, Why do you think you think?  It’s fitting that his name rhymes with Harris.  If you want to see the utter inadequacy of this popular pseudo-yourself, the book is short enough to dispatch in a couple of hours.

9.  Steven Pinker’s scientism apologia.  Social scientist Steven Pinker sparked quite a conversation in August with his New Republic article extolling the virtues of scientism.  I think it caused some added hand wringing among the humanities community, even though it was purported to dispel such concerns.  Good thing scientism is a self-refuting theory of knowledge; that is, the scientific method is principally incapable of inducting itself into its own body of knowledge.

8.  Paul Ryan, Scott Walker ascend in GOP 2016 field.  After Paul Ryan and Patty Murray coauthored a politically viable if universally reviled compromise federal budget, Mr. Ryan’s 2016 presidential prospects shot up.  As I often learn first from Michael Medved, an Iowa poll put him far atop the GOP field.  Of course the usual disclaimer follows, that the next presidential election is very far away, and much can change by then.  Further, Ryan has signaled no clear intention to run.

Ryan’s boost, and recent attention on Scott Walker are welcome at a time when many commentators are still spewing a lot of hot air about how “mainstream” or “establishment” Republicans are not true conservatives, whatever that means.  Last I checked, winning elections so as to govern the country was still a part of the conservative platform.

7.  Presidential approval, Democrats’ 2014 chances tank. Nothing has been as remarkable in politics this year as the stark turn around in public opinion that occurred in October.  One day, there was that silly poll about how Congressional Republicans were as popular as toe fungus.  Then, the President and Congressional Democrats tanked on the Obamacare roll-out, and more significantly, the “if you like it, you can keep it” prevarication.  Clearly, government shut downs are not popular.  And neither is that disaster extraordinaire, Obamacare.

6. Millennials care less for culture war; culture war still cares for them.  Progressive evangelical blogger Rachel Held Evans used her highly visible CNN Belief Blog to disown the culture wars on behalf of millennials.  If the writing at Relevant magazine bears any truth, the rhetorical volleys between millennials and their elders have been exchanged for quite some time.  I know that in the public sphere, the back and forth gets old, especially when each camp is just indulging its own echo chamber.

Hat tip to Dr. Craig for bringing his own frank critique of Evan’s piece to bear in his current events podcast.  I don’t think the culture warrior label is to be shunned.  Indeed, there’s a real war going on.  As Medved notes, it’s not cultural conservatives who are the instigators, but cultural progressives, who are continually extending newly invented rights, even into grade school bathrooms for crying out loud.

That rounds out the second tier of 2013’s counterfactual cogitations.  Now enjoy the holiday, with thanks and reverence for the God who subjected himself as an infant to humanity’s mercies so that in time he could extend to us the gift of his mercy.  Merry Christmas!

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Predicating poverty; or, how to offend others

A few days ago, a couple evangelical bloggers took some time to write on poverty.  I was pretty unsettled by what I read.  After a while, I realized the problem: they were writing jeremiads and rhetorical scoldings, but I couldn’t find any real, specific person who originally warranted such a rebuke.  It was the problem of predication.  Somewhere, some straw man was being beat up, perhaps for the sins of some other person in the past, a ubiquitous person I like to refer to as the “bigoted uncle.”

What is predication? Recall from grammar that some sentences have three parts: an object, a predicate, and a subject.  The object does something to the subject.  For instance, a girl hits a ball, or a pedestrian judges a homeless man.  To hit, to judge, these are predicate acts.  These acts must fall upon some subject, as in the ball or the homeless man.

Who is that strawman? I think it’s Bigoted Uncle!
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Now the first blog I noticed came in response to a list of habits posted on the website of a famous get-out-of-debt ministry.  Blogging on CNN’s website, author Rachel Evans took the list and its purveyor to task.

If you read the original list, there is no explicit causal claim about the behaviors of “the rich” and “the poor.”  Evans writes:

One need not be a student of logic to observe that Corley and Ramsey have confused correlation with causation here by suggesting that these habits make people rich or poor.

But Corley’s list did not explicitly make the causal connection.  As the reader who interpreted the text’s meaning, it was only  Evans who could make that implicit connection.

In something of an indignant response appended to the original list, ministry leader Dave Ramsey may well have affirmed a causal relationship.  Even still, inferring causation from statistical surveys does not amount to passing personal judgment on “the poor.” That is another implication that only the reader can bring out.  And this is what Evans seems to do (emphasis mine):

A poor family may eat more junk food, not because they are lazy and undisciplined, but because they live in an economically disadvantaged, urban setting where health food stores are not as available: a so-called “food desert.”

The question arises, who exactly called a poor family “lazy and undisciplined” in the first place?  It wasn’t Ramsey or Corley from what I can tell.  Maybe it was bigoted uncle.

Further on, Evans informs us:

And far from having contempt for the poor, Jesus surrounded himself with the needy and challenged the excesses of the rich.

Who actually had contempt for the poor?  It doesn’t seem to be Ramsey and company.  Again, it could have been bigoted uncle.

A few days after Evans’ post, evangelical writer and HBU provost John Mark Reynolds warned against “poor shaming.”  In the course of the text, we never learn who specifically Reynolds thinks has been shaming the poor in virtue of their being poor.  Recounting the overwhelming external factors that perpetuate poverty, he does opine:

One thing we should not do is have rich Christians give advice to the teeming masses from their Olympian sofas.

This kind of biting rhetoric drives me mad.  Who do these writers, a fellow sister and brother in Christ, actually have in mind?  When they lay down their thoughts in writing, each proposition is preceded by an implicit “I think that . . ..”  They are bearing in mind and making judgments either about specific persons or else some useful fiction.  They are predicating many times over, on the rich, the poor, the middle class, Christians, Americans, and so on.

If serious and thoughtful Christians are going to be predicating, let’s be sure we’re doing it with accuracy and precision.  Evans deplores painting with a categorically broad brush, and so do I.  It’s natural to talk in terms of abstractions, as in Wall Street, Main Street, the one percent, the ninety-nine percent, the rich, and the poor.  If it’s bad to judge individuals, why is it any better to predicate uncharitably on some ambiguous social construct that another person may identify as?

“The rich” and “the poor” both might as well be the Hegelian “The Other.”  If your head is spinning after all of this meta-analysis, I’m nearly done.  Now I will be silent for a time, allowing the Other to self-identify and speak for his or herself.

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