Russ Roberts

Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay on the Enemies of Modernity

EconTalk Episode with Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay
Hosted by Russ Roberts
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The allure, tradition, and suc... Modernity Under Attack?...

choose%20center.jpg Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay talk with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about their essay on the enemies of modernity. Pluckrose and Lindsay argue that modernity--by which they mean democracy, reason, and individual liberty--is under attack from pre-modern and post-modern ideological enemies. They discuss why modernity is under attack and encourage people on the political left and right to support modernity.

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0:33

Intro. [Recording date: December 5, 2017.]

Russ Roberts: My guests are Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay.... Our topic for today is an essay they have written. The title is "A Manifesto Against the Enemies of Modernity".... It's quite long. I found it to be worth the read. It's extremely provocative. And it's a very interesting take on ideology, politics, daily life, and particularly the current situation around the world in the political realm and the nature of discourse. So, our topic today is going to be that essay, which focuses on what you call modernity. Helen, let's start with you. What do you mean by 'modernity'?

Helen Pluckrose: Well, I think we used that term because it is so general. Because, there is, goodness knows, the Scientific Revolution. There's the Enlightenment. That, to sort of pick on one of those things and describe it as the catalyst of the Great Change is too simplistic, really over 500 years, taking in a number of factors from the reclamation through, you know, through the Age of Reason, the Scientific Revolution, and various other developments that time. Things gradually changed. We gradually moved from an epistemology of faith and narratives to one in which science and reason and came to dominate. So, modernity is, the much-more, sort of overarching description for that period of change.

Russ Roberts: James, what would you like to add?

James Lindsay: From my perspective, we use the term 'modernity' to sidestep saying 'enlightenment'/'liberalism.' Which would be a kind of liberalism in the Jeffersonian or Millian sense, because that term has become politically charged, especially in the United States. Liberalism is seen as the enemy of conservatism. Which is sort of one of the big themes of the essay.

Russ Roberts: So, I'm going to read a list that you made in the essay, to summarize modernity, which reinforces what you both just said.

  • A profound respect for the power of reason and the utility and strength of science;
  • An unwavering commitment to the norms of secular democratic republics, including rule of law, and an abiding belief that they are the most beneficent political force the world has known;
  • A keen understanding that, whatever and however group dynamics may influence human societies, the atomic unit of society to be defended and cherished is the individual;
  • An earnest appreciation that the Good is best achieved through a balance between human cooperation and competition brokered and mediated through the interplay of institutions that work on behalf of public and private interests.
  • On the surface, those seem all undeniable. Who would be against those, Helen? Who is against that?

    Helen Pluckrose: On the surface, most people claim not to be against them. Some of the now-extreme post-modernists will tell us that this is all a white supremacist, patriarchal system. But, for the most part, people are sort of tacitly in support. However, a lot of the things that are coming out of their discourses are explicitly against the, against individuality. Primarily there's an awful lot of collectivism and group-identity politics going on, in both extremes at the moment.

    4:28

    Russ Roberts: Well, let's start with the post-moderns. What's their main critique of what you are calling modernity? And, why are they, say, opposed to modernity?

    Helen Pluckrose: Well, they see that as the time of Western Domination. And, there's a lot of truth in that. Because, Yes, slavery and colonialism did take place within this time. They tend to see the West as, as the ultimate evil, at the moment, because they are talking about discourses of power. They are very [Sucodian?]. Where, reality is constructed by systems of power and the West has dominated, they want a kind of reversal, and to bring out these sort of alternative ways of knowing and these suppressed voices. Which could be women; or it could be previously colonized countries or other kinds of minorities. And this leads sort necessarily to condemning modernity--condemning enlightenment, liberalism, condemning even a sort of, even democracy. Where, everything is culturally constructed in a way to give white westerners power. So, they are very skeptical of it. I mean, it's quite common to hear 'the myth of enlightenment progress,' and 'modernity'--'the modern project has failed,' because they see it as having failed on this ethical, pluralist level.

    Russ Roberts: Well, yeah, and it's not just white westerners. It's white male westerners. Right?

    Helen Pluckrose: Yes.

    Russ Roberts: The oppressed groups--it's a long list. We won't list them here. But there's a group of oppressed folks, and they've been oppressed by the white male westerners. But there's also a philosophical viewpoint underlying the postmodern critique of modernity, which is their version of truth. How do you see--how does that play into the political perspective that they bring?

    Helen Pluckrose: Well, because they see knowledge as a construct of power. Obviously, they--science and reason are the way that white male westerners have constructed knowledge. So the reaction to that is to try to break down these boundaries. And bring up other ways of knowing--which are often cultural narratives, which are lived experience; and of minority groups. I mean, some--it's even been suggested, you know, witchcraft, and--ach--and other, form--all kinds of epistemologies. And including faiths, of people of marginalized groups, not white western Christians obviously, but other faith groups. And this is the form of sort of pluralism that post-modernism is in favor of. Nothing is objectively true; but everybody has their own truths. Because white westerners have dominated with their truth in the past, this must now be subordinated to the truths of marginalized groups. So, that comes down very much against objective truth in any form. And against reason, against science.

    Russ Roberts: Yeah. It reminds me of 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend.' So, anything that's anti-Western colonial, intellectual enlightenment, like witchcraft, must be good. Which is a strange perspective. But this episode is not strictly about post-modernism. And perhaps we'll have a post-modern voice on this program at some point to defend it.

    8:16

    Russ Roberts: But, let's turn to the pre-moderns. And, James, what's the pre-modern critique of modernity? And what's wrong with it?

    James Lindsay: So, ultimately, I think, the pre-modern critique of modernity--so pre-modernism, I should say is sort of the far right, so very conservative, take on how the modern project is failing. So, it's rooted often in religion. It's--or the collective experience or the common sense--everyman is how we word it in the essay. And so, it seems to be that their critique is largely based in a lack of trust from modern systems and institutions. Rather than feeling like the power dynamics have oppressed various groups that need to be brought back to power or to be need to forwarded like the post-modernist seeing, the pre-modernists see that the questions have really been settled: we have kind of a golden era, at some point in the past. And, it's up to certain types of, I guess, extremely conservative thinking, Paleo-Conservative thinking really, in order to try to defend Western values and preserve what is so that we can maintain and keep that Golden Era. So, it's kind of an attempt to situate--if you don't want to use a post-modern word--the focus of power in the traditional Everyman as the, so the dominant groups historically are under the project of modernity. And so, their primary concern is that traditional values in particular are going to slip away under the progressive project or that we will erect economic institutions that lead to ruin, and so on. So, that's the primary concern from the pre-modern side, as far as I can tell. And I'm not a pre-modernist. And so have a little bit of difficulty understanding their worldview. I haven't to live with a lot of them, or around a lot of them. Living in the Southeast United States.

    Russ Roberts: Yeah. You are in Tennessee. Is that correct?

    James Lindsay: I am in Tennessee. The county I live in is extraordinary conservative.

    Russ Roberts: And, Helen, where do you live?

    Helen Pluckrose: I'm just outside of East London.

    Russ Roberts: So, this is a very international episode. I really like that. I'm in the center of the United States power nexus, in Washington, D.C. You're lost, James, in the backwoods of Tennessee; and Helen's the cosmopolitan Londoner.

    10:50

    Russ Roberts: I want to go back to you, James. You are critical of Hayek in your essay. What do you see as Hayek's failing?

    James Lindsay: Well, Hayek--and Helen will actually have more to say about Hayek than I will--but, Hayek was thoroughly modern, through and through; and it's a shame we didn't have space to devote a little bit more discussion to his position, because we came off a little unfair, I suppose, to him. But--we've oversimplified. It's not so much Hayek, who did have some concerns ultimately about the application of over-rationalized knowledge, or even rationalism on some level. It's more the way that the pre-modern people have taken Hayek and championed him as this kind of, you know, ultra-free-market sort of philosophical champion. That's more what we were speaking to. And, like I said, it's unfortunate we didn't have more space to give. But, as you noted, the essay is already over 9000 words. It's an extremely long read. And, adding more depth there--we initially did; and then we ended up taking it out because it was just a little bit too much. But, Helen may actually have more things to say about Hayek than I do. She's a little more philosophically grounded.

    Russ Roberts: Helen, do you want to add anything?

    Helen Pluckrose: I think we [?], as James pointed out--but the criticism that we had most, that essay--I mean, from the people whose thinking we respect. So, you don't just want to call us Far Right or Far Left loons. We're both, apparently. Has been in the rather summary way that we've dealt with Hayek. And what I found with him is that the most reasonable thinkers can take him, and do take him, as a warning against over-confidence or naive trust in expertise or rationalism as a reminder of the importance of fallibilism and of local knowledge. That's great. But it's similar, in a way, to post-modernism, where the most reasonable of those will remind us of our biases, remind us of our cultural influences, and warn against being too certain of anything. And, we are all for not being too certain of anything. But, when we get a lot of the--because obviously we are both quite active on Twitter and social media, and we get a lot of answers to our essays as well--when we get really extreme libertarians who are fundamentally opposed to expertise in every form and just simply don't think that there can be expert knowledge, and a really full-grounding traditionalist and their own sort of narratives, often religious but not always, then we do find that they are using Hayek quite a lot as a justification for doing this. So, he may not have approved of that at all. But that is what tends to come across.

    Russ Roberts: Yeah, that's life.

    14:03

    Russ Roberts: So, I'm going to try to defend the Hayekian perspective for a minute here. And I concede--you've conceded that you may have been too critical. But, at one point you write in the essay, "Liberty and individuality are cornerstone values of modernity." So, I would argue that liberty and individuality are the cornerstones of my worldview. So, why aren't you just plain old classical liberals? Whether you are Hayekian, or Smithian, or Millian, or whatever -an you want to be? Why don't--since you are big fans, each of you, of liberty and individuality--what bothers you about the libertarian or classical liberal project that you think is anti-modern? I guess that's the right way to say it. Helen?

    Helen Pluckrose: I'm not--in my biography on Twitter I have used the word 'classical liberal' to describe myself. I have tended to come away from that now and say 'universal liberal' or 'enlightenment liberal,' because I've been misunderstood to have libertarian economics. And I don't actually have a comprehensive economic position. I am in favor of a mixed economy; and it's not a typical[?] my area of my expertise. So, I don't have a problem with the libertarians who fall within the classical liberal tradition, culturally, who don't oppose science or reason or who don't deny expertise in all forms. And very many of them don't. I mean, here in England, which sometimes is confusing to Americans, a lot of libertarians are Leftists. And, so, they fall quite close to the Center-Left-Liberal position, except that they tend to be in favor of Brexit; whereas the Liberals tend not to be. So, it all gets quite sort-of melded in the middle. But, if you ask me, do I have a problem with classical liberalism, I certainly don't. [?] Some classical liberals have expressed opinions that I don't agree with because they come more further right than I do.

    Russ Roberts: So, let me talk about my own views for a second; and then, Jim, you can react to it. I see myself as a classical liberal. But each time that you talk about science, I get a little uneasy because I think the modern project--the part of modernity that I'm uncomfortable with in 2017--is probably the over-reliance on science and the overconfidence in our ability to understand the complexity of the world. It's a very Hayekian view; you mentioned it earlier, I think, James, and said it very well. So, I consider myself--well, except for the fact that I'm religious: I'm a religious Jew, which is kind of tricky, so in that sense I'm definitely a pre-modern, but I don't use that in any of my political--I don't think I use it in my political viewpoint. I'm very liberal socially--to the left socially in American politics, very much a libertarian there--on drugs, gay marriage, etc. So, I'm curious, James, if you have a bone to pick with any of that, is there, in your feeling about--you know, putting aside my personal religious views, which I know you're not, it's not your thing--but as a political animal, my version of classical liberalism and my muted respect for science--am I an anti-modern?

    James Lindsay: Um, well, I don't know enough about you to qualify you as an anti-modern. Because, I think that's actually, the way we use it, a fairly serious charge. To be an anti-modern I think you really actually have to be on the lunatic fringe, Left or Right. We don't mean to lump in religious people or mainline, roughly mainline, libertarians, or any of these kinds of worldviews. So, I doubt that you're anti-modern. I do have a little, I guess, concern about your skepticism of science; but science should have skepticism built into it. So, that's, um, not an unreasonable position; nor is it, you then, anti-scientific. I think that we have kind of a situation where we have two modes of human cognition and experience going on at once. And the individual liberty side of what's often billed as classical liberalism, while it's incredibly important and cornerstone to modernity and modern values and freedom and liberty and successful economic systems and all of this--at the same time, we also, are very social animals. And groupishness is part of us. And I think that the full-out classical liberal technology, if you will, from the 16th, 17th, 18th centuries, wasn't aware of the depth of moral psychology and moral sociology in the way that those actually interplay in human dynamics. And so, I feel like there needs to be a little bit more understanding of--not necessarily embracing of--the concept of group dynamics, as well as individual liberty. So, that's not to say that I'm in any way a collectivist. I think it's more along the lines of what we said in the essay: that the atom of the modern society is the individual. But if you look at how molecules are created, we often hear from the Right that the family becomes, you know, the fundamental unit of society. I don't even think that's right. I think it's the social networks that we create around ourselves, a little bit bigger than the family, become the fundamental unit of society. But those social networks have strong moral norms, moral behavior, moral--I keep using the word 'moral.' I'm sorry. So, they have strong moral norms. They have tendencies to become naturally and not necessarily in negative ways, we usually say, 'tribal.' And those have to be recognized in a way that even, you know, something very advanced like Millian utilitarianism can't quite capture. An excellent book I've read on this topic is Joshua Greene's Moral Tribes, which says that we need to, for kind of everyday purposes, use kind of more of our moral intuition side of thinking, which is going to be more tribal and groupish. But then, when we need to sort out problems between groups of individuals, whether it's libertarians, or liberals, or conservatives, and liberal Jews and Christians, or whoever it happens to be, we need to then slip into a meta-moral mode that's based on Mill's utilitarianism. And I think that that's actually right--that we have to take in both sides at the same time. And I feel, personally, that classical liberalism, as a political philosophy, hasn't had the opportunity to address that as fully as it needs to be. So, that's my reservation with classical liberalism. On that end [?]. The rest was just to say that I, like Helen, agree that a blended economy and a regulated capitalism is required in order to create an effective economic system. So I'm a little bit skeptical of, especially, you know, where I live, Southeast, the majority of people calling themselves libertarians--I've finally realized that I live in a bubble in this regard. But, the majority of them strongly align with Randian objectivism, which I think is a little bit extreme as far as the individual factor goes. And, so, I can't really get on with Ayn Rand's vision and its influences on libertarianism. So, I'm a little skewed in my view. I didn't realize that until recently, because I thought I lived in libertarian mecca. But apparently it's kind of crazy libertarian mecca.

    Russ Roberts: Well, it's one flavor. You know, we had Jennifer Burns on recently, who wrote a very thoughtful biography of Ayn Rand, which I recommend that episode to listeners, and your book. And we also had Josh Greene on talking about that book as well, and that was very interesting. He's much more of a utilitarian than I am, but it's a provocative viewpoint. An interesting viewpoint.

    22:34

    Russ Roberts: Let's talk for a minute about tribalism, though, because I think you raise a great point about dynamics and groupthink and what is good and bad about groupthink, the way norms emerge is often, sometimes at least, a good thing. But it can be a bad thing. It can have norms, as we've talked about before on the program, that are racist. Or sexist. But, the point that you make that classical liberalism hasn't really grappled with that I think is a fair take. So, I want to get your perspective on tribalism generally. And we'll use that as a segue to, later on, talk about the current state of the world, which I find increasingly tribal, or at least feels that way. So, let's talk about tribalism, and why it seems to be rearing its head now. And seems to be, along with partisanship, which you do write about in some detail--what's going on there? How should we think about tribalism and partisanship in a world where you want science to try and--one of you said, both of you I think, mentioned the word 'narrative,' as part of our pre-modern nature. And I think narrative remains the essential human way of understanding the world. It's, of course, terribly flawed. And when it's supported[?] by science, it's less flawed. But, we tell ourselves narratives all the time. We tell ourselves narratives to make ourselves feel good, to help us understand the world, to help us--to console us. So, what are your thoughts on that, how we should think of that as a modern? How should we think about tribalism? Helen?

    Helen Pluckrose: Yeah. I agree absolutely with the idea of narratives. And recently we both gave a talk to the U. of Sydney. We were talking--well, I was talking--about the need to regain some narratives. Because, post-modernism--and I'm sorry to keep returning to it; I won't keep doing that--

    Russ Roberts: No, you can. It's an important part of this conversation. And it's not something we talk about on the program. And I think it's something, people who know nothing about, should get to know a little bit about it. So, go ahead.

    Helen Pluckrose: Yeah, because we're skeptical of meta-narratives. That was the defining feature of it, according to Lyotard [Jean-Francois Lyotard]. And so, we lost the grand narrative with post-modernism. And, the criticisms of modernism has been that the narratives were too naive, too simplistic. Then post-modernism over-compensated. So, now there's a suggestion of meta-modernism, which would address both of these problems and avoid the naivete of modernism and the cynicism and superficiality of post-modernism by restoring narratives, but also remaining slightly skeptical of them. It's, it's--

    Russ Roberts: It's nuanced.

    Helen Pluckrose: Yeh--

    Russ Roberts: But I like it.

    Helen Pluckrose: It, it--but, yeah. But when you read about meta-modernism, it really seems very much like post-modernism. So, what I argued for is that: Yes, we need to respect the human need for meta-narratives. But, we can make them rooted in truth and in reason. Or, we can have our narratives which we can understand as having emotive or moral significance, but which are actually true. I think it's very important to sort of separate what is known to be true, even provisionally. Obviously, we don't--science everything is only known to be true provisionally. And what is meaningful to us. And so I was a little bit concerned earlier to come back to what you said, when you said 'I'm a religious Jew, so I'm a pre-modernist.' But, that is not at all what either of us meant to suggest. Within--this is in relation to the tribal thing that you were talking about. James and I are both, obviously, atheists. We don't tend to take that as an identity and I'm quite opposed to taking that as an identity. But, the idea that we don't--a common goal here with liberal in the broadest sense, rationalist, religious people, Christians, Muslims, Jews, whoever, is a worry. So, I would say that, to be thinking, 'Well, I'm a religious person, so, therefore I'd be a pre-modernist' is not at all what we were suggesting.

    Russ Roberts: It's just, I mentioned it, I brought it up because it comes up--religion comes up a little bit in your essay. And it tends to fall in the pre-modern camp, overwhelmingly. And I also will confess: I really like Kipling's poetry. So, that's another pre-modern aspect of my--or anti-post-modern, at least, aspect, of my kitbag.

    27:49

    Russ Roberts: But, going back to the tribal--this meta-narrative idea I think is a really interesting idea. I think you have to concede that people like narratives. I think you have to grind the--I think you make a powerful and important distinction that it's important to have different narratives for different parts of your life: some grounded in science; some don't have to be. My marriage--I idealize my marriage, to some extent, I suspect. And I think that's a good thing. I don't keep data on it. I don't run any regressions. And I encourage that. I don't think it's a good idea to scientifically analyze one's marriage or one's love for another person or my connection to my children, or a whole variety of things. And I have a meta-narrative about those that are, that is not scientific. And I think that's really good advice. But, when I think about getting into an airplane, I'm really focused on the scientific part of the narrative; and that's one of the reasons I'm not afraid to fly. So, that's good. But, anyway, do you want to add anything about narrative, tribalism, and what's going on there? How we ought to think about tribalism and the modern ideology? Complicated.

    James Lindsay: Yeah. Well, I think so. I've done a lot of my last few years' worth of research on tribalism, actually. And so, it's kind of an interesting topic for me. I think that what we're actually talking about, in a sense, we are talking about the human desire to use narratives and to cast things in stories and to understand things in ways that aren't always scientific, as you just said. And I agree with you broadly on pretty much everything you just said, about your marriage and different aspects of life. But, ultimately, the sort of science goes, speaking as a narrative--I think of science more as an information gathering tool. So, if you needed more information, say, about your marriage or your relationship with your children, not necessarily science in the sense of hard data and doing statistics on it, although maybe depending on the circumstances--but, the scientific process of knowledge acquisition. Which is to put forth ideas and ask critical questions in order to find out what is as close to true as we can find out, is the way that you'd want to go about it. Like I said: If you felt like there was maybe a problem or something and you needed to sort out how you can deal with that by gathering more information. So, as far as tribalism narratives go, we're talking ultimately--and I hesitate to use this word, but I think it's the right word, or this term--it's human nature: we are drawn to narratives. We are also drawn to people who think like us, who share commonalities with us. We form moral groups with them at every level. Your family, for example, is a moral group. You have certain norms of behavior that are perfectly acceptable with your family that you wouldn't--and I'm not saying that they're more licentious, or less. It's just that you'd behave in a certain way with your family that you wouldn't necessarily behave with other people. And you often get to feel this, for example, if you have two social circles that you bring into the same area and you all of a sudden realize the people from this one circle and the people from the other one are going to be a little bit awkward with each other--they don't know each other. And in particular what you're going to find is that there are breakdowns in shared language, in humor--we call these things inside jokes, for example. So, we very readily form what could be called--not quite in the way Joshua Greene uses the word--but we very readily form moral tribes, or actually, the term in moral psychology is moral communities, that can become tribal in nature if they become really deeply entrenched or become highly sacrilized[?]. And so, because this is a fundamental part of how humans interact in a social sphere, I think that's ultimately what I was talking about when I said that classical liberalism did not fully--and even the Enlightenment. I've even wanted to call this observation the 'error of the enlightenment'--that, these views about human tribal behavior in the social universe are ultimately not as well-addressed in classical liberalism as they need to be. So, that would be my primary statement. The final[?fundamental?] reality is: We are going to form tribal alliances. We are going to form them in small ways, like our families and social networks. We are going to form in big ways, around ideologies or even just teams. So, sports teams--recently I saw a paper saying that we're actually not very good partisans--or, that's not right--we're not very good ideologues. We are very good partisans: We form our--we're very good at playing along with our team, say, the conservative team, the Republican team, the Democrats, the liberals, the libertarians. But a lot of people within these groups, as evidenced very quickly by talking to them, don't have the slightest idea what they are talking about in terms of a coherent ideology, a conservative ideology, so to speak. So, what they are really doing is forming a tribal identification. And there are a number of ways that we do that; and we don't have to get into the full details of all that. But, the important part, the takeaway here, is that this is a fundamental way that human beings act socially. And therefore any political philosophy we're going to have that's going to work optimally, has to take that into account to the correct degree. And it's just a matter of finding out what those truths about human behavior are and what the right degrees are, and then coming up with a system for managing them. And so, to return to science, the broadly construed concept of science, being 'Let's put forward ideas. Let's let anybody criticize them. Let's try to be careful and assume that we're wrong,' and so on. And that, 'Anybody should be able to get the same results--it's not dependent on whether you are black or white or whether you are a Jew or a Muslim,' or whatever you happen to be: 'Let's put our ideas out there according to this structure and then hopefully we will be able to, over time, converge closer and closer to whatever these truths are, and strategies for working with them.'

    Russ Roberts: Well, I love what you said. My only--the nit that I would pick is that at one point you said we have to figure out how these things work and then manage them. I don't think we're very good at managing these tribes in any dimension whatsoever. They emerge without anyone's centralized control. And different tribes rise up--different forms of identity, different forms of group of identification from sports to religion to politics, etc. I can't help but mention that a friend of mine was recently frustrated that she had to bring a snack to her child's--one of the clubs at school that her child was in--and she was making the snack herself. And, when asked why she wasn't buying it, she was, 'Well, I would normally just go to Walmart and get it, but I can't do that.' She said, 'I can't do that,' meaning, 'If I bring a snack from Walmart to my kid's class, I'm in trouble. I will be ostracized. I will be judged.' And that's a fascinating thing, in 2017. It's only certain parts of the country, obviously. But, that's a form of tribalism that we don't normally think about. And, as you say, it's a moral tribe, a moral community that's at work there.

    35:19

    Russ Roberts: I want to introduce someone's ideas who I talk about a lot on the program, which is Arnold Kling. And Arnold Kling created a taxonomy of thinking about the modern political world which I found very helpful. And the reason I liked your taxonomy is it seems to add some things that his doesn't. So, Arnold looks at--he says basically there's conservatives, liberals, and libertarians. Each of them look at the world through a very specific lens. Conservatives look at the world through--the world is a fight between civilization and barbarism; and we've always got to come down to defend civilization. The Liberals see the world as a war between the oppressed and the oppressor, and you always have to stand up for the oppressed. And, the Libertarians see the world as a fight between coercion and freedom. And I think that's generally true. At one level. I mean, it's a very powerful set of lenses, and we'll put up some links to the episode I did with Arnold, his book, and an essay I wrote on it. But, the point is that, I think I see your view as a different taxonomy; but it's related, in the sense that--the way I see your view is that the Pre-Moderns are the Conservatives who have gone too far in their defense of civilization. The Liberals are the Post-Moderns who have gone too far in their feelings for the oppressed. The Libertarians could be okay but they've got their own issues--which, I don't even want to think about what's wrong with the libertarians, or right about them; as I say, I have an essay that I'll put up [a link to]--but, we have our own issues. But, I think you are on to something different than what Arnold was getting at, in that--I'm just taken by your Pre- and Post-modern versus Modern taxonomy. Other than making that observation, I'll let you react to it, and whether you see any--how you see your work in relation to Arnold's, if you can on the spot. Helen?

    Helen Pluckrose: I think that's very interesting. I think that--yeah. In those definitions I would fall somewhere between Liberals and Libertarians. And I think that this is what is important here. Because, when we're talking about the Pre-Moderns and the Post-Moderns, then yeah, we are talking about the authoritarians and the zealots on the extremes. So, within the, the Pro-Moderns that we're talking about, we will find plenty of conservatives, plenty of liberals, and plenty of libertarians. I think--I don't know. I find myself at a bit of a loss because of the different understanding of Liberals, Liberalism between America and the United Kingdom. Quite often, the idea of liberalism is closer to a moderate Libertarian-ism [?]

    Russ Roberts: Yeah. Well, let me add a different point, actually, and then I'll let you react, or James. I think I have a better thing to say about your work and Arnold's and how they interface. Arnold's observation, which I think is very deep, is that liberals have trouble understanding what conservatives are talking about. Conservatives have trouble figuring out what liberals are talking about. And Libertarians don't understand either one of them. And vice versa. And I think that's a deep point. And it explains why you get into a shouting match sometimes at a party, because you just don't use--you are just using a different lens. And I think if you absorb Arnold's viewpoint, and his construction of these different views, to me at least it allows for a lot of serenity. Because you realize that most people aren't evil. They are just using a different pair of glasses. They are seeing, they are focusing on a different piece of elephant--the trunk--and you are on the side of the elephant. And so you are seeing it really differently. But I see your essay actually as making a further point that I see now, which is: It's not just that they don't understand each other. They are at war. It's obvious that liberals and conservatives are going to disagree and spar over politics. But, what I mean is that, what I take as one of the fundamental lessons of your essay, is that the Pre- and the Post-Moderns want to destroy Modernity. It's not just, 'Oh, we don't see policy the same way you do. We want a bigger welfare state,' or 'We want more economic freedom,' or 'We want a bigger defense, more defense spending because we are worried about attack.' You're making the point that Modernity is really at risk right now. That's the way I understand your essay. Is that a fair reading? James?

    James Lindsay: Yeah. That's exactly right. The key word that Helen brought up was 'authoritarianism.' So, the people that we would classify as 'anti-modern' are the ones who are--whether liberal, conservative, or libertarian--which--it sounds paradoxical but believe me, I'm surrounded by them, to say libertarians who are also authoritarian--

    Russ Roberts: At least, self-identified. It's bizarre to me--

    James Lindsay: Yes--

    Russ Roberts: but, okay, I'll take that.

    James Lindsay: It sounds like an oxymoron. But there are people who are so far into what they call a libertarian mindset, which is what they really mean an anti-government mindset, that they've become anti-government authoritarians. And, the extremes here bend toward authoritarianism. This is often captured by an idea that's called 'Horseshoe Theory'--although you need three legs on the horseshoe if you are going to talk about this, in terms of three political orientations. Which, by the way--these are backed up as three distinct moral predilections according to moral psychology--libertarian morality, liberal morality, and conservative morality have clear definitions that are distinct under Jonathan Haidt and Craig Joseph's, as it's called[?], moral foundations theory. And so, the idea with Horseshoe Theory ultimately is that, up on the back side--I'm sorry; I don't know the parts of the horseshoe any more; I looked it up at one point; I don't remember what they are called. But, on the rounded back side of the horseshoe, you are bending toward a construction toward liberty, individual liberty in particular. And then, on the ends of the horseshoe, down at the feet of it, maybe that's what they're called--we're bending toward social authoritarianism. In fact, the main dimension that these people are engaged in is what's called 'authoritarian conventionalism'. They believe that their views should be conventional within their own group, and conventional to everybody else. That's the technical term under Bob Altemeyer's construction of authoritarianism. And, that's the ultimate war--is that we now have, because of what we called in the essay, 'existential polarization,' where each side sees the others as a true, complete threat to our current social order, or even way of life, or even an existential threat to our humanity by causing its collapse, we have people that have gone so far down their respective paths and have become so rigid that their prescription is the one true way to solve all of humanity's problems, that they've become violently authoritarian. Incidentally, they don't like each other at all, and argue incessantly amongst each other. And then this creates even more drama, almost like a superpower--we did call it a superpower in the essay, saying that these people have this ability to take people that are somewhere near the middle, the so-called center, and skew them to one side or another out of abject fear that the world is going to end, the sky is falling, because those people over there, whether it be the libertarians or whether it be the liberals, whether it be the conservatives. And so, that, I think is ultimately the dimension that we're really concerned with. So, I don't disagree with the taxonomy--you said Crane[?] gave. I don't disagree with that at all.

    Russ Roberts: Kling--

    James Lindsay: Kling. I don't disagree with that at all. In fact, I think it's quite profound, as well; and I think he's really onto something. On the other hand, I think that our ultimate struggle right now for modernity, which is under threat, is that it's under threat from people who have become very authoritarian in their worldviews. Which has been increasing in recent years, recent decades, because of this growing sense of polarization that I believe has now become existential polarization.

    43:54

    Russ Roberts: Let's talk about that for a minute. Helen, do you have a thought on the--why--it feels that way, and maybe that's just because we're spending too much time on Twitter. Which I know I am, and I think you've semi-confessed you are. Do you really think that the world is more polarized right now, this self-righteous fringe of each side of the Horseshoe, the Left and the Right--let's leave the libertarians out for the moment, but just--the Post-Modern Left certainly has an authoritarian bent. The Pre-Modern Right certainly has an authoritarian bent. Are they just louder and more audible than before? Is it really a serious threat?

    Helen Pluckrose: It is a serious threat--

    Russ Roberts: It feels like it is. I have to confess, I'm worried about it. I wonder.

    Helen Pluckrose: It's a serious threat because people believe it's a serious threat. And that is part of what we were trying to say in the "Manifesto," is to get people to realize just how fringe these ideas are. Because, what tends to happen is that, like, moderate Right-wingers will see the extremes of the Left and become convinced that this represents the Left. And that the whole of the Left has to be opposed drastically. This is an existential threat. And the moderate Left will do the same to the Right; and they will see the alt-Right [alternative Right] or the far Right as defining the Right. And so, when they are talking on social media, or when we're reading analyses of politics, then we will hear, 'The Left does this,' and 'The Right does that.' As you saw, we had a little graphic in our essay, which just sort of demonstrates it, that these are the fringes. And most of the people in the middle in this graphic are saying 'Shut up. Shut up. Shut up.' Except that because of the existential--the perception of this existential threat right now, people are internalizing. They work the most faulty narratives of their own side in order to defend against what they see as the existentially dangerous threats on the other side.

    Russ Roberts: Yeah; when you point out to them that--and many of these people are not on the fringe of intellectual life. They are just on the fringe of the political spectrum. They are at the center of intellectual life, often. And you point out to them and, 'Boy, you're awfully over-confident,' and they say, 'Well, we have to be. The world's going--we have to stand up to the evil.' And they never imagine the possibility that they could be part of the problem, or that the evil that they're worried about maybe isn't so evil.

    Helen Pluckrose: Well, this is what we are essentially trying to say to people, is: If you are a Leftist and you are worried about what's going on, you're natural ally might not be the Far Left. It might be the Moderate Rightists. And so, we wanted to try and refigure the way that people were thinking, and the way that the polarization was growing, by reframing it not as Left versus Right, but as the defenders of Modernity against the anti-Modernists who are, essentially, the same. They don't present exactly the same problems to society, obviously. But their thinking and their threat is very much the same. So, if we can get people to sort of step down from the polarization by seeing that they actually have a great many more allies within the spectrum, if they can stop seeing it within this very Left/Right polarized terms.

    47:35

    Russ Roberts: Yeah. James, in the essay you write that--I'm going to step back here for a second and re-cover some of this ground because I think it's, again, very novel. You write "Partisanship Is Modernity's Weakness" [a section heading--Econlib Ed.]. Why should that be? And, what do you mean by that?

    James Lindsay: We have this problem where modernity itself, as you indicated, is going to, is always going to spin off. When you give people individual liberty to pursue their own values, it's always going to spin off competing groups. And those competing groups are able, often, to form partisan--to form tribes. And at the grandest scale we are going to end up with a two- or three-part--and in the American system--usually a two-part system, in which it's one side versus the other. And libertarians often see themselves as somewhat distinct from conservatives; but I'll tell you that liberals do not see libertarians in the United States as distinct from conservatives. Like Helen said: Americans are often confused by the idea that there's a Libertarian Left in the United Kingdom. So, often--and the reasons are, I mean, quite straightforward based out of our voting systems and all of this, and we can get into that whole thing: that divergers'[?], law, about voting and it's all political, very, talking about why we end up with a two-party system; and if you try to break a big coalition you become politically weaker than the other side, so it's not really that great of an idea to do it too often. So, for instance, if the Libertarians were to fully split off from the Conservatives, conservative politics would get crushed by the Democrats, until somehow one or the other become strong enough to become the new Conservative Party. So, we often end up with this partisanship that then leads to team playing, which leads to people no longer thinking about the issues in any level of depth. Not that they've really, you know, historically done so. Not to say that we're--I don't want to harken back to some lost age of enlightenment where the common man was deeply invested in political thought. Because that typically wasn't the case. That would be completely a-historical--

    Russ Roberts: yeah--

    James Lindsay: to claim that. But, the invitation to join a team and just ride it--you know, to just party-line vogue, for instance--just go down and say, 'Well, I don't care who is on the Republican ticket; and I don't care what they stand for, what they say. I vote Democrat. Period.'--is a very, very scary temptation[?]. And it's ultimately the weakness--I say of Modernity, but in this aspect, I actually mean of Democracy as a part of Modernity. So, we hope for the best for having divided powers, which help tremendously, and by having in the United States so many different districts: Many of the states that have certain degrees of power both in the House and in the Senate, and so on. And we kind of hope for the best. But, there are real challenges that come up. And obviously one of the biggest challenges is the inability to speak across these partisan divides. And then, the invitation under certain societal stresses, to become more and more existentially polarized--where you feel like 'The Conservatives are ruining the world,' or 'The Liberals are trying to destroy Western Civilization.' Which are both things that I hear, routinely, in the circles that I run in.

    Russ Roberts: And we may get emails to this episode, comments and emails and tweets that say, 'But they are'--whichever side they're on.

    James Lindsay: I wouldn't be the least bit surprised. Maybe the bulk of the emails.

    Russ Roberts: Yeah. Helen, why do think this partisanship has increased? Why do you think the center isn't holding maybe the way that it did in the past?

    Helen Pluckrose: I'm thinking more from a European perspective. But I've found that Jonathan Haidt recently wrote--well, maybe a year ago now--wrote a wonderful essay saying when Nationalism beats Globalism. And, from our perspective over here, there is a great sense of existential threat due to the refugee crisis.

    Russ Roberts: Yep.

    Helen Pluckrose: And at the same time, our Left has essentially, the United Kingdom anyway, has essentially disintegrated, leading to a surge to the Right. So, I think that--Jonathan Haidt, what he spoke about was an authoritarian button that gets pressed where we may have a sense of an existential threat--

    Russ Roberts: Yep--

    Helen Pluckrose: and this has caused Moderate Conservatives and even Centrists to suddenly become much more Nationalistic, even to the point of xenophobia. Because of the refugee crisis. And then, in reaction to that, the Left, who have just dismally failed to address genuine concerns about it, have just sort of doubled down and responded to the surge to the right and the sort of populist nationalism with accusations of bigotry. And it just sort of escalates from here, with the people getting further and further away from understanding each other. And the problem that's actually in play. And, I think to a certain extent, but you two are my better about this, that this is also happening in America, but with sort of different, quite different dynamics.

    Russ Roberts: Yeah. It is happening in America. And it is--it's just slightly different issues. But they are not unrelated. It's a--it's partly just--you could call it a fight for the "soul of the nation." We're kind of a country that want to be, should be, think we were. But, James, I want to let you comment on--you can either agree, or extend, or disagree with what Helen said. But I want to toss in the phenomena of social media. Which I find a temptation to blame for a lot of this. And I don't know if that's--that seems a little bit too simplistic for me. I'm a little bit worried about it. But it might be true. So, what are your comments on that?

    James Lindsay: So, broadly I agree with what Helen said. I think, in the United States at least, there's been a dynamic that's driven polarization where I don't know and I don't want to try to figure out at the moment. And don't want to point fingers--almost he-said/she-said, spiraling anger began. But, some time in what appears to me to be roughly the 1990s, late 1980s, possibly, there seems to have been this increasing dynamic in the mediasphere to fragment and to write in the media and leftwing media and each side to essentially blame the other. They then--and this will tie in to social media also--they then seem to have engaged, or this seems to have been a very popular form of engagement with this partisan media environment--and maybe that just arose because of the accessibility of cable and radio bandwidth and all of that becoming easier as technology progressed--

    Russ Roberts: part of it--

    James Lindsay: through the 1980s and 1990s, I think.

    Russ Roberts: as the first step--

    James Lindsay: Yeah. But, at any rate, it became very, very fashionable. Because we would call it click-bait[?clique-based?] now, or outrage farming, or something like that. Because it became very fashionable to find the most extreme lunatic on the other side from your own, and then present them as if they are typical, in order to fear monger, or to whip up a base, or to radicalize. And this works. This has been--you know, I know that for instance Fox News got accused of it several years ago, of looking for the most lunatic liberal they could find, or to put a guy up there in the most--you know, bizarre, stereotypically, maybe almost hippie outfit there, or something--to say something crazy and then be like, 'Well, there you go, Audience. This is what the Liberals look like and think.' And this was, this is a form of not exactly journalism that I think has driven a lot of polarization. Because, from what I understand, one of the stronger effects, on social media in particular, that drives polarization is this weird combination that it facilitates, just like the cable news facilitates, that you can sort of find yourself in a bubble where you can present views that are very likely to go unchallenged. And then, if you really want to get people worked up and to support your cause, you can then throw out something that causes a lot of cognitive dissonance, and trigger the so-called backfire effect. From what I understand this is hypothesized to be one of the strongest drivers of polarization rising out of social media. It's not that you go on your social media and you've carefully manicured it so that it's, you know, say, 'Liberal, liberal, liberal, oh, I agree, I agree, I agree.' And everything is just la-la-land, you know, liberal bubble, and so you get skewed from reality. It's that most of your experience is that. So, you feel like this is a very popular, common--or everybody, kind of right-side-of-history opinion. And then, all of a sudden, you know, the 10th post or 6th post in your feed is this person saying something from the other side. Either it's somebody on your team, so to speak, repeating it to outrage the fact--

    Russ Roberts: to mock it--

    James Lindsay: or it happens to be your crazy uncle that you have to be friends with, who has put some--you know, idiot view from your perspective. And so, you see this, 'Oh, the whole world thinks kind of like I do.' And then, 'The other side says this absolutely radical stuff, so we've got to fight.' And this effect seems to be one of the primary drivers of polarization that rises out of social media. And so, whether social media is a huge driver of this or not, I think is unclear. But, I share your suspicion that it is. And I would guess that what I've just described is something close to its mechanism of action. I know that it's how I'm most likely become--just being self-reflective--to become kind of radicalized and motivated--

    Russ Roberts: angry--

    James Lindsay: Angry. Yeah. Outraged. 'Oh, look what these idiots on the far--,' I mean, even it's possible, but this is why I have such a view against these so-called anti-Modern people. I see them on the Left and Right all day long, and it's like, 'Aahh, come on.' And I'm, I've got say something about these people. And so, I have a feeling that may be kind of what we're all feeling. Because I think the feeling is just more common than just the 3 of us. I feel like, that this is possibly the dynamic that plays in on social media. But, also, it played on increasingly partisan news programming and the blending of, you know, news and opinion that has kind of dominated journalism for the past couple of decades. Because it sells.

    58:44

    Russ Roberts: Yeah. No. It's the dark side of capitalism. For capitalists like me, I think the media marketplace is designed to make people angry. Not to inform them. And we still have an illusion--it's dying, by the way, I think, this illusion. But we have an illusion that there's things called 'journalism' and reporting and investigative reporting. Of course, there still is some. But it's dying. And Fox News is an example of that death, for sure. My parents, who watch it religiously have a strange view of data. Of what's true about the world. They've been scared. They are in their 80s. I'm sure it's true of people who watch CNN (Cable News Network). I know it's--I don't watch much, I don't watch cable. I get my cable from my parents. But I do get the New York Times, and the New York Times has been doing this for the longest time. On the other side. And it goes back to the morning talk shows, where people will, in my view--maybe I'm wrong--but I think they deliberately pick unpleasant representatives of the "other side" to make them look foolish or dangerous. Because it creates more entertainment. And we have this illusion that news is for making us citizens, better citizens. To me, it's just a form of--it's just a different form of NFL Football [National Football League Football]--with a smaller chance of concussion but an equal chance of brain damage of a different kind. So, I do think it's a very--and I think social media is just a new, the latest extreme.

    1:00:16

    Russ Roberts: We've got a little time left. So, what's to be done? You spent some time in the essay on that. What do you advocate? You don't have to have a solution, of course. Could just be we've got to watch it play out, and no one can, of course, do anything about it. But, we had Megan McArdle on here recently talking about the Internet shaming phenomenon. And I wrote an essay in response to that phenomenon to some extent, but also just to this general, this polarization issue. And there are some obvious things, like: Be civil. Megan and I talked about that. But, I'm curious what you see as a road to a healthier discourse and less outrage and anger. Helen, why don't you go first?

    Helen Pluckrose: I--I tend to think that--well, in the "Manifesto," we spoke about the attempt not to polarize, to meet against--across the divide. And I think, you know--I understand certainly the problem with social media, that it is an aggravating factor for the problems that we are having at the moment. But, what is aggravating is our own flawed thinking, and our own, ever-increasing sort-of tribalism. So, I think that the way forward is for those of us who are concerned about the extremes to try and expand our own circles. To expand what we can and can't tolerate. So that the people on the Moderate Left can have some alliances with the people on the Moderate Right. Because, we are seeing a narrowing--a real sort of demand for purity. I was arguing with the alt-Right today, where people were--women--a woman was being accused of being a feminist, and a man of being Jewish, because they disagreed. We see this on the Left as well, where there is a purity--you haven't used the right terminology for this sort of trends identity. And I think we have to try and reverse that. And we can do that on the level of the individual. If each person can try to see where their borders are, and try to expand them--try to expand their minds a bit, the sort of range of people, and the range of ideas that they are willing to accept. And when we're talking to each other, as well, if we can take responsibility for our own mistakes: If we find that we have been wrong, if we can say, 'I was wrong about that. Thank you. That was helpful.' Just anything we can do to try to reduce the polarization and the categorization that we are having at the moment; and if we can get more charismatic people to be more accessible. I mean, this was Matthew d'Ancona's book, which had--I recently read. And he was about the post-truth society. And he was talking about the way to get--to get people united in favor of truth, and reason. And he was talking about actually getting more onto social media. Getting the charismatic scientists, the rationalists, the experts to be more accessible; not to spurn sort of public--a social media or any sort of public engagements or may retreat to their sort of library towers, but to sort of get out there and be more accessible. Talk to people of different kinds. And just try to make more alliances. Try to re-establish the expectation that you will, that conversation will be civil: it will be reasonable, and it will include evidence and argument. And we can all do a little bit of that.

    Russ Roberts: Hear, hear. James, you want to close this out?

    James Lindsay: Sure. I think, to say two things. I think that the first is that, while we should be broadening our circles, we should also be learning to ignore people. To develop the skill to detect when somebody's being an extremist. When somebody will say--as Helen pointed out--is saying, 'Oh, well you used the wrong categorization for trans-people,' or whatever, 'therefore, you're this terrible trans-folk sexist.' Whatever happens to be--they're going to come up with a million epithets. That person should be seen as, essentially, excluding themselves from the adult table. They are sitting at the kids' table. We don't have to engage with them. I use the Mute Button very liberally for such people on Twitter. I don't hesitate, 'Oh, look at this. They decided to fling epithets.' Mute it. I'll never hear from him again. I'm not going to go review that. I have thousands of people I've muted. I'm not going to look through and say, 'You're out. Who needs to be unmuted?' So, learning to ignore people is actually going to be a crucial part. Rather than feeling this need to promote those people's views by saying, 'Hey, look how wrong this person is,' and then promote it by retreating it or quote-tweeting it or screen-shotting it or trying to generate outrage with it. There's a fine line between making a point from it and then promoting it in order to garner tribal outrage. And I think that learning to quell the instinct to promote that kind of stuff and just to ignore the extremists--because they aren't bringing themselves legitimately to the table of knowledge pursuit--is a first step. Second step would be to, as Helen indicated, to form these kind of alliances. Friendships, even. My dad actually had a really interesting view he shared with me when I was a teenager about politics. I never knew growing up whether my dad was conservative, liberal, or libertarian. I had no idea. In fact, I don't plainly know now. He's done quite the good job of hiding it, or maybe has a nuanced view; but that's the one I'm going to advocate for. He told me, when I was a kid, was to realize that the various political positions are like the parts of a car: The Liberal side--to highly oversimplify--is like the gas pedal; the Conservative side is like the brake pedal. And you need the Libertarians--I guess, to extend his analogy, because he didn't include them--are kind of like the steering wheel to keep you in your lane, the lane of, you know, liberty. You need all of those parts for the car to operate correctly. And so, rather than seeing Conservatives as being this horrible group, or the liberals as being out to destroy society, or libertarians as being pie-in-the-sky idealists, you can see their contributions as being--as you said--like the elephant: part of a bigger truth. And, not only that but as integral parts to figuring out the problem we're all interested in, which is a problem of society itself. So, you know, it's easier for me, for instance, to stomach something that seems a little bit too conservative for me taste to remember that this is a person just advocating that maybe we need to put on the brakes, as a society, a little bit. And, that I consider that. And I would encourage people to think that way. You know: What value is there here? Is it possible that we need to put the brakes on some of this? On the other side, Liberals: Maybe we need to step on the gas a little bit. Maybe we need to get somewhere a little further along the road. And so on and so forth. So, I think that learning to see each side--whether it's Liberal, Conservative, or Libertarian to draw this dichotomy--as trying to contribute something valuable. That encourages both humility and open-mindedness. And I think that those factors will allow people to become a little bit more willing to make friends and alliances, and to hear people out, and to consider; and then to engage in this liberal knowledge production strategy, where we put things out there and debate them, and try to retain the merits rather than, you know, diving into our own camps and saying everybody else is just dead wrong.



    COMMENTS (45 to date)
    rhhardin writes:

    Academic postmodernism took a wrong turn, but for instance Derrida is full of insights.

    The difference is that Derrida likes the systems he analyzes and the academics don't like the systems they analyze.

    One of Derrida's insights is that truth isn't what you think, but far from dismissing it he's amazed by it.

    An analogy might be Godel's proof that mathematics is either inconsistent or incomplete. He didn't dismiss mathematics and remained in it. But it's an insight.

    Derrida is unfortunately work to read. A fun introduction, on truth, might be _Spurs_ (skip the preface by somebody else).

    Russ might like Levinas's _Difficult Freedom_ the initial chapter "A Religion for Adults." That's one of his two books on Judaism, with a favorable postmodern view. Nine Talmudic Studies being the other.

    Levinas's global view would be that truth depends on morality.

    Steve writes:

    What did James mean by "regulated capitalism?" If he is alluding to diversity quotas and "equal pay," then James Lindsay is contradicting himself. Capitalism works, invisible hand works, we should be channeling our resources (time and efforts) towards debt reduction, creating a moral compass in the USA as religion is downplayed today, and getting the unemployed in the U6 number employed again. Capitalism regulates itself far better than any government or populace.

    icewater writes:

    > If he is alluding to diversity quotas and "equal pay,"

    I doubt he meant regulation to that extreme. I do suppose he might have meant non-discrimination in hiring, and possibly minimum wage laws - as well as regulations which (e.g.) prevent spoiling of the environment.

    In short, establishing some ceiling/floor/bare-minimum rules within which businesses compete.


    As a side-note, I've listened to EconTalk off and on for quite some time but have never visited the website. These episode pages, with transcript excerpts and links to resources, are probably the most comprehensive and useful I have ever seen for any podcast.

    Nonlin_org writes:

    1. Time to take the god of "Science" down a notch:
    Science = Observable + Religion
    http://nonlin.org/philosophy-religion-and-science/

    2. There is no “Reason” but billions of Reasons each belonging to one particular human – two or more persons reasoning about the same Observable, usually reach different conclusions.

    3. "Nothing new under the sun". Why is "modernism" good? Most new ideas fail almost by definition. Nazism, French revolution bloodbath, Communism, Eugenics are all "Modern".

    4. Chances are your ideology will be a failed one if you use self aggrandisation words like: modern, progressive, humanist, enlightened, freethinker, liberal.

    5. What's the point of splitting the political hair? See #2

    6. No, politics today are not worse than in the past. Neither are they better overall. See #3

    [Comment edited at commenter’s request—Econlib Ed.]

    Helen Pluckrose writes:

    Not 'safes' but 'faith.' XD

    [Fixed. Thanks, Helen.--Econlib Ed.]

    Günter Weinberg writes:

    @ 20:11 James Lindsay says 'I keep using the word moral, I'm sorry' and not 'I'm confusing the word moral, I'm sorry'.

    P.S.: Make the connection with econtalk.org secure through HTTPS. The moment I began typing this comment, my Chrome address bar flashed 'not safe'!

    [typo fixed. Thanks, Günter. The security matter is something to be decided on by our tech folks; we do know about it. N.B., listeners may also email typos or tech matters to me at webmaster@econlib.org or to Russ at mail@econtalk.org. --Econlib Ed.]

    Phil H writes:

    I've been an on again off again podcast listener for years now.. but this is my first comment.

    I really enjoyed this podcast. I take it as proof you can learn something from people on the other end of the political spectrum. I don't think i fit neatly into categories. I think I'm a "moderate rightist" with some strong libertarian tendancies. I am a committed Christian but have and Masters in electronic engineering and create software for a living... so I believe in math and science and evidence... but I'm firmly in the "intelligent design" camp. I think I'm the only registered Republican in Tennessee who would admit being ok with universal healthcare.

    I wonder where James lives in TN that he is so surrounded by such ultra conservatives. I wonder if he considers me an ultra conservative.

    I also share a Memphis connection with Russ. I lived there and went to school there 17 of my first 21 years of life.

    Andrew Certain writes:
    And therefore any political philosophy we're going to have that's going to work optimally, has to take that into account to the correct degree. And it's just a matter of finding out what those truths about human behavior are and what the right degrees are, and then coming up with a system for managing them. And so, to return to science, the broadly construed concept of science, being 'Let's put forward ideas. Let's let anybody criticize them. Let's try to be careful and assume that we're wrong,' and so on. And that, 'Anybody should be able to get the same results--it's not dependent on whether you are black or white or whether you are a Jew or a Muslim,' or whatever you happen to be: 'Let's put our ideas out there according to this structure and then hopefully we will be able to, over time, converge closer and closer to whatever these truths are, and strategies for working with them.'

    I haven't read the essay, so I may be misinterpreting the quote here, but they seem to imply that science help us answer a bunch of questions about society that I don't think can be answered.

    For example, with the question of global warming, there is real science to be done for sure. But let's say we exactly knew the impact of carbon in the atmosphere, knew the resulting impact to human civilization and knew how much the economic impact would be to change that - do Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay think that then we would agree on what to do? If it costs $X and Y additional deaths today to reduce carbon emissions, but if we do nothing it will cost $Z over the next 200 years and cause W additional deaths, the question of what we should do is not a science question - it's a values question.

    The same could be said for the minimum wage. We spend all this time today arguing about the validity of studies that show its impact on jobs, which Russ points out is simplistic. But even if we knew exactly what a minimum wage would do, which people it would make better off and which people it would harm, that wouldn't settle the debate. I think in both these cases, people use arguing about the science as a proxy - if the science were settled, they would still disagree on what to do.

    The Dems are more guilty about using this rhetoric: the Reps are science deniers. In many cases that might be true - but the implication is that if people accept the science they would obviously come to the same conclusion. That belief is so naive and arrogant - casting your values as the inevitable conclusion from science. I hope that wasn't what the guests intended.

    Eric writes:

    1. Ambiguous abstractions vs. concrete clarifications

    There was much to consider in this episode. I've listened to it twice through already. One possible improvement might have been to move past ambiguous abstractions to more concrete clarifying illustrations. For example:

    James Lindsay: "... it sounds paradoxical but believe me, I'm surrounded by them, to say libertarians who are also authoritarian-- ... It sounds like an oxymoron. But there are people who are so far into what they call a libertarian mindset, which is what they really mean an anti-government mindset, that they've become anti-government authoritarians. And, the extremes here bend toward authoritarianism."

    Yes that does --still-- seem to be an oxymoron. I'm still not sure who would legitimately fulfill that term.

    2. Modernity Immunity?

    If even libertarians can be authoritarian (at least as was claimed), what prevents someone from wanting to utilize power and authority to promote or even impose modernity? How isn't that at least as possible as the oxymoron of an authoritarian libertarian?

    3. Flavors of Authoritarianism vs. anti-authoritarianism

    I share a real concern about the rise of pro-authoritarian impulses, from whatever flavor. I believe I follow the point that was made that non-authoritarian moderates of the left or right might find allies in each other more so than in those at the authoritarian extremes.

    That said, the position advocated is toward being pro-modernity (or at least "Against the Enemies of Modernity".) Modernity itself has had its own problems and the attempts to patch up an improved version begin, as was indicated, to sound more like post-modernism.

    So I would be interested to understand what would be lost or missed by being anti-authoritarian (and letting that stance suggest appropriate implications) in contrast to being "pro-modernity"? I'm guessing the authors don't consider those quite synonymous, but I'm not sure I could state with confidence the distinctions they would make.

    Daniel Jelski writes:

    I enjoyed this episode! I think they're on to something.

    But they miss an important factor. I have been reading Fisher's Albion's Seed, along with the less formidable book by Colin Woodard, informally known as the Eleven Nations of North America. The point is that ethnic differences are really important in American history. Mr. Woodard, especially, thinks they continue to be of central importance today.

    I think he's right. Today's political battle is ultimately a fight between the Scots-Irish and the Yankees, along with allies on either side. OK, it's not just that, but that surely is a big part of it.

    So when Pluckrose and Lindsey talk about tribalism, perhaps they are not being literal enough. Real, ethnic tribalism plays a larger role than they appear to acknowledge.

    That said, I'm not sure I buy their premise. I don't think we are becoming more polarized. I think it just looks that way because of social media. It's an illusion.

    My own review of Woodard's book is here: http://trotskyschildren.blogspot.com/2017/11/book-review-eleven-nations-of-north.html
    Since I wrote that I've somewhat changed my opinion, perhaps closer to Mr. Woodard's view.

    Dr Golabki writes:
    1. Time to take the god of "Science" down a notch: Science = Observable + Religion http://nonlin.org/philosophy-religion-and-science/
    I'm not sure what you're saying here.
    2. There is no “Reason” but billions of Reasons each belonging to one particular human – two or more persons reasoning about the same Observable, usually reach different conclusions.
    Is this intended to be a post-modernist criticism of modernist? Everything is subjective and rationality assumes some level of objective reality so it can't work?
    3. "Nothing new under the sun". Why is "modernism" good? Most new ideas fail almost by definition. Nazism, French revolution bloodbath, Communism, Eugenics are all "Modern".
    The argument for "modernism" is a pragmatic one. It's ushered in the most rapid increases in technology, wealth and freedom ever seen in human history. It hasn't been perfect, but it beats being a hunter / gather or subsistence farmer?
    4. Chances are your ideology will be a failed one if you use self aggrandisation words like: modern, progressive, humanist, enlightened, freethinker, liberal.
    I'm not sure what you mean hear, but I would say using the word "modern" is slightly less self aggrandizing than using the phrase "time to take the god of "Science" down".
    Nonlin_org writes:

    @Dr Golabki

    1. Follow the link and you will understand. As others observed, these guests (like many others) tend to make an idol out of Science.

    2. Also explained in that link. The only objective part of Reason is Logic and the Observable to which Reason is applied. Perfectly reasonable individuals can and will disagree profoundly - hopefully this is not news to you. Hence "the age of reason", "triumph of reason" and so on would be very hilarious if not so tragic.

    3. Meh. The ancient Greeks, Romans, and many others would disagree, but who speaks for them? Let's be honest, "modernism" and "enlightenment" are keywords for the rise of atheism - not a positive in my view.

    4. I can see why you're offended. However, there's no parallel between self-aggrandizement and an anonymous call to action (granted, a bit strident).

    George writes:

    Great podcast and paper - thanks to all.

    However, regarding the paper's conclusion about "What should a renewer of Modernity do now?", I'm a bit doubtful. The suggestions seem to be aimed at increasing the political openness and engagement of Centrists. This would definitely be good, but I wonder if the political problem may be more structural than that. Works like The Logic of Collective Action and An Economic Theory of Democracy argue that for a number of reasons, "rational ignorance" by Centrists for example, extremists and one-issue-voters will have more influence on political outcomes -- esp. when the partisan distribution is bi-modal like it is today. I'm just not confident that the Center, without some massive and unfortunate catalyst, is going to rise up to change the order of the day.

    Emerich writes:

    This podcast was enjoyable and guests were almost too reasonable (I'm tempted to say amiable). Russ's style of giving guests all the scope they want to make their points is rare, and welcome as always.

    That said, the perception of polarization stems in part from the fact that formerly silent perspectives are now more visible, or audible. In the old days, Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather, and the editors of the New York Times set the agenda for the country's news and the challenges to their authority were on the fringes. (The Wall Street Journal's editorial page had little influence on the news consumed by the general public.) More recently, Dan Rather came a cropper for promoting a forgery in a story impugning George W. Bush, a story which might have slid into conventional wisdom if not for some bloggers who proved, with the help of readers, that the typeface in the forgery didn't exist in the period claimed but came recently from a word-processor. The digital age allows more voices to find an audience, and this is unsettling to the old news establishment and their philosophical adherents.

    Upstart Fox News may have its biases, but they're no more pronounced than those of the networks and NYT in the old days. The most violent threats to freedom of speech come from the left, as anyone who's been following recent news is aware.

    Then there's the fact that politics was venomous in almost any period you care to look at, starting at 1776 if not before.

    In short, I take claims about polarization of political discourse with a grain of salt; they're often disguised nostalgia for the days when liberal (in the sense of what's now called progressive) orthodoxy was unchallenged. This may not be the case with Pluckrose and Lindsay, though it's hard to tell for sure.

    That said, the threats of violence at those with views that differ with some sort of orthodoxy, which have become common at universities, have been getting worse in this country and some others. I'm on board with any program that promotes civility and reasoned conversation rather than rage and threats of violence.

    Daniel Jelski wrote:

    I have been reading Fisher's Albion's Seed, along with the less formidable book by Colin Woodard,.... The point is that ethnic differences are really important in American history. Mr. Woodard, especially, thinks they continue to be of central importance today.
    Coincidentally, there's a new review just in the last week of David Hackett Fischer's Albion's Seed: How Albion Seeded American Liberty on Econlib--review written by Arnold Kling. The book has been languishing on my reading list for a long time, but I'm moving it up in the list. That differing cultural influences which started a hundred years ago or more in America's melting cauldron affected political frictions at the time yet still persist in today's modern political divides is, well, food for thought.


    Eric writes:
    Russ Roberts: So, I'm going to read a list that you made in the essay, to summarize modernity, ... On the surface, those seem all undeniable. Who would be against those, Helen? Who is against that?

    A big problem is not so much with what is on the list as what is missing from the list. It lacks a foundation for ethics.

    Andrew Certain certainly made some excellent, spot on comments about the complete inability of science (and reasoning from scientific information) to provide any verdict on questions about values or morality. Science is amoral and reasoning from amoral facts can never produce a single moral conclusion. That is the unavoidable is-ought problem.

    Science can tell whether someone has a genetic trait such as Down Syndrome, but it cannot tell us whether it is right or wrong to kill off those who have "inferior" genetics. Even the rule of law by itself does not exclude lawfully enforced eugenics, as happened even in the U.S. within the scope of Modernity.

    For example, what is the foundation for the idea of the equality of humans? That cannot be derived by reasoning from a Darwinian worldview, which has at its necessary foundation the objective biological inequality of descendants. Darwin's own subtitle: the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Nothing in that foundation excludes either eugenics or racism as wrong.

    Even though French philosopher Luc Ferry is an atheist, in his book A Brief History of Thought he was compelled to affirm that the understanding of human equality came from the spread of Christianity. It is grounded upon the Judeo-Christian understanding that every human bears the Imago Dei, the image of God, regardless of differences in biology.

    LIkewise in the article Secular World has a Christian Foundation, atheist Chris Berg pointed out:

    "Yet virtually all the secular ideas that non-believers value have Christian origins… It was theologians and religiously minded philosophers who developed the concepts of individual and human rights. Same with progress, reason, and equality before the law: it is fantasy to suggest these values emerged out of thin air once people started questioning God." ... "The idea of human rights was founded centuries ago on Christian assumptions, advanced by Biblical argument, and advocated by theologians."

    In their Manifesto, authors Pluckrose and Lindsay affirm Modernity as an era that replaces that religious foundation with "a respect for evidence, science, reason, and objective knowledge." Yet they miss the fact that these replacements can never provide the basis for human rights and human equality that are real despite the objectively evident inequalities that science observes and that evolutionary thought depends upon. Nothing from a Darwinist worldview will ever endow an unalienable right to life or secure the equality of the "less fit".

    Michael Marrs writes:

    I'm sure it was an excellent episode since that's what I've come to expect from Russ. But I have to be honest, gave me a bit of a headache and I stopped half way into it. I thought in my old age I would come to appreciate this type of discussion but alas I didn't. Harkens back to my economics undergrad 25 years ago, getting the same headaches listening to my philosophy and poli-sci friends discussing topics at the university coffee bar. All I really wanted back then was a nice beer over a discussion of Keynesianism versus monatarism.

    Luke Juarez writes:

    First, this is priceless:

    Because it creates more entertainment. And we have this illusion that news is for making us citizens, better citizens. To me, it's just a form of--it's just a different form of NFL Football with a smaller chance of concussion but an equal chance of brain damage of a different kind.

    Second, Russ' ability to host two guests has noticeably improved.

    Third, I had to read the manifesto twice and I'm sure I still did not absorb everything. Generally I agree with Pluckrose and Lindsay, but I do see limits to science and reason. They conflate in this conversation and in the essay two different things: truth and fact. Science and reason are the best tools to learn the latter, but are ill-equipped to discover the former.

    Dr Golabki writes:

    @Eric

    I was also a bit confused by the authoritarian libertarian comment. Here's some thoughts on how someone might self identify as libertarian, but also have some authoritarian impulses -

    1. Mixed "libertarians" - people that are libertarian on some dimension (maybe they like low taxes and don't like obamacare), but don't really have an overall libertarian view and are "authoritarian" on other dimensions (maybe they like strong militaries and/or closed borders).

    2. Hyper "libertarians" - libertarians who become so extreme that they think their opponents are evil and their opponents policies are an existential threat to humanity. Once you're that far on the fringe you can justify essentially any action or alliance or compromise to fight the opponent.

    I'm not sure but I think James was referring to category #2.

    Mort Dubois writes:

    Authoritarian Libertarian: suppose I want some government in my life, and AL, my neighbor, hates that idea. He and his pals make a point of assassinating every elected official and government worker in our town, to the point that nobody will stand for office or work for the government. They have imposed their viewpoint on everyone else through violence. Authoritarian Libertarianism. I'm not sure that's exactly what the guest was referring to, but it would be an example.

    Dr Golabki writes:

    @Eric

    In their Manifesto, authors Pluckrose and Lindsay affirm Modernity as an era that replaces that religious foundation with "a respect for evidence, science, reason, and objective knowledge." Yet they miss the fact that these replacements can never provide the basis for human rights and human equality that are real despite the objectively evident inequalities that science observes and that evolutionary thought depends upon. Nothing from a Darwinist worldview will ever endow an unalienable right to life or secure the equality of the "less fit".

    Few reactions to this...

    A. "Modern" secular philosophers certainly borrowed things from the Christian philosophers that came before them... just as they borrowed from Jewish and Greek philosophers. I don't think the authors would have an issue with saying Christianity played an important role. But under modernism I'm not required to believe in a Christian god to have and understand human rights.

    B. It sounds like you are saying that it's impossible to have a secular defense of human rights, but I'm confused by your use of "Darwinian worldview"... does that just means belief in evolution? Evolution is a fact about biology, most secure philosophers don't view it as the grounding for a moral philosophy (kantians, utilitarians and social contract theorists don't necessarily make any specific appeal to evolution or god). Adam Smith recognized the power of competition and market forces, which acknowledges inequality and is an important fact about how economies works. But that doesn't mean that the "Adam Smithian worldview" is anti-human rights.

    C. Here's a quick crack at an "Darwinian" defense of human rights.
    1. A key competitive advantage of humans is the ability to work collaboratively in large groups.
    2. To collaborate effectively in large groups humans need rules that respect each individuals own internal desires and goals. Without such rules humans will not perform well and the Darwinian competitiveness of the individuals will be reduced.
    3. Human rights provide a pragmatic basis for such rules, and as such are extremely useful to humans from a Darwinian perspective, and in fact, human way have evolved some instincts along these lines that make the implementation of human rights relatively intuitive.

    thomas hockman writes:

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    Mads Lindstrøm writes:

    Hearing the interview and reading the article, it seems that there is a lack of concreteness. It is quite fine with abstractions, but they need to be grounded in concrete examples to 1) make the reader/listener understand 2) ensure that the abstract theories actually apply to the real world 3) to have something concrete the listener/reader can argue against. The article is better than the interview, but more examples would have served both well.

    As an example, we now have listeners debating what authoritarian libertarian means. It seems like a contradiction in terms, and should have been expanded upon in the interview.

    I get the two article authors don't want to scare readers into the respective left/right foxholes with issues the audience already have strong opinions about, but the risk may be unavoidable if they want communicate clearly.

    John Aiton writes:

    I'm a unwashed knuckle dragger :
    How can one be a libertarian and "pro" mixed economy and regulations ?

    Michael Fresco writes:

    It would have been cool if Nassim Taleb could have joined this conversation. I recall that Taleb is not a big fan of modernity in general. (I'm thinking of Hammurabi's rule)

    When does Taleb come back on?

    Eric writes:
    James Lindsay (my emphasis added): Um, well, I don't know enough about you to qualify you as an anti-modern. Because, I think that's actually, the way we use it, a fairly serious charge. To be an anti-modern I think you really actually have to be on the lunatic fringe, Left or Right. We don't mean to lump in religious people or mainline, roughly mainline, libertarians, or any of these kinds of worldviews. So, I doubt that you're anti-modern. I do have a little, I guess, concern about your skepticism of science; but science should have skepticism built into it.
    However, the skepticism Lindsay accepts within science is only skepticism toward one scientific claim vs. other contending scientific claims. What concerns him about "religious people" and can place them "on the lunatic fringe" in his mind appears to be connected with "skepticism of science" itself.

    Other parts of the interview and the Manifesto itself suggest that Lindsay and Pluckrose are not merely pro-science (which would be quite fine; I'm pro-science). Instead it seems they are actually advocating scientism in the sense of holding up science as the only trustworthy way of knowing about reality. That position allows for "religious people" so long as science defines what is actually real and true. Scientism doesn't see science as another way of knowing alongside other ways of knowing. It sees science as a superior replacement for other older ways of knowing about reality and understanding our place in it. Here is the leading declaration of their Manifesto's Conclusion (my emphasis added).

    Modernity is the period that brought us the Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution, and Representative Democracy. It is the era which replaced faith-based thinking, divine authority, superstition, and folk wisdom with a respect for evidence, science, reason, and objective knowledge.
    The serious problem is that our understanding of human rights and human equality cannot be derived from science. No microscope has ever observed an unalienable human right as objective scientific knowledge. Science discovers the many objective biological ways that humans are not equal.

    Those claims about humanity depend upon the Judeo-Christian understanding of the nature of man. (See my previous comment.) By placing that foundation into the category of "superstition", reason itself would require us to treat the conclusions that depend upon "superstition" as also being "superstition". If the Imago Dei that all humans bear (regardless of biological differences) is merely "superstition", then the equality that all humans have because of it is also "superstition".

    The observed horrors of Modernity in history aren't merely accidental "mistakes". They derive directly from the intentional choice to replace a Judeo-Christian way of understanding humanity with one that sees humanity only through the lens of science, which sees some human life as "inferior" or "less fit" than other human life.

    I'm reminded of this pair of quotes from Alduous Huxley, the author of Brave New World. Here he writes in 1937 even before the worst examples had become known.

    Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards. ... We are living now, not in the delicious intoxication induced by the early successes of science, but in a rather grisly morning-after, when it has become apparent that what triumphant science has done hitherto is to improve the means for achieving unimproved or actually deteriorated ends. (Ends and Means, pp. 9, 301)
    Mads Lindstrøm writes:

    The interviewees are saying that there is great danger coming from fringe left and fringe right groups, though these groups do have some points (but are taking them too far). However, after reading the article and listening to the podcast, I am still at a loss with respect to where the interviewees think the fringe is right and where it is wrong. Which brings me back to the lack of examples (see previous comment), as even some (not all) of the few example they do give don't fit there narrative. From article:

    Premodernists on the right have a more complicated relationship with liberty, not least because some of them openly profess to value it above nearly all else. Most liberty-loving premodernists rankle at individual liberty, however, when it is used unpatriotically (say, burning a flag), which they view as leading to a disintegration of culture in which people lose their sense of loyalty to their own people and fail to understand their place in society.

    Here they have an example, namely burning flags. However, flag burning ban is a majority opinion in America, and therefore do not fit the interviewees narrative of small influential right-wing fringe group.

    As speech restriction go, it is also fairly mild. Flag burning ban do not stop people expressing hatrad of America, it is just that a majority of Americans feels this particular way is too toxic. It is considered toxic in a similar manor to bans on protesting close to abortion clinics. While I am not in favor of either ban, it is hardly the end of the world either. Where I start to get worried is broad and unclear speech bans, such as hate speech laws or blasfemi laws. Laws which we have in Europe and elites seems all too keen to keep in place.

    As an exercise to other readers. Do you think the interviewees would place Charles Murray's book "By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission" in the category of pre-modernism? And why?

    Helen Pluckrose writes:

    Eric said:

    "Instead it seems they are actually advocating scientism in the sense of holding up science as the only trustworthy way of knowing about reality. That position allows for "religious people" so long as science defines what is actually real and true. Scientism doesn't see science as another way of knowing alongside other ways of knowing. It sees science as a superior replacement for other older ways of knowing about reality and understanding our place in it."

    If scientism is believing that science - a system for testing and attempting to falsify hypotheses and drawing provisional conclusions based on a substantial body of evidence - is the only trustworthy way of knowing about reality, then I do indeed advocate scientism. However, you then move on to human rights and human equality. These are only realities because we made them so and they'll only remain realities if we fight to keep them so. They exist in different places and different times to different extents.Science can measure this reality but generally, human rights are an ethical and philosophical concern rooted in a variety of principles we need to argue for and seek consensus on, rather than an observable reality that science can discover.

    I doubt that anyone who says science is the only trustworthy way to discover what is true - eg the Earth orbits the sun - believes that we don't also need ethical principles by which to make moral progress for our societies according to premises we have to argue for. They just wouldn't describe them as 'true.'

    My premises are liberal and humanist. Therefore, they are rooted in the belief that human wellbeing matters regardless of gender, race, sexuality etc. It can be true that certain human rights facilitate this and that this can be established scientifically - eg The wellbeing of gay men is better met by decriminalising their sex lives and giving them marriage rights than by imprisoning them or throwing them off buildings. But the ethical principle and the science remain separate.

    I, myself, am not very interested in science and instead, devote my academic studies to the Christian narratives and the way women, in particular, used this to argue morally for their own autonomy and authority, 1300 - 1700. Things don't have to be true to have meaning for people and generate ethical and philosophical arguments which are important to society. I am very interested in this historically.

    Science discovers the ways in which humans are not equal? Well, yes, but this isn't what equal rights means. I have the same right to do a maths PhD and lift 100lbs as James does. I just don't have the ability and science can show this. There are also many people who lack my abilities. The best we can do is make everything available to everyone. We can't make everyone able to take advantage of everything.

    Our views on human nature are not Judeo-Christian. This tradition very clearly believes that humanity is made in the image of God and possesses an immortal soul which survives the death of the brain. We don't. That is a rather important difference. Of course, we have much in common in our understanding of human nature because we are all humans and live with humans. We evolved the same cognitive mechanisms for empathy, compassion, justice, reciprocity etc. The same themes come up again and again - hurting people is bad, helping people is good, be honest, be kind, look after those who are less fortunate etc. They just come through different narratives. These certainly predate Judaism because there is much evidence of primitive forms of these in the brains and behaviours of the other apes and in other social mammals we are much more distantly related to.

    Our point is that for the purpose of overcoming the problems we have right now, it doesn't matter much whether the defenders of modernity want to preserve secular, liberal democracy from the extremist loons whilst believing in a god or not. It doesn't matter if you think our shared reasoning & ethics exist because they share a creator or because this is how our brains evolved due to environmental pressures (or both). It matters that we all value modernity and we all see the problem. We can fight about whether or not a literal God exists later. It will be a luxury afforded by having fixed the problem.

    Dr Golabki writes:

    @Eric

    However, the skepticism Lindsay accepts within science is only skepticism toward one scientific claim vs. other contending scientific claims. What concerns him about "religious people" and can place them "on the lunatic fringe" in his mind appears to be connected with "skepticism of science" itself.
    I think the real concern of the authors isn't "skepticism of science", after all, they cite individual freedom as a key part of Modernity. If you think the right way to determine the age of the earth is not to do science, but to read the bible, than your probably a premodernist. But I think if that's a private belief Lindsay would be fine with it... you're free to be as wrong as you like. The concern about the lunatic fringe is when those go from private beliefs to public arguments along theocratic lines.

    Other parts of the interview and the Manifesto itself suggest that Lindsay and Pluckrose are not merely pro-science (which would be quite fine; I'm pro-science). Instead it seems they are actually advocating scientism in the sense of holding up science as the only trustworthy way of knowing about reality. That position allows for "religious people" so long as science defines what is actually real and true. Scientism doesn't see science as another way of knowing alongside other ways of knowing. It sees science as a superior replacement for other older ways of knowing about reality and understanding our place in it. Here is the leading declaration of their Manifesto's Conclusion (my emphasis added).

    Modernity is the period that brought us the Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution, and Representative Democracy. It is the era which replaced faith-based thinking, divine authority, superstition, and folk wisdom with a respect for evidence, science, reason, and objective knowledge.

    The serious problem is that our understanding of human rights and human equality cannot be derived from science. No microscope has ever observed an unalienable human right as objective scientific knowledge. Science discovers the many objective biological ways that humans are not equal.
    Those claims about humanity depend upon the Judeo-Christian understanding of the nature of man. (See my previous comment.) By placing that foundation into the category of "superstition", reason itself would require us to treat the conclusions that depend upon "superstition" as also being "superstition". If the Imago Dei that all humans bear (regardless of biological differences) is merely "superstition", then the equality that all humans have because of it is also "superstition".


    Certainly with regards to understanding the natural/physical world science is "a superior replacement" to religion. That seems fairly uncontroversial.

    The bolded line above is (I think) a misunderstanding of the authors claim. I'm an atheist and a biologist. No one thinks biologists are going to find the "human rights" gene at the end of microscope... that's nonsense. But it doesn't follow from that that the only possible grounding for human rights is religious. There is a long history of philosophers trying to use objectivity and reason to ground human rights.

    If you don't believe there's an objective secular human rights, and the only possible grounding of human rights religious, you're in danger of slipping into authoritarian theocracy.

    The observed horrors of Modernity in history aren't merely accidental "mistakes". They derive directly from the intentional choice to replace a Judeo-Christian way of understanding humanity with one that sees humanity only through the lens of science, which sees some human life as "inferior" or "less fit" than other human life.
    There are religious horrors and secular horrors. There are ancient horrors and modern horrors. It's not an accident, it's unfortunately part of human nature. Modernity certainly doesn't have a monopoly on horrors.

    I would also point out that Christianity has plenty of ideas that would seem to run counter to a general conception of human rights... like for example a Christian might believe that I will burn in hell for eternity because I'm an athiest.

    JK Brown writes:
    Russ Roberts: Yeah. No. It's the dark side of capitalism. For capitalists like me, I think the media marketplace is designed to make people angry. Not to inform them.


    Russ, you've made one of the classic blunders. That is to blame capitalism or use it to describe something bad just because there might be private ownership and profit. Capitalism gets its bad rap from being the go-to epithet when people mean industrial, corporate, competition, etc, usually in a bad way.

    In this instance, the mass media's trend toward anger-inducing programming could be the dark side of competition? the dark side of free speech? the dark side of mass communications? Or a combination: the dark side of free speech in mass media that must compete for the scarce resource of viewer/listener attention?

    I suppose ultimately, it is the dark side of liberty. Liberty to speak as you may, the liberty to compete by speaking as you may, the liberty to broadcast your speech. But as is said, you have the freedom to speak but not the freedom to be heard. The later requires you to compete for attention. I do define capitalism as the liberty to use your own property to generate wealth for yourself, as long as you don't unfairly impede the same liberty of others. So perhaps it is the dark side of capitalism? Although, it would exist in all levels of socialism except the total centralized bureaucratic control of broad communications.


    After this comment, in the section on what could be done, I couldn't help but see all the solutions as a good way to be ignored. Excepting the advice to just not take the bait. Even then such a public service campaign to sell that idea would likely be lost in the media noise.

    Dr Golabki writes:

    @JK Brown

    I don't think you're giving Russ enough credit. He's making a pretty narrow claim which is that competition within the media marketplace is one of the drivers of our increasing culture of outrage (that's what I think he's saying anyway). Media companies need eyes and ears on their products to make money. Saying something inflammatory to anger the audience turns out to be a cheaper way to get eyes & ears than saying something wise to educate the audience. So market forces push the media to be more inflammatory and less educational. Thank goodness we have econtalk!

    threfin writes:

    Reason can't be used as the basis for common ground, because reason leads to very different conclusions depending on your starting premises. The extremes on both sides are just as likely to be reasonable as unreasonable. They can follow the inevitable logic of their premises, quite reasonably, and arrive at vastly different conclusions.
    It is their reasoned process that makes them utterly incapable of grasping how the other can be so vastly different. It violates all their own perceived logic.

    The authors seem to be presenting something like Fukayama's End of History. They don't perceive that you never get to a permanent set-point because each new generation shifts the framework based on what they have been taught or experienced. You have to work to preserve democratic republics and individual liberty, including economic freedom, because they are always just an election away from being lost.

    Kudos to Eric who posted above. I'm Catholic, and evolution isn't a violation of faith. Most who say they 'believe' in evolution actually believe in spontaneous generation, which is bad science. Ironically, I was always considered too liberal by religious friends in my Southern Baptist college, but too conservative by the liberal friends I had in that college. Apparently Catholicism falls somewhere in between because it is a faith that accepts science as discovering a deeper understanding of God and his creation. Like Eric, I'm in a science related profession.

    Copernicus (heliocentrism) was a priest; Gregor Mendel (genetics) was a priest; the guy who first conceived the Big Bang was a priest - it is proof of a moment of creation. Science is obviously not a violation of faith.

    Marilyne Tolle writes:

    James Lindsay and co-author Peter Boghossian published a hoax on gender studies last year (see here - I won't write out the title for fear of seeing my comment withheld!), some 20 years after Alan Sokal, Pr of physics at NYU, gave rise to the "Sokal affair" by publishing his now famous bogus paper that helped to discredit Derrida in the US.

    Sokal then co-wrote a book called "Impostures intellectuelles" ("Fashionable Nonsense" in the US), a critique of post-modernism and social constructionism. Well worth a read.

    Sokal's review of Lindsay's hoax can be found here.

    I'm no fan of postmodernism but I have to concede that, unbeknownst to him, Roland Barthes, in his 1957 essay contrasting wrestling and boxing, figured out Trump (who used to take part in the WWE) :

    "This public knows very well the distinction between wrestling and boxing; it knows that boxing is a Jansenist sport, based on a demonstration of excellence. One can bet on the outcome of a boxing-match: with wrestling, it would make no sense. A boxing- match is a story which is constructed before the eyes of the spectator; in wrestling, on the contrary, it is each moment which is intelligible, not the passage of time… The logical conclusion of the contest does not interest the wrestling-fan, while on the contrary a boxing-match always implies a science of the future. In other words, wrestling is a sum of spectacles, of which no single one is a function: each moment imposes the total knowledge of a passion which rises erect and alone, without ever extending to the crowning moment of a result."

    Dr Golabki writes:

    This thread is an interesting illustration of one of the problems the authors identified.

    Despite the fact that the authors explicitly said they do not have a problem with religion in general or a problem with the vast majority of religious people, it's pretty clearly what many listeners (or at least a vocal minority of listeners) heard was the authors attacking religion. If this is what happens to people who regularly listen to EconTalk... we might be in even more trouble than I thought.

    Eric writes:

    Helen Pluckrose, thank you so much for such a thoughtful response. I appreciate your candor about advocating scientism. I'd like to invite you to consider that scientism actually works against our shared desire to discourage authoritarianism.

    But first, though you value various "fruits" of Modernity, your Manifesto portrays them as if they came because "we clawed our way out of" an earlier faith-based "darkness". That is historically inaccurate even about the "dark ages". On point after point, the fruits you value were nourished and promoted by their Judeo-Christian roots.

    Human Equality and Republican Democracy
    Please see the link in my previous comment for more complete quotes from atheist authors affirming Christian contributions regarding equality and democracy.

    The Scientific Revolution, Experimentation, and Reason
    Historians have debunked the revisionist Warfare Myth of religion vs. science, which was birthed and promoted by two authors in the late 19th century. (5 minute video on the myth's origin by two science historians.)

    Primarily, it was Christians who brought the Scientific Revolution, not in spite of their faith, but because of it. It was reasonable to expect order and design in nature because nature was the intentional creation of a wise, rational, and lawful Creator. It was reasonable to expect that humans might be able to understand aspects of this design since humans bear the Imago Dei, which includes a capacity for reason, imagination, and the ability to grasp abstract truth that is far beyond any animal.

    They talked of learning from both of God's two "books": the Bible and the book of nature. Newton spent at least as much time studying Scripture as he did with physics. Kepler was both a famous discoverer of laws of planetary motion and also a professionally trained theologian. He wrote (my emphasis):

    "I was merely thinking God's thoughts after him. Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it benefits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God."
    Universal Human Rights
    Helen Pluckrose: "...you then move on to human rights and human equality. These are only realities because we made them so and they'll only remain realities if we fight to keep them so. ..."
    You are describing contingent rights, not unalienable human rights. By your own description, contingent rights can come or go and "exist in different places and different times to different extents." The Judeo-Christian position can support true universal human rights (e.g. as required by the Declaration of Independence argument). Materialism cannot and we agree science cannot deliver human rights.

    Now consider how scientism promotes authoritarianism.
    1. Science is amoral and devoid of moral knowledge.
    Science can measure the economic burden of the "less fit", but reasoning about objective facts can never reveal whether it is good or evil to increase utility by killing those who would be a burden (cf. the Life is Beautiful math problem).
    2. Scientism makes trustworthy moral knowledge impossible.
    Scientism claims only objective scientific knowledge is trustworthy. Since science provides no moral knowledge, moral knowledge cannot be trustworthy.
    3. Scientism renders moral "progress" meaningless.
    With no possible trustworthy path to moral knowledge, there is no way to reliably know that morality A is morally superior to morality B. If a person switches from A to B, moral tribe B calls it "progress" and moral tribe A calls it "regress" for any A and B. ANY morality would have an equal claim to superiority compared to any other. Therefore the idea of true moral "progress" would be made empty of real meaning.
    4. Scientism voids reason and rewards power and authoritarianism.
    Reasoning about facts gives no moral result. Moral claims would be untrustworthy. Every position could equally reason for itself. Therefore reason is rendered useless. The only resolution is according to those who have the power/authority to "fight" to make their morality real--just as you said about (contingent) rights. Might makes right. Thus scientism promotes the "solution" of resorting to power and authority.

    Threfin writes:

    The authors don't attack religion, but they dismiss it as incapable of providing the basis for their modern society.
    Neither science nor reason can be the basis of a society

    Reason is a tool for expanding on initial premises; depending on your initial assumptions, reason can lead to very different conclusions.

    Science isn't a likely candidate for providing firm premises, since science doesn't always provide firm answers. Science journals are full of debates from basic principles to the slightest minutia. Is light a wave or a particle? Is space a vacuum? Yesterday's scientific answer isn't the same as today's, is it?

    Neither science nor reason can provide the basis of moral judgement necessary in society. Hitler, Stalin and Mao were rational actors in that they acted in an internally logical way, reasoned from their initial assumptions, which according to them were based on firm physical and social science; but they were horribly wrong.

    Eric writes:

    Dr Golabki, thank you for your replies to my comments. Here are some quick responses to some of your points.

    DG: "I don't think the authors would have an issue with saying Christianity played an important role. But under modernism I'm not required to believe in a Christian god to have and understand human rights."
    The Manifesto implies Modernity succeeded by replacing faith-based thinking and knowing, which is historically inaccurate as my response to Helen Pluckrose indicates.
    DG: "I'm confused by your use of "Darwinian worldview"..."
    My point was that the idea of "human equality" (or human rights) cannot come from the scientific understanding of man's nature, and therefore would be inaccessible to scientism as my previous comment to Helen Pluckrose indicates.
    DG: "Here's a quick crack at an "Darwinian" defense of human rights." ...
    Natural tribal cooperation can certainly be advantageous, but history shows that doesn't imply either universal human rights (e.g. consider treatment of competing tribes) or even equality within a tribe.
    DG: "No one thinks biologists are going to find the "human rights" gene at the end of microscope... that's nonsense. But it doesn't follow from that that the only possible grounding for human rights is religious. There is a long history of philosophers trying to use objectivity and reason to ground human rights."
    The position of scientism excludes any trustworthy basis for moral knowledge because scientism sets scientific knowledge as the only trustworthy source of knowledge, and moral truth cannot be derived from scientific facts (due to the "is" vs. "ought" barrier).
    DG: "If you don't believe there's an objective secular human rights, and the only possible grounding of human rights religious, you're in danger of slipping into authoritarian theocracy."
    It's not belief that makes one authoritarian, but rather the coercive use of authoritarian power (whereas I prefer the original American system of protecting liberty by limiting central power).
    DG: "There are religious horrors and secular horrors. There are ancient horrors and modern horrors. It's not an accident, it's unfortunately part of human nature. Modernity certainly doesn't have a monopoly on horrors."
    While some horrors are inconsistent with one's stated principles (e.g. claiming to be Christian and disobeying Christ), there are no moral horrors that are inherently inconsistent with scientism because scientism provides no moral limits.
    Dr Golabki writes:

    @eric

    It seems like you are taking one specific belief that you hold about the metaphysics of morality, and using that to reject the whole of modernity, or at least the authors version of it. It's a bit like me saying that your view of morality is non-scientific, there you must be against all of science.

    Also, I'd point out that you seem to be trying to make an objective rationale argument for your position so that you can convince not only christians but atheists and people of other faiths.... the fact that you even think that is fundamentally modernist.

    Eric writes:
    Dr Golabki: "It seems like you are taking one specific belief that you hold about the metaphysics of morality, and using that to reject the whole of modernity, or at least the authors version of it."

    That's not accurate. I'm pointing out the moral consequences for their own position's advocacy of scientism (not science). See especially the 4 point line of reasoning at the end of my reply to Helen Pluckrose. If my reasoning does not follow from their position, then please identify the exact point or points out of the 4 where my reasoning is wrong, explain clearly exactly how it is wrong, and we can examine that.

    I do say that scientism (or any other definition of Modernity that tries to equates it with philosophical materialism or that otherwise treats moral knowledge as untrustworthy because it is not "scientific" or not about material facts) will have the consequences I've described.

    I haven't taken a position on whether there are other definitions of Modernity besides the authors' that avoid these pitfalls. However, I did point out that many of the valuable fruits that are credited to "Modernity" were in fact produced and nourished by Judeo-Christian roots (which the authors described as "faith-based thinking, ..." that Modernity "replaced").

    For example, if the many Christians who contributed to the Scientific Revolution can be considered "Modern" and their moral knowledge considered both "Modern" and potentially trustworthy (even though moral knowledge is not "scientific"), then a different definition of "Modernity" that has room for this would not necessarily have the logical consequences I warned about.

    In any case, I clearly do not have any objection to those valuable fruits themselves that our Judeo-Christian heritage contributed to Modernity, regardless of whether that contribution is called "Modern" or not.

    Dr Golabki writes:

    @Eric

    So you say...
    "I'm pointing out the moral consequences for their own position's advocacy of scientism (not science)."

    Okay... but scientism a word you've introduced to the discussion and started using is in a non-obvious way so it's hard to know exactly what you mean. And earlier to said...

    "2. Scientism makes trustworthy moral knowledge impossible.
    Scientism claims only objective scientific knowledge is trustworthy. Since science provides no moral knowledge, moral knowledge cannot be trustworthy."

    So great, Helen already said she believe in human rights for non-scientific reason... and you yourself are making your case by attempting to use objective rational argument (which is quintessential modernism)... so we can all agree. Yay!

    Now, because I've read a tragically large number of your posts on this board, I know that you are quibbling with Helen's grounding of human rights... which is fine. But I'm unclear on what you think the "so what" is from that quibble. Is it that Helen and many other atheists are mistaken (in your view) about the metaphysical nature of human rights? If so... fine, but that's a fairly narrow complaint and as mentioned above, the fact that you are trying to argue your position using logic proves that you buy into Modernism.

    However, I get the sense that you have some larger claim, which seems to have the form: Ericism (Ericism being your specific view of morality) is the only true moral reality, and any non-Ericist making ANY moral claim is a charlatan, even if the moral claim agrees with Ericism in all practical ways. The authors are not Ericists, and the authors make moral claims, therefore they are charlatans.

    Kevin writes:

    I am late to this party. Very enjoyable episode.

    I am probably an anti-Modernist per the authors. Most of the time I hear grand ideas about the glory of modernism the entire argument is a bait and switch which basically follows this chain: We can make iPhones (the bait - science is amazing!)...so we know how to organize the world and decide moral questions (the switch). This is epitomized near the end when they say that a solution to the polarization is more scientists on social media kindly sharing their wisdom. There is no polarization concerning the second law of thermodynamics, but if that is your area and you jump into politics no one cares you are a scientist. This solution is more of a bait and switch using the ethos of science to allow someone to pontificate on areas for which they know nothing more than your plumber (and maybe less since the plumber might live less in a bubble).

    An ability to make progress with the natural sciences does not imply we know anything useful about how to organize ourselves and answer moral questions and when the same tools are applied to other areas they rarely give us useful information.

    However, this is not the biggest fault in this line of thinking as the authors proclaim their desire for knowledge and truth. Most of the points Dr. Roberts quote from their article have never been derived empirically but were reached only by philosophical assessments and consensus and are simply preferences. They are not the "best way" they are the way the authors like the world to be.

    Their points:
    *Profound respect for reason (science is AWESOME - and it is)
    *Unwavering commitment to secular democratic: What empirical work suggests that this is the best way to go. Perhaps for long term human fulfillment autocratic but free regimes are best? No one knows - we just have a preference. Its great that you have a preference but thats not knowledge.
    *The central unit is the individual: Thats about the most western thing ever and there is no empirical evidence its better. In fact, looking out on the relative unhappiness and afflictions of modern free men, you could make some compelling observations that this is false and we should select some other group as the basic unit.
    *Cooperation and competition and such: Again, this is a strong preference without any rigorous evidence that this is best. Maybe what is best is pure anarchocapatalism. Maybe what is best is benign socialism. Or something else. No one knows, we just know what we prefer.

    I think we must acknowledge that majority of our knowledge about how to organize our world, relate to one another, and play politics is decidedly non-scientific, and very often, non-rationale. And thats ok.

    As others have stated, the polarization is not nearly what people in the academy seem to think. Since, despite the efforts of moderns, politics is still a small part of life, it hardly matters for most people most the time what your political beliefs are. It becomes more aggressive when we vote, but most people don't talk about that. We just work and enjoy our families. The authors also seem to have a high desire that people become more engaged and informed. Why? Why should the public invest effort in something which is so low yield for them personally?

    Libertarianism gets far too much weight in these discussions. It is interesting philosophically but has no political strength. We might as well talk about the Green party, conservatives, liberals, libertarians, and the Whigs. I understand Dr. Roberts favors this view and at points in my life I have, but that does not mean it has any political or widespread appeal and needs to be treated as a serious contender for political power. It doesn't.

    One of the guests mentioned that he mutes people who are very extreme and as an example someone who is so extreme that they were freaking out about the gender pronouns someone used. This is actually a law now in some locales in the US. What he calls the extreme has gotten enough purchase to be a law. People are being taken to court for not baking cakes for others. One side wants to tax the other and take their money they desire for their individual self and give it to others. Reasons for conflict seem pretty clear when there exists aggressions between the groups for control of society and all of that still falls within the modernist world view.

    Dr Golabki writes:

    I think the authors are saying...
    "We believe in human rights and science"
    ...not...
    "We believe in human rights because of science"

    Eric writes:

    While I share the authors' concern about authoritarianism, I've claimed their Manifesto makes matters worse by advocating scientism (supported by historical inaccuracies), which promotes the very authoritarianism they wanted to avoid.

    Since there appears to be some confusion about my line of reasoning, let's check each point and see whether this derives directly from the authors' own stated position.

    "1. Science is amoral and devoid of moral knowledge."
    Everyone appears to agree with the first point. For example, Helen Pluckrose said that human rights are not "an observable reality that science can discover".

    "2. Scientism makes trustworthy moral knowledge impossible.
    2a) "Scientism claims only objective scientific knowledge is trustworthy."

    Subpoint 2a is simply a simple definition of the term. I also stated my impression that the Manifesto advocates scientism in this sense. Helen Pluckrose confirmed my impression with this response (my emphasis added):

    "If scientism is believing that science - a system for testing and attempting to falsify hypotheses and drawing provisional conclusions based on a substantial body of evidence - is the only trustworthy way of knowing about reality, then I do indeed advocate scientism."
    2b) "Since science provides no moral knowledge, moral knowledge cannot be trustworthy."

    This follows directly from 1 and 2a. If S "is the only trustworthy way of knowing about reality", and S cannot give moral knowledge, then there is no trustworthy way to know about morality, i.e. no trustworthy path to moral knowledge.

    Helen Pluckrose (my emphasis): "I doubt that anyone who says science is the only trustworthy way to discover what is true - eg the Earth orbits the sun - believes that we don't also need ethical principles by which to make moral progress for our societies according to premises we have to argue for. They just wouldn't describe them as 'true.'"
    In this view, "true" knowledge about morality is excluded. Even contingent "rights" can come or go. We only have preferred positions that we "argue for" and "fight" for.

    3. Scientism renders moral "progress" meaningless.
    No one has shown any error in my reasoning about this. If no moral position is "true" and we merely "argue for" and "fight" for the rights and principles we prefer, that can be done by any advocate of any position at all. If no particular morality is "true", then there cannot possibly be "true" moral progress. The original idea of true progress is destroyed. Instead each person can only say if something is more like the position they prefer (and argue for and fight for), regardless of what their position might be.

    4. Scientism voids reason and rewards power and authoritarianism.
    What happens when one moral tribe reasons based on A,B,C, another tribe reasons from N,O,P, another from X,Y,Z and no moral position is true? Does reason help? No, not really. Each position is equally vindicated by its own reasoning based on its own preferred (created) ethical principles. The possibility that any are morally wrong in any objective sense has been excluded. They are all simply wrong according to the other positions and right according to their own, no matter what position one chooses.

    In this context, rights are made by might, i.e. by those with the authority to define what rights exist. People must "fight" for whatever set of created rights they prefer.

    Helen Pluckrose (my emphasis): "...you then move on to human rights and human equality. These are only realities because we made them so and they'll only remain realities if we fight to keep them so. They exist in different places and different times to different extents."
    That is the motivation for authoritarianism. It is the "fight" to make and keep your moral tribe's preferred morality as the one that exists in this place and time. All of this follows as falling dominoes from the idea that morality is "made" and not "true".
    Dr Golabki writes:

    @Eric

    "1. Science is amoral and devoid of moral knowledge." Everyone appears to agree with the first point. For example, Helen Pluckrose said that human rights are not "an observable reality that science can discover".

    "2. Scientism makes trustworthy moral knowledge impossible.
    2a) "Scientism claims only objective scientific knowledge is trustworthy.
    2b) "Since science provides no moral knowledge, moral knowledge cannot be trustworthy."

    The confusion is in here.

    Most people agree with "1" because they think of "science" as the study of the physical world. There's no scientific field that is looking for moral principles. You can't major in Moral Science.

    However, it doesn't follow from that that there are not objective, rationale things to say about morality. There's a whole field (Moral Philosophy) devoted to this, which predates and includes the Christian thinkers you mentioned earlier.

    Most "Modernists" would answer your points 1 and 2 with one of the following...
    A. Just broaden "science" to include any type of rational thought, and then we can include moral philosophy in "science".
    B. Just reject "scientism", while noting that "Modernity" has room for both science and other types of rational thought such as Moral Philosophy.

    I assume most would opt for "B" since since its consistent with the common sense definition of "science", and your use of "scientism" is not consistent with the way the term is normally used on EconTalk.

    Now, within Moral Philosophy there are many theories about the nature of morality. And I know that you think there is one correct theory (what I'll call Ericism) and the rest are objectively wrong. And you seem to spend a fair amount of time trying to construct rationale arguments to convince others that Ericism is objectively correct. That strikes me as totally consistent with Modernity, as described by the authors.

    Eric writes:
    The Manifesto: "Still, anti-modernists lodge fair complaints, despite their overreactions. The Enlightenment project that swept in Modernity has been over-confident and taken too little care. In its search for objective truth and unified ethical and political systems of society, it has been simplistic, short-sighted, and far too sure of itself, and it has gotten things wrong, at times with tremendous consequences.

    Projects do not need to be abandoned because they get things wrong, however, unless they are fundamentally irreparable and destined to continue getting things wrong. Modernity bears no such fatal flaw as it is rooted in self-correcting principles."

    Actually, the "Enlightenment project" was indeed fatally flawed in its "over-confident" "search for objective truth" with regard to a universal ethics that is freed from depending on a theistic foundation. What the authors don't mention is that one of the strongest supports for the reactionary postmodern embrace of moral relativism (which the authors reject and dismiss) is the persistent failure of the many Moral Philosophy attempts of the "Enlightenment project" to discover an objective secular universal foundation for morality. The "Enlightenment project" can't succeed in this, and Helen Pluckrose gave the reason. As I summarized earlier:
    "All of this follows as falling dominoes from the idea [given by Helen Pluckrose] that morality is "made" and not "true"."
    That means that anyone is equally justified to "make" a new morality that is different from the one wanted by a different moral tribe. Neither can fault the other as being "not true" or claim that their own is "true". Reason is useless because each morality follows from and succeeds according to its own foundational ethical principles, even if it fails according to principles it rejects. QED, the over-confident "Enlightenment project" of a universal secular ethics is without any basis of hope for success.

    Notice particularly that there is nothing "self-correcting" about the ethics of this situation because to be self "correcting", there must be a "correct" truth to find. Matters of truth could be self-correcting, but it is empty to talk this way about morality so long as the possibility of a "correct" morality is rejected from the start.

    The Manifesto continues: "The consensus is that democracy, liberty, human rights, science, and reason are fundamentally sound."
    That is not a universal consensus, and scientific facts give us no value judgement about any of these. It is the mostly western consensus around Judeo-Christian contributions, as even atheists Ferry and Berg each pointed out.
    Ferry goes even further: ‘We see today how civilisations that have not experienced Christianity have great difficulties in fostering democratic regimes, because the notion of equality is not so deep rooted’. (P75).
    BTW, Dr Golabki raised questions about the use of the term "scientism". Even if there are other ways the term is sometimes used, that is not relevant for now because (1) I've clearly specified which meaning I am using, (2) it is a standard meaning (cf. MIT physicist Ian Hutchinson: “Science, modeled on the natural sciences, is the only source of real knowledge.” and What is Scientism? at the AAAS), and (3) most importantly of all, Helen Pluckrose has explicitly affirmed that she does indeed advocate scientism according to the kind of definition I am using, exactly as it seemed from the Manifesto. She doesn't seem interested in "B. Just reject "scientism", ..."
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