Review | Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy by Jonah Goldberg

Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American DemocracySuicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy by Jonah Goldberg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“A Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.”
― John Adams, Letters of John Adams, Addressed to His Wife

This book is a great conversation starter and conversations are what are sorely needed at this point in our country’s history. Casting aside the “it can’t happen here” head-in-the-sand position the author shows that yes, Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics can and are happening here and, more importantly gives a lucid and powerful explanation why this is so and what we need to do to counter them.

This is first and foremost a secular argument; the author states plainly in the beginning of the book that you will not find God in these pages. This is befitting for a number of reasons. First, it puts the ideas of casting people in the “good” and “evil” camps, which is the surest way to end a conversation and start an argument, on the shelf. Secondly, a secular nation such as ours deserves a secular argument when defending the principles it is based on. These principles are the principles that came out of the enlightenment and are a scant few hundred years old. In contrast, our species is tens of thousands of years old and the societal systems we have evolved under are what we call Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics. They “feel” right to us. In contrast, the Enlightenment values of inalienable rights, democracy and the rule of law are foreign to our intuitions and, as such, take work. Work to understand them, work to implement them and work to keep them as the principles of our society. The arguments put forth in defense of this conjecture are lucid and powerful. One may not agree with everything but you will have your work cut out for you rebutting them. Sophistry and jingoism won’t do.

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Review |The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom by Michael Shermer

The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and FreedomThe Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom by Michael Shermer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an interesting read/listen. Shermer presents a number of arguments to show and explain the apparent correlation between the advance of science and the advance of our moral sensibilities. Having considered Shermer’s arguments I am still not fully convinced that it is the rise of science and reason that is informing and driving the moral insights of society and is the prime mover of ‘bending the moral arc’ as Shermer calls it. We have had science and scientific progress in any number of societies over the course of history; the Chinese and the Arab world are two that come to mind yet there was no corresponding rise in either the standard of living or moral sensibilities which mimic Western society over the past 100 years. While I would agree that science is a necessary condition for moral progress to occur I don’t think that Shermer makes the case that it is a sufficient condition.

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Review | LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media

LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social MediaLikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media by P.W. Singer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

LikeWars is a well written, well researched and penetrating analysis on how powerful social media has become in influencing society, politics and our perceptions of what is real and what is not. More importantly, it attempts to chart a trajectory of how social media will evolve in the future and powerful role artificial intelligence (AI), specifically neural networks, will play in determining that trajectory. The solutions presented by the authors to the issues we are facing and will face are as insightful as their observations. I would hope that every educator and policy maker here in the United States would read this book and be motivated to take action.

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Review |Race and reality : what everyone should know about our biological diversity

“We pass through this world but once. Few tragedies can be more extensive than the stunting of life, few injustices deeper than the denial of an opportunity to strive or even to hope, by a limit imposed from without, but falsely identified as lying within.”
— Stephen Jay Gould

In this book Guy Harrison takes over where Ashley Montagu left off in Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race. Where Harrison has the edge is the science of DNA sequencing has confirmed that there is no biological basis for the idea of race. Homo sapiens is not made up of different “races”; we are one unified species. This isn’t to say that there are cultural differences between various groups but these are as arbitrary as hairstyles and skirt lengths. Again, there is no biological basis for them. Harrison also makes a point of taking anthropologists and biologists to task for not being more vocal about the lack of any empirical evidence for race. He recounts his astonishment of not hearing this until he was in his late teens even though this fact was well known long before that. He makes a strong argument why this fact should be inculcated throughout the entire educational system starting at the earliest grades. This would do much to offset the racial canards that children are exposed to and prevent them from gaining much traction. Concerning the canards and myths about race he systematically takes them apart, chapter by chapter. This book will make you uncomfortable as any good book should but it will give you the empirical evidence and arguments you need to counter the bigotry and racism that runs through society all of which are based on the lie of ‘race’.

“For the trouble with lying and deceiving is that their efficiency depends entirely upon a clear notion of the truth that the liar and deceiver wishes to hide. In this sense, truth, even if it does not prevail in public, possesses an ineradicable primacy over all falsehoods.” Hannah Arendt

Review : So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

So You Want to Talk About RaceSo You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If one is interested in bringing about justice and equality for all then this is a book that you want to read. This is an intense read and you will find out more about yourself than you may care to but the effort and self-searching is the sort of work that needs to be done by all of us who claim justice for all is what we want. Ms. Oluo is quite adept at smashing the trite slogans and talking points that are always heard in discussions about race using facts and research. Implicit in the sophistry that you hear in discussions of race is the subtle or not so subtle denying of the life experiences of millions of men, women and children. This denying of peoples’ experiences is the engine of the anger that we see so often and one feels empathy for people who experience this each and every day once one the message of this book sinks in. It is a good writer that can produce empathy in the reader and Ms. Oluo is exceptional at it. More importantly, the empathy she engenders will move you to take action on both yourself and the social systems we live with. There is a lot of work to be done and thankfully Ms. Oluo gives us in this book the tools and guidance on how to get it done.

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Review: The Unintelligent Designer: Refuting the Intelligent Design Hoax

I’ve read a number of books that dealt with Intelligent Design (ID)/Creationist arguments which outline the various straw arguments that Creationists and ID proponents use and present the overwhelming body of scientific evidence which refutes each and every one one without exception. Rosa Rubicondior’s book goes one step further and goes after the presuppositions that Creationists and ID proponents assume to be the case when crafting their sophistry and systematically shreds them. Ideas such as ‘complexity is indicative of design’, ‘the world in which we find ourselves has been designed for us’, ‘DNA couldn’t possibly have evolved via a natural process’, and ‘mutations can only destroy information, not increase it’ are addressed and refuted. The dissection of these false ideas are presented in a very deliberate and systematic way which prepares the reader to engage in a debate with proponents of Creationism/ID. The author is quite adept at unpacking things in a manner that will make the concepts take residence in the reader’s mind and be available for use whenever and where ever the situation presents itself. Copious footnotes and bibliography give the reader ample resources to pursue specific areas of interest.

Review:The Death of Truth by Michiko Kakutani

The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of TrumpThe Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump by Michiko Kakutani

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“In a republican nation, whose citizens are to be led by reason and persuasion and not by force, the art of reasoning becomes of first importance”
― Thomas Jefferson

“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”
― Thomas Jefferson

I’m sure every reader of this has asked themselves, “How do these people believe the lies coming out of our political leaders that are demonstrably false?” There has been a subtle shift in the common epistemology that has been deliberately engineered for the benefit of a few. No longer do people claim, “I believe it because it is true and here is how I know that.” Today, the mantra is, “I believe it so therefore it is true.” It matters not whether the claim is the earth is flat and 6,000 years old, or that politicians you don’t like are surely running a child sex ring out of the basement of a building which has no basement, it is true because they believe it to be true. Congruence to reality has ceased to have any intellectual weight in these peoples’ thinking process. How did we get to this point? This book attempts to answer that question and, in this reader’s opinion, answers it well. Well written and well researched, it traces back the various threads that have come together to give us the intellectual climate we find a large percentage of our fellow Americans living in. The two pronged attack on reason and the free press is, as it turns out, by design and this book unpacks the “how” and “why” behind it.

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