This is another lengthy-but interesting essay that I will just point to in lieu of commenting on it. At times, it seems to veer dangerously close to drafting Chekov as a representative of modern political conservatism (which may or may not be fair, for all I know), but not so much as to detract from my enjoyment in reading it.
It’s far too long to justifiably excerpt any particular bit, but this essay by Charles C. Mann is engrossing. I highly recommend making time to read it. (Also, I was unaware that he had written a sequel to 1491. Why does no one keep me informed about these things?)
Here are a few numbers that don’t add up. Just-released stats from the FBI show that about three-quarters of a million Americans were arrested on marijuana charges last year—most of them for simple possession, as StoptheDrugWar.org reports. Meanwhile, a brand-new Huffington Post poll finds that nearly 60 percent of Americans want the weed legalized. Okay, you might expect such news from the liberal cabal at HuffPo, but their survey comes on the heels of a Gallup poll that declared 50 percent—the highest total ever—supported legalization.
In her book The New Jim Crow, Alexander, a former ACLU staffer, argues that the 30-year-old War on Drugs has created a de facto “racial caste system” to replace the Jim Crow laws that fell in the 1960s. Today, thanks in large part to the drug war, more than 2 million people, disproportionate numbers of them black and Hispanic, are locked up in America’s prisons, giving us an incarceration rate of 750 per 100,000 people, outpacing even repressive regimes like Russia, China, and Iran. In major cities, Alexander says, four out of five black men have criminal records, which not only takes them out of the legitimate economy while they’re in jail, but keeps them out of work after they’re freed because of widespread, and quite legal, discrimination against ex-convicts.
…Readers familiar with the horrors of the Jim Crow era may find it hard to see today’s drug war, harsh as it may be, as destructive a system of social control as decades of sharecropping, systematic disenfranchisement, and lynch law – to say nothing of the centuries of slavery that came before it. In her effort to wake up her readers, Alexander may be guilty of exaggerating for effect. If so, the exaggeration is worth it. The War on Drugs, and the massive buildup of our prison populations, has barely come up in this year’s presidential campaign. Before we lecture the Chinese and Iranians on their treatment of their ethnic minorities and dissidents, we need to look more closely at the millions of our own people we are locking up for years, often for no more than possession or sale of a few grams of weed.
Your personality is revealed in the way you speak, according to new research. Introverts tend to use more concrete words and are more precise, in contrast to extraverts, whose words are more abstract and vague.
…The differences make sense in terms of what we know about social behaviour and the introvert-extravert personality dimension, with the introverted linguistic style being more cautious, and the extravert style being more casual and vague.
My first-grade teacher told my parents that she wished I’d participate in class more often, but that I refused to be drawn into guessing on unfamiliar questions. I either knew the answer or I didn’t. If I didn’t know it, I didn’t want to waste time illustrating that fact. Time’s a-wasting, you fuckers, tell me what I need to know and let’s get on with the efficient accumulation of facts!
Of course, in my maturity, I’ve realized there’s a place for vague, impressionistic thinking. We call that “poetry”.
Hobbes’s combination of pessimism about human nature with a sublime confidence that the human condition can be greatly improved if only power will listen to reason helps place him in a distinct phase of modern thought – that of the early European Enlightenment. Contrary to a popular stereotype, Enlightenment thinkers are by no means always optimists about the future. Modern-day partisans of enlightenment may like to think of history as a saga of continuing progress culminating in their own unrivalled wisdom, but Hobbes was fully aware that the moral and political gains of one generation are very often lost by the next. What he never doubted was the existence of a rational method that could deliver human beings from the worst kinds of conflict. By contracting to create a sovereign with authority to do whatever is needed to ensure peace, humankind could escape life in the state of nature – “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” – and enjoy the amenities of “commodious living”.
Because he had no interest in liberty or democracy as ends in themselves, Hobbes can be seen as the greatest exponent of enlightened despotism. Contrary to silly chatter about “liberal Enlightenment values”, the Enlightenment has always included a highly influential current of authoritarian thinking – a current that includes later thinkers such as Jeremy Bentham and Auguste Comte, along with political leaders such as Lenin and Ataturk. Hobbes belongs in this current but it is part of his greatness as a thinker that he can also be viewed as the founder of liberalism. His best 20th-century interpreters – the Marxist C B Macpherson, Leo Strauss (intellectual mentor of the American neocons) and the sceptical conservative Michael Oakeshott, acknowledged that Hobbes, more than any other thinker, was the progenitor of the most fundamental tenet of modern liberalism – the belief that there is no natural or divine right to rule. The idea of Hobbes as a liberal seems puzzling only as long as you cling to the historically parochial notion that liberal values are essentially to do with a human right to freedom. For Hobbes, government existed only to protect its subjects, but for that very reason rulers were not bound to respect any of the freedoms we now think of as integral to liberalism. A Hobbesian sovereign could legitimately curb freedoms of belief and expression as long as doing so was necessary to keep the peace.
Before I ever took a philosophy class, I knew that Calvin’s stuffed tiger companion was one of the wisest philosophers I had yet encountered, so I was always interested to learn about his inspirational namesake. I still prefer the feline version, but this is an interesting take on the human one.