Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘Austin Dacey

The Edge Annual Question 2009

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Written by gerrycanavan

January 1, 2009 at 1:01 pm

Sunday Links

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As my never-ending semester draws no closer to its promised close, I present you with Sunday links.

* My good friend Ryan Vu has a long piece in this week’s Independent about alternative mapmakers and “what Google Earth doesn’t show you.”

* Desperate Hillary to Barack: “Next vote wins.”

* Fay’s brother Austin is profiled in the New York Times regarding his book, The Secular Conscience, which I saw him read from the other day.

* Gertrude Stein’s “Reflections on the Atom Bomb” from 1946.

They asked me what I thought of the atomic bomb. I said I had not been able to take any interest in it.

I like to read detective and mystery stories. I never get enough of them but whenever one of them is or was about death rays and atomic bombs I never could read them. What is the use, if they are really as destructive as all that there is nothing left and if there is nothing there nobody to be interested and nothing to be interested about. If they are not as destructive as all that then they are just a little more or less destructive than other things and that means that in spite of all destruction there are always lots left on this earth to be interested or to be willing and the thing that destroys is just one of the things that concerns the people inventing it or the people starting it off, but really nobody else can do anything about it so you have to just live along like always, so you see the atomic [bomb] is not at all interesting, not any more interesting than any other machine, and machines are only interesting in being invented or in what they do, so why be interested. I never could take any interest in the atomic bomb, I just couldn’t any more than in everybody’s secret weapon. That it has to be secret makes it dull and meaningless. Sure it will destroy a lot and kill a lot, but it’s the living that are interesting not the way of killing them, because if there were not a lot left living how could there be any interest in destruction. Alright, that is the way I feel about it. They think they are interested about the atomic bomb but they really are not not any more than I am. Really not. They may be a little scared, I am not so scared, there is so much to be scared of so what is the use of bothering to be scared, and if you are not scared the atomic bomb is not interesting. Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense. They listen so much that they forget to be natural. This is a nice story.

* Questions you never thought to ask: How is Barack Obama like a tech startup?

* And in science news, a group in New Mexico claims they’re allergic to Wi-Fi, and is suing to have it banned, while huge cracks are developing in the Arctic ice.

Written by gerrycanavan

May 25, 2008 at 3:03 pm

Austin Dacey & The Secular Conscience

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I heard my good friend Fay’s brother Austin Dacey speak tonight about his new book, The Secular Conscience, at the Regulator. (You can see an excerpt at his site.) I wanted to put in a plug for the book because I think it tackles some really central questions about the stability and desirability of the Rawlsian truce that governs the liberal public sphere. Here’s Austin:

Where did secular liberalism go wrong?

It has been undone by its own ideas. The first idea is that matters of conscience—religion, ethics, and values—are private matters. The privatizing of conscience started with two important principles: religion should be separated from the state and people should not be forced to believe one way or the other. But it went further to say that belief has no place in the public sphere. Conscience belongs in homes and houses of worship, not in the marketplace. By making conscience private, secular liberals had hoped to prevent believers from introducing sectarian beliefs into politics. But of course they couldn’t, since freedom of belief means believers are free to speak their minds in public.

Instead, secularism imposed a gag order on itself. Because “private” is equated with “personal” and “subjective,” questions of conscience were placed out of bounds of serious critical evaluation. Subjective phenomena—like the thrill of skydiving or the taste for spicy food—are just those that are determined by the attitudes and thoughts of the subject experiencing them. How can I evaluate your experiences? It seems I must simply accept them for what they are. If conscience is beyond criticism, however, liberals cannot subject religion to due public scrutiny when it encroaches on society. The result: in public discourse it is acceptable to say that addicts should give up heroin for Jesus, but not to ask obvious policy questions such as whether faith-based social programs are actually proven more effective than secular alternatives (it turns out there’s no good empirical evidence that they are). Worse still, since secularists want belief to be left at home and not “imposed” on others, they are unable to unabashedly defend their own positive moral vision in politics. No wonder they are accused of having lost their moral moorings.

Call this liberal confusion the Privacy Fallacy. The Privacy Fallacy consists in assuming that because conscience is private in the sense of non-governmental it is private in the sense of personal preference. A related confusion comes from the idea of freedom of conscience. This confusion begins in the core liberal principle that conscience must be left free from coercion. The mistake lies in thinking that because conscience is free from coercion, it must be free from criticism, reason, truth, or independent, objective standards of right and wrong. The indispensable principle of freedom of belief has mutated into an unthinking assumption that matters of belief are immune to critical public inquiry and shared evaluative norms. This is the Liberty Fallacy.

I haven’t read it yet, but it looks worth reading. Check it out.

Written by gerrycanavan

May 21, 2008 at 4:43 am

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