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  1. This is probably either originally Greek or maybe by Schiller or so but there is a saying that if the gods want to destroy someone they first strike them with blindness. This is what happened to the SPD already in the early/mid 2000s.
  2. He was very good in his field but he never was something like "the greatest physicist alive". He never got the Nobel Prize (because the stuff he did is mostly too far removed from experiment and observation and the Nobel comittee usually wants some experimental evidence for theoretical speculations before it hands out prizes, Peter Higgs was lucky to have lived long enough) but I'd say that he ranks with typical Laureates in importance (i.e., not Higgs who had had one good idea but apparently was fairly mediocre in most of his other research). Still this obviously does not put him in the Einstein league as is claimed now by the typical popular article but into a league that contains a few hundreds of scientists of the last half century most of which are virtually unknown outside their field. Even others with some popular books like Weinberg, Penrose or Gell-Mann are not even close to being household names (and they are all probably at least as important in their achievements as Hawking). Obviously his life and also his focus on a field like astrophysics/cosmology with its odd combination of being hugely popular among the public but inconsequential in daily life (unlike solid state physics or chemistry) and a popular book or two helped a lot.
  3. Sure, one could look also at recovery after the crisis despite (because of?) totalitarianism. Ask Russians why they prefer life under Putin to chaos uner Jeltsin. My fairly trivial point was that 20/20 is easy in hindsight and several other epochs could have pointed out to rising standards and great achievements before their hard fall. The other problem is that the points Deneen makes are obviously far harder to quantify than some aspects of material well-being. How does one measure spiritual poverty and the shallowness of a consumerist society? It becomes more complicated because obviously societies can be quite consumerist but not to the extent that this dominates everything else. Sure, as someone pointed out, the amount of psychopharmaca, school shootings etc. can be quantified and so can the stagnating or deteriorating standard of living for the bottom 50% in the richest nations etc. Again the naiveté and shallowness of Pinker does not lie in the fact that the things he looks at are easier to measure. It's that he thinks they are all important and does not seem to acknowledge the other aspects or wrongly thinks that the measureable stuff must trump these other aspects or that any "rational" person must think so. This is pseudo-rational foolishness. Certainly, science has to be guided by feasible methodology. But all to often it acts like the drunk searching for his keys under the lamppost because that's where the light is. One cannot measure things that one cannot measure but to deny that they exist and can be more important than the (easily) measurable ones is narrowminded and not at all rational.
  4. Yeah, we have become so peaceful. This was another book of Pinker's. The stats there have been disputed as well. I don't know if they are correct. I actually don't care. The problem with Pinker and similar shallow thinkers is that they can be completely correct in their facts and still miss almost everything that is actually important. (These seem to be Sullivan's main points as well.) It is irrelevant for the civilizational impact and for how catastrophically WW 1 was perceived by virtually all people who lived through the time how the death toll ratio with the population density figured in or whatever compared to the conquest of Gaul or of Babylon or of some Chinese civil war. The relevant comparison are wars, events and the "state of civilization" in the decades prior to that World war because for people experiencing stuff this is the proper measure, not the An Lushan death toll. I don't know if the ancient Gauls thought of themselves as the pinnacle of civilization, if so, pace Asterix and friends, they were wrong. But the victorians and their contemporaries were not so wrong in their self-assessment. They had the greatest civilization in most respects the planet had ever seen, many thought that wars other than smallish colonial struggles would be a thing of the past. But they were horribly wrong. The fictional BNW society has abolished hunger and want and let's suppose it is also peaceful and low crime (don't remember how much Huxley says about this but because of the conditioning crime is bound to be almost nonexistent). Let's grant all this. Brave New World would be paradise for Pinker because he lacks the means to express what would be wrong with it because all the "vital stats" would be so great.
  5. Sullivan is right to point out the surprisingly naive "whiggishness" of Pinker. A simple thought experiment: If a late victorian scholar would have done a similar project to Pinker's in 1900 he very probably would have been as justified as Pinker in his optimism (maybe even more so) by looking at similar statistics. Less than 20 years later this world had collapsed. The most scientifically and culturally advanced culture of human history had butchered millions in the worst war in history (whereas many scholars had claimed a few years earlier that the world had become too complex and too advanced for extended wars to be possible). Another 25 years later this was topped by an even worse war, together with atrocities commited by the totalitarian regimes, at least some of which were as certain as Pinker (or the imagined Sir Reginald, Esq., DPhil Oxon. with his history of human progress until 1900) to be "on the right side of history". Now Pinker has 100 years more of and better data but the general point stands. The victorian would have been catastrophically wrong with his extrapolation, so we should be more wary not exactly as whiggish as they were. This is the obvious reason why in the middle third of the 20th century scholars like Adorno spoke of the dialectics of enlightenment. Apparently some people have through live to certain epochs to get to certain positions, it is not enough to look at stats. (Of course Pinker would claim that his disengaged view is more objective.) Now we all can be happy that we, including Pinker, are too young to have suffered from the wars and atrocities of the early 20th century. But I am old (almost 20 years younger than Pinker) enough to have lived under the threat of nuclear annihilation (including the danger from civil use of nuclear power after Chernobyl) in my teenage years. I have witnessed that something hardly anyone had believed would ever happen in our lifetimes, did in fact happen, namely the fall of the Wall and the end of the Eastern Bloc. But while I had no opinion on either Fukuyama's or Huntington's ideas in the wake of these changes I certainly did not expect that we would be in another version of a cold war with Russia less than 30 years later. I don't want to get into the environmental issues, the stagnation in many fields of technology, the growing economic polarization in the Western countries (these people don't care about hundreds of millions of Chinese having risen from poverty in the last decades if they themselves are worse off than their parents or younger selves) etc. More generally, there is no exponential growth in a finite world. Every exponential turns at best into a sigmoid curve, or into a decaying one or into some oscillation cycle. All this is of course largely independent of the "spiritual" or philosophical side pointed out by Sullivan and Deneen. They are also right. Many of the Ancients lived very comfortable lives (because of slaves), they did not mainly practice stoicism or similar philosophies because they had to cope with horrible fates. The most famous modern parable for the poverty and decadence of a consumerist world is of course Huxley's Brave New World. A year or so ago I realized in a tangential discussion on this very forum that many people don't understand anymore that BNW is a *dystopia* and why. Again, I think the point is not mainly if Pinker is wrong or right but that he seems unable to even seriously consider the aspects Sullivan and Deneen point out. (Sullivan: "But Pinker seems immune to the idea of paradox, irony, or unintended consequences.") He does not see them or does not see how important they are.
  6. that sulphurous odeur of boiled eggs.
  7. I think most people are too lazy too look into rather different historical societies that could serve as inspirations and so in many respects their fantasy worlds are often far too close to our world. Many are basically like discworld... E.g., in the pseudo-medieval societies there should be regions where money (or at leat actual coins) would be very rare and barter would dominate. As for languages, I agree that this often handled lazily and I think there are several factors at play. First, there is Tolkien who cannot be reached in that department, so people for very good reasons do not even try. Second, many writers are Anglophone and monolingual so they have been living as native speakers of today's "Common" for all of their life. "Common" is not that implausible though; there are many historical and actual examples of linguae francae and I am pretty sure there were/are illiterate people who never "sat down learning languages" but speak one local (tribal) language and one "common", e.g. Swahili. I have not looked into this but I would not be surprised if there were many people in Africa who could barely read/write but speak one local language, one regional common language (like Swahili) and one colonial (like English) reasonably well. And of course for all traders, travellers and often upper/upper middle class people learning languages (at least "common" but often several) has been historically the norm. The monolingual elite of today's anglophone world has not been the norm for most of history (and it obviously still is not in most of today's world because everyone else has to learn Common= English as a second or third language).
  8. I still do not get what is wrong/boring/stupid with that. Are the currencies made up in an unplausible way or are they too advanced/modern for the rest of the civilization described in the book or what exactly is it you dislike about it?
  9. Exactly. I fully agree. By this criterion the left has not been in power in most western countries for a very long time. No matter what the name of the ruling party/coalition was, the rich have been getting richer since 30 years or more and at least in the last 15-20 years this process has often sped up and was accompanied by a deterioration of living standards, pensions etc. not only for the "poor" (say the lowest 20%) but for the lower 60% or so in many countries. That is, the "Left" has not even managed to hold up the social democratic compromise of the 1950-80s: leave the rich quite rich, but at least improve the lot of the poor and the "normal" employed lower middle/working class. But Altherion is not wrong that there is a considerable portion of the modern "pseudo-left" that is preaching water and solidarity with the world's poor from cushy academic or government positions and does not seem to care for the "ordinary" people in their own countries. (In fact they ignore or often dtetest them because of their prole taste and values.) While the latter witness their situation becoming every more precarious and the could not care less about millions of chinese having become less poor in the last few decades. They only see these people preaching water and drinking wine and this helps the rightwing populists (who are not any better and also prefer wine but at least claim to care for "Joe sixpack") immensely. In fact, we now have France, Holland, Italy, Germany, Austria and maybe more as examples of the mainstream parties self-destructing (or at least considerably weakened) because no matter what their names and traditions they have for 20 years or more practised neoliberal internationalism without giving a damn about the lower 70% or so of their populace (and also enforcing progressivist social values not shared by the dumb proles). The tragic thing is that this has only strengthened the (extreme) right who could drew many of the Deplorables to them and the more traditional leftists have not been able to profit from the weakness of the centrist/pseudoleft (maybe Melénchon and Corbyn are counterexamples to this trend). I also think that further above you did miss a very important distinction among the "Right". The "new populist right", i.e. Front National, AfD, the rightwing parties in Hungary, Poland etc. (I am too lazy to look up spellings) and probably also the so-called alt-right (although I don't know if this is not only a bunch of posers on the internet) is very different, at least in their claims, from the mainstream Republicans in the US or the mainstream Tories or the German CSU. They are often anti-free-trade, nationalist, at least on paper for some restriction of international capitalism (sometimes with a good measure of antisemitism thrown in) etc. That is, they are not simply the party of big business.
  10. Nuclear harmageddon was already looming in the late 50s and the older Boomers faced the possibilty to be sent to Viet Nam, didn't they? So I am not sure that this is good explanation. Another possibility is that the Boomers grew up in the tight, well-ordered but suffocatingly square "picket fences" world of the 50s and early 60s and then could strive for freedom as young adults, enjoy sex and popular music while still being able to get very good jobs whereas the Gen Xers had "freedom" but probably the highest percentage of "broken families" as background and also different economic prospects. Nuclear harmageddon is a fairly abstract possibility.
  11. Nobody is justifying human rights violations. Although I think that "human rights violations" have clearly outstayed their welcome as plausible casus belli after the disasters in the near/middle east and Libya and the utter callousness of the West towards the war in Yemen as well as generally sucking up to Saudi Arabia and China. And it can hardly be denied that the western/German mainstream media hardly pass an opportunity to demonize Putin and Assad instead of trying to get a more precise picture of the situation and discuss plausible policy options of coming to some kind of arrangement with e.g. Assad. Because otherwise the war will simply continue, I fear. To turn back to German politics. Not demonizing Russia is important for two reasons, first the refugee problem will only get somewhat better if the near/middle east become more stable. Second, and probably more importantly, Germany cannot completely turn her back to Russia. I lived through the cold war for all my childhood and teenage years and I don't want another one. A bit more extravagantly, I do think that there are certain similarities and ties between Germany and Russia (as the great "continental powers" of the 19th century that were allies against Napoleon but then unfortunately clashed in the world wars) and that peaceful and good business relations to Russia are important for all kinds of reasons, very practically: gas, and also more general historical and geopolitical ones.
  12. A recent study about the voting patterns of Germans of Turkish and Russian descent: FWIW I don't think the Linke likes "Putin's Russia". They mainly have not jumped unto the new cold war bandwagon. Actually, almost all experts (most prominently Krone-Schmalz, but I recently read another interview with a professor whose name I forgot) on Russia agree that a more level-headed (i.e. less demonization) policy is advisable. Unfortunately, almost all media disagree as can be seen in the news about Syria. We have known for years now that the "rebels" are involved with ISIS and furthermore that they cannot win despite getting weapons from certain sources (and if they won it would probably lead to massacres of many non-islamist groups in Syria, certainly of non-muslims), so there is no option to end this war against Assad (and Putin) but the media keep painting them as some kind of Hitler/Saddam monsters. It is so clear that this is all power play to support "our" great allies, the democratic republic of Saudi Arabia holding/extending their influence against the satanic forces of Assad, Iran and Putin. Which is really disgusting.
  13. not much, but neither does Hitler have much similarities with the US Republican party. (Although the latter merits the description "right" more clearly than the Democrats merit the title of a "left" party). I don't know if this corollary to Godwin's law has a name but a reductio ad Stalinum is as silly as a reductio ad Hitlerum.
  14. Wordworth's "We murder to dissect" precedes Tolkien by more than a century, I guess. (And there are similar poems from German romantics) As for vile cross-breeding or hybrid experiments, there is Frankenstein, The Island of Dr Moreau, as well as some Lovecraft (I think? There are several stories with the shocking revelation that Granny was a fish monster or a "white ape"). So JRRT did not need the horrid human experiments of the 1930s as inspirations.
  15. regardless of the SPD I think a conservative revolt in the CDU is very likely, I completely agree with that. Unfortunately such a "conservative revolt" could also make a black-blue coalition in the future more likely.