Once a Bright always a Bright? I've been puzzling over this piece on the shifting battleground of the "culture war" by Peter Boghossian since I read it. I admire his work and I broadly agree with the essay, but something about it feels nevertheless ever so slightly off-kilter. https://americanmind.org/essays/welcome-to-culture-war-2-0/ Boghossian is a Philosophy professor at Portland State and one of the architects of the famous Sokal Squared / Grievance Studies stunt. It will surprise no one, I'm sure, that I'm basically on his team against the activism-focused obscurantism and the associated authoritarian groupthink that seems to have invaded and conquered academic departments throughout the country; and I think the grievance studies hoax stuff is hilarious and apt. From what I understand, he and his co-conspirator James Lindsay came out of, or at least were deeply involved in, the "New Atheist Movement," the "Brights" and so forth, which has since its hey-day shrunk to an irrelevance that could almost be described as quaint in current year. That "Brights" stuff has always struck me as silly in the extreme, but I'm sure they had fun times at their conventions and in their YouTube response videos and such and I'd never begrudge them that. And to the extent that they were fighting for tolerance and Enlightenment values (which I believe they often were, or meant to be): three cheers to them. Anyway, my interest in this is pretty basic. I believe quite strongly that dissent from prevailing orthodoxies should be freely expressed and I'm concerned that tolerance in general is being undermined by the activism of ideological true believers in the academy. I'm alarmed that much of it seems to be infecting the greater society and at such a great pace. As that Adlai Stevenson quote that I put in my song goes, a free society is one in which it's safe to be unpopular. That's not what we've got now. And that's the only axe I have to grind here, personally speaking. I want absolute neutrality on the part of authorities of any stripe, political, academic, social (and what have you) as to the permissibility of expression of ideas and opinions, a default tolerance thereto, and free speech for everything (legal) and for everyone. This because I don't trust any conceivable authority to be in charge of making decisions on who gets to say what, as well as just purely for its own sake. So I'm a Boghossian ally, insofar as he wants this as well (which he certainly seems to.) I also agree with his contention that the ground on which such things are debated has shifted, and I think he's right in identifying some of the currents that have contributed to the unfortunate change. However, he vastly over-simplifies the nature of the "culture war" he addresses. I could (and may well) write a much longer essay on all the stuff left out here, but for now I'll just observe that his understanding of the dynamics of the "culture war(s)" seems conditioned to a surprising degree by his former and continuing atheist "identity." That is, he is still speaking as a "Bright" and still sees these issues largely in "Bright" terms. In effect, we go straight from Inherit the Wind to 2019, and the structural epitome of the argument is still basically the same: Creationists vs. Atheists, darkness vs.... brightness. He is right, no question, to note the presence of strange bedfellows in the boudoir of Enlightenment liberalism ca. 2019 as opposed to 1925, and as opposed to whatever year it was that people started calling themselves "Brights" (but before they stopped doing that.) But as far as I can see very, very few, if any, of the culture war conflicts we have now concern the age of the earth, or the existence of God. As I said before, the "New Atheism" is rather quaint now. There are bigger fish to fry. And in the current context there is nothing whatsoever "bizarre," or even particularly noteworthy, about the fact that his campaign contra Intersectionality and other quasi-Marxist currents in the "woke" world should appeal to people who go to church sometimes. The same liberal constitution that guarantees freedom of speech also guarantees freedom of religion and, believe me, religious people tend to know about that and take it seriously. As for the "brights," the atheist-theist conflict in its early 2000s marketing mold seems to live on in their heads, but hardly anywhere else. I don't think anyone cares who's an atheist or not. I certainly don't. But the threat to liberal values from the currents he discusses are, as he says, rather grave, so as to the "resistance": I'm on board. #politics #culturewar #religion #atheism #minds
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