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The Great Leap Backwards

Dec 26th, 2003 | By David Stanway

Shanghai in January 1993 was hardly the Shanghai it had become a decade later, but most people – including me, a first-time visitor – had an inkling of the great flourish that was to come. It was a freezing Chinese Spring Festival, and although the streets were largely empty and most of the shops shut, one sensed its coiled, irrepressible energy. The flurry of commercial development and the boom in the city’s real estate market would begin later, and the vast, space-age business district of Pudong was still in its infancy, but the city was on its way to becoming the cornerstone of the new “China Century”.

Wandering through the streets, dazed by the cold and looking for breakfast, we … Read the rest

If I Had A Hammer: Why Logical Positivism Better Accounts for the Need for Gender and Cultural Studies

Dec 4th, 2003 | By Steven Gimbel

Women’s studies, African-American studies, gay and lesbian studies programs, and the moving of non-western and non-“traditional” studies in general out of the anthropology and sociology departments and into the academy on their own terms is the great success story of contemporary higher education. This advance has come along with, and in large part happened because of, the rising influence outside of philosophy departments of thinkers like Michel Foucault, Bruno Latour, and Judith Butler who pull on insights derived from the writings of Nietzsche. Nietzschean perspectivalism lies at the heart of the standard justification for culture studies. While the desire for the intellectual egalitarianism that accompanies perspectivalism comes from a good place, perspectivalism has well-known problems at its core that stand … Read the rest

Authenticity or Depravity? Murder and Mayhem As Entertainment

Nov 24th, 2003 | By Barney F. McClelland

Those of us in the “flyover” region of the Midwest were treated to a horrific spectacle yesterday clearly illustrating how sick our “culture” (and I use this word in its broadest possible sense) has become. Dennis Greene, 31, was convicted by a jury of murdering his 28 year-old wife, Tara. Greene was sentenced to life in prison for nearly decapitating the junior high school math teacher and mother of their seven-year old son, Chi’An, who witnessed the murder.

If this is not enough, there is more to the story. After the murder, Greene fled to his hometown of Chicago hoping to evade authorities. There he shot a “rap video” where he boasted of “killin’ da bitch” and “cut her neck … Read the rest

How the Humanists (Not the Irish) Saved Western Civilization

Nov 15th, 2003 | By Christopher Orlet

It is a story worthy of a great Romantic pen, how a few Celtic monks, cloistered on remote, wind-blown islands with only their prayer beads and a few nervous sheep for company saved Western Civilization. It was nothing less than a miracle that as the darkness descended upon Europe, Greek and Latin manuscripts were being first introduced to the Emerald Isle where generations of monks would dedicate their lives to copying and preserving the ancient texts. Later, descendents of these selfsame clerics would carry their precious cargo to European monasteries where the Italian, the German and the Frenchman waited to be enlightened.

A pretty idea, as I say, but about as genuine as the jackalope. A truer picture would show … Read the rest

Postmodernism, Science and Religious Fundamentalism:

Oct 28th, 2003 | By Meera Nanda

Religious Fundamentalisms, Modernist and Postmodernist

Recently I was invited to a conference of scholars of science-studies at the beautiful, lake-side campus of Cornell University. The agenda of this conference was to examine the influence of science studies on the wider “polity and the world” outside confines of the Ivory Tower. The conferees considered the influence of their discipline on just about every social movement that dealt with such things as biotech and computers to music (or rather, sound, as in “sound studies”). Completely missing from the agenda, even in this post-9/11 world that we live in, was any reference to the family of reactionary social movements that is making full use of the core ideas of science studies. I refer … Read the rest

Paradigms U Like

Oct 11th, 2003 | By Ophelia Benson

The hostility to science goes back for millennia. We don’t like brute facts, we don’t like having to check our wishes and hopes against the reality of how the world is. We’ll submit to the necessity for survival purposes, we’ll learn what we need to know of leopards and rabbits, fire and ice, but beyond that we want the right to believe our fantasies. ‘May God us keep/From single vision, and Newton’s sleep!’ said Blake, and Wordsworth agreed: ‘Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;/Our meddling intellect/Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:–We murder to dissect.’

But there is a new kind of animus that has become conventional wisdom in many universities over the past three decades. It goes by the … Read the rest

Not a Very Bright Idea

Oct 3rd, 2003 | By Jeremy Stangroom

When Tony Blair first became leader of the Labour Party in 1994, the Sun
newspaper, a British tabloid, took to calling him ‘Bambi’, presumably in the
hope that the nickname would become established in the public consciousness.
It did not, of course, for it lacked any kind of resonance with what people
could believe about Blair. He wasn’t a child, his leadership was anything but
childlike, and he lacked the requisite number of legs to be a baby deer. Not
discouraged, the Sun was at it again in 2001, this time when Iain Duncan
Smith became leader of the Conservative Party. In what was probably a desperate
attempt to establish his man of the people credentials, it started to call … Read the rest

The Virtue of Innovation and the Technological Imperative

Sep 30th, 2003 | By Andrew Apel

The rise of the precautionary principle in public policy and international
relations has called into question the role technological innovation should
be allowed to play in society. [1] According to the precautionary principle, no
novel technology, regardless of its benefits, should be deployed if it poses
risks to human health or the environment. [2] Under some interpretations
of the principle, these risks need not even be testable hypotheses, but may
merely be posited. [3] In the latter case, the principle merely
says that technological innovation is too dangerous to be allowed.

Critics of technological advance have also invented a doctrine which is antithetical
to the precautionary principle, and dubbed it the ‘technological imperative.’
In … Read the rest

Are All Religions Identical?

Sep 23rd, 2003 | By Phil Mole

Are all religions identical? Many people seem to think so, especially if they’ve taken a world religion course in college or read a Joseph Campbell book. They will tell you that all religions teach us to value life, to refrain from harming others, and to renounce selfishness. Therefore, so the thinking goes, all religions are identical in both content and purpose. The corollary assumption is that there can never be legitimate conflicts between religious beliefs, therefore all disagreements between followers of different religions must be fundamentally illegitimate. These conflicts allegedly stem from simple misunderstandings or unwillingness to admit common ground.

Such a view is certainly comforting, since it suggests that religious factions need only to listen to each other to … Read the rest

In Defense of the Essay

Sep 19th, 2003 | By Christopher Orlet

It is an article of the most unshakable faith that the personal, familiar, Montaignian–call it what you will–essay is minor stuff, a second-rate employment undertaken by bankrupt novelists and other failures. In literary rankings its place lay well below the novella and scarcely above the book review. “Essays, reviews, imitations, caricatures are all minor stuff,” wrote the New York Times critic in a recent review of a Max Beerbohm biography. In this conviction he has more support than a sports bra. Indeed, the personal essay’s most esteemed and acclaimed practitioners have to a man voiced misgivings about their trade. E.B. White called the essay a second-rate form. Cynthia Ozick, certainly one of the best contemporary essayists, may not specifically refer … Read the rest

The Plant Protection Racket

Sep 11th, 2003 | By Thomas R. DeGregori

Inferiority as a Luxury Item

Before the Industrial Revolution, artists and artisans would strive to make a work as perfect as possible. They used the technologies of their time to make as fine a product as their skill and limited technology allowed. Given the long painstaking efforts involved in creation, such items were few in number and available to only a minuscule number of elites. They were the crowning achievement of their time and brought great prestige to those fortunate few who owned them. Renaissance painters used the mathematics of perspective to create their trompe l’oeil (a French term meaning “trick the eye.”) David Hockney’s recent claim that some of the Renaissance artists achieved realism by using a camera obscura … Read the rest

Is Astrology Relevant to Consciousness and Psi?

Sep 1st, 2003 | By Geoffrey Dean and Ivan W. Kelly


The case for astrology

An expanded abstract of the article in Journal of Consciousness Studies Volume 10 (6-7), June-July 2003, pages 175-198 with four tables and 85 references. This particular issue of JCS is devoted to parapsychology and related matters, and is also available in book form. Details, abstracts, and the full article in pdf format are available at www.imprint.co.uk/books/psi.html. See also the user-friendly www.astrology-and-science.com/ for critical articles on astrology by the same authors and others.


Why astrology?

Astrology has one sure thing in common with parapsychology – a highly visible outpouring of market-driven nonsense that threatens to bury the work of serious researchers. Just as parapsychology to the ordinary person means ghost busting and psychic phonelines, so … Read the rest

There is Nothing Wrong With Humanism

Aug 18th, 2003 | By Kenan Malik

Is there a conflict between science and humanism? Jeremy Stangroom thinks so. Science, he argues, is necessarily reductive, and reductive science undermines humanist ideas about phenomena such as consciousness or free will. Humanists, therefore, are forced to reject perfectly good scientific theories that don’t fit with their particular worldview. A good example, he suggests, is my own critique of what I call ‘mechanistic’ science. I am, apparently, a closet Lysenkoist (though I had always thought that such guilt-by-association argument itself smacks of Stalinist rhetoric).

To understand what is wrong with Stangroom’s argument, let us accept for the moment his claim that science will eventually show ‘the stuff of the inner life of human beings – consciousness, agency, will, sensation, etc’ … Read the rest

Slums from the Qing Dynasty are Still Slums

Jul 31st, 2003 | By David Stanway

In Yichang, in central China, the site of the infamous and globally reviled Three Gorges Project, something strange is happening. After five days travelling along the Yangtze River, your correspondent is beginning to think that in itself, the Three Gorges might not have been such a bad thing after all.

The project – designed primarily to control flooding, improve navigation, and generate power – consists of the world’s largest dam in the middle reaches of the world’s third longest river, and has become something of a cause célèbre, uprooting over a million residents on the banks of the Yangtze and causing untold environmental damage.

Just before our party reached the mountain that is supposed to resemble a prone Chairman Mao … Read the rest

There is Something Wrong With Humanism

Jul 24th, 2003 | By Jeremy Stangroom

It’s not easy to write critically about humanism from a secular perspective.
The problem has to do with the fluid nature of the concept "humanism".
It has no single, precise meaning and there is little agreement about its constituent
elements. As a result, to criticise humanism is to run the risk of being accused
of a "straw-man" fallacy; that is, the fallacy of misrepresenting
a position or argument in order to make it easier to criticise. It is easy to
see how this might happen. Humanism isn’t any one particular thing. If
a good argument can be made against any one of the things, amongst others,
that it might be, then likely you’ll find that everyone disavows that
particular … Read the rest

The Anti-Monoculture Mania

Jul 12th, 2003 | By Thomas R. DeGregori

The critics of modern life never cease to amaze us. Everyday there is a new
crisis of modernity that threatens our continued existence. Nowhere is this
more evident than in agriculture. We’re told that the use of pesticides is generating
soaring cancer rates, yet there is nothing in the statistics which confirms
this alarmist rhetoric. It is claimed that the Green Revolution led to a decline
in vegetable production. Never mind that in most areas where there were significant
advances in the production of modern grain varieties, there were also the largest
increases in non-grain consumption; and that the world’s population is eating
a more diverse diet than ever before. And also, never mind that without the
yield increases in … Read the rest

How to Avoid Pop Culture

Jul 7th, 2003 | By Christopher Orlet

In these dark times holding out against the constant barrage of pop culture
has become more challenging than surviving a succession of carpet bombings.
Pop music seeps and swells from the ceilings and nooks of shops, offices, and
coffeehouses. Television sets are now permanent fixtures in airports, post offices,
saloons, and doctor’s offices – in fact, one dangled precariously above me as
I suffered a recent root canal, tuned to Oprah no less, which was far
more painful than the surgery itself. I commenced to pray the set would dislodge
from the ceiling and put me out of my misery, but Yahweh spared me – evidently
to continue His good work.

So much of popular culture is so indescribably bereft … Read the rest

The Arts and Cultural Diversity

Jun 15th, 2003 | By Jatinder Verma

Immigrant, ethnic minority, asylum-seeker – slivers of insinuation separate
the meanings of each term in contemporary Britain. Ethnic minority, black and
Asian, cultural diversity – clouds of obfuscation have distinguished contemporary
arts in Britain over the past 30 years.

That I draw an analogy between socio-political and artistic terminology is
not incidental: socio-political concerns have determined arts-funding policy
for the past three decades. Ever since, in fact, the publication of Naseem Khan’s
seminal report for the Arts Council in 1976, ‘The Arts Britain Ignores’. This
year sees the launch of yet another arts initiative, designed to heap attention
on ‘culturally diverse’ arts, aptly titled ‘decibel’ (noise). Why do we need
a showcase of ethnic arts? And what noise is decibelRead the rest

Who Mourns the Gepids?

Jun 1st, 2003 | By Robert Davis

The answer to the question in the title is "No one," but it will
take a while to get to the reasons. I thought about the Gepids as I drove through
the Navajo Reservation in Arizona and New Mexico through incomparable scenery,
a lot of history, and often uncomfortable knowledge about the present, much
of it filtered through the novels of fellow Oklahomans, Tony Hillerman and Ron
Querry. Their books and other sources touch on problems of the contemporary
Navajo, but they are more noted for their celebration of the coherence of Navajo
culture and the sense of "hozho," of oneness with the beauty of the
world. This theme is attractive to many Anglos who buy into a nostalgia for… Read the rest

Debunking Edward Said

May 30th, 2003 | By Ibn Warraq

This is an edited version of the article, Debunking Edward Said – Edward
Said and Saidists: or Third World Intellectual Terrorism, which
is here
. For the purposes of ease of reading, references and bibliographical
information have been removed from this edited version of the article, but the
longer version is fully referenced. Interested readers should follow the link!

Consider the following observations on the state of affairs in the contemporary
Arab world :

The history of the modern Arab world – with all its political failures,
its human rights abuses, its stunning military incompetences, its decreasing
production, the fact that alone of all modern peoples, we have receded in democratic
and technological and scientific development – is disfigured by

Read the rest