One of my favorite books from 2012 was Steven Pinker’s “The Better Angels of our Nature: Why violence has declined.” His book has two parallel lines of discussion: 1) data showing the unappreciated and massive drop in violence over centuries, and 2) explanations as to why this drop happened. Let’s tie Pinker’s book to the gun control debate and see where it leads.
At the end of the cold war there were two popular but competing speculations on where history was headed. One came from Francis Fukuyama, from a 1989 article and then 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man. Fukuyama argued that with the end of the cold war there was no powerful ideology left to compete with liberal democracy, and as such nation states were all headed down that path. In reaction, another view came from Samuel P. Huntington from a 1992 article and then 1996 book The Clash of Civilizations. Huntington argued that while ideological conflict was indeed ending, nation states will move on to (or technically revert back to) cultural and religious conflict. At first Fukuyama seemed to win out, but later after 9/11 Huntington has become more popular. I am solidly in the Fukuyama camp, but wanted to do a slight mash up on the two ideas.
With the Presidential election cycle hitting it’s partisan peak, let’s talk about Republican science denialism since it’s a subtext of the election.
The theme for the first day of the Republican convention was “We Built It.” What struck me was not that the Republicans twisted an Obama quote to make a tag line. Rather it was how some people found the focus on that line simply incomprehensible. And yet that incomprehension has a story to tell. In particular Jonathan Haidt’s excellent new book The Righteous Mind provides a great frame for understanding how partisan incomprehension works.
In a recent interview Paul Ryan gave a much faster personal record for his marathon time than he actually ran. Nicholas Thompson has a good overview, plus James Fallows as well. Ryan claimed to have finished “Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.” Via Thompson he actually finished with a 4:01 time, which put him in 1990th place out of 3227. A 2:55 time would have been 113 out of 3227. As the interviewer responded “Holy smokes.” To which Ryan replied “I was fast when I was younger, yeah.”
Ayn Rand is in the news this month since Congressman and VP hopeful Paul Ryan cited her as a major influence. In reaction, Paul Krugman wrote that Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged is “a perennial favorite among adolescent boys”. And in regard to the G.O.P.:“What does it say about the party when its intellectual leader evidently gets his ideas largely from deeply unrealistic fantasy novels?” The Economist is a bit more calm, saying “Paul Ryan is an elected official whose views therefore fall squarely within the ambit of conventional political wisdom. Despite his professed admiration for Ayn Rand, and the ardent wishes of his admirers and detractors alike, Mr Ryan is far from a laissez faire radical.”