Quick Roundup 293

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Honesty in Astrology

You don't see this every day, so take a peek while you can!

We regret to announce that due to unforeseen circumstances beyond our control, the publication of The Astrological Magazine will cease with the December 2007 issue. [bold added]
I guess they finally got it right with that one sentence! (HT: Hannes Hacker, who got this from Paul Hsieh)

Oliver Sacks' Latest

My favorite popular science author is Oliver Sacks, and Adrian Hester tells me that he has recently come out with the book, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. My hopper's already overflowing, but anything by Sacks is guaranteed to be interesting, and just plain fun to read.

For regular readers of this blog who are unfamiliar with Sacks, I offered the following introduction some time ago:
[The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is a] book of clinical tales from the frontiers of neurology was my introduction to neuroscience and to one of my favorite authors. A friend recommended it to me because Sacks often would explain the neurological deficits of his patients with philosophical analogies. Sacks does a masterful job in these explorations of showing what an amazing thing the human mind really is, while not letting us forget that his patients are human beings.

Sacks is a writer's writer. If you love good writing, you'll really enjoy his prose. And if a book about neurology sounds too dry or depressing for you, have no fear. His personal journals and books on botany are excellent reads. His Island of the Colour-Blind is the best of these and, is, I think, where the breadth of his intellect shines best.
I can't wait to read Musicophilia, but I'll have to anyway! Drat!

Miss Manners on Protests

I somehow doubt that the kind of people her questioner describes will take heed of Judith Martin's very good advice, but those of us who have more to offer to the public debate than to threaten it with faith and force would do well to consider what she has to say:
Dear Miss Manners: At the risk of sounding political, and that is the furthest thing I wish to do -- is protest mutually exclusive from etiquette? This dilemma has come up many times during the past few years, and it has caused some heated discussions with my friends.

My position, I could be very wrong, is that I don't mind protesting. Sometimes, I truly do not like the manner in which people choose to protest. For instance, with large graphic pictures and swearing; however, living in a free society, I've learned to accept this.

What I do have trouble with, and this is where my friends and I disagree, is how some protesters engage with the public. For example, giving children graphic pamphlets, telling children they have bad or abusive parents, calling individuals names, commenting on people's apparel, barring people from entering a facility and grabbing at people. I've seen all of these.

My friends say there is no room for etiquette in protest. I think when dealing with people in public one should at least try not to be rude to them. Who is correct?

Gentle Reader: Of course protest, like every other human activity, requires etiquette. Have your friends never heard of civil disobedience?

The saddest thing about using rude tactics is that they damage the causes for which they are used. Rather than the targets thinking that they are being shown a way in which the world would be improved, they focus on the immediate way in which they are being mistreated. These people may claim to want to make the world better, their victims conclude, but are actively making it worse.

Miss Manners would think it obvious that in order to persuade people about an issue of justice they had not considered, you must open their minds to your arguments. People who are humiliated shut down and turn defensive.

But when they see orderly picket lines or sit-ins, or hear speeches or read leaflets and articles by people who seem to be well-intentioned and reasonable, they just might stop to think. [bold aside from salutations added]
I have discussed the need for politeness in intellectual discourse in the past and mostly agree with this, although it is worth bearing in mind that ultimately, the merits of a cause can only be discovered by rational evaluation.

Having said that, I would, in addition, consider what Ayn Rand has said about those who resort to physical violence as a matter of course:
The only power of a mob, as against an individual, is greater muscular strength -- i.e., plain, brute physical force. The attempt to solve social problems by means of physical force is what a civilized society is established to prevent. The advocates of mass civil disobedience admit that their purpose is intimidation. A society that tolerates intimidation as a means of settling disputes -- the physical intimidation of some men or groups by others -- loses its moral right to exist as a social system, and its collapse does not take long to follow. [Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, p. 256, bold added]
Miss Manners is correct that physically violent protesters only damage their own cause, but this is true only to the extent that their cause has rational merit and this fact will deter them from being violent consistently only in the context of a fully free society. To the extent that a society tolerates physical violence, it runs the risk of its worst elements doing away with rational debate as a means of settling disputes.

Not only are the tactics discussed by Judith Martin rude, but trespassing, assault, and battery by protesters should be prevented or punished by the government, as such acts violate individual rights. Freedom of speech does not imply that others must provide a forum for ideas they disagree with or that those who disagree with a protester lack rights altogether.

-- CAV


: Credited GeekPress for astrology link.


Nicholas Provenzo said...

I recently watched a documentary on PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk and her organization's obnoxious activism tactics. One of the tactics portrayed was the literal ambush of grade school children on their way to school. PETA's volunteers would thrust their various leaflets in these children faces--and do so without the consent of parents. I'd be hard pressed to think of behavior that was more rude.

Later in the documentary, Newkirk described her various antics that included trespass and destruction of property and how these antics eventual earned her acknowledgement (if not outright concessions) from her various targets. Talk about sanction of the victim, yet this sanction seems to be a critical component of Newkirk's success.

Gus Van Horn said...

I wonder how much of the legal permission/learned moral tolerance of such activism is directly related to the kind of confusion public property (i.e., widespread public education) brings to matters pertaining to freedom of speech, -- like that seen recently in Fort Worth.

Nicholas Provenzo said...

I think the two absolutely integrate. Supporting the public schools demands the systematic violation of individual rights. Since the public school curriculum is produced by the same institutions that engage in this massive violation, one can hardly expect these institutions to turn around and provide students with a proper grounding in the principle of individual rights, or introduce them in any systematic way to a philosophy as radical as Objectivism.

Gus Van Horn said...

And so we return to the blindness of amoral economists and libertarians: Controls do breed controls, but not just in the economic realm.

Gus Van Horn said...

Hmmm. That last, minus a huge chunk of context, is a non sequitur. I'd thought of how the government will frequently "remedy" violations of individual rights with further such violations, which is true, and realized that in addition, such violations of our rights cumulatively get people used to being pushed around more and more.

So: Bad laws breed more bad laws AND more people who are used to being told what to do or otherwise not having their rights protected by the law.

Nicholas Provenzo said...

Or, bad institutions are set to profit both those who run them and those who think that they somehow benefit from it.

In the case of the public schools, hey, education is a right and the public schools give it for free . . .

Gus Van Horn said...

Too bad the only people involved who aren't paying up are managing to get even less than they paid for....