DANIEL DENNETT, April, 2014
It is nice to have grizzly bears and wolves living in the wild. They are no longer a menace; we can peacefully coexist, with a little wisdom. The same policy can be discerned in our political tolerance, in religious freedom. You are free to preserve or create any religious creed you wish, so long as it does not become a public menace. We’re all on the Earth together, and we have to learn some accommodation…. Those who will not accommodate, who will not temper, who insist on keeping only the purest and wildest strain of their heritage alive, we will be obliged, reluctantly, to cage or disarm, and we will do our best to disable the memes they fight for. Slavery is beyond the pale. Child abuse is beyond the pale. Discrimination is beyond the pale. The pronouncing of death sentences on those who blaspheme against a religion (complete with bounties or rewards for those who carry them out) is beyond the pale. It is not civilized, and it is owed no more respect in the name of religious freedom than any other incitement to cold-blooded murder.
Many, many Muslims agree, and we must not only listen to them, but do what we can to protect and support them, for they are bravely trying, from the inside, to reshape the tradition they cherish into something better, something ethically defensible. That is—or, rather, ought to be—the message of multiculturalism, not the patronizing and subtly racist hypertolerance that “respects” vicious and ignorant doctrines when they are propounded by officials of non-European states and religions. One might start by spreading the word about For Rushdie a collection of essays (Braziller, 1994) by Arab and Muslim writers, many critical of Rushdie, but all denouncing the unspeakably immoral “fatwa” death sentence proclaimed by the Ayatollah. Rushdie (1994) has drawn our attention to the 162 Iranian intellectuals who, with great courage, have signed a declaration in support of freedom of expression. Let us all distribute the danger by joining hands with them.”
Excerpt from the last chapter of Daniel C. Dennett’s book, “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.”
PAUL JOHNSON May, 2016
My old tutor A. J. P. Taylor used to say that the only lesson of history is that there are no lessons of history. If he believed that literally he would not, I think, have spent a lifetime writing and teaching history, for the object of studying history is not merely to discover what happened but to learn something about the nature of human societies, obviously with a view toward safeguarding or improving our own. To that extent I am with Mrs. Tuchman. Taylor’s real point, however, was the intrinsic difficulty of discovering true lessonsand the obvious risks of applying false ones. Thus, Anthony Eden came to grief over Suez in 1956 because he applied a lesson—concerning the dangers of appeasement—wrenched out of its true historical and geographical context. Mankind is on a voyage from an irrecoverable past into an unknown future. All historical situations are unique and unrepeatable; they are usually complex too, and the more closely they are observed, the less easy does it appear to draw thumping great conclusions from them which can be applied elsewhere.
SCOTT LEHIGH, June 2016
‘BE NOT angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be,” Thomas à Kempis counseled in “The Imitation of Christ,” his 15th-century book of religious contemplation.
Perhaps GOP leaders can find some solace in his words as they go about the gargantuan effort of trying to mold Donald Trump, their party’s new intellectual and philosophical leader, into the kind of candidate who might actually be able to win the nation’s confidence….
Trump is not a civil or responsible or decent or self-disciplined politician…. he doesn’t have the habits of mind necessary to assess complex situations in an intelligent way…. his many campaign controversies can no longer be seen as mistakes, missteps, or gaffes. They reflect the real Donald Trump….[the Republicans] are about to nominate a political wrecking ball, a wrecking ball that, to nick a line from Boston-area chanteuse Carla Ryder, is spinning to crazy.
And careening back toward the party itself.