The Enlightenment Fallacy
June 2011/First Week

¶ Despite its odd and rather misleading title — the actual subject of George Soros’s epistle in the current issue of The New York Review of Books is the arguable failure of the United States as a truly open society — “My Philanthropy” is a compelling piece. One passage in particularly ought to be memorized by every reader:

[Karl] Popper’s hidden assumption that freedom of speech and thought will produce a better understanding of reality is valid only for the study of natural phenomena. Extending it to human affairs is part of what I have called the “Enlightenment fallacy.”

Except that there is an even more pressing bit of wisdom in the final paragraph:

 The fact that your opponent is wrong does not make you right.

¶ David Eagleman’s Incognito is going to garner a lot of attention, not because it’s another pretty book full of interesting stuff about the way our brains work but because it argues that many moral problems are neurochemical in origin, and that the idea of equal justice before the law may be unhumane. (Brainiac) ¶ We think that Laura Miller takes William Deresiewicz a tad too literally — perhaps more literally than his book actually is — when she insists (rightly) that reading good literature does not, by itself, make for better people. There must be some sort of readiness or predisposition. We don’t think that Deresiewicz was touting Austen as some sort of patent remedy that ails us, but it’s true that the passion of A Jane Austen Education might lead a reader, even a smart one like Miller, into unintended conclusions. (Salon; via 3 Quarks Daily)

¶ The sensible and successful Grace Bonney critiques the Times story about online shelter magazines, and while she’s at it she presents the state of play between print and online journalism. Bonney is one of the few writers and editors whom we regard as a Digital Grownup. Jason Kottke is another; but Bonney produces more content of the same high quality. (Design Sponge)

¶ This week’s Ingenuous Audiobook Review goes to David Fishkind, who has a summer job as a farmhand, shoveling you-know-what. To lighten the monotony, he listens to Richard Poe’s reading of Blood Meridian, that beach book by Cormac McCarthy. “Actually, I should point out that I didn’t follow most of the novel.” Lucky David! We;re particularly charmed by his doing almost everything to guarantee a failing grade but holding our interest all the same. What we remember best about Blood Meridian is how well Edward Jones retold it as an episode in The Known World. (HTMLGiant) ¶ Dan Hill is moving to Finland, and writes engagingly about making the change after four years in Australia. (City of Sound)

Have a Look: ¶ Disturbing Household Touches, @ Oddee. ¶ Scout’s Excellent Memorial Day Adventure: visiting the wreck of a Navy jet that crashed in the Jersey woods in 1962 (the pilots lived; amazingly, the Navy didn’t clean up the mess). (Scouting New York) ¶ Mondobloggo is among the guests at a mayoral event at City Hall Park, with sculptures by Sol Lewitt.

Noted: ¶ 29 things about H L Mencken — a list that will probably not be forgotten. (Letters of Note) ¶ Elderly Japanese engineers return to work — volunteering at Fukushima. They’re likely to die of other causes before radiation-induced cancers can kill them. (BBC News; via The Morning News) ¶ David Hawkes writes that we enjoy stories about revenge because it is an equalizer. (TLS) ¶ The Global War on Drugs Has Failed, @ Marginal Revolution.