Quotable (#186)

Ed Yong’s microbe book, I Contain Multitudes, is stunningly good. Among hundreds of quotable passages, this (p.84) seems of exceptionally general relevance:

We like our black-and-white narratives, with clear heroes and villains. In the last few years, I’ve seen the viewpoint that “all bacteria must be killed” slowly give ground to “bacteria are our friends and want to help us”, even though the latter is just as wrong as the former. We cannot simply assume that a particular microbe is “good” just because it lives inside us. Even scientists forget this. The very term symbiosis has been twisted so that its original neutral meaning — “living together” — has been infused with positive spin, and almost flaky connotations of cooperation and harmony. But evolution doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t necessarily favor cooperation, even if that’s in everyone’s interests. And it saddles even the most harmonious relationships with conflict.

Quotable (#185)

John Gray on atheism’s awkward specter:

There can be little doubt that Nietzsche is the most important figure in modern atheism, but you would never know it from reading the current crop of unbelievers, who rarely cite his arguments or even mention him. Today’s atheists cultivate a broad ignorance of the history of the ideas they fervently preach, and there are many reasons why they might prefer that the 19th-century German thinker be consigned to the memory hole. With few exceptions, contemporary atheists are earnest and militant liberals. Awkwardly, Nietzsche pointed out that liberal values derive from Jewish and Christian monotheism, and rejected these values for that very reason. There is no basis — whether in logic or history — for the prevailing notion that atheism and liberalism go together. Illustrating this fact, Nietzsche can only be an embarrassment for atheists today. Worse, they can’t help dimly suspecting they embody precisely the kind of pious freethinker that Nietzsche despised and mocked: loud in their mawkish reverence for humanity, and stridently censorious of any criticism of liberal hopes. …

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The Road to Trump

reconstructed by Timothy Shenk, very persuasively. There can be little doubt that it gets the story basically right.

This passage sounds more encouraging than it is, when pulled out of context:

“The conservative movement’s mission has become providing comfortable professional livelihoods to literally hundreds of people,” David Frum told me recently. Although this behemoth has proved effective at turning a profit, the intellectual returns on the investment have been paltry. “Conservatism was a lot more creative and effective when it had less money,” Frum said. […] This narrowing of intellectual ambitions has coincided with a crisis of authority. When asked to name the dominant theme of the right’s intellectual history since George W Bush left office, conservative journalist Michael Brendan Dougherty responded with one word: “disintegration”.

Disintegration would be good.