The lopsided decision of historians should give everyone pause. Contrary to popular stereotypes, historians are generally a cautious bunch. We assess the past from widely divergent points of view and are deeply concerned about being viewed as fair and accurate by our colleagues. When we make historical judgments, we are acting not as voters or even pundits, but as scholars who must evaluate all the evidence, good, bad or indifferent. ” — Sean Wilentz (Rolling Stone)
But why Rolling Stone??
Frank Furedi’s essay takes us to task for our ‘loss of faith in humanity’ and our ‘neo-Malthusian doom and gloom’. Furedi opines that the new misanthropy threatens to make us scared of ourselves, and that we face a choice between resigning ourselves to a ‘culture of fatalism’ or rousing ourselves toward ‘taking control of our futures’. He takes heart in the idea that the human ability to recognize and label evil “shows that we are capable of rectifying acts of injustice.”
Furedi is one of the sp!ked [and isn’t the spelling ever-so-cutesy?] crew whose purpose in life seems to be waging a front-liine battle against any upwelling of the culture of fear and whose sole modus operandi the donning of rose-colored glasses. Ironically, he does not see that the misanthropic strain he decries is the very voice of that human ability to recognize wrongs, as the first step in rectification. Being scared not only of the potential to cock things up royally but — look around — the mess we have made in actuality is necessary, and I pity those who are so hellbent on avoiding that distress that they stick their heads in the sand as deeply as these folks do. Furedi pleads for faith in human potential and belief in the advantages of civilized modernity, and he sounds like nothing so much as an apologist for the status quo — a sheep in wolves’ clothing.
If there is one quality that marks out the scientific mind, it is an unquenchable curiosity. Even when it comes to things that are everyday and so familiar they seem beyond question, scientists see puzzles and mysteries.
Look at the letters in the words of this sentence, for example. Why are they shaped the way that they are? Why did we come up with As, Ms and Zs and the other characters of the alphabet? And is there any underlying similarity between the many kinds of alphabet used on the planet?
To find out, scientists have pooled the common features of 100 different writing systems, including true alphabets such as Cyrillic, Korean Hangul and our own; so-called abjads that include Arabic and others that only use characters for consonants; Sanskrit, Tamil and other ‘abugidas’, which use characters for consonants and accents for vowels; and Japanese and other syllabaries, which use symbols that approximate syllables, which make up words…
The shapes of letters are not dictated by the ease of writing them, economy of pen strokes and so on, but their underlying familiarity and the ease of recognising them. We use certain letters because our brains are particularly good at seeing them, even if our hands find it hard to write them down. In turn, we are good at seeing certain shapes because they reflect common facets of the natural world.” (Telegraph.UK )
A consideration of the miraculous complexity of the clotting cascade is an opportunity to reflect on ‘intelligent design’ as the logic of ignorance: Steve Jones, paraphrasing Darwin, says that Intelligent Design proponents look at an organic being “as a savage looks at a ship, as at something wholly beyond their comprehension”. It reminds me of something a philosopher patient of mine said to me today — “There is no excuse for ignorance, but even less for knowledge without action.”