Popular web comic mentions “Ancient Texts”

Classical scholars take note!  Jessica Hagy of Indexed may be aware of your existence.

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Is all social life schooling?

I’ve always read a lot of magazines.  Before we started this blog in June 2007, if I came up with an idea while reading one of them I would sometimes make a note of it in a word processing document.  More often I would just forget about it.  Now I post “Periodicals Notes” in which I make those ideas available here.

Among these old documents I recently found  some speculation triggered by this paragraph on page 23 of The Nation for 19 June 2006: “In his 1964 book Ma’alim fi al-Tariq (Milestones), [Sayyid] Qutb wrote that ‘if woman is freed from her basic responsibility of bringing up children’ and, whether on her own or by pressure from society, seeks to work in jobs such as ‘a hostess or a stewardess in a hotel or ship or air company,’ she will be ‘using her ability for material productivity rather than the training of human beings.’  This, he claimed, would make the entire civilization ‘backward.’”  What intrigued me about this précis was the idea that “the training of human beings” is the activity that separates healthy societies from backward ones.

Augustine of Hippo, in the City of God and the dialogue de Magistro, takes a similar view.  The City of God is a sort of cultural history of the Roman Empire, tracing how various religious ideas have influenced events from the legendary period of the seven kings of Rome up to Augustine’s own day.  Rather than simply dismissing the ideas he disagrees with, Augustine treats them as early stages in the process that would prepare the Mediterranean world for Christian doctrine.  This process of learning involved the whole of Greco-Roman society.  In the dialogue de Magistro, he asks what purposes speech serves, and concludes that every one of those purposes is a form, of teaching.  If all speech is teaching, then all social life must be educational.

Around the same time I read the issue of The Nation with that essay about Sayyid Qutb, I read the  Spring 2006 issue of Telos. That issue includes an article by Aryeh Botwinick called “A Monotheistic Ethics: Ben Zoma’s Mishnah” which finds such a view in the Babylonian Talmud, in Ben Zoma’s comments on the passage “Who is wise?  He who learns from everyone.”  I rather doubt that Sayyid Qutb read the Babylonian Talmud, or Augustine for that matter.  I suspect that Qutb, Augustine, and Ben Zoma came independently to the view that society is above all a place for teaching and learning.

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Herman Vandecauter, “Meusette d’Argenteau”

Here’s one of our favorite ukulelists, Herman Vandecauter:

Fundamentalisms

I’ve often wondered about the word “fundamentalism.” The word seems to refer less to a specific set of beliefs than to an attitude of militant certitude about one’s beliefs.  So an “Islamic fundamentalist” and a “Christian fundamentalists” can look at each other, each serene in the conviction that the other will be damned for obscene folly.

How widely can the word be applied?  We hear sometimes about “Hindu fundamentalists”; while no one can deny that there are aggressively militant Hindus, some do deny that the word “fundamentalism” can be stretched to cover a body of religious practices that are not built around a holy book or the story of a prophet.  On the other hand, there are those who argue that militant Hindu nationalists have been trying to refashion Indian religious traditions in the image of the monotheistic movements commonly known as fundamentalist.

If fundamentalism isn’t particular to any one religion or even to any one category of religions, is it even necessary to be religious to be a fundamentalist?  Or, to ask a related question, if fundamentalism isn’t about particular religious doctrines but about the believer’s attitude towards doctrines, then wouldn’t we expect fundamentalists who change only in that they have lost faith in their religious doctrines to approach disbelief in the same way they had formerly approached belief?  That is, would we not expect fundamentalist theists who ceased to believe in their God or gods to become equally fundamentalist atheists unless they had undergone some change in their approach to their beliefs?

Yesterday, Arts & Letters Daily linked to a several-week-old piece on Slate that reminded me of these questions.  The most interesting bits of that piece were quotes from Australian science blogger John Wilkins.  Wilkins has denied that “fundamentalist atheism” is a meaningful phrase, but his description of the mindset that sets the “New Atheists” apart from the agnosticism he approves does sound very similar to fundamentalism:

For now my objections to the “New” Atheists (who are a vocal subset of the Old Atheists, and who I call Affirmative Atheists) are the same as my objections to organized religion:

1. Too much of the rhetoric and sociality is tribal: Us and Them.

2. [The New Atheism] presumes to know what it cannot. More on this below.

3. As a consequence of 1 and 2, it tries to co-opt Agnosticism as a form of “weak” Atheism. I think people have the right to self-identify as they choose, and I am neither an atheist nor a faith-booster, both charges having been made by atheists (sometimes the same atheists).

4. Knowability: We are all atheist about some things: Christians are Vishnu-atheists, I am a Thor-atheist, and so on. But it is a long step from making existence claims about one thing (fairies, Thor) to a general denial of the existence of all possible deities. I do not think the god of, say John Paul II exists. But I cannot speak to the God of Leibniz. No evidence decides that.

5. But does that mean no *possible* evidence could decide it [existence or nonexistence of God]? That’s a much harder argument to make. Huxley thought it was in principle Unknowable, but that’s a side effect of too much German Romanticism in his tea. I can conceive of logically possible states of affairs in which a God is knowable, and I can conceive of cases in which it is certain that no God exists.

Really basic web defense

Yes, your browser is under attack and dark forces want to know which sites you visit and what you click.

One thing going on is user tracking via cookies – bits of identifying stuff left on your computer as you browse. There’s no keeping up with all the various schemes used by major sites like Google, Yahoo, and others, but suffice to say they and other third party providers to web sites are doing their best to follow your web activity and then “customize” your view of the web. Some of this works when you’re logged in to sites like Facebook, My Yahoo, etc., but some also works just by the basic actions of loading pages and images. Almost all of it is hidden from casual users. It may not bother you, and you may be content to allow marketers to guide you to products and services they hope you’ll like. On the other hand…

To resist this to some degree, in rough order of increasing effort and increasing inconvenience:

DO NOT CLICK ON WHAT YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND

The first, most vital rule. Delete all email or classify it as “spam” unless you are positive of its provenance. What’s the worst that could happen? You might delete a bill notification or a personal note. Usually those things have a way of working themselves out – clicking on a faux “Free $1,000,000 Watch If you Click the Hamster’s Cute Nose” inducement is guaranteed to lead only to tears.

DO NOT GO TO UNKNOWN SITES

Harsh, a restatement of the most vital rule, and not much fun, but isn’t a quick Google of a site’s domain name or vetting with a friend better than leaping into a boiling cauldron of corruption?

IE, NOT

  • Don’t use Internet Explorer. Just don’t. Sorry, if you like it. It’s worse on security and privacy. Yes, it is
  • If you insist, make sure Explorer is not saving your passwords and set the security level high – otherwise you’re insane

FIREFOX

  • Close your browser and restart it often, especially after visiting any encrypted or secure sites (sites like financial institutions, even shopping sites – anything with “https://” instead of “http://” in the URL.) This will flush (depending on Privacy Mode and cookies settings) cookies away and eliminate JavaScript “Klingons” that have accumulated, limpet-like, on your computer
  • On the Firefox browser, set to “Private Browsing”
  • Set your Preferences to “Allow cookies” but disable “Allow 3rd party cookies”
  • Turn off cookies altogether, or force cookie-by-cookie acceptance

You’ll experience failures and ugly pages on many sites if you do this. You’ll have to authorize MANY cookies if you choose to do so manually. You can always reenable to access a bank site or other cookie-requiring site, and you can also choose to accept cookies only from particular domains – but the proliferation of 3rd-party services used by sites means broken pages can still result.

ALL BROWSERS

  • Turn off Java support (only need this if a particular site does, be very wary)
  • Turn off JavaScript support (Painful – many pretty and useful sites use JavaScript extensively. Yet it has a lot of unpleasant new attack vectors. Notice it’s far down this list, as this one will annoy you and may require turning on for MOST places you like to visit)

SECURITY IS PROPORTIONAL TO INCONVENIENCE: THE HARD PART

  • Research additional software tools/add-ons that actually do block ads, monitor annoying cookies, and so on, which will work with YOUR particular computer and software
  • Learn how to use said software and actually use it
  • It would be great if I could offer specific suggestions that required no effort, but at the moment I can’t
  • If you don’t have time to learn a security tool and use it correctly, it will only drive you crazy and cause you more worry than the Bad Guys

Good luck!