Weekend Insights – Weird Science and much more

Welcome back to Weekend Insights, your LCI “President’s Corner” of miscellaneous articles, events, books, vids, and whatever else I’m thinking about…

First off, don’t forget that LCI’s new book Faith Seeking Freedom: Libertarian Christian Answers to Tough Questions is now officially launched. Get it while it’s hot!

A few weeks ago I noted that Bryan Caplan’s Open Borders book is pretty great. Just this week he posted on Econlib that there is a mistake in the book regarding the net fiscal effects of low-skilled immigrants on an economy. Apparently, another economist pointed it out, so he did further research and determined that it was indeed an error, albeit not debilitating to the book’s core argument. It’s neat to see when someone recognizes an intellectual error and works to correct it. (We also had him on the Libertarian Christian Podcast previously!)

Intellectual honesty is a virtue, and so is striving to be a lifelong learner. “If you’re not learning you’re standing still. So what’s the best way to learn new subjects and identify gaps in our existing knowledge?” The great scientist Richard Feynman had a technique for doing so, and it’s worth noting.

Obviously, the USA is ensconced right now in a wild and crazy battle against COVID-19. There are tons of things going on behind the scenes that you won’t see without effort, and one of those oddities is the spike of ransomware attacks on hospitals. This is heinous but MIT Technology Review does good and interesting work in covering the story.

(You’ll have to pardon me, since I’m a scientist and engineer by day and I work in the infection prevention field…) In other weird science news, Infection Control today notes a study that physician’s phones are frequently contaminated by MRSA without realizing it. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is one of the “big bads” of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms, and this just adds to the growing evidence that the proliferation of mobile devices needs to be augmented with appropriate disinfection procedures. Yeah yeah, I’m a nerd.

Book I’m reading: I recently finished the sci-fi classic Dune by Frank Herbert for the first time. Absolutely stunning novel, I had no idea what I’d been missing for so long. There is a reason it is so widely and highly regarded in the genre.

I had a couple more questions come in from a reader that are worth sharing…

In your book, it sounds like you are suggesting that an intuition toward liberty is built into us by the creator, but that it has been broken down and needs to be revived. How many generations do you think it will take to reteach what is supposed to be innate?

This is a really interesting question, because on one level there definitely are “innate” things to relearn, but like any complex subject there are topics that still need to be worked out. We realize intuitively that the world works better when people cooperate together. But also innately, we have a kind of warring nature within ourselves. We take queues on desires from others, oftentimes, and this can cause conflicts (this is illustrated in mimetic theory and scapegoating), and the Way of Jesus enables the breaking of this cycle. The “leaven” of that Way permeates through culture with time. But, the more society distances itself from such a mindset, the more difficult it will get. So like you say, we need to re-teach all of this to ourselves, and to others. Rather than describe generations, perhaps it is more instructive to suggest that I think we’re decades out from reaching the goal, bare minimum. What we start now, though, resonates into the future, and I do believe we should be principally concerned with holding fast to what is true and right, doing the best we can to apply it, and leaving the end results to God.

How does the free society you envision work on a global level and, if it won’t, how can we exist as part of the greater global community?

We recognize that not all the world will adhere to these specific values. To be sure, we cannot force them to do so. But much like how evangelism is done by our example, these values are communicated by example as well. By interacting with other nations on the basis of peace, commerce, and honest friendship, we do our best to minimize conflicts while simultaneously “exporting” our values. Over time, the wisdom of individual liberty permeates through people, in part because of that innate desire for freedom. We must always remember that it is the governments of the world that create the biggest conflicts of the world, and not their citizens. This is why governments going to war always try to demonize the opposition (even think about how the US took efforts to make Germans and Japanese look a certain way during WW2) — the state knows that if a couple of people from warring countries were to sit down together and just interact they’d find there’s no real reason for them to be fighting. We do our part to break this cycle by striking down the rhetoric that demonizes others.

Final thing… so let’s compare and contrast something. Exhibit A: Iowa State University had a recent “incident” where their College Republicans group tweeted a hyperbolic statement that included the phrase “arm up.” Hyperbolic, yes. Trollish, yes. But it did not endorse violence. This resulted in a large group of students and faculty that wanted the group swatted down. The administration ended up refusing to do so, standing on the side of free speech.

So these were students, who have very little power at all, making a silly hyperbolic statement that did not even endorse violence…

Exhibit B: Actual journalists, with positions at real, national publications, tweeting “how to reprogram 75 million people” and the resulting discussion involves suggestions — from journalists — of following the example of Nuremburg trials, re-education camps, and even banning unapproved news organizations and talk radio. One non-journalist even suggested firing squads, but apparently that was too much for Twitter so the tweet was taken down.

Look, we can admit the latter can be a fringe element, but the overall reaction to this stuff is what is remarkable. On the one hand, people called for the censorship of weak students for a nothing-burger, and on the other actual journalists will not even get a slap on the hand for suggesting re-education camps as a possible means to “fix” 75 million people. Both should be allowed to talk without reprisal, that is certainly true. But again, look at the reaction. Really, people, come on.

Cheers, and have a great week!