Posts Tagged intellectualism

Cooperation, Competition, and Social Preservation

Busy MarketIn a continuation of my commentary on David Brooks’ analysis of modern conservatism, I offer a few more thoughts at the Acton Institute’s PowerBlog. Channeling Richard Epstein’s views on the ways in which market cooperation and competition provide a fundamental basis for social order and preservation, I re-emphasize that a heavy emphasis on economic freedom is crucial for a renewed traditionalist conservatism. It’s less of a “tension” than Brooks thinks:

I agree [with Brooks] that conservatism needs a renewed intellectual foundation brought about by a return to these emphases [i.e. custom, social harmony, and moral preservation], yet I disagree that a lopsided devotion to “economic freedom” is what’s stalling us. If we hope to restore traditionalist conservatism, we’d do well to recognize that this means restoring economic conservatism along with it. Brooks is upset that dogmatic pro-market folks have seized the Republican Party, yet this is the same Republican Party that nominated the architect of Romneycare and can’t seem to get serious about the deficit.

Conservatism is faltering all around, and the reasons for each sect’s demise are more or less interrelated. As I’ve written elsewhere, we need to restore a holistic conservative imagination that ties its social and economic strains together by grounding them both in Russell Kirk’s “enduring moral order.”

For David Brooks, restoration is all about “balance,” but for the true conservative, it needs to be about integration.

But Eptsein says all this much, much better, pointing specifically to the role that markets play in channeling voluntary action through competition and cooperation. The real threat to social preservation, for Epstein, lies elsewhere:

The sad truth here is that the government can suppress freedom and competition in economic markets, and can also wreak great destruction to the voluntary associations that operate in other areas. One recent vivid example of government overreaching is the determined effort of the Obama administration to insist that Roman Catholic institutions should provide insurance coverage for contraception.

The greatest threat to the intermediate institutions that social conservatives rightly extol is not markets. It is Read the rest of this entry »

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Four Theses on Conservatism and Cultural Restoration

conservatismI’ve been writing more and more about how we might repair and restore a faltering conservative imagination. Last week, my good friend Matt Anderson posted a compelling series on this very topic, offering four distinct theses aimed specifically at social conservatives (1, 2, 3, 4). His reactions come, partially, in response (or relation) to this year’s Values Voter Summit, where I had the pleasure of hearing Matt talk on a subject quite similar alongside Chris Marlink, Eric Teetsel, Andrew Walker, and Owen Strachan.

Given that I view economic issues as being more or less interconnected with the “social” ones, Anderson’s offering is still deeply relevant for conservatives of all stripes and emphases, particularly those who believe, more broadly, that ground-up spiritual and cultural restoration should be our primary aim.

I encourage you to read each thesis in its entirety. Some key excerpts and quick responses are provided below.

Thesis #1: To Sow or to Reap

My first thesis is that social conservatives are entering a time for sowing new cultural seeds rather than reaping their cultural fruits. As folks have recently pointed out, you can’t fight a culture war if you haven’t got a culture. And by and large, social conservatives haven’t got much in that department to pass along to the children. What they do have has been cobbled together by imitating mainstream America and borrowing from Nashville. The net effect is that social conservatives are trying, desperately, to reap legal fruit despite neglecting the difficult work of sowing and nurturing cultural seeds.

…if there is such a thing as cultural flourishing and decline, then we need to carefully discriminate where we are in those seasons and allocate our time and resources accordingly. To do otherwise would be rather imprudent, no? That means redirecting attention, efforts, and (yes) funding away from the particularly urgent political concerns toward seemingly frivolous long term cultural efforts. By way of hypothesis, I suspect it is easy for Christians to raise money for either political causes at home or missions and social-justice causes overseas. But a library, conservatory, or an art studio—institutions that will form the backbone of any permanent culture?

This is a central theme here at Remnant Culture. Culture runs upstream from politics, and cultural formation is a difficult, tedious process of truth-wielding and truth-telling— one that is particularly difficult and tedious when politics is so persistently playing the imposter with “quick-and-fast” pseudo-solutions. Nevertheless, and here redundancy is ever-justified, culture runs upstream from politics. Let us not forget it, lest we fail to beget it (just call me the “rhyme czar”).

Thesis #2: End the Hostilities Against Elites

Consider this bit by Rick Santorum from this year’s Values Voter Summit, which both stunned and saddened me…

…First, the rampant populism fuels a sense of grievance against elites. It’s class warfare, only the classes are divided along prestige lines rather than economic ones… [C]lass resentment—even if its against the “creatives” or the media or academics—will necessarily limit conservatism’s appeal and so unnecessarily throttle its cultural impact.

Second, this sort of statement emboldens conservatives in the wrong places. It’s one thing to highlight conservatism’s populist character and to emphasize the church and family as the wellspring of cultural renewal…But to cut away elites altogether creates the misguided confidence that as long as we get the numbers on our side, things are going well.

Third, it ironically points toward a lack of confidence in our ability to argue persuasively for our positions. If our cause is just and our understanding of human nature is true, then if we motor along doing our thing elites will eventually come around.

Yes, yes, and yes. If we’re going to impact the culture, we can’t write off and demonize elite institutions, nay, elite people, who have some of the most significant cultural influence. Further, as Anderson goes on to mention, posing our predicament as such will likely give those conservatives who do choose to pursue such arenas an attitude of fear or “infiltration.” This will not help us in reaching healthy, long-view cultural development, and will likely result in ideas and art that are forced and combative rather than profound and beautiful (do you need examples?).

Thesis #3: Recover Intellectual Creativity

Having neglected our traditionalist conservative heritage (or having never received it to begin with), social conservatives have also tended to “repeat formulas” rather than reload the “intellectual ammunition.” While there are occasional bright spots—First Things, Public Discourse, Ross Douthat, Ramesh Ponnuru—they don’t get much air time at places like the Values Voter Summit. By and large, the mainstream of social conservatism tends to be relatively intellectually stagnant and formulaic. Which isn’t, if you catch my drift, a sign of its health.

Some of that stems from, I think, the culture war mentality that has pervaded the mainstream of the movement. One of the hidden yet potentially devastating costs of a culture war mentality is that it locks people into a framework and keeps them pursuing the particular questions that emerge from within it. If the point of our efforts is winning, then questioning our own presuppositions is out of bounds. That may be fine for a while, and it may raise more money and ensure that folks are on the team, but eventually intellectual stagnation will set in. It has to: the only way to avoid it is to question our fundamental commitments even while we are holding on to them.

Anderson begins by referencing David Brooks’ recent piece on the conservative mind, drawing (correctly) on Brooks’ critique of conservative “formulas” and his promotion of a more hearty, intellectual vision. Again, Anderson is primarily interested in critiquing the social conservative movement as it relates to traditional conservatism, but as I recently argued in connection to the same Brooks piece, economic conservatives have a bridge to build here as well (though its certainly different than the one Brooks attempts at). For conservatives, recovering intellectual creativity will mean restoring a robust, holistic conservative imagination that ties its social and the economic strains together by grounding them in Kirk’s “enduring moral order.” We should be winning on intellectual creativity, depth, and romanticism, hands down.

Thesis 4: Recover Our Confidence

Here, the “culture war” mentality really does a number on our Read the rest of this entry »

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Year in Review: Top 10 Posts of 2011

Below are our most-read posts of 2011. Thank you all for your readership and support over the past year. I am truly blessed to have such a dedicated and engaging audience.

Happy New Year!

10. Tougher Questions for Dogmatic Secularists

Alas, I doubt we will ever hear such questions, because it is the Christian beliefs that do not deserve merit or respect in the public square. It is the Christian beliefs that arouse skepticism for their opposition to the secularist’s religious devotion to “serious science.” It is the Christian beliefs that are actually “beliefs.” The rest is simply the facts.

Thus, in the coming election cycle, I expect we shall once again be resigned to hearing President Obama defend his secularist views on Christian turf. Once again, we will have to hear how his “personal” Christian beliefs on homosexuality and abortion don’t matter, because they are obviously subservient to a higher power.

9. Tithes Untapped: The Potential Economic Power of the Church

What if we as a society were to rely on non-compulsory generosity and “cheerful giving”? What if the church actually lived up to its Biblical calling by at least giving tithes on a consistent basis (there is certainly more work to be done)? …The main question: Why doesn’t the church just do what the Bible says at a minimum?

…The outsourcing of charitable responsibility is nothing new, but it is unfortunate that the promotion of such an approach has become such a proud and advertised staple of the ecumenical movement.

8. Anti-Capitalism Christians: Confusion or Hypocrisy?

Of the 46% of Christians who believe capitalism is “at odds” or “inconsistent” with Christian values, how many are themselves actively engaged in the capitalist system?

…If we are really going to take such beliefs seriously, these folks have relatively few options at their disposal. Just as the anti-communism Christian should probably avoid the role of communist dictator or violent proletariat rebel, the anti-capitalism Christian should probably avoid the role of capitalist. Sound unrealistic? You’re on to something.

7. What Can Christians Learn from Ayn Rand?

[F]or me and countless others, [Ayn] Rand challenges us — even inspires us — to critique and solidify our own views on the role of the individual, the other, and, above all, God…[A]dmiring certain features of Rand does not automatically transform one into a blind, anti-altruism zombie. It does not, as Whittaker Chambers famously put it, lead to the gas chamber, even if Rand herself may have been packing her bags for precisely that.

The author of Hebrews wrote that “solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” In discussing Rand, let’s stop pretending that Christians are a bunch of babies. Maybe then we can start separating the poison from the peas.

6. Intellectualism and Evangelicalism: Mental Adultery vs. the Rational Gospel

To disconnect faith from reason, Piper argues, is to diminish one’s love for God. To ignore thinking altogether, as many cushier, more seeker-friendly elements of evangelicalism have aimed to do, is just as treacherous as subverting it, which the [Rob] Bells and the [Don] Millers of the world seem more subtly set on accomplishing…

Yet to disconnect reason from faith is to designate and commit that reason elsewhere, leading to a lack of love altogether. But this particular error is not just reserved for atheists. Indeed, the lazy, passive attitude of the aforementioned lukewarm love often indirectly leads to the committing of one’s mind to the things of this world by default. Chances are, if we are ignoring orthodoxy for orthopraxy, our praxy will end up getting pretty laxy.

5. Collective Bullying: The Social Injustice of Public-Sector Unions

Members of public-sector unions may think that parading a hollow right to specialized coercion is more dignified than complaining about lower salaries, but I find it to be a revelation of something far more sinister.

Listen up, public-sector unions: You are not the victims. You are the pampered and insulated “elite.” The longer you cling to the roots of your institutionalized privilege, the longer injustice will prevail.

4. The Least of These: People or Political Pawns?

[Jim] Wallis commits the basic error of attaching his limited, earthbound, top-down scheming to his bottom-up, heartfelt desires. Through this warped, debased rendering of the Scripture, all that we thought we knew about Matthew 25 suddenly becomes robbed of its most basic message and meaning…

Wallis takes Jesus’ message about people and compassion and turns it into a message about politics and pressure, dragging in all the baggage that comes with it (and there’s a lot). The rich become sinners, the Right become unrighteous, the Left become holy, and the poor become political pawns in a contorted game of God-told-me-to-tell-you-so.

3. Objectivist Ethics vs. Christian Ethics: Is There Any Common Ground?

Not only do Objectivists justify their ethics for different reasons than Christians, Objectivists have arguments against the reasons Christians give for their ethics…

Does this mean that Christians and Objectivists will necessarily clash? On an ethical level, definitely, but on a political level, I’m not sure. It seems that Christians with a particular political philosophy can have the same view as Objectivists on the proper function of government, even if the reasons Christians hold their views differs from the reasons Objectivists hold their views. If this is true, then on a political level, the Objectivist and the Christian would not clash.

2. The Judges of Judgmentalism: Discerning Truth vs. People

In the case of [Rob] Bell’s defenders, many of their claims to anti-judgmentalism assume a pose that is entitled to special treatment. They (and Bell) are allowed to pose controversial questions about the nature of God’s love, while those who disagree with Bell’s arguments are scolded and chided as haters and judgers.

Both are focusing on belief systems and theological claims, but one side is claiming monopolistic authority over who can or should be able to judge the other’s system, which turns it into a discussion about people.

1. Occupy Yourselves: Targeting the Evil, Greedy 100%

Rather than channel our anger and frustration toward a bunch of big shots who may or may not have wronged us, we should look upward, inward, and onward. There is a major value deficit in the world today — there always has been — and we should be constantly looking for ways to sharpen our position toward filling the void, not sit around and cat-call others to do it for us…

We are all sinners prone to vice. We must all seek our own mercy and redemption. It’s about time we turn the megaphone around and listen.

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The Scientific Pretentions of Secularist Idolatry

The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific PretentionsThe media has recently exhibited significant puzzlement upon discovering that some people — namely, Christian conservatives — still don’t accept the theory of evolution. It may, however, come as an even greater shock to learn that such crazies are not alone. Indeed, plenty of Americans express significant skepticism over whether such theories constitute “serious science” (as Bill Keller so omnisciently discerns it).

So why is this? Are the bulk of Americans a bunch of know-nothing fools, opting for silly superstition when they could be signing up for membership at the Temple of Secularism? Is Jon Huntsman right to fret over “our side” being perceived as “anti-science” for its skepticism toward the prevailing “experts” of the day? (Huntsman? Concerned about “perception”? Nahhhhh!)

The issue, of course, has nothing to do with being “anti-science” — that is, unless you position human-constructed science and the intelligentsia’s current infatuation with evolution as some all-explaining, all-perfect source of information for understanding all things (e.g. the existence of God).

In a recent interview with David Berlinski, author of The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretentions, such questions about what science actually knows and actually can know are made clear, with Berlinski claiming in one segment that evolution “makes little sense” and is supported by little evidence. For Berlinski — an agnostic — the bloated scientific pretentions of pseudo-Christian-Mormon fushionist Huntsman’s securalist subservience amount to shameless religiosity at best.

Watch part 1 of the interview below  (for additional segments, go here):

As Berlinski explains in his book (and as Robinson partially quotes in the above video):

In many respects the word naturalism comes closest to conveying what scientists regard as the spirit of science, the source of its superiority to religious thought. It is commended as an attitude, a general metaphysical position, a universal doctrine—and often all three…[But] what reason is there to conclude that everything is [to quote philosopher Alexander Byrne] an “aspect of the universe revealed by the natural sciences”? There is no reason at all.

The irony, of course, is that this ever-expanding idolatry of so-called “natural science” and the bullying that so often Read the rest of this entry »

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Population Bloom: We Are Not Bags of Garbage

David Beckham, Victoria Beckham, family, populationDavid and Victoria Beckham recently had a baby — their fourth, to be exact — and although I’m not typically one for celebrity news, The Observer ran an article condemning the couple as “irresponsible” and  “selfish” for their excessive family building. Have these people ever watched TLC?

The article illuminates a primary feature of progressivism commonly critiqued on this blog: Without proper “guidance” from an all-knowing Computer State, humanity is a virus.

This week at Ethika Politika, I write in their defense, spending much of my time summarizing the morbid views of such misanthropes:

Such claims are not new. Indeed, they have been around for as long as we’ve managed to doubt our own value, promise, and potential (I’m looking at you, Mr. Caveman), as well as that of others (and you, Peter Singer.)

For Thomas Malthus, the eighteenth-century scholar and notoriously wrong “population expert,” humans were(/are) dead-set on creating the same world that Mr. Ross fears — one with too many bodies, not enough food, and an existence “condemned to a perpetual oscillation between happiness and misery.” Tough luck.

For Paul Ehrlich, the more recent and more embarrassingly wrong “scholar” of population doom, humans are a “cancer” that, without forceful (er, “enlightened”) population control, will naturally tend toward catastrophe and mass starvation. If left to our own devices — via petty ole “freedom,” of course — we unruly beasts will feast and gorge and reproduce ourselves into an oblivion. For Ehrlich, the bulk of humanity can only be saved (or “sustained”) if we initiate targeted starvation, abortion, and sterilization of the unenlightened. These hapless folks — the chosen ones — must pay the price for humanity’s ultimate transgression: existence.

Under this vision, it is only logical that disdain be dumped on those who create new life. Our procreation decisions become nothing more than strategic factors in a number game of the “enlightened”:

Such a view assumes us to be reckless monsters, hopeless without servile submission to the robotism of an all-knowing Computer State. We are movers and users and Read the rest of this entry »

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Intellectualism and Evangelicalism: Mental Adultery vs. the Rational Gospel

Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John PiperEvangelicals have long winced with suspicion toward contributions from intellectual arenas. Whether faced with critiques about the legitimacy of the Flood, the coherency of the Trinity, or the plausibility of God himself, we are well known for responding with the “faith-that-doesn’t-need-answers” refrain. Rather than confronting intellectual challenges and engaging our minds as an act of faith, we twist such faith into a shield to be held over heads, protecting us from such conflicts as we close our eyes and mumble, “I’m not listening.”

In turn, intellectuals are quick to exploit such a response, claiming that evangelicals are nothing but a bunch of mindless zombies, brainwashed by cult leaders and clouded by happy thoughts. As Mark Noll put in his book on the subject, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”

Oddly enough, such a scandal is evident even among those who evangelicals assume comprise their intellectual front (i.e. the postmodernists). A good example of this can be found in the ongoing Rob Bell controversy, in which supposedly “anti-intellectual” conservative evangelicals are being derided left and right for engaging Bell in an intellectual challenge. Meanwhile, the supposedly brainy and overly nuanced Bell is being defended not on intellectual grounds, but on warm-and-fuzzy, “don’t-judge-me” togetherness. In one quick swoop of a Justin Taylor post and a simple John Piper tweet, Bell was quickly diminished by his defenders to being a mere “artist” rather than an impressive mind or a “serious theologian.” He is just “asking questions” we are told — having a bit of creative fun with the Scriptures in the same way a child might draw fanciful whatchamacallits on his driveway with sidewalk chalk. (“Don’t be hatin’ on the beauty, bro!”)

Making such a topic even more timely has been the entirely different (and far healthier) discussion launched by Matthew Lee Anderson on evangelicalism and natural law. This particular discussion, however, doesn’t indicate a lack of intellectualism in evangelicalism as much as it illuminates that the movement has its own unique view of the mind itself, bringing us back to the original challenge. For the evangelical, there is a transcendental tension between our supernatural understanding and our natural reason, and as is only natural (harty har), it can be hard for us to wrap our minds around it.

(Making this yet more timely still is Donald Miller’s recent post, which argues that the church’s problem is too much intellectual engagement instead of a lack thereof. Seriously.)

To cut through such tensions and offer some clarity, John Piper has released a helpful new book, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God (also the topic to last year’s Desiring God conference). For Piper, the supposed faith-reason dichotomy need not be a dichotomy at all. All we need is the proper Read the rest of this entry »

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Resolving Biblical Tension: Don’t Get All Philosophical

I recently came across an interesting interview with John MacArthur that primarily deals with predestination and evangelism.

First of all, I consider myself an Arminian, although I continue to be fascinated by many Calvinist thinkers (including MacArthur). Regarding this particular interview, however, I’d like to bypass any of my disagreements with the doctrine of predestination and instead focus on MacArthur’s thoughts about biblical tension.

You can watch the video here:

The initial question is this: “How do we tell people God loves them, and that Jesus Christ did not die for them?” (BTW, he did!)

MacArthur answers as follows:

You tell them whatever the Bible tells you to tell them…Any tension you have between [evangelism] and the nature of the atonement — any tension you have between that and the doctrine of divine election and predestination — any tension you feel in those areas, I feel. I feel the same tension. I ask the same question. I don’t know that there’s some kind of quick answer to the question.

In other words, MacArthur accepts that his view presents a conflict in Read the rest of this entry »

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The Knowledge Crisis: Pursuing Truth in a Postmodern Age

In a previous post, I used John Piper’s 2010 Desiring God Conference as a launching point for asking whether Christianity has properly engaged intellectualism. The conference took place a few weeks ago and Piper has a new book out by the same name, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God. Although I was unable to attend the conference, I have been catching up online, and I encourage you to do the same.

Speakers included Rick Warren, R.C. Sproul, Thabiti Anyabwile, Albert Mohler, Francis Chan, and, of course, John Piper. I enjoyed each session thoroughly, but Mohler’s talk was perhaps my favorite, titled, “The Way the World Thinks: Meeting the Natural Mind in the Mirror and in the Marketplace.”

You can watch it here:

Mohler’s primary goal is to simply get Christians thinking about thinking, but more specifically, he calls us to grasp the difference between a “regenerate mind” and an “unregenerate mind.” Additionally, Mohler believes that we need to fully understand the “mind of the age” in order to preach the Gospel effectively.

He structures his argument around what he calls a “knowledge crisis” — a struggle that has engaged humanity since the Fall of Man. As far as what kind of crisis this is, and how we are supposed to overcome it, thinks the fundamental problem is that “we suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (pointing specifically to Romans 1).

Indeed, although overall human knowledge has come a long way since the Fall, we are still largely presumptuous about Read the rest of this entry »

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Claiming the Christian Label: Intellectual Ownership and the Spiritual Journey

Pew Research Center: U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey

Source: Pew Research Center

The internet has been buzzing about a recent Pew Research Poll in which participants were asked questions about their overall religious knowledge. The study’s most publicized conclusion was that atheists and agnostics know more about religion than most religious peoples (particularly Christians).

Here’s a description from the study’s Executive Summary:

Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions.

The immediate reaction would be to poke fun of self-proclaimed Christians — and plenty of that is in order — but there’s also an assortment of valid critiques of the study. One of the best comes from Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, who properly emphasizes the difference between knowing God and knowing about God. I disagree with Hirschfield on a few points, but as I reviewed the Pew study for myself, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Is God really going to be that upset if Christians don’t know whether Shiva is part of Buddhism or Hinduism?”

There’s a valid point to be made on that level, namely that relationship with the one true God is overarching and all-important; all other knowledge is secondary. However, I am not persuaded that Christians shouldn’t also pursue knowledge about the one true God, or knowledge about any other gods, for that matter. Indeed, in some sense, the two pieces are necessarily interconnected. For example, how do we know if the God we are serving is legitimate? How do we know whether the Bible is really true? Or, even if we know the Bible is true, how do we know if the God(/god) we are serving actually lines up with the one in the Bible?

On some level, we need to go the next step in our spiritual decisionmaking, and that will usually include taking significant intellectual ownership. But what does the Pew study really say about the Church on this matter? Are we as Christians really not taking enough intellectual ownership in our Read the rest of this entry »

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The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion vs. Environmental Religion

The New Holy Wars by Robert H. NelsonWe have all argued or debated with someone who resists facts and resorts to emotional or idealistic rhetoric. Conversely, we have all found ourselves in positions where we want to ignore the real-world implications of our beliefs for the sake of some perceived justice or goodness.

Whether we’re talking about the foods we eat, the medicines we take, or the public policies we support, we all have a tendency to get religious about the material.

For Robert H. Nelson, author of The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion vs. Environmental Religion in Contemporary America, these examples represent various forms of secular religion. If you look close enough into somebody’s core ideology, Nelson argues, you will surely find parallels to the holy books, priesthoods, and dogmas typically found in “regular” religions.

Nelson acknowledges that there are plenty of competing secular religions in the public sphere; however, he believes that two religions in particular have engaged in what is now the most prominent conflict in American society — namely, economic religion and environmental religion.

But why these religions, and why now?

Nelson argues that both religions emerged during the nineteenth century as a result of the Industrial Revolution. During this time, technological innovation boomed, living standards soared, and access to education expanded.

As Nelson explains:

For the first time ever, one of earth’s creatures — human beings — had literally acquired the capacity to remake ‘the creation’…Astonishingly enough, human beings had now acquired knowledge and powers previously reserved for God.

In other words, the dream of creating heaven on earth was suddenly realistic for those who thought such a feat was actually attainable or desirable. Over time, Nelson argues, the successes of the Industrial Revolution resulted in the emergence of two factions — one that “exalted human control over Read the rest of this entry »

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