Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics


  1. But the road has been convoluted, often rocky or muddy or enveloped in blinding dust, doubling back upon itself, veering into blind canyons and dead ends, losing itself in a tangle of competing crossroads.  With history’s perspective (and selective editing) we can design narratives of progressive enlightenment as our species journeys through time, and overall convincingly defend that thesis.

    And yet…………….

    And yet every steppingstone on that journey has been bedded in some greater or lesser darkness at its base.  The McGuffin that sparked this thread, the invention of weaponry, is the perfect example of that, of the yin and yang inextricably bound into every great (or lesser) leap forward.

    So far we’ve come, so far we have yet to go; so far…. and my mind leaps to this, a journey’s end, so far from its beginnings; a tool of man invented, made, used, and ultimately betrayed by man; the betrayers themselves used and abused by other men; and no amount of washing will eradicate the stain, from hand or land:

  2. We need another 12 years of Democratic presidents to secure the Supreme Court. I believe that is the number 1 issue. There are a heck of a lot of important issues, but that one is critical. We also need to extricate ourselves from one war and avoid another. I’m not all that concerned about the economy. It will heal itself, eventually.

  3. The Better Angels of Our Nature: A History of Violence and Humanity

    The result is a salutary reality-check for the pessimism induced by looking back at the 20 century, and the self-absorption that treats terrorism as a threat even remotely comparable to those which faced the world in that era of global conflict. For most people, the world is a far ore peaceful place than it was for any of their ancestors – though as populations grow, the actual number of victims may multiply even though the percentages fall. Pinker’s suggestion that the 20th century may not have been the bloodiest in history “when one adjusts for population size” discounts the dreadful toll from 20th-century conflicts given in a table: they approach 150 million.

    His interpretation of the great historical decline in violence turns upon the two dominant themes in his understanding of human psychology. On the one hand, human nature is a package of evolved traits; on the other, humans have cognitive faculties that enable them to do things very different from what their psychology originally induced them to do. As he once put it, “if my genes don’t like it, they can go jump in the lake”…


    Pinker himself is a model of restraint when it comes to the future. “Optimism requires a touch of arrogance,” he remarks, nicely distancing himself from the current wave of conviction optimists who insist that the current order, liberal in economics and morality, will sustain us onwards and upwards. Here, perhaps, those great unacknowledged concentrations of unenlightenment hold him back. He declines to argue that because he finds the liberal order good, it must endure and continue its pacifying work. Instead, he commends a handful of better angels to us, in the hope that we will recognise what an immense achievement the reduction of violence has been, and see how to build upon it further.

    Better Angels is itself a great liberal landmark. It has its conceits and is not as universal as it likes to think – but that’s true of all great liberals. And few of them are as readable as this book, whose 700 pages of exposition almost turn themselves.

    Marek Kohn: The Independent

    I saw Pinker give a talk about this in London and he’s a real Blaskite with his smarts and optimism. The thesis pretty awe inspiring; the decline of violence and cruelty has been a consistent thread in civilisation since Paleolithic times. Even the cruelty of Empires – where the state monopolised violence – meant that violent death reduced dramatically. Then, with the rise of civil society and civil liberties in the 18th century, violence dropped again precipitously, and led (in most countries) to the end of slavery, capital punishment and torture.

    Even the violent deaths of World War II don’t actually compare, proportionally, to other outbreaks of violence. The thirty year, or hundred year, wars in Europe over religion killed many more per capita. The Mongol invasion or Boxer rebellion were actually more bloody.

    In international affairs, we’re living in an age of unprecedented peace. War casualties have been particularly low since the end of the Cold War: the proxy wars of the West versus the USSR were quite savage in Asia, Latin America and Africa.

    As for crime and personal violence, that is all basically good news, with a minor upwards blip in the 1960s for various reasons.

    Short version:

    In the paleolithic, your chances of meeting a violent death were around 30 percent. Now your chances of meeting a violent death (in the UK) are 0.003%

    In the US it’s around 0.005%

    When we debate the prevalence of guns, that’s all we’re talking about

  4. HappyinVT

    Wherein POTUS impresses me again:

    Stephon stood just a few feet away from Barack Obama. The president, busy shaking hands, looked right at him. “It was like he was waiting for me to say something,” he said later.

    So the 26-year-old Prince George’s Community College student took his cue and spoke to President Obama in his first language: American Sign Language. “I am proud of you,” Stephon signed. The president, almost involuntary, instinctively, immediately signed back.

    “Thank you,” Obama replied.

    This is one of those moments that humanize the office of the presidency:

    Dude apparently made a birther joke today, too, when the Irsh Prime Minister offered him proof of his Irish heritage.  I wish I was that cool.

  5. HappyinVT

    Got my invitation and my Obama 2012 shirt.

    Just read they can’t find a place big enough to hold all the folks who want to see him.  Suckers!  Gotta strike early.  🙂

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