If you haven’t noticed, we seem to be in the middle of an Adam Smith revival. Competing elements wish to claim him as one of their own: On the right is the conservative Adam Smith Institute (UK), which calls him the father of the capitalist system. On the left are the liberal Scottish defenders of Smith who argue that his theories have been cherry-picked and deliberately misinterpreted by the right to serve their own ends; that, in fact, Smith was not only an economist but a philosopher who understood deeply the pitfalls of unbridled capitalism and warned against its vices.
Category: Arts & Culture
Book Documents History of Free Speech, Calls for Vigilance to Protect It
What is “free speech”? Why is it important? Are there limits to free speech, or is every utterance permissible? What does history tell us about this topic? These are the questions that Jacob Mchangama tackles in Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media. Highly praised by such notable intellectuals as Steven Pinker and Nadine Strossen, the 400-page tome has been called the most complete history and discussion of free speech ever written.
A Call for Humanists to Again Address the Question of War: Part 2
Slavery was an evil institution created by humans. Reformers, believing that this evil could not be abolished outright, proposed making it less cruel and more humane. The great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy countered by arguing that if slavery were humanized, it would never be abolished. But though it took a long time, it was ultimately seen as an irredeemable evil and was ended. What about war? Why couldn’t it follow this path as well? That has proven to be more difficult. Some reformers in Tolstoy’s time proposed making war less brutal, believing that would eventually lead to its end. Tolstoy again argued against it, fearing that making war more humane would just make it more tolerable.
‘A Thousand Brains’: An Engaging Book on Neuroscience
By Nathan Curland
Let me start by stating that A Thousand Brains by Jeff Hawkins is likely the most profound and engaging book on neuroscience that I have ever read. That is because it is more than just neuroscience; it is an attempt to present a new theory of brain function to a general audience and then extrapolate to what it means for the future of the human race. Hawkins’ goal is to appeal not just to other neuroscientists, but also to the layperson who wonders where our intelligence, or even our consciousness, comes from. As such, he gives us enough information to understand what has been learned in the last couple of decades about brain structure but does not dwell on the detailed chemistry that other neuroscience books devote many pages to (i.e., it is enough for you to know what a neuron or synapse is/does, without knowing the various molecules or the interactions involved to perform their functions).
Steven Pinker’s ‘Rationality’ Disappoints
By Jerry Smith
Steven Pinker is one of my intellectual heroes. I have read and benefited from his previous work on language (The Language Instinct, Words and Rules), cognition (How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate), and human progress (The Better Angels of Our Nature, Enlightenment Now). I share his disdain for the post-modern relativism that has debased …
The Pandemic’s Silver Lining
By Sophie Phuong Le
The HumanistsMN online book club discussed Post Corona: From Crisis to Opportunity by Scott Galloway in March. The author is a well-known marketing professor at the New York University Stern School of Business as well as a public speaker and entrepreneur.
Short Take: Book on Tyranny Offers Lessons for Today
Book review: On Tyranny; Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, by Timothy Snyder
This is a quick read, only 128 pages, packed with signs, actions, and phrases to watch for and stand up against. It’s also a tiny book, only about 5 1/2 ”x 4”, so easy to slip into a pocket or purse.
The lessons are taken largely from the rise of the Nazis: how they did it, and how the population made it easy for them. Some of the chapters also bleed into our knowledge of the Trump era.
HMN Author Describes His Journey From Evangelical Pastor to Atheist
By Suzanne Perry
As someone who grew up in a religious household but became an atheist as a young adult, I’m drawn to stories about people who have made similar journeys. In The Rise and Fall of Faith, Drew Bekius brilliantly charts the highs (being true to yourself) and lows (losing connections to people and once-cherished institutions).
A New Steampunk Murder Mystery from HMN’s Tyler Tork
Congratulations to Tyler Tork (aka HMN member Andre Guirard), whose new book is hot off the (digital) presses! Tyler describes Deep End as “a steampunk murder mystery-rebel kidnapping-stabby-poisoning romance adventure with rolling pins and spells.”
The protagonist, Marlee, tries to keep family members who are scheming against her from suspecting she has no memory of …
Revisiting the Feminist Struggle on the 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage
By Audrey Kingstrom
It’s hardly news to anyone who knows me at all that I readily identify with the labels of “feminist” and “social activist.” So over the past few weeks, as I watched the Hulu docudrama and miniseries “Mrs. America,” about the struggle for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, I kept wondering how I missed so much of what was going on in the 1970s.
Christian Nationalists Distort History to Build Political Power
By Paul Heffron
Andrew L. Seidel, The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism Is Un-American (Sterling, 2019).
When the U.S. Constitution was presented to the states, some clergy and theologians complained bitterly because there was no Christian foundation in the document, no mention of God or the Bible. Instead it began with “We the people,” allowed …
Recent Research Highlights Genetic Differences in Human Populations
By Nathan Curland
I came upon A Troublesome Inheritance after having read The Bell Curve by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray (which I picked up because I wondered what the fuss over their book was all about). I was interested to see if anyone had done any follow up. You see, The Bell Curve was written in the early 1990s based on a couple of large data sets that were available at the time, wherein the authors studied the relationship between intelligence (as defined by IQ) and American class structure.
You Don’t Have to Be a Believer to Appreciate ‘The Two Popes’
By Mary McLeod
“Two Popes,” presented on Netflix, explores the relationship between Pope Benedict and his eventual successor, Pope Francis, after the death of John Paul II. You don’t have to love the Catholic Church, or be a believer, to appreciate this film. I found it engaging and heartfelt, with sometimes funny, often passionate, and ultimately human dialogue.
Understanding How We Think Can Help Us Make Sense of the World
By Nathan Curland
I was introduced to the book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Lee Wetzel at a Critical Thinking Club Meeting a few months ago. Lee is a financial consultant and cited the insights in this marvelous book to describe why investors can make decisions that appear to an outside observer to be irrational, thus contradicting the prevailing economic theories that the stock market is composed of rational actors. This intrigued me, so I went to the Hennepin County Library system to order a copy, which I received in about three months.
A New Take on Skepticism in Early American History
By Paul Heffron
A new book by Christopher Grasso, Skepticism and American Faith: From the Revolution to the Civil War (Oxford University Press, 2018), presents a new take on early U.S. history, which might lead to a revision in the historiography of that era. The conventional view of this history is that the Revolution, and the founding of the United States through the Constitution, were influenced by Enlightenment thought, but that the secularism and rationalism of the founders faded in the Early Republic and were succeeded by what Grasso calls an “Evangelical Tsunami.”