Thursday, March 09, 2023

Millerman, Heidegger, and Philosophic Nazism

I have written about Michael Millerman's philosophic promotion of the right-wing illiberalism of Heidegger, Dugin, and Putin in the pages of First Things.  Now the April 2023 issue of First Things has published a short letter from me about Millerman's article and Millerman's response.

In my letter, I quote from the last paragraph of Millerman's article and then add this comment:

"If Dugin's 'ideologically coherent alternative to Western political modernity' is 'compatible with Putininism,' how is that 'not reducible' to 'intellectual legitimation for a fascist, kleptocratic thug who wishes to recreate the Russian empire'?"

"Has First Things been reduced to this--endorsing illiberal ideologies that are compatible with Putinism, Nazism, and fascist thugs?  Is there any reason to believe that Richard John Neuhaus would have endorsed this?"

Here is Millerman's response:

"Leo Strauss once wrote:  'It would be wholly unworthy of us as thinking beings not to listen to the critics of democracy--even if they are enemies of democracy--provided they are thinking men (and especially great thinkers) and not blustering fools."

"My article argued that Dugin is a thinking man whose political philosophy, whatever its other virtues and vices, has the great merit of helping us understand something about Martin Heidegger, the greatest thinker.  Larry Arnhart invokes the predictable rhetoric of fascist thuggery and the like.  Does such a response, and the attitude it typifies, reflect what is 'worthy of us as thinking beings' when it comes to the basic questions of political philosophy?"

The fundamental question at issue between us is whether Millerman is right in agreeing with Strauss that Heidegger was "the greatest thinker," and that he was philosophically correct in attacking liberal modernity and defending Nazi tyranny.

I have written a series of posts on Heidegger's metaphysical German nationalism as supporting his philosophic Nazism.  I have argued that Friedrich Nietzsche (particularly in Human, All Too Human) identified the philosophical mistake that leads philosophers like Heidegger to support evil tyranny like that of the Nazis.  Nietzsche's adoption of Darwinian evolutionary science allowed him to see that philosophical mistake.

Nietzsche saw that social order arises best as a largely spontaneous order of human cultural evolution that does not require any intelligently designed metaphysical order enforced by state coercion.  This led Nietzsche to embrace the liberal separation of culture and the state, so that the purpose of the state is only to protect individuals from one another, and then secure cultural life as a realm for freedom of thought and action, which allowed the Socratic "free spirits" to live the philosophic life of skeptical questioning.

By contrast, Nietzsche saw, philosophers like Plato and Heidegger who want the state to execute their "spiritual leadership" in enforcing their vision of metaphysical order become "tyrants of the spirit," and consequently they are easily seduced by tyrants like Hitler.  (See Human, All Too Human, 1-9, 235, 261, 438-41, 465, 472, 474.) 

Wednesday, March 08, 2023

The Fallacy of the Universe Being Fine-Tuned for Human Life as Proof for the Existence of God

I have written about how the idea that the Universe is fine-tuned for life has become the most common cosmological argument for the existence of God.  Recently, I have been thinking more about the fallacy in this argument.  My thinking has been stimulated by reading some work by Simon Friedrich--particularly, his article on "Fine-Tuning" for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and his book Multiverse Theories: A Philosophical Perspective (Cambridge University Press, 2021).

According to many physicists, it is surprising that the Universe supports life--and particularly human life--because this depends precisely on certain fundamental characteristics of the Universe--the quantitative values of some constants of nature, the form of the laws of nature, and the conditions in the early universe.  Even slight variations in these values, laws, and conditions would have made life impossible.  As one example, if the strength of gravity had been only slightly weaker or slightly stronger than it is, stars and planets could not have formed in the way they are today, and thus there would have been no habitable planet for life.  There is a long list of physical constants like gravity that had to be "just right" for a Universe favorable to life to exist.  Sometimes this is called the "Goldilocks principle": the porridge needs to be not too hot and not too cold but just right.

In this way, the Universe appears to be fine-tuned for life.  Why?  Theistic creationists can say that if the Universe is fine-tuned, that must be because there is a divine fine-tuner.  Or is there some better explanation?

From the start, we should recognize that saying the Universe is fine-tuned is a metaphorical use of the term fine tuning.  Metaphor is a form of reasoning in which we understand one thing through its resemblance to something else.  We need to be careful that our metaphorical reasoning does not lead us into the fallacy of equivocation in which we deceptively call two different things by the same name.  And my argument is that the idea of the fine-tuned Universe commits that fallacy of equivocation.

The Oxford English Dictionary gives three definitions of "fine tuning."  The primary definition is "the action or process of tuning a musical instrument very precisely, so as to play at exactly the correct pitch."  The second definition is:  "Originally: the action or process of making minor adjustments to a radio in order to receive or broadcast on specific frequencies.  In later use more generally: the action or process of making minor adjustments to a device, apparatus, etc., in order to achieve a precise setting or calibration."  The third definition is: "The action or process of minor adjustments to something in order to achieve the best or a desired performance; (Economics) the policy or process of making a series of minor changes in monetary and fiscal policy in order to maintain a stable level of aggregate demand, usually that associated with full employment."

Notice that these definitions concern technological devices (such as musical instruments or radios) or social technology (such as planning an economy) in which human beings adjust technological artifacts or social institutions so that they function to satisfy human desires.  The fine-tuning is the product of human fine-tuners.  And we understand how this works because of our common experience of how human beings design, make, and control physical and social tools so that they function in desirable ways.

If this is what we mean by fine tuning, are we right in saying that the Universe is fine-tuned?  Or is this a deceptive equivocation--because the idea of fine tuning assumes human beings as the fine tuners, and it would be ridiculous to assume that the Universe was fine-tuned by human beings?  Presumably, if there were cosmic fine tuners, they would have to be supernatural or transcendent beings with the divine intelligence and omnipotence that allow them to create the Universe as they will.  But our ordinary human experience of human fine tuning tells us nothing about divine fine tuning.

In previous posts, I have shown how the argument for intelligent design is an argument from equivocation in the use of the term "intelligent design."  Both William Dembski and Michael Behe speak of "intelligent design" without clearly distinguishing human intelligent design from divine intelligent design.  We have all observed how the human mind can cause effects that are humanly designed, and from such observable effects, we can infer the existence of human intelligent designers.  But insofar as we have never directly observed a disembodied, omniscient, and omnipotent intelligent designer causing effects that are divinely designed, we cannot infer a divine intelligent designer from our common human experience.

Behe is right that from an apparently well-designed mousetrap, we can plausibly infer the existence of a human intelligent designer as its cause, because we have common experience of how mousetraps and other human artifacts are designed by human minds.  In the same way, William Paley was right that from a well-designed watch, we can plausibly infer the existence of an intelligent human watchmaker.  But from an apparently well-designed organic mechanism (like the bacterial flagellum), we cannot plausibly infer the existence of a divine intelligent designer as its cause, because we have no common experience of how a divine mind designs things for divine purposes.

Dembski has written: "The point of the intelligent design program is to extend design from the realm of human artifacts to the natural sciences."  This sophistical rhetorical strategy of equivocation in the use of the term "intelligent design" hides the fact that while detecting the design of human artifacts is a matter of common observation and inference, detecting the design of divine artifacts is not.

Similarly, if we hear a musical instrument that has been fine-tuned, we can infer the existence of some human fine-tuner, because we understand how musical instruments need human fine-tuners.  But if the Universe appears fine-tuned for life, we cannot say that this proves the existence of a divine fine-tuner, because we have no experience with or understanding of a divine being creating the Universe so that it is fine-tuned for life.

Monday, March 06, 2023

Freedom in Estonia

                                                                         Kaja Kallas

Yesterday, the general elections in Estonia became a big victory for Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and a big defeat for Vladimir Putin.  Nine political parties were running candidates for Estonia's unicameral parliament--known as the Riigikogu.  Kallas' center-right Reform Party took 31.4 percent of the vote, with the far-right EKRE party a distant second with 16.1 percent, and the Center Party 15 percent.  It appears that the Reform Party will take 37 seats in the parliament, so that Kallas will need only 14 more seats in a coalition to control the 101-seat body and continue as Prime Minister.

The EKRE party is a right-wing populist party in the style of Trump--Euroskeptic, anti-immigrant, anti-gay, and determined to "put Estonians first" rather than Ukrainians.  When the Reform Party took the lead in the election, the head of the EKRE Party (Martin Helme) claimed that the election had been stolen.

This is a defeat for Putin because he has hoped that the support for Ukraine from the NATO countries would start to weaken as voters become frustrated by the economic costs of backing Ukraine in the war.  Under the leadership of Kallas, Estonia has been one of the strongest supporters of Ukraine among all the NATO nations.  Estonia has given the equivalent of 1 percent of its entire Gross National Product in military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, which includes 44 percent of Estonia's military budget.  Estonia is one of only seven countries out of the 30 NATO members that meets a military spending target of 2 percent of Gross National Product; and Kallas has pledged to increase this to 3 percent.  Some of her political opponents have criticized her for this military spending and for giving too much to the support of Ukraine.

The Estonians have a good reason to be afraid of Russian aggression because Estonia is one of only four NATO countries that share a border with Russia, which includes Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland.

I have previously written about Estonia as ranking near the top of the Human Freedom Index and as being the best model for Ukraine to emulate.  Estonia and Ukraine have similar histories as having been under the rule of the Soviet Union until declaring independence in 1991.  But Estonia has been more successful than Ukraine in becoming a free society that follows the principles of classical liberalism.

In the Human Freedom Index 2021 (based on data for 2019), Estonia ranked fourth in the top five freest countries out of 165 countries:

1. Switzerland

2. New Zealand

3. Denmark

4. Estonia

5. Ireland

Ukraine ranked at 98th, while Russia ranked at 126th, and China at 150th.  At the bottom were Venezuela at 164th and Syria at 165th.

In the recently released Human Freedom Index 2022 (based on data for 2020), Estonia has moved up to third place, with Denmark at fourth place.  Switzerland and New Zealand are still first and second respectively.  Ukraine has moved up to 89th, while Russia has moved up only slightly to 119th.  Venezuela and Syria are still at the bottom.

As I have previously argued, this Human Freedom Index allows us to judge the empirical evidence for the success of liberalism, because we can see that the liberal regimes tend to be high in both freedom and happiness, while the illiberal regimes tend to be low.  Most human beings would rather live in free societies like Switzerland, New Zealand, and Estonia than in oppressive societies like Russia, Venezuela, and Syria.

The recent critics of liberalism--like Patrick Deneen and Rod Dreher--who speak confidently about "how liberalism failed" are silent about this empirical evidence for the success of liberalism.  

By contrast, many of the people of Ukraine have been persuaded by this empirical evidence, so that they're willing to risk their lives in war in the hope that Ukraine can become more like Estonia than Russia.

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

Paul Kingsnorth's Religious Atheism: An Exchange

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Paul Kingsnorth's "wild Christianity," and I identified him as a religious atheist.  We then had a brief exchange in the comments to that post.  I thought I should reproduce that exchange here:

Paul said:

 A religious atheist? Blimey. Now I've heard everything.

I'm flattered to be written about, but you're quite a way offbeam here. And I'm certainly not 'selling spirituality' to anyone. Otherwise I'd probably be running expensive courses or monetising some Youtube videos or something. I'm just trying to make a living with my writing, as I always have, so that I can feed my children.

I'll plead guilty to being bourgeois though, and probably being at least partly liberal, even as I can see the great holes in the whole worldview.

By the way, I never 'knew' that Wicca was true. I always doubted it, as it happens. I did think - and still do - that Zen contains great wisdom and truth about the reality of the human mind. But Christ came to me unbidden, and there was no denying what happened or what it meant.

Of course, writing about any of this is a risk, and possibly a foolish one. It is common to be misunderstood.

All the best,
Paul K

Larry Arnhart said:


Why do you refer to the stories about Colman as "legends"? Certainly, Fahey suggests that as legends these stories should not be taken as historically accurate. Do you agree?

If so, are you suggesting that the stories in the New Testament about John the Baptist and Jesus are legends, and thus not historically accurate? If you believe that the Biblical stories about Jesus are psychologically satisfying but not historically accurate, that's what I call religious atheism. This would make you like Nietzsche's Zarathustra who was said to be "the most pious of all those who do not believe in God."

On March 6th, Kingsnorth posted the following comment:

Of course I don't believe the life of Christ is a "legend." I'm a baptised member of the Orthodox Church.

I would suggest before attacking other Christians that we all ought to make something of an effort to find out what they believe, rather than relying on our own suppositions and prejudices.

I will accept this as Kingsnorth's clarification of the original article, in which he identified the stories about Colman as "legends," and he spoke about the New Testament stories about John the Baptist and Jesus as if they were at the same level as the legendary stories about Colman.

So now, he is saying that stories about saints like Colman are only "legends," but stories about Jesus in the New Testament are not just legends but historically accurate.

How did Paul decide that the miracles attributed to Colman were only legendary, while the miracles attributed to Jesus were historically true?  He doesn't explain this.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Was Man Created in God's Image? Or in the Image of Primates, With 16 Billion Neurons in His Cerebral Cortex?


                                  The Hidden Neuroscience in Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam"


Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam" is his visual depiction of the teaching in Genesis 1:27--"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them" (KJV).  Remarkably, Adam's body is already fully formed, but God is going to transmit to him something essential to his humanity through God's extended finger.  Presumably, God is endowing Adam with a human soul.  But how exactly is that to happen?  

We should notice that Michelangelo chose not to depict another image of Adam's creation from Genesis: "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (2:7).  Michelangelo decided not to show God breathing into Adam's nostrils the breath of life as the source of ensoulment.

So what is it about the image of God flying through the air and stretching out his arm towards Adam lying on the ground that conveys the emergence of a human soul in Adam?  Some neuroscientists have pointed out that one can see a hidden drawing of the human brain in the image of God.  And God's right arm is extended through the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the cerebral cortex responsible for decision-making, planning, creativity, working memory, and language.  Previously, I have written about how the liberty or freedom to choose between alternatives is a function of the cerebral cortex, under prefrontal control, in its reciprocal interaction with the environment. 

Is This a Hidden Drawing of the Human Brain?

We know that Michelangelo studied human anatomy carefully, and that he dissected human bodies and brains.  We know this from his anatomical drawings.  (Leonardo da Vinci--a contemporary of Michelangelo's--was also a talented anatomist of the brain.)  But of the thousands of Michelangelo's drawings, he destroyed most of them, and only about 600 have survived.  Some of these show drawings of the human skull and brain, but none of them show the exact outline of the cerebral cortex that some neuroscientists have seen hidden in Michelangelo's pictures.  And there is certainly no evidence that Michelangelo understood the cognitive functions of the cerebral cortex and the prefrontal cortex.  Seeing a hidden neuroscientific message in Michelangelo's picture seems fanciful.

Nevertheless, we could argue for a modern neuroscientific revision of Michelangelo's picture, in which the image of God could be replaced by the image of the human cerebral cortex.  This would not have to be seen as an atheistic revision of the picture.  Because if the theistic evolutionists (like Francis Collins, Deborah Haarsma, and the last three Catholic popes) are correct, then God works through the natural laws of evolution to execute His creative design.  Some of the theistic evolutionists (like Pope Francis) say that while God works mostly through natural evolution rather than miracles, the creation of the human soul did require an "ontological leap"--a supernatural miracle--that transcended natural evolution.  But as I have argued, there are good reasons to believe that the natural evolution of the primate brain can explain the emergence of the soul in the human brain, so that no miracle was required.  And yet we still have to wonder what properties of the evolved human brain explain the amazing intellectual and emotional capacities of the human mind.


Over the past fifteen years, the research of Suzana Herculano-Houzel, a Brazilian neuroscientist now at Vanderbilt University, has shown how this natural evolution of the human brain can be understood as based on the remarkable number of neurons in the human cerebral cortex, as it has emerged from the evolution of the primate brain, and thus we can see that we were created in the image of other primates, just as Charles Darwin suggested in 1871 in The Descent of Man (Gabi et al. 2016; Herculano-Houzel 2016, 2021; Herculano-Houzel and Lent 2005).  I am persuaded by most of what Herculano-Houzel says, although I will identify two points of disagreement with her.

                                                Suzana Herculano-Houzel Counts Neurons

How many neurons are in the human brain?  For many years, the answer from many scientists was 100 billion.  But, surprisingly, when Herculano-Houzel began some years ago looking for the original scientific research that provided evidence for this number, she found nothing.  She discovered that neuroscientists had repeated this number over and over again without realizing that there was no scientific verification for it.  

Moreover, she discovered that scientists had no reliable method for counting brain cells.  The most common method for attempting to do this was stereology: virtual three-dimensional probes are placed throughout thin slices of brain tissue from some part of the brain, then the number of cells within the probes are counted, and finally this is extrapolated to the total number of cells in the entire tissue volume.  The problem is that this works only for tissues with a relatively homogeneous distribution of cells.  In fact, the highly variable density of neurons across different structures of the brain, and even within a single structure, makes stereology impractical for counting the cells in whole brains.

Herculano-Houzel developed a new technique for counting neurons that starts with creating brain soup.  She dissects the brain into its anatomically distinct parts--such as the cerebral cortex, the cerebellum, and the olfactory bulbs.  She then slices and dices each part into smaller portions.  Next, she puts each small part in a tube and uses a detergent that dissolves the cell membranes but leaves the cell nuclei intact.  By sliding a piston up and down in the tube, she homogenizes this brain tissue into a soup in which the nuclei are evenly distributed.  She stains all the cell nuclei blue so that she can count them under a fluorescent microscope.  She then adds an antibody labeled red that binds specifically to a protein expressed in all neuronal cell nuclei, which distinguishes them from other cell nuclei such as glial cells.  Going back to the microscope, she can then determine what percentage of all nuclei (stained blue) belong to neurons (now stained red).  Finally, she can estimate the number of neurons for each structure of the brain.  She has done this in studying the brains of many mammalian animals.

Now she can tell us that the total number of neurons in the whole human brain is not 100 billion but 86 billion.  Of that total, 16 billion are in the cerebral cortex, which includes 1.3 billion neurons in the prefrontal cortex.  The cerebral cortex is the outer covering of the surfaces of the cerebral hemispheres.  The prefrontal cortex covers the front part of the frontal lobe of the cerebral cortex located behind the forehead.


Comparing the numbers of neurons for the human brain with the numbers for other primate brains and other mammalian brains allows Herculano-Houzel to explain the conundrum of how the human brain can be at once so similar to and yet so different from other animal brains.  She makes four arguments about how the human brain gives human beings four kinds of advantages in their mental abilities: the primate advantage, the human advantage, the advantage of cooking, and the advantage of cultural learning.

Her claim that differences in cognitive capabilities across species can be explained by differences in the absolute numbers of neurons depends on a fundamental assumption.  If neurons are the basic units of brain networks for processing information, and if the networks are structured in similar patterns, then the greater the number of neurons in a network, the greater the capacity of the network for processing information.

The primate advantage.   Not surprisingly, larger brains tend to contain more neurons than smaller brains.  But different groups of animals show different scaling rules in proportioning brain size to number of neurons.  For example, a rodent cortex will have fewer neurons than a primate cortex of similar mass.   Primates always concentrate larger numbers of neurons in the brain than rodents of a similar, or even larger, brain size.

So here a capybara brain of 76 grams has 1.6 billion neurons, while a capuchin monkey brain of 52 grams has 3.7 billion neurons.  Comparison of primates with other mammals shows the same primate advantage:  in primate brains, the neurons are packed more tightly in a similar volume.  As primate brains, human brains have the same primate advantage over other mammals.  Thus, while the number of neurons in the human brain is remarkable, it is not extraordinary, because it falls on the primate scaling line: it's what one would expect for a primate with a body the size of the human body.  As Herculan-Houzel says: "The human brain is just a scaled-up primate brain: remarkable but not special."

One common objection to this is that the bodies of gorillas and orangutans can be as large as human bodies, but the brains of gorillas and orangutans are only about one-third the size of the human brain.  Gorillas and orangutans can weigh about 165 pounds, but their brains have only about 30 billion neurons, in contrast to the 86 billion neurons in the human brain.  Doesn't this show that the human brain is three times larger than what one would expect for a primate with the same size body? 

Herculano-Houzel's answer is that if one excludes the great apes (gorillas and orangutans), the scaling of the human brain in proportion to body size follows the same scaling rule as all other primates.  So the outliers here are not human beings but the great apes: it's not that human brains are too large for their bodies, but that gorillas and orangutans have brains that are too small for their bodies.

She explains this as showing that as primate evolution reaches the outer limits of the primate energy budget--the extra effort to find food--there is a tradeoff between brains and brawn.  More energy for a big body means less energy for a big brain.  The evolutionary history of the great apes shows a tradeoff  favoring big bodies and small brains.  By contrast, the evolutionary history of the human species shows a tradeoff favoring a typically primate slim body but a big brain.

The human advantage.  Herculano-Houzel's counting of neurons has allowed her to see that we human beings have one great advantage over all other animals: "we are the species that owns the largest number of neurons in the cerebral cortex--the part of the brain responsible for finding patterns, reasoning logically, expecting the worst and preparing for it, developing technology and passing it on through culture" (2016, x).  Notice that she is not saying that we have the largest number of neurons in the whole brain.  The African elephant brain has 257 billion neurons, three times our count of 86 billion.  But an amazing 98 percent of the elephant's neurons are in the cerebellum.  Although the elephant's cerebral cortex weighs over 6 pounds, it has only 5.6 billion neurons, far fewer than the 16 billion neurons in the human cerebral cortex weighing 2.6 pounds.  The sperm whale has the largest animal brain--weighing about 18 pounds--but Herculano-Houzel predicts that the number of neurons in the sperm whale's cerebral cortex is probably far fewer than 16 billion.

What Herculano-Houzel says about this human advantage confirms what I have argued about how the human mind or soul can arise from a natural process of emergent evolution in which differences in degree become differences in kind after passing over a critical threshold in the size and complexity of the primate brain.  As a consequence of her research, I can now identify that critical threshold as the remarkably large number of neurons in the human cerebral cortex and particularly in the prefrontal cortex.  Unfortunately, she herself does not see how her research supports the idea of emergent evolution.  That's my first disagreement with her.

In her book chapter on Darwin's Descent of Man--particularly, Darwin's chapter on "Comparison of the Mental Powers of Man and the Lower Animals"--she supports Darwin's claim that human mental powers differ from the mental powers of other animals only in degree and not in kind, and that if this difference were a difference in kind, that would deny his theory of human evolution from lower animals (Herculano-Houzel 2021, 48-49, 51, 61).

Herculano-Houzel does not see that Darwin in The Descent of Man is forced to contradict himself by both affirming and denying that there are differences in kind between human beings and other animals in their mental capacities.  Despite Darwin's explicit statement that humans differ only in degree, not in kind, from other animals, he implicitly recognized differences in kind.  That is to say, Darwin recognized that human beings have some mental traits that other animals do not have at all.

Darwin noted that self-consciousness is uniquely human: "It may be freely admitted that no animal is self-conscious, if by this term it is implied, that he reflects on such points, as whence he comes or whither he will go, or what is life and death, and so forth" (Descent, Penguin edition, 105).  Morality is also uniquely human: "A moral being is one who is capable of comparing his past and future actions or motives, and of approving or disapproving of them.  We have no reason to suppose that any of the lower animals have this capacity. . . . man . . . alone can with certainty be ranked as a moral being" (135).  And language is uniquely human: "The habitual use of articulate language is . . . peculiar to man" (107).

Darwin could implicitly affirm such emergent differences in kind without affirming any radical differences in kind.  Emergent differences in kind can be explained by natural science as differences in kind that naturally evolve from differences in degree that pass over a critical threshold of complexity.  So, for example, we can see the uniquely human capacities for self-consciousness, morality, and language as emerging from the evolutionary increase in the neurons of the primate brain, so that at some critical point in the evolution of our ancestors, the size and complexity of the brain (perhaps particularly in the frontal cortex) reached a point where distinctively human cognitive capacities emerged at higher levels of brain evolution that are not found in other primates.  With such emergent differences in kind, there is an underlying unbroken continuity between human beings and their hominid ancestors, so there is no need to posit some supernatural intervention in nature that would create a radical difference in kind in which there is a gap with no underlying continuity.  

Like Darwin, Herculano-Houzel fails to see how evolutionary science can recognize emergent differences in kind that arise from natural evolution while denying radical differences in kind that would require supernatural miracles.

The advantage of cooking.  If human beings are created in the image of primates, and yet they are unique among the primates because of those 16 billion neurons in the human cerebral cortex, why are human beings the only primate species to evolve such an increase in those neurons?  Herculano-Houzel's answer is that the evolutionary expansion of the human brain was made possible by the human invention of cooking.  Here she adopts the cooking hypothesis of Richard Wrangham in his book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human (2009).

The energy cost of the human brain is huge.  The brain is only 2 percent of the total body mass, but it consumes on average about 25% of the daily total energy budget for the human body.  On average 3.3 billion molecules of glucose are consumed per human neuron per minute.  6 kilocalories are consumed per billion neurons per day.  And so the more neurons in a brain, the more energy that a brain costs.

The caloric intake from the typical raw food diet of primates is not enough to supply the energy needs of the human brain.  The human controlled use of fire and the invention of cooking about 1.5 million years ago expanded the daily supply of energy to support the evolutionary expansion of the human brain, which can be seen in the fossil record of the huge expansion of the brain from Homo erectus to Homo sapiens.

The slicing and dicing of food and cooking with heat start the process of digesting food before it enters the mouth.  Cooking with heat breaks down the collagen fibers of meat and softens the hard walls of plant cells.  Cooked foods yield 100 percent of their caloric content to the digestive system.  Without cooking, our ancient human ancestors could never have fed their hungry human brains.

In a previous post, I have suggested that this cooking hypothesis for human evolution confirms what Lucretius said about the importance of fire and cooking for the evolutionary emergence of a fully human species.

The advantage of cultural learning.  The controlled use of fire and cooking are technologies that are invented and passed down across the generations by cultural learning.  As Herculano-Houzel observes, this shows us that "plenty of neurons aren't enough," because while having lots of neurons endows a brain with the capacities for complex cognition, turning those capacities into abilities requires cultural learning across an individual lifetime and across many human generations.

As I have indicated in some previous posts, cultural learning is not uniquely human because some other animals have cultural traditions of behavior.  But human beings are unique in their capacity for symbolic culture.

The behavioral inheritance system is the transmission of information among animals through social learning. For example, among some animals (including human beings) mothers transmit food preferences to their offspring, because information about what mother is eating is transmitted either in the womb or through suckling, so that the offspring inherits a preference for that food. More complex forms of social learning come through animal culture. For example, some chimpanzees can discover how to open nuts with a stone, and then pass on this practice within their group so that it becomes a social tradition. Different communities of chimps in Africa have different cultures based on distinctive profiles of traditional practices transmitted by social learning. As opposed to genetic evolution, cultural evolution is not blind but targeted to functional change.

The symbolic inheritance system is uniquely human because it shows the qualitative leap that defines our humanity as based on our capacity for symbolic thought and communication. Other animals can communicate through signs. But only human beings can communicate through symbols. The evolution of human language was probably crucial for the evolution of symbolism. Symbolic systems allow us to think about abstractions that have little to do with concrete, immediate experiences. Symbolic systems allow human beings to construct a shared imagined reality. These symbolic constructions are often fictional and future-oriented. Art, religion, science, and philosophy are all manifestations of human symbolic evolution. 

Herculano-Houzel gives a good account of human cultural evolution as driven by six technological revolutions (2016, 206-213).  But she doesn't explain why the pace of that technological progress has become so rapid over the past 300 years.  I have argued that the best explanation for this accelerated human progress is the symbolic niche construction of Lockean liberalism, which has sustained the freedom for innovation that has made it possible for the Earth today to support a population of over 8 billion people who are living longer and healthier lives on average than has ever been possible.  That is a stunning enhancement of Darwinian survival and reproductive fitness through cultural evolution.


The evolved cognitive capacity of the human brain for symbolic cultural learning includes a propensity to religious belief, which can include the belief that human beings were created in the image of God, and that this endowed human existence with a supernatural purpose.  Herculano-Houzel fails to take that religious belief seriously as a part of human cultural evolution, and that's my second point of disagreement with her.  She does say that the human brain gives human beings "the ability to ponder our own material and metaphysical origins" (2016, 215).  But she says nothing more about how the religious belief in "metaphysical origins" might be rooted in the evolutionary psychology of the human brain.  In The Descent of Man, in his chapter on the "mental powers of man and the lower animal," Darwin comments on a long list of mental powers, concluding with "belief in God, spiritual agencies, superstitions."  In her commentary on this chapter, Herculano-Houzel is silent about this.

If she had examined that last part of Darwin's chapter on the evolution of the mental powers as leading to religious belief, she would have seen that Darwin anticipates the modern evolutionary psychology of religion as an expression of the human brain's evolved theory of mind or the "hyperactive agency detection device."  Darwin conveys this idea when he says that the earliest manifestation of religious belief is "when anything which manifests power or movement is thought to be endowed with some form of life, and with mental faculties analogous to our own" (117).  Through symbolic cultural evolution this "belief in spiritual agencies" or animism could eventually be expressed in the belief in the existence of an Omnipotent God who is the "Creator and Ruler of the universe" (116, 118).  This is the God depicted in Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam"--the God who created human beings in His image.

The evolutionary science of the brain can explain how this ability for believing in the existence of the Creator God evolved through the genetic evolution of the human cerebral cortex and prefrontal cortex and the symbolic cultural evolution of religious belief in monotheism.  But while some Darwinian psychologists (such as Justin Barrett) see this as showing that Darwinian science is compatible with the truth of believing in God, others (such as Jesse Bering) see this as exposing belief in God as a fictional construction of the evolved human mind. For those like Barrett, religious belief is an adaptive truth. For those like Bering, religious belief is an adaptive illusion.

Thus, we see that Darwinian science cannot resolve the Reason/Revelation debate.  But Darwinian liberalism can support the freedom of thought that promotes that debate.

Part of that Reason/Revelation debate is whether human beings have a natural need to see the purpose for their existence that can only come from believing in the revelation of a divine purpose for human life, or whether natural reason alone can give human life some purpose or meaning.  Some theistic scientists (like Deborah Haarsma) say that in answering our questions about the Universe, science can tell us when and how, but only religion can tell us who and why.

Friedrich Nietzsche thought that the cultural history of the "teachers of the purpose of existence" over thousands of years had changed human nature so that human beings had a culturally acquired need to see some cosmic purpose to their lives.  "Gradually, man has become a fantasizing [phantastischen] animal that has to fulfill one more condition of existence than any other animal: man has to believe, to know, from time to time why he exists; his race cannot flourish without a periodic trust in life--without faith in reason in life" (The Gay Science, sec. 1).  Consequently, Nietzsche observed, "I fear that the animals consider man as a being like themselves that has lost in a most dangerous way its sound animal common sense; they consider him the insane animal, the laughing animal, the weeping animal, the miserable animal" (sec. 224). 

Is this what happens when you have a brain with 16 billion neurons in its cerebral cortex fed by some delicious, cooked meals?


Darwin, Charles. 2004. The Descent of Man. 2nd edition.  New York: Penguin Books

Gabi, Mariana, et al. 2016. "No Relative Expansion of the Number of Prefrontal Neurons in Primate and Human Evolution." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113 (no. 34): 9617-9622.

Herculano-Houzel, Suzana. 2016. The Human Advantage: A New Understanding of How Our Brain Became Remarkable.  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Herculano-Houzel, Suzana. 2021. "Remarkable But Not Extraordinary: The Evolution of the Human Brain." In Jeremy M. Desilva, ed., A Most Interesting Problem: What Darwin's 'Descent of Man' Got Right and Wrong About Human Evolution, 46-62.  Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Herculano-Houzel, Suzana, and Richard Lent. 2005. "Isotropic Fractionator: A Simple, Rapid Method for the Quantification of Total Cell and Neuron Numbers in the Brain." Journal of Neuroscience 25: 2518-2521.

Wrangham, Richard. 2009. Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. New York: Basic Books.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Are the Straussian Fascists Showing that Will Altman Was Right About Leo Strauss?

I have written about Bronze Age Pervert's Bronze Age Mindset (here and here).  So I was interested in the recent essay by Blake Smith identifying Bronze Age Pervert as Costin Alamariu, who wrote a doctoral dissertation--The Problem of Tyranny and Philosophy in Plato and Nietzsche--under the supervision of Steven Smith, a Straussian political theorist at Yale University.  Blake Smith shows how Alamariu's dissertation explains the Straussian philosophic grounding for Bronze Age Mindset.

This connection of Alamariu's Nietzschean fascism to Strauss fits a remarkable pattern of Straussian influence with other contemporary exponents of Nietzschean fascism that I have considered on this blog.  Richard Spencer studied under Michael Gillespie at Duke University.  Michael Millerman studied under Clifford Orwin at the University of Toronto, although Orwin resigned from his dissertation committee after some newspaper stories publicized Millerman's fascist political philosophy.  Alamariu, Spencer, and Millerman were all shaped in their thinking by Leo Strauss's interpretation of Nietzsche's fascism as the best illiberal alternative to liberal democracy.

This seems to confirm what William Altman was arguing ten years ago--in a series of three books on Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Strauss--that Strauss was the secret theoretician of National Socialism.  Altman presented his "German trilogy" of books as following a tripartite structure suggested by Strauss in his "Three Waves of Modernity."  According to Strauss, the First Wave of modernity came with Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Locke; the Second Wave came with Rousseau, Kant, and Hegel; and the Third Wave came with Nietzsche and Heidegger.  If each wave comes through a sequence of three thinkers, who is the third thinker of the Third Wave?  Surely, Altman suggested, it must be Strauss himself.  And if the Third Wave leads to fascism, as Strauss indicated, then this would point to Strauss as the thinker who most fully worked out the theory of fascism or Nazism as the anti-liberal solution to the crisis of liberal democracy.

As I have indicated in my posts on Altman, I have found him to be an insightful commentator on Strauss.  But I do disagree with him on two points.  First, I think he overstates his Strauss-as-a-Jewish-Nazi thesis.  In fact, he implicitly concedes some of the weaknesses in this thesis.  He recognizes that Strauss regarded Hitler as a fool.  He also recognizes that there is no evidence that Strauss ever developed any positive program for moving towards a National Socialist society.

Still, I am persuaded that Altman has shown that Strauss is open to the criticism that he was not emphatic enough in defending liberal democracy against the ideas of Nietzsche, Schmitt, and Heidegger.  Strauss never really offered a thorough refutation of these ideas, and instead he showed some attraction to them--most clearly in his lectures on "German Nihilism" and the "Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism."  Significantly, these lectures were not published until after Strauss's death.

My second point of disagreement is that unlike Altman and Strauss, I see Nietzsche in his middle period (Human, All Too Human, Dawn, and the first four books of The Gay Science) as providing an alternative--based on his Darwinian liberalism--to the positions he took in his early and late writings.  Nietzsche's Darwinian writings do not suffer from the contradictions that Altman rightly sees in his other writings.  Nor do the Darwinian writings provide any encouragement to the Nazis who appropriated ideas from the other writings.  Nietzsche's Darwinian aristocratic liberalism is intellectually, morally, and politically superior to his Dionysian aristocratic radicalism.  Strauss and the Straussians fail to see this as the Nietzschean way to defend liberalism against its illiberal critics.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Payton Gendron's Antiliberal White Supremacist Violence Deserves Punishment--But Also Refutation

19-year-old Payton Gendron is an antiliberal white supremacist who murdered 10 Black men and women in a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, last May 14th.  Today, he was sentenced to life imprisonment with no chance for parole.

The anger directed at Gendron in the courtroom today was so powerful that one person charged toward Gendron and attempted to strangle him.  Police restrained the attacker, Gendron was whisked out of the room, and the court was brought back into session after a 10-minute delay.  An article in the Washington Post relates what happened.

Gendron had pled guilty to murder.  Today, he read a prepared statement of apology:

"I'm very sorry for the pain I've forced on the victims and their families to suffer through.  I'm very sorry for stealing the lives of your loved ones.  I cannot express how much I regret all the decisions I made that led up to my actions on May 14.  I did a terrible thing that day.  I shot and killed people because they were Black.  Looking back now, I can't believe I actually did it.  I believed what I read online and acted out of hate and now I can't take it back, but I wish I could.  I don't want anyone to be inspired by me and what I did."

If you view the video of his statement, you can see that he displays no apparent emotion that would indicate true remorse.

It is right that he is being punished in this way, because we have the natural right to punish murderers with life-time imprisonment, and perhaps even execution.

But we also need to refute the arguments he made in a 180-page manifesto posted online to justify killing of Black people.  Journalists and others commenting on Gendron have casually dismissed this manifesto as too poorly argued to deserve any serious response.  Notice, for example, that the Washington Post journalist says that Gendron "posted a rambling online statement that included antisemitic rants and far-right conspiracy theories."

This is mistaken for two reasons.  First, if you read his manifesto, you will see that even if it is a little "rambling," it does make a series of arguments rooted in the biological science of race and human biodiversity.  Second, by not refuting his arguments, we encourage white supremacists to believe that his arguments are correct in justifying white supremacist violence.  Despite what Gendron said today, we should assume that others will be inspired by him to do what he did, just as he was inspired by the manifesto of Brenton Harrison Tarrant, who murdered 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 14, 2019.

Last June, I published my refutation of Gendron's five main arguments in his manifesto: white supremacy, ethnic nationalism, replacement theory, anti-Semitism, and inegalitarianism.

Perhaps the most fundamental assumption in Gendron's manifesto is that human beings cannot have equal rights if they are not biologically identical (158, 165).  "No two different things can ever truly be equal, especially humans.  There is no one person equal to any other, not identical twins, not countrymen, not workers within a class group and certainly not those of differing races."  "Diversity is anathema to equality.  One cannot exist with the other."

This ignores the fact that no liberal theorist of human equality of rights has ever asserted that this means that all human beings are the same.  Natural differences in the average propensities and traits of the human races is compatible with the Lockean liberal principle of equal liberty.  Lockean equality means not that all people are identical--in intelligence or in many other respects--but that all people are similar in resisting exploitation by others, so that no human being is good enough to govern any other human being without that person's consent.  Equal liberty requires not equality of outcome, but equality of opportunity in the pursuit of happiness.  In a society of equal liberty, those individuals who are naturally more intelligent or talented than others will reap the benefits of those superior traits, but those superior individuals will have no right to exploit those of lesser abilities.  In such a society, everyone can find valued places for themselves.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

The Bourgeois Liberalism of Paul Kingsnorth's Wild Christianity

"There's money in mysticism."

That's what Sally said to me when I asked her about her business selling meditation lessons in Zen Buddhism.  We were both students at the University of Chicago in the 1970s, and we met at a student party in a crowded apartment in Hyde Park.  Although the tuition was low compared to tuition today at Chicago, we were all so poor that we were always looking for income to pay our expenses.  Some of us were envious of Sally's success as a spiritual entrepreneur in marketing her Buddhism to other students.

I thought about Sally a few days ago when I read Paul Kingsnorth's essay in the March 2023 issue of First Things--"A Wild Christianity."  Kingsnorth is a novelist, poet, and essayist living in Ireland.

Kingsnorth says he is returning to the "wild Christianity" or "cave Christianity" of the ancient Christian ascetics; and in doing that, he says he is rebelling against the degrading materialist culture of modern secular liberalism.  But a careful reading of this and other essays by Kingsnorth will show that in his longing for Christian spirituality, he is not so much rebelling against bourgeois liberalism as expressing it.  

Like Sally, Kingsnorth is a spiritual entrepreneur who sells his Christian writing to consumers who long for the experience of a Christian transcendence of the world.  There is nothing wrong with that, because it shows that the bourgeois virtues of a liberal society include the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity.  The natural desire for religious transcendence is part of evolved human nature that will be manifested in a liberal social order where human beings go to the free marketplace of religion to choose among the competing religious traditions in finding the one that is most satisfying to them.

There is something wrong, however, in Kingsnorth's refusal to see that far from working against liberal culture, he is working within it, because he depends on the religious liberty in the pursuit of spirituality that is secured by a liberal social order to live a happy and profitable life as a writer of spiritual literature.  

His talent for engaging writing is evident from the very beginning of his First Things essay:

"Through the mouth of the cave, I watched the storm front move in from the east.  I could already her the approaching thunder; the low bank of cloud was gray with it.  I was perched on a low ledge inside the cave, which was just long enough to accommodate a human body laid prone.  I had filled the place with candles, which guttered and danced in the wind that was rising now with the coming storm."

"The storm broke in an instant, and then everything was roaring.  Great nails of rain hammered down on the hazels, and the rumbles of thunder were replaced by an explosion right above me.  The dimming evening sky was suddenly ripped from horizon to horizon by a great sheet of white lightning.  More rain.  More thunder.  More electricity.  It roared on and then, eventually, it roared past.  Ten minutes later, the rain had slowed, but the pause in hostilities was only temporary.  I could see another front approaching over the mountains."

"Four hours it went on.  A night of storm and screaming skies.  In the end, everything was black but for the light the candle flames threw on the weeping walls of the limestone cave, and irregular explosions of light, which would suddenly imprint on my retinas a white cave mouth like an opening to heaven or hell.  The roof of the cave was dripping now.  Outside there was nothing to be sseen unless the lightning came down, seeking the ground like a long-lost brother.  No ruined church, no well, no spring, no wood:  Everything that had surrounded me during the day had been swallowed by the Atlantic winter."

"This was how I spent the eve of my fiftieth birthday."

He explains that his stormy night in this cave was his attempt to relive the experience of the sixth-century Irish Saint Colman Mac Duagh, who is said to have lived a monastic solitary life in this cave for seven years.  Here's a picture of the cave in the Burren, a region on the west coast of Ireland:


In a previous essay for First Things--"The Cross and the Machine" (June 2021)--Kingsnorth recounted his spiritual journey that eventually led to this night in St. Colman's cave.   As a child, he had no interest in religion because it seemed to be irrelevant to his life.  Then, as a teenager, he became an atheist.  But he often visited empty churches.  And he often walked and camped in the mountains of England and Wales, where he felt the wondrous mystery of the natural world.  He thus became an animist or pantheist, and this pantheistic religion of nature was then expressed in his environmentalist activism, which included chaining himself to construction equipment to stop building projects.

Then he saw that there was a deeper issue here: the ecological crisis arose from the refusal of the liberal way of life to accept any limits to human action on the world, and this was a crisis of culture that was also a crisis of spirit.  He saw that every culture is built around a spiritual core that looks to a divinely transcendent reality that limits human action.  Without that spiritual core, no culture can survive.

He saw that every culture might need to look to one of the great spiritual traditions to provide some understanding of a transcendent reality beyond the world.  He chose Zen Buddhism.  On his fortieth birthday, he went on a week-long Zen retreat.  But then over the next five years, he saw that Zen Buddhism would not satisfy him, because he needed to worship, but he did not know what it was that he could rightly worship.

He decided that since he had a reverence for nature, he could worship God in nature.  That led him to become a priest of the witch gods: he joined a Wiccan coven.  Wicca is a modern pagan religion developed in the first half of the twentieth century, in which all Wiccans are priests or priestesses of two gods--the Great Goddess and the Horned God--who are two aspects of a greater pantheistic deity.  Kingsnorth observes: "My coven used to do its rituals in the woods under the full moon.  It was fun, and it made things happen.  I discovered that magic is real.  It works.  Who it works for is another question."

But he still had a vague sense that there was a void inside of him, and that the Wiccan stuff was just play-acting.  Then, he began to dream of Jesus speaking to him.  And, finally, he had an ecstatic experience: "Suddenly, I could see how everyone in the room was connected to everyone else, and I could see what was going on inside them and inside myself.  I was overcome with a huge and inexplicable love, a great wave of empathy, for everyone and everything.  It kept coming and coming until I had to swagger out of the room and sit down in the corridor outside.  Everything was unchanged, and everything was new, and I knew what had happened and who had done it, and I knew that it was too late.  I had just become a Christian."  He explains: "In the end, though, I didn't become a Christian because I could argue myself into it.  I became a Christian because I knew, suddenly, that it was true."  In January of 2021, he joined the Romanian Orthodox Church and was baptized in the River Shannon.

But notice that while now he knows that Christianity is true, previously he knew that pantheism was true, that Zen Buddhism was true, and that Wicca was true.  How is what he knows now to be true any better than what he previously thought he knew to be true?  He doesn't explain.  And yet perhaps his account of his reliving the monastic experience of St. Colman in the cave can show us how his experience of Christian truth rises above his experience of pantheistic truth, Buddhist truth, or Wiccan truth.

Kingsnorth says he was drawn to Colman because from a young age he was obsessed by hermits and mystics like Tolkein's Gandalf.  "Maybe this sort of thing is in my blood, or maybe I just read too many fantasy novels."  Above all, he loves the story of strange men who retreat to the wilds to find wisdom and God.  And so, he loves the story of Colman:

"Colman lived in his cave, it is said, for seven years.  He drank water from the spring, ate hazelnuts and berries from the forest, and wandered the 'pathless woods' praying.  He built a small oratory church, of which no traces remain, though a later stone ruin stands on the same site. . . ."

. . .

"My favorite story about Colman concerns his wild companions.  The saint, the legends tell us, somehow befriended a cockerel, a mouse, and a fly, and trained them to help him out.  The cockerel's job was to crow when he needed to get up in the morning to pray.  The mouse's role was to step in if Colman didn't feel like getting out of bed:  It would nibble his ear until he roused himself.  As for the fly, Colman trained it to walk along the lines of his Bible in the dim light, so he could follow it as he read.  A new stained glass church window in the nearby town of Gort portrays the saint with his three animal companions rather sweetly."

Notice that Kingsnorth identifies this "story" as based on "legends."  Actually, everything he says about Colman comes from a short biography posted on the St. website.  The source for this website biography is a book by Father Jerome Fahey--The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Kilmacduagh (Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1893)--which can be found online.  I don't see any evidence that Kingsnorth has read the book.  When Fahey tells the story about the cock, the mouse, and the fly, he warns his reader: "It should be remembered that those eminent writers who reproduce those legends never professed to do more than carefully reproduce what they found in ancient writings, without at all holding themselves responsible for their credibility" (60).  Fahey repeatedly makes remarks like this: "some of our medieval writers have added some incredible marvels of the usual legendary character" (62).

So, is Kingsnorth presenting this story of Colman as historically true?  Or does he see it as only a legend that might have little credibility?  He certainly makes no effort to persuade his readers that this story is historically accurate, as if this does not matter to him.

Consider this last paragraph of his essay:

"There is a wild-haired man in the desert clad in camel skin.  He is the start of things.  He lives on honey and insects and he calls us to prepare for the coming of one who will baptize not with water but with fire.  God, he says, will come in human form.  He will be born in a cave, he will walk on the water and battle in the desert and when he comes to the city it will kill him.  But that will not be the end of the story.  We can't write the ending to this story.  We can only trace the lines on the page in the dim light of the cave mouth.  We can only wait patiently for the storm to come over and for the lightning to come down, and illuminate everything."

So, now, Kingsnorth presents the stories of John the Baptist and Jesus as if they are at the same level as the stories of Colman in the cave.  If the stories of Colman are legends, are these New Testament stories also only legends?

If so, then Jesus exists as a character in a good fictional story, but he does not really exist.  If this is what Kingsnorth is suggesting, then he is still an atheist, as he was as a teenager, but now he's a religious atheist.  He is promoting the same atheistic religiosity that I have identified in people like Friedrich Nietzsche, Roger Scruton, Leon Kass, and Jordan Peterson.

If this is so, then Kingsnorth shows us that there is a global market for atheistic spirituality.  Kingsnorth's global marketing of his writing seems at odds with his vehement scorn for global capitalism and modern technology.  His first novel--The Wake--was published through internet crowdfunding.  Film rights to this novel were then sold to a global group of investors led by the actor Mark Ryland and the former president of HBO Films Colin Callender.

If you go to Kingsnorth's website, you will see how he markets his books and his blog to generate revenue.  A subscription to his "Abbey of Misrule" blog costs 50 Euros a year (about $53 USD).  In his use of internet marketing and in other respects, Kingsnorth has a lot in common with Rod Dreher.  This past week, Dreher was in Ireland to interview Kingsnorth for Dreher's new book on "reinchantment" movements around the world.

                Rod Dreyer and Paul Kingsnorth, Near the St. Colman Tower in County Clare

Just as Dreher argues for the "Benedict Option," in which religious believers form small local communities with their own schools, churches, and social groups of families to live out their religious faith, Kingsnorth recommends that people build voluntary associations of religious families and groups at the local level.  

Notice that both Kingsnorth and Dreher are incoherent in that while they profess to reject liberalism, they actually embrace the fundamental principles of liberalism--such as voluntarism and religious liberty--and they reject the illiberalism of theocratic regimes that would coercively enforce religious belief.  As I have indicated in previous posts, they share this incoherence (both affirming and denying liberalism) with Patrick Deneen.

When I went to Dreher's Substack website, I discovered that to read his blog, I would have to subscribe for $50 a year.  I then received this email message from Dreher:

Hey friend, if you’d like to receive the Daily Dreher, um, daily, please subscribe. It’s only five dollars per month (25 cents per day), or fifty dollars per year. Come on, it’ll be fun. Peel me a grape! French me a fry!

Why is it different from my blog? For one thing, it’s a spiritual exercise for me. On my TAC blog, I chronicle the Continuing Crisis. Here, I write in a much quieter and more reflective mode, trying to train my eye to perceive the beauty, the goodness, and the meaning in the world — reasons to hope. On this blog, I attempt to discover the truth of Auden’s lines: “Life remains a blessing/Although you cannot bless.”

I write more candidly and personally about religion here. Also, about books, ideas, travel, and food — but always striving to do so in a “what’s good about the world” sense. Crazy, innit? I hope you will join me. I also feature reader letters. Let’s make this a collective venture. We’re all trying to figure out how to “stagger onward rejoicing” (Auden again), so let’s help each other.



Notice that for every 2,000 subscribers, this brings in a cool $100,000 of yearly revenue.  And it's only 25 cents per day!

This reminds us of Sally's wisdom: There's money in mysticism.