The Heterozygote Advantage and the Crisis of Western Authority

question

I.

There is a concept in biology known as Heterozygote Advantage. If you’re already familiar with this concept, feel free to skip to section II.

As one may know, sexually reproducing organisms inherit two copies of each gene: one from the mother, one from the father. Sometimes having two identical copies doesn’t mean much. Sometimes it means a lot. Having one recessive allele (gene variant) and one dominant allele usually means that the recessive one can be passed on along with the dominant one, but the dominant one is the one that is presented in the organism. For example, if a child inherits one blue-eyed allele and one brown-eyed allele, the dominant brown-eyed allele is the one that drives (so to speak) the phenotype (the way the organism biologically presents its genes) while the recessive blue-eyed allele rides shotgun, serving no function in the organisms per se but maintaining the possibility of being the one that is passed on to this organism’s offspring when it’s time to send one of the two genes into the next generation’s car, to continue the metaphor.

Say hypothetically that there’s a recessive gene that allows people to heal really quickly. If you inherit only one copy of this gene, since it’s recessive, the dominant “normal healing” gene is the one that is presented in the organism, and there’s no biological difference from someone not having the “quick healing” gene. If, however, an organism has two parents who have this recessive “quick healing” gene, and happens to inherit both copies, then this child would have the Quick Healing trait. This child could get in deadly car crashes and be more likely to survive, be shot on a battlefield and be able to heal before bleeding out, etc. Even if this child never got an adamantium skeleton and never gained the ability to eject and retract blades from his hands, this child would be more fit – more likely to survive into adulthood and pass on genes – than one who did not have this genetic combination (ceteris paribus). This would be, for most intents and purposes, a good genetic combination to have (leaving aside the fact that in many organisms in nature, quick healing attributes are correlated with higher propensity for cancer). We would say in this situation that this organism has a Homozygote Advantage. This means, there is an advantage to having both copies of a gene where there is not an advantage to having only one.

Then we have the opposite concept: a heterozygote advantage. As one may be able to infer from the above idea, a heterozygote advantage is one in which it’s more beneficial to have only one copy of an allele than two. The classic example of this is Sickle Cells: one copy of the gene that produces sickle-shaped blood cells makes red blood cells less susceptible to attack by the parasitic plasmodium that causes malaria, conferring an advantage in fitness. Having two copies of this same gene, however, makes too many blood cells two misshapen; the circulatory system struggles to deal with this complication, and Sickle Cell Anemia results, usually ending in premature death. This is a homozygote disadvantage, or a heterozygote advantage.


II.

The term “meme” has in recent years taken on a very different meaning than that which it originally had. Professor Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme” in 1976 to refer to the cultural analogue of a gene. In the same way that “genes” were the discrete units of genetic information that were passed on and selected for and allowed a population to achieve continuity and evolve, likewise “memes” were the discrete units of ideas and cultures that were passed on and selected for and allowed sociocultural populations to achieve continuity and evolve.

In the past decade or two, this term was somewhat misappropriated (though somewhat accurately applied) from its original usage in cultural studies and information theory and used to describe elements of Internet Culture – image macros, witty comment chains on reddit, propensity for voting to name things “Harambe” or “Xy McXface”, or the trope of misdirecting people via links to 80s British Pop music videos. Perhaps because internet culture was create ex nihilo so recently, participants were eager to identify elements of commonality and give them the name “meme”, hence the prominence of this term in reference to internet culture viz. every other area of culture.

Nevertheless, the original definition of a meme – any transmittable element of culture – remains valid. How broadly or narrowly one should define memes in this sense is open to debate – people’s idea of the proper length of a Toga can be a meme as much as the concept of the Mandate of Heaven or the consensus about the right age for a boy to begin his manhood quest – these are all culturally specific ideas that are transmitted vertically (communicated between generations) and horizontally (communicated verbally, textually, etc. among contemporaneous members of a group), and are subject to inception, evolution, and oblivion.


III.

I would like to focus on one particular meme: skepticism. I will define this simply as “the notion that propositions should be doubted”. This is a meme, an idea-gene, if you will, that not everyone has. In some cultures great efforts are made to minimize the prevalence of this meme, namely in rampant authoritarian or theocratic societies in which doubt of the Supreme Leader or The Party or The Faith are seen as ills to be purged; critical thinking is not prized or cultivated. When the skepticism gene is manifest in a skeptical culturotype (the ideological analog to phenotypes) they are pruned from the flock.

Thus, like any genes or memes, the meme of skepticism is not an unalloyed good. In environs and situations in which survival is precarious and military-esque deference to authority is necessary to stay alive, having a sudden increase in skepticism and doubt of the hierarchy could lead to the death of the society and the individuals that it comprises. But at other times, the meme of skepticism presents great advantages: being creative, willing to go one’s own way, follow one’s inclinations and not blindly stumble after the herd can yield enormous benefits when it comes to science, business, art, politics, or personal interactions. I would posit that there is a strong correlation between the prevalence of the skepticism meme and the level of creativity, dynamism, and liberty of a society.

But that does not mean that this correlation is purely linear. That does not mean that forever increasing the prevalence of the skepticism gene results in ever more creative, dynamic, and liberated societies; or perhaps it does, but that manifests in ways we don’t like. Because when the low-hanging, transparent falsehoods of life are stripped away, when the lies of the authorities are exposed, how does skepticism know where to stop? How does the skepticism known if it has penetrated the facades and is gnawing through the pillars of the firmament?


IV.

When we picture the embodiment of skepticism, we may picture someone like Galileo, or Descartes, or Martin Luther. In the minds of many, skepticism is associated with things that we generally prize in humans: with discovery, with challenging oppressive institutions, with exploration, with innovation, and perhaps with a scientific mindset. We normally wouldn’t associate it with people we despise, with people we think are delusional, with people we might think are in the grip of dogmatic and destructive ways of thinking. We don’t think of Flat Earthers, Anti-Vaxxers, Global Warming Deniers. We don’t think of 9/11 Truthers. We don’t think of Pizzagaters.

But these groups are in many ways extremely skeptical. In fact, they are far, far more skeptical than the rest of us. They’re homozygous skeptics. They’ve inherited a double-serving of the “skepticism” meme. They doubt not only the facts, but the authorities that produce those facts, the institutions that those authorities serve, and even go so far as to doubt the ideologies that give rise to those institutions and authorities. A natural reaction of most normal people is to say that Flat Earthers are crazy and deluded. But they are saying “using only empirical observation, the world looks flat. You and I have never gone into space, never built a GPS system, never had to calculate and experience parabolic trajectories that take into account the supposed curvature of the Earth. You are taking it on faith from books and authorities that the Earth is round, whereas there have been plenty of societies that just took it from faith and books and authorities that the earth was flat. How are you any better than that?”

Antivaxxers, dangerous though they are, are equally skeptical of authority and “established” truths. An antivaxxer points to thalidomide, to the vacillating warnings on fat and cholesterol and sugar, to the financial links between pharmaceutical companies and regulators, an Antivaxxer points to Tuskegee and says “how can you trust that?”

Global Warming Deniers and 9/11 Truthers similarly point to the credibility of the authorities that interpret evidence at us. In an interview on the Ezra Klein Show, journalist danah boyd [sic] makes the argument that Pizzagaters were doing their own form of investigative journalism, truly feeling that they were seeing through secret codes and webs of lies and deceipt to expose a dark Washington DC underground. [source]

These groups of hyperskeptics are not un-explainable deviants, nor could they not have been predicted. Rather, we created them, you and I and our school systems and our cultural tropes. They are the natural predictable end state of western society: when we encourage everyone to think for themselves, question everything, and doubt authorities, why shouldn’t we doubt all the things we can’t directly observe? Why do we still have any trust in any authorities? Who are we to say “whoa, wait a minute, I didn’t mean question that!”? When the selective pressure of western society encourages the proliferation of the “skepticism” meme, how are we surprised when people begin to inherit it homozygously?

How does the skepticism know if it has penetrated the facades and is gnawing through the pillars of the firmament?


V.

The above skepticism is corrosive in itself, and the game of undermining scientific and medical knowledge presents obvious dangers. But in recent years these tendencies have reached a fever pitch, and become tinged with cynicism. If skepticism is the notion that propositions should be doubted, then its cousin, cynicism, is the notion that motives should be doubted. Cynicism would tell us that people who promise great things, who ask for your trust and loyalty in order to change your life or the world for the better, are usually looking for a way to take advantage of your trust and use you for their own ends.

This brings us to the crux of this argument, and the fulcrum of Western society: what happens when this skepticism and cynicism is turned on our social and political institutions? What happens when homozygous skepticism is swapped out for cynicism, or occurs alongside it? The fact is that this process is happening now, throughout the West. From Trump to Brexit to Hungary and everywhere in between, the meme of “agenda-calling” is infiltrating social and political discourse. Anyone who wants anything has “an agenda”. The media has a liberal agenda. The EU has an agenda to subdue British power, or to erase Hungarian culture. Scientists have an agenda to destroy the oil industry and American jobs. And of course, their expressed motives – of providing information, of delivering on the promises of liberalism, of securing the peace and health of the world – are just facades to hide their secret abuse, pilfering, and power-grabbing.

Be skeptical of them. Doubt the institutions. Doubt the motives.

I do not wish to enter the argument of whether, or to what extent, Russia is actively interfering in Western politics, but I wish to submit that this ideology of cynicism and skepticism intertwined and directed at politicians has long been a core of Russian political psychology, and that it is the idea now infiltrating western political discourse. “I think what the Russian discourse is [is] that it’s, in fact, very difficult to cleave perfectly to [a set of morals],” Nikitin said. “And anyone that claims to the contrary can be unmasked as, in fact, being just as flawed as anyone else is” [source].

This strategy is commonly called “whataboutism”, but that term misses the mark. “Whataboutism” is, literally, a usage of “what about…” also known as the “tu quoque” (you as well) fallacy. When someone criticizes you, you can respond with an accusation that the other person). Rather, this tactic of agenda-calling, unmasking, and dragging of idols through the mud perhaps deserves terms like weaponized cynicism, weaponized skepticism, or weaponized postmodernism. The idea that all ideologies – democracy, liberalism, good governance, freedom of the press, etc – are merely lofty promises that abusive politicians make to empty your pockets when you’re not looking – is a defense mechanism used by autocrats to make their critics out to be doe-eyed naifs.

But to return to the Russia question, the fact is that it doesn’t really matter whether this is Russian meddling – because either way, we set ourselves up for it. We encouraged the skepticism. We filled the ideological meme pool with the skeptical meme. We must contend with the results. And we must find new pillars to hold up new firmaments.


PS.

An obvious criticism to this description is that there’s no need to resort to genetics and heterozygote advantages to explain this; this is a simple question of extremism. There’s a moderate, healthy amount of skepticism, and then there’s extreme, nigh-solipsistic skepticism. What we need to do is to encourage the healthy amount and discourage the extreme nigh-solipsistic kind.

But I’m not sure that quite captures the way this works. First of all, it seems hard to pinpoint that a person picked and chose their level of skepticism and thought “hm, I really like being an extremist”; rather, these seem to be a priori propensities to doubt everything or not. In that way, they perhaps operate more like genes than political ideologies, which are at least in part a collection of individual policy and candidate preferences.

Second, I’m not sure it’s one-dimensional; I think it’s possible that there are two slightly different domains of skepticism that someone can have individually, and only when they inherit the skepticism gene in both domains do they get these dysfunctional outcomes like flat-eartherism. Perhaps these domains are along the lines of “institutional skepticism” – skepticism of the authority of impersonal bodies; “societal skepticism” – skepticism of the veracity of lay common sense; or “empirical skepticism” – skepticism of the authority of senses to deliver veritable outcomes; “scientific skepticism” – skepticism of the truth-finding ability of scientific processes and community. I’m sure we can all think of people who have a few of these attributes, but do we know anyone who is skeptical in all of these domains?

Can we agree that these are, to a large extent, uncorrelated dimensions – one could be maximally skeptical of science while having no skepticism for societal lay common sense, or vice versa – ?

To that extent, I do think these operate as discrete attributes rather than a general “skeptical” spectrum.

Privilege is Contextual

I was recently listening to The Ezra Klein Show episode featuring Jonathan Haidt:

https://app.stitcher.com/splayer/f/82658/57404323

Throughout the conversation is the idea that modern outrage culture is heavily centered on liberal and elite college campuses, and often discusses questions of privilege and sociocultural aggressions.

This provoked a thought from me: no one at elite liberal universities is oppressed. The students who are able to gain admittance to the top universities in the US are not victims; they are amongst the most elite and privileged individuals in the country. They occupy spots that millions of Americans would sacrifice immensely to attain. These are people who will go on to be corporate leaders, politicians, academics, media personalities. These are people who will occupy top slots in American sociocultural and socioeconomic hierarchies.

And yet many of these students come from low income backgrounds. Many of them are from historically marginalized groups: racial, sexual, or religious minorities, and indeed women, all of whom are now struggling (with my full support)  in many domains of life for real and lasting recognition and treatment as equals of Straight White (Post-)Christian Men. These are groups that struggle with problems such as lower average incomes, or legal exclusions, or dis-preference for jobs or promotions, or sociocultural pigeonholes; these are peoples who are in many respects victims, and oppressed.

So how do we square these two different conceptions? Are these groups oppressed or are they not? Are these not contradictions?

The resolution of this dilemma is the idea that Privilege is Contextual. A general sociocultural privilege that one may enjoy as a member of a broad group does not mean that in the workplace or classroom that it is impossible to be oppressed; likewise, a general state of sociocultural oppression does not prevent one from carrying out one’s own oppression against someone who is in other contexts “higher in the hierarchy”. For a more in-depth discussion of this, see my post “On Privilege“.

It is important to note that just because someone is underprivileged in one context does not mean that they are always and everywhere free to “punch up” at relatively privileged groups, because in some contexts these groups are not “up”, and the noble fight to “punch up” the oppressors comes to create a type of oppression.

To illustrate this point, I recently responded to a post on SlateStarCodex.

If you find it too long, the summary is this (and ample evidence of these claims are provided in the article): feminism is generally good and necessary, but some leading self-described feminists are accused of being, but deny that they can be, oppressive in ways that cause pain and trauma. Whenever the pained and traumatized groups, in this case some nerds, find the courage to genuinely respond, they are told in various ways that their pain and trauma is not real and is just privilege because they are not the victims of structural oppression. This makes the pain and trauma worse. The author then gives various arguments and evidence of why structural oppression of groups like nerds is very real, and how many feminists seem to actively encourage the furthering of the oppression.

This is not representative of most of my lived experience of growing up a (not by choice) nerd. Nor is it representative of the feminist views I hold nor most of the feminists I have known. But it is true to a few experiences I have had and people I have known on both sides of this issue. The capstone (with which I agree) of the article is this:

“I see a vision here of everybody, nerdy men, nerdy women, feminists, the media, whoever – cooperating to solve our mutual problems and treat each other with respect. Of course I am on board with this vision. As Scott Aaronson would put it, I am 97% on board. What keeps me from being 100% on board right now is the feeling that the other side still doesn’t get it.”

A friend responded the following:

If the “genuine response” from nerds is the extreme misogyny I described above, then forget the rest of this response because all that’s needed is this: the argument provided here is incel-sympathizing misogyny.

I responded as follows: I think an interpretation that “the ‘genuine response’ from nerds is the extreme misogyny” is a misreading of the whole argument. I’m not claiming that, nor, I think, is the author, and at no point does misogyny or the aggressively misogynistic “incelism” become a justifiable response. As I see it, the crux of the argument is this: if some influential feminist writers and mainstream newssources are actively discounting the stories of suffering in some of the (albeit unrepresentative) “nerds” as privileged whining, and actively contributing to the stereotypes of what these men want and what their “real” thought processes are, at what point *does* that become a kind of oppression? To generalize it, at what point can voices who are or were oppressed and underprivileged in some dimensions become oppressive in another dimension?

Further, the accusation that a rational, well-documented criticism of the extremism of a group is somehow “misogyny” is self-defeating; what movement that cannot tolerate rational criticism can thrive? (For discussion on the relationship between “explaining” and “excusing”, see my post here).

And most importantly, does whether or not it’s narrowly-defined “oppression” determine whether or not it’s harmful and needs to stop?

On Privilege

For the good of the progressive movement, for the good or racial harmony in this country, I implore a change of tone regarding the nature of Privilege.

Privilege is the term for any innate advantages that one person might have over another. Privilege can manifest itself in terms of sex, race, parental income, place of birth, and native language. As a result, privilege is inherently relative, and describes all the ways in which one person may have innate and unfair advantages over another. All people, then, are privileged in certain ways, except for the hypothetical “least privileged person on earth”. Compared to her, every other person on earth has something – some form of innate and unfair advantage – over her. Likewise, all people are less privileged in certain ways than the hypothetical “most privileged person on earth”. Compared to him, every person on earth lacks some privileges that he has.

Every American is privileged relative to most citizens of Burkina Faso. The least privileged American still enjoys the privilege of the stability of a functional government, the protection of professional armed forces, the eradication of many communicable diseases, the cheaper commodity prices that result from the structure of the global economy, and access to widespread infrastructural improvements – there is inequality within the US in these categories, but the point stands. For many of the least privileged Americans, that is where the privileges end. Many of the least privileged Americans do not enjoy the privileges of whiteness, of maleness, of wealth, of healthy childhoods, of access to education or healthcare, or of the goodwill of local governments or police forces. At the same time, there are citizens of Burkina Faso who do enjoy some areas of privilege over some Americans, though it would be difficult to say that on the whole they are “more privileged”. Some Burkinabes enjoy privileges such as maleness, whiteness, or wealthy family backgrounds, though still struggle without the privileges of functional governments, or the eradication of certain diseases, or the benefits of trade deals and global economic positioning.

In the American context, privilege is also a multilayered and composite affair. A white rural male from a poor background enjoys the privileges of whiteness and maleness that a black urban female of wealthy background will never have. At statistically average poor white rural male is far less likely to suffer the threat of police brutality at a routine traffic stop (though it can occur), or the menace of sexual harassment in the workplace (though it certainly can happen), or the shadow of security guards following him through a department store. The poor white rural male enjoys the privileges of higher likelihood of promotion and raises if employed in the same job, higher presumed ability in STEM fields, lower likelihood of suffering domestic abuse, and greater liberty from presumptions of racial affinity and representativeness. The poor white male can consume television and films filled with heroes who look like him, and can see national icons, politicians, and business leaders who are overwhelmingly of his own sex and race, and can buy hair and skin products formulated primarily for hair and skin similar to his own. He will not have to deal with subtle subconscious or surreptitious anti-black biases of the majority of hiring managers, bankers, real estate agents, and college admissions counselors in the country. The poor white male will not deal with menstrual cycles, or the dangers and lifelong health effects of pregnancy, nor does he run a high chance of being abandoned to raise children on his own. He will not deal with presumptions that he is good with cooking, cleaning, or children. The list of the privileges that white males enjoy could continue for pages, but we need not delve into every one of them here. But I know that as a white male I have enjoyed and unfairly benefitted from many of them.

This is only half the story of privilege in these two cases. A black female from a wealthy urban background holds privileges of her own. Raised in a wealthy urban background, she will have had access to better schools, better social services, and better healthcare than her fellow poor rural white male American. She likely grew up with more books and reading materials in the home and had access to more elevated and educated vocabulary from her family members, granting her life advantages before she ever attended school. Her wealthy mother likely had access to greater pre-natal care and nutrition, privileging her cerebral development before she ever drew breath. Growing up in an educated urban environment provided access to more ideas, denser social networks, and thus greater opportunity for hobbies, educational experiences, and internship and job opportunities. Upon applying to a university she would have had access to a few programs designed to grant special consideration or funding to African Americans or other minorities, and upon entering the job market may have had access to a few such considerations as well. As revealed in Raj Chetty’s massive and groundbreaking 2018 study, parental income is a massive determinant in lifetime income expectations, and for females is far more statistically significant than race, large enough to make up for – at sufficiently large disparities in income – the advantage that a white male will have in expected lifetime earning potential (https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/3/21/17139300/economic-mobility-study-race-black-white-women-men-incarceration-income-chetty-hendren-jones-porter).

For many proponents of social justice and the need to check and recognize privilege, the checking of privilege does not need to continue from the first paragraph above describing the privileges of the white male on to the second paragraph describing the privileges of the black female – checking of privilege is tantamount to checking only for one’s physiological advantages: being white, male, abled, heterosexual, and cisgendered. The rationale is clear: race, sex, orientation – these things are indelible, and carry with them a deep psychological and sociological stigma. Any white family no matter how poor enjoys the privilege of whiteness over any black family no matter how wealthy.

This calculation is not wrong; but it is incomplete to the point of being insidiously destructive, for inverse is equally true: any wealthy family no matter their race enjoys the privilege of wealth over any poor family no matter their race. When the hypothetical poor white male sees the hypothetical wealthy black female on TV saying that white people need to check their privileges and recognize all of the advantages they have been raised with, this is nothing short of a slap in the face. When poor working white families witness a multiracial and multiethnic generation rising to positions of prominence in society and then using those positions of prominence to discuss why white people are privileged, the roots of racial resentment and demographic anxiety are in the air.

I believe strongly that for the good of any country, all its people must be able to thrive and grow irrespective of the circumstances of their bodies or the social standings of their birth. Privileges are very real, can be advantageous, and their absence causes or contributes to immense inequalities. I also recognize and wholly agree that privileges like whiteness and maleness are disproportionately powerful compared to other privileges, and cannot be transmuted by scholarships, affirmative action, or reparations; a much deeper social rectification on these terms must come about. Our societies must strive to reduce the impact of unfair privileges, but that begins by recognizing them – all of them. I fear, however, that progressives have recently been focusing too narrowly on the physiological privileges, the rhetoric around which has served to turn off many white people to the truth behind the concept. For the good of the progressive movement, for the good or racial harmony in this country, I implore a change of tone.

Democracy versus Science

This is an ongoing topic of mine (I’m just now finishing my thesis on this very topic), but because this is the latest news, I thought I would share:

Italy’s new populist government just fired the entire national medical panel because of their pro-vaccine views. Vaccines are just one front in a brewing war that is seeing a direct conflict between expertise (“I literally spent my entire life studying this”) and populist democracy (“Oh yeah well my opinion is just as good as yours and I want this”).

Other fronts in this war include GMOs, Brexit (“the British people are tired of experts” – Michael Gove), Climate Science (

)

not to mention anything about Trump. There are still other religious-tinged elements to this war including creationism and flat-eartherism.

Western civilization must ask the question: when there are popular opinions on one hand and scientific expertise on the other, what should elected officials and governments do?

We are (probably) all Modernists

I was asked recently to respond to an angsty college freshman who laid out a fairly textbook understanding of postmodern moral relativism:

People define values in their own ways…humans define good and evil…for those who disagree with the majority opinions of society, society is hell…If we want to define a massacre as morally okay, nothing is stopping us other than constructing a majority moral opinion to allow that.

The thing is, there’s a lot more to it than that. One of the first blows against this conception is Game Theory, specifically such ideas as the Tragedy of the Commons or Prisoner’s Dilemma – essentially, although, yes, everyone can assert their own values and their own moralities and pursue their own goals, there are mathematically and physically provable situations in which everyone benefits from cooperation, whereas everyone pursuing their selfish interests actually causes a total detriment to society. Laws and Moralities don’t just benefit the majority at the expense of the individual – they benefit the individual as well, by creating dependable, predictable surroundings. Morality and Law and Order may come at the expense of some liberties (e.g. taxation, legal restrictions) but they are necessary preconditions for other sorts of liberties: the liberty to travel the world, to read new books, to cultivate individual interests, for example, would not exist without moral and legal agreements about airline safety, about copyrights or university educations or infrastructural and logistics systems, of shared norms about the free flow of information and guarantees about freedom of inquiry and expression. There are strong reasons societies tend not to deem wanton massacres as “okay”: because all people benefit from living in societies where they aren’t okay.

This paradigm is struggling to be standardized at the global level (e.g. Universal Human Rights). However, a gadfly tends to get in the way: Moral Relativism. Who is the Human Rights-slinging West to tell other countries what they can or cannot do? Who gave Liberal Democracy – the ideology of the former oppressive colonizers – moral ascendancy over other ideologies like traditional religions? The problem is that this appeal to tradition and the rights of local societies is often a cover to perpetuate atrocities: if someone is truly Morally Relativist, they must be okay with slavery, with genital mutilation, with pedophilia, for these things are part and parcel of many traditional cultures and religions. However, to that extent that we oppose these things, we are not truly Morally Relativist (believing that all moral systems are equally valid) and we are not truly Postmodernist (believing in the hollowness of any broad claims to authority and believing in sovereignty of the individual to determine his or her own morality). To the extent that we oppose these things, we are at least partially Modernist – we believe in a broader morality, we believe in a certain shared sense of human rights, and we believe that securing these rights is a form of Human Progress.

We – most people reading this blog – believe in Modernism, in at least some sense. We believe that there are moral victories for mankind. We rejoice in a country throwing off the shackles of tyranny. We think that computers should be getting faster and cheaper. We believe that there should be more medical treatments available tomorrow than today. We rejoice in the liberation of enslaved girls. Why? Because we believe that we as a species can and must aspire for more.

But where do those ideas come from, and what does that future look like? That is to be hashed out in your comments and in future posts in this blog.