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[flagged] Don’t Romanticize the Present (thefrailestthing.com)
40 points by imartin2k on Feb 6, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 15 comments



> We should romanticize neither the past nor the present, nor the future for that matter.

I disagree. Seeing the world strictly through a lens of cold eyed rationalism is demotivating. Awe is a perfectly practical use of the senses. I watched Neil and Buzz bound around on the moon. That's a romantic past that was once my romantic present. There's no particular benefit in discounting those feelings.

Here's some cold eyed rational scientific work demonstrating the massive collapse of poverty in our time:

https://ourworldindata.org/extreme-history-methods

If we can't romanticize this present day accomplishment then what the heck is romanticism for? We're participating in a culture that is reducing extreme human suffering at an unprecedented pace. A rationalist would miss the full picture if he couldn't feel the heroic nature of that.


Being in awe of an achievement, past or present, does not necessarily mean you are romanticizing it. You can have strong emotions and positive feelings about something without romanticizing it. Romanticizing means viewing something in an idealized or unrealistic way, ignoring or downplaying anything that does not fit into that "Romantic View" of it.

We can be proud of our accomplishments, past an present, and feel good that in some areas there have been huge advancements. But, we do ourselves a disservice if we romanticize the world and and don't view things in context. We need to understand what it took to make those advancements, accept that some advancements come with consequences, and not ignore those areas where there are still much to be done.


We seem to be converging on this sense of the word (Merriam-Wester 4):

> marked by the imaginative or emotional appeal of what is heroic, adventurous, remote, mysterious, or idealized

Surely, even in full context, certain things can be legitimately seen as heroic, adventurous, remote or mysterious without being overly idealistic in an unrealistic way. It seems valuable, to a point at least, to allow our emotional reaction to such events guide our dreams and plans. That's an upside to romanticism.

I'm a fan of SpaceX, et. al. If those outfits had to be funded and staffed by unromantic people primarily interested in return on investment, would they exist?


I think this is just a subtle semantic issue. In my previous post, and what I think the original article is talking about is the act of romanticizing something that is not romantic (or not entirely so). Parts of it may be so, but automatically extending that to a larger context is fallacious and potentially dangerous.

The moon landing example you made is a good one. It is a grand achievement, and is rightfully a romantic vision of what humanity can accomplish. But over-extending that romantic view to the entire area in history that it occurred in would mean ignoring the cold war and the ever-present threat of nuclear war.

I'm not saying, and I don't think the articles authors was intending to say, that you shouldn't have emotional and romantic responses to things, but rather that we need to not let those responses (and perhaps our desire to focus on the positive/romantic) blind us to the wider contexts that may not be so romantic.


I find works of philosophical non-fiction written by horror fiction writers useful for not romanticizing the present:

“Like many who have tried their hand at metaphysics, Bahnsen declared that, appearances to the contrary, all reality is the expression of a unified, unchanging force—a cosmic movement that various philosophers have characterized in various ways. To Bahnsen, this force and its movement were monstrous in nature, resulting in a universe of indiscriminate butchery and mutual slaughter among its individuated parts. Additionally, the “universe according to Bahnsen” has never had a hint of design or direction. From the beginning, it was a play with no plot and no players that were anything more than portions of a master drive of purposeless self-mutilation. In Bahnsen’s philosophy, everything is engaged in a disordered fantasia of carnage. Everything tears away at everything else … forever. Yet all this commotion in nothingness goes unnoticed by nearly everything involved in it. In the world of nature, as an instance, nothing knows of its embroilment in a festival of massacres. Only Bahnsen’s self-conscious Nothing can know what is going on and be shaken by the tremors of chaos at feast.”

- Thomas Ligotti, “The Conspiracy Against the Human Race”


Eugene Thacker's 'In the Dust of This Planet', 'Starry Speculative Corpse', and 'Tentacles Longer Than Night' could probably also fit into this category.


I have heard a similar term : "Don't be a chronological bigot." Essentially assuming that folks in the past, even in the ancient past, were less intelligent or less enlightened. I am mesmerized how Bronze Age folks figured out how to form an alloy out of copper and tin ... I am not sure how many folks could reproduce this from first principles and the knowledge base they had to work with.


The article's main argument is: "We are not obligated to love technology. [...] If we allow ["technology"] to stand as an umbrella term for everything from modern dentistry to the apparatus of ubiquitous surveillance, then we are forced to either accept modern technology in toto or reject it in toto. We are thus discouraged from thoughtful discrimination and responsible judgment."

This seem uncontroversial -- I doubt even Steven Pinker would disagree with that.

Maybe some internet trolls make low-quality arguments like "so you want to go back to horses and buggies?!?" but basically nobody is arguing that technology should reign unregulated. Who thinks civilians should be able to own nuclear weapons?

All of this seems quite unrelated to the dispute between Pinker and Hickel of whether global poverty is decreasing or not.


As someone relatively new to following "public intellectuals" (think Tyler Cowen, Jonathan Haidt, Pinker, etc.) I've been surprised at who reductive their arguments seem to be.

There is a lot of talk among this class of people regarding the current state of debate but as in many cases I've seen examples of two people who are absolutely grounded in their beliefs and use straw man arguments, diversion and reductive reasoning to defend their points. If you ever listened to the Ezra Klein v. Sam Harris podcast you know what I mean.

This isn't the first occasion that I've seen someone rebute the philosophy of Pinker's work only for him to double down on the same argument. I guess I shouldn't be surprised because persuasion is difficult in general, but I expected a deeper dive into the complexities of these arguments.


Once a public intellectual reaches a certain level of public visibility/celebrity, they spend most of their time having softballs lobbed at them by worshipful audiences at venues like TED and Davos. It's not hard to imagine how that sort of treatment would atrophy their muscles for engaging with criticism.


> I expected a deeper dive into the complexities of these arguments.

Public intellectuals are attempting to appeal to the public at large, the majority of which don't change their minds based on new information. They change their minds based on how that information makes them feel. Trying to convince most people to change their minds with a complex argument is a lot like trying to convince most people to change their minds by talking in Italian instead of English.


There's far more romanticizing the past than there is of romanticizing the present. So naturally it presents a better focus for critical examination.

If you ask the average person, the majority (in my experience) are far more likely to think that the world has more poor people than ever or that people have fewer rights, that opportunities are less, that corporations have more power, that kids were safer, etc.

Pinker and the rest do a valuable service to point out that these lazy assumptions are questionable to say the least and they do so using quantifiable indicators and statistics. This is important in my opinion because this narrative of a world getting worse and worse seems to be promoted by the extremists at both left and the right.

I had to force myself to read past the words "neoliberal globalists" in Hickel's rebuttal. Like the phrase "neomarxist progressives", you know already that the content will be about politics instead of any sort of historiography, statistics, facts, etc. Generally articles containing phrases like this are about appealing to an existing political base - and not about honest debate. Some other comment got downvoted for claiming this article is "pure politics" but I agree with this assessment.

The article's link to Pinker's rebuttal of Hickel (strictly speaking the rebuttal isn't Pinker's although the meat of it includes lengthy quotes from Pinker) is actually worth a read - https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2019/01/31/is-the-w... - as the quoted email from Pinker clearly provides supporting citations. Admittedly, I think he could have avoided pointing out Hickel's professed political leanings as the facts themselves are convincing enough.


flagged - pure politics


I wish you hadn’t, I thought the article was worthwhile, and very much at home on HN.


flagged - tool




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