Saturday, February 2, 2008

Reason: Seavey on Nanotech and Much More

The March issue of Reason, out now, contains my cover story about nanotech — and I’m pleased it’s a cover illustrated by cartoonist Pete Bagge, whose comic books such as Hate I loved back when I was in college, never suspecting we were ideological kin. The first indication I had of his non-leftist political impulses was hearing that he’d said in an interview that if being a parent doesn’t make you more conservative, you’re doing it wrong. (I also became a fan of the comics of Mike Baron and the humor columns of Dave Barry in college, not realizing they’re both libertarians, too — must be some sort of similar mental wavelength.)

The March issue is also (a) good, (b) the last one with Nick Gillespie as editor in chief before Matt Welch takes over (making it an instant collector’s item!), and (c) one containing a few articles relevant to the atheism/religion theme I’ll be pushing on this blog all month.

Not only is my piece entitled “Neither Gods Nor Goo,” skeptically examining both utopian and doomsday predictions for nanotech, but there are these neat articles:

•Cathy Young writes in a balanced but critical way about Philip Pullman, author of The Golden Compass and the other books in the His Dark Materials series. Pullman is an atheist — which I like, of course — but he is one of those often-embarrassing atheists who tend to approach the issue not by talking about evidence but simply by trying to be as blasphemous as possible. Rather than depicting a universe without God, he depicts one where God is an idiot and a jerk, and the good guys rebel against him and even set up an embarrassingly smug-sounding Republic of Heaven on Earth, preferring it to (real!) eternal life, which seems stupid on multiple levels (though Pullman depicts the afterlife as a nightmare, just so no decent person would fail to side with him).

And Pullman mercilessly insults C.S. Lewis, who is, to make a long story short, obviously fantastic (Christian allegories or not, I’m very much looking forward to seeing audiences react to the increasingly weird Narnia movies as they come out, since after the relatively conventional first two, the stories are filled with strange glimpses of Aslan’s heavenly kingdom, sometimes-creepy tests of faith, and finally a talking ape false prophet who brings terrible judgment down upon everyone in one of the more depressing kids’ stories I’ve ever read — at least, that one’s depressing until the very end, when it gets even weirder than anything in the preceding episodes, as befits a story based on the nigh-psychedelic Book of Revelation).

•Jesse Walker writes about wishing Mitt Romney were as interesting as the two prior Mormon presidential candidates: Joseph Smith himself, who ran in 1844 and wanted among other things to abolish prisons, and Sonia Johnson, who ran in 1984 and was a militant feminist lesbian polyamorist anarchist (unlike Reagan, who won that year).

American Conservative’s Daniel McCarthy reviews a book about Russell Kirk as an example of an arch-conservative who was also in some sense a postmodernist. Regardless of what one thinks of that thesis, it reminds me that I know some (relatively hip and modern) religious people who see postmodernist criticisms of science and rationality as a license to cleave (somewhat arbitrarily) to faith instead, a fusion of what I would regard as the worst possible aspects of left-wing and right-wing epistemology. Postmodernist rationales for embracing faith are to careful thought what Mike Huckabee is to beneficial political trends, if you follow me.

More interesting than the question of whether Kirk was a postmodernist, by the way, is the question of whether he was a conservative in the modern/neocon sense of the word. He is revered by the National Review crowd and injected religion — and a notion of Western Civilization as the large cause to be served by conservative politics — into the movement at almost exactly the same time that William F. Buckley came along, but Kirk was in many ways more of a paleoconservative (antiwar, not too crazy about Israel, pro-local, pro-rustic, somewhat anticapitalist) and, interestingly, his widow and at least one of his daughters, who I’ve been lucky enough to meet, want nothing to do with the mainstream conservative movement or the Republican Party, sound more like blunderbuss-wielding backwoods paleos (and I mean that in a sympathetic way), and even see themselves as having more in common with fringey libertarians — despite Russell Kirk’s extreme skepticism about libertarianism — than with the Establishment.

P.S. The March Reason issue also contains associate editor Kerry Howley’s look at one of the greatest bits of culture-jamming art I’ve seen: stickers usable anywhere that simply say, in the fashion of incomplete Wikipedia entries, “[citation needed].”

P.P.S. And now I’m off to celebrate the birthday of an atheist materialist fan of science and economics who I’ve known since high school, so it’s fitting he make a cameo at the start of my “Month Without God.”

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