The Oppermanns

The Oppermanns by Lion Feuchtwanger

The FCFS book discussion group is discussing this book the first Sunday in January 2023

I am formulating the discussion topics here. This is still WIP (work in progress)

Location: 35
It is not your duty to finish this novel, but neither are you free to neglect the history it preserves with such artistry, agony, and passion.

Location: 56
a novel about the German 1930s—a novel about pervasive surveillance and militarized policing, and about how the fake-news threats of “migrants” and “terrorism” can be manipulated to curtail civil liberties and crush democratic norms—will never be enough to prevent any of that from ever happening again.

Location: 110
the commercial success of the book only further imperiled its author. With the outbreak of war in September 1939, Feuchtwanger was detained by the French, … With the aid of American journalist Varian Fry, Marta contacted Hiram Bingham, the American vice-consul in Marseille, It was Bingham who planned Feuchtwanger’s escape, which was not without its farcical elements

Location: 138
the principle that art can, or even must, have a message; and that such art-with-a-message, which will always be dismissed as propaganda, is in fact the only available corrective to the real and actual propaganda of entrenched official power.

The above was the introduction to the book updated in 2022. Here’s a review by Cohen:

Begin excerpts from the book for discussion with possible discussion questions.

  1. Let’s discuss efforts to bring down prices. Why do people buy the less expensive products and then blame a scapegoat? For example, companies that move factories to countries where labor is cheaper aren’t boycotted but the trade agreements are scapegoated.

Location: 378
This movement called itself National Socialism. It freely expressed what Heinrich Wels had long secretly felt, namely that the Jewish firms with their cut-price methods were responsible for Germany’s decline. It was true that people still preferred to buy cheaper tables, but at least they abused the Oppermanns.

2. Who profits when minorities are slandered?

Location: 385
Chicanery from official quarters increased under pressure from the growing National Socialist party. Heinrich Wels profited.

3. Is he talking about Poland here? Excerpt from Wikipedia:

On August 31, the day before the German invasion of Poland that began World War II, the Germans began mass arrests of prominent Poles in the city. Among the arrested Poles were activists, entrepreneurs, journalists, editors, scout leaders, the director of the local Polish bank and the director of the local Polish library. The Nowiny Codzienne newspaper was closed down on September 1, and its editorial team, including editor-in-chief Jan Łangowski, was deported to concentration camps. In September 1939, local Polish organizations were closed down by the German police and Gestapo, and the assets of the local Polish bank were confiscated. On September 13 and October 4, 1939, arrested Poles were deported from the city to concentration camps

Location: 566
“Grosnowice changed masters seventeen times. Seven times the changes brought pogroms with them.

I am formulating the discussion topics here. This is still WIP (work in progress)


Topic questions for the discussion of: How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

1. Can we agree on the definition of racist?

Location: 307 A racist idea is any idea that suggests one racial group is inferior or superior to another racial group in any way
Page 9: A racist endorses the racial hierarchy.
page 13: Racist is one who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea
Location: 274 A racist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups.
Page 10: A racist is manipulated by racist ideas to see racial groups as problems…. This is the consistent function of racist ideas—and of any kind of bigotry more broadly: to manipulate us into seeing people as the problem, instead of the policies that ensnare them.
Location: 284 When someone discriminates against a person in a racial group, they are carrying out a policy or taking advantage of the lack of a protective policy.

2. If racial discrimination is defined as considering race when making a decision, then racial discrimination is not inherently racist. Do you agree?

Location: 290 (page 18-19) The defining question is whether the discrimination is creating equity or inequity. If discrimination is creating equity, then it is antiracist. If discrimination is creating inequity, then it is racist.

3. If people feel the word “racist” is an insult, is it better to say “that idea is racist” rather than calling someone a racist?

Kindle location 148 (page 9) : The White Supremacist Richard Spencer said “‘Racist’ isn’t a descriptive word. It’s a pejorative word. It is the equivalent of saying, ‘I don’t like you.’ ”
Kindle Location: 159 The attempt to turn this usefully descriptive term into an almost unusable slur is, of course, designed to freeze us into inaction.
Page 10 We can be a racist one minute and an antiracist the next.

4. Can we agree on the definition of an antiracist

Page 9: An antiracist endorses racial equality. An antiracist locates the roots of problems in power and policies. An antiracist confronts racial inequities.
Location: 175 (page 10) The movement from racist to antiracist requires understanding and snubbing racism based on biology, ethnicity, body, culture, behavior, color, space, and class.
Page 13 An antiracist is one who is supporting an antiracist policy through actions or expressing an antiracist idea.
Location: 842 To be antiracist is to focus on ending the racism that shapes the mirages, not to ignore the mirages that shape peoples’ lives.

5. Was his big message that we need to focus on changing racist policy?

Location: 285 (page 18) Only an exclusive few have the power to make policy. Focusing on “racial discrimination” takes our eyes off the central agents of racism: racist policy and racist policymakers, or what I call racist power.

6. Is it important to have clearly defined words? Is the conversation harmed when people use the words socialism and capitalism but mean different things?

Regulated capitalism
Democratic Socialism
Socialism (all means of production owned by government, sometimes called Communism)

Location: 2,529 In doing so, these conservative defenders are defining capitalism. They define capitalism as the freedom to exploit people into economic ruin; the freedom to assassinate unions; the freedom to prey on unprotected consumers,
Location: 2,535 Liberals who are “capitalist to the bone,” as U.S. senator Elizabeth Warren identifies herself, present a different definition of capitalism. … When Senator Warren and others define capitalism in this way—as markets and market rules and competition and benefits from winning—they are disentangling capitalism from theft and racism and sexism and imperialism. If that’s their capitalism, I can see how they can remain capitalist to the bone.
Location: 2,551 Humanity needs honest definitions of capitalism and racism based in the actual living history

7. What is your understanding of intersectionality based on this book or other readings?

Location: 176 And beyond that, it means standing ready to fight at racism’s intersections with other bigotries.
Location: 3,016 My journey to being an antiracist first recognized the intersectionality of my ethnic racism, and then my bodily racism, and then my cultural racism, and then my color racism, and then my class racism, and, when I entered graduate school, my gender racism and queer racism.

8. Do you agree that it’s important that we define the kind of people we want to be?

Location: 261 (page 17) Definitions anchor us in principles. This is not a light point: If we don’t do the basic work of defining the kind of people we want to be in language that is stable and consistent, we can’t work toward stable, consistent goals.

9. What should be the punishment for running from the police?

Location: 882 they knew the criminal-justice system was guilty, too. Guilty for freeing the White cops who beat Rodney King in 1991

10. What if he phrased it “we could have prevented the assault if we had _____ but why should we?”

Location: 1,191 Black people are apparently responsible for calming the fears of violent cops in the way women are supposedly responsible for calming the sexual desires of male rapists. If we don’t, then we are blamed for our own assaults, our own deaths

11. Slavery is wrong whether you’re enslaving your own people or not. What was his point in this quote?

Location: 922 Africans involved in the slave trade did not believe they were selling their own people—they were usually selling people as different to them as the Europeans waiting on the coast.

12. Does it bother you when someone asks you “Where are you from?’

Location: 978 The face of ethnic racism bares itself in the form of a persistent question: “Where are you from?”

13. Is it because of the lack of money or the abundance of time and energy that unemployed people commit more crimes than employed people?

Location: 1,231 “Communities with a higher share of long-term unemployed workers also tend to have higher rates of crime and violence.”

14. He makes a distinction between segregation and voluntarily separating based on common goals or gender or race or religion. He made a point that all groups need to be adequately funded. But isn’t there a value in diversity?

Freedom of association.
Power dynamics

Location: 1,358 I just loved being surrounded by all those Black people—or was it all that culture?—
Location: 2,752 When integrationists use segregation and separation interchangeably, they are using the vocabulary of Jim Crow.

15. There are advantages to assimilating or at least being able to appear more like the dominate group at least on occasion, yes?

Page 81 Cultural Racist: One who is creating a cultural standard and imposing a cultural hierarchy among racial groups
Location: 1,315 We did not care if older or richer or Whiter Americans despised our nonstandard dress like our nonstandard Ebonics.
Location: 1,877 Paradoxically, some tanning White people look down on bleaching Black people,
Location: 1,873 In India, “fairness” creams topped $200 million in 2014.
Page 83: Myrdal standardized the general (White) culture, then judged African American culture as distorted or pathological from that standard. Whoever makes the culture standard makes the cultural hierarchy. The act of making a cultural standard and hierarchy is what creates cultural racism.

16. He inserts this quote by John McWhorter and then also quotes the chair of the National Political Congress of Black Women as saying “You can’t listen to all that language and filth without it affecting you.” BUT he seems to be saying that they are dishonoring a certain type of culture. And he doesn’t like it. Is that how you read it?

Location: 1,374 “By reinforcing the stereotypes that long hindered blacks, and by teaching young blacks that a thuggish adversarial stance is the properly ‘authentic’ response to a presumptively racist society, rap retards black success,” linguist John McWhorter once claimed.
Location: 1,398 AT FIFTEEN, I was an intuitive believer in multiculturalism…I opposed racist ideas that belittled the cultures of urban Black people, of hip-hop…
Location: 1,423 To be antiracist is to see all cultures in all their differences as on the same level, as equals

17. Has the book made you more aware of policies that might be considered racist?

Location: 1,464 But policies determine the success of groups. And it is racist power that creates the policies that cause racial inequities.

18. How else can we test student’s success without tests?

Location: 1,567 She wasn’t making us smarter so we’d ace the test—she was teaching us how to take the test.

19. This book has me thinking a lot about racial diversity and if we should require charter, magnet, and voucher funded private schools to have a certain level of diversity.

Location: 1,613 Through these initiatives and many, many others, education reformers banged the drum of the “achievement gap” to get attention and funding for their equalizing efforts.
Location: 1,615 What if different environments lead to different kinds of achievement rather than different levels of achievement?
Location: 1,669 The truth is, I wanted to flee misbehaving Black folk.
Location: 2,690 The reality: A large percentage of—perhaps most—Black Americans live in majority-Black neighborhoods,
Location: 2,745 They desired to separate, not from Whites but from White racism.
Location: 2,752 When integrationists use segregation and separation interchangeably, they are using the vocabulary of Jim Crow.
Location: 2,755 Plessy v. Ferguson decision. Separate but equal covered up the segregationist policies that diverted resources toward exclusively White spaces.
Location: 2,772 What really made the schools unequal were the dramatically unequal resources provided to them, not the mere fact of racial separation.
Location: 2,807 what if the scoring gap closed because, as Black students integrated White schools, more students received the same education and test prep?

20. How much do you think voter suppression is based on racism?

Location: 1,938 Palm Beach County used confusing ballots that caused about nineteen thousand spoiled ballots and perhaps three thousand Gore voters to mistakenly vote for Pat Buchanan.

21. Were you impressed by Malcolm X’s transformation?

Location: 2,003 On September 22, 1964, Malcolm made no mistake about his conversion. “I totally reject Elijah Muhammad’s racist philosophy, which he has labeled ‘Islam’ only to fool and misuse gullible people,
Location: 2,007 Black people can be racist toward White people. The NOI’s White-devil idea is a classic example. Whenever someone classifies people of European descent as biologically, culturally, or behaviorally inferior, whenever someone says there is something wrong with White people as a group, someone is articulating a racist idea.
Location: 2,017 To be antiracist is to never mistake the antiracist hate of White racism for the racist hate of White people.

22. Do you think anyone that wants to glorify Confederate soldiers is a racist?

Location: 2,069 They wave Confederate flags and defend Confederate monuments, even though the Confederacy started a civil war that ended with more than five hundred thousand White American lives lost—more than every other American war combined.

23. Do you agree that saying Black people don’t have power encourages Black people with power to not work to eliminate racist policies? Or is that not how you understood him?

Page 130- When Black people…concentrate their hatred on everyday White people, they are not fighting racist power or racist policymakers. In losing focus on racist power, they fail to challenge racist policies.
Location: 2,194 Black voices critical of White racism defended themselves from these charges by saying, “Black people can’t be racist, because Black people don’t have power.”

24. How do you feel about inheritance tax? Is it a fair way to level the playing field for the new generation?

Location: 2,418 Goldwater and his ideological descendants said little to nothing about rich White people who depended on the welfare of inheritances, tax cuts, government contracts,

25. We’ve talked about people protesting Murray’s talks when we’ve discussed other books.

Location: 2,909 In 1994 political scientist Charles Murray made sure Americans knew the percentage of Black children born into single-parent households “has now reached 68 percent.” Murray blamed the “welfare system.”
This article from the Southern Poverty Law Center discusses this even further:

26. I was curious about Gunnar Myrdal, who was mentioned on page 83, so I googled him. Here is a quote from an article I found:

Seventy years later, the public conversation on race continues to rely on an approach grounded more in wishful thinking than in hard fact. Myrdal’s assertion that black Americans’ inferior status was principally caused by whites’ discrimination; and that if Americans wanted to correct this problem, they simply needed to cease discriminating… Americans were a morally conscious people who sought to correct their discrimination against black Americans to meet their egalitarian ideals. Americans, the couple explained, welcomed criticism of their race problem because they aspired to be a better people.

Link to article:

27. Are these things good to do sometimes?

Location: 68 He rarely if ever put on a happy mask, faked a calmer voice, hid his opinion, or avoided making a scene.


Nonsense on Stilts

Topic questions:
1. Is there a fight between religion and science for power in this country?
2. How much is someone’s credibility harmed when they get something wrong?
3. How do you define science?
4. Based on this quote, do you think there is a battle between philosophy and religion?
5. Does it make you mad when people try to use science to advocate for racist or sexist policies?
6. How do you deal with your own bias and the bias of the researchers when evaluating an article?
7. Let’s discuss this quote.
Kindle Location: 1,461 (page 74)
Everyone has a right to be irrational, but rampant irrationality in a society can be highly wasteful and destructive…
8. How much does this bother you? Someone makes a weird claim and then asks you to dispute it?
9. Should you bother debating people that believe in weird things like the flat earth?
10. Let’s discuss this quote.
Kindle Location: 2,588 (page 131)
I argue that it is still a moral duty of all citizens, and of intellectuals in particular, to intervene in public discourse. In this I am squarely on Chomsky’s side. Be that as it may, Richard Posner’s points [academics being swayed by monetary reward and the push to entertainment] well taken.
11. Let’s discuss free speech and what should be done about the news media, the government, twitter, facebook spreading lies.
12. Should the taxpayers fund research?
13. How much does it pain you when you find out someone you held in high esteem has a blemish?
14. Let’s talk about scientism
15. Did you like the handy checklist to help you toward a path of being a virtuous skeptic?

The  above questions, for discussion for the book group meeting the first Sunday in July 2020 to discuss Nonsense on Stilts by Massimo Pigliucci, were motivated by the below quotes.

****Kindle Location: 58 (page 1)
“The foundation of morality is to . . . give up pretending to believe that for which there is no evidence, and repeating unintelligible propositions about this beyond the possibilities of knowledge”  said Thomas Henry Huxley

**Kindle Location: 82 (page 2)
[Popper said] theories that are “unfalsifiable” are unscientific

*Kindle Location: 508  (page 26)
The idea is that when some physicists tell us that “in principle” all knowledge of the world is reducible to physics, one is within one’s rights to ask what principle, exactly, they are referring to. Fodor contends that if one were to call the epistemic bluff, the physicists would have no idea where to begin to provide a reduction of sociology, economics, psychology, biology, and other sciences to fundamental physics. There is, it seems, no known “principle” that would guide anyone in pursuing such a quest—a far more fundamental issue than the one imposed by merely practical limits of time and calculation.

***Kindle Location: 523 to 529 (page 26-27)
Cartwright suggests that theories are statements about how things (or particles, or fields) would behave according to idealized models of reality. … Cartwright distinguishes between two ways of thinking about laws: “fundamental” laws are meant to describe the true, deep structure of the universe. “Phenomenological” laws, by contrast, are useful for making empirical predictions, and work well enough for that purpose, but strictly speaking are false.

*Kindle Location: 555 (page 28)
[Is] comparing different sciences even a meaningful enterprise

****Kindle Location: 603 (page 30)
But the point remains: even the queen of the sciences [particle physics] sometimes gets things wrong over a period of many years,

***Kindle Location: 651(page 33)
Psychology and evolutionary biology—unlike particle physics—deal with complex layers of causality.

****Kindle Location: 677 (page 34)
Does this mean that we shouldn’t trust psychology, medicine, and possibly other sciences? No, because of three considerations: [1. We are aware of the limitations of the experiments 2. Science in the long run is self-correcting 3. There is no other alternative]

****Kindle Location: 709 (page 36)
[Science is] systematic observations and the construction and testing of hypotheses. Kindle Location: 736 (page 37)
intelligent use of observational evidence can be science … there is more than one way to do science, depending on the nature of the questions and the methods typical of the field.

***Kindle Location: 764  (page 38)
… while it is relatively straightforward to figure out what happened after the fact, it is mightily difficult to predict what will happen and when. … asymmetry of causal determination

*Kindle Location: 880-886 (page 45)
Photons behave as particles if you use one slit, but switch to a wavelike behavior if you use two slits … Physicists typically say that the double-slit experiment is a demonstration of the dual nature of light: wave and particle, depending on the circumstances. … Photons are characterized by a “wave function,” a mathematical construct that tells you what the probability of finding the photon in a particular location is. When you actually make the measurement…this action collapses the wave function to a single value…

*Kindle Location: 914 (page 47 and 48)
string theory, supported by Brian Greene at the NYU event and beautifully explained in his book The Elegant Universe. … Kindle Location 938:  at the moment at least, string theory does not seem to make any empirically testable predictions that both differ from those of other competing theories

*Kindle Location: 921 (page 47)
Quantum mechanics does a beautiful job predicting how matter will behave in the very microscopic world, at the scale of quarks, electrons, photons, and the like. Relativity, on the other hand, works very nicely when it is a question of describing the very macroscopic world—the behavior of systems like planets, galaxies, and so forth. …

****Kindle Location: 968 (page 49)
Philosophy has often been the placeholder for areas of intellectual inquiry that have subsequently moved to the domain of science

***Kindle Location: 981(page 50)
Just because we are curious animals, there is no assurance that nature behaves in a way that will allow us to get answers to every mystery that happens to intrigue us.

***Kindle Location: 988 (page 50)
Paraphrased:  Unicorns are logically possible, empirically possible, but not empirically realized. String theory is logically possible but we don’t know if they are empirically possible. Extraterrestrial intelligence is logically possible and empirically possible, but not empirically realized.

*Kindle Location: 990
Strings and multiple universes are certainly logical possibilities, since they are features of mathematical theories (assuming that the math doesn’t contain mistakes). What we don’t know is whether they are also empirically possible

**Kindle Location: 1,026 (page 52)
This means that we need to ask about the conceptual underpinning of the SETI program: what makes it more than the simple hope that we will find someone

****Kindle Location: 1,165 (page 59)
is evolutionary psychology a legitimate branch of evolutionary biology, or is it more nearly a pseudoscience,… [He says that it is uncontroversial that behaviors and cognitive traits can evolve over time BUT is there sufficient evidence that natural selection has shaped any particular human behavioral pattern?]

***Kindle Location: 1,174 (page 59)
Telltale signs of pseudoscience:
                the glorification of mysteries, the appeal to myths, a cavalier approach to evidence, an appeal to irrefutable hypotheses, an emphasis on probably spurious similarities, explanation by scenario (“story-telling”), “literary” rather than empirically based interpretations of facts, extreme resistance to revising one’s positions, a tendency to shift the burden of proof, and sympathy for a theory just because it’s new or daring.

***Kindle Location: 1,255 and 1296 (page 63-65)
As biologist Jaren Diamond puts it…evolutionary biology is in fact a historical science…
Diamond says that if one sees the same general pattern occurring in different places and times in human history, one can examine the similarities and differences among these natural experiments to infer something about the underlying causes.

**Kindle Location: 1,328  (page 67)
As a biologist, Diamond knows very well that many human diseases evolve in parallel with the domestication of animals and with the development of large populations, especially when grouped in small areas

****Kindle Location: 1,343 (page 68)
A colleague of mine teaches introductory philosophy courses in which she tries to get across the consequences of inequality of resources—a small version of the same sort of causal factors Diamond is after at a much larger scale.

**Kindle Location: 1,407 (page 71)
Peter Turchin, a theoretical ecologist complains that there are more than two hundred explanations proposed for the collapse of the Roman empire … A central concept advanced by Turchin is that history is characterized by regular and predictable patterns, from which we can learn and that we can predict.

****Kindle Location: 1,461 (page 74)
Everyone has a right to be irrational, but rampant irrationality in a society can be highly wasteful and destructive… [Massimo offers this as one example:]  Their attitude was that antiretroviral drugs, which have been medically tested and shown to be effective against HIV, are poisons deliberately marketed by Western pharmaceutical companies. Moreover, according to the pair—and contrary to almost the entire medical-research profession—there is no evidence that HIV causes AIDS;

****Kindle Location: 1,507 (page 77)
Science is a human activity, and human beings can legitimately hold different opinions about empirical evidence.

****Kindle Location: 1,518 (page 77)
Big Pharma is indeed far from spotless, and the practices of international pharmaceutical companies have been under fire for years even in the West. The search for profit at all costs often translates into literally inventing medical “conditions” out of thin air

*Kindle Location: 1,557 (page 79)
Science and religion are rather fuzzy concepts. …. this book is in great part devoted to exploring how “science” itself is a family of loosely related practices, not a monolithic thing.

*Kindle Location: 1,748 (page 89)
Philosophers have long since abandoned the idea that knowledge about the world can be gathered by just thinking about it,

****Kindle Location: 1,836 (page 93)
It is a logical fallacy to shift the burden of proof from the person who makes the extraordinary claim (to whom such burden logically belongs) to the person who simply asks for the evidence before accepting the belief.

***Page 98—A few logical fallacies:
Appeals to authority
Affirming the consequence (such as the universe is so large that there must be other civilizations out there)
Bandwagon appeal
Conspiratorial appeal (the government knows, but they will not tell us)
Salvational appeal (wishful thinking?)

****Kindle Location: 1,950 (page 99)
[Regarding conspiratorial appeal]: Unfortunately, governments all over the world, including that of the United States, do have a poor record in leveling with their people, despite much talk about democracy and freedom. But again, while this is reasonable ground for skepticism about what a government says (or does not say), one needs positive evidence before scientists can seriously consider a new phenomenon.

****Kindle Location: 2,145 (page 109)
Colleagues like Richard Dawkins are adamant that one should not “lower” oneself to that level, because this legitimizes and gives a platform to pseudoscientists [this was in response to debating flat earthers, etc]

****Kindle Location: 2,235 (page 113)
… it should be obvious that not all alternative positions are equally deserving of public attention; by presenting all opinions as equivalent and saying, “you decide,” reporters may mislead their audiences. … If the news media are to truly inform the public, they cannot simply present competing ideas as equally valid but must do the hard work of investigating them, to help the public filter the few golden nuggets from the ocean of nonsense that will otherwise overwhelm intelligent social discourse.

****Kindle Location: 2,267 (page 115)
[He discusses think tanks that let their bias mar their opinions] The Cato Institute, it should be added, is funded in part by the Exxon-Mobil Corporation, not exactly a neutral player in discussions about energy production and use. … Of course, the suspicion of bias is not enough to condemn but the alert level on one’s baloney detector should go up …

****Kindle Location: 2,313 (page 117)
But evidence of bias, as we will see when talking more in depth about “think tanks,” is a useful warning sign

*Kindle Location: 2,322 (page 118)
What the Bleep Do We Know?, released in 2004 and, at almost $11 million and counting, one of the highest grossing “documentaries”

***Kindle Location: 2,524 (page 128)
political activist Noam Chomsky in his classic article “The Responsibility of Intellectuals” wrote “Intellectuals are in a position to expose the lies of governments…It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies”

**Kindle Location: 2,546
[Of course, public intellectuals might not get it right. Chomsky offers Martin Heidegger as an example.] Heidegger was elected rector of the University of Freiburg in Germany in 1933 under the auspices of Hitler’s regime. … Heidegger in his inaugural address went on to say that “German students are seeking leaders through whom they want to elevate their own purpose so that it becomes a grounded, knowing truth … The much-lauded ‘academic freedom’ will be expelled from the German university.”

****Kindle Location: 2,588 (page 131)
I argue that it is still a moral duty of all citizens, and of intellectuals in particular, to intervene in public discourse. In this I am squarely on Chomsky’s side. Be that as it may, Richard Posner’s points [academics being swayed by monetary reward and the push to entertainment] well taken.

****Kindle Location: 2,607 (page 132)
We come next to Posner’s concept of “solidarity value.” …The idea is that many, perhaps most, people don’t actually want to be informed, and even less so challenged in their beliefs and worldview. Rather, they want to see a champion defending their preconceived view of the world, a sort of ideological knight in shining armor. Blatantly partisan outlets such as Fox News (on the right), MSNBC (on the left), and the countless evangelical Christian radio stations are obvious examples…

****Kindle Location: 2,637 (page 134)
The phrase originated with Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who wrote the dissenting opinion in Abrams v. United States, an infamous case argued before the Supreme Court in 1919. The case was a test of a law passed the year before, which made criticism of the US government a criminal offense. The law was upheld, and the statute not invalidated until Brandenburg v. Ohio, during the Vietnam War.

****Kindle Location: 2,646 (page 134)
You see, for the best ideas to win the competition the judges must be, well, competent. But the judges here are a public that is generally badly informed and undereducated with respect to the relevant issues.

****Kindle Location: 2,725 (page 138)
Paraphrased: Just because someone is born with different abilities, it doesn’t mean they should be assigned different status as human beings.

***Kindle Location: 2,727 (page 138)
Instrumentalism is the idea that learning is to be encouraged if it is aimed at addressing practical concerns … Instrumentalism makes less and less sense the more a society develops above the level of direct struggle for life.

*Kindle Location: 2,757 (page 140)
The other current pits absolutism against relativism, particularly when it comes to moral problems. The fear here is that if, as postmodernist Michel Foucault put it, there is no truly universal truth…

*Kindle Location: 2,860 (page 145)
“Punctuated equilibria” ….long periods of time during which organisms do not appear to change punctuated by relatively sudden spikes of morphological change …This tension between stasis and fast change, according to Eldredge and Gould, is a real feature of evolution, not an artifact of missing data, and ought to be considered in expanding the classical theory of evolution—which has often been described instead as a theory of gradual change.

****Kindle Location: 2,870 (page 146)
While Sagan took on global warming and nuclear war, Gould concentrated on racism and the relationship between science and religion. … Gould and Richard Lewontin were very critical of what he perceived as attempts to give scientific credence to racist ideologies.

****Kindle Location: 2,891 (page 147)
We are different from each other for a variety of reasons …but all of us should be treated the same when it comes to the law.

****Kindle Location: 2,908 (page 147-148)
people who understand religious texts to be taken metaphorically, and therefore not to be read as science textbooks, are not the ones who are fueling the science-religion cultural war to begin with.

****Kindle Location: 2,959 (page 150)
“advocacy think thanks” … often (though not always) to blatantly blur the lines between research and advocacy.

****Kindle Location: 2,993 (page 152)
Science progresses; ideologies tend to linger unchanged (and often unquestioned).

*Kindle Location: 3,000 (page 152)
Remarkably, even the Cato Institute finally had to admit, with predictable reservations, that climate change is real. In 2016 it published Lukewarming: The New Climate Science That Changes Everything by P. J. Michaels and P. C. Knappenberger. Wait another decade or two and they’ll finally get on board with real science. . . .

*Kindle Location: 3,019 (page 153-154)
In 2002 CEI won a lawsuit against the FDA [which then allowed drug companies to do less testing]. Congress responded by writing the Pediatric Rule into law. … Finally, though the list could be much, much longer, in 2017 the CEI boasted of having influenced President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord on climate change, potentially one of the most disastrous political choices by a US administration in recent memory.

***Kindle Location: 3,209
Deduction allows one to arrive at guaranteed conclusions if the premises are true and the structure of the argument is valid.

***Kindle Location: 3,219 (Page 164)
Induction is the process of generalizing from a number of observations (more sense data) to broader instances. …The idea is that induction is always fallible, and its conclusions are at best probabilistic. Deduction yields foolproof conclusions if the premises are true.

****Kindle Location: 3,226 (page 165)
This is why scientific theories are always tentative: because they are based on a combination of deduction and induction (and a few other ingredients), and the inductive component is always open to revision.

*Kindle Location: 3,418
The tone was set by Augustine (354–430 CE), who argued that philosophy (including natural philosophy, i.e., science) should be encouraged only as a handmaiden to religion. … The burning at the stake of Giordano Bruno, in the 1600’s, was a stark reminder of this.

****Kindle Location: 3,538 (page 181)
Francis Bacon was done with the model of science as handmaiden to either philosophy or religion and wrote that the new science was relevant to humankind mostly because “knowledge is power.”

****Kindle Location: 3,543 (page 182)
Bacon tells us that before one can do serious science, one must overcome a series of “idols” affecting the mind (the word derives from the Greek for “phantoms,” i.e., sources of deception):
1. Prejudices associated with living in a given time and place in history 2. Language can set its own traps against clear thinking 3.  Grand views of the universe 4. Overreliance on faulty sensorial experience and wishful thinking

***Kindle Location: 3,616 (page 185)
the more probable the scientific statement is considered to be (because of evidence in its favor), the higher the burden of proof on the skeptics who doubt it.

****Kindle Location: 3,635 (page 186)
The fourth item on Descartes’s list of his “method” to establish scientific knowledge:  the constant reexamination of the current status of the puzzle to make sure we are still on the right trajectory. … Scientific knowledge is more like a web than an edifice built on foundations.

****Kindle Location: 3,713 (page 190)
all of this simply goes to exemplify the general point that personal character has little to do with scientific (or, for that matter, artistic) genius.
[He is talking about Newton but might we want to discuss it as it relates to all geniuses we admire or hate?]

***Kindle Location: 3,862 (page 197)
David Hume was among the first to take this approach, wondering, for example, about our concept of causality (his analysis, still surprisingly challenging today, was not very encouraging, as he concluded that we do not really know what we mean when we talk about “causes”).

****Kindle Location: 3,948 (page 202)
“Postmodernism” and “deconstructionism” are the most common terms (and the two are not exactly equivalent), although for the purposes of this chapter I will refer to them under the umbrella of “constructivism,” in reference to the basic idea they all share: that scientific knowledge (or any knowledge, for that matter) is socially constructed, with little or no input from outside of human conventions.

***Kindle Location: 3,988 (page 204)
Occam’s razor, the epistemological rule (named after the fourteenth-century philosopher William of Occam) that one should not invoke more explanatory principles than are strictly required by the evidence.

***Kindle Location: 3,994 (page 204)
Epistemology is the field of philosophy that deals with how we acquire (or fail to acquire) knowledge and thereby arrive at truth.

****Kindle Location: 4,024 (page 206)
That is why scientific findings should always be considered tentative, open to revision if new evidence comes about. … “Epistemic limitations” are the limits imposed on human knowledge by our biological characteristics. While philosophers since Kant have understood that such a view is forever inaccessible to human beings, many scientists continue to behave as if science somehow, magically, allows us to transcend the problem and gain access to the Truth. That is what a scientistic attitude is all about. The ancient Greek philosophers called it hubris.

***Kindle Location: 4,102 (page 210)
It is painfully clear that science depends on an assumption of honesty on the part of its practitioners.

***Kindle Location: 4,151 (page 213-215)
The eugenic movement reached its peak in the USA during the 1920s, when its ideas got the ear of politicians at the local and national level (including, for example, Presidents Coolidge and Hoover), as well as the financial support of magnates like George Eastman (founder of Kodak) and John D. Rockefeller Jr. … For instance, the intellectual and progressive magazine the Nation invited prominent eugenicist Herbert Jennings to write an article for its “What I Believe” series, meant to showcase highly respectable intellectuals’ views on issues of the day. … Eugenics eventually met its demise largely, it can be argued, because of the atrocities of Nazism…

**Kindle Location: 4,212 (page 215)
Although we know how to splice foreign DNA into a cell, we are a long way from being able to effectively and reliably fix human genetic diseases by repairing mutant genes or replacing them with functional parts off the shelf, as if we were in an auto mechanic’s shop.

***Kindle Location: 4,242 (page 217)
Every new technology does pose risks, sometimes unknown ones (until they occur). Moreover, there are good, rational reasons to maintain at least a moderate level of distrust of large biotechnology firms, especially when it comes to labor practices, if not environmental impact, given both their past record and their obvious profit motives.

***Kindle Location: 4,302 (page 220)
Science remains by far the most effective way of gaining knowledge (and power, as Francis Bacon famously pointed out) over the natural world and improving the human condition.

****Kindle Location: 4,608 (page 236)
Scientific knowledge (in the objective sense discussed above) is provisional, and each successive theory, each newly established conceptual framework (or paradigm) represents our best understanding of some aspects of nature at a given point in time.

****Kindle Location: 4,634 (page 237)
Accordingly, when science blunders as it did while flirting with eugenics, both scientists and science critics play a legitimate role in correcting it…

****Kindle Location: 4,643 (page 238)
There cannot be such a thing as a lone scientist ….  unless they communicate their findings to a larger group of other scientists (and science critics) and expose their work to both technical and ideological peer review, they are not actually doing science, according to Longino.

***Kindle Location: 4,676 (page 239)
Ronald Giere calls “perspectivism.” … Giere begins by acknowledging that it is true both that science objectively expands our knowledge of the world and that science is a subjective activity because scientists cannot escape their limited access to the world as human beings—that is, they do not have access to a detached, all-encompassing, God’s-eye view

****Kindle Location: 4,821 (page 246)
Susan Haack said “What I meant by ‘scientism’ [is] a kind of over-enthusiastic and uncritically deferential attitude towards science, an inability to see or an unwillingness to acknowledge its fallibility, its limitations, and its potential dangers.”

*Kindle Location: 4,839 (page 247)
obvious examples of this troublesome attitude:  Sam Harris argues that science can determine human values, with no help from moral philosophy,

***Kindle Location: 4,871 (page 249)
Susan Haack’s “six signs,” which represent an excellent framework for understanding the phenomenon of scientism.
Paraphrased (only 1, 2, 5 and 6 made sense to me)

  1. Using the words science, scientific, etc honorifically as epistemic praise
  2. Adopting the terminology of the sciences when not doing real science
  3. A preoccupation with demarcation (Massimo takes issue with this one on page 250 but still concludes: That said, I do not endorse a strict demarcation between science and nonscience, or science and pseudoscience either.
  4. A corresponding preoccupation with identifying the scientific method (Massimo takes issue with the one on page 251 as he concludes: there is a recognizable scientific methodology that is clearly superior to any other way of acquiring knowledge or understanding )
  5. Looking to the sciences for answers to questions beyond their scope
  6. Denying or denigrating the legitimacy or the worth of other kinds of inquiry besides the scientific or the value of other human activities

***Kindle Location: 4,981 (page 254)
The science versus scientism discussion, then, is an exercise in demarcation, similar to the science-pseudoscience debate that has concerned us for much of this journey.

**Kindle Location: 5,015 (page 256)
yes, science is crucial in order to further our understanding of the world in which we live,

****Kindle Location: 5,050 (page 258)
Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that studies knowledge and provides the criteria for evidential warrant—it tells us when it is in fact rational to believe or disbelieve a given notion.

****Kindle Location: 5,186 (page 264)
Turns out that a good number of “skeptics” are actually committed to specific political causes, including, but not limited to, libertarianism. …it becomes a problem when it is used as a filter to inform one’s allegedly critical thinking.

***Kindle Location: 5,205 (page 265)
Peer review … is a first step toward improving the quality of what we publish

****Kindle Location: 5,206 (page 265)
handy checklist for aspiring virtuous skeptics

  1. Did I carefully consider my opponent’s arguments and not dismiss them out of hand?
  2. Did I interpret what my opponent said in the most charitable way possible before mounting a response?
  3. Did I seriously entertain the possibility that I may be wrong? Or am I too blinded by my own preconceptions?
  4. Am I an expert on this matter? If not, did I consult experts, or did I just conjure my own unfounded opinion out of thin air?
  5. Did I check the reliability of my sources, or just google whatever was convenient to throw at my opponent?
  6. Having done my research, do I actually know what I’m talking about, or am I simply repeating someone else’s opinion?

**Kindle Location: 5,438 (page 277)
reason and emotions are both essential components of being human and that they need to be brought into balance for a human being to function properly.

***Kindle Location: 5,497 (page 280)
The five kinds of evidence that a novice can use to determine whether someone is a trustworthy expert are

  1. an examination of the arguments presented by the expert and his rival(s);
  2. evidence of agreement by other experts;
  3. independent evidence that the expert is, indeed, an expert;
  4. an investigation into what biases the expert may have concerning the question at hand; and
  5. the track record of the expert

****Kindle Location: 5,564 (page 283)
The question is not whether there is bias (there always is), but how much, where it comes from, and how one can become aware of and correct it.

Topic Questions for July Humanist Book Group Discussion

Topic Questions for July book group discussion.

1. What do you think of the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act? This brings up a bigger question, how do you want YOUR tax dollars spent?
2 .Is locking people up better than finding a way for them to live on their own? Also could we discuss what should be done about the homeless?
3. At what point are you willing to take away a person’s right to make decisions about their own body and limit their freedoms? If you disagree with a policy, how does one fight back?
4. Mental Institutions and other detention centers might have a place BUT we need strict rules to prevent abuses? Could we discuss the detention centers where immigrants are being held?
5. Brain vs. Mind—Let’s discuss competitiveness and cooperation.
6. Is efficiency or honesty more important? Let’s discuss the placebo effect also.
7. Were you impressed, perplexed, surprised or outraged about how discoveries were made? One of my big take a ways was how important accurate data is. And how fudging the data causes people to distrust future scientific theories.
8. Did some of these stories make you trust doctors less? Also could we discuss how you feel about being a guinea pig? And when should you sue or organize to lobby and protest?
9. Let’s discuss Prozac, Xanax, Opiods, Pot, Alcohol, etc
10. Who should be allowed to prescribe drugs? What do you think of direct marketing of drugs to the public?
11. How can we be sure our food and water isn’t hurting us? Let’s discuss the regulations of drugs and truth in advertising

Topic Questions Above.

Quotes below.

1. ***Page 250 Individual scientists and universities could strike lucrative deals with industries interested in developing the commercial potential of valuable products developed with tax dollars

2. ***Location: 5,314—page 274 to 275 deinstitutionalization in the 1960s and ’70s led to homelessness, incarceration, and premature death for many. … many people with serious mental disorders often benefit far more from being given their own apartment and/or access to supportive communities, than from being given a script for a new or stronger antipsychotic.
***Location: 266—page 7 of 366 some people were biologically unsuited to handle the pressures of modern life.

3. ***Location: 1,115—page 51 involuntary sterilization of the insane, it was not until the mid-1930s that he finally denounced it publicly. ***Location: 1,160 to 1164—pages 53- 54 In 1933 Germany’s Nazi government would cite the 1927 Buck v. Bell decision in defending its own “Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring.” ….Germany’s sterilization program, in turn, paved the way in 1939—after Germany went to war—for an originally secret decision not to sterilize but to murder thousands of mentally ill and disabled institutionalized persons. ***Location: 1,907—-page 93 Women had become too dominant, people complained; they were resisting their traditional roles, while men were having difficulty asserting their traditional authority. ***Location: 2,370—page 119 Foucault’s argument was that the history of psychiatry was not a story about a medical encounter with the suffering of the mentally ill, but a story of morality and politics pretending to be medical but actually working to discipline and silence the authentic truths of people labeled mad. ***Location: 2,401—page 121 What psychiatry did instead, Szasz said, was to identify persons who behaved in strange, distraught, or unacceptable ways and decide they were sick and therefore in need of its special treatment. ***Location: 2,438—page 122 All agreed, though, that psychiatry regularly labeled innocent people “crazy” in order to deprive them of their liberties; that its treatments often caused more harm than good; and that the so-called mentally ill were generally an oppressed group who had finally begun to assert their right to live unfettered lives. ***Location: 2,590—page 130 The Stonewall Inn riot is generally seen as a key catalyst for the gay liberation movement. ***Location: 3,677-page 187 Patients’ growing fear of side effects associated with this treatment led David Impastato, one of the pioneers of ECT, to recommend in 1957 that hospitalized patients should not be told in advance that they would be getting it.

4. ***Location: 1,545—page 74 former asylum patient and wealthy citizen activist Clifford Beers had originally envisioned a movement focused on reforming the often abusive and underfunded state hospital system and had reached out to Meyer for help. Meyer persuaded Beers to focus instead on reducing the number of people who ended up in such institutions in the first place. ***Location: 1,863—page 91 Only when the staff created small family-style units consisting of children and dedicated caretakers did the situation improve. ***Location: 2,191—page 110 The Shame of the States documented on a state-by-state basis the appalling conditions of the mental hospitals and called for deep reform. ***Location: 2,286—page 113 to 115 In 1963, Congress passed the Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Mental Health Centers Construction Act. …. Fewer than half of the envisioned 1,500 community mental health centers were ever built …Litigation in the 1970s accelerated the process of deinstitutionalization … In 1970 a court declared that patients had a right to adequate treatment ….. Unfortunately, virtually all hospitals lacked sufficient funds to comply, ***Location: 3,445—page 175 In 1986 the psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey was blunt: “There is now a universal realization that the running down and closing of mental hospitals was a disaster.

5. ***Location: 426—page 14 of 366 the brain anatomists had failed so miserably because they focused on the brain at the expense of the mind. ***Location: 1,017—page 46 of 366 Bleuler finally decided that he could no longer associate himself with a movement that did not tolerate dissent…. Saying “…I find it harmful for science”

6. ***Location: 596—page 23 of 366 [1892] Pierre Janet at this point found a new use for hypnosis: to transform his patients’ “fixed ideas” into sanitized (and fictionalized) “memories” they could live with. ***Location: 622—page 24 of 366 Freud explained, the unconscious mind could not distinguish between fantasy and true events. ***Location: 767—page 33 of 366 Beard suggested to his colleagues, why not integrate “expectation”—a kind of talking cure—into their repertoire of therapies?
***Location: 785—page 34 of 366 The second half of the nineteenth century had seen the rise of a number of Christian “mind cure” movements… ***Location: 796—page 35 of 366 suggestion therapy, hypnosis, affirmation therapy, and more—that were increasingly being shown to influence the body.

7. ***Location: 732—page 30 of 366 The conclusion seemed clear: GPI was a form of syphilis in which the bacteria colonized the brain. ***Location: 940—page 42 of 366 both mind and body—for data from brain tissue and heredity studies, and for the developmental, social and mental facts that could only be gathered from a patient’s life story. ***Location: 1,057—page 48 suppressed evidence that Cotton’s surgeries, far from curing patients, were making virtually all of them worse than before—
***Location: 2,600—page 130 They reminded the psychiatric community of studies conducted by Alfred Kinsey
***Location: 2,686—page 134 one had to start somewhere. In due course, research would reveal the biological correlates of mental illness ***Location: 2,847-page 145 Instead, the drug that first began to shift thinking about the causes of schizophrenia was one that we associate with a very different kind of social history: lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD.
***Location: 2,939—page 150 1953 he and Hoffer experimented with using LSD as a treatment for alcoholism and claimed remarkable results. ***Location: 3,002 to 3008 Pellagra … He became convinced that the disease in humans was caused by a poor starchy diet lacking meat, milk, and vegetables. Few listened, and many, especially in the southern states, were offended by the claim. … Pellagra (and its animal equivalents) resulted from a deficiency of nicotinic acid (niacin, or vitamin B3) …
If one gave large doses of the nutrient (either directly or through an improved diet) to affected animals, they recovered.
***Location: 3,074—page 157 All this work persuaded most physiologists that some chemicals could act to reset or alter physiological functions. ****Page 247 In the 1970’s, psychiatrists had rallied around biology and the medical model as a way of exorcising the specters of psychoanalysis, antipsychiatry and radical social science.

8. ***Location: 1,049-page 48 of 366 By the 1920s, at least two therapeutic efforts thus emerged that involved surgically removing allegedly infected organs from the bodies of schizophrenic patients: teeth, appendixes, ovaries, testes, colons, and more. … ***Location: 1,734—page 85 Huston himself felt the film was confiscated because it challenged (in his words) “the ‘warrior myth’ which said that our American soldiers went to war and came back all the stronger for the experience,
***Location: 2,037—page 100 Thorazin was marketed it initially as a pediatric antiemetic, mixing it with a sweet-tasting syrup to make it more palatable to children. ***Location: 2,536—page 127 when American psychiatrists were asked to independently diagnose the same patient, they tended to agree on the diagnosis only about 30 percent of the time.
***Location: 3,435—page 175 the families of schizophrenic patients finally got mad, got organized, and fought back.
***Page 249 By the late 1980s, a critical mass of clinicians and researchers had aligned their professional interests with the commercial interests of the pharmaceutical industry

9. ***Location: 3,128—page 159 Gandhi was said to have been fond of drinking it. ***Location: 2,100—page 104 to 105 By the end of the 1950s, one in every three prescriptions written in the United States was for meprobamate. In 1957 Scientific American marveled that “more than a billion tablets have been sold, and the monthly total of 50 tons falls far short of the demand.” Why did this happen? There are several likely reasons. For one, meprobamate seemed like the perfect Cold War drug. The 1950s was widely viewed (and even ambivalently celebrated) as an “age of anxiety.” It was also a time of wonder drugs in medicine. Meprobamate was an apparent wonder drug that combated anxiety. What more could one want? …. Was it likely to “make millions of people significantly indifferent to politics— ***Location: 2,984—page 152 Eventually the countercultural embrace of LSD helped put an end to psychiatric research on LSD. ***Location: 4,157—page 213 pressure to prescribe pharmaceuticals not to cure diseases but to enhance lifestyles— ***Location: 4,206—page 215 The drugs remained widely used, but with greater awareness that they did not always work, that they did not work forever, and that taking them was not without risks. ***Location: 4,047—page 207 Teach people resilience and coping strategies, and they will be able to navigate life’s stressors (and society’s inequities) with greater strength and equanimity. ***Location: 4,067—page 207-208 ….The outcome was a stunner: cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) outperformed the standard medication for depression. ….If depression could be so effectively treated simply by changing people’s negative beliefs about themselves, did it still make sense to think of it as resulting from a “chemical imbalance”? For a brief time, a space for uncertainty opened up. Then Prozac arrived

10. ***Page 247 Not surprisingly, the psychiatrists pushed back hard. Prescribing drugs, they said sharply, must remain a privilege granted exclusively to medically trained clinicians as themselves
***page 251 In 1997 the FDA agreed to dramatically relax the rules regulating direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs, which thereafter exploded, increasing from less than $800 million in 1996 to $4.9 billion in in 2007.

11. ***Location: 3,983—page 204 In 1962 the Kefauver-Harris Amendment to the 1938 Pure Food and Drug Act required that all drugs sold to the public demonstrate “substantial evidence” of safety and efficacy. ***Location: 4,355—page 224
lithium remained an ingredient of 7 Up until 1950, when it was removed.