Blog Archives

The Subversive from Hannibal

My latest at Eclectica:

Mark Twain by Abdullah Frères, 1867

.”..This is moral sedition on Twain’s part. If you are of the book-banning type, you should ban and/or burn this one for portraying Huck as a hero not because of what he does but for how he arrives at his decision to do it. We can agree (most of us, at least, with the luxury of hindsight and a different morality) that slavery was a terrible evil and anyone who opposed it was virtuous, whatever the law said. But how many of us feel comfortable with the author’s undermining the dependability of the human conscience to determine right from wrong? Is it possible conscience can be mistaken? How can we tell when the “little voice inside our head” is telling us the will of God and when it is just parroting the fickle morality of the society we happen to be born into? That’s a can of worms we don’t want to open in or outside a classroom….” Read the essay.

Human, All Too Human

(From my Salon piece in the October/November issue of Eclectica)

I’ve remarked more than once in print and in personal conversation that maybe our societies should be run by primatologists. I can’t remember ever getting a response to this remark. Presumably it’s taken as a joke or at least as a dismissible apesexaggeration. When I verbalize the idea in person it inevitably draws a blank stare.

I wonder sometimes what those reactions, or lack thereof, imply. Is my suggestion, always expressed in the context of a discussion of human behavior and the restraints we expect ourselves to exert over it, just not taken seriously? Is it beyond the pale of permissible thought that we who share so much with other primates genetically, socially and, if the recent science is any indication, cognitively, ought to investigate ourselves with the same objectivity we study chimpanzees?…

Read more.