Archive for February, 2016

The Moral Arc: How Science Makes Us Better People – Michael Shermer

I’ve read one other book by Michael Shermer and enjoyed it, so when I came across the title of this book I was intrigued. I’m sure it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I found it interesting. In fact, I found myself agreeing with much of what the author posits, which is no surprise, considering we both define ourselves as libertarians. Unfortunately, we divide on a few issues, such as gun control, but I believe that Mr. Shermer’s opinion on that subject is based more on bad statistics and personal gut feelings, rather than a consistent libertarian philosophy, but that doesn’t really affect my opinion of this book.

I think that the author made his case pretty well, that being that science, reason, and critical thinking have bent the “moral arc” in a positive, more moral, direction. As we have become more rational and objective thinkers, the world has become a more moral place. I think that this is almost self-evident. However, I think that I am skeptical about how far this moral arc can bend. I find it impossible to believe that all humankind will ever become fully rational, scientifically thinking people, thus limiting any change to the moral arc to very minute adjustments to the positive, and all too easily subject to a drastic and sudden downward trend. I would contend that the vast majority of people find their morality in their guts, rather than in their heads.

I had expected the book to have a more linear approach, a then b then c, to the subject, but it was more divided into examinations of different topics. That’s not to say that there wasn’t a logical approach. It more came down to using examples such as women’s rights, gay rights and an examination of Naziism, among others, to make the author’s point. In the end I found this approach readable and informative. It’s not a mathematical formula, but rather a anecdotal description of the formula.

The one section that caused me to reevaluate some of my own opinions was the one on animal rights. This is a tricky area when you talk about morality, and I feel that even the author realizes that there are problems inherent in establishing rights for all animals, particularly the ones we eat. The issue, I believe, is that people who push for giving all animals the same rights as humans forget that we are animals, too. They would prefer to consider humans as something above that pay grade. Still, it was thought provoking.

Is it worth reading? Yes, if you are interested in such issues. Somehow I think that the great majority of people are not. Their loss, but ours as well.

Finished 2/24/16

bookmark: the last american man

The Last American Man – Elizabeth Gilbert

My wife gave me this book for Christmas. She found it while looking for books by this author, as she has really enjoyed her other books. When I opened the present it looked like an interesting book, but if there was any comment or discussion about it at that time my hearing was otherwise engaged. When I started to read the book, I suddenly realized that this book is about Eustace Conway, one of the people featured in a television show we have watched called Mountain Men.

Surprised by this fact, I called my wife to ask her if she was aware of this. Of course she was, and furthermore believes that she told me that before. However, as we have both become, um, more mature, we have become aware that we don’t always remember what or when or how we said something, or even if we actually did, so I off the hook for not listening.

It is interesting that I never got the same impression of Eustace from the television show as I did from this book. Obviously, to live like a mountain man in the modern world takes a different type of individual, but Eustace is on the extreme end of that different type. This is the man I would want to have with me at the end of the world, though he would probably have no use for me.

The book covers his life from childhood through today, with enlightening insights into how he has become the man he is. It’s fascinating how the person in our life with whom we have the most dysfunctional relationship can also be the person who has most shaped our lives. In Eustace’s case, this was his father. His mother acted to balance things, perhaps being as extreme in her treatment of her child as her husband was, but in the opposite direction. Even considering those relationships, Eustace seems to have had an innate inclination towards the natural world, the world that means more to him than pretty much anything else.

At the beginning of the book, I found it to be an absorbing tale of Eustace’s inclinations, abilities, character and, ultimately, determination. As I read, I found myself feeling his pain in his relationship with his father, but I also could see that by the way he was living his life, he was painting himself into an emotional corner. Sometimes it is not only the outside influences in our lives that affect us, but what our own heads do to us. Eustace should still have a lot of life to live, and I hope that he can somehow find a way to cope with the demands he puts on himself.

To enjoy this book, you really have to appreciate personal stories and the trials that people live through. It is well-written, with the author actually being present in many places not only in the book, but in Eustace’s life. She is his friend, but is able to see the issues he has in living and can keep her own life from being absorbed by his much larger presence, a problem that other women have had. It seems to me to finish on a bit of a sad note, but perhaps, as time goes on, he will learn to adjust his life to accommodate the life partner that he so desperately wants. I hope so.

Finished 2/9/16