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idealistic remembrances of how things were
by noteworthy at 6:59 am EDT, Mar 12, 2012

William D. Nordhaus:

One might argue that there are many uncertainties here, and we should wait until the uncertainties are resolved. Yes, there are many uncertainties. That does not imply that action should be delayed.

Marilynne Robinson:

Since it is intelligence that distinguishes our species and inventiveness that has determined our history, by what standard should an unconventional act or attitude be called unnatural? How can human nature be held to another standard of naturalness than its own? Perhaps with our intelligence comes the capacity to know about and empathize with the problems of strangers, and this makes it natural for us to do so. On grounds of their intellectual and practical limitations, bears in Canada must be forgiven their apparent indifference to the fate of bears in China. Under other conditions -- bigger brains, opposable thumbs, bipedalism -- for all we know they might be model activists.

My point is that our civilization has recently chosen to identify itself with a wildly oversimple model of human nature and behavior and then is stymied or infuriated by evidence that the models don't fit. And the true believers in these models seem often to be hardened in their belief by this evidence, perhaps in part because of the powerfully annealing effects of rage and indignation. Sophisticated as we sometimes claim to be, we have by no means evolved beyond this tendency, are deeply mired in it at this very moment, and seem at a loss to think our way out of it.

Tony Judt:

We appear to have lost the capacity to question the present, much less offer alternatives to it.

The Economist:

As we grind through the Republican primary process, it seems like the debate over morality in America has less to do with moral outcomes and more to do with a vision of how society should look based on idealistic remembrances of how things were.

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