Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Making Connections

One of the things I like about this state of mind I've been in recently—all the reading, and the listening to the Scientific American podcast, and the thinking about things—is that I find my mind making connections among different things. So David posted an interesting quotation today:

"Gladstone saw that the maintenance of the liberal state was incompatible with holding within its centralized grip a large disaffected community of settled mind."

I don't know much about Gladstone or the Irish situation in 1885 to which this passage refers. But it reminded me of an article I read yesterday on David Berreby's blog where he asks this "forbidden question": is the kind of nationalism that agitates for "freedom" for smaller, distinct ethnic groups really good and worthwhile? Was it better for East Timor to be free from Indonesian rule rather than taking part in its "struggle to become a fair and democratic society"? Would a united Ottoman Empire today not be, at least in some ways, a better situation than we currently have in the Middle East? And should we support Irish independence on principle? It's interesting reading; check it out.

And in going back to his blog to get that link today, I see a new article that connects to something else I read this weekend. He suggests that "Belief" might someday become an antiquated notion, because of mounting evidence that seems to suggest that there's a much more complicated relationship between people's professed beliefs and their actions than we typically expect. The traditional expectation is that what you believe determines your actions, more or less. The reality seems to be much more nuanced, and seems to indicate that influence works both ways. We try to make our actions suit our beliefs, but we also tend to make our beliefs suit our actions. 

I read about this on Sunday in a column in the newspaper about sex, which was basically saying that people who have lived the monogamous ideal (marry your high school sweetheart, have a bunch of kids, and remain completely faithful) have good reason to feel very threatened by people who say there's nothing wrong with premarital sex, or homosexuality. I have often found myself wondering exactly how allowing gay people the same legal benefits that straight people who get married enjoy could somehow be a threat to "the institution of marriage," but I think I'm starting to see what that's about. 

And the coolest connection of all is that this ties in with research that my wife has been doing this week for her doctoral thesis. She'll appreciate these links.

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