Chino Hills, Calif.
Your “Re-elect the President” editorial and “Why Obama?” essays [Oct. 22] were excellent. One important point that was only briefly referred to is the Supreme Court. The next president will probably replace one or more justices. Their decisions will affect the foundation of our democracy, from immigration, to women’s rights, to the possibility of more Citizens United–type fiascos. President Obama must be re-elected to ensure fairness on the Court.
Your October 22 cover story and editorial disappoint at best, and at worst are a disservice to the progressive movement you repeatedly call for. These pieces restrict the debate to a choice between two corporatist candidates, voice predictable support for the lesser of these two evils, paint Obama’s possible defeat as a catastrophe, and fail to give a thorough analysis of the choices we face.
In what should be a surprise to absolutely no one, The Nation endorses Barack Obama for president. Here is a news flash for The Nation. If a lesser evil gets elected president, you still end up with an evil. Perhaps one day The Nation will have the backbone to endorse an independent third-party candidate like a Rocky Anderson or a Jill Stein or a Stewart Alexander rather than a warmonger.
New Haven, Conn.
And so we should re-elect that most neoliberal of presidents, Barack Obama, but maybe in the second term he’ll become less neoliberal, and we should not infer from this that The Nation is in any way shilling for neoliberalism, or that it has become a neoliberal rag that only pretends to be progressive. Got it.
Unions Are People!
Palm Coast, Fla.
John Nichols’s “Corporate War on Unions” [Oct. 22] tells how the Koch brothers and their ilk are working to make it so labor unions can’t contribute to state and local campaigns. I think the best way to counter this effort would be to incorporate the unions and give them their free speech rights under Citizens United.
‘Our’ Books: Selling Like Hotcakes
Michelle Goldberg, in “The Obama-Bashing Books Bonanza” [Oct. 22], states that “conservative polemics consistently outsell liberal ones.” If one looks only at steamy “political” books, Goldberg is right. But consider another explanation: that there are many more progressive books published, and the market for these books is far larger—but hugely fragmented. A very different landscape appears from a broader scan of “current affairs” titles, also known as “current events” or “public policy.” In all, well more than 1,000 such titles are published annually in English, roughly divided between domestic and global concerns. They are issued not only by familiar trade publishers but by university presses, huge professional publishers, the OECD, the UN and scores of smaller publishers. This flood of good ideas for a better society, and world, seldom gets noticed because there is no bestseller list or book review for these books.
This Is Your Brain on Darwin
Thanks to Brian Leiter and Michael Weisberg for “Do You Only Have a Brain?” [Oct. 22], their critique of arguments against Darwinism and science in general in Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos. Forewarned is forearmed. I’m disappointed, though, that there is no criticism of Nagel’s view (possibly the reason he wrote this book) that science is “cold” and lacks a necessary “bias toward the marvelous.” To me, a secular retired physicist, my detailed knowledge of the universe’s age, size and makeup deepens the marvel I feel when I look at the night sky. Even my amateur knowledge of the structure and function of DNA deepens the awe I feel when I become aware of its expression in spring greenery or in my cat’s demands for attention. To me, and the host of others who have similar experience, science is far from cold. Science is an ever-expanding window on nature’s marvels, a window that feeds our imaginations and needs no “bias.”
Staten Island, N.Y.
Reviewers Leiter and Weisberg do not go far enough in picking apart Thomas Nagel’s arguments. Leave aside their observation that if the “materialist neo-Darwinian” picture is false, it’s hard to explain how successful it has been in expanding our understanding of, and control over, the natural world. Nagel’s problem runs deeper: his reasoning is weak at a fundamental level. One example in particular leaped out at me. Nagel is quoted as saying, “To explain consciousness, a physical evolutionary theory would have to show why it was likely that organisms of the kind that have consciousness would arise.” But in fact, such a theory would have to show only how it was possible, and that there was some finite probability, however small, that it actually would do so somewhere. Darwinian evolutionary theory has long since met that test. Moreover, by insisting that evolutionary theory must show that the emergence of consciousness was likely, Nagel appears to be arguing that it was necessary. Yet (the peculiar musings of some with an eccentric view of the implications of the so-called “observer effect” in quantum mechanics notwithstanding), there is no reason to suppose that the universe needs conscious entities in order to exist and function. If that were true, some consciousness would have had to be present since the very beginning, a consciousness we might as well call God—but, again, there is no reason to suppose it is true. Even the “observer effect” mentioned above, whereby the presence of an observer supposedly decides which outcome of a quantum event will occur, offers no help to Nagel, since it can simply be seen as a consequence of interaction between objects, no awareness required. (And that’s assuming it occurs at all; there are respected interpretations of quantum mechanics, such as the “many worlds” hypothesis, which do away with it altogether.) Nagel appears to be reaching, and rather crudely at that, for an argument against Darwin not explicitly grounded in religion. But his simplistic arguments come nowhere near proving his case. Mind and Cosmos comes across as just another tirade against modern scientific thought, albeit one dressed up in intellectual drag. No doubt it will find a readership, but it’s unlikely to have much influence among those not already committed to creationism.
ERIC B. LIPPS
Correction: Decimal Problems
Katha Pollitt’s “Debate This!” [Oct. 29] noted that 743 people per 100,000 are imprisoned in the United States, then incorrectly calculated that as seven in 100 Americans. It is seven in 1,000 Americans.