“France’s Most Famous Public Intellectual” Fears That if Putin Conquers Ukraine Western Civilization “Might Collapse”

(p. C1) In his new documentary film “Slava Ukraini,” Bernard-Henri Lévy, France’s most famous public intellectual, dodges Russian sniper fire in Ukraine, nonchalantly wearing a khaki bulletproof vest over a chic bespoke suit.

He climbs onto a Ukrainian naval vessel in Odessa that is sweeping the Black Sea for Russian mines, his mane of graying hair blowing gently in the wind. And he surveys blown-out apartment blocks in Kyiv, descends into trenches with Ukrainian soldiers in Sloviansk and comforts a mother whose young son is so traumatized by war, he has stopped speaking.

It can be easy to dismiss Lévy — and plenty do — as a 74-year-old reckless war tourist, an heir to a timber fortune playing action hero as Russian missiles rain down on Kyiv, Kharkiv and Mariupol. But instead of spending the last 12 months in his art-filled home on Paris’s right bank or enjoying retirement at his 18th-century palace in Marrakesh, Lévy has been braving Russian military assaults, vertigo and what (p. C5) he calls his natural tendency for melancholy to make his Ukraine film.

It was, he said, a necessary cri de coeur to support Ukraine in a conflict he views as nothing less than a battle for the future of Europe, global liberalism and Western civilization.

“In Ukraine, I had the feeling for the first time that the world I knew, the world in which I grew up, the world that I want to leave to my children and grandchildren, might collapse,” he said during an interview at the Carlyle Hotel in New York earlier this month, . . .

For the full story, see:

Dan Bilefsky. “A Philosopher Chooses Action.” The New York Times (Wednesday, March 1, 2023): C1 & C5.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 28, 2023, and has the title “A Polarizing French Philosopher Chooses War Zones Over Salons.”)

“The Reliability of Science Is Based” on Free Speech

Theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli’s argument should be pondered by global warming and Covid scientists who want to censor and cancel those with whom they disagree. They should also read John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty.

(p. C5) Science is a process that builds upon existing theories and knowledge by continuously revising them. Every aspect of scientific knowledge can be questioned, including the general rules of thinking that appear to be most certain.

. . .

Consider a folk healer’s herbal medicine. Can we say this treatment is “scientific”? Yes, if it is proven to be effective, even if we have no idea why it works. In fact, several common medications used today have their origin in folk treatments, and we are still not sure how they work. This does not imply that folk treatments are generally effective. To the contrary, most of them are not. What distinguishes scientific medicine from nonscientific medicine is the readiness to seriously test a treatment and to be ready to change our minds if something is shown not to work.

Exaggerating a bit, one could say that the core of modern medicine is not much more than the accurate testing of treatments. A homeopathic doctor is not interested in rigorously testing his remedies: He continues to administer the same remedy even if a statistical analysis shows that the remedy is ineffective. He prefers to stick to his theory. A research doctor in a modern hospital, on the contrary, must be ready to change his theory if a more effective way of understanding illness, or treating it, becomes available.

. . .

What makes modern science uniquely powerful is its refusal to believe that it already possesses ultimate truth. The reliability of science is based not on certainty but on a radical lack of certainty. As John Stuart Mill wrote in “On Liberty” in 1859, “The beliefs which we have most warrant for, have no safeguard to rest on, but a standing invitation to the whole world to prove them unfounded.”

. . .

There is no secure method for avoiding error. Our point of departure is always just the ramshackle, error-filled totality of what we think we know. But uncertainty does not make knowledge worthless. If our theory is contradicted by experiment, this remains a real fact, solid as rock, even if we don’t yet know with clarity where our mistake lies. The fact that the assumptions in our reasoning can be mistaken doesn’t change the fact that scientific reasoning is our best cognitive tool.

For the full essay, see:

Carlo Rovelli. “The Best Reason to Trust Science.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, March 11, 2023): C5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the essay has the date March 9, 2023, and has the same title as the print version.)

Rovelli’s essay quoted above is based on his book:

Rovelli, Carlo. Anaximander and the Birth of Science. New York: Riverhead Books, 2023 (2011).

Mill’s wonderful defense of freedom, mentioned above, is:

Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty and Other Essays, Oxford World’s Classics. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2008 (1859).

A Form of Environmentalism that Seeks Human Extinction

(p. A20) PORTLAND, Ore. — For someone who wants his own species to go extinct, Les Knight is a remarkably happy-go-lucky human.

. . .

Mr. Knight, 75, is the founder of the Voluntary Human Extinction movement, which is less a movement than a loose consortium of people who believe that the best thing humans can do to help the Earth is to stop having children.

. . .

While the United States saw an increase in births during the coronavirus pandemic, reversing the country’s declining birthrate, a 2020 poll found that one in four Americans who had not had children cited climate change as a reason.

For the full story, see:

Cara Buckley. “Movement That Insists Best Thing for Us to Do Is to Slowly Go Extinct.” The New York Times (Friday, November 25, 2022): A20.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Nov. 29, 2022, and has the title “Earth Now Has 8 Billion Humans. This Man Wishes There Were None.”)

FTX Fraudster Bankman-Fried Made $40 Million in Midterm Political Donations Which Mostly “Went to Democrats and Liberal-Leaning Groups”

(p. A1) FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried oversaw one of the biggest financial frauds in American history, a top federal prosecutor said in charging that the former chief executive stole billions of dollars from the crypto exchange’s customers while misleading investors and lenders.

. . .

(p. A6) Mr. Bankman-Fried is also accused of defrauding the Federal Election Commission starting in 2020 by conspiring with others to make illegal contributions to candidates and political committees in the names of other people.

He and his associates contributed more than $70 million to election campaigns in recent years, The Wall Street Journal previously reported. He personally made $40 million in donations ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, most of which went to Democrats and liberal-leaning groups.

For the full story, see:

Corinne Ramey, James Fanelli, Dave Michaels, Alexander Saeedy and Vicky Ge Huang. “FTX Founder Is Charged With Fraud.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Dec. 14, 2022): A1 & A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Dec. 13, 2022, and has the title “FTX’s Sam Bankman-Fried Charged With Criminal Fraud, Conspiracy.”)

Workers Who Feel They Matter Are More Satisfied with Their Lives and Are “Less Likely to Quit”

(p. C5) So how do you know if your employees and co-workers feel that they matter? In a 2021 study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, researchers developed a scale to measure mattering in the workplace. In online surveys involving nearly 1,800 full-time employees at a variety of companies, participants were asked to rate on a 5-point scale how much they agreed with statements such as “My work contributes to my organization’s success” and “The quality of my work makes a real impact on my organization.” Other statements had to do with feeling valued and recognized: “My organization praises my work publicly” and “My work has made me popular at my workplace.”

Participants were also asked about job satisfaction, recent raises or promotions, and whether they intended to leave their job. What the researchers found was that mattering isn’t only good for employee well-being, it’s also good for a company’s bottom line. Employee turnover is costly and disruptive, and “when employees feel like they matter to their organization, they are more satisfied with their jobs and life, more likely to occupy leadership positions, more likely to be rewarded and promoted and less likely to quit.”

. . .

Research by Dr. Prilleltensky and colleagues shows that being treated fairly increases workers’ sense of mattering, . . .

For the full commentary, see:

Jennifer Breheny Wallace. “The Power of Mattering at Work.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022): C5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 1, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

Philosopher Argues That Human Flourishing Has Grown With “Access to Fossil Fuels”

(p. C13) The brilliance of Alex Epstein’s recent “Fossil Future” is that he writes not as a scientific expert but as a philosopher.

. . .

What is the best course of action to improve human flourishing? His answer is clear and unapologetic: more plentiful, reliable, abundant access to fossil fuels. The climate-disaster-related death rate, he points out, is 98% lower today than it was just a century ago—largely owing to innovations powered by fossil fuels. The right way to handle climate change isn’t to reverse it but to master its effects—a thesis that is as provocative as it is intuitive.

For the full review, see:

Vivek Ramaswamy. “12 Months of Reading; Vivek Ramaswamy.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Dec. 10, 2021): C13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 8, 2022, and has the title “Who Read What in 2022: Thinkers and Tastemakers.”)

The book praised by Vivek Ramaswamy is:

Epstein, Alex. Fossil Future: Why Global Human Flourishing Requires More Oil, Coal, and Natural Gas–Not Less. New York: Portfolio, 2022..

“Woke” Bankman-Fried’s FTX Played “Dumb Game” of Virtue Signaling

(p. A17) There was a time when people engaged in doing good addressed problems that, so to speak, you could get your arms around, such as improving school performance, providing potable water or preventing malaria. But at some point, the impulse to do good transformed into a combination of moral tendentiousness and grandiosity.

. . .

. . ., inside the Bankman-Fried fairy tale rests a smaller tipping point, which suggests his generation senses that their preachy elders may have led them down a moral garden path.

In an exchange with Mr. Bankman-Fried, a writer for Vox asserts, “You were really good at talking about ethics.” He replied that “I had to be” because of “this dumb game we woke westerners play where we say all the right shibboleths and so everyone likes us.”

He is describing what has come to be known in our time as virtue signaling, . . .

For the full commentary, see:

Daniel Henninger. “WONDER LAND; The Moral Vanity of FTX.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, December 1, 2022): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date November 30, 2022, and has the title “WONDER LAND; The Moral Vanity of Sam Bankman-Fried.”)

Corrupt and Bankrupt FTX Got Higher ESG Rating for “Leadership and Governance” Than Exxon Mobil

(p. A14) Crypto dark knight Sam Bankman-Fried may have deceived investors, customers and various journalists and politicians. But now the FTX founder is at least telling the truth about a few things. Lo, he says that environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing is a fraud, and so was his progressive public posturing.

. . .

“Problems were brewing. Larger than I realized,” he tweeted. “In the future, I’m going to care less about the dumb, contentless, ‘good actor’ framework,” he added. “What matters is what you do—is *actually* doing good or bad, not just *talking* about doing good or *using ESG language*.”

Mr. Bankman-Fried is also acknowledging that he genuflected to regulators and Democratic lawmakers to win political protection. ESG ratings company Truvalue Labs even gave FTX a higher score on “leadership and governance” than Exxon Mobil, though the crypto exchange had only three directors on its board.

For the full editorial, see:

The Editorial Board. “Sam Bankman-Fried, ESG Truth-Teller.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Nov. 18, 2022): A14.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the editorial has the date November 17, 2022, and has the title “Sam Bankman-Fried Becomes an ESG Truth-Teller.”)

Dogs Can Accurately Know by Smell When a Human Is Stressed

(p. C4) Dogs are champion sniffers, equipped with 100 to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses—compared with a mere 6 million in our own—and an olfactory cortex 40 times as large as ours. They can be trained to detect disease in human beings, including cancer cells, a latent epileptic seizure, or a Covid infection, just by sniffing—no blood samples, biopsies, MRIs, antigen or PCR tests required.

. . .

In a study published in September in the journal PLoS One, Ms. Wilson and colleagues tested whether dogs can read and respond to our emotional states, without the benefit of facial expression, tone of voice, or social context. The researchers trained four dogs to detect and react to the smell of human stress, depending on their sense of smell alone to distinguish between a person’s baseline scent and the unique cocktail of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in their sweat and breath when they’re feeling stressed out.

. . .

The results offered overwhelming confirmation that dogs can smell psychological states as well as physical ones. On average, the four dogs picked out the stress sample 94% of the time, with individual dogs ranging between 90% and 97% accuracy. “There’s a smell to stress,” Ms. Wilson concludes. “If we can add it to the dog’s repertoire, we can use it to identify anxiety and panic attacks before they occur.”

For the full commentary, see:

Susan Pinker. “MIND AND MATTER; Dogs Can Sniff Out When a Human Is Stressed.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date October 20, 2022, and has the title “MIND AND MATTER; Dogs Can Sniff Out Human Stress.”)

How to Resist the Heat Death Implied by the Second Law of Thermodynamics

When I was a young philosophy student I sometimes worried that the Second Law of Thermodynamics ultimately made meaningless all human perseverance toward progress. Physics Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek gives young philosophers reasons for hope.

(p. C4) The capstone of thermodynamics is its so-called Second Law, . . ., which states that entropy, a measure of disorder, increases over time—distinctive structure erodes. Featureless equilibrium is the state of maximum entropy, toward which the Second Law drives us.

The inexorable logic of the Second Law leads, in the long run, to a bland universe wherein nothing changes—that is, heat death.

. . .

There are several ways that our distant descendants, or other embodiments of mind in the universe, might resist heat death. Here are some ideas that occurred to me . . .:

First, it is probably possible to burn matter further than stars do. Stars rearrange protons and neutrons but do not change their overall number. Burning those particles would give access to hundreds of times more energy. Another (barely) conceivable form of fuel is “dark matter.” At present, nobody knows what it is, but there’s lots of it in the universe.

Second, future engineers also might be able to arrange controlled collisions of planets or dead stars, to tap into the energy the crashes liberate.

Third, future minds themselves might be able to run on very limited power. Recent theoretical work on reversible and quantum computers, and on time crystals, has shown that there’s no lower limit to how little energy they need to keep making progress, or at least to keep moving.

Fourth, since we don’t really understand what triggered the Big Bang, it’s conceivable that someday we’ll be able to engineer something similar, and thereby rejuvenate the universe.

For the full commentary, see:

Frank Wilczek. “WILCZEK’S UNIVERSE; Delaying the Heat Death of The Universe.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date September 1, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

The McCarthy Era, and Right Now: Each a “Very Bad Time” for Free Speech

(p. A13) New Milford, Conn.

Old-fashioned liberalism doesn’t get much respect these days, and Nadine Strossen illustrates the point by pulling out a hat. “I have to show you this gift that somebody gave me, which is such a hoot,” she says, producing a red baseball cap that bears the slogan MAKE J.S. MILL GREAT AGAIN. “Which looks like a MAGA cap,” she adds, as if to help me narrate the scene.

As she dons it, I observe that if she walked around town in her bright-blue home state, angry onlookers would think it was a MAGA hat. “And,” she continues, “I can’t tell you how many educated friends of mine have said, ‘Who is J.S. Mill?’ So we really do have to make him great again.”

Ms. Strossen, 71, has made a career as a legal and scholarly defender of classical liberal ideals, most notably as president of the American Civil Liberties Union from 1991 through 2008. She brings up John Stuart Mill (1806-73), the British philosopher and parliamentarian, by way of citing his view, as she puts it, “that everything should be subject to re-examination,” including “our most cherished ideas.”

. . .

“For many decades now there’s been this asserted dichotomy or tension between equality rights and liberty,” Ms. Strossen says. “I continue to believe that they’re mutually reinforcing, that we can’t have meaningful liberty, in a meaningful sense, unless it’s equally available to everybody. . . . Every single one of us should have an equal right to choose how we express ourselves, how we communicate to somebody else, what we choose to listen to.”

She elaborates in her 2018 book, “Hate: Why We Should Resist It With Free Speech, Not Censorship,” and in our interview when we turn to higher education. Campus authorities frequently justify the suppression of “so-called hate speech”—Ms. Strossen is punctilious about including that dismissive qualifier—with what she calls the “false and dangerous equation between free expression and physical violence.”

“When people hear the term ‘hate speech,’ ” she says, “they usually envision the most heinous examples—a racial epithet; spitting in the face of Dr. Martin Luther King. But in fact, when you see what’s been attacked as so-called hate speech on campus, it’s opposing the idea of defund the police, opposing the idea of open borders.” Any questioning of transgender ideology or identity is cast as “denying the humanity of trans people, or transphobic.” Ms. Strossen hastens to add that “I completely support full and equal rights for trans people,” but she says critics are “raising concerns that I think deserve to be raised and deserve to be discussed.”

Ms. Strossen, herself a professor emerita at New York Law School, likens the situation on campuses to McCarthyism, “a climate of fear that leads to treating certain people with suspicion or, worse, ostracizing those people and those who try to defend them, and punishing them.”

. . .

On campus, she admits that things are worse than they’ve been at least since the McCarthy era—but she still tries to look on the bright side. “I am absolutely convinced that a future generation is going to look back on this time and say this is another very bad time,” she says.

For the full interview, see:

Tunku Varadarajan. “THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; Make Freedom of Speech Liberal Again.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022): A13.

(Note: ellipses between paragraphs, added; ellipsis internal to paragraph, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date August 5, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

The Strossen book mentioned in the interview is:

Strossen, Nadine. Hate: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020.