February 07, 2015

There are some questions that really can dent our smug feelings of righteous political correctness.

Sir, Gillian Tett, with respect to the barbarous murders that Isis is showing off in videos, gives a “loud Amen” to Frances Larson, an anthropologist at Durham University, when he argues: “There is no triumph in the killer’s actions until we watch…Modern technology may offer a hiding place to voyeurs but it can also give a voice to human decency.” “To stop horror, turn it off”, February 7.

I have not seen those videos, and I was also educated to share into that “Amen”.

But, but, but, in “Thinking” 2013, Daniel C. Dennet, a Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University, seriously dented my smug feeling of righteous political correctness when asking:

“Suppose we face some horrific, terrible enemy, another Hitler or something really, really bad, and here’s two different armies that we could use to defend ourselves. I’ll call them the Gold Army and the Silver Army: same numbers, same training and weaponry… The difference is that the Gold Army has been convinced that God is on their side and this is the cause of righteousness, and it’s as simple as that. The Silver Army is entirely composed by economists. They are all making side insurance bets and calculating the odds of everything. Which army do you want on the frontline?”

And Dennet further drives that wedge of doubt into us by quoting William James’ “The variety of religious experience” with: “Far better it is for an army to be too savage, too cruel too barbarous, than to posses too much sentimentality and human reasonableness”.

And then I make it so much worse for myself by telling me: Don’t answer that as Per Kurowski, answer that as Per Kurowski the father and grandfather.

As an anthropologist, which army would Gillian Tett prefer?