Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A Diversion: Jerry Pournelle on Hogan on Velikovsky

Hogan and Velikovsky
By the way, Pournelle wrote this in Spring 2000, and the site he lists, http://www.monadnock.net/fanspaces/hogan, is no longer current. To find similar content, go to jamesphogan.com, and in particular, http://www.jamesphogan.com/jphcommentarchive.shtml and search for everything to do with Velikovsky.

Anyone familiar with Pournelle at all will realize he's one of the people where the oar (wielded for market fundamentalist, economic royalist, and anti-environmentalist reasons) is stuck in at least once per book, and usually once per chapter. And he is definitely writing with friendliness and overall approval of his, on balance, quite conservative* fellow science fiction writer.

Yet, not having a "prove the Bible right" agenda, unlike Velikovsky and Hogan, in my estimation, he therefore also points out which are the strongest reasons for not believing Velikovsky, and he includes voluminous email correspondence including valuable links, from many different sources.

I especially like the end-position Pournelle takes. It's neither "my militia/crank/wingnut/crackpot/Millenarian belief system or it's UN One-World PC disinfo" nor is it the kind of sneering people like James Randi and Penn Jillette specialize in, nor is it formulaic skepticism of the kind exemplified by Martin Gardner and Doug Hofstadter of Scientific American.

I think Pournelle arrived there as a compromise between the harsh opposition he would give a non-science-fiction liberal academic with similar beliefs and showing the amity and support that many science fiction authors have for each other.

If I might make an analogy, many conservatives said feminists during the Clinton impeachment over Monica Lewinsky and, nominally, Paula Jones, suddenly took a much more reasonable attitude towards sexual harassment claims. While it's a fair "gotcha," it's not as important, in the long run, as the fact that so many did in fact arrive at a more rational formulation. I would add that history proved them, not their conservative critics right in the Anita Hill case, back when they were, admittedly, more unreasonable in general, and probably in the Paula Jones case as well. Sometimes the path and political pressures that lead someone to a more rational outlook shouldn't be dwelled upon. Rather, the embracing of reasonableness should be.

In the same vein, it's a pity people like Pournelle and his long-time co-writer Larry Niven couldn't be led to take this kind of thoughtful yet skeptical attitude toward the ideas of people who don't see eye to eye with them on nuclear waste, species extinction, the destruction of habitat, the non-supremacy of market fundamentalism, and a host of other issues. But clear thinking and reasonableness should be praised, not their absence somewhere else pointed out.

I called this link a "diversion," but in fact it replaces quite a lot I would have written about Velikovsky. Pournelle comes out, much as I have, rather close to Henry Bauer's take.

*Taking as examples only his latest posts, he opposes at least in retrospect the economic sanctions on Iraq, which is often a left, not even liberal position. On the other hand, he pushes the utterly false charge that the ACLU and American stores and perhaps George Soros were waging a war on Christmas (Limbaugh and O'Reilly were completely lying - there was no increase in ACLU-assisted suits against public displays of religion or use of public facilities for religious purposes. ACLU assistance to religious people wishing to enjoy the commons legally and constitutionally where there was no overarching establishment of a church but local officials thought there were, continued (and not just one case, as the War on Christmas liars claimed, but in fact, hundreds of such cases). Neither Target nor any other chain store ever told its employees not to say Merry Christmas. The town where they claimed Christmas colors were outlawed had not done so. Etc. He comments on one absurd judge who doesn't believe in punishment as if he were some kind of indicator or norm that a proper law-and-order policy was waning in American justice.

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