A Short Essay on the Relationship of STEM and Racist Ideas

I’ve seen many tweets today with the hashtag #shutdownSTEM. Some of them included some people asking why such a thing would be necessary. What does STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) have to do with racism they ask? 

I find myself seeing some immediate and excellent historical examples in Dr. Ibram X. Kendi‘s book Stamped from the Beginning. In chapter nine of the book he discusses the variety and flavors of racism espoused by Thomas Jefferson in his book Notes on the State of Virginia (1785), which would become the most  consumed American nonfiction book until well into the mid-nineteenth century.

Shortly afterward Samuel Stanhope Smith countered portions of Jefferson’s racist ideas in the 1787 annual oration to the august American Philosophical Society. This annual lecture was already one of the most heralded scholarly lectures in America and was attended by the wealthy and elite leaders and thinkers in the country. The lecture would be published as the influential Essay on the Causes of Variety of Complexion and Figure in the Human Species

While Smith used the lecture to attack the abhorrent racist idea of polygenesis, he did espouse a wide array of other racist tropes including assimilationist climate theory. Dr. Kendi specifically notes that he may have picked up this idea from James Bowdoin’s opening oration of the newly established American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Boston on May 4, 1780.
 
To quote Dr. Kendi:
 

Samuel Stanhope Smith joined those preeminent intellectuals in Boston’s American Academy of Arts and Sciences and Philadelphia’s American Philosophical Society in attacking polygenesists, in reviving climate theory in America. His scholarly defense of scripture was quickly printed in Philadelphia, in London, and in Lord Kames’s back-yard, Edinburgh. By the time he sat down in Princeton’s presidential chair in 1795, he had amassed an international scholarly reputation.

So in just a few pages Kendi lays out some serious evidence of the direct spread of a wide variety of racist ideas by not only by the academic elite, but the leaders of multiple influential universities and scientific and philosophical institutions in America. The reverberating echos of these wrongs are still haunting us today. They still need to be addressed and righted. We need to use our moral alembic and distill these racist ideas out of science in America.

Lest one wonder about the influence of Samuel Stanhope Smith’s essay, I’ll note that Noah Webster cited Smith directly in Webster’s 1828 Dictionary in the definition of philosophy. The citation was from  Smith’s second edition of his Essay on the Causes of Variety of Complexion and Figure in the Human Species (1810). The quote as given: “True religion, and true philosophy must ultimately arrive at the same principle.”

We’re obviously still seeking both true religion and true philosophy.

While you’re thinking about #shutdownSTEM on June 10th and long thereafter, I recommend you spend some time sitting with the ideas that have been handed down to us and question them closely, for this is what science and philosophy are all about. If you find you can’t do that hard work–and it is hard, then perhaps read a bit of Dr. Kendi’s excellent and ardent text Stamped from the Beginning.

This post was originally published on Chris Aldrich

The importance of bread in society: the etymology of Lord

The importance of bread in society: the etymology of Lord

In listening to The History of the English Language, 2nd Edition by Seth Lerer (Lecture 8), I came across an interesting word etymology which foodies and particularly bread fans will appreciate.

Dr. Lerer was talking about the compression of syllables at the border of Old English and Middle English circa 1100 which occurred in such terms as hlaf weard, the warden (or guardian) of the loaf.

Who is the guardian of the loaf? The hlfaf weard << The hlaweard << the laweard << the lord. This is the etymology of the word 'lord'. Lord is the guardian of the bread, the mete-er out of bread in a cereal society.

An interesting linguistic change that tells us a lot about power, structure, religion, and society surrounding bread of the time. I suppose one could also look at Christian traditions of the time which looked at the transubstantiation of the symbolic bread of the Last Supper which is ritually turned into the body of Christ–Christ, our lord.

One can’t help noting the slang use of the word “bread” to mean “money”. Perhaps it’s time to go back and re-visit Jeremy Cherfas’ excellent podcast series Our Daily Bread?

Featured image: Bread flickr photo by adactio shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

This post was originally published on Chris Aldrich

Ordering In-N-Out by Chapter and Verse: Hot Cocoa Edition

Ordering In-N-Out by Chapter and Verse: Hot Cocoa Edition

In a very rare move in January 2018, In-N-Out  added a new item to their sparse menu: hot cocoa. As part of their roll out and for marketing purposes, they serve free hot cocoa on rainy days to children under 12 years old. 

A few years back, I had written about the bible verses that In-N-Out “hides” on their product packaging. I remember hearing about the hot cocoa addition to the menu when it was initially released, but had forgotten about the bible verses until I had the occasion to visit on a recent rainy day.

So to complete the enlarged canon, here are the details for the bible verse found on In-N-Out’s hot cocoa cup.

Products and Bible Verses (continued)

  • Hot Cocoa:

    A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

    John  13:34
    In-N-Out Hot Cocoa Cup with a reference to bible verse  John 13:34

Notes

This certainly seems an appropriate verse to put on a product that they give away on rainy days. And who doesn’t love commandments involving hot cocoa?! I do notice that the verse isn’t hidden underneath the cup, like it is on the soda cups, but instead it’s front and center in relatively larger bold font on the side of the cup.

If one takes my prior call to replace the deity references with the product, then we’ll know that everyone who loves one another is a disciple of hot cocoa. They’re also likely to avoid improper microwave use too.

Ordering In-N-Out by Chapter and Verse: Hot Cocoa Edition was originally published on Chris Aldrich

Ordering In-N-Out by Chapter and Verse

Ordering In-N-Out by Chapter and Verse

Eating at In-N-Out has always been a religious experience for me, but today, to mix things up when ordering lunch, I tried making my order by number, but not In-N-Out’s traditional #1, #2, or #3 system.

I got myself

  • a Nahum 1:7
  • a Revelation 3:20 with cheese
  • two Proverbs 24:16s
  • two John 3:16s
  • and a Chocolate Proverbs 3:5.

What?!” you ask. “I’m all too aware of In-N-Out’s ‘Secret menu’ and have heard of a 4×4 and even a mythical 20×20, but what is a Nahum 1:7?!”

In-N-Out aficionados have probably noticed that the company prints references to Bible verses with just the book, chapter, and verse on their burger wrappers, fry containers, and on the bottom of their cups, so why not order this way as well?

For those not in-the-know, here’s the “translation” to help make your next meal more religious than it already was:

Products and Bible Verses

  • Burger and cheeseburger wrappers:

    Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

    Revelation 3:20
    In-N-Out Burger Wrapper with bible verse Revelation 3:20
    In-N-Out Burger Wrapper with bible verse Revelation 3:20
  • Beverage cups:

    For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

    John 3:16
    In-N-Out soda cup with bible verse John 3:16
    In-N-Out soda cup with bible verse John 3:16
  • Milkshake cups:

    Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.

    Proverbs 3:5
    In-N-Out shake cup with bible verse Proverbs 3:5
    In-N-Out shake cup with bible verse Proverbs 3:5
  • Double-Double wrapper:

    The LORD is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him.

    Nahum 1:7
    In-N-Out Double Double Burger Wrapper with bible verse Nahum 1:7
    In-N-Out Double Double Burger Wrapper with bible verse Nahum 1:7
  • Fry container:

    For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity.

    Proverbs 24:16
    In-N-Out French Fries with bible verse Proverbs 24:16
    In-N-Out French Fries with bible verse Proverbs 24:16

 

I’ll note a few interesting things:

  • The verse for the hamburger is about dining together with others – this is always important.
  • If you substitute the product the wrappers contain for the words “Lord,” “God,” and “Son,” there is certain sense of poetic verisimilitude in the new verses: their shakes apparently have a heavenly thickness, the double-double sounds like it will fill you up, and the sugary sodas will give you everlasting life. I wonder what would happen if we transubstantiated a hamburger bun?

Animal Style Anyone?

Now if only there were a special chapter and verse for getting my burger “animal style!”

Genesis 7:2 perhaps?

Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female.

This might be far preferable to Exodus 22:19:

Whoever lies with an animal shall be put to death.

But let’s be honest, with all the fat, salt, sugar, and cholesterol in a good-ol’ traditional #1, I’m going to die sooner than later whether it comes animal style or not.

I’m curious how many In-N-Out employees know their product so well that they can take orders this way?

 

    Syndicated to:

Ordering In-N-Out by Chapter and Verse was originally published on Chris Aldrich | Boffo Socko

Lecture Series Review: “Augustine: Philosopher and Saint” by Phillip Cary

Augustine: Philosopher and Saint (Great Courses, #611)Augustine: Philosopher and Saint by Phillip Cary

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This series of 12 audio lectures is an excellent little overview of Augustine, his life, times, and philosophy. Most of the series focuses on his writings and philosophy as well as their evolution over time, often with discussion of the historical context in which they were created as well as some useful comparing/contrasting to extant philosophies of the day (and particularly Platonism.)

Early in the series there were some interesting and important re-definitions of some contemporary words. Cary pushes them back to an earlier time with slightly different meanings compared to their modern ones which certainly helps to frame the overarching philosophy presented. Without a close study of this vocabulary, many modern readers will become lost or certainly misdirected when reading modern translations. As examples, words like perverse, righteousness, and justice (or more specifically their Latin counterparts) have subtly different meanings in the late Roman empire than they do today, even in modern day religious settings.

My favorite part, however, has to have been the examples discussing mathematics as an extended metaphor for God and divinity to help to clarify some of Augustine’s thought. These were not only very useful, but very entertaining to me.

As an aside for those interested in mnemotechnic tradition, I’ll also mention that I’ve (re)discovered (see the reference to the Tell paper below) an excellent reference to the modern day “memory palace” (referenced most recently in the book Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything) squirreled away in Book X of Confessions where Augustine discusses memory as:

“fields and spacious palaces” “…where are the treasures of innumerable images, brought into it from things of all sorts perceived by the senses. There is stored up, whatsoever besides we think, either by enlarging or diminishing, or any other way varying those things which the sense hath come to; and whatever else hath been committed and laid up, which forgetfulness hath not yet swallowed up and buried.”

Those interested in memes and the history of “memoria ex locis” (of which I don’t even find a reference explicitly written in the original Rhetorica ad Herrenium) would appreciate an additional reference I subsequently found in the opening (and somewhat poetic) paragraph of a paper written by David Tell on JSTOR. The earliest specific reference to a “memory palace” I’m aware of is Matteo Ricci’s in the 16th century, but certainly other references to the construct may have come earlier. Given that Ricci was a Jesuit priest, it’s nearly certain that he would have been familiar with Augustine’s writings at the time, and it’s possible that his modification of Augustine’s mention brought the concept into its current use. Many will know memory as one of the major underpinnings of rhetoric (of which Augustine was a diligent student) as part of the original trivium.

Some may shy away from Augustine because of the religious overtones which go along with his work, but though there were occasional “preachy sounding” sections in the material, they were present only to clarify the philosophy.

I’d certainly recommend this series of lectures to anyone not closely familiar with Augustine’s work as it has had a profound and continuing affect on Western philosophy, thought, and politics.

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