BOOK REVIEW: for The Reptile with a Conscience by Nathan Cofnas.
Paperback. pp. 523. Available from The Ulster Institute for Social Research. Review by J.J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.)
One of Einstein's more famous sayings is: "No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong". That single experiment would now appear to have been done so is Einstein now old hat? Far from it. Just as Einstein's relativity subsumed Newton's mechanics, so the next generation of physics will have to cope with the observations that came from Einstein's work.
A failure that Einstein himself acknowledged was his failure to devise a "unified field theory". Einsten was of course Jewish so it is interesting that another brilliant Jewish writer, Nathan Cofnas, HAS attempted a "unified field theory". But this theory is not about physics. It is about ideology. Nathan has presented us with a theory that accounts for both religion and politics as being from the same rootstock.
And I can even tell you very simply what that theory is. Nathan points something out that seems obvious when you hear it but nobody previously seems to have thought of it. He takes Adam Smith's famous theory of markets -- the invisible hand -- and points out that religious people also see an invisible hand in the world about them: The hand of God.
You don't have to think about that for long, however, to start saying "Yes but ...". And that is why Nathan has written his book. He presents his theory in a much more subtle and careful way than my crude generalization above and proceeds to answer all the "Yes buts ..". He fleshes out how he believes both conservative thinking and Judeo/Christian thinking arise.
But this is not a book for scholars, philosophers and ideologues only. It does something that anybody interested in modern politics needs badly: It gives an systematic answer to the old Leftist retort to all facts and arguments that they dislike: "There's no such thing as right and wrong, anyway". The crazy thing about that assertion of course is that the same Leftists who say that will say in almost the same breath that racism or anything done by George W Bush is wrong. They contradict their own assertion almost as soon as they make it. So it is not only conservatives but Leftists too who need to get their minds clear on what is right/wrong and where that right/wrong comes from. And Nathan helps us greatly with that.
But WHY do Leftist deny right and wrong when it suits them? Doing so makes all their OWN doctrines, policies and beliefs look like empty vapour. It's a strange thing to do. So: The reason they do it is because most analytical philosophers say the same thing. And as John Maynard Keynes once said: "Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back”.
Analytical philosophers say: "If there is this objective property of "rightness", how do we detect it and where is it? Do we lift up a stone somewhere and find it there? And that challenge has proved hard to answer. Just what IS rightness and how do we know it is right?
In recent times, however, an answer to that has begun to emerge: We know some things are right because we have rightness instincts. Rightness IS located somewhere. It is located in our long evolution as social beings. It is somewhere in our primitive "reptilian" brain. But the "Yes, buts ..." come thick and fast to that proposition, as it is obvious that our higher brain (where "conscience" is located) has a role too and can make some things seem right to one person that another person sees as wrong. So how do we sort THAT mess out? Nathan goes through it systematically for us and leaves even atheists like me confident that there IS such a thing as a real right and wrong.
Nathan's book will not be the final answer on all the questions it addresses but, like Einstein's theory of relativity, future discussions in the field will have to take account of his arguments if they are to be well-informed.