Of clowns at court

YK considers Richard Dawkins’ proper position at Reason’s court:

Excellent visual, but wouldn’t a better title for him be jester in that context? Admittedly, that wouldn’t evoke quite the same familiar picture as clown, and perhaps that’s why you chose it instead of the possibly more appropriate “jester.” No matter, you certainly painted the picture well and that’s really what counts.

I was thinking much the same thing upon reading the column after the fact on WND today, but then, one has a certain responsibility to sustain the metaphor. Since I began this three-part series with Sam Harris, the fundamental concept of clownship was inescapable given his unique combination of ignorance and incompetence.

Dawkins is much more interesting, and in fact, I tend to prefer his approach to evolutionary biology to that of his bete noire, Gould’s, and not only because it leaves him susceptible to logical attacks on the practical, moral and societal fronts. I don’t know if it came through today or not, but I am fairly sympathetic to Dawkins’ general perspective, my vast differences with him on the existence of the supernatural and its implications for humanity notwithstanding. He’s not only sound on post-modernism, he’s rather good on cultural relativism and feminism too.

I had been thinking of Dawkins as the jongleur prior to seriously delving into his work, and “jester” certainly does him more credit than “clown”, but upon further reflection, he’s actually a bard. Some of his lovely songs are true, some of them are false, but an understanding of which fall into one category or the other will seldom be clear to the general audience.

And if I may make a point in support of today’s column, Big Chilly said that he felt the “initiative” deconstruction was perhaps a bit unfair, given the possibility that the term was being used in a more sophisticated manner by the Marines. Unfortunately, this cannot be the case, as an older and better example makes it very clear that the military concept of initiative has always encompassed the potential desirability of disobedience to orders from superior officers.

The Prussian/German roots of Third Generation war go back earlier, to the Scharnhorst reforms that followed Prussia’s defeat by Napoleon. One of those reforms changed what was required of a Prussian officer; instead of being responsible for obeying orders, he became responsible for getting the result the situation required regardless of orders (in 19th century war games, it was common for junior Prussian officers to be given problems that could only be solved by disobeying orders).
– The Four Generations of Modern War, William S. Lind

So, it is clear that Dawkins is not only basing that particular argument on a false premise, but possesses a conception of military philosophy that is more than one hundred years out of date.