January 24, 2015


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Cambridge, MA 02141

The first thing when I heard about the attack on Charlie Hebdo (Science and Satire NATURE vol. 517 no. 7534 January 15, 2015 page  243) I printed out a copy of one of their covers, taped it to my car window and drove it around town.  If you want to attack honest people going about their business, here’s one right now. 

It’s not a clash of civilizations. Its grim police work. 

I can get into doom and gloom as well as the next person. 

[Newton in Revised History of Ancient Kingdoms says a regime can’t last more than nine generations (and then muddies the meaning) and says quite clearly that a generation is 32 years.  If you say that the American Era began with the battle of Yorktown, our number is up in 2070, and by “our” I mean that of every middle class person on earth.  Newton’s nine generation finding was confirmed by a study of kinship and fertility in the Icelandic genealogy, if you look at the data carefully.  A glance at contemporary birth rates and age of first marriage for women shows us about on track.  Newton of course didn’t live to see the battle of Yorktown.  But he was a sharp cookie; it may have had something to do with world trade, which depended on British sea power, which depended on British wealth, which depended on British trade, which depended on an honest British currency, which he himself set up.]

But over the next fifteen years?  It’s just not going to happen.  It gravels me when somebody says a “terror” attack.  What terror?  I’m not terrified.  You’d have to be mad to be terrified in any rich country.  The numbers just aren’t there.  The only terror is in the minds of our criminals and the hearts of our leaders. 

It also gravels me when these criminals are called Muslim Fundamentalists.  I am no Muslim, but I have enough feel for Islam and enough sympathy to say there is no way they are Muslim.  They recruit Muslims.  They cynically manipulate Muslim language, but there is no way to reconcile what they do with Islam.  They are criminal fake Muslims.  Accepting no religion, having no love of tradition and being heedless of normal codes of behavior they are nihilists.

So far as I can see the same goes for the staff of Charlie Hebdo, but they aren’t criminals. 

I fail to see how satire is important.  Tell me what you think I should know, but if you try to make me laugh or cry in the process it will add to my skepticism just as surely as if I think you are being paid. 

What these violent, criminal nihilists are trying to do is to persuade people that western principles (including an interest in science) and religion are in a head-to-head zero sum contest such that every synapse responding to one denies its use to the other.  The tone of your article, apparently referring to all religion as “obscurantism,” is in full agreement with them.  It is sad to think that, lacking any whisper of sufficient military power that could challenge the rest of the world, they seem thus to be able to win the hearts and minds of the good guys. 


Linton Herbert

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