Computers Can’t Do Math.” David Schaengold has a clear and provocative essay on the differences between computer “thinking” and human thinking: “we can be sure there are world states beyond the comprehension of any AI. And I suspect those world states will not necessarily be ones that seem extreme to us. We won’t have to reverse the orbit of the moon. It will be a matter of odd, seemingly incomprehensible phrases. Or donning cardboard boxes, as some US Marines did recently as a training exercise in trying to evade an AI-backed camera setup. The boxes might as well have been cloaks of invisibility, as far as the AI was concerned, and the Marines strolled right past the camera. It’s as if the boxes shifted the world state representation to a hidden integer, and in so doing the Marines simply vanished from the conceptual apparatus of the computer. We are used to human intelligence, but whatever capabilities a computer might have, intelligence is not one of them.” (Recommended by Adam Smith.)

I Heard Ol’ Neil.” Bill Kauffman reflects on two independent, Canadian thinkers—George Grant and Neil Young: “George Grant understood that a healthy nationalism—or, much better, a healthy patriotism—is grounded in love and loyalty, not resentment or simple-minded anti-ism.”

Lina Khan’s Hipster Antitrust Policy Is Actually Conservative.” Matthew Yglesias explains the paradoxes that Khan has to navigate as she leads the FTC: “Is antitrust law a tool to protect consumers from higher prices, or to defend small businesses against big ones? The implications of the answer are more than theoretical. One approach to antitrust is shiny and new and has won Khan praise from both the left and right — but is untested legally. The other is a bit dull and often criticized — but has a lot of legal precedent behind it.”

The Least of My Brethren: Sally Thomas’ Works of Mercy.” Abigail Wilkinson Miller reflects on the wisdom of Sally Thomas’ novel: “Many of us bemoan the lack of vibrant and supportive community in our neighborhoods and towns. But can we really have community without the discomfort of real, flesh-and-blood encounters with other people? Small talk with the grocery clerk, wrangling babies at Mass, listening to the man at the end of the row chew his popcorn too loudly at a movie matinee—this is all part of what it means to be human. It is the discomfort of particularity that allows us to practice virtue, too.”

The Work of Art.” L.M. Sacasas cautions that offloading seemingly onerous or unpleasant tasks to machines might diminish our ability to do more creative work. This is an enduring paradox: Wendell Berry, for instance, disagrees stridently with W.B. Yeats’s neat dichotomy, “The intellect of man is forced to choose / perfection of the life, or of the work,” and Kathleen Norris’s little book Quotidian Mysteries likewise reflects on how quotidian labors might serve artistic and spiritual ones. As Sacasas puts it, “I wonder, in other words, whether the work of doing the laundry or washing the dishes—these are almost always the examples, but they stand in for a host of similar activities—might not provide a certain indispensable grounding to the artistic endeavor, tethering it to the world in a vital rather than stupefying manner.”

When Kids Talk to Machines.” July Sedivy distinguishes the way computers learn language from the ways that humans do. Humans rely on social interactions, perception of motivation, and trust in profound ways: “Amid the AI hype, it’s crucial to remember that humans do not learn as machines do; it’s not just the availability of information that counts, but the social context in which that information is experienced—a fact that helps to explain the disappointing learning outcomes associated with MOOCs (massive open online courses), which suffered from low student engagement and persistently high dropout rates, especially in less affluent countries.”

What’s Wrong With Congress (And How to Fix It).” Yuval Levin defends the filibuster and suggests other policies that might improve US politics by requiring the difficult but necessary work of cross-party consensus building. Narrow congressional majorities “are trying to govern on their own, and have been encouraged by half a century of congressional reforms to keep trying, and so to avoid the hard but necessary work of broadening coalitions. For Congress’s sake, and for the sake of making our society less divided, would-be reformers of today’s Congress need to emphasize that work of cross-partisan coalition building, rather than help Congress avoid it.”

Is There a Common Canadian Culture?” Jean-Christophe Jasmin examines the history and present of Quebec to wrestle with fundamental questions about what it means to foster local or regional cultures in an age of globalism and amnesia: “The culture shared between Quebec and Canada is not Canadian. It is American. This poses the existential question at the heart of Canadian identity: What makes the country distinct from its American neighbour?”

The University and Community Engagement: Recent Approaches.” Craig E. Mattson reviews several recent books exploring different dimensions to how universities might better serve their local communities: “friendship corrects for an institutional bias towards grandeur. Institutions like to put forward big visions for their place in the world. This tendency, as old as Babel, is also as contemporary as the Christian college brochure promising to turn undergraduates into world-changers. But by creating a tug away from the grandly global towards the humbly local, friendship can check for institutional grandiosity. To befriend and to be befriended is to submit to the pull of being together, or at least the wish to be together.”

Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture


  1. Thanks for linking to Yglesias’s article on Khan and antitrust. The headline crafters at Bloomberg probably presumed it an insult to call Khan’s political-economic orientation conservative — little do they know!

    It’s the old Bork vs. Brandeis debate, no? I’m not surprised Yglesias is unimpressed by the Brandeisian rationale; as a loud voice for left neoliberalism, Yglesias has no truck with policies that encourage citizenship rather than consumership. But I’m being defensive, probably because I’m quite fond of Brandeis, Khan, and the relatively recent flurry of antitrust activity.


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