Progress, War, Daniel Dennett, Hilary Mantel, Diners

Hic sunt camelopardus: this historical edition of The Browser is presented for archaeological purposes; links and formatting may be broken.

Rulers, Religions, And Riches

Joel Mokyr | Economic History | 2nd April 2017

Why the West got rich but the Middle East did not, at least until oil. The obvious formal distinction is between Christianity and Islam. But it was not the content of the religion that mattered: “The leaders of organised religion tended to be conservative across the board”. Rather, it was the balance of power between religion and politics. Christian religious institutions began losing political leverage in the late Middle Ages; Moslem ones remained strong, and able to block modernisation (1,900 words)

The Cost Of Wars

Anthony Cordesman | CSIS | 26th July 2017

The United States has been at war “for virtually every year since 1941”, and continuously in combat since 2001. But Administration and Congress choose to treat wars as “a temporary aberration” in accounting terms, to be covered by supplementary or short-term budget categories. This piecemeal funding conceals the vast cost of war-fighting — probably at least $2 trillion since 2001 — and makes it all but impossible to evaluate whether the money has been efficiently and effectively spent (4,300 words)

Competence Without Comprehension

David Papineau | TLS | 28th June 2017

Sceptical account of Daniel Dennett’s theory of mind. Dennett contends that consciousness is an illusion. “He argues that we think of ourselves as distinctively conscious only because our use of language demands that we keep track of our own thoughts. As communicators, we need to distinguish between the thoughts we can share and those we must keep to ourselves. This inner monitoring creates the impression of a separate realm of thought to which we have some special access” (2,500 words)

Why I Became A Historical Novelist

Hilary Mantel | Guardian | 3rd June 2017

The first of Hilary Mantel’s Reith Lectures for the BBC, reflecting on the purpose of historical fiction. “Nations are built on wishful versions of their origins: stories in which our forefathers were giants, of one kind or another. This is how we live in the world: romancing. Once the romance was about aristocratic connections and secret status, the fantasy of being part of an elite. Now the romance is about deprivation, dislocation, about the distance covered between there and here” (3,700 words)

The New York Diner Die-Off

Adam Platt | New York | 26th June 2017

Order from the laminated menu while you still can. The number of New York restaurants with the word “diner” in their name is plummeting. The last Manhattan diner with its own parking lot, the Market Diner by the Lincoln Tunnel, closed in 2015. “Like most mass-extinction events, the Diner, Coffee Shop, and Greasy Spoon Die-Off has been unfolding slowly around us for decades, in plain sight. The diner has become more of a symbol and a curiosity than a regular place to eat” (3,475 words)

Video of the day: Beckett

What to expect:

The opening credits, if Samuel Beckett had starred in an early 1970s TV detective series (1’10”)

Thought for the day

Interesting answers are those which destroy the questions
Susan Sontag

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