"A phantom far scarier than anything that ever really existed"

Susan Neiman on defending the Enlightenment

There's a nice interview at Spiked with Susan Neiman, author of the excellent Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown-Up Idealists. Like her philosophical hero Kant, Neiman sees something like "enlightenment" as consisting in humanity's escape from self-incurred immaturity. "The Enlightenment," she tells Tim Black, "gave reason pride of place, not because it expected absolute certainty, but because it sought a way to live without it."

Moral Clarity is, among other things, a defence of the "Enlightenment values" I discussed in my previous post. Those who denounce "Enlightenment fundamentalism", Neiman argues, are wrestling with a "phantom far scarier than anything that ever really existed". The "Enlightenment" that Neiman defends acknowledges the limits of reason and the reality of human frailty (human evil, in fact; Neiman's previous book was a brilliant exploration of the problem of evil in modern thought):

My goal is to take back the Enlightenment from the cliches that surround it: that the Enlightenment held human nature to be perfect and human progress to be inevitable, reason to be unlimited and science to be infallible, faith to be a worn-out answer to the questions of the past, and technology a solution to all the problems of the future. In fact, no era was more aware of the existence of evil; no era took more care in probing human limits and bounds. The Enlightenment took aim not at reverence, but at idolatry and superstition; it never believed progress is necessary, only that it is possible.

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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The mizzly tones of Source FM

Drewzy (male, fortysomething) composedly, gently, talks of “time condensing like dew on a damp Cornish window”.

A mizzly Thursday in Falmouth and the community radio presenters Drewzy and the Robot are playing a Fat Larry’s Band single they picked up in a local charity shop. Drewzy (male, fortysomething) composedly, gently, talks of “time condensing like dew on a damp Cornish window”, and selects a Taiwanese folk song about muntjacs co-operating with the rifles of hunters. The robot (possibly the same person using an electronic voice-changer with a volume booster, but I wouldn’t swear to it) is particularly testy today about his co-host’s music choices (“I don’t like any of it”), the pair of them broadcasting from inside two converted shipping containers off the Tregenver Road.

I am told the Source can have an audience of up to 5,500 across Falmouth and Penryn, although when I fan-mail Drewzy about this he replies: “In my mind it is just me, the listener (singular), and the robot.” Which is doubtless why on air he achieves such epigrammatic fluency – a kind of democratic ease characteristic of a lot of the station’s 60-plus volunteer presenters, some regular, some spookily quiescent, only appearing now and again. There’s Pirate Pete, who recently bewailed the scarcity of pop songs written in celebration of Pancake Day (too true); there’s the Cornish Cream slot (“showcasing artists . . . who have gone to the trouble of recording their efforts”), on which a guest recently complained that her Brazilian lover made her a compilation CD, only to disappear before itemising the bloody tracks (we’ve all been there).

But even more mysterious than the identity of Drewzy’s sweetly sour robot is the Lazy Prophet, apparently diagnosed with PTSD and refusing medication. His presenter profile states, “I’ve spent the last year in almost total isolation and reclusion observing the way we do things as a species.”

That, and allowing his energies to ascend to a whole new plateau, constructing a two-hour Sunday-morning set – no speaking: just a mash-up of movie moments, music, animal and nature sounds – so expert that I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in fact someone like the La’s Salinger-esque Lee Mavers, escaped from Liverpool. I’m tempted to stake out the shipping containers.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle