Skepticism and Hope — 2 Comments

  1. I’ve just started listening to Nagler’s PACS 164A lectures too, and I was stunned to hear him suggest a 9/11 demolition. Amazingly, he cites and accepts exact figures, down to the second, for how long it would take each building to fall if the planes were the only causes. Then he says when things get bad, people don’t want to question their beliefs/assumptions/etc. Yet he doesn’t even consider questioning his figures (though it should be pretty obvious that there’s no way to devise such figures accurately without tests — soemthing obviously impossible — and surely even such tests would vary, because buildings vary in construction methods and quality of materials, weather conditions, etc.)

    Anyway, I was so stunned, I immediately searched his name in regard to 9/11 and demolition, hoping I totally misheard him (too afraid, I guess, to rewind). That’s how I found your blog.

    So anyway, I’m still listening to Nagler’s 3rd lecture. And he’s presenting his absurd views on science now. Where he — a math phobic — claims that life sciences, etc, are only “soft sciences” because they cannot be mathematical (he says) and this is bad he says because (he says) the most important features of life cannot be accounted for by physical laws.

    (Needless to say, there’s a huge inconsistency in his “thinking” here — because if the application of mathematics is his criteria for a “hard science” then surely how/why would he question physical laws? aaargh. Some thinking is so muddled, there’s little point in even trying to wade into it.)

    I cannot excuse or justify his remarks as you have done, Rachel (I presume that’s your name:)

    Nagler is simply buying into magical mysticism, while claiming to call it hard science. Worst of all, he’s teaching it.

    And, I must admit, I was already feeling irritated in the first couple lectures as he seems to presume a very traditional western notion of a unified individual subject/agent, where thoughts always lead to actions/behavior, etc. Of course, the very effectiveness of nonviolent struggle (and civil rights laws) shows that people’s views can change as a result of external factors inhibiting or controlling their actions. Addiction treatment, and even recent psychology studies involving brain scanning, even demonstrate that actions & behavior do not follow from conscious mental states like Nagler tends to assume. But in this regard, Nagler is just like so many other New Age proponents who adopt/exploit eastern concepts to support a traditional western individualist worldview.

    Well, I’ll stop ranting here. It’s just sad because nonviolence is, finally, getting a great deal of attention now, and Nagler is the only professor with webcast courses on nonviolent action. Or at least the lecture topics make them appear to be courses on nonviolent action. But aside from his 5 rules on fasting, derived from Gandhi, so far I’ve heard nothing concrete about actual nonviolent action & struggle.

    Fortunately, there are many standalone lectures and webinars on the web regarding nonviolent action. And most of these are by younger scholars and researchers who are very committed to empirical data and research. They also don’t meander so much in their talks, so one’s time is better spent with them. I’m thinking here of people like Erica Chenoweth. See, for example:

    Wow, Nagler’s been rambling about new age “physics” nearly the whole time I’ve been writing this. I might just jump ahead to other lectures where, I hope, he’ll discuss Gandhi’s satyagrahas.No wonder so many people drop his courses — or at least it seems that many people do. But he always assumes it’s due to their discomfort with nonviolence. I doubt that now. Come to think of it, I took a much more hard-headed (and fast-moving) upper-division course on nonviolence in college, and nobody dropped the course.

    Btw, I feel compelled to point out that not only does science actually support a thoroughly materialist worldview, the latter worldview also works extremely well for nonviolence. One does not need to create a fictional spiritual apparatus in order for pacifism or nonviolence to become palatable or possible.

    Professor Michael Nagler, I fear, is precisely the sort of person who drives so many people away from nonviolence. And though he says otherwise, he actually seems content with this — with being part of a small, select group.

    Enough said. I need to turn off this lecture webcast before I become violent.


    PS: At least I got a good book out of this. In the first lecture, he recommended B.R. Nanda’s biography of Gandhi, and I was able to find a nice copy of the unabridged edition for just a few dollars from a reseller on (And I might jump to some other lectures later, maybe, to see what I can learn. Then again, this one really annoyed me. So maybe I’ll just stick w/ other books and lectures, and maybe look for an Indian history course on the independence struggle …and re-read Joan Bondurant’s Conquest of Violence too, which is a good book on the subject of Gandhian nonviolence.)

    • Thanks, Steve, for your comment! I am relieved to read that someone else felt as uneasy with Nagler’s excursions into fiction as i did. Please note that my post was meant neither to justify nor excuse his remarks. I was simply trying to understand where he was coming from. I, too, felt very uncomfortable with a professor at UC Berkeley presenting these myths as if they were truths.

      I am also grateful that you mention some other folks to listen to as i’ve lost interest in Nagler’s lectures realizing that his foundation for his “science of nonviolence” is based on misunderstandings and misinterpretations, which makes it too unreliable to me.

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