Nick recommended this piece by Edward Said to me. I must admit that he did so with serious qualification:

“It is tainted by intellectual snobbery, but my more fundamental objection is its failure to address or even mention ethics and the need to recognise absolute wrongs in the face of cultural relativism.”

. Nick was right about the intellectual snobbery. It’s the Oxford variety, the sort that drops the names of “authorities” like designer labels. Instead of addressing the issue at hand, it was one of the favourite debating defences of the slow-witted toff to argue that without having “read the original” you couldn’t possibly understand. One of the many things I love about science is that it doesn’t matter how influential a “thinker” you are, how many fashionable shelves your name appears on; all that matters is whether or not your ideas survive the ultimate test of Nature. You don’t have to read his Principia to understand everything important about Newton’s physics completely. Why? Because Newton was right. (Unlike, say, Wittgenstein, Oxford philosophy’s answer to Nike—and I don’t mean the Greek goddess.)

Nick was also right about the moral relativism.

My main problem with the piece is that it’s not just wrong, it’s breathtakingly silly. Said explains the state of Arab regimes this way:

“Because the governments are relatively powerless to affect US policy toward them, they turn their energies to repressing and keeping down their own populations.”

What? In other words:

“I only pick on my little sister because Daddy won’t listen to me so it’s his fault she’s in a mass grave.”

Update: Oh bugger, about Newton being right…