Review: Storyhack Issue 0

Short and Sweet: All 9 stories in this, the first issue of what is to be a new fun literary action and adventure magazine are at least pretty good, several are quite good, 2 or 3 are still rattling around in my brain – in a good way. This mag is available on Kindle for $0.99! I read it this weekend on a school camping trip while trying to avoid mosquitoes and too much sun. Perfect summer lakeside read.

With one exception, I will keep this review spoiler-free.

A Tiger in the Garden by the wonderfully-named Alexandru Constantin is a slight but entertaining story, perfect for a distracting vacation read. Valens, the sixth Marquess of Lahnsted, has fallen on hard times that have done nothing to curb his expensive tastes. While in Angkasa, a jungle trading port, he’s been indulging in the native ‘delicacies’ on credit – and the locals would like to settle up. Schemes, adventures, dark jungle magic and daring-do ensue.

The Monster Without by Julie Frost is a much darker story of a private eye who happens to be a werewolf. Eldritch creatures live among us – some are good guys, some not so much. The story hinges on a failed case where Ben didn’t get there in time to save a girl from starring in a snuff film – yes, that dark. But the bulk of the drama is internal – can Ben, who has seen horrors and suffers PTSD from his time in the army,  control his inner wolf enough to solve the crime without killing everyone involved in a rage?

I like this story for giving Ben a loving domestic life – a strong woman of a wife who supports and comforts him, a mother in law who runs the agency he works for, real sympathetic characters who worry about this guy. This touch of normalcy helps give real zing to the horror aspects of the story.

Hal Turk and the Lost City of the Maya by David Boop is a pure Indiana Jones style romp set in 1890: a bounty hunter and his loyal guide/sidekick track a very bad man deep into the jungle – where they find a lot more trouble than they’d anticipated. Very fun read.

King of Spades by David J. West is something I’d never run across before: Biblical Epic Horror. No, really: King David is living the good life after winning wars and slaughtering his tens of thousands, when the antagonist of his greatest victory comes back – and refuses to stay dead. Pretty good yarn.

Desert Hunt by Jon Mollison takes us back to all too real horror of the real world, where Karl, a vigilante, has dedicated his life to busting up child sex slavery rings. There’s a epic showdown in the desert when Karl decides he must save this one girl… Dark, but good.

The Chronicle of the Dark Nimbus by Keith West is a sword and sorcery story about Rodrik and his liege lord Prince Balthar. A vision predicts some disaster awaits the wizard Gaspar, and it is to befall him this night, unless Bathar and Rodrik can stop it. Magic, betrayal, a witch and battles in a tower keep.

Menagerie by Steve DuBois is set right after the Civil War, and involves a most unlikely set of heroes: a crusty Irish soldier, a London professor, a mulatto ex-slave genius, a Muslim giantess and Lady Basingstoke, a teenage noblewoman to whom all are loyal and who drives the adventure. Seems a Confederate officer who is not accepting the outcome of the war is deep in the Everglades plotting revenge – and enslaving any black he comes across. Lady Basingstoke & Co will have none of it.

[SPOILERS AHEAD!] Daughter of Heaven by Shannon Connor Winward is the one story which, for me, was not pure fun. It falls into the same trap as Clarke’s Childhood’s End, which trap unfortunately has snared the miseducated today as it has for the last century: that those with superior knowledge must sometimes cause or allow the deaths of millions so that Progress can be made. It is the Trolley Car Problem on a global or, in the case of this story, cosmic scale: that the enlightened see the inevitable with utter certainty, and therefore may need to condemn the innocent to death with, perhaps, a mitigating tear in their eyes. Such a view is a lie, and a pernicious one: no one in this world will EVER have anything close to that level of certainty about ANY human action, and thus it is with a bracing humility that we must and – important part! – always do act on principle. The principle might be that it is always wrong to kill an innocent man or allow one to die if by my actions I could save him, or it might be that my take on the universe makes it my high and lonely destiny to decide who lives and who dies – but it is NEVER, as in NEVER, an act from a pure foreknowledge – such certainty is a lie, and in any case is unavailable to human beings.

In this story, Cater, the first-person narrator, a dealer in antiquities, finds an inexplicable object on earth, and takes it to Mars to show to Zahirah, an expert he knows there, and for whom he has the hots. She takes the object, mates it to a similar object she wears in a chain upon her neck, and announces that this union marks the completion of a cosmic cycle of life and death, that this world will now pass away, and a new world will be born. And that she and he are to be the new Adam and Eve as it were. Zahirah is a priestess of the Handmaidens of Heaven destined to mother a new world – and Carter has been chosen as the father.

All hell breaks lose. Earthquakes destroy the martian city Arabia Terra as black demons descend and devour the inhabitants. Carter and Zahirah must flee to Tikhonravov Crater, and she will not pause to help anyone or even speak to them.

Just in case we missed it, and mistook Zahirah’s haste as merely a passive response, she murders an innocent guard at the airlock when he, just doing his job, begins to question them. As Trotsky said, the individual is nothing. She makes Carter hold a gun on the other guard, a woman, until a black demon devours her in utter terror. Then, Zahirah uses her magic juju to drive the demons away, and they make their escape.

And, sure enough, after the slaughter of billions across the galaxy, breathable air is restored to Mars, rains of biblical proportions refill the oceans and lakes, and Carter and Zahirah get down to repopulating the planet. Turns out 47 other people survived back in the city, and they join our new gods in remaking the world. Why, if any were allowed to survive, many were not, is neither explained nor even noted.

So: here is a story that must resonate well with Antifa, whose leaders recently mentioned the tens of millions murdered under Stalin and Mao as the template that must be followed in America – only once the evil, evil Other is destroyed will the magical flying unicorns of Marxism fart out the rainbows of the Worker’s Paradise.

Daughter of Heaven is a well written story, nicely paced, evocative – and, since it lays the emotional groundwork for the slaughter of millions as the unavoidable prelude to a new heaven and earth, I hate it. [SPOILERS OFF]

Dead Last by Jay Barnson is another romp, this time with zombies and way-cool mind powers. Nice set-up for a dramatic ending, so that you don’t see it coming yet it seems inevitable and satisfying when it happens.

Conclusion: for $.99, you’re not going to get much better entertainment value. Buy this magazine, and take it camping or to the beach.

Manly-Man(-ish) Weekend

Back from the wilds of Livermore, after making the arduous 50 minute drive from the badlands of Del Valle Regional Park. Annual school camping trip, maybe 50 people involved. We were packed into the Dodge minivan like, well, like 5 people with more gear and supplies per person for a 2-night camp over than Amundsen’s expedition needed to reach the South Pole. Maybe I exaggerate slightly. We had no sled dogs.

We had to make do with a water spigot that was one hundred feet from the primitive wooden picnic tables – at least! – and uphill to boot! The nearest store was a 5 minute drive away, and the flush toilets were, um, primitive. We had to haul our gear and supplies 75 or more yards from the paved parking. The built-in charcoal grills could have used a good scrubbing. Our party was limited to merely 2 choices of salsa, both medium. No cell reception at all!!

So we were roughing it.

Something like this. 

Then, Saturday evening, I was called upon to slice tomatoes for hamburgers, using only primitive tools – the kind of cheap knives one throws into the camping gear to get them out of the knife drawer. I tested the sharpest-looking knife – an orange-coated, orange-handled kitchen knife with its own orange plastic cover – on an innocent store-bought tomato to no effect besides indenting the skin a little. Push any harder, and it’s impromptu puree.

What, in a proper roughing it state of mind, to do? In a moment that woulda made Jim Bowie proud, I scanned the landscape, and found a small rock with one flat side. Washed it off (OK, Jim Bowie might not have been proud of that – he’da probably just spit on it) and used it to sharpen that orange abomination until I was slicing some (heavy duty construction) paper-thin tomato slices.

Flush with success, I considered the next obvious step: living off the land, or perhaps, water: the reservoir has trout, bass, catfish, striped bass and, it is rumored, a sturgeon or two. With a mere plus or minus $150 investment in gear, bait, licenses and permits, I could, like an old time old-timer, catch and slay one or more of the piscine creatures, use my freshly sharpened knife to clean it, and throw it on a fire of store-bought insta-lighting charcoal and voila! Moving into Lewis and Clark territory!

But I didn’t want to show up the other dads.

Anyway, had time for reading! Woohoo!! Will review Storyhack Issue 0 and Belloc’s Europe and the Faith in the next day or two. Short and sweet: Both are excellent after the manner of their kind, and highly recommended.

 

 

All Cases Make Bad Law

(Half-formed thoughts, subject to revision. More than usual, I mean.)

Two anecdotes:

As a  young man, worked briefly in the insurance industry, for a while as a personal lines (auto, home, that sort of thing) underwriting analyst. The particular company I worked for had a marketing strategy by which they would approach certain groups – the California Teacher’s Union being the biggest – and offer them some special deals if they’d agree that we were their official insurance company and let us market directly to their members that way. A very interesting business model, and how I came to have a small bit of personal contact with the uppity-ups in the Teacher’s Union. One part of the typical deal was an appeals board that included some actual union members, that people insured could make appeals to if they didn’t like how the insurance company treated them. (1)

One task we with the Underwriting Analyst job title would do is look over the more crazy, out there claims and issues, including stuff that had been appealed to these boards. One time, we were discussing a case where a dreaded Young Male Driver was appealing non-renewal (when the insurance company says ‘no thanks’ to another year of coverage). Over the previous year or so, he had multiple moving violations to the point where his licence was near being revoked, and had made a couple of claims (those things do go together). He was shocked and claimed it was totally unfair of us to not renew his policy – that his driving record was no worse than anybody else he knew. For all I know, he was completely sincere.

Now, an underwriting analyst has access to much accumulated insurance wisdom. Using this wisdom, I know I am a fairly typical driver: in 40 years of driving, I’ve had 2 at fault accidents (both in the first year of driving, when I was a dreaded Young Male Driver myself) and 1 moving violation. That averages out to 0.05 accidents and 0.025 tickets per year. Having more than one ticket in a year is very unusual, and raises a lot of red flags, because getting tickets and costing the insurance company a lot money do go together. This kid was a phenomenal outlier and probably a menace. But he was sure he was typical, and no amount of information could convince him otherwise.

Second anecdote:

Almost the last time I listened to NPR was years ago, a Terry Gross interview of some legal scholar. They were addressing the issue of how real life changes faster than laws can get written, so that judges are faced with cases laws never anticipated and for which there are not any really valid precedents. Their conclusion: of course judges must make the law! With a strongly implied ‘how could anybody seem so stupid as to imagine otherwise?’

Instead of discussing the need for balance – the need for the written law to be respected and weighed against the occasional need to rule on a situation that lies outside the written law – we just chuck the written law! What could be simpler?

A common thread in the above is how a a thing, a ‘this’ in Aristotle’s way of talking, presents itself for consideration. In insurance, a thing might be a claim; in law, it might be a case. As a claims adjuster or a judge, the units of interest to you arrive to your awareness prepackaged, as it were, by rules and laws, assumptions and theories – as facts, as things made, in a traditional configuration. Yet what’s missing, what is critical to making wise decisions, is the knowledge of the wide cultural and moral context within which the claim or case is made.

Such a moral and cultural context is not strictly objective, in the sense that it’s not something to be learned merely by looking at how things are at some time and place. It includes, at least in the West, recognition of imperfectly realized ideals. Without this cultural context taken in the widest possible sense, a sense that includes Jewish reverence for the law of God, Greek logic, and Christendom’s ancient sense of salvation history, not just hard cases, but all cases make bad law.

This is where case law gets tricky. If we look to precedent, what we are doing should not be just sussing out how other judges judged and seeing if their judgement applies to the facts in this case. We should also try to to understand that constellation of moral and cultural beliefs that made that judgement seem just to that judge.

Image result for oliver wendell holmes supreme court
Righteous mustache, I must admit. 

I’m not a lawyer, and have felt only the slightest attraction to that profession(2). But I love philosophy. I’ve read just enough (very little) of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr to be dangerous.  OWH Jr assures us that law is, in its essence, philosophy (3). Well, then! Here we go.

If I understand justice to be essentially something eternal and unchanging, along the lines of a Platonic form, more or less, I will look at case law as perhaps revealing something true about justice. At least potentially, all those decisions will reflect all the judges’ best cogitations on the same truth. Like science, it would be acknowledged up front that all such attempt are provisional, that something that comes along later might require reexamination of assumptions. But the basic shape of the process is also like science – it assumes the existence of an objective reality to which our best efforts are an approximation. Over time, we should hope that the approximation gets better. In the meantime, we get useful gadgets and useful rulings.

Hegel, whose influence, fell and dread, was strong on OWH Jr, teaches that the methods of science is not suitable for true philosophers. By this, he does not mean the (real and true) limitation of modern science to things that can be measured. Rather, he refers to the logical processes that underlie not only science but all prior philosophy. Science works by ‘propositional logic’, moving step by careful step from premises stated and restated to be as clear as possible, using logic as beloved by Aristotle and Thomas to reach valid conclusions. Hegel dismissed such efforts as something engaged in by the little people – not by true philosophers like himself.

True philosophers use speculative reason, a phrase redefined away from its traditional meaning by Hegel to mean insights gained by whatever it is that Hegel does to get insights.

The most fundamental of all realities to Hegel are not immutable truths, but Progress. The Spirit reveals and comes to know itself through an endless series of revelations. Reason that relies on logic as an immutable foundation is thus never going to get it right – people wedded to logic, to the notion that true things need to make sense on some level, will reject the latest revelation on the grounds that it is irrational – that it is self-contradictory. To Hegel, this is both of the nature of revelation – it wouldn’t be a revelation if it made sense – and the reason to reject *logic*, at least in philosophic discourse.

Human beings struggle to come to grips with these revelations, struggle to shed the previous rigid thinking we’d settled into after we’d incorporated the last revelation into our consciousness. Those who cannot incorporate the new revelation – those unable to suspend the contradiction within a dialectic synthesis – are left behind, are on the wrong side of history, or, worse yet, are trying to turn the clock back.

Hegel has never been accused of being clear.

We see a meeting of soul-mates. This is not a coincidence. Hegel was a conventional Lutheran. For 300 years, Lutherans and Calvinists and Protestants in general had asserted the rational superiority of their beliefs to Catholicism. Yet both Calvin and Luther famously denigrated reason – ‘that whore’, as Luther called it. I suppose that’s one of those contradictions subsumed in a synthesis, a contradiction in creative tension.

If you define ‘rational’ as ‘falling under the purview of the methods of Aristotle and Thomas’ the teachings of Calvin and Luther will lose that argument (4). That’s why Philosophy since 1630 or so has been exclusively devoted to dismissing or ignoring Aristotle and Thomas. Just as Holmes’ inherited convictions from his Harvard crowd about how the good and holy Puritans Unitarians secularist progressives should be in charge survived his rejection of the God upon the understanding of Whom such claims of superiority were initially based, the efforts to find some other way – any other way! – to think about reality than using Aristotelian logic survived the Academy’s rejection of all things theological. The lust for power survives any particular justification for it.

To be continued.

  1. Aside: you’ll sometimes hear an insurance company tout its 97% customer satisfaction rate with its claims services. Duh. About 97% of the time, the claim is obvious and any half-way respectable insurance company will promptly pay it – reasonable people are pretty satisfied with that. The other 3% includes the very rare hard case,  where it’s not clear at all that the insurance company should pay, a few fraud cases, but mostly, I’d guess about 3% of the population simply does not want to be satisfied no matter what. I suspect we all know people like that, and thus suspect anything over a 97% satisfaction rate doesn’t include a representative sample of humanity.
  2. Taking my father’s oft-stated belief that education was for getting a better job, I couldn’t see law as anything but a job that claimed to be a vocation that has no justification outside of working for justice. In other words, a lawyer making money is a sell-out by definition. Of course, a couple of my college roommates became a judge and a worker’s rights lawyer, which kinda works…
  3. And, in the course of assuring us of this, dismisses the vast bulk of lawyers as just journeymen of a craft, with no real understanding. This goes back, I would think, to his bedrock Harvard/Boston/essentially Puritan roots, institutions founded on the belief that people like him – the smart, good people – should be in charge of the less smart, less good people. Even losing his faith in God didn’t damage his faith in his own Brahmin class’s meritocracy and fitness to rule.
  4. The Catholic Encyclopedia, whose side in this dispute should be obvious,  says of Robert Bellarmine: “In 1576 …the lectures thus delivered grew into the work “De Controversiis” which, amidst so much else of excellence, forms the chief title to his greatness. This monumental work was the earliest attempt to systematize the various controversies of the time, and made an immense impression throughout Europe, the blow it dealt to Protestantism being so acutely felt in Germany and England that special chairs were founded in order to provide replies to it.” Thus began Catholic attempts to make sense of the mish-mash of Protestant claims and arguments. That there are so many conflicting claims and arguments has always testified against them – Does human will count for anything? Does a plowboy need any help understanding Scripture? Do we need baptism or not? Once, or more than once? What, if anything, does the Eucharist represent? And on and on and on. It is obvious that, if these claims represent superior rationality, that rationality cannot be based on the belief that the Truth is One. Thus, Aristotle and Thomas must be rejected.

Flotsam, Update, Etc.

A. Politics has rarely been this bracing. I’m hardly able to form opinions about much of the current kerfluffles – too much smoke to see what, if anything, is on fire. My only advice: ignore polls. If the flawed reasoning and potential for manipulation don’t convince you that polls are worthless, the last election should.

B. Home ‘improvement’. Yesterday, my 13 year old son and I mixed and poured 26 60 lbs and 8 80 lbs bags of ready mix concrete, to the following result:

IMG_3892
A sub slab, to be covered in brick, creating a gentle slope up to the porch, continuing the brick walk at the bottom of the pic completed last summer. Still need to pull the forms and fill in some spots – all the curves and elevation changes made this tricky. 

So, let’s see: I lifted each bag at least twice (loading at Home Depot; dumping into the mixer; most also unloaded and stacked) so that’s minimum of 2.2 tons lifted, manhandled and poured. And the pedestal mixer I rented started acting up about 2 batches in, and totally failed over the last 2-3 batches, meaning MORE manhandling and manual mixing.

I’m 59 years old. At one time, I was a strapping young man who could do this sort of thing before breakfast, play hoops all afternoon, and do it again the next day. Now? Oh, I’m a little sore. Tylenol is a good thing.

Anyway, I am now prepared to while away a good number of long summer evenings on my hands and knees setting bricks. On the plus side, it will be very pretty. On the down side, living through it long enough to enjoy it is not a given. That’s probably just my arms, knees and back talkin’.

C. Then there’s the brick oven I started last summer. Really need to finish it. But had to set it aside because the hole where the path to the front door used to be was a hazard. On the plus side, at least it’s mostly to the standing up phase, needing only to bend over when mixing mortar or lifting bricks.

But all is not bad. The fruit trees got planted and are mostly doing well, the back lawn seems to be taking, and a number of small projects are getting done. So, yea, assuming I’m close to as healthy in 7 years when I can retire, home should be fun!

D. Next will read & review Belloc’s Europe and the Faith, which arrived two days ago. Commenter David Smith asked if Lafferty’s Fall or Rome should be read before or after the Belloc, and I sheepishly had to admit I hadn’t read it. It’s short! Should get through it pretty fast. 

E. The family is heading out to a school camping trip Friday at Del Valle reservoir near Livermore, CA. The trip would be fun, except for the packing up, setting up, sleeping on the ground, packing back up again, and cleaning and putting things away.  There’s been plenty of rain, so the reservoir should be full and the streams flowing – very pretty.

Blogging will be light.

F. Finally, our Chesterton Society reading group will be finishing up In Defense of Sanity next month, and moving on to The Everlasting Man starting in July. I cannot recommend either book too much. The more Chesterton one reads, the more dazzled with his brilliance one becomes.

Science! Attempts to Destroy Itself

And we should help. Here we go: Daryl Bem Proved ESP Is Real.  Money quote:

If you bought into those results, you’d be admitting that much of what you understood about the universe was wrong. If you rejected them, you’d be admitting something almost as momentous: that the standard methods of psychology cannot be trusted, and that much of what gets published in the field—and thus, much of what we think we understand about the mind—could be total bunk.

Of course, anyone sane and conversant in the scientific method would find the idea that “much of what you understood about the universe was wrong” to be nearly a truism, and “that the standard methods of psychology cannot be trusted, and that much of what … we think we understand about the mind—could be total bunk” to be a revelation on the order of “the sun rises in the East.”

These two ideas go together. While it is important – very important – to recognize that science, especially applied science, has produced a large number of very useful and valuable insights into how the world works, that’s not the same as thinking science has gotten to the bottom, or nearly to the bottom, of How Things Are. It is yet another truism that each scientific answer generates an unlimited supply of additional questions. This state of an ever-receding bottom is in addition to the metaphysical questions the answers to which are both essential to the very concept of science and outside the methods of science to answer.

Science should be a humbling exercise, the thrill of discovery balanced with the inescapable reality that there’s more to figure out than will ever be understood. While egomaniacs can be found in all areas of study, it seems there’s an overall bias: the softer the science, the more play there is for ego, the more ready people are to blow their own horn and take offense at legitimate questions.

Back to the article. There’s a useful recap of what happened in parapsychology in the late ’80s. James Randi had made a name for himself by showing, essentially, that parapsychologist are gullible rubes, or, more generously, that scientists are not trained to expect Nature to try to pull one over on them, leaving them vulnerable to frauds. With careers to consider and funding money on the table, this state of affairs must be addressed.

A raft of reforms were proposed and implemented. Experimenters were advised to be wary of the classic test for “statistical significance,” for example, since it could often be misleading. They should avail themselves of larger groups of subjects, so they’d have sufficient power to detect a real effect. They should also attempt to replicate their work, ideally in adversarial collaborations with skeptics of the paranormal, and they should analyze the data from lots of different studies all at once, including those that had never gotten published. In short, the field of parapsychology decided to adopt the principles of solid scientific practice that had long been ignored by their mainstream academic peers.

“the principles of solid scientific practice that had long been ignored by their mainstream academic peers.”  Let that sink in. Psychology is a field where Freud remains among the top handful of most cited sources. For those who have not had the pleasure of reading ol’ Siggy, he perfected and took to new extremes the approach of answering critics *of* his theories from *inside* his theories – typically, any attempt to point out flaws in his theorizing (and they are patent and legion) was answered by the accusation that the critic was obviously repressed. Jung counts on the same dynamic – reflexive dismissal of critics as simple unenlightened – but has vaguer, less vulgar theories and so appears nicer about it. And so, down the lineage of ‘great’ psychologists to this day.

Success in such an environment hinged more on titillating the undergrads and keeping a straight face than on anything remotely related to science.  All serious and fundamental criticism was summarily dismissed – it had to be, or we’d have never heard of these jokers, who, based on the merit of their theories alone, would hold the same intellectual position as Rosicrucians. Instead, they got paying gigs on the public teat at our great universities, and positions of influence over our young.

Not that things never changed. After Skinner and all the rat running (1), it became popular to use cook-book level statistical analysis in studies. To do this, one needs to assign numerical values to data, ignoring that much, maybe most, things that count as data in psychology do not admit of valid numerical values (on a scale of 1 to 5, how happy are you right now?). Low p-values became the ultimate validation that what you were doing was real, just like the real scientists.

Further, in order to get those p-values, it became common practice to follow many paths, ignore the ones that didn’t ‘work’ and report on those that did. This is an example of an old-style scam (not that the researchers were always aware that scamming was what they were doing – could be enthusiasm + ignorance): send a prediction to 1000 people on who will win that week’s big game – 500 predicting the home team, 500 predicting the away team. Next week, discard the 500 you got wrong, and send out 500 more to those you got right on this week’s big game – 250 predicting the home team, 250 predicting the away team. Repeat a few more times. Then send a note to the remaining people who have received an amazing string of predictions that proved right, saying you’ll send them predictions for the upcoming week for a mere $1,000. How could they resist? You’ve never been wrong before!

To Slate’s credit, this is all explained fairly well in the article.

Bern submitted a paper for publication to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the most prestigious and rigorous journal in his field. An E. J. Wagenmakers read it.

Wagenmakers finally managed to get through Bem’s paper. “I was shocked,” he says. “The paper made it clear that just by doing things the regular way, you could find just about anything.”

and:

“Clearly by the normal rules that we [used] in evaluating research, we would accept this paper,” said Lee Ross, a noted social psychologist at Stanford who served as one of Bem’s peer reviewers. “The level of proof here was ordinary. I mean that positively as well as negatively. I mean it was exactly the kind of conventional psychology analysis that [one often sees], with the same failings and concerns that most research has.”

This was all happening way back in 2010. As a result, there is a movement to tighten up research practices. The article neither mentions nor have I read elsewhere any movement to disavow all findings under the previous method, after the manner in which companies recall batches of product that have poison in them. Calling this a ‘replication crisis’ is dramatically underselling the problem: we have a ‘this is a stinking pile and needs to be shoveled out of here’ crisis. But no one in the field will say that. Instead they will say limp-wristed things like ‘these issue call some earlier findings into question.’ Right. (2)

The article, which is in general commendable and full of useful information, still attempts early on the standard ‘science is hard’ spin I’ve found so often in places like fivethirtyeight: any inclination you might have toward dismissing the entire field of psychology must be resisted, because science is hard!

The replication crisis as it’s understood today may yet prove to be a passing worry or else a mild problem calling for a soft corrective. It might also grow and spread in years to come, flaring from the social sciences into other disciplines, burning trails of cinder through medicine, neuroscience, and chemistry. It’s hard to see into the future. But here’s one thing we can say about the past: The final research project of Bem’s career landed like an ember in the underbrush and set his field ablaze.

Note the not so subtle inclusion of medicine, neuroscience and chemistry as other fields that might be affected by these methodological problems. These three fields do not stand in the same relationship to scientific method as the the social “sciences”. If by neuroscience the author means the wild approaches that lead to MRI studies of dead salmon, then, yes, neuroscience is in exactly the position of psychology. Medicine, on the other hand, has always been a combination of art and science, and has always had a lunatic fringe very similar to mainstream psychology in its approaches and conclusions. But medicine also has results – epidemics prevented, successful surgeries, recoveries from formerly fatal conditions – much more measurable and important. Finally, chemistry is wonderful in that it either works or it doesn’t, so that if you make a claim with any real-world implications, incompetence and fraud will soon out.

No, Slate, there’s no chance this is “a passing worry or else a mild problem calling for a soft corrective.” Nor is it likely to have much effect on fields where hard, objective results are routinely demanded.

There is no replication crisis. There is a this is utter BS crisis, to be resolved once people in general conclude: the social sciences are purveyors of utter BS.

Why, yes, I am a little grumpy today. Why do you ask?

  1. Long quote from Feynman’s famous and oft quoted Cal Tech commencement speech:All experiments in psychology are not of this type, however. For example, there have been many experiments running rats through all kinds of mazes, and so on–with little clear result. But in 1937 a man named Young did a very interesting one. He had a long corridor with doors all along one side where the rats came in, and doors along the other side where the food was. He wanted to see if he could train the rats to go in at the third door down from wherever he started them off. No. The rats went immediately to the door where the food had been the time before.

    The question was, how did the rats know, because the corridor was so beautifully built and so uniform, that this was the same door as before? Obviously there was something about the door that was different from the other doors. So he painted the doors very carefully, arranging the textures on the faces of the doors exactly the same. Still the rats could tell. Then he thought maybe the rats were smelling the food, so he used chemicals to change the smell after each run. Still the rats could tell. Then he realized the rats might be able to tell by seeing the lights and the arrangement in the laboratory like any commonsense person. So he covered the
    corridor, and still the rats could tell.

    He finally found that they could tell by the way the floor sounded when they ran over it. And he could only fix that by putting his corridor in sand. So he covered one after another of all possible clues and finally was able to fool the rats so that they had to learn to go in the third door. If he relaxed any of his conditions, the rats could tell.

    Now, from a scientific standpoint, that is an A-number-one experiment. That is the experiment that makes rat-running experiments sensible, because it uncovers the clues that the rat is really using–not what you think it’s using. And that is the
    experiment that tells exactly what conditions you have to use in order to be careful and control everything in an experiment with rat-running.

    I looked into the subsequent history of this research. The next experiment, and the one after that, never referred to Mr. Young. They never used any of his criteria of putting the corridor on sand, or being very careful. They just went right on running rats in the same old way, and paid no attention to the great discoveries of Mr. Young, and his papers are not referred to, because he didn’t discover anything about the rats. In fact, he discovered all the things you have to do to discover something about rats. But not paying attention to experiments like that is a characteristic of cargo cult science.

  2. There are, of course, people who were thrilled at Bern’s results, and accepted them with unfiltered enthusiasm:  “But for Bem’s fellow members of the Parapsychological Association, the publication marked a great success. “He brought a lot of attention to the possibility that this research can be done, and that it can be done in a mainstream establishment,” says Marilyn Schlitz, a sociolinguist who studies psi phenomena and has an appointment at the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Petaluma, California.

Free Speech

 

Started another long winded post, decided to cut to the chase: Opposition to free speech is a necessary and standard position of Marxists, for 3 main reasons:

  1. Marxism relies for its truth claims on enlightenment, not argument. No one becomes a Marxist because a carefully-constructed string of logically valid and compelling arguments have convinced him it is true. Rather, one merely has one’s consciousness raised – gets woke – which really is a lot less trouble.
  2. Marxists believe there is no such thing as human nature. (1)  This is the bedrock belief that lies under modern feminism and gender theory, but is present in all critical theory.
  3. Thus, Marxists do not believe in inalienable rights. Individual rights, insofar as they can be said to exist at all, accrue to a person only insofar as that person has attained enlightenment, which enlightenment is measured solely by how well their beliefs agree with mine, so long as I’m a Marxist. Not a Marxist? Then you have no rights.

The first point is nothing more than Hegel viewed through Marx’s prism. Hegel, after surveying the logical wreckage of the line of philosophies beginning with Descartes (2) and ending with Kant, concluded that no philosophical progress could be made going down that road. He did admit that logic continued to be very fruitful as applied to science and math, for example, but thought it doomed to failure when applied to philosophy.  Thus, human knowledge was bifurcated: the little people, who were not capable of true philosophy, would continue to use logic to make the sort of real progress seen in applied science and math, while true philosophers would engage in a dialectic wherein logical contradictions are subsumed in the synthesis. In English, that means true philosophers are freed from the requirement of making any sense, but can just blithely plow ahead with their work, counting on the Spirit to validate the greater truth in which the contradictions of thesis and antithesis are held creative tension in the synthesis. Again, in English, the positions of true philosophers cannot be attacked for being unreasonable. That a true philosopher’s positions are self-contradictory is a feature, not a bug.

Marxists merely took this whatchamacallit – insight? Self-delusion? – and ran with it.  You can see this rejection of logic most clearly in the refusal of Marxists to consider any science that contradicts their positions. Instead, science, when it contradicts Marxism, is branded a social construct and a tool of patriarchal oppression, no more valid in its conclusions than any other social construct of oppression. The irony of making such statements over the internet, for example, is lost on them.

The idea of free speech, as in talking things over or even, goodness forbid, arguing out positions, is utterly incompatible with Marxist ideals. On a theoretical basis, it will not move the ball forward on the right side of History to let the unenlightened yammer on about the ideas they hold due to their false consciousness. More important, on a practical level, encouraging people to consider alternative points of view, even merely as an exercise in shooting them down, is far, far too dangerous for Marxists, who rely for their power on vast numbers of people accepting their premises without understanding them in the least. They need useful idiots, and rational discussion will only make them less idiotic – and therefore, less useful. Sure, most of those people will need to be purged once the glorious revolution is complete. But for now, they are indispensable.

The second point falls out naturally from the first. Human nature is the name we give to that collection of characteristics that define what a human being is. This includes both physical and behavioural characteristics. Thus, science concludes that Man is a bipedal, omnivorous mammal exhibiting strong sexual dimorphism. This dimorphism is necessarily both physical and behavioral: men and women, as observed in the real world, both look and behave differently in many important respects.

A feature of human nature as defined by observation of actual human being in the real world is that there is a very wide range of physical and behavioral characteristics found in any sizeable population of people. Nonetheless, generalizations are possible, both globally and in particular sub populations. There are, for example, roles and tasks across all cultures that are typically performed by either men or women, and for which physiologically, men or women are better suited. This observation remains non controversial in practice to this day – except to Marxists.

To appeal to human nature is to appeal to a shared reality against which one can measure one’s ideas. That is a path down which no Marxist will willingly go, as it requires logic and moves away from the primacy of enlightenment.

Finally, given the above, there’s no way a Marxist will support and believe in a right to free speech. The only necessary and allowed speech is speech required for the promulgation of dogmatic Marxism. Everything else is useless and worse than useless.

So Marxist are striving now to label any attempts at open discussion hate speech, and are desperate to keep it off the college campuses which are their strongholds. The useful idiots – and I, at age 19 or 20, was as much an idiot as today’s college students – must be kept useful. Letting them get into the habit of hearing out non-Marxist, let alone anti-Marxist ideas expressed logically is about the worst thing that could happen, as it tends to make them less idiotic and thus less useful.

As is so often the case with Marxism, the vehemence of their reaction to challenges is wildly out of proportion to what they claim to believe. The revolt of the masses and the coming of the Worker Paradise are supposed by Marx to be the inevitable result of the turning of the wheels of capital ‘H’ History. So, what’s to get all worked up about? Don’t Marxists trust their own dogma? I suppose that’s just another contradiction subsumed in a synthesis.

With their rejection of reason and their lightning-quick resort to violence both verbal and physical, Marxist reveal that what they’ve really embraced is not a coherent philosophy – Marxism is hardly that – but a childish revenge fantasy. The possibility that other people are not outraged not because they are not paying attention, but because they have better things to do is, itself, something they find outrageous.  There is also a very strong daddy issues aspect to every Marxist I’ve ever known personally. Still waiting to meet my first pleasant, happy-go-lucky Marxist.

We need to insist on and fight for free speech rights now, while the bulk of people have only unconsciously absorbed Marxist analysis and prescriptions. College student, who are not even aware that they have only heard one side of the story – and that their self-proclaimed betters are desperate to keep it that way – think the problems of the world are entirely the result of oppression, and that the solution to all the world’s problems is to simply remove the oppressors. They think this is a reasonable position held by all reasonable people. Free speech truly practiced stands a fighting chance of disabusing them of this nonsense. That’s why it is hated by Marxists, and why we have to fight for it now more than ever.

  1. This is why one so often finds Marxists flapping their arms and flying to the moon, holding their breath for months on end, and engaged in other activities that demonstrate the non-existence of human nature.
  2. Or maybe William of Ockham. I have not read him, but I hear he’s an anti-Realist or even Nominalist of some sort. Or with Luther and Calvin, who, while hardly philosophers, did start movements that people like Hegel felt a deep need to justify. Since the positions held by the great reformers cannot survive logical analysis, logical analysis has to go. Hegel just formalized the process.