From Benson’s ‘Lord of the World’

Papa Angelicus:

It was Papa Angelicus whom he was about to see; that amazing old man who had been appointed Secretary of State just fifty years ago, at the age of thirty, and Pope nine years previously.  It was he who had carried out the extraordinary policy of yielding the churches throughout the whole of Italy to the Government, in exchange for the temporal lordship of Rome, and who had since set himself to make it a city of saints. He had cared, it appeared, nothing whatever for the world’s opinion; his policy, so far as it could be called one, consisted in a very simple thing: he had declared in Epistle after Epistle that the object of the Church was to do glory to God by producing supernatural virtues in man, and that nothing at all was of any significance or importance except so far as it effected this object…

…he had said that on the whole the latter-day discoveries of man tended to distract immortal souls from a contemplation of eternal verities—not that these discoveries could be anything but good in themselves, since after all they gave insight into the wonderful laws of God—but that at present they were too exciting to the imagination.

Fr. Percy:

Persecution, he said, was coming. … But persecution was not to be feared. It would no doubt cause apostasies, as it had always done, but these were deplorable only on account of the individual apostates. On the other hand, it would reassure the faithful; and purge out the half-hearted. Once, in the early ages, Satan’s attack had been made on the bodily side, with whips and fire and beasts; in the sixteenth century it had been on the intellectual side; in the twentieth century on the springs of moral and spiritual life. Now it seemed as if the assault was on all three planes at once. 

But what was chiefly to be feared was the positive influence of Humanitarianism: it was coming, like the kingdom of God, with power; it was crushing the imaginative and the romantic, it was assuming rather than asserting its own truth; it was smothering with bolsters instead of wounding and stimulating with steel or controversy. It seemed to be forcing its way, almost objectively, into the inner world. Persons who had scarcely heard its name were professing its tenets; priests absorbed it, as they absorbed God in Communion—he mentioned the names of the recent apostates—children drank it in like Christianity itself. The soul “naturally Christian” seemed to be becoming “the soul naturally infidel.” 

Persecution, cried the priest, was to be welcomed like salvation, prayed for, and grasped; but he feared that the authorities were too shrewd, and knew the antidote and the poison apart. There might be individual martyrdoms—in fact there would be, and very many—but they would be in spite of secular government, not because of it. Finally, he expected, Humanitarianism would presently put on the dress of liturgy and sacrifice, and when that was done, the Church’s cause, unless God intervened, would be over.

Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson

Written before WWI. Benson feared what would happen if the ‘humanitarian’ aspects of modernism – socialism – worked, what might happen if secular powers were able, by intelligent management, to eliminate the physical causes of human suffering, and, by making suicide a sacred, state-supported right, cause spiritual suffering to be something avoidable and individually chosen.

Looked at from Benson’s perspective, we have been spared, I suppose, the curse of successful socialism. He was writing before the horrors of the Russian Revolution and the subsequent horrors under Soviet, Chinese, Cambodian and so on, Communist regimes. His worries that secular management of everything would WORK proved baseless. Instead, we have the curse of those committed to the idea that a paradies is around the corner despite it never having resulted from previous efforts, that it will work if we just keep trying, in the face of mountains of evidence – and mountains of bodies – proving it won’t.

Hurray! I guess?

Question: In that last paragraph, did Benson overrate the shrewdness of secular government? Is he right about the adoption of the trappings of liturgy and sacrifice?

Front Row Kids Revisited (Yep, the d*mn Virus)

Since I generally stay away from the popular press for sanity and utility reasons – tends to drive me crazy and be useless – I don’t know how that whole ‘front row kids’ thing from a few years ago went over. I suspect that Arnade’s division seemed obviously true to many people, and obvious balderdash to many others. I’d also imagine that, of those two groups, the first would be a lot more engaged in talking about and promoting this analysis, while the second would be more likely to role their eyes and find something better to do.

Chartiers Elementary School Classroom | Historic Pittsburgh

Accepting for the moment this front row/back row division of the world: for a front row kid, this idea that he is defined by his place in school is very appealing; I’d go so far as to suggest doing otherwise is almost unimaginable for him. Unfortunately, I’d say the same for most back row kids.

What’s lurking here: school is the primary formative experience of all front row and most back row kids. Coming from a rootless, cruel, and self-centered personal life, where mom and dad have divorced, moved, and remarried, often several times, school for such emotionally battered children is an oasis of order. Unlike their relationship with their parents, the rules in school are pretty clear: to be valued, to get approval, just do what the teacher says.

In the process of seeking personal fulfillment and career success, they have learned from their families, such as they are, to casually sever whatever non-work related relationships they may have otherwise formed. A child leaves a house full of emotional and sometimes physical insecurity, and spends most of his waking hours in a place where success is clearly defined for them.

To tell such a child, now grown into a physical adult and inescapably defining his success in terms of compliance, that something an authority figure has told them is wrong, is never going to be seen as a mere intellectual dispute. It is an attack on that which defines who he is. It is an assault on his entire world.

Here’s Arnade’s definitions, from a Forbes article (in which the writer seems to accept the distinction, and has moved on to worrying over what to do about it). This is a masterpiece of Orwellian newspeak. I’ll offer my corrections line by line:

Front row kids:

Mobile, global, and well educated (Rootless, disdainful of local loyalties, thoroughly indoctrinated)

Primary social network is via colleges and career (Social network is shallow, diffuse, and ephemeral)

Intellect is primary. (Compliance is primary) View world through framework of numbers and rational arguments (Has internalized the idea that compliance is rational, and that only the numbers and arguments presented by authority figures count regardless of their inherent soundness)

Meaning (and morality) comes from careers and intellectual pursuits (Has no concept of what meaning and morality are)

Faith is irrational. (Has internalized a strawman) They see themselves as beyond race and gender (They are obsessed with race and gender)

View their lives as better than their parents and their children’s lives will be better than their own (Contrary to what they see all around them, they accept the fantasy that success in school guarantees success in life)

Back row kids

Stay where they are born. (Are loyal and patriotic) Education beyond high school degree is via smaller state schools, community colleges, and trade schools (Recognize, however dimly, that college is a fraud)

Primary social network is via institutions beyond work. (Don’t think of family, etc., as ‘institutions.’ Love, and has a visceral loyalty to the people who love them and recognizes a duty to love and be loyal in return.) Such as family, geographic community, and Church (Finds fulfillment and meaning as part of a family, village or neighborhood, and church)

Faith is central. (They know what faith means. They reject the strawman) They find meaning (and morality) through the “Decency of hard work” (They work for reasons other than mere personal fulfillment – they find fulfillment in performing their duties to the family, village, and church they love)

They have “traditional” views of race and gender (They reject the authoritarian indoctrination of the schools)

They view their lives as worse than their parents and their children’s lives will be worse than their own (They have a toehold in economic reality – it will be a lot of work for them and their children to get as far as their parents.)

A front row kid’s sense of reality will always be tenuous, because it will always be contradicted by experience. The approval of teachers and schools, the gold stars, the pat on the head, the straight A’s, the diplomas, the advanced degrees – these are what stand between them and the abyss of abandonment they experienced in their family life. On this level, a front row kid really is triggered by simple, harmless words – any words that point out the contradiction. ‘Fake news’ points out the perfidy and incompetence of their peers. Those elite journalists went to the best schools, got the best degrees, and are front row kids to a degree to which most front row kids can only spire. That they are getting mocked for being such obvious frauds is unendurable! Those journalists are both front row kids like us, and stand in the role of teachers as the vanguard of the institutions that give meaning to their lives.

The key here for today: front row kids truly believe that parroting what they hear from whoever stands in authority IS science, logic, intelligence, and reasonableness itself. Agreeing with teacher IS morality. Opposing what the person in authority says IS anti-science, irrationality, and stupidity, and EVIL. They have been told that they are the best educated, most reasonable and most moral people the world has ever seen – and, as the price to be paid for acceptance and approval and something that almost feels like love, they believe it. This price, this membership in the kool kids klub, demands any who express doubts about any part of the program be treated as heretics.

As of today, I have had someone I know, who has an advanced degree, unload on me for calling the COVID panic a fraud, and, with complete disdain for any evidence, logic, math that might enter into the analysis, call me tool for stupid, evil politicians who want to get us all killed out of pure malice. I was accused of promoting conspiracy theories, which was backed up by a stream of conspiracy theories.

A stranger called me a monster and insane for pointing out something completely obvious from all the available data: that a child stands virtually no risk from the Kung Flu. Unlike the case above, this time I got a chance to point to the CDC data that backs this up; pointed to the IFR calculable from that CDC data. It simply was not possible to change her mind, because it’s not a question of thinking. It is a question of personal identity established over 16 or more years of schooling.

Simply raising questions about the government’s response to COVID, simply pushing back at all on the assertions of the talking heads, is enough to trigger a strong emotional reaction in front row kids. To take any pushback seriously would be to shake the very ground upon which they stand. To accept any view contrary to the front row kid group-think would be to cast oneself adrift, to sever social ties (such as they are) and force a reevaluation of the premises upon which your life has been built.

To say this is difficult is a wild understatement. If an authority figure comes along and says something diametrically opposed to what was said yesterday, front row kids will believe it without a moment of cognitive dissonance. COVID was not a problem – until it was. Masks didn’t help at all, until they might help some, until they are mandatory. And the front row will switch allegiance accordingly, and woe to him who points this out!

For change to happen, the easier route, which has happened many times, is simply to change the authority figure. Our current authority figures are fighting this with desperate fury. Or, I suppose, enough cognitive dissonance might eventually get through. Resistance to this level of fundamental, definitional change is strong, life and death strong.

I do not need to point out to regular readers that this transference of loyalty from family to state via a certified agent of the state – a teacher – and the replacement of thought with obedience is exactly what Fichte proposed way back in 1807.

De la Salle & Normal Schools

Am plowing through biographies and writings of the major players in Catholic schooling. Unfortunately, so far, have found nothing on Mother Seton’s teaching methods, which, given the timeframe of the early 19th century, would be interesting. Now looking over Jean Baptiste de la Salle, and creating a series of spreadsheets with timelines on them – since none of the stuff I’ve read so far correlates event s and lives in any sort of systematic fashion, guess I’ve got to do it.

De la Salle is credited with inventing the ‘Normal School’, viewed as the forerunner of all modern teachers colleges. The name comes from de la Salle’s observation that the impoverished boys he was trying to educate lacked even rudimentary social skills, and, further, so did the sort of men who would volunteer to teach them.

His first stab at addressing the issue was to simply invite the teachers over for dinner. In 1680, this caused great scandal among his relatives, since de la Salle was a nobleman with a mansion, and the teachers were all commoners. He found dinner wasn’t enough immersion in cultured life, so he had the commoner-teachers move in. His relatives managed, through legal wrangling, to get his house away from him, putting the kibosh on his uncouth fraternizing.

So he founded normal school, to instill in would-be teachers the norms of civilized life. The SJW have gotten to the Wikipedia page, and so we read:

In 1685, St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle, founder of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, founded what is generally considered the first normal school, the École Normale, in ReimsChampagneFrance. The term “normal” herein refers to the goal of these institutions to instill and reinforce particular norms within students. “Norms” included historical behavioral norms of the time, as well as norms that reinforced targeted societal values, ideologies and dominant narratives in the form of curriculum.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normal_school

Of course, there’s an implied judgement in there. It seems the writer doesn’t approve of the ‘ideologies and dominant narratives’ the likes of de la Salle would ‘instill.’ De la Salle made a timeless observation: You’ll get farther if you know how to act like a gentleman than if you always act like a thug. It’s along the lines of catching flies with sugar rather than vinegar.

I note here a reality: schools are an artifact and a conduit of culture. Either your schools teach and reinforce the culture, or they replace it. In de la Salle’s case, he wanted what he saw as a better culture taught to his charges, both students and teachers. In a sense, he was attempting to replace the culture, such as it was, of the impoverished boys and teachers in his charge; looked at another way, he was trying to take the best from the culture he shared with the poor, and make it more available to them. He certainly thought knowing how to act like a gentleman would improve the economic and social prospects of his students and teachers.

Our school cannot but serve the same purpose. They are not about the 3 Rs, and never were. The 3 Rs are just part of the culture the schools traditionally tried to pass on. All the great teachers of history knew they weren’t getting anywhere with students who did not know, for example, how to act toward a teacher. The great schools in Athens would not admit you unless you knew Euclid and Homer, as in: could do all of Euclid’s proofs, and recite the Iliad and the Odyssey. It was not so much that this proved you were a true Greek – although it did do that – as show that you knew how to study and learn. How to behave in school.

Fichte is therefore not breaking new ground in trying to use schools to impart a culture. His innovation is to teach that compulsory state-run Rousseauian/Pestalozzian schools could create a new and Utopian society in a generation or so – if only the influence of parents, family, religion, and village could be eliminated. This remains a (usually) tacit assumption of schools ever since.

Wikipedia continues:

The first public normal school in the United States was founded in Concord, Vermont, by Samuel Read Hall in 1823 to train teachers. In 1839, the first state-supported normal school was established by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on the northeast corner of the historic Lexington Battle Green; it evolved into Framingham State University. The first modern teacher training school in China was established by educator Sheng Xuanhuai in 1895 as the normal school of the Nanyang Public School (now Shanghai Jiao Tong University) in Shanghai during the Qing dynasty.[2]

Massachusetts – it’s the Balkans of education: producing more history than it can consume locally. My curiosity was piqued by Samuel Read Hall – don’t remember him. A contemporary of Mann, but beat him to the punch in founding a Normal School. So, I clicked the link:

Hall was a preacher, or at least, a trained minister. At a young age – mid 20s – he was already running and founding schools. Wonder if he’s yet another childless man pontificating on children? The Oracle does not say.

In 1829, he helped found an educational society,  American Institute of Instruction , whose purpose was – to get Massachusetts to create the office od superintendent of schools. The succeeded. Horace Mann got the gig…

It is shocking/not shocking how often education reform seeks not so much improved education as the establishment of offices with the power, it is more or less sincerely hoped, to improve education.

Here’s Hall’s major beefs:

In his Lectures on School Keeping, he points out significant obstacles to the instruction of children in the American schools of 1829:

Lack of simple display media such as a globe of the world. (He is credited with inventing the blackboard, and the blackboard eraser)

Political factions within the school district, at war with each other at the expense of educational progress.

Wealthy citizens sending their children to private schools.

Schools exact no moral influence, in turn becoming a school for bad behavior.

Poorly qualified teachers.

Poor remuneration of qualified teachers.

Poor quality of textbooks, or lack of fitness for learning capacity of student.

It’s tempting to pick this apart. In 1829, America was less than 50 years removed from the Federalist Papers – published in the popular press, which would suggest that, in general, the newspaper-buying public could read at a very high level. And there were a lot of newspapers back then, publishing a lot of editions, so that public must have been large. Again, reading can only be an important part of schooling if the culture the school is passing along thinks it’s important. At any rate, it doesn’t look like reading was considered a problem by Hall.

“Political factions” – he doesn’t mean “people who disagree with me,” does he? Then again: rich people sending their kids to private schools as a problem suggests he does. Don’t want to read too much into this, but it is interesting that he doesn’t seem to want to reform those private schools, but rather, wants rich people’s kids in public schools like his. Again, one wonders: is ‘wealthy’ defined here as ‘willing to spend money to keep them out of my schools’?

Rabbit hole. Important note: once one recognizes schools as tools to impart culture, it becomes very, very important to consider who is in charge, what culture is being imparted. The news suggests: not the one any sane people would want imparted.

By the Way…

This was on Twitter, posted by a person with BLM and Antifa in her name. The comments were universally positive – meaning, in favor of destroying Western Civilization. That’s because she simply eliminated any that weren’t, because clearly those people were stupid and evil. (There is a lesson in this.)

Image

The very least we can do, in fact, what we must do, is refuse to use their language. A key battle in this war is getting everyone to accept the language in which these terrorists frame the issues. That’s why they go insane when someone suggests All Lives Matter: the key message is that BLM controls the discussion. Any deviation from their terminology is immediately denounced as, of course, racist.

Therefore: I will never refer to someone’s sex as ‘gender’, never use ‘systemic racism’ except to mock it, always use ‘markets’ instead of ‘capitalism’ and others I’m nt recalling at the moment. We should start a list. Even ‘problematic’ is, well, problematic. Usually what is meant is ‘wrong’ or ‘evil’, but those words don’t signal in group membership the way problematic does. Class, oppression, progress need to be handled with care.

Language is the ground we cannot cede. Our enemies already control the public discussion through their stooges in the media, academia and government. We cannot let this pass.

Book Review: Don’t Give Money to People Who Hate You

Brian Niemeier‘s 90-page book Don’t Give Money to People Who Hate You, is a kick in the pants to those of us who are still drifting along sedated by nostalgia, still paying for the privilege of a front-row seat to the mutilation and ultimate destruction of our own culture, willfully oblivious to the contempt and hatred of those who have appointed themselves our betters. I needed that kick – while I have long since revoked access to my wallet to Hollywood movies, and have never been much for games and comics, I still sometimes click on mainstream news articles and shop with major corporations. As explained below, these are now as much of the problem as the direct culture war waged in films and print. Many major corporations do all in their power to prove their hatred for me and mine and everything we believe and love. Don’t give them your money. Don’t give them your clicks.

So if you still are paying to consume blockbusters, comic book movies, video games, mainstream books and comics, or patronizing sports teams, retail outlets and ‘news’ media that have gone way, way out of their way to let you and the entire world know they hate you and everything you love – read this book. Now.

DGMTPWHY provides a quick tour through the who, when, where, what, and why of our current state of all but unwatchable, unreadable and unplayable ‘entertainment. The creators of mainstream entertainment have gotten converged, and, despite the hit to their corporate wallets, are now purveyors of nihilist propaganda masquerading as movies, comics, books, and games.

They must subvert and destroy what we, the sheep they despise, love. Manly men trying to be honorable, heroic and manly, and feminine women trying to be honorable, heroic and feminine, are right out – they are tools of the patriarchy, the cultural hegemony of oppression under which we sheep labor, and from which our purple-haired, nose ringed genderfluid betters are going to save us – or make sure we die from their trying. A character as complex as Rick in Casa Blanca, or even Luke in Star Wars, is to be simplified for the purposes of the cause. If you are so unwoke as to *like* such complex characters, well, our betters plan to fix that – by stories with no heroes and no villains, which leaves them with no plots or even logic. So things blow up.

And, of course, this all boils down to hatred of God. I’ve long held that all heresies are denials of the Incarnation. The basic ingredients of the dogma are a transcendent yet merciful God, creator of the Universe, Who, in an unfathomable act of humility and love, becomes one of us, suffers for us, and saves us. He defeats evil, and gives us hope. The purveyors of modern culture reject and mock each of these ingredients one by one, specifically. There is no God, nor any evil to defeat, nor good to defend. There can be no heroes, and no villains. Nothing is created from love, which is a lie. Humility is stupid; suffering is pointless. Only power matters, if anything matters.

There is no hope.

Modernism, of which this whole cultural war is the current manifestation, battles to defeat the good, the true, and the beautiful, even in such seemingly trivial forms as comic books and movies. But popular entertainment, from Homer to Shakespeare to Star Wars, is the way a culture is defined, nourished, and passed along. Just because it’s Batman and Thor getting the Social Justice treatment instead of (for the moment) Bach and Dante, doesn’t make it less dangerous Indeed, a lot more people have their morality formed by Superman and Harry Potter than by Milton and Flannery O’Conner. In a sane, healthy society, the popular culture and the highest high culture are formed by, share and communicate the same moral messages. For a century or more, that has not been the case in the West: our high culture is a cesspool of nihilism, while, up until the last 50 years, popular culture was still dominated by the theme of good versus evil – and the now novel idea that it’s better if good wins.

Brian published this work in April, before the rioting and the Antifa/Black Lives Matters psyops took over the ‘news’, and wrote it, I imagine, before the COVID hysteria and lockup. These are of a piece: the same people who show their hatred of you in movies and books have broadened their channels, and now show their murderous intent through the flexes and humiliation rituals of the lockup and masks and ‘social distancing’ (a phrase no one had heard of 4 months ago that is now treated like the Wisdom of the Ages), and by their apologetics, encouragement, and approval of those who would literally burn our country down. They destroy statues as phase one of an effort to memory hole anything that doesn’t conform to their contempt. I exaggerate not one iota when I say: Antifa and BLM dream of getting to kill you and your family. They are driven by the Marxist fantasy that bad people on the Wrong Side of History are all that stand in the way of paradise on earth. That paradise is the glorious End that justifies any means, including the slaughter of all who, in the minds of the Marxists, oppose it. Stalin and Mao, with their purges and Great Leap Forward, are not seen as history’s greatest criminals, but as role models. You and I are those bad people. They want us dead.

Don’t believe me? Read what they have to say for themselves.

The companies that even today are bending the knee and falling all over themselves in their rush to issue statements, not in condemnation of wanton property destruction and threatened and real physical harm up to and including murder, but rather in *support* of the rioters and vandals. The very idea that there are significant numbers of ‘peaceful protesters’ was always ludicrous: useful idiots and bored, antsy teenager of all ages, sure. Large numbers of people who take to the streets for weeks on end because a fellous thug who once robbed a pregnant woman at gunpoint while she pleaded for her life got himself killed by an out of control cop who is in jail awaiting trial?

That’s not what’s happening.

Back to the book. I know what Brian is talking about. Star Wars came out the summer after my freshman year in college. My girlfriend at the time kept raving about this movie we had to go see, even though she’d seen it several times already. I, a callous sophisticate as only a 19 year old can be, remained cool.

Then we hit the theater – with a line around the block. From the first scene, I was hooked. Awesome, and so much fun! So, of course, went back several times, and saw the sequels also several times each in the theaters, and got the videos as soon as they came out, and did my best to wear them out. So, yea – I get it.

Even after the road kill that was the prequels, with dread in my heart, I went to see the Force Awakens – and was mildly entertained. BUT – never felt the slightest urge to see it again, or get the DVD. Upon reflection, the movie got worse and worse: the pageantry and special effects – and the still-not-bone-dry well of good will earned by the original trilogy – distracted me from the cardboard characters, the utter lack of character development, the stupid, derivative plot, the relentlessly nonsensical motivations (or lack thereof) driving what little story they had. Rather than Luke’s textbook hero’s journey, we get a total Mary Sue; rather than family, honor, and friendship invigorating the characters, we had – what, exactly?

I’ve seen none of the subsequent movies. Since Brian first mentioned his rule – never give money to people who hate you – a few years ago, my inchoate disgust got a name and a focus, and rather than just avoiding movies because I didn’t want to feel used, I began avoiding them on principle – the principle of this book.

Now, we need to expand the field in which this dictum operates to include all corporations and businesses that have kowtowed to BLM and Antifa: No, Corporate America, you do not need to prove you aren’t racist by anything beside treating all your customers with respect, providing good value for the dollar, and hiring and promoting people based solely on how well they do those first two things. Pandering to bullies earns my contempt, not my dollars; actively supporting people who want me and mine dead gets me fired up to look for and promote alternatives to anything you might offer.

Monday Mish-Mash

A. This scrap of flash fiction seems somehow relevant.

Minchinhampton Common: where the cow is king but only just ...

B. At first glance, I thought Amazon was trying to sell me bulk shotgun shells:

“Your go-to Solution” seemed a little dark for corporate America.

C. Is that, is that – Caleb Jones?

D. On a less light note: the recent Supreme Court ruling giving those confused about their sex cover as a protected class is, ultimately, the final puzzle piece in the 200+ year effort to bring all schools completely under the control of the state. As usual, the stated goals are a smokescreen: the champions of this ruling were talking fairness, discrimination, and mean old bigots, not ‘we can now sue private schools out of existence and lock up homeschoolers and take away their kids.’ But that is what this is about.

More detailed post when I can stomach it.

Word Salad – a Systemic Problem

‘Systemic’ is a nice word, like ‘problematic’. I get a visceral negative reaction when I hear either of them, however. Too bad, at least for systemic – unlike problematic, which is always used where ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ or ‘stupid’ is intended but not impressive-sounding enough, systemic does have a good fine meaning. So, here’s a small attempt to salvage it.

First, I’d suggest that systemic be used only in regards to clear, preferably consciously designed, systems. Hidden, unexpressed rules absorbed unaware are better called ‘prejudices’. And, indeed, for years they were – in my youth, the world as reported was all about fighting prejudice.

Second, it matters if one acknowledges the existence of human nature. If people are people like any other creature from ants to angels, there are going to be more or less sympathetic and understandable behavioral quirks that just come with the territory. The prime example in today’s unpleasantness: as tribal/pack creatures, we naturally (human nature) are suspicious of outsiders, non-tribal members. This suspicion is overcome when the tribe is receptive and the outsider – identified as such by his clothing, behavior, speach, mannerisms, etc. – performs ritual actions designed to put the new tribe at ease. Dogs wag their tails; we smile and show our empty palms. And so on.

Interactions with strangers make up a huge part of literature and history. First contact stories are a subspecies. All such stories explore and play off of the possibility of misunderstanding. There can be happy endings or disasters or anything in between.

One party here is trying harder than the other to show they mean no harm; the heavy military back-up is merely prudent…

All such stories would make no sense if human nature didn’t exist. If every encounter was merely blank slate to blank slate, there could be no expectations, nothing to be surprised or horrified or amused by. The attempt to replace human prejudice with some sort of system problem just kicks the can down the road a bit: from what did this supposed system arise? Who built it? If no one, how is that different from the concept of human nature? (Calling it a social construct is just trying to kick the same can a little further.)

Tribal prejudices are not systemic in any useful sense of that term. But if one refuses to recognize human nature, what else could they be? Refusal to recognize human nature is the end, not the beginning, of any discussion of human behaviour.

Here’s a (predictable) example of real systemic problems: schools. A system was consciously put in place to achieve certain goals. Over the years, that system has become integrated to the point where it is largely invisible to most of the people charged with it execution – teachers and parents. The resulting behaviors cannot be addressed by simple appeals to personal effort, because by design these behaviors are habitual and therefore nearly ineradicable, and are reinforced at every turn in a society in which nearly everyone has been subjected to that system.

The system looks like this:

  • Divide kids into arbitrary groups by age. Kids are to see their tribal membership as something decided by others, by people in authority.
  • Divide their school time into arbitrary segments. Kids are judged by how well they comply with arbitrary bells and instructions
  • Divide learning into subjects, and reward staying on task regardless of the skill or interest of the child, enforcing the idea that their interests are secondary to the school’s interests.
  • Ignore or denigrate the child’s skills or interests that are not in lockstep with school programs. Only following directions and regurgitating on command are rewarded.
  • Enforce these divisions spatially and socially. Each grade has its specified classroom, recess time, lunch area, etc. School has the unquestioned authority to control your social interactions.
  • Exclude the outside world as much as possible. Unapproved adults – parents, say – are forbidden from the classroom except under highly controlled conditions.
  • Extend the school control outside of traditional school hours by homework, sports, extracurricular activities, pre- and after-school programs. School is more important and has more authority than family.
  • Put parents in the role of school enforcer by making the completion of homework their responsibility. School has authority in the outside world.
  • Measure success and personal worth solely by school approval. Smart people sit in the front row, pay attention and get good grades; dumb people focus on what interests them regardless of what the school wants.

And so on.

Schooling really is a systemic problem. The solution really is to defund the schools K-grad school. Unfortunately, this rhetoric has already been drafted for much less defensible goals.

We’ll Never Know

One of us? The evidence seems somewhat fragmentary.

I’ve sometimes said that the correct scientific answer to most questions is: we don’t know. This is so because a) most interesting questions do not fall under the purview of science; and b) the highly conditional nature of all true science usually leaves room for reasonable doubt even in the relatively small subset of questions where science can be brought to bear. In the first group fall such timeless questions as “what am I to do with my life?” “Does life have any meaning?” “Should I marry this person?” “What should we name our child?” These are really important question for which science isn’t much help.

In the second group, fall such questions as: “When did human beings arise?” It is thought that creatures one could argue were human arose maybe 4 million years ago. Maybe. Modern humans, people who could pass unnoticed at a cocktail party given a shower, a shave, decent clothes, and a zipped lip, maybe 500,000? Maybe a million years ago?

And you know what? We’ll never know the answer. We’ll never eliminate reasonable doubt. We’ll never dig up every fossil, never be very confident of our taxonomy or dating of such fossils we do dig up, and in general, will never be confident we have enough information to be sure, even under the relaxed standards of reasonable doubt. (1)

It gets much worse when we don’t even have the tools of science to play with. We could probably trace the decline of Western thought in all fields through Scripture scholars. I’m sure all this predates Luther, but he is the one the most people will have heard of. First off, he really was a scripture scholar – he learned the original languages, and, like everyone in the monasteries where he was educated and which he later fought to have shut down, really knew his Bible. He is reported to have answered a question about his translation by saying: “Tell them Luther says it is so!”

Be that as it may, over the next 3 or 4 centuries in the West, Scripture scholars came up with one interesting interpretation after another, untethered purposely at first, but then as a matter of habit, from tradition. One might say it became a tradition to reject tradition. But since scholarship is, at its roots, tradition, eventually they become unbound by any rules.

Yet, at least up until modern Universalist Unitarians at the turn of the 19th century (2), each separate take on Scripture was considered a life-or-death matter. As hard as it is to imagine today, there was a time when a good Presbyterian passionately believed all Methodists were damned. There was a time when every new take entailed the founding of a new religion, the one true religion.

That was tiring. Sure, *Catholics*, enslaved to tradition, were of course damned. But, eventually, Protestants came to be more and more tolerant, in the sense of not attaching much value to the particulars of your beliefs, so long as you paid your respects to Jesus (Whoever He was) and were a good person.

And – here we are. Of course, the urge toward orthodoxy, the drive to find right worship, is more basic to us humans than any merely intellectual understanding. Like the parts of the water balloon you’re not pressing on at the moment, an obsession with right worship, and, even more important, on membership on the team doing the right worship, swell up and become dogma precisely when more intellectual dogmas are most denigrated.

A paean to uncertainty, with a nod to William Briggs, who (literally) wrote the book on it: The reason we need to be circumspect, the reason we need to act on principle rather than pretending to be pragmatic, is that we know so little. When I say I’m choosing a particular end the goodness of which justifies certain questionable or even horrible actions, I’m kidding myself. I don’t know if my actions will bring about the end I claim to seek, and, based on all experience up to now, I will never know. This is particularly true especially if that end is inherently vague if not utterly fantastic, as all Utopias necessarily are.

If I can’t know – and the future is always unknowable – I am acting on some other basis, whether I care to admit it or not. The wise understand that, to be free, we must know why we act. We must embrace our principles. To do otherwise is to embrace slavery.

Back to science. Let’s end with another quotation from that excellent Crichton Caltech address:

Let’s think back to people in 1900 in, say, New York. If they worried about people in 2000, what would they worry about? Probably: Where would people get enough horses? And what would they do about all the horseshit? Horse pollution was bad in 1900, think how much worse it would be a century later, with so many more people riding horses? But of course, within a few years, nobody rode horses except for sport. And in 2000, France was getting 80% its power from an energy source that was unknown in 1900. Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and Japan were getting more than 30% from this source, unknown in 1900. Remember, people in 1900 didn’t know what an atom was. They didn’t know its structure. They also didn’t know what a radio was, or an airport, or a movie, or a television, or a computer, or a cell phone, or a jet, an antibiotic, a rocket, a satellite, an MRI, ICU, IUD, IBM, IRA, ERA, EEG, EPA, IRS, DOD, PCP, HTML, internet. interferon, instant replay, remote sensing, remote control, speed dialing, gene therapy, gene splicing, genes, spot welding, heat-seeking, bipolar, prozac, leotards, lap dancing, email, tape recorder, CDs, airbags, plastic explosive, plastic, robots, cars, liposuction, transduction, superconduction, dish antennas, step aerobics, smoothies, twelve-step, ultrasound, nylon, rayon, teflon, fiber optics, carpal tunnel, laser surgery, laparoscopy, corneal transplant, kidney transplant, AIDS…… None of this would have meant anything to a person in the year 1900. They wouldn’t know what you are talking about.

Now. You tell me you can predict the world of 2100. Tell me it’s even worth thinking about. Our models just carry the present into the future. They’re bound to be wrong. Everybody who gives a moment’s thought knows it

Michael Crichton’s 2003 address to Caltech

Science is in many ways a heavily hedged bet: under precisely specified conditions, performing the specified steps will get you the predicted results. Don’t follow the rules, and all bets are off. We should be more amazed than we are that it works as well as it does in the real world. And science is the best we can do in this vale of tears. (3)

  1. In one of many long-running, acrimonious debates among paleoanthropologists, where whether or not you got invited to conferences or got your stuff published in a specific journal depended on what position you took on some arcane proposal, some wag quipped: never is the battle so fierce as when the stakes are so low. It matters not one whit whether, say, some subspecies of Australopithecus is or is not in the main line of human descent or is some ended branch (any species that doesn’t end in us being some sort of tragedy, it seems). But try telling that to the parties involved. And – NOBODY WILL EVER KNOW FOR SURE!
  2. Think it was Vonnegut who quipped: “Unitarians don’t believe in anything. I’m a Unitarian.”
  3. Apart from metaphysical necessary truths, of course. But those are in some sense not of this vale of tears….

Three Things, and a Thought

h/t to Don at Zoopraxiscope for links to these two essays:

Richard Grenier, “The Gandhi Nobody Knows

Michael Crichton, “Aliens Cause Global Warming” (PDF)

I had read years ago about what a creep and weirdo Gandhi was, so this first article just reinforced a vague opinion. The second, though – wow. Regular readers here have possibly noticed my occassional reference to the Gell-Man Amnesia Affect:

“Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.” 

– Michael Crichton (1942-2008)

So, before this essay, I knew Crichton as a really smart guy who wrote some fun novels and coined a very useful concept – and had the sense of humor to ask Nobel Prize winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann (who is the sort of person Crichton would have lunch with) if he couldn’t attribute it to him, since it sounded better that way.

But this essay is now my second-favorite Caltech address, after the epic Feynman one I often quote, the ‘Cargo Cult Science‘ address. Crichton is also a very good writer (surprise), so where a large part of Feinman’s appeal is in his folksy bluntness, Crichton is a pleasure to read just for the nice English – and the hammer he throws down. Dude ain’t buying it:

To an outsider, the most significant innovation in the global warming controversy is the overt reliance that is being placed on models. Back in the days of nuclear winter, computer models were invoked to add weight to a conclusion: “These results are derived with the help of a computer model.” But now large-scale computer models are seen as generating data in themselves. No longer are models judged by how well they reproduce data from the real world increasingly, models provide the data. As if they were themselves a reality. And indeed they are, when we are projecting forward. There can be no observational data about the year 2100. There are only model runs.

This fascination with computer models is something I understand very well. Richard Feynmann called it a disease. I fear he is right. Because only if you spend a lot of time looking at a computer screen can you arrive at the complex point where the global warming debate now stands.

I’d love to quote pretty much the whole thing. He starts with a withering – and familiar to readers here – criticism of Drake equation. Oh, heck, here it is:

What is the Drake Equation? - Universe Today
looks scientifilicious….

This serious-looking equation gave SETI an serious footing as a legitimate intellectual inquiry. The problem, of course, is that none of the terms can be known, and most cannot even be estimated. The only way to work the equation is to fill in with guesses. And guesses -just so we’re clear-are merely expressions of prejudice. Nor can there be “informed guesses.” If you need to state how many planets with life choose to communicate, there is simply no way to make an informed guess. It’s simply prejudice.

As a result, the Drake equation can have any value from “billions and billions” to zero. An expression that can mean anything means nothing. Speaking precisely, the Drake equation is literally meaningless, and has nothing to do with science.

Next, he makes a possibly topical observation:

Stepping back, I have to say the arrogance of the modelmakers is breathtaking. There have been, in every century, scientists who say they know it all. Since climate may be a chaotic system-no one is sure-these predictions are inherently doubtful, to be polite. But more to the point, even if the models get the science spot-on, they can never get the sociology. To predict anything about the world a hundred years from now is simply absurd.

And:

Just as we have established a tradition of double-blinded research to determine drug efficacy, we must institute double-blinded research in other policy areas as well. Certainly the increased use of computer models, such as GCMs, cries out for the separation of those who make the models from those who verify them. The fact is that the present structure of science is entrepreneurial, with individual investigative teams vying for funding from organizations which all too often have a clear stake in the outcome of the research-or appear to, which may be just as bad. This is not healthy for science.

“…cries out for the separation of those who make the models from those who verify them.” That’s it exactly. Ferguson never had his programming and numbers checked by a disinterested party. Instead, a known panic-monger with a history of hysterical – and hysterically wrong – predictions of doom, was allowed to be be judge, jury, and executioner of his own scheme. INSANE.

The appropriate disinterested parties would be numbers guys. Data analysts. Model builders. Scientifically literate experts in the scientific method. Expressly not other epidemiologists, even less politicians and journalists.

Finally, also years ago, I read somewhere that the origin of the English word ‘slave’ was Slav, that so many Slavs were enslaved that it became a brand name, as it were. Well, check this out:

The oldest written history of the Slavs can be shortly summarised–myriads of slave hunts and the enthralment of entire peoples. The Slav was the most prized of human goods. With increased strength outside his marshy land of origin, hardened to the utmost against all privation, industrious, content with little, good-humoured, and cheerful, he filled the slave markets of Europe, Asia, and Africa. It must be remembered that for every Slavonic slave who reached his destination, at least ten succumbed to inhuman treatment during transport and to the heat of the climate. Indeed Ibrāhīm (tenth century), himself in all probability a slave dealer, says: “And the Slavs cannot travel to Lombardy on account of the heat which is fatal to them.” Hence their high price.

The Arabian geographer of the ninth century tells us how the Magyars in the Pontus steppe dominated all the Slavs dwelling near them. The Magyars made raids upon the Slavs and took their prisoners along the coast to Kerkh where the Byzantines came to meet them and gave Greek brocades and such wares in exchange for the prisoners.

“The Cambridge Medieval History,” Vol. II, 1913, via https://www.etymonline.com/word/slave

That would be 1/2 of my ancestory. Note that Slavs were sold to – Africans. If this reperations nonsense comes to pass, I’m getting in line.

The Attack on Books

A large part of Marx’s appeal to the modern well-schooled student lies in Marx being the first and only example of thought they’ve been exposed to. All the authority figures they ever have in school accept the basic premises with greater or lesser degrees of awareness – because that is what they, themselves, were taught. (1) The student, again with varying degrees of awareness, accepts uncritically that everything is the result of the strangely willful movements of vast impersonal forces. Since every child has experienced deep feelings of helplessness, and, with the help of the schools, few have any sense of independent personal accomplishment (2), they can easily become convinced the individual is nothing but a twig afloat the river of events, where nothing he can do changes anything. History is presented as the story of oppression, without heroes, without valor, without any moments where an individual can shine or fail. (This, BTW, is why Star Wars ultimately HAD to be destroyed.) At the same time, witnessing to the Progress of History becomes the hallmark of virtue, even if you do it from the comfort of your living room couch.

Trouble in (the Worker’s) Paradise can be caused by other books. Marxists are pulled by the gravity of their faith into becoming, effectively, book burners. In the usual Orwellian fashion, the fury to get rid of competing books is framed as ‘being more inclusive’. We are to feel bad that few people of color, feminists and alphabet soup sexual deviants are included in the Western Canon, and only incidentally notice how these mediocrities squeese out real masterpieces of thought. Marx is a jealous, and, more important here, a tenuous, naked god.

A 3-‘n’ Western Cannon. Which is totally different. Or not….

Traditional Liberal Arts colleges have been relentlessly attacked by enlightened, progressive leaders since the middle of the 19th century, precisely because that is where most students first encounter the vast array of thought that precedes Marx, Fichte, Hegel and all the ‘Enlightenment’ thinkers back to Descartes (and, maybe, William of Ockham). Fichte (you knew we’d get there) saw reading as nothing but trouble, something to be taught, if at all, at the very end of a student’s education, after he’d been properly conditioned to do only what the state-approved authority figures told him to do.

In context – the context of 3,000 years of human thought – Marx is a patent dissembling minor leaguer. Aristotle and Thomas, the Book of Job, Sophocles, Thucydides, Machiavelli, Tacitus; Shakespeare, Dante, and Milton, and a dozen others (throw Gilgamesh and Beowulf in there, if you wish. I’ll add Sun Tsu), not to mention classical art, architecture and music, used to give at least some students a hint at what human genius looks like. These liberal artists in the classic sense were a bastion against the ambitious mediocrities that thrive, today, in our credential- and certification- addled world. Our Credentialarchy? Credentialocrity? I’m open to suggestions, here.

Since the great thinkers hardly ever agree in any detail, and more often vehemently disagree, one’s thinking gets honed trying to understand them: one gets used to the idea that really smart people can really, truly, disagree. Also – this is especially true of Aristotle and Thomas – one can see that opposing ideas are often each very appealing in themselves. One gets used to the idea that someone might have a very good point, and still be wrong, and that even brilliant people make stupid mistakes and harbor appalling bigotry, yet can still be right about other things.

It’s complicated out there. This appreciation of complexity and existence of multiple worthy viewpoints can somewhat immunize one against simple-minded theories that explain everything in one broad sweep – can raise one’s resistence to Marx, for example.

And so, as Woodrow Wilson, former president of Princeton and a Progressive icon, put it: the vast bulk of the people are to be denied the privilege of a liberal education and rather be fitted by public education for particular manual work. We are not to trouble our little heads with big ideas that might make life difficult for the likes of the extraordinarily well-credentialed Wilson.

This whole anti-intellectualism of the Marxists (against which label they will squeal like stuck more equal pigs, and make me laugh) is, in another example of Orwellian thinking, hiding behind their one fundamental belief: that they are smarter, more intellectual, than everybody else. Aristotle points out that a cultivated mind can consider an idea without accepting it; therefore, an uncultivated mind can (at best!) only consider ideas it has already accepted. This is what we are seeing when a Freudian analyzes the sexual hangups of his critics; when Hegel (and a host of others) classifies all who agree with him as the enlightened people, more or less tacitly dismissing all criticism as mere lack of enlightenment. And, preeminently today, when people are either woke or not, without any space in such a mental universe for one’s opponents to have a valid point, or even for them to be anything other than morally evil.

Books as a defense of civilized life are, as the saying goes, ‘downstream’ from family. The major attack, the prime position to be destroyed, remains the triumvirate of family, village and church. Right now, those with no or damaged families, who in any event reject family as foundational to culture, are burning neighborhoods and destroying the local businesses (and churches!) that make those neighborhoods at least potentially civilized. But this endless attack on the good, the true, and the beautiful, that has given us a crucifix in a bottle of urine and brutalist architecture, is hardly going to spare beautiful literature.

  1. Chesterton said students will readily ignore and forget what their teachers tell them, but will inerringly absorb what their teachers assume.
  2. What SAT was an acronym for changed from the ‘Student Aptitude Test’ – simply attempting to evaluate an unearned, morally neutral aptitude for academics – to the ‘Student Achievement Test’ – as if a high score was the Medal of Honor for kids. Those ‘front row kids’ now could study for the SAT -and, boy, do they ever! – instead of passively submitting to it as a diagnostic. It is the paradigm for everything considered an achievemnet in the front row kids’ lives: the approval of an outside authority that you’re worth-while.