Crazy People By the Numbers & Finding Your Guy Fawkes

Quick review:

Current Estimated Population of America:                                    325,000,000

Est. Number & Percent of Sociopaths:                                             3,250,000 – 16,250,000: 1% – 5%

Est. Number & Percent of Schizophrenics:                                    1,125,000: 0.5%

Est. Number & Percent of Americans w/ Bipolar Disorder:        3,325,000 – 9,975,000: 1% – 3%

And so on, through a menagerie of psychiatric disorders. These were just the ones that came to mind first. Not in any way making light of the horrible suffering endured by those afflicted with these disorders and by those who love them. Merely pointing out how common people who have severely crippled grips on reality are. Not to mention the milder but still debilitating forms of delusion, such as socialism and political partisanship.

With this in mind, I was actually a little surprised that only a few hundreds showed up for that demonstration and counter demonstration that I’ve been diligently ignoring. The organizers could not have been trying very hard if what they wanted was a good show of numbers – there’s a large pool of potential participants. If that’s indeed what they wanted.

Guy Fawkes, aka Guido FawkesThe more interesting issue for me has been tracking the efforts of the suicidal narcissists to find, or, if necessary, produce their Guy Fawkes. As long as your opponents keep appearing sane, non-violent and, you know, human, violence against them tends to backfire in the court of public opinion. That’s why any and all opposition is labeled ‘Nazi’. Trouble is, those enemies keep screwing it up by not acting at all like Nazis, and keep pointing out that the inflammatory rhetoric, threats and violence are all coming from the other side.

Thus, the search is on for a useable Guy Fawkes. In a country of 325 million people, millions of whom are certifiably off their rockers, that doesn’t take long.

Keep in mind that, as with the historical Fawkes, the goal here is establish a pretext to silence and eventually get *you*, the calm and rational opposition. Nobody sane objects to locking up dangerous loonies, after all.

The Benighted Rich

Several topics obsessively addressed on this here blog have walked together luminously over the last few days.

“Among the rich you will never find a really generous man even by accident. They may give their money away, but they will never give themselves away; they are egotistic, secretive, dry as old bones. To be smart enough to get all that money you must be dull enough to want it.”  ― G.K. ChestertonA Miscellany of Men

I here point out the dominance of the tech industry by obsessive college dropouts, each brilliant in his own very narrow way. While many – Jobs, Gates – are literally drop outs, others – Page, Brin – merely dropped out in spirit, after the fashion described by Chesterton above.

These men, who found fabulous success at ridiculously young ages, did consume enough conventional schooling – Stanford! Harvard! Can’t get any more conventional than that! – to embrace two notions without which much of their current behaviors and attitudes would be nearly incomprehensible: that you, the students, are the best, most well-educated, open-minded and moral people to ever walk the earth, and that the foundational virtue is to be one with the group we assign you to. These poor souls therefore believe both that they are wise, good and open to new ideas and that the tribe they find themselves a part of is, definitionally, the font of all virtue and right thinking. The comfort that comes from establishing themselves among only people who agree with them is only exceeded by the evident panic induced by the vigorously resisted realization that that little group is immersed in an ocean of people who don’t.

If a new idea was so reckless as to wander into their purview, an idea new enough (to them, anyway) to challenge the established, visceral idea feeling dogma that they are on the good team, and that they hold the right beliefs, their lack of meaningful education and their bullet-proof self-esteem has no way to accommodate it.

It is a sign of a cultivated mind that it can entertain an idea without accepting it.        – Aristotle

It is likewise the sign of an uncultivated mind that it cannot entertain an idea it has not already accepted. Modern schooling assiduously lets young minds remain fallow – they are not cultivated, not tilled nor sown nor reaped. The ‘A’ in the SAT stands for ‘achievement’ – in the eyes of the schools, the SAT tests achievement, the specific achievement in view being the ability to do well on the SAT. That’s why there are SAT classes and sample tests, and existential panic over the results.

Actual achievements – fluency in a foreign language, say, or mastery of calculus or welding – don’t get anywhere near the emphasis the SAT does. Given the years and hours dedicated to schooling, often an order of magnitude greater than was typical 100 years ago, one might expect 10 times the actual achievements to be achieved. We should be flooded with multilingual kids who play several instruments, can design and build in many different media, who can manage a business and build relationships and laugh and love. Instead, the pinnacle of achievement is to be the sort of crippled adolescent who, sitting atop a mountain of money, has a good cry with his friends when the wrong candidate wins an election.

And then fires people whose agreement with his positions isn’t sufficiently enthusiastic.

I’ve written on how the vast increases in wealth over the last century allows for the survival of many people whose fundamental beliefs and behaviors would otherwise get them killed. In the past, you could not be detached from all family relationships and expect to get fed and housed; someone who railed against the foundations of society – family, for example – would at best be shunned and, if he kept it up, banished or even killed in an act of societal self-defence.  No responsible father, at least, was going to marry his child off to such a one.

Now, we are ruled to a growing extent by people who believe their suicidal nihilism is sweetness and light itself, that if we only flatten the moral universe enough, we will see that surrender is victory and life is death. Any defense of the virtues of each man’s hearth is a vicious attack on someone who hates that hearth, who hates the idea that a man and a woman might find their deepest human happiness gathered with their parents and children and friends before the fire in their own home.  All ideas that surround and support such a vision of happiness offend, while any that celebrate its destruction are a cause of rejoicing.  That our society was built by men who shared that vision of family specifically to support that vision only means that society must be destroyed.

I take some comfort in the realization that the rich tend to fall fast and hard. When considering how I might speed that process along in my own small way, saw this instant classic of an ad:

So, see? I can still laugh. Think I’ll go sit with my wife and children tonight and watch an old movie.

Wednesday Thoughts

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Maybe I wouldn’t be so cold if I put some clothes on? There’s a thought!

A. Have we reached peak ‘because I can code, I know everything’ yet?

B. I keep wanting to remind people to stop worrying, because we all died back when Reagan started WWIII – at least according to the same sources who are doing their best to whip up panic at the moment.

C. The idea that Politics is Everything is simple insanity, an idea most beloved by those lacking normal healthy relationships to other people.

D. Isn’t the idea that everyone should have a college education just supply side economics applied to labor? Since white-collar workers tend to have college educations, we will turn everybody into a white collar worker? Or what?

E. In the modern world, it is simple dogma that a thing I do at most once or twice a year  – vote – defines me as a person more than things I do 24/7/365 – acting as dad, husband, friend, employee, church member.  Thus, depriving anyone of the right to vote is about the highest crime imaginable (besides hurting their feelings), while destroying or damaging the relationships wherein a person actually expresses his freedom is collateral damage at best, if it’s even acknowledged. Social issues are discussed not in terms of how they affect the interpersonal environment in which we all severally and together live – family, village, church – but how they may affect exercise of individual rights considered in a purely hypothetical vacuum. The point that individual rights are only meaningfully exercised within our families and among our friends is lost. People don’t usually march their placards up and down the living room, but rather take to the public streets.  No wonder they are eternally frustrated.

F. Can’t even read the news except for That Which Cannot Be Avoided. Anything interesting happening?

 

Taking One for the Team, Snack Division

I’ll get back to the Deep Thoughts and book reviews which are what I kid myself people come to this blog for, but first, adventures in – what, exactly? Snack food virtue signalling? Stress testing of gullibility levels? Subtle Pavlovian response thresholds?  You be the judge!

Earlier, mentioned the baleful reality of blueberry vanilla kale snack skeet (I’m going with ‘skeet’ as the unit name for these things. ‘Wads’ and ‘pucks’ are good, too, but ‘skeet’ is a funnier word), the existence of which skeet  I had until recently been blissfully unaware. A pile of these things appeared with the last shipment of hoity-toity ‘healthy’ snack food supplied to us workers by our little software company. Said pile is directly opposite the coffee machine, and so I see it several times a day.

Well, it’s Tuesday, and, as far as I can tell, that particular skeet-pile has not been diminished at all. While this does restoring to some small degree my faith in the tiny sample of humanity I work with, it also leaves unanswered the pure scientific question: Well? What are they like?

Therefore, with some trepidation but fortified by my holy love of science, I will now take one for the team, and crack into one of these things. First, photographic evidence:

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The Skeet in all its Glory! 

In case the messaging isn’t clear, here’s some detail:

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Soy free? Corn free? Those are things now? Remember when eggs were going to kill you? Good times! 

Don’t know how good I feel about this – it’s chock-full of ingredients!

 

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OK, with the baseline set, let’s crack into this. Visual confirmation: there is evidence that at least *1* blueberry was harmed in the making of this skeet:

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Did a little more investigating – Science! must march on! – broke it apart, and maybe up to 6 blueberries actualized their highest potentials in this thing. If there’s kale anywhere here, it is very well hidden, or they used some naturally invisible variety.

No, it looks like bird-feeder overflow that somebody stepped on. I suppose “Bird Feeder Overflow Skeet!” didn’t have as much cow bell as “LivBar Blueberry Vanilla Kale”.

It smells great. Didn’t see any fingerprints, so we’re not able to confirm the ‘hand made’ claim on the packaging.  Here goes:

Kinda weird. You’re shocked, I’m sure. Upfront, you get a nose full of blueberries and vanilla, and it’s kind of crunchy and sweet, but the aftertaste reminds me of a North Coast tea shop frequented by aging hemp-clad hippies. The littler seed stick in my teeth.

Verdict: Not bad, exactly, but I’m not dying for another one. I think we’ll run the experiment: how long will the remaining skeet last, in their little heap on the counter upstairs? Being mostly guys and programmers here, my money’s on: until almost everything else is gone.

Now that I’ve eaten almost all of it, Bernie is starting to sound reasonable. What’s IN these things?!?

Frivolous Friday Bullet Points

  • Briefly looked over the *97* draft blog posts in my backlog. But am I finishing or discarding any of them? Noooo! I’m drafting another one! Right here, right now!
  • I’ve previously mentioned the froo-froo snacks thing we have going at my place of employment. The company supplies all kinds of free goodies in each of two nice kitchenettes – one upstairs, one down. This bounty includes sodas, bottled waters, fruit nectars, greek yogurts, single-serving cheeses (3 kinds) along with nuts, party mix, granola bars, fresh fruit and on and on. For an office with around 20 people in it.
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Seriously? Does that look like a snack food to you? Or rather more like what you’d feed wintering livestock?

We’ve recently upped the ante from this already embarrassing bounty by adding ‘healthy’ snacks from a service that supplies them in a cute cardboard box/display every couple weeks. I am weak – I tried some: they range from pretty good (e.g., coconut something-something bars – yum!) to weird (e.g., ‘jerky’ that ended up being limp sticky maple flavored bacon – huh? Bacon = good; this = weird.), as you might expect.

But I do draw the line somewhere. I have nothing against kale, per se, even if I have occasionally and with some

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“A skeet of delicious organic goodness!” 

justification referred to it as ‘a weed with a marketing department’. But

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“This puck delivers 100% of the recommended daily dose of gulibilium.”

I’m not even going to try a snack leading with ‘Blueberry-Vanilla-Kale’ in big print. I have some principles.

Also, the Gucci snack industry’s crack delivery system mutation division can’t seem to settle on terminology: are these oh-so-hip snack units bars? cookies? skeet? pucks? I’d go with ‘wads’ – ‘a delicious wad of vanilla- infused blueberries enveloped in a healthful duvet of the finest kale’ – I might try THAT, once, anyway, out of sheer cussedness.

  • My daughter and I sometimes kid about efforts to be holy, in what I hope is a light and not-asking-to-get-struck-down-by-lightening way. We once came up with ‘redemptive mockery’ in response to the use of the term redemptive suffering for every little inconvenience: one might piously help out a fellow sinner by mocking them relentlessly, for their own good! Look at all the humility and patience to be gained! In a similar vein, living out here in California, we get pretty touchy-feely at Mass. People tend to hold hands at the Our Father, sometimes forming circles of people so joined. I refered to this as ‘redemptive kindergarten’ to said daughter, and had the satisfaction of watching her spend the next few moments fighting off a giggle fit. At Mass. Bad Daddy! Bad!
  • This may have to be my default GIF from here on out:
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(BTW: trying to get my arms around the morality of ‘borrowing’ gifs – this is a snippet of a movie somebody already borrowed, then turned the lines from the movie into text. So the only people who should be concerned are the movie rights owners – who, if they’ve got an ounce of business sense, are thrilled to see people reminded of their movie a million times a day. Ya know?)       

Politics? Education? Religion? Hey, the dumpster fires have to burn themselves out eventually, right? Right? PLEASE?!?

If you want to die at home, my advice would be, don’t go to a hospital. Perhaps this will strike gentle reader as a remark overweighted on the side of the obvious; but there is some method in some of my madness. So I will begin with a careful qualification: my advice holds for Canada, and the United Kingdom, but not for all of those Natted States. (I realize there are other jurisdictions.) And even there, the impossibility of fixing “Obamacare,” without further extending its “entitlement” provisions, shows the end is coming, soon. But in Canada and UK, the future has been here for some time.

The reason, of course, is that at these higher latitudes we have so-called “single-payer” “healthcare” systems in which, as we have been reminded lately, all decision-making is concentrated in the caring-sharing State, or as I prefer to call her, Twisted Nanny. Once the paperwork is complete, and the customer has progressed from the outer to the inner waiting rooms, he is entirely in her power. He may, after reviewing her apparatus (both surgical and managerial), want to go home and die there. But she is unlikely to release him, and it will require the assistance of loyal friends and family to effect the equivalent of a prison break. (Tip: staff tend to be at their least attentive during the conventional sleeping hours.)

You see, Twisted Nanny likes to watch people die. She can become quite annoyed when others appropriate this privilege. She also likes to kill people, and has gone to considerable trouble to establish a monopoly in this regard. And given her latest powers, under legislation for “euthanasia,” she prefers to do it in her own facilities. She doesn’t make house calls, the way they do in Red China.

Have a good weekend!

 

Links. Science! The Usual.

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It is said, master and student, walk their path side by side… to share their destiny, until their paths go separate ways.

Don’t want to start out too critical of what very well might be legitimate efforts to understand the brain and how people make decisions, but The Brains Behind Behavioral Science article from a mag called Behavioral Scientist seems to offer observations about as profound as Lu Yan’s comments to Jason Tripidikas in Forbidden Kingdom referenced above, but without the intention of making a joke. For example:

Crucially, by predicting—instead of passively registering—our environment, predictive coding allows our brain to conserve cognitive resources and guide our perception and action in a fast and efficient way. But this also means that what our brain notices and attends to is heavily determined by what we already know.

Ooooh-kay. In English: we tend to look for and notice familiar things in familiar environments. Since that would be what makes a familiar environment familiar, I’m not sure we got anywhere here.

The major contention, OK as a basis of scientific exploration as long as accompanied by awareness of the limits of such a view, is that the mind (human behavior standing in, in this case) is the way it is because the brain is the way it is. As a working hypothesis, such a notion might allow something to be discovered about the relationship of thought and volition to the physical state and capacities of the brain. Not bloody likely, but maybe. Such a view does not allow one to pass metaphysical go, nor collect 200 Kantian thalers, real or otherwise.

The essay continues:

From this perspective, it is easy to see how predictive coding explains our tendency to spot confirming evidence more readily than disconfirming evidence. And because most of these predictions are performed unconsciously, we are unaware of how our prior beliefs blend with new information from the real world. When it comes to explaining cognitive quirks like the confirmation bias, the brain is basically an engine of prediction.

That word – easy – I don’t think it means what you think it means. Also, the mind and perhaps the brain boggles at the notion of demonstrating the brain’s nature as a predictive engine. Basically, thoughts as an expression of brain activity is a tricky concept, to say the least. That materialists want it to be so doesn’t make it any less tricky.

By using neuroscience to prune behavioral concepts to relevant brain substrates (! – ed.), we can rationalize the zoo of biases. The outcome would be a simpler framework, with a map of behaviors observed in different situations linked to core cognitive functions. Such simplification has already begun and could both help communication among behavioral scientists and lead fundamental and applied research in new directions.

Our suspicions are confirmed. “Rationalize a zoo of biases.” Hmmm. Note that the writer is a behavioral scientist (whatever that might be) expressing her hope that the “zoo” – the diverse, animated collection of biases that seems to be her subject matter – can be rationalized, by which she clearly means organized in a more understandable way, by use of simple principles to be discovered through neuroscience. Note that this hope is expressed as a simple fact: “we can rationalize…” not as the more sane and scientific “we just might maybe be able to rationalize…” Nope, by applying the same sort of neuroscience by which we have gained rich insight into the inner spiritual life of dead salmon, we will – not may, not might – we WILL “prune behavioral concepts to relevant brain substrates.”

She gives this example:

For instance, by studying the way brains change as we age, neuroscientists can help address one of the major challenges for the next generation of behavioral scientists: how to target behavioral interventions for the vastly different brains of people of different ages, cultures, and socioeconomic levels.

Apart from the mere woolly incoherence of the above quotation, I for one would really not want the sort of thinker who could emit such a thought doing any sort of “behavioral interventions” on me under any circumstances.

It gets worse:

To assess differences among individuals, one objective alternative is “neural indexes.” Neural indexes are brain signatures of specific behaviors. Modern neuroscience has demonstrated that we can now use neural indexes to spot behavioral biases in different populations. Many cognitive biases (like risk aversion, the endowment effect, or framing effects) have already been reduced to specific brain structures or networks, enabling neuroscientists to expand the samples to people of different ages.

Aaaaand – the reference is a link to yet another fMRI study. TL;DR much past the pretty pictures. I will give them this: in the opening paragraphs I did read, the researchers use the word ‘suggests’ to describe certain much-to-be-hoped-for conclusions. Very consistent with proper scientific restraint in the face of the massive, hulking, shadow-casting unknowns that haunt the scientific mind (even one as modest as mine) when contemplating what is being claimed.  Contrast this with the casual confidence mentioned above. I merely note that unless some breakthrough has happened in the last 2 years that I’ve completely missed – unlikely – fMRI studies make phrenology look hard-science-y by comparison. Dead salmon, and all.

So perhaps some restraint would be in order, a little shadow of doubt?

Moving on, saw this on Twitter, I think. It seemed appropo:

Yet, here’s another Twitter grab (I must figure out how one embeds these things!)

Psych diretion

See here for my basic take on the often desperate looking attempts to distract people from the ongoing fraud that is sociological and psychological ‘research’ – poorly defined questions researched via dubious protocols and never replicated are published as ‘studies’ – that then, as the writer above notes, become the basis of public policy and popular culture.

(This reminds me – there’s a blog draft in the folder where I trace a particularly egregious example of ‘nothing to see here, citizens, move along’ through its permutations over time, where a study that had very publicly been used to beat conservatives was shown to actually have found the exact opposite conclusion – and so now needed to be poo-pooed into dissipating vapors. Need to finish that one…)

Now on to cheerier news:

Here is updated the story of honeybee hive collapse, a cautionary tale about needing to understand the problem before panicking and formulating drastic solution. This is perhaps a good one to point out for my own sake, since I failed to think it through myself, and thus missed the obvious point: honeybees are livestock, animals domesticated, bred and cared for by people. ‘Wild’ honeybees, such as the hive we used to have in our front yard, are really feral – their ancestors escaped at some point from domesticated hives first brought over by English settlers 3 or 4 centuries ago.

Thus, the solution to hive collapse is not to be found, generally, in improving the natural environment, but in improving the applicable animal husbandry. And so it has happened: if hive collapse is reducing honeybee populations by up to 40%, then apiarists are going to breed more of them to make for it – because bees are raised to pollinate crops and produce honey.  As a bee farmer, I’m going to do what I can to have the right numbers of bees available for my business.

So we can pretty much stop panicking over hive collapse. Keep an eye on it, just don’t panic.

Finally, here’s a cool picture related to a recent blog post here:

While evil never sleeps, and there’s plenty wrong with the world, it serves no positive purpose to ignore real gains in the material basis for general human happiness. Real, concrete problems correctly understood can call forth real, concrete solutions that actually solve something – this chart is, I think, a monument to just such thinking. But focused problem-solving won’t bring the revolution any closer, and just might cause it to be postponed indefinitely – so it must be avoided and ridiculed at every step in the eyes of certain interests.

The Everlasting Man: Bay Area Chesterton Society Reading Group

My beloved and I have been driving to San Jose or thereabouts to attend these monthly meeting for the last few years whenever we can – good people, and, hey! Chesterton! I thought my regular readers, who, to my surprise, are well into double digits these days, might find our current reading interesting.

Reading groups of the local instantiations of the American Chesterton Society have often, I’m told, focused on shorter works, as they are trying to have a discussion over dinner involving people of quite varied ages and backgrounds. So Fr. Brown Mysteries and selections from this awesome and highly recommended collection of essays and similar shorter readings have most often been the works under discussion.

However, enough of us wanted to read Everlasting Man, and the indomitable John Rose had a reading plan already in hand that broke it into suitable segments, that we were able to jump right in! Thanks, John! We’ll be taking it a dozen or 2 pages at a crack.

July, first meeting: Prefatory Note & Introduction, about 14 pages. You can find it online free here or here.  In this short 14 page introductory section, Chesterton calls out H. G. Well’s Outline of History, which can be found here (I have not read it yet).

As I have more than once differed from Mr. H. G. Wells in his view of history, it is the more right that I should here congratulate him on the courage and constructive imagination which carried through his vast and varied and intensely interesting work; but still more on having asserted the reasonable right of the amateur to do what he can with the facts which the specialists provide.

Amusing side story: when Well’s work was first published, Belloc, who is the bad cop to GKC’s good cop as far as smacking down nonsense goes, reviewed it rather harshly, Wells responded with a piece titled “Mr. Belloc Objects to “The Outline of History.” Belloc then responded to the response with “Mr. Belloc Still Objects.”  Apparently the exchange got rather heated, various partisan publications wouldn’t print the responses, names got called. Belloc was an actual historian, and took umbrage at Well’s playing fast and loose with the evidence. Belloc’s Europe and the Faith. which takes a view very much opposed to Wells’, was first published in 1920, the same year as Outline.

So Chesterton starts by praising Wells for being an amateur – in other words, highlighting Belloc’s central claim. He’s charmingly paradoxical about it, as is his style, but there’s little doubt whose side he’s on.

Some Historical Context: This dispute about how history is to be understood is just a tip of a particularly large iceberg, one still very much afloat today. For the century leading up to 1920, popes and other leaders had been descrying the threat of Modernism, the relevant aspect of which is stated in bold below:

Wells published his Outline in 1920 as a universal history – one that deals with more than “reigns and pedigrees and campaigns”.[1] Wells had embarked upon his Outline as a result of his work with the League of Nations[2] and a desire to aid world peace by providing the world “common historical ideas”.[3] The Outline proved to be an expansive, all-encompassing work. Wells had a panel of specialists at his disposal to review and check his work. Although the panel revealed many inevitable “gaps, misjudgments and misproportions”,[4] Wells reserved the right to “maintain his own judgments”.[5] As a result, The Outline contained what were alleged by Belloc to be a number of biased statements, intolerant statements and false assumptions. Materialistic determinism was viewed as a central philosophy underlying the Outline, with Wells portraying human progress to be both a blind and inevitable rise from the darkness of religious superstition to the light of scientific utopia. (my emphasis) Unfortunately, Wells’ judgments and perceived bias left his work open to heavy criticism.

Wells was a Fabian Socialist for a while, at least, right around the time he wrote this book. The Fabian’s coat of arms:

Wolf in sheep’s clothing. The Fabians, like Gramsci and Alinsky and all their spawn, believe in doing whatever it takes to promote the agenda. Truth be damned in the name of Progress.

To Wells and his besties, the League of Nations was an obvious means to promoting Communism, if only as a tool to bring about destruction of the status quo. If you believe that materialistic determinism is true, and human progress is a blind and inevitable rise resulting therefrom, you will feel (I daren’t say ‘think’) that any steps may be taken to destroy the current system – because something better will *inevitably* result! There is no going back, it’s forward all the way! The magic fairies of materialistic determinism say so! The larger truth of inevitable progress forgives in advance all the little lies perpetrated in its honor. And also forgive the murder of many tens of millions by the Communists, history’s sterling example of blind faith in Progress, for the sake of a glorious future.

In 1920, the battle between the Hegelian/Marxist faith in Progress (differing chiefly in what, if any, role one gives religion) and sanity (the understanding that progress is a highly contingent and often intermittent result of individual human actions) had been raging for almost a century. Pope St. Pius IX had issued his Syllabus of Errors in 1864, containing a number of anathemas against modernist ideas. Pope St. Pius X had issued Pascendi Domini gregis and Lamentabili sane exitu in 1907, and his Oath in 1910.

This is the environment in which Chesterton published Everlasting Man in 1925. Similarly, his essays collected in  In Defense of Sanity are defending, under the name ‘sanity’ the notion that ideas and the free choices of men matter, that the understanding of what is true, beautiful and good by a common man is to be valued, and that preposterous preening and self-importance of the Progressives are empty, futile yet dangerous.

The chief characteristic of progressive thought is that it doesn’t have to make sense. This is the fruit of Hegel, who in turn is best understood in this context as a Lutheran theologian more so than a philosopher. Certainly, he tries to describe an intellectual universe where discontinuity and contradiction are not signs of intellectual failings, but rather clear indications of intellectual progress. The Spirit (Hegel found ‘God’ too loaded a term) unfolds itself through History. Being is too limiting.  A real philosopher must consider Becoming.  What the Spirit is Becoming can be seen in the world in His actions – History. It will make sense when and to the extent that the Spirit has unfolded itself, but not before, and only to the enlightened. Inconsistencies and contradictions are just par for the course.

Hegel could not – no one can – hold the field against the Thomists when the game is reason and logic.(1) Therefore, Hegel begins by attempting to discredit ‘propositional reasoning’ (in Phenomenology of Spirit) and logic as understood since the ancient Greeks (in Logic). He substitutes for reasoning and logic insight and enlightenment.  He dismisses the Law of Non-Contradiction, and replaces it with the notion of contradictory ideas being suspended in a fruitful opposition within a synthesis. (As with most of Hegel, that last statement makes as much sense as it sounds like it does. Which is, after all, the point.)

In the hands of lesser(?) intelligences such as Marx and Freud, the idea was quickly shed that there’s a Spirit revealing itself in History, and instead it was just assumed History is moving itself forward – making Progress. We also lose Hegel’s charming humility in disavowing any knowledge of the future, since such foreknowledge would require guessing how the Spirit was going to unfold next – which is as close to sacrilege and heresy as an Hegelian can get.  Marxists and Progressives in general know where we’re going: some flavor of a worker’s paradise. That’s why it’s so important to ‘be on the right side of History’ and not to ‘turn back the clock’.

Marx is the poster boy for that materialistic determinist Wells was getting on about. He knows what he knows not through reasoning, but rather through Enlightenment. He is woke. Any attempts to reason with him are in themselves conclusive proof that you don’t get it, are laboring under false consciousness, and need to be educated.

Wells knows there is no God. Yet he also knows there has been progress. Therefore, to provide a mechanism by which this observable progress has been made, he has to make a god out of Progress itself.

Chesterton’s goal:

There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place; and I tried to trace such a journey in a story I once wrote [Manalive]. It is, however, a relief to turn from that topic to another story that I never wrote. Like every book I never wrote, it is by far the best book I have ever written. It is only too probable that I shall never write it, so I will use it symbolically here; for it was a symbol of the same truth. I conceived it as a romance of those vast valleys with sloping sides, like those along which the ancient White Horses of Wessex are scrawled along the flanks of the hills. It concerned some boy whose farm or cottage stood on such a slope, and who went on his travels to find something, such as the effigy and grave of some giant; and when he was far enough from home he looked back and saw that his own farm and kitchen-garden, shining flat on the hill-side like the colours and quarterings of a shield, were but parts of some such gigantic figure, on which he had always lived, but which was too large and too close to be seen. That, I think, is a true picture of the progress of any really independent intelligence today; and that is the point of this book.

The point of this book, in other words, is that the next best thing to being really inside Christendom is to be really outside it.

Hegel and especially Marx are in some real sense heretics. They are not pagans, but people who have left aside some parts of Christianity while still clinging to its central claims of redemption from a fallen state through the intervention of the Divine. They are too close to see how much their beliefs are still Christian, no matter how twisted, like how a human form can still be recognized in the rubble of a ruined statue. But they are too close, and do not want to see.

Next month: 2. the first half of The Man in the Cave up to “Art is the signature of man.”

  1. What about scientists and mathematicians? They make progress, insofar as they do, by deploying exactly the musty old reasoning and logic familiar to and beloved by the Thomists. Hegel consigns them to the philosophical outer darkness: their work is OK, as far as it goes, but not exalted like what real philosophers do!  Irony alert: the very fields that give Wells the most ammo for his claims of self-propelled Progress are those Hegel had to toss out in order to make his claims that enlightenment trumps reason. Ouroboros.