Civilization & Progress: What It Takes

When I was a kid, reading all those Time-Life Science books:

Life Science Library by Time-Life Books
These guys, I don’t know how many there were, back in the late 1960s, but I ‘read’ all I could get my hands on. ‘Read’ in quotes, because they’re mostly pictures and ‘gee-whiz!’ copy.

I first ran into a persistent and pernicious idea that made me sad: that Science! was the triumph of some small few smart people, who, despite the ignorance and, often, hostility, of the masses, dragged the rest of us kicking and screaming into the glorious future. (Therefore, the Sagans of the world inescapably conclude, we little people should shut up and do what Our Betters tell us to do, for our own good!)

This attitude pops up everywhere, so much so that even for people who don’t consciously accept it, it becomes like water to a fish, just The Way Things Are. What is the underlying message, for example, of Asimov’s Foundation? That there are smart people someplace, with magical scientific powers, who know what’s going on, who are opposed by the Powers That Be and all the little people. Poor, poor geeks! They need to find their own special planet far away from us, to do their magic, and save us! At least, those few who can be saved.

Once you start looking for it, it’s everywhere, and has resulted in our current Cult of the Expert. We are always looking for somebody who is an expert to tell us what to do, and any of us who don’t get in line with the ‘expert’ view are vilified. For the conventionally well-educated, there is no other option.

Later, as I read more, (I want to say, like, 7th grade? But memory both fails and is creative) I came to see how this wasn’t true. The giants of science stand, not so much on the shoulders of the preceding giants of science, but on the backs of the millions of peasants whose work has created a world where men of science can do their thing. Far from being a stumbling block or barrier to science, we little people, by our patient, stable, productive lives, produce the bedrock upon which any scientific edifice may be constructed.

When the smart people take charge, say, in the French or Russian Revolution, it ends up with your Lavoisiers guillotined and your Lysenkos making sure science is an obedient stepchild to the state. “No, no, no!” I can hear the ‘I effing Love Science’ crowd objecting – “those Enlightened Frenchmen and the Vanguard of the Collective in Russian were the wrong smartest, most enlightened, and most moral people ever. We mean *us*! And we would never do such bad things! We would only silence and lock up the deniers – those clearly evil stupid people who question the legitimacy and effectiveness of masks and lockdowns – they’re denying COVID! Those benighted morons who completely agree the climate is changing (because it always changes) and that CO2 is of course a greenhouse gas (although an extraordinarily minor one at any level of concentration ever experienced on earth) but question the sanity of those who think people can enact policies to stop climate change, something that has been going on for 3 or 4 billion years now without any human intervention – they’re climate change deniers! Those truly evil people who point out that a man remains a man regardless if he thinks he’s a woman and undergoes physical or chemical castration – those evil, evil people are denying SCIENCE! Such people DESERVE to be silenced, at the very least. If we need to lock up or even kill those deniers, we, the REAL most intelligent, enlightened, and moral people the world has ever seen, would be doing the world and those people a favor!”

The price to stay in the outer rings of the Kool Kids Klub is high.

The medieval peasants who accepted that each man had rights and duties, that God would judge the King and the pauper by the same standards while demanding more from him to whom more was given – they produced enough food and peace for universities and monasteries to thrive. The people in those universities and monasteries, some of whom were the brightest children of the peasants, believed that trying to understand the created world was one obvious way to honor its Creator, and thus was worthy activity in and of itself. The kings and nobility and the Church, believing or at least feeling obliged to honor where expedient the same notions of rights and duties embraced by peasants, also respected and supported the intellectual activities of the universities and monasteries.

Only in such a world could millions of men (and some women) learn the rigorous logic that constitutes the foundation to modern science. Only in a world where a rational Creator is accepted could the idea that creation is an objective, orderly, fundamentally comprehensible whole that man could and should understand become commonplace.

From 900 to 1250, the population of Europe approximately quadrupled, something only possible because technology allowed vastly more land to be worked vastly more productively. The famine and plagues of the first half of the 14th century brought 400 years of steady intellectual and material progress nearly to a halt. Grossly, after a couple centuries that saw a tremendous drop in population and rise in chaos, we had a ‘renaissance’ – a resumption of the the intellectual and material progress of the Middle Ages, but with a conscious rejection of its true source: the great achievements of the Medieval period were denigrated, even so far as labelling the architectural and artistic triumphs of the period ‘Gothic’ as a slur. As if copying Romans was an advance over Chartres and Giotto and Dante?

The Renaissance and Enlightenment were very modern in this respect: projecting their daddy issues onto an imaginary past.

Of course, this all is a gross simplification – but so is the idea that the Renaissance and Enlightenment represent unalloyed progress. I would go so far as to paraphrase Dr. Johnson: The Renaissance and Enlightenment were both good and original. Where they were good, they were not original; where they were original, they were not good.

The Big(ger) Picture

Woke up this morning with history on my mind. Not capital ‘H’ History, the totally-not-God-because-that-would-be-stupid Agent upon whose wrong side no right thinking person would want to be – Vengeance is mine, sayeth History – but the more modest small ‘h’ history that is the stories we tell each other to try understand ourselves.

(This, I suppose, needs to be distinguished further from the serious study of What Actually Happened, which, I hear, used to be what professional historians did, before they boarded the Woke Train for Paradise.)

When they got to the New World, the Puritans believed they were founding the New Jerusalem. Because they *finally* understood this God-thing correctly and were getting to run everything, their earthly efforts would no doubt result in simply the bestest civilization and culture ever. (1)

Harvard was a state run and supported school created to train up proper Calvinist preachers and leaders – a seminary, in the modern sense. We might anachronistically assume the Pilgrims, fleeing from government oppression, would be careful to maintain a distinction between church and state. We would be wrong. This assumption ignores John Calvin, who, as a fundamental aspect of his religious program, took over political and police power in Geneva, up to and including having people executed.

Calvin was a smart and very well educated man, who had opponents burned at the stake. So was Cotton Mather, a Harvard man who fomented and supported witch hunts. So were many of the key people who became Marxist, National Socialists, and other Fascists. If they were around today, these are the people we would find shopping at Whole Foods, which seem to be preferentially located in college towns. Whole Foods sells, essentially, a sense of moral and intellectual superiority. Never mind that there’s not an iota of scientific evidence supporting most of the claims. Never mind that what organic, natural, non-GMO foods inescapably represent is the belief poor people ought to starve. Go to the location in Berkeley (I’ve been inside once), and admire all the students and professors dutifully picking up their probiotics and gluten-free oatmeal. These are our betters.

Intelligence and education do not make people any less gullible. Rather, intelligence and education might change those things about which we are gullible, while inoculating against ever learning anything ever again. The modern well-educated person possesses a complete framework within which all experience is placed and through which all experience is filtered. Part of this framework is the never-to-be-challenged certainty that all *other* intelligent and educated people agree with them in every important detail. Once the framework is in place, what, exactly, would one learn?

It cannot be overstated how certain these folks are that they KNOW what’s going on. The air of exhaustion that greets any mere intellectual challenges, the long-suffering sighs which any disagreement with their framework/filter draws forth- these are the autoimmune response of the inoculation mentioned above. Push, and the macrophages are released: anger, accusations of stupidity, dishonesty, EVIL. Mental quarantine is enforced.

Next chance I get, I’m going to ask one of my less rabid relatives to do the following thought experiment: Imagine someone you consider intelligent, well-educated, and open-minded. Can you name three fundamental issues upon which you could disagree with him without dismissing him?

I doubt my relatives would understand the question.

  1. Menand is a loathsome Commie apologist, but he did make the best quip about the Harvard herd’s sense of superiority: Oliver Wendall Holmes Sr. “…saw no reason to challenge the premises of a social dispensation that had, over the course of two centuries, contrived to produce a man as genial and accomplished as himself.” That Holmes had rejected Calvinism and embraced rationalism is my point: professed dogmas were superficial and could change and did change, but the sense of superiority and, indeed, destiny, were much more fundamental. This conviction of knowing how things stood and what ought to be done carried through while the veneer was successfully remodeled: from Puritanism to Unitarianism to Hegelianism/Darwinism on through Marxism to our present sneering Nihilism. Our betters KNOW they are right with a desperate conviction foreign and nearly incomprehensible to us little people.

We Have Always Believed in American Exceptionalism

Remember when the belief that America was not like other countries, but somehow especially blessed and protected, was a shibboleth that marked one out for culling at the next round up? Only deplorable people would ever believe such a stoopid fantasy….

Well, forget that. Nope, that went down the memory hole. We are now required to believe that, unlike every other country on earth now and throughout history, we are immune to:

  • A State-controlled media. Nope, not in America! Just can’t happen. All media – real media, that is – agrees on all particulars and the general sweep of current events and history that has brought us to this, a dawn of a glorious new era where 6′ 200lbs men will be playing women’s hockey and paper masks both trap billions of deadly virons AND pose no health threat when you handle them and throw them in the trash. Among a million other absurdities obvious truths every right-thinking person believes.
  • Election Fraud. Nope, not here, not even possible! All the most intelligent, enlightened, and moral people (as they themselves will tell you) roll their eyes so hard at this, you just KNOW it’s true! Only a rube, an ignoramus, a bad person, would even dare bring up Huey Long, or the Chicago Outfit, or Billy Bulger, or Tammany Hall, or… Only someone truly evil would point out that same Europe at whose feet we should sit and learn – not only do they have flawless, perfect socialized medicine with no downsides whatsoever, but they gave the Lightbringer a Nobel Prize – require IDs to vote, because, well, they have much more experience than us in….uh, never mind.
  • Propaganda. What? Not here in America! Impossible! We are the land of free and open expression, and, besides, way too intelligent, educated, and moral to fall for that sort of nonsense! it’s like advertising: Only rubes buy anything because it appears in an ad or the product is placed in a movie we like. Only pork rinds and Coke are sold that way, to people living in trailers and missing teeth. The advertisements in the shows and magazines we consume have NO EFFECT. AT. ALL. We can’t be swayed by stories repeated and repeated and repeated until they are part of the background noise. Only an evil person would suggest we enlightened Americans have anything to learn from the German intelligentsia, professional classes, lawyers, judges, journalists – who, by the way, were objectively the best educated, most enlightened and, indeed, most moral people the world had ever seen up to that point- who fell right in line with Goebbels’s propaganda campaign. Not the rubes, not the farmers – the smart people. But we’re different, because we’re told we’re different.
  • Totalitarianism. Well, THAT almost happened until the good, intelligent, moral people, for our safety as determined by them, put a stop to freedom of association, freedom of speech, and fair trials. Can’t have the rubes talking among themselves. It’s not safe to hear out the other side when we already KNOW who’s right. But that’s the opposite of totalitarianism, which can’t happen here. Only an evil, crazy person would point out the parallels with many, indeed, EVERY democracy that fell into totalitarianism, via some mix of reigns of terror, military dictatorship, revolution, counterrevolution, and so on. Because, you idiot, that simply can’t happen here.

America is simply different. We make our own rules. We are beyond history, beyond reality, even – everything that is, is spoken into being by our word. Have I mentioned that we are the most intelligent, most enlightened, most moral people the world has ever seen? We are incapable of being fooled, manipulated, herded! We are just the best! America: History’s Chosen People! But totally not in any religious sense – that’s just stupid.

Slow on the Uptake

Although I receive constant reminders of my profound ignorance of almost everything from this little thing we like to call ‘reality’, nonetheless I’m having a bit of a ‘doh!’ moment. My head keeps spinning with frustration over the level of scientific and historical illiteracy evident everywhere, the level of functional innumeracy, when, obviously, those are mere symptoms. People have been screaming the name of the real problem from the rooftops for centuries. I have even heard it, and acknowledged it. Repeatedly.

Few Americans have have any understanding of science or history, no grasp of what a set of numbers might mean, because few Americans have any grasp of reality. Not merely no grasp on the particulars any one of us receives moment by moment through our senses – although even that is clearly lacking – but no grasp of the general principle that there even is an objective reality that doesn’t care how you feel about it.

Somehow, I keep forgetting this grim fact, and waste my time gathering evidence and shaping arguments, as if evidence and arguments will convince anybody except the tiny fraction of people willing to be convinced – OF ANYTHING.

Memento Mori – not just a good idea. It used to be that death, a very real thing that a) happens to everyone, and b) clearly doesn’t care how you feel about it, put some sort of cap or lid on our fantasies. At the very least, even those convinced of their own immortality would (eventually, gratifyingly) die. Reality got the last word, and, more important here, everybody knew reality got the last word.

Now? Death, where is thy sting? Hiding out in nursing homes, hospices, homeless encampments, third world countries – places YOU don’t have to see it or worry about it. This partly explains the freak-out over the d*mn virus: people refuse to consider exactly WHO is dying of this thing. An easily identifiable population sharing one critical trait: they are already dying of something else. That’s why they’re in nursing homes in the first place. But we are not allowed to consider this factor, instead, on the off chance anybody notices the age distribution, it’s sweet, welcoming grandmas who we are killing if we go maskless, or get together with friends, or open a restaurant, or support the wrong political candidate. Which grandma would that be? The comparatively vigorous grandma out gardening in the yard every day? Or, perhaps, the grandma who been stuck in a nursing home, where she will be lying in bed with soaps on the flat screen, drifting in and out of coherence, unable to take care of even her most basic needs, for the last few months of her life?

Have any of these people ever been to a nursing home?

Without any real experience of death in their lives, except as a horrible wrong thing that we need the government to protect us from, the last real tether to reality has been broken.

As I written before (perhaps ad nauseum), I learned a lot from getting to know a large variety of families from very different backgrounds through the school and church. My own families, while closer and experienced in more detail, don’t work as well, in the fish-describing-water sense. One thing that I noticed many times: the family story. Two examples:

I was once having dinner with this ‘blended’ family. The sisters of the mother to two out of the three children were also there. They were discussing an incident from their childhood where one of them got hurt on a trampoline. At one point, they all became, again, little girls: one of them explained that no one was to blame for the accident, and the other two nodded and spoke in agreement. It was clearly a critical part of the story that they all agree on the explanation of where the blame lay, and that this was not the first time this issue had arisen.

This seems, no doubt, utterly trivial, but you had to be there. These three professional women’s whole demeaners and even voices changed, for the brief moment it took to make sure they all agreed to the story. It was clearly very important to them that they agreed, and had been since the time of the incident. This made me wonder what had actually happened. There’s lots more to this picture, mostly centering around how this family also shared a story about how the damage to the children of divorce could be mitigated if not eliminated if all the adults behaved properly. Reality suggested otherwise, in this case.

Next, a tragically more common experience: there was a family with two mutually exclusive stories, one in which divorce was no big deal, and that the one parent acting as if he’d been betrayed was just being a big baby, and that the kids needed to get over it. The other story was, obviously, that this husband had been blindsided and betrayed by an act of wanton, petty selfishness, an act that damaged his and their children’s lives.

Because the stories were incompatible, the kids were forced by the mother to pick one. If they even acknowledged any validity at all of dad’s story, they were cut out of mom’s life. So siblings start by losing their family, then move on to losing each other as they are forced to pick. The price of acceptance was never contradicting the story.

And on and on – once you see this, you can’t unsee it. This buy-the-story-as-the-price-of-membership shibboleth is EVERYWHERE in human lives. At a very base emotional level, we stupid, crazy, damaged humans need our stories, and even more, need our tribes. To belong to the family, and, by extension, the tribe, there are tales we must accept. Comparing those tales to objective reality is suicide in most cases. So we simply don’t – some abstract notion of truth simply can’t prevail over the immediate, visceral need to belong.

The incessant ad hominem attacks on dissenters is exactly this: if you disagree with the story, you are not a part of the tribe or family – and that is problem! No vitriol or imaginative effort is spared in describing the evil that lurks in the hearts of – take your pick: climate change deniers, Trump voters, people who don’t ‘believe’ (note the word choice) that lockdowns are absolutely necessary and are saving millions of lives. Truth? What is that? We just need to know: are you of our tribe, or not?

At least the Yanomami are upfront about it: if you don’t speak our language, you are not human. But we’re certainly gaining ground on this front. Ah, progress!

Brazil's Highest Mountains: The Lone Guards of the Amazon ...
If only our self-appointed betters would embrace Yanomami fashion sense as well. That would be an improvement.

A Possibly Relevant Autobiographical Note

In general, brave people are simple souls. Not stupid, by any means, but simple. Such people will face up to outrageous evil because they cannot imagine doing otherwise. Many great saints suffered outrageous martyrdoms because they simply couldn’t be made to say what they knew was untrue.

With my back against a golden throne, I fought once again for Dejah Thoris.

A somewhat secular example is Captain Carter in Princess of Mars. He says himself several times in the course of the story that he took heroic action because he simply could not imagine doing otherwise. And that’s the trick – in saner times, honorable people saw it as their duty to raise up such people from the cradle, because that sort of simple heroism is what is needed to be honorable in everyday life, let alone at times of crisis.

And it is the right thing to do.

I am not that guy. At my roots lives a deep well of fear. From whence it comes, I can only speculate. It is not attached to anything I can confidently identify. Just as I cannot explain how it could be that I’m not an alcoholic – if I were, no one would be surprised, given my personality and weakness – I cannot explain why I do not spend my days rolled into a ball whimpering in the corner. God knows there are many days I would like to.

So, how comes it that I find myself, trembling, at least trying to stand up for the truth? Growing up, as we all have, amongst the People of the Lie, truth may appear a fragile thing, easily beaten down and ignored. Certainly, the idea that truth is a lion, that you just need to set it free and it will take care of itself, is not something one can often see over the number of years one is given to live. Defending truth, in other words, is generally expensive and fruitless, at least in the short run.

I would like to hear your stories of how you came to care about the truth, Dear Readers, if you care to share. If you put truth above tribe, you are a rare bird.

For me, the answer is 3-fold:

  1. I have always been an outcast, and usually didn’t care. I never remember once obsessing over being a part of some group or other. In fact, I’ve never quite understood the desperate energy with which so many people strive to be part of the Kool Kids Klub, the Inner Circle.
  2. I think the appeal of science, which I began reading compulsively at age 9 (in the form of Time/Life books, tbh, so not *that* precocious), was at least partly in that it provided some level of certainty, truth on some level. As I got older and realized science could not address any of the really important questions, I started reading philosophy.
  3. When, in 5th grade, I made a fool of myself trying to straighten out our poor teacher on some minor point of astronomy, and found nothing by eyerolls and exasperation, I tuned out. These people, least of all the teacher, didn’t WANT TO KNOW. This was a profound realization, even if, at the time, I was not at all clear about it. What I was clear about: school was going to get the absolute minimum effort needed from me to get by.

So, more or less accidentally, I was immunized against caring what the school thought of me. 5th grade was also the only time I ever won the ‘merit pin’, given to the student with the best GPA. Found out that didn’t make me any friends or get me anything positive, either. So, from then on, the head-patting and gold stars and brownie points meant nothing to me.

But none of this makes me brave. I still avoid conflict, and tremble inside when forced to speak out against evil. I’m trying to overcome the fear, and am greatly encouraged by the example of my wife and children, who are brave in the way described above.

In a 10 days, the annual Walk for Life takes place in San Francisco. There is, of course, no rally, probably no mass, but people are planning to walk, my wife and children among them. I tremble, but I will go. Then, the 40 Days for Life starts up over Lent in February.

Word is the SF police are aware and will maintain order for the Walk. Over the 40 days, police in one local city have clearly been told to stand down, so that the harassment, screaming of obscenities’ and physical threats are allowed against the people praying. Our city so far has been better, but who knows? This is where the rubber hits the road. I’m terrified. I need to stand up anyway.

We all need to pray for each other.

On Protecting Your Emotional & Spiritual Health

Clarissa, a college professor who is immersed in but not of the current academic tribe, is always good to read. She grew up in Eastern Europe and has broad experience of the world, and so her takes on America are priceless. Here is some good advice, from someone whose extensive experience under repressive regimes puts her in a good position to know:

When an aggressive psy-op is being conducted against you, you’ve got to protect yourself. Take measures. I’ve seen people turn into a cowering mess. It’s very sad.

Rule #1: curate your sources of information extremely carefully. Look at the lengths we go to in order to protect our bodies from a virus. We need to do the same to protect our minds.

Rule #2: the philosophy of “I’m such a special cookie” will be your downfall. It’s precisely the people who believe they are too smart to be manipulated who succumb the most easily. I have developed a narrative of “I’m extremely sensitive and impressionable, so I’m high-risk.” It helps you still feel very special yet protect yourself from the onslaught.

Rule #3: dedicate 2-3 days a week to a complete news and media blackout.

I succumbed to the corona-panic back in March, folks. I’m a hypochondriac and an OCD neurotic with a history of late-term pregnancy loss. It could have ended badly. But I used these strategies, blacked out the media, avoided FB, and saved my sanity.

Currently, the second part of this psy-op is being unleashed. So please, stay vigilant, and curate, curate, curate.

On a spiritual level, these are also good first steps. We don’t need to let ourselves get hammered over the head with the glee and flexes of our self-appointed betters. Living well is not just the best revenge, but is also the first steps to recovery. Don’t feed the black dog.

I’m reminded of two passages from C.S. Lewis, another college professor who was immersed in but not of his academic tribe. In That Hideous Strength, Jane, Lewis’s stand in for the relatively harmless modern enlightened and therefore clueless people, visits Dr. and Mrs. Dimble, old friends from her student days. Their home is reminiscent of Tolkien’s Cottage of Lost Play or even the Last Homely House – except the magic is wholesome normalcy:

Cecil Dimble, a Fellow of Northumberland, had been Jane’s tutor for her last year as a student and Mrs. Dimble (one tended to call her Mother Dimble) had been a kind of unofficial aunt to all the girls of her year. A liking for the female pupils of one’s husband is not, perhaps, so common as might be wished among dons’ wives; but Mrs. Dimble appeared to like all Dr. Dimble’s pupils of both sexes and the Dimbles’ house, away on the far side of the river, was a kind of noisy salon all the term. She had been particularly fond of Jane with that kind of affection which a humorous, easy natured and childless woman sometimes feels for a girl whom she thinks pretty and rather absurd. For the last year or so Jane had been somewhat losing sight of the Dimbles and felt rather guilty about it. She accepted the invitation to lunch.

The Dimbles, childless but with a house full of ‘children’ as it were, have a garden famous among those children; the N.I.C.E. is planning to bulldoze it along with their house. An echo of Adam and Eve in Eden, certainly, but with the added New Testament touch of having no natural offspring, but plenty of adopted children, as it were. (I could write a long essay just about this scene – better stop now.)

Normal, happy people and their stuff must get bulldozed by the progressive people – they offend and terrify them. For good reason. For our parts, we should try to be those normal, happy people. And plant spectacular gardens according to our skills and gifts. If it get bulldozed, plant another.

And from Perelandra, the Lady has been listening to the Un-Man as Ransom watches helplessly:

But the Lady did not appear to be listening to him. She stood like one almost dazed with the richness of a day-dream. She did not look in the least like a woman who is thinking about a new dress. The expression of her face was noble. It was a great deal too noble. Greatness, tragedy, high sentiment — these were obviously what occupied her thoughts. Ransom perceived that the affair of the robes and the mirror had been only superficially concerned with what is commonly called female vanity. The image of her beautiful body had been offered to her only as a means to awake the far more perilous image of her great Soul. The external and, as it were, dramatic conception of the self was the enemy’s true aim. He was making her mind a theatre in which that phantom self should hold the stage. He had already written the play.

Our play has likewise already been written, and from the same source. Sadly, we are not unfallen Adams and Eves, but rather fatally crippled souls in need of salvation. So, when we are tempted to see ourselves as noble, heroic, great souls, we grab is with no hesitation. I’m not going to look it up – curate! – but we all remember that speech delivered to SS people, explaining how only truly far-sighted and heroic people could bring themselves to kill all Jews, even the nice ones they had been friends with. Men can make themselves do unspeakable evil when the story they tell themselves is how tragically heroic they are.

And everybody today is repeating the same story.

I suppose I’m required to end with one more Lewis quotation:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology (Making of Modern Theology)

A clear conscience is only necessary for the useful idiots. A nihilist conscience is a contradiction in terms.

I like Mr. Bultitude, nature in its natural relationship with Man, wiping out lots of evil. One can hope.

The Unknown Unknowns

“For neither good nor evil can last for ever; and so it follows that as evil has lasted a long time, good must now be close at hand.”
― Cervantes, Don Quixote

First, those front row kids? This is their finest hour. This is their payoff. All those years, sitting right up front, hanging on the teacher’s every word, doing exactly as told, regurgitating everything right on cue, never having been troubled by a single independent thought they didn’t promptly hunt down and kill, they are now sure that they, the most intelligent, most enlightened, most *moral* generation the onward march of Progress has ever produced, are helping put those evil, stupid back row kids in their places!

There’s another participation trophy in it for them, after all. Those people whose sense of self are formed by family, faith, community, who appreciate a pat on the back, but don’t need anyone to tell them they’ve done something worthwhile, who live in no fear of the disapproval of the authorities who approval they never wanted – they are sure getting theirs, oh boy! How dare we highlight their empty lives by, you know, acting like grownups and getting on with it. How dare we!

On a more generous note, these poor souls, abandoned by the parents, churches, and communities that should have helped give them an appropriate sense of worth, deprived of any chance to own either their own success or their own failure, getting their only sense of achievement, only sense of belonging, hell, only sense of family they ever got at school, desperately toeing the line, doing as told, fitting in – or else! face a yawning abyss where those of us who have roots and a sense of independent yet interdependent self have a soul. They despise those who reject and mock their world. This is their moment. Their sorry, pathetic moment. May God have mercy on us all.

Aristotle anticipated the whole history-doomed to repeat it thing in the simple statement: Anything that has happened is possible. All sorts of stuff might happen. Some predictable, some not so much; some good, some bad, some neutral; some the true nature of which is not evident for some time, and not evident to all people. Some unknowns out of left field, things that might makes things turn out in, let us say, unanticipated ways. So let’s indulge in wild speculation. More than usual, I mean.

  1. China falls. Way overdue. While a whole boatload of the leadership and their lackies deserve just about anything they might get, I wouldn’t wish a front-row seat to this on anyone. The act refuses to stay on stage. (I indulged in some fiction on this, just to blow off some stream)
  2. With the chaos that would result, a whole lot of fine American patriots (*cough*) would find their loyalties and funding up in the air. Uncertainty of this kind tends to result in some mix of over caution and insane overreaction.
  3. The infighting and purges get out of control before the pacification is sufficiently complete. Our new reptilian overlords then get too busy whacking each other to properly monitor the rest of us, and stuff happens.
  4. This one cracks me up: our new politburo screw up so bad that even the rabbits can’t swallow it. Never mind – ain’t happening. See: When Prophecy Fails (point #4) Holding onto ‘disconfirmed’ beliefs is hard on one’s own, but get a support group together, and – Bam! – people will believe anything, as long as all their buddies believe it.
  5. Some else happens. My money, if I had to be, would be on this.

Technology is different. In Don Quixote, Cervantes laments the introduction of firearms into warfare has made it so any coward can kill a brave man. This, from a man wounded at the Battle of Lepanto. We can hardly imagine how ugly was the close in fighting, even hand to hand, that the battle devolved into as the ships rammed each other and got entangled. Cervantes was a manly man to show up for that fight.

His disgust with those who can kill without themselves facing death would have been off the charts today. It’s only gotten worse since, in the sense that anyone who can work a joystick is now more deadly than Atilla.

MSNBC Remember this? Now, even if the claims of the Yemenis are just propaganda, and all those people were in fact terrorists, the point remains: a man who has probably never been in real physical danger in his life can order the deaths of men 10,000 miles away at no risk. And the tech has only gotten better.

MAY 22, 2013 / 6:21 PM / CBS/AP Again, all these men were enemies and deserved to die, we are assured. But, again – how brave do you have to be to kill them?

The H-Man’s thugs had to at least round up and shoot his enemies and competitors. We’ve moved beyond such primitive lack of intermediation. Our Lightbringer was able to watch people die from the comfort of his home. Our front row kids, who are, need I remind you, the most *moral* people ever, are unencumbered by primitive notions such as honor. Ends, means, whatever – that stuff is hard! Just tell us what to do!

Machiavelli assures his readers that, when the time comes to do dirty deeds, a prince will never lack for men willing to do them. Severian questions whether any have the necessary competence to build and run complex machines for very long. I wish I could agree, but even the Soviets got rocket science right. The Germans were the best of the best on the engineering front. So – I don’t know.

Gracchi and the Optimates, Marius and Sulla, and the Reichstag Fire

Today’s dip of the toe in history involves 3 stories:

First up: The Gracchi Brothers, Tiberius and Gaius, each served as Tribune of the Plebs in second century B.C. Rome. They received an excellent Greek education (always a dangerous thing), and, dreaming of democracy, tried to take land and power away from the aristocracy, know as the Optimates. Much land in Republican Rome had been seized as spoils in their victories. To those who have, much is given, it seems: the aristocracy took it all. Roman commoners who had fought to win those wars were left with nothing. Laws were already on the books to give the land to the commoners, but they simply got ignored.

Tiberius made his name as a hero in the Third Punic War, and was elected Tribune of the Plebs in 133 BC. Once it became clear he intended to take ‘their’ land away from them, the Optimates tried every trick in the book to stop him. Finally, the Optimates had him and about 300 of his supporters clubbed to death. This was the first use of murder to ‘solve’ a political problem in centuries, but it set the precedent for the rest of Rome’s life.

Gaius, a somewhat more practical politician, then took up the program, and again had some success. In 122 BC, the Optimates incited a mob to kill him; seeing the writing on the wall he killed himself rather than fall into their hands. Subsequently, several thousand of his followers were arrested and executed.

This ruthless suppression of the Gracchi put a damper on uppity commoners for a while.

Next up, Gaius Marius was a much more sophisticated politician, had few, if any, ideals getting in the way of his desire for power, and was a great general. He was not so intent on actually delivering what he promised to the plebs, except insofar as it furthered his ambitions. He was elected Consul for a record – and tradition-destroying – 7 terms.

He was opposed by another great general, Sulla, and took the ill-fated policy of trying to undermine Sulla’s power from Rome while Sulla was on campaign in Greece. Things got ugly. Following the precedent above, when given the chance, Marius had Sulla’s supporters murdered and their heads put on display.

Unfortunately for him, Sulla also broke tradition and took his army to Rome. While Marius himself lucked out and died of old age in his bed, when Sulla got to Rome, it was a bloodbath. Italians with reason and opportunity to seek revenge are scary.

Now the precedent was changed: you cannot rule in Rome unless you have an army loyal to you.

The escalation from putting out hits, as it were, on your political enemies, to inciting riots and then using the police and courts to having your enemies executed, to waging civil war took under 50 years in Rome. Things were a lot slower back then.

Next up, we have the curious phenomenon of Reichstag Fire. In 1933, Hitler’s Nazi Party had achieved power, but only had a plurality in the German Parliament. Conveniently, somebody (modern historians say: the Nazis themselves) started a fire that burned down the Reichstag, the German Parliament building.

Communists were blamed, a scapegoat found, and marshal law declared. Hitler then used his new power to arrest all the Communists members of Parliament, which – surprise! – then gave the Nazis a simple majority.

The rest is, as they say, History.

Which is largely being repeated. Again.

With that in mind, here’s that timeline:

  • Reichstag Fire: Monday 27 February 1933
  • Night of the Long Knives, when Hitler took out his competitors within his own coalition: June 30 to July 2, 1934. This is the part I’m anticipating with grim appreciation.
  • Took 5 more years to invade Poland.

Or one could use other examples. Perhaps the French Revolution is more apt. But I’m not a real historian, I leave it up to the pros to come up with best fit precedent.

Happy New Year! and a Preliminary 2020 COVID Data Update

Was abusing our children’s patience by walking through the 3-step process by which science is reported in popular media, as follows:

  1. Somebody does a study.
  2. Study author gets interviewed by a journalist, who writes something up.
  3. Editors and headlines writers take a crack at it.

What could possibly go wrong? Let me count the ways:

  1. Study is a piece of crap. My own private unpublished but peer-reviewed (I asked my son about it) study says: 95% of all studies you hear about on the news are crap. Prove me wrong.
  2. You’d need a microscope see the chances the ‘journalist’ understands enough science to hold a printed copy of the study right side up. He couldn’t identify scientific evidence if it climbed into his lap and kissed him square on the lips. Basically, he got the gig because he was less terrified (or a more dogmatic SJW) than the rest of the reporting pool.
  3. If, by some slim chance, anything accurate and useful made it into the article, an editor, who understand less science than even the reporter, is virtually guaranteed to screw it up. He’ll punch it up by making the opening paragraph as scary as possible, regardless of anything so mundane and boring as evidence.
  4. The headline writer knows even less science than the clown parade that produced and edited the report he’s now skimming. He slaps an apocalyptical headline on it designed to get clicks. Thus, every warm day becomes global warming doom, every plastic straw is causing the extinction of cute little turtles, every remote possibility something might go wrong becomes the end of the world, even if the headline writer has to make it up.
  5. Your average reader, if he even gets past the headline, stops after the first paragraph, where the editor did his job ‘punching it up’ by featuring gloom and doom.

And that’s if the people involved are trying, somewhat, to play it straight. If they have an agenda – I slay me! – it’s much worse.

Moral: if you heard about some science-y sounding thing on the news, it’s wrong. Just assume it’s wrong – the times you’ll be mistaken are negligible, and the disgrace you’ll suffer minimized.

(Aside: this is why Sagan was so popular: most scientists are (or at least were) very careful, and really hoped they could explain what they were up to. How boring is that? Plus, it makes you feel stupid. Sagan flattered the idiots, explained nothing, but put on quite the show. He knew the people publishing articles and producing TV shows didn’t want to feel stupid, were not going to put much effort into understanding anyway, so he just used his stolen glory as a scientist to sell them Scientism. This has born fruit, in the form of millions of Americans thinking they ‘believe the science’ whenever they fall in line with whatever the Officially Approved Authority Figure (an AAUF, pronounced ‘oof’ ) is saying at the moment.)

As I long promised, I’m plowing through the 2020 CDC death data to determine, as much as possible, how many people the d*mn virus can plausibly be said to have killed.

As predicted, the data is now still harder to find – the All Deaths data, which used to be a couple clicks in from the CDC front page, is now very hard to find – at least, it’s not obvious. After scanning the pages and searching using the CDC’s search box for the very specific title of the page, which I knew because I have that YouTube video by a Dr. Briand from John Hopkins wherein she analyzes the CDC numbers, I ended up snipping a tiny corner of her PowerPoint, expanding it, then manually typing in the wee fuzzy web address – and it came up. So, the data is still there as of today, it’s just not easy (possible?) to find from the CDC front page. I’m grabbing/downloading and backing up everythng.

About that main page – sheer, poisonous fear-mongering. They show 350K COVID death, just stated as a fact on Page 1 – their data, once I found it, showed 300K deaths involving COVID. So, where do those extra 50K dead people come from, if they’re not, you know, there in the CDC’s own numbers? No explanation is offered. Just shut up and be very afraid. Then, they have warnings about the danger to young people and children, how we need to be very afraid – while their numbers show – hell, take a look:

1st 3 columns are straight off the CDC website. I added the 4th to illustrate the absurdity.

There were 149,198,677 Americans 34 and under, of whom 118,384 died in 2020. Of those poor souls, the deaths of 2,672 ‘involved’ COVID, meaning, if you were under 35, you stood a 0.00179% chance of dying of COVID last year. Slightly worse than your risk of dying of a shark attack or lightning strike. If you were one of the 103,258,356 Americans under 25, a sad 54,830 of your age cohort died last year, a whopping 585 of whose deaths ‘involved’ COVID. If you’re under 25, your chances of dying from COVID last year were 0.00057%. Slightly worse than getting hit by meteorite – but not by enough to worry about.

Before you dare mention lung damage, or lingering problems, or any other reason young people should be masked & locked up, one rule: show me the damn data. I don’t want to hear about some anecdote you heard on CNN – show. Me. The. Data.

I note one last thing from the CDC data now, with more to come when I’ve gotten a chance to digest the data: the overall death rate in the US in 2020, pending, of course, updates that should roll in over the next couple weeks and push it ever so slightly up, was 0.884. That’s 884 deaths per 100,000 Americans. Back in May, I looked up the UN’s 2020 projected death rate prior to COVID, and it was 0.888. This number just comes from extrapolating from long-term tends, nothing special, but, barring a deadly pandemic or other disaster, such a method should produce a pretty accurate forecast. So it looks like the US, despite a raging pandemic that’s killed, they say, 350K people, will have had pretty much the same number of dead people in 2020 as projected before the pandemic. Huh.

Science: That Feynman Speech Again

There are plenty of good reasons to dismiss the Fauxvid hoax apart from the utter lack of good scientific evidence that it even exists, let alone that lockdowns, social distancing, and masks help at all. These include the constantly changing story, amazing timing, how it was used to force the inevitable fraud of vote-by-mail, how few of us know very many people, if any, that have died or even gotten seriously ill from the virus, a basic prudent distrust of absolutely anything the press tells us about anything – but here, because I’m the weirdo I am, it’s the abuse of science that sets me off. So:

While I’ve long noted that MDs are not scientists, it is only with the advent of this virus that it dawned on me that most people with science somewhere in their job description or on their diploma are also not scientists. What I mean: generally speaking, doctors become doctors not because they want to do science, but because they want to help people. They are just about as likely as your auto mechanic or a long-haul trucker to be a scientist. Like those honored professions, MDs use a lot of tech, and follow a lot of science-y sounding rules. But an MD is about as likely to understand any of the as the trucker is to understand how relativistic adjustments are needed to achieve the accuracy of his GPS, or a mechanic to be conversant in all the metallurgy and material science that goers into an internal combustion engine. They *might*, certainly – the MD might be all over the superconductors and rules of quantum dynamics that make his CAT scanner work, but what’s more likely, in fact, observable, is that doctors, even very high ranking doctors in research, really don’t even understand basic statistics or the concepts behind establishing appropriate sample populations.

This last part, that doctors don’t really understand the science they use in establishing treatment protocols, should be obvious even without reference to any science. Is a high fat or low fat diet good for you? Should you avoid red meat, or make sure you work some into your diet? Should you eat fewer eggs to reduce your cholesterol? Are ulcers caused by stress? Is the ideal blood pressure 120/80, or something else?

If you’ve paid attention over the decades, you know the answer to these sorts of questions are yes, no, maybe, and back around again, yet always presented as dogma. Doctors see some report or study, and the topic gets on some panel somewhere, and doctors, being trained as they are to be omniscient, then produce a protocol incorporating what they believe is the latest science. The likelihood that anyone along the line actually understood the limits that are a key feature of any study is small, or, rather, that if anyone did, he could make himself heard and understood by the bulk of the committee. I’ve looked into a few instances of this in some detail over the years. One that was particularly egregious was the universal dogma that family beds – letting little babies sleep next to their mother in the same bed – was dangerous. Turns out there were 2 studies that claimed to show that family beds caused some number of infant deaths every year. Neither used any controls at all – no effort was made to filter out or otherwise allow for alcoholic or drug addicted or insane parents. Thus, the obese alcoholic mom sleeping on the couch who, in a drunken stupor, suffocates her baby, is considered the same as sober, healthy parents who, in accord with a million years of evolutionary selection, will not smother their baby in their sleep. And, eventually, with no apology or even acknowledgement, pediatricians went from cajoling parents not to sleep with their babies, no matter how well it worked for them, to having no advise on the subject, when, after 50 years as the only nation on earth where this anti-family-bed protocol was promulgated, America’s pediatricians acknowledged the obvious.

But did they acknowledge anything? Did your typical kid doc ever have a moment when he went: I’ve been giving bad advise and layering on the guilt for decades on already insecure new parents, and now I’m doing a 180? Or, rather, did they believe that the science had somehow changed?

Which brings me back to Feynman’s 1974 Cal Tech address on Cargo Cult Science. * Something I missed, or at least didn’t fully grasp. First, the relevant selection:

Now it behooves me, of course, to tell you what they’re missing.  But it would he just about as difficult to explain to the South Sea Islanders how they have to arrange things so that they get some wealth in their system.  It is not something simple like telling them how to improve the shapes of the earphones.  But there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in Cargo Cult Science.  That is the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying science in school—we never explicitly say what this is, but just hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific investigation.  It is interesting, therefore, to bring it out now and speak of it explicitly.  It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty—a kind of leaning over backwards.  For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid—not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked—to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them.  You must do the best you can—if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong—to explain it.  If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it.  There is also a more subtle problem.  When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.

From Cargo Cult Science, Richard Feynman’s 1974 Commencement Address at Cal Tech

The part I missed: after decades of teaching science to bright to brilliant students, Feynman sees the need to address what science *is*. Feynman is giving this speech to students graduating from Cal Tech – the elite, the best of the best, the very definition of ‘scientist’ in the minds of people who bother have a thought about it.

Feynman’s speech tells us that he thought 1974 graduates of Cal Tech needed to be told what science is. No one with two functioning braincells things things gotten anything but worse since then.

How could such a thing be possible? Several causes spring to mind. Recall Kuhn’s famous distinction between normal and revolutionary science. A ‘normal’ scientist spends his time trying to work out the implications of the currently accepted theory. If he runs across anomalies, results or appearances that defy that accepted theory, he sets them aside, since they only slow down his work. This working out of normal science is an important and worthy occupation. Think of all the work done filling in the Periodic Table. Dmitri Mendeleev comes up with a profound observation about how certain properties of elements reappear in a particular pattern, then predicts the properties of certain unknown elements based on where they would fall in his table. The numerous chemists who then spent countless hours filling in the table didn’t need, necessarily, that certain severe honesty that Feynman hoped those 1974 Cal Tech grads picked up along the line. They just needed to fill in the blanks, using the tools of the trade. And we’re all glad they did, lots of cool gadgets we use every day trace back to their work.

DIMendeleevCab.jpg
Now, there’s your old-school Russian scientist!

Einstein, to take the poster boy as the example, was doing something different. He was doing science, properly so called. He collected those anomalies mentioned above, and, with that honesty Feynman describes, laid it all on the line: If I’m right, we should see light bend around the sun, and other predictions. There was no place to hide: his math covered all the usual cases, and proposed to account for those anomalies as well. And did. Kuhn (and Popper) would be proud. What Einstein did was different in kind, not just degree.

Nowadays, the vast bulk of what people think of as science is performed by technicians. To be good or even great at my job down at the gene-splicing or super-conductor plant, I need a very high level of technical expertise. But do I need to be a scientist? Do I need to understand the general philosophical and logical requirements of ‘real’ science? Maybe, certainly some people in the process need to, but everybody? Most scientists?

If Feynman felt the need to explain some basic science to graduates of Cal Tech back in its heyday, I’m guessing the answer is no. Most normal science can be performed without much if any appreciation of how science works on anything but a base mechanical level.

I’m not here to disparage in any way the very real accomplishments of the technical people upon whose work so much of the modern world depends. What I am doing is calling into question that such folks would necessarily apply the general principles of science to evaluating claims in general. If they even know them. I would expect normal science necessarily involves a lot of simple deference to authority for reasons of practical efficiency; this seems to carry over into real life more than a zeal for rigorous truth according to scientific principles.

Of course, I’m only referring here to those folks involved in real science, where rigor, adversarial review, replication, etc., are required.

I write this to try to account for the lack of response from such scientists (Michael Levitt being the most obvious exception). First, as discussed, there are probably a lot fewer than one would imagine. Beyond that, we have the the threat of retribution, which, if you have a job and family, are pretty scary. You’ll never work in this town again is pretty real.

Thus, the baton seems to be passed to those of us who are merely scientifically literate or have nothing to lose. I have none of the technical chops required for normal science, but I am fairly confident I could understand and appreciate whatever anyone is doing in any field in accord with the scientific method.

But none of this is subtle. None of the fraud is at all something you need a degree in biology or medicine to understand. About 2/3rds of the attributed deaths are nursing home patients. Those poor souls make up about 0.4% of the population. If you knew nothing else, you could see from these facts alone that your chances, if you are of the 99.6% not in a nursing home, are 1/3rd of whatever overall numbers are being bandied about. Then, if you had even the slightest logical capacity, you might wonder at one additional little fact: that most nursing home patients don’t have long to live.

These are issues it takes no scientific training or literacy to understand. The only slightly more complex ones include the inappropriateness of applying case fatality rates to a population; the fantasy of counting deaths ‘involving’ COVID as if they resulted from the disease; the impossibility of defining what a case even is; treating cases, however defined, as if they are this horror, when, for the vast majority of people, they do nothing much beside bringing herd immunity closer. And so on.

  • Funny thing: I searched for this address, something I’ve done many times over the years, always found multiple copies, but this time nothing but excerpts appeared on the first page of results. So I just searched my blog, found the last place I’d linked to, and – got a page from the Center for Theoretical Neuroscience at Columbia, with the speech nowhere in sight. Of course, theoretical neuroscience sounds about as cargo-cultish as one could get, so I can see why they’d not exactly want to feature Feynman’s speech. The Purge, it seems, continues apace.