Free Citizens and Police States

One of the bitterly funnier moment I’ve had in my life was when a long-time friend who had just recently become a Chicago judge told me in all seriousness that what the world needed was more lawsuits.

Hammer, meet nail.

He seemed to seriously (and arrogantly) think that society’s problems would get solved if only people submitted them to the adjudication of right-thinking people such as himself. No other options existed in his mind, as far as I could tell, such as a personal commitment among citizens to resolve their differences peacefully, or suck it up and take minor injustices for the team. No acknowledgement that, if the court system is what’s holding your polity together, that polity is already dead.

Or, checking in on Scripture:

Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison.

Matthew 5:25
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Attempting to solve more and more issues in court is not a road to social improvement, but rather a sign of an already dead society – the twitchings of a culture’s corpse.

The function of laws. We have long had the notion of the law-abiding citizen. That’s a person who understands that laws need to be obeyed, especially when there is no one there to enforce them. The laws work, when they work, because of a consensus of the law abiding. In a such a culture, responsibility and enforcement are ultimately personal, not a function of the enforcement arm of a legal system.

Much more important, law abiding citizens can only exist within a strong culture. Personal relationships and obligations, personal honor and virtue, must be highly valued by a large enough group such that those who do not value them are forced by social pressure to conform.

A law-abiding society is the only kind of society in which people can have any real freedom.

The alternative is the police state. A police state is here defied as a situation where laws matter only to the extent to which they are enforced.

We tend to think of totalitarian dictatorships when police state is mentioned, with official thugs lurking everywhere, but I will here contend that insofar as an individual’s relationship to the law depends merely on enforcement, police ‘states’ are ubiquitous.

These ideas came up as I discussed the state of local schools with people who have had children in them or had friends who have had children in them, or otherwise had experiences in them. It has gotten to the point, according to these folks, where it takes literal physical assault of a teacher to call down any disciplinary action on a student – and even that might not be enough. Teachers tend to get whatever percentage of the students who are interested in learning into the front few rows, and simply let chaos reign in the back rows and try to teach over it. Admin and teachers are at war – the idea that admin would take steps against the students for the teacher’s sake is laughable. The schools rules are ignored until they are enforced. Exhausted teachers have little interest in enforcing them. Any teacher who does enforce the rules is instantly an outsider, more likely to draw the ire of admin than its support.

The students in this environment divide themselves or are divided into feral tribes. In the No Rules tribes, attempts to flaunt whatever norms do exist drive behaviors. Who can wear the most scandalous prom dress? Who can utter the most filthy profanity? Who can defy the teachers most obviously? Such behaviors increase the standing of students in their tribe.

Is this all true? I don’t know, but the people telling me this are not the kind of people given to melodramatic exaggeration. I therefore assume so.

But even if reality is not quite that bad, anything like such a situation illustrates not so much the Law of the Jungle as an at least nascent police state. In the jungle, you win or you lose, there is no appeal. In a police state, you get away with whatever you can – until you can’t. In the jungle, no one is there to stop you if you try to burn it all down, while it is likely someone would try to stop you from burning the school down.

And here is the crux of the matter: what happens to the fine young arsonist in this latter case? Since all violations of the laws have been ignored so far in his young life, what does he expect to have happen? Will it be ‘fair’ in his eyes? We can easily imagine a modern principal simply letting him go due to assumed mitigating factors – and we can just as easily imagine the child (if old enough) thrown into jail. The reader can insert the variables that might influence such different outcomes.

Similarly, a student holding views unpopular with his teachers can become the target of abuse. The teachers’ vendettas become, in effect, the law – and there is nowhere within the school system for such a student to turn.

While it may seem fun, after a fashion, for young hooligans to do whatever they think they want, eventually, all boundaries have been pushed too far, and something must be done. The school system is an organism, and as such wants to live. It is a police state in which there is no real freedom and no escape – and our children are being raised in it.

What’s More Foodie?

Homemade mushroom garlic Alfredo sauce over homemade noodles and bits of roasted chicken, with homemade ciabatta and salad and a nice California Pinot Grigio, OR

Nice cuts of pork and beef that had been walking about on your own property not too long before?

Asking for a friend.

On Wealth

For the last post of June, and the beginning of the new semi-official post every once in a while policy, let’s talk wealth. Not willing to devote the time needed to find the articles among the 1500+ posts here on this blog, but I have long pointed out that the one thing without which the current insanity could not function is sheer, massive, overflowing wealth. Plenty. Stuff.

Public domain. Darn birds! Nice illustration of medieval technology: the heavy wheeled plow pulled by a haltered team of horses, which would require a lot of high-tech blacksmithing – e.g., horseshoes and iron plow blades. Pigs in the woods, a church in the background – and a road, which is required to get that ‘surplus’ food into nearby towns, to keep the 5%-20% of the population that wasn’t farming alive.

Being shot at without effect is not the only thing that focuses the mind wonderfully – the real threat of starvation and death seems to have a similar effect. We can get all technical about how time preferences are honed to a dangerous point in farmers, especially farmers in areas with a strongly defined growing season, such that European, Chinese, and Japanese cultures, for example, all traditionally value the willingness to delay gratification. The farmer knows with painful certainty that eating the seed corn or the breeding stock is near certainly a fatal move, even if it isn’t immediately fatal right now. A certain sanity, of the horse sense variety, was enforced by Reality.

Being a single mom, non-widow division, for example, was not looked down upon because – or just because – the woman likely had had a moment or two of moral failing. Rather, the careful social structure, built in the face of a frequently fragile prosperity, simply had few places for single moms. Put in brutal economic terms, there wasn’t enough consistent excess capacity to keep very many single moms and their kids alive. A Heloise, orphan daughter raised by a rich uncle, didn’t die as a result of conceiving Abelard’s baby outside of marriage. But she was now unmarriageable – who, among her social class, would want her, given her history? So the child is given up, Abelard is castrated, and Heloise consigned to a convent – and that’s a GOOD outcome, available only to the rich! A poorer woman would have abandoned her child, been forced into something like prostitution, and would be looking at a life expectancy in low single digit years.

Of course there were exceptions. But the number of exceptions could not stand in the face of the number of cautionary tales. Not so, in the modern world. Outside of war zones and targeted political actions (insofar as those two things are distinguishable in practice), it’s been half a century since any very large number of people have starved anywhere in the world. Cultures don’t change that fast, but in America, where we reached the nobody needs to starve level of food production a century or more ago, not only is mere survival all but guaranteed no matter how little one contributes to the upkeep and passing on of the culture, but the sorts of behaviors that would have placed you under dire threat of starvation are enshrined and protected. It’s unheard of to criticize an unwed mother or caddish Don Juan; the feces-enriched camps of the homeless are welcomed and protected in most major cities.

I’ve written all this before. The basic lack of any time preferences that favor long-term survival is a feature, not a bug, of modern culture. You be you, after all, and right now! If you are an obnoxious, mindless blight on society, so what? What is that compared to the Sacred You? We are so insulated from the consequences of real failure that many people who would have straved or died of exposure not that long ago can live quite comfortably within a complete fantasy world contained in their own heads…

… but they are far from the only people fully insulated from their own bad decisions. See here. The time preferences of the very rich run, perhaps, somewhat longer than your homeless person or gender studies grad, but not very much longer, and not for more than a generation or two. Typically, the grandchildren of the very rich are spending the fumes of the family fortune. It takes three generations, in other words, for Reality to catch up with the fantasy worlds of the very rich.

Aaaand – then there’s us. Let’s say you, a member of the middle class as traditionally understood, make a mistake, and wrap your $40K automobile around a tree. You escape serious injury, but now – oh, the horror! – need to deal with the insurance companies and shopping for a new car – oh, bother!

That’s not insulated from reality? In a dozen little ways, even we who choose to work and save and spend time with our loved ones are thus insulated. I’m reminded of the term ‘grillers’ – people who don’t want to hear about the problems in the world, they just want to grill. So long as they can grill, everything is OK enough. Well? How long can that attitude – and I admit I’ve not been far from it most of my life – survive?

As of right now, a preference for reality in the Aristotelian/Thomistic sense of an objective world accessible to the mind through the senses, a world within which we live but that doesn’t care what we think, with rules we can’t will away, is just that – a preference. There are few if any short-term costs to simply living in our own fantasy worlds. The gods of the copy book headings are on vacation, and will remain so for as long as the general level of Stuff/Wealth/Plenty remains anywhere near as absurdly high as it is now, AND Our Self-Appointed Betters decide to keep using some of that wealth on bread and circuses. Already, Sri Lanka and Ecuador have sunk into chaos, with real famine rearing its head (but caused by war/political acts, not weather or blight as in the old days). Other states are sure to follow.

The world can only play act for so long.

Which, frankly, is too bad. I’m very fond of indoor plumbing, electricity delivered right to your wall outlets, and gas stove cooking at the turn of a nob. I hope we can work this all out without destroying all the wonderful infrastructure our ancestors built over the last 250 years. I hope and pray that the gods of the copybook heading are not loosed, but especially that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will remember His promise of mercy. Wealth in itself isn’t evil, but we’re seeing that, like power in any form, it is easily used for evil. I’d like to see the miracle where the evil is destroyed without the destruction of all the wealth. But Thy Will be Done.

Too funny to omit: Looking for a picture to illustrate the realities of pre-modern agriculture, and came across this gem, explaining the history and science of the picture of a medieval couple harvesting grain. A tidy summary of the modern view, even if a hopelessly useless description of medieval farm economy:

Farming was the most popular occupation of the Medieval Ages as it was an essential element to survival. A local lord or master would grant portions of his land to commoners and serfs and in exchange the people would till, cultivate and maintain the property to produce crops. What was grown was eventually sold at local markets at which the peasants were allowed to keep a share. Most revenue went to the local lord however through taxes and levies. In the society of the Middle Ages, a man’s status was based on how much land and livestock he owned. As both of these elements were critical for revenue, a private farmer who owned his own land could become quite rich. Crops were varied and depended greatly on how fertile the plot of farmed land was.

Yep – not starving, always a “popular occupation.” I can just see the youngsters, at Career Day at their medieval high school, talking to the guy at the Careers in Peasant Farming booth, and thinking: “farming sounds OK. I was thinking about that crusader gig – sounds sweet! – except I need to go ask the guy at the Squires and Baggage Train booth how it is that so few of them ever come back home. Monk and priest – nice stable careers, but I want a family, and that’s only an option for the Lay Investiture rich boys. The dude at the Blacksmithing booth made it sound like getting an apprenticeship is a trick – you got to know the right people. Scholars? No money or respect. Besides, all my friends are going into serfdom – it a popular occupation. I guess peasant farmer it is. Hope mom and dad are OK with me going vo-tech.”

Musings on Losing Money

      THATCHER
                I happened to see your consolidated 
                statement yesterday, Charles.  
                Could I not suggest to you that it 
                is unwise for you to continue this 
                philanthropic enterprise -
                       (sneeringly)
                this Enquirer - that is costing 
                you one million dollars a year?

                            KANE
                You're right.  We did lose a million 
                dollars last year.

  Thatcher thinks maybe the point has registered.

                            KANE
                We expect to lost a million next
                year, too.  You know, Mr. Thatcher -
                       (starts tapping 
                       quietly)
                at the rate of a million a year -
                we'll have to close this place in 
                sixty years.

Citizen Kane, discussing the financial losses in his media empire.

In 537, under the Emperor Justinian I, the Hagia Sophia was completed after 5 years of work. Notre Dame du Paris was completed in 1260, after 97 years under construction. Two gigantic churches, each pushing the envelope of the construction techniques of their times. One took 5 years to build, the other almost a century. While I’m sure other factors were at play, the most obvious reason for this difference in construction time is that Hagia Sophia was built with the resources of an Empire under the direction of one man, while Notre Dame was not. Further, if Justinian had wanted another Hagia Sophia or 10, he had merely to say so, and within a few years, he would have had them. The 6th century Byzantine empire had the resources to do it. Unfortunately, we get to see what happens when Notre Dame gets destroyed, but had it been destroyed in 1261, at best it would have taken a couple of decades to rebuild, based on the construction timelines typical of Gothic cathedrals. And funding would have been a real issue.

There are costs, and then there are costs. For a subsistence farmer, having wasted effort over a day or two is likely to have real costs, measured in terms of reduced food supply for him and his family. For middle class 21st century Americans, having to replace a $40K car carelessly destroyed is generally an annoyance – chagrin, insurance, shopping, such a pain! To a billionaire, its a shame if one of his pet companies loses millions. To Justinian, a billion-dollar construction project is just one among several, and all in a day’s work.

John D. Rockefeller is said to have become the modern world’s first billionaire in 1916. Excluding heads of state, Forbes says that there are about 2,700 billionaires in the world. Forbes’ list is generated from public sources and reasonable guesses. Maybe there are 3,000 billionaire-level fortunes, once you add in the heads of state/royal family types? Your guess is as good as mine.

Now add in the wiley old coots with ‘only’ 500 million or so – are they materially less rich and influential than some punk tech billionaire? Now you’re up to – WAG, of course – 10,000 super-rich people? 100,000? Who knows? Why not use $100M as the floor? It’s all guesswork at this point.

These thoughts were generated by viewing Jon Del Arroz’s latest little video. Netflix has been hemorrhaging cash for a while now, and just recently announced that it laid off a bunch of people. While I agree with Del Arroz that these are good things, I doubt it means even as much as the million dollars a year loss did to William Randolph Hearst Charles Foster Kane. What Kane fails to mention: if he’s making as little as 2% a year on the remainder of his money, he can keep on losing a million a year forever. (Really, if he’s making anything at all, say 1%, his loses will be sustainable for centuries.)

One other consideration: while the man on the back of a horse has only a small fraction of the strength of the horse, as long as he keeps reins in hand, he’s effectively as strong as the horse and himself combined. There are some limitations that need skill to work around, but a skilled horseman and his horse act as one – and that one is the horseman. In the same way, a billionaire who has large interests in companies may control them without having their assets show up on his Forbes wealth calculations. A skillful billionaire can even manipulate things such that others agree to lose money – as long as the cost of the losses doesn’t exceed the financial and personal costs of crossing the billionaire.

In this context, keep in mind that the hands at the reins of almost all giant corporations are not playing with their own money. The CEO or Chairman is likely a millionaire or even a billionaire, but his fortune is likely worth a tiny fraction of the corporate money he manages, and only partially tied to the fortunes of the company. Let’s say a billionaire with 10% ownership of the company wants something to happen – say, he’s in favor of the diversity programming over at Netflix. Now you, as a member of the board or CEO, have got to ask yourself: how long will I have a job if I defy the billionaire? It’s not my money, after all. Sure, theoretically, I’m beholden to the shareholders – but that billionaire is the largest shareholder! Far better to do what he wants (and quietly divest myself of my shares in the company, as much as possible).

Then, if worst comes to worst and the company folds or is bought by somebody who wants to make money, the billionaire and I will share a nice Just So story about how evil white supremacists in their evilness ruined our efforts to enlighten the masses and Move Forward on the Right Side of History ™.

And he’ll give me another job.

And that’s just one layer of the onion. Wealthy people either play by the rules of the Athenians in Melos, or they stop being wealthy people. There’s a lot of jockeying going on, pecking orders and loyalties to establish, and backs to stab. I don’t imagine the tech billionaire’s fortunes will long outlive them – these callow youths from hippy boomer households are not winning long-term against modern Medicis and Rothchilds.

Henry Ford is estimated to have been worth about $35B in his heyday. Less than a century later, and the entire Ford family is said to worth about a $1B. Give it another couple generations, and a Ford is as likely to be washing your car as selling you one. Very few fortunes in America last more than a generation or two; very few children of billionaires have whatever gifts it took to make that first billion. Money to them is like water to a fish – it is just the medium they live in, hardly ever noticed. Most children of the rich start right off burning through the family fortune and leave dregs to the grandkids.

There are exceptions, of course. The Medici fortune reached its peak within the first century of the Medici bank in the 13th century, but persisted for about 500 years before finally vanishing. (Another wildcard that some real historian should enlighten us all on: when the fortunes of others depend on or at least benefit from your fortune, you may be propped up indefinitely. The Medici married into many prominent and noble families – how much did this contribute to their riding out some incompetent and occasionally literally insane heirs? Were the family to fail, however, political turmoil would result. How often over those 5 centuries did other players decide they would rather that didn’t happen? But in the end, it did, but only through lack of male heirs.)

But in the meantime, they ape Kane. They all can throw around a billion here, a billion there, without feeling any pain; they can have the companies they control burn billions on idiot programs and policies and propaganda, and hardly notice except to blame others.

So rejoice when the mighty are brough low. But right now, these superficial loses are not hurting the real money. They can afford to keep up the idiocy indefinitely, if the want.

The End of the Middle Ages

Prepping for the last lecture class before we start reviews and head into finals. Looking at the stuff I prepared last year, I can barely remember doing it. Probably something to do with the physical and emotional exhaustion from moving, and the continued attention demanded by the endless steps needed to get our house finally on the market. (target date: 5/26.)

Here’s a brief snippet.

Edward Peters, Britannica online

This, from Britannica, a source I use cautiously if at all. Here, the writer, describes the triumphal revisionism of the Renaissance writers, who so badly wanted to tout themselves as the best and the brightest that they ignored reality when needed. I’ve long wondered how scholars writing sometimes literally in the shadows of the great medieval churches, could not see how preposterous their claims of *obvious* superiority were. Example:

A nice church. I’d take it, Buuuut….
Clearly better than this? I think not. And I’m not even going with the High Gothic stuff here, which is the greatest architecture the world has ever seen.

Reports of the death of the Middle Ages have been somewhat exaggerated. What’s really been overblown are the achievements of the Renaissance:

The next (and, as it proved, final), steps taken in this direction (physics of motion – ed)  were the accomplishments of the last and greatest of the medieval scientists, Nicole Oresme (1325 – 1382). …devoted much of his effort to science and mathematics. He invented graphs, one of the few mathematical discoveries since antiquity which are familiar to every reader of the newspapers. He was the first to perform calculations involving probability. He had a good grasp of the relativity of motion, and argued correctly that there was no way to distinguish by observation between the theory then held that the heavens revolve around the earth once a day, and the theory that the heavens are at rest and the earth spins once a day. 

Then everything came to a stop. Given the scientific and mathematical works of Descartes and Galileo, but no chronological information, one might suppose the authors were students of Oresme. Galileo’s work on moving bodies is the next step after Oresme’s physics; Cartesian geometry follows immediately on Oresme’s work on graphs. But we know that the actual chronological gap was 250 years, during which nothing whatever happened in these fields. Nor did any thing of importance occur in any other branches of science in the two centuries between Oresme and Copernicus. 

James Franklin, Honorary Professor, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of New South Wales

Then, yea, there’s that.

There’s a bunch more, but now I’ve gotta go do class. Yes, I inflict this stuff on 15 year olds. Toughens them up.

Update, Hurry Up, Already! Edition

1.The Move prep continues. Got the house painted – came out nice – got the range replaced, got the plumbing and electrical work started. Aaaaand – made significant progress on the Insane Eternal Brick Project:

Last section of planter/wall/fence. My youngest daughter and her new husband, and our youngest son did a lot of the work.
Old metal window bars repurposed as a gate
Where said gate will hang, separating the garden/orchard from the from walk.

Not to mention the 6 or so vanloads of stuff put into storage, and the hours spent looking for a rental an hour and a half drive away – the interwebs are both a blessing and a curse, as I’m sure I’m the first to notice.

2. Some Covidiocy progress: at mass this morning, I, OCD as I seem to be, counted 42 people in attendance. Hard to see all faces, but at least 18 were unmasked. So we’re around 40% saner people, but still have 60% cowering, obedient rabbits. This is down from at least 90% rabbits a mere 2 weeks ago.

Problem is, all these people are still almost certainly convinced that some terrible plague has torn through our country and they just were lucky enough not to die, and now can maybe, maybe, dispense with the mask sometimes.

Unless we can prevent the mass memory-holing of COVID and the duplicity of our ‘leader’ and their lapdog press, the scam worked. Nuremburg trials, or bust!

TMI

Let’s do this like good poetry: start with the immediate, move to the universal, then bring it back home.

For the first time in several years, I seem to have caught a cold or maybe the flu. Or maybe the Dreaded Coof. Since I don’t have either of the only two distinguishing symptoms – no sudden acute respiratory issues, and sense of taste is as good as it’s ever been – I’m sticking with ‘flu’ on the ancient principle that distinctions that make no difference should be ignored.

My wife and son are also under the weather, although my wife has long been bulletproof as far as minor illnesses go, and so she’s acting as if she’s fine. If she ever really looked and acted sick, I’d be taking her to the emergency room. The son has a bit of asthma, which amplifies the effects of any sort of cold or flu, so he’s a little more out of it.

(Aside: could you imagine anything more tedious than people typing up and detailing their flu symptoms on a blog? For crying out loud, in the distant past of 2 whole years ago, such a one would be regaling anyone he could button hole over by the water cooler, and be avoided if at all possible. Now? It’s an art form. There will probably end up being a Pulitzer category for most epic description of a minor illness. The competition will be stiff.)

Day 3 – today – woke up at the usual time, took the traditional (for me) acetaminophen/ibuprofen + vitamin C and cough drops cocktail, and went back to bed. Now, a few hours later, I’m doing OK, much better than yesterday. Went from ‘eh’ on Monday morning to bouts of shivering in the evening (30 minutes in a hot bathtub works wonders on that). Slept half the day on Tuesday. I’m betting on ‘feeling tired’ as the outcome on Thursday.

Big whoop. I’ve now had two of my 4 living kids get the Coof with about this level of symptoms or less, and dozens of friends and acquaintances. A total of zero deaths and one hospitalization – an 87 year old who made a quick recovery.

I have sympathy for anyone who lost a loved one over the last two years. I don’t know anyone who has lost a reasonably healthy loved one to the Coof – anyone, that is, that they were emotionally and geographically close enough to to know first hand how healthy they were. (This long disclaimer is occasioned by friends who lost a relative living 10,000 miles away. Just no way to tell much of anything about such a situation.) What I don’t have too much sympathy for is people who put mom in a nursing home who then are sure the Coof killed her, who then try to guilt me for not caring. No, nursing homes are where people are warehoused until they die, mostly within 6 to 9 months. At worst, the Coof sped it up a little; more likely, the Coof showed up on the death cert because that way the nursing home gets government money for caring for a Kung Flu patient.

We had a wedding and reception last weekend. Under the soon to be tightened up rules from our self-appointed betters, such gatherings will be forbidden. Cost and benefits are not being weighed here.

(Now for the real TMI.) It should go without saying that such weddings and receptions are the stuff upon which any civilization worth having is built. My wife and I were married in 1987. We raised 5 kids with, essentially, no help from either of our families. I can make excuses for them, but the base reality is that neither family cared enough to make it happen. Both our families of origin are torn apart in various ways – geography, goals, beliefs – and by various hurts both petty and profound.

My wife and I were very aware of this, and decided to do whatever we can to not let it happen to our kids. First, we work together, and stay together. For reasons that I can’t say I understand, our kids have all become best friends for each other. One cute example: younger daughter drove older daughter to her wedding in my convertible, so older daughter insisted on driving younger daughter to her wedding in my car as well. It just seemed like the thing to do to them.

The kids stay in touch with each other constantly; they have made trips, sometimes cross country trips, to visit each other while they were in school. Now, 2 live close to each other, a third is talking about moving closer once he’s done with grad school, and the youngest is with us. And we’re planning to move much closer to both daughters ASAP.

This should be no big deal, it should be something anybody with kids would be hoping to do, anybody with beloved siblings would want. But is it? Instead, a marriage as traditionally understood, where the whole goal is 1) for the spouses to support and sustain each other; and 2) produce and raise children, is laughed off stage, replaced with ‘fulfillment’ or some other seductive ephemera. Over the last 30 years, marriage was first mocked (my wife and I, living in San Francisco, were personally so mocked by gay men) as something only stupid ‘breeders’ did. Then marriage was invaded, then destroyed.

Our little experience of non-support from our families is now the norm. Kids (if any) are expected to leave the nest – and never look back. Not that it would matter – people my age and maybe 10 to 20 years younger seem to be far too self-absorbed to even consider making changes, let alone sacrifices, for kids who probably hardly know them and don’t really like them.

Which brings us back to weddings and receptions, celebrations of exactly those family ties most hated by our current cockroach overlords. Such events held in the cold of winter (even here in California it gets cold-ish) are really good places to catch a cold, the flu, or even – gasp! – the Coof! So – do we stop doing it? Do refuse to live well so that we can ‘live’ wrapped in bubble wrap and terror?

So, I sincerely hope all the other guests are OK, if, indeed, the wedding festivities are where we picked this bug up. (Probably not, right? 2-day incubation seems pretty quick. More likely picked it up earlier in the week? But what do I know?). I, for one, would not have traded the wedding gatherings for any mere safety from a cold or flu – “It’s a dangerous business, walking out one’s front door”.

Three Quotations and a Link and an UPDATE

Off in a bit to begin the ceremonies – rehearsal, rehearsal dinner today, then wedding and reception tomorrow – demarking the handing off of Younger Daughter to her husband.

UPDATE: Logistics are a bit – interesting for this wedding. The church is a little over an hour away, near where Younger Daughter lives; the hall where the reception will be is about 20 minutes from there. BUT: the team doing the catering is my middle son (bride’s older brother) and his lovely wife of all of 6 months. They both have years of experience in food service, so it’s not as crazy as it seems. Issue: our nice kitchen has been volunteered for all the food prep – an hour and a half away from the hall. The hall also has a nice kitchen. The proprietors of the hall generously allowed us access starting at 3:00 today for a reception that start around noon tomorrow. But (almost) everybody involved is in the wedding itself, so we need to do as much set up between 3:00 and 4:40 (5:00 start of the rehearsal, a 20 minute drive away). Then, morning of, do the final cooking of the hot stuff so that it comes out warm around noon.

Future son-in-law knows a big Catholic family, the patriarch of which also knows my middle son and his wife – two of his daughters worked with them in the kitchens at Thomas Aquinas College. So, as we’re prepping here like mad, son gets a call from the matriarch of the above large family asking: how many of my kids do you want me to send over to help? So three daughters, two of whom have worked with and for my son, will be meeting the posse at the reception hall at 3:00 to help with set up and prep. Pretty darn cool. One friend of a friend also volunteered to get the cooking started morning of the wedding.

So, it’s working out. I rented a house for tonight in the neighborhood of the church, so we all can crash after the rehearsal, rehearsal dinner, and the finishing touches on the reception hall, and mom can support the bride without a 1:30 (at least – there’s snow on the mountains, skiers will be jamming the road Saturday morning) drive. Again, we are grateful and blessed.

So, quotations – first up: Eddie Burke, because why not?

Where trade and manufactures are wanting to a people, an the spirit of nobility and religion remains, sentiment supplies, and not always ill supplies their place; but if commerce and the arts should be lost in an experiment to try how well a state may stand without these old fundamental principles, what sort of a thing must be a nation of gross, stupid, ferocious, and at the same time, poor and sordid barbarians, destitute of religion, honor, or manly pride, possessing nothing at present, and hoping for nothing hereafter? I wish you may not be going fast, and by the shortest cut, to that horrible and disgustful situation. Already there appears a poverty of conception, a coarseness and vulgarity in all the proceedings of the assembly and of all their instructors. Their liberty is not liberal. Their science is presumptuous ignorance. Their humanity is savage and brutal.

Reflections on the Revolution in France

And

All circumstances taken together, the French revolution is the most astonishing that has hitherto happened in the world. The most wonderful things are brought about in many instances by means the most absurd and ridiculous; in the most ridiculous modes; and apparently, by the most contemptible instruments. Every thing seems out of nature in this strange chaos of levity and ferocity, and of all sorts of crimes jumbled together with all sorts of follies.
In viewing this tragi-comic scene, the most opposite passions necessarily succeed, and sometimes mix with each other in the mind; alternate contempt and indignation; alternate laughter and tears; alternate scorn and horror.

Ditto
Ready, Eddy?

The consistently incisive and depressingly accurate analysis of Clarissa, who grew up under the Soviet Union and teaches at Woke State someplace, commenting on the thought processes of the Supreme Court considered as a bunch of aging Boomers:

Sotomayor has already asked how “a human spewing virus is different from a machine spewing sparks.” As one’s brain ossifies with age, one begins to perceive the world through analogy. Everything gets referred back to one’s past experience. Everything is “just like.” Accepting that anything can be genuinely new means facing that one is outdated, possibly even mortal. And no, not every old person is like that. There are rare but important exceptions. For the most part, though, this is exactly how it works. If you don’t subject your brain to rigorous daily training in processing new information from new sources, you will become that sad old fart who “justlikes” every conversation into the ground.

And her further thoughts. Sigh. I’m so sick of her being right.

Finally, a slightly more amusing quotation:

“Let no one wear a mask, otherwise he will do ill; and if he has one, let him burn it.”

St. Philip Neri

Probably check in again next week. Until then, party hardy.

The Predicament & “Experts”

(Wow – that last Predicament post was all over the place. There’s a real idea in there someplace, at least I imagine there is. Here’s another crack at it.)

When I was 23? 24? I thought I’d like to go to grad school and get a masters in – Liturgy. No, really. The reasoning was as bass ackwards as it sounds: I had already learned a little about the Catholic Mass and traditions through a volunteer job I had after graduation, and wanted to share my (24 year old. Sheesh.) wisdom – but nobody’s going to listen to me! But if I had a *masters* in Liturgy, they’d have to! Right?

And then it dawned on me: that’s all supposed expertise is, in the ‘reality will not be allowed to disprove you’ world of most academics- I get the advanced degree so that I can push my own special brand of nonsense on the world, and they have to listen because I’m an *expert*! In the vastly less popular ‘put-up-or-shut-up’ fields such as engineering or even business, your degree might get you a job, but you run a real risk of losing that job if you fail to perform. Not so with ‘education’ or social work or the odd liberal arts degree. Those are ‘reputational’ fields, success at which consists of getting and maintaining a suitable reputation among others in that field.

Impressive-sounding degrees really help get that reputation going. There’s also a strong feedback loop: once you get that Master’s or PhD or law degree, you become part of the pool of people who set reputations. Since their reputations begin with the sort of official certification they have received – he’s a *doctor*! She’s a *lawyer*! – people in the field are very unlikely to disparage such degrees, at least to ‘laymen’. To take an extreme example: people who get a degree in Gender Studies will not get very far – build a solid reputation in the field – by disparaging Gender Studies degrees. Perhaps lawyers among themselves talk about law as the votech field it is, I don’t know. But just try having an opinion about law around a lawyer, and see how fast (however subtly) they will mount their defense upon the barbican of their degree. Since the whole law degree/bar exam thing was set up as a way to restrict supply (and raise prices/income) by what are effectively lawyer’s guilds, the magic of the law degree must first of all be defended against laymen. John Adams and Abraham Lincoln, who practiced law rather successfully without the benefit of formal academic training in law, are not the model here, regardless of their reputations.

Over time, the highest reputations in reputational fields will necessarily be held by the people who pay the most attention to reputations. Thus, when introduced to such people, we will often find out quickly their degrees, where their PhD was obtained and where they teach, maybe about some publication that enhanced their reputation in the field. Most important, these high-reputation people then become the gatekeepers of – reputation.

Such people then generalize their expertise. Reputation comes to equal brilliance – he teaches at Stanford or Harvard! He must be an expert! A genius, even! Such a one’s intellectual dogs are soon off the leash, so to speak, nosing about in every field that smells promising. Given the feedback loop of reputational fields described above, if I, the sort of glib poser who is the type-specimen here, hold a degree and agree with the experts in my field, I am likewise a genius and an expert! I of course will pay a certain reverence to my betters in my field, as a primitive worships the sun whose light is the source of his reflected glory. But to outsiders, I am a recognized expert! Bow to me!

First order of business for the expert class: keep the non-credentialed posers in line. In business school, I had to take a business ethics class. Can virtue be taught? Who cares, as long as there’s a paying gig to offer required classes in it. The prof was as bad as you might imagine, a procedure obsessed self-righteous prick. He’d explain his grading methodology in elaborate detail, so we’d all know how fair and transparent it was, and then ask us open ended moral questions for which there were no wrong answers unless he didn’t like them.

He didn’t like mine very much.

Seriously, how does one become an *expert* in business ethics? Is there this long noble tradition of business ethicists, experts in how to be virtuous at business, respected if not loved by their enlightened and now equally virtuous students? To ask the question is to laugh. Instead, a vita is constructed wherein degrees and studies and even experience are aligned in such a way as to make the claim of expertise in business ethics palatable – to the ‘experts’ on the hiring committee. Oh, he studied philosophy, and then worked in industry where he was on an ethical review committee? Then got a PhD in something? Good enough! Once you get that first job as a professor of business ethics, that becomes the star of your vita, and the battle is over.

Similarly, there is science, and there is policy. They are not the same thing, any more than the principles of business are morality. The charge of the electron is something scientists – Mikkelsen and his successors – figured out in a series of elegant experiments. Arsenic was isolated by Albertus Magnus, and, centuries earlier, a process to isolate it was described by Jabir ibn Hayyan (I had to look that one up – full disclosure). But knowing everything about the observable properties of electrons or arsenic tells us nothing about whether we should drive an electric car or poison somebody.

The Predicament rears its ugly head: we want to follow somebody, an expert seems like somebody good to follow, but we humans seem incapable of distinguishing what, exactly, an expert is an expert *in*, let alone only following the lead of experts insofar as what they are leading us through is what they are experts in.

We seem – I think, maybe not, the world is insane – to know that an auto mechanic fixes cars, but is not by that fact an expert on where or how you ought to drive the car he just fixed for you. Somehow, we shelve this simple, obvious truth when faced with more decorated and aggressive (and thin-skinned) experts.

Our predicament: most of us all of the time, and all of us some of the time, must rely on somebody else’s opinions. We have been taught to rely on the opinions of experts. We have not been taught to question the nature and limits of expertise. Therefore, most of us all of the time, and all of us some of the time, are made uncomfortable if not angry by the mere thought of pushing back or questioning the limits of expert opinion.

In the expert opinion of the founders of this nation and of centuries of English law, the most crucial, life and death decisions are too important to leave to experts. What else are trials by jury and elections than the manifestation of our long-standing distrust of experts?

Yet, as a people we are lost, terrified, and angered by anyone who questions the approved experts. This needs to stop. An expert worth respecting acknowledges the limits of his own expertise. Does he have special knowledge of proper policy? Really? How did he get it? If not, why is he attempting to dictate policy?

The Predicament

(4;30 a.m., wide awake, so let’s blog!)

What I’m here calling the Predicament is something with a thousand faces, touched on in a million ways; Pournelle’s Iron Law, Gell-Mann Amnesia Affect, herd mentality, group think, mass psychosis, class distinctions, compulsory schooling, ‘news’, ‘political campaigns’, sports fandom, and I’ll think of more.

Call it human nature, if you want. Or, better, canine nature. Even allowing for the irresistible tendency of people to project human motivations onto the behaviors of dogs (itself yet another example of the Predicament), dogs and people have a lot in common. When we say dogs are pack animals, what we mean is that the typical dog just wants to know who’s in charge. Dogs are easy to train, because, once the trainer establishes that he is in charge, the dog becomes eager to do what he wants. A skillful trainer first never lets the dog wonder who is in charge, and second is good at communicating what he wants the dog to do.* A happy dog is one that knows exactly where he stands in the pack hierarchy.

In feral packs, some dog becomes the alpha. Sometimes, there are battles between the alpha and wanna be alphas, but most often, the lead dog can just stare down any pretenders. The important part here: almost all the dogs just want to know who is in charge. They really don’t care which dog leads, they just want a leader. The average dog just wants to follow, and is really unhappy when he doesn’t know who to follow.

Once read a blogger’s story about being drummed out of the army. Turns out he was naturally immune to the intimidation techniques used by drill sergeants to break down the recruits.** When his would yell at and bully him, he just laughed, and couldn’t control himself. They had to get him out of there, fast, before he destroyed the whole process for the other recruits.

So: the Predicament. Whatever we may think, whatever we may pledge ourselves to, even when we are most rebellious – hell, sometimes *especially* when we’re most rebellious – what’s really going on is that we’re just looking to see who is the big dog, who it is that we’re supposed to follow.

(Agent Smith voice:) I had a little revelation, in my old age here: without ever trying, without ever even desiring it, I won almost every alpha male battle I was ever in. Now, while I may look a little like an alpha – 6’2″ tall and, as a young man at least, strapping – I’m about as intimidating as a puppy. BUT – by a combination of cluelessness and not having any f’s to give, I was simply immune to a lot of the gamesmanship and intimidation used to establish pecking orders. So, on sports teams, in social groups, in groups of volunteers, at work, when the subtle little games got played by which people are put in their places, I ignored them (if i were even aware of them) – and so I won. I got voted team captain, head of the crew, head of the department, the guy people looked to for ideas. People would see that I was not backing down and not being intimidated in any way, and assumed I was the alpha – and so I was.

Huh? Me? But the facts stand. I tell this story only to illustrate how desperately and reflexively people want a leader to follow.

So here is our predicament: wanting to belong -which, in practice, means wanting to know who to follow – is a need so dramatically and powerfully prior to any desire for the truth that the truth simply doesn’t enter into it. The truth will be sacrificed; hell, the truth will never be acknowledged. It is so dreadfully uncomfortable, so terrifying, really, to not know who you are following, that 2+2 really does equal 5, as far as you are concerned, for all of us most of the time, and for most of us all of the time.

The drumbeat of lies we’re being subjected to doesn’t even register with most people. They just want to know who is in charge, and find some relief in belonging to the vast herd of followers. The level of trauma needed to disabuse most of us probably exceeds death – many of us would rather die than to fall out with our group. We won’t even notice the inconsistencies, the hypocrisy, the insanity of our beliefs. When Goebbels said he could make a Brown from a Red in a couple weeks – turn a fanatical Communist into a fanatical Brownshirt – he meant that he, a master propogandist, could leave the fundamental fanaticism intact while changing the object of allegiance. He could take advantage of the fanatic’s overwhelming desire to belong to swap out the much less real object of his fanaticism.

And we, ourselves, we habitually skeptical few, will fall for some of it some of the time. We are only human, after all. The price of sanity is eternal vigilance, it seems.

*A little twist worth thinking about: dogs who are best at doing what the humans want get to breed; dogs who defy their humans don’t. Over time, only sports defy their humans.

** Militaries have learned over time that the more human instincts of the recruits need to be broken down and replaced with those that promote obedience and unit cohesion. That’s what basic training is all about. In the Civil War, all sorts of untrained volunteers quickly assembled into regiments and divisions and headed straight off into battle. When the guy next to him got blown apart, that volunteer turned out to be unimpressed by orders from his commanding officers – Ohio farm boys and New England shopkeeper’s sons tended to drop their arms and walk away after a few hours of battle, tops. So – boot camp, to minimize that sort of thing. They minimize it largely through – you guessed it, right? – peer pressure. The deserter is the outcast.