Elite Certification: A Good Thing?

Pondering our certification culture. We certify everything from doctors and lawyers on one end to cosmeticians and astrologers on the other. All of this certification is putatively to protect us from ourselves, which, in itself, cannot but infantilize us. Certification also is supposed to enforce standards, such that, if I go to a certified accountant or licensed surgeon, I expect some basic standards to be met.

It should be clear that certification in itself tells us nothing about the desirability or wisdom of those standards. Both chiropractors and medical doctors are certified and licensed, yet they hold to often contradictory and antagonistic principles and practices – they can’t both be right, although they can certainly both be wrong. Certified astrologers are held to standards as well, one supposes, although one also supposes those standards have nothing to do with anything happening in the real world. But then, we Pisces tend to be skeptical…

Let us leave the fringe cases and turn to the strongest. One things doctors and lawyers share historically is low public esteem.

Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. 

Luke 8:43-48

The unfortunate woman in Luke is not an exception. The poor could not afford doctors; the desperate rich were reliably cured of some or all of their wealth, if not their physical disorders. Where I live, there’s a park preserving the large house of one of the earliest settlers to the area. He had allegedly received some 19th century medical training back East, making him the closest thing to a doctor for many miles around, and so he became the go-to guy for health issues in that rough and tumble period. He charged 1 cowhide, upfront, before he’d look at a patient, and was not apparently very much inclined to pro-bono work. He ended up with a nice big house on a nice big ranch. I doubt he had a sterling reputation among the many.

Keep in mind that these were not modern people, who seem to believe the medical profession can and should save them from every sickness and danger. No, before the last 50 years or so, people seemed to understand that bad things happen, everyone dies, and doctors can be hoped to help, but there are no guarantees. It is only since the 1950s, for example, that going to a hospital when seriously ill would generally improve your chances of survival. Before that? Pretty much hit or miss. Before 1900, pretty much miss. When our not too distant ancestors heard of somebody undergoing treatment at a hospital and coming out alive, let alone cured, that was a sensation. When somebody went to a hospital and died, that was just life – especially since all but the rich wouldn’t even think of going until they were on the verge of death anyway.

Then, confirmation bias kicks in: the stories of cures at the hands of doctors are given great weight; the inevitable deaths are dismissed as just the way things go. The point here: it is only in modern times that being a doctor became a generally respected occupation. In the middle ages, surgery was something the local barber did; the distinction (if any) between medical care and witchcraft is a fairly modern thing, and, sadly, not clear to much of the population even now. Through most of history, an experienced doctor was a big help in setting bones and treating wounds. Check this out, for example. Otherwise? Big maybe. The general impression one gets when reading literature or history from anywhere: doctors are most often portrayed as money grubbing shysters.

The low esteem in which lawyers are even now held by the public needs hardly be mentioned. It has always been thus. The sophists of the golden age of Greece were training up what we might call lawyers – masters of rhetoric and public speaking, who used their skills to gain power and manipulate people and institutions. Socrates and Plato loathed such men; I would imagine common citizens could be counted on to loath them as well. (1)

Obviously, individual doctors and lawyers can be good people. I’m here describing what might be called a marketing problem: enough people have bad enough experiences with doctors and lawyers, historically, at least, that doctors and lawyers are held at least in suspicion, if not out and out distrust.

Enter certification and licensing. From a strictly business point of view, it is important for doctors and lawyers to calm public fears about their competence and trustworthiness. As late as the 1870s, few US doctors were licensed; as late as the 1930s, medical ‘diploma mills’ were still in operation. Gradually, doctors became one of, if not the, most highly regulated profession. Today, a doctor must get a degree from a highly regulated med school, pass a state licensing requirement, and then pass boards in any specialties he’d like to practice.

It is amusing – to me, at least – to note that all this regulation and training requirements trails overall improvements in public health. In 1900, a man could expect to live about 49 years, on average, up about 10 years from 1860. While medical care may have improved over those 40 years, that period also corresponds to a massive move from the country to towns and cities. By 1900, about 50% of everybody no longer lived on farms. Farm work, especially when using animals as muscle, is very arduous and dangerous. Horses, cows, pigs can kill you. Having to perform the brutal physical labor to plant, plow, and harvest regardless of health takes a toll, a toll expressed in a much lower life expectancy. Life expectancy has increased in America as safer, less physically demanding work has replaced farming, and machines have replaced animals for farm work.

Medicine has been bringing up the rear on these trends, for the most part, for the last 150-200 years. Vaccines and antibiotics extended the lives of many millions, but would hardly make a difference if sufficient food, water, and sanitation were not also available. Heart and cancer treatment advances largely apply to the elderly, who are the majority of the sufferers and who simply weren’t there in comparable numbers 100 years ago. Medicine, like formal education, seems to be a result rather than a cause of increasing wealth.

Many people profoundly mistrust conventional medicine. (Note: I personally don’t so much mistrust modern medicine as I like to take a look at the evidence for myself. In general, I’m willing to go with what my doctors say I ought to do almost all the time. It’s not automatic, though.) That’s why homeopathy, chiropractic, and other practices have their millions of devoted followers. These are not stupid or unusually gullible people – the medical profession has earned their mistrust, and there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to support these practices. (2) No science, as far as I can tell, but that matters little to people when somebody they know personally tells them of their wonderful experiences.

From a purely business point of view, the willingness of people to try all sorts of cures and to distrust doctors is a major problem to be solved – for the highly-trained doctors. If I’m going to spend years and a fortune getting through medical school, I’m going to need to convince people to pay me, and not that snake oil salesman! I must assume and defend my professional dignity, and find a way to denigrate the competition. Licensing creates the desired division: respectable, trained, competent doctors are *certified*; all others are frauds. That’s the marketing message, at least.

In a similar way, a lawyer wants to claim the aura of respect surrounding the never-went-to-law-school lawyer Abraham Lincoln, while at the same time embracing a licensing scheme designed to keep the likes of Honest Abe out of the profession. Both lawyers and doctors tend to be rather fiercely protective of their professional designation – doctors want to be called *Doctor*; lawyers insist on being treated with the respect presumed to be due to an *esquire*.

Of course, licensing is inevitably presented as something done, not to suppress competition and aid the professions in their quest for prestige and money, but to help and protect ‘the public’. The public is treated as a bunch of children, unable to look after themselves. While this may be true – that many people are gullible rubes – it’s not clear that a) lawyers and doctors are not equally likely to be gullible rubes themselves, and b) that the practice of licensing, especially when the state gets involved and is used to suppress competition, isn’t an ultimately irresistible temptation to abuse. In other words, I’m assuming doctors, lawyers, and other high-end professionals remain of the same species as the rest of us, subject to the same temptations and failings.

I expect that many, if not most, people would by now be horrified: I’m suggesting we might be better off without licensing requirements for doctors and lawyers? Am I a madman? First off, what I would suggest is separation of professions and state: the guilds can do what they want, as far as creating all sorts of merit badges and participation trophies – and the public get to decide how much weight to give them. If an individual want to only hire doctors who have all the approvals of the guild or not, or hire a certified lawyer or rather base his decision on whether or not that lawyer has a track record with the issues that made him want to hire a lawyer in the first place – OK. Newsflash: this is what people are doing anyway. On the doctor side, there are many homeopaths and chiropractors doing solid business; Whole Earth panders to those who think probiotics and organic food is going to heal them. Lawyers get hired by reputation or recommendation.

I repeat that I’m using lawyers and doctors as examples here, because they represent the most elite certified professions. This argument applies even more so to the more pointlessly certified. If you got the state out of the certification business, and instead let the guilds develop their own practices however they like but unenforced by the state, then people would be treated like grown-ups who can make up their own minds, rather than children who need to be protected from themselves.

The underlying problem here is the inversion of cause and effect: a world increasingly set up on the assumption that we need to be protected from ourselves creates children who never grow up. Before this eternal infantilization can be changed, we must stop reinforcing it. It is good to remember that people remain people – a situation no amount of certification can change. If we need protection from ourselves, so would doctors and lawyers. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Appendix (ha!) – While searching around for some materials on this topic, came across this article from Stanford:

Licensing boom: In 1950, 73 occupations required licenses in one or more states. By 1970 that number had grown to more than 500. | Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha

from the cation to a picture accompanying the article

It’s illegal to practice medicine without a license, and that piece of paper is exceedingly hard to come by. Would-be doctors face more than a decade of training and must pass rigorous board exams. Thanks to that high bar and the steep up-front ante, there are almost no quacks in American medicine today. That’s a comforting thought when you’re sick and need to see an unfamiliar physician.

So, naturally, we take it for granted that licensing requirements — now common in skilled professions, including law, architecture, and accounting — exist to protect consumers. Indeed, that’s more or less what Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Jonathan Berk assumed when he began a theoretical study of licensing and certification in the labor market.

Instead, he and coauthor Jules van Binsbergenopen in new window of the University of Pennsylvania found exactly the opposite. As they report in a new working paper, “Regulation of Charlatans in High-Skill Professions,” their model concludes that licenses enrich the incumbent providers of a service and hurt consumers — not sometimes or in certain scenarios, but every time.

Now, to be sure, if any barber could hang up a shingle and call themself a doctor, and you unwisely decided that would be a good option for hernia surgery, you might wish there’d been more stringent regulations in place. What the analysis says is that consumers as a whole are worse off under licensing — the gains to those who benefit are far outweighed by the burden on the vast majority, who don’t.

“This result was as much a surprise to me as it is to anybody,” says Berk, the A.P. Giannini Professor of Finance. “To be honest, this is not the paper we set out to write.”

  1. It’s telling that Plato, in his Academy, would filter out candidates for his highest training – training for the gold-souled, the would-be philosopher-kings – by math skills: he believed mastery of math was solid evidence of real intellect. He attempted to filter out the glib posers, in other words – who would be perfect pupils for the sophists. I’ve gotten to know a bunch of lawyers over the years; exactly 2 were good at math. Both came to law later in life – one was in fact an elite mathematician, the other an engineer who got into patent law. Others ranged from ‘not exactly terrified of math’ to ‘cringy math-phobes’. Plato might be amused. (aside: how would I come to know their level of comfort with math? See: my career.)
  2. My oldest sister, with a master’s in chemistry and a JD, and a career chasing patents for a Big Pharma company, saw her chiropractor regularly. Whether there’s anything to the theory, there’s a lot to be said for the power of human concern and human touch. Her visits with her chiropractor were one of the few regular, positive interpersonal experiences she, house-ridden with health problems, had. Unfortunately, as she was dying and we were settling the estate, we discovered he was a major shyster. But that’s another story.

Monday Flash Fiction

“Whoever defends his farmland and raises sons, wins.”

Jedidiah eyes swept across a sea of wheat shimmering in the morning sun against a backdrop of majestic purple mountains, and saw the Hand of God. Chuck, whose words made no impression on Jed, surveyed the same fields, and saw a soft target.

“We’ve cut the roads and railroads,” Chuck stated flatly. “Fuel is precious as blood. People in any numbers gonna have to walk.”

If Jed were listening, he gave no sign. “If they had any brains, they’d wait for harvest, let us do the work.” Chuck spat. “If they had any brains, we wouldn’t be watching the world burn.”

“The Sumerians built their farms and cities on the plains of the Tigris and Euphrates,” Jedidiah spoke to the air in front of him. “The nomadic Akkadians, in the neighboring hills saw, and felt envy and greed.”

“Yea, well, we’re at least a lot less exposed than that.” Chuck had insisted the fields be grown in a fertile triangular debouche backed up to a defile – less ideal for farming, but better for defending. Two of his boys were stationed along the opposing ridges of the only easy way to get in from the west, where any attackers would need to come in single file. So far so good. But facing east was only the downslope to the river; north and south the ridges petered out into the screes on the knees of hills that ran right down to the water. Certainly better than ancient Ur, where, apart from the rivers, there were no natural defenses at all.

“The Akkadians conquered in name only. They styled themselves the kingdom of Sumer and Akkad. Not something a conqueror usually does.” Jed was still looking off into the distance.

Jed’s a fine man, a hell of of farmer and even better father, based on his passel of kids, thought Chuck. When his Helen had died, he knew that he had to be there for their kids. He mourned quick and hard, and got back to work.

He was a deep thinker, never panicked, and always had good things to say. Chuck just wished he could get around to saying it a lot quicker. Best get on with the immediate concerns. Jed would say his piece in his own good time.

“Who’s going in?”

Five years earlier, after much debate, the families had planted a stand of poplars a quarter mile east of the farm. Fast growing and dense, they already looked like a small forest. Some city thugs had rafted down, seen the farm, and attacked. That’s when they’d lost Helen, and Chuck’s eldest, who’d died saving his little siblings.

On the one hand, the trees did make their little hideaway harder to see from the river. On the other, it provided potential cover for a smarter enemy. Chuck had his younger sons carefully make a daily sweep of the forest. It was dangerous, he hated sending them, but it had to be done.

Jed said nothing. “Jed, what do you think?” At evening last night, just as the light faded, one of Jed’s girls on lookout spotted the telltale curl of smoke from a campfire in the poplars a little north and toward the river.

“We go.” Nothing had happened overnight, and there was no smoke this morning. Jed and Chuck had waited for sunrise to decide what to do next. If they did a careful sweep of the forest, no adults would be left at the compound. Neither man was comfortable leaving the homestead defended by their sons, 12 and 13, and even less happy putting arms in the hands of their girls.

Their older boys, 15 and 16, needed to stay put guarding the western defile. That’s where the most serious threats had come in the past, and it wasn’t prudent to expect that had changed.

Elizabeth, Jed’s 15 year old daughter, took over the watch. Good girl, thought Chuck, who had once imagined she could have in time married his eldest son. It would have been a good match. “Our adversaries have changed.” Jed resumed as if he’d never stopped. “We had to fight our way out, then defend against mobs, then against gangs, then against thugs. Over the last 5 years, it’s been desperate stragglers.”

“Yeah, desperate stragglers who can kill you.” Chuck was still haunted by having gunned down a kid with an AK-47 3 years ago. Starving, crazy, but a live threat, that kid would have killed him and his, no doubt – he was actively trying to do so.

“For the people fleeing now, 10 years in, getting gunned down is not close to the worst they imagine could happen,” Jed continued. “We need to realize, at this point, for anyone escaping out here, being confronted by men with guns probably makes them start thinking of ways they could kill themselves.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

After comforting, instructing and arming the other children, the men headed carefully down toward the forest, shouldering a couple Mosin-Nagants they’d liberated at some cost years earlier. Jed headed north, Chuck south, intending to rendezvous where they’d seen the smoke rise.

They figured it would take 30 careful minutes to get there. If there were any threat, they’d assume positions on opposite sides and watch. It would probably be obvious at that point what needed to be done next. At least, they hoped so.

Chuck crept up and peered through the foliage. A dead campfire and a dead man lay on the ground 100 feet away. A very good bird call let him know Jed was also in position. A large man, dressed head to toe in what might have been police issue body armor, walked into the small clearing, a knife to the throat of a woman herding two small, petrified children in front of her. He was followed by a smaller man with a sidearm.

Chuck prayed he was reading this situation right, and took aim. The larger man turned the woman toward Chuck, and was forcing her to her knees. The smaller man drew his sidearm, and held his pistol against the head of the little boy, then pulled the little girl by her shoulder until their heads were aligned with the gun’s barrel.

“Two for one.” Chuck heard him say.

“Drop your weapons and back away,” Jed’s voice, unnaturally calm, rang out. The large man looked around, but kept the knife pressed to the woman’s throat. The smaller man laughed. “I got a better idea. Why don’t you drop your weapon and come on down? Maybe we can negotiate?” The woman gasped, and Chuck could see a trickle of blood on her tattered blouse.

That was enough. Chuck hoped Jed was targeting the smaller man. He let out a whistle, the sign that that things were about to get hot. A Mosin round is not much concerned with trivialities like body armor. Chuck’s shot blew a hole clean through the big man’s throat; he quickly chambered another round, but Jed had already blown the top of the smaller man’s head off.

As Jed and Chuck trotted into the clearing, the woman grabbed the large knife. She ran to her children, leading with the knife like a bayonet.

With horror, Chuck realized she intended to kill them. He was too far to get to her in time!

Jed flew out of the trees, and tackled her just as she reached her terrified children. The knife flew out of her hand. They hit the ground hard. Jed managed to kick the pistol away; Chuck gathered the weapons. The children ran for the trees.

“We’re not going to hurt you!” Jed said calmly, all but drowned out by the woman’s sobbing cries of ‘No, no, no!”

They managed, finally, to get Lydia – that is the woman’s name – and her kids back to the compound, where Elizabeth took charge, got them fed and cleaned up under the watchful eyes of two still armed boys. They buried Alfonzo – that was the dead man’s name – in the woods where he had died. They threw the bodies of the two thugs in the river.

They wiped the dirt from their hands as they stood from the grave, picked up the Mosin-Nagants and headed up to the compound. “The next step is to found a town,” Jed picked up as if the discussion had never been interrupted. “There are people need killing, but there are now going to be more people who need civilization.”

“So, we need to be Sumerians?”

“We need to build something the Akkadians would want, but be a little more cautious about it.” Jed continued, “then civilize them when they get here. Ten years in, and most people in most places have died one way or another. The remainder are either warlords and their troops – or potential allies.”

“But clueless, barbarian potential allies.”

“Right. When our boys are old enough to defend the homestead here, we need to start making a few inquiries up and down the valley. Got to be other farmers, and if they’re still around after ten years, they’ve got their defenses worked out.”

Chuck pondered for a moment. “You think it’s time to switch from defense to offense?”

“I wouldn’t put it that way, exactly. Time to start building. For our kids.”

Fun (by which we mean ‘terror’) With History

People who don’t read Scripture are missing out on a lot of good stuff, from a merely historical/political perspective. Want to know just how vile and violent people can be? It’s all there in 1 and 2 Kings and Chronicles. Consider this little bit from 2 Kings 10. Jehu was a military commander in Israel who managed to kill both Jehoram, the king of Israel and the son of Ahab and Jezebel, and Ahaziah, the king of Judah, whose mother was Jehoram’s sister Athaliah. Both of the slain kings were of the house of Ahab more or less directly, a son and grandson.

Back in Samaria, where Jehoram had reigned, there were living 70 sons of the house of Ahab. Those sons had legitimate claims on the throne and were therefore a threat to Jehu. Thus:

Now there were in Samaria seventy sons of the house of Ahab. So Jehu wrote letters and sent them to Samaria: to the officials of Jezreel, to the elders and to the guardians of Ahab’s children. He said, 2 “You have your master’s sons with you and you have chariots and horses, a fortified city and weapons. Now as soon as this letter reaches you, 3 choose the best and most worthy of your master’s sons and set him on his father’s throne. Then fight for your master’s house.”

4 But they were terrified and said, “If two kings could not resist him, how can we?”

5 So the palace administrator, the city governor, the elders and the guardians sent this message to Jehu: “We are your servants and we will do anything you say. We will not appoint anyone as king; you do whatever you think best.”

6 Then Jehu wrote them a second letter, saying, “If you are on my side and will obey me, take the heads of your master’s sons and come to me in Jezreel by this time tomorrow.”

Now the royal princes, seventy of them, were with the leading men of the city, who were rearing them. 7 When the letter arrived, these men took the princes and slaughtered all seventy of them. They put their heads in baskets and sent them to Jehu in Jezreel. 8 When the messenger arrived, he told Jehu, “They have brought the heads of the princes.”

Then Jehu ordered, “Put them in two piles at the entrance of the city gate until morning.”

9 The next morning Jehu went out. He stood before all the people and said, “You are innocent. It was I who conspired against my master and killed him, but who killed all these? 10 Know, then, that not a word the Lord has spoken against the house of Ahab will fail. The Lord has done what he announced through his servant Elijah.” 11 So Jehu killed everyone in Jezreel who remained of the house of Ahab, as well as all his chief men, his close friends and his priests, leaving him no survivor.

2 Kings 10: 1-11

See the little trick there? Scholars say the double meaning in English is also present in Hebrew: the ‘heads’ of the sons could be the men in charge of their upbringing; the leaders who received the letters interpreted Jehu’s demand more literally. The ambiguity allowed him to disavow having ordered the murders of all these sons, many of whom would have to have been children, ‘Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?’ style.

But, of course, that’s what he really meant. He didn’t need a conversation with the men raising those kids – he needed those boys dead. He then follows up by having all those men killed – the sons would have been being raised by ‘all his (Ahab’s) chief men, his close friends and his priests.’ New king with shaky claims to the throne? Everybody associated with the previous regime gets to die.

And it hardly stops there: Athaliah, mother of the late king Ahaziah, Ahab’s daughter and Jehu’s sister, now finds herself in an awkward position in Judah: she’s the Queen Mother of a dead king; everyone of her house in Samaria has been murdered; Jehu would likely want her dead as well. If one of her grandsons – the logical heirs – were to ascend to the throne of Judah, they might kill her off as a gesture of good-will toward Jehu, who has an army. Worse, her own family in Judah has some claim to the throne of Israel, being descendants of the legitimate king Ahab. Jehu might attack Judah and kill them all off just to keep things tidy.

So, you’re the mom or grandmother of a bunch of children, whose very existence puts you in a precarious life or death situation. What do you do?

Kill them all, of course:

11 When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she proceeded to destroy the whole royal family.

2 Kings 11:1

But she missed some:

But Jehosheba, the daughter of King Jehoram and sister of Ahaziah, took Joash son of Ahaziah and stole him away from among the royal princes, who were about to be murdered. She put him and his nurse in a bedroom to hide him from Athaliah; so he was not killed. 3 He remained hidden with his nurse at the temple of the Lord for six years while Athaliah ruled the land.

2 Kings 11:2-3
“Joash is rescued by his aunt Jehosheba”, print by Harmen Jansz Muller, c. 1565–69; the pair are visible at far left – By Rijksmuseum – http://hdl.handle.net/10934/RM0001.collect.156988, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=84868815

Joash was an infant when his aunt Jehosheba hid him away. Jehosheba happened to be the wife of the priest Jehoiada, which made hiding Joash in the temple more convenient, I suppose.

Of course, after hiding him for six years, the priests along with the temple guard present him as king – and Athaliah gets dragged from the temple and executed. Thus, the Lord’s vengeance (conveniently aligned here with Machiavellian political expediency) is brought to completion: the house of Ahab is destroyed (with the exception, one supposes, of Jehosheba). Also, the line of David, present in Joash through his father, survives.

There’s a lot more political murder and mayhem in Israel and Judah during the time of the two kingdoms – 1 and 2 Kings and Chronicles are full of intrigue and assassinations. When history is conceived of as the deeds of great men, it is mostly a lot of political murder and mayhem, everywhere from China to Aztec Mexico, and everywhen from as long as records exist.

We are not like this, no sir! We’re moderns. Ever since the French Revolution, we have improved from murdering all real and potential rivals and putting conquered cities under the ban to rounding up and executing millions of our fellow citizens or starving them to death. Jehu and Athaliah are total pikers, squeamish little girls, compared to Stalin and Mao. Hell, the H-Man himself is not really in the running for G.O.A.T in the ‘murdering you own citizens/subjects’ H.O.F.

The point, if any: don’t ever underestimate the level of violence and horror power-hungry people will be willing to commit, if that’s what it takes to hold onto power. Don’t project your own hesitancy or quaint morality onto the kind of ambitious men who rise to power.

The minor tragedy here: Athaliah is a pretty name! Yet, where outside a Melville novel would anyone dare name somebody that?

A Few Threads

Returning to a topic discussed previously:

The unexamined acceptance of the inevitability of Progress as an obvious unassailable fact is under discussion at Rotten Chestnuts. Starting with the Enlightenment, the notion that Change, in the form of Progress, is, so to speak, the only constant, took over polite society. So understood, Progress is not, in any rational sense, a conclusion. Progress can only be a framing devise, a filter, a way to pre-process information.

It might seem odd that an age that produced wave after wave of increasingly insane skepticism about just about everything would accept and vigorously promote as obvious the notion that Progress is a positive force governing Human Development through History. Descartes claims to doubt everything except his own existence; Hume claims to doubt cause and effect; Kant throws out the entire idea anyone can know anything about objective reality (although he says he doesn’t – he says a lot of contradictory things); Fichte simply states that all reality is subjective; Hegel denies the law of non-contradiction and all logic while claiming to be ‘scientific’.

John C. Wright speaks of how unserious philosophy became starting with the Enlightenment. A Socrates might die for his philosophy; a St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that it is in fact necessary to be willing to die for a correct philosophy. Hume famously decides to go shoot some billiards when it all becomes too much. How would anyone from Descartes on know that dying for one’s philosophy is a good thing? Severian has a page dedicated to the worst argument in the world, of which there are many variation sharing the same skeleton. This argument boils down to: we cannot know anything about things in themselves.

Yet we are to assume universal Progress, except insofar as reactionaries of one flavor or another have temporarily turned back the clock on the wrong side of History.

Here’s the thing: the only area where it can be confidently asserted that humanity has steadily progressed over the last, say, 1,000 years, is technology. Technology is undoubtedly better today than it was 10 years ago; it was better 10 years ago than it was 20 years ago; and so on, back to maybe 900 AD in the West.

Everything else? People can and have made arguments in favor of these following examples, but – clear? Beyond dispute?

  • Government “progressed” from a peak of some semblance of liberal democracy to – Pol Pot? Stalin? Mao? That’s progress?
  • Art “progressed” from Rafael to Pollock? Let alone a crucifix in a jar of urine?
  • Architecture “progressed” from Gothic to Brutalism?

And so on. Sure, there are reasonable people who will argue that Van Gogh is an improvement on Bouguereau, but they’re basically arguing on taste alone. On every technical and aesthetic basis, Bouguereau is the superior artist (and I love Van Gogh!). There are people- damaged, sad people, for the most part – who will and have argued that Brutalist architecture is superior to Gothic. There is no aesthetic of technical basis for such a claim. Rather, it seems that Progress, acting as filter, simply demands that the products of modern minds is definitionally better than the products of less progressive minds.

So, one might imagine the great Enlightenment philosophies start with technology as the basis for their claims. There is quite a bit of that early on, as where Francis Bacon says:

I am come in very truth leading to you Nature with all her children to bind her to your service and make her your slave. … [S]o may I succeed in my only earthly wish, namely to stretch the deplorably narrow limits of man’s dominion over the universe to their promised bounds.

Francis Bacon, The Masculine Birth of Time, ch. 1. (from Mike Flynn’s essay on the Masque of Science, which you all would be better off reading instead of this post.)

Bacon wants to put science -materialist science as he understood it – in the driver’s seat for pretty much all human activities. The distinction we sometimes make between science and technology seems less clear here. Nature was something to be conquered and put to use by man. In this sense, science – the study of nature in order to understand it – and technology – using that scientific knowledge to conquer and control nature – are separate only in concept: for Bacon, it would be pointless to talk of one independent of the other.

So: Bacon saw himself and other natural philosophers (scientists) as clearly progressing from his (weird caricature?) of Aristotle to the starting line of modern science. Bacon saw his efforts as the beginning of the true program of science – understanding nature so as to control it – with nothing but Progress from there on out indefinitely.

And progress was made – eventually. Bacon lived in the late 16th and early 17th century. Life expectancy in England was around 35 (high infant and young people mortality) in 1600. As a result of the Bacon-lead scientific and technological revolution, life expectancy shot all the way up to around 40 – after a mere 200 years. (The population in England in 1600 is estimated to have been about 85% of what it had been during the high middle ages 250 years earlier, before plague, famine, and increasing political unrest cut in by around 60%. It nearly doubled from 1600 to 1800, to about 50% larger than it had been in 1290.)

Maybe this conquest of Nature thing and all the improvements to human life that would follow upon it wasn’t so obvious to the little people? Who seemed to be dying as readily as before, up until the late 1700s, at any rate? But it was very striking to the better off, who could not get over it. Still can’t. Of course, technological progress kicked in like crazy once the 19th century got going, and life expectancies began to rise, to around 50 by 1900 to around 80 by 2000. That’s progress anyone who prefers not to be dead can readily see.

Our self-appointed betters seemed to have extrapolated from technological improvements, and made the categorical error of thinking that the obvious progress in technology proved that other fields, such as politics and philosophy, must also have made similar progress. Hegel, who lived from 1770 to 1831, in what was at the time the most technologically advanced culture on earth, went to far as to write a book telling us that logic, as that term was understood by everyone else, had failed to progress and was therefore clearly insufficient. Logic had remained essentially unchanged since Aristotle, unlike all other fields (besides basic arithmetic and geometry, ethics, and writing – he doesn’t mention those, IIRC) and therefore, by that fact alone, was no longer valid.

Savor this: classic Aristotelian logic, the application of which was at the core of all the scientific and technological progress made since Bacon, needed to be rejected – OK, suspended in a dialectical synthesis, which, practically, means rejected – because, and solely because, it had not changed in 2500 years. The only unalloyed and inescapable support for the notion of Progress – technology – is to be rejected – in the name of Progress.

Hegel was aware that all technology and science depended on exactly the logic he had just discarded. He graciously allows that old-timey logic might be important and useful to the little people – mathematicians, scientists, technologists – but was certainly nothing a *real * philosopher need concern himself with. Law of non-contradiction? Out! Logical arguments? Beneath a real philosopher’s dignity. Only the calculated incoherence of Hegel and those wise and enlightened souls who, naturally, agreed with Hegel, need be considered.

From this it falls, naturally, that 2+2 can indeed equal 5, if such is required by *real* philosophers like Hegel. Motte and Baily. Progress is obvious to everyone! You doubt our latest developments in Critical Theory mark the inexorable march of Progress? What? You want to go back to living in the Dark Ages, you moron?

Thus, a priori, any information that might cast a shadow on the notion that we all live right now in the Best of All Possible Worlds, until dawn tomorrow reveals and even better best, is right out. Only a reactionary Luddite would dare mention how all this Progress has some downsides, how it might even lead to something undesirable. Even worse are those (me, I hope) who reject and mock the very idea that Progress stands athwart the modern world, no feet of clay anywhere to be seen!

Enough!

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.