A Further Thought on Politics & History

Yesterday’s post got off leash and wandered, going places I didn’t start out intending to go. Nothing wrong with that, or, rather, nothing wrong with it that isn’t also wrong with about 95% of the content on this here blog. That said, let’s take up the theme again, see where it goes this time.

I posited that there are two consistent themes in America’s political history, one of which believes that all problems can be solved if the right people – good, forward-thinking people – have overwhelming power. The power is required to be overwhelming, as there exist Bad People who must be overwhelmed. In fact, the problem definition of those who embrace this line of thought always, as in, always, contains the idea that it is only bad people who oppose them, that good people would never dream of opposing them.

Thus, we have a dichotomy: the rhetoric used by such people will always be about justice, fairness, the little people, and how their goals would be simply achievable, inevitable, even, except for the bad people who lie, bully and obfuscate in order to stop them. The rhetoric is ultimately moral; with all morality on the side of those on the team, and complete immorality the defining characteristic of the opposition.

But: the concrete actions proposed are always, as in always, a power grab; the methods are almost without exception immoral by any objective measure. The likes of Dewey and Alinsky even acknowledge this when they denounce any who would hesitate to lie, manipulate or do any other evil to further the cause. Freire, among others, makes it clear that there are no rights except those gained by commitment to the Cause. While life and property are the obvious targets – we kill you and take your stuff  being the logically inevitable next step of these self-appointed messiahs – the right one might imagine one has to be told the truth is, in practice, the first victim of effort. As Dewey, taking a break from re-architecting our modern school system, said in his defense of the Russian Revolution, the end is all that matters; the collective means everything, the individual nothing.

As, I think, Zinn, of all people, points out: the Puritans fled relative religious freedom in England and Europe in order to establish their own theocracy in America. Be that as it may, the founders of Harvard were graduates and professors from Cambridge miffed that that hoary institution wasn’t Puritan enough, but still tolerated less pure and Puritan ideas. So off to America they go, to set up a proper Calvinist state. Per Wikipedia’s article on Harvard: 

A 1643 publication gave the school’s purpose as “to advance learning and perpetuate it to posterity, dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches when our present ministers shall lie in the dust”; in its early years trained many Puritan ministers. It offered a classic curriculum on the English university model‍—‌many leaders in the colony had attended the University of Cambridge‍—‌but conformed to the tenets of Puritanism. It was never affiliated with any particular denomination, but many of its earliest graduates went on to become clergymen in Congregational and Unitarian churches.

The ‘never affiliated with any particular denomination’ is an odd claim – when the stated goal is to provide replacements for ‘our present ministers’ and the state is an arm of the Church, as it most certainly was in colonial Boston, what would ‘never affiliated’ mean? Also, one might get the impression from the way the above is worded that Congregational and Unitarian ministers were trained together at Harvard in a lovely gesture of ecumenism. What actually happened was that around 1800, a battle raged between the ‘almost certainly damned and there’s nothing you can do about it’ Calvinist Congregationalist and the ‘we’re all saved and there’s no way for us not to be’ Univeralists, which was ultimately won by the Universalists. Because Universalists, in the words of Kurt Vonnegut, don’t really believe anything, Harvard quickly fell to the secularists. (1)

The point here is that, while what has proved to be the superficial aspects of religion have been shed, the core belief that, if only they were in charge, the leaders of the Harvard community would bring about some sort of paradise on earth has persisted unabated, and, having shed the restraints of even Calvinist Christianity, is even more hell-bent on the destruction of its enemies.

While really truly Calvinist Puritans despised all other beliefs, believing Methodists, for example, almost certainly damned, they shared with other Protestants a particular hatred of Catholicism. They (we) were the real enemy, the Church the whore of Babylon. Over the last century or so, many ‘good’ Catholics have fallen under the sway of Harvard, and will, as the price of sitting at the cool kid’s table, embrace the project.

Of course, not everyone gets to go to Harvard. But there are workarounds. Early in the 19th century, Harvard ditched its ‘classic curriculum on the English university model‍’ and refashioned itself into a research or Prussian-model University, after the then-new University of Berlin. In the 18th century, various president and scholars at Harvard had prided themselves on their mastery of Latin and the classics; commencement speeches were delivered in Latin. But this began to pass away, as Harvard lost its religious drive and replaced it with the Prussian model’s research drive. It became much more important to discover new things, to advance mankind, than to pass on old things such as Latin and the classics.

As the oldest and most successful University in America, and as the source of key faculty and administration to other American colleges, Harvard was the model to follow. Publish or perish. Get in line with Progress. We are centuries smarter than those old guys anyway.

Everybody learns this wherever they go to school in America. (2)

The dominant position of this take has made assuming those who do not share it are ignorant, stupid and evil as easy as falling down for those who accept it. You, the true believer, owe them nothing but contempt. Following Marx, you would assume there is practically no chance you can awaken them to the enlightened truth, although, out of the goodness of your heart you might try. That’s how it happens that we who disagree get lectured on what we believe by those hoping to convince us, and dismissed with ad hominems when we push back. You either get it and are woke, or you don’t and are broke beyond repair.

The other thread mentioned yesterday, the one championed by Washington and the writers of the Federalist Papers, is the ferocious commitment to being free from tyrants of any flavor. To such a one, the most pathetic belief possible is that today’s wannabe tyrant, arriving in the fullness of time and one the Right Side of History, cares, really cares, about Justice, Fairness and all that is good, and will only inflict the degree of harm on our enemies that is necessary to achieve the Good.

Having seen the world operate under tyrants, under Central Committees and Committees for Public Safety and Five Year Plans, having read about Athens and Florence and Paris and the whiplash of mob rule to tyranny to aristocracy and back, and all the innocents destroyed and all the wealth robbed and wasted, we aren’t buying that now, finally, it will work of only we put a nice man like Bernie in charge. He’ll only seize the wealth of those who have too much (presumably more than three houses and a net worth of a couple million, but I’m sure that’s flexible…) and give it to those who deserve it!

What could go wrong? We, the Enlightened, the Woke, simply won’t repeat the results of EVERY OTHER ATTEMPT THROUGH ALL OF HISTORY to anoint a secular savior. We just won’t, and you’re a meanie, an unenlightened bad  person to even bring it up.

Is it any wonder the Bern wants college for everyone?

  1. I’ve long noticed something I call the Christian Hangover, where those who have drunk deeply of Christian ideals typically stay drunk on them for a generation or even two, all the while claiming their behaviors are not based on Christianity. Thus, we often see rabid atheists, at least for the first generation or even two, behaving more or less like traditional Christian gentlemen. It falls to their children or sometimes grandchildren to reach the logical conclusion that gentlemanly behavior is stupid under their current beliefs. This is why it is a good thing atheists have so few children. Harvard kept up appearances until almost 1900. It went from demanding traditional moral behavior from its staff – a manifestation of its internalized Puritanism – to tolerating bad behavior if you kept it quiet, to tolerating bad behavior out in the open to, today, demanding the enthusiastic embrace of immorality as a condition of employment. Increase Mather’s corpse is doing about 1,000 RPMs.
  2. With, one hopes, the exception of the Newman List schools and some of the committed Evangelical schools. And maybe St. John’s College.
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A Brief Thought on Politics & History

Now, I know hardly enough of either subject mentioned above for my opinions here to carry much weight, so I will be receptive to correction by any who know better: Onward!

Two political opinions, let us call them, have existed side by side in America from colonial days, that continue to war with each other. The first, represented by Washington and the Federalist Papers, is the idea that no man can be trusted with unlimited power, that even when a happy accident blesses us with a Charlemagne or a Theodosius, say, he will sooner rather than later be followed by a more typical French king or an Honorius.

This state, where huge amounts of power are held by an unworthy man, is called tyranny or perhaps chaos, and is to be avoided. The best way to avoid it is to never entrust overwhelming power to any man. This is *the* lesson of history in the eyes of the Founders.

The second, a sign of intellectual development arrested during adolescence, is the belief that I could make everything better, if only I had enough power. Since most of us are too lazy to do anything at all to gather ‘enough power’, those in thrall to this belief most often identify someone seeking power who they think shares their goals, and wish him to have ‘enough’ power. They never imagine how this could go wrong, or, rather, they care SO MUCH for fixing the current problem, whatever it is, that all other issues are so much dust in comparison. Only a doody-head would even bring them up!

These attitudes are nothing new here in America. The second, for example, reveals itself in the lyrics of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, where the question of how best to free the slaves is subsumed under pure religious righteousness. It’s God’s work to go to war; anything less is, by unavoidable implication, the work of the devil. If only we had enough power, in this case an army, we could fix everything! No consideration for what would happen next is allowed to rise to mind.

Leading up to the Civil War, many people who fervently hated slavery nonetheless had practical doubts about the wisdom and ultimate efficacy of waging war to do so. They could point to successful efforts to free slaves and outlaw slavery well short of war all across the Western Hemisphere and Europe. Slavery is bad, but then so also is war, so maybe other options should be considered? They thought the strict Abolitionists were foolish and dangerous, that once a war started no one could say how it would end, and they refused to give any thought to the next steps even if the war was won. (Of course, this is a summary. Things never divide this neatly, but there were certainly plenty of people at the extremes.)

Once the bullets started flying, four score and 7 years of pent up fury was unleashed, until, as Lincoln said, “every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.” (I think one factor motivating non-belief these days is the thought, deep down, that divine justice on the evils of this age would put even the Civil War’s carnage to shame. This thought must be suppressed. But I digress.)

We have one group of people, of which I count myself a junior member, who think history mainly a cautionary tale, or, rather, one cautionary tale after another, the point of which would be something along the lines of: trust not in princes. We see no evidence of a Capital H History moving dialectically ever forward. Not squinting, not with the rosiest of glasses. All there is is people being people. There’s plenty of beauty in there, but it hard won, and only raises its head above the waves of horror and misery when hard men make great sacrifices.

Great sacrifices have been made. Saints and heroes large and small have gotten us here, today. Our heads are just above the water still.

The other major thread believes that things not only can be fixed, they can be fixed by trying things that were ancient when the ancient Greek cities tried them and fell back into tyranny. History shows that while the strong man’s promises to use his power to kill the enemies and institute a paradise of fairness, the power grab and killing is as far as this sort of action ever gets. The only newish trick, the trick decried by Orwell: putting power into the hands of a dictator, and all his subsequent unilateral self-serving actions are called ‘democratic’; the farcically unexamined dogma imposed to justify this is called ‘scientific’.

And so on.

Years ago, realized that the victims of Marxist fantasies both overt and subtle have, with few exceptions, never heard a real counterargument. They haven’t so much been convinced as conditioned to be unable to imagine any alternatives. That’s the benefit of controlling the schools. The teachers and professors, more or less consciously as the case may be, spout dogmas as simple facts. Years of careful training in regurgitating what the teacher says in order to get the good grades and the other pats on the head schools hand out virtually guarantees that students thus educated will be simply baffled by any arguments or facts that somehow make it past the defenses. Mostly, the reactions are Pavlovian. I’ve seen this in college professors – I’ve seen it especially in college professors.

The only point here, and I think it’s one Trump, for all his bluster, gets: there is no point in arguing with such people, especially once they formed a mob. Individually, maybe, sometimes. But as a member in a reinforcing group, where the threat of losing standing is real and executed with remarkable alacrity, nothing you say will matter. History won’t matter. Facts won’t matter. Only the beauty of the promised paradise and the conclusively presumed evil of any who do not share the vision matter.

And through it all, they will call themselves open minded, educated and reasonable for shouting down all contrary opinions and wishing death on those propound them. It is a truly remarkable thing to behold.

Well, it’s not as bad as all that, really. But this post has gone on long enough.

 

Friday Roundup

Contrary to the above title, I will not be deploying a chemical solution to the weeds of the Internet, but rather plucking a few flowers:

First, David Warren talks about the history of health and medical care. He is the son of a mother who spent her career in healthcare, and so has perhaps a different perspective than most. Much of what he says is news to me: that the adoption of anesthetics, which make life easier on the doctor, was all but instantaneous across the Western world once demonstrated in Boston in 1846, but that the effectiveness of sterile surgery in preventing infections and increasing patient survival chances was demonstrated in 1865 in Glasgow – but was not universally adopted until well into the 20th century – soldiers by the thousands were dying of easily preventable infections in WWI, half a century after it had demonstrated that such deaths were easily preventable. If you sedate patients, you can more easily perform surgery and people will more easily submit to it (that anyone submitted to significant surgery without being anesthetized is frankly amazing) – and that’s good for business. But someone with a bullet wound is in no condition to complain about filthy conditions in your operating room. He’ll be in no condition to complain about much of anything soon enough, most likely.

His point is that what history shows is that doctors are all over changes that make their lives easier, and less ready to adopt changes that impose work on them – while simple enough, it is a lot of work to keep things sterile – even when it benefits the patients greatly. I think it’s fair to say Warren isn’t picking on doctors uniquely here, but rather pointing out how things work among us fallen people.

Image result for surgery
Hardworking, dedicated people. But people, nonetheless, subject to the same foibles and temptations as anyone else.

One of his main points is also one of my main points, made occasionally here: you want to improve people’s health? Sanitation and clean water get you most of the benefits. The formula I usually use: Sanitation, clean water, plenty of calories on a regular basis and political stability.  These cover by far the lion’s share of the improvement in life expectancy that the modern world has experienced.

Then, for medicine, it’s the cheap basic stuff that provides almost all of the benefits: antibiotics, vaccines, and a sterile environment for medical care. Now, I am personally very grateful for some of the more fancy stuff – blood pressure meds, various straight-forward surgeries, and – very big one, this – modern dental care (people died from infections around impacted teeth and dental abscesses, or had their health greatly compromised).

I’ve now made it to 60, which means, historically, I’m playing with house money from here on out.  Life expectancy for an American male in 1900 was 49. While there are many cases like me, of people whose comparative longevity and vigor have resulted from some more advanced medical care, the overall increase is due almost entirely to simple, cheap, proven practices.

Lots more good stuff in that essay – you’d do better reading it than hanging out here, that’s for sure.

Next, some Feynman quotations, in honor of his 100th birthday (he didn’t make it to the celebration). These are not my personal favorites, except for these:

2. “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.”

As Feynman said in The Character of Physical Law, many people understand other sophisticated physical theories, including Einstein’s relativity. But quantum mechanics resists an equivalent depth of understanding. Some disagree, proclaiming that they understand quantum mechanics perfectly well. But their understanding disagrees with the supposed understanding of others, equally knowledgeable. Perhaps Feynman’s sentiment might better be expressed by saying that anyone who claims to understand quantum mechanics, doesn’t.

I find this comforting, somehow, as I certainly don’t understand it. Also, it illustrates something that would fall out from the assumption that the mind – oops, the brain, which is assumed to be the mind and not merely the organ of the mind – resulted from Natural Selection: we would not expect anything in nature that falls outside the realm of things that affect our survival chances to be understandable by a brain designed by exactly those things which affect our survival chances. Quantum mechanics cannot have had any role in our ancestors’ environment of evolutionary adaptation. They did not shape spears or hunt warthogs better based on their understanding of Heisenberg, with those with a better understanding somehow, all other things being equal, killing more warthogs.

The more interesting question: how is it, under Natural Selection, that anybody cares about quantum mechanics at all? Or about any of the other millions of things humans have been interested in, obsessed over, even, that have no effect on our survival chances? I think the claim that, somehow, understanding quantum mechanics, however imperfectly, or art or music or philosophy and so on falls out from evolutionary theory should be accompanied by evidence that masters of such fields have comparatively many and vigorous children. Otherwise, it is a just so story in the face of contrary evidence.

Natural Selection, while beautiful in its way, cannot be the whole story.

1. “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.”

The best Feynman quote of all (from a 1974 address), and the best advice to scientists and anybody else who seeks the truth about the world. The truth may not be what you’d like it to be, or what would be best for you, or what your preconceived philosophy tells you that it is. Unless you recognize how easily you can be fooled, you will be.

This idea is unknown to most people, it seems, and applied to others first by most who do know it – that guy over there is fooling himself. Rare is the man who consistently applies this to himself first. I aspire to this, but it is hard.

Next, on Twitter, which I use to publicize posts here and follow writers, Catholics, scientists and the various combinations of those traits the real world provides, I’m conducting a whimsical experiment. 20 years ago, I wrote a bunch of jokes for a defunct humor list. No money involved, mostly just the honor of amusing the other writers. While obviously I’m not great at it – I’m working a desk job, and have been for almost 40 years now – I did make the honorary Hall of Fame and have a small pile of fan letters from readers. So, no great shakes, but not totally worthless either.

So I’ve taken to posting a recycled joke or 2 each day, to see what happens. Note: I think I understand Twitter about as well as I understand quantum mechanics. ‘Impressions’ is twitterese for eyeballs (well, eyeballs divided by roughly 2) in front of which pass your tweet. I have a bit over 200 ‘followers’ who, if they all checked their feed every day, should result in about 200 ‘impressions’ per tweet as a baseline.

Some followers are just people trying to sell stuff – they come and go, and at any rate are not checking their twitter feeds every day. The reality is that I’ll get around 100 ‘impressions’ for just some random tweet.  But if people ‘like’ or better ‘retweet’ a tweet of mine, I’ll get well over 100, since the tweet is now exposed to the eyeballs on the likers or retweeters tweets.

Clear?

Once, I tweeted some insults at Carl Sagan, Bill Nye and that Tyson fellow. These resulted in over 100,000 impressions a day for a few days. People took sides, tempers flared, people insulted me back. Good times. Otherwise, I’ll post from 0 to 2 tweets and get 250 impressions on a typical day.  Days go by without me tweeting or even looking. I really have no idea what to make of Twitter.

Anyway, back to my research. What I’ve discovered: using ‘impressions’ as a surrogate for ‘funny’, I have no idea what other people think is funny.  What I mean: if people ‘like’ and retweet a joke, more eyeballs hit it. If they don’t, fewer. So the number of eyeballs could be a measure of how funny a joke is. Maybe. It’s a stretch, but – maybe.

Back when I was writing these jokes, this one, that I tossed off as a ‘meh’ joke, was my most admired quip based on largely anecdotal evidence, for reasons that escape me:

People often wonder what it is that makes the Beatles so great. I think it is probably their songs.

That got a fairly decent response on Twitter. I have no idea why. I’ve only been doing this for a week, but so far, my ‘best’ joke by far based on Twitter metrics is:

The tiny fish gets eaten by the little fish, which gets eaten by the big fish, which gets eaten by the bigger fish, which gets put into a can and fed to my cat.  Personally, I’m holding off marveling at the grandeur of Nature at least until the cat can use the can opener.

Ok, I guess. Over 700 sets of eyeballs have seen this in the couple hours since I threw it up there.

For comparison, here are two of my favorites that still crack me up, in the form of headlines – haven’t tweeted them yet:

Child Development Center Releases Prototype

and

Phlogiston Blamed in Antique Shop Fire

My understanding of humor is, um, idiosyncratic? Is that too nice a way to put it?

 

 

Data

(30 seconds of web searching didn’t uncover one of my favorite cartoons – a solid, no-nonsense business man at his desk, reading a magazine titled “Raw Data”. So you’ll just have to imagine it.)

Two items drifted across my computer screen recently brought to our attention by author and inventor Hans Schantz:

First off, a way-cool map

This is a way-cool map, but brought up a few questions. I responded:

Fascinating. Does this show that Europeans are much better at keeping track of their battles, engage in more formal battles, some combination, or what?

He didn’t know. I didn’t see this information on the map’s web page, but I didn’t really search hard, either. And:

Big picture data collection/validation problems are often ignored. e.g., what’s a battle? 10 guys throwing rock? 20? How about spears? Is a siege a battle? How about an invasion, with little resistance? All those Italian Renaissance ‘battles’ w/ mercenaries & few/no casualties?

A few other considerations: 10 guys throwing rocks might, indeed, be a battle if we’re talking Irish villages of 1,500 years ago or conflicts between hunter-gatherer tribes, while a hundred men with machine guns slugging it out on the periphery of major battle lines might not even qualify as a footnote. Was the bombing of Nagasaki a battle? Why or why not? And so on.

I dig a good map as much as anyone, and admire clever representations of data. But, alas! experience has taught me the sad truth: few, if any, popular maps/data representations are worth the electronic media they are encoded in. This map says, at a glance, that Europeans have many more recorded battles than anybody else. One is sore tempted to think, therefore, Europeans are just that much more violent than other peoples.

Well? Does the map actually say that? We can’t tell without a boatload more information. We do know that, in general, Europeans (and Southwest Asians and Egyptians) were very much into written (and engraved – you get the picture) records than most other cultures at most other times.

Next, this movie of the sun at various wavelengths and enhanced various ways.

Really beautiful stuff, and glorious to see the coronal mass ejections and the magnetic field lines.

But, obviously, we, meaning actual human beings, are not ‘seeing’ any of this directly. All the images of the sun are heavily filtered and enhanced to give us these views. This is true not only here, where simply looking at the sun would blind us, but also for all those glorious Hubble pictures and the fly-by images we get of the planets and other objects in the solar system.

This is a different kind of data problem: we’re trusting that the technicians that worked on this are trying to show us what’s there, in a way. What’s there is, strictly speaking, mostly invisible to us – too bright, too dim, not enough contrast, and so on. I trust the technicians are trying merely to give us the most beautiful and informative pictures they can, mostly because that serves both their mission and their interests. Not so much on the battles map, because it could be used to serve a popular political position. Not saying the map makers are necessarily doing that, just that is very easily could be done. Examples of just such underhanded dishonesty are unfortunately legion.

Data points get made into facts, as Mike Flynn often points out, via the assumptions and theories that surround their collection and presentation. No great landmines in these two examples, but even here it bears keeping in mind.

Currently Reading:

Polanyi, The Great Transformation. According to a friend, this book figures into Deenan’s Why Liberalism Failed, and, since it is available free online, I started there. Will get to Deenan later, I hope.

50 pages of 375 in snapshot: after reading the forward by Joseph Stiglitz and the introduction by Fred Block, and the first chapter or so, had to google who this Karl Polanyi and these dudes were. Stiglitz is a New Keynesian economist with all the awards and sheepskins; Block is a prominent sociologist.

Keynes was the official economist of the Fabian movement – he was General-Secretary and later president of the Royal Economic Society, which was founded by Fabians to promote their communist views. As a New Keynesian, Stiglitz is one of a long line of Fabian economists, and part of the effort to salvage Keynes from the unfortunate (in the eyes of Marxists) success of the modern world in reducing violence and poverty to previously unimaginable levels. More people live safer, more secure and affluent lives now than ever before in history, and the trends are all good – so, who needs socialism, let alone communism? So New Keynesians focus on what, in the big picture, are blips in the overall trends, and ignore the overall story of success. (1)

Reminder: this is the original Fabian Society coat of arm: a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Fabians are nothing other than Communists, except even more devoted to lies and deception, if that’s possible.

Keep in mind that while Marx was infatuated with economics and legendarily whiled away several years doing research in the British Museum Reading Room, he’s also notorious for his extraordinarily weak grasp of the actual economic activity of the world he lived in, as well as for his use of nonsensical footnotes and references. (2) He established a tradition, in other words.

Block is a Critical Theorist, as are all prominent Sociologists, although it is customary to portray their devotion to Marx as merely one influence among others and a prompt to acting as gadflies against other, more ossified and less Progressive theories. (See: my theory of filters – once the heirs of the Fabians get control of a university department, they can then filter out the non pliable, let alone any outright opponents. After a couple generations, harmony is achieved. This harmony is achieved at the cost of honesty and academic freedom, which, following Gobels and Alansky, is what those enforcing that harmony claim their opponents are attacking. This would be amusing if it weren’t true.) Critical Theory is Marxism as manifested in academia. Take a gander at the home page of the American Sociological Association, and judge for yourself what they’re up to.

Stiglitz and Block are of course effusive in their praise of Polanyi.

Polanyi was also a Fabian, but is said to have a ‘complex’ relationship with Marxism, which, translated into English, means he did not find it expedient to tout his Marxism always and everywhere. His wife Ilona Duczynska worked in the propaganda department of the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs and she was a member of the Budapest Central Revolutionary Worker and Soldier Council. So I think we can assume Polanyi had a high degree of sympathy, at least, with revolutionary ideas.

Anticipating a completely predictable read in at least this sense: anything bad or less than perfect that happens where free markets reign will be presented as proof of the conceptual failure of Capitalism; any failures under socialism, up to and including mass murder, will, if acknowledged at all, be attributed to human failings of one sort of another. Further, ‘democratic’ will be used to mean ‘rule by the enlightened few who, as communists, believe they have the right and duty to do whatever they want to the demos in the name of achieving the glorious future.’ This is the sense in which Stalin and Che were men of the people, not despite, but especially when murdering unarmed men, women and children. (3)  History proves socialism correct provided you assume your conclusion as the sole acceptable lens through which history may be viewed.

In the first 50 pages, that’s what I got. Also, there’s the heartfelt sympathy for those poor little people who suffer under the vagaries of free markets that is somehow not present at all for those who suffer under socialism. The theory is pure and correct, after all, so such suffering under socialism cannot be caused by it, while free markets are evil, so that any suffering, no matter how temporal or complicated it causes, no matter how much a blip on an otherwise very hopeful trend, proves that free markets must be snuffed out (along with, as history has shown, any *people* who do not sufficiently hate them. But that’s the small ‘h’ history where people do and suffer things, not the capital ‘H’ History that drives Progress.)

Will review when completed.

 

  1. Marx is said to have been revolutionary in his insistence on viewing economic activity as a whole, taking, one might say, a macro view of microeconomics. History is marching forward – what the little people actually do can only be understood as results or even side effects of this march of Progress. New Keynesians are, according to Wikipedia, involved in using microeconomics to prop up Keynes against the persistent claim that his analysis and policies make no sense, and, specifically, that history over the last 50 years or so has shown doesn’t, you know, work. The irony amuses me.
  2. I’ve heard this ‘Marx’s footnote and references are nonsense’ comment from a couple of sources that I now cannot of course find; I myself will never live long enough to actually look up the copious footnotes in Capital. I long for someone to write a book on Marx’s footnotes – that, I’d try to read.
  3. It’s no accident Fabians were huge proponents of eugenics. especially via the sterilization of the less fit (and one guess who would be defined as ‘less fit’ if they ever gained power).

AGAINST GREAT BOOKS

An essay with the title above by Patrick Deenan came out a few years back, I saw it earlier this year and wanted to comment, but that abortive attempt became draft #103 moldering in my drafts folder. So, let’s do this now.

Deenan begins by restating arguments that Great Books are the core of any liberal education worthy of the name, but then casts doubts on that claim:

I have long sympathized with these arguments, but in recent years I have come to suspect that the very source of the decline of the study of the great books comes not in spite of the lessons of the great books, but is to be found in the very arguments within a number of the great books. The broader assault on the liberal arts derives much of its intellectual fuel from a number of the great books themselves.

Thus, those who insist upon an education in the great books end up recommending texts and arguments that undermine their own beliefs in the central importance of liberal arts education.

Certainly, from Descartes on, the philosophy in the Great Books consciously and actively discounts and dismisses everything that came before. The Reformers believed – correctly, in my view – that Aristotle, through the mediation of St. Thomas, was irretrievably tainted by Catholicism. Since the medieval world against which they were rebelling was intellectually formed and sustained by Aristotle more than any other writer, he became the enemy, and any who could trace their intellectual heritage and methods to him had to be destroyed.

As Deenan shows below, one philosopher after another proposed philosophies that might be classified as Anything Other Than Aristotle. Since the medieval idea of education was largely applied Aristotelianism as baptised by Thomas, it had to go.

Arguments against this form of education became common among elite thinkers in the early modern period, who sought to justify a new kind of science that had as its aim the expansion of human control over nature. Arguing strenuously against the content of books by authors such as Aristotle, Francis Bacon castigated previous thinkers for their “despair” and tendency to “think things impossible.” Asserting that “knowledge is power,” he rejected the idea that knowledge consists first in acknowledging human limits and claimed that it was necessary to wipe clear “waxen tablets” inscribed with older writing in order to inscribe new lessons upon them. Books were more often than not one manifestation of the “idols of the cave,” or illusions that obscured true enlightenment, and in the schools “men’s studies? . . . [were] confined and imprisoned in the writings of certain authors.” His book Novum Organum is devoted to arguing against the flawed inheritance of the past, including the arguments found in the great books of his age.

One charming aspect of Aristotle, especially when viewed after having read the early modern Enlightenment writers, is his willingness to identify limits. Was the world created or eternal? Who knows? the Philosopher answers. All knowledge of contingent things is contingent – such is life in this world of change, a necessarily humble life of uncertainty. With Thomas, we get invigorated to pursue even imperfect knowledge of Creation, because the Heavens proclaim the glory of God. In our imperfect and humble understanding of created things we experience the ineffable Divine.

But limits have gone from realities any sane man recognizes and tries to understand, which he might rationally embrace or challenge on a case by case basis, to something that is evil and to be overcome in all cases. A classic man, a victim, one might say, of the philosophy in those pre-Enlightenment Great Books, would first want to know himself and come to grips with his passions and his fixed days. If he were a Christian, he’d recall that all is grass and grace, his days are numbered, and it profits a man nothing if he gains the whole world but loses his soul. Yet God loves him into being nonetheless, and blesses him such that his life need not be in vain.

The post Enlightenment man has increasingly rejected any ‘despair’ or what the pre-Enlightenment man would consider proper humility, and chaffs at all limits. What began as a not entirely unsympathetic rejection of the limits imposed by a Church ends with the entirely insane rejection of reality. The very idea of human nature became nonsensical under Hegel and an affront under Marx. Whatever you found yourself to be at the moment could become something else entirely under the influence of the Spirit unfolding or History progressing. Limits oppress; to believe in any limits is to be an oppressor, even and especially when those limits exist by nature.

Novum Organum is now one of our great books—a great book that recommends against the lessons of previous great books. His work inaugurated a long line of great books that argued against an education in books. Another in this genre is René Descartes’ Discourse on Method, which begins with a similar condemnation of book learning as an obstacle to true understanding. “As soon as my age permitted me to pass from under the control of my instructors,” he wrote, “I entirely abandoned the study of letters, and resolved no longer to seek any other science than the knowledge of myself, or of the great book of the world.” Books are the repository of foolishness: “When I look with the eye of a philosopher at the varied courses and pursuits of mankind at large, I find scarcely one which does not appear in vain and useless.”

Descartes’ view is shared, it seems, by scientists and students of science as much as by various ‘studies’ professors and their acolytes. The first group believes above all else that their study of nature is the only road to knowledge, doesn’t want to hear otherwise, and at any rate knows ‘philosophy’ only as delivered by the academic philosophers who infest their campuses. The student of science correctly concludes that Analytic Philosophy is at best useless, an overly-intellectual tail trying to wag the productive scientific dog.

The second group sees any philosophy that embraces limits as oppressive; they mistake the untethered emoting and manipulation of Critical Theory as the only necessary and pure philosophy. They rank themselves by how oppressed they are, and start in trying to kill each other at the first opportunity, according to the nature of a philosophy without limits.

Centuries later, this line of argumentation would be employed in the United States in defense of disassembling existing curricula oriented to the study of the great books. Widely regarded as America’s most influential educational reformer, John Dewey, in books that continue to exert great influence in schools of education, argued that learning should be accomplished “experientially” rather than through an encounter with books. In his short work Experience and Education, he argues strenuously that an education based in books transmitted “static” knowledge to a citizenry that needed to be better enabled to face a world of rapid change. Learning through books is “to a large extent the cultural product of societies that assumed the future would be much like the past, and yet it is used as educational food in a society where change is the rule, not the exception.” Accordingly, he founded an institution in Chicago called the Lab School. Laboratory was to replace library, experiment would substitute for knowledge gleaned from the past.

Dewey was also a Communist apologist, who rejected categorically the concept of objective morality.  Think killing a few 10s of millions of Kulaks will speed the dawn of the Worker’s Paradise? The only moral question is: did it work? (And if it didn’t, it’s likely not enough Kulaks were murdered. But I digress.) “Static” knowledge is nonsensical under Marx – all is Becoming, nothing Is. What is needed, as spelled out by Freire, are children educated to be revolutionaries. Math? Reading? History? Pointless and dangerous!

Dewey makes this case in pointed terms in his book Democracy and Education, asking, “Why does a savage group perpetuate savagery, and a civilized group civilization?” He answers that “in a sense the mind of savage peoples is an effect, rather than a cause, of their backward institutions. Their social activities are such as to restrict their objects of attention and interest, and hence to limit the stimuli to mental development.”

Even as regards the objects that come within the scope of attention, primitive social customs tend to arrest observation and imagination upon qualities which do not fructify in the mind. Lack of control of natural forces means that a scant number of natural objects enter into associated behavior. Only a small number of natural resources are utilized and they are not worked for what they are worth. The advance of civilization means that a larger number of natural forces and objects have been transformed into instrumentalities of action, into means for securing ends.

There is and cannot be any human nature – that would limit what people can become, and limits are evil in themselves. Instead, “their social activities as such” limit what we can become. (Dewey here deigns to consider civilized people as somehow more progressed than savages – he needed to get way, way more woke!) If one were to ask where these social activities come from, the answer is: History! The term ‘History’ as used by Marxists means the non-god god and unconscious consciousness that drives us forward, and on whose wrong side one must not get. That whole what happened in the past stuff is called history only insofar as it captures the non-active activity of the non-god god in causing Progress. They rarely put it this way, because it’s as stupid as it sounds.

Thus, two distinct and contradictory conceptions of liberty have been advanced in a long succession of great books. The first of these commends the study of great books for an education in virtue in light of a recognition of human membership in a created order to which we must conform and that we do not ultimately govern. The other argues against the study of great books and asserts a form of human greatness that seeks the human mastery of nature, particularly by the emphasis of modern science. This latter conception of liberty does not seek merely to coexist alongside an older conception, but requires the active dismantling of this idea of liberty and hence the transformation of education away from the study of great books and toward the study of “the great book of nature” with the end of its mastery.

One of the contradictions yet to be subsumed and suspended in the dialectic is the hard or real science versus soft or fake science: everyone want to dress their claims in the sacred Lab Coat of Science, even and especially when there is no science, properly understood in the modern sense, involved. Mean people who believe in reality are going to challenge claims that sociology, psychology and modern education theory, for starters, are in any functional sense science. They do not measure the properties of measurable bodies; they do not follow well-established protocols such as using clear methods and publishing all data and subjecting all claims to skeptical replication. As Groucho Marx – the good Marx – said: the key to success in this business is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.

Since those older Great Books contradict all this, and the newer Great Books are irrelevant by their own admissions, they must be destroyed.

The older conception of liberty held that liberty was ultimately a form of self-government. In a constrained world, the human propensity to desire and consume without limit and end inclined people toward a condition of slavery, understood to be enslavement to the base desires. This older conception of liberty was displaced by our regnant conception of liberty, the liberty to pursue our desires ceaselessly with growing prospects of ongoing fulfillment through the conquest of nature, accompanied by the constant generation of new desires that demand ever greater expansion of the human project of mastery. The decline of the role of great books in our universities today is not due merely to financial constraints, or to the requirement of federal funding for scientific inquiry, or even to science itself. Preceding all of this was an argument that the study of great books should be displaced from the heart of education.

The concept of limits includes both possibilities and consequences. I cannot flap my arms and fly to the moon, no matter how woke I am, and neither can anybody else. Why we can’t is a unaddressed problem for the Enlightened. I cannot eat everything in sight or have sex round the clock without the piper eventually demanding his due.

So we must learn to accept fat people as not fat, as beautiful and perfect right up until they drop dead of a heart attack or stroke or diabetes around age 40. In fact, what’s with this whole death thing? It’s so unfair! Thus the cult of Transhumanism offers the false hope that we can, ultimately escape all limits and their consequences. Somehow. And treatments and prevention of venereal diseases and babies must be assumed, free, and supported by all. Broken hearts are an illusion.

So, yes, the Great Books are not a solution to societal collapse and the perpetual ignorance of the certifiably educated when applied in our current state.

My only push back against Dr. Deenan is this: that read fearlessly and with a desire for Truth that will not bow to fad and peer pressure, the glory of the pre-Enlightenment Great Books will reveal the latter books to be superficial, dishonest and inferior. This does happen: someone, even someone not forewarned by Christianity, may read the Great Books and conclude that some – Plato, Aristotle, Thomas, the wisdom of the poets, and others – are much greater than the others. Some are worthy of a serious person. Many are not.

Alas, this sort of self-enlightenment and devotion to the Truth is not likely to be found among conventionally educated 18 year olds.

Critical Theory: How it “Works”

Not so much what it is – in brief: Marxism taylored for the academic world – but just how it works in practice.

Brief recap: starting with the Greeks, philosophers began to view Nature and reality as a whole as something that could be understood. Not completely or perfectly, but certainly to some extent. This is the beginning of what we call Western Philosophy, and is a big piece of what make the West the West – fundamentally different from everywhere else in the world.

Fitfully at first, but settling in to the extreme rigor of Aristotle by the 4th century B.C., the approach was logical: try to find the most fundamental premises you could, the most general statements of reality, and reason according to strict logic from there. This approach requires (or results in – there’s a bit of a chicken/egg question, at least in my mind) a three-fold epistemology: there must be Required Truths, that without which nothing can be known or even discussed; Conditional Truths that depend on the truth of premises and the rigor of logic, where the conclusions may be ontologically ‘wrong’ even if logically correct because the premises may not be true; and opinion, which may be more or less informed, but is neither required nor explicitly conditioned on premises and logic.

Initially, these efforts to understand the world were a purely theoretical exercise. Nobody did philosophy to make a buck or for any practical gain. Indeed, as a hobby of the at least semi-leisured, philosophy as a means to anything other than self-improvement was considered gauche. Archimedes, famous for his inventions, legendarily did not think it worthy to write anything down about them. So we get fantastical reports – and physical evidence such as the Antikythera Mechanism – but no follow up or disciples. Philosophy was to produce the examined life worth living.

Christian shared with the Greeks (and Jews) the radical idea that the world was comprehensible by the human mind – and that it was worthy for a Christian to make the effort to understand it. ‘The Heavens proclaim the Glory of God’ after all, and we live to give Him glory. By the 11th century, Christians began to apply the rigors of Aristotle’s logic and method to pretty much everything. Albert the Great, a 13th century Dominican philosopher, was into everything and used to draw very careful and detailed pictures of plants – because, why not? God is in the details of a leaf as much as in the stars and seas.

Image result for hubble pictures
The Heavens proclaiming the Glory of God.

The effort of traditional Western philosophy – the Perennial Philosophy – stands on 4 legs. Along with the faith that the world can and should be understood, the three-tiered epistemology of required truths, conditional truths, and opinion, and logical rigor, one other thing is required to make any headway in understanding the world: the idea of Primacy of Being. This is so basic that it is rarely laid out separately in my experience. Instead, it is assumed, most commonly as part of the Law of Non-contradiction: a thing cannot both be and not be in the same respect at the same time.

Like so much of Aristotle, he’s saying something so simple and obvious that it’s easy to miss how profound it is. At least, it was easy to miss it until Hegel and Marx came along.

The Perennial Philosophy and its daughter Modern Science work by investigating and describing what something IS. When defining something – saying what something is – one must say what it is not. If you cannot say what something is not, communication is impossible. If my yes could be no, or over here could be over there, or my cat could be my dog, meaningful discussion grinds instantly to a halt. Science could get nowhere. Math would be meaningless. Communication through language would be impossible.

Everybody got this. The Law of Non-contradiction is not some arcane point of logic. It is the very heart of experience, understanding, and communication. So of course Hegel attacks it, and Marx buries it.

Instead, we are told that we live in a world of becoming. Talk of being reveals one to be among the little people, incapable of real philosophy. Real philosophers understand that you can only speak truthfully about being when all reality is abstracted from it – because reality is always becoming. The Law of Non-contradiction cannot apply to the real world of becoming, because in the real world nothing ever holds still long enough to be anything, and, even if it did so, real understanding of it would require understanding where it has been and where it is going.

This is a paraphrase of the Hegelian dialectic: the idea that a thesis – a statement (of being?) – is contradicted by a antithesis – another statement (of being?) – which contradiction is never resolved, but is instead held in suspense in the synthesis. That synthesis becomes the new thesis, subject to unfolding into a new dialectic.

Hegel humbly acknowledged that, given that we don’t know the future, we cannot predict the next synthesis. We must wait for the Spirit to unfold Itself in History. We cannot use logic or reason our way to the next unfolding, both because logic and reason are invalid and because it is the nature of the Unfolding of the Spirit in History to, let’s say, raise consciousness – to reveal new, unanticipated truths.

Marx, a more practical (and intellectually limited) man, will not accept this: he KNOWS how it comes out, he’s worked it out! A bit – well, a lot – fuzzy on the details, but he, as the chosen prophet of the not-at-all-Godlike History, will lay it down for us: History is unfolding into a Worker’s Paradise, where all nations and governments shall wither away, and all men will live in peace and plenty.

He makes the mistake common to most End Time prophets, in that while he’s really, really vague on most things, he nonetheless lays out too many detailed that can be proven wrong. Among the details he didn’t get right: Workers of the world are to unite to lose their chains, not Russian and Chinese serfs; Communism is to arrise from among the rebels, not be imposed by sociopathic criminals like Lenin, Mao and Che. Capitalism (his swear word for free markets) is to run itself into the ground enslaving everybody, not bring many millions of people into a far better life than even the richest Capitalist enjoyed in Marx’s day; The revolution was to be organic and inevitable, not something brought about by the lies and machinations of Fabian Socialists and Gramsciite Critical Theorists.

The Critical Theorists took on the job of polluting Academia and culture with Marx’s lies and distortions. Here’s how applying Marx to academic fields works:

  • We already know how it comes out, we don’t need to prove anything;
  • We’re much smarter and more enlightened than any other people anywhere ever.
  • Everything – everything – is explicable by a oppressor/oppressed dynamic;
  • Offering any other explanations, any other predicted outcomes simply prove you are an oppressor or a tool of oppression, and are in either case on the wrong side of History;
  • We don’t have to make sense. Demanding we do is oppression;

The results are as predictable as they are sad. First off, every traditional explanation for ANYTHING that cannot be made into an effect of an oppressor/oppressed dynamic is WRONG. History, for example, whenever it shows cultures developing peacefully, or religious beliefs having a positive affect, or wars being fought for anything other than the right to oppress people – IS WRONG.

In another context, was disputing a critical theorist’s assertion that, not only is the West not a product of Greek culture, but there really isn’t a ‘West’ to begin with. As another person quipped: sure, Eritrea and America – exactly the same. For now, it is enough to note that for over a thousand years people in the West have recognized a difference between themselves and all other cultures, and that the trajectory of the West has been far different than that of any other culture. Therefore, a critical theorist must deny this, evidence in front of their eyes notwithstanding.

History has sides. Those who accept and promote the inevitability of a Worker’s Paradise populated by New Soviet Men magically freed from all human faults are on the Right Side of History. Those who insist that people have natures – human nature – and so are not infinitely reformable, or in any other way deny the inevitability or desirability of the Worker’s Paradise, are on the Wrong Side of History. Note: those on the wrong side of History are scheduled for culling.

Scholarship is reduced to identifying the oppressor/oppressed dynamic that is making people unhappy. If people aren’t unhappy, it’s your job to fix it. Thus, the endless stream of before/after pictures of kids going to college, where cheery, normal-looking 18 year olds become bitter, frowning 20 year olds with shaved heads and Che t-shirts. They thought, you see, that they were suburban kids going off on a great college adventure, only to discover that they are miserable oppressors, victims of oppression, or both, and need to promote the Revolution.

If that doesn’t make sense to you, that’s OK. Any dogma divorced from reality will soon tangle itself into knots of nonsense. Critical theory teaches us to *embrace* that nonsense!  Intersectionality, for example, or simultaneous claims that Science Has Shown and that science is a social construct, or using tools created almost entirely by men – computers, the internet, electrical systems, heck, indoor plumbing – to popularize the idea that men are always oppressors. Except that ‘men’ are likewise a social construct.

The nonsense never ends.

Gramsci laid out the targets to be destroyed: Family, village, church. These are where normal people find happiness. Happiness leads to not wanting to kill your oppressors and put the likes of Pol Pot in charge, and therefore is the enemy.

Yes, happiness is no less the enemy of critical theory than reality itself. It works by trying to destroy happiness.

I imagine most critical theorists are useful idiots. This is more generous than to imagine they all understand it and keep doing it anyway. Some do, for sure, but not most – I’d like to think. Doesn’t really matter, except that the useful idiots are likely to follow to wherever the cool kids are sitting, so that if the true believers are shown to be uncool, the battle is largely won.

Meanwhile, the fruits of the Philosophy of Being are being harvested every day: science and technology cannot discover or build anything using a philosophy that denies logic and dismisses definition and communication, so scientists and technologists stick to Aristotle and the Scholastics, even if they’ve been taught that it isn’t so. To their credit, scientists tend strongly to hold philosophers in contempt – because the philosophers with which they are familiar hold contemptible ideas. Among them: critical theory.

All good men have a duty to be reasonable, happy and lovers of family, village and Church. It’s a duty – and it makes critical theorist heads explode. Win-win.