AI-yai-yai.

Henry Kissinger (yes, he’s still alive – 95 yrs old. His dad made it to 95 and his mom to 98, I think, so he may be with us even longer.) has opined that we’ve got to do something about AI:

Henry Kissinger: Will artificial intelligence mean the end of the Enlightenment?

Two thoughts: Like Hank himself, it seems the Enlightenment is, surprisingly, still kicking. Also: End the Enlightenment? Where’s the parade and party being held? Oh wait – Hank thinks that would be a bad thing. Hmmm.

Onward: Dr. K opines:

“What would be the impact on history of self-learning machines —machines that acquired knowledge by processes particular to themselves, and applied that knowledge to ends for which there may be no category of human understanding? Would these machines learn to communicate with one another? [quick hint: apparently, they do] How would choices be made among emerging options? Was it possible that human history might go the way of the Incas, faced with a Spanish culture incomprehensible and even awe-inspiring to them?”

Note: this moment of introspection was brought about by the development of a program that can play Go way better than people. Little background: Anybody can write a program to play tic-tac-toe, as the rules are clear, simple and very, very limiting: there are only 9 squares, so there will never be more than 9 options for any one move, and no more than 9+8+7+6+5+4+3+2+1 possible moves. A simple program can exhaust all possible moves, dictate the next move in all possible scenarios, and thus guarantee whatever outcome the game allows and the programmer wants – win or draw, in practice.

Chess, on the other hand, is much harder game, with an effectively inexhaustible number of possible moves and configurations. People have been writing chess playing programs for decades, and, a few decades ago, managed to come up with programs sophisticated enough to beat any human chess player. Grossly put, they work by a combination of heuristics used to whittle choices down to more plausible moves (any chess game contains the possibility of any number of seemingly nonsensical moves), simply brute-force playing out of possible good choices for some number of moves ahead, and refinement of algorithms based on outcomes to improve the heuristics. Since you can set two machines to play each other, or one machine to play itself, for as long or as many games as you like, the possibility arises – and seems to have taken place – that, by playing millions more games than any human could ever play, measuring the outcomes, and refining their rules for picking ‘good’ moves, computers can program themselves – can learn, as enthusiasts enthusiastically anthropomorphize – to become better chess players than any human being.

Go presents yet another level of difficulty, and it was theorized not too many years ago to not be susceptible to such brute-force solutions. A Go master can study a board mid-game, and tell you which side has the stronger position, but, legendarily, cannot provide any sort of coherent reason why that side holds an advantage. The next master, examining the same board, would, it was said, reach the same conclusion, but be able to offer no better reasons why.

At least, that was the story. Because of the even greater number of possible moves and the difficulty mid-game of assessing which side held the stronger position, it was thought that Go would not fall to machines any time soon, at least, if they used the same sort of logic used to create the chess playing programs.

Evidently, this was incorrect. So now Go has suffered the same fate as chess: the best players are not players, but machines with programs that have run through millions and millions of possible games, measured the results, programmed themselves to follow paths that generate the desired results, and so now cannot be defeated by mere mortals. (1)

But of course, the claim isn’t that AI is mastering games where the rules clearly define both all possible moves and outcomes, but rather is being applied to other fields as well.

After hearing this speech, Mr. Kissinger started to study the subject more thoroughly and learned that artificial intelligence goes far beyond automation. AI programs don’t deal only with the rationalization and improvement of means, they are also capable of establishing their own objectives, making judgments about the future and of improving themselves on the basis of their analysis of the data they acquire. This realization only caused Mr. Kissinger’s concerns to grow:

“How is consciousness to be defined in a world of machines that reduce human experience to mathematical data, interpreted by their own memories? Who is responsible for the actions of AI? How should liability be determined for their mistakes? Can a legal system designed by humans keep pace with activities produced by an AI capable of outthinking and potentially outmaneuvering them?”

“Capable of establishing their own objectives” Um, what? They are programs, run on computers, according to the rules of computers. It happens all the time that following the rule set, which is understood to be necessarily imperfect in accordance with Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, computer programs will do unexpected things (although I’d bet user error, especially on the part of the people who wrote the programming languages involved, is a much bigger player in such unexpected results than Godel).

I can easily imagine that a sophisticated (read: too large to be understood by anyone and thus likely to be full of errors invisible to anyone) program might, following one set of instructions, create another set of instructions to comply with some pre existing limitation or goal that may or may not be completely defined in itself. But I’d like to see the case where a manufacturing analysis AI, for example, sets an objective such as ‘become a tulip farmer’ and starts ordering overalls and gardening spades off Amazon. Which is exactly the kind of thing a person would do, but not the kind of thing one would expect a machine to do.

On to the Enlightenment, and Hank’s concerns:

“The Enlightenment started with essentially philosophical insights spread by a new technology. Our period is moving in the opposite direction. It has generated a potentially dominating technology in search of a guiding philosophy. AI developers, as inexperienced in politics and philosophy as I am in technology, should ask themselves some of the questions I have raised here in order to build answers into their engineering efforts. This much is certain: If we do not start this effort soon, before long we shall discover that we started too late.”

Anyway, go watch the videos at the bottom of the article linked above. What you see are exactly the problem Dr. K is worried about – “AI developers, as inexperienced in politics and philosophy as I am in technology” – although in a more basic and relevant context. The engineer in the videos keeps saying that they wrote a program that, without any human intervention and without any priming of the pump using existing human-played games of Go, *programmed itself* from this tabla rasa point to become the (machine) Master of (human) Masters!

When, philosophically and logically, that’s not what happened at all! The rules of the game, made up by humans and vetted over centuries by humans, contain within themselves everything which could be called the game of Go in its logical form. Thus, by playing out games under those rules, the machine is not learning something new and even less creating ex nihilo – it is much more like a clock keeping time than a human exploring the possibilities of a game.

The key point is that the rules are something, and something essential. They are the formal cause of the game. The game does not exist without them. No physical manifestation of the game is the game without being a manifestation of the rules. This is exactly the kind of sophomore-level philosophy the developers behind this program can almost be guaranteed to be lacking.

(Aside: this is also what is lacking in the supposed ‘universe simply arose from nothing at the Big Bang’ argument made by New Atheists. The marvelous and vast array of rules governing even the most basic particles and their interactions must be considered ‘nothing’ for this argument to make sense. The further difficulty arises from mistaking cause for temporal cause rather than logical cause, where the lack of a ‘before’ is claimed to invalidate all claims of causality – but that’s another topic.)

The starry-eyes developers now hope to apply the algorithms written for their Go program to other areas, since they are not dependent on Go, but were written as a general solution. A general solution, I hasten (and they do not hasten) to add: with rules, procedures and outcomes as clearly and completely defined as those governing the game of Go.

Unlike Dr. Kissinger, I am not one bit sorry to see the Enlightenment, a vicious and destructive myth with a high body count and even higher level of propaganda to this day, die ASAP. I also differ in what I fear, and I think my reality-based fears are in fact connected with why I’d be happy to see the Enlightenment in the dustbin of History (hey, that’s catchy!): What’s more likely to happen is that men, enamoured of their new toy, will proceed to insist that life really is whatever they can reduce to a set of rules a machine can follow. That’s the dystopian nightmare, in which the machines merely act out the delusions of the likes of Zuckerberg.  It’s the delusions we should fear, more than the tools this generation of rootless, self-righteous zealots dream of using to enforce them.

  1. There was a period, in the 1980s if I’m remembering correctly, where the best chess playing programs could be defeated if the human opponent merely pursued a strategy of irrational but nonfatal moves: the programs, presented repeatedly with moves that defied the programs’ heuristics, would break. But that was a brief Star Trek moment in the otherwise inexorable march forward of machines conquering all tasks that can be fully defined by rules, or at least getting better at them than any human can.
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Key Psychological Study is a Fraud. Who’da Thunk It?

Confession time: This is a case, somewhat, of personal confirmation bias for me. I should have read this, when I came across it years ago, with a solid double dollop of skepticism. Instead, I was too willing to just swallow it as presented as a yet another sad example of fallen human nature. Cautionary tale, folks.

This one:

The Stanford prison experiment was an attempt to investigate the psychological effects of perceived power, focusing on the struggle between prisoners and prison officers. It was conducted at Stanford University between August 14–20, 1971, by a research group led by psychology professor Philip Zimbardo using college students. It was funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research as an investigation into the causes of difficulties between guards and prisoners in the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps. The experiment is a topic covered in most introductory (social) psychology textbooks.

Guards and prisoners had been chosen randomly from the volunteering college students. Some participants developed their roles as the officers and enforced authoritarian measures and ultimately subjected some prisoners to psychological torture. Many of the prisoners passively accepted psychological abuse and, by the officers’ request, actively harassed other prisoners who tried to stop it. Zimbardo, in his role as the superintendent, allowed abuse to continue. Two of the prisoners left mid-experiment, and the whole exercise was abandoned after six days following the objections of graduate student Christina Maslach, whom Zimbardo was dating (and later married). Certain portions of the experiment were filmed, and excerpts of footage are publicly available.

The way it’s usually presented is this experiment revealed that apparently normal people (you know, white male college students. What could be more normal than that?) harbor wellsprings of sadism that only require an opportunity to reveal themselves. Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of (white college student) men? The Stanford Prison Experiment does! It is referenced in connection with the My Lai Massacre and the Armenian Genocide (no, really) to explain how American troops could shoot unarmed villagers and nice Turks could strip naked and crucify teenage girls.

More often these days, even the little bit of professional scientific restraint shown by psychologists is shed in favor of using this study as a stick to beat a particular drum. We’re supposed to believe that the Power Structure creates bad behavior. It’s Rousseau all over again, but now wearing the Sacred Lab Coat of Science! College students – gentle, loving college students who wouldn’t hurt a fly, no doubt –  would, in a state of nature (1) never dream of being sadistic, power-obsessed meanies, become sadistics, power-obsessed meanies once given POWER over other students.

It’s the power dynamic all the way down, man. Any time you see people acting sadistically, killing people, stuff like that, it’s really not their fault! Theories of sin or any other form of personal responsibility that place even part of the blame on the individual are WRONG. You want people to behave better, New Soviet Man style? Expecting them (me. us.) to behave isn’t going to get you anywhere. You need to destroy the Power Structure! This attitude, Marx’s simplification and streamlining of Hegel’s notion of the Spirit acting through History, effectively absolves individuals from all responsibility for Bad Stuff. If, as Hegel posits, the Spirit – God Himself! – is behind all this History, (frog) marching the World dialectically forward, then what difference does individual human actions – human will – make? The only virtue, such as it is, would be getting on the History train. You get run over otherwise. Marx’s trick is to remove the vaguely Judeo-Christian flavoured God of Hegel and just assigning agency to the not-at-all-a-God-History, who nonetheless is a jealous God one must not get on the wrong side of.

But I saw none of this clearly. Until now: 

It was late in the evening of August 16th, 1971, and twenty-two-year-old Douglas Korpi, a slim, short-statured Berkeley graduate with a mop of pale, shaggy hair, was locked in a dark closet in the basement of the Stanford psychology department, naked beneath a thin white smock bearing the number 8612, screaming his head off.

“I mean, Jesus Christ, I’m burning up inside!” he yelled, kicking furiously at the door. “Don’t you know? I want to get out! This is all f**ked up inside! I can’t stand another night! I just can’t take it anymore!”

It was a defining moment in what has become perhaps the best-known psychology study of all time….

Zimbardo, a young Stanford psychology professor, built a mock jail in the basement of Jordan Hall and stocked it with nine “prisoners,” and nine “guards,” all male, college-age respondents to a newspaper ad who were assigned their roles at random and paid a generous daily wage to participate. The senior prison “staff” consisted of Zimbardo himself and a handful of his students.

The study was supposed to last for two weeks, but after Zimbardo’s girlfriend stopped by six days in and witnessed the conditions in the “Stanford County Jail,” she convinced him to shut it down. Since then, the tale of guards run amok and terrified prisoners breaking down one by one has become world-famous, a cultural touchstone that’s been the subject of books, documentaries, and feature films — even an episode of Veronica Mars.

The SPE is often used to teach the lesson that our behavior is profoundly affected by the social roles and situations in which we find ourselves. But its deeper, more disturbing implication is that we all have a wellspring of potential sadism lurking within us, waiting to be tapped by circumstance. It has been invoked to explain the massacre at My Lai during the Vietnam War, the Armenian genocide, and the horrors of the Holocaust. And the ultimate symbol of the agony that man helplessly inflicts on his brother is Korpi’s famous breakdown, set off after only 36 hours by the cruelty of his peers.

There’s just one problem: Korpi’s breakdown was a sham.

“Anybody who is a clinician would know that I was faking,” he told me last summer, in the first extensive interview he has granted in years. “If you listen to the tape, it’s not subtle. I’m not that good at acting. I mean, I think I do a fairly good job, but I’m more hysterical than psychotic.”

Read the article.  What interest and saddens me is that the subjects of this fraud did not in fact out the dude and drag him into court for illegally imprisoning them. Why? Just a guess here: because they, too, had academic ambitions. Certainly Kopri did. Academics seem to have a certain immunity to having to behave like adults and accept consequences, because they can so easily destroy the careers of the little people under them.

So, has anybody tried to replicate this thing? Glad you asked:

According to Alex Haslam and Stephen Reicher, psychologists who co-directed an attempted replication of the Stanford prison experiment in Great Britain in 2001, a critical factor in making people commit atrocities is a leader assuring them that they are acting in the service of a higher moral cause with which they identify — for instance, scientific progress or prison reform. We have been taught that guards abused prisoners in the Stanford prison experiment because of the power of their roles, but Haslam and Reicher argue that their behavior arose instead from their identification with the experimenters, which Jaffe and Zimbardo encouraged at every turn. Eshelman, who described himself on an intake questionnaire as a “scientist at heart,” may have identified more powerfully than anyone, but Jaffe himself put it well in his self-evaluation: “I am startled by the ease with which I could turn off my sensitivity and concern for others for ‘a good cause.’”

Finally, here’s the real issue that comes up whenever the so-called Replication Crisis is brought up: careers get built on half-baked if not out and out dishonest ‘studies’ done to promote, in some order, a particular political agenda and the researcher’s career. Those screaming loudest about the evil, evil people trying and failing to replicate their studies are exactly those people who have ridden the fame of such flawed and dishonest studies to prominence and tenure.

Because that’s the way it works in the soft ‘sciences’.

The Stanford prison experiment established Zimbardo as perhaps the most prominent living American psychologist. He became the primary author of one of the field’s most popular and long-running textbooks, Psychology: Core Concepts, and the host of a 1990 PBS video series, Discovering Psychology, which gained wide usage in high school and college classes and is still screened today. Both featured the Stanford prison experiment.

  1. What is the natural environment for elite psychology students? Smoking dope on daddy’s yacht? That would indeed be pretty mellow. Meow.

Teacher’s Pets and Geniuses

Over on the esteemed William Briggs’ blog, a guest poster is discussing the glee with which certain people react to an analysis of Trump’s use of language based on the Flesch-Kincaid grade level scale and other similar tests. Seems our president speaks with a fourth grade level vocabulary, by far the lowest grade level of any president. This, of course, cannot mean he’s trying to reach as broad a population as possible – it can only mean he’s stupid. (1)

This brings to mind when I first heard of Obama and saw him speaking. The first thought I had: teacher’s pet. (2) As a kid from a blue collar family, in the first generation to go to college, I am perhaps better attuned than some to seeing that weird phenomenon most especially present in the children of academics: people whose identities are strongly tied to thinking they are smarter than the peons, and yet so insecure that any challenge is seen as a personal attack.

Such folks seem especially prone to becoming teacher’s pets: they don’t have non-academic achievements to be proud of, so they assign great importance to pleasing Teacher. Patted on the head, told how smart they are, admired and envied by their peers, they move through school and eventually life always looking for and leaning on that approval and self-image. They do great in highly-structured careers where there few if any objective measures of success: academics, educators, lawyers, judges, journalists. They are by nature courtesans: their success depends entirely on how well they can ingratiate themselves to Power, and thus their contempt for those who do not care to court power, and viciousness toward those who would undermine it.

Thus, perhaps the most dangerous divide in America is between those who take pride in their own objective achievements, and those for whom the only achievement that counts is how close to power you can get. I’d guess at most 10% of the population is courtesans – I don’t think a population could support more than that. The courtesan and the objectively productive people are mutually unintelligible: the courtesan simple does not believe that the objectively productive person wants to be left alone; the productive person can’t believe anyone could possibly count what amounts to professional ass-kissing as ‘achievement’ worthy of anything but contempt. Yet they both see the result or at least the threat: the Power comes from somewhere. Increase centralized power, and you improve opportunity for courtesans and decrease the world in which productive people can operate, and visa versa.

From the productive’s point of view, he is being dragged into a political fight he’d rather not be in and will abandon as soon as possible. He is Cincinnatus longing to get back to his plow. From the courtesan’s perspective, the political fight is all there is, he would cease to live if it ever stopped.

For a Marxist, everything is political. They are courtesans, ultimately, with the goal of becoming Tyrant. (see: Lenin, Vladimir; Stalin, Josef; and a host of others). This drive is clothed in the sheep’s clothing of Justice, Fairness, History, and other Orwellian euphemisms, but the drive is Power. The useful idiots and whoever loses out when power is gained might as well line up for their personal Night of the Long Knives: the winners cannot allow anyone they may not be able to control in any positions of power, especially if they have the skill set needed to run a successful revolution. (I try not to enjoy the image of all those Antifa soyboys facing blunt reality if they ‘win’, but it amuses me that they think they will have any power or even won’t be culled. Because, you know, they beat the snot out of unarmed people and newspaper vending boxes. I suppose they might make serviceable gulag guards, but – nah.)

The bad news: the fight isn’t going to go away. The insanity and derangement on the Left is understandable in this context: they didn’t just lose an election, their entire reality is under threat! An objectively productive person would shrug, as we all did when Obama won, and look for a chance to win the next election. The courtesan cannot endure any threat to the Power from which and towards which their lives flow. They will fight, and fight dirty and desperately and, even though grossly outnumbered, have shown that they can win. Our main hope is that more and more people are seeing the insanity, and will simply refuse to swallow the rhetoric of the power hungry.

Back to this whole intelligence thing. I have always been baffled by the ‘Obama is a genius’ claim. THAT’s a genius? People need to get out more, especially out of academia, if that’s the idea of genius they hold. I suspect rather that O is a particularly flattering mirror: I am like that man, I think and believe like him. His success is my success, the victory of his ideas validates everything I hold dear!

This whole professor to community organizer to adoption by the Chicago Outfit doesn’t really scream ‘achievement’ or even ‘intelligence’. The Chicago Outfit and the Democratic Party found a man they could use, and did so. The fact remains that the people who owed their jobs to Fred Roti, who owed his job to Bruno The Bomber Roti, chose Obama as their front man. He then brought that team to the White House. The main characteristic of any politician in that environment is that he can be controlled. Intelligence is probably a liability.

I think Obama is a bit over average intelligence. He speaks like someone who has a difficult time structuring even slightly complicated thoughts into words. In any event, you can bet we’d know all about it if he were a 4.0+ student with a 150 IQ, the tribal indicators of smarts in lieu of any actual achievement. But we don’t, which tells you what you want to know.

As I’ve said before, I neither like nor trust Trump. I like few and trust no politicians. I do admire his evident cunning, his shocking interest in keeping his promises and his charming ability to make his enemies heads explode. More often than not, his enemies are my enemies. That doesn’t make him my friend, however. As it stands, if the choice comes down to Trump or those who hate me and wish me dead, well, the choice is pretty clear.

Ultimately, who cares how smart our leaders are, above a certain minimal level? You want to be governed by Samwise Gamgee, not the smartest Hobbit in town, because he doesn’t think he’s got it all figured out and is way smarter than you. He knows he doesn’t know, and embraces his duty to do the right thing to the best of his ability. When you believe the little people need to be lead by the nose by the smart people, of course your head explodes when you lose, and of course you have to believe whoever you lost to is stupid – because ALL THE SMART PEOPLE agree with you. Or, if smart, EEEEEEVIL! Because there are simply no other options. This is called being open minded.

These are interesting times.

  1. I am reminded in this context of the gaming of the SAT tests once they added a writing section. The test-taking strategists quickly figured out you’d score better the more you wrote regardless of quality. Thus, the Flesch-Kincaid grade level scale and other such test reward verbose, 10-dollar-word laden gibberish and have no way of accounting for how rational or even clear you are.
  2. I eventually concluded that he was the ideal Fabian Trojan Horse. But I had no opinion on that at the time.

Bad Numbers. Bad Assertions.

Swamped. Brief notes:

Image result for incredulous face
I have my doubts.

A. Slipped up and listened to the news over the radio on the drive in today. Heard the assertion that the stock market is down due to uncertainty over the China trade situation. Such single causes are routinely proposed for whatever the markets do every day.

I am amazed that people can say stuff like this with a straight face. Thousands if not millions of individuals and institutions make buy and sell decisions on stock exchanges every hour. Many if not most of these trades reflect the workings of more or less sophisticated strategies worked out months or years or lifetimes in advance of any individual event. Even more basic, it’s people making decisions in private.  Fundamentally, that’s what a market is. Buyers buy at what sellers are willing to sell for; sellers sell for what buyers are willing to pay. Yet we accept that there is *a* cause to whatever the market is doing at the moment?

B. Saw a claim that the current administration is evil and stupid for wanting to create a database of social security numbers for all food stamp recipients, to fight double-dipping across state lines, since less than 1% of recipients in fact double dip.

I don’t know anything about this issue, whether it’s big enough to warrant this or any action. I sort of think not. But I have to wonder: lacking precisely the data such a database would collect, how would one come up with that “less than 1%” claim? You send out a bunch of sociology students to hang out at supermarkets asking people paying with food stamps if they double dip? Or what? Seems a totally made up number, that, given the political motivations for believing it, will soon attain to Scriptural levels of certainty. If it hasn’t already.

C. The human capacity to not mentally break in half from the whiplash caused by snapping from one extreme position to its opposite continues to amaze. The current manifestation: the claim that Trump was going to cause WWIII and the concomitant nuclear holocaust by being mean to North Korea has been replaced with nary a pause by the claim that the ending of hostilities in Korea after 70 years is really no big deal (1), dancing in the streets by actual Koreans notwithstanding. These positions seem to be spouted by exactly the same people more often than not.

Um, what? I’m reminded of cult leaders, who keep the loyalty and even love of their followers right up to and past drinking the cool-aide. It seems nothing so mundane as reality can dissuade the True Believers. Me? I share the evident joy of the Koreans, who seem to me to be in the best position to know what’s going on.

  1. The conspiracy theories that have mushroomed up around Trump’s success put fake moon-landing and flat earthers to shame.

We Don’t Know the Future

Image result for crystal ballI might add that we don’t know the past, either. The future, however, is categorically unknownable until it ceases to be the future, while the past is at least in theory knowable to some extent…

But I digress.

The Greeks loved their oracles, or at least consulted them a lot. They’d trapse on down to Delphi, offering in hand, even though just about every story and myth about such future-tellers is a cautionary tale. The Oracle, it seems, is correct, just never in the way the people to whom the prediction is given could ever figure out or use – until it’s not the future anymore.

And that’s the lighter side of things.

Image result for belloq opens the ark

People who claimed to tell the future were held in low esteem, to put it mildly, in both the Old and New Testaments, unless they spoke from God (and woe to those who claim to speak for God when they don’t!).  Fortune tellers and necromancers (who were most often doing the same thing – looking into the future), among others, were lumped in with child sacrificers, and put under the ban, for one thing because they were so often the same people. For the pagans, the entrails of animals were good enough for day to day use, but divining the future when a kingdom was on the line often required a human sacrifice.

I fear things haven’t changed all that much. Just as the human penchants for slavery and rape reassert themselves as the strictures of Christianity fade, the sort of witchcraft that commits abominations and horrors because they are abominations and horrors is bound to reassert itself as well. Practitioners sense (correctly) that only unnatural, horrendous offerings can recruit and appease the forces that might grant their desires.

The ghoulish love of late term abortion springs to mind. For the first few decades, abortionists were shy of the sunlight – few and rare, right? – but now we have them pointing out on Twitter, with an eye roll, that late term babies don’t scream because step one is slitting their throats. You can’t even hope to shame them. Theirs are jealous gods.

I mention this here because abortion advocates claim to know the future: life will be so much better for the mother and death better for the baby than would be the case if the baby got born. When one suggests that life is better than death, things work out unexpectedly to the good as often as the bad, that nothing is fated and at any rate no one can know how things will work out in the future, the ground shifts to RIGHTS. (And shifts somewhere else once you push back on rights – but that’s another topic.)

Even within the constraining context of Christian morality and belief, this human desire to know the future is treated with great caution. We are told not to worry about tomorrow, for this day has problems enough, and that even though we are promised a glorious life beyond our understanding, the exact time and manner are not ours to know. Be prudent, of course, and live a Christian life, but don’t waste any time worrying about the Apocalypse or even where tomorrow’s bread is coming from. There’s no place for fortune telling in a simple, holy life focused on doing the right thing right now.

I think even Hegel’s somewhat surprising restraint when addressing the future unfolding of the Spirit, his insistence that we cannot know what the future syntheses will be but must live with what the Spirit is unfolding now, manifests his proper Christian reticence about the future.

Marx shed this reticence along with any other shreds of functional daily Christianity in Hegel, and proposed that he, Marx, was the great prophet, and saw a vision of the inevitable future, the Workers’ Paradise that awaits all those who believe. The only virtue is faith in Marx alone; the only sin failure to believe. (1)

Capital-H History, Marxists’ god who shall never be called a god (but woe to any who get on this jealous deity’s Wrong Side!) demands his sacrifices as well. Lenin must murder his thousands and Stalin and Mao their millions, or else the promised Future won’t come! Che must murder his unarmed men, women and children, as must Pol Pot. Yet the gods of wealth are not yet appeased! So Antifa mentions the millions more that need to be killed to bring about the glorious future.

And so on. Blood is the price of knowing the future. The demons we invoke and feed can fulfill their promises, but only after the fashion of the Greek myths: you’ll get what was foretold, but it won’t be what you want and the price will be far too high.

Well, that got grim fast. On a slightly lighter note – slightly – many racists (2) arguments about who should or should not be allowed to immigrate. One of many things wrong with these arguments is that those making them also claim to know the future: they claim that one very narrow, cherry-picked set of history proves that certain races should not be allowed to immigrate to the US, because members of such races are not capable of becoming good American citizens.

There’s a certain circularity to the argument: American is defined as at least partially a genetic trait, national in the original meaning the term, and not a cultural or political term. If so, then it would of course be true that no one other than someone of English descent such as were found in the original colonies could possibly be an American.

The historical pedant in me wants to know: is that Celtic Brits? All 5 nations, including those in Brittany? Danish English? Roman? Saxon? French? Assuming Hilaire Belloc would qualify, exactly how much really truly English, however defined, do you have to be? How much other stuff is allowed to pollute it?

Personally, as a 1/2 Czech Slav 1/2 mutt including some Cherokee (right out, correct?) and low-life Scotch, and as the father of children who are about 3/8th Irish and 1/8 Jewish, I and my family aren’t passing any meaningful genetic American test. I am loath to think we’re not as good Americans as anyone else.

The less cherry-picked history of America contains at least two bits that blow this all up: first, the social troubles in this country caused by elitist snobs who believe it their duty to control us peons is entirely the product of the descendents of exactly those pure (ish) English colonists. Our blue blooded nobility uses people of other races and cultures as convenient sticks – but the ideas are all theirs. A case can be made that, if we want an America populated by citizens who love her, a home of the brave and land of the free, and were going to throw anybody out or exclude anybody (note: I’m not in favor of this), the people we’d get rid of FIRST would be the lily-white faculties at Harvard, Yale, Stanford and their ilk and the blue-bloods running the banks and the government, and their herd of sycophants and courtiers. For starters. I don’t know if many of us little people would cause much trouble without their ‘leadership’ and instigation.

Second, the Irish, Germans, Jews, Italians and so on were hated just as much – you can look it up – as the current least favored. And, in most cases, there was some basis to it, just like there’s some basis to fearing immigrants from the Middle East and Africa. Some mobsters and IRA members did, in fact, make it over here, and did and do in fact break a lot of laws and cause a lot of evil.

But, just like the nice North African Muslim ladies who help my wife care for her mom, and the Muslim taxi drivers I get a ride to the airport from once in a while, most of the Irish, Germans, Jews, etc., did in fact want to be Americans and obey the laws and fit in. In the cases where there are problems, it’s because they don’t want to obey the laws and fit in – and that is reason to exclude them.

Side note: I don’t expect your average Muslim to be any clearer on the long-term implications of their faith than the average Christian. They may embrace a world-conquering, infidel-slaying eschaton with all the vigor and clarity with which the typical Christians accepts the admonition to die to ourselves or not commit adultery in our hearts. I don’t know.  If they did live in anticipation of annihilating America and imposing Sharia law, that would be a reason to not let them in. I don’t think it possible to make a blanket call against entire classes of people. Would probably help the average Mohammed and Zahra if we could keep the looney Imams out, however.

To sum up: too many variables are in play to convincingly make the claim that America is for some mythical genetic Americans. Too many counter examples exist of good Americans of non-English and non-white extraction for such arguments to carry any weight. Too many things are wrong with this country right now that have little if anything to do with racial origins to think that some sort of purity is going to solve them.

We don’t know the future. We can’t say that not letting people in or expelling people from this or that group or place is going to solve anything. The certain doom being preached by so-called race realists isn’t certain. Not only is it a fantasy to imagine anything like an English America, it distracts from the more pressing problems of an amoral and narcissistic America – the product of exactly those ‘real’ Americans were supposed to want to purify the nation for.

  1. It fell to Lenin (as discussed here and in the preceding sections) and Gramsci to restore, via the usual Marxist twisted infernal parody of Christianity, the notion that we know not the hour, that there were steps that needed to be taken between the oppressive now and the happy eschaton.
  2. Please note that I’m using ‘racist’ here as an actual carrier of meaning, not just a swear word, to describe people who make non-trivial distinctions between people based solely on race.

 

Weather Oops

Two weeks back, went way out on a limb, thrill seeker that I am, and predicted the end of the 2017-2018 rainy season here in Bay Area. It rarely rains much after March, was the impeccable logic used.

Oops.

current rain map
Current radar rain map as of 9:00 a.m. Thursday. 

The system moving our way:

forecast rain
A ‘Pineapple Express’ situation: tropical moisture from around Hawaii heading straight at us, getting sucked up into a swirly Gulf of Alaska storm hitting British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. 

Current prediction is for an inch or more of rain in the lowlands, 2 to 4 inches in the mountains and hills by Saturday morning. Rain at the Casa de Moore supposed to start tonight. The odd part: as of now (these things change) the storm is moving north east in such a way as to miss Southern California entirely.

Should rake across the Sierra pretty solidly from north to south. Since (as of now) that norther colder storm isn’t supposed to push very far south, the snow level will be very high, like 7,000 or even 8,000 feet in most of the Sierra. The ski resorts will be happy for the most part, but this won’t help the snowpack any lower down. Unless the cold air pushes down south, which it sometimes does. More rain is predicted for next week as well, but with the high level of uncertainty that accompanies forecasts more than 3 days out.

So, um, yea, looks like April will be a bit rainier than average this year.

My original estimate was that we’d come in with something like 75% of average rainfall for the year here in Contra Costa County. We’re sitting at 73.5% right now, based on a weighted average across the 30 rain gauges of the local flood control district. An inch or two more rain will bring that up past 80%, which is only panic zone if your panic threshold is very low. Snowpack affect too early to call.

For those new to my local weather obsession, I got into this because 1) California’s state hobby seems to be panicking over droughts, which seem to be defined, roughly, as any water situation that’s not as good as the better situations we’ve seen over the last 30 or 40 years; 2) there’s a bunch of good current data available (I really do need to send that fan letter to the Contra Costa Flood Control District, which throw tons of great stuff up on the Web for free – brings a tear to me eye!); 3) it is apparently required by law for bureaucrats and media-critters to mention climate change no matter what happens, good, bad or average.

It is in my self-appointed role as Science! monitor that I aggregate these things and point out the odd fact, such as that the really good data really only goes back 30-40 years. Before that, we had somebody manually spot-checking snow depth or rain gauges or thermometers in a very few locations across a huge, very geologically diverse state – and even that only goes back maybe 150, 175 years. Everything else we think we know are reconstructions based on assumptions – nothing wrong with that, per se, as long as we remember such reconstructions are really not a lot better than educated but still rough guesses. We must factor in a high level of uncertainty.

Think of this weather thing as a case study in how an amatuer can think his way through the scientific evidence.

American Heresy

OK, that’s a little grand. And I’m posting on Good Friday – I mean, really, I and you have nothing better to do? Onward:

Voting age is in the news. People draw exactly opposite conclusions based on the same facts. A bunch of presumed teenagers are calling for repealing the 2nd Amendment (please – can we stop pretending otherwise?), from which fact we seem to conclude either:

  • the voting age should be lowered to 16 (or thereabouts)
  • the voting age should never have been lowered to 18/should be raised to 35 (or thereabouts)

Oh, yes, some of these teenagers went through a truly traumatic experience, which is further assumed to to bless their opinions beyond other people’s, and indeed beyond question. This moral high ground is granted despite the wisdom of Rocket Racoon:

Oh, boo hoo hoo! Everybody’s got dead people. It’s no excuse to get everybody else dead along the way!

spideymans: “It’s no excuse to get everybody else dead along the way. ” always going to be my favorite line

The kidder in me is sore tempted to point out that the Founders never dreamed of modern medicine and plenty. In their day, the average musket-wielding farmer was dead before 40, and kids bred up by the destitute (who were even more likely to die young) got farmed out to more responsible and successful relatives or sent to orphanages – if they were lucky.  Life was hard. Even attaining 21 years was, for most, an actual achievement, back in 1776.

If they’d have known that any ill-bred, irresponsible jerk was as liable as not to live to 80, on the way to which he might very well breed up a passel of even more ill-bred and irresponsible offspring, why, they would never had allowed voting without some sort of test of mature adulthood. Maybe a firearm proficiency and safety test? Just spitballing here.

Now, before the coffee has fully kicked in, I’m sore tempted to give credence to the theory that progressives are watching in horror as their voting base disappears (note here an historical account of how they got a part of that base in the first place).  If voter ID were required and systems of voting otherwise hardened against fraud (*cough* Chicago *cough*), why, Fabian Socialists and their useful idiots might never win another election! It’s clear that successful people with non-frou-frou college degrees, for example, do not vote for progressive nutcases (e.g., the California government) in very large numbers.

But the products of modern state schooling do – at least, until they butt into some reality. Modern colleges are designed to prevent them from butting into reality for 4 to 5 more years, and to inoculate them against it during that time. It works surprisingly well for a fantasy. So, let’s get more of *those* people on the rolls! People we can count on to be on the Right Side of History, since we’ve spent 12 years of their lives putting them there.

What could go wrong?

There are a number of American Heresies. True to our Puritan roots, we can’t seem to shake the idea that we can build Heaven on Earth if only we establish the right state religion. (Over the years, what exactly the right religion is had changed, but not our faith in the need to establish it.) People just need to cooperate, perhaps even in the business of exterminating those who won’t. Egg, omelette, and all. Only mean people insist that (fallen) human nature stands in the way. NO! If we stamp our little feet hard enough, we can conjure New Soviet Men from the blood and ashes! Don’t make me sad!

But today we consider another heresy: The assumption that politics defines us. We *are* a Democrat or Republican. We *are* a Liberal or Conservative. We *are* enlightened Progressives or fascist scum who should be lined up and shot by designated government officials using appropriately non-scary but nonetheless lethal guns.

You know, the usual buckets.

What, in America, is the ultimate confirmation of our value as human beings? The right to vote. Our role in politics is our role in life. Someone can be – and many are – without mother or father or family, without roots or friends, without God or church. This counts as nothing, we are not allowed to even consider how much being deprived of such things limits or destroys the space in which a person can be human and free. But not being able to vote? Outrage!

Aristotle said that we are political animals. He’s saying that we by nature live in a polis – a city. Human beings by nature live in and by means of relationships. The town or city is the daily functional unit of those relationships. (1)

He’s not saying that being a worthwhile person means being constantly involved in a minutia of government, or even being involved in government at all. It does not mean being a courtesan.

It does not mean having the right to vote.

But starting before the Revolution, with No Taxation without Representation, with tarring and feathering the King’s agents, with Abigail Adams, we drank in the notion that voting = the ultimate confirmation of full personhood.

The political state cannot grant or add to our basic human value. I fear that rootless people unconsciously cling to the fantasy that it can. Without mother or father or family worthy of the names, without acknowledging relationships that supercede any choice to be in them, many people grasp at the demagogue’s promise to give their lives the meaning they are deprived of by the lack of those real relationships. They think they are citizens of the omnicompetent state; they are citizens of no real city on earth, let alone the City of God. They will not have rest.

Before we grant 16-going-on-11 year olds the right to vote, maybe we should think through the point of voting in the first place.

Rather than seeing the running of government as one among many tasks adults must perform in order to provide and protect the space needed for the real, natural relationships that give life meaning, it becomes, somehow, the essential expression of that meaning. It was not enough for Abigail Adams – a thoroughly admirable woman, mother and wife – to be the beloved daughter, spouse and mother she clearly was. She wanted the vote. I get it – she was far more intelligent, educated and prudent than all but a few of the men around her. She assumed that women in general were or could become at least as well qualified to run the government as their fathers, brothers and husbands.

Perhaps she was right. Certainly, we as a nation could do (and have done) much worse than being ruled by the likes of Abigail Adams. What’s missing from the calculation here is that women who are called to be wives and mothers are now expected to also be sufficiently conversant in politics at all levels to vote and rule well. Is this reasonable or desireable from the women’s point of view? Why? Is politics really that empowering, or is it more like taking out the trash or dying in defense of your country?

Why would most women bother, given a choice? Under critical theory, women would bother because they’re victims of oppression, and political action is the only way to move forward on the Right Side of History. But if you truly find your freedom among your family and friends in the community you were granted to live in, and men are not your natural enemies but rather the natural sources and objects of love, would it at not at least bear consideration that the nuisance and duty of government is best left to somebody else? So that one might better focus on what is most valuable and important in life? We see here foreshadowed the ugly myth of the Woman Who Has It All – the job, the kids, the responsibility – except for the relationships that might make those other things worthwhile. The myth becomes a stick, with which to fend off or perhaps beat the reality of the lonely female cube-dweller, whose work is drudgery and whose family is chaos.

What if the running of the city were left, along with war and taking out the garbage, to some subset of adult men, say those 35 and older who have done some well-understood service for their community? That this is generally outrageous and unimaginable is the whole point of this essay. It doesn’t matter, for the argument, if the definition of the cadre of voters is altered to include some women or some younger people – but not everybody. What matters is that voting is seen primarily as a duty, and that this duty exists to protect the real world of relationships in which a person can be free and find meaning.

This duty must be taken up by somebody. That somebody must have the time and energy to fulfill it. From the point of view of the city as Aristotle envisioned it, men have always been more expendable than women and children. Men could and did and do go off to war, and many do not come back. Yet the web of relationships in the city survive. Would the same happen if the women were to leave and the men stay behind? We’re running that experiment now. Preliminary reports are not encouraging.

Again: much more important than who votes and holds office – I don’t really care, except for wanting to exclude as many gullible children of all ages as can be excluded – is recognizing the primacy of natural relationships over political actions. The latter serves the former, not the other way around.

  1. The functional big cities Aristotle knew of contained around 50,000 people. Most were smaller.