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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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.

Wednesday Update & r/K Strategy

Been a crazy busy/stressful last several days. Here’s where we stand:

A. Beta readers: Got feedback already from several of you – thanks! Just send the same story to a couple more people. Right now, I’ve got 6 beta readers! Wow! You guys are generous.

I want to give each of your comments proper consideration, which, given both time constraints and focus distracted by Real Life, I have yet to do. Thought a three-day weekend would give me an opportunity, but didn’t happen. Now looking at school camping trip this weekend (supposed to be 93F – oh, joy.) followed by the year end/graduation party next weekend, with Mrs Yardsale flying to SoCal to be with Elder Daughter for her graduation from an acting conservatory in L.A.. Meanwhile, 80 yr old mother in law lives with us, which is overall a beautiful thing for which I am grateful, but it does eat time and cramp any spontaneity. And all this is on top of Other Stuff that’s taking a toll on time, concentration, sleep – the usual.

Sooo – please be patient. I really do appreciate all your comments, and will make revisions as appropriate.

Rabbit
Don’t let those floppy ears and timid facade fool you. They all dream of being the Beast of Caerbannog

B. What’s up with this r/K theory of political alignment? Ran into it a few times over the last few months, even found a free book expounding it (by some anonymous author who says it’s his idea). Count me unimpressed.

Here’s how it goes:

In biology, r = rate of procreation; K = an environment’s carrying capacity for a particular creature. These variables became associated with two reproductive strategies, called r and K.

So: in an environment of relative abundance, an r strategy is proposed as best from a Darwinian/gene survival point of view: produce as many offspring as possible as fast as possible. Animals pursuing (in that weird sense in which animals are said to pursue gene-survival strategies ) an r-strategy exhibit 5 behaviors:

  1. Conflict avoidance. Avoid competing;
  2. Reproduce young and often;
  3. Breed indiscriminately – lots of mating with whoever is handy;
  4. Provide minimal or no care in raising the offspring;
  5. Show no group loyalty – no concern for other members of your tribe.

The r-strategy is said to occur in prey animals, where predation keeps their numbers down to a point where survival is never a question of competition for scarce resources. The population is always below the environment’s carrying capacity. The reasoning is thus: if there is plenty of food and water, don’t fight over it; if predators are likely to pick you off sooner rather than later, breed early and often; since survival is a numbers game, don’t waste time finding an optimal mate or raising your young; everybody gets eaten sooner or later, so no point worrying about who is getting eaten today.

The K-strategy is said to occur among predators, whose numbers tend to be constrained by the availability of prey. Thus, they live at or near the carrying capacity K of their environment. The optimal strategy is said to include:

  1. Competition is natural and unavoidable, so you’d better compete agressively;
  2. Only the most fit offspring survive, so delay and limit breeding to produce fewer but very fit offspring;
  3. Mates are chosen carefully and competed over, as the most fit mate produces the most fit offspring
  4. Large investment in raising the young, with both parents and the herd/pack taking care;
  5. Show loyalty and interest in the group you belong to, because that’s the group your mating prospects and survival depend upon.

You can see where this is going. Rabbits are the example typically given of an r-strategy species. It’s an appealing generalization – I recall seeing a video of a stoat hunting rabbits in a field full of rabbits. The stoat picked his target, and began to harass and exhaust it while the other rabbits continued to nibble away at the abundant grass. The stoat eventually killed it. (The stoat leapt on the rabbit’s back, bit through the rabbit’s spine at the neck, and then dragged the much larger prey away. Nasty little devils.)

Rabbit of Caerbannog | Villains Wiki | FANDOM powered by Wikia
You thought they were kidding about the Beast of Caerbannog? 

The other rabbits hardly looked up during the whole ordeal. Presumably, they went back to the warren and bred like, well, rabbits immediately after being sated with grass.

Wolves are given as the K-strategy poster-creatures. They compete with each other yet also hunt as a team, they spend comparatively large amounts of time and effort raising comparatively fewer young to be as fit as possible. Only mature, fit individuals get to breed. Wolves are loyal to their pack. They compete for the best mates.

Humans, it is proposed, are genetically disposed toward one or the other of these strategies, because our environments run to both extremes. When we’re settled and competing for resources with each other, K is successful and r would be out competed. But when we migrate to new places where there are no people, such as we hominids have done repeatedly for the last million years, then an r strategy wins. We’d just be wasting time with a K strategy, competing with each other when we could be out hunting the abundant game or gathering the abundant edibles – and breeding up a bunch of offspring.

Accordingly, r-strategy Americans end up Democrats or Socialists. while K-strategy Americans gravitate toward being Republicans or Libertarians.

There is more to read, which the author claims gives all the boring scientific evidence and reasoning for all this, but I think we’ve already arrived at a point where a boatload of prudent skepticism is called for. First off, like all sociobiological theories, there’s large dollop of Just So story here. The inquiring mind wants to know: how, exactly, would one even construct an experiment or field study to demonstrate any of this in the animal kingdom? Not saying it can’t be done, but it’s not obvious. How does one measure, for example, identify breeding preferences in wild populations, let alone group cohesion or how much a parent morns? While it’s easy to say an elephant mourns when its baby dies, and that a rat does not, how are we to measure this? How do we filter out the anthropomorphizing and confirmation biases?

Then, you’d need to replicate it across a bunch of species and environments to prove it out. Then you’d need the usual double-blind non-WEIRD study of people across a wide population – you know, like is almost never done – before applying any of this to human beings in general.

For starters. Then there’s the claim that there are genetic markers for behaviors as generally ill-defined as being liberal or conservative – or something, haven’t gotten to that part yet. I’m doubtful.

What I’m not doubtful of is the appeal of sociobiological explanations for complex human behavior. We’re into our second century of explaining what makes people tick based on some understanding of Darwin or other. Such explanations reveal much more about what the explainer is interested in than what’s going on in the world.

As a footnote, here’s my pet sociobiological theory: some people will only eat food with which they are familiar, others look forward to trying new dishes. (confession: heading off to a Peruvian restaurant tonight to celebrate our 31st anniversary. Why? Because I’ve never been to a Peruvian restaurant before. So you know where I fall.)

Here’s why, according to the theory which is mine: farms have been part of the environment of evolutionary adaptation for many thousands of years now. Settled people tend toward a set menu – what available on the farm and nearby. So natural selection has inclined them to be ‘eat what I know’ types. Meanwhile, other people migrate, such as across the Bering land bridge or on boats to Hawaii. They arrive at places full of edible stuff they’ve never seen before. For such people, the willingness to try new stuff is a must. Natural selection inclines them to go, say, to a Peruvian restaurant.

Of course, a spectrum of behaviors will exist here, as the fuddy-duddies and adventurous insist on marrying each other occasionally, mixing up all those genes. But the extremes prove the point.

Well? You convinced? How is this argument weak in a way other sociobiological arguments are not?

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.

 

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.

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).

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.