Space: In Search of…?

Taking a break this week from crying woe and attacking my friends and ancestors to get all skiffy, asking the Question That Shall Not Be Asked Too Loudly: why do we want to explore space, again?

Sure, I get the adventure and romance part, and space pirates buckle my swash right up, but, really: why?

Consider: here is the first of a few videos, well worth the hour they take to watch, of a bunch of nuts building a traditional 18th century trading ship.

By the time you get to the launch, you’ll have seen many men spend many hours cutting trees, shaping timbers, bending planks, applying tar and hemp caulking, forging fixtures and nails and otherwise engaging in feats of manly craftsmanship. Getting from a design to a plan to an ocean-going vessel made of wood is dazzling. And, even in modern times with modern tools, pretty expensive.

Or this, to take it back a few centuries, the classic viking long ship, the big version known as a dragon ship:

Amazing and beautiful ship. Aside: the Vikings generally used bog iron to forge the iron nails on their ships. When iron-rich water drains into bogs, the iron tends to settle out into accumulations of iron-rich ores. All it takes to get this stuff is slopping around in bogs with a shovel and something to carry the ore in. Evidently, finding the deposits was a combination of skill and luck.

After you’ve collected enough ore, you’ll need to heat it and crush it. Many times as much wood as ore is needed to melt it down, so somebody is cutting  A LOT of firewood. (Aside on the aside: it is claimed that the Zulus, who were master iron workers, created a lot of grasslands and deserts by cutting down forests of trees to fire their smelters.)  Then build a clay furnace, heat the crushed ore in the furnace for many hours, including pumping some sort of manual bellows, until the dross (liquid rock!) flows off and you’re left with a bog iron bloom – a lump of very impure iron. A team of smiths alternately heat (meaning: somebody cut down and gathered yet more wood) the bloom and hammer out the impurities. You heat and pound for hours until you’re left with a few pounds of usable iron – from which you can forge a few nails.

A dragon ship needed hundreds of iron nails. Building wooden ships: a labor and resource intensive exercise.

Or, going back as far as we can in the West, bronze-age stitch ships:

People cut down huge oaks with bronze hand tools, and then carved those oaks into the pieces needed, fitted them and tied them together to make boats that could ply the English Channel. Again, fabulous amounts of labor and ingenuity.

Those 18th century Indiamen came back laden with spices and other valuables. The Dragon Ships came back with booty as well as trade goods. Even the stitch ships seem to have been used to ship out English tin and other trade goods and bring back copper or bronze. But a lot of those ships, and the people on them, didn’t come back. Every trip was a life and death adventure. People had to really want to go for these trips to take place at all, even apart from the enormous investment it took to build the ships.

People will put tremendous effort and take huge risks if there is a payoff at the end. Only rarely will people spend a lot of time and money just to see what’s out there. Even then, what they want to know is if there are goods out there worth the trouble of getting. The Age of Exploration was the age of finding and getting stuff worth getting. It would have ended pretty quickly or followed a much different trajectory if it weren’t for the spices and gold and other goodies that came flooding back to Europe.

Back to space travel. I read once that the moon rocks brought back by the landing missions have mostly sat in boxes collecting dust. Once a few were thoroughly analyzed and found to be very ordinary, science mostly lost interest in them. Be that as it may, so far, we have not discovered anything in space worth the cost and risk of getting it. Reality check. People love to speculate on the value of certain asteroids, and start in predicting that we might go fetch those big rocks full of valuable metals. And maybe we can. It won’t be easy or cheap.

So, once the blush of conquest fades, why do we want to explore space? People, seems to me, are grasping at straws: we’re going to use up the earth! Too many people! We need to spread out or we’ll all die!

Where to even start. Carrington Event, anyone? That’s when the sun emits enough radiation to fry anything in space out to the orbit of Mars. They happen quite regularly, just rarely hit the earth – a planet with a thick atmosphere and a strong magnetic field. Which is why there are still people here. Out in space, or on the moon, or on Mars – not so good. The people in the International Space Station know that, should a Carrington Event happen while they’re up there, they’re not coming home alive.

Same goes for people in transit, people in space habitats, or maybe people on Mars if they’re facing sunward at the time it hits. Maybe we can figure it out, maybe not. The Carrington Event hit in 1859, so we’re 160 years without anything quite so big. Due? Overdue? Don’t think anybody really knows.

I mention this merely to point out that space is, if anything, even more inhospitable than people seem to think. It’s not just the freezing vacuum and occasional bits of high-speed rubble that can kill you. Remember the galactic capital of Trantor from Asimov’s Foundation series? He imagined it as located somewhere near the galaxy’s heart. These days, astronomers strongly suspect that the galaxy’s core is a black hole, and in any event that the denser inner part where most of the stars are is bathed in enough radiation to render it uninhabitable by us. It may just be the case that only out here on the fringes of the spiral arms, the sticks, as it were, are things calm enough long enough for life to survive.  That’s not counting the more local difficulties, like novas, neutron stars and black holes, which will make their local neighborhoods very inhospitable.

But forget about all that. Just focus on how valuable something would have to be in order for people to build some way of going into outer space to get it. In Dune, Herbert imagines a drug that confers long life and way cool mind powers on people – that’s the spirit! I can see people risking their lives and spending a trillion or two to get something like that.

But it had better be relatively close by. If it’s not in or very near our own solar system, we’d have a situation where the generation that footed the bill and took the risks is dead long before the payoff. Taking a look at people in general, most of us have trouble planning ahead two weeks, or caring about what happens in 10 years. All of the sudden, we’re going to start investing planetary-level resources into ventures with a payoff (if any) generations in the future?

So: what reasons do we propose for people to venture out into space? Here’s my list of ideas that are at least usable for SFF:

  • Romance/adventure: people just want to go because they can. This is Elon Musk and the thousands who signed up for that one-way trip to Mars he proposed.

People – I suspect some very small subset of people, when the rubber hits the road – really, really want to explore strange new worlds, etc. They imagine they are Columbus, heading off into the great unknown, and that something like a New World awaits them.

This works, to some extent, if they are or know billionaires. An industry, such as the shipbuilding industries described above, will not spring up to fund these romantic adventures unless there’s money in it. Columbus had to bring back the goods to keep the exploration flowing. Governments just might do it, but romance and adventure don’t commonly figure into the motivations of governments.

Problems: such people are not rational. Musk and others try to dress it up with reasons such as the ‘need’ to spread out to preserve the species (it’s that payoff in generations thing again) or maybe finding something valuable enough to warrant the expense. Bottom line, such people are hopeless romantics. That one-way ticket to the imagined Mars colony is a death sentence, probably much sooner than later. Even if it works, you’d be living inside a camp or in holes in the ground, trying not to suffocate, freeze or starve. Assuming you survive the trip. People are going to stay sane under these conditions?

Other romance/adventure scenarios are at least this bad. You want to live on/in an orbital structure or asteroid? For something like a few trillion dollars, we could build a nice habitat in space, and a few thousands of people could live there until something hits it, a Carrington Event, a system failure – assuming we can solve the Biosphere 2 problems.  Which we have not yet done, nor are there efforts to fix them or even understand them actively underway. Weird, huh?

  • Spice/Stroon/That Very Valuable McGuffin.

Sure, that’ll work. Now find it before you’ve driven earth into penury.

Note that asteroid mining, which is still more than a little dubious as an economic activity, isn’t really exploring space in the sense that science fiction imagines it. At best, it’s an excuse to set up bases and space stations. Economically, what you’d want to do would be to send robot drones to capture and redirect asteroids into more convenient orbits, maybe with robot refineries on them to extract the valuable materials.

What is utterly uneconomical is to send people up there to do this. Why? It’s dangerous, boring work that is ideal for a robot which needs neither food nor air and can easily survive high G’s.

So, we’d need to be talking about something much more valuable than minerals, and something that somehow requires physical human intervention.

  • Alien life, intelligent or not.

I imagine the lure of alien life would be too great to resist for long. If we knew for sure, somehow, that non-terran life existed anywhere we could get to, I think we’d go.

  • Pulling a geographic. Grass is always greener.

Upon consideration, this seems to me to be about the best, most realistic reason for exploring and colonizing space. It works well with and even largely overlaps the Romance/Adventure motive.

We all know or are this person. Many, many people at some point in their lives just want to leave. They will talk themselves into some reason for wanting to leave, but the basic motivation is that feeling that if they could just leave, they would leave their troubles behind.

Let us imagine a surplus economy. We are effectively there, barring major wars or the advent of universal socialism. Everybody is fed, clothed and housed. Nobody works themselves to death unless they want to.

Let us further imagine a civil war between, oh, let’s call them the Party of Death and the Party of Life. (It should not need to be pointed out that these groups do not at all correspond to any current political parties.) The outcome is better than we have any reason to hope: the Party of Life wins its freedom, but allows the Party of Death to exist so long as it does NOTHING to interfere with the free functioning of families and the government instituted by them. You know, to ensure domestic tranquility and secure rights for us and our posterity? No messing with that. Otherwise, you can live your self-destructive, hedonistic lives as long as you keep it to yourselves.

Since the future belongs to those who show up for it, this may not be too far-fetched to at least work as SF&F: those hellbent on their own destruction lash out and destroy – but they don’t have many children. Those dedicated to their families and kids don’t destroy things and do have children. Choosing one course means you are not represented in the future; choosing the other means you are.

The civil war is won when the Party of Death loses control of the government, the schools, and, as a result, of the media and entertainment industries. In my fantasy here, a relatively small number of people die – some when the Party of Life is finally pushed to fight back, some few especially deserving individuals are lined up and shot at dawn due to a (slight) excess of fervor on the part of the victors. But not much real war, as the people with the guns – cops, soldiers – will mostly very much want to stay out of it, and are more sympathetic to the Party of Life anyway.

Hey, it’s my fantasy.

Imagine a world where there are many hardworking people devoted to their families, who now hold power to the extent of vetoing policies and programs that harm them, yet there are also millions of people who want no part of this family nonsense, and are left to destroy themselves in a million ways, if they insist.

More to have something to do and dream about than anything else, such a culture might build generation ships to explore and colonize the stars. So we burn a trillion dollars building such ships and perhaps giant space lasers to help propel them…

It’s not like we don’t burn a trillion here or there even now.

And people will go. Romance, adventure, and the desperate hope that you can leave your troubles behind will drive them.

You can never really leave your troubles behind. Unless you die, which may or may not lead to other troubles.

Thoughts?

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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.

 

A Fine Art Triduum

Some art I like for the Holiest of Days. Have a happy, holy and blessed Triduum!

Image result for last supper
The Last Supper, by Bouveret, 19th century
Duccio di Buoninsegna: Jezus wast de voeten van de apostelen (Maestà)
Duccio di Buoninsegna ca. 1255 – 1319

 

Image result for garden of gethsemane painting
The Agony In The Garden by Guiseppe Cesari
Ciseri – Behold the Man
File:William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - The Flagellation of Our Lord Jesus Christ (1880).jpg
Bouguereau – the Flagellation of Christ
Related image
Christ Meeting His Mother on the Way to Calvary.

 

Image result for bouguereau Christ
William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) – Compassion 
Image result for bouguereau christ
Bouguereau – Pieta
Image result for bouguereau christ
Bouguereau – Mourning Virgin Mother
Image result for Ciseri
Ciseri – The transport of Christ to the sepulcher
Image result for sansepolcro piero della francesca
Piero della Francesca – Resurrection
Related image
Bouguereau – the Holy Women at the Tomb

 

 

Random Writing: One Day…

Image result for 1953 indian motorcycle“He was heading down to Success when he tried to moon that trucker.”

“Hogs. Hauling hogs. And he weren’t trying nothin – he mooned him good.”

“Well, I suppose,” Bill looked up from his coffee, “However righteously you moon somebody, I think you lose points if you die.”

Edgar folded his large hands on the formica table top. “Nobody knows he died.” He squinted at Bill. “Folks in Biloxi say they saw him just last month.”

I interrupted. “So, let me get this straight. Caleb Jones may or may not have died mooning a trucker?”

“Hauling hogs.” Edgar squinted at me, the wrinkles around his eyes disappearing under his ball cap. “Musta cut him off. Caleb was a bit militant ’bout the need to share the road.”

“Nice bike,” Bill added.

“Indian. Somebody ought to drag the river.”

A lone fly was playing chicken with the ceiling fan. Edgar had finished the scrambled eggs he’d topped with an alarming volume of hot sauce. Bill nursed a coffee. I was having orange juice.

“Vicksburg Bridge.” Edgar continued. “Caleb took that big beautiful Indian, think it was a ’53, on his business trips.”

“And like Ed says, trucker hauling hogs must of cut ’em off.” Bill continued.

“So Caleb, who always was a bit of a hothead…”

“And more than a bit of a showoff…”

“Pulls in front of the trucker…”

“Stands up on the saddle of his Indian…”

“Nice bike,” Edgar mused.

Bill, warming, soldiered on, “Stands on the saddle, going 50…”

“60!”

“And dropped trou!”

Edgar and Bill shook their heads in amazed, admiring tandem.

I was trying to follow. “So a man in his 70s riding a classic motorcycle traveling at high speed on the Vicksburg Bridge, stands on the saddle and drops his pants because a trucker cut him off?”

“Hauling hogs,” added Edgar.

“Indian. Nice bike,” said Bill.

“Damn racoon,” Edgar muttered.

“Now Ed, what the hell would a racoon be doing out in the middle of the Vicksburg Bridge?”

“Who the hell knows why a coon does anything? I saw him!”

Bill shook his head. “Next thing you know, Caleb and that beautiful bike of his are spiraling off down toward the muddy Mississippi.”

“Pants around his ankles. Head over heels.”

“Missed all the stanchions.”

“Always was a lucky sumbitch.”

“Don’t know where this supposed racoon got to. Just disappear?”

“They do that.”

Silence fell. Edgar and Bill glared at each other.

“So, you both saw this? Why didn’t it make the news? Why is there no police report?”

“Ed and me was working on an engineering study,” Bill began.

“Infrastructure. Deferred maintenance.”

“We was in one of those painter car things, hanging off the north side of the bridge.”

“Perfect view.”

“Happened pretty quick.”

“Dunno if anybody else saw it.”

“The trucker, for one.”

“Hauling hogs.”

“Probably thought he was hallucinating.”

“Yep. And anyhow, tell that story, and they pull your license.”

Success MS
The Ghost Town of Success, MS. 3 hours southeast of the Vicksburg Bridge. In case you were wondering. 

Critical Theory: How it “Works”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The nonsense never ends.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

“The party that once embraced Catholics”

The above quotation is from Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal. He writes to discuss two burning issues for New Yorkers where he in his role of Catholic leader is vehemently opposed by the Democratic Party: school choice and abortion. (He is for the first and against the second.) As has always been the case in my limited experience reading Dolan’s writings, he is very politic and polite.

I’m not. I’m freed from the need to attempt to work with New York politicians, and so can be more forthcoming. The images that sprang to mind with the word “embraced” were a strangler’s embrace of his victim’s neck, or shackles embrace on a prisoner. The relationship of the Democratic Party to Catholics has never been one of equals, but one of useful peons paid off by their political betters. This is both painfully obvious and painful to behold in the eternally enchanted loyalist Democratic Catholics.

Dolan only slips up once in his role as peace-maker and pleader, when he mentions his Grandmother’s whisper: “We Catholics don’t trust those Republicans.” That’s a lot more representative of the attitudes of the Catholics I grew up around: it’s not we Catholics, as sheep among wolves, make necessarily uneasy and conditional alliances trying to be, as Christ commanded, wise as serpents – it’s that we trust one party and distrust the other.

Why? The history of the relationship between the Democratic Party and the Catholic Church is one of Catholics being used, marginalized and discarded. Tammany Hall, in Dolan’s own New York, was coextensive with the Democratic Party, legendarily corrupt – but by 1817, took care of Catholic and other immigrants as they stepped off the boats.

Tammany Hall was a political force in New York City from its 1789 inception as a benevolent association to mayoral campaigns in the 1950s. Frequently its leadership was identical to the Executive Committee of the local Democratic party, and it was a major or controlling faction in the party in 1821-1872 and 1905-1932. Key Tammany bosses through the years included William M. Tweed, Richard F. Croker, and Charles F. Murray.

Although its name was synonymous with corruption to many, Tammany Hall’s popularity and endurance resulted from its willingness to help the city’s poor and immigrant populations. Irish immigrants forced Tammany Hall to admit them as members in 1817, and the Irish thereafter never lost their tie with it. Because in the 1820s Tammany successfully fought to extend the franchise to all propertyless white males, it was popular with the working class. A close association with the Democratic party was also forged in the Jacksonian era.

“Willingness to help the city’s poor and immigrant populations.” This “help” was in exchange for absolute political loyalty: woe to the immigrant who dared to support any other party! With local ward bosses in near complete control of every neighborhood, and surrounded by neighbors and relatives who owed their jobs to the machine, the Tammany Hall bosses were assured that they would grow richer and more powerful if only they kept the unwashed mass of immigrants contented.

(Orestes Brownson went to New York City in 1829 as part of the Working Men’s Party, in order to get men paid for work performed, which wasn’t always happening under the more direct beneficiaries of Tammany’s largess. Those who bribed their ways into valuable city franchises were not always completely fair and honest with their workers. Go figure. This action seems to have motivated and cemented the convention that, no matter how corrupt Tammany Hall got, you still had to pay the little people to keep them in line, so that the big dogs can get richer.)

Imagine an Irish or Italian immigrant stepping off the boat in New York circa 1850. He’s fleeing oppression, poverty or both, having lived under governments that exploited him at best and actively tried to kill him and his family at worst. Somebody meets him on the docks, makes sure he has a place to sleep and food, and gets him in touch with people who can help him find a job.

It would be like being greeted by St. Peter at the gates of Heaven, only without that whole uncomfortable judgement thing. The only thing they ask in return, a very little thing, is that you support your benefactors forever more. You might notice they are corrupt – but compared to what you just escaped from? Tammany Hall looked like Boy Scouts compared to the British in Ireland! Small price to pay.

Small price to keep paying. On and on. Generation after generation. And don’t trust the Republicans.

Similar things were done in Chicago, Boston and other Democratic cities. Loyalties to the local ward boss were rolled up to the city, state and eventually national level. Catholics were just assumed – almost always correctly – to be Democrats.

All this Catholic loyalty culminated in the nomination of Al Smith in 1928 as the first Catholic to run for President from a major political party.

He lost in a landslide. Many non-Catholic Northern Democrats and virtually all Southern Democrats (effectively none of whom were Catholic) were hesitant, to say the least, to vote for a Papist.  Smith carried much of the South, as the typical Democrat had to decide if he hated Catholics or Republicans more, and went with Republicans.

1928 election

Live and learn. What happened next is what’s really instructive. In the 1932 elections, the Democrats ran Roosevelt over Smith’s strenuous opposition – but, good American Catholic that he was, he gave a key speech in favor of FDR, who won in an equally large landslide.

Roosevelt then began to pursue exactly the policies Smith had opposed, leading to the formation of the American Liberty League, which Smith joined. Much more telling: the assent of Catholics within the Democratic party was sharply curtailed. By 1940, about the only prominent Catholic FDR appointed was Joe Kennedy, who was ambassador to the UK – safely out of the way, as it were – who he nonetheless replaced when Joe was perceived as too negative about Britain’s chances in WWII.

By Roosevelt’s time, it had been firmly established that the Democrats needed Catholic votes, but didn’t really need to do much to get them. Joe Kennedy’s sons became the poster children for Catholics You Can Use: they maintained their Catholic identity while rejecting any loyalty to the Church’s teachings in favor of whatever the Democratic party wanted. And were rewarded handsomely for it.

To this day, Catholics have been played for fools by the Democratic Party. Like Esau, we trade a birthright for a full belly. Worse, lead by the likes of Ted Kennedy, we’ve learned to shed any moral qualms we might have about the particulars of the Democratic platform and not merely hold our noses and allow them, but to actively embrace them. Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden, anyone?

Maybe Dolan’s timid letter, which reads more like the laments of a jilted lover than of an independent leader, will be the beginning of change. Only when the Democratic Party knows it can’t assume the Catholic vote is there any hope of meaningful change. As it is, we’re still wedded to the party of abortion, destruction of marriage, and the limitless state. These are not Catholic values. It’s only been so for about 50 years. Now we notice?

Politics is always messy and dirty. We can’t just not play. But Christ sent us as sheep among wolves and commanded we be wise as serpents. Wedding ourselves to one party or the other is not wise. Being used for somebody else’s gain at the cost of our souls is worse than stupid.

Friday Flotsam

1. Zuckerberg. Ah, Zuckerberg. Not a big fan of armchair psychology unless it’s me that’s doing it. So, grain of salt and all that.

Over the years, have run into a number of people in my position: working with techies without being a techie. People in sales, PR, management, even a retired corporate psychologist. It’s remarkable how the discussion will eventually, usually pretty quickly, get around to the same issue; the blindness of successful techies to how normal people think and react. Stereotypes get that way because they’re so often accurate.

If I have a big Theory of Life, it might be described as Filter Theory: with greater or lesser intent, people are sorted and assigned roles according to filters. Nobody becomes a cop, for example, unless he can tolerate lots of rules and bureaucracy and don’t shy away from the threat of violence. The vast majority of people, it seems to me, would not make very good cops, at least according to the current job description. We find common denominators across all sorts of otherwise different people if they share a profession. (1) Nothing too profound here, just an observation to keep in mind.

Image result for zuckerberg
Our once and future robot overlord. 

Nobody can become successful in computer technology unless he can tolerate sitting in front of a screen for hours every day and stay focused on increasingly arcane minutia. People with a high need for human interaction need not apply. In fact, finding human interaction baffling or unpleasant would tend to drive people toward careers where they can be successful without having to deal too much with other human beings.

Further, there are kinds of insanity that result in sleeping in a cardboard box or padded cell; there are also kinds that result in becoming CEO or sales leader. In the case of tech, there are many, many really good guys who are aware on some level that they’re not very good at picking up what other people are feeling or thinking. These folks tend to be that sort of shy geek that is easy to love – and who rarely rises much in the hierarchy.

Then there are those who, if not out and out sociopaths, are at least blissfully unaware of how other people think and react. They just assume other people are stupid or ignorant. They are confident that things would go so much better if only they were in charge. In a tech environment, these people tend to become management. Sometimes – woe to us! – they even come up with a good enough idea that they found a company or 3.

Thus, we get the spectacle of Zuckerman. I believe he really, truly does not get how hopelessly arrogant and frankly stupid he looks to normal people. The most terrifying aspect: he’s rich enough to have gotten away with it so far. His ego is probably utterly impenetrable. He is absolutely sure the only problem here is that everybody else is stupid.

I passionately hope somebody finds a way to put him in jail for a year or two. That’s about the only hope we have of getting through to these fools. It’s a slim hope, but it’s about all we’ve got.

2. A discussion of this article took place on this blog. Here we have Science! in all its glory: some sample of people in nations around the world are asked, using a variety of ‘instruments’ no doubt, about how ‘religious’ they are and how ‘happy’ they are. Then, tossing all this ‘data’ in a blender, we are called to conclude that the more religious the people in an area are, the more unhappy the people in that area will be.

Where to even start? Note first of all that it’s not claimed that the it’s same people – in other words, one set of people might be very religious and happy, while another set, let’s say a bigger set, is mildly irreligious and very miserable. The average – whatever that might mean! Average of what, exactly? – might show relatively high religiosity on average and relatively high misery on average, but miss entirely *who* was happy and who was miserable.

Really, too much stupidity to be sorted through. Let’s landry-list this thing, at least the high points:

  • Reification. To plot the graphs shown, you would need *numbers*. Happiness, sadness, religiosity are NOT in ANY WAY numerical. Nobody is 0.7 happy, nor 28.334 sad, nor 87% religious. Do not pass go until you understand this. It is simply nonsense to assign numbers to responses on a poll and act like you can then add them up and perform math on them. Simple and complete nonsense. Cooking up an ‘instrument’ that forces people to give numerical answers doesn’t magically make the thing numerical.
  • Polls. Undefined terms. So some undergrad needing extra credit shoves a poll into somebody somewhere who has time to answer polling questions, and asks something like: on a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you? Somebody says 8. Somebody else says 6. Yet another person says 3. Well? Who is happier? WE DON’T KNOW!!!! Happiness is not numerical, and, even if it were, 3 people will each have his own unique and possibly mutually exclusive ideas of what happiness means.
  • Self reporting. In America, one routinely asks ‘how you doing?’ and routinely gets a reply such as ‘fine’. In Italy, nobody asks how you are doing, because the answer will be a litany of ills. Yet we assume without any objective check that the American who says 8 is really twice as happy that the Italian who says 4?
  • Cultural differences. See above. Even apart from individual differences, some cultures consider themselves happy, others consider it bad form to tout one’s happiness. Yet all answers are treated as the same.
  • Religion. The poll assumes that Calvinism is a religion in the same way Islam is, or Hinduism, Buddhism or every flavor of Animism is. Just no. The concept of a devout Animist is absurd. Calling Buddhism a religion in the same way Lutheranism is a religion is absurd. Within each subset, similar problems are revealed by a moment’s reflection: Catholics – a group I know fairly well – consist both of those who were last in a church when baptised and will next be in a church for their funeral, who couldn’t give an account of what the Church believes, who nonetheless see themselves as devout, and those who attend daily Mass and study the catechism, who nonetheless feel themselves but meager Catholics. We count them all the same?
Image result for happy baby
This baby is EXACTLY 9.7365 happy. EXACTLY! It’s SCIENCE!

And so on, across problems with language – do the terms mean the same things across all languages? – sampling questions, consistency, methodology – non of which matters in the least because HAPPINESS AND RELIGIOSITY ARE NOT NUMBERS.

If you call yourself a scientist or even a supporter of science, and fell for this, you are an ignorant fool. Not to put too fine a point on it.

3. Looks like we’re done with the rainy season here in Contra Costa County and perhaps the state as a whole. Last storms are petering out in the eastern mountains, and nothing else is forecast. We typically get very little rain after March.

I got a weighted average of 72.26% (speaking of ridiculous claims of accuracy – but hey, it’s math!) of average rainfall over the 30 rainfall gauges of the Contra Costa Flood Control District. Last year, we had 178% even over 29 gauges. Over the last 2 years, according to my highly suspect but probably about right methodology, we got 125% of average rainfall.

So? I don’t know, but it seems to me we should probably not have to worry about water supply now, except the long-term worry about how we capture, distribute and use it. How about a 50 year project to improve water capture, reduce transportation system loses, examine if we’re using water wisely and returning a large chunk of the Delta to wetlands? Instead of shrill panic? A man’s gotta dream.

  1. A favorite example from childhood: read an article, probably in Sports Illustrated, where a guy claimed to be able to tell whether a professional American football player played offence or defense just by looking at his locker: offensive players would have all their stuff neatly hung up and organized; defensive players would just stuff their gear or pile it on the floor. Why? because offensive players who reach professional level have to be able to execute a very specific and detailed plan for each play, while defensive players are filtered by their ability to disrupt those detailed plans. In the article, an exception was pointed out: there was an offensive lineman in this particular locker room whose gear was piled on the floor. A moment of interrogation revealed he’d been a defensive lineman until switched to offense in the pros.