Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Invite Them Home: Part III

ALAS, THINGS TAKE A VERY BAD TURN FOR THE NEOCON SAGES

Last time we discussed the origins of “neoconservatism” in its intellectual wing -- largely made up of bright nerds who gathered at the feet of Leo Strauss and other grouchy, platonist philosophers, nursing visions of someday being recognized and rewarded for their brilliance as inherent “philosopher kings.” Absorbing, also, the essential platonist addiction to self-indulgent incantation, the notion of romantically exaggerated “sides,” rejection of empirical science or pragmatic negotiation, and the belief that “good guys have a perfect right to lie.”

These fellows did valuable work for the Rovean Revolution and for Culture War, by laboring hard - across decades - to create an edifice of intellectual mantras. Mantras that would provide cover for normal, sincere American conservatives and libertarians to join the party under Rove’s Big Tent, in a coalition capable of seizing and then holding onto total political power. Forever.

Given that normal, sincere American conservatives and libertarians felt some discomfort with others under the tent -- fundamentalist would-be theocrats and monopolist kleptocrats, know-nothing science-haters and spoils system thieves -- this would take some really fancy verbal legerdemain. Some razzle-dazzle and song’n’dance that fellows like Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle and Richard Adelman and so many others were happy to concoct within the campus-like shelter of places like the American Enterprise Institute.

Indeed, they rode high for a while... and were rewarded accordingly. That is, until a rising stench began to fill the Big Tent


In fact, very recently... perhaps in time to save their souls... a few paladins of the neo-right, like Richard Perle, have taken small steps to recant. Acknowledging that things have gone very badly for America, under leadership of the far right, they claim that it is because their “good ideas” -- e.g. about aggressively pursuing an all-stakes-in wager on utopian nation-building in Iraq -- were incompetently executed.

Perle went on to whine that JUST when a correction back on-course is badly needed -- presumably a course-correction that’s neocon-designed -- nobody in the upper tiers of today’s GOP will talk to them, anymore.

A cynic might taunt, in return:

“You poor saps. You actually thought that those WASP-aristocratic frat boys, who hazed you and gave you wedgies in school, and took your lunch money while taunting ethnic slurs, had changed their minds and decided that they actually liked you?

“Just because (years later) they slapped your back and invited you to some (political) parties and gave you a few deputy-secretary appointments? (Where you could keep on doing their homework.)

“And now you’re disappointed that they aren’t answering your calls, or seeking your advice anymore, after they have the power and the klepto cash flow and the exaggerated super-tax-cuts (that you helped to rationalize, during time of war) and high oil prices... and now they snub you because they find all your moralistic rationalizations tiresome?

“Aw, gee whiz.”



All right, that chiding taunt sounds playground-immature in its own right. But can anyone disprove the relevance of deep psychology, when it comes to such a blatantly stereotypical bunch of overcompensating nerds? Utterly brilliant, but deeply misguided and profoundly ignorant of history, they fell right into one of the classic niches, as the guys who, in feudal days, wore spangled cloaks and ranted to distract the populace while they are being robbed. New priests and bards, providing priestly song-and-dance for our New Lords...

...until they found themselves elbowed aside by another band of priestly chanters. A larger bunch and with better racial pedigrees and bigger churches, singing far more compatible incantations about the Plain of Meggido.

Sorry guys. One priesthood at a time. Prepare yourselves for auto da fe.



THERE IS PLENTY OF BLAME FOR ALL

Colorful enough? Well, I now want to add an insight that is even more cynical... yet possibly on target.

For you see the left is just as much at-fault for this phenomenon as the right is.


It should be obvious, if only you pause to ask the right questions. Especially one that nobody ever bothers to put forward.

“Why did so many of the original neocons gather together at non-university “institutes” like the Heritage Foundation, where they called each other “fellows” and imitated all the rituals and relationships of an academe they had left behind? “

Why did these professor types leave academia behind?

Simple. Because life had become unbearable for the intelligencia of the right, at colleges across America. Especially during the radical reform era -- a time when conservative arguments against civil rights laws, and modern economics and feminism and state-supported science all proved simply wrong, wrong and wrong. Definitely and decisively and diametrically wrong.

So wrong that the adult thing to do would have been to redefine conservatism, cut away the bad stuff (like defending bigotry) and refine the good. And move on. The way liberalism re invented itself several times....

...and the way Barry Goldwater and Billy Graham seemed willing to adjust and redefine and move on to a newer, better conservatism. And others seemed willing to try, as well! Putting pictures of Martin Luther King on their walls and sponsoring bright female grad students and adjusting their economic theories.

But alas, for many, it was too little, too late.

For by then, campus leftists had begun adopting a filthy habit of their own. Drenched in the drug of self-righteous indignation, university activists who were too lazy to actually help make a better world (say, by joining the Peace Corps) derived local satisfaction (while blithely ignoring the global cost) by waging fierce and immature warfare against conservative professors, making university grounds unfriendly territory for any intelligencia who disagreed with the precise, politically correct party line.

Sometimes, this was achieved using shamefully repressive tactics. Methods that not only rationalized a double standard toward free speech, but also backfired over the log run.

Because, in response, as I said, conservative thinkers simply transferred off-campus to private institutes, like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, where -- lacking formal tenure -- these scholars of the right became increasingly beholden to large-scale private donors.

Moreover, far from the moderating give-and-take of campus life, the questioning “citokate” of students and peers, these leading inventors of neoconservatism took every single wrong turn that Barry Goldwater warned them against.

Indeed, nurturing imaturity, side-ism, and a cult of vengefulness for the defeats of 1964 and 1974, these latter-day Machiavellis commenced down paths of ivory tower self-reference that would make even the Harvard English Department look positively eclectic and broad-minded, by comparison.

A campfire circle-jerk, yanking away to polysyllabic rhythms and hyponotically mantric self-indulgence.

Erudite and at times almost talmudic. Certainly with some cogent points - mixed amid the details.

But a circle-jerk, nonetheless.


NEXT TIME: REVENGE OF THE NERDS

==or return to Part 1 of this series

73 comments:

Bob Kopp said...

David,

Following up on my discussion in the last thread (but not really germane to this post, since part of my argument is that you should divorce the terms "Leo Strauss" and "neoconservative"), I'd like to direct your attention to two articles by Steven Smith, available at http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/764028.html and, if you have access to JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/cgi-bin/jstor/viewitem/00905917/ap010119/01a00050/0?frame=noframe&dpi=3&userID=83d743d2@caltech.edu/01cce4406200501bab81d&backcontext=page

I should add that I haven't read Strauss extensively, though I have interacted with a number of his former students, and don't agree with all his views. The impression that I've gotten of Strauss from those interactions, though, agrees with the picture presented by Smith.

A couple of excerpts:

"He was, as he once described himself, a skeptic in the original Socratic sense of the term. It was, as Strauss saw it, the peculiar heroism of philosophy to live with that sense of uncertainty and to resist the attractions of absolutist positions in both politics and philosophy."

"It has sometimes been argued that Strauss’s defense of philosophy as a way of life has led to the creation of an inward-looking elite that exempts itself from the moral principles applicable to the rest of humanity. This assertion of the priority of the philosophic over the political life did not lead Strauss to neglect, much less to despise morality or virtue. To the contrary, Strauss was deeply concerned with the steady erosion of democracy into a form of mass culture. “Democracy,” he wrote, “ is meant to be an aristocracy which has broadened into a universal aristocracy.” By this he meant a regime in which education—liberal education—had become the prerogative of every citizen. Democracy as originally understood was, in a word, liberal democracy. But this classical conception of democracy as an aristocracy of everybody has slowly degraded into a form of “really existing” democracy. Modern democracy is today a form of mass rule, but mass rule does not mean rule directly by the masses so much as rule by mass culture, a culture manipulated by marketing techniques and other commercial forms of propaganda. “Are we not crushed, nauseated, degraded,” Strauss asks rhetorically, “by the mass of printed material, the graveyards of so many beautiful and majestic forests?” It remains today the task of liberal education to act as a “counterpoison” to the effects of mass culture and to recall citizens to the meaning of democracy as it originally was meant."

"He was certainly not a partisan of the hardcore Right, although some of his students have been. Strauss’s politics, such as they were, had more in common with cold-war liberals of his generation—Isaiah Berlin, Lionel Trilling, Walter Lippman, Raymond Aron—than with any of the major conservative figures of the same period. What Strauss brought to liberalism was a kind of “Tocquevillian” sensibility that regarded the freedom of an educated mind as the best antidote to the pathologies of modern mass politics. Contrary to the views attributed to him by many of his friends and virtually all of his enemies, Strauss regarded himself as a teacher of moderation. “Moderation,” he wrote, “will protect us from the twin dangers of visionary expectations from politics and unmanly contempt for politics.”"

There's more support for these views in the article available on JSTOR; if you don't have access, email me and I will send you a PDF.

Now I really should get back to finishing my thesis (at Caltech, BTW -- and I should note that, at least in my field of the Earth sciences, there's a long history of connections between Caltech and the University of Chicago).

Bob

TwinBeam said...

Darn it David, I thought you were going to get done with all the bashing and gloating and get on with your proposed solution to the culture war! It's getting downright repetitious!

BTW - I think it'd be more accurate to say that modern (liberal?) economics ("Debt doesn't matter") has not yet failed.

So long as we increase debt faster than the economy grows, it's only a matter of time. Yes, the rate was getting under control under Clinton - no thanks to Hillary and her hopes for universal medical benefits, and a lot of thanks to the gridlock between Clinton and the Republican Congress.

I suspect it's too late now to avert the crash - so party on, everyone, like it's 1929!

Tony Fisk said...

twinbeam, I think this is an article draft intended for places other than this blog.

So, yes, we've all heard this, and would love to cut to the chase and hear about this suggestion requiring intestinal fortitude. The target audience has not.

I will take a closer look after Easter but I will make one citokate comment now, David.

Your prose style is well suited for novels, but a formal document needs to be more terse. In particular, your more colorful and verbose depictions of Straussian anthropology need to be toned down a bit.

(heck! I'm sure you know this, but I'd better point it out.)

TwinBeam said...

"Bevity is the soul of wit."

Francis said...

For you see the left is just as much at-fault for this phenomenon as the right is.

Bull shit!

The left is not "just as much at fault" as the right is here. The left does bear some measure of responsibility, I agree - but when you claim "just as much at fault", you veer off into post-modernist cloud cuckoo land.

No one forced the right wing intellectuals to prostitute themselves when they could have done honest work like playing piano in a whorehouse. (I know only three "think-tanks" which if they put out a report saying that the sky was blue, my immediate reaction would not fit into one of three categories: Open the window to check, reach for my umbrella, be impressed that they hadn't declared the sky to be green - and none of the three are straight think-tanks).

Lenny Zimmermann said...

I wanted to expound a little on something Hawker said in the previous thread. I think that we can explain a LOT of the psychology at work here by viewing it all in terms of the "other". As some here have mentioned, it's certainly a common phenomenon. Concepts of social priorities/hierarchy even in the Renaissance were well defined in Italy as God then Prince/Country then Family above all other concerns, even most forms of organized crime view themselves as a "family", and not just the Italian mobs, either.

It does seem to be a phenomenon more tightly followed in the South, however. Indeed it has a certain twist where I call home here in New Orleans in that while we tend to be quite friendly, accepting and rather lassez faire in our attitudes towards "others", a certain amount of that distrust remains. Of course here it often leads to what many find to be a highly complex racial society that seems to have a hard time being defined, until one places it solidly into the construct of the meme of "otherness".

For in that realm it can be easily seen where racial tensions exist and where they simply do not and it has everything to do with who you know. If you now someone of a different race, they could easily be your best friend in the world and you may well be willing to give everything you have to help them out in times of need. But if you did not know them, or had someone to "vouch" for them, then the standard distrust, even hatred, response comes forth.

Indeed, this city thinks it's a small town where everyone should know everyone else. Common questions are "what school did you go to?" (and they always mean High School when asking that remark and it really is a better indicator of the neighborhoods and attitudes you might have over what college you might have attended, assuming you even went to college at all.) Or "Who's your mama?" An almost constant reaching out to find any kinds connections to reduce the level of "otherness".

I think that is also one of the major factors of political corruption in this state. Why should a politician really care about all of those "other" constituents when, after all, they can just take care of family and friends and shouldn't that suffice for all of those "other" voters as well? And if not, too bad because one must always look out for ones family and friends. A common enough attitude, no doubt, throughout much of the world, but taken to whole new levels in the culture of the South, I believe. And the culture of the South is, I would say, the one that is currently prevailing in GOP politics. As Dr. Brin states, frat boys looking out for each other, yet more than happy to take advantage of those "others" if it helps out their brothers.

Rob Perkins said...

I know I've been silent around here for a while, but I'm still here! :-)

David, so far the article you're writing is worthy of Stefan's CITOKATE. Tone down the metaphors on the Straussians. No one likes to be called a nerdy victim.

I've also taken great interest in Bob Kopp's recharacterization of Strauss. I know full well how easy it is for students to get a teacher's meaning dead wrong.

Anarchists (citing an example related to Bob's case) unleashed horrible monstrosity on the world. My recollection is that some of them decried what was later done in the name of what they taught.

Finally, if there were a way to depict the real resentment conservative academicians and religiously faithful academicians feel about the sidelining and lack of tenure (with the exception of a token here and there) at universities nationwide.

They consider it much more of an affront to academic freedom than you've depicted.

gmknobl said...

Gee, Dr. Brin, it sounds like you've got a fair amount of vitriol stored up. It sounds like you have been or have been very close to some victims of the close-mindedness and prejudices yourself.

I'm know the venom is deserved but as a friend once told me, it's never pretty to see. I love demonizing the "bad guys" as much as the next but I think it would work better if you toned down things just a bit. I am always uncomfortable when yelling curses at others, thinking that perhaps I should look to my own faults too.

Otherwise, you're right on target, if a little icky in your metaphors.

Rob Perkins said...

Whoops. Not Stefan's citokate. Tony's. Sorry!

RandomSequence said...

Bob,

Nice reference. But ultimately irrelevant. The problem is philosophy. Philosophy itself is an archaism, a monster born out of lack of data. It is the placenta that must be thrown away after birth, the childhood illusions needed during childhood and then discarded; the pupal carapace.

I'll give one exception: Wittgenstein, who abandoned most of the claptrap except to use it to point out the nonsense of it all - the grammatically correct constructions that were completely irreal. Any political movement that is fundamentally philosophical, rather than pragmatic, is dangerous. The "problems of human existence" aren't philosophical problems, but practical; the philosophical problems are problems insofar as we waste our breath taking about them.

The problem of freedom is one of implementation. The problem of economics is one of implementation. The problem of society is one of implementation. Logical systems built on intuition (the heart of philosophy) are deadly vestigial organs.

Seriously, fire all philosophers - make them earn an honest living as scientists and engineers. "Philosophism" will inevitably lead to Marxists, Neo-cons or, in a vulgar mode, religious fanatics. Nietzche declared God is dead - why do we keep on God's henchmen?

Hawker H said...

"Come the revolution, we shoot all the philosophers."
(Paraphrased from W. Shakespear)

I lost most respect for philosophers when my professor in a "Philo 101" course proved I didn't exist, and then got annoyed when I proved I did by hitting him with a paper airplane.
(I dropped the course, btw)

When my Dad was working on his Masters Degree (Earth Sciences), he 'taught' a course called "The Philosophy of Science". The students in the class were a interesting mix of Philo majors looking for a science requirement, and science majors looking for a humanities requirement. In it, he used the following anecdote...
"Aristotle, using a system of logic named after him, once proved that women are inferior to men because they have fewer teeth. Any thoughts on this?"
The student's statements to this varied from "Why would that matter?" to "Women are smaller, of course they have fewer teeth".
Except for three students (one female, two males) who promptly started counting each other's teeth. They discovered (small sample size, adjusting for one male having his wisdom teeth removed) that men and women have the same number of teeth.
Seems Aristotle never looked. Barring accidents, men and women have the same number of teeth.
The point Dad made with the lesson?
"It doesn't matter how good it sounds, you have to first look and see if it's true before you base any conclusions off of it."
Philosophy seems to be about making it sound good. Science is about looking to see if it's true.

RandomSequence said...

HH,

Good on your Dad. But it goes even farther than that. Philosophy is the attempt to create a self-consistent system; this was a huge advance in the axial age, before which the only demand on systems of knowledge was that they be aesthetically consistent, a much lower threshold.

The assumption was that there existed only one reasonable self-consistent system: once you had Euclid, how could there be other geometries? In the 19th and 20th centuries, we learned that there are an infinite number of logically self-consistent systems, each appropriate to different physical problems, or even different approaches to the same physical systems. Following Godel, we know we can grab any powerful mathematical system, and within it there are indeterminable propositions that as axioms can split the system.

So, philosophy is dead. All it can do is point out it's own ridiculousness. But we still have employed philosophers, and even worse, they actually advise the nutcases who run the world. We've moved on, by definite proof, but the message has not yet gotten out. Post-modernist philosophy is mostly a failed attempt at handling this message - the message doesn't need to be handled, it has to be taught from top to bottom.

First job, fire the philosophers from their academic perches, private and public. Eventually this'll transform everything culturally - just as philosophy banished the shamans from churches, science will banish the priests.

Brother Doug said...

David I think you are unfair to “liberals” not joining the Peace Corps. I applied to join in the 1990's and got back a form letter they did not have enough openings to let me join. Where if I had wanted to join the military as an officer they had plenty of openings. It’s a question of not having the funding to make a program’s in non-violence viable and then blaming the victims for their failure. While at the same time spending trillions of taxpayer dollars on the military solutions that proved to be a waste of time and money.

David Brin said...

Dang, Random Sequence sure wins post of the day. Wow, RS, that sure was a pragmatist manifesto!

Though I think you have to be careful what you mean by “philosophy.”

Attempts to “prove” things and to bully objective reality, through arm waving and incantation, certainly falls under the general territory you describe. Plato and his ilk.

And yes, many branches of political philosophy too. e.g. Marx trying to cram the Labor Theory of Value down our throats as an axiom, when it is at best an emergent theorem for special cases. Likewise most Libertarian theory. And let’s throw in the entire cludged notion of Original Sin.

And yet, there are branches of philosophy that deserve a LITTLE more respect. Take the trio of Rousseau, Hobbes and Locke. They provided marvelous metaphors around which we can present theories about human nature and what it feasible/practical for human society to accomplish. You learn a lot by showing how BOTH Marxists and Libertarians are essentially Rouseauian romantics, while the neocons and fundamentalists are Hobbesian feudalists.

You cannot properly put your money and your life behind Locke’s Wager without understanding his hypothesis. One that -- although it is the underpinning of modernist-pragmatism -- nevertheless is, in many ways, “philosophy.”

--
Brother Doug, I have no problem with liberals. If they are real liberals.

In fact, in about 2/3 of my politics... I ARE ONE!!

Haven’t you heard/seen me say that modern US liberalism is responsible for nearly all great American accomplishments in the last hundred years? Moreover, I do not insist that citizens who have positive beliefs must act them out in dramatically self-sacrificing ways. You don’t have to join the Peace Corps in order to live a life that helps the world.

Having said that, let me add that you are shouting at apples when I said oranges. My whole point is that there are left-wing asshole fanatics, just as there are right-wing asshole fanatics. Ever heard of communism? True, in our country, lefty monsters never took over liberalism and turned it into a mutant horror show, the way right-wing cretins and thieves have done to the GOP and conservatism. Nevertheless, it is not for lack of trying.

Indeed, the lefty flakes HAVE done great harm! Their power, largely restricted to university campuses, has been frustrated and cramped in large-scale terms. But it has nevertheless done genuine harm.

First by giving the neocons publicity ammo when a flake does or says something fantastically stupid... but in fact, it is unfair to blame a campus socialist/PC doofus for Rush Limbaugh. I know that.

But the second harm is the one I am talking about in this essay. It is a small scale crime that had HUGE consequences, because it drove a band of brilliant loony big-domes off campus and into the orbit of genuine enemies of the west.

Mike Huben said...

"For you see the left is just as much at-fault for this phenomenon as the right is."

Time for some CITOKATE.

First, this is suspiscious on its face as mere rhetoric: adherence to your trope of the foolishness of the left-right division.

Second, you adduce NO QUANTITATIVE EVIDENCE, yet you claim "just as much at-fault".

Third, you totally ignore the possibility that there might be SOME OTHER CAUSE or multiple causes that better explain the outcome. That total failure to address competing explanations reeks of ideology (perhaps in the making) rather than astute reflection.

"... it drove a band of brilliant loony big-domes off campus and into the orbit of genuine enemies of the west."

Big-domes (how "golden age" retro are you trying to get?) have always been sucked off of campuses for positions in government and business. It's easy: they're really not too expensive. Left, right, anyplace you want to classify them, we can name many. I strongly doubt that many were pushed off of campus.

The enemies of the diamond-shaped society have a new tool: public relations. And that's what right-wing think tanks were created for: to apply public relations techniques on behalf of those at the apex. If the left was winning the battle of ideas, it's not surprising that the right would attempt to gain an advantage with this new social technology. The confluence of interests between the right and the enemies of the diamond-shaped society (elites) are a far better explanation, IMHO.


Phil Agre has some great discussions of this:
The Crisis of Public Reason.
In large part they were hired to subvert public reasoning about policy.

What is "blame" for the left supposed to mean anyhow? That they shouldn't have competed so well? That they should have suppressed their own extremists' speech? That the poor widdle defenseless rightists needed protection so that their feelings wouldn't be hurt? Enquiring minds want to know.

Blake Stacey said...

To sum my question up in a phrase, "Did they move because they were pushed or because they were pulled?"

Even without any pressure from within academia, "right-wing" intellectuals will be more likely to leave, because they're the ones more likely to be hired outside. Without historical data (say, biographical information on neocons who were formerly university academics) it's impossible to say whether they got shooed off campus or drawn in by the rancid honey of private sponsorship. And, of course, they'll all whine that it was the PC lib'ruls who drove them out of the ivy, whether or not that's the case! Just look at the creationists who wail morning, noon and night that the "Darwinist conspiracy" is keeping their papers out of the peer-reviewed literature. . . never even hinting that their claptrap might be unpublished because it's nonsensical and factually wrong.

For all I know, there could have been a healthy contingent of decent Hayekians, driven off campus by students chanting, "Markets are emergent! Markets are emergent!" I've met a few college students who would go for that kind of thing. However, before I base any decisions on a pretty story, I want to see names, dates, quotations, analyses.

OdinsEye2k said...

But the second harm is the one I am talking about in this essay. It is a small scale crime that had HUGE consequences, because it drove a band of brilliant loony big-domes off campus and into the orbit of genuine enemies of the west.

At this point, I have to point out the hypocracy of these conservatives. Are they not the ones that continually demand that the weak pull themselves up by their bootstraps? Don't they blame the poor for "poor life choices" early in their lives and have no compassion for nearly inescapable situations? Isn't it they that tacitly endorse a hands-off outlook precisely because it allows social Darwinism to run its "proper" course?

So, how the hell do they summon the nerve to bellyache about some faculty chairs and voting committees telling them their work is crap? Isn't it self-evident from their unemployablility that they are inferior creatures, not meant to sully the halls of academia? Maybe a healthy part of their problems are that little voice in the back of their heads (for they are definitely not stupid) saying "if you really believe in all of this - doesn't that make you the pitiful one?"

Mind you, this is looking at the world through their lens, not mine. I realize that there are many dimensions to one's fortune. Life is too sloppy to pin all results on one's actions. Sure, if you do the "right" thing often enough, there is a strong chance that you will eventually make out. But how tolerant is the road of your failure to adhere to it?

Again, it seems strange to me that these folks should come crying to us for "intellectual diversity" and consistantly trying to inflate their own misfortunes to the levels of true persecutions.

Maybe I have a little bit of the "live by the sword, die by the sword" sentimentality left.

TwinBeam said...

'it seems strange to me that these folks should come crying to us for "intellectual diversity" '

Uh - I don't recall them doing that - you're imputing actions to them based what David said about his views of why they joined "think tanks" and such.

And after all, they didn't go crying to mama government to protect their access to universities, did they? They set up or joined their own institutions, found alternative ways to get their ideas out, and found people who liked what they had to say, to fund them.

If you ever listen to "conservative" hate-talk radio, you might occasionally hear one of the neo-cons comment on the hypocrisy of some liberals, who will claim to support freedom of thought and speech - but who will scream and shout to prevent anyone from hearing anyone who may be saying something the liberals don't like. But I wouldn't exactly call that "crying" - more of a criticism.

TwinBeam said...

And we like criticism here, don't we? Especially when it's directed at liberals...as anyone can plainly tell from reading the last few posts...

TheRadicalModerate said...

Nice thread here. RS, I too greatly enjoyed your deconstruction of philosophy, which is somewhat similar to my own. I postulate first that all philosophical arguments become epistemological arguments if thought through adequately. From this, it's pretty easy to assert that any form of political philosophy hasn't been adequately thought through. This can certainly be applied to Strauss, who after all was really just whining that critical theory was inadequately classicist. In my opinion, you therefore give Strauss way too much credit.

David, I'll stick up for your defense of Hobbes/Locke/Smith/Rousseau only to the extent that they were performing some excellent observational science (not philosophy!) and generating falsifiable assertions from their observations.

As usual, when you begin to rant about neocons I'm always curious as to what you mean by "neocon," so I did the de rigeur Wikipedia search, which in turn led to a very nice Irving Kristol essay that sums things up quite nicely. Here we find that:

1) Neocons favor tax cuts to stimulate growth more than they favor balanced budgets. Certainly an attackable proposition, although it seemed to work in the Reagan years with little ill effect. (Whether credit for the unwinding of the Reagan deficits goes to Clinton or to Gramm-Rudman-Hollings in 1987 and the follow-on 1990 Budget Enforcement Act we can leave for another day.) Meanwhile, the neocon predilection for "cut taxes and keep spending" is certainly in full swing once more. A falsifiable proposition is on the table--if we wind up in a huge credit crunch we will have a (painful) counterexample. If not, you guys get to keep dreaming up reasons why the neocons keep getting away with it. (Of course, the more they get away with it, the more likely that we’ll finally exceed some magic threshold and wind up in real trouble...)

2) Neocons see a more robust role for government than paleocons do. They acknowledge that social safety nets and appropriate regulation are essential. Anybody on this thread going to disagree with this one?

3) Neocons encourage what Kristol calls "patriotism," which I interpret more along the lines of a strong national identity, with robust traditions. This is the basis of the alliance between neocons and social conservatives. There is some evidence that national identity and traditions can be institutionally encouraged (through welfare reform, English language requirements, civics education standards, etc.) but I can’t figure out whether this encouragement has net positive or negative effects. This tenet of neoconservatism has been completely ignored in the current set of David's criticisms. It deserves consideration.

4) Neocons have little tolerance for egalitarianism. This certainly dovetails nicely with the high-growth, low-tax philosophy. I suppose that it also can be a mechanism by which, as David asserts, the alleged kleptocrats were able to sneak in and raid the commons. I suspect that the neocons have gone a bit too far in this area, but I’d hate to return the Great Society days of rampant income redistribution. Where’s the balance? This needs to be treated as a policy question, rather than whining about how evil groups gamed the system. (Groups, evil or otherwise, always game the system.)

5) Neocons define the "national interest" very broadly, which leads to a highly interventionist foreign policy. This tenet is the underpinning of the Iraq occupation and is the one that now seems to be widely discredited. But it would be very beneficial to distinguish where the line should be drawn. For example, I've heard few people complaining about the Balkans or Afghanistan as being execessively interventionist. Is the neocon sin one of kind or degree? Specificity here is crucial.

6) Finally, Kristol says, "...statesmen should, above all, have the ability to distinguish friends from enemies." This is the underpinning of the Axis of Evil rhetoric and the current US policy of minimal diplomatic contacts with Iran, Syria, N. Korea, etc. Again, this idea appears to be largely discredited, but if the idea is wrong, what's the right formulation? Do you completely remove the idea of good and evil from your diplomatic policy? Maybe, but my Inner Neocon protests that that formulation is probably as wrong as basing everything solely on good and evil.

David, I'm disappointed at how much verbage you're wasting on your "geeks vs. fratboys" formulation for two reasons: First, it reads like your garden-variety ad hominem attack, which simply hands your critics an easy weapon with which to dismiss your arguments. Second, it takes the wind out of any attack on the neocon ideas themselves, which, for good or ill, deserve to be debated seriously. You can bet your critics (myself included) are busy reassessing their positions on these ideas and are formulating necessary corrections. If you want to kill the ideas (or if you want to lure us Ostriches back into the modernist tent), you're gonna have to do it in a stand-up fight and scrape away the personal ridicule.

--------------------------

On a somewhat related topic, I’d like to try out an hypothesis on you guys: What do the following things have in common?

1) Conservative academics get lured to private think-tanks.
2) Liberal academics ruthlessly enforce orthodoxy within their institutions.
3) Mass-market network TV news precipitously lose share to 24-hour cable news and internet outlets.
4) 24-hour cable news gets marketed to increasingly differentiated but narrow audiences.
5) Successful print media (to the extent that that’s not an oxymoron) develops increasingly severe left/right biases, while more balanced papers languish.
6) Moderate blog communities are as rare as snowballs in Texas in August.
7) Political campaigns abandon centrist targeting until very late in the cycle in an effort to consolidate their “base.”

These are all examples of the power of self-selection. When you give consumers (of products, information, policy—anything) complete freedom of choice, they efficiently self-organize to associate with other consumers as much like themselves as possible. This self-association can only occur when the consumers have nearly perfect access to information about the market. (Again, the “market” here is one of products, information, policy, etc.) Efficiency of information transfer has probably increased a hundredfold in the last 15 years. The result is a radical transition from products and ideas that were intentionally averaged across statistically indistinct populations to products that are ever more tightly targeted.

Because of the efficiency of information transfer, providers ignore the power of self-selection at their own peril. Every niche group has to be custom-targeted with particular products/information/policy/etc. As consumers are so targeted, this further accelerates the self-selection process, resulting in even more insular niche groups.

Self-selection is a wonderful way of efficiently delivering products to consumers but it appears to be a catastrophically awful way of encouraging public discourse and disseminating cultural or political consensus. The most obvious consequence is the political polarization we’re currently experiencing. But I contend that this self-selection may also be behind what you perceive as the neocon “hijacking” of the executive branch.

At some point, somebody actually wins a presidential election. When he does, the president-elect recruits colleagues, business partners, and close friends to help him run the government. In the past, the president-elect had weak self-selection, just like everybody else. As a result, the people he recruited for his administration were relatively diverse and therefore represented a pretty good average of the polity at large. Unfortunately, Bushco may be the first administration where the President had already undergone severe self-selection. It turns out that he’d self-selected neocons.

That’s unfortunate, but it’s nowhere near as unfortunate as when the same thing happens with the next guy (or gal), irrespective of party. The net result may be that we continually get ideologically “pure” administrations from now on. I think we can all agree that this level of purity produces very fragile governance with virtually no pragmatism.

If this is truly a structural change that’s been caused by crossing some critical threshold in information complexity, it’s likely to require a structural solution to fix it. The first action seems pretty obvious: We have to remove the institutional areas that prevent information flow, so all parts of the system behave homogeneously. First and foremost of these is districting reform, which might actually be doable.

Beyond that, all options suck. How do you force political campaigns to campaign for everybody, rather than just forcing the polity into defendable boxes? Do away with primaries? Force diversity in donors? Go to a parlimentary system? None of these are going to happen. And yet I’m pretty sure we need to figure out how to fix this.

David Brin said...

Mike, clearly I overspoke for dramatic effect saying: "For you see the left is just as much at-fault for this phenomenon as the right is."

OBVIOUSLY I do not believe that. But my job is to poke at assumptions and sometimes I need to make it a good, sharp jab in order to get attention. You can see where I am going with this and it will NOT leave the campus loony left unscathed, or free to feel pompous about their neocon enemies. Because they helped to make em happen.

Of course you are right that the neo-right aimed at using ancient methods to sway the mob... just like Caesar buying feasts for the plebians. I called this a resumption of the American Civil War and I despise all that. I am simply saying that we did not have to exacerbate it by making American universities -- our most glowrious accomplishment -- part of the problem.

As for Phil Agre, there are few people on this planet who better typify campus leftwing horror shows. I have personal experience with him and any correlation with intellectual honesty is only glancing or accidental.

Blake points to the way this MIGHT have gone. The Hayekian wing of libertarian-conservatism COULD have been the main branch. One that non lefty but dedicated problem-solving liberals could have dealt with, in honor and respect, negotiating both left-handed and right-handed pragmatic solutions. Both types of “liberal”... the Hayekians and the state interventionist tinkerers share a core agenda -- openness and transparency, so that decisions can be based on real knowledge.

It did not happen. Tinkerer-liberals have a ball-n-chain of screeching lefties clamped to their ankles. While the Hayekian liberal-libertarians have been completely killed off as an influence in conservatism.

WHat IS still possible is for those two modernist groups to talk to each other. And since the Democrat-tinkerer-liberals are vastly stronger (we still dominate a political party, at least) we should be the ones offering the Hayekians a home.

More to the point of my article, we should even offer a home to our prodigal bad-boys. The neocons. At least those with the balls to say oops.

And yes, OdinsEye... they are a bunch of wimpy whiney falsetto nerd flakes. Didn’t I say so? Still, we’ll all be better off if some of them convert and “come home” and start spilling the guts about their old masters, no? Spread the tent a bit. We can afford to let the prodigal sons in.

Brother Doug said...

Brin Said:
“Having said that, let me add that you are shouting at apples when I said oranges. My whole point is that there are left-wing asshole fanatics, just as there are right-wing asshole fanatics.”

Valid point, But I think you should leave out or reword that particular sentence about the Peace Corps, as it is unfair to moderate liberals who did try to fix the system. Personally I don’t think of myself as liberal so feel free to point out their flaws. But going to a very liberal university I only came across one professor who fit the left wing zealot mold. So you may be overstating your case and harming your overall argument.

I was trying to take a class on South African History and he forced everyone to talk about modern south African Politics. But I never saw any outward discrimination or disrespct toward the right wing students in his class.

zorgon the malevolent said...

More evidence on behalf of Dr. Brin's assertion that a new group of far-right Christian dominionists has supplanted the neocons as the new high priests:
http://www.alternet.org/rights/50139/

Permit me to respectfully demur from RandomSequence's description of philosophy as "an archaism, a monster born out of lack of data" and "an attempt to create [the one sole] self-consistent system."

Some philosophy fits this description -- some doesn't. Taoism fails to fit the description of an attempt to create the one self-consistent system. And the philosophy of science is certainly not a monster born out of lack of data, as Karl Popper's work on falsifiability shows.

There's a strong element of truth in what RandomSequence says. He's also throwing out the baby with the bathwater by suggesting we dump philosophy entirely. Without philosophy, we wouldn't have a way to get a handle of the comprehensive worldviews people have. Identifying someone's viewpoint with that of Rousseau or Hobbes, or elements thereof, helps to clarify discussions. It also helps people with comprehensive worldviews by suggesting counterarguments proposed by others that probably wouldn't have occurred to them, and that they probably wouldn't have heard otherwise (if they hang around only with other followers or Rousseau, or Hobbes, as politically active people are wont to do).

So philosophy has some valid uses even today. In moderation, of course.

I also have to agree with Phil Agre here as well as with Dr. Brin. While neocons certainly were made unwelcome in left-dominated academia, they also discovered that the one place they could get lots of attention and lots of money and lots of prestige and lots of guaranteed book printings and respectful journal reviews was at the far-right phoney think tanks. The reason is simple: the neocons couldn't get that kind of respect and credibility within academia because their claims failed the test of evidence. Leftist academics didn't need to find a refuge outside academia because a lot of the policies they advocated had been proven right by empirical data. When a leftist economist graphed the growth of union membership against the expansion of the middle class consumer economy from 1910 to 1970, you saw a clear correlation. When leftist sociologists graphed the proximity of public wells in London in the 1830s to open sewers, and overlaid that plot with cholera deaths, you saw a strong correlation.
It's very hard to get away from these kinds of data. The rise of the diamond-shaped distribution in modern liberal societies strongly correlates with decreased child mortality, increased lifespan, increasing standards of living, increasing overall literacy, exponentially increasing scientific journal publications, and increased GDP for the society as a whole.
By contrast, when right-wing Chicago School of economics ideologues put their economic policies into practice in Chile, the economy promptly collapsed into a deep recession and privatization resulted in such massive fraud and theft that it had to be abandoned.
Likewise, when Laffer-curve right-wing tax cuts were put into place by Bonzo the chimp's co-star in the early 1980s, the result was not the predicted decrease in deficits, but an explosion of deficits. Far-right academics have a tough time being taken seriously in academia because their predictions consistently get contradicted by observed reality.

Lenny Zimmermann remarked: "I think that we can explain a LOT of the psychology at work here by viewing it all in terms of the `other.'"

Sadly true. Alas, this is deeply ingrained in mammalian biology:

"What rats do when a member of a strange rat-clan enters their territory or is put there by a human experimenter is one of the most horrible and repulsive things which can be observed in animals. The strange rat may run around for minutes on end without having any idea of the terrible fate awaiting it, and the resident rats may continue for an equally long time with their ordinary affairs till finally the stranger comes close enough to one of them for it get wind of the intruder. The information is transmitted like an electric shock through the resident rat and at once the whole colony is alarmed by a process of mood transmission which is communicated in the brown rat by expressive movement, but in the house rat by a sharp, shrill, satanic cry. (..) The best thing that can happen to it, as S. A. Barnet has observed in individual cases, is that it should die of shock. Otherwise it is slowly torn to pieces by its fellows." [Lorenz, Konrad, On Aggression, 12th ed., 2002, pp. 156-158]

Lastly, for those like Brother Doug who have most good personal anecdotal experiences with far-left academics, I have to side with Dr. Brin here on the general culpability of the far left for creating an Orwellian form of thought-controlled leftist orthodoxy in some areas of academia. The hard sciences are generally immune. Music departments don't seem very politicized -- has anyone heard of a scandal caused because some right-wing composer dared to violate the putative left-wing compositional requirements allegedly enforced in liberal-dominated musical academia? I haven't heard of anything like that. Don't think it exists. The former USSR and Communist China were the only places I'm aware of in which political requirements were enforced in music ("socialist realism") in modern times.

But when it comes to squishy soft "sciences" like sociology and the fine arts and humanities (other than music), the far left has run a lot of these subjects right into the ground with outright superstition and pseudoscience. See the book Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels With Science by Norman Levitt and Paul R. Gross, 1998, for details.
As a small sampler of the delights that await in far-left academia, consider the article "Quantum Feminist Mnemotechnics":
http://www.mcluhan.utoronto.ca/academy/carolynguertin/4ii.html

Credible academics assure me that this article was meant to be taken seriously. The consequences of taking seriously this kind of stuff within academia are left as an exercise for the reader.

As for Dr. Brin's point that far-left academics have very little power in American society compared to far-right ideologues -- yes, true. Theodore Dalrymple's book Life At the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass offers a chilling description of what appears to have happened in British society when far-left academics do get power in society. Dalrymple is probably biased and he cites examples selectively -- but even so, some of the cases he discusses are absolutely horrifying.

"Not long ago I asked a patient of mine how he would describe his own character. He paused for a moment, as if savoring a delicious morsel.

`I take people as they come,' he replied in due course. `I'm very nonjudgmental.'

"As his two roommates had recently decamped, stealing his prize possessions and leaving him with ruinous debts to pay, his neutrality toward human character seemed not generous but stupid, a kind of prophylactic against learning from experience. Yet nonjudgmentalism has become so universally accepted as the highest, indeed the only, virtue that he spoke of his own character as if pinning a medal for exceptional merit on his own chest.

"That same week I was consulted by another patient who had experienced even worse consequences of nonjudgmentalism, though this time not entirely her own. Her life had been that of the modern slum dweller: three children by different fathers, none of whom supported her in any way and the last of whom was a vicious, violent drunk. She had separated from him by fleeing with their two-year-old to a hostel for battered women; soon afterward she found herself an apartment whose whereabouts he did not know.

"Unfortunately, sometime later she was admitted to the hospital for an operation. As she had no one to whom she could entrust the child, she turned to Social Services for help. The social workers insisted, against her desperate pleas, that the child should stay with his biological father while she was in the hospital. They were deaf to her argument that he was an unsuitable guardian, even for two weeks: he would regard the child as an encumbrance, an intolerable interference with his daily routine of drinking, whoring, and fighting. They said it was wrong to pass judgment on a man like this and threatened her with dire consequences if she did not agree to their plan. So the two-year-old was sent to his father as they demanded.

"Within the week he and his new girlfriend had killed the child by swinging him against the wall repeatedly by his ankles and smashing his head. At this somewhat belated juncture, society did reluctantly make a judgment: the murderers both received life sentences."
[Dalrymple, Theodore, "The Rush From Judgment," The City Journal, 1997]
http://www.city-journal.org/html/7_3_oh_to_be.html

zorgon the malevolent said...

Whoops. Cut-and-paste to the clipboard has problems.
The URL for the article "Quantum Feminist Mnemotechnics" should be:
http://www.mcluhan.utoronto.ca/academy/carolynguertin/abstract.html

zorgon the malevolent said...

Bloody hell! Some bug with this URL coming through on this blog. Here's the tinyurl for "Quantum Feminist Menemotechnics":

http://tinyurl.com/2ylt5q

Bill Cunningham said...

I’d like to chew on one of the questions TheRadicalModerate asked in his review of the tenets of Neo-conservatism:

“6) Finally, Kristol says, "...statesmen should, above all, have the ability to distinguish friends from enemies." This is the underpinning of the Axis of Evil rhetoric and the current US policy of minimal diplomatic contacts with Iran, Syria, N. Korea, etc. Again, this idea appears to be largely discredited, but if the idea is wrong, what's the right formulation? Do you completely remove the idea of good and evil from your diplomatic policy? Maybe, but my Inner Neocon protests that that formulation is probably as wrong as basing everything solely on good and evil.”

I think where the “Axis of Evil” rhetoric fails this notion is in painting with too broad a brush. Clearly not even the most ideologically blinkered politician believes to total polity of Iran, Syria and N. Korea are to the last citizen evil through and through. Clearly what was intended was to counter past perceived “softness” in policy toward these repressive and belligerent governments by painting them with a more judgmental label. I don’t think that intention was necessarily counterproductive, but the lack of specificity in both charge (“evil” is pretty vague) and in its application (what does it mean to say “Iran” is evil? The government? The people? Specific people in the government? The religion?) was tremendously counterproductive. In fact, I think this dismal lack of specificity actually demonstrates an utter failure on the part of those who leveled the charges in “distinguishing friends from enemies.”

I agree on some level with pretty much all of the tenets TheRadicalModerate outlined above, but maybe especially with this one. This is basic. This is Sun Tzu. We’ve generally not had a problem with this before. All through the Cold War, however much the Communist ideology and Communist governments were (justly) vilified, through all the rhetoric and ICBM-rattling it seems it was always clear that individuals behind the Iron Curtain who wanted to come over here were welcome. There was a clear message; the ideology and totalitarianism was the enemy of the west AND of the people under the boots, with who the west expressed profound solidarity. The enemies were clearly distinguished from the friends. Regan said “Evil Empire”, but even that was astutely formulated. All of us by then (and especially those raised in Marxist ideologies) knew the inherent evil of empires; that they subjugate unwilling populations for the benefit of the ruling elite. A Ukrainian could hear “Evil Empire” and feel that he wasn’t individually evil, but that in fact he is seen as subjugated unwillingly, and therefore in philosophical agreement with the people decrying the “Evil Empire”.

The language “Axis of Evil” doesn’t give the average Iranian the same understanding, I don’t think. When anyone says “Axis”, it quite clearly references Germany. Italy and Japan in World War II, and it is not a widely held perception that the general populations of those countries (except perhaps Italy, which nobody takes quite seriously in this context anyway) were oppressed victims of their governments at that time. On the contrary, the average German and Japanese citizens were the enemy in that war, they generally approved of their governments’ actions. When applied, out of all proportion, to Iran, Syria and N. Korea, it says to all the citizens of those countries, “You yourself are the enemy, all of you, irredeemably.” It is more likely to have the effect of pushing those populations closer to their governments in the same way even the victims in abusive families will rally behind their abusers when there is a perceived threat to the whole family.

Dr. Brin has frequently advocated a kind of diplomatic ju-jitsu in the case of Iran, and I think this sort of thing shouldn’t come across as a brilliant innovation – this was the way our foreign policy USED TO WORK. It’s sort of shocking that we’ve been so bad at this over the last few years, after all the successful practice we’ve had in the past.

So my answer to TheRadicalModerate’s question above; No, I don’t think you remove the idea of good and evil from your diplomatic policy, but you have to be both stolid and pragmatic in the way you confront evil. Though it is aesthetically loathsome to interact respectfully with a gaggle of totalitarian, misogynistic, homophobic, fundamentalist, apocalyptic thugs who sit on the levers of regional power with the help of stolen natural resources, guns and extrajudicial powers, usually it does not improve the lot of that loathsome government’s unfortunate subjects to charge their home with rhetorical guns blazing.

Police negotiate with hostage-takers not because they like chatting with that sort of person, but because it’s usually the course of action most likely to afford the hostage some freedom. Once the hostage is out of the kidnapper’s hands, tasers, cuffs or bullets may be liberally applied in a clear demonstration of the regard in which that villain was held. You just need patience to separate your real enemies from the people they may be situated among. You need statesmanship to communicate clearly that you know precisely who your enemy is. If you do that well enough, those situationally related individuals who are NOT your enemy, and KNOW they are not your enemy, may even help you isolate the bastards.

Recently this has been my thinking even with regard to the notion of sanctions as a diplomatic tool. Sanctions used to make sense to me, and I still have great sympathy for them. Really, why should we do business with those who offend us? It’s the same as boycotting a product, and at least it’s not a war. But more and more it seems clear to me that it’s a justifiable but unimaginative option. It’s like toilet paper – the only reason we still use it is we haven’t thought of anything better an, really, we ought to be cleverer than that.

Francis said...

You guys are all being (IMNSHO) far too hard on philosophers. Philosophy is, after all, simply a fancy word for thinking things through properly - and I have a lot of time for quite a few philosophers, almost all of whom have also been adepts in other fields (Bertrand Russel (mathematics) being one obvious recent example).

Where I have problems with philosophers comes when they are philosophers but have absolutely no other skill at all. At that point, rather than thinking things through properly using whatever they have learned, they are thinking things through properly using nothing - with predictably empty results. (And a philosopher who isn't even a logician is a waste of oxygen).

Don Quijote said...

6) Finally, Kristol says, "...statesmen should, above all, have the ability to distinguish friends from enemies."

To paraphrase Churchill: Britain has neither friends nor enemies, it has interest.

If you do not understand that basic concept you are not a statesman.

This is the underpinning of the Axis of Evil rhetoric and the current US policy of minimal diplomatic contacts with Iran, Syria, N. Korea, etc.

None of these Countries have attacked the US so why them?

Why Syria? what are our interests? how does speaking to them or not speaking, trading or not trading with them advance our interest?

The exact same questions about Iran & North Korea.

Again, this idea appears to be largely discredited, but if the idea is wrong, what's the right formulation?

Real-Politics, Balance of power and butting out. As can be seen from the Disaster that Iraq has become, we are cultural ignoramuses whose understanding of the world is so bad that Saddam looks good compared to us.

Do you completely remove the idea of good and evil from your diplomatic policy?

Good and evil have nothing to do with foreign policy, power has everything to do with it.

Maybe, but my Inner Neocon protests that that formulation is probably as wrong as basing everything solely on good and evil.

Give your inner Neocon a few drinks, a cigarette then take him out back and shoot him. He has done enough damage already, he has only caused the death of half a million Iraqis, and destroyed a country.


The key question here is how do you define the interest of the state?

Do you take a short term view of it which believes that cheap labor and access to raw material are principal interest of the State, or do you take a longer view, in which the creation of stable states with which you can have peaceful long term relationships.

RandomSequence said...

Zorgon,

Yes, I was overgeneralizing a bit - my post was a polemical rant to make the point.

However, I would see early Taoism in the same light; later Taoism also has a significant irrational aspect. Taoism, Confucianism and other Chinese axial age philosophies, like early Buddhism in Indian, and the pre-Socratic and Socratic philosophies were grappling with the emergence of a high awareness of language, of logical consistency, and of the individual. "The Way and Its Power" by Arthur Waley has a very interesting analysis of this period in Chinese history in terms of Taoism.

Philosophy is the natural mode of "meta" discussions. That makes it appropriate for very immature fields, such as psychology today, or 18th century political discourse. But as soon as we get the needed empirical base and relevant theoretical (mathematical) background, it needs to be discarded. Would any physicist today deign to be called a "natural philosopher"? Philosophy goes to incipient "verbal" science which is displaced by mathematical theory and data.

The other area were philosophy must stay extant is in naturally meta fields - for example, philosophy of science. You've got to avoid the recursion of "the science of science", don'cha? I'd also exclude Wittgensteinian "philosophy of problems" as well. Basically, only the widest questions of what kinds of questions are meaningful is appropriate.

Philosophy of language - abandon it. Political philosophy - in the trash. Kant, Socrates and Hobbes - in the Department of History, with Lao-Tzu. Religion? Constrain it to psychology. Send everyone else back to their departments - Russell was a mathematician first! A philosopher of science should be a scientist...

And this goes for us non-philosophers as well. Philosophy is also the natural mode of the dilettante and amateur. If we start into philosophy and we're not talking meta (or psychology), a red-flag should pop up!

Kevin Rooney said...

Many thanks for so many interesting and enlightening points.
Two points I would like to add:
A) It is difficult, although not impossible, to critique someone else's style of argument (not content) without making the very same stylistic error. A crude example would be statements like:
"X's arguments are always substanceless ad-hominems. Why is he such an asshole?"
"Everything X says in an exaggeration."

B) The birth of the neo-cons is a useful historical issue. A useful applicaoitn may be in the global warming debate right now.
Consider four propositions, in order of increasing difficulty of proof:
1) The Earth is warming.
2) This is caused by human activity.
3) We should do something about this now, not later.
4) This something we should do is n. (where "n" is specific policies, for example the Kyoto Accord or some post-Kyoto accord.)
Each of these propositions depends on those before it (practically speaking), but does not automatically prove those that follow.
Despite that fact that much of the social visibility of opposition to 1) and 2) has lacked integrity and despite the foreseeable deliberate muddying of 4), it will be critical that we allow full discussion of 3) and especially 4). The temptation will be for a steamroller of self-righteous to build during the discussion of 1) and 2) and press forward into 3) and 4).

Kevin Rooney said...

Given my interesting spelling of "application" as "applicaoitn" above, another example of a criticism that does what it criticizes would be if I criticized someone for misspeling.

Mike Huben said...

More CITOKATE.

(1) David, I'm surprised that you denounce Phil Agre as a "campus leftwing horror show" when, if you read the article I linked to, he's supporting exactly the sort of responsibility forum you endorse. Are you again "overspeaking for dramatic effect"? Or perhaps you're reacting to his "overspeaking for dramatic effect" in your personal experience?

(2) Your writing about these subjects is growing more and more like the phatic right-wing language Agre describes in his The New Jargon. "A whole technology of emotional abuse." More specifically, name-calling and all-around dehumanizing scorn. And you're applying it generously to just about anybody except your followers. Surely you can use other mechanisms than this one to make your writing interesting to right-wingers. Because it's a big turn-off to liberals, even those who agree with you.

(3) And I don't understand why you'd think Hayekians would be a good influence on conservatives: they have exactly the same problems of aristocracy and non-transparency that regular conservatives have. Hayek himself said "Personally I prefer a liberal dictator to democratic government lacking liberalism." Hayekian thought is about "freedom" for economic aristocracy, not about a diamond shaped society.

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Francis said...

Consider four propositions, in order of increasing difficulty of proof:
1) The Earth is warming.
2) This is caused by human activity.
3) We should do something about this now, not later.
4) This something we should do is n. (where "n" is specific policies, for example the Kyoto Accord or some post-Kyoto accord.)
Each of these propositions depends on those before it (practically speaking), but does not automatically prove those that follow.


That's simply not true. Whether global warming is man made or not does not alter the necessity to do something about it - it simply changes some of the courses of action possible. If the earth's temperature were due to rise by 6 degrees in the next hundred years due to the sun alone, that would still be a massive humanitarian disaster that would force us to act despite humanity having no control over the sun.

Kevin Rooney said...

Francis: "That's simply not true. Whether global warming is man made or not does not alter the necessity to do something about it - it simply changes some of the courses of action possible. If the earth's temperature were due to rise by 6 degrees in the next hundred years due to the sun alone, that would still be a massive humanitarian disaster that would force us to act despite humanity having no control over the sun.

Hypothetically, I agree with you completely.
In the historical unfolding of the discussion, everyone I have read/listened to who thinks we need to do something, also believes the problem is human-generated. Those I am aware of claiming yes there is global warming, but no it is not human caused all say that it is a natural rhythm. Also, they use the claim that global warming is natural, not human-caused, as an argument against Kyoto and other carbon control measures without addressing the question of humanitarian relief.

Nate said...

Kevin Rooney:
Also, they use the claim that global warming is natural, not human-caused, as an argument against Kyoto and other carbon control measures without addressing the question of humanitarian relief.

This is because a lot of the people arguing against global warming are oil company shills and astroturf. But even for the ones that aren't, this is similar to their attitude toward abortion, (which I can hopefully mention without totally derailing the subject) which is try and make it illegal, but not offer any kind of assistance to women on having or raising children.

And Dr. Brin, I have to wonder at your thesis that it's the fault of mean nasty liberals that conservative academics fled for the right-wing think-tanks. Couldn't it be they were challenged and ridiculed, not because of mean nasty campus leftists, but because the philosophies and ideas they were pushing were, in your own words, "Definitely and decisively and diametrically wrong."? Because since they fled to these think tanks, most of the ideas they've been cooking up and selling there are "Definitely and decisively and diametrically wrong" as the current administration proves on a daily basis.

Max Wilson said...

Data point about the psychology of ostriches:

"Any political movement that is fundamentally philosophical, rather than pragmatic, is dangerous."

This post resonated emotionally with me. Intellectually I can see some value in studying philosophy (Steven Brust's March 25 post is thoughtful http://skzbrust.livejournal.com/) but at a gut level I'm a pragmatist. I'd hate to generalize too much, but it does seem that facts speak better to conservatives than emotion, even if the emotion has "Dig it!" forcefully attached.

-Max

Blake Stacey said...

OT but amusing: In USA Today, Dan Vergano asks what would Hari Seldon say about climate change? (Via the Knight Science Journalism Tracker.)

Max Wilson said...

In the historical unfolding of the discussion, everyone I have read/listened to who thinks we need to do something, also believes the problem is human-generated. Those I am aware of claiming yes there is global warming, but no it is not human caused all say that it is a natural rhythm.

Implicit to this discussion is the question of the robustness of the Earth's equilibrium. Nobody really cares all that much if the atmosphere warms by two degrees Fahrenheit. It would require desalinization plants in California (while lengthening the growing season in Canada and permitting Greenland's first barley crop in centuries--last September, actually), but it wouldn't justify the hysteria by itself. Some people are hysterical without knowing why, of course, but there's a legitimate issue here: the Earth is robust to natural climate changes. Volcanoes, variations in the sun's natural outputs, etc. We know these don't push us into some kind of nonlinear feedback catastrophe because if they could, they would have already and the Earth would be Venus. If it turns out that human activity is exerting greater influence on the climate than natural effects we don't have any of those kinds of assurances and it makes a certain amount of sense to be jumpy.

Others of us are mostly concerned about the abuse of science. The recent furor over political interference with the IPCC Summary underscores this point. To be clear, the IPCC Summary for Policymakers is written by bureaucrats, for bureaucrats. The problem is that it comes out before the scientific report and gets a lot of headlines and thereby shapes public perception of the state of science, a situation ripe for abuse.

-Max

RandomSequence said...

Where we are going: Another enemy of the people at Balkinization. Just to frighten the crap out of people. David, have you made "The List" yet?

Max,

The problem is that the "robustness" of the Earth has many meta-stable states. The earth has appeared to have gone between such radical extremes as Snowball Earth and Tropical Earth on the 100 million year time-frame. I'm actually not so worried about the warming as others - I'm worried about the instability.

A few years ago a temperature history going back a few 100,000 years was published in Science. Until 10k years ago, the mean earth temperature fluctuated quite wildly in 100 year cycles, on top of the 10k cycles. Then, it just goes suddenly flat. For the last 10k, we've been living in a paradise.

As a young'un, I always wondered why civilization suddenly sprung up about 10k. We've been just as smart, just as technologically proficient for 70k years; why now? That answered my question.

Shenanigoat said...

Hi David,

I wanted to let you know about the new transhumanist social/community network at
transhumanists.org
. We are trying to develop a community that crosses the broad interest spectrum of transhumanism and facilitate lively discussions from enthusiasts/experts in all relevant fields...science, technology, politics,
philosophy, ethics, and so forth. We hope you can join us.

Max Wilson said...

RS,

Thanks for the link. That's hardly an isolated example of the abuse of "security" for ulterior purposes, and all of it's egregious. I'm an extreme optimist (per John McCarthy's definition) and I think it'll work out in the long run, but I wouldn't mind at all if the short run included Congressional investigations and/or impeachment proceedings for incompetence. When a stupid man does something he knows is wrong, he'll protest that he is only doing his duty, and the TSA is as stupid as it gets. You can't tell me that the clerk with whom Murphy spoke actually thought preventing him from flying actually had any chance whatsoever of saving lives, and yet between solidarity with his compatriots, desire for a steady paycheck, and trusting the judgment of the "professionals" more than his own the clerk cooperates with the betrayal. It reminds me of Solomon Asch's experiments on conformity, and the only real solution I know of is to dismantle the TSA. It's too broken to provide real security.

About climate change: all true, and if anyone is interested in climate engineering I'd say go for it. Branson and Gore's prize is a start, and of course the DOE has been studying carbon sequestration for a long time. Wouldn't mind seeing some large-scale experiments run.

-Max Wilson

Max Wilson said...

In fact, I'll go further. I'd like to see us have a coherent national strategy when it comes to managing climate. Like, say, developing technology to the point that we can, with five years' notice, be sequestering a trillion tons of CO2 per year for $300 billion or less annually. Then we can debate when and whether to deploy the technology. Simultaneously I'd like to develop ways to raise regional or global temperatures in case of need, to increase/decrease humidity and/or precipitation, and defuse hurricanes.

Someone will learn how to do it eventually, although there's no guarantee it will be America.

-Max

Kevin Rooney said...

Max,
I like your idea. I support anything that will shift us from direct or indirect (corn ethanol) dependence on fossil fuels to dependence on accumulated human knowledge.

Stefan Jones said...

Ah, yes. There's nothing like the prospect of a giant, unwieldy, pie-in-the sky project to make it seem like you're concerned about a problem while delaying actually having to do anything about it.

By God, making people personally accountable for the consequences of their habits simply isn't American!

And of course, the industries that have been spreading F.U.D. about the greenhouse effect for twenty years must be let off the hook.

Max Wilson said...

Stefan,

You missed the point. Climate engineering is not mutually exclusive with emissions control, but once you've got the technology, 1.) it lets you make rational tradeoffs to deal with emissions instead of requiring everyone to become a Luddite, 2.) it's available in case Earth's _natural_ processes force us a different metastable state (RandomSequence's concern). Incidentally it also allows you to be proactive about emissions even if some nations keep on burning coal.

If your real agenda is to convert everyone to Luddism it's a non-starter, though.

-Max

Stefan Jones said...

"1.) it lets you make rational tradeoffs to deal with emissions instead of requiring everyone to become a Luddite"

Thank you for confirming my initial impression.

Golly, I'm a luddite!

Mark said...

RS said:

Philosophy is the natural mode of "meta" discussions. That makes it appropriate for very immature fields, such as psychology today, or 18th century political discourse. But as soon as we get the needed empirical base and relevant theoretical (mathematical) background, it needs to be discarded. Would any physicist today deign to be called a "natural philosopher"? Philosophy goes to incipient "verbal" science which is displaced by mathematical theory and data.

I understand what you mean, but you miss one very important point that is needed to really put Plato in the proper perspective. Mathematics is a form of philosophy. It isn't science as it has no dependency on empirical data at all.*

It was the great success of mathematics that seduced Plato in believing one could arrive at perfection through only philosophical thought. Math requires no connection to the real world to work, but it is highly useful in the real world. Why can't logic and pure thought solve every other problem?

Seems almost reasonable, doesn't it, particularly for his time. If a circle can be understood with pure thought, why not human nature?

And, in fact, you can use philosophy to solve most every problem -- sort of. You see, while physics, chemistry and so on are all sciences, Science itself is a philosophical idea. Practical, yes, but still philosophy, as it is all about the nature of truth and reality. The enlightenment was pushed largely by philosophers and even David's citokate is basically a philosophical approach.



*Don't believe me? Think about the four color problem. Scientifically it has been known for (hundreds?) of years that four colors were enough to fill any map without touching colors; despite many attempts to find such a map. Mathematics could care less, it needed a proof.

RandomSequence said...

Mark,

I don't doubt that philosophy was a reasonable mode for Plato, or even Hobbes or Locke. They set the stage for today's science and mathematics. And I even don't doubt that there are fields today where philosophy and religion can still play a role: namely, psychology which has as of yet not been placed on a firm scientific and mathematical footing.

But mathematics is essentially different from philosophy, at least since the 19th century. We have explicitly recognized that mathematics has no "content". It is a purely abstract process simply following rules of consistency. We know that there are an infinite set of mathematics that are self-consistent, and can even study the structure of self-consistent systems in the abstract.

But when you use "verbal arguments," as in philosophy, you can not guarantee yourself self-consistency. When you add the assumption that somehow self-consistency gives you some kind of mapping onto the real universe, you've entered the realm of madness (unless you happen to be Max Tegmark).

Facts + mathematics is the best we can do today. Philosophy fails on both counts. At its best, it still has a role at the most meta level, to bottom out the recursion, such as in history of science. But really, no role in politics once we've decided that freedom and equality are our goals.

TheRadicalModerate said...

Mark, I'm with RS on this one. (Indeed, in this thread, RS has mounted one of the cogent critiques on the limits of philosophy that I've ever come across.) I'll quibble a bit with the reference to "empirical data." Instead, how 'bout we deal with decidable vs. undecidable propositions?

There are lots of decidable propositions in math, based on either a small set of axioms or on a vast body of techniques derived from those axioms. Similarly, there are lots of more-or-less decidable propositions in science, based on empirical data or mathematical/logical derivations therefrom.

On the other hand, there are plenty of undecidable propositions in both math and science, stemming both from internal inconsistencies (gotta love our boy Kurt, now...) or from lack of empirical data.

Philosophy seems to be a useful tool for undecidable propositions stemming from lack of data. Thus we find a whole range of valid philosophical arguments in epistemology (see my semi-flippant comment way far above in this thread) and maybe in theology (to the extent that you'd like to distinguish it from epistemology). I'm confident that advances in cognitive science and, well, something else, will slowly dry up those remaining philosophical cesspools.

Beyond that, the history of philosophy seems to be one of some mighty fine guesses that, at their best, were instructive guides to further inquiry and, at worst, bear as much resemblance to reality as Genesis does to modern cosmology (i.e., one clearly has more to do with reality than the other, flawed though they both may be).

Rob said...

Stefan, you luddite. ;-)

I was distracted for fully two hours by that GURPS speciesbuilding document and the nostalgia for Starfire and D&D and Star Fleet Battles and the 80's when I was young and had time for RPG's not sucked up by World of Warcraft or a neighborhood association in meltdown...

Anyway, thanks for the diversion!

RandomSequence said...

RM,

One small quibble: On the other hand, there are plenty of undecidable propositions in both math and science, stemming both from internal inconsistencies (gotta love our boy Kurt, now...) or from lack of empirical data.

My understanding is that the undecidables in mathematics do not stem from internal inconsistency (which would just invalidate that mathematics), but from their power - a perfectly consistent and powerful mathematics (predicate calculus and up) will inherently have undecidable propositions. It comes from their recursive properties, and the fact that they contain infinities (any set which contains an infinity contains itself).

That's not a bad thing. The example of Euclid's parallel line axiom is a great example. You dump that axiom, and whether parallel lines diverge, converge or stay parallel becomes undecidable. Any which one you choose as your axiom creates a perfectly good geometry - Euclid is perfectly good locally, converging is perfectly good for a sphere like the surface of the earth, and diverging manifolds are nice for cosmology.

Mark said...

But when you use "verbal arguments," as in philosophy...

I don't agree that philosophy is limited to "verbal arguments". The first thing they teach in philosophy is logic, which is basically boolean math. Remember, when Plato talked about philosophy, he was largely talking about mathematics. In his utopia (if I remember correctly) future leaders were supposed to spend 10 or 20 years studying math before ruling.

I don't mean to push this too far and I agree with the basics David, RS and others are saying, I just don't want people to start putting math into the category of science, it isn't. And it was the success of mathematics in Plato's time that lead him to believe philosophical thought could solve all the problems.

Robert said...

Off topic, but electoral college reform was a big discussion earlier. In case people haven't seen the news, Maryland just took a big first step in getting rid of the Electoral College. Unfortunately, Arnold vetoed the same legislation in CA last year - which would have gone a long way in getting legislation in place in 264 EV states (when the effective repeal would then trigger).

Here's the story and the website pushing this legislation nationwide:

Robert said...

Not sure why the links didn't post. Let's try again:



http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18053715/
http://www.nationalpopularvote.com/

RandomSequence said...

Mark,

I think we agree. My point is that Plato happened to be wrong.

And that most useful philosophy should be formalized mathematically, and stuck into a science class!

Stefan Jones said...

“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’ ”

-- Kurt Vonnegut, 1922 - 2007

Tony Fisk said...

I never did get into Vonnegut.

Possibly prompted by Stefan's quote, a whimsical thought occurs to me: while we get to mourn the passing of someone great, we never get to celebrate their arrival in this world.

Maybe it's different for Tralfamadorians?

evden eve nakliyat said...

evden eve nakliyat

Rik said...

RS,

I'm not so sure. Philosophy *may* have no role in politics, but it'll keep up popping up. Why? Because humans crave a system. Doesn't matter if you call it religion or culture or express that "fredom and equality should be our goals". Yet another system. More politics. More philosophy.

Formalizing useful philosophy? Hello? What of philosophy exactly is useful? You have no metasystem to judge what's useful and what not, other than fashion. Or perhaps Popper's method (problems are soluble; problems are unavoidable). It's certainly the handiest and best used to show why, for example, the debate on global warming should never be over. But then you're back in politics and philosophy. The End.

Or not: the curious thing of course is why the West refuses both to think and to solve its problems. That is yet more politics & philosophy.

Don Quijote said...

Totally of topic:

There goes the sole peaceful (and I am using that term very loosely) region of Iraq, Turkey's top general seeks approval to enter Iraq.

And the bloodbath continues...

Good job George, and all the geniuses who voted for you.

Stefan Jones said...

Most of Vonnegut's books never appealed to me. But:

"What is the purpose of life? To be the eyes, the ears, and conscience of the Creator of the Universe you fool."

-Kurt Vonnegut

"The trick is to catch them at school -- before they become generals and senators and presidents -- and poison their minds with humanity."

Kurt Vonnegut, 1922 - 2007

Rocky said...

Lee Iacocca: "Where Have All the Leaders Gone?"

reason said...

Max Wilson
Some people are hysterical without knowing why, of course, but there's a legitimate issue here: the Earth is robust to natural climate changes.

Fine for the earth - not necessarily so good for humans. Part of the earths response could be to purge itself of greenhouse gas producers.

reason said...

Max Wilson...
I'd hate to generalize too much, but it does seem that facts speak better to conservatives than emotion, even if the emotion has "Dig it!" forcefully attached.

Max surely that is true with anybody who disagrees with you. You are not going to reach them emotionally, because they are emotionally attached to their ideas. Only if they can be convinced by objective argument, can that emotional argument be overcome. The problem is that there are far too many who are not amenable to objective reasoned argument.

TheRadicalModerate said...

Reason--

Only if they can be convinced by objective argument, can that emotional argument be overcome. The problem is that there are far too many who are not amenable to objective reasoned argument.

So the trick is to encourage a system of public discourse that promotes good mental hygiene in its participants. Note that the self-selection occurring on the internet is not such a system, since it encourages participants to associate with people who think just like them. (See my rant higher up in this thread.)

Max Wilson said...

Looks to me like a clear case of criminal perjury for Sampson. If Clinton had done this we would have screamed, and in fact we did...[1]

http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/04/13/america/justice.php

-Max Wilson

[1] The fact that legal technicalities prevented it from being perjury in Clinton's case is not germane. Legal technicalities may let Sampson off the hook, too, but who can condone lying under oath?

Max Wilson said...

So the trick is to encourage a system of public discourse that promotes good mental hygiene in its participants. Note that the self-selection occurring on the internet is not such a system, since it encourages participants to associate with people who think just like them. (See my rant higher up in this thread.)

Bingo. I don't know what to do about this, either, except that on a personal level that's why I drop by this blog frequently. Maybe all we can do is try to make people aware of the self-selection process and encourage them to fight it?

-Max

Max Wilson said...

http://www.jerrypournelle.com/mail/mail461.html#Thursday

Jerry makes a rather terrifying point about ice ages.

-Max

Max Wilson said...

Link got cut, here's a correction: http://tinyurl.com/3xcypb

Stefan Jones said...

Yeah, I'm shivering in my boots at the prospect of glaciers suddenly reversing their decades-long decline.

Thank goodness there are still people keeping their wits about them to counteract pantywaist fearmonger luddite liberals like Newt and these guys:

Report: Global warming may be security factor
Top ex-military leaders say more terrorism, conflicts over water may ensue

"WASHINGTON - Global warming poses a 'serious threat to America’s national security' with terrorism worsening and the U.S. will likely be dragged into fights over water and other shortages, top retired military leaders warn in a new report.

. . .

The report was issued by the Alexandria, Va.-based, national security think-tank The CNA Corporation and was written by six retired admirals and five retired generals. They warned of a future of rampant disease, water shortages and flooding that will make already dicey areas — such as the Middle East, Asia and Africa — even worse.

. . .

In a veiled reference to Bush’s refusal to join an international treaty to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the report said the U.S. government “must become a more constructive partner” with other nations to fight global warming and cope with its consequences."

Tony Fisk said...

I presume Pournelle is referring to what might happen if the gulfstream shuts down
...due to a 'pump' failure in the arctic
... due to a decrease in the amount of dense brine sinking and drawing warmer water north.
... due to a decrease in the amount of ice forming in winter months (which expels the salt)
... due to an increase in surface temperatures
... due to global warming

And, since a marked (30%?) decrease in the gulfstream flow has already been noted, glaciers may well figure in the future.

But, it still stems from an inconvenient truth, however imbecilic and corrupt.

Meanwhile, Wolfowitz does what all good nerocons do when the screws are being tightened (and continues to do a hell of a job), and the brits are going to drop the term 'War on Terror' because it has "given strength to terrorists by making them feel part of something bigger."

Oh, and Cheney predicts that the senate will drop all silly demands for withdrawal deadlines from Iraq appropriation bills. Could Darth Sidious be girding his loins?

Max Wilson said...

The thing that grabbed my attention was the reminder that 1.) cold is much worse than hot for agriculture, 2.) it's been atypically warm for the last ten thousand years or so and we don't know why. Pournelle's point is about risk management, and spending money on data collection is a better bet at this point than trying to "do something" before you actually know what the problem is. If you think the problem is fire, well, you have about a 50% chance of being right.

And for no particular reason except that it sounds nice and is appropos, a Robert Frost poem:

SOME say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

-Max