Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Transformations and light


Have you missed your regular dose of ornery-brinnian contrariness? We've just returned from more than two weeks on the road… first in Finnish Lapland, north of the Arctic Circle, guiding an aurora expedition. Woof. Setting up telescopes in the night-wind can be, well, ‘bracing.’ (It helped to have a comfy glass "igloo" to return to, each night, plus some excellent winter gear.) Traveling by dog sled was an experience! 

In Red Square
Then on to St. Petersburg and Moscow for the Russian national science fiction convention. Although our Moscow phase was too frenzied-busy with speeches and interviews to really feel we've seen the place, we did make lively and fascinating new friends... saw the trailer for a terrific new SF film - A Rough Draft - based on Sergei Lukyanenko’s novel “Chernovik” … and encountered the worst traffic I've seen. Folks were forgiving of - and far too easily impressed by - my fumbling efforts at their beautifully evocative language.

More on all of that, soon.

And yes, certain topics came up in conversation, bringing to mind the book I read on the plane  -- Vladimir Sorokin's Day of the Oprichnik (2006) -- which chillingly foretold a return of fierce Czarist-Orthodox autarchy, tech-amplified to a degree only dreamed of, in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

To be clear, the Russians I met - those expressing an opinion - seem to feel a bit less constrained and micromanaged than in Soviet times, and measurably more prosperous, but still highly cautious. While the State is somewhat less overbearing than before, skyrocketing inequality and the return of inherited social class throw shadows on the future. (Shadows now girdling the globe, making Sorokin seem prophetic.) For all of its countless, brutal hypocrisies, communism was idealistic, inviting citizens to squint toward some kind of aspirational goal. We saw the best of this at Moscow's fabulous Cosmonauts' Museum and soaring Monument to the Conquerors of Space (pictured). 

Even if based on magically-unrealistic models of human nature, that era at least envisioned a lofty future for all. Even if betrayed by a hypocritical nomenklatura, at least the touted aim was to end 60 centuries of overlordship by men who whose justification for absolute power derived solely from being someone's son and heir. There is a way to achieve that glimmering hope. It's just not the path prescribed by the sci-fi writer -- Karl Marx.

Which brings us back to our recurring theme. Accountability. And why it can only happen where light flows. Only where it flows in all directions.

== Rivers of light ==

Street lamps are fast-becoming the central nervous system of either our new, smart cities or else an Orwellian nightmare.  Read about the experiment in San Diego’s East Village neighborhood, whose streetlights were looking—and listening—all around them, while also monitoring temperature, humidity, and other characteristics of the air. By sometime in May, about 3,200 of the sensing lights, will each monitor an oval area of roughly 36 by 54 meters (120 to 180 feet). They could easily be hooked into the city’s existing ShotSpotter network, which automatically locates the source of gunfire, increasing ShotSpotter coverage from just 10 square kilometers.

Along with the sensing streetlights, San Diego will be replacing an additional 14,000 of the city’s more than 40,000 streetlights with energy-efficient LED lamps that can communicate with one another and operators and allow brightness adjustments to save energy.”  And none of this should surprise anyone who read The Transparent Society … or even EARTH.

Those who fear that this could help lead to Big Brother have reason for their worries! Elites will be tempted to make all of this surveillance information go in one direction – either for nefarious reasons or else, initially, “for our own good.” Some champions of civil liberties think we can prevent harmful disparities of power by hiding from these elites. 

Alas… that… is… stupid. Because every year, the cameras get smaller, faster, cheaper, better more mobile and vastly more numerous, faster than Moore’s Law. There is no scenario - of any kind - under which hiding or shadows will even conceivably help the little guy or average citizen.

The answer is for us all to share in these information tsunamis. Sousveillance. It won’t prevent being looked at. That tidal wave is coming. But looking back at power could teach us all to surf.

== Visionaries ==

Here's an extraordinary work of intellectual honesty. Astrophysicist Brian Keating explores the fascinating history and mixed effects of the Nobel Prize, especially on the field of physics. For a few years, Keating felt these effects, as people chattered about his own possible candidacy, before the chances and mischances of science changed course. That experience informs Losing the Nobel Prize: A Story of Cosmology, Ambition and the Perils of Science's Highest Honor. An amazing journey.  Pre-order for April publication.

Oh, I'll be interviewing Brian on stage on April 25 at UCSD's Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, where the sciences and arts come together to explore humanity's most unique gift.  (Get on the mailing list for cool events.)

Meanwhile...

Increased demand from “coin miners” (e.g. BitCoin) has ramped up the prices for Nvidia and AMD processors called GPUs. Nvidia asked retailers to try and "put gamers first when they are conducting retail GPU sales. Even worse, as reported by the BBC, radio astronomers and scientists observing our galaxy are struggling to expand their work due to a lack of these key components.

“Berkeley-based Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), for example, wishes to expand their research at two observatories, but without the latest GPUs to process data and support the use of software applications, the scientists' options going forward are limited. "We'd like to use the latest GPUs [...] and we can't get 'em," Dr. Dan Werthimer. (My friend & colleague.)

Huh! So-o-o-o… Bitcoin etc is an alien plot to keep us in the dark?

Peter Diamandis - who founded the XPrize Foundation and who has famously become wealthy while partnering or stimulating dozens of new businesses and projects that spread abundance to all - says: “Having the right mindset is essential in preparing yourself for these new opportunities. And something I call a “Massively Transformative Purpose,” or MTP. I’ve put together free training to teach you exactly what an MTP is, how you can discover your own, and how this knowledge affects everything else you will do for the rest of your life. Watch the video.” 

Essentially, he’s offering tips how to evade the gloom trap spread by all media and all political factions, and activate your prefrontal lobes to see opportunities. “If you can anticipate what’s coming, you have a tremendous advantage in life.”

82 comments:

Alfred Differ said...

@Darrel E | do I seem like a progressive to you?

I'm not sure. Like you said, you don't post as often. I'll think about it over the coming weeks and let you know. 8)

Having said that, please know I'm married to one. I'm also firmly convinced the world needs progressives much like it needs liberals and conservatives. We all have a way of balancing off each other's delusions. Locumranch might use the term as a pejorative, but I don't. Many in my family also qualify as progressives, so I can't be upset at them without adopting a kind of self-loathing that makes utterly no sense to me.

I get your point about labels coming to mean too much. I think of that as pigeon-holing and it doesn't work with real people. All it takes is a bit of courage and temperance to face them and shut one's mouth long enough to listen them to realize simplistic stereotypes are poor approximations. "Progressive", "Liberal", and "Conservative" are stereotypes that have SOME use, but they can be misused.

Paul451 said...

From the previous thread:


Since Alfred agreed with me about Winter7's idea of "forced democracy", I guess I'll have to contradict myself...

Democracy requires certain institutions to exist which are loyal to the system and not to a party or leader. And I could see an external power serving that role; securing and operating the vote, protecting opposition party members (even if imprisoned), protecting voters from intimidation, and ultimately ensuring the sanctity of the count itself. You could see where this would allow nations the breathing room to develop stable systems of government, while allowing the public to change their minds about who they want in power. (Currently, in a typical 3rd world nation, you can only choose between "strong government" (dictatorship/monarchy/oligarchy/etc) and destructive instability.)

The problem is that in order to work, externalising democratic institutions would require two things: 1) an overwhelming asymmetry in power between the external power and the forces of the current government and/or rebellious opposition. That's not difficult with the US vs much of the world. But 2) it also requires that the external power be seen as beyond reproach.

And that is where the idea fails. Real Politik means that no country, least of all the US, and no assemblage, least of all the UN, would be trusted to... no, actually, no nation would do the job impartially.

Which is the issue I've always had with Real Politik, and especially with placing the wants of the nation above its self-proclaimed ideals. You can never be trusted again. Ever. Once and done. It doesn't matter if you mostly believe in and practice your ideals, you are untrustworthy. And that robs you of all the things you could achieve if you were trustworthy.

What the US lost by not being a pure, snow white, 1950's comic book Superman/Captain America, IMO, vastly vastly outweighs whatever perceived benefits were gained by trying to be "realistic" in world politics.

"Reputation matters."

Robert said...

Welcome back, Dr. Brin, I'm glad you enjoyed yourself in Scandinavia and Russia.

Given recent pushes by the Fed against Bitcoin and its brethren, I suspect GPUs might be freed up in the near future. If Bitcoin profits are dropping due to government efforts to constrain their legal use, then mining coins will become less lucrative. That and as people continue upgrading for the latest GPUs, no doubt efforts to maximize profits by selling off old GPUs will start up... and second-hand GPUs would still be of use in the sciences I'm sure.

Rob H.

locumranch said...


Paul_SB's comments are typically progressive, giving lip-service to democracy as an ideal while simultaneously rejecting actual democracy if & when popular will becomes "untrustworthy" & conflicts with his utopian pretensions.

He therefore argues that "certain institutions" -- which are loyal to the system but exist above & outside of the system -- must be constructed to invalidate any & all democratic actions that he deems undesirable or non-progressive.

AKA 'The Deep State', these autonomous self-replicating institutional bureaucracies are immune to democratic correction which, once created to perform repetitive but necessary tasks, quickly arrogate authority, become the law unto themselves & attempt to dominate the public will as exemplified by such travesties as Iran Contra & Abu Ghraib.

The US Postal Service & the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) have something in common that you'll never guess --

They both possess heavily-armed independent SWAT-capable militias that (1) exist outside of the US legal system, (2) are empowered to exercise deadly force in any manner that they see fit, and (3) are NOT answerable to democratic influence or external review.

Remember THAT when your package is improperly wrapped or you fail to spade & neuter you pets correctly!!

These autonomous self-replicating institutional bureaucracies have become your masters in fact, and there's absolutely NOTHING that democratic will can do about it, because nitwits like PSB prefer authoritarianism to actual democracy.

Best
___

SETI wants the latest GPU to facilitate MTP. The above photo shows DB posing in Red Square. That's KGB. You prefer an H&K over an A.K. Your surveillance technique is NSA. Your ID is CIA. You received your Ph.D. at NYU. Traded in your GTO for a BMV. You listen to CDs by R.E.M. and STP. And you'd like to see J.F.K. in his BVDs, getting down with O.P.P.

This thread: Inspired by 'Spy Hard', 1996, starring Leslie Nielsen.

What is MTP anyway? It sounds like a rebranded Singularity or Nerd Rapture, much in the same way that the CC acronym replaced AGW.

Tim H. said...

Saw an interesting Cory Doctorow essay here:

https://boingboing.net/2018/03/19/not-okie-dokie.html

Seems to me to indicate a likeness to antebellum southern economics:

http://www.bradford-delong.com/2018/03/do-we-really-care-whether-the-profits-from-american-slavery-were-reinvested-to-spur-faster-american-economic-growth-or-not.html

Reinforces the impression of the confederacy I got from reading U.S. Grant's autobiography, the south is a great place to keep a fortune, but a crap place to build one, working hard to make their tomorrows like yesterday.

Darrell E said...

Thanks Alfred, I appreciate your response. I agree with pretty much everything in it.

It wouldn't surprise me to be perceived as a progressive by others and it certainly wouldn't offend me. But most of the ideas that I think are worthwhile that seem to generally be considered progressive just seem to me to be common decency. Or at least that they should be common decency. But I am really not on board with what might be called the leading edge of the progressives, what has come to be called the Cntrl Left, aka the Alt left, aka the Regressive left, etc. Post Modernism and its ilk, for one example Intersectionalism, and extremism of any flavor give me ulcers.

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

nitwits like PSB prefer authoritarianism to actual democracy.


Actually, that's a mirror you're looking into.


The US Postal Service & the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) have something in common that you'll never guess --

They both possess heavily-armed independent SWAT-capable militias that (1) exist outside of the US legal system, (2) are empowered to exercise deadly force in any manner that they see fit, and (3) are NOT answerable to democratic influence or external review.


I never pictured myself as particularly brave, but you know what? Neither of those organizations scares me enough to keep me awake at night.

You're actually sounding a lot like my dad when he suffered from dementia. Maybe I made it all up, and it came true anyway.


Remember THAT when your package is improperly wrapped or you fail to spade & neuter you pets correctly!!


Are you sure you're a doctor? This sounds an awful lot like a love child of my formerly-sane conservative buddy after Obama's election and a Russian bot that doesn't talk English very goodly.

LarryHart said...

...you're also picking on the wrong Paul.

#SAD!

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

By sometime in May, about 3,200 of the sensing lights, will each monitor an oval area of roughly 36 by 54 meters (120 to 180 feet). They could easily be hooked into the city’s existing ShotSpotter network, which automatically locates the source of gunfire, increasing ShotSpotter coverage from just 10 square kilometers.


Y'know, during one of the more recent school massacres, it occurred to me that one possible solution to gun violence would be something that functions like the Enterprise did in "The Undiscovered Country", where any time someone fired a phaser aboard the ship, alarms sounded all over, and crewmen immediately showed up saying things like, "Did some fool fire a phaser here?" Sounds like I wasn't the only one thinking that way.

Anonymous said...

So what if my aspirational goal is at odds with the party's aspirational goal? What if my vision of a lofty future differs from the party's vision of a lofty future? What if I prefer an over lordship whose justification for absolute power doesn't come from the barrel of a gun? Frankly, I don't think Communism and I would have gotten along too well.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin quotes Peter Diamandis:

“If you can anticipate what’s coming, you have a tremendous advantage in life.”


Exactly the problem with those who disdain reality, considering alternative facts to be equally valid as real facts. At some point, Reality (with its well-known liberal bias) will assert its will.

Jon S. said...

From last posting's comments:

"Much like Li'l Abner responding to 'As any fool can plainly see,' with 'Ah can plainly see.'"

Or Mark Evanier's Groo the Wanderer - "...as any fool can plainly see."
"I can plainly see that!"

three pages later
"What did he mean, 'slow of mind'?"

LarryHart said...

@Jon S.,

Did I err?

LarryHart said...

Darrell E:

most of the ideas that I think are worthwhile that seem to generally be considered progressive just seem to me to be common decency. Or at least that they should be common decency.


If you don't already, you should listen to Norman Goldman. His personal crusade is to get people who believe in common decency and common-sense solutions to stop using labels like liberal, conservative, and progressive (because they make others shut their minds down before they even hear you) and just go with "I'm a real American who believes in American values."

If he's not carried on a local radio station, you can hear the live show or the first hour of previous shows for free at www.normangoldman.com .


But I am really not on board with what might be called the leading edge of the progressives, what has come to be called the Cntrl Left, aka the Alt left, aka the Regressive left, etc. Post Modernism and its ilk, for one example Intersectionalism,


For the moment, invoking the dreaded left-right axis. Think of the American political scene as a football field. The Republican Party as it exists today sits somewhere near if not inside the end zone of the right-hand side. The Democratic Party is maybe on the 20 yard line on the same side of the field. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are around one of the 45 yard lines--not sure which one and it doesn't really matter much.

Point being, even someone on the 50-yard line finds himself way, Way, WAY to the left of both mainstream parties, not because he's so extreme, but because the Overton Window is so far away.


and extremism of any flavor give me ulcers.


Do you prefer the "Both sides are equally at fault" fallacy of most mainstream news outlets? I find that sort of extremism gives me ulcers.

Darrell E said...

Anonymous LarryHart said...

"Do you prefer the "Both sides are equally at fault" fallacy of most mainstream news outlets? I find that sort of extremism gives me ulcers."

Ouch. What'd I say to deserve that? :)

Seriously though, fuck no. Given the view that in real life degrees don't just matter, they are all there really is, there is about zero equivalence of "fault" between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. The Republican Party has worked very hard, pre-meditatively and with malice aforethought to be as reprehensible as possible, even in the small things where it doesn't really matter. I'm really hoping that the Republican Party, as an effective political force at least, does not survive the next couple of election cycles. Hoping, mind you, but not confident. There are signs that it could happen, but given the past 25 or more years and especially, well, you know, Trump, optimism is not something I'm familiar with anymore.

LarryHart said...

Darrell E:

Ouch. What'd I say to deserve that? :)


I honestly didn't know what you were advocating for. Avoiding the extremes does seem to lead to "extreme centrism", so I thought I'd ask.

LarryHart said...

I can't even post all the highlights from this one. Right on!

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/03/opinion/trump-perversion-leadership.html

No president in my lifetime has made me think as much about leadership as Donald Trump has. That’s because no president in my lifetime has embodied the ideal of leadership as completely as he embodies its antonym.
...
His expectorations this week about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program are a baffling case in point. He blamed and shamed Democrats for the absence of any deal to preserve DACA while renouncing the program as a misbegotten magnet for swarms of undocumented immigrants.

Hello? If DACA is a travesty, its assassins are heroes. But then, little about Trump’s DACA gyrations makes sense or respects facts. Democrats have indeed tried, imperfectly, for progress on DACA. Trump and other Republicans have thwarted them.
...
A leader attracts top talent. Trump repels even rank mediocrity. A leader models the behavior that he or she should want from his or her lieutenants. Trump is “legitimately excellent at cultivating an inner circle unburdened by legal or moral scruples,” writes Jonathan Chait in the latest issue of New York magazine.
...
A leader tells the truth. I needn’t extend that thought by so much as a syllable.
...
Remember Barack Obama in Charleston, S.C., singing “Amazing Grace”? His voice is still with me. Or George W. Bush telling Americans after Sept. 11 not to vilify Muslims? Those words live on.

Will there be anything like that with Trump? Some memory of dignity or grace? The question, I fear, is rhetorical. While those presidents sometimes failed to lead, he doesn’t even try.

LarryHart said...

Darrell E:

The Republican Party has worked very hard, pre-meditatively and with malice aforethought to be as reprehensible as possible, even in the small things where it doesn't really matter.


Under Donald Trump, the Republican Party has become the party of powerful interests supported by mean-spirited bullies who believe that Jesus supports mean-spirited bullies. That's really all that's left of their core philosophy now. And as they've absolutely alienated everyone else, their political strategy is to keep as many others as possible from voting.

The reprehensible-ness is a feature, not a bug, to keep the mean-spirited hypoChristians engaged.

occam's comic said...

As bad as Trump is he is still way better that Bush.
Nothing like 9 / 11 or the US sponsored anthrax attacks against the press and the senate. No letting Osama Bin Laden go free, or starting a Unending Global War of Terror. No massive expanse of police/ military powers.

As bas as Trump is he is still probably better for the democratic party than a President Hillary Clinton. Trump's low class bluster, cruelty corruption and incompetence has really energized the people in the democratic party to get organized and dump the at least some of the corrupt corporate whores running the democratic party.

LarryHart said...

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/huppke/ct-met-sinclair-television-news-huppke-20180404-story.html

...
Sinclair was recently lambasted for forcing all its news anchors to read the same script claiming that “some media outlets” publish “fake stories.” Sounds a bit like Trump’s go-to “fake news” line, right?

The script continued: “Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think.’”

That’s like me going on television and eating a hot dog while saying that anyone who eats a hot dog is a liar. It makes sense only in a world devoid of self-awareness.
...

locumranch said...


Larry_H states (when informed about the extralegal militias of the USPS & SPCA) that "Neither of those organizations scares me enough to keep me awake at night", yet I doubt that most will remain so unperturbed when they learn that this extralegal SWAT team military agenda extends to the US Department of Education, the Department of Agriculture, the Railroad Retirement Board, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Office of Personnel Management, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the FDA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-w-whitehead/swat-team-mania-the-war-a_b_875967.html

https://www.nationalreview.com/2014/04/united-states-swat-john-fund/

And, even though the existence of these extralegal SWAT teams has been well documented & illuminated by RIVERS OF LIGHT in a process that our host describes as 'sousveillance', these potential tools of Deep State oppression continue to exist & proliferate, proving that there is nothing intrinsically 'cleansing' about either soggy illumination or sousveillance.

In fact, as any expectation of personal privacy vanishes under the lenses of CCTV and various public surveillance options like ShotSpotter, such abuses of public abuses become ever MORE shameless & celebrated in a manner analogous to the monetisation of Kim Kardasian's arse, as was the case when previously shameful homosexual acts became stunning, brave & general accepted after being legitimised by similar "rivers of light".

This process is known as Habituation, aka 'The decline in responsiveness to a stimulus due to repeated exposure', insomuch as the MORE illuminance that sousveillance shines on the abuses of governmental powers, the MORE likely the public will come to accept such such abuses of governmental power as routine & commonplace.

Best

Darrell E said...

LarryHart said...
""Darrell E:

Ouch. What'd I say to deserve that? :)"


I honestly didn't know what you were advocating for. Avoiding the extremes does seem to lead to "extreme centrism", so I thought I'd ask."


I don't think that follows at all. But thanks for asking.

You probably didn't intend to be negative, but I've got to admit your original response and then this follow up have put me off. I can't parse your interpretation unless I make several rather uncharitable assumptions about myself that I am pretty sure I've never given evidence for in my sparse commenting history here.

Alfred Differ said...

For the sake of ensuring Paul451 and I still have something to argue about… 8)

I’m of the opinion that even with an angelic outside power providing the oomph to externalize democratic institutions as a kick starting method, it wouldn’t work. Even with a beautiful, intact reputation, humans will resent the parental figures those folks would become. Patron turns into Patronizer with just a few more letters/bits of experience.

[I’m pretty sure I’m paraphrasing Hayek again on this. In that essay, he was arguing not for a government of the smartest, deepest thinkers, but for one of common men that was structured to learn from its mistakes and be somewhat resilient because we know in advance those mistakes are going to happen.]

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

Democracy comes from an internal realization that it is better than the options. To get there, one must already have Liberty or the institutions created will be hollow shells that look like democracy only from the outside. Façades at best.

Alfred Differ said...

@Darrell E | My experience with ‘common decency’ is it is only common if we don’t think too much about it. When we act before thinking, many of us are similar enough (in the US) that ‘common’ applies. If we ponder what decency is, though, it fractures into my version, your version, their version, and many of us spend amazing amounts of time arguing over the differences saying that OURS is common and yours/theirs isn’t. So… you might understand why I avoid the term most of the time? We behave better, I think. 8)

I’ve never been tempted to lump post-modernists with progressives. I’ve never been tempted to lump socialists with progressives or with other so-called left-leaning groups. The post-modernist ‘perspective’ (funny… right?) strikes me as confused at best and harmful at worst.

I know I’m over-simplifying when I say this, but the primary feature I see linking progressives is a desire to fix the ills of the world (that common decency thing) using whatever means might work. My issue with that is that some are willing to use means I think are far more dangerous than the ills they want to fix. What they have is a fine motive to act and a poor method of choosing their tools.

That’s where liberals can help. We know some of the dangers of certain tools and will counter with something that sounds like this. “Nice sentiment/idea, but can I get you to do it a different way?” Both of us will still be inclined to change things, though, so…

That’s where the conservatives can help. They defend what already is from the possibility that we both can’t perceive the problem that got fixed by a tradition because no one ever realized (consciously) that the problem was there. They counter with something that sounds like this. “What we have works well enough. It worked for my grandparents. It worked for my parents. It worked for me. Why mess with it?”

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

yet I doubt that most will remain so unperturbed when they learn that this extralegal SWAT team military agenda extends to the US Department of Education, the Department of Agriculture, the Railroad Retirement Board, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Office of Personnel Management, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the FDA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:


Black UN helicopters...Jade Helm...FEMA concentration camps...

At what point do you finally go, "Hey, all this shit that the right-wing media keeps telling me to be afraid of, none of it is ever true?"

A coward dies a thousand deaths, dude. Chillax.

LarryHart said...

Darrell E:

You probably didn't intend to be negative, but I've got to admit your original response and then this follow up have put me off. I can't parse your interpretation unless I make several rather uncharitable assumptions about myself that I am pretty sure I've never given evidence for in my sparse commenting history here.


That was certainly not my intent. I can see that my original comment came off as an insult, especially if you took it as a rhetorical question rather than an actual question as to how far to go to avoid partisan sniping. But I thought my follow-up was a peace-maker, not a further insult.

Look back at our conversation above. Understand that, except for my question about centrism, I was agreeing with you. My responses (except that one part) were supplementing what you were saying, not arguing with it. My description of the current-day Republican Party was meant as a point of agreement. And my suggesting you would enjoy Norman Goldman is a good thing, not a bad thing.

And even the dig about centrism was more like a sort of pessimistically ironic observation--"But even trying to avoid extremism is itself a trap"--than an assertion that you were wrong about something.

Peace?

locumranch said...


Sorry to contradict Larry_H, but the proliferation of Deep State militias is a documented fact rather than a tinfoil hat conspiracy theory, supported by documentation supplied by (1) the Homeland Security Digital Library and (2) MSM reports detailing the heavily armed nature of the New Jersey SPCA:

(1)https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=787682

(2)http://www.nj.com/politics/index.ssf/2017/10/nj_spca_is_a_broken_agency_run_by_wannabe_cops_sta.html

However, Larry_H has become quite adept at denial, ever since he has become habituated to the progressive & incremental encroachment by law enforcement upon constitutionally protected freedoms, as have most of us.

"Chillax", he says, while simultaneously condemning what he terms "hypo (as in 'hypocritical') Christians who been similarly desensitivised to all manner of moral perversions, outrages & corruptions by an enlightened MSM that celebrates sodomy, adultery & pedophilia in addition to pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth.

Like a hypocritical Larry_H, these Christians have simply become habituated to the new & increasingly corrupt moral reality, so much so that very little shocks them as it once did, which means they are no longer repelled by various common run-of-the-mill perversions.

By arguing that this moral decay can be corrected by a mystical "river of light" -- even though further exposure to these moral failings would merely force further habituation to this undeniable new reality -- David merely self-identifies as a deluded & delusional optimist.

Best

Steven Hammond said...

Haven't posted in awhile but was intrigued by discussion of scientism in the last post's comments. I think this might warrant more discussion and I may get blasts from two sides, I fear. ;)

I think "scientism" is a very real entity and its errors may contribute to everything from resistance to acknowledging climate change to Antivax proponents.

Science and the scientific method is very powerful and has contributed immensely to making our lives longer, if not necessarily more satisfying. (As an aside, I would be very impressed if someone could do a study and show that people today in the USA are happier, more satisfied with their lives etc than, say people in Subsaharan Africa in 1820, 16th century Scots, 14th century Chinese, or even Americans in 1890. )

My aside may prove my point, now that I think about it. There are things the that are well suited for applying the scientific method and others that are not. Use of statistics and other mathematical tools can give evidence which may be very strong, but it doesn't reach the standard of the Scientific Method without experiment, and how can you experiment on the past?

So the issue with "Scientism" (IMO) comes up, not because the scientific method is weak and fallible, but rather because the very strength and relative certainty of the conclusions that come from the scientific method is more broadly assumed by studies and popular science writing about research studies on coffee ingestion etc.

Perhaps more worrisome is the idea that science is the only "truth" even if what it can currently explain about humans and their behavior---and more importantly--HOW they should live is lacking or (perhaps) even outside of what the scientific method can define?

I've mentioned Mary Midgley the philosopher before and I think she's well worth reading. Even Locum may find something he agrees with. The Wiki entry gives some good quotes: href="https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Mary_Midgley"

OH and @Larry Hart, did you happen to watch Jesus Christ Superstar on TV the other day? I couldn't help but think of you and as> I was reading the comments in various reviews, there was a young woman who mentioned her Jewish father playing the soundtrack on road trips. I had to think of you and it made me very happy. :)

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

Sorry to contradict Larry_H


No, you're not.

LarryHart said...

Steven Hammond:

OH and @Larry Hart, did you happen to watch Jesus Christ Superstar on TV the other day?


Sure did. And I didn't even know about it until that morning, but yeah. I haven't seen that play for many years, and this time reminded me a lot of "Hamilton". I guess the actor who played Judas was actually from that production.


I couldn't help but think of you and as> I was reading the comments in various reviews, there was a young woman who mentioned her Jewish father playing the soundtrack on road trips. I had to think of you and it made me very happy. :)


Awwwww. Glad to be of service.

Steven Hammond said...

You're very welcome!

Reading comments and reviews on JCS on NBC, I am surprised how many people who are atheists or at least non-Christian have found this musical emotionally moving at least.

I find this makes me very happy. It's not that I'm a traditional Christian with the usual dogmatic beliefs, but that I think that there is room for this story to MEAN something. In fact, I think this story may have changed how humans treat each other (with the results of religious interpretation resulting in a discord with with trials for heresy, witchcraft, wars for certain interpretations, etc.) When I read Pinker's work, I have to think that a working out of Jesus' message made a difference--even if the usual religious issues caused strife and warfare.

I think the story of Jesus and his philosophy of equality of men resulted in far greater positives than negatives. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures[a] of meal till it was all leavened.”

I think this leaven has influenced all of us regardless of what we believe. I (personally) don't think what we believe is of any great concern to the Creator. I may have many questions regarding any creator, his powers and where they apply, the Christian story and others, but I can not believe in a God that is not at least more loving than I am as a father of my own children.

Is the current recognition of people as having worth and the recognition of innocent victims of the "powers that be" a legacy and evidence of this leaven? I think it might be. I hope it is. I think MLK did as well and Jesus message was exemplified in his.

I sound like a preacher so I'll stop.:)

Steve

Jon S. said...

@LarryHart,

Groo does not know the meaning of the word "fear"! Also the words "prevaricate", "mendicant", and "mulch".

(If anything happens to Betsy DeVos, I think Groo the Wanderer is next in line to be Trump's Secretary of Education.)

Darrell E said...

LarryHart,

Absolutely. I must have been having a bad day to respond as I did.

LarryHart said...

Steven Hammond:

Reading comments and reviews on [Jesus Christ, Superstar] on NBC, I am surprised how many people who are atheists or at least non-Christian have found this musical emotionally moving at least.


I first heard the music in fifth grade, and it got into my head like no music ever had before. Because my family is Jewish, I didn't expect my parents to buy the album, and I was pleasantly surprised when they made a point of doing so. In college, my first girlfriend's roommate was from a stereotypical small town in Iowa (28 in her graduating class, and half the girls were pregnant), and I was literally her first Jew. She simply could not understand how I could refuse to believe in the divinity of Jesus, but like the musical Jesus Christ Superstar. I tried to explain "I don't believe Star Wars is real, but I like that movie too."

I think many non-Christians appreciate the musical (and some religious Christians dislike it) precisely because it presents an essentially secular version of the Christ story. He performs no actual miracles and exhibits no supernatural powers except for knowing some things that are about to happen. Jesus isn't even the POV character of the play--I'd say that Judas fills that role more than anyone else--and from Judas's perspective, the plot involves his perception that the movement and its charismatic leader are losing sight of their real mission and becoming a cult of personality with dangerous potential. He sees Jesus as someone who has begun believing his own press releases. Kinda like Bernie Sanders?

Anyway, as I say, I was 10 when I first heard the album, and that was my first exposure to the essential story of Christianity beyond the birth of Baby Jesus. So I thought it was generally understood and accepted that there was a secular series of events much like those depicted in the play which underlay the more fantastic mythology of Christianity. I can relate to the Superstar story much more than the versions I hear preachers and right-wing hypoChristians insist upon.

LarryHart said...

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/05/opinion/trump-driven-by-fear.html

...
I have never thought I would be quoting the hideous Ann Coulter in agreement, but one thing she told my colleague Frank Bruni last week was correct: His former supporters, whom he has disappointed, will feel betrayed and vindictive.

The man who is consumed by fear is, alas, justified in that fear.

Deuxglass said...

Welcome back Dr. Brin,

I also have been to Lapland in winter and it certainly is beautiful however I drew the line at one thing. I refused to jump in a hole chopped in the lake after coming out of the sauna. That way madness lies.

I have been to Russia many times for work and pleasure. At my job I worked with several Russians who had been imported for their considerable math skills and we got along very well. One of my daughters started Russian in 7th grade and continued through college with a minor in Russian language. She was an exchange student there twice and after college spent a year in outback Siberia studying the native peoples. We have been back and forth many times. Saint Petersburg is beautiful but prefer Moscow. It's gritty but it is a city that works. It's authentic.

Russia and the United States are on the opposite ends of what I guess the only word that accurately describes it would be Christendom. Being at opposite ends means that our mentalities evolved differently but there is one thing which we have in common. Russia and the United States are both build from colonization. It is in our national souls so to speak. It defines us. We colonized to the West and they to the East. We both are persuaded that we won the WWII alone. More importantly we both know that if another big one comes neither of us will be "saved" by a friendly overseas power. Western Europeans firmly believe that the US will always save them. That is the default belief. Russians, like Americans know that they will always have to save themselves. That's why we are both "touchy" when it comes to military policy. The paradox is that where the two empires meet, the Baring Straits, is just about always calm. There is cooperation. It is as if there is an unwritten yet perfectly understood agreement that if Russia and the United States come to blows, then it will be fought on real-estate other than their own. Is that a bit cynical? Yes it is but very practical, isn't it?

DVGill said...

Really interesting read in NYTimes. The research on psychological basis for political affinity continues and has become more replete since its beginnings in the 1990s.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/05/opinion/trump-authoritarianism-republicans-contract.html?WT.nav=opinion-c-col-left-region&action=click&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-left-region&pgtype=Homepage&region=opinion-c-col-left-region

In light of this research, reaching your crazy uncle is much more difficult than simply framing an argument.
Regards-

LarryHart said...

Why I don't pay attention to Ann Coulter:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/30/opinion/ann-coulter-trump-former-trumpers.html

...
Bruni: You came to prominence going after Bill Clinton for behavior like Trump’s, right?

Coulter: No, that was quite different. That’s perjury and obstruction. You can’t have a legal system if people can just take an oath and just lie. It wasn’t just the philandering.
...


Words fail me.

locumranch said...


I think I begin to understand the whole 'Jesus Christ Superstar' phenomenon. It's are re-branding of sorts that shifts divinity from a specific identity (JC, in this case) to the Superstar aspect of celebrity in a manner that encourages the attribution of divinity to those who possess Celebrity, explaining (in part) why various CELEBRITIES try to assume degenerate moral authority over a human populace that has been conditioned to despise celebrity in general, in a very funny dark sardonic joke about the wages of celebrity being death by Crucifixion.

Crucifixion? Yes. Good. Out of the door. Line on the left. One cross each. Next. Crucifixion? Yes. Good. Out of the door. Line on the left. One cross each. Next.

To have our gods volunteer to die is such a funny funny joke.


Best

Alfred Differ said...

@Steven Hammond | I think "scientism" is a very real entity and its errors may contribute to everything from resistance to acknowledging climate change to Antivax proponents.

I agree. There IS some scientism going on with climate change and medical research and those weaknesses give people who want to deny it all a valid attack point. The actual science is good enough to be useful, but the flaws can be exploited and people believe all sorts of things when the persuader is passionate.

Use of statistics and other mathematical tools can give evidence which may be very strong, but it doesn't reach the standard of the Scientific Method without experiment, and how can you experiment on the past?


It’s trickier than many realize. Ask the average scientist what science is and they won’t give a clear definition. We know it when we see it. We typically give working definitions that aren’t understood by those outside our fields. Yet this HAS been studied by philosophers, but most scientists don’t read those philosophers. Why should we? We KNOW what science is and they are just making up stuff to argue about with each other. There is a Dunning-Kruger effect in play where scientists think they know more about what science is than they really do. Getting us to contemplate our fields from a philosophical perspective (a VERY legitimate field of study) causes our eyes to roll back up into our heads.

There are a few philosophers of science and some very dry reading to be done, but I didn’t look into this stuff until I was out of academia. Each of them seems to have something useful to add and that seems to be typical of philosophers. Popper, for example, was the first person I read to explain the role falsification played. He was also adamant about the role ‘improvability of precision’ plays. If you can’t falsify a theory, it ain’t science. If you can’t improve your measurements by carefully controlling for more and more sources of error, it ain’t science. It is the latter issue that caused Popper all sorts of headaches with quantum theories and he spent considerable time contemplating what we mean by probability in our wave functions.

Over the years I’ve learned to accept all fields of studies for what they are and appreciate the ones that appear to be useful. It is a mistake to expect one field to benefit from the tools of another. It is also a mistake not to try those tools outside the domain in which they were built. The early notions behind evolution actually came from economics. Imagine if we had failed to apply them to biology and some of the hairy computation science problems. 8)

Perhaps more worrisome is the idea that science is the only "truth" even if what it can currently explain…(fill in the blank)

Anyone who argues for that doesn’t understand what science is. We are far better at explaining what CAN’T be true. We are the people pulling the weeds in the garden of knowledge. Everyone can come up with ideas to plant there. It is much more of a challenge to grow ones we won’t pull out. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch | I'm not convinced we have been conditioned to despise celebrity. You might be imagining too much of yourself into the rest of us on that.

It IS funny, though, in a dark way. We make new gods and kill them or leave them to neglect fast. Millions of minds imagining many variations on the same kinds of stories. We fashion and kill heroes even faster. Look at the size of that guy! Look at him swing a bat and his homerun count! Next year... who are you talking about? Oh. The guy that got hurt? zzz...

Mark Gast said...

@locumranch

Its OK, ALL gods are puny gods (thanks Hulk!) ... and all of them are as real as my pet unicorn.

A.F. Rey said...

I also have been to Lapland in winter and it certainly is beautiful however I drew the line at one thing. I refused to jump in a hole chopped in the lake after coming out of the sauna. That way madness lies.

I saw that in a documentary once. The narrator characterized it as "for the strong of heart and the weak of mind." :)

Still, I imagine it's quite refreshing. Something I will continue to only imagine for the foreseeable future...

locumranch said...


I've made your point often, Mark_G.

If there are no god or gods, then there are NO god-given rights, commandments or prohibitions which means that anything & everything is permitted and nothing is forbidden, just Carte Blanche for self-indulgence, perversion, mayhem, murder & might. Nietzsche said as much.

And, while some optimists among us still aspire to become his god-like Übermensch (with all its connotations of Nazi supermen), the West seems mostly populated by his Last Men, leading lives of intellectual indolence, dumb animal pleasures & metaphysical apathy.

Neither godly reward nor divine wrath awaits us, just physical decay, temporality & a meaningless existence that consists of buying things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like, as we squander our present on a future we don't have.

Best

Arizsun Ahola said...

locumranch,

Bullhocky. Appealing to authority to justify this, that and the other thing doesn't justify anything. The thing is just or not on its own merits.

Likewise, needing the threat of eternal agony to make one do the right thing is, bluntly, childish. When a religious person says to an atheist "Without God people would just murder, rape and steal." we hear "The only think keeping me from being a sociopath is believing in a fairy tale." It is not reassuring at all.

Rights are not god given. Rights are inalienable because they are natural rights. Religious people added on the "god-given" nonsense where it wasn't needed, just as they do everywhere else.

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

I've made your point often, Mark_G.


And to quote Dave Sim, It's not that we don't understand what you're saying. We just disagree with it. And we'll keep disagreeing with it no matter how many times you say the same thing.

(And I left out the invective that Dave used in that bit)


If there are no god or gods, then there are NO god-given rights, commandments or prohibitions which means that anything & everything is permitted and nothing is forbidden, just Carte Blanche for self-indulgence, perversion, mayhem, murder & might.


Turn that around, and you've made a compelling indirect proof that God does not exist. Since it is self-evident that God doesn't prevent atrocities and injustices from happening--that is, since it is self-evident that everything is permitted and nothing is forbidden--then God must be a myth.

What you're trying to say is that we've brought that state of affairs on ourselves--that if we had only believed harder, God really would exist. That's nonsense. Wile E. Coyote to the contrary, you don't float on air because you refuse to believe in gravity. Likewise, God's law doesn't become vaporware because people refuse to believe in Him. It's the other way around. You do believe in gravity precisely because you know that it works. One becomes skeptical of God's permissions and forbiddings precisely because the universe doesn't work that way.


Nietzsche said as much.


Who's the more foolish, the fool or the fool that follows him?

And, while some optimists among us still aspire to become his god-like Übermensch (with all its connotations of Nazi supermen), the West seems mostly populated by his Last Men, leading lives of intellectual indolence, dumb animal pleasures & metaphysical apathy.


Projecting much?

Neither godly reward nor divine wrath awaits us, just physical decay, temporality & a meaningless existence that consists of buying things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like, as we squander our present on a future we don't have.


If you spend your life dwelling on how much life sucks, then sure, life is going to suck. The rest of us seem to be trapped in our fantasy that we're having an ok time here, with or without God. I get that you have to convince yourself that everyone is as miserable as you are so it doesn't seem like your own fault for wasting your life. I'd advise you instead to turn your own life around concentrate on doing what you find useful and/or meaningful so that on your deathbed, you don't have to complain that you squandered your earthly time away. That is, if I had any fucks left to give.

LarryHart said...

Arizsun Ahola:

Likewise, needing the threat of eternal agony to make one do the right thing is, bluntly, childish.


It also doesn't work. People do the wrong thing all the time. Religion might argue that they'll get comeuppance for their crimes in the afterlife, but unlike a prison sentence, reward/punishment after death doesn't get in the way of people committing atrocities in the first place, or do anything to defend/protect the victims.

When a religious person says to an atheist "Without God people would just murder, rape and steal." ...


He conveniently ignores the self-evident fact that people do all of those things now. So either God does not exist or else people do all of those things with God.


Rights are not god given. Rights are inalienable because they are natural rights. Religious people added on the "god-given" nonsense where it wasn't needed, just as they do everywhere else.


More charitably, "God-given" is a metaphor and allusion, as much of our language is. Just like "acts of God" for tornadoes and hurricanes. I suppose locumranch believes that without God, there'd be no tornadoes or hurricanes.

Alfred Differ said...

@Locumranch | You are neglecting an important middle ground.

If there are no [] gods, then there are NO god-given rights, commandments or prohibitions [BIG WHOPPER OF A GAP HERE] which means that anything & everything is permitted and nothing is forbidden.

X doesn’t imply Y unless there is no gap.

Let’s grant the position that there are no gods, thus no god-given rights and rules. Humans can still believe that they are there, but they aren’t there. Given.

As long as humans believe in their transcendent entities, though, they will enforce ‘god-given’ rights and rules. However, in practice, the belief isn’t necessary. We can enforce rights and rules just because we want to enforce them. No assumptions are necessary about transcendent entities.

So, if a bunch of us decide you are a bastard and punish you, it doesn’t really matter WHY we do it. Those of us who perform the action need not even agree on why we do it. The fact of the action is what matters to your health.

So, your statement is actually a non-sequitur. Who cares if there are gods, hmm? What are the people around you actually DOING? Look around and you’ll see they don’t tolerate anything and everything with nothing being forbidden. Look deeper and you’ll find they don’t agree on why, but they often agree to act anyway. Some argue for God-given rights and rules. Some make other arguments. Some don't care about why and simply support the powerful.

locumranch said...


The term 'just' means "morally upright, righteous in the eyes of God; conforming to rules" and comes to us from the Old French 'juste' & the Latin 'iustus', whereas the term 'Natural Law' can either signify "a body of unchanging moral principles (aka 'Divine Law') regarded as a basis for all human conduct" or "an observable law relating to natural phenomena".

Under the secondary definition, the term 'Natural Law' becomes synonymous with the Jungle Law of Tooth & Claw (aka 'Darwinian Amorality') wherein there are only winners & losers but neither law nor justice, especially when defined in terms of "an observable law relating to natural phenomena", which is NOT to be confused with the 'Universal Law' concept most often defined in terms of radical equalism & reciprocity.

However, Larry_H is quite correct to argue that "the universe doesn't work that way" because it most certainly does not work that way in the sense that the universe is both unjust & unfair, irrespective of either the so-called Natural Law or the Divine Right concepts which are both demonstrably revokable.

Suffice it to say that 'Divine Law (and/or God's Law)' is a figurative high order abstraction lacking in observable materiality, much in the same way that figurative high order abstractions like Truth, Fairness, Mercy, Justice, Love & Kindness lack observable materiality.

You believe in the existence of Truth, Fairness, Mercy, Justice, Love & Kindness, don't you?

THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY...

AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME...SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

[Excerpt from Terry Pratchett's 'Hogfather']


That's God's Law that you call upon, quite instinctively, when you chatter on & on about truth, fairness, justice, mercy, love, equality & moral correctness even though all of these non-things that you choose to believe in also lack observable materiality.

And, a quick question for Alfred: Who cares if there is truth, fairness, justice, mercy, love & equality, hmm? Just throw all that derivative shite into the dung heap of history with your imaginary gods, and good riddance to bad rubbish.

Best

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LarryHart said...

locumranch:

However, Larry_H is quite correct to argue that "the universe doesn't work that way" because it most certainly does not work that way in the sense that the universe is both unjust & unfair, irrespective of either the so-called Natural Law or the Divine Right concepts which are both demonstrably revokable.


You're missing the point, exemplified by Batman in the Dark Knight Returns series of comics (or the Superman vs Batman movie, if you must). The universe doesn't work that way unless you force it to.

Calls for justice and recognition of human rights are not meant to be assertions of physical reality, any moreso than a blueprint for an internal combustion engine describes something that exists in nature. They're calls to action. Descriptions of best practices. "Society works better when these rules are followed, or mostly followed".

Deuxglass said...

A. F. Rey,

My sentiments exactly! I had no desire whatsoever to prove my courage and confirm my stupidity by throwing myself in very cold water. I grew up in Florida and I don't go in water under 75 degrees without a wetsuit.

LarryHart said...

Deuxglass:

I grew up in Florida and I don't go in water under 75 degrees without a wetsuit.


Heh. I grew up in Chicago, swimming in Lake Michigan, which is usually in the 60s in summer and depending on wind direction can be in the 50s even in July and August. I once visited friends in Richmond who took me to Virginia Beach, but they warned me that I wouldn't want to swim that day because the water was "only" 78 degrees. I was romping around in the waves as if it were a bathtub, not used to the sensation of being in so warm a body of water. The natives were every bit as astounded as if I had married a black woman.

LarryHart said...

Real American red-state Republicans would have been better off with President Hillary. Who could have guessed, except ...anyone who was paying attention?

http://www.electoral-vote.com/evp2018/Senate/Maps/Apr06.html#item-2


Conservatives are not happy about the game that Trump is playing, assuming it is indeed a game. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), for example, issued a blistering statement Thursday evening that included this:

"Hopefully the President is just blowing off steam again but, if he's even half-serious, this is nuts. China is guilty of many things, but the President has no actual plan to win right now. He's threatening to light American agriculture on fire. Let's absolutely take on Chinese bad behavior, but with a plan that punishes them instead of us. This is the dumbest possible way to do this."

Several other Republican senators, including Chuck Grassley (IA) and Pat Roberts (KS) expressed their irritation. It is not a coincidence that the loudest Republican critics happen to come from states with agricultural economies.


Well, that's the price you pay for Neil Gorsuch, tax cuts for the rich, and making liberals cry. Hope it was worth it, sucker.

Paul SB said...

Oh look, Contrary Brin is back to being Contrary loci.

The more lunatic his assertions get, the more seriously we should take the probability that he actually is mentally disordered. It's not like mental disorders are rare things in the high-stress, kill-or-be-killed American economic environment. Sure, almost everything he writes is boiler-plate evangelism, and nothing has more than a grain or two of truth, twisted beyond recognition into whatever distortion he was taught as Truth when he was little and now clings to, being a person who can only make himself feel good by cutting down others. Not only is it useless arguing with him - he either twists your words beyond recognition to reach the conclusion he wants or he ignores you and waits until someone says something they discussed in his prayer circle so he has an idea of how to twist, but it only makes him worse. Logic is infinitely twistable, if you start from false premises, ignore relevant facts and inflate minor variables to epic proportions. Whether you take Larry's confrontational approach or Alfred's common ground approach, we still end up just rehashing the same arguments over and over again, because reality is not something he will ever accept.

Just to hit one recent set of false premises, rights are neither natural nor god-given. Rights are legal contracts, established by governments with respect to their citizens, and sometimes to non-citizens as well. They are a matter of law. That's why some nations recognize different sets of rights than others. Naturally nation-states have tended to justify their legal traditions by claiming that they emanate from some fictitious higher power. Through most of history that has been some god or other, but since we are now living in a largely scientific age, natural law is becoming the more common metaphorical extension. Natural law, as used in physics, chemistry and biology, refers to physical principles that cannot be broken. If they can be broken, they are not laws in the scientific use of the word, they are only tendencies. You can drive 80 mph in a 30 mph zone. You might get caught and get a ticket for it, but you can't break F = ma.

This touches on the idea of scientism that was being discussed earlier. In scientific practice, nomenclature is meant to be as clear as possible, words are usually Latin because no one speaks that language anymore, so the words do not have any subtle connotations (yet). But the word "law" was too powerful to resist. Two centuries ago, when law was considered to be god-given by most, the connotation of power and dire consequences made the word salient in people's minds. But it completely fails the criterion of lacking connotations that create misunderstandings. Thus F=ma would be more useful and do less damage if they had chosen some weird foreign word from some extinct language rather than using a word in the vernacular that appears to give it authority. That is how scientism works - trying to get the authority of science without doing the work of science appropriately. And thus the confusion between natural law and human-derived law.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

Just to hit one recent set of false premises, rights are neither natural nor god-given. Rights are legal contracts, established by governments with respect to their citizens, and sometimes to non-citizens as well. They are a matter of law.


Before Alfred jumps in with a more forceful objection, let me say that you are right, but only "from a certain point of view." The whole point of the metaphor of "God-given rights" is that We The People hold to be self-evident that human beings are deserving of certain rights that may not be abridged by the force of law. In this view, government is established to defend those rights, not to create them.

Your arch nemesis has a point that these rights don't exist in the sense that no natural law or process will insure that they are respected. It's only our own selves as moral actors who can (or not) insure, defend, and respect such things. There's no justice--there's "just us". The issue I'd take with your wording is that it is civil society which determines such things, not government per se. Government is merely an imperfect tool for carrying out (or impeding) the will of civil society.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

Natural law, as used in physics, chemistry and biology, refers to physical principles that cannot be broken. If they can be broken, they are not laws in the scientific use of the word, they are only tendencies. You can drive 80 mph in a 30 mph zone. You might get caught and get a ticket for it, but you can't break F = ma.


Dave Sim put it thusly (going from memory, so caveat emptor) :

"There is no Church of Newton's Laws in which we give thanks that an object at rest or in motion remains at rest or in motion unless acted on by an external force. What exactly would we be giving thanks for?"

BTW, that final question can be taken two ways, each equally valid. Knowing Dave, he did that intentionally.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

Not only is it useless arguing with him - he either twists your words beyond recognition to reach the conclusion he wants or he ignores you and waits until someone says something they discussed in his prayer circle so he has an idea of how to twist, but it only makes him worse. Logic is infinitely twistable, if you start from false premises, ignore relevant facts and inflate minor variables to epic proportions.


Well, I've dabbled in ignoring the trolls, just as I have with insulting them back and engaging in honest debate with them. The ignoring option doesn't work any more than the others do. My current motivation is "perfecting my stand-up comedy routine". It helps to have a consistent straight man.

With some exceptions. On certain points, there is real clarification to be made. For example, that calls for justice and recognition of human rights are not an appeal to natural law, but an attempt at engineering. That's a point that would not necessarily be understood by listeners unless someone "says" it "out loud" as it were.

Whether you take Larry's confrontational approach or Alfred's common ground approach, we still end up just rehashing the same arguments over and over again, because reality is not something he will ever accept.


"It's not a question of 'letting', Mister. It's a question of getting out of our way!"

Tim H. said...

I see "Divine law" as not so much law, more like a, mostly futile, attempt by more or less well intentioned God botherers to encourage their followers not to beat their heads against a few of the more obvious walls. The whole of the law may be "Do as thou will.", but if your will does damage to others, there's a problem.

Paul SB said...

Larry,

Remember that the "We the people" line was written in an only nascent scientific age. Today science is increasingly showing that many of the things we have traditionally called "god-given" rights are simply rules that are necessary for social animals to have a chance at surviving. When you see other members of the Animal Kingdom behaving in ways we have always insisted are uniquely human, it is easy to argue a genetic basis. But even so, humans are very good at not only breaking rules but twisting them beyond recognition to serve selfish ends. That fact is far more consistent with a natural evolution view, in which inconsistencies and changes in environment (in the broadest application of that word) make it possible for very different strategies to survive. Many experiments in Game Theory have shown that the Mr. Nice Guy approach is superior under some circumstances, but more often it is tit-for-tat that prevails. However, once you get enough people following the Mr. Nice Guy approach it becomes normative and most people follow along, even if they might otherwise be inclined to play the Back Stabber. It's largely a matter of incentive. How are such norms enforced, and how consistently?

So justice is "natural" not in the absolutist's sense, but in the statistical sense, much like a wave form or the location of an electron. Where you are at any given moment is a matter of probability more so than momentum. It is "just us," but just how consistent are we? The same goes for civil society, which tends to vacillate pretty wildly, nothing shaping and being shaped by its policy makers.

Loci's insistence that without God all would be "tooth and claw" is just an outdated paradigm that has been proven wrong. Even if tigers or bears might be like that, humans aren't that simple, and even Darwin knew that way back when. The idea of Original Sin, or if you prefer Hobbes' Nasty, British and short (no, that was not a typo) is merely justification for authority. People are evil by nature, therefore we must have a parasitical class of lords and priests to stop them from doing evil things - or so the story goes. The reality is that people are variable. A great many will generally stick to conventional rules of decency even without the threat of Hell, but even the best people break those rules at times, typically when their frontal lobes are not operating at their best. Loci's inability to grasp the probabilistic nature of life and give up on absolute "should be" reasoning is a typical characteristic of OCD, though it would take a test he would no doubt refuse to submit to (verifiably, at least) to see if he has
enough of the characteristics to be considered syndromal.

Tim, I think you've got it down for most cases. In the "mostly well-intentioned" clause you have to keep in mind that the most important word is the qualifier "mostly." Most of them are mostly harmless, but in among the flock are some well-disguised wolves. They typically become the leaders and influencers, turning the mostly well-intentioned into unwitting pawns in their own games. Just yesterday I heard a story on the radio about free speech on university campuses, and they noted that harassment comes from both sides of the political spectrum, but there is a big difference in how they go about it. Th left-wing types do things like demand that a paper be retracted or a professor be censored. The right-wing types go for death threats, photograph the children of people they don't like and put them along with addresses up on the internet. Not just pawns, but dangerous pawns - dupes of the lowest order.

Tim H. said...

Paul SB, so true, far too many preachers doing the Devil's work! Far too many folks warming pews who should think about how much of their scripture fits better with progressives and socialists, and how much scripture their ministers really dare not talk much about.

occam's comic said...

Mark Gast
It can be your opinion that "ALL gods are puny gods (thanks Hulk!) ... and all of them are as real as my pet unicorn." is a true statement, but it doesn't make it so.

Gaia has a real physical and temporal existence, as real as you and I and every living being on this planet.


And Atheism is just a nihilistic inversion of the religious concept of Pantheism.

It seems to me that a lot of online atheists want to imagine themselves as philosophical bad boys who alone have the courage to face a dead meaningless universe, but to others you guys seem like total A-holes, as bigoted and unreasoning as the worst bible thumper.

Robert said...

Tacitus, do you read Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain novels? Because your use of the term "God Botherer" reminds me of his "Emperor Botherers" (though no doubt Mitchell probably just lifted and adapted the term). That and I suspect you'd enjoy the snark in the stories. :) Probably one of the few Warhammer 40K series I enjoy (or even bother reading these days).

Rob H.

Robert said...

And Occam, speaking as someone who has an atheistic aspect and for a while there (and at times still does) believes that there is no God, no soul, no afterlife, no magic, and on down the line... you misunderstand atheism and its appeal.

There is no punishment for your actions after you die. There is no Big Brother or Big Sister or Papa or Mama figure to chide you for what you did. When you die? That's it. You end. You cease to exist as a person. The only immortality is in the form of the lasting effect of your actions on others and any works of art or writing you leave behind... and in a few thousand years in all likelihood even those will cease to exist. Look at the paintings done by our ancestors on the walls of caves our ancestors once lived in. Who painted those? We have no idea. The person who did that art ceased to exist thousands of years ago and we know nothing about them. We only see what they left behind... and even that will fade in time.

This is not nihilistic. It is liberating. My mistakes will not greet me at Heaven's door... because there is no Heaven. There is no Hell. When I die? The pain ends. The anxiety ceases. Everything I've done wrong goes away. Every flaw of mine ceases. And sure, all the decent things I've done, all the people I've helped, those also end (but in a way live on in how I've treated others will impact them in the future - hell, I've started a small trend on Tumblr by constantly thanking artists and cosplayers for posting their art and pictures and they truly appreciate getting those words of encouragement and thanks! to the point several others have started doing the same thing).

Consider that. I don't have to worry about sin. I don't have to worry about doing something wrong. All I have to do is live my life as I want to live my life... and the only person I'm truly accountable for and to is myself. And yes, to paraphrase how Penn and Teller put it, I rape and murder and rob as much as I want! And that amount is... NONE! Because I choose to be what I consider to be a decent person and to treat people with respect because I want to, not because I'm afraid.

To live without fear of one's actions because you're not accountable to some divine entity is quite liberating. Unfortunately, that liberty is quite threatening to those who live under religious belief because they look at us who live without God and see people who are still decent. So... what if they're wrong? What if there is no God? So they demonize atheists and agnostics. Without God you're a monster. And that way they can make us Other, and give their followers something to hate.

Part of me still believes in the Goddess and in magic, and hopes there is an afterlife. Part of me walks free of those beliefs and is perfectly fine without it. Both sides accept the other as parts of me. And hey, so long as you don't harm others or force them to live by your views? You can believe what you want.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

occam's comic:

And Atheism is just a nihilistic inversion of the religious concept of Pantheism.


Not exactly. Dave Sim's comment about Newton's Laws applies here as well. There is no Church of Atheism in which we give thanks that God does not exist. What exactly would we be giving thanks for?


It seems to me that a lot of online atheists want to imagine themselves as philosophical bad boys who alone have the courage to face a dead meaningless universe, but to others you guys seem like total A-holes, as bigoted and unreasoning as the worst bible thumper.


You're not entirely mistaken, but I think you're confusing defense with offense. If religious people were ever to stop beating us over the head with their superiority, I daresay most atheists would be happy to keep quiet. OTOH, if atheists as a whole were to defer to the sensibilities of the religious, the latter would keep on preaching, and if anything would use the silence of atheists as proof that they (religious) were right all along.

This situation is similar to the comment someone made above about how both left and right try to silence opposing views, but one does so by heaping scorn while the other does so by threatening violence.

LarryHart said...

Robert:

Tacitus, do you read Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain novels? Because your use of the term "God Bother


(I think you're addressing the wrong "Tim")

LarryHart said...

Robert:

And Occam, speaking as someone who has an atheistic aspect and for a while there (and at times still does) believes that there is no God, no soul, no afterlife, no magic, and on down the line... you misunderstand atheism and its appeal.

There is no punishment for your actions after you die.
...

This is not nihilistic. It is liberating. My mistakes will not greet me at Heaven's door...


That's a part of it, sure, but I think you are also missing a point. Atheism* isn't something I choose to believe any more than religion is. It* is a belief I have come to through experience of how the world works. I wasn't raised to be an atheist*, and I had to actively overcome instructions learned in childhood to come to a non-religious way of seeing the world.

I don't know that I find comfort in atheism any moreso than I find comfort in abandoning phlogiston theory or astrology or abstinence-only education, other than the relief at not having to twist my mind into a pretzel trying to accommodate a set of hypotheses that Reality Itself seems to contradict.

In Bible stories, at least the kids' versions we learn in Sunday school, God interacts with people all the time. The good people call upon God in their hour of need, and have expectation that He will, or at least can do something useful for their predicament, which He often does indeed do. There's no question in the characters' minds that the supernatural is a part of the fabric of how things work, in the same way that the characters in Harry Potter don't question the existence of magic, or the characters in the Marvel Universe don't question the existence of superheroes.

Those Bible people know that God is there the same reason you know your mom and dad or your wife and kids are there--they interact with Him on a regular basis.

Now, if any part of the mundane real world acted as if that was the way things are, I'd believe God exists as much as I believe my mother-in-law or my cats exist. The evidence simply doesn't support the hypothesis. And trying to scare people into professing belief by threats of violence here on earth or threats of consequences of the hypothetical Being does not constitute evidence.

* I don't even really consider myself an atheist. I prefer the term "religious skeptic", because I don't claim to know for certain that God does not exist. My belief is that whatever God is doesn't interact with us individual humans the way the Bible or other religious texts try to claim. Much more "I don't know what God is or what He might mean to us" than "I know there is no God." But for purposes of discussions like this, as far as religious people are concerned, that's as "bad" as being an atheist, and I accept the term rather than spend debating time pushing back on this particular point.

Robert said...

Oh. Whoops, sorry Tacitus! ^^;; And sorry to the other Tim! ^^;;

Rob H., who is one of many Robs here so I should know better....

Jon S. said...

Paul SB, it should also be remembered that the document beginning "We the People..." nowhere claims Divine rights, nor Divine inspiration. The one sole mention of a higher power comes at the very end, when it states that the document was issued in "the Year of Our Lord" 1776. At no point does the Constitution of the United States invoke "Divine Right" or "Divine Law" - which is just as well, considering the infamous "three-fifths compromise".

OC, your belief in Gaia has no more evidentiary support than any other beliefs in supreme beings of various sorts. You are perfectly free to have faith in Her, and believe that natural disasters of various sorts are Her Wrath, but trying to claim that She's as real as gravity or nuclear fusion is not supported by available data.

occam's comic said...

Jon S
Bullshit
First of all I never said Gaia was a supreme being nor did I say that natural disasters were Her fault.

But the reason there is oxygen in the atmosphere is because of living beings, the way that water flows across the globe is heavily influenced by living beings, there are mountains made from dead bodies of formally living beings, the fossil fuels that power our society come from formally living beings, the process of evolution is primarily driven by the interaction of one species with other species. In other words Gaia (the system of living things on the earth) has profoundly shaped everything in this world including you and me.


Robert, Larry,
I think you guys are missing my point. It seems that for most online atheists their understanding of religion (or the divine) is so cramped and narrow it misses most religious ideas. It is like the understanding begins with Baptists and ends with Catholics. There are many more approaches to the divine.

Think about this for a minute or two, there are religious people who's religion is not set of divinely inspired moral rules for behavior but rather an orientation towards a quest.

LarryHart said...

Holy crap! Is this really a thing?

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/06/opinion/qanon-trump-conspiracy-theory.html


...
[Roseanne] Barr’s tweet, puzzling to the casual observer, was a reference to QAnon, an expansive, complicated pro-Trump conspiracy theory. The theory is fascinating as an artifact of our current political derangement, but more than that, it’s profoundly revealing about the lengths to which some Trump supporters will go to convince themselves that his presidency is going well.
...
From these clues, a sprawling community on message boards, YouTube videos and Twitter accounts has elaborated an enormous, ever-mutating fantasy narrative about the Trump presidency. In the QAnon reality, Trump only pretended to collude with Russia in order to create a pretext for the hiring of Robert Mueller, the special counsel, who is actually working with Trump to take down an inconceivably evil and powerful network of coup-plotters and child sex traffickers that includes Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and George Soros.

“QAnon points out that this is the beginning of the end for the Clintons,” said Jerome Corsi — a prominent proponent of the lie that Obama was born in Kenya — on a YouTube broadcast in January. He warned that the world would be forced to contend with “films of innocent children pleading for their lives while people are butchering them.” Once that happens, presumably, Trump will be revealed as a master of 12-dimensional chess who successfully distracted smirking elites with his buffoonery while he was quietly saving the world.
...

LarryHart said...

occam's comic:

It seems that for most online atheists their understanding of religion (or the divine) is so cramped and narrow it misses most religious ideas.


That could very well be. I don't spend a lot of time communing with online atheists, so I can't really argue the point in any case.

TCB said...

Now this is interesting!

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions renews calls to prosecute first-time border crossers.

Now, at present, "Once border crossers are charged with illegal entry and deported, they can be charged with a felony carrying significant jail time if they are caught crossing illegally again." BUT Sessions wants to start charging first-time crossers as felons. Once convicted, they can then be sent to for-profit prisons and forced to work for peanuts.

Get it?

NEW SLAVES! Jeff Sessions has hit on a wondrous formula for creating a new class of slave from non-US-citizens, which I am 100000000000% certain will not bother Trump voteurs one smidge (because they are too foolish to realize that slave labor actually does destroy paying jobs, because no working man can compete against captive labor, but whatever floats your General Lee, I guess).

Tim H. said...

Robert, I lifted "God botherer" from Terry Pratchett, much miss his blend of empathy and snark.

Steven Hammond said...

@ Alfred Dilfer

I appreciate our thoughtful response regarding scientism--especially this bit which was very honest and illuminating to me.

It’s trickier than many realize. Ask the average scientist what science is and they won’t give a clear definition. We know it when we see it. We typically give working definitions that aren’t understood by those outside our fields. Yet this HAS been studied by philosophers, but most scientists don’t read those philosophers. Why should we? We KNOW what science is and they are just making up stuff to argue about with each other. There is a Dunning-Kruger effect in play where scientists think they know more about what science is than they really do. Getting us to contemplate our fields from a philosophical perspective (a VERY legitimate field of study) causes our eyes to roll back up into our heads.

I also must read Popper. Been meaning to, but this is an added impetus. Thanks!

@ Paul SB who said:

This touches on the idea of scientism that was being discussed earlier. In scientific practice, nomenclature is meant to be as clear as possible, words are usually Latin because no one speaks that language anymore, so the words do not have any subtle connotations (yet). But the word "law" was too powerful to resist.( ...)Thus F=ma would be more useful and do less damage if they had chosen some weird foreign word from some extinct language rather than using a word in the vernacular that appears to give it authority. That is how scientism works - trying to get the authority of science without doing the work of science appropriately. And thus the confusion between natural law and human-derived law.

Yes! So much of what of scientism (as we narrow in on what that actually is) has to do with language and how that changes meaning and ADDS meaning to originally fairly unemotional statement of results using the scientific method (broadly defined).

I might step on some toes here by bringing up some of the most prominent aspects of this. I'm drawing on Mary Midgley here, but the scientism behind so many popular accounts of Darwin's work is undeniable. I mean The Selfish Gene. Really? What meaning is imbedded in the word "selfish"? Yes, it's obviously a metaphor, but just as powerful the phrase "Survival of the Fittest" Darwin? No. That's from Herber Spencer the original social Darwinist after reading Darwin. He was an English philosopher with impressive muttonchop whiskers, but from what I can tell was definitely a promulgater of his own "scientism"--i.e. he took scientific discoveries and extrapolated their meaning far beyond what the data actually showed.

(cont.)

Steven Hammond said...

I'm not a creationist or some sort of "Intelligent design" person, BTW. I just happen to think that Midgley is right in focusing on THE ORGANISM and not the GENE as the prime mover in what living things do to survive and perpetuate themselves. Midgley actually wrote a whole book (short and worth reading) The Solitary Self: Darwin and the Selfish Gene regarding this.

Here's a quote from the into starting with a quote from Richard Dawkins (Edits are mine):

"The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference...DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music"

(Midgley on this)

Of course this is meant as a myth, not a detailed scientific thesis, and some people may therefore think it doesn't matter. But our imaginations feed on striking myths like this much more than we notice. After all, colorful documents such as the Communist Manifesto and The Book of Revelations have had much more influence than most philosophical writings...I have concentrated on Dawkins's formulation of the neo-darwinist worldview rather than on more moderate statement because their very extremeness makes them instructive. .....

The cosmic bully whom it invokes is now not a pagan deity but a chemical, DNA, a part of our own cells that-since we, like other organisms, are just lumbering robots ruled by it -is invoked as the true source of our acts. And the only motivation that it supplies for us is unqualified egoism: "selfishness."

Oh, and @ occam's comic

I'm interested in more specifics about your views on Gaia. Gaia has been personalized by some and others understand Gaia more as James Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis (named by William Golding, Lord of the Flies author) as a less personal and more a somewhat scientific hypothesis.

I'm interested and would love to hear your views. Also, you mentioned Pantheism which is interesting to me. Have you read any of Afred North Whitehead's stuff? Seems to be impenetrable from various reviews, but I may have a go at some point.I have read some some panentheism intro type stuff from a somewhat Christian perspective (my roots) which has piqued my interest in this area.

TCB said...

As for the QAnon conspiracy fantasy, it's just so, so much like Lord Xenu throwing thetans into the Teegeeack volcanoes. When you are into the cult that deep, it hurts less to believe the maddest follies, to drink the Flavor-Aid, than it does to tear your ego loose from the serrated claws of the mind vampires.

(The solution, the way to self-rescue from any cult, is paradoxically this: let the mind-slavers have your fucking ego, and walk away. Ego is overrated. The ego is a part of you, and has proven itself useful for survival and reproduction over many thousands or millions of years [does a fish have ego? yeah, maybe]. The ego is a part of you and it wants you to think it IS you, that its thoughts are your thoughts. This is not true.

The truth is more like this: you are a composite being, a colony or collective of smaller beings and a member of a greater being, of family, nation, society, humanity and nature. All this is temporary. Your ego wants to be permanent and vast, but neither is possible. All you are will die, everyone you love will die, all you build will crumble, all you know will be forgotten. Know this, and the enslavers of egos cannot hold you, because the handle they need - your ego - is no longer there to be seized. What difference does it make? The vampires can offer you nothing. You owe the vampires NOTHING. Know this and be free.)

Tim Wolter said...

Robert

Apology not necessary but certainly appreciated. That is not a term that this "Tim" would have used.

Ah, the complexities of Theology.

I do believe in an after life and a deity. I am pretty sure we don't have many details anywhere close to right, so a pox upon all those who would kill or die for minutiae of dogma.

It is entirely possible that my faith is simply a matter of upbringing, of the culture I grew up in. But it is what I believe.

And since there is absolutely no way to prove or disprove my faith or anyone else's it is at best silly, and more commonly, offensive to wade on in wielding the argumentative or literal Sword of The True Faith.

I am of the opinion that we will all find out the answer in the end. I'm content to wait.

Tim/Tacitus

Paul SB said...

Tim,

You have a far more mature attitude than the vast majority of people I have ever known. We will all cross that bridge when we get to it, right? Yet so many huge egos insist not only that they are right about everything, but that they have to make everyone else believe they are right. It's very insecure. I wonder if you would see this at all in the much lower-stress lives of HGs. The only modification I would make to what you wrote here is that if something requires that you believe it without any sort of proof, it is most likely not true. But then, religion has always been very politically useful at the nation state level, as has dogmatism. They motivate not just obedience to the authorities but enthusiastic enforcement of the norms.

Apropos of nothing, here's a funny quote about I came across last night:

To err is human. To blame someone else is politics.
- Hubert H. Humphrey

Paul SB said...

TCB,

That was an interesting little rant about ego and extremism. You are right about the human mind being a composite - this is one of the revelations about modern neuroscience, and one of the few things Freud got right. We have our conscious minds, which are fed by constant and often conflicting signals from other parts of our brains that we are completely unaware of. At times when our frontal lobes are taxed beyond their capacity or chemically impaired - when we have too much to do, too much stress, when the levels of critical neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine or dopamine are too low, or when our brains are threatened with destruction, as when we drink alcohol, are suffering from heat exhaustion or stroke, there are lots of things that impair those lobes - then other parts start to assert control and people do things they otherwise would never do. The old paradigm of 100% responsibility that we have tortured ourselves and each other with for millennia is simply wrong. We are responsible for our actions as a general rule, but reasonable exceptions have to be carved out for circumstances that impair normal judgement because of this structure.

Ego, however, is something we can't extinguish entirely. Ego is one of those things that we tend to talk about in extremis, and generally only in terms of one of the extremes. Too much ego and you are easily manipulated, your buttons easily pushed, and you lose any sense of anyone else but yourself. Our highly erratic White House resident is an extreme example. But what happens when you go too far the other way? Depressive catatonia, to put it plainly. As a candidate for teaching I had to take a number of personality tests way back when. One of these was a measure of self-esteem, on which I scored second lowest in the class. Probably if my score were higher I would have never gone into teaching, ignored my wife;s constant complaining about financial insecurity pursued one of my real passions in life. Instead I ended up throwing away years of my life trying to convince ungrateful turds that there is something better to do with your life than get drunk every weekend and sell drugs to support your ego habits. In that sense ego is just like judgement. We judge constantly. Is it too cold outside or can I wear shorts today? Is the food at that place good or radioactive slime? Was the service good enough to deserve an adequate tip or am I just being a cheapskate? When we get annoyed with people for being judgmental, it's not that judgment is a bad thing. The problem is people who make extreme judgements based on superficial appearances, then are unwilling to revise those judgements later. That is what racism is, and sexism and all those "isms" are. You have to judge whether that was a good cup of coffee or a movie worth warning your friends away from wasting their time and money on, but if you see a guy roller skating down the road in a beautiful blue dress, you don't know if he's out of his mind, playing a prank, answering a double-dog dare, just proudly displaying his affection for ladies' finery or who knows what.

Paul SB said...

Steven,

I'm glad to see that our host and I are not the only people who know about Herbert Spencer. Darwin was appalled by that guy, though later he ended up actually using Spencer's phrase himself. I wonder if it was too catchy and useful, or if it was more a matter of if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. The problem with that phrase, of course, is the word "fittest." In ordinary vernacular it is synonymous with "best," an association that immediately goes to right to the ego and makes a seemingly wonderful justification for classism (and plenty of other "isms" as well). In biological terms "fit" is not an expression of superiority, only how well adapted a species is to its environment and ecological niche. Sure, a polar bear is more "fit" in a polar environment than a koala, but put a polar bear in the koala's natural habitat and you will soon have a bear-skin rug. We could make up some other, more neutral term for this, but it wouldn't be nearly as socio-politically useful, so it's the wrong term that will live on. Trickle-down economics, anybody? It's just another expression of the Just World Fallacy - our supposed meritocracy is nothing of the sort, but those who have the power and wealth want to insist that they are the "fittest," and therefore deserve the massive tax breaks so they can buy more property and enslave more human resources.

On the Gaia Hypothesis, I can't speak for anyone else, but I've read enough about it to know there is nothing mystical about it. The choice of an ancient mother goddess for a name was more PR than good scientific nomenclature, but good scientific nomenclature doesn't grab the public's imagination the way gods, heroes and selfish genes do.

David Brin said...

Hey, I discuss almost every variant of "Gaia"... in EARTH!

onward

onward