Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The War on Science - and a counter-attack...

I cannot too-strongly recommend that you all read... and carefully re-read... an op-ed piece that ran in the Los Angeles Times a while back. Can Washington get smart about science? by Chris Mooney and Alan Sokal, cogently speaks up for the scientific/modernist “reality-based community” against a recent wave of know-nothing depredations by barbarians of both the far left and the far right.

Calling for re-establishment to neutral advisor agencies like the Office of Technology Assessment (also near the top of my own list of suggestions to the new Congress), Mooney and Sokal issue a challenge for both extremes to stop trying to bully society and objective reality to suit their own subjective notions about the world.

While Mooney is well known for his recent book THE REPUBLICAN WAR ON SCIENCE, Sokal would seem to offer (at first sight ) the perfect balance, since he is best known for having skewered blatant hypocrisy and inanity of the postmodernist/deconstructionalist movement, with his famous satirical essay that used deliberate gobbledygook-jargon to “prove” that physical so-called “laws” are nothing more than linguistic constructs created by western white males in order to perpetuate hegemony and oppression.

Sokal’s later revelation that his highly-touted article was a hoax and a trap set off what became known as the “science wars,” during which he became known as almost an archetype of calm reason, a rock against which the postmodernists dashed themselves furiously, before lapsing, spent and forever (one can hope) weakened.

Having taken on shibboleths (and their neo-mystical wielders) of the left, one might have expected Sokal remain focused in that direction. But “directionality” is, in itself, a trait of the romantic mind set and not of moderate, reasonable people, who can recognize similar nasty habits, wherever they arise. Indeed, Both Mooney and Sokal know - as would any reasonable person by now - that the silly postmodernists of the campus left are not one-thousandth as threatening to Western Civilization as their cousins, the neocon subjectivists who have been attacking western civilization from the barbarian right.

In this piece, it is easy to note the clear prose of Sokal, who has a rare gift - well-tested - of being able to disarm shrill adversaries with a single, rhetorical flick of the wrist. Take the following short paragraph:

“In truth, there was nothing wrong with inventing science studies; the error was to leap from the valid observation that science arises in a social context to the extreme conclusion that it is nothing more than politics in disguise.”

In other words, it is perfectly reasonable to keep subjecting science to reasonable scrutiny (or citokate) by appraising the myriad ways that fallible and all-too human individual scientists inevitably let cultural and subjective biases color their work. Nearly all honest scientists will acknowledge this tendency in themselves (at least in abstract mea culpas). Indeed, the obstinate flaw in human nature called self-delusion is the very thing that science was invented to help overcome!

(Once again, the over-arching theme of reciprocal accountability.)

And yet, as Sokal says far more efficiently than I do, here, it is quite another thing to claim that the only truly honest human truth-discovering process is inherently delusional! If the scientific process of perpetual re-examination and testing against reality cannot incrementally improve our models of the world, then why has scientific civilization learned so vastly more than all others combined?

We have discussed elsewhere the likely psychological reason for lefty postmodernists to have pursued this silly rant -- in what basically amounted to a jealous snit, attempting to drag down rival sages who have found much better -- titanically better -- methods of enquiry and truth discovery than the discredited incantatory paths of Plato. And yet, what has become clear in recent years is just what a service Sokal and his colleagues have done, by engaging the post-modernist movement in strenuous debate, rather than simply dismissing it as a pack of loonies.

Evidence for surprising, unexpected progress can be found int the chagrin expressed, lately, by some of the better and more aware postmodernists, over their role in having helped to tear down society’s greatest bulwark against other forms of mystical fanaticism. Others who are fully engaged in tearing down the entire Enlightenment Experiment.

Mooney and Sokal rightfully point to the all-out assaults upon science waged by an unholy alliance of Big Capital and reactionary Theocrats -- a coalition that has control over the Bush Administration, despite the fact that countless more-reasonable members of big business and the communities of faith want nothing to do with this vile cabal.

(Mooney and Sokal leave out a third group in the controlling triumvirate, one that has waned considerably, in recent years, ever since it instigated our “sicilian” quagmire in Iraq, but the very one that juxtaposes in eery ways against the campus post-modernists. That third group consists primarily of the Straussian Neoconservatives of the Heritage Foundation and Enterprise Institute etc, whose devotion to platonist incantation and the triumph of pure “will” bears worrisome similarities not only to the philosophy department lefties they claim to despise, but also to such reactionary and tyrannical movements as Nazism and Leninism.)

But I am quibbling. As I have said -- e.g. in my review of Mooney’s book THE REPUBLICAN WAR ON SCIENCE -- these two authors are bona fide heroes of the fight to restore American modernism. At the near-term, pragmatic level, they share with me a strong desire to see restored the independent Congressional scientific advisory boards that the New GOP so cynically and hypocritically dismantled.

What has become clear is that this fight will not be won by reason and science and moderation alone. It must be a militant moderation. One that - while promoting tolerance and diversity and openness and accountability and negotiation and science and fair-competition and pragmatism and other nice/liberal ideas - is also capable of recognizing genuine enemies. Foes who deeply despise all of the traits that I just listed and countless others... who indeed despise us for holding to them and attempting to build a decent civilization around such “wishy washy” and secularly “tepid” principles.

And that is where their short-term advantage of passion has let them steal a march on us, seizing control over what has been (so far) a benighted and moronic 21st Century. For while they attack, it is not our reflex of natural inclination to think in terms of enemies! Like merchants and tradesmen and craftsmen and chemists, standing at the city gate, trying to bargain and reason with barbarians, we blink in dismay as they use swords to chop away the underpinnings of our city. And then we try reasoning some more.

Enemies? That is not the way that we who invented markets and democracy and science and the arts of practical compromise generally want to think. But make no mistake. Those who would take advantage of our good natures in order to destroy this way of life will attack from every angle and every dogma. Because fundamentally it is a matter of personality, not ideology. And we moderate-pragmatist-progressive-problemsolving modernists are gradually learning that the personality of rage can only be dealt-with from a position and an attitude of strength.



Anonymous said...

I've said it before, and now say it again...

The NeoCons were Trotskyite Totalitarians who found themselves unable to get near the levers of power. They changed to Fascist Totalitarians without batting an eye for thier chance to run things.
(And now that they have, look at the result. Now that ANOTHER group of Totalitarians have been shown to be a failure, can we get them out of power for the 20-30 years it will take to forget how they screwed up this time? Can we have some time with them discredited so we can advance as a society once more? Or must we let them or thier relatives have power to screw things up some more before we can move on and move ahead?)

No matter how cynical I get, I can't seem to keep up. - Lily Tomlin

Yes, I know cynicism is (can be) a trap as deadly as hopeless optimism. But I like to think I use my cynicism to provoke the Thinkers and Dreamers to perfect thier ideas before trying them out.

Anonymous said...

OT: but - what Bush is really up to, from Daily Kos

Let me explain what they want
by ResponsibleAccountable
Sun Feb 04, 2007 at 12:02:25 AM PST
[hello and welcome to readers of theoildrum.com]

I saw a diary the other day asking "what do they want?". Simply put: why are Bush/Cheney et al doing what they are doing when all obvious logic dictates that any of a list of possible goals would be better achieved with other courses of action. Predictably much of the commentary was taken up with suggestions that they are intrinsically evil people who just want to control things... which actually sorta missed the point of the question I think - which was that surely there is a better explanation than that.

There is. It is frightening. Not enough people talk about it seriously enough. One part of me even likes it this way as I feel it buys me more time to prepare my own exit plans. I just thought I'd turn my comment into a diary to get a feel for who may actually have any awareness of this sort of thing yet, on here.

The reason: They want to survive. They understand Peak Oil better than you. They understand its true implications - the die off. They are planning to do whatever they can to help their elite make it through. What are you doing for your family?

ResponsibleAccountable's diary :: ::
Peak Oil. Survival.

Bush and his cabal are oil people. They know a thing or two about the oil business - regardless of personal success or otherwise in profitable business decisions.

They have known for a long time about Hubbert's Peak and Peak Oil. They have had time to think it through while it was barely on the radar screen of even the most thoughtful lay person.

Peak Oil is frightening because of the consequences and the general public's basic misunderstanding of where the threat lies in a world without oil. And that is what we are talking about. In 100 years we have used up more than half the world's total oil. Some believe we have passed the peak, others that we'll do so within 5-8 years. None knowledgeably predict a much later date.

This leads to an assumption the world's oil runs out in around 2050. Except the truth is that the crunch will come much sooner - the oil left is the hardest and most expensive to get to. Supply will falter. Major powers will fight over control. Shocks and dislocations will happen much earlier that will wake up the world to the problem, shatter the economy and in turn prevent much of the production being fulfilled and distributed.

So why the big worry? Well it isn't just automotive. Let's grant the technologists a win on that one even (though not really likely globally in time). It isn't the air travel - though the physics just don't allow you to replace petrochemicals as you can in a car - its a thermodynamics problem. But let's say we can get by without air travel. It is the food.

Virtually all of the world's food production is dependent on fertilizers based on oil and natural gas products. Without these chemicals food production collapses.

The world's sustainable population with pre-oil technologies was about 1-1.5billion. It is over 6billion today. Given that there isn't the old farming techniques, land and capacity available to shift back to these methods (and modern fertalizers having made much of the land infertile to these methods), and given that modern societies do not have everyone living within walking distance of food production, experts predict that under a collapse the planet is more likely going to be able to feed only about 500million people. Again there are 6 billion today, roughly.

How do you get there from here? A lot of people dying. Imagine 95% of the world dying and you are close to the mark.

And what do you think happens to a society during things like that?

The elites on behalf of whom Bush/Cheney work have figured this out. And their view is that those that get to survive are likely to be those that can gather the most resources in advance of fighting for survival. This is why they concentrate wealth in the hands of a few. This is why they continue an official policy of trying to seize control of oil resources to provide as long a lifeline as possible to prepare before the US collapses.

Why wouldn't rewarding those that already had most in society with more be the best way of choosing winners from losers in this? If your view is that financial means are the rewards for being a superior person in every way, as our society has come to view such things in every practical way?

These people are preparing the lifeboats. Only there ain't going to be many of them.

Sure, we'll pray for a miracle - science to the rescue. We'll fight to control resources as long as possible to allow the numbed masses to stay deluded for a bit longer. But make no bones about it a dark night is coming. And these people expect to be the ones with the torches.

I think that makes far more sense than just people being bad and evil for the sake of it. If you have to resort to nonsense explanations like 'they are just megalomaniacs who want to control things with no real end' then you are probably wrong. I am glad the question is asked. I wish more people would instead of falling back on cheap digs at serious people.

Personally - I am transitioning into the lifeboat building business. Anyone care to join me?

...Global warming...pah...real men have restless nights over Peak Oil...

David Brin said...

I am glad to see some people (at last) paranoically considering the parsimonious explanation -- that men who were smart enough to defeat all opponents and manipulate power with devastating effectiveness, might (Might!) only appear superficially to be absolute morons at the art of statecraft.

True, these two traits often do carry inverse or opposite weightings. Stalin and Saddam were clear examples of geniuses at power manipulation whose statecraft absolutely sucked. (Guess which trait translated into reproductive success, in past eras? Explaining why so many states failed but kings passed on loads of genes.)

Nevertheless, I contend that we should at least contemplate the possibility that Rove & co are smart men and that some or all of what they have accomplished was actually their intention, all along.

So far I agree with the person linked above. But I don't think she goes anywhere near far enough.

Yes, the coming disruptions in western economies drive SOME Bushco policies. The attempt to privatize Social Security would have provided a hundred million new sheep in the stock market who at worst (best?) could have been fleeced and at MINIMUM would have driven up existing stock prices and let today's elites unload dog stocks that will be trashed by oil depletion and climate change.

Still, it just doesn't wash. How does it help the survival of rich Americans to do all the OTHER things accomplished by Rove & co? Demolishing US military readiness? Destroying our national cohesion and political discourse? Driving away all of our allies and deliberately ruining our role of assumed leadership of the West? Torching our science and smashing the US civil service and officer corps? None of these actions fit the person's scenario, because she assumes the goal includes SOME degree of benefit for the American Republic, at some level.

No, if the rich elites knew -- could open their eyes to -- how deeply their personal safety has been undermined by the very same coterie they helped to empower. But they cannot. Because they -- the backers and supporters -- genuinely ARE too stupid to see the hand of fate in front of their faces.

Ah, human nature.

Anonymous said...

Screw the lifeboat scenario.

A reasonable prosperous lifestyle can be based on renewable energy and sustainable industries.

It will probably mean giving up ego-stoking bullshit practices like driving to work alone in a gigantic S.U.V., and living in a sloppily built McMansion kept at arctic temperatures during the summer, and importing fresh fruit from half-way across the globe.

It will mean being smart and shrewd and foresighted rather than arrogant and thoughtless.

The ideas are out there. Guys like Stewart Brand were thinking about this stuff going on fourty years ago. We just need to get the bastards who have a vested interest in keeping us fat, stupid, and smug out of power.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Peak Oil, some solutions:
An Alcoholic Energy Solution

I Want my Batmobile!

Power (Plants) to The People

Anonymous said...

I think people are too quick to judge SUV-buyers as stroking their ego's. If I were to buy one, it would be because I live in Idaho and I don't like getting stuck in snow. Sure, snow tires can help an economy car get along, but there's no comparison between that and an SUV with 4-wheel drive and snowtires. Not only will the latter stay out of trouble, it will be able to pull other people out.

I carpool with my tiny toyota tercel down to Idaho Falls every winter, and every time I go through Lookout Pass and Fourth of July Pass I wish I was driving something else.

As for importing fruit? I'm poor. I buy bananas at $0.42/lb because they're affordable. I'm not willing to give up fruit in my diet, and I'm not willing to pay three or four times as much for the locally grown stuff in the Co-op. Those imported bananas let me be happy on my $10-a-week food budget.

But I agree with you about using reasonable temperature settings for AC and heating. I don't have AC, and my heater is set for 60 F

Tony Fisk said...

It is old news that officials in the Bush administration have been seeking to suppress and discredit reports supporting climate change. The editorial in this week's New Scientist puts the pieces together:

'This story is just one of many uncovered in Atmosphere of Pressure: Political Interference in Federal Climate Science, a report published this week by two US pressure groups, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The incidents reveal the extraordinary lengths to which the Bush administration is willing to go to suppress information ...'

A fascinating example of an empowered citizenry in action: the search for Jim Gray has so far involved over 12,000 people inspecting 530,000+ images for evidence of his boat, which has been missing since last week.

I hope they're available when King George's lifeboat springs a leak!

David Brin said...

Wow re the world image search (above)!
Smart mob in action.

As for evidence for Bushco science bashing, none is needed by thee and me. What's needed is relentless use of such upon all of our adopted ostriches!

Each of us... and that is every single one of us... is obliged for the sake of pure and simple patriotism, as well as for humanity and our own survival, to find that one "decent conservative" who seems capable of reason, and shove these things in front of him or here...

...relentlessly. Whil repeating "what if Clinton had done this?"

(I was actually sneaky once. My ostrich kept shrugging. So I said. "you seem to think that it was much worse when Clinton did X!"

He rose to the bait. He denounced the "X" behavior as VASTLy worse than anything done by Bush.

Then I said ooops! Clinton didn't do that. Bush did.

Nasty. But necessary.

Tony Fisk said...

Did your ostrich understand what he swallowed, and has he forgiven you?

Actually, one local ostrich who seems to have got the message (on climate at least) is Australian PM John Howard.

Of course, the worst drought in a thousand years, a dried-up river system, and the smoke pall from 10,000 square kilometres of burnt forest is hard to ignore...

Anonymous said...

I don't mind that Americans want to buy SUVs, I just think they should pay European gasoline tax rates to power them.

Tony Fisk said...

Off topic...

Normally, I'd refrain from joining in the FUD spreading about muslims that's been going on since 9/11.

But, I think this BBC report about textbooks found in a muslim school in London that contain offensive remarks about other religions has a bearing on David's frequent assertion that a certain kingdom preaches intolerance of the West.
Look who's bankrolling the school in question!

Catfish 'n Cod said...

Ms. Mathews:

"Virtually all of the world's food production is dependent on fertilizers based on oil and natural gas products. Without these chemicals food production collapses."

Sorry, it doesn't wash. Food production now requires fertilizers with high energy content -- this is true. The Haber process for nitrogen fertilizers requires large amounts of methane -- this is also true.

But methane is a LOT easier to come by than oil. Oil has an immense amount of energy locked into it compared to methane. Given sufficient energy from elsewhere, making methane to make nitrate fertilizers is trivial.

The fundamental assumption behind all Peak Oil disaster scenarios is that alternate energy is impossible: that oil cannot be replaced (or cannot be replaced fast enough). There may be places where this is true. Africa comes to mind immediately, and some parts of Asia as well.

The rest of us, if necessary, will go back to coal for the few decades necessary for safe fission, workable fusion, and massive investment in solar and geothermal power.

Peak Oil is only a means to the desired end for the romantic-survivalist set: the Kaczynski-Luddite destruction of industrial civilization.



A couple of years ago, my family took a vacation up your way (Glacier NP, Montana -- gorgeous, worth the drive if you've never been). We rented a Subaru Outback "SUW". It made our trip immensely easier to have all that 4x4 drive, manual gear control, rugged suspension, blah blah blah. SUW's, SUV's, etc. have their place. They are real machines designed for real use.

The problem is that they're being driven around primarily for suburban commutes. That's the problem. The car design optimized for city driving is the small hybrid; most of an SUV goes to waste in such an environment.

Zipcars are a timeshare system for city people who only use cars sparingly. The company takes care of maintenance and positions car parking spaces for member convienence.

Couldn't we have a similar SUV timeshare system for people who only go to the mountains sparingly? Combined with a publicly virtuous hybrid (and a flashy logo on the trunk saying so), this could be just as much of a "status symbol" as the Incredible Hulks being driven today.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Brin, I'd like to add something about the varyous cospiratorial theories here around. Maybe only a detail, but I think worth considering.
In some of previous threads you rightly pointed that any scenario that involved massive use of military, at this point, for counter-insurgency or outrigth coup on US soil would be not very likely due to the quality of US officer corps and enlisted men (I personally think you're maybe a bit too much optimistic on this, given also the lack of those whistleblowers you foresaw for so long but that are still so few and so quiet, but let's for the moment assume that you're right).

Only, I've noticed that, even if it's still quite far behind, there's a strong military push for development of robotic weapon systems. now, the reason will likely be mostly the most obvious one, that robotic systems when destroyed by enemy do not translate in black bags going home, or even the second-obvious one, that on military heavy hardware there's much more graft money than on infantry to be done.
But a third reason could also be that a robotic system would not have any trouble executing any order and control would me much more easily concentrated.
If we consider a plan more long than these 2 short presidencies, and see a design oriented toward changing the fundamental nature of the US one step at a time, this would maybe make sense, together with any measure that would weaken normal military forces. After all, seeing the corporate world, a long-scoped series of small pushes seems more usual to their typical strategies... the first time they attempt have a legislation done like they want, there's a big outcry and they retreat... they wait a bit and then they try again with different wordings... often the outcry is minor, people already is familiar with the concept and so on... if it's repelled again they attempt again later... and again, and again... sometimes it does backfire, and an opposite force is organized and start pushing back, and as they're the absolute minority often when this happen they lose, and we hope this will be the case this time...

Catfish 'n Cod said...

Oops, that link should have been Zipcars.

Dr. Brin: continuing the paranoia argument...

I can see why Bushco have driven away our allies. They themselves state the reason: it inhibited their "freedom of action", i.e., prevented centralization and provided unwanted CITOKATE. The attacks on political discourse, the civil service, the officer corps, the science establishment, and the independent press were all for the same purpose. No amount of paranoia is required to believe these things: stupidity and malice both demand them.

The part I can't figure out is the destruction of US military readiness. Even a despot wants a powerful military. So why? To make the Christianist purges easier? To force the Pentagon to rely on private mercenaries (as the nytimes recently delineated for the civil service)?

Or, like the Spanish of the early modern period, are they just too busy war-profiteering to notice the oncoming tsunami?

Anonymous said...

Another SF author i read also some time ago proposed, as an idle idea for an extreme scenario, that they're preparing for something more than the peak oil moment, but instead for the peak everything moment, when environment and infrastructure collapse on the weight of sheer human population and request for western standard of living from third world countries (thing that also wed well with their religious pov).

Disclaimer: I do not pretend that i believe this scenario is truth, or even near it, but it's "fun" to consider...

He provided a lot of details (his article was 10 pages long, full of references... I include the link but unluckily it's in Italian. Good luck with google translation, if you want to tempt the fate :P), but summing it up:
world is going to collapse in any case without radical intervention that nobody want to do, so why not to procede on a controlled demolition to reduce the pressure in a reltively planned way, and at the same time assure that "who can" end firmly at the top and safe forever after from any pesky attempt to undermine them again?
Necessary steps for this:
assume total domestic control, experiment with big-scale panic spread management, public order discipline, assume total control of military and infrastructure.
Assume control of major reserves of strategic resources (like oil) and do not use them for now, keep them for when they'll be needed later. Do not worry about chaos and civil disorder, this will be dealt in drastic ways later.
Star experimenting with small designer disease spreading, to assess capabilites to react to a global epidemic.
(Supporting for this, he remembered us that strange case of the anthrax mails, of wich nobody never heard anything later, the strangely high rate of virologist and molecular biologist dead in plane crashes, suicides, and other suspect accidents between 2000 and early 2003, when the article was written, and we could add the appearance of bird-flu and all the media scares following).
When everything is ready, close yourself in you small privileged fortress, and let the chaos spread and the undeserving be reaped. Enjoy you condition as overlord of the brave new world :P
Well, as I said, a bit extreme... but if nothing else could make a good story... :)

David Brin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
David Brin said...

Catfish, I agree that basic access to raw energy is not the problem. Nor do I fear for the overall food supply. The vast “pad” that humanity now has in food supply is manifest in the amount of meat we consume. If necessary, the grain that’s used to feed meat animals can go directly to people. Likewise, coal can drive generators.

The problem is that of bringing process wisdom into our management of a world, a “creation” and a civilization. We are caught between fanatics who do not like the agenda that I raise in the previous sentence... and fanatics who think that the only answer to that agenda is to hunker down and shiver in the dark. And please, please understand - again - that I find the first group vastly more dangerous and loathsome. But the second group does hobble us. e.g. in preventing a measured and careful “bridging” use of nuclear fission power.

Obviously, gas taxes would be most sensible, but Americans prefer indirect methods so fleet mileage standards will be easier to impose.

Catfish, c’mon. This is the site of a sci fi thriller author so let your imagination go! Yes, the trend toward mercenary force is part of it. But the sweetest, most paranoid fantasy is that the destruction of the US military is part of a genuine, full tilt MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE plot. C’mon, go all the way. Drink the Kool Aid! Laugh at it... then shiver when you realize it is the only scenario that explains EVERYTHING.... ooooooh.

Blake, good ref re authoritarianism. One measure is when the followers in a movement are so transfixed on the enemy group that nothing the leader says can possibly be wrong. Sound familiar? Nothing could make it plainer than the sudden switch to it NOW being all right to bitch about CEO overcompensation, after Bush’s Wall Street speech. Oh, where is that registry?

But do not totally give up on “left wing authoritarians”! Yes, those campus flakes are less than 1% the threat - and have a zillionth of the influence - that bitter neocon pundits and shock jocks claim they do. (An aside: I think that neocons hate the tweedy crypto-Marxist professors above all because those marginalized and insipid lefty postmodernist twerps DO get one perk that the Heritage/Cato intellectual whores of the right DON’T get -- occasional tumbles in bed from book-radicalized coeds who cry out “Che! Che! Oy CHE!” Eat your hearts out, Wolfie and Nitze.)

All jesting aside, the lefty campus flakes do much harm simply by giving the Limbaugh-Hannities grist to howl at Red State America, the way Goebbels screeched at Jewish landlord-merchants. OTOH, one cannot in fairness blame the leftyprofs for that. Free speech and all. If there were just one of them, muttering in a dark loony bin, Limbaugh would track him down and blare quotations across the continent.

No. What I CAN hate the loopy postmodernists for is their conspiratorial takeover of nearly every university English and Lit department, followed by a total purge of any possibility of tenure for anybody who says anything remotely favorable about science fiction. The Jazz of literature, the most inventive and most rambunctiously American genre and the only one that bravely explores the vast range of possibility-space, instead of constantly rehashing lame and tired “verities.” Nothing, nothing could better demonstrate that these crypto-Marxist, science hating, future-bashing jerks are nasty authoritarians at heart, who would oppress us all, if they could (the germ of truth that Limbaugh et al exploit.)

They may be getting laid, but they are frustrated by lack of power, and I ROTFLMAO.

Anonymous, yes, the development of combat robots could trend in the directions you describe. Over time scales that run up against the rising empowerment of citizens in the Age of Amateurs. A very tense sci fi juxtaposition? Stay tuned! Still, frankly, I doubt this is a big part of the scenario. For, you see, although I do envision a possible cabal that is vastly smarter than the band of Alfred E Neumans that SEEM to be running the USA, I nevertheless do not see them as especially bright or far-seeing in any overall sense. Their goals are fairly simple and destructive. Even if they are very very good at such things, that does not make them grand strategists (though of course, psychologically, they must see themselves that way.) Over the short term, they have exploited the American propensity for spasms of know-nothing crankiness. But they may see all plans thwarted by the side that has stymied plotters and tyrants in the past.

Still... I shudder when I imagine that we live in some insipid caricature tale. I mean, if some fiction author wrote BUSH, CLINTON, CLINTON, BUSH, BUSH, CLINTON, CLINTON, would any editor let the piece of trash ever go to press?


...and then remember that eight more years of culture war is EXACTLY what will bring us JEB BUSH, no matter how successful two terms of Hillary might be.


Where does that take us? 2024? Yes! Chelsea will be old enough by then!!! Followed by one of W’s twins! (Why not both?) Come on folks, is this what Ben Franklin and Madison and Washington had in mind? Is it possible that we have slid so far?

For the record, I do not believe that Hillary Clinton is unqualified to be president. She has many positive traits and seems a basically solid person, who would bring with her an eclectic range of superior public servants from all walks of life, and with them, a fresh wave of accountability. Having said that, I absolutely shudder at what (through no fault of her own) her arrival in the White House would do to this country.

There is a simple solution. A way out. One that solves many problems (while paying heed to the lessons of history.)

No senators.

Catfish 'n Cod said...

"No senators."

As in:

Amendment XXVIII. No person, once elected or appointed to the offices of Senator or Representative, shall be eligible for the office of President of the United States until an election of Representatives shall have intervened from the date of their departure from either house of Congress.

...because THAT is what it would take, and it would have to be passed over Congress' head. I have been joking for the last two months that they should save us all time and just enter candidacy papers for all 100 Senators, all House committee chairs, all governors, and all mayors of cities larger than one million.

On paranoia: Manchurian Candidate is the word, for there is no faction in the United States that benefits from the destruction of its military. Nor does any faction desiring greater power in the world-system, for the world-system is placed in imminent jeapordy by a sudden collapse of US power without a substitute.

No, only disruptive elements can benefit. People who would have irrational reasons to believe that they would profit from the chaos to follow, and the resources to both set up the scenario and ride the whirlwind that resulted.

Not al-Qaeda itself. They're so out of it, it's taken them six years to realize they will never again use a plane in an attack. All al-Qaeda initiatives since spring of 2002 have come from vassal terror groups; Headquarters' effectiveness has been nullified.

Nor the Saudi royal family itself; they're primarily interested in living the good life and making sure they stay on top of the pyramid.

And yet clearly the people who benefit most from events are the Arabians. Of their powerful rivals, one (Iraq) is destroyed, a second (Iran) is strategically surrounded and about to be attacked; a third (Israel) is completely preoccupied with the chaos on their borders, and if their eye is anywhere else, it's on Iran. No one, not even the Russians or Chinese, are in better positions.

No, the most exact fit to the data would be provided by a hidden Machiavellian schemer among the Wahhabi priestly caste. The right whispers in the right ears, twenty years ago, would have sent bin Laden and the like to Afghanistan to expel the Russians and lay the foundations for al-Qaeda. A few more whispers send mosques, and Wahhabi-trained imams, to Muslim populations worldwide, radicalizing them. Whispers into elderly, feeble Saudi kings' and princes' ears manipulate the results of the First Gulf War (ended expressly at Saudi bidding) and bring about the Second. Manipulation of Palestinian aid keeps both Israel and Palestine busy. Blackmail collected at oil events for the last fifty years provides control of the United States... and thus the primary goal of the suborned US government becomes maintaining oil power, because the blackmail system falls apart if America becomes energy independent. Always manipulating events, our archvillain is never confronted since the 'holiness and purity' taboos prevent anyone, Saudi or kufr, from approaching the sancta sanctora.

If I wanted to write a plot like this given established data, that would be where I'd place my Fu Manchu... perhaps in a bunker secretly constructed on the site of the Prophet Mohammed's house, demolished at Wahabbi orders in the process of expanding the Great Mosque of Mecca.

Fortunately, it's not true for the same reason 9/11 conspiracy theories aren't true: no one is THAT good at manipulation or secret-keeping. But it makes a good story, no?

Anonymous said...

"No Senators"?

You feel that Senators should not run for president? Leaving Congressmen, Governors and such? I'm not sure I follow why. Bill Clinton was a governor, but so was George W. Bush.

Of course, governorship does give us a glimpse of how candidates handle an executive position (like how Bush left Texas in a mess), but its easy to look at a senators voting record to see where they stand on issues.

So, why "No Senators"? Or did I miss the whole point of your argument?

Anonymous said...

The point of the "no Senators" arguement (if I remember correctly) is the voting record... a proceedural 'no' vote on something (no, don't add a bridge in Alaska to the defense budget for example) becomes (in the hands of the opponent) "He voted NO on defense!" Remember the Republican meme "John Kerry voted against 34 important defense items"? Did you know 31 of those items were in a budget proposal by then Secretary of Defense Richard 'Dick' Cheney?

Governers have an advantage; they don't do proceedure votes, they get to say yea/nay AND get to say why they vetoed what looked like a good idea.

David Brin said...

Yipes, Catfish. That has got to be the scariest paragraph I have read in ages. Both efficiently expressed and terrifying in its self-consistency. And - for the record (yoohoo all you illuninatit monitors listening in) - I don’t believe a word of it. Nope. Not me. Just thriller sci fi, nothing more. (Catfish, must you use EVERY conceivable sift-word that’d draw attention our way? ;-)

I do feel you insult a class of very very smart and well-educated men. The r’oils MAY be decadent playboys, as you say. Or else they may be passionate believers in a cause who also get to have their cake and eat it too. I would lay odds that they are very bright and very sincere. And their relentlessly brutal use of the Palestinians - spanning three generations - displays a long-view that is both daunting and impressive.

The biggest fly in the ointment - superficially at least - is Iran, or more specifically the theocrats, a bunch that has arguably benefited just as much from Bushco policies as that other group has. Of course this does further weaken the US... and it provides a much more deadly trap for Bush to send our already-weakened forces into. Still, one has to ponder why the roils would have wanted a rising Shia Islam.

One is left with three possibilities to ponder.

1- That things may have gotten a bit out of hand, or

2- That the US and Iran are aimed to grind each other to bits, or

3- That the Oiluminati do not care as much about sectarian violence at the street level as they do about establishing a triumphant renewal of the ancient “Uma” to replace decadent weseternism. If and when that happens, there will be plenty of elbow room for all of the faithful. Especially when global climate change brings rain to the desert. (And deserts to the infidels.)

--- Blake, a terrific riff on decadent English depts. Makes me ponder a variation of the old saw “if you’re so smart, how come you ain’t rich?”

”If you’re so smart, how come you haven’t been put against a wall and shot?”

Kind of plays against a quotation from Bruce Sterling. Similarly preening but smart. Blake, write to me separately, please.

Zech, I confess that I have a deep and strong preference for governors, who have, after all, had some experience as executive leaders of states that have administrative structure very similar to the federal government. Their peronalities are aimed toward governance, rather than “policy”. They perceive the world’s perplexity and complexity as something to wade through, pushing ahead, rather than merely a thing to be deliberated-over. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were the only dems since freaking JFK(!) to who convinced the American people to go with them (unless you include President Gore, who was a veep at that point, not a senator!)

And yes, so were Reagan and Bush! Nu? As I have said, only JFK entered the WH from the Senate and he only by a squeaker. It is the kiss of death and we simply cannot afford another calamity, this time.

Moreover, it lets us gracefully ease Barrack and Hillary aside without offense and allows us to get serious about choosing somebody who can end culture war. That has to be the highest priority. Richardson and Clarke. Ponder how sensible that would be. A little boring, but utterly sensible.

David Brin said...

I want to reprint here a very cogent mini-rant that somebody posted on my new Daily Kos site where I re-post some of these items. Gotta recruit this guy to come over here.

Who said they were rational? (0 / 0)
Just self-interested. They have to be delusional to a certain extent. Every good salesman is a natural born sucker.

Did the Classical Germans have to infiltrate the Roman upper-class to get them to swallow Christianity and collapse their empire? Was the British Empire undermined by American infiltration of House of Lords?

Those dudes are just nuts! I believe it was in the Northwoods papers, FOIA released and ABC published, that the members of the JFK administration had plans to bomb an American airliner filled with college kids on spring break in order to create casus belli against Castro. Deep dark conspiracy to undermine the very legitimacy of democracy, or just nut-cases with power looking only at the next $million, unwittingly undermining their very long term prospects for survival? However, the former does make a better novel, I agree --- but then, my unwritten conspiracy novel involves pre-historic breeding programs at Çatalhöyük. My teeth were sharpened on The Illuminati Trilogy.

Actually, my nightmare is the banality of the Nazi regime. In that case, you had a German state with an inevitable destiny of sooner or later becoming the dominant power in Europe, economically, intellectually and politically -- the evidence is that, despite everything, that is what has happened with the EU. But a short-sighted kleptocracy decided to back the fascists simply to avoid unionization and socialist policies -- once again, policies that have proven to be in the long-term interest of Germany's industrial class. What they got was a disastrous war that killed an entire generation, that forced their brightest minds to emigrate to the US, which burned their cities to the ground, gave their most productive industrial zones to the Soviet Union, and lead to their occupation by foreign powers to this day (how many other countries are dotted by foreign military bases?). And it was stepped to meekly by businessmen in suits, whose best friends were Jewish, just to cut their taxes for a few years (sound familiar?)

The practical problem with "conspiracy" is the same as it's benefit: it gets folks all fired up, but they naturally drift to their old, cultural nightmares: the businessman who ripped them off, displaced to the Jewish boogyman.

So Osama is somehow in cahoots with AIPAC? Well, then, I guess liberal Jewish Hollywood must be working with the Neo-Straussians (don't forget Strauss himself was a Jewish refugee from the Nazis). And the terrorists are coming in over the border because the Neo-cons are letting them slip through under the cover of free movement of labor -- does that mean that the Hispanics (Chavez et. al.) are actually in league with the Iranians (who are secretly supporting Sunni Al-Qaeda) to "rapes themselves some white wimin"?

No thanks. Enough Kool-Aid has gone around.

To which I responded: Ah, but nothing you say answers the simple fact. When ALL of a cabal's actions have the direct effect of demolishing the entity that they control, some kind of motivated intelligence may plausibly be involved. I NEVER said they were far-sighted. Just very focused and motivated. Maybe.

David Brin said...

I want to reprint here a very cogent mini-rant that somebody posted on my new Daily Kos site where I re-post some of these items. Gotta recruit this guy to come over here.

Who said they were rational? (0 / 0)
Just self-interested. They have to be delusional to a certain extent. Every good salesman is a natural born sucker.

Did the Classical Germans have to infiltrate the Roman upper-class to get them to swallow Christianity and collapse their empire? Was the British Empire undermined by American infiltration of House of Lords?

Those dudes are just nuts! I believe it was in the Northwoods papers, FOIA released and ABC published, that the members of the JFK administration had plans to bomb an American airliner filled with college kids on spring break in order to create casus belli against Castro. Deep dark conspiracy to undermine the very legitimacy of democracy, or just nut-cases with power looking only at the next $million, unwittingly undermining their very long term prospects for survival? However, the former does make a better novel, I agree --- but then, my unwritten conspiracy novel involves pre-historic breeding programs at Çatalhöyük. My teeth were sharpened on The Illuminati Trilogy.

Actually, my nightmare is the banality of the Nazi regime. In that case, you had a German state with an inevitable destiny of sooner or later becoming the dominant power in Europe, economically, intellectually and politically -- the evidence is that, despite everything, that is what has happened with the EU. But a short-sighted kleptocracy decided to back the fascists simply to avoid unionization and socialist policies -- once again, policies that have proven to be in the long-term interest of Germany's industrial class. What they got was a disastrous war that killed an entire generation, that forced their brightest minds to emigrate to the US, which burned their cities to the ground, gave their most productive industrial zones to the Soviet Union, and lead to their occupation by foreign powers to this day (how many other countries are dotted by foreign military bases?). And it was stepped to meekly by businessmen in suits, whose best friends were Jewish, just to cut their taxes for a few years (sound familiar?)

The practical problem with "conspiracy" is the same as it's benefit: it gets folks all fired up, but they naturally drift to their old, cultural nightmares: the businessman who ripped them off, displaced to the Jewish boogyman.

So Osama is somehow in cahoots with AIPAC? Well, then, I guess liberal Jewish Hollywood must be working with the Neo-Straussians (don't forget Strauss himself was a Jewish refugee from the Nazis). And the terrorists are coming in over the border because the Neo-cons are letting them slip through under the cover of free movement of labor -- does that mean that the Hispanics (Chavez et. al.) are actually in league with the Iranians (who are secretly supporting Sunni Al-Qaeda) to "rapes themselves some white wimin"?

No thanks. Enough Kool-Aid has gone around.

To which I responded: Ah, but nothing you say answers the simple fact. When ALL of a cabal's actions have the direct effect of demolishing the entity that they control, some kind of motivated intelligence may plausibly be involved. I NEVER said they were far-sighted. Just very focused and motivated. Maybe.

Kelsey Gower said...


Actually, this phrase is more terrifying for me, as I was born in late 1988. I've never lived a year of my life with a president other than Bush or Clinton. And anyone born after 1970 has lived over half their life with these two names.

David Brin said...

Oooh! A prize for the guy who offers us a melody to match this:


Try it! Hillary's 2nd term HAS to be followed by at least ONE of Jeb, just to make it scan! (And note, fhydra that now we go back to 1980.)

Stop it. Please!
No senators.

TheRadicalModerate said...

No Senators

Hey, they left Washington years ago and became the Texas Rangers.

I actually had something earnest to say on science politicization, but I'll keep it short, so as not to contaminate the atmosphere of delicious paranoia:

It'd be interesting to get opinions on two propositions that I think are the basis for What's Going Wrong. As usual, neither of them require any conspiracy theories at all:

1) There is confusion about the difference between scientific popularity and scientific proof. Best recent example: "Virtually all climate scientists believe that athropogenic global warming is occurring." It's not a vote, for god's sake. There's plenty of evidence to go around.

2) There is confusion between legitimate skepticism of a proposition and "alternative viewpoints". Best example: "Intelligent design merely represents an alternative view for how life currently exists on Earth."

I view this mostly as an educational problem. Maybe somebody could squeeze it into high school science right after the unit on Supernatural Cytology.

Kelsey Gower said...

"(And note, fhydra that now we go back to 1980.)"

Which means anyone who's lived after 1954 has lived at least half their life with Bush or Clinton as president or VP. Now that's something that would scare my parents. Enough to change their voting patterns? Perhaps...

Anonymous said...

Just to feed the R'oil plot line:

Instead of the evil villain being a cleric, how about if he was the Saudi Ambassador to the US. He used his charm, intelligence, vast sums of money, and willingness to do "dirty work" for US presidents to gain access high level political, military and intelligence officials. Over a period that spans decades he methodically increases his understanding and influence in the US political system.

Not just by "contributing" to electoral campaigns But also steering Saudi governmental contracts to the right officials and companies,
Letting the right people join your highly profitable investment groups,
Bailing out the failing company of a son of the president of the US
Doing things like funding anti-communist terror organizations in central america and Afghanistan as a "favor" to a president of the US
Provide funding for "think tanks" to push public debate in ways that you want it pushed
Throw lavish parties in Washington and keep an eye out for blackmail possibilities (the son of vice president with a drinking problem {and homosexual tendencies} would be an ideal candidate)

(Simultaneously, you pour funds into one of the most anti-enlightenment forms of Islam and help spread its message around the world. )

Finally after decades of carefully laying the groundwork the Ambassador gets the right guys into power for the plan work. He made sure the president and vice president are both arrogant, violent, and willfully ignorant of the world outside of the US. Then helps arrange a crisis that allows those people to concentrate power into their hands and lash out at some countries (knowing full well that a disaster will be the most likely outcome).

The Manchurian Candidate does not even need to know what he is.

Of course this is just an example of the wild fantasy that is so prevalent on the internet. There is no way Prince Bandar (Bush) ever did anything remotely like this,
so says Occam's Comic

Tony Fisk said...

Try humming the mantra to:

doh-doh-doh (sotto)

Thus we get:


There's the possibility for singing this in a round.

For an added conspiratorial twist, the mantra can be prepended with:

'Nix-on, Fnord'

(...I think we've found the source of all this!)

Some further fun with fine tuning conspiracy theories. When discussing moles who do not act in America's best interest, might I suggest an alternative term:

'Kingdom's candidate.'

More alliterative, and what kingdom is open to interpretation.

David Brin said...

Kewl re fnord (folks, follow the link). Did you folks ever see the way fun, low budget and simmering sci fi film THEY LIVE?

It's based on a classic superb Robert Sheckley story and it has a scene in it that is a guy's ultimate revenge for every "Ya Ya Sisterhood" chick flick that he was ever forced to watch. A fight scene between two guys who kind of like each other and retain a sense of honor in their brutal punch fest, beating the crap out of each other over...

... over whether one guy will allow the other guy to make him wear a pair of sunglasses and see the world as it really is. It has got to be one of the most charming scenes in all of cinema history... and I confess that nobody without a brain that was thoroughly warped by testosterone would ever say that. fnord, indeed.

But about the Clinton Ford round, hey! It could make AN ABSO-FREAKING LUTELY SPECTACULAR YOUTUBE BIT!

Get a few singers, not too professional but not too awful, to sing background while showing pictures of Reagan, Bush SR, Bill Clinton, Bush Jr, the Hillary, then ... maybe Jeb and chelsea and Jenna? It could be hilarious and do the country good.

Oh does anyone know one of those programs that shuffles the letters around....?

Kelsey Gower said...

Do you mean an anagram generator?


Catfish 'n Cod said...

Yipes, Catfish. That has got to be the scariest paragraph I have read in ages.... (Catfish, must you use EVERY conceivable sift-word that’d draw attention our way? ;-)

Dr. Brin, all I can say is: You asked for it. In fact, you practically begged me to write that paragraph. Nonetheless, thank you. *bows*

I do feel you insult a class of very very smart and well-educated men.

The r'oils number in the thousands and have all possible resources at their fingertips. Statistically, there must be a few who match your description. I admit my description is based on secondhand information, but it's very close secondhand. One of the oldest rules of intelligence is that the best spies to watch autocrats are to be found amongst their bodyservants.

I'm not accusing them of stupidity at all, only of a relative deficit in strategic vision.

One is left with three possibilities to ponder. May I posit a fourth... Molotov-Ribbentrop... Naaah, they'd never do that... ;-)

RandomSequence said...


I read your analysis of Neo-Cons from '04. I think you have a couple of mis-categorizations. Islam is actually an offshoot of neo-platonism, like Christianity and the Straussians. They are deeply anti-science, much like the pomo advocates, since they place ideation over material reality -- in fact, they don't really believe in objective reality.

On the other hand, the Communists may be guilty of scientifism, blabbing in pseudo-science, but in the end, their legitimacy is based on the materialist enlightenment principles that the modern secular world shares. Check out the attitude of of www.wsws.org to Heidegger and his post-modern fans.

Liberterians and Lenninist are philosophically closer than either dare admit; both, in some vague sense, can agree to "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." Deep gnostics like medieval Christians and Muslims ultimately find such a formulation offensive, if they are honest.

I would posit that what we are seeing is a retreat to medieval philosophy. The ancient, Socratic world saw reality as a skin expressing a deeper reality, accessible by science and revelation -- you can see this in early platonism, 5th century Chinese philosophy and early (post-Babylon) Judiasm. It was individualistic and universalist, a break from Iron age ideas.

On the other hand, the medieval ideas formed at the height of the Roman empire were an "advance" to totalitarianism. Reality was evil and illusory, in opposition to the deeper universal truth. It allowed an escape from painful individuality, by submerging oneself in the universal church and great chain of being.

The enlightenment worshipped at the alter of Antiquity because of the re-emergence of the individual. Unfortunately, it also posited an absolute reality that could be understood to any arbitrary approximation, an illusion we have painfully learned is both inaccurate, and politically dangerous -- with it's own threat of both right and left wing totalitarianism.

So, now we have our retreat to the Dark Ages, pushed on the right by religious fundamentalist and Neo-platonists, and on the left by the post-modern insanity. And of course, the development of a new philosophy that takes into account the scientific and political advances of the twentieth century is advancing into the general consciousness as slowly as it ever has -- and is being hijacked by New Agers, PoMos and our own evangelist fanatics.

David Brin said...

Random, although we agree in general terms, I think some clarifications are needed.

First, while Plato was definitely a romantic and a mystic and also deeply anti-science, that does not automatically make him a FIRST COUSIN of religious fanatics. He is more of a second cousin, because his mysticism revolves around “reason”.

Yes, “reason” is - deep down - another type of mysticism. The French branch of the Enlightenment veered down that path and straight into hell, leaving the Anglic-American branch alone to push a branch of enlightenment based upon pragmatic progress and hard nosed reciprocal accountability.

Reason is capable of being just as hypnotic and delusional as any other form of incantation magic. Marxism-Leninism was the most pathological and lethal of many Platonic systems. And yes, dogmatic libertarianism is a close cousin.

(See my four part essay at:
where I make the strong similarities between Marxism and libertarianism clear).

Nevertheless, I think it is possible to swing too far the other way and be too harsh on “reason.” (Or the French, for that matter.) For reason has limits to its capability of self-delusion. It’s fundamental self-image is that of inquiry. Thus (and despite the behavior of a myriad cloned campus postmodernist lit profs), it should spawn occasional self-critiques. Dogmatic religion cannot do that without violence.

For all of his well-deserved bad press in certain areas, Aristotle did break with Plato in important ways, for example by praising the importance of the material world.

The answer is evidently the positive sum personality. Such people are capable of weighing many possibilities at once without panicking into choosing one, simplistic model of the world to hold as perfect.

They can doubt and citokate their rivals without dehumanizing them, or denying themselves the benefit of counter-citokate.

They “get” reciprocal accountability and the fluid, breathing nature of competitive accountability arenas, and the necessity to maximize the number of intelligent players and to minimize the amount of wasted human talent.

RandomSequence said...


I save my wrath for the Neo-Platonists, and their Gnostic descendants. While Plato may have been anti-science, Socrates was not, and anti-science was not in vogue among the educated prior to 2nd century AD. I've found "The Golden Ass" a beautiful depiction of the culture of the Roman Empire as neo-platonism was on the cusp of it's victory, and why.

I do throw in Islamic and Christian fundamentalism in the same lot with Paul and Marcion -- see that latest apocalyptic cult in Iraq, which rumor had it that they believed sin was acceptable as a way to open the path to the Mahdi.

I don't agree that you can call the dogmatists of Communism and Libertarianism platonists. They really are materialists --- they believe in Newton, and the material world as an empirical basis for knowledge. Marx explicitly rejected Hegel's idealism. They may be madmen, but they're our madmen.

Postmodernism is a leftist rejection of Communism and even Democratic Socialism, and their attempts at "objectivity." They are close cousins to our neo-neo-Platonists. Chomsky had an interesting argument with Foucault on this point: he basically called him an immoral monster, rejecting the enlightenment and responsibility (of course in much more diplomatic language, since they were allies, in a sense).

I think this is an important point. Who are our allies in promoting science, and a scientific world-view? Who can be, so to say, converted? I'd say, anyone who agrees that the basis of knowledge is the empirical world. Those who say that the universe is ultimately subjective, instead of subjectivity being a layer on top of an objective reality are hopeless (short of being born again).

Searle made what I recall was a nice compromise on objectivity vs. subjectivity in "The Construction of Social Reality." Remember, the fanatics are not against reason, per se. Where the enlightenment and medievalism disagree is on the nature of evidence: whether you can start your chain of reasoning with "God told me that..."

David Brin said...

The problem is one of emphasis.

You distinguish Marxists and libertarians from Platonists because the former value the material world.

Yes, accepted. But they implicitly then REJECT it by refusing to accept the material world’s gritty complexity and refusal to cooperate with their neat theories! Their “materialism” is as pro forma and hypocritical as when Ayn Rand railed sujectively and called herself “objective.”

I agree that postmodernists have turned away from even the figleaf materialism of older marxisms. But I do not see this as a big shift.

Do not assume that just because somebody officially accepts material reality, they ACTUALLY GET IT. That it's a gritty world and our job is to make better generations so that THEY can argue philosophy from a higher plane.

See more on this re the "time flow of wisdom" at:

I am increasingly convinced that it is not so much a matter of which catechism you recite, but whether you can recite it with a smile and a shrug and then go on to say: “but let’s test it and see how much (not if) I’ve got it wrong.”

Nathan Fowkes said...

Hi David. Having enjoyed the novels I'm glad to have found the blog. I'll have to advance my vocabulary a bit but I'm enjoying following the discussion.

RandomSequence said...

I like your questionnaire -- very cute.

However, I do think catechism is important. What language you speak in, of course, doesn't define your madness, but it does constrain it, suggesting a therapy.

Hawker Hurricane at the start talks about how the NeoCons were Trotskyite Totalitarians, who became Fascist Totalitarians. I think it's important to identify what was the dangerous shift. When they were Trotskyists, they at least had to give lip service to science and objective reality. It constrained them from simply justifying things to themselves and others as naked Will to Power. When they became neo-cons, they became much more dangerous -- now the only limit is their limited imaginations (I always think that we were blessed by Shrubs limited mind -- he's no Napoleon, or Hitler. Just not smart or ambitious enough).

This is historically important. Which is more dangerous, in the long term: the old Soviet Union, or religious fundamentalism? We did have a choice to make back in the 70's and 80's, and I think we chose wrong. At the end of the day, Gorbachev may have been misguided, but we could work with him. He could, and was, evolving towards a saner system (even though his book "Perestroika" was a maddening example of scientificism). He could recognize some of the failures of his system, since in the end he hoped to justify it on an empirical basis. On the other hand, the mullahs in Saudi Arabia are irreconcilable; any failure is not evidence of the failure of their system, but only evidence of the failure of their faith.

In the long-term, an individual's personal take of their catechism will go the way of dust. But the catechism itself will be passed on to future generations, who will be limited or expanded by the possibilities in that world-view. A marxist at least bequeathes his children a minimal respect for science, but few fundamentalists give birth to successful researchers -- they all end up working for the Discovery Institute sooner or later, the cognitive dissonance is just too great, or they completely abandon their faith.

There are plenty of Social Democrat researchers whose parents were hard-core reds. In biology, you can meet plenty of lefty biologist who've kept remanants of Grandpa's New York communism, but rarely do you find a biologist from a fundamentalist background who hasn't completely broken with their families culture, often requiring them to painfully break with their families themselves.

Just sayin', there's bad and there's worse. Telling the difference is crucial. And in the long-term, accepting a stronger opponent who can be communicated with is better than leaving on the field the weaker opponent who is, practically speaking, insane but persuasive. Non zero sum and all.

Anonymous said...

My point (on how Trotskyites became Fascists) was not about ideology, or rationality... they didn't shift ideology, or become less rational. They shifted because they saw that they weren't going to get power as socialists, but could as corporatists.
NeoCons didn't care which ideology they gave lip service to, as long as it gave them the keys to the military so they could run the world the way they saw fit.

(Anyone remember when B. Clinton talked of allowing Gays in the military? He was told "The military is no place for social experimentation". Now the NeoCons are running thier own social experiment in Iraq, using the military... and no one calls them on it.)

As far as choices, the choice wasn't Soviet Communism or Fundamentalism... it was whether or not the Soviets collapsed softly, or went down shooting. And it wasn't a choice WE (in the U.S.) made. The choice was made in the Kremlin, and by a mob outside it.

And as far as enemies go, I can fight Christian Fundamentalists in my country easier than I can fight incoming ICBMs. First things first, after all.

RandomSequence said...


I think there's a confusion between rationality and the basis for that rationality. Argue with a good evangelist -- they are perfectly rational. They just start with the axiom that revelation is a source of evidence. The secular world does not.

What I was getting at with the Trotskyites was that they did have a shift in ideology; their personal motivations notwithstanding. I'm sure they are personally cynical and cold, but they do have to work with in a community. And that community is what shifted, to an even more dangerous mode, or world view.

I think this is a mistake that we as Americans are prone to make: to focus on individuals to the exclusion of group dynamics. Those are, in a sense, independent of the individuals that compose them, in the same way that a mind is not determined by the cells that compose it. The motivations of a liver cell are secondary to the structure of the liver, when you're taking about hepatic portal blood flow.

In terms of the fundamentalists vs. reds, my primary reference wasn't to our internal evangelists, but to Osama and friends. In the '70's and '80's, we decided to fund Osama and gang in order to pull a Brer Rabbit and the Briar Patch on the Soviets, and quite successfully so (which is now being used against us, in almost the exact same manner). Yes, it wasn't the only thing undermining the Soviets, but it was a serious drag on their economy, which was their justification for power. I'd hypothesize that the primary driver was cpu's and faxes, though; but the Afghan war was something that could be directed out of Washington.

So the choice was between a frightening, but stable MAD strategy, and helping to unloose a medieval ideology that contravened our culture and history in ways the Soviet Union couldn't dream of. We would have been better of having faith in our economic model, and letting our copy-machine to bureaucrat ratio take care of the problem.

Our choice to unleash our internal fundamentalists was made back in the fifties, when we lashed Americanism to Christianity in the fight against the Soviets, something we may live to regret, but much more ambiguously. At the time, many on the right feared that the Soviet model was actually superior to our own, so no holds barred. Ah that lack of confidence again! Prior to the fifties, most American Christian Fundamentalism was strictly against militarism and state power in general, hanging on to the traditions coming out of the folks who emigrated to the US after losing fights againsts central governments in Europe. But now I see crosses wrapped in flags on bumper stickers --- their forefathers would be disgusted.

Anonymous said...

I am reminded of a book I just finished...

"Variable Star" by Spider Robinson, based on the notes by Robert Heinline.

The main character, Joel, makes a comment that fits here...
(from memory)

You can look at the future, and be afraid of it. You can fight it, hide from it, deny it, be conservative to keep things from changing.
Or you can be exhilirated by it, look forward to it, be liberated by it and be liberal.

(and back on topic)
Would Duane Gish count as a good evangelist? Because I've talked to him, informally debated him, and he's nuttier than my grandma's fruitcake. I have never met a rational fundamentalist; they all hold onto beliefs not from rationality but from fear. Every time I've discussed reality with one, it eventually comes down to "You're just wrong, and you better change your ways before God sends you to Hell to burn for all time!"

Now the NeoCons ARE rational... they think it's perfectly ok to lie not only to thier enemies, but to thier friends, just so long as they get what they want. They are firm believers in The Noble Lie, and lying for Our Own Good... and it's For Our Own Good that they should hold onto power at all costs.

I'm not sure what I'm more afraid of, that they'll keep power in 2009 or that they'll lose it... if they keep power, they'll continue to dick around in the Middle East, making things worse... if they lose power, they're likely to do something awful.

RandomSequence said...

Don't know Duane Gish. I guess I'm kinda third century. I agree that it comes down to "I say so." But that's not exactly what they say, is it? They say, "because God say so." Check out Kiss Hank's Ass.

But back to the point, most of the fundamentalists I've spoken to are internally consistent, once you get your head around their axioms. 1) That revelation is the fundamental basis of knowledge. 2) That inconsistencies within those revelations are not automatically exclusionary, but simply a reflection of our limited minds. Of course that's nuts. But from there you can build an insane, but internally consistent system -- a little circle of insanity. And produce luminaries, like Aquinas --- much better than your run-of-the-mill evangelists, but still nutty as a fruitcake, while being strictly constructive within his axiomatic system.

The practical effect of this is that you can't attack them on logic -- once you've swallowed the whale, a fish is easy. You've got to attack them deeply, in their axioms. It's what they do to the seculars -- they use science when convenient, and discard it when it's not, because they recognize that the issue is epistomology, not evolution for example, per se.

It's also why the history of knowledge is important. I'm kind of obsessed with it. You can see ideas being developed in the fairly esoteric fields, such as mathematics, physics, and philosophy slowly wending it's way down to popular conciousness -- sci-fi is a great contributor to that. And at the end of the day, what a minor greek said centuries before is the underlying justification for religious totalitarianism, or the Newtonian model of space becomes a template for a monstrous genocide.

By the way David, how do you keep the trolls away? Most personal blogs quickly become bogged down in trollish behavior destroying the conversation. However you do it, kudos!

Anonymous said...

I'm currently reading Robert Anton Wilson's Prometheus Unbound and some of the stuff he talks about in the first few chapters reflects the things we've talked about here before, especially the different parts of the brain kicking in for things outside our accepted worldview (he calls them "reality tunnels". I'd quote the bits, but I forgot to bookmark them and am in the middle of a couple other things.

Also, I thought this discussion over at Crooked Timber was relevant to this post's original op-ed, since it's about that and a couple other follow-up op-eds and blog posts.

Tony Fisk said...

Jose, I think you'll find we court these paranoid scenarios, not because we think they're true, but because we want to cover as many failure options as possible.

Occam's razor has been mentioned a couple of times, and it's a good tool for a reality check. Take, as your working hypothesis, the simplest explanation for a situation.

However, beware of veering from simplicity into simplisticity (eg: can incompetence *really* account for a cumulative predictive score of zero on Rummy's part?).

There's a satirical opposite to Willy's blade, which I first heard mentioned on the ABC's Science Show many moons ago, and that is 'Crabtree's Bludgeon':
"No set of mutually inconsistent observations can exist for which some human intellect cannot conceive a coherent explanation, however complicated."

Interesting aside: "Crabtree's Bludgeon" was a 'googlewhack' before I added the wikipedia entry. I think it deserves more publicity and, looking now, it seems to have got it.
(Also note the footnote iconic image of Plato striking a 'digitally classic' pose. Very appropriate... and up yours, too, mate!)

RandomSequence said:
"...most of the fundamentalists I've spoken to are internally consistent..."

Refer to this New Scientist article (October 8, 2005):
Fundamentalists are just like us

RandomSequence said...


Goebbels screeched at Jewish landlord-merchant.

I heard from an elderly German that one of Goebbels classic screeds against the Jews was, paraphrased:

The Jewish directors for years have been sleeping with our pure German actors and actresses.

Now it is our turn!

Don't really need Freud to analyze that one.

David Brin said...

Jose, I lived in Europe - Paris & London - a total of 4 years. I know some of the advantages & disadvantages. Certainly secularism and reason are safer there. But so is racism and pessimism and cynicism. A continent that refuses to have babies cannot claim to be more sane on any fundamental level. Though I will grant some surface aspects that I yearn for, right now.

You claim to follow William of Occam, and yet the near universal explanation of blithering stupidity is far too convoluted an explanation. It beggars the imagination that the leaders of a great nation would make EVERY decision of statecraft in the diametrically opposite direction than service to the national interest. They would have, by accident, done SOMETHING right, by now.

Nor does incompetence explain the ferocious and relentless attacks upon the civil service, the officer corps, military readiness, and so on.

No, although I do not officially believe ANY of the paranoid scenarios, it is my “contrary” duty to put them forward, in part because paranoia should not be left to the paranoid, and in part because some paranoid explanations simply fit the facts, far more consistently than some bizarre notion that smart men are universally stupid.

Pendulum swings, in contrast, have always grated on me. They seem apropos, except when they don’t. There has been no swing back from the MAIN branch of political correctness... the branch that sees American society become more tolerant and diverse - even now - than ever, every year. People who obsess on happenings at university campuses really need to get out more. Lefty flakes are jokes.

Random, I guess trolls come here and find it too boringly reasonable and intellectual. We had one haunt the place briefly, half a year ago. But even he was kind of intense, hyper-nerdy and (though hysteric) really rather sweet. Kind of miss him.

The crux is that this is the second highest layer of the embryonic net based group mind. (Okay, I admit. Brockman’s The Edge may be a bit higher, but you guys rock.)

Guys, I never have trouble dealing with fundies. I start out by shocking them and stepping RIGHT INTO their parlor. There are several extremely weak spots in their edifice that can be ripped right out, but NOT by direct opposition. No, it’s done by showing that there is a better story of reverence to the Creator. One that makes theirs look mean and petty, by comparison, demeaning the very same deity they claim to worship.

I have no time here to go into it (demand my “religion piece.”) But some of these riffs are:

1- the most powerful allegory in the Bible is “name the beasts.”

2- “Father” and “Shepherd” are not parallels, but opposites. You must choose between these images of God. Hint, if a parent down the block treats his kids like sheep, you call the cops.

3- It is implausible that a confident deity would need praise. Period. (If we are made in his image, then would not the best and most confident and honorable of us seem most like Him? And such people do not hanker for kowtowing.

But suppose he needs ego stroking, which would YOU enjoy more?

(a) “You’re so big and great!” over and over ad nauseam,

or (b) a chemistry student doing a titration and seeing, suddenly, HOW the Creator pulled one of His best tricks, and sighing “Wow! That’s neat!”

I have found that it is impossible for a modern American not to hear that comparison and smile, knowing which one would HAVE to please Him... thus explaining our sudden explosion of science.

4- Forcing the fundie to see how tiny and cramped and demeaning a “creation” his god made, compared to one who crafted a vastness 13 billion years old and several gigaparsecs wide. Talk in awe about the vistas and possibilities, about how much more awe inspiring that is... but he is welcome to his little kindergarten story, if that’s the comfy, agoraphobic reassurance that he needs.

And so on.

I admit, it is best done if you, yourself, are a believer... like Einstein... who was able to see science as the next step in educating humanity to be the Creator’s apprentices. If you can sincerely avow to being a believer, then you can use these weapons with devastating effectiveness.

Because you are no longer denying God. You are simply showing that you see Him better and worship him in vastly more attractive ways.

Anonymous said...

What do you do when the fundamentalists then decide to take a political position, based on various doctrines, that doesn't directly relate to the themes you bring up? The classic example is citing the Old Testament law against male homosexuality; another example is the Catholic Church's opposition to condom use, even between married partners. When someone says "The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it" you are left with two options:

1) Argue that the Bible doesn't actually say what they say it does
2) Argue that even if the Bible does say it, that doesn't make it true.

#2 is the more intellectually honest argument, but #1 might be more likely to succeed. Atheism needs more missionaries.

Anonymous said...

On Christian (Paulist) Fundamentalists

I use a varient of #4 that I call 'The Pool Hustler'.
What's more impressive: the man who tells you he's going to put the 8-ball in the corner pocket who walks over, uses his hand to pick up the 8-ball and places it in the pocket, OR the man who then sets up a 5 corner shot, managing to hit every ball in numerical order so that the 8 ball manages to bounce off 3 corners and then land in the indicated pocket...
What's more impressive, a God who created everything 6,000 years ago and mucks about with it constantly to get the result he wants... or the one who created everything 16 BILLION years ago and let it run until it came up with the result he KNEW it would?
It doesn't work. Because option 2 means that God LIED when he wrote Genesis, and God wouldn't lie. The idea that God didn't write Genesis is not allowed; to deny that God wrote Genesis is (to thier minds) to deny God.

Having no success with #4, I now go work on my #2 arguement... something I've toyed with before... (remember, why does the shepard protect the sheep from wolves...)

to Random...
You say thier beliefs are internally consistant while being inconsitant... OK, I'll agree to that. Once you accept that (in thier belief) a contradiction isn't a contradiction because God said it wasn't... OK. (We know the scripture is Holy because God said it was. We know God said it was true because it's in the scripture. And we know the scripture is true because Holy Scripture wouldn't lie.)
NeoCons are not Fundamentalist Christians... they cater to them, but don't believe it themselves. It's part of thier 'noble lie'. I still say thier beliefs didn't change, just who they sucked up to changed. They are more dangerous now, because who they suck up to lets them at those levers of power... but they believe the same things now that they did in 1968.
Oh, and Random, I'm not saying I really disagree with you... I'm feeling that we're saying almost the same thing from different perspectives.
Oh, almost forgot (3rd rewrite of the same post...)
Duane Gish's biography by his 'fans'...

On Trolls...
David keeps the trolls away by refusing to get angry with them (we help, by also not showing anger). Trolls feed on causing hate and anger; where they can't find any they starve.

RandomSequence said...


Like I said, I can't read the Trotsky-to-Strauss crowds mind, but as a group, their beliefs changed. Before, as a community, they believed in the Marxian process of thesis-synthesis-antithesis. Now that is repudiated, and replaced by a Platonic guard whose will to power is the ultimate public good. That allows them to suck up to a more aristocratic crowd, agreed. But it also changes their internal dialogue.

For example, as Trotskyist they were a vanguard -- the crew said to themselves that ultimately, the secret was temporary; they were just an avante-garde, who the "people" would ultimately agree with. Now, no such illusion is necessary -- it's now the old boot in the face, forever, rather than as a temporary expedient. Words matter.

Per evangelists: their inconsistency lies in saying that 2+2=5. But after that, they apply logic. Of course, you can derive almost anything once you accept 2+2=5, at least anything in conformance with authority. It's a bit different from normal schizo's, who are inconsistent from moment to moment; your religious fanatic has a consistent, but broken, system, rather than an "absurd" system. Makes 'em a bit harder to handle. You have to attack their principles -- as you and David say, show them that their God is too little, not that, say, scripture is insane.

On trolls: I'm thinking it may also have to do with the nature of the polemic. Logical, without being attached to ideas above reality. Balkin, a legal blog, for example is fairly dispassionate. But legalism in itself attracts your neo-Platonists, and it's hard to undermine them by logic, only by reality.

Anonymous said...

I think I see the difference between our positions.
I believe that they were dishonest, power hungry men who pretended to be Trotskyites and are now pretending to be Conservatives.
You believe that they were honest Trotskyites and became dishonest Conservatives.
Do I have it?

Of course, I can't disprove they were once honest... I'd not only have to read thier minds, I'd have to read thier minds 40 years ago. Since mind reading is also beyond me, and time travel is way beyond me, I'm stuck with speculation.
(deleting things that might be trollish, mention trolls and I get all worried that I might become one...)

RandomSequence said...


Nope, I don't think I'm being clear. You're analyzing them in terms of individuals. As individuals, I'm willing to bet you're right -- they were dishonest Leftist, and now they are dishonest Rightest.

But, they also function as a group, where their individual intentions are secondary to group dynamics. In their private minds, they may think certain things, but they have to communicate them in a certain language. And I'm suggesting that as dangerous as the Trotskist language is, the Straussian one is even more so. And those who speak that language, as a community, are therefore more dangerous.

It was even the Trotskyist language in the first place that allowed the conversion, as a community. The idea of a vanguard, justified in any act, as long as it was justified in the name of the "People" isn't that far from a secret society that act in "Society's" interest. The former, however, at least is a limited time exemption, and has the vaguest sense of enlightenment legitimacy; the latter is boldly fascist.

That closeness in concept allowed them as a community to convert, instead of as individuals, where their social network would have broken down, rendering them relatively impotent.

David Brin said...

Doug, you leave out a third option, and that is to tell them that if they want to obey Leviticus, they must step away from Paul and toward Judaism. Which... weirdly... is what many of them actually seem to be doing. Have you noticed many Christian churches holding Passover Seders and such, in recent years? “Rediscovering the roots of Jesus” is one of the catch phrases. Yipes. Especially when you ponder what fate they foresee for Jews. But it would at least deal with the hypocrisy issue if the Homophobes at least stop eating pork. Phew.

Hawker, nice of you to say I don’t get angry at trolls, but some of you recall my over-reacting, a few times. Mea culpa. No, I just think the air here is too rare for such guys. Or maybe this blog is just a blip too small for trolls to notice.

Jose, I have avowed that some men can be geniuses at grabbing power while rotten at statecraft. A Darwinian-slected trait shown by Stalin, Hitler, Saddam and Alexander the Great. Still I think it is a bizarre hypothesis that a large group (the Bushites) should ALL display such a perfect combination. The paranoid “Manchurian” thriller plot may not be right, but why is it not at least out there, ranked along all the others?

Why must it be MY job to be the only one raising it, when, in fact, I am a pretty rational and easy-going guy (if compulsively contrarian) and there are a million REAL paranoids whose JOB it is to raise this kind of thing?

STill, Jose, your “dismal sales department” scenario did have me chuckling and sobbing at the same time. Not credible, though, alas, because W was a frat boy, not a salesman. It is far more plausible that he partied till the pictures became blackmailable... then he sold us all down the river. At least that makes a better novel.

RandomSequence said...

I think we can understand Rumsfeld and Cheney better than Shrub. It appears that the formers are high-achievers from middle-class backgrounds. I'd expect that they're "rational economic" men, as most middle class folks are; the kind of folks that economists describe in their models.

On the other hand, Shrub is an aristocrat. Money means nothing to him, in the same way that water means nothing to a fish. His "rational self-interest" must be formulated more in terms of social networks and raw power. Those folks are much harder for us (technocrats) to predict, in the same way that it's difficult to pin down the motivations of New Guinea tribesman as a Westerner.

Just remember the simple disconnects that the Bush family has with the rest of us -- how Sr. was surprised by the tech of the bar code machine in a supermarket back in the early '90's. They're not our kind of people, and know it.

Anonymous said...

David: You keep saying the US military is being destroyed or torn apart or otherwise degraded.

Can you cite some references?

I presume you don't simply mean "soldiers are dying" or "equipment is being used up" - that's inherent in how armies operate after all, and so far we don't seem to have run out of armies.

I agree, they're tied up in a place I would rather we'd never gone - but if we really needed them elsewhere I suspect we'd speedily abandon the Iraqis and Afghanis to whatever fate they chose for themselves.

Of course, I also suspect we're teetering on the edge of getting even deeper into it, with Iran. Trying to avoid that ought to take precedence over just about anything short of allowing them to get nukes and pass them along to their various proxies.

Since I rather doubt we'll manage to avoid that fight, the combat experience gained in Iraq will probably serve us well. That may have been the point all along - Iraq as a training exercise.

Anonymous said...

How the military is being run down (from the point of veiw of a Navy enlisted man)

1. Deployments: The military is now running on a cycle that goes Train - Deploy - Rest - Recruit - Train. Training is just as stressful (if not as lethal) as the deployment. The rest is too short. The recruit phase (where new men are brought into the unit, and equipment repaired/replaced) is too short. Can you imagine working a schedule where you work 6 days a week (train)for 6 months, go someplace where you're in constant danger for 12 months, take 3 months easy, teach new guys for 5 days a week for 3 months, and start over? That's a two year cycle...and back in the 1980's, Ronald Reagan's admin decided that it was destroying the units cohesion and ability to fight. Mind you, no one was shooting at us then either. So, a schedule that was too intense for peacetime is being used for wartime...
Now, yes, they did volunteer for it... or did they? Did they KNOW what they volunteered for? Were they really told?

2. Recruitment
When times are hard in the civilian sector, the military has it good. We get more recruits than we need, and we get to pick and choose the ones we want. Standards go up; we can discharge the troublemakers and slackers.
When economic times are good, the military has it harder. People don't want to join, and have less incentive to stay. So, standards go down, troublemakers and slackers are given more chances.
Right now, the economy isn't so hot for the prime recruiting material (High School educated, little chance for college)... but they aren't signing up, not in the numbers needed. People don't join the army to go to war, they join to get a paycheck, to get college money, to get away from home, to get a career, and a hundred other things. And to get what they joined for, they're quite willing to run the risk of going to war... but now, they don't run the risk, they ARE going to war. A war that many believe is unneeded. This is NOT world war two, where the world's #3 navy crippled our navy, and the world's #1 air force and #2 army were conquering Europe... Iraq is/was a 3rd world country without the weapons, manpower, or gumption to come across the ocean to cause us trouble.
So, times are bad, and still the standards are down; down lower than ever. Offenses that used to get people thrown out 'in the best interest of the service' now merit a wrist slap... and the other men, the good men, the ones you want, SEE it.

3. Veterans are NOT being taken care of. Health care is getting harder to get, in part because the war wounded are taking up more of the resources, but also because the resources are being cut away. And the men in uniform see it.

So, the men are being worked too hard, the quality of men being taken/kept in is lower, and they see thier post service benefits being lowered... and no, I didn't cover it all.

Talk to the men. Not the new guys, talk to the long service Non-Commisioned Officers, the Sergeants and Petty Officers that they call the 'Backbone of the military'. Buy them a beer and ask them "How's it going". They'll tell you... tell you how they're not going to do 'thirty', but accepting the lesser pension at 'twenty'. You'll find guys with 16 years of service refusing to re-enlist, no longer trying to make thier pensions. You'll find guys who don't want to go to Iraq for the 4th time in six years, but have no choice because the army activated a clause in thier contract that was meant for World War 3 but is being used now. You'll find kids pretending to be injured, or crazy, or the most sure fire one, homosexual: All to avoid going again.

Yes, equipment is wearing out and not being replaced fast enough. But the men are being worn out too...

SM1(SW) USN (ret)
Signalman First Class (Surface Warfare), United States Navy, Retired

Anonymous said...

Doug, you leave out a third option, and that is to tell them that if they want to obey Leviticus, they must step away from Paul and toward Judaism.

That's exactly the same type of argument as my first kind of way to contradict fundamentalists - claiming that their interpretation of their religion is wrong. (Specifically, that homosexuality is forbidden but that, say, eating pork is fine.) I only used homosexuality as an example of a political issue that is tied to religion; any other religious belief would serve.

The religious argument for any number of positions comes down to this:

1) My religion claims X.
2) All claims made by my religion are true.
3) Therefore, X is true.

This is a logically valid argument. To reject the conclusion that X is true, you have no choice but to argue that one of the premises is false. In other words, you can either argue that no, your religion does not actually claim X, or that no, your religion includes false claims. Arguing that a particular religion should be interpreted differently is generally considered more polite and more effective than telling them that their religion is flat-out wrong. On the other hand, if you believe that Jehovah and Allah are as fictional as Zeus, Odin, and Xenu, why should you be obligated to argue from the premise that what they want matters?

Joel said...

David said: "SOMETHING right, by now"

1. Advocated the use of fission power.
2. (indirectly, unintentionally) Exposed the corruption in our financial systems, by deregulating energy transmission, giving Enron 6 ft. of rope.
3. Resisted unrealistic restrictions on immigration.

GWB comes close to my Platonic ideal of wrongdoing, but nobody's perfect.

Jose said: "a *lot* of sales offices are actually business cults" ... "Frat boys btw make excellent salesmen."

Might these two statements be related? I'm given to understand that frats involve incantations and secrets and success-by-formula. Might there be some training in profound, involuntary suspension of disbelief folded into the Greek system?

Joel said...

David said: "SOMETHING right, by now"

1. Advocated the use of fission power.
2. Brought about a temporary, artificial inflation of oil prices, goosing the public toward energy efficiency.
3. Resisted unrealistic restrictions on immigration of unskilled laborers (while idiotically freezing out academic workers).

GWB comes close to my Platonic ideal of wrongdoing, but nobody's perfect.

Jose said: "a *lot* of sales offices are actually business cults" ... "Frat boys btw make excellent salesmen."

Might these two statements be related? I'm given to understand that frats involve incantations and secrets and success-by-formula. Might there be some training in profound, involuntary suspension of disbelief folded into the Greek system?

Anonymous said...


Assuming you are physically capable - if you felt the US was really at risk, would you volunteer to go re-join? Would those that are planning to retire early?

That's the most significant question wrt the sort of issues you've raised regarding military readiness (at least for missions in which the US should engage.)

Things I would consider significant degradation of the US military:

- If there were neglect of maintenance and replacement - e.g. if ship systems were failing and either not being repaired, or replacement parts were not being procured and warehoused, or if stores of ammunition were being depleted and not replenished.

- If training facilities were being shut down due to lack of personnel and equipment - or began to fail in their task due to degradation of the quality of their equipment or personnel.

- If recruitment was drastically down - to levels where a draft became necessary if we were to sustain combat readiness.

Granted, soldiers are being forced to stay in the service - without that, our military would quickly shrink and be unable to continue being effective.

But pragmatically speaking, it appears that this *is* working - soldiers are not deserting in large numbers, nor failing to show up for service.

And again - I'm not arguing that the military isn't being degraded - I'm asking *is it*, really?

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is. Really.
And if we were facing a real enemy we'd be in a lot of trouble.

"- If there were neglect of maintenance and replacement - e.g. if ship systems were failing and either not being repaired, or replacement parts were not being procured and warehoused, or if stores of ammunition were being depleted and not replenished."

This is happening. Right now. With systems on warships manned by people I have personal contact with.

"And again - I'm not arguing that the military isn't being degraded - I'm asking *is it*, really?"

It is. Really. In 1965, the world's greatest army was sent into Vietnam. After ten years, you could see the same thing you're seeing now after five years in Iraq... senior non-coms refusing to re-enlist, equipment being sent to the war zone at less than 100%, and people who would have been thrown out as 'unsuitable for service' being sent into combat.

The only difference is that instead of a draft, we have 'involuntary extensions'.

And I didn't choose to leave in 2004. I was thrown out, in violation of my contract. My specialty was 'no longer needed' and I was 'too old' to be retrained. Lucky for me, I had my twenty and could claim my pension. If they want me, they have my address, and I'm subject to recall under my contract.

Anonymous said...


I'm not saying you're wrong - I'm saying that it isn't the sort of evidence I find useful. Of course there are problems in the military - but there ALWAYS are.

The sort of thing I'm looking for are:

"According to [organization X], in 2007 we have half as many HumVees in good repair and with adequate armor as we had in 2002, and N more are taken of service each month than are replaced."


"In 2002 we had [X] mortar rounds stockpiled, which was considered barely adequate. As a result of the 2003 invasion and failure to restock, we now have half that number in stock.


"Desertion rates are up 300%"

Anonymous said...

Well, I admit, I'm anecdotal about this. I could go World Wide Webbing and find things like
for desertion rates, but that's just shifting the anecdote to another person.

Now, I spoke more of recruitment vice desertion...
The typical way of getting around this is to change the target goals... 'shoot first, then call whatever you hit the target'.

Army equipment problems cited...

Old news on ammunition shortages in small arms...


Luckily, small arms ammo (bullets to normal people) is easy to mass produce in a hurry. More expensive stuff isn't being used much. The enemy isn't stupid enough to stand all bunched up where a dozen cruise missiles can get a lot of them all at once.

So, I found this with a quick google search, using "U.S. Army Desertion" "U.S. Army Recruitment", etc. The sort of thing anyone with gumption and a internet connection could do. And I didn't do it for you before because I was quite sure that you could/would do it yourself. Meanwhile, what I did do was provide a personal set of anecdotes... something you can't google yourself.

Anonymous said...

Well, I did in fact google even before asking for David's sources. One thing I did, that you did not, was add "2006" to my searches, to get relatively recent info. I wasn't finding finding much.

I just did some of your suggested searches, adding "2006". Among the most relevant top hits :

US desertion rate down since 9/11: http://www.newsmax.com/archives/ic/2006/3/7/120646.shtml

Debating recruiting foreigners http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2006/12/26/military_considers_recruiting_foreigners/ [despite the headline, the official position is that it is un-necessary]

Those and others combine to create a rather mixed bag - yeah, we've used up a lot of equipment and tied up a large fraction of our combat forces, and we've been struggling to recover from decades of cutting costs at the expense of readiness.

On the other hand, I don't see much evidence that the troops are demoralized, and we appear to be slowly getting our act together on the supply side - but "slow" has always been the operant word for any change involving the military, barring an immediate threat to the US.

But enough - I think I understand your position, and I hope you understand that I am not claiming everything is rosy and only getting better. I just wonder if David isn't focusing only on the negative because it fits his model that everything is going to hell because that the Bush administration are monsters. Since he's apparently not reading from this old post, I'm willing to shut up here. You're welcome to have the last comment, if you wish.