Thursday, February 28, 2008

Prison Statistics

There is something seriously, seriously wrong with this country when 1% of the entire population is in prison. Almost 3% of Hispanics and almost 7% of African-Americans are also in prison. Something is very, very wrong when that many people are in prison.

On Dr. Abu Ruzaiz's Shameful Treatment

Are we really surprised that the religious police in Saudi Arabia are so shady and corrupt as to be setting up people they don't like just to punish them? My prayers go out to Dr. Abu Ruzaiz for what he had to endure at the hands of these vile, corrupt, hateful people who are not enforcing virtue (which can't be enforced anyway, only the outward appearance of virtue, meaning all they ever do is promote hypocrisy -- which is certainly appropriate for them to be doing), but are promoters of vice throughout the land. It seems to me that only the worst kind of people would even want to become these kind of police in the first place. This kind of sadism and corruption has no place in any religion. I have no doubt they will get a nice hot place in Hell for their actions.

Libertarian Dystopia?

To have a story you have to have a problem. When the problem is society, you have a dystopian novel. Does anyone know of any novels that portray a libertarian society as a dystopia?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

William F. Buckley, Jr., RIP

My condolences go out to the family of William F. Buckley, Jr., a truly great man -- whether you agreed with him or not. If only more conservatives were like him.

I recommend the following essay on Buckley by Rev. Robert Sirico.

Reason and Property

It's been a while, but I did manage to finally get the time to answer the second part of Shawn Darling's question, below:

“Now, on to Heidegger. His critique of metaphysics, of Western "reason" (to be adopted by many "post"-modernists) seems itself to be a metanarrative. Of course, there is no historical unity of philosophical or social thought that can be reduced to "Western" reason. (Note that it was Hitler who wanted to "unite" Europe through aggressive, chauvinistic imperialism, to become the new Rome, however antithetical the German Reich was to the historical Roman Empire). The cultural identity itself is a construction, so the premise for the critique is faulty. Moreover, "Western" reason, if it can be said to exist, was often the construction of bourgeois interests, i.e. it was closely tied to the development of property. So, from a Marxist viewpoint, Western reason is the synthesis of reason, property, and law, where the law primarily (though not exclusively) serves the interests of the ruling classes. But is the legal association of property and reason (as in the Enlightenment philosophies of Locke, Kant, and Hegel) always reasonable? Can the rational study of society start with reason, rights, and equality, or is this simply representative of the dominance of ruling class ideas? Why not start with inequality, lack of rights, and the irrationality of the system? It is no mistake that Heidegger's "destruction" of reason ends up as an illiberal attack on property, on the state's legal right to confiscate property without reason (hence the confiscation of Jewish property, an attack on their rights, which, along with their planned dehumanization, led to their genocide, i.e. death and slavery). Hence, it is not just the Christian (or, in Nietzsche's case, anti-Christian) bias against the Jews that led to their dispossession, but a rejection of liberal thinking. (Of course, this could be considered an ethnocentric critique, since I am basing it mainly on English/American utilitarianism/pragmatism, which did not develop in Germany.) It is very interesting that, following the European Enlightenment, a so-called counter-Enlightenment developed. This other school of thought, which some people (somewhat justifiably, somewhat not) have identified as a precursor to post-modernism, included such thinkers as Rousseau. In addition to the more well-known Social Contract, he also wrote The Discourse on the Origin of Inequality. In this work, he anticipates (or perhaps inspires) Marx's critique of philosophical idealism (and, I suppose, bourgeois empiricism). Social inequality is based on the introduction of private property, of the division of wealth (social) into property (individual), which is often considered reasonable by the above stated philosophers. This is the true origin of rights (i.e. property rights) from which, in a capitalist system, all other meaningful rights are derived. But is it reasonable to cut off the bulk of humanity from their means of subsistence to benefit the few? Is this not the origin of revolutions (and not, mind you, bourgeois revolts from above)? Is not revolution more necessary today in the allegedly post-socialist, post-modern era of identity politics? Are not the "Third World" genocides and nationalisms not class based struggles over resources in the absence of centralized state power (i.e. supposedly "failed" states)? And how does Western structural adjustments in these areas (the new imperialism based on aid rather than territorial conquest, which historically required uneven "development" to facilitate exploitation of these areas) contribute, even accelerate, these processes?”

There are several issues which need to be addressed in this section. First, you are right in saying that Heidegger was mistaken about the historical or cultural unity of “Western reason.” We was, of course, talking about Reason as typified by Kant’s version of reason, which Heidegger then mistakenly applies to the ancients. He is also thinking, though, of Medieval Reason, which was typically deified (remember that Heidegger began his education studying the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas). God was Rational, was Reason Itself. To be rational was, therefore, to try to attain the mind of God. To engage in a rational investigation of nature was to try to understand the mind of God. However, we can see several kinds of rationality through the history of the West: Platonic/Aristotlean, Medieval, Continental Modern (Cartesian), and Scottish Modern (and these too were not entirely monolithic, of course). The ancient Greek idea was related to mathematics (rationality is related to “ratio: -- especially to the Golden Mean Ratio) and logic. Logos is the communication of information, while logic is a mathematicized Logos. Reason – seeing proper ratios in logic – allows us to understand when logic results in nonsense. John 1:1 identifies God with the Logos and, thus, with Rationality – resulting in the Medieval identification of the two. Descartes separated the body from the soul/mind and, thus, separated reason from the world. The result is Kantian reason, which is critiqued by Nietzsche and Heidegger (and the postmodernists). What is ignored by both (all three) is that there was another version of rationality out there: Scottish Enlightenment Reason. This results in there being two kinds of individualism as well. One is based on rational philosophy, which started with RenĂ© Descartes and was further developed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, Emmanuel Kant, Georg W. F. Hegel, Arthur Schopenhauer, and the existentialists, including Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir (I am sure the last three would object to being put in the "rationalist" tradition, but their ideas did not really deviate much from Kant’s). I will call this Cartesian Individualism (the digital-exclusive view). The other is in the Scottish tradition of David Hume, Bernard Mandeville, Josiah Tucker, Adam Ferguson, Adam Smith, and John Locke, and further developed by Edmund Burke, Alexis de Tocqueville and Lord Acton (the digital-analog agonal view). Cartesian Individualism sees man as rational; the Scottish tradition does not see man as fully rational, but also, perhaps primarily, influenced by his drives, wants and needs of the moment. These different views give rise to different forms of individualism. Perhaps the best way to show the differences would be to put the two traditions side by side in a table showing the difference between the two, and the consequences of each of these, traditions:



the individual is found within the social, leading to free markets

man is not always rational, or even capable of always being rational – man also has impulses and instincts

since man is not rational, he cannot design or plan something like a society or economy

the individual participates in the social (cooperates) through being selfish

It is not necessary to find good men to run the society, meaning anyone can play

it is not necessary for us to become better than we already are, making it easy to enter the game to play it

freedom is granted to all

no one group ever always wins, which keeps people playing

reason is seen as process in which any person’s contribution is tested and corrected by others.

inherently unequal people are treated equally

inherent inequality allows diversity

hierarchical – intermediates encouraged


radical individualism, leading (ironically (?)) to socialism

man is rational and has no instincts and can always control his impulses

since man is rational, he can create through planning the ideal society or economy

individual vs. the social – i.e., selfishness vs. cooperation – therefore need coercion

social processes can be made to serve human ends only if they are subjected to the control of individual human reason
only the best can or should run society and make economic decisions – few can play

men need to be improved (presumably made more rational) before a good economy or society can be created – hard to play

freedom granted only to the good and wise

the "good and wise," "rational" rulers always win – no reason to play the game
reason found in the individual, especially in certain "good and wise" individuals

people are made equal in actuality – thus, have to arbitrarily assign tasks

only State and Individual, thus flattening society – intermediates suppressed

The Scottish form of individualism provides us with a broader, more inclusive set of game rules. Anyone can play the social and economic games – making these systems more complex by containing more parts acting in coordination and cooperation. Man does not have to be "improved" for systems set up using Scottish principles to work as he does for those using Cartesian principles (historical examples of attempts to "improve" man to make him more suitable for "rationally" designed societies include the Holocaust in Nazi Germany, the Terror of Revolutionary France, and the slaughters of millions in the Marxist states of the Soviet Union, Maoist China, and Cambodia). In the Cartesian view, there is one rationality; but in the Scottish view, there are many, which can often come into conflict.

The differences between the two can be seen in the different political entities set up under those ideas of rationality: the U.S. foundation under Scottish reason, and the French Revolution (and, I would argue, fascism and communism as well) under Cartesian reason. We also see two different ideas of liberty and equality when comparing Scottish and Cartesian ideas, with those differences again being highlighted in the founding of the U.S. vs. the French Revolution/Fascism/Communism, so we need to be especially careful when we use these terms, as “reason,” “Equality,” and “liberty” mean quite different things in these different traditions (again, for the Medieval Christian, we gain liberty through submission to God, and we are all equal in God’s sight). The fact that so many people mean such different things by these terms creates a lot of confusion.

I myself do not see any necessary association between property and reason. Keep in mind that many early socialists called for the abolition of property based on reason (Cartesian, of course). They saw the arguments for free markets as irrational (“what’s with this mythical/mystical “invisible hand” nonsense anyway?”) and believed that societies could be rationally designed and economies rationally planned. Aside from this, I take an evolutionary approach to things, and thus see the very idea of property as being deeply rooted.

Property is not a physical property – it is a biological property. We find the idea of property rights deep in evolutionary history, in the first territorial fishes. Most of today’s territorial fishes are lobe-finned fishes, and there is little doubt that lobe-finned fishes have been territorial for literally hundreds of millions of years. An example is the brightly-colored gobies, which are very territorial. "For many vertebrates, a clearly defined territory for offspring rearing seems to be fundamental. This involves aggressive behavior of a great variety on the part of the male (and sometimes the female too), usually of a ritual nature, but effective in defending an area" (John T. Bonner The Evolution of Culture in Animals, 86). These fish establish territories where they live, feed, mate, and protect their eggs from predators. Schooling fish, like herring, are simple in both coloration and behavior. Why spend energy on dangerous bright colors to attract mates when everyone releases their eggs and sperm at once, collectively? And why develop complex behaviors if there is no reason to, if there is no conflict, since there is no need to defend territory if you are a schooling fish in the open ocean? A great deal of energy is spent on making literally millions or even billions of eggs, let alone sperm – and there is only a limited chance that it will be either your sperm or your egg that survives. But with territorial fishes, the energy is put into protecting the fewer numbers of eggs, but those eggs are more likely to survive. And, more importantly for the individual fish, the female knows her eggs are protected until they hatch, and the male knows the eggs were fertilized by his sperm. Thus, there is a certain advantage to protecting territory, since it ensure that any particular individual fish has passed on its DNA to future generations. Herring can never know for sure.

One of the consequences of the establishment of territory by lobe-finned fishes was that complex behaviors has to evolve as well. This is due to the conflict created by the creation and defense of territory. The conflict comes about between the needs to aggressively defend territory and sexually reproduce. If one just defends, one runs off potential mates. But passive gobies lose territory – and cannot attract mates. What develops from the conflict between the straightforward actions of defense and sex is the mating ritual, a nonlinear feedback behavior designed to allow members of the opposite sex to enter one’s private space. It is a dance. It is a dance wherein linear elements conflict to create nonlinear systems, which reorganize the chaos created by the conflict into a new order. Ritual is the emergent system created out of the conflicting elements. It is a safe space in which the participants play out the conflicts, to ensure mating can occur. One result is that gobies differentiate between individuals. Territoriality (notions of private property) created individuality through the need to ritualize sex. More, it resulted in the creation of ritual itself, which led to more and more complex behaviors as different species evolved, including art and religion in humans. And it was, incidentally, the lobe-finned fishes that evolved into the first amphibians – and territoriality was carried onto the land, and into every land vertebrate. All amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals are territorial. And this includes humans.

Thus, evolution established property rights as a fundamental way of ensuring reproductive fitness. In social mammals, this became partly socialized, since it was the tribe or family group as a whole that owned the territory they defended. And all humans groups have always believed that they owned the land – otherwise they would not have spent so much time, energy, and lives on protecting it from others. In social animals, including pair-bonding animals, this resulted in the development of personal relationships, including love. But none of this could be possible without a complex neural system to allow for the creation of such complex behavior.

Social mammals have strong social bonds even among those who are not mates. These bonds were generated through elaborating mating rituals into things like grooming rituals. Primates have strong grooming rituals, which have led to sexual pleasure, leading to recreational sex in humans and bonobos, and massage in humans. We can see this behavior in the fact that "the human neurotransmitter vasopressin, which is closely associated with aggression, is also deeply implicated in the drive to stay with and cherish one’s mate and protect one’s offspring. Without the resistance to strangers there could be no individuality and love" (Frederick Turner, The Culture of Hope, 170). The conflict is found even at the neurotransmitter level. Which should not surprise us, since we have already shown that it is the protection of territory that resulted in the kinds of rituals that created pair-bonds in the first place.

Animals that have territory not only protect that territory, but work to improve it. Gobies organize rocks in their territories, and keep the caves they create to live and hide in clean. Bower birds decorate their bowers to attract females. Often the male animal himself is decorated, or he creates a larger, more beautiful territory – or, oftentimes, both. Thus undoubtedly explains why human males feel the need to accumulate more and more property, and why we try to decorate ourselves with things ranging from nice clothes to tatoos. And it also explains why, when we own property, we have more of a tendency to take care of it than if we do not own it. When we use private property, we treat it like someone else will come along and clean up the mess we make, or that if we don’t take what is there, then someone else will. We do this because deep in our evolutionary past, in our deepest of instincts, we believe that not only do we have to keep our own territories in good shape to attract mates, but that if any competition’s territory is ruined, then potential mates will be discouraged from mating with our competition. This is the purpose of raids on the territory of other tribes, or exploiting commons – which results in the Tragedy of the Commons. So if we truly want to protect the world’s resources and keep the world clean, then all property must become privately owned, without danger of a government being able to come along and take that property. No amount of social engineering will be able to change this biological imperative to owning property.

And this is certainly best overall. For it is only on our own land where we can be free to be who we are. It is only on our land where we and our families – our tribes – can be safe. There, we can live and love and prosper and speak as we wish. All of our freedoms derive from property rights – and property rights are part of our evolutionary heritage. Thus, there is nothing less scientific than the idea of abolishing private property, as the socialists have wanted to do. The abolition of property is downright unnatural, from a mammalian – and even land vertebrate – point of view.

Thus, property is very deeply a-rational and quite non-ideological in its origins. This is why property has never been abolished anywhere – all that changes is who controls the property and how. Tribes fight to protect territory from other tribes.. Various ways have been developed to protect groups’ and individuals’ property. Small groups have owned huge tracts of land and allowed others to live and work on them (as we saw in slavery throughout the world, various versions of feudalism throughout the world, and in more recent forms of state like the USSR and Communist China). But there has always been property ownership and control. It’s part of being a vertebrate descended from lobe-fined fishes. One cannot go against nature without facing severe consequences.

What we should therefore be interested in is discovering what kind of property ownership has the most positive results for most of the people most of the time (keeping in mind that utopia is not an option – utopia does mean “nowhere” after all). Is there a way of organizing society – or letting society organize itself – which counteracts many of our negative natural tendencies, such as hatred of the Other, resulting in racism and genocides (two things which existed before any society larger than a tribe developed, contra Rousseau’s unfounded belief in the “noble savage,” a creature which never existed – all anthropological and primatological evidence to date shows that civilization really is civilizing). I would venture that the genocides we see in places like Africa come about through the encouragement of those in power (whose power is indeed centralized) to keep themselves in power (I would venture to guess that Mein Kampf is on all those dictators’ bookshelves). You are correct in identifying “aid” from developed countries as contributing to 3rd world conflicts, as that food and money inevitably goes to the kleptocrats in charge and the death squads they control. Withdraw the aid and let them know that as soon as they have a stable enough country to have a working economy, we’ll be happy to buy whatever they produce, and we’ll see radical transformations in these countries. Those on both sides who think impoverishing places like Africa enriches places like the West are deeply mistaken – wealth creates more wealth; poverty impoverishes all. The economy is not a zero-sum game where if I get more, you get less; it is rather a positive-sum game where we both come out better off because we are playing the “if you do something good for me, I’ll do something good for you” game rather than the “unless you do something good for me, I’ll do something bad to you” game.

Prometheus Institute

Some more good news on the personal front: as soon as I send in my first monthly article, I will become an Adjunct Scholar over at the Prometheus Institute.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Body Rights

What are we to make of this body of ours? The body is the intersection of many problems: ethical, political, epistemological, and religious. We talk of mind and body, body and spirit, body and soul, but what if mind, spirit, and soul are embodied?

With the separation of mind from body, we let ourselves believe we can make laws against the body while allowing for freedom of thought. BUt if there is no mind-body distinction, if the mind emerges from the body, and the body is the way the mind enacts thought, then what sense does it make to separate the two? What then becomes of "thought crimes"? Thoughts are made real through action. THink murder and it won't get done -- but a murder done was first thought, even if only briefly. Was the unacted thought even thought at all? Certainly not believed. To believe is to act on it. In "Twelve Angry Men," the outburst, "I'll kill you" received the response, "You don't really mean that." Only if you mean to murder do you do so -- the thought, the true thought, becomes action. All else is fantasy, dream, unbelief.

If our body is our own, may we not do with our bodies as we wish? Further, does that not mean we may not do with another body what we wish? If I convince you of something and you remain convinced, then you are doing what you wish, no matter what I convinced you to do. That interaction between you and me is only between you and me -- no one should force us to not do it, as that infringes on our rights to our own bodies. If they want to persuade us, then that is a different -- and just -- way of interacting that coincides with our own interaction. However, if I am using force against another, you may use force to stop me.

Let me give an example. If I pay for a woman's place to live, for her food and bills, and for luxury items to have sex, that is legal. If I let the woman pay for her own place to live, for her own food and bills and luxury items by giving her money instead, that's illegal. The argument is that in the second scenario, I am exploiting the woman. How? By leaving her alone to her own devices? I can care just as little for her in the first scenario as the second. I can meet a woman at a bar, get her drunk, and convince her to have sex with me for the price of a drink or two, and care for her just as little -- and that, too, is not illegal. In fact, making it illegal to directly, obviously, unquestionably pay for sex is what results in exploitation by driving such economic interactions underground, where it is by definition controlled by criminals. Work in a factor for a physically abusive boss, and you can report him for assault and get him arrested and fired; work as a prostitute for a physically abusive pimp, and if you complain you get abused more, and if you report him, he may get arrested, but when he gets out, you could get killed. Illegality of prostitution makes women exploited by it. Otherwise, it's a market exchange of money for services. When force, with an inability to do anything to prevent that force, is involved, you get exploitation. This is why when government runs anything, it's exploitative in nature: government does not engage in market transactions, it engages in force transactions. Of course, everyone knows this -- some are just against it, while others are for it. Some people think it is legitimate to use force to make people act in certain ways -- and in only those ways -- they think acceptable, while others do not.

The same people who think it appropriate to tell you what you must or must not do to your body are the same people who think is appropriate to tell you what you must or must not do with your property. Your property, once yours, is an extension of your body. Property rights are personal rights. I may do as I wish on my property, but you may not do as you wish on mine. You must receive my permission. When a government owns the property, you must receive their permission to do or say what you wish. There cannot be personal rights or freedom of speech under socialism, as socialist countries keep proving over and over. Still, there are those who believe their senses and experience as little as they believe theory.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Anti-Game Mentality of Egalitarians

If to treat someone justly is to treat them according to their individual needs, then justice cannot be equated with egalitarianism. "One law for the lion and the lamb is tyranny" William Blake wisely observed. Further, how do we make the one-legged man, the an with bad knees, and the world-class sprinter fully equal? One person will say it's not fair to the first one that the second two have two legs, and that it's not fair to the first two that the last one can run so fast. A second person will say it's not fair to the runner that he should have to bear a burden to slow him down so the first two can outrun him, and that it would be horrible to even suggest the last two have a leg cut off to make things truly equal. I would venture to say that most people who identify themselves as egalitarians would agree with the second one, especially on the second point -- but these same people will proceed to do essentially the same thing to people when it comes to other skills, especially mental skills.

Egalitarians do not like to hear someone say that the first two have no business trying to run a race in the first place. These people think that just because someone wants to do something, they should. More, they think the person should necessarily have an equal chance to win -- as though that were ever actually a real choice. Someone always has some edge, and that edge allows them to come out ahead. Sometimes it is luck; sometimes a well-throw ball will be dropped by the best receiver in football history. Which is why we play the games.

Egalitarians are against all games as such. They want no one to win, because someone will lose. They want no one to profit more than another. They condemn excellence. They would cut the legs off every man to make the legless man with envy happy. They do not see his evil, refusing to believe in evil. This is the source of their injustice: giving in to everyone's envy. The just person fights envy wherever it may lurk, understanding its deeply corruptive, corrosive nature. But some will encourage corrosion just to gain power for themselves.


After posting this, I read the following in Seneca's "The Trojan Women", from Act IV, the chorus:

If none were happy, none would believe himself
Unfortunate, however great his troubles.
Take away wealth, and gold, and thriving lands
WIth droves of oxen at the plough -- how then
The spirits of the down-pressed poor would rise!
What is misfortune but comparison?

In order that none may feel unfortunate, there are those who would drag us all down. Wouldn't it be better to teach people not to find misfortune in comparing themselves to others? Or to teach people that the proper response to seeing that someone has something is to work hard to get the same kinds of things rather than filling themselves with anger and hatred at others for having what they do not? To those who would argue that the rich go out of their way to keep the poor impoverished, I would note two things: 1) wealth is not a zero-sum game -- in other words, if I have more, that does not mean you have less in a free market economy, meaning 2) if the rich tried to keep the poor impoverished, all that would do would be to impoverish the rich, since it is only people who have money who are able to buy the things the rich have to offer. In a free market, the only difference between the rich and the poor is that the rich engage in more economic transactions -- that is, value-creating transactions -- than do the poor.

Pictures of Cuba

Here is the Cuba communist dictator wannabe Michael Moore didn't show you in the film that thankfully didn't win an Oscar last night. Raul Castro has a history of attempting reforms, but I suspect he won't actually be much better than his brother was now that he has power.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

On Poetry

Poetry is a reflection of our true nature and how we historically have seen ourselves. Poetry cannot occur before the primordial split that made us human. Our mating song split into music and language, which returned to each other as song and poem. Language without music is prose; language with music is poetry. Line breaks do not make a poem. There are literary works of prose with line breaks, and there are poems without line breaks. Line breaks aid a poem's memorization: the rhythm syncs with the brain's waves, repetitions aid in memory through giving meaning, and line breaks allow the poem to fit into the short-term memory slot for more efficient memory-processing. This is how memory is the mother of the Muses, as the Greeks correctly knew (and we've forgotten).

Poetry reunites language and music and is thus a return to the primitive pre-human. Yet it is also the mind's most elevated way of thinking. The way up and the way down are the same (Heraclitus). The Greeks said Zeus (God) is the father of the Muses. Humans are said to be halfway between animals and angels -- poetry returns us to the animal to elevate us to the space between man and God. THe divine is inseparable from true poetry, just as the body is inseparable from it. The body dances to music the way language does in poetry. Here the Sufis have it right: dancing brings us closer to God. It's no coincidence the founder of the Sufis was a poet.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Theory and Thought

What is a theory? You develop a theory by observing multiple objects and processes and finding what is common among them. A theory is a description of the patterns among the set of objects/processes in question. A theory allows one to make a prediction -- or hypothesis. "If a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, and k are true, then we should expect to find x, y, and z." If we find x, y, and z to be true, our theory and hypothesis are confirmed (for now). If not, we should first look at the hypothesis and see if it was, in fact, consistent with the theory. If it is, we should then question the theory and modify it appropriately. A good theory should always provide you with testable hypotheses. But we should always remember that no theory is provable. They can, however, fall in and out of favor depending on their reliability for creating testable hypotheses that confirm their theories. Any "theory" that does not begin with objects/processes is not a true theory, but a fantasy of the mind. Theories are bottom-up processes. Top-down versions are not theories, but their opposites.

Thought works the same way as theory-creation. There can be no thought without objects of thought. Thought is a process of organizing object/processes to create a theory to create testable hypotheses. Any process which is the opposite of this is the opposite of thought.

Friday, February 22, 2008


Suppose we had a single entity -- a poem, for example. That poem, while single, is also multiple. It is multiple in meanings. We would expect as many understandings of a good poem as there are readers of that poem. Does this mean that the poem can mean anything? No -- there are ways we can give a poem the wrong meaning. There is a mean of meanings that are well within the realm of what the poem can mean, though it may be no mean feat to determine that mean. We would expect the various meanings to have some element of similarity, though a new insight can shift the center of meaning for many. Just because there are some whose understandings of the poem belong in the long tail of strangeness, that does not mean there aren't better and worse ways of understanding what a poem means. The exception does not negate the rule. THe true meanings group among the mean.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Good Riddance to Imad Mughniyeh

The assassination of Hezbollah terrorist Imad Mughniyeh has resulted in an interesting discussion of ethics, first raised in an editorial by Mike Baker, and then responded to by Father Jonathan Morris. The question is: is it ethical to be happy that Mughniyeh is dead? In a sense, this is also raising the question of the ethics of capital punishment.

As Father Jonathan points out, if an intruder is breaking into my house, I have the ethical responsibility to do what is necessary to protect my wife and child. Why? Well, the intruder is presently threatening to decrease the complexity of the universe. I believe that a good way of knowing the difference between good and bad is this: if you increase the complexity of the universe, that is good; if you decrease it, that is bad. If you decrease it on purpose, that is evil. If I am dead, and certainly if my wife, baby, and I are dead, the intruder has reduced the complexity of the universe. To prevent that from happening, I am allowed to kill the intruder. But doesn't that reduce the complexity of the universe? SInce the intent of the intruder is to reduce the complexity of the universe by killing me, I am really only keeping the universe in balance by killing him instead. If I prevent him from further reducing the complexity of the universe, then there is a net gain.

If you assassinate someone, you are killing someone who is not currently engaged in reducing complexity in the universe. The same is true in regards to capital punishment. In societies less complex than that of the contemporary West, it is legitimate to perform rituals which remove people from society to dehumanize them and thus make it legitimate to kill them. In the end, arguments surrounding capital punishment are really arguments about the legitimacy of the rituals used to dehumanize people so they can legitimately be killed. I myself do not believe such rituals are any longer legitimate since we can remove people from society who are otherwise intent on continuing to reduce the complexity of the universe. They are not an immediate threat, so killing them actually does result in reducing the complexity of the universe. Since we cannot know for certain that they will kill again in the future, we cannot make a legitimate argument for permanently removing them from society by killing them.

Mughniyeh, however, was still out and about in society, able and capable of killing more people. There's little evidence, based on his past actions, to believe that he wouldn't kill many more people in the future. Does that mean we should be happy he's dead? Perhaps that strong a reaction is a bit much. But I do think we should be satisfied with the result considering the likelihood he would continue killing people. With his death, there will likely be fewer future murders. And that is unquestionably a good thing.

Being as Becoming

What is Being? When we are born, we are faced with numerous objects, each individual. We learn, as we learn language, that various dissimilar objects which are nonetheless similar are all called by the same name. Naming things reduces their numbers. As we see more of the same-named object, we develop an idea of that kind of object. We eliminate the differences to create a concept, a form or idea of the objects to make them one. Any given tiger is more individuated than "tiger," which is more individuated than "cat," which is more individuated than "mammal," etc. through animal, organism, chemical system, collection of atoms, etc. We go increasingly abstract, finally admitting that these are all mental constructs.

Except they're not merely mental constructs. We eventually have come to recognize the self-similarity among cats is not merely mental, but a chaotic or biotic strange attractor system which maintains the similar form through the various iterations of real difference. Our minds are recreating in its chaos and biotic processes what is really out there. Our concept of cat is a mental reconstruction and visualization of the absent center of a real strange attractor. Thus, we get a glimpse of Being in the process of conceptualization. We glimpse at a non-present Being created by its own natural process. Without time, without change, there is no Being. Further, this kind of Being is an individuated Being. Unless we try to imagine a pure concept, a concept of all concepts. Wouldn't this, though, be the concept of concept? And wouldn't the concept of concept have to contain itself? A paradox. How appropriate, though, that it results in a self-referential feedback loop, just like the kinds that result in chaotic processes. Besides, paradox is no argument against the idea. The essence of beauty is paradox, as I have talked about here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

On the Evolution of Religion (A Spiral Dynamics Perspective)

For primitive man, the world was filled with spirits. These spirits anthropomorphized and became fewer in number, but after a while, these too fled before the power of the One True God. This personal God became increasingly impersonal, until He became the deist prime mover and little else. Finally, man decided there could be none greater or wiser than himself. Thus, God died.

God, though, is resurrected in the next stage of man. His voice is heard again. He is seen in His plural oneness and timeless time-embeddedness. We are soon comfortable again with God and His presence. Where, then, shall we go from here?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Truth, Lies, and Math

Mathematics education in the U.S. is a problem because in elementary school our teachers lied to us repeatedly. Two related lies: you cannot subtract a larger number from a smaller number, and there is nothing smaller than zero. When we are later told abut negative numbers, many of us shut ourselves off from math. Why believe these math teachers, who are telling us we were lied to earlier, by our other math teachers? We believe in the value of something we learned was founded in lies? Of course, it was the teachers who were the liars -- but the young mind does not differentiate between the two. Many thus reject math's value and close themselves off to it. Others reject it, having become confused at the contradictory information. It is less confusing to the student if the truth is always told.

Monday, February 18, 2008

A Few Observations About Why Libertarians Don't Win

Today I went to a Ron Paul rally at UNT in Denton and, while the candidate was fantastic, I got reminded of why I stopped being involved in libertarian politics. It isn't that libertarians aren't full of great ideas. That's precisely what they are good at. If you were to compare a libertarian candidate (or the LP for that matter) to a corporation, you would say that their R&D is fantastic, but their sales department is so hideously bad that it's sinking the entire ship.

I suppose one could make the excuse that Ron Paul is cutting back because it's obvious that he's not going to win. Still, that's no excuse. If nothing else, continuing to run keeps the ideas out there, and that is very important for the history of the country. The more people who are attracted to the ideas, the better we are as a country long-term. That being the case, it seems to me that there is no excuse for there not being anyone from the Paul campaign going around the room where the rally was held and talking to people. Just as importantly, there should have been more of an opportunity for people to meet and talk to Ron Paul. In politics, ideas are not enough. People have to feel like the candidate cares about them. That means that there should be an opportunity to meet the candidate. I understand that sometimes there are time constraints, but that's really only an excuse for bad politicking. I could never really get to talk to anyone who was involved in the campaign. I would like to offer my talents as a writer to the campaign, but even if anyone were interested in using someone like myself, I couldn't actually talk to anyone about it. This keeps happening over and over, where I keep offering my skills to various libertarians, and I keep getting rebuffed or ignored. How many times can one do that before one gets the message that the ability to communicate well is not of any value to libertarians?

This gets me to the general problem of sales when it comes to most libertarians. If a libertarian is speaking to another libertarian, conversation is easy: you're preaching to the choir. But libertarians have to learn that they also have to convince literally millions of people if they are going to be politically effective. For some reason, libertarians think that one cannot be ideologically pure and also be a good politician/rhetorician. But what good are your political ideas if you can't convince a majority of people to support them? Ron Paul obviously does do a pretty good job of convincing -- he is, after all, a long-time Congressman from rural Texas. I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that most of his constituents aren't exactly in favor of decriminalizing drugs. However, Ron Paul quite intelligently argued not for outright decriminalization, but for defederalization of drug laws. After all, since he was running for national office, all he could really do was get the federal government to decriminalize drugs, leaving drug laws to be decided by the states. Those running for national office would do well to follow his lead on such controversial (though not to us libertarians) topics.

Part of the problem too has to do with organization. One problem is that a libertarian organization is almost an oxymoron. How do you get a bunch of radical individualists to work together as a group? I am certainly a believer in self-organizing systems, but please note that at some point, the individual elements do organize and form a system. These systems are all cybernetic, meaning that there is some sort of steersman (or men), creating a feedback loop between the individual elements and the leaders/steersmen. The anarchist element in most libertarians make them loathe to have any sort of rules or hierarchy, and this too undermines the kind of organization needed to be politically successful. Many libertarians don't accept the fact that it is okay to have leaders and to tell people what to do -- so long as the organization is voluntary, meaning the people can come and go as they please. It does not mean that anyone just does as they please -- or not. That's a sure-fire way to make sure nothing gets done -- or at least not enough to actually accomplish anything politically. Rules are not anathema to freedom -- it is just important that we have the right rules to ensure that we have the most freedom. The same goes with political organizations and campaigns. If libertarians are not successful -- and we're not -- it is precisely because we have not found the right rules to play a successful, winning game that will make us all freer in the long run.

Why Not Plumbing?

The insistence that education is to be defined only as college preparation comes out of postmodernists' simultaneous insistence on an egalitarian world view and their own elitism. They think plumbing is beneath them, and then they declare it to be beneath everyone else. One wonders, though, how many postmodern theorists make as much money as a plumber does. Money is not the point, I am sure they would argue -- assuming, of course, that no one could possibly enjoy being a plumber. I've met many more people who would enjoy being a plumber than would enjoy learning how to understand James Joyce's "Ulysses." Sadly, we do little to prepare anyone to do either.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

On the Shortcomings of Reductionism in Education

Reductionism is necessary in science and in education, but we are beginning to see the limits of it, especially in education. Too often education consists of naming all the parts, and seeing what parts are in a system, but leaving things there. It would be as though I were trying to teach you abut car engines, and I taught you the theory behind the engine, and math behind the engine, and then brought in all the parts of an engine -- or even brought in an engine and showed you how to take it apart, naming each part as I went along and explaining what each did -- and then left it at that. I would give you a test where you visually identified each part and, when you passed, gave you a degree saying you knew how to build and repair engines. But wait, you say, you never told us how to put an engine together! Yet colleges graduate engineers whose knowledge consists of the above kind of knowledge, and engineering firms and other corporations have to finish their education by showing them how the real world works versus theory and math. To have a full understanding, you have to integrate, to put the parts together to make a working engine. Education needs to bridge theory/math and the parts -- and this is one of the places where our universities fail us. But only when companies stop putting up with getting engineers educated this way will the universities change how they educate their students. A few years of engineering students unable to find work would change the universities' approach rather quickly.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Health Insurance Fraud -- U.S. Government-Style

My brother and I were talking on the phone today, and he pointed out that the current health insurance proposals from Clinton, Obama, and even McCain all have one thing in common: they require that everyone buy health insurance. Thus, everyone will be covered. The problem with this is: what if you refuse to buy health insurance? Will you get penalized? Put in jail? In most states auto insurance is required. If you don't have it, you will get fined. If you get caught enough times not having it, you will go to jail. What's going to happen if you get "caught" without health insurance?

When the states started pushing for mandatory auto insurance, they argued that insurance rates would go down. Naturally, nothing of the sort happened. Prices in fact went up. It's simply the law of competition. If you are an auto insurance company in a state where it's not required, you have to compete with paying $0. That's a pretty low price to compete with. Thus, you have to have low enough rates to convince people that insurance is cheaper than no insurance. When insurance is mandatory, however, the government creates and enforces a cartel. Thus, prices go up -- as indeed they did.

Basically, this is all being done at the behest of the insurance companies, who are looking to force more people to get insurance -- so they won't have to compete with $0. This would be like the government passing a law that required that everyone buy a dozen eggs a week, no matter if you needed or even wanted eggs. Maybe you're a vegan. No matter. You have to buy them anyway. What would be the result? Naturally, the egg farmers would be happy. Not least for the fact that egg prices would go up. This would be in part due to supply and demand, but it would also be due to the fact that the egg farmers could set high prices, and there's nothing anyone could do about it. You have to buy eggs every week, by law.

So the proposed solution to the "health insurance crisis" is to force everyone to buy insurance. Can't afford it? Too bad. Don't need it? Who cares? So long as we have 100% coverage. Who is this designed to help? The insurance companies. Who will it hurt? The poor. Naturally, one should expect this to cause more problems that the government will be force to come in anf fix -- most likely though some sort of nationalization scheme.

Obama and Che

What? Is this another picture of Che in another Obama campaign office? Does Obama know that he was a mass murderer, and that he had an office right outside the execution grounds just so he could watch the executions?

Friday, February 15, 2008

On the Rise of Irrationalism

As economy emerged from the economic interactions of people, it had the effect of encouraging more rational, economic thinking among people. Thus, it is not that man is Homo economus, as economists think, but that free markets make us more likely to act in more economic-rational ways. Since we remain social mammals, we will never be rid of our social rules of behavior which constrain our rationalist behavior. The irony is that as markets made man more rational, we began to think that using reason would be the best way to transform the world, that it could be rationally ordered and organized. The result was the rise of ideas of economic planning based on a rationalist model, giving rise to various forms of socialism. The irony being that, without free markets, the pressure on people to think rationally is released, so that socialism leads us directly back to nonrationalist thinking, and the very foundations originally claimed for having a planned economy are undermined. Faced with this, those who fundamentally support socialism turned away from rationalism, leading to the rise of postmodernism. Thus did rationalism undermine itself, not knowing its origins.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Recently in an art group blog I was participating in I asked the question "What is art for?" Now, this is a pretty big question, and it should require some pretty complex answers. Since I was asking it of artists who produce all the time (if you don't produce all the time, you're not an artist), I expected to get some pretty interesting answers. Here's some of the answers I got:

"Life! Art is for Life!"
"I can say forever what I think, but what I FEEL is what I know for sure! For me, Art is Life!"
"Art is the Eyes, Ears and Voice of Humanity"

These are nothing but empty, vapid platitudes. They mean absolutely nothing whatsoever.

Now consider for a moment the following quotes:

" I should not be here today. I was not born into money or status. I was born to a teenaged mom in Hawaii. My father left us when I was two. But my family gave me love, they gave me an education, and most of all, they gave me hope. Hope that in America, no dream is beyond our grasp if we reach for it and fight for it and work for it. Understand this. Hope is not blind optimism. Hope is not ignorance of the barriers and the challenges that stand between you and your dreams. I know how hard it will be to change America."

"We'll invest in you, you invest in your country, together America will move forward, that's what we dream of. That is our calling in this campaign. That's our calling, to reaffirm that fundamental belief, I am my brother's keeper; I am my sister's keeper; that belief that makes us one people and one nation. It's time to stand up and reach for what's possible, because together people who love their country can change it."

"Now, when I start talking like this, I have to say some people will tell you that I've got my head in the clouds; that I'm still offering false hopes; that I need a reality check; that I'm a hopemonger. But, you know, it's true, my own story tells me that in the United States of America, there's never been anything false about hope, at least not if you're willing to work for it; not if you're willing to struggle for it; not if you're willing to fight for it."

"When we instead join arm in arm and decide we are going to remake this country block by block, precinct by precinct, county by county, county -- state by state. That's what hope is. There's a moment in the life of every generation when that spirit has to come through if we are to make our mark on history. And this is our moment. This is our time."

Each of these are from a speech given by Barack Obama. You will please note that each one of them is full of empty, vapid platitudes. They mean absolutely nothing whatsoever.

But I think we can see exactly why it is Obama is doing so well. If artists who work on their art work every day can come up with little more than platitudes about the very thing they live and breathe, how many others think with and live by them? Is it any wonder, then, that so many are susceptible to them? Obama can say absolutely nothing for an hour. But he does it with parallelism, repetitions, rhythms, and patterns, so he's compelling. Proof of how powerful poetry is. Could you imagine what could happen if there were any substance to it?

Barack Obama's Houston Office

Now this is an interesting item to find in Barack Obama's Houston office: a picture of Che Guevara superimposed over the Cuban flag. Obama has gained a lot of mileage giving speeches saying nothing, but to me this hanging on the wall of one of his offices says a lot. I wonder if he knows what Guevara said about blacks.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Illiterate High School English Teacher

Here is a story of a man who, despite being illiterate, managed to pass high school, then college, and then go one to become a high school English and social studies teacher(!) for 17 years before he learned how to read. As he points out, this is what social promotion will get you. He was "teaching" students who obviously could not have learned anything from this man. Yet his illiteracy went undetected by the school that employed him. Does there need to be any more evidence that our educational system, from top to bottom, is rotten too the core and field with little more than incompetent boobs?!?

Stanley Fish II

I find myself in the absurd situation of defending the value and use of what Stanley Fish does against Stanley Fish himself. In a followup article to the one I commented on, Fish first narrows down his definition of the humanities to just include commentators on the arts and philosophy, but then expands it to include poetry again, at the end.

The gist of the article is that Fish claims people didn't understand him. I find it problematic that a humanities person and a teacher of such note can't communicate better than he claims he did, especially when he implies he meant almost the opposite of what he said, with the exception of what he said about his own work. So who am I to argue that Fish doesn't know what he's talking about regarding the value of his own work?

Fish doesn't think anyone should "subsidize my moments of aesthetic wonder." I agree. But that's not what humanities departments and universities do. They pay him to teach and publish. And what does a humanities professional publish? Works that inform their readers of new ways of understanding a work of art or philosophy. In other words, they educate others. People who work at universities are educators. They educate in the classroom, and they educate their peers. The research they do, no matter what the department, is of no use unless there is a published work. Now, with the humanities, the published work is supposed to help people to understand what the analyzed work in question means, including what different meanings it may or could have.

Now it may in fact be the case that Fish is not publishing anything of any value in that vein. He may not be contributing to anyone's understanding of works of literature. But somehow, I doubt it. He and others who explicate texts of various kinds help others to understand those texts better, so that they may in fact get more out of those texts. That can help in other areas of life, or it may just enrich the person's life by giving them insights into texts and helping them learn to love the arts. Fish does come around to agreeing that the arts can change peoples' lives for the better, so it makes no sense for him to argue that helping people understand and love literature would not be of value or use.

He also makes a distinction between philosophy and criticism that really doesn't hold up. Where do you draw the line? It Aristotle's Poetics philosophy or criticism? The insights potentially gained from either are the same, especially in regards to access to other arts and philosophies. But in the end, the problem is that Fish forgets that the humanities have something to do with humans, and thus they cannot be an end to themselves, but must be of some use and value to humans.

Skills vs. Content

One of the biggest problems with education is that content-education is being replaced by skills-education. Certainly we needs skills, but what sense does it make to teach "critical thinking skills" when students don't have anything to think about? We will ignore for the moment the fact that "critical thinking skills" itself is essentially meaningless. I saw this problem when I tried to teach "integration" to interdisciplinary studies students who didn't know anything and, thus, had nothing to integrate. A similar problem occurred in my composition classes, where somehow I was supposed to teach students how to write and how to make arguments without teaching them vocabulary, grammar, or logic, and without them knowing enough about any subject to even write about it. All of this is due to the emphasis on "higher order thinking skills" in Bloom's taxonomy -- by people who clearly have no understanding of Bloom's taxonomy, and the fact that the "higher order thinking skills" are at the top of a pyramid, the base of which is made up of facts and knowledge. Bloom understand that you cannot think without knowledge, that thinking without objects of thought is impossible, but his followers latch on to the fact that he says that "higher order thinking skills" are most important. He knows you can't skip levels -- they do not. As a result, we have precisely this problem of trying to teach skills but not content. It can't be done.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Acton University Blogger's Conference

I just got accepted to the Acton Institute's Acton University blogger's conference. I also got awarded a scholarship to go, so I will actually be able to afford to do so despite my current lack of employment. So in mid-June you should expect some postings from me about the conference topics. Should be fun!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Liberals ' Racism Exposed!

Susan Estrich almost confesses something about the Democratic party: that it is full of racists. Worse, it's not the usual suspects: Southern Democrats. No, it seems to be the most liberal Democrats, in the Northeast and California. Now, she doesn't quite admit this, but you will note that, in her article, she says that there is a phenomenon where people will say to a pollster that they are going to vote one way, and then vote another. More, people even seem to be lying at the exit polling. She points out that in both New Hampshire and California, the polls indicated that Obama was ahead by about 10% points. Then, according to the exit polls, he was tied with Clinton. Then, when the votes were counted, he lost by about 10% points. This means that 20% of the electorate lied to pollsters -- half of them lied twice. Now, why would they lie? There is only one explanation (and here Susan Estrich should pay close attention, because I'm going to demystify what has been happening), and that is that a significant number of liberals are racist -- deeply racist. Now, how do I know they are liberals? Why would you lie about who you are going to vote for? Because you want everyone to believe -- even the faceless pollster -- that you are a good, anti-racist liberal. But when you are in the voting booth, nobody knows it's you, so you can vote for who you want, meaning about 20% of the voters in New Hampshire and California, as well as a significant percentage of those in the Northeast, went into the voting booth and said, "Like hell I'm going to vote for some stupid (fill in your least/most favorite racial slur here)!" And please note that this happened in California and the Northeast. Obama has done well in the South -- even among whites -- in the Midwest, the Northwest, and about half the western states. THe only places that seem to be solidly Hillary (other than expected places like Arkansas and New York) are the most liberal places. Now, that alone doesn't mean they are mostly racists in those states. But the extremely wide difference between what the polls in those places say and what the actual results of voting there are does. And we don't see this phenomenon anyplace but liberal strongholds. In all the places where Obama did well, the polls were about right.

All in all this doesn't surprise me in the least. I've known for a long time that liberals are among the most racist people on earth. They are nice and polite to your face, but stab you in the back. They are generous with other people's money, but won't tip their waitresses a dime. And they support legislation that appears to help racial minorities, but has proven over and over again to do nothing but keep racial minorities "in their place" -- which is always far away from wherever a white liberal lives.


How can we know we need a guide
When we do not know we are even lost?
We disregard the signs that would direct
Us back to the place we know and own,
A home set in among a handful of trees,
An open space we manipulate to look
Like our home of ancient memory.
A straight road stretches home, directing us
Through the deserts we thought were beautiful,
But whose beauty becomes lost in rocks
And cliffs made the same by dry winds
Which stripped scattered skeletons of their
Individuality. The desert’s drought endangers us.
We strayed into the desert, off the road
That will direct us home where rains
Replenish grass and trees. The beauty of growth
Renews us in its rejuvenating repetitions
Even as it calls us home from our nomadic wanderings.
The familiar melody of the larksong guides us home.

No Offense Intended, but . . .

David Schuster of MSNBC has been suspended for saying (correctly) that the Clintons are "pimping out" their daughter. Specifically, he has been suspended because Hillary Clinton chose to be offended by that comment, causing her to write a letter to MSNBC demanding they take action against him. I find it troublesome that a news organization is responding this way to a letter from a politician. Keith Olberman said the same thing about General Patreus, that Bush was pimping him out, and there was (appropriately) no negative consequences for Olberman.

Politicians have no business sending letters of intimidation to news outlets because the politician is offended. When you are offended, you are not harmed in any way. "If someone or something harms you-- that is, injures you physically against your will -- you are not an accomplice to the injury. [. . .] But offense is something else. If someone or something offends you -- that is, insults you in some way -- you are definitely an accomplice to the insult. Why? Because you took offense at it. You may be passively harmed by something such as a physical blow, but you take an active part in being offended by something such as a painting" or a comment (Lou Marinoff, "Plato, Not Prozac!", 48). In the U.S. especially, it seems, we have "allowed offense to become confused with harm." Worse, we have even taken steps to codifying it and making it a criminal offense (this is the basis of many "sexual harassment" and "hostile workplace" laws). "Nowadays people take offense themselves, then accuse others of harming them, and the system backs this up with policies that undercut individual liberties. Worse, the system reinforces this confusion by rewarding people monetarily for taking offense" (48). Think about that: you are the one who will or will not take offense. Whether or not you take offense at something is entirely out of my hands. I have no idea what you may take offense at. But if you do, there is a possibility that you could make money from having taken offense. "People looking to take offense will always find something to take it at, but then they're the ones with the problem. The problem is that they need to feel offended" (49). You don't have to be offended at something. It's entirely your choice if you are or are not offended.

In other words, a man may lose his job because Hillary Clinton is either thin-skinned, or she consciously chose to be offended. As manipulative as she is about everything, the latter wouldn't surprise me. I'm not surprised she would do it, but it's still a pretty rotten thing to try to destroy someone's career for your own political gain. Too bad nobody cares enough to may her pay for it politically.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Video Poem

This is an interesting idea -- a video poem. What are the possibilities with this?

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Hereafter Is . . . Here

Here's an interesting interview with an Anglican Bishop is gets gets it right on the originary Christian idea of life after death. Oh how different Christ's teachings are from those of Christianity!

New Reviews Editor for Philosophical Practice

Today I was just hired by Lou Marinoff to be Reviews Editor for the American Philosophical Practitioners Association' s journal "Philosophical Practice." I will be responsible for getting books to review and getting reviewers. I may also on occasion do a review myself. For example, I will be reviewing Dr. Marinoff's book "The Middle Way" for the June issue. This is a great opportunity for me, and I greatly appreciate Lou Marinoff for first considering me and then hiring me for the position. It only "pays" in books, but, as I told Dr. Marinoff, I would probably spend all my money on books anyway.

I will keep everyone updated about PP and the APPA. In the meantime, go check out the APPA web site, linked to your left under "Sites I LIke."

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Some Thoughts on Altruism

Having evolved as a social mammal, we evolved to care for those in our tribe. This makes sense as an evolutionary adaptation. If I do something good for those in my tribe, they will reciprocate when I'm in times of trouble. We thus have an instinct to care for others. But which others? Certainly we didn't evolve to take care of anyone not in our tribe. And typically the tribe was relatives, whether close or distant. The sociobiologists have suggested that this sort of soft altruism evolved to ensure your genes continued, not just through you directly, but through close relatives. There is perhaps something to this, though that would mean you would have to know for certain who your relatives are. This would seem to be a recent adaptation, the ability to definitively recognize kin. Chimpanzees can do it, but they are in fact the exception that proves the rule, since we know that chimpanzee troops split up, and when they do, and meet back up, even close relatives will make an effort to slaughter each other. Perhaps soft altruism initially evolved for the reasons sociobiologists say, but things have changed sometime during the evolution of the apes. The altruism became stronger, and it didn't necessarily involve kin -- just members of the group. Humans do the same thing. We will work to protect the group, no matter what the group is, or how it came together. It may come together over nothing we would consider to be substantial, but the group will protect itself as a group -- thus "mob mentality." At a certain density and group size, we will work as one, like a flock of birds or a school of fish, doing whatever the one who is the most determined, or who appears to be most determined, wants to do. That this goes all the way down to schools of fish, who certainly have no idea if they are related, and may not be, suggests that there is something else going on. Those who are studying swarm theory may someday have the answer to this.

The fact that we swarm and can behave as one makes some people dream of a society where swarm theory is the rule, where everyone dissolves themselves into the We. When you are dissolved in a We, you think that We can do anything. Much socialist thinking is grounded in this desire to dissolve into the We. We will take care of everyone in the We. The problem with this kind of ubertribalism is that it can tap into the worst parts of human beings as well. And typically does. Humans evolved to hate anyone not in the group -- this is the deep source of racism. When we dissolve ourselves into a We, we exclude those on in the We, and will do so with deadly force if we think the We is in danger. All it takes is someone with enough determination and focus. Then the group will follow that one with the focus.

These thoughts have gone a little off track of what I initially was talking about. But perhaps not. I asked the question earlier about why we should help people because that impulse to do so is the same one people tap into to argue for socialism -- whether democratic, fascist or communist. Something we are programmed to do naturally is being tapped into to try to get us to do things and organize ourselves in ways that are not natural, particularly over the long term. So, other than the reasons given above, that we are genetically programed to want to help those in our tribe (and our tribe in the modern world can be quite large and, for some, may include the entire world), why should we want to help people? And what do we even mean by "help"?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Why Care?

Another radical question(ing): It is assumed that we should clothe and feed our fellow man when he cannot do so for himself (some go so far as trying to do so even when he can do so for himself). Why should we?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Liberalism

Recently, my friend Kristen sent me an e-mail from a friend of hers named Shawn she had gone to undergraduate school with. Knowing she was a scholar of German philosophy, he had a few questions for her. However, Kristen has since decided she is called to become a nun, and so has left such concerns behind her. For that reason, she sent the questions to me, asking me if I could answer them for her friend. I told her I was happy to.

Shawn asked quite a few good questions. So good, that each one is going to take quite a bit to answer them. I asked him if I could post his questions and my answers here, and he said I could, so here is the first. The rest will follow as I get time to answer them. Perhaps we can get a good discussion going on here.

Shawn asks: “Why is it that so many liberal thinkers are fascinated with Nietzsche and Heidegger when their metaphysical and political philosophies are so conservative and illiberal? As you probably remember in college, I, like a lot of undergrads, was fascinated with Nietzsche (Heidegger's philosophy was a but more challenging to me). However, with my background in political theory, I have come to the conclusion that Nietzsche's philosophy (and not simply his political philosophy) is highly aristocratic. He believes in equality among equals, not democratic equality. Since historically aristocracies have supported monarchies against the interests of the people and the bourgeoisie, I find my interest in Nietzsche highly problematic. In the past, I thought that people who identified Nietzsche with fascism were way off base, but now I am not so sure. Politically, fascism isn't simply authoritarianism; it is the aristocratic and monarchical destruction of the achievements of bourgeois democracy, which, though it is in itself class-based, its destruction or dismantlement is not progress, but regress. True socialism surpasses bourgeois democracy; it is a dictatorship (i.e. the restoration and corruption of monarchical rule) that destroys it. So I find it interesting that so many people "use" Nietzsche as a critic of traditional metaphysics (Platonic/Christian "Oneness"), when traditional metaphysicians are more complex than this critique. For example, as an aristocrat himself, Plato wasn't necessarily a champion of democracy (but what traditional theorist was?), but at least his metaphysics attempted to united the one and the many, to create a dialogue politically. What so many philosophers have forgotten is the dominance of the few (aristocracy, oligarchy)--the true threat to "the people"--besides monarchy and dictatorship.”

The first thing we have to address is how we are to properly use political labels. The term “liberal” is particularly problematic here in the U.S., and we have to compare that liberalism to European liberalism – the liberalism being addressed by Nietzsche and Heidegger.

The terms “liberal,” “conservative,” “Left,” and “right” all come about post-Renaissance. With the Age of Enlightenment, we see the development of liberalism as a response to the monarchical/aristocratic governments of the Medieval and Renaissance eras. A liberal in this sense was one who wanted political, economic, social, and religious liberty. The aristocracy and Church controlled the government, the economy, the society, and imposed Catholicism on everyone. Ideas of elected government and other anti-aristocratic ideas, of free markets, of free, open societies, and of people to freely believe as they wished were what exemplified liberalism. Those who were pro-aristocracy were thus the conservatives in Europe. In America, the American Revolution was founded on these very liberal ideas. That being the case, in the U.S., someone who supported the ideals of the American Revolution would make them a “conservative,” which is where the real confusion begins in the U.S. (aside from the fact that most U.S. “conservatives” aren’t conservative in this fashion any more).

Before we get to the problems of labels in the U.S., let’s return to Europe, where the labels began. The next set of labels came about with the French Revolution, whose ideology was based in no small part on the anti-Enlightenment philosophy of Rousseau. Though an anti-Enlightenment philosopher, Rousseau was no “conservative” in the European sense, but was rather a political radical. The French Revolutionaries became the Left because they sat on the left side of the Parliament. The royalists say on the right, and became the Right. The French Revolutionary Left were not liberals, but were rather revolutionaries and radical egalitarianists. They believed they could design a perfect society by placing themselves in power, controlling the economy, and abolishing religion, replacing the Church with the State. The consequence was that the Right supported the idea of an Emperor. The only real difference was that the former was inherited, while the latter was supposed to be held by the one with superior reasoning abilities. Both positions were illiberal in the original sense of the term “liberal,” but came from different sources.

Nietzsche saw European liberalism as inevitably leading to Rousseauean Leftism and, thus, to nihilism. Nietzsche was indeed anti-egalitarianism and pro-aristocratic in the sense that “aristos” means “best.” Egalitarianism, which sees people as equal in actuality, is anti-aristos, not believing in “the best” or that “the best” should have any sort of position over anyone, whether earned or not. Nietzsche recognized that this would lead to a society of the lowest common denominator, that being the only way to actually achieve egalitarianism. We see this egalitarianism in Rousseau’s celebration of the destruction of the Great Library because it resulted in the destruction of so many great works. There is a certain degree to which Leftism is rooted in and encourages envy, covetousness, and resentment – the latter of which received particularly strong criticism from Nietzsche as the source of much that was wrong in society at large, and in the politics of his day in particular.

In the U.S. we have a lot of confusion over these terms. The U.S. was founded as an anti-aristocratic country, and as such has never had a Right. America’s liberalism was first opposed by a pseudo-aristocratic South, and later by progressivism. American progressivism was a sort of grass-roots Leftism that catered to peoples’ prejudices and racism, though it eventually, by fusing with fascist and Marxist ideas from Europe, became an American Leftist movement. Since liberalism was the founding ideology of the U.S., it became American conservatism; since “liberalism” opposed “conservatism,” the opponents of the conservatives became the liberals, even though American liberalism was almost the complete opposite of European liberalism, was indeed an anti-liberal political philosophy. Now, because of such things as the “Reagan coalition,” there whose who support a fundamentalist Christian social policy, those who support a strong military, and those who (more or less) support a free market are brought together, this has become American conservatism. The creation of the Libertarian Party in the 70’s, where European liberalism has made its home, has further solidified this identity among conservatives. Modern American liberalism, which is really a combination of progressivism and Leftism, no longer finds its home in European liberalism, but is actually Rousseauean in character, heavily flavored with other anti-liberal thinkers like Marx, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and the postmodernists. To some degree American liberalism does appear take on social liberal ideas (in this way European liberalism is split between American conservatives, who take some liberal economic ideas, and American liberals, who take on some liberal social ideas), but even that is tempered by political correctness, an ideology rooted in Heideggerian philosophy. Indeed, we can trace the philosophy of postmodernism, which strongly informs the modern American Left, to both Heideggerian Nazism and Marxism. The apparent social liberalism of American liberalism is actually rooted far more in ‘60’s Dionysianism than it is in traditional liberal ideology. Thus, what we call “liberalism” in the U.S. is in fact rooted in a social Dionysianism (from Nietzsche), tempered by political correctness (from Heidegger), an economy based on control and regulation (from Marx and fascism), and populist politics (whose roots are the same as those of fascism) that give the people the freedom to democratically vote away their freedoms. It was this last tendency of democracy which put Nietzsche in opposition to it, because he saw this as a nihilistic tendency inherent in democracy.

This, of course, brings us to the issue of kinds of government and the way we use (and misuse) those terms. When we talk about democracy, only rarely do we actually talk about democracy. In a democracy people vote on the laws, with no intermediary. Majority rules, which means minorities suffer. Thus, true democracy is really tyranny of the majority. When we talk about “democracy,” we usually mean “republic,” where the people vote to elect representatives to propose, debate ,and vote on laws. Republics come in different flavors: nationalist, federalist, and confederate; constitutional and non-constitutional; parliamentary and divided. The U.S. government, for example, is a divided, constitutional, federalist republic. The E.U. is a parliamentary, constitutional, confederate republic. Revolutionary France was a parliamentary, non-constitutional, nationalist republic (until it became a dictatorship). When we talk about democracy, we typically mean some sort of parliamentary republic.

Other forms of government include monarchy, dictatorship, aristocracy, and oligarcy. The only difference between the first two is in the way one gets power. Too often we mistake oligarchy with aristocracy. Indeed, if aristocracy is rule of the best, there may in fact have never been such a government, but only various forms of oligarcy (rule by the few) supporting monarchy/dictatorship. In this sense, the government of the Soviet Union was in fact no different from the Czarist government it replaced, though one was pre-liberal, and the other post-liberal.

One thing to remember with Nietzsche is that he’s a lot more careful than the vast majority of us are with words. When he argues for aristocracy, he’s no conservative, because he knows that there has never been an aristocracy. Further, we have to look at Nietzsche’s positions on the governments at the time. He opposed the unification of Germany into a single political entity – a nation-state. He favored Germany as a sort of cultural confederacy, with political power distributed and decentralized. He repeatedly warned against the nihilistic tendencies inherent in democracy, but Nietzsche was known to attack certain people, ideas, and institutions to strengthen them. Nietzsche saw agon, struggle, as a way of making something strong. Thus, Nietzsche’s anti-liberalism was a way to try to eliminate the weaknesses inherent in liberalism, which seemed (and in the end proved) to be leading to nihilism. Further, he saw a need for “the best” to be protected from the resentful majority of people, who would seek, through democratic institutions, to destroy the best – and do so at their own expense. Nietzsche in fact wanted a non-political aristocracy to “rule” – a best that would rise up naturally and rule by example and deed, not by exercise of political power and arms. It would be an aristocracy of artists, poets, philosophers, scholars, and scientists, not one of self-serving, more-often-than-not ignorant politicians and political power-seekers. These, and the people themselves, were the true threat to the people, not the kind of aristocracy Nietzsche had in mind.

Heidegger is an entirely different case, as he was a lifelong, unapologetic member of the Nazi party, and considered himself a fascist through and through. Heidegger’s anti-liberalism extended both to European liberalism and to its offspring, Rousseauean/Marxist Leftism (this is his source for saying the U.S. and USSR were metaphyiscally the same and equally “unrooted”). Heidegger fancied himself the eventual “philosopher-king” over the Nazi “guardians” with the German people toiling in blissful ignorance in the German soil. Too many on the American Left see themselves in the same way, convinced that “if only the right people were in charge” (i.e., them), then socialism would finally work, because they, after all, are the super-rational “philosopher-king” who knows what’s best for all. But it’s Heidegger’s language philosophy that is most attractive to the American Left, because he is the source of the idea that language controls thought, meaning if we change the language, we can change thinking. This is the source of political correctness. (Steven Pinker shows Heidegger and the postmodernists have this backward.) The American Left have tried to change the way we speak of things and people.

In short, American liberals look to Nietzsche, Heidegger, and the postmodernists because American liberals are themselves anti-liberal in the European, originary sense of the term. So too are American conservatives, but their anti-liberalism is rooted in fundamentalist Christianity rather than in ideas that arose post-Enlightenment. The conservatives oppose liberalism because it undermines and opposes the fundamentalist Christian worldview. The “liberals” oppose liberalism because they have moved “beyond” it, into Rousseaueanism, Marxism, and postmodernism. Nietzsche opposed all three, in a critique we are still learning to understand. But do not mistake Nietzsche’s political ideas for fascism, as they were anti-nationalist, anti-socialist, and anti-discriminatory – in other words, deeply anti-fascist. It’s unfortunate that he was used by so many whose ideas he so deeply opposed just because of his critique of liberalism.

Finally, let me address the issue of fascism and “true socialism,” particularly the implication that fascism is somehow pre-liberal. Certainly fascism had some pre-liberal elements to it, not the least of which were its racism, including an idea of a racial aristocracy that could and should wipe out all those “below” them (thus creating an egalitarian world). However, we have to consider the fact that fascism supported free health care,
guaranteed jobs,
confiscated inherited wealth,
spent vast sums on public education,
prohibited smoking,
supported abortion,
supported euthanasia, supported gun control,
provided generous pensions for the elderly,
maintained a strict racial quota system in the universities,
promoted campus speech codes,
encouraged organic farming,
promoted alternative medicine, supported
animal rights, and, loathing the free market, had a
socialist economy. By any stretch of the imagination, this is the outline for a modern Leftist state. All of these are decidedly illiberal in the European sense of the term, but they are the very things we hear American liberals promoting. The outcome of fascism may have been regress, but the intention was a Leftist-style progress into a post-liberal, post-bourgeois State. This is perhaps why fascism was able to find a comfortable home with Marxism in postmodern philosophy. And this is why American liberals are so comfortable with Nietzsche’s critique of liberalism and with Heidegger’s outright opposition to it.

Finally, let me draw your attention to a few things I have posted in the past. I reviewed Richard Wolin, who has written about the origins of postmodern thought in fascist thinking. Further, consider the above observations in light of my observations about an emergentist theory of psychosociology and its application to history.

Monday, February 04, 2008

The Mythological Winston Churchill

Not that it's any excuse for the rotten job of educating students we do here in the U.S., but it looks like Britain is not far behind. Seriously? 1 in 4 think Churchill is a mythical figure?

This reminds me of a story about a history professor I had at WKU, Jack Thacker. Best history teacher I ever had. Incredible. I had him for Western Civilization Since 1648, and I recommended him to all my friends. Well, one of my friends did take him, and one day that friend told me that Dr. Thacker was talking about Winston Churchill, and a student raised her hand and asked him, "Who is Winston Churchill?" Dr. Thacker put his head down on the podium for a few seconds, then slowly looked up and said, "Winston Churchill is only the most important man of the 20th Century!"

One can only imagine what Dr. Thacker would think of this report.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Education -- Thoughts and Questions

Many other animals learn, but humans are the only ones that actively teach. Active teaching is getting and keeping another's attention so that they can learn something. Thus it seems likely that education is an instinct in humans. This still doesn't necessarily answer my previous question, but it should put it into some perspective.

If teaching is a human instinct, then how come there are good and bad teachers? Even instincts need training to fine-tune them. The fact that teaching is a human instinct should be a rather condemning fact for most education departments turning out such rotten teachers.

Of course they are doing a rotten job of teaching . . . what? What is it that students need to learn? Do all students need to learn the same things? What is or should be the point of education? Does your answer apply to everyone at all times in every culture? Why should it? Or why shouldn't it?

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Friday, February 01, 2008

Mathematics = ontology?

Contemporary French philosopher Alain Badiou in "Briefings on Existence" suggests that mathematics is "the thought of Being qua Being," which is to say, "mathematics thinks Being per se" (59). Thus, "Philosophy is the theory of what is strictly impossible for mathematics" (60).

What do we think of this?