Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bob Murphy Confesses His Sins

Here: "I have done all kinds of stuff that I believe is a sin, like going to websites that I shouldn’t."

He means this one. Don't worry, Bob, Rothbard will forgive you.

But What If *You* Are the Oldest Pennsylvanian?

Then who wins?

Petrarch, "Alone and Thoughtful"

Solo e pensoso i più deserti campi
vo misurando a passi tardi e lenti,
e gl'occhi porto per fuggir intenti
dove vestigio human l'arena stampi.
Altro schermo non trovo che mi scampi
dal manifesto accorger de le genti,
perché ne gl'atti d'allegrezza spenti
di fuor si legge com' io dentr'avampi.
Sì ch'io mi cred' homai che monti e piagge
e fiumi e selve sappian di che tempre
sia la mia vita, ch'è celata altrui,
ma pur sì aspre vie né si selvagge
cercar non so, ch'Amor non venga sempre
ragionando con meco, et io con lui.

My translation:

Alone and thoughtful, the deserted fields
I measure with steps tardy and slow
And with my eyes I scan, intent to flee
Wherever vestiges of humanity mark the scene
I find no other route to escape
From the oppressive attention of people;
Because in my acts, spent of joy,
From outside one can read how inside I blaze
Yes I believe that now the mountains and shores
And rivers and woods know of what temper
Is my life, my life that is hidden from others,
While on such wild and bitter streets
I don't know how to seek,
that love that won't always come
Reasoning with me, and I with him

The Mystery Mystery

I'm re-reading Dorothy L. Sayers The Nine Tailors. On the cover, the NY Post claims it is "One of the best mysteries obtainable in the world today."

Hmm... to me, this implies the reviewer knows of better mysteries -- maybe a whole heap of better mysteries -- that we just can't get to. They are all locked away in a sultan's palace, or buried on a desert island, or kept in a secret government mystery cache, to be released only in times of dearth-of-good-mystery emergencies.

So where do you think all of these top-notch mysteries are?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Guest Post: Francis Funkymama on The End of History

Hi, Gene asked me to write up a little something about the way the political world looks to me here, in 1685. (He's developed a nice little space-time wormhole that lets us send message back and forth.)

It's clear, from the advanced state that society has reached in my time, that we are truly nearing the "end of history." The question of what form of social order is best has been answered with finality: it is a state under an absolute monarch, ruling over a mercantilist economy.

The two most advanced nations of Europe, France and Spain, are basically there already, and, of course, in the Orient, China has been showing us the way for centuries, if only we had had eyes to see. Denmark-Norway has already written absolute monarchy into law, and Sweden is rapidly advancing along this same path. And the tsar in Russia ought to be able to make similar gains over the next few decades.

Furthermore, one of the last, backward holdouts against this ultimate, rationalized form of social order, England, is finally coming around. (Hey, the backwards nations on the edge of civilization always take a little longer to get the message, don't they?) Having gotten past that ridiculous experiment in republicanism of the 1650s, and having experienced directly just how awful such a form of government is for the people, England, under Charles II and James II, has been rapidly advancing towards acquiring a modern, absolutist government.

But it would be stupid to boast we had reached the final form of social order simply because it is the current trend. Fortunately, we have the theoretical work of people like Jacques-Bénigne Bossuetand Thomas Hobbes showing us why this is the ultimate form of government: no need for us to rely on naive empiricism!

In any case, I'm sure by the time you are reading this, in the 21st century, every person in the world will be living under this most advanced form of government and be blessed with an absolute monarch to whom he can give his undivided loyalty. But we thought it might be interesting for you to see what things looked like at the time when it first became clear what the final form of government in the world would look like.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Know Thy Enemy?

Everything I'm Obsessed with Is Getting Plenty of Attention

so everything must be getting plenty of attention!

Or, as Mike Flynn and Ed Feser have it:
[Francis Bacon’s] goal of “mastering and possessing” nature necessarily focused scientists on just those aspects of nature that could be predicted and controlled; and this required Descartes’ quantitative, mathematical approach. Baconian science thus ensured that Nature would be “quantifiable, predictable, and controllable” by defining nature as quantifiable, predictable, and controllable.

If you will allow to count as “scientific” only what is quantifiable, predictable, and controllable, then naturally -- and trivially -- science is going to be one long success story. But this no more shows that the questions that fall through science’s methodological net are not worthy of attention than the fact that you’ve only taken courses you knew you would excel in shows that the other classes aren’t worth taking.

No Second Best for Us

I recall talking to a teacher about the nightmare of "no child left behind," teaching to the standardized test, and so on.

"Well, I said, we really should return to local control of the schools: the higher levels of government should only be involved to even out funding."

My interlocutor was aghast: "No, that would be awful!"


"Well, then different localities can teach non-standard material."

Because the workable solution of local control of schools would not eliminate every possible problem, he was willing to embrace a completely unworkable solution that held out the promise of perfection.

I think this problem is pervasive in our culture, and extremely damaging. Think about our recent health care legislation: I am in favor of helping poorer people get the health care they need. So, what about giving every person who makes under... $50,000? $80,000?... a government-funded voucher to buy health insurance? The bill could have been about 5 pages long. But no: there might have been some fraud! Perhaps some insurance company wouldn't have covered contraceptive sponges! Someone might not have gotten their lexapro paid for!

So, instead, we get a 974-page attempt to make everything perfect. Which, of course, will wind up being far, far worse than the simple plan, with its obvious problems, would have been.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

But What About the Cash Customers Who Are Robbing the Station

Or the cash customers who just stopped to use the bathroom?

Paraguay and Uruguay

A friend recently posted on Facebook about some geographical confusion he had over what was to the north of what. That got me thinking, and I asked myself, "Could I say, for any pair of neighboring countries in the world, 'X is to the (north / south / east / west) of Y'?"

Well, I thought, I'd have a lot of trouble with some of the former Soviet Republics: I have no idea how Kyrgyzstan stands in relation to Uzbekistan. And the smaller Pacific and smaller Caribbean island nations: pretty tough as well. They appear as a bunch of tiny dots in a sea of blue, which makes it hard for me to remember their "look."

But otherwise, I felt pretty good: let's say, every mainland nation that existed before 1960, I could do every one, right?

And then I remembered Paraguay and Uruguay. Aargh! Whose idea was that, anyway? Let's stick two minor South American countries right near each other, and then give them sound-alike names. That will make sure no one can ever remember which one is which!

Queries: How many people do you think have intended to take a vacation in one of the two, but wound up booking a trip to the other by accident? And do you think anyone has ever invaded the wrong one? Imagine the embarrassment when you march your army into what you think is Paraguay, only to discover you've accidentally attacked Uruguay!

History, Queen of the Sciences

The late Sudha Shenoy once said to me, "They are approaching this theoretically, but the real world is historical, not theoretical."

I've thought about that remark a lot since then, and I think I have an idea what Sudha was saying. All of special sciences abstract as part of their essential nature: they are constituted by the style of abstraction in which they engage. If physics stopped looking at the world only in terms of forces and motions, and began, say, taking emotions and plans into account, it would cease being physics.

But history is only abstract accidentally: the historian and her readers are human beings, and no one has time to read or write everything that happened. Nevertheless, as details are added and abstractness reduced, the work becomes more, not less, historical. So history comes closer to the real world than any theoretical science can.

An interesting corollary here is that, far from history being a sad stepchild of the "real," experimental sciences, that would adopt their methods if only it could, in fact, the experimental sciences are utterly dependent upon history. (This was noted by Collingwood decades ago.)

The idea of an experiment itself is an historical achievement on the part of a historical group of people. There is no general experiment to see if something counts as a genuine experiment, for how would we know if that "experiment-testing" experiment was itself a genuine experiment? No, it is through an exercise in historical understanding that scientists determine if something counts as an experiment, as they consult the history of successful and of failed experiments in their discipline, and see how the one in question appears in light of that record. And it is through their historical understanding of a series of such experiments done in the past that scientists judge that a theory is discredited, or worth testing further, or so well-confirmed that there is no sense bothering to check it further (at present).

The experimental sciences are dependent on history

No experimental test for what counts as an experiment.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Over at Voegelin View...

I take a look at Eric Voegelins' lecture "Democracy and Industrial Society."

Mises Versus Geertz on Methodological Individualism

Mises: "The total complex of the mutual relations created by such concerted actions is called society. It substitutes collaboration for the--at least conceivable--isolated life of individuals... The fundamental facts that brought about cooperation, society, and civilization and transformed the animal man into a human being are the facts that work performed under the division of labor is more productive than isolated work and that man's reason is capable of recognizing this truth. But for these facts men would have forever remained deadly foes of one another, irreconcilable rivals in their endeavors to secure a portion of the scarce supply of means of sustenance provided by nature. Each man would have been forced to view all other men as his enemies; his craving for the satisfaction of his own appetites would have brought him into an implacable conflict with all his neighbors. No sympathy could possibly develop under such a state of affairs." -- Human Action

Geertz: "Most bluntly, it suggests that there is no such thing as a human nature independent of culture. Men without culture would not be the clever savages of Golding's Lord of the Flies thrown back upon the cruel wisdom of their animal instincts; nor would they be the nature's noblemen of Enlightenment primitivism or even, as classical anthropological theory would imply, intrinsically talented apes who had somehow failed to find themselves. They would be unworkable monstrosities with very few useful instincts, fewer recognizable sentiments, and no intellect: mental basket cases." -- The Interpretation of Cultures, p. 49

The first quote, to me, represents genuine methodological individualism. Man would still be man in isolation. These (conceivably) isolated individuals use their reason to deliberately form social bonds, since they realize they can get more stuff done that way. The individual is logically prior to society.

The second quote notes that all of the above is a load of poppycock. A homo sapiens who somehow managed to survive into adulthood in an asocial setting would be a human being only biologically. He would in no way be capable of "recognizing the truth" that the division of labor would increase his productivity. The individual is not logically prior to society: As Tony Lawson puts it, "Human agency and social structure then presuppose each other. Neither can be reduced to, identified with, or explained completely in terms of the other, for each requires the other."

On the other hand, I have had people tell me that what Geertz writes is perfectly compatible with methodological individualism as they use the term. Well, if so, they are using words in a very odd way.

There Is a Slight Chance This Will Make Things Clearer

Yesterday, the weatherman on CBS radio said, "Tomorrow there is a 20% chance of rain, and Saturday 30%. Now, 20%, that's only a slight chance, but with 30%, you have to start watching it, perhaps bring along an umbrella."

Oh my.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

What's All This, Then?

I headed down to my Brooklyn local, B61, last night to watch the Celtics play the Seventysixers. From half-a-block away I heard a huge cheer go up. "Man," I thought, "there are a lot of Celtics fans out tonight!"

However, I walked in, and no! The game isn't on at all. Instead, everyone is staring up at some sort of "spectacle on ice," like the Icecapades or something. Except in this show, it was all guys, and they had all been given bent sticks that they kept waving around.

Does anyone know what this was all about?

Utility Monster Illustrated

A standard figure in the analysis of utilitarianism in comic form:

(Hat tip to Mattheus Guttenberg, who oddly interprets the comic to show the impossibility of interpersonal utility comparisons.)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Perfecting Congleton

My review of Roger Congleton's Perfecting Parliament: Constitutional Reform, Liberalism, and the Rise of Western Democracy is now online at the Review of Political Economy.

Evaluating a "Foreign" School of Thought

Here's a problem: We each have a limited lifespan. Not one of us is going to be able to learn everything there is to know. So we have to evaluate which things are worth learning and which aren't. But... we have to evaluate which things we are not going to bother learning without having learned them. How in the world are we supposed to do that?

Well, I think what most people do, and certainly what I do, is act kind of like the vultures that fly over my yard in Pennsylvania: we start with a real high level survey of things, and gradually circle in on areas that seem especially promising. We will likely find some nice fresh carcasses, but also some that have been well picked over, as well as occasionally surely missing some areas we really ought to have checked out. Once in a while we will totally screw up, perhaps, say, thinking "There's a nice, pale walrus carcass on that beach!" and flying way out of our range to feast on it, only to realize it was just Murphy sunbathing.

The problem grows more pressing, if not more fundamentally disturbing, when one has looked at an area, decided it would not repay deeper study, and then is challenged by someone who has devoted tons of time to the area as to why you are "neglecting the vital work of Professor Oxhaumphauser?"

"You see," you respond, "I checked out the Professor's most famous book, Night: An Accumulation of Sooty Particles in the Air. I didn't think his theory made much sense, so that was that."

"Ha! That's all you've read! Well, of course, that's actually one of his weaker books, and unless you've read the entire 27-volume collected works, you'll never really understand Oxhaumphauser."

It's hard to know what to say to such a comeback, except, "Well, it's my time, and time is money, and I bet my money on the horse I think will come in."

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I Dreamed I Saw Giussepe Collina Last Night...

As alive as you or me.

Last night I dreamed in Italian for the first time. The funny thing was, everything I remember was sensible Italian, except the one word I was specifically discussing with the dream characters ('parking spot'), which came out as 'finocchio' (fennel). (They had told me we were going to a finocchio, and when we sorted out what that meant, it was a parking spot. In the dream.)

How to Tell Business Owners They Have a Problem...

and be thanked, rather than met with resistance: Speak in a really low voice when you describe the problem. Even if you and the owner are the only ones there. This has worked every time I have tried it. What I try to convey with the lowered volume is, "Hey, I'm not a complaining customer: I'm a friend, trying to alert you to a problem before those annoying customer types pick up on it."

Where Once There Was Reason

Now there is only reasonableness:

"Once committed to the possibilities of Reason, liberalism has long abandoned any hope that Reason could explain ultimate realities, provide an overarching account of meaning, ground first principles, legitimize the law, or gradually weave together the many competing threads in a pluralistic society. Instead, Reason has ceded its claims to reasonableness, Smith claims, or the position that pluralism is inevitable and irresolvable, largely because questions of ultimate meaning are beyond the scope of argument. The various traditions and religions subscribe to their first principles, each of these accounts are largely arbitrary, and thus reasonability requires us to get along without real grounds, without appeals to ultimate justifications, and absent any hopes of overcoming pluralism with argument." -- R.J. Snell

Monday, May 21, 2012

He Eats Vegetables: He Must Be a Vegetarian!

This seems to be the thinking employed by some defenders of methodological individualism: Aristotle / the Spanish Scholastics / Adam Smith / somebody used individualist economic analysis at times. Therefore, whoever was a methodological individualist!

But that is not really different than the fallacious argument in the post title. If methodological individualism has any teeth to it, it has to mean that only individual analysis is valid in the social sphere, or, perhaps, that only individual analysis is ultimately valid or truly scientific. Here, for instance, is Peter Klein (echoing the early Hayek) insisting that a macroeconomic theory without microfoundations is not a scientific theory at all. It should be clear that someone can think individualist analysis is fine, but also think we can have perfectly good macrotheories without individualist underpinnings. That person is a methodological pluralist. It is methodological holists who entirely reject individualist explanations.

Most modern critics of methodological individualism do not reject individualist analysis. What they say is that there are other valid modes of explanation (such as Hayek's invocation of group selection, after he had ceased being a methodological individualist).

Sunday, May 20, 2012

"Before I'll Follow the Law...

"The law must contain no errors."

I sometimes see a position implying this in posts by libertarians who claim that, say, they needn't follow a law forbidding, say, speeding, because positive law should be a pure expression of natural law, and whenever the positive law is not such, it is morally acceptable to ignore it.

But this just won't do, unless one is an anarchist in the sense of "I don't want any social order at all." Let us set aside  the state, and imagine a private ancap community. That community will have laws (unless it is anarchist in the sense just mentioned, in which case it surely won't be a community!), and a mechanism for enforcing those laws. (You might see Bob Murphy's Chaos Theory for one such anarchist legal system.)

Let us imagine that one of the laws forbids creating a public nuisance in one's yard, and lists the penalty if the community decides one has done so, and the method for so deciding. Now, it is decided (by whatever the proper procedure for such decisions may be) that the smoke from backyard barbecues is just such a nuisance. But to your mind, this is a perversion of the principle you had agreed to... and you love barbecues! Since you think this new law (or new interpretation of an old law) is a violation of your rights, you do not have to obey it.

But, of course, the community has to enforce the law, or soon it won't have laws, but only suggestions. And if you resist that enforcement, eventually they will have to employ violence to subdue you. And if this happens enough, civil society has broken down, and we would be in the bad sort of anarchy despite intending the good sort.

So, our default position must be that positive law should be obeyed. The only major exception to this would be if the positive law commands evil: e.g., the law commands you to turn in your Jewish neighbors to the Gestapo. But there is nothing evil about not holding barbecues, or driving within the speed limit. In those cases, one is morally culpable for violating the positive law, even if one disagrees with it.

We are fallible humans, and the positive law will always contain errors.  To say we won't follow it unless it is perfect is simply to say we won't follow it, period.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Another Interesting Thing About Critical Rationalists

Someone today posted a quote from my friend Jan Lester on Facebook:

"No theory is epistemologically privileged. And we are never epistemologically ‘justified’ in believing anything, of course. However, morally in the modern world if someone wants to interfere aggressively with the liberty of another person, then the onus would appear to be upon him to argue that this is acceptable.

Now, when Jan claims "no theory is epistemologically privileged," is he justified in saying that or not? When he says the onus of justifying interference with personal liberty is on the interferer, is that belief justified?

If neither belief is justified, then who cares? He's saying something no more important than "There are green elves filling the room every time you aren't looking."

But if these beliefs are justified, then that of course shoots down the Critical Rationalist position that no beliefs are justified.

So, which will it be?

"However Unfortunate This Situation Is..."

I heard Chase CEO Jamie Dimon saying on the radio, in reference to the two-billion-dollar-trading loss, "this company will do what it always does..."

I think he meant, "Pay me a ginormous bonus."

Gotta Have a Gene for This, a Gene for That

But this running with the genes just ain't where it's at...

A great paper in the current issue of American Political Science Review, "Candidate Genes and Political Behavior" by Charney and English, takes down the contemporary trend in the social sciences to find a gene that makes one vote Republican, a "God gene," a gene that makes you trade on Wall Street, and so on. The major problem is that all of the studies is that they rely on a false, reductionist view of the gene that has been massively discredited over the last few decades in biology. Some key quotes:
Genes do not regulate the extent to which they are capable of being transcribed in any obvious, unidirectional manner. Rather, the extent to which a gene can be transcribed is controlled by the epigenome, the complex biochemical regulatory system that turns genes on and off, is environmentally reponsive, and can influence phenotype via environmentally induced changes to gene transcribability8 with no changes to the DNA sequence (Jirtle and Skinner 2007). As neuroscientist Mark Mehler (2008, 602) notes in regard to the epigenome and epigenomics, “We are in the midst of a revolution in the genomic sciences that will forever change the way we view biology and medicine, particularly with respect to brain form, function, development, evolution, plasticity, neurological disease pathogenesis and neural regenerative potential.”

Friday, May 18, 2012

False Positives

As you can see, I subscribe to the Google news feed for several topics at the top of this blog. None of my subscriptions generate as many false positives as "philosophy." Today, for instance, I got this story. Perhaps the Rangers had become epistemological realists about their third line, or the Kings became libertarians on the question of free will and player substitutions?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Misusing Old Phrases

Of course we all know the exceptions to rules don't "prove" them; exceptions disprove rules! But at the time the phrase was coined, "prove" also meant "test": these exceptions *challenged* the rule!

But did you know "patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels," when coined, meant pretty much the opposite of what we mean when we say it today? Dr. Johnson was complaining, not about those who support everything their government does under the guise of patriotism, but those who were fierce critics of their government, but shielded themselves from charges of disloyalty by saying, "Ah, but I dissent out of patriotism!"

The Late Scholastics and Methodological Individualism

In response to a post of mine at Think Markets, Gerry O'Driscoll contended, "[Methodological individualism] goes back to the Spanish Scholastics at least."

Well, some people tend to classify any thinker who thinks individuals are real and of concern to social science as a "methodological individualist." But the absurdity of the position can be seen by actually looking at what the Spanish Scholastics thought, such as Francisco Suárez:

"But since the same moral characteristics are possessed by all men in common, it is equally possible to think of the state of nature not as a community of individuals, but rather as 'a single mystical body' in which all members recognize the same obligations, follow the same rules, and are thus 'capable of being regarded, from the moral point of view, as a single unified whole.' It is Suárez's essential contention that once we think of men in their natural condition in this alternative way, there is no difficulty about conceiving them as having the power to act with a single unified will to set up the legitimate authority of a commonwealth." Quentin Skinner, The Foundation of Modern Political Thought, Vol. 2, p. 165

Whether you consider the above interesting or a bunch of high-falutin' nonsense, I hope we can all agree that anyone who thinks that communities in the state of nature have a single mystical body capable of acting with a single will is not a methodological individualist.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Very English Explanation

I'm sitting in Howie's flat in Stoke Newington, having a beer at the end of the night. The television is on, but neither of us is watching it closely. But a scene catches my eye: It is the floor of a parliament, and some South Asians, evidently members of the body, are having an actual physical fight on the floor, with wrestling going on and punches being thrown.

"Wow, what do you think that is about?" I ask.

Howie studies the melee for a moment, and then shrugs and replies, "Foreigners."

Monday, May 14, 2012

GOP Delegate Count: May Eighth's Three Primaries

Romney: 84
Paul: 6

The popular vote for the three states combined went about six-to-one for Romney over Paul. In fact, two candidates no longer in the race, combined, received many more votes than did Paul.

Why do I continue posting on this topic? Well, I hope that some of the people who were saying "Paul has an excellent shot at winning the GOP nomination" will stop and ask themselves, "What the hell was I thinking? How did I wind up convincing myself that this was true? And what about the people who were selling me this idea? Did they really believe it?"

Because it was obvious to anyone looking at the situation realistically, whether or not they wished Paul could win, that he could not win. As I have said repeatedly, the calculus is very, very simple: a dove cannot win the presidential nomination of a party where 80% or more of the voters are seriously hawkish. It would be kind of like F.A. Hayek running for the Soviet premiership in 1960: as much as I would have preferred Hayek to any actual Soviet politician, it would be pretty crazy to think he "stands a very good chance of winning." And it would hardly be "treason" for someone to have pointed out that it was nuts to place any hope in this happening.

Who Is Just the Worst Hide-and-Go-Seek Partner?

"There ain't no hiding place from the Father of Creation" -- Bob Marley

Talk about a spoilsport!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Strauss Under the Gun

I have read almost no Strauss. But my friend Ken McIntyre has, and doesn't like what he has read anymore than does Paul Gottfried. Nice quote from the end of the review:

"Finally, regarding the phenomenon of Straussianism, the cult took hold here for the same reasons that cults generally succeed in the U.S.: ignorance, inexperience, and a desire to have a simple answer to complex problems."

Signs, Signs, Everywhere There's Signs

Rosettta Stone attempts to introduce the ideas of "the real thing" and "a representation of the real thing" (which, given the language-teaching approach to which they have committed themselves, must be done entirely pictorially) by showing, say, the Japanese flag and an aerial photo of Japan. The first, the sentence with the photo says, represents ("rappresenta") Japan, while the second is Japan. Now, I can tell what they are getting at, but... the thing is that an aerial photograph of Japan is really just another representation of Japan (or a sign for Japan), as much as the flag is. The work in different semiotic modes, of course, the photograph being an icon (representing by likeness) and the flag a symbol (representing by convention), but neither is Japan, and it requires an act of interpretation to connect either to Japan.

I'm not saying that within Rosetta Stone's self-imposed constraints, I could have done any better -- I'm sure I couldn't. But boy, those constraints start to make things tricky when it comes to conveying more advanced concepts than "The boy throws the ball." And I think the level of their Italian course which I am on (five) isn't the last level by accident: their approach will have exhausted its potential by the end of this level. Can you imagine trying to teach someone how to say, e.g., "If only he had been kinder, I think I might have learned to love him" using only pictures?!

Mother's Day Dinner

Gambian lime chicken, as taught to me by Rudolf Sock:

The chicken marinated all day in lime juice, garlic, onions, fresh green chiles, black pepper, and soy sauce. I added orange and yellow bell peppers and baked the dish in the oven at 350 for about fifty minutes, flipping the chicken halfway through. The chicken should sit about half in and half out of the marinade while cooking, so that the side facing up browns while the side facing down continues to absorb the flavors of the marinade and the bell peppers.


"We have to be clear about the fact that an interdependent industrial society can only function as a democratic society when the manifold tendencies toward a gnostic psychology of demonization of partners are radically suppressed. Whenever the psychology of demonization becomes socially dominant, no matter whether it springs from Marxist or positivist, from liberal or conservative backgrounds and subcultures, an industrial society becomes unable to function as a democracy. Since industrial methods of production cannot be jettisoned, there arises as an inevitable alternative the danger of a dictatorship of the right or the left." -- Eric Voegelin, "Democracy and Industrial Society"

A Passage for Today?

While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. -- Acts 10:44-48

Diet Principles

1) Eat a wide variety of things.

2) Don't follow each new diet fad: next year there will be a fad telling you to eat exactly the opposite of what this year's tells you. Following each one will give you a diet wildly swinging around.

3) It makes sense to look to evolution. But evolution happens much faster than the paleo people think it does. 95% of Northern Europeans are lactose tolerant. Those populations have fully adapted to a diet with a fair amount of dairy in it. On the other hand, only 2% of Southeast Asians can digest lactose.

So look at what your ancestors ate a couple of thousand years ago. You'll probably be fine eating a lot of that.

4) If something makes you really, really want to just keep eating or drinking it, you probably should resist that urge and seriously limit the amount of that substance you consume. At the extreme, you may want to remind yourself of things like, "Cocaine is really not a type of food at all."

5) If you weigh too much, step one is to eat less. Still weigh too much? Repeat step one. On the other hand, if you weigh too little, eat more.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Revolution You Get Won't Be the Revolution You Planned

"The fears and suspicions engendered by the radical revolutionary ideas adumbrated during the Interregnum made suggestions for even the most modest and logical change anathema for a hundred years to come... Once again the result of the projects of the revolutionaries was the exact opposite of what they had intended... The preexisting élite became more deeply entrenched in property and power. Fear that any change might once more open the floodgate of revolution blocked reasonable reform to meet new conditions for over a century." -- Lawrence Stone, "Results of the English Revolutions," Three British Revolutions: 1641, 1688, 1776, p. 59 - 61

Friday, May 11, 2012

Why Americans Have Difficulty with Foreign Languages

"America is a branded-identity nation, which means hearing yourself speak in not-your accent, with not-your vocabulary sounds very not-you, which is why when an American tries to speak French he feels self-conscious, but the Frenchman hearing it feels you aren't even trying. He'd be wrong, you are trying: trying not to become French."

Idealism and Economics

First cut on a proposal for a co-edited volume:

The contribution of idealist thinkers to political philosophy are well known and have been examined in depth. But when it comes to economics, the other parent of political economy, much less has been said. This is despite the fact that idealists have made important contributions to economic theory and its application, including Plato's analysis of the division of labour, Berkeley's economic thought, which Keynes considered the most advanced of its time, Hegel's analysis of commercial society, and Collingwood's, Croce's, and von Mises's similar analyses of economics as a "philosophical science."

This volume attempts to begin filling that gap by collecting together commentaries on economic theory and economic issues from a number of prominent idealist thinkers, as well as contemporary authors. In addition, the general introduction, as well as the introductions to each essay, will seek to answer such questions as: Is there a general idealist approach to economics? and If so, does it offer a unique and important perspective on the discipline?

It's an Epidemic!

The radio announcer was droning on about the latest "front" in the drug war, the "epidemic" of crystal meth use. Describing this in terms of an "epidemic" is an interesting strategy: it's the invasion of some alien factor from totally outside our society -- a microbe of some sort -- that has mysteriously chosen this moment to strike. The rising use of crystal meth has nothing to do with anything actually occurring in our society, for instance, the drug war itself. And there's no one behind that curtain.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Agribusiness Is Working to Cut Meat and Dairy Consumption?!

Think about it:

"-- WHERE'S THE GRAIN? The 7 billion livestock animals in the United States consume five times as much grain as is consumed directly by the entire American population."

"-- HERBIVORES ON THE HOOF. Each year an estimated 41 million tons of plant protein is fed to U.S. livestock to produce an estimated 7 million tons of animal protein for human consumption. About 26 million tons of the livestock feed comes from grains and 15 million tons from forage crops. For every kilogram of high-quality animal protein produced, livestock are fed nearly 6 kg of plant protein."

So, if the interests of agribusiness are controlling studies like this one, the study should be telling us to replace all grains with meat and dairy, since that would greatly increase the demand for grain, while also requiring plenty of growth hormones and veterinary antibiotics and what not to raise the livestock.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Liveblogging Wood: Illusions of Power in the Awkward Era of Federalism

Why constitutional "originalism" is a load of hooey:

"The problem can be most fully seen in the ways in which the national government was created in the 1790s. Certainly the political leaders had high hopes for the launching of the ship of state. But though they commonly resorted to nautical image of launching a new ship, they also realized that in 1789 much of the ship existed only on the drawing boards. Not only was the ship of state largely unbuilt, but the plans and blueprints for it were general and vague enough that the size and shape of the ship still remained uncertain; it was not even clear what the ship would be designed to do. Everyone realized that the nature, purposes, and strength of the new national government all had to be worked out, and beneath the outward consensus of 1789 nearly everyone had his own ideas about what these ought to be." -- The Idea of America, p. 255

How in the world are we supposed to return to the Founders original constitution when they themselves all had different ideas about what that consitution was and what it was supposed to be creating? Of course, for certain procedural matters -- precisely the sort of thing for which one can create a "rulebook" -- the constitution is unambiguous, and has worked out per plan: members of the House are elected every two years, the president every four, and senators every six. But on all of the more fundamental issues, particularly on everything we now fight about, there just was no "original meaning" agreed to by everyone.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The US Is Doomed, Unless

It turns out, unless I get paid more!

"If we're to succeed as a nation, we will only succeed to the extent that we address and redress the working conditions of contingent faculty." -- Gary Rhoades

It's the Agribusiness, Man!

I have seen, many times, people who adhere to some non-standard diet claim that the food guidelines put out by places like the Harvard School of Public Health recommend what they do because these organizations are in the pockets of "agribusiness."

How does this fit with what is actually shown in the chart linked to above? The US has a huge beef industry... and yet Harvard is recommending very limited intake of beef.  The US produces a whole spitload of bacon... and yet bacon is out.

And why in the world would "agribusiness" care whether you ate whole grains or processed grains? Presumably their profits are similar on either. Look at the vegetable section: "french fries don't count"! McDonald's and the potato farmers must have forgotten to pay their agribusiness dues.

Limit dairy! The huge US dairy industry must have forgotten to pay up as well. And olive oil instead of butter?!

Oh, wait, I think I'm getting it: it's supposed to be Italian agribusiness that pays for these charts!

Liberalism and Christianity

(And, of course, by "liberalism" the author means here the full gamut of liberalism's children, from socialism to libertarianism):

The logic to which liberalism tends is to dismiss [the] moral content [of its Christian roots] and replace [the] “objective” morality, held as valid by the different Christian churches, by a formal morality of “reciprocity” or “respect” by all of the “individuality” of all. To choose a crucial illustration, it is impossible for a society claiming to be in the Christian tradition to admit that the right to abortion be written into law, and it is impossible for a liberal society to refuse members this right. -- Pierre Manent

Hat-tip Dreher.

I'm No Obama Fan Boy

I've got plenty of complaints about what he's done since he's been in office -- although, as I said to my friends who knew him back from the day in the Chicago hood, I don't expect we could have hoped for better, given the state of our polity -- but it really disturbs me to see the lengths to which many "conservatives" will distort reality in order to discredit Obama.

For instance, the "meme" that Obama uses the word "I" more than any previous president has been thoroughly debunked, by simple computer analysis, over at the Language Log many times now. And yet, even a columnist of the stature of George Will (whom I usually expect to be at least a little better that the Fox News miscreants), continues to repeat it. Has the entire "right" totally lost their minds over Obama?

The possibility leaves me with mixed feelings: On the one hand, if even such a moderate rightist like Will has so lost touch with reality as to have no concern about whether his attacks on our president have any basis in reality, Obama will certainly win re-election this fall. Given the alternative, that is for the best. On the other hand, a political system like ours depends, for what health it still possesses, on having two at-least-somewhat-sensible parties competing for power. Now, I don't think this system has been working particularly well for some time -- consider that, in 2004, 51% of the American electorate thought the Iraq War was a mistake, but nevertheless they were given the "choice" between two candidates who both wanted to continue that war -- but if the GOP is now so far gone that even George Will cannot be bothered with the least bit of fact-checking in his attempts to smear the "other side," then we are in serious danger of becoming a one-party nation. Will's blithe acceptance of this rubbish would seem to confirm Brad DeLong's position, which is that today's GOP is so awful that it would be best if it just vanished, but... if it did so, is there realistically any other possible coalition that could take its place in the role of the "opposition" party? And if the Democrats come to rule without any viable opposition, then how will the tendency towards authoritarianism and corruption that has typically been exhibited by any unopposed ruling party be held in check?

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Bad Atheist Arguments, Continued

"How can you worship a god who would send an innocent person, his own son, in fact, to suffer for the sins of others?"

I've seen this one many, many times. It overlooks a belief of no minor importance: "one in being with the Father."

Atheists may think the idea of the trinity is a load of nonsense, but they can't just ignore it and accuse Christians of believing something other than they do believe. The being crucified in the Christian story is God Himself. Once that is accepted, the complaint above evaporates like the morning dew.

That Was the Eighties, Alright!

Someone just sold the ball the rolled through Bill Bruckner's legs to give the Mets life in the 1986 World Series. He was interviewed on the radio, and said, "When you think of the 1980s, not many things come to mind: New Wave music and that play are about it."

Well... there were a few other minor things, like the Iran hostage crisis, the personal computer, morning in America, the fall of the Iron Curtain, Tiananmen Square... but what were those, really, compared to a fielding error in a game of sport?

My Argument Can Be Made Stronger

In this post.

In fact, we have an equivalence: "The principle of conservative induction is true" and "the laws of nature are eternal" are simply two ways of saying the same thing.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

How I Pick My Blogroll

The first thing is, it is my own quick link list: those are the blogs I find a like to check in on often. But while perusing it, I noticed something else: I use it to challenge my own thought from different sides every day. Brad DeLong and Daniel Kuehn are to the left of me. Roderick Long and Bob Murphy are more in favor of "everything run by markets." Rod Dreher is more religiously orthodx than am I; Andrew Sullivan, less. The Front Porch Republic people are more localist than me, the Postmodern Conservative crowd more internationalist. And so on.

By clicking around this list, I can get my position challenged by intelligent people coming at it from a dozen different angles. What a great thing!

The Less You Know

the more you talk:

"Parmi d'aver per lunghe esperienze osservato, tale esser la condizione umana intorno alle cose intelletuali, che quanto altri meno e ne intende e ne sa, tanot più risolutamente voglia discorrene; e che, all'incontro, la moltitudine delle cose conusciute ed intese renda più lento ed irresoluto al sentenziare circa qualche novità." -- Galileo, Il saggiatore

It seems to me through long experience observing, such is the human condition regarding intellectual matters, that the less one is familiar with and knows things, the more one wishes to discuss them; and that, on the contrary, the more numerous are things one knows and understands the more hesitant and irresolute one is in declaiming about something new. (Translation mine: It has the sense of the passage, I am sure, but perhaps it is not exact in some spots.)

Thought You Had Me, Didn't You?

The lights came on behind me, and so I pulled my car over to the shoulder. The state trooped sidled up to my window, and hitched up his trousers. I rolled down my window.

"Sir, don't you know that texting while driving is now illegal in this state?"

"Yes, officer, I do."

"Well, I guess you don't mind me writing you a hefty ticket then?"

"But officer, I'm not texting while driving; I'm blogging while driving."

Popperians Rely on the Truth of Conservative Induction All the Time

without realizing it.

I recall a humorous instance when one of my Popperian friends in London chastised me for moving to Hackney. "Don't you realize how high the crime rate is there?"

"[INSERT NAME HERE]," I replied, "you're not suggesting that, because the crime rate was high there until today, it will continue to be high there tomorrow, are you? Because that sounds a lot like an inductive inference."

Of course, no one could make it through the day without making continual inductive inferences, so of course Popperians make them all of the time... even when trying to refute the idea that inductive inference is necessary. Take Lee Kelly, responding to my previous post on Popper:
(1) A theory which is falsified by some observation-statement today is still falsified by it tomorrow, next week, a month later, and forever after. This is not induction. The falsifying relation is deductive and timeless–to say that it will continue to hold in the future is to be merely logically consistent.

A mathematician is not inducing when he concludes that ‘1 + 1 = 2’, which is true today, will continue to be true tomorrow. If there is no pretense of having derived the future from the past, then there is no attempted induction. The mathematician concludes that ‘1 + 1 = 2’ will continue to be true tomorrow because its negation is inconsistent–a deductive inference.

The falsifying relations between statements are analogous to the above equation. If a theory is falsified by some statement today, then it will continue to be falsified by it tomorrow.
Kelly muddies the water here, because the issue of induction is only of concern for empirical theories, but he presents us with a deductive theory in his example. Of course, if I am trying to prove a timeless, mathematical truth, and it is false at any point in time, that means it is false forever. But things are very different with empirical theories. They are true if they describe reality accurately, and false if they do not.

So, consider the theory, "On earth, feathered, flying bipeds evolved from dinosaurs." If this theory was put forward by an alien scientist visiting earth 200 million years ago, it would be false. No such thing had happened. But if we put it forward today, it is true. On a simpler level, let us imagine that, in 2008, I said, "The US has combat troops in Iraq." Can Kelly come forward now, and say, "Well, I checked that today, and the US doesn't have such troops in Iraq: and so, since a statement falsified by an observation today is falsified by it for all time, your theory was wrong."

Thus, it should be obvious that an empirical theory can be false if put forward at time T, but become true at some other point T + x. "Ah," but Kelly may respond, "but you are talking about historically contingent theories now, and that's cheating. You know I meant things like the laws of physics, which we expect to hold at all times."

And this point is very telling. When Newton put forward his theory of gravity, he didn't mean to say that gravity worked this way in the 1600s, but hadn't in 600, and won't again in 2600. He meant this as a timeless law.

However, he meant it as a timeless law that because he assumed conservative induction to be the right principal to use in formulating scientific theories. As Kelly unwittingly did in making his complaint about my example. For, if revolutionary induction (Time for a change!) is the right principle, then the fact that my law of gravitation was falsified today is no reason at all to think it has been falsified for all time, just like the fact that "Mitt Romney is president of the United States" is a false theory today says nothing about whether it will also be a false theory in six months. If revolutionary induction is based on an accurate view of the world, then the fact my theory was falsified today gives me great hope that it will become true tomorrow: today, it can be shown that masses attract each other with an inverse square law, while my theory says the attraction follows in inverse cube law. If tomorrow, the laws of physics all change, and gravity, in fact, obeys an inverse cube law, then my theory becomes true in just the same way "Mitt  Romney is president of the US" becomes true if he is elected, in fact, in the only way empirical theories are ever true: it will correctly describe reality. So what, it doesn't do so today? From tomorrow on, it will!

And what leads all of us to reject my new theory of gravity based on revolutionary induction, and theories like "grue and bleen," as being valid scientific theories, is that we all, even Popperians, quite sensibly employ conservative induction in confronting the world.

1) A theory being falsified once only means it is falsified for all time if it is a time-independent theory.
2) But scientific laws are time-independent theories only if we assume the principle of conservative induction.
3) QED: Kelly unwittingly assumes conservative induction in his complaint above.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Think Safety Regulations Aren't Needed?

Just take a look at Hogwarts! Movie seven, part two opens with Snape standing at a doorway that opens to a hundred-foot drop. At a school! Man, that thing needs a railing. The Ministry of Magic is obviously under-regulating.

Good Thing iPhones Get Warm

I was working for a while in the woods today. The work done, I came back to my house and made a phone call. The call done, I moved the phone from my ear to look at it, and there, crawling across the screen, was a big ole tick.

I assume they are attracted by body heat. The phone must have been just a bit warmer than me, and seemed the juicier target to the little blighter.


I was typing the Italian word "tugurio" on my iPhone, and it suggested that what I had really meant to type was "tugriks."

Tugriks? What the heck is that? And is it really more likely than "tugurio"?

But... What Does It Mean?

The question, when asked of a work of art, displays an ignorance of the nature of art, and is a request that all art take the form of propaganda or children's educational tales. Here is Dorothy Sayers on the topic:

"And it is desirable to bear in mind -- when dealing with the human maker at any rate -- that his chosen way of revelation is through his works. To persist in asking, as so many of us do, "What did you mean by this book?" is to invite bafflement: the book itself is what the writer means." -- The Mind of the Maker, p. 45

The Other Boleyn Girl

I watched the movie last night: not bad, as these things go. It didn't mangle the history too much: the entire English Reformation was made to seem like it took place due to an offhand suggestion made by Anne Boleyn, but that was probably the worst infelicity.

But I had to smack myself on the forehead during the special features when Natalie Portman claimed that Anne had convinced Henry that the Catholic Church was "archaic"! Of all the complaints Protestants had about the Roman church, it being "archaic" is one I have never heard. It was corrupt, Satan's work, the whore of Babylon, idolatrous, Mammon-worshiping: but archaic? Protestants, in fact, accused it of having departed from the original, scripture-based Christianity, and of adding layers of useless Scholastic philosophy to the genuine, ancient truth of scripture. Harvard, you let Natalie down.

An Aside: My daughter and I were talking about Henry and his wives, and I remarked that although he had married six women, he had only married three first names (Anne, Catherine, and Jane).

"Wow," she replied, "why is that?"

"Well, the Dark Ages, you know: their technology for inventing names was way behind ours."

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Art as Taking a Big Dump on Your Neighbor's Lawn

I was reading the letters to the editor in a local paper, and someone wanted to say some "artists" had gone too far. But he had to lead off with the disclaimer, "Yes, I know art is all about pushing the boundaries."

Well, I suppose if you have the emotional maturity of a twelve-year-old, maybe it is. I tend to think art is "all about" creating works that will inspire a sense of wonder in your audience. But perhaps I'm just a stick-in-the-mud in thinking that sticking a crucifix in a jar of urine does not really compare with the Mona Lisa.

Falsification Does Not Solve the "Problem" of Induction: A Simple Example

The statement in the title is true in a number of ways, but here is a very simple argument.

Let us say we have decisively "falsified" a theory: rocks float on water, perhaps. So, per Popper, we now abandon that theory, and come up with a new bold conjecture.

Well, this abandonment depends entirely on an inductive inference! In fact, it depends on the principle of "conservative induction" being true: more of the same. Unless that is the case, why should the theory having been falsified today having anything whatsoever to do with whether we should employ it tomorrow?

Imagine that, instead, the principle of revolutionary induction is true: time for a change. In that case, the fact that our theory was falsified today should give us great hope for the theory tomorrow. And if that principle is true, then we should abandon all of our theories that have not been falsified right away!

So, falsification, far from solving the "problem" of induction by eliminating it, actually depends on conservative induction being justified. And this is not the only way in which falsification depends on induction, just the simplest that I have thought of.

These arguments are well known in the literature, and considered decisive by almost all professionals in the philosophy of science, which is why there are only a handful of Popperians left in the field. (I'd be surprised if, in the top 100 departments in the field, there are a total of more than five Popperians -- not five Popperian departments, but five individual Popperians.) And this is certainly not because Popper is a neglected figure or was out of the mainstream: no, Popper and Hempel were the two giant figures of the 50s and 60s. These ideas were carefully considered, and found to be wanting.

A Remarkably Bad Strategy

I have  sometimes heard from female abortion advocates (I, by the way, am anti-abortion, but think it would probably be a bad idea to make it illegal at present) that, as a man, I should just shut up about abortion, since it is none of my business.

This is a very bad idea, from their own point of view: Support for partial-birth abortion, third trimester abortions, and abortions done purely because of inconvenience of the pregnancy is far higher among men than among women. So if men "just shut up" on abortion issues (and presumably voting is a way of "speaking" about them), then the odds are a good bit higher that there will be legal restrictions on these practices.

Trinitarian Meditations

"For every work [or act] of creation is threefold, an earthly trinity to match the heavenly.

"First, [not in time, but merely in order of enumeration] there is the Creative Idea, passionless, timeless, beholding the whole work complete at once, the end in the beginning: and this is the image of the Father.

"Second: there is the Creative Energy [or Activity] begotten of that idea, working in time from the beginning to the end, with sweat and passion, being incarnate in the bonds of matter: and this is the image of the Word.

"Third: there is the Creative Power, the meaning of the work and its response in the lively soul: and this is the image of the indwelling Spirit.

"And these three are one, each equally in itself the whole work, whereof none can exist without other: and this is the image of the Trinity. " -- Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, p. 28

Wednesday, May 02, 2012


What is it with people and getting the "best" parking spot? I understand if it is pouring rain, or you have a broken leg, that it is good to get your car close to where you are going.

But: I knew an older couple who would spend five or ten minutes driving around the mall looking for a space in the row or two closest to the building. The thing is... they were only going to the mall to go for a walk! Another friend will pass many spaces that would add a one minute walk to a building, instead driving for two or three minutes looking for a spot... yet she runs several miles a day. So it was worth two minutes of driving to avoid one minute of walking, when later in the day you are going to run many times that long to go nowhere in particular?

It is all very foreign to me. It is as though someone was giving out cash based on how good a spot you managed to secure.

Funniest Troll Ever

If Only They Had Thought of That 500 Years Ago

My daughter and I were discussing dynastic lineages, and arrived, through Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, back at Ferdinand and Isabella.

"So, they were a real power couple, huh?" my daughter remarked.

"Yes, the Brad and Angelina of their time."

"Hey, they should have been... Ferdabella!"

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

I Will Renew My Membership

Dear APSA,

I will renew my membership for the full fee, but only if you promise not to send me the thousand pages of reading material a month that you mail to me and that I never have time to even open.

Sincerely yours,
An over-satisfied customer

Shakespeare and Politics

"Each city has its manners and its gods; the very life of the city depends on this particularism: to live, it must defend its ancestral way, which is a combination of human accidents and special institutions adapted to the here and now. Good citizenship implies a devotion to those ways; a universality, a cosmopolitanism that devoted itself to the essence of man as he is eternally, would destroy those roots of affection which are necessary to political life." -- Allan Bloom, Shakespeare's Politics, p. 46

As I begin to study this topic, I am gobsmacked by how I had missed just how political a writer Shakespeare really is: which of his plays don't concern politics in some way? And, of the major plays, which of them do not have politics at its center?

Open Source Software and Skin In the Game

I have been tinkering in the Haskell programming language recently. Trying to up my game, I have begun reviewing and working on issues in th...