Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Wisdom from Scott Adams

As anyone reading this blog consistently knows, I do not "worship" Scott Adams, or anything of the sort. As soon as he starts to talk philosophy, he talks nonsense. But in understanding persuasion, he is a true pro. And in discussing the "pizza-gate" "scandal", he notes:

"Here’s what I know that most of you do not: Confirmation bias looks EXACTLY LIKE a mountain of real evidence. And let me be super-clear here. When I say it looks exactly the same, I am not exaggerating. I mean there is no way to tell the difference."

And of great importance here: Adams is de-bunking an anti-Clinton instance of confirmation bias. He doesn't just see confirmation bias when he wants to see it, and deny its possibility when he likes its implications.

This is what is so hard to accept about what the "Godzilla" of influence, Robert Cialdini, describes in his book Pre-suasion. We are all susceptible to being primed, by pre-adopting a certain framework, to read "evidence" in a certain way. If people are shown an identical video of someone describing their behavior in some situation of violent conflict, but one group has previously read a biography of the narrator as a decorated war hero, and another group has read a biography of the narrator as a violent sociopath, the two groups will judge what is described in the exact same video radically differently. Furthermore, members of each group will mostly be certain that they reached their conclusions entirely based on the actual evidence of the video. If asked if the biography had any influence on them, most of them will answer, "Of course not: that person is clearly [a brave soldier / a sociopath] based only on what they said in the video."

That is what confirmation bias is like.

Let me offer you an example of how important "pre-suasion" can be, with a story I have related on this blog previously.

My last month at the London School of Economics, I was staying at the flat of a friend. He told me that when I arrived in London, I should call him, and we would meet, and he would bring me to my new residence. When I landed and called him, he told me he was at the laundromat. Without explicitly stating this to myself, I subconsciously concluded, "Oh well, there are no laundry facilities at the flat."

After I had been there a couple of weeks, my friend asked me why I kept doing my laundry in the bathtub. (I am not addicted to modern conveniences, and I'm perfectly willing to wash my dishes or my laundry by hand.)

I responded, "because there is no washing machine in the apartment."

My friend walked me to the kitchen, and asked, "Well, what is that?"

Clearly visible in the kitchen, which I had been in by that point dozens of times, was a washing machine. But my friend's statement that he was at the laundromat had "pre-suaded" me that there was no washing machine at our flat. (It just happened that he had been at the laundromat to wash some duvets, which would not fit in the flat's small washing machine.) Thus pre-suaded, I was literally unable to see a completely unhidden and undisguised washing machine.

In this case, no one had been intentionally trying to convince me that there was no washing machine in the flat. There was no team of master persuaders at work trying to hide the presence of the washing machine from me. And yet still I was unable to see it.

Now imagine that a team of master persuaders has been trying to convince you that something that is there, is not, or something that is not there, is. How much more likely are you to believe that there is a "mountain of evidence" that what they want you to believe really is (or isn't) there, and that you have reached your conclusion entirely on your own?

Algorithms and the concrete universal

(A follow-up to this post.)

Hegel's notion of the "concrete universal," later adopted by British idealists (like Bosanquet, Collingwood and Oakeshott) and Italian idealists (like Croce), and important to a modern philosopher such as Claes Ryn, is difficult to grasp. We are used to thinking of the concrete and the universal as opposites of some sort. So what on earth is a "concrete universal"?

This passage from R. G. Collingwood expresses the idea philosophically about as well as I have seen:

"The concept is not something outside the world of sensuous experience: it is the very structure in order of that world itself... This is the point of view of concrete thought... Too abstract is to consider separately things that are inseparable: to think of the universal, for instance, without reflecting that it is merely the universal of its particulars, and to assume that one can isolate it in thought and to study it in this isolation. This assumption is an error." -- Speculum Mentis (1924)

In shorter form, Bernard Bosanquet wrote: "the fullest universal of character and consciousness will embody itself in the finest and most specialized and unrepeatable responses to environment." -- The Principle of Individuality and Value: The Gifford Lectures for 1911 (1927)

Rather than a philosophical definition, what I would like to offer here is a concrete example of the concrete universal, that of algorithms. At first glance, nothing could be more abstract than an algorithm. But let us try to state what that "abstract" algorithm is: let us take, for instance, the algorithm for the Towers of Hanoi. We can describe the algorithm in words; but these will be particular, concrete words. We can picture the actual puzzle game, and even actually play it:


But this represents the algorithm with particular, concrete pieces of wood and particular instructions on how to play.

We can offer an implementation of the algorithm, in, for instance, Python:

def hanoi(n, source, helper, target):
    if n > 0:
        # move tower of size n - 1 to helper:
        hanoi(n - 1, source, target, helper)
        # move disk from source peg to target peg
        if source:
            target.append(source.pop())
        # move tower of size n-1 from helper to target
        hanoi(n - 1, helper, source, target)
        
source = [4,3,2,1]
target = []
helper = []
hanoi(len(source), source, helper, target)

But this is a particular set of instructions in a particular programming language.

We might even provide some pseudo-code, but the pseudo-code will still consist of particular symbols written according to a particular pseudo-convention.

In short, the abstract algorithm is an airy nothing, a "we know not what" (as Berkeley described the abstract matter of Descartes and Locke), unless embodied in some concrete form. Or, as Collingwood said, "it is merely the universal of its particulars." We cannot "isolate it in thought and to study it in this isolation." We can only reach the universal through the concrete, which is its only reality.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Chipping away at the illusion

 
 

The other-worldliness of CLRS algorithms

I'm teaching algorithms from Cormen, Leiserson, Rivest, and Stein, which is the current standard for advanced algorithm courses. I'm working now on coding up their rod-cutting algorithm.

Supposedly we are solving a practical problem for a company, Serling Enterprises (Rod Serling pun), that buys long steel rods and wants to know how best to cut each rod to maximize revenues, given that different rod lengths sell at different prices.

CLR&S offer an algorithm that determines the best cuts, and then... returns the maximum revenue possible, using those cuts.

Can you imagine a manager at Serling actually using this code? She has a rod of 120 inches in length, and an list of prices for various rod lengths on the market. She feeds this items into the CLRS algorithm, and gets back the answer... $43.

Say what?! The manager wants to know how she should cut the rod. Yes, it is nice to know, also, what revenue she will get from those optimal cuts. But an algorithm that returns only the maximum revenue is useless to her! OK, if she makes optimal cuts, she can get $43 in revenue. But what are those optimal cuts?


Thursday, November 24, 2016

Nausea and the Revelation of Arbitrage Opportunities

I am regularly shown job listings by LinkedIn. Tonight I saw one for a quantitative researcher at the Sartre Group.

I think this might be my kind of job: I picture sitting around on an open office floor with my colleagues, smoking Gauloises, sipping red wine, and asking "What is the point of quantitative research in a cold, indifferent universe?"

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Holiday anxieties

On campus this year, I've noticed that people are now afraid of saying "Happy Thanksgiving!"

People are saying to me "have a happy," or "happy holiday!"

Because who knows, maybe there is a religion that is offended at the idea of thanking people? Perhaps turkey lovers will be angry with you if you mention Thanksgiving?

Better safe than sorry.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Who will do better later in life?

Case 1

Thelonius, a child of two mixed-race parents, but who identifies as black, comes home from Amherst College for break.

Thelonius: Dad, I think I might be failing history: the teacher (who is a white male, and probably heterosexual as well!) keeps trying to push us to read all of these dead white guys. It's white privilege!

Dexter: (Thelonius's dad, a public school diversity administrator): Son, yup, that is indeed white privilege in action! You get out there and lead some campus protests, and I'm sure you can get the situation changed.

Case 2

Emmanuel, the child of two Nigerian immigrant parents, comes home from Texas Tech University for break.

Emmanuel: Dad, I think I might be failing Calculus III: the teacher, a white male, keeps talking about all of the theorems of these dead white guys. It's white privilege!

Olawale (Emmanuel's dad, who works a day shift at a chip fabrication plant in Houston, and then drives a cab at night): Son, you come home talking to me about this "white privilege" again, and I will show you my "father's privilege": I will stop paying your damned tuition, and you will go and get your own damned apartment and find a way to pay your own damned rent. Now, get busy studying and finish your engineering degree! Here, let me open your damned calculus book for you and watch you study for a couple of hours!

Hint:

Median household income
Nigerian-American $61,000
Native-born African-American    $38,000

Chipping away at the illusion


Monday, November 21, 2016

Graph algorithms

A new lecture posted online.

Maximum daily allowance

Someone was telling me that the FDA had set a maximum daily allowance for sugar of six grams.

"No," I told them, "that's cocaine you're thinking of... for sugar it's a bit higher."

Statistical fallacies

A correspondent recently suggested to me that, since the vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists, it makes no sense to screen potential Muslim immigrants more carefully than any other immigrants for terrorist connections.

This is statistical nonsense. The vast majority of heavy drinkers do not get liver cancer. But if we are screening for liver cancer, it makes perfect sense to pay special attention to heavy drinkers when screening for liver cancer.

I have two Muslim students whom I work with closely. They are like sons to me. My closest colleague at work is also a Muslim, and he is like a brother to me.

But, unfortunately, we have been waging war against Muslim countries at an alarming rate, naturally generating great resentment in those countries. As such, we should not falsely conclude that the majority of Muslims are anti-American terrorists. Instead, we should correctly conclude that the vast majority of potential anti-American terrorists (currently) will happen to be Muslims.

Let's stop bombing the crap out of Muslim countries, and that situation will correct itself!

Why Aphorisms Beat Rules

Aphorisms are often criticized for their ambiguity:

"Look before you leap."

"He who hesitates is lost."

But that is exactly what makes them better than rationalistic rules for guiding practical actions. They correctly bring to the forefront the uncertain nature of practice, rather than giving us a false sense that we don't have to make the final call, but can just let "the rules" handle life for us.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Fighting with the cast of Hamilton

Much, much better than fighting with Russia.

Let's have all of our nation's battles be Twitter battles from now on!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Trump Distortion Field

Crain's New York Business has published an editorial in which it claims that Donald Trump ran on a platform calling for "kicking out Mexicans."

Why do people feel OK about spreading such rubbish? Trump is proposing "kicking out" illegal immigrants who have committed a felony.

This seems like a no-brainer to me. Someone came here without permission and then committed a major crime? They should leave.

But in any case, the policy says nothing whatsoever about "Mexicans," and certainly will have no impact on the millions of Mexicans living here legally. Why spread a lie like this, when people are already panicked?

UPDATE: Just after I posted this, I find NBC claiming that "Trump... called Mexicans 'rapists' and 'killers.'"

The lies that didn't work during the election are going to be continued anyway, aren't they?

Donald Trump, Egomaniac

I think Trump is some form of "egomaniac." (I'm am very loosely using psychological terms that probably can't really be sharply defined even by the pros.)

And so, when this egomaniac claims:

"And at the end of four years I guarantee that I will get over 95% of the African-American vote. I promise you."

I believe he is being very sincere. He is an egomaniac. He wants to be loved by everyone.

Including Hispanics:

"I’ll take jobs back from China, I’ll take jobs back from Japan. The Hispanics are going to get those jobs, and they’re going to love Trump."

Including LGBTs:


I see no reason to doubt that Trump really wants to be loved by all of these groups: that's what an egomaniac would want.

So let's work to stop the fear mongering!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Bleg! Bleg!

Consider this image (a PNG file):


It has a white background. I would like to remove it, with some relatively cheap tool. All the tool has to do is remove white pixels, and... voila!

But every tool I have tried attempts to do some fancy "AI" pattern recognition of what should be removed, and winds up removing half of the graph edges.

No, just the white pixels! What could be simpler?

Does anyone know something that does this?

The most important thing you will read today

Here.

Take the ten minutes needed to read it!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Civility

The great Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor examines how "civility" rose to prominence, during the last few centuries, as a lauded virtue in his book A Secular Age. (It is interesting to note, as Taylor does, the etymologies of "civilized" and "savage": basically, the first refers to people who live in a city, and the second to people who live out in the woods. And the terms were, of course, created by those who live in cities. Contemplate that distinction while thinking about our recent U.S. presidential election.)

The virtues stressed while "living in the woods" are those like courage and loyalty. But in a densely packed city, there are fewer situations that require physical courage, and intense loyalty to one's own in-group can be a barrier to getting along with the many outsiders with whom one must live in close proximity. Instead, in a city, "civility" emerges as the foremost virtue: the ability to "get along," to be polite and "civil," with multitudes of people with whom one disagrees.

There is nothing wrong with civility as a virtue per se. All other things being equal, we should definitely prefer a more "civil" to a more "savage" populace.

But all other things are not always equal. In particular, as the star of civility rose ever higher in our firmament of virtue while those of the more antique virtues descended towards the horizon, speaking nicely and saying good things about others has been elevated to the status of a golden calf. Rather than a complement to the older virtues, it has become a replacement for them. And once that happens, it means that any policy, however immoral, can pass muster so long as it can be described in very nice, civil, terms.

So:
  • It is perfectly OK to advocate a foreign policy that kills millions of Muslims, so long as you never say anything mean about Muslims.
  • It is perfectly OK to do business with Saudi Arabia, where they execute homosexuals, so long as you completely ostracize any person who lets slip the "F-word" in a moment of anger.
  • It is perfectly OK to endorse a policy that kills half of all African-Americans conceived in New York City before they are born, so long as the "N-word" never passes your lips.
Civility is a nice addition to more fundamental, Ten-Commandment-type morality. But when civility becomes a substitute for the latter, it has become a false idol.

At that point, the false idol must be smashed, and exposed as the hypocritical substitute for actually moral behavior that it is.

And at that point, a crass, crude iconoclast who ignores all the reigning standards of "civility" may be just the person we need to do the job.


Bleg

Is there decent tool out there that converts PowerPoints to easy-to-modify HTML5 code?

I tried a couple of touted tools last night, and they seemed to focus on creating very elaborate HTML5 code that duplicates the slides down to the nearest pixel. So, .e.g., I had a bunch of centered text on one slide, and what the tool produced in HTML was a series of styles for each bullet point that laid out exactly where it should be on the page, like this (I am quoting code from memory):

Why the polls were wrong: The undecideds

I have been attending Taleb's lectures on "silent risk" this semester, since we now both work for Tandon. Tonight he was talking about how foolish were Nate Silver's efforts to pin a precise number on the election odds, when there was so much volatility. Taleb recommended modeling an election as a binary option, that pays one if your bet comes in, and zero if not. And with volatility so high, the right price for such an option is about .50... so Silver should have been calling things a toss-up all along.

The volatility was created by the vast undecided or "barely decided" population that kept tipping back and forth.

Interested in Divide-and-Conquer...

algorithms?

Monday, November 14, 2016

The mainstream media still won't stop lying

Here:

"[Trump] questioned the fairness of Hispanic judges."

Trump said that one particular judge, who has been an activist for Hispanic immigrants, might be biased against him in the Trump U. lawsuit, due to his background. He never, ever said anything about "Hispanic judges."

These lies did not work during the election, but mainstream journals apparently are going to double down on mendacity.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Electoral facts of note

Trump improved on Romney's total number of black voters in Florida by 140%. Not everyone was hypnotized by the media!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Does the result prove The Huffington Post wrong?

The Huffington Post, on the morning of the election, gave Hillary Clinton a 98% chance of winning.

Boy, do they have egg on their face!

Or do they? They didn't give Trump a 0% chance. A 2% chance is a chance.

How do we judge when a probabilistic prediction of a one-time event was wrong? Not an easy question!

The Third Adams Presidency

After Donald Trump himself, who was the most important person to Trump's victory?

I vote Scott Adams. The man had quite a year!

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

"We like to think the earth is important..."

I was watching show on "The mysteries of the solar system," and an astronomer said, "We like to think the earth is important, but if viewed from outside, our solar system would appear to be made up of four giant planets and a bunch of rubble."

So here is the "Importance is determined by size" trope again.

I wonder if this guy thinks Shaquille O'Neal is twice as important as Barack Obama, since he weighs twice as much?

Dumb explanations

Poor, rural, white Pennsylvania was carried by Barrack Obama twice.

This year, Trump carried it.

The left's explanation: racism!

So, given the choice between a black candidate and a white candidate, they chose the black guy.

Given the choice between two white candidates, they chose a white candidate.

And "racism" is supposed to be a plausible explanation for this?!

Through a glass darkly

When one asserts that there is a transcendent moral order, and that the idea of quote "personal, subjective" morality is nonsense -- that would not be morality at all, but just whims! -- that claim is often mistaken for a claim that one sees that transcendent moral order perfectly.

But each and every one of us, down here in the cesspit of the universe, sees only through a glass darkly.

The difference is like this: the subjectivist astronomer argues that believing in the Andromeda galaxy is just a "personal choice." The astronomical realist says "No, it is really out there, 2.5 million light years away."

That does not mean the realist thinks he knows every star and planet in that galaxy!

Keep repeating this to yourself, and to everyone panicking..

Trump did worse among white voters than Romney.

He did better than Romney among blacks, Hispanics, and Asians.

This one was for ALL ordinary Americans. The only losers were the elite looting our country.

The best prayer ever

Is, of course, the Lord's prayer.

Throughout the night, I kept saying:

"Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done"

Every Christian should keep repeating this to themselves again and again and again.



Media bias

Some lady on ABC just said that "making America great again" is a "dog whistle" for racism.

Another guy says there's a real fear among Latinos about the election results: well, who created that fear? Clinton did!


An idiot on ABC

Just said that a sinking US dollar would be "bad for US exports."

Do these people even care what they say, so long as it is anti-Trump?


The poor media

There is some blonde woman on ABC who every time she mentions that Trump is going to win, breaks down in tears.



Tuesday, November 08, 2016

The Democratic Party is now the party of the rich

Hillary Clinton is dominating in the richest states. Donald Trump is dominating in the poorest states.

Poor people know that Hillary Clinton is a representative of the globalist elite that is looting them.

Early election commentary

It is clear at this point that:

1) If the Trump hot-mic tapes hadn't dropped, he would have won in a landslide.
2) All of the people who said that Trump would lose in a "historic landslide" have been shown to be idiots. All of the people who said Trump would not get "a single Hispanic vote" have been shown to be idiots: he is getting about a third of the Hispanic vote. Or, to put it another way, about 100% of the non-hypnotized Hispanic vote.


The Therapeutic

"Casting off religion was meant to free us, give us our full dignity of agents; throwing off the tutelage of religion, hence of the church, hence of the clergy. But now we are forced to go to new experts, therapists, doctors, who exercise the kind of control that is appropriate over blind and compulsive mechanisms; who may even be administering drugs to us. Our sick selves are even more being talked down to, just treated as things, than were the faithful of yore in churches." -- Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, p. 620

No, You Have to *Agree* to Let Us Take Your Money Involuntarily!

One of my unions just sent me a letter. My paying them dues, it turns out, is a condition of my employment.

OK, so just take my money, then.

No, they have to have a letter from me authorizing them to take my money.

It's like a mugger who demands his victims say, "Take my money, please!" as they hand it over.

Theory versus Practice

"The great economist Ariel Rubinstein... refuses to claim that his knowledge of theoretical matters can be translated -- by him -- into anything directly practical. To him, economics is like a fable -- a fable writer is there to stimulate ideas, indirectly inspire practice perhaps, but certainly not to direct or determine practice. Theory should stay independent from practice and vice versa -- and we should not extract academic economists from their campuses and put them in positions of decision making." -- Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile, pp. 211-212.

And why you?

A weird Apple dictation bug that has persisted over multiple releases:

I say something like "NYU."

The dictation software writes, "and why you."

OK, understandable. But it also has another reading "in mind," and when I tap that area, I am helpfully offered the option of choosing "NYU."

Great. Except when I chose it, I get "and why NYU." The software clearly "understood" "NYU" as an alternative to the whole phrase "and why you." But over a number of iPhone OS releases, it has continued to incorrectly substitute the alternative for only the last word of the phrase!

I can understand this bug getting released into production. But I would expect it to be fixed in about a week or so. How in the world has it persisted for months?!


Religion will outlast all of its critics

"If something that does not make sense to you (say, religion -- if you are an atheist -- or some other age-old habit or practice called irrational); if that something has been around for a very, very long time, then, irrational or not, you can expect it to stick around much longer, and outlive those who call for its demise." -- Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile, p. 335

More on alpha levels

The α = .05 cutoff for "significant" results is a case of spurious "objectivity" trumping scientific judgment.

The fact that scientists have an "objective" standard to adhere to gives the appearance of being more rigorous. But consider another objective way of deciding between the "null hypothesis" and the hypothesis being tested: flip a coin. Heads, we reject the null hypothesis, tails we don't. Completely objective! We could videotape the coin flip, and all sane observers could agree as to whether we got heads or tails.

Next, think about the following two cases:

  1. We do a study and find that reckless driving correlates with early death with p = .08 (greater than α). We are told to accept the null hypothesis: there is no significant correlation.
  2. We do a study and find that sunspot activity correlates with American League victories in the World Series with p = .04 (less than α). We are told to reject the null hypothesis: there is a significant correlation.

But in the first case, there was only an 8% probability our correlation was by chance, and given that we have a great causal explanation of how reckless driving could generate early death... well, "So what?" that 8% of the time this result might have been due to chance. There is a 92% probability that the correlation wasn't chance!

And in the second case, given how unlikely it is that there is a causal connection here, why wouldn't we think that almost certainly, we just happened to get one of those 4% of samples that are outliers?

Of course, I haven't made a new discovery here: people who really understand statistics recognize the above: in fact, I've learned to think about these things this way from skilled mathematicians. But there are boatloads of naive creators of and consumers of statistical studies who are oblivious to these points.

And this is especially prevalent when the studies in question deal with some hotly contested political or social matter. If a study on gun control finds a correlation between gun violence and permissive gun ownership laws only at p = .051, you can be certain that some gun rights group will announce that the studies "proves" that gun control has no effect on gun violence. (And a group on the other side of this issue will do the same if a similar study can be taken to support their stance.)

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Why So Many Statistical Studies Are Worthless


The findings of statistical studies are usually considered "significant" when there is smaller than 5% probability that their findings were the result of mere chance in the selection of a sample to study.

Keep that in mind, and let's first just consider sociologists: the American Sociological Association claims 21,000 members in its various sub-groups. Let us guess (the exact numbers don't matter for my point) that each member undertakes two statistical studies per year, and half of those show a significant correlation. That means that by chance alone, this group will produce over a thousand studies per year which appear to show a significant correlation between different phenomena, but in which the significance was really only the result of the luck of the draw in picking a sample to examine.

Next let us turn our attention to the bias that exists in academic journals towards results that are positive (no one cares much about studies that show no connection exists between sunspots and detergent purchases) and surprising (no one cares much about studies that show that rude people are annoying). This bias means that these false positives, since they are positive and often surprising, have a significantly greater likelihood of being published than do the other 20,000 studies the sociologists produce. And we can further add in the not-so-subtle pressure on academics to "publish or perish" that can consciously or unconsciously push them to manipulate their study to produce a publishable result.

Now think about this: let's say I do a study that does find a "significant" relationship between sunspots and detergent purchases. That's pretty darned surprising. I now have two choices: I can spend a couple of more years doing further studies to see if my result holds up; given it most likely won't, I wind up with nothing whatsoever to publish after three years of work. Or I can just pump out a paper on my initial study, put another publication on my CV, and go on to something else. Hmm, if I am trying to achieve tenure, which to choose, which to choose...?

Finally, throw in economists, and medical researchers, and political scientists, and psychologists, and education researchers, and anthropologists: it should be clear that the "literature" of statistical studies is awash in nonsense. One can mine it to prove pretty much anything one wants to prove. Sure, there will be some gems in the mud. But we all have limited time. That is why I suggest that it is only worth paying attention to studies that find the opposite of what the researcher set out to prove. In those cases, the researcher is likely to double and triple check his results, and we can have some confidence that here there really is a significant finding if he does finally publish this work.

"How can you be so certain you are right?"

Let us begin by distinguishing between political liberalism and metaphysical liberalism. Political liberalism is focused on the activities and institutions of governance. Its rough outlines include insistence on certain basic rights, such as free speech, some level of respect for private property, the right to free assembly, etc.; and a preference for a certain type of governmental institutions: democratic, republican, non-hereditary, accountable, and so on.

Many, many people are political liberals who are not what I would call "metaphysical liberals": these political liberals' own metaphysical beliefs may be traditionally Christian or Jewish or Muslim, for instance, but they believe that the best form of state is neutral between such commitments, and is broadly liberal in character. While they might strongly believe that, for instance, pre-marital sex is wrong (and not just "wrong for me"), they don't feel it is the place of the state to correct such misbehavior.

The metaphysical liberal is different. For him, liberalism is not merely a practical guideline for how to create a polity in which we can all manage to get along, somehow. Instead, it is the central truth of human life itself, expressed in cliches such as: morality is all relative, everyone is entitled to their own view, what's true for you may not be true for me, no one is entitled to force their morality on others, and so on. (Yes, the these slogans together are an incoherent mess: if morality is really all relative, how can the liberal possibly say that it is wrong for me to "force" my morality on someone else?! That is just the liberal "forcing" his morality on me!)

I ran into a metaphysical liberal the other day. He told me that it was just the truth "for me" that killing babies is wrong, and that if someone else was an atheist and didn't believe what I believed, it wouldn't be "the truth for them." I responded that no, truth is just truth, a "truth" that is just "for me" isn't truth at all, and if there is anything I can't assert as true, it is that killing babies is wrong. He became almost hysterical (because New York liberals in particular are so smug that they are actually stunned to discover anyone who isn't married to his cousin in a shack in Tennessee disagreeing with them), yelling at me, "Just listen to yourself: how can you be so certain you are right!"

First of all, this is clearly projection. There is simply no one more certain they are right, about, for instance, moral relativism, than the typical "sophisticated" metaphysical liberal. There is no one more contemptuous of the "basket of deplorables" who actually believe in moral truth than such a liberal. They are so sure they are correct that they are willing to economically ruin people and places that will not bow to their certainty. They are so sure they are correct that they are happy to bomb non-liberal countries into submission.

But more: I thought back to that conversation tonight while I ate dinner with a traditional Muslim family who had just arrived from Bangladesh. I thought about how I am not at all certain that my approach to the divine is right and theirs is wrong. I thought about how, if we had begun to discuss our most deeply held beliefs, we would have had a rational conversation about our differences, with no yelling or hysteria. I feel pretty sure about this, because I actually wind up having conversations like this on cab rides with fair frequency: I climb in the back, and the driver, a Sikh or a Hindu or a Muslim or a Rasta, looks in the rearview mirror and seems to sense something about me, and almost immediately begins talking to me about God. These conversations always go well, and I always find despite our differences, we are largely in agreement.

That is because all these people, and the Buddhist monk and the Taoist mystic and the Orthodox rabbi and the Amish farmer and the Mormon missionary, we all believe one large truth: that there is a transcendent moral order, and that it is our job in life to bring our actions into harmony with that order. (The metaphysical liberal's claim that this is "just my truth" is obvious rubbish: if there is a transcendent moral order, then by definition it obligates everyone, whether they believe in it or not. The law of gravity does not fail to punish your plunging off of a cliff if only you yell "But I don't believe in gravity!" as you fall. And if there is not such an order, then all of us who believe in it are simply deluded, not in possession of a "personal truth.")

In any case, I have great hesitation in claiming that my particular approach to climbing that mountain is better than anyone else's, among those who are actually climbing the mountain. How can I really know that my route ahead doesn't harbor hidden dangers that will halt my progress upwards, and that the Taoist's or Muslim's route might not actually be better?

But all of us actually climbing that mountain can be pretty darned certain that the metaphysical liberal, standing in a swamp of self-love, smearing himself in the mud of vice and yelling that truth is whatever he prefers it to be, has gone somewhat mad, and is not going up that mountain at all.

Or, as Bob put it:

But someone will have to pay
For the innocent blood
That they shed every day
Oh children mark my words
It's what the Bible say...

Friday, November 04, 2016

The Sinkhole of the Cosmos


A very good article making at length a point I've made several times here: the Copernican Revolution did not displace man from some exalted spot at the center of the universe. Nope, before Copernicus, Christian Europeans understood themselves to be living in:

"the excrementary and filthy parts of the lower world... the worst, the deadest, and the most stagnant part of the universe, on the lowest story of the house, and the farthest from the vault of heaven."

To join the planets and stars as a celestial body was a huge upgrade for man's dwelling place.

And a corollary: anyone who you hear saying that Copernicus "displaced man from his exalted place at the center" is a charlatan: they are willing, for ideological purposes, to simply make things up without having any idea what they are talking about.

I Cast My Vote

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Making Do with What We've Got

My review of Claes Ryn's novel is now online.

Expecting Julian Assange to deliver the coup de grace

Assange is obviously not an idiot. He has massive material documenting Hillary Clinton's corruption, and has been leaking it out slowly.

What are the odds that that he did not save the most damaging revelation for this week?

Watch for it.

UPDATE: It seems my guess was wrong. It happens.

And Yet One More GitHub Book Page

Here.

My friend Nathan Conroy says I am like Julian Assange, leaking out a new release every few days to intimidate my opponents.

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...