Search This Blog

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Despotism of the collectivists

George Will shares his thoughts on the distortions created by the administrative state:
As the administrative state distorts the United States’ constitutional architecture, Clarence Thomas becomes America’s indispensable constitutionalist. Now in his 25th year on the Supreme Court, he is urging the judicial branch to limit the legislative branch’s practice of delegating its power to the executive branch. 
Particularly, it should prevent Congress from delegating to executive agencies the essentially legislative power of formulating “generally applicable rules of private conduct.” Such delegation, Thomas says, erases the distinction between “the making of law, and putting it into effect.” This occurs when Congress — hyperactive, overextended and too busy for specificity — delegates “policy determinations” that “effectively permit the President to define some or all of the content” of a rule of conduct.

This delegation of power to administrative agencies transfers power to unelected officials.  The linkage to accountability of the elected executive is much weaker than ever intended in our constitutional order. Experience with and knowledge of the problems emanating from such an approach exists.

This ties in nicely to the problem of soft despotism and more specifically the relevant thoughts of Walter Lippmann as expressed in Soft Despotism, Democracy's Drift by Paul Rahe:

The progressives expressed great admiration for Abraham Lincoln, and they tended to justify their endeavor with an appeal to the American Founding Fathers and to speak of their aim as the achievement of Jeffersonian ends by Hamiltonian means.  But the truth is that Herbert Croly, Walter Lippmann  ... John Dewey, and their associates aimed at the foundation of a new political regime, distinct from and, in certain critical respects, opposed to the one that had gradually taken shape in the period stretching from 1776 to 1789, which Lincoln later strove so mightily to defend.  To this end, they abandoned not only Jefferson but Hamilton and Lincoln as well, dismissing as outdated the concern with individual, natural rights that the three men shared; rejecting as wrongheaded and outmoded Jefferson’s argument for the virtues of political jealousy and his insistence that vigorous local self-government is essential to the maintenance of liberty; and substituting for Hamilton’s notion of statesmanship and for that of Lincoln an account—grounded in Hegel’s confidence in the inevitability of human progress, owing a great deal to his discussion of the civil service as a “universal class” in his Philosophy of Right, and informed by a truncated reading of Rousseau’s Social Contract – which was incompatible with the principle of limited government and closely akin in its practical aspects to the vision of rational administration once projected in France by Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot any by the Physiocrats.  To America from Germany, the progressives brought an especially virulent strain of the French disease.  (pp. 245-6)

… “The old ‘rights of personal competency,’” valued by Jefferson, “the right to read, to think, to speak, to choose, and live a mode of life must be respected at all hazards,” but “property rights” would have to give way, for, he (TR) proudly announced, “the day of enlightened administration has come.” 
No one saw the consequences as clearly as did Walter Lippmann, for no one was as well-positioned as he.  Lippmann had been a leading progressive.  At Harvard College, he had dabbled in socialism.  Some four years after his graduation, he had joined Herbert Croly and Walter Weyl in founding The New Republic, and in 1914, he had published the influential progressive tract Drift and Mastery: An Attempt to Diagnose the Current Unrest.  For a brief time, during the First World War, Lippmann had been an advisor to Woodrow Wilson.  After the war, in which he witnessed the effectiveness of propaganda, Lippmann began to harbor doubts about the progressive conviction that popular sovereignty and governance by experts can easily be reconciled.  In Public Opinion, published in 1922, he called into question the capacity of ordinary citizens to discern what was going on; and in The Phantom Public, published five years later, he expressed doubts as to whether it made any sense at all to speak of the public interest in the manner in which the progressives did: as something radically distinct from and in tension with individual rights and the diverse private interests of the citizens. 
In 1932, thinking that there was no alternative, Lippmann voted for Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  But by 1937 he had come to entertain grave misgivings.  He had noticed that, while, the partisans who are now fighting for the mastery of the modern world wear shirts of different colors, their weapons are drawn from the same armory, their doctrines are variations of the same theme, and they go forth to battle singing the same tune with slightly different words… 
Throughout the world, in the name of progress, men who call themselves communists, socialists, fascists, nationalists, progressives, and even liberals, are unanimous in holding that government with its instruments of coercion must by commanding the people how they shall live, direct the course of civilization and fix the shape of things to come… The premises of authoritarian collectivism have become the working beliefs, the self-evident assumptions, the unquestioned axioms, not only of all the revolutionary regimes, but of nearly every effort which lays claim to being enlightened, humane, and progressive. 
So universal is the dominion of this dogma over the minds of contemporary men that no one is taken seriously as a statesman or a theorist who does not come forward with proposals to magnify the power of public officials and to extend and multiply their intervention in human affairs.  Unless he is authoritarian and collectivist, he is mossback, a reactionary, at best an amiable eccentric swimming hopelessly against the tide.  It is a strong tide.  Though despotism is no novelty in human affairs, it is probably true that at no time in twenty-five hundred years has any western government claimed for itself a jurisdiction over men’s lives comparable with that which is officially attempted in totalitarian states… 
But it is even more significant that in other lands where men shrink from the ruthless policy of these regimes, it is commonly assumed that the movement of events must be in the direction.  Nearly everywhere the mark of a progressive is that he relies at last upon the increased power of officials to improve the condition of men.

What worried Lippmann the most – what had worried Coolidge, and what should worry us still – was the failure of those who considered themselves progressives to “remember how much of what they cherish as progressives has come by emancipation from political dominion, by the limitation of power, by the release of personal energy from authority and collective coercion.”  He cited “the whole long struggle to extricate conscience, intellect, labor, and personality from the bondage of prerogative, privilege, monopoly, authority.”  It was, he said, “the gigantic heresy of an apostate generation” to suppose that “there has come into the world during this generation some new element which makes it necessary for us to undo the work of emancipation, to retrace the steps men have taken to limit the power of rulers, which compels us to believe that the way of enlightenment in affairs is now to be found by intensifying authority and enlarging its scope.”

Americans were used to managing their own affairs by way of local and state governments; they had forged political parties for this purpose, and they were instinctively reluctant to cede control to a centralized administration dominated by a distant and patronizing intellectual elite. 
In fits and starts, however, under the influence of progressive political science, the administrative state began to take shape in the last decades of the nineteenth century and in the first two decades of the twentieth century – at first, locally, and, then, at the national level.   (pp. 253-5)

Our new masters have it in their power to deepen the economic crisis and worsen our distress in the manner of Hoover and the younger Roosevelt.  By instituting a second New Deal, as they very much like to do – by sharply raising taxes on fossil fuels, dividends, and capital gains; by targeting the earnings of the well-to-do; by pursuing protectionism, expanding the regime of programmatic rights, and forcing workers into labor unions – they can discourage investment, curb entrepreneurship, reduce foreign trade, and decisively slow economic growth, or even bring it to a lasting halt, while offering to those consigned to the dole thereby a dependence upon the generosity of an all—encompassing state.  Just how ruthless they will prove to be on this occasion, just how far they intend to hustle us down the path we tread, remains as yet undetermined. 
The only thing that is crystal clear is the direction of our drift and the nature of the threat we face.  Walter Lippmann’s warning is as apt today as it was in 1937 – for “the premises of authoritarian collectivism” are once again, as they were then, “the working beliefs, the self-evident assumptions, the unquestioned axioms” behind “nearly every effort which lays claim to being enlightened, humane, and progressive,” and hardly anyone today “is taken seriously as a statesman or a theorist who does not come forward with proposals to magnify the power of public officials and to extend and multiply their intervention in human affairs.”  Like the younger Roosevelt, our new leader poses as a secular Messiah; his minions believe, as did the progressives of an earlier time, that there has recently come into the world “some new element which makes it necessary for us to undo the work of emancipation” achieved by our forebears and “to retrace the steps men have taken to limit the power of rulers”; and in the ranks of our compatriots they will find many prepared to sacrifice self-reliance and personal independence for a promise of security no government can keep.  The hour is, indeed, late. 
To those caught up in the maelstrom, recent developments may well seem dramatic, but, in truth, they serve merely to highlight the plight that we have been in for more than three quarters of a century.    (pp. 269-270)

Those of us who despise hard tyranny might want to consider the importance of resisting and even rolling back soft tyranny as well, lest it lead us someplace we have no wish to go.

Monday, November 23, 2015

"Serf"-in' USA

At some point in the last decade, I went from feeling like a citizen of the United States with a sense of belonging to a person who feels completely disenfranchized, with no control and no influence over my political destiny and subject to the arbitrary whims of countless politicians and bureaucrats.

I've gone from citizen to serf. I've gone from consenting to be governed to being governed because of the state's monopoly on violence.

Oh sure, it's a very comfortable serfdom. I have (more than) enough to eat, a place to live, clothes, a car and enough money for gas, and there're books and movies and whatever. Because it's so comfortable, as long as I don't dwell on it too much, it's tolerable, and while I won't lift a finger to support this country (other than what I'm forced to do), I have no reason to damage it either.

Because it's so comfortable, I certainly understand why people roll their eyes, shake their heads, sigh, or otherwise think I'm a ridiculous fool. I seem ridiculous to me some of the time too. But being bribed by bread and circuses doesn't cause citizenship. Serfs can also be bribed to lay down their pitchforks.

I rather thought I was one of very few people who felt this lack of belonging. But apparently, it's quite widespread:
According to the Reuters survey, 58 percent Americans say they “don’t identify with what America has become.” While Republicans and Independents are the most likely to agree with this statement, even 45 percent of Democrats share this feeling. 
More than half of Americans, 53 percent, say they “feel like a stranger” in their own country. A minority of Americans feel “comfortable as myself” in the country.
That potentially seems like a very large problem. At his first inaugural address, John F. Kennedy admonished americans to "ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country," but for those who "feel like a stranger in their own country," it would be pointless for them to ask what they can do for their country because it's not really their country.

Without the support and consent of a solid majority of the governed, can a nation survive? Without the leadership of the United States can the world thrive?

We may find out the hard way.

Oh well.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Cultural insensitivity

Lacking in a reasonable level of cultural confidence, many western nations have made little to no effort to assimilate immigrants in the last few decades.  The failure to address the resulting behaviors has promoted an escalation of these behaviors.  This Bill Whittle video he explains that contrary to conventional wisdom, failure to deal forcefully with the radical islamists is a provocative weakness that also elicits added support from more moderates.

In the U.S. there is no sign that this approach will change.  The president seems to approach his job with something potentially worse than benign neglect:
"I have talked to people who have worked in the Obama administration who firmly believe he has made up his mind, I would say closed his mind, they say, to the intelligence they try to bring him about various groups he does not consider terrorists even if they're on the U.S. list of designated terrorists," Attkisson said. "I don't know the reasoning for it -- I’ve only been told by those who have allegedly attempted to present him, or been in the circle that has attempted to present him, with certain intelligence that they said he doesn’t want it, he said he doesn't want it or he won't read it in some instances."

Andrew McCarthy provides additional insight while dissecting the recruitment tool canard:
Obviously, jihad does not erupt out of thin air. The American public, which remains widely uninformed about Islam, realizes something must cause the violence, and that the violence will continue unless that something is overcome. For Leftists, this presents a golden opportunity: They understand that our deeply ingrained tradition of religious liberty – a tradition the Left generally abhors – makes the public resistant to the notion that a religion can cause violence, and thus receptive to the assurance that Islam does not. 
So if Islam, in the Left’s telling, has nothing to do with the savagery jihadists commit, what is the cause? Obama and his cohort fill in this blank with … the principles and policies they oppose: robust national defense, American leadership in the world, free speech, sovereignty, economic liberty, income inequality, Christianity, Israel’s character as a Jewish state, Guantanamo Bay, military commissions, … even climate change. 
Yes, this is preposterous if you’ve familiarized yourself with Islamic supremacism and classical sharia. But, alas, much of America has not despite a generation of jihad from Tehran to Manhattan to Paris. What a powerful rhetorical weapon it is for the Left to claim that what it opposes is not just wrong but the cause of mass-murder attacks. 
In the real world, however, it is the sharia supremacist interpretation of Islam that causes jihadist terror. With that as the foundation, jihadist recruitment has little or nothing to do with the pretexts conveniently conjured by the Left. To the contrary, recruitment is driven by one thing: the perception that jihadists will win. As Osama bin Laden recognized, people are drawn to the strong horse and shun the weak horse. 
That is why I cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for ISIS than … Barack Obama.

(read the whole article)

By acting in what is ultimately a provocative manner, leaders risk increasing the chances that future leaders will be forced to open a giant sized can of whoopass and everything that goes with such an action.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Immigration clarification

A serious matter like immigration should get more serious consideration and less posturing.  I want to present corrections of some mistaken notions that are being repeated in discussion of the matter.

Ian Tuttle explains why Syrian refugees aren't 1939's jews:

Among politicians and their clingers-on, journalists, nothing takes hold like a bad historical analogy. 
...the failure of the analogy becomes clear. 
The first, and most obvious, difference: There was no international conspiracy of German Jews in the 1930s attempting to carry out daily attacks on civilians on several continents. No self-identifying Jews in the early 20th century were randomly massacring European citizens in magazine offices and concert halls, and there was no “Jewish State” establishing sovereignty over tens of thousands of square miles of territory, and publicly slaughtering anyone who opposed its advance. Among Syrian Muslims, there is. The vast majority of Syrian Muslims are not party to these strains of radicalism and violence, but it would be dangerous to suggest that they do not exist, or that our refugee-resettlement program need not take account of them. 
...A non-trivial minority of refugees who support a murderous, metastatic caliphate is a reason for serious concern. No 13 percent of Jews looked favorably upon the Nazi party. 
Third, European Jews in the early 20th century were more amenable to assimilation than are Syrian Muslims in the early 21st. By the time of the rise of Nazism, Jews had participated in the intellectual and cultural life of Germany for a century and a half — a life that, despite regional particularities, indisputably fell under the broad banner of Western civilization, in which America participated, too. 
Sloppy thinking and bad analogies don't contribute anything positive.

Andrew McCarthy clarifies the question of a religious test:

Under federal law, the executive branch is expressly required to take religion into account in determining who is granted asylum. Under the provision governing asylum (section 1158 of Title 8, U.S. Code), an alien applying for admission  
must establish that … religion [among other things] … was or will be at least one central reason for persecuting the applicant. 
 Moreover, to qualify for asylum in the United States, the applicant must be a “refugee” as defined by federal law. That definition (set forth in Section 1101(a)(42)(A) of Title , U.S. Code) also requires the executive branch to take account of the alien’s religion: 
The term “refugee” means (A) any person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality … and who is unable or unwilling to return to … that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of … religion [among other things] …[.] 
The law requires a “religious test.” And the reason for that is obvious. Asylum law is not a reflection of the incumbent president’s personal (and rather eccentric) sense of compassion. Asylum is a discretionary national act of compassion that is directed, by law not whim, to address persecution.

That's the law as it stands.  See for yourself.

David French has some thoughts on biblical arguments:
As a general matter, advocates of open borders often refer to Mosaic law requiring the Israelites to treat the “foreigner residing with you” as if foreigners were “native-born,” and to “Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” The laws of Israel, they point out, applied equally to the “foreigner” and the “native-born.” 
Putting aside that Mosaic Law would prohibit refugees from worshiping Allah, demand the death penalty for many of the core activities of the sexual revolution, and impose dietary restrictions that the latté Left might find a bit onerous, we can see that these critics are making a basic error: interpreting commands directed at individuals as mandates for national policy. 
He also has some thoughts from Walter Russell Mead.

Charles Cooke shares his thoughts including some history and context:

Listen for a few minutes to the raging debate over the fate of the Syrian refugees, and you will hear a familiar phrase rear its weary head: “The United States is a nation of immigrants.” This line has two purposes in modern American life. The first is to serve as a dry description of the period between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the Roaring Twenties, during which the United States accepted tens of millions of émigrés looking for a better life. The second is to act as a cudgel in our contemporary immigration debate. Over the past few years, President Obama has proven himself to be especially fond of the phrase. The United States, Obama submits, has “weaved a tradition of welcoming immigrants into the very fabric of who we are”; its people, he argues, “were strangers once, too,” and found good neighbors here; this is, above all else, “a nation of immigrants.” His conclusion? We should change our current system in exactly the way he desires. 
In a purely historical sense, the president and his parrots are correct: The United States does indeed have a long tradition of welcoming outsiders to its shores. But, in the immediate context, one must ask “So what?” The question currently before us is not “Should Americans ever accept new people into their midst?” or “Is immigration a good thing per se?” but “What policy should the United States adopt toward the Syrian refugee crisis?” It cannot be answered merely by appealing to general principles. 

Finally, Kevin Williamson shares his thoughts concluding:
When in doubt—and the doubts here are heavy—the wisest thing is to do is: nothing. Certainly it is prudent to proceed slowly and with extreme caution before we take any steps that are difficult or impossible to reverse.

A whole lot of nonsense to clear up.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Intelligence and Politicians

I'm on a group email list with a bunch of old MIT frat brothers. Many of them fancy themselves as quite intelligent, not just in their area of expertise, not just in STEM, but in all aspects of human endeavors. They definitely strongly disagree with Feynman's quote*:
"I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy."
So needless to say, some were horrified when I wrote:
I think intelligence is way, way overrated. The most successful politicians are highly intelligent sociopaths. The worst possible leaders are the highly intelligent sociopaths.
Debate developed, arguments were added, and hyperlinks were hyperactively heaved ho, supposedly proving my cynical and anti-human and otherwise horrible statement incorrect. I'm not sure what the latin is for argument by overwhelming (argumentum overwhelmem?), but I've learned in the past that being a lone individual hit by an onslaught of righteous argument is an untenable position; you lose whether or not you have some degree of truth on your side. And in this case, I just threw that statement out there to stir the pot (and I certainly succeeded at that!), I didn't know whether or not the empirical evidence would support me.

I picked the first link spewed at me from the onslaught: The impact of smart fractions, cognitive ability
of politicians and average competence of peoples on social development. I fully expected it to prove my statement unequivocally wrong. Instead, I found it almost supportive. First, from the abstract:
The intelligence of politicians was less important...
Oh? That doesn't sound like I'm so wrong. Here's the key table, in my opinion:

Having smart people is correlated with good things like high GDP, but having smart politicians isn't correlated with much of anything good at all, EXCEPT democracy. With democracy, my guess is that causality goes the other way. In a democracy, the politicians have to be intelligent enough to deceive the populous into voting for them. But their intelligence doesn't seem to help much of anything else.

Given that there's a high correlation between a country having smart people which helps things like GDP and having smart politicians which doesn't which doesn't have much impact on GDP, I think this may show that smart politicians are detrimental to a country and that the countries with smart people do well in spite of their political class.

*Thanks to Clovis for reminding me of this quote

Friday, November 13, 2015

Beyond Infinity and Quantum Mechanics

In another post having nothing to do with physics there's been a discussion of entangled particles, yet another non-intuitive aspect of quantum mechanics. First a joke:
Heisenberg is in the driver's seat, the officer asks "do you know how fast you were going?" Heisenberg replies, "No, but I know exactly where I am!" The officer looks at him confused and says "you were going 108 miles per hour!" Heisenberg throws his arms up and cries, "Great! Now I'm lost!" 
The officer, now more confused and frustrated orders the men outside of the car, and proceeds to inspect the vehicle. He opens the trunk and yells at the two men, "Hey! Did you guys know you have a dead cat back here?" Schrodinger angrily yells back, "We do now!"
I see from the web that not everyone gets the joke above, but I assume everyone reading this blog will.

When I've contemplated quantum mechanics and its decidedly non-intuitive nature (or lack thereof), I've pondered things where mathematics breaks down that have the same sort of feel and there's actually quite a few of them. I'm going to describe one now.

I'd like to propose a game. It's a wonderful game for you because you can only win. I'm going to write two checks to you. I'm not going to tell you the amounts of the checks except that one check is ten times the amount of the other check. I'm going to crumple up those checks and toss them into a hat and then shake the hat around. I'm going to then randomly pull the checks out of the hat and put one check in my left hand and one check in my right hand.

Here's the game. You get to choose either hand. I hand you the check in that hand. You look at the amount of the check. You can either keep that check or you can choose to exchange it for the other check. End of game. Simple, eh? And you're now richer, what could be better than that?

But there's something surprisingly spooky about this very, very simple game. Since it's completely random which hand the bigger check is in, it doesn't matter which hand you choose. Also, since it's completely random which hand the bigger check is in, there's no point in ever exchanging the first check for the one in the second hand, right? That would be just wasted effort, right? Wrong! (Sort of).

Let's take an example. You pick my left hand. I give you the check. You look at it. Let's say it's for $10. You now know that the other check is either for $100 or $1. The expected value of the other check is therefore ($100 + $1) / 2 or $50.50. $50.50 is much better than $10 so you of course (unless you're horribly risk adverse but let's ignore that possibility for now) choose to exchange the 1st check for the 2nd check. In fact, you would always choose to exchange the 1st check for the 2nd check. But that makes no sense, right? Because it's random, it shouldn't matter what hand you pick and the 2nd hand should be no better than the first!

Sort of like certain things in quantum mechanics. Measurements and observations affect the game. The above game is literally undefined until you look at the first check. The initial expected value of your winnings is undefined because it's a uniform distribution from zero to infinity and that distribution has an undefined expected value. Then, as soon as you look at the 1st check (but not until), the whole thing collapses and bang!, the game becomes defined and it always makes sense to trade for the 2nd check!

The game seems weird because it's not real. I can't actually write arbitrarily large checks. If there are limits, it actually makes sense that there might be a strategy that often involves taking the 2nd check.

The quantum is at the edge of reality and my guess it that it's in the realm where math breaks down, that it's in the realm that I call "beyond infinity." So nothing can be intuitive because we're so steeped in our every day math that when it doesn't work, such as in my game above, we're flummoxed.

Your probably wondering where your check is. It's in the mail of course!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Serious intellectual error

The recent post on illiberalism presented a perspective on a problem for secular liberalism generated by what John Gray labeled missionary atheism.  Even more basic than those problems are some straightforward intellectual problems.  Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry delves further into the matter in The Errors of the Militant Atheist:
The thought that most frequently pops into my head when I read diatribes by militant atheists is “Why won’t you read a book?”

Of course, put thus, the thought is implausible. The militant atheists who get interviewed in newspapers presumably have read books. Christopher Hitchens had certainly read a lot of books. But there are good books and there are bad books, and then there are necessary books. And, clearly, they haven’t read any of the books that should, in a cultured society, be presumed necessary for participation in public debate.
There is no such thing as “religion.” Some words are fine to use in everyday discourse, but become completely useless if one is trying to be conceptually precise. “Religion” is one of them. Religion is probably the most complex, the most variegated, and arguably the most profound human phenomenon. It stretches into the realms of personal experience, dogma, myth, storytelling, social organization, belief, and practice. Militant atheists often use the term “religion” as a shorthand for “dogma,” but in reality many, if not most, religions do not have dogmas. Militant atheists deride the literalistic interpretation of sacred scriptures, but, putting aside the fact that “literalism” in this sense is itself a modern phenomenon and is sidelined by many great theistic scriptural traditions, many religions do not in fact have scriptures.
Religion and science sometimes do, and sometimes don’t, conflict. Krauss is known for his opposition to the idea of “non-overlapping magisteria” — that is to say, the idea that science and religion are simply about two different things, and that therefore there is not, or should not be, competition between the claims of science and religion. 
For the record, the position of most of the great developed theistic traditions, at least in the West, is that if you see a conflict between science and religion, you’re dealing either with bad science or with bad religion (as I said, within Catholicism, this is treated as an axiom). For example, in the late 19th century, the theory of polygeny — that different human groups had evolved from different origins — an offshoot of Darwinism, was used to promote so-called “scientific racism.” Christians who objected on the grounds that the Bible describes all the human race as descending from Adam and Eve were dismissed as obscurantists. The problem in the conflict was bad science. By contrast, the post-Renaissance Biblical exegetes, mostly found within Protestantism, who objected to heliocentric theories on scriptural grounds were doing bad religion. 
Some people claim that only scientific claims are meaningful, but this is clearly nonsense. Scientific claims are one specific type of empirical claim, but, for starters, there are plenty of other meaningful empirical claims one can make.
And then there are metaphysical claims. Metaphysical claims are claims based on a certain type of logic — metaphysical logic. For example, the claim that a universe of finite causes cannot explain its own existence and so must find its source in some infinite ground of existence, an uncaused cause, is a logical claim, which can be debated using a specific set of logical tools, just like mathematical claims. Maybe it’s wrong. But it’s a logical claim, not a scientific claim. 
And this is the basic error: Because science can only adjudicate empirical claims — and indeed only one specific type of empirical claim — it cannot, by definition, adjudicate non-empirical questions, such as why empirical claims are possible to begin with. Theistic claims about the creation of the universe are logical claims; these claims may be wrong, but they cannot be adjudicated with science. (And in this specific sense, certainly, the magisteria do not overlap.)

Here’s the problem with all these false dichotomies: At bottom, they come from, and reinforce, illiteracy. And while sophisticates can, and too often do, produce their own exquisite forms of barbarism, widespread illiteracy probably inexorably leads to barbarism. A scientist who doesn’t understand anything about epistemology, or religion, or philosophy, and gets on his soapbox is a joke. A scientist who does all these things and as a result is on best-seller lists and gets published in The New Yorker is a symptom of a serious social disease. Never mind the science-versus-religion “debate,” such as it is — widespread confusion about science’s epistemological framework is producing a lot of shoddy science, and that should have us all concerned. 
That Krauss, while singing the praises of an epistemic of doubt, blithely evinces absolutely none about the nature or value of human life — he only needs to know what “religious” people oppose to know what he’s for — merely shows that he’s ignorant and intellectually lazy. That he can write this in the pages of a magazine that is supposed to be a beacon of American intellectualism without rebuke, or even throat-clearing, from his ideological fellow-travelers shows that the illiteracy is widespread and cultural.

… The institutions we live in and through, whether the scientific revolution or liberal democracy or the concept of human rights, were built and explored by great thinkers, who in turn were grounded in great traditions of rational speculation (that is to say, of philosophy), and it is mystifying and, frankly, very scary that we have arrived at this moment of what can only be called cultural amnesia — an amnesia so profound that we have not only forgotten, we’ve forgotten that we’ve forgotten. 
 All too often I encounter militant atheists who are so intent on attacking religion that they are blind to their own epistemic errors. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


There have been several prior posts about liberal fascism on this blog drawing on the works of Jonah Goldberg, Fred Siegel and others.  This post will draw from an article by Forfare Davis title, Why Secular Liberalism Isn't Liberal:
A couple of months ago readers of the Guardian were presented with the peculiar spectacle of an atheist intellectual calling out his fellow atheists for being, of all things, too religious, of engaging in what the author coined “missionary atheism.” The author was the intrepid John Gray and his article was “What Scares the New Atheists.” The religious faith he accused his atheist cohorts of was a crusading belief in the scientific and rational basis of liberal values. Mr. Gray then follows with various examples of atheism’s inconvenient history of collusion with some of the West’s most unfortunate and bloody ideological projects. The irony of the New Atheism, Gray goes on to assert, is that it is driven not by reason, but rather by fear that the march of secularism may be faltering; rather than demonstrating the self-awareness of say, a Freud or Schopenhauer, both of whom understood religion’s important roles in society, New Atheism simply offers another variant of evangelical movement based on a faith that dare not acknowledge itself as such even while crusading against other faiths. 
As if to illustrate these critiques, recent events appear to be making Gray and Haidt’s case, for the more secular we have become, the less liberal secular liberalism seems to be. 
… the liberal project has been co-opted by a cult of political correctness, we seem to be approaching some threshold where the “party of science” is reverting to the party of the tribe.  
…much of what motivates us in terms of values, politics, and religious persuasion are really the banners we are preternaturally disposed to run to when that switch turns on. But here alongside Haidt, the work of literary theorist René Girard should be considered, for two reasons. First, Girard offers a helpful model to understand the psychology of overly ideological times, and second, the soil from which he developed this theory was primarily the writings of that great psychologist of ideology and extremism, Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Dostoyevsky once famously wrote that if his fellow Russians ever became atheists they would turn atheism into a religion. Girard’s account elaborates on this theme, suggesting that beyond a certain secular horizon, society does not cease to be religious, but rather returns to a more primitive and tribal form of religion. Like Haidt, Girard observes that ideology becomes a source of tribal identity, but at its most extreme it becomes increasingly dependent not on the principles that it espouses but on the psychological kinetics of its adversarial relationship to its rivals. Positive philosophy gives way to the need to feed on rivalry as a source of meaning. This is why extremist ideologies tend to be built upon fabulist views of a possible future: the more spectacular the vision, the more unreachable the goal, the more immersive the cause. Girard’s term of art for this is “mimetic rivalry.” It is mimetic, or imitative, because it depends upon and even apes the aspirations to power of the enemies it dedicates itself to defeating. Thus the mimetic ideologue’s battle never ends, because in “mimetic rivalry” it is the battle, not possession of the territory, that gives meaning and identity. 
 According to Girard, mimetic rivalry at its most extreme manifestation is a game the Devil, figuratively speaking, plays upon those who work to displace God. In The Brothers Karamazov the reader is introduced to many such figures, some in religious robes such as the Grand Inquisitor, others revolutionaries like Ivan. The game is that in the end, all the aspiration to transform the world by coercion or violence is really but the expression of unbounded vanity that feeds the mind full of visions of paradise while bringing only hell to the world. 
 In the penultimate chapter of The Righteous Mind, Haidt shares with the reader the disorienting moment when he realized conservatism wasn’t so backward and parochial after all.  
…He goes on:
 Based on my own research, I had no choice but to agree with these conservative claims. As I continued to read the writings of conservative intellectuals, from Edmund Burke in the eighteenth century through Friedrich Hayek and Thomas Sowell in the twentieth, I began to see that they had attained a crucial insight into the sociology of morality that I had never encountered before. 

… The primary difference is that while liberals tend to found their understanding of the world primarily upon moral concerns of care, liberty, and fairness, conservatives more equally distribute their understanding of the world upon these themes as well as on loyalty, authority, and sanctity. The importance of these latter principles—as elaborated by those such as Burke, Hayek, and Sowell, and unintentionally vindicated by Haidt’s own work—reveals that only one side of the political spectrum appears to see the world in its full moral spectrum. What Girard and Dostoyevsky reveal is that when these concerns are not taken into account, more still when they are discarded, what takes place after the revolution is not a new age, but a very old, very violent and primitive one. Haidt puts it this way: “You can’t help the bees by destroying the hive.”

As Western elites lurch seemingly further to the secular left, the ability to see and appreciate the import of mediating institutions appears not only to have dangerously diminished but to have paved the way for the hive-destroying Mr. Haidt warns against. If Haidt is correct that conservatives are unique in understanding the stakes, then Girard’s insights suggest that this is the reason conservatives find themselves the rival of choice for so many of today’s ideologically Possessed.

 The Illiberals find it difficult to see any of this.  That John Gray column mentioned earlier provides another perspective  on how a certain flavor of atheism makes it hard to understand the world:

It’s a reassuringly simple equation. In fact there are no reliable connections – whether in logic or history – between atheism, science and liberal values. 
 Evangelical atheists today view liberal values as part of an emerging global civilisation; but not all atheists, even when they have been committed liberals, have shared this comforting conviction. Atheism comes in many irreducibly different forms, among which the variety being promoted at the present time looks strikingly banal and parochial. 
For secular thinkers, the continuing vitality of religion calls into question the belief that history underpins their values. To be sure, there is disagreement as to the nature of these values. But pretty well all secular thinkers now take for granted that modern societies must in the end converge on some version of liberalism. Never well founded, this assumption is today clearly unreasonable. 
Awkwardly for these atheists, Nietzsche understood that modern liberalism was a secular incarnation of these religious traditions. As a classical scholar, he recognised that a mystical Greek faith in reason had shaped the cultural matrix from which modern liberalism emerged. Some ancient Stoics defended the ideal of a cosmopolitan society; but this was based in the belief that humans share in the Logos, an immortal principle of rationality that was later absorbed into the conception of God with which we are familiar. Nietzsche was clear that the chief sources of liberalism were in Jewish and Christian theism: that is why he was so bitterly hostile to these religions. He was an atheist in large part because he rejected liberal values. 
If you think of morality in scientific terms, as part of the behaviour of the human animal, you find that humans don’t live according to iterations of a single universal code. Instead, they have fashioned many ways of life. A plurality of moralities is as natural for the human animal as the variety of languages.
At this point, the dread spectre of relativism tends to be raised. Doesn’t talk of plural moralities mean there can be no truth in ethics? Well, anyone who wants their values secured by something beyond the capricious human world had better join an old-fashioned religion. If you set aside any view of humankind that is borrowed from monotheism, you have to deal with human beings as you find them, with their perpetually warring values. 
.Universal values don’t add up to a universal morality. Such values are very often conflicting, and different societies resolve these conflicts in divergent ways.  
The conviction that tyranny and persecution are aberrations in human affairs is at the heart of the liberal philosophy that prevails today. But this conviction is supported by faith more than evidence. Throughout history there have been large numbers who have been happy to relinquish their freedom as long as those they hate – gay people, Jews, immigrants and other minorities, for example – are deprived of freedom as well. Many have been ready to support tyranny and oppression. Billions of human beings have been hostile to liberal values, and there is no reason for thinking matters will be any different in future. 
Considering the alternatives that are on offer, liberal societies are well worth defending. But there is no reason for thinking these societies are the beginning of a species-wide secular civilisation of the kind of which evangelical atheists dream.

It’s possible to envision different varieties of atheism developing – atheisms more like those of Freud, which didn’t replace God with a flattering image of humanity. But atheisms of this kind are unlikely to be popular. More than anything else, our unbelievers seek relief from the panic that grips them when they realise their values are rejected by much of humankind. What today’s freethinkers want is freedom from doubt, and the prevailing version of atheism is well suited to give it to them.