Sunday, May 22, 2016


Remember when Jimmy Carter said "Sometimes life isn't fair?" Libertarians, never mind conservatives, get kicked for saying that now, but not so long ago, even Democrats realised that it was not the job of government to fix all ills.  I doubt Birdhouse still feels that way, but I believe he did then.

Piggybacking on Texan99's comment, it is true that almost all of us these days want to mitigate some of life's unfairness.  The political difference is that some of us want to restrict the mitigation to those unfairnesses that are clearly that are caused by our society. There is some messy agreement that unfairness caused by our government is also our responsibility. What with the EPA, crony capitalism, the Legacy of Slavery, public education and public debt, Not In Our Name, and police intrusion we have enough disagreement to last a lifetime, but if that were the remaining debate I believe we could get there.  We could wrestle out the type of compromises common to the Constitutional Convention, theoretically unsupportable by anyone's definition of government or morality, but enough to go forward.

It's the cosmic unfairness that is our real split, however.  In the major British founding groups of the American colonies, having terrible things happen to you was not at all considered the problem of anyone else in society-at-large. They might attribute vessels lost at sea to Providence, or to Luck, or to Fate, or to Skill, but no one thought your widow and children deserved anything thereby. It might be a problem for your immediate family.  If you had a serious reversal of health, business, or environment your culture might insist that your town, your extended family, or your parish might be on the hook for some assistance. Might. There was no belief that the colony as a whole, never mind the whole nation, had any obligation. And these were the groups which in all the world in the 17th and 18th C's cast their nets widest in terms of supporting the poor or unfortunate. No one else did anything.  Drop down in Latvia, Italy, Azerbaijan, Baluchistan, Siam, Japan - there was no sense of obligation by anyone.  People gave individually to beggars. Easrly Christians took up collections for distant co-religionists.

What we think of as normal safety net - what even American libertarians of the strictest stripe think of as a normal safety net - is very modern, very unusual. Yet that level of "callousness" was typical worldwide for thousands of years because almost everyone was impoverished and the rescue of others meant the starvation of your own children. Before 1700, everyone brushed against starvation some years.  Before 1900 everyone went hungry sometimes, even in the very few rich countries of the world.

It may be a real moral advance to live in a society that believes if you are sick and a treatment exists you deserve access to it; to have a nation that says we will not only have some educational stuff lying around on the coffee table if you want it, but will take it upon ourselves to accommodate you and get education to you.  I think it is a moral advance.  But I also see it as an extremely expensive moral advance that I hesitate to lay on others. I don't think it is automatic and unquestionable.  Such thinking only comes from people who believe "Oh, there's plenty of money out there, we just have to make those greedy people cough it up." Very, very recently, no one thought that the world was even remotely fair. 

Belloc, Orwell, Fernandez

I have known Hillaire Belloc only by reputation.  He was friends with GK Chesterton, both Roman Catholic intellectuals of the early 20th C, and his outlook was similar enough to GKC that frequent-opponent George Bernard Shaw referred to the two of them together as the Chesterbelloc, a monstrous Catholic beast that proposed Distributism as an alternative to the (obviously holy) strict socialism that Shaw approved of.

His time has come and gone, apparently.  In the George Orwell discussion embedded in Richard Fernandez's article "Greetings, Slaves" about the Servile State it is clear that Belloc was much in the mind of thinkers about economics and society at the time Orwell was writing 75 years ago.  He is little known now. Fernandez is Wretchard over at Belmont Club and known to some of you, a writer who unearths much that is in danger of disappearing and brings it forth to today. He points out where Belloc was prescient about the alliance between crony capitalism and socialism, though they went about in different costumes a century ago.

In what is nearly a throwaway line, Fernandez also points out that the Davos conferences are not gatherings of the like-minded, but a meeting between the coalition groups who hope to rule us: virtue-signallers with little obvious virtue, nods to scientism with just a smattering of actual science,  wealthy capitalists who are rent-seekers and exploiters rather than free-marketers. All very CS Lewis, especially That Hideous Strength, God In The Dock, the Abolition of Man, and The Magician's Nephew.

Note, however, that Lewis did not mention Belloc, though one would absolutely expect it.  I don't know what to make of that.

Spotted Toad

One of the best reasons to visit a site is to find people smarter than oneself, whether in the posts or in the comments. The usual problem is that you also find people more eccentric than oneself.  That used to be fun when I was younger and trying to decide whether liberalism, conservatism, libertarianism, communitarianism, anarcho-monarchism*, etc is closest to the truth. I get that at all the sites in my sidebar, but West Hunter, Information Processing, and Volokh Conspiracy are particularly rich in both brilliance and eccentricity.

I think I have another, found through West Hunter comments.  Spotted Toad had a brilliant line
When some schmuck teaches for a year and wails about dysfunction and racism, like this guy (avi: Ed Boland) or like Kozol in years past, it’s a way of ignoring that you can have the best teacher in the world, the best pre-K and infant care in the world, and the test score gaps on hard tests (and lots of other gaps down the road) won’t go away. I think school is still worth something, and making schools better still worth something. And is this crap worse than the ed reform crap from a few years ago, that said it was all about lazy teachers and unions? Probably not. The lumbering beast of the Democratic Party is wandering away from saying it’s all teachers’ fault, and reaching for Raj Chetty or someone else to say it’s all neighborhoods, or pre-K, or something else. (Not two parents versus one of course, though I know some here would say even that it is inconsequential.)
So I followed it up and it's a very interesting site. My sidebar remains reserved for people who comment here or that I comment on extensively, because that is my network. Yet I do visit other places.  Give it a try.

* You laugh.  Tolkien was an anarcho-monarchist.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Travel Reading

We read different things when traveling than when at home.  For me, this means both smaller, more portable volumes, and things written in a pick-up-and-put-down style that is amenable to quick changes.  For the trip to Vegas I had My Life and Hard Times by James Thurber and Reflections on the Psalms by CS Lewis.  From the latter, discussing "judgement," and the seeming self-righteousness of the psalmists. Italics mine.
  1.  The question whether the disputed pencil belongs to Tommy or Charles is quite distinct from the question which is the nicer little boy, and the parents who allowed the one to influence their decision about the other would be very unfair. (It would be still worse if they said Tommy ought to let Charles have the pencil whether it belonged to him or not, because this would show he had a nice disposition. That may be true, but it is an untimely truth. An exhortation to charity should not come as rider to a refusal of justice. It is likely to give Tommy a lifelong conviction that charity is a sanctimonious dodge for condoning theft and whitewashing favouritism.) We need therefore by no means assume that the Psalmists are deceived or lying when they assert that, as against their particular enemies at some particular moment, they are completely in the right. Their voices while they say so may grate harshly on our ear and suggest to us that they are unamiable people. But that is another matter. And to be wronged does not commonly make people amiable.
I am seeing modern parallels here that are political masquerading as spiritual.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


Off to Las Vegas for a John-Adrian's wedding.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Different Iceberg

When I started in psychology, the model of the human personality was something like an iceberg, with the conscious mind showing above the surface while the huge unconscious mind beneath the waves was the real deal.

It turns out that the iceberg is still a good metaphor - except the unconscious is now part of the exposed material above, while beneath the surface, genetics and chance war it out.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Meat- Eaters

I am willing to be an annoying person, but not quite annoying enough to put this up on Facebook.  So you will have to endure this wonderful video that Grim discover here.

Yes, it is exaggerated and deeply unfair. Except no, not deeply unfair. Just somewhat.

Political Violence Review

I think one of my few contributions to the Grand Conversation is my observation about the difference between political violence from the left and from the right.  I don't see it anywhere else. The original observation was that right-wing violence tends to be more threatening and defensive, while left-wing violence tends to be more aggressive, going on offense.  I looked over the last 100-200 years and saw that pattern generally hold.  Beyond that I did not venture, as left vs right diminishes in overlap the farther back we go.

I see it professionally in the paranoid rightists who hole up at home with weapons, seldom going out but posting dark threats on the internet.  Or maybe on signs in their yard.  You have read them in comments sections.  "If Obama (Hillary/ATF/the Feds/NWO/FEMA) tries to come after my guns they are going to see the revolution start right here."  They sound scary.  I know people like this, not only patients, but staff.  Yet hang on, they aren't all that scary, though I can see why folks think so.

Leftist violence is far more aggressive. Americans see that this is so in other countries, but have trouble seeing it here.  Even when one points out - union thugs, environmentalist vandalism, provacative counterprotest, OWS, minority protest, antiglobalist demonstration - it still doesn't register.  "No, no!  It's those Tea Party people who are violent! Those mass shooters all have right-wing sympathies. We French Literature majors hate guns, and won't even let our children hold their fingers out and go 'bang bang!' None of our people have guns, they're vegans."  That the mass shooters, other than being merely ill, are most often Islamists, second-most often liberals, and only lastly right-wing "doesn't enter into it." to quote the Parrot Sketch.

I have usually attributed that reversal of the brute facts to media bias and inability of leftists to even peep in the mirror with one eye. Those have their place, and I don't back down from that. But there are advantages to long walks over rough terrain. 1) One grows tired of repeating oneself when talking to oneself.  When you are in the everyday world, you can drift back to a subject at your usual starting place and not get very far before you are interrupted.  Then you drift back, not to where you left off, but to your usual starting point.* 2.) Physical activity improves mood, allowing one to feel more kindly disposed to others. 3.) Sweeping vistas encourage one to think in terms of decades, even centuries, instead of Trump/Hillary/Kardashian. 4.) Discomfort heightens the awareness of mortality and injury, which in turns causes reflection on what topics are really important. (It comes to me at this moment that I have much more to say about this. Soon.) 5, 6, 7.) There's more.  But those are the big ones.

I think there is also something to the idea that trying to change things is more often leftist in our current configurations, while supporting the status quo is more often rightist, which reinforces the offense/defenseframing.

The Left believes in fear that the Right is dangerously violent, a powder keg barely contained by government and the unsleeping vigilance of good liberals.  That is prejudiced, insane, self-serving, projection, all those things.  But the value of sanity is the ability to condescend, in the old sense, into the thought of others.  It occurred to me on my walk why this is wrong, but not insanely wrong; projection, but not invented out of whole cloth. 

Okay, I could semicolon my way through about six more similar expressions, but you take the point.

Extreme right wing people - I was speaking with one today - talk about guns and violence a lot more when referring to politics. They assert "There's a revolution coming! People won't put up with this forever!"  All sorts of stuff like that. Now, if you are an art-history major, gun-control, Bernie-supporting liberal and you hear that, it scares the Bejeesus out of you.  Because if one of your people were talking like that, they really would be dangerous.That's not just prejudice, narrative, and media bias on the part of liberals.  It is mostly just projection, but based on good evidence.  The people in the Democrat coalition who talk like that shoot people.

Don't tell me no, I not only have read about them, I have them at my hospital. (Reminder, BTW.  I have enough longevity to remember that the clinical staff at my hospital thought patients who talked about killing Reagan or Bush 41/43 were funny, justified. We didn't even call the Secret Service. Yet patients who even hinted that Clinton or a Kennedy should be dead cause the blood to drain from faces. Liberals aren't all that strict in their hatred of violence.  I don't think I've heard a death threat against Obama.)

Republicans, especially conservatives, and even more especially libertarians have lots of folks who talk like that.  "Lots" meaning oh, 4% rather than 0.4%, just to make up numbers.  But in the end, when you tot up the actual number of dead bodies lying in the street, the 4% hasn't shot anyone. or worn an explosive vest into campaign headquarters, or blocked the roads and turned over cars  and burned them so that people can't speak, or gotten people fired for saying the wrong things.  It's the 0.4% that has done that.  Still, I get why liberal folks get nervous. You live in a culture and you think that's what everyone else is like.  The Charles Murray Bubble Quiz illustrates that the elites -largely but not entirely Democrats - does not understand the rest of the citizenry.  There are, after all, probably ten times as many rightists mumbling alarming things and shaking their fists and not reading the social cues that "we don't talk about those things in polite company."

*One of the great joys of math and science, even in their popular forms of baseball statistics or gnawing at whether an analogy is valid, is that you can pretty much pick up where you left off.  You can let the kite string out a little farther each time.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Bad Novelist

Sarah Hoyt linked to Robert Kroese at BadNovelist. Looks promising.
I am Robert Kroese, the bad novelist in question. I'd tell you why I'm a bad novelist but it's kind of a long story and you probably have better things to do.

Saturday, May 14, 2016


Another reminder of how good we have it here, and how the instincts of even the worst of us in America are pretty reasonable.

Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton would be remarkably good politicians by the standards of most other nations. You can fault Hillary for the Clinton Foundation, and getting huge amounts of money for speaking fees which are essentially bribes.  But as far as I know she hasn't worked the levers of government to be given controlling interest in major industries, as happens throughout Latin America, Africa, and Asia. (And even some of Europe.)

I don't like being in the first generation to have to witness this reduced choice in America, but the rhetoric would have us believe that we are uniquely poised for tyranny and destruction at present. 

Another Comment Tell

Any post or comment that contains the phrase "Big Pharma" should be skipped.

Genetics and Beyond

Hsu, Conley, and Pinker are all heavy-hitters on this topic, among the most knowledgeable in the world.  Any one of them would be worth traveling to hear speak. (And take notes.)  The three together, well-moderated is worth your while even though this is long.  Things people aren't happy to hear come in at about 12 minutes, but some softening information comes in at about 20 minutes.

And then it gets scary again after that.

The French and Autism

When I was on the Maggie's Farm urban hike, I got to speak with Stuart Schneiderman for a couple of miles. We spoke of many things*, as such conversations go, but the troubling news he brought of how damaging the approach to autism is in France continues to stick with me.  Schneiderman was trained as a psychoanalyst in France many moons ago, but changed direction sharply when he decided other approaches would help his patients more.  He still practices in Manhattan, but uses "coach"-based titles for what he now does.  He seems quite calm and happy about the change.

In France the psychoanalytic approach is still dominant in the treatment of autism.  The belief is that your parents, especially your mother, never really wanted you and this is why your thinking doesn't work like other people's and you have to scramble to fit in.  Betelheim may have long since been exposed as a psychology fraud, but his approach lives on there. I linked to all Schneiderman's posts on autism at his "Had Enough Therapy?" blog, but it is mostly the first two, written about six months ago, that I am putting before you. Very frustrating to read.

*That's Stuart on the left there, me on the right. Or maybe the other way around.