Thursday, April 22, 2021

Compared To Whom?

It is my standard knee-jerk response to historical accusations, whether that be against Americans, Catholics, Western Civ, Colonialism, Europeans, Christians, Caucasians, New Englanders, mental health professionals, Evangelicals or Mainstreamers, Jews in the Middle East - all the usual targets.

It is always enormously revealing of the accuser's blind spots.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Needs More Accordion

 The cars in the back really add to the authenticity

Question For James

I don't want to steal your traffic. If you want to answer at your own site, I will happily link to that here in an update.

I listened to Chad Orzel today, physics prof and author of the intriguingly-named How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog and How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog. Razib asked him to give an overview for the generally science-savvy listener what has been the big news in physics over the last twenty years. Of the several answers he gave, he mentioned that while the discovery of the Higgs Boson in 2012 was a big deal, particle physicists are starting to mutter that something may be wrong, as further particles should have been detected by now according to the major theories that seek to unite relativity and quantum mechanics.

He mentioned specifically the German physicist and physics blogger Sabina Hossenfelder and her 2018 book Lost in Math. Her belief is that the dogma that the reality of the universe must ultimately be beautiful has caused physicists to lose their way trusting in beauty as a necessary requirement in developing theories. That sounds like exactly the sort of thing an outsider can partially understand, as many of us have been exposed to that narrative in both physics and mathematics of the unending unfolding of beauty as the search goes deeper.

Very interested in your take on this.

Update:  James works quickly.  His answer is up.

Imagine The Picnics

David Thompson read closely into Everyday Feminism's reminder that enjoying the outdoors is a privileged, white activity. For example,

Many outdoor jobs, like wildland firefighting and logging, remain hyper-masculine and painfully heteronormative.

I hadn't thought of wildland firefighting as enjoying the outdoors - it's not what I do when I feel cooped up need to get a bit of air - but I will admit that it seems to by hyper-masculine.  Too masculine for most of us men, frankly, who can only admire the guys who actually do it.

Thompson's takedown is fun, and the linked original article is a real treat.

Ancient Semantic Unities

The words for spirit, breath, wind, energy have related meanings in both the Semitic and Indo-European language families. I have indirect reason to suspect that this is not untrue about the Uralic (Finno-Ugric) languages as well but do not insist on it. There was interaction among those in prehistoric times, so it may be that there was concept-borrowing rather than a common origin. Yet it is so pervasive in both sets that I consider it unlikely.  More likely is that this unity was present beforehand, whether because it is a human universal or because it at least derived from the murkier earlier versions of those language families, back into the Eurasiatic or Indo-Semitic languages.  Be it noted that those categories are worse than just speculative - more like generally rejected - long before writing or clear associations we can track now, so I wouldn't ride that horse too far away from known sources of water.

Yet there they are, related meanings between families where no related meanings should be. Owen Barfield believed these pointed to earlier concepts in language that were not merely related, but in fact unities. When ancient man thought of -pneu or ruach he did not do so in a manner we might in our day, "oh, that word for breath could also mean spirit or wind or life-force - those are interesting poetic connotations," but understood the word to mean all of these at once.  We have divided things and made them more specific, and this is useful in so many ways for our understanding and precision, but it necessarily loses that unified meaning. Our theories of language origin have centered around moving from the concrete "that's a rock. He is throwing" to abstract meanings like attributing deity to a river or metaphors of enclosure or completeness leading to the name for the wheel.  Barfield reverses this and claims that the metaphors were there from the start, and were the earlier reality. It has been called his greatest insight and contribution, "not merely a theory of poetic diction, but a theory of poetry, and not merely a theory of poetry, but a theory of knowledge" and the arising of consciousness.

He reasoned that as we went back as far as we could in the languages we knew, we did not find them getting increasingly concrete, but increasingly mixed, metaphorical, multi-meaninged. I don't have anything like the linguistic knowledge to confirm or refute this, and I think the little attention my textbooks paid to the subject sided with the other theory, of the concrete giving rise to the abstract.  Yet is should be said that he had thoroughly convinced Tolkien of this idea by 1928, and Tolkien's letters reveal that his whole legendarium took a new turn at that point, and regarded his writings as proof-of-concept for Barfield's theory here. When Tolkien uses light in LOTR, or especially in the Silmarillion, he wants many meanings to be present at once: the ability to see physically, the ability to perceive spiritually, the aggressive pushing back of the darkness, the illumination of knowledge, the combined joy and pain of brightness.  Think Galadriel's phial as a good example. 

Tolkien knew a great deal of the origins of the Indo-European, Uralic, and Semitic languages and did not take issue with this idea that they become more metaphoric, not more concrete as we trace them back. In the absence of any knowledge of my own, I have to accept that this as evidence that Barfield is at least not ridiculous and impossible here. Barfield thought that as consciousness fought its way through to arise, the idea of deity was not added to the river, but a world of spiritual powers was gradually discerned.  The river, as it was recognised, already had a spirit.

To take another example, consider an intelligent animal like a dog, which we might think of as having some consciousness trying to arise. The dog has few understandings of what we call a word, or a concept, yet it does have this whole interconnected array of concepts of having a master, being a good dog, wanting to please, all being right with the world, there being no pain and enough food, affection, and running.  It is all one in the dog's mind. It takes much greater powers of distinction to be able to sort out "The world is not right because I am hungry, or because my master is not here, or because I did something wrong this morning that I don't remember." Given that picture, conscious rising in primitive man could have happened that way. 

We have gained more than we can even describe, yet we have lost something as well, some poetic and spiritual connection of all things. It is nearly unrecoverable, though poets and artists can bring us some of it.

Tolkien, Barfield, and eventually Lewis and Williams regarded these sorts of associations as True Metaphors, associations which are not artificial and forced, but capture an ancient reality. Things that are flowing, fleeing, flying have some underlying reality that is reflected in the language but are in some deep wood, long uninhabited but once a home of elves actually the same thing. Breath and energy and wind and alcohol and the Holy Spirit share an underlying reality. 

I don't know if I quite understand this or accept the truth of it, yet it seems to be what is happening in Middle-Earth.

Preparing to Defend Others Against Cancelling and Blackmail

After writing about Alina Chan of the Broad Institute about the possibility that C19 was a lab escape, I have thought several times about how fortunate it is that when the PRC tried to discredit her, directly and indirectly, she did not have anything to hide that could be used against her. With the hacking and information leaks on millions of Americans, it is widely speculated that the Chinese have got something on a lot of people that they can use to prevent them from saying what they know. It is rather frightening to contemplate that there might be many things even now that we should be told about, but the tellers fear embarrassment - or worse.

Are we prepared in advance to ignore compromising information that comes public about whistleblowers? I am not only referring to threats from China on this, but from anyone. What was it recently, that someone was making politically hated statements and a journalist went and asked his old girlfriends what they thought? We're talking almost fifty years ago for me, and I haven't the faintest idea what most of them would say about anything. Hmm, except that at least two are liberals, so I might be in trouble there. But if we are going to start digging and reporting on people at that level, few will emerge unscathed.

I try to ignore dirt from the past most of the time anyway, as one can usually sense that it is politically motivated and slanted in its presentation, if not outright fabrication.  But I'm not sure I can promise to not be affected by new stuff that comes up.  We become affected very quickly by reports that someone has betrayed friends, been harmful to others in their personal lives, been irresponsible with trust. I don't think I can give a blanket pre-assurance "I won't care about any of it and won't pay attention."  Yet I think we had all best be prepared to enter a new world where we are going to have to overlook a lot more, simply because a lot more will be coming out.

Epistemic Trespassing

A bit of an aside, from the talk by Lee Jussim I mentioned below.  He used the phrase epistemic trespassing to refer to people who have expertise in one area moving over to make pronouncements in areas they know only superficially.  He points out that this is one of the dangers of a field like social psychology not being rigorous. When the core elements of a field, the summary findings, the introductory course assertions, are not particularly accurate, it becomes especially dangerous when pontificators from other realms come in and spread those assertions more widely. Thus educators, pastors, historians, or doctors, people who have competence in some field and thus some credibility, speak about Stereotype Threat, or Implicit Bias, or Microaggressions as if they are known truths.  While it is fair that they should have been more cautious, more disciplined, and (gulp) more honest about what they do and do not know to be true, sloppy research seeking to uphold a narrative does rather put the bad information out on the buffet for others to take. In all eras, most especially our own, the preferred cultural narrative will be widely shared. Many educators or pastors want very much to believe that these things are true, and are over-willing to accept them at face value as Established Science. 

I long ago wondered why people who went to seminary believed themselves to be somehow knowledgeable about economics and international relations, compounding the error by assigning moral weight to their inaccuracies.  Education schools are rather notorious for borrowing from everyone at a superficial level, and it is nearly a job requirement for journalists now. Yet small wonder, as those entrusted as guardians of the truth in their own fields have made it so easy for them. Yes, yes, you can take this to the bank.  All the best people over here agree that it must be so.


 In Dante's Purgatorio, purification from the sin of pride is shown in Canto XI. The poet/pilgrim sees a man carrying a great weight

...a living person would be able to climb and if I were not hindered by the stone
    that overpowers my neck for its pride


I am Omberto, and pride has brought injury 

not only to me but my whole family 

dragging them with it into calamity. And here I must bear this because of that 

until God is satisfied. What I would not 

do among the living I do here among the dead.

 What I would not do among the living I do here among the dead. The image is so much like Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol that I have to think Dickens is deliberately echoing it. Pay now or pay later.

The scriptures refer to sin as a weight or a burden, more often even than the image of stain.

Lee Jussim and Social Psychology - and Justice

 "There is a social scientific sort of Holy Trinity.  Stereotype Threat is one piece. The other two are Microaggressions and Implicit Bias. And the scientific foundation on which all three are built is exceedingly shaky. In all three cases, the narratives and real world applications are based on highly dubious and uncertain science. And there has been a slow-moving walking back of the extraordinary and extreme claims in all three areas over the last like 10 or 15 years." verbatim quote from a talk by Lee Jussim, "He Comes to Abolish Social Psychology."

Dr. Jussim leads the Social Perception Laboratory at Rutgers. He is also chair of the Dept of Psychology. The credentials are particularly important because these pillars of Social Psychology are his specific area of research and expertise - and he is saying the field has wildly overstepped its real knowledge. He also notes that he considers himself to be a moderate Democrat, but is increasingly being called a right-winger within his field, and sees the same happening to others.  He finds it amusing about himself, but worries the effect this name-calling has on others.       

This lack of evidence includes trumpeting very modest effects for purposes of publication even when one's own research shows that other factors have a more robust effect. There is some research that shows that identical resumes get treated differently when they are attributed to someone with a white-sounding vs black-sounding name. But the effects are small and uneven, while the factors that employers did respond to, such as degrees, experience, and personal characteristics were "gigantic, some of the largest effects in the social sciences." Right there in the papers that most heavily lean on the the idea that Implicit Bias is real is the evidence that other factors are far more real. Jussim also noted that accepting studies with very small sample sizes, especially when there are similar studies based on ten or a hundred times more individuals is shoddy science.

Stereotype Bias is the idea that African-Americans or women perform worse in some real life when they are given discouraging messages that blacks or women don't do this or that as well as whites or men. The research behind this is not even that they do worse in academic courses because they have these negative thoughts, because that is very hard to test. They do worse in some areas, and so it is assumed that this must be why. I still haven't gotten to the research parts yet. What they find they can examine is the results of short-duration tests, before which they tell some of the students that their group does not usually do well in this subject. 

A small effect was found at the lower extremes, but not among the majority. The blacks and women who had scored as well as the whites and men on initial tests were not affected by the discouraging language. Among those who were already scoring poorly, the discouragement seems to have exaggerated the effect and made them a little worse. But the reporting was done with some sleight-of-hand. In the topics that they targeted, such as women taking tests in math, they found that the subsequent overall scores were lower. Yet they had been lower before the Stereotype Threat test - this was not highlighted. Similarly, African-Americans got lower scores on the tests after receiving the Threat.  But they got lower scores before the threats too. When you pull those numbers back to apples-to-apples, the remaining effect is very small indeed.

Lee Jussim believes that if truth-seeking does not come first, then social justice can never result and we are just spinning our wheels. That interestingly echoes CS Lewis's First and Second Things. which itself echoes the Gospel of Matthew "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." 

"If you prioritise truth-seeking, as a scientist ...everything follows from truth-seeking, including justice and social justice.  If you try to build social justice on false stories and narratives you end up with the Soviet Union and the Cultural Revolution."(Jussim again, same talk.)

Racism III

I read a few weeks ago about a company where there was a kerfuffle because someone had used the n-word, not calling anyone that, but in the meta-language of speaking about the word, and some folks had been offended. "It's only one word that offensive that we're asking you not to use.  It's an extremely small ask," one said. I agree.  I don't use the word myself, as there are easy ways to avoid it. The phrase "the n-word," like "the f-word" or "the c-word," is stilted and a bit childish sounding, but still, that's a minor sacrifice in order to be polite and kind.  The words themselves are more unattractive to most ears now.  

When writing notes about psychiatric patients, we would sometimes have to use exact quotes, and they had used vile or insulting words.  Some of us would write the word out, as it was an exact quote, others would use circumlocutions that would indicate what the word was without having to actually put it on the page.  When we would have to testify in court and use exact quotes that caused anxiety for some, but judges were comfortable with the evasions, so long as it was clear what had been said. However, sometimes an attorney would advocate that the actual word be pronounced out for the record. "I want the full effect of the comment. The patient knew what he was doing and I want the judge to hear it the way it was said.  I don't anyone hiding behind such things as 'He was using inappropriate language' when it was worse than that."

By the same reasoning, it should be likewise forbidden to call someone a racist according to some new definition they do not accept.  The emotional effect of the description under the old definition is hurtful to many ears, so simple politeness should dictate that we don't call people that name. It's an extremely small ask.

If the answer comes that the word racist should be allowed whether people like it our not, because it is accurate by the new definition, or important to get the point across, then the "extremely small ask" of the n-word must logically come back into play.  If it's not an extremely small ask to avoid manipulative uses of "racist," but an impossibly large one, then all our other pieces must slide about the board as well, if we are to be consistent and ...equitable. We have long-standing conventions of communication about quoting someone directly, or reading a document from another era, or in discussing a word qua word, explaining it's origin or use or effect on hearers. To give those up is not always an extremely small ask.  Those range from moderate to large asks. To disallow Huckleberry Finn in the schools is a large ask - not impossibly large, but it ain't nothin'. To be unable to quote a court decision from a century ago that was itself quoting another document of the time as a bad example is a moderately large ask.  In the very place we are seeking clarity, we have to dance around. Or take the example of John Schnatter, founder of Papa John's, quoted as saying "...what bothers me is Colonel Sanders called blacks n******. I’m like, I’ve never used that word. And they get away with it,” Schnatter said. “Yet we use the word ‘debacle’ and we get framed in the same genre. It’s crazy. The whole thing’s crazy.” I would have still avoided the full pronunciation myself. But it's hard to call his statement racist. They didn't like other political statements of his and were waiting to pounce. By the way, if there is more to the story and he said things that were racist, let me know and I'll find another example, because it's easy.  I chose this one because it was recent and clear.

It is unfair to intentionally use a word to hurt and and expect to be exempt from consequences while insisting that others take full consequences for unintentional harm.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Mighty Quinn/Fox on the Run


Going to see the mighty Quinn in a couple of weeks.

This next is more usually a bluegrass standard.


Research Update

Brief19 is a "Daily Review of Covid-19 Research and Policy from Doctors on the Frontlines."  I like that skin-in-the-game aspect.  

Good news/bad news today.  

The suicide rate in 21 high- or upper-middle income nations show suicide rates that are lower or unchanged.

Antibody treatment turns out not to be all that good after all.  The FDA is revoking its emergency use authorisation.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Blood-Pressure Reducing thought of the Day

If you criticise something online, the assumption is that you must yourself be the opposite. I am guilty of this myself this very week, reading an essay by David French criticising evangelicals and their cultural, philosophical, and political errors.  I got annoyed, as 80% of what he said could have come from any progressive Christian or secular liberal. Yet it did contain elements that would never have come from those sources, elements that deserved consideration and were not unfair.

Okay, they were unfair, but they weren't entirely unfair. It is a distinction we all have to keep dragging ourselves back to, of hearing out criticism from within our own ranks. It is harder because such complaints will often contain elements of the very things entirely partisan, unthinking opponents throw at us, and we want to stomp those things to earth immediately, or to change metaphors, strangle them in the cradle.

Okay, that would be me with those violent images, it might not be you.  You might want to gently and subtly persuade your opposition with winsome affect and joyful countenance.  If you are out there among my audience I want nothing more than to inspire you and bring greater calm to your endeavors. For the rest of you, which I assume approaches 99%, it is a reminder that spiritually this is the better course, and that is may be tactically the better course as well.  The defections from full leftist support have increasingly come from those who considered themselves moderate Democrats, center-left, octogenarian centrists who are now being accused of being far-right fascists. I hope to write about Lee Jussim in a bit, the liberal, even fairly radical leftist who is chair of the social psychology department at Rutgers but is now laying waste to the entire discipline with his temperate but unwelcome research. At the moment be it simply noted that he is under persistent attack as a right-winger, which he is a big enough man to laugh out loud at, but understands the gravity of how such a thing could come to pass. He wants the assertions of his discipline to be supported by evidence, not activism, which is now radical.  Razib Khan told him "Lee, that's a right-wing position now."

So be of good cheer, those who can manage it.  There's your entry point. The America social sciences are so far left that even Europeans are more accepting of possible criticisms in the field now, and if you are a nicer person than I am, you can brighten up, send postcards to your friends and no longer feel so frustrated. The fields are white for harvest for you.  Not for me, because I have much too large a jerk factor.  But Maybe I can at least pass calm along to you.

Loving Yourself

The statement used to come up frequently, but I haven't heard in in ages - well, in order to love others, you have to love yourself.  Of course, I don't run in circles where such vacuities would be said (that is a salute to not only my online but my realspace friends) anymore.

It is less than half true.  Like all dangerous thoughts, it contains enough truth to suck us in, so that "even the elect would be deceived." It's maybe 30% true. Those consumed with self-hatred cannot well-love others, yes.  But it is mostly just an excuse for people to say "I'm going to work on loving myself for the next decade, then get back to you." 

A better understanding is that it takes self-knowledge to love others.

I almost went down the trail of self-respect as a foundation for loving others, but that is merely closer, not the full effect. Self-respect is the true answer to those who advocate for self-esteem, which is not only an inadequate, but an actually destructive goal, as it depends entirely on others - or depends on self-delusion.  That is a related question, but not quite the same.

If you run across that "love yourself first" doctrine, I am hopeful that the correction to "know thyself," if delivered gently, might be heard.

Abortion Boundaries

I am bringing in this update because with this amount of turnover on this one-stop-shopping, "all your intellectual stimulation in a bag" AVI site, even a week can be a long time and you aren't going back to read about abortion boundaries. Unless I make you.

It is interesting to contemplate the emotional and intellectual conflicts that arise on the pro-choice side when we contemplate the Mendelian conditions that all the chattering classes assume anyone with any sense would want to abort, and whether they are fertile in the next generation or not. If they aren't fertile anyway, as with Down Syndrome, then what's your issue?  Why abort?  It's a self limiting problem, right? Bring them in, be a compassionate society, care lovingly for all who exist. Yet these are among the first to go in genetic selection, aren't they? Why would that be, unless the goddess of Time has decreed that the present is everything and the future is a mere incantation to get what we want for ourselves now?

If one wants to make the argument that it is different for those who can pass on deleterious genes, and for the good of humanity we should nip those in the bud with prenatal death, there is something to that.  I think I could win that argument, but let me at least acknowledge that it is a different argument. It is also an argument that precisely no one on the pro-choice side is making, so far as I can see. 

I don't think that squares well with other liberal claims.


I am redoing a genogram from 2009, when Kyle came into our family and we had to explain to our friends of many years exactly where he fits in this family constellation and how we ended up bringing him in. Very much an act of the Holy Spirit, as we did not seek him, but saw within a couple of days - actually within hours - that this was God's plan.

What I said then about the process is still true.  If you have a nice boring genogram of two parents, having children, those marry and have children, it is a symbolic of the stability of their lives, and how grateful you are for that section of the family.  If you have trouble fitting someone into the diagram, having to reconfigure and re-size repeatedly and throwing out draft after draft, it is enormously likely that this is precisely the effect they have had on everyone around them in real life as well. I recommend this as a reality check for those frustrated with their families.  You get a strong visual of "It is actually true.  This chick/prick has brought destruction not only to our family, but to others."

We are welcoming a new person into the family soon, and have a couple of others who bid fair to enlist as Wymans as well, so I thought it would be good to set out for them who these players are who we refer to, why they are important or have distanced themselves from importance, so they don't step on soft ground in the swamps. Tracy and I have moved heaven and earth to be solid places in the swamp for the rest, especially for the five sons and the women who love them. Throwing out page after page only twelve years later saddens me at how limited our success has been. Still, it has been some.

Definitions of Racism

I have a Shorter OED, 1993 edition. It tells me that the word originated M20, that is mid-20th C. A little further digging tells me racism and racist showed up around 1930 and were common in English by the late 30s. There were earlier versions of racialism and racialist from 40-50 years earlier. The SOED at the time carried the theory that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, qualities, etc specific to that race, esp distinguishing it as inferior or superior to another race or races; prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism based on this. 

A more modern definition from Merriam-Webster is a touch different: a belief that race is a fundamental determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race

All of the early entries treat this as absolutist. All members...specific to that race...inferior or superior. There is nothing of tendencies, nor anything of mere differences with no ranking. The later definition softens that some, that one's race is a "fundamental determinant." Still, that's pretty strong.

But the Merriam-Webster also includes something new, a second definition that refers to systemic oppression, or a system founded on racism. I am not concerned whether we think this definition is wrong or what we think it should mean, because dictionaries have not been prescriptive like that since the 1960s. Dictionaries record how words are actually used, without judgement. I simply note that this second definition is new.  There is a hint of it in the portion of the 1993 definition after the semicolon. I don't know how new. As this is a shading of one meaning into another, the emergence might be hard to pin down.  It may have already been used in that way in 1993, just not frequently. My impression is that this second meaning is about ten years old, twenty at most. Part of postmodernist jargon is redefining words and then applying social pressure to make sure you are keeping up. Fashion and fad are features, not bugs. Language is a very important weapon to leftists* including insisting that their definition is the only real one. This is all just tactic, with no intellectual foundation.

For comparison, the words sexism and sexist came in in the 1960s and in the Shorter Oxford in 1993 had definitions similar to the one for racism. M-W has not added in a second definition for sexist of oppressive systems on it's current site.  I don't doubt someone has used sexist in that way, but it has not yet become common enough to be generally accepted as common.

Words change in meaning. Taking on an additional meaning or dropping an old one is very common historically, and I recognise that my irritation at that level is largely from just being an old guy.  But language change when initiated from the left is quite different.  It is not something which flows naturally, but is calculated. So too here.  The new definition is not merely an addition, it is an attempt to draw from the extreme negative emotional energy attached to the first definition of racism so as to apply it to the second. They want to call you racist on the basis of the second definition but get all the juice of thousands of years of real racism thrown in in order to get votes, grant money, jobs, status...hell, in order to get power, because for leftists there is nothing but power. Any intellectual argument you have against them is just an excuse for maintaining power.

It is a word game, and it isn't anything else.

A close analogy would be the express tactic communists used, including in America, of rewriting the lyrics to religious music to suit political ends.  In the US, that was old hymns. "Down by the Riverside," "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore," and most famously, an entirely spiritual meaning being entirely swamped in the political. I once sang this song with fervor as a 16 year-old.  Now I cannot listen to 30 seconds of it.

Deceptive bastards, right out of the gate, trading on the emotional associations that other people paid in blood to earn, but they stole.

*I don't mention enough that the distinction between liberals and leftists is growing ever more profound philosophically.  I have anger at liberals because they do not see that, and believe that those really dangerous people must be just like them, because they hate Trump and racism. Yet the people in power in government and academia and entertainment are increasingly different from those nice folks who go to discussions at the library or shudder at those Creationists they just don't understand, mind-read that those conservatives must be speaking in code and are mostly Nazis,  and have always been deeply concerned about acid rain, the tropical rainforest, global warming, climate change. I get angry at them, but I don't think they are crazy or even that their values are askew.  Their values are mostly fine - but entirely irrelevant in the current political climate.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Lack Of Art

Critical Race Theory, and Critical Theory in general doesn't have any art I can think of.  Not poetry, not music, theater, film, painting, sculpture, nor literature.  It may just be that I am not up on such things. I don't think it is mere recency, as both have been around for years, nor is it a bias from unfair comparisons from centuries ago. I am not asking that it produce an equivalent to the high Renaissance.  Existentialism is also recent but does not suffer from the same lack.  there is plenty of interesting theater, poetry, and literature from them, and I think only a little stretch of the concept brings in the visual arts including film.

I suppose you might make a case that successive philosophies since the enlightenment have each produced less art of a durable nature, and Theory is just that much farther down the line, but you would have to go some to convince me that was more than a merely convenient explanation. 

This is a major red flag for the intellectual foundation of a philosophy, that artists in no medium can bring forth anything of interest. The heart of artistic expression is transposition, of reframing or new understanding of one concept and making it manifest in another. If you can find nothing to transpose, it means there is nothing there.

This is unsurprising, as Theory never pretended to be making anything, only analyzing it.  It's right there in the name, Critical Theory. It critiques. It is described as a tool for interrogating everything else. "Interrogate" is supposed to have a more refined meaning than the picture that pops into our head from movies, of guys sitting in a chair under bright light, getting beat up after any bad answer. It's supposed to mean "asking questions." In reality, it's pretty much the sadistic guys with the brass knuckles. You either aren't interrogated at all because you're on their side, or you get the crap beat out of you. 

So we interrogate history with Critical Theory. We look at American education through the prism of Critical Race Theory. We examine music or literature via Theory. But we never make anything with it. Making something requires talent, courage, and effort.  A critical theorist might have any or all of these things.  But they aren't required for the job.

Saturday, April 17, 2021


Years ago, when I was making season-long predictions for entire leagues, I would take care to make sure that the projected wins and losses evened out, that a baseball teams that went 92-70 should be counterpredicted by teams that were going to go 70-92. Not that this had to be 1:1 correspondence, but that the totals should get it right.

It was not until years later that I figured out that for bettors, this is not so, and the people with skin in the game understood a simple idea that the rest of us overlooked. The expected over-under of an NFL team is based on average luck for each. Some team might have fewer injuries, an unexpected development in a skill player, or a few key calls go their way, while another might hit the underside of this.  Those should even out over the league.

Yet a very few teams will have a catastrophic occurrence: their starting QB might go down for the season in game 2, or three defensive backs get injured in games 3-6.  They are then in all likelihood going deeply under their projection. Those are high-impact situations. Big negatives because of injury are much more likely that big positives from avoiding injury. Therefore, the projections for an NBA season of 82 games should not average out to 41-41.  The projections should be more along the lines of 44-38 for everyone, even though that doesn't balance in the end. A few teams are going to get clobbered and win 20 fewer games because Anthony Davis or James Harden gets hurt. But in terms of betting, being 20 games below the projection or 1 game below is immaterial. If you bet six teams overall, the other five are likely to gain a game or two and improve their chances of going over the top.

Racism I

I have a few observations which I hope are not simply outraged versions of what everyone else from the center-left to the fringe right is complaining about on the topic. I will put them up over the next few days.  So you don't have to stretch a point and shove in the idea you have been waiting for a spot to unload. Like a good volleyball teammate, I might be able to give you an even better set for you to spike.  And if not, you can put it in at the end, cursing me for not pointing out the obvious. I try to give you things that you might not see elsewhere.

Powerline, via Maggie's, has a discussion of the anti-racism position of a prestigious and expensive Upper East Side Manhattan all-girls' elementary school. What conservatives almost grasp but do not quite get a handle on is that fierce discussions of what types of prejudice are categorically, absolutely, don't-come-anywhere-near-this forbidden are also a quiet announcement of what types of prejudice are okay. It's almost an apophatic approach to cultural politeness. If they tell you that there is a million-dollar fine for shooting bears out of season but don't mention deer, wolves, coyotes, etc, that tells you quite clearly that you can bang away at the latter with minimal consequences.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Patient Explanation

There is a tone of patient explanation, especially within the church, when political issues are being presented from a liberal perspective.  Two years ago we listened to an explanation about gay marriage that our position wasn't loving, and Jesus was about being loving. The Chesterton training in me rose up and asked (to myself) "Could it not be that you are the one being unloving?  Where does your assurance come from that it is I?" This last year it has been about race, with the reminder that we should be listening to black people - not to mention listening to Goodwhites - about racial issues in the church, the implication being that "You might all be very nice people, but we have thought about this a lot and once we explain some simple things to you you will begin to see that we are right. So let's all study this from that perspective." This is the foundation of the claims that such-and-such a view perpetuates the status quo and white dominance in the church, to take one example. See, you didn't think of that, did you? But we've been thinking about it for years, so it's obvious us to us now. You either have to agree with us or you're perpetuating white power structures.  Not that you mean to. But now you should get it that this is the way it really is. 

Because what else can telling people that they should be listening mean? I can't see another possibility when people are being told to listen.

It is rather insulting to suggest that I haven't thought about these things as much as you have, even if it is delivered in the kind, we're-all-in-this-together tone of kindergarten teachers. I may have thought about it a great deal more.  In fact, I suspect there are pieces of this where I have thought through, or read those who have, to a point of clarity - of seeing that the various opinions and general points-of-view actually coalesce around some central ideas in ways that are unrecognised or even denied. For example, framing everything in terms of power/status/influence might not be a correct Jesus POV, but a materialist or even Marxist one. (To assert that it's going to be about power anyway is simply a restatement that this is indeed your POV.)

Secondly, it is accusing me, personally of bad motives for my ideas. The possibility that they may be correct is sidestepped under the assurance that the views are somehow convenient for me too hold for less-attractive reasons. But once such possibilities are on the table, the table can be turned. If my position is held for bad reasons, we may now look at yours.  What psychological benefit, material gain, additional power, or increased status are on the line for you?  Do you really want to go there? If not, then you should retract your accusation against me that I somehow benefit from these positions.  I may or may not. You can't know.