Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Real Alternatives

I don't listen to the people who believe they think for themselves much at all.  They usually are only choosing one of the major cultural sides or the other:  at work, liberal; at church conservative. They are above it all because they don't pay attention to NASCAR or the Kardashians or the mainstream media or hip-hop or whatever it is they think everyone else is aware of that they aren't.* The people who actually are different don't usually think about that, or are only dimly aware that others don't quite understand them, or note it with little interest.  They just think what they think.  They are usually wrong. But they are usually the only source for searing insights. That is, BTW, why I keep the Unz Review on my sidebar.  If you don't go over there, you may not be aware of how bigoted and crazy some of those people can be, while others are only 30 degrees off and reliably challenging.  Most columnists I routinely ignore, but force myself to read something of them once a month. In my discussion of experts and David L Hoggan I mentioned that South Asians did not regard his belief that Hitler was peace-loving as particularly crazy.  (Though it is crazy.) I learned that over at Unz Review, from one of the craziest anti-Semites there. I would not have learned it anywhere else. I browsed around to see if it were true, and it is emphatically so.  The analysts and historians from India thought the British were the most dangerous people in the world, and Hitler just a put-upon guy who had to go to war to keep from being destroyed by them.

John Maynard Keynes made the observation "The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back." And of course, Keynes is himself a defunct economist who still influences us greatly, and might have taken a wry pleasure in the idea that he is an example of his own cynical prophecy. Looking up that quote, I found that many of Keynes' most famous sayings were absolutely brilliant, while only a few were troubling.  Yet those few troubling ones telegraphed all the mischief that has been done by his disciples.

That's as good a warning to us all as one could find.  To be stunningly brilliant most of the time but wrong in a few things can result in one having an overall detrimental effect on the happiness and prosperity of your fellow-creatures.

In the first "Men In Black" movie, Tommy Lee Jones instructs Will Smith that he scours the real alt-alt media, not just the slightly unusual stories, to follow necessary leads.  I don't go that far, but I get that point.  I read what I call hypernormal people, mostly conservative, for solid understanding, almost for relaxation. They have some sense of historical perspective and what has usually worked for human beings that informs their opinion of current events. I, unfortunately, can get distracted by some bit of unreason that is currently ruling the airwaves, but they do at least slightly better.  My sidebar is largely people in the same boat as me, with historical knowledge but still distracted by the Tyranny of the Now.

But I think one has to take bread with two other groups: the people closest to the ground, who have learned their lessons by trial-and-error if nothing else; and the fanatics, who can force a screw in most of the way even when it is cross-threaded, by dint of persistence alone.

*I understand the sweetness of this attitude, BTW.  But it's fleeting.


james said...

Just to be perverse: The Gostak and the Doshes

Seriously, though--quite a few people thought Hitler was a good guy, or he'd not have had any power. History can be a good window into other minds--provided you latch onto a good historian, and not somebody who translates everything into modern categories. Literature and song--what do people care about?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

The story has that classic old sci-fi feel. The science part highly speculative, using real things as a taking-off point into poorly-understood things. The standard moralising about what fools humans and their institutions are, as contrasted to Men of Science.

Loved it.

Jonathan said...

Smart guy, Keynes.

"All things in moderation" isn't a bad heuristic. "Most things in moderation, but try to stay aware of the full range of possibilities" might be better.