Friday, May 31, 2019

Best Version

Or the most fun one, anyway.


Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man. Francis Bacon "On Studies" 1610

Oldies Station

Often on the not-very-powerful oldies station in southern NH, I hear a late 50s, early 60s song about a teenager who died in a car accident, sappily written from the perspective of the now-bereft boyfriend or girlfriend. They were very big then.  I have read analysis that views them as morality tales like horror movies, cautionary folktales memento mori. No one writes those songs anymore, and writers have drawn cultural conclusions from that.

I have a simpler explanation: they didn't have seatbelts then.

Into Prophecy

In my longish years, I have known many Christians who are "into prophecy." I don't think this is a result of the teaching they have been exposed to, I think it is a type of personality. I read some of it in the 1970s, sometimes intensely, with great seriousness, as I was among a people who were quite convinced that the Revelation to John included events most of us would be witness to.

Here is what I think now:  Jesus said He is coming back.  He said to be ready because it would be a surprise.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

More Old Links

I may get tired of this, but these still spark interest.  In me, that's who.

This was originally in Foreign Affairs in 2008, but is now in their archives.  I found another copy of Us and Them and pass it along to you.  It is about ethnic nationalism,ans seems even more on-point now.

The petition about the Unsettled Nature of Climate Change from five years ago. As we have discussed here, the wording makes a big difference.  When one asks "Do you think there's any climate change and do you think humans have anything to do with it?" you get a lot of assent.  Yet if you ask "Do you think there is convincing scientific evidence there is going to be catastrophic heating?" then the switch is flipped. May 2014

Christina Hoff Sommers 5 Feminist Myths That Will Not Die.  The odd thing is that it's Time magazine. I keep thinking about James experience comparing Little Rock 1957 and Little Rock 1972, and how quickly things can change in a culture.  I will be writing about it when I can get my thoughts straight.  Compared to when feminism came onto the scene in the late 1960s, feminism has unquestionably won, in terms of what people believe now.  The best evidence of this is that the arguments now are between various types of accepted feminists and the heretical feminists like Sommers or Paglia.  June 2016.

Cognitive Ability and Party Identity. Boy, I forgot this was there, and could have used it a few times since. November 2014

I seem to have followed up on climate change articles a lot more a few years ago than I do now. The Climate Wars' Damage to Science. June 2015

The Secret History of Silicon Valley. A long but fascinating series by Steve Blank. Originally March 2009.

The Secret Roots of Liberation Theology, by Ion Mihai Pacepa, the highest-ranking defector from the Soviet Union, ever. April 2015.

Inequality Myths Cato Institute. May 2014.

The Economics of Political Correctness.  UK site.  I now mentally cross out the phrase "Political Correctness" and scribble in "Blasphemy Laws." April 2014

 There's Something About Teutonics. Those Who Can See. An HBD site. November 2014

Brief Popularity

I have a little project going, to reprint my most-viewed posts over the years.  That is easier to manage than reprinting what I consider to be my best, because I am much too fond of my own writing and thinking and would have discomfort in the winnowing. There are oddities of what got the most hits, due mostly to titles with common search terms that would lead people to my site.  Stonehenge, ABBA, and NH Accent have brought some accidental visitors, I suspect. I already have too many, and will have to set a higher cutoff.

I am about 80% done researching the list, and hit a surprising spike just now. In the fall of 2016 my number of pageviews tripled, post after post. It started slowly in the summer, peaked mid-November to mid-December, then gradually declined over the rest of the winter. I had no explanation at first, but I have a theory.  This is the period leading up to the election, and especially its immediate aftermath. I doubt I was writing anything more compelling, but we were all more obsessively reading each other's stuff.  Those who have to ability to check your own site's traffic, let me know if you had a similar spike.

It would be an anticlimax in a countdown, as it is fairly unrepresentative of my posting (though I did start out as more of a psychblogger), so I will let you know here that California Rocket Fuel, about a particular antidepressant combo is far and away my most-read post.  Thousands more. It is a double, a very short 2008 post I linked to again in 2014 with a little further discussion.  Both times I got very good comments, fun in themselves.

Western Culture

Western Civilization includes architecture, the arts, and forms of government, which are not what I wish to speak of here.  They are deeply related to customs, attitudes, and beliefs, certainly, but I'd like to keep a little closer focus on the less-visible aspects.  Some beliefs common in the west have been described as White Supremacy Culture. That seems to be going out of one's way to be insulting. The discomfort that some white people - and not only white people - have expressed in that characterisation has not been an opportunity to rethink and reword, but evidence that the lesson is working.  Right off the bat we're seeing what the difficulty is here, if mere precision of thought and understanding cause and effect are going to be held as markers of white supremacy.

There is a good deal that is true about some attitudes being more common in our culture. Individualism is much rarer across the world.  People regard themselves as part of a clan or tribe as their most important identity.  It is foundational to Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes, which I discussed over two years ago. We, and Americans especially, are the odd ones here. American students often project onto people in other times and places their own attitudes, as in "I would never have put up with being treated like that.  I would have rebelled and been my own person."  Not likely, Taylor. You can't assume you understand them. In the Anglosphere there was a gradual trend toward nuclear families rather than extended.  Now I'm not sure we have even that.  This has spread to the rest of Europe, and somewhat to those who emigrated to America and Canada from many other places. Among some groups it disappears in two generations, in others it persists.

Sense of Urgency was also mentioned.  I'm not quite sure what to make of that, but there may be some resentment that Westerners expect others to be on time.  Norwegians are fanatic about it.  The puritans were obsessed with keeping track of time and "improving the time," and improved the accuracy of timepieces.  Swiss watches are legendary. Many things can be accomplished just as well without much attention to punctuality, but business ventures often require it. Efficiency isn't just one of those eccentricities of the West. More people get fed, have shelter, and have protective clothing because of it.

There was criticism in one presentation that White Supremacist culture is obsessed with objectivity, because it implies a belief there is only one right answer and an unwillingness to accept other points of view.  This is not entirely unjust, as you can find Americans insisting their POV is the best answer all the time. Yes, we do this. However, so does everyone else in the world.  It's not peculiar to the West.  I say it is actually less universal among us.  Objectivity implies choosing among at least two, and more likely several, possibilities. I have dark suspicions about what is driving this complaint.  Are there a few specific answers we are not allowed to come to, or even consider, even if there is evidence they might be true - because that would hurt someone's feelings? Or is this something that Westerners do better than others, and it works? We have been practicing it for a while, but I don't think it's unlearnable. The Japanese seem to have a handle on it.

Objectivity seems to have worked well for minorities before the law in the US. I doubt we want to go back to more subjective standards of whether we think someone is guilty or not.

Speaking as the primary representative for Western Culture, I offer that one advantage of these values is that they seem to work very well for many people, not just the few.  Women get to keep their property and even be educated! Factories and trains running in efficient time means food and medicine get to more people, including the poor.  What other places should we be comparing ourselves to where life is better? We like relaxing on vacation in places with a slower pace, and build up a mythology of how much better things are there.  Well, yes, vacations are fun.  We spend lots of money for other people to do things for us and that's nice.

I suggest that our culture is being compared to some mythical one that dreamers are just sure would work just great.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Kenneth Tynan

He wrote "O! Calcutta!" a play which was very big back in 1969 because it had naked people and lots of sex talk throughout. "Hair" only had nudity at the end, and the female characters usually had extremely long and full hair, so that it was a Lady Godiva tease show instead. Tynan was famous, or notorious, from the early 50s on, for intentionally being as outrageous and offensive as possible. He was better known in Britain than America, and was the preeminent theater critic of the day.  He wasn't the first to say "fuck" on the BBC, but he was one of the first, and somehow he got the reputation for it. He reveled in his infidelities and sadomasochism. He had something of Oscar Wilde in him - in more ways than one.

He was at Oxford.  He was at Magdelen.  In fact, CS Lewis was his main tutor and advisor, and he loved Lewis all his days. Lewis loved him as well, despite his sharp disapproval. Unexpected, yes? Tynan died at 53 because of a lung disease, and went back to read a great deal of Lewis in his last decade. He had nothing but praise for him.  In Alan Jacob's biography of Lewis, The Narnian, the last few pages are taken up with Tynan in his last years, possibly softening after it all to the call of Christ.  His daughter Roxana read a passage from Lewis's "The Weight of Glory" at Tynan's funeral, identifying it as a favorite of her father's.

So we don't know what Kenneth Tynan thought in the end.  But here's an interview from The Guardian, much more sympathetic to Tynan's POV than Lewis's, but Tynan holds firm.  Notice how quickly the interviewer wants to get off the topic. There is something painful and poignant about it. In the last year of his life he wrote to his wife a prayer he had translated from the French and claimed as his own.
At the hour of my death, may You be the refuge of my astonished soul, and receive it into Your merciful breast.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Notre Dame Update

I understand the idea behind the endless spire of light and do not think it evil, but I prefer the decision the French Senate has put forward.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Back the Other Way

The conservative press is all excited about the British EU elections, the nationalist parties in other European countries, and the Australian elections.  Populism and nationalism are on the rise. At the moment, I consider this a good thing.  The internationalists - who are actually only in favor of a transnational elitist tribe - and the Make Europe Great Again crowd (which is what Junker and the others really are; they want a Europe that rivals the US in organised power) have proven their dangerousness and need to be set on their heels firmly. They have undeserved power, they are equally tribal, and they are hypocrites.  Agreed. They believe that love of country is a regressive thing.

Yet I do not cede all the moral argument to the populists, who believe that the Regular Guys always have the best answers and should have their way; nor to the nationalists, who assert the superiority of their way of life even when it is markedly inferior.  Americans have always tried to ride that middle course, though many of us always fall to one side or the other in every generation.  We love our country both for its ideals of freedom, individualism, and rule of law, as well as for baseball, apple pie, and driving your own car long distances. 

Not all nationalists in the world are our allies, even as we understand their plight.  Not all populists are right, however much we understand their resentment. The pendulum is clearly swinging back, and I am glad.  Let us try to arrest its swing nearer the center this time, as our founding fathers seemed to want.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Knowledge of History Update

I was reminded today that the reputation that the Medieval Church interfered with the development of science comes largely from the Enlightenment writers - and has continued since.  Voltaire, D'Alembert, Draper, (Thomas) Huxley - they insisted on their narrative of the Renaissance replacing the Age of Faith.  Except they didn't actually know much history of the Middle Ages.  As we noted before, just because they were closer in time and space than we are does not mean they had good knowledge of the period. It took a hundred years or more, but the physicist and historian of science Pierre Duhem discovered piles of manuscripts that had been circulated among monasteries and universities in the Middle Ages.  I don't want to pretend advanced knowledge here. I had not heard of him until now, though I had known that he and others had begun the recovery before 1900. Lewis makes mention of them when asserting his claim that there is no break between the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

That brings up the next difficulty.  I have seen dates as far back as 1275 for "first beginnings of the Renaissance." There is also a separate "Renaissance of the 12th C," itself the 3rd of the medieval renaissances.*500-1500AD are a common set of boundaries for the Middle Ages. If one wants ot argue for 1400 I won't quibble.  But the clear Italian Renaissance does not start until well into the 15th C, and the scientific achievements trumpeted as examples of freedom from the church largely began in the 17th C. This seems an excessive flexibility of centuries, with a bit too much science coming in before it's supposed to, and then taking its sweet time later when it is supposed to be taking off, if we are counting by churchiness years.  It is in fact simply cherry-picking data, yet the myth continues.

It's got a great central story to hang its argument on, of Galileo muttering "and yet it moves."  Unfortunately, that doesn't capture what happened in that specific incident very well. Heliocentrism had already been speculated on in publication, allowed by the Church. The arrogant Galileo ran up against an even more arrogant and controlling pope, insisting on publishing in his own way and his own time.

Admittedly, Voltaire and the others didn't much know that. But that's my point.

Post 6200 - I Was Wrong. Twice.

I have said for decades that the fundraising and constant outrage wings of both the prochoice and prolife sides are exaggerating what the realistic outcomes are. I have maintained that things would only change marginally, around issues like parental consent or forbidding of partial birth abortion. Or on the other side, efforts to enshrine abortion permission in somewhat stronger legislative language, rather than extending forward past birth who could be killed.

I was wrong about both.


After reading the article about neglected conservative Michael Oakeshott over at Quillette, I wondered if rationalism and especially skepticism can ever build or create anything, or only tear them down.  I have been much in favor of rationality, and a healthy dose of skepticism as long as I can remember.  Yet I wonder if they ever provide more than "That's not proven...not worth basis for it...don't get taken in..."

More subtly, I think that when we try to eliminate all the irrationals, we are not left with the rational, but with other irrationalities in better disguise. Logic and reason are not our neutral states which automatically kick in when we eliminate illogic. Gardens do not grow by weeding alone.  It pains me to say this, because weeding is one of the things I do.  Perhaps I misperceive myself in this.


My son posted an historian's tweet thread accusing other historians of a consistent set of assumptions and biases which prevent full inquiry. He made a decent, though not overwhelming case that such a thing is possible, and does in fact happen.

The best evidence for his point comes from the historians refuting him, however. They use the "No True Scotsman" argument; they ask for examples but ignore the ones given; they are merely insulting - name calling without providing evidence that he "simply does not understand what professional historians do;" they assert that their political opinions do not bias their conclusions so much as their political opinions derive from their superior knowledge. I have mentioned before that one mark of a person having no insight is a 100%-0% characterisation.  Not one of the critics said "I see what you are saying, and it does sometimes occur, though not to the extent you accuse."  They all said "Nope.  Not never.  Historians never do this.  Not us.  You're ignorant." It's one of the primary markers of fools, to not allow that even 1% of a criticism is fair.

I say the shaft went home.

Beginning before my career started, but still happening when first I started in psychology, the entire field was overthrown as Freud (who set us back a century) was gradually discarded.  It is now being overthrown again because of replication crisis.  As the Freudians were going down, they made the same arguments dismissing their critics that the historians are making now.  As the replication crisis sends more sacred cows to the slaughter, this current generation is acting the same way.  "Nope.  Not us.  Impossible. You are ignorant people who just don't understand." Sociology and Anthropology are showing similar fragility, as clearly politically-biased trends from 50 years ago are being overthrown by hard data: DNA, archaeology. (See, for example, Lawrence Keeley's War Before Civilization.)

Historical linguists sneered at Greenberg's division of New World languages into only three groups, from identified migrations, but DNA is now dividing the tribes into just about exactly those three strands.  You'd think they would have learned their lesson after rejecting, then accepting, his simplification of the African languages.  But he'd made mistakes, you see, and so couldn't possibly be right.

The protest from the professionals is that they interrogate themselves and each other quite severely on every topic, considering what assumptions and choices are being made right at the outset. I don't doubt this in the slightest.  From what little I can hear over the transom, this is indeed what they do, and I think it is very healthy.  Asking whether this is from the perspective of the underclass, middle, or overclass is important; stepping back and considering how this played out differently for men and for women is valuable; examining whether the source material comes directly or indirectly from those inside, from allies, from competitors, from enemies, and at how much distance in time and space is basic. Yet this must also teach that the variety of perspectives can be multiplied endlessly. To then turn and say "We haven't missed anything important" is almost a self-accusation of having missed something important at that point.  You are the very ones who told us to not trust even our own thoughts.  It rather looks like you want us to question our assumptions, while you flood the market by questioning 90% of your assumptions intensely, always leaving the same 10% out.

I know only a bit about how PhD theses in history proceed, yet it does seem that much emphasis is put on the technical craft (which is fine), plus engaging in the interrogation according to the current fashion.  I have had one tell me that he could not do the thesis he really wanted to, because in this climate one has to check one of a limited number of boxes (he did not say "PC," but that is what he described) to even get it approved. This creates an illusion of reasonableness, of fairness, of attempted objectivity that is actually just a cargo cult response.

Are they skilled technicians who are told they are philosophers?

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Kiss Me Goodbye

Mike Yastrezemski

Finally called up to the majors. As he is in the National League, he won't be coming to Fenway, as was anticipated when he was in the Orioles' system. I was expecting it would be interesting when he was first introduced there.

Good luck to him

Knowledge of History

CS Lewis noticed that most people have a very dim idea of history, and that much of it swirls together, so that Romans in togas, knights-in-armor, and Queen Elizabeth all occupy similar territory in their understanding of The Old Days. Even among those with just a bit more education, Robin Hood, King Arthur, and the War* of the Roses seem very similar – Arthur being pushed forward centuries  in the imagination because of being written up by Mallory – and didn’t they all know each other, sort of?  Or know about each other, certainly?  If they are so close together in our brains, how can they be far apart in time and space?

We needn’t feel all that superior.  Even those who know a fair bit of history, even professional historians, miss contexts of face-palming obviousness. We read about women not being allowed full guild membership in Europe, without a mention about what rights women had outside of Europe at the time. That is, mostly none.  The Howard Zinns and Noam Chomskys of the world can recite American perfidies in detail – sometimes with great accuracy – with nary a thought about what everyone else in the world is doing. Particularly when physical cruelty is involved, we all recoil from the reports from even a few decades ago. Even in nice places, our ancestors tolerated tortures and mistreatments we now find frankly unbelievable. Thus when a report comes of how The Duke of Somewhere executed his brother and had his head put on a pike we shudder and consider him a monster, while a few hundred miles away Phillip the Good had 20,000 heads put on pikes but we don’t notice. (Part of how Vlad the Impaler became notorious is that his massive impalings – normal among both Ottoman Turks and their enemies in SE Europe – happened at the same time as the printing press was being improved.  Those pamphlets about Vlad sold, baby. Up until then, no one noticed Wallachia much.) The French Intervention in Mexico – had you even heard of the French intervention in Mexico? - killed more people than the Wars of the Roses or the American Revolution.  Seven of ten wars with the highest death tolls are Asian, including 50-100,000,000 in peaceful China in the 19th C.  The Mongols and Timur were good for 50,000,000 in the 13th-14th C’s. Africa and Old World North America were mostly low-level but continual conflict, so that you had about a 25% chance over time of being a captured concubine or dying in battle. The great Mayan, Aztec, Toltec – hell, about a thousand years of continual conflict and oppression – civilisations of Mexico…

Hey, maybe we should teach more non-Western history, for the opposite reason that it is usually advocated these days.  If Western children were brought up from the beginning in the knowledge of the above, plus widespread slavery, forced starvation – foot-binding will really stick in the mind of American girls - widespread death in battle, The Rape of Nanking and Chunking and the like, when we pulled back the curtain and taught them Western Civ beginning in 9th grade it might provide the necessary perspective.  Things really are dramatically different in the West, and even more different in America and Canada. That’s my new thought.  Save the Teaching of Western Civilisation – For Later. It might work.

There is another point buried in my first paragraph, generally overlooked, especially in the context of Christian history. None of these knew anything about each other. We easily know now that Christianity spread during the first five centuries after Pentecost largely without conquest. It spread first among the poor and the slaves, gradually acquiring more powerful adherents and clan leaders until it was 5-10% of the Roman Empire while still under persecution. When it became the official religion in the 4th C, its numbers skyrocketed – again without conquest, but with the change that this became top-down rather than bottom-up conversion. Clan leaders and tribal leaders would choose on behalf of all their people as before – except now it was in their interest to do so for practical and economic reasons. This is where most of the converts came from. (If you wish to argue quality over quantity of believers in those centuries, that is an interesting, but different subject.)

When we consider Ferdinand and Isabella completing the Reconquista and expelling the Jews in the late 15th C, in order to make Spain a Christian nation, it seems to us now a thorough misunderstanding of the gospel as we know it. Christ is not spread in this way.  God does not need us to compel others to come in, He can work even in circumstances of oppression. Except…they didn’t know that.  Not just Ferdinand and Isabella, educated and trying to be exemplary Christian monarchs – no one knew this. What few historical records of the first centuries of the church existed were not assembled into a coherent narrative of that sort, except perhaps by a few in Rome, and those not dominant. We may have the same embarrassing dim sense that because they are closer than we to early Christianity by over 500 years, plus a few thousand miles in distance, that they would know such history as a matter of course.  It’s just regular church history, right? They wouldn’t. They thought Christianity was spread mostly by rulers of an area being Christians and deciding for the rest. That is largely all they had ever heard of in the world.  People sometimes converted to the dominant religion of a place, but more often were conquered and made to go along or exist under less-favored circumstances.

Here’s the rub.  They may be more correct than we are. Though we “know” more history, we know things that are not true.  There is a current myth, especially among Evangelicals, that the church thrives under persecution. Well, there still aren’t many Christians in Albania. Russian Christians were mostly just killed or sent to Siberia, and even the Orthodox church, which has deep historical and cultural support, saw only a brief flurry of growth after the fall of the Iron Curtain. The church can survive and even become strong under persecution, but this is in no way automatic. 
*Historians now say Wars of the Roses, plural.  They also now say puritans with a small “p,” to highlight that it was a broader set of movements, not a unified group.  Historians like doing things like that, and it is an excellent way of teaching.  It builds on previous knowledge and modifies it, rather than starting from scratch. Both small changes are instantly understandable.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Distributed Power

I have known both conservatives and liberals who believe that a relative few people control much of what happens in the world, and they usually believe this is largely clandestine. I am not referring to those who believe in an Illuminati, though sometimes they come a lot closer than they would likely admit.  At the moment I read and hear far more liberals saying these things, beginning with “the 1%” and “corporate interests,” but that may simply be because I largely work with liberals, while my conservative associations are largely voluntary and a decidedly non-paranoid lot, even at mild levels. It does get weird hearing them talk about Donald Trump and “the government” doing many secret things while they distract us with news about investigations – as if there suddenly is a Deep State after all and it supports Trump, who has devised all these investigations of himself as distractions. If you put it that baldly to them (which I sometimes do, just because I still take the bait), they recoil and say that this isn’t what they meant really, then clarify their earlier statements by saying exactly that, though with different words that don’t sound so bad. Social workers, psychiatrists, and various advocates, mostly.  Perhaps not representative. When conservatives go down this road it is usually centered around a few possibilities – a large portion of the federal government, especially select agencies; major journalism figures and the string-pullers behind them, in cahoots with academia; or the “elites” in general.  That seems to be a larger group, more dispersed, a 5% of the country who are semi-secretly ruling us rather than a 1%.

And of course from many different sides there are those who go straight to believing it’s the Jews, who seem to be a crossing-street with every other type of paranoia.

As with full paranoia, depression, anxiety, and other states of mind, the general mildly paranoid belief precedes all the specific knowledge. They have long had the impression of the few working underhandedly with great skill to dupe the public at large, and this impression perseveres even when new facts go against it.  Even contradictory information is reshaped to support the narrative. I now think of it as a personality trait, rather than an intellectual one. People just think that’s how the world works. Yet power is widely distributed in America. Yes, rich people are sometimes able to influence legislation, regulations, or policy to help them become richer. That’s not a good thing, and as such rent-seeking does diminish the efficiency of the economy we all live in it does affect us.  Also, governments both local and national do prevent us from doing a few things and compel us to do others. Yet we still travel where we want, build houses we like, choose our hobbies, eat different foods, change jobs, have children or not. Government is mostly about taking money from us and doing stuff it claims is good for all of us.  Which it is, sometimes. It’s the few places it actually does touch strongly on individual decisions, such as abortion or buying guns, that everyone sits up and takes notice. We get strongly irritated at the rest, especially if we think we shouldn’t be paying for any of it, never mind an increase, but we mostly just grouse and work around it. When rich people try and change the government they are much less successful than they would like to be, and much less than our fears of them would success.  Yes, they do give money, sometimes secretly and illegally, and this is deeply offensive. On the other hand, they have to keep giving that much next year and the year after, so perhaps they have not the awesome power we attribute to them.

There is power to do what you want, and power over others to make them do what you want, and many shades in between of influence and permissions. When I was very liberal I believed that a very few evil conservatives were running all sorts of stuff and were forever on the brink of establishing fascist control over us – but fortunately, good free-spirited and well-meaning socialist types were breaking through that all over the late 60s and good times were coming.