Quotulatiousness

June 25, 2017

QotD: The Two Minute Hate

Filed under: Books, Politics, Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within 30 seconds any pretence was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp.

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1949.

June 24, 2017

QotD: Manipulation of public opinion using “optics”

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Public business is now done this way in “democracy,” thanks to media that can capture emotional moments, usually posed and contrived. A successful politician, such as Barack Obama, exploits them with genius, and a cool confidence that the public has a very low attention span. They will only remember emotional moments. Angela Merkel herself usually does a better job, but nothing much can be done about an ambush. She did her best to diffuse it. She’s a pro: I’m sure she knew exactly what the game was; that she’d been set up. From working in the media, I have seen such set-ups many times: all the cameras flashing on cue. Tricks of editing and camera angle are used to enhance the “teachable moment”; to condense the narrative into a hard rock of emotion, aimed directly at the boogeyperson’s head. For the media people are pros, too. They know how to adjust the “optics.” Pretty young woman crying: that will sway everyone except the tiny minority who know something about the subject. And they are now tarred with the same brush.

Huge changes in public life can be effected with big money, careful organization, and ruthless attention to “optics.”

David Warren, “Authority”, Essays in Idleness, 2015-07-17.

June 23, 2017

QotD: Philosophy

Filed under: History, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I believe the most important moment in the foreseeable future of philosophy will come when we realize that mad old Nazi bastard Heidegger had it right when he said that we are thrown into the world and must cope, and that theory-building consists of rearranging our toolkit for coping. I believe the biggest blind spot in analytical philosophy is its refusal to grapple with Heidegger’s one big insight, but that evolutionary biology coupled with Peirce offers us a way to stop being blind. I believe that when the insights of what is now called “evolutionary psychology” are truly absorbed by philosophers, many of the supposedly intractable problems of philosophy will vanish.

Eric S. Raymond, “What Do You Believe That You Cannot Prove?”, Armed and Dangerous, 2005-01-06.

June 22, 2017

QotD: “The culture war has come to the ballot box”

Filed under: Britain, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The message we’ve been bombarded with since Brexit and the Corbyn surge is that when the old vote, everything goes to shit, and the sooner these selfish, nostalgic bastards die, the better; but when the young vote, it’s all milk and honey and roses and light, and the sooner this fresh, caring generation takes over society, the better. The old are demonised, the young sacralised, giving rise to what must surely be one of the nastiest divides in our society right now. I can’t get behind the enthusiasm for the youth vote, I’m afraid, because much of it seems to me to be driven by a culture-war sense of entitlement against the apparently unfeeling, uneducated elderly. The culture war has come to the ballot box.

Brendan O’Neill, Facebook, 2017-06-11.

June 21, 2017

QotD: Profit

Filed under: Business, Economics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

While capitalism has a visible cost – profit – that does not exist under socialism, socialism has an invisible cost – inefficiency – that gets weeded out by losses and bankruptcy under capitalism. The fact that most goods are more widely affordable in a capitalist economy implies that profit is less costly than inefficiency. Put differently, profit is a price paid for efficiency.

Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics (fifth edition), 2015.

June 20, 2017

QotD: The essential horror of army life

Filed under: Europe, History, Military, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

One of the essential experiences of war is never being able to escape from disgusting smells of human origin. Latrines are an overworked subject in war literature, and I would not mention them if it were not that the latrine in our barracks did its necessary bit towards puncturing my own illusions about the Spanish civil war. The Latin type of latrine, at which you have to squat, is bad enough at its best, but these were made of some kind of polished stone so slippery that it was all you could do to keep on your feet. In addition they were always blocked. Now I have plenty of other disgusting things in my memory, but I believe it was these latrines that first brought home to me the thought, so often to recur: ‘Here we are, soldiers of a revolutionary army, defending Democracy against Fascism, fighting a war which is about something, and the detail of our lives is just as sordid and degrading as it could be in prison, let alone in a bourgeois army.’ Many other things reinforced this impression later; for instance, the boredom and animal hunger of trench life, the squalid intrigues over scraps of food, the mean, nagging quarrels which people exhausted by lack of sleep indulge in.

The essential horror of army life (whoever has been a soldier will know what I mean by the essential horror of army life) is barely affected by the nature of the war you happen to be fighting in. Discipline, for instance, is ultimately the same in all armies. Orders have to be obeyed and enforced by punishment if necessary, the relationship of officer and man has to be the relationship of superior and inferior. The picture of war set forth in books like All Quiet on the Western Front is substantially true. Bullets hurt, corpses stink, men under fire are often so frightened that they wet their trousers. It is true that the social background from which an army springs will colour its training, tactics and general efficiency, and also that the consciousness of being in the right can bolster up morale, though this affects the civilian population more than the troops. (People forget that a soldier anywhere near the front line is usually too hungry, or frightened, or cold, or, above all, too tired to bother about the political origins of the war.) But the laws of nature are not suspended for a ‘red’ army any more than for a ‘white’ one. A louse is a louse and a bomb is a bomb, even though the cause you are fighting for happens to be just.

George Orwell, “Looking back on the Spanish War”, New Road, 1943 (republished in England, Your England and Other Essays, 1953).

June 19, 2017

QotD: The Pope

Filed under: Britain, Humour, Quotations, Religion — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

I am not a Catholic but I understand that, unlike the position of Archbishop of Canterbury, where total contempt from the congregants more or less comes with the job, the Bishop of Rome is generally held in some respect by his church.

Mark Steyn, “Last Laughs in Europe”, SteynOnline.com, 2015-09-28.

June 18, 2017

QotD: Punishment, Coercion, and Revenge

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Quotations, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Because I’m both both a libertarian and famous for conducting a successful propaganda campaign, libertarian activists sometimes come to me for tactical advice. During a recent email exchange, one of these criticized me for wishing (as he thought) to “punish” the Islamist enemies of the U.S. and Western civilization.

I explained that I have no desire to punish the perpetrators of 9/11; what I want is vengeance and death. Vengeance for us, death for them. Whether they experience ‘punishment’ during the process is of little or no interest to me.

My correspondent was reflecting a common confusion about the distinctions among coercion, revenge, and punishment. Coercion is intended to make another do your will instead of their own; vengeance is intended to discharge your own anger and fear. Punishment is neither of these things.

Punishment is a form of respect you pay to someone who is at least potentially a member of the web of trust that defines your ethical community. We punish ordinary criminals to deter them from repeating criminal behavior, because we believe they know what ethical behavior is and that by deterring them from crime we help them re-integrate with an ethical community they have never in any fundamental sense departed.

By contrast, we do not punish the criminally insane. We confine them and sometimes kill them for our own safety, but we do not make them suffer in an effort to deter them from insanity. Just to state the aim is to make obvious how absurd it is. Hannibal Lecter, and his all-too-real prototypes, lack the capacity to respond to punishment by re-integrating with an ethical community.

In fact, criminal psychopaths are not even potentially members of an ethical community to begin with. There is something broken or missing in them that makes participation in the web of trust impossible; perhaps the capacity to emotionally identify with other human beings, perhaps conscience, perhaps something larger and harder to name. They have other behavioral deficits, including poor impulse control, associated with subtle neurological damage. By existing, they demonstrate something most of us would rather not know; which is that there are creatures who — though they speak, and reason, and feign humanity — have nothing but evil in them.

Eric S. Raymond, “Punishment, Coercion, and Revenge”, Armed and Dangerous, 2005-07-05.

June 17, 2017

QotD: The Progressive comedy pause

Filed under: Humour, Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Tell a joke to a liberal. Between your punchline and his laughter, there is a Progressive Comedy Pause. In this second or two, the liberal will process the joke to make sure he is allowed to laugh.

Is that joke racist? He mentioned Obama, but didn’t make light of him, so to speak. He also mentioned Michelle, but I didn’t notice sexism. Is it dismissive of the LGBTQIA community? Latinos? Muslims? Vegans? Will this joke hurt progressive causes? Will my laughter trivialize oppressed communities? Will I appear intolerant? I think it’s okay if I laugh. Yes, I’ll laugh now to signal my appreciation and to indicate that I’m not a joyless liberal scold.

“Ha ha.”

I first noticed the Progressive Comedy Pause while sharing my hilarity at office staff meetings. The majority would laugh but the committed lefties would stare blankly, each eye like that spinning wheel your smartphone shows while an app is loading. (The PCP might be why progressives just hoot and clap at Bill Maher’s jokes; the laughter reflex is considered problematic.)

[…]

It’s harder to laugh when you’re scared and much of the left is terrified. They know that an inappropriate chuckle, the wrong tweet, or last year’s term for an aggrieved minority can lessen their standing with progressive peers, if not get them fired from a job. Lefties also have turned the negative of humorlessness into the positive of moral superiority. Sniffing “That’s not funny!” at an inoffensive Caitlyn Jenner joke signals that you are more evolved than the average cis-het-white-oppressor. The same people who laughed at Dana Carvey’s “Church Lady” now aspire to be her.

Jon Gabriel, “Jerry Seinfeld and the Progressive Comedy Pause”, Ricochet, 2015-06-08.

June 16, 2017

QotD: Cultural decline markers

Filed under: Education, History, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In response to my previous post noting that the Flynn effect turns out to be a mirage, at least two respondents have suggested that average IQ has actually been falling, and have pointed to the alleged dumbing-down of politics and popular culture in the last fifty years.

I think both those respondents and the psychometricians are correct. That is, it seems to me that during my lifetime I’ve seen evidence that average IQ has risen a little, but that other traits involved in the “smart or stupid” judgment have eroded.

On the one hand, I’ve previously described the emergence of geek culture, which I take among other things as evidence that there are more bright and imaginative individuals around than there were when I was a kid. Enough of us, now, to claim a substantial slice of turf in the cultural marketplace. This good news is reinforced for me be the explosive growth of the hacker community, which today is easily a hundred times the size it was in, say, 1975 — and far larger than I ever dreamed it would be then.

On the other hand, when I compare Americans today to the country of my childhood there are ways the present comes off rather badly. We are more obese, we have shorter attention spans, our divorce rate has skyrocketed. All these and other indicators tell me that we have (on average) lost a significant part of our capacity to exert self-discipline, defer gratification, and honor contracts when the going gets tough.

To sum up, we’re brighter than we used to be, but lazier. We have more capacity, but we use less of it. Physically and mentally we are self-indulgent, flabby, unwilling to wake up from the consumer-culture dream of entitlement. We pursue happiness by means ever more elaborate and frenetic, diminishing returns long since having set in. When reality hands us a wake-up call like 9/11, too many of us react with denial and fantasy.

This is, of course, not a new complaint. Juvenal, Horace, and Petronius Arbiter wrote much the same indictment of their popular culture at the height of the Roman Empire. They were smart enough to understand, nigh on two millennia ago, that this is what happens to elites who have it easy, who aren’t tested and winnowed by war and famine and plague and poverty.

But there are important differences. One is that while decadence used to be an exclusive problem of the upper crust, we are all aristocrats now. More importantly, where the Romans believed that decadence in individuals and societies was inevitable, we know (because we’ve kept records) that as individuals we are taller, stronger, healthier, longer-lived and more intelligent than our ancestors — that, in fact, we have reaped large gains merely within the last century.

We have more capacity, but we use less of it. And, really, is it any surprise? Our schools are abandoning truth for left-wing bullshit about multiculturalism and right-wing bullshit about “intelligent design”. Our politics has become a wasteland of rhetorical assassinations in which nobody but the fringe crazies believe even their own slogans any more. Our cultural environment has become inward-turned, obsessed with petty intramural squabbles, clogged with cant. Juvenal would find it all quite familiar.

Eric S. Raymond, “People Getting Brighter, Culture Getting Dimmer”, Armed and Dangerous, 2005-08-28.

June 15, 2017

QotD: The Budapest Effect

Filed under: Europe, History, Quotations, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

A group of Manhattan Project physicists created a tongue-in-cheek mythology where superintelligent Martian scouts landed in Budapest in the late 19th century and stayed for about a generation, after which they decided the planet was unsuitable for their needs and disappeared. The only clue to their existence were the children they had with local women.

The joke was that this explained why the Manhattan Project was led by a group of Hungarian supergeniuses, all born in Budapest between 1890 and 1920. These included Manhattan Project founder Leo Szilard, H-bomb creator Edward Teller, Nobel-Prize-winning quantum physicist Eugene Wigner, and legendary polymath John von Neumann, namesake of the List Of Things Named After John Von Neumann.

The coincidences actually pile up beyond this. Von Neumann, Wigner, and possibly Teller all went to the same central Budapest high school at about the same time, leading a friend to joke about the atomic bomb being basically a Hungarian high school science fair project.

But maybe we shouldn’t be joking about this so much. Suppose we learned that Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach all had the same childhood piano tutor. It sounds less like “ha ha, what a funny coincidence” and more like “wait, who was this guy, and how quickly can we make everyone else start doing what he did?”

In this case, the guy was Laszlo Ratz, legendary Budapest high school math teacher. I didn’t even know people told legends about high school math teachers, but apparently they do, and this guy features in a lot of them. There is apparently a Laszlo Ratz Memorial Congress for high school math teachers each year, and a Laszlo Ratz medal for services to the profession. There are plaques and statues to this guy. It’s pretty impressive.

A while ago I looked into the literature on teachers and concluded that they didn’t have much effect overall. Similarly, Freddie deBoer writes that most claims that certain schools or programs have transformative effects on their students are the result of selection bias.

On the other hand, we have a Hungarian academy producing like half the brainpower behind 20th century physics, and Nobel laureates who literally keep a picture of their high school math teacher on the wall of their office to inspire them. Perhaps even if teachers don’t explain much of the existing variability, there are heights of teacherdom so rare that they don’t show up in the statistics, but still exist to be aspired to?

Scott Alexander, “The Atomic Bomb Considered as Hungarian High School Science Fair Project”, Slate Star Codex, 2016-05-26.

June 14, 2017

QotD: Portuguese culture

Filed under: Europe, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

So, let’s go back to culture being like the water in an aquarium. Most people aren’t blind to their culture. They know what it’s like and where it stacks in comparison with other cultures, more or less, relatively.

For instance, Portuguese are well aware of being very unorganized — and weirdly proud of it. No, really — and know they stack above Brazilians in organization but below powerhouses of organization like France and Ireland. What they don’t know is how their disorganization/disregard for times/disdain for details affects their prosperity, their security and every level of life in the country.

They don’t know this because they’ve never lived anywhere else. Going shopping will take an entire afternoon because the buses run more on suggestion than schedule (and if you drive, the traffic rules are also suggestions, which means sometimes bizarre traffic jams because someone didn’t find a parking space and thought he might as well park on a lane on the road.) Also, the stores might or might not have the same products they had last week, and besides, if the shopkeeper came in late, and then had a really difficult customer, you might have to wait an hour. And on and on. I often say I spent most of my teenage years standing on street corners, fortunately reading science fiction and not going “oh, hai sailor” because I got so neurotic about being late for an outing with friends that I got there ten minutes early. And then waited an hour for the first of them to show up and two for the stragglers. This type of thing, over time, eats people’s time and their mental and emotional resources. Frankly, it’s amazing the country works as well as it does.

And yep, they know they’re unorganized — they view it was free and not rigid — but they fail to take into account everything it touches, because “it’s always been like that.”

I suspect in the US people would bodily move a car that parked blocking a lane of a two lane road “while I go over there to the post office. It’s just a minute. What are you so uptight about that you object?” In Portugal it’s the way it works. (Though I understand if you park on the tram lines and are driving a smart, you will get moved. The occurrence is so common trams have really long poles to assist this move. You should have seen my kids’ faces watching this.)

Not ragging on Portuguese, really. They’re at worst a second world country. I’m only describing them because it’s a culture I have a lot of insight into. The culture as in all Latin countries, has all the stigmata of Rome, from bribery as a way of life, to nepotism as the oil that lubricates society. Which is not entirely compatible with modernity, and therefore means that Portugal isn’t one of your leading lights of technological creation and innovation.

Sarah Hoyt, “Water, Fish, Culture and Genes”, According to Hoyt, 2017-05-31.

June 13, 2017

QotD: Conservative love of the police

Filed under: Law, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

There is absolutely nothing that conservatives love more than cops. To the average right-winger, cops are everything good and wonderful about the world — a thin blue line of barrel-chested, chivalrous, honorable men who are standing, at great personal risk to themselves, against an onrushing hoard of savages who will murder our children, rape our wives, and sweep away all the gains of Civilization over the last 200 years. As a result, anyone who dares to criticize police officer is on the side of anarchy and violence; anyone who mindlessly adores the cops and will kneel down when asked to lick their boots is a defender of justice and of order.

What this means is that conservatives are constantly misinterpreting any legitimate criticism of American police officers as being some kind of an affront to civilized society, a sop on behalf of violent criminals, rapists, and murderers. Recently, a cop got pistol whipped after, according to him, decided not to use force because he was worried about how it would look on the evening news. […]

Basically, they take this officer’s word as law — the reason he didn’t react forcefully (even when his safety was threatened) is because, in the back of his mind, he was considering how this might potentially run on the front page of the New York Times. Maybe that’s true, but it seems equally likely that this officer made a bad call and then, when called upon to justify his poor decision making, invented an excuse that not only alleviated him of any wrongdoing, but also allowed him to proclaim that any critics of the police are putting lives in danger. Now maybe a beat cop is willing to risk a beating to stay out of the news, but I myself have my doubts.

Regardless, this story has traction because conservatives steadfastly refuse to acknowledge that any criticism of the American police could possibly have merit. All critiques of the cops is illegitimate, merely another example, as if any further examples were needed, of a) the fact that black activists are anti-white racists, b) that libertarians are anti-American anarchists, and c) that progressives wish for the policy to lie prone in the streets, drowning on their own blood. No one seriously criticizes the police due to actual and legitimate concerns — it is all as a result of anti-cop bigotry and demagoguery and it is putting lives at risk.

J.R. Ireland, “Cops Deserve Rightful Criticism No Matter What Whiny, Boot Licking Conservatives Might Like to Pretend”, Locust Kings, 2015-08-20.

Note: when I originally read the linked blog post, it was available to all. At some point in the last year or so, the original author or the owner of the blog changed to a members-only model, so you are now required to log in to read it (I don’t have a Blogger account). My apologies for any inconvenience.

June 12, 2017

QotD: The reality of political limitations

Filed under: Government, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The main obstacle to getting what [the Republicans] want is not the lack of leaders who are willing to fight; the main obstacle to getting what they want is that what they want is well outside the ZOPA [zone of possible agreement]. I’m not saying this to taunt my conservative friends; I agree with many of the things they want. But I recognize that there is a wide gap between what I (we) want, and what can be foisted upon the American public by its elected representatives. If I want outcomes closer to my preferences, then the primary problem is not the folks in office, but the preferences of the average American voter. Focusing your attention on politicians, instead of the hearts and minds of your fellow citizens, is like attempting to fix a faulty car engine by swapping out the dashboard gauges.

Megan McArdle, “Let’s See What Republicans Learn From Losing Boehner”, Bloomberg View, 2015-09-25.

June 11, 2017

QotD: The role of women in pre-modern society

Filed under: History, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Traditional societies more often than not have less room for the individual than the Western society, which means that projecting our idealized intent onto such societies, and viewing deviation from our norm as “tolerance” is an act of provincial stupidity.

The truth is it has been the Judeo-Christian tradition, flowering into the enlightenment coupled with the material wealth fostered by the industrial revolution and, yes, capitalism (in however small measure it is allowed even in the west) that has allowed our society to develop ideas of self fulfillment, of “pursuit of happiness” which would be considered downright strange in the past.

Note, I’m not implying that we’re perfect. Being human, we can’t be perfect. And if we don’t get lost looking for an imaginary past, our grandchildren might look upon us as intolerant barbarians.

HOWEVER I’m implying looking for lessons in the distant and the primitive does nothing for us here and now, particularly when most of those lessons are crazy made-up stuff.

For instance, what good is it saying that women were revered in pre-history, when we know that more than likely women in pre-contraceptive days and particularly in poor times and places were sort of a baby factory whose life was limited and confined by their biological function? What does it teach women? That merely letting go and daydreaming about a past that never was will make them superior to men?

Is this what we want?

Sarah A. Hoyt, “Inventing the Past — The Great Divorce”, According to Hoyt, 2015-09-23.

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