Quotulatiousness

December 7, 2017

Frankenstein: Radical Alienation – Extra Sci Fi – #6

Filed under: Books, History, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Extra Credits
Published on 5 Dec 2017

What draws us to Frankenstein, and to sci fi as a whole? As the novel wraps up and our time with its characters draws to an end, Mary Shelley lays out the final theme which shaped the identity of science fiction as a genre: radical alienation and the search for a place to belong.

November 29, 2017

Frankenstein: Paradise Lost – Extra Sci Fi – #5

Filed under: Books, History, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Extra Credits
Published on 28 Nov 2017

Paradise Lost told the story of Satan, a creation who rejected his creator just like Frankenstein’s monster did. But even Satan had a loving creator, beauty, and friends. The monster had nothing, and his life in Mary Shelley’s eyes was not a horror story, but a tragedy.

November 17, 2017

QotD: Karl Marx and relativism

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

The most notable philosopher in this tradition was, of course, Karl Marx. He argued that the values of any civilisation — prior, at least, to the socialist culmination — are determined by its mode of production. He says:

    In acquiring new productive forces men change their mode of production; and in changing their mode of production, in changing the way of earning their living, they change all their social relations. The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill society with the industrial capitalist. The same men who establish their social relations in conformity with the material productivity, produce also principles, ideas, and categories, in conformity with their social relations. Thus the ideas, these categories, are as little eternal as the relations they express. They are historical and transitory products.

This is a radically subversive claim. It allows any institution, any custom, any set of beliefs — no matter how obviously right or true they might appear — to be dismissed as “ideology” or “false consciousness”. Let this claim be accepted, and our own claims about the naturalness of market behaviour falls to the ground.

With the remaining exception of North Korea and perhaps too of Cuba, the Marxist political experiments of the twentieth century have all long since collapsed, and, bearing in mind their known record of mass-murder and impoverishment, there are few who will admit to regretting their collapse. But Marxism as a critique of the existing order and as a theory of social change, remains alive and well in the universities. In its reformulation by Gramsci, as further developed by Althusser and Foucault among others, it may be called the dominant ideology of our age. Its hold on the English-speaking world has been noted by both conservative and libertarian writers, and is subject to an increasingly lively debate.

Sean Gabb, “Market Behaviour in the Ancient World: An Overview of the Debate”, 2008-05.

November 14, 2017

Paradise, the Fall, and the Second Coming … Marxist style

Filed under: Politics, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the latest Libertarian Enterprise, Sarah Hoyt draws a few parallels between traditional Christian beliefs and modern-day progressive ones:

First, I’m going to say that this is to an extent the result of self-selection that has nothing to do with politics.

The left has a narrative that is a just so story. It is, as was pointed out here, in the comments, a Christian heresy, but one that caters to fake “rationalism.” What I mean is that the narrative of the leftist/communist/socialist story includes all the comforting high points of Christianity but avoids the opprobrium of “superstition” cast by enlightenment onto traditional Christianity.

Leftism, whatever they call it, has its roots in Marxism, and Marxism offers a comforting view of paradise (primitive times, when property was communal and blah blah blah. If the flavor is feminist, it was communal property and ruling matriarchs) fall (we discovered something that changed us. These days it’s fashionable in academic circles to blame agriculture, which apparently was no good, very bad, terrible for us, even though, you know, it allowed us to colonize the Earth and have a vast and varied population. In the seventies it was war. There are as many candidates for the liberal sin that caused human fall, as there is for the Christian sin, and honestly, none of them make a heck of a lot of sense) and redemption (here it’s different from Christian redemption, where each individual redeems himself, but the species can’t be redeemed till the second coming. Um… scratch that. Perhaps not that different. It is assumed that the evils of the human species are because we are not designed to live in “capitalism” which these dodos seem to think is any kind of trade or hierarchy. They actually do call monarchies “capitalist” even absolute monarchies. And because we are distorted and made “evil” by this structure, when the communist state withers away into a perfect classless, communal society, we’ll be redeemed, as surely as by the second coming. Frankly, at least the second coming is more plausible from a scientific point of view. At least it doesn’t require a bloated, totalitarian state to behave in ways that no totalitarian, bloated state ever behaved. And while our species might have no experience of the Son of the Creator returning again in full glory this time to rule over us, we do have endless experience of totalitarian states.)

However, all of this mystical belief is dressed up in “science.” History is taught with the idea that it has an arrow and the arrow leads inevitably to collectivism, and because they only teach select portions of history, the poor kids are convinced of it.

This is partly what I meant by self-selected. The people who tend to gravitate left, PARTICULARLY those older than say 25, are the GOOD kids. This is something that is rarely appreciated, and poor things, they view themselves as daring rebels. It’s sort of pathetic, actually. (Having grown up in a village, I’ve had a great chance to observe human nature, and one of the inevitable funny twists of the human mind is that the most flexible of humans like to think themselves steadfast and inflexible. The kindest flatter themselves they’re cruel. Meek women think they’re termagants. I’m not sure why, really. It just seems to be an invariable part of the human “package.”)

They’re the people who went to school and listened really well, and answered what the teachers wanted to hear. They’re the ones who internalized lessons, and explanations, and the ones who want to have a system in which to integrate everything they learn. Everything has to “fit” in their world view.

I kind of understand that because I too like “grand unified theories.” It’s just that after the age of fourteen, I started discovery too many things that didn’t fit anything they’d taught me.

November 6, 2017

QotD: Bud Grant’s football philosophy

Filed under: Football, Quotations, Sports, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… you have to remember one thing: Football is entertainment; it’s not life or death. Once the game is over, you’re already talking about next year and the draft. It’s just entertainment. It’s like going to a play: When it’s over, you walk out the door and it’s over. There are no residuals to it. You’ve got to start all over again. If winning or losing is going to define your life, you’re on a rough road.

Bud Grant, quoted in “‘If Winning or Losing Is Going to Define You, You’re on a Rough Road'”, The MMQB with Peter King, 2016-02-01.

September 16, 2017

Moral and philosophical conflict in Wilhelmine Germany

Filed under: Germany, History, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At Samizdata, Paul Marks looks at intra-German conflicts that were played out during and after the First World War:

The conflict between German Generals Falkenhayn and Ludendorff was over a lot more than military policy – indeed Falkenhayn made some horrible mistakes in military tactics, for example allowing himself to be pushed into continuing the Verdun offensive much longer than he intended (at least much longer than he later claimed had been his original intention), and insisting that General Fritz Von Below recapture any position he lost to the British in the Somme offensive – an order that led to terrible German casualties.

The conflict may have been presented as a military one (between the “Westerner” Falkenhayn and the “Easterner” Lundendorff ) over whether to concentrate German military resources in the West or the East – but it was really a lot more than a dispute over military policy. Nor was it really a dispute over the form of government – as neither Falkenhayn or Ludendorff was a democrat. It was fundamentally a MORAL (ethical) dispute.

General Lundendorff had absorbed (even more than Kaiser Wilhelm II had) the moral relativism and historicism that had become fashionable in the German elite in the decades running up to the First World War – ideas that can be traced all the way back to (in their different ways) such philosophers as Hegel and (far more) Fichte, whereas General Falkenhayn still clung to concepts of universal justice (morality) and rejected such things as the extermination or enslavement of whole races, and the destruction of historic civilisations such as that of Russia. Lundendorff, and those who thought like him, regarded Falkenhayn as hopelessly reactionary – for example thinking in terms of making peace with Russia on terms favourable to Germany, rather than destroying Russia and using the population as slaves. In the Middle East Falkenhayn came to hear of the Ottoman Turk plan to destroy the Jews (as the Armenian Christians had been destroyed), and he was horrified by the plan and worked to frustrate it. Advanced and Progressive thinkers, such as Ludnedorff, had great contempt for Reactionaries such as Falkenhayn who did not realise that ideas of universal justice and personal honour were “myths” only believed in by silly schoolgirls. Falkenhayn even took Christianity seriously, to Lundendorff this was clearly the mark of an inferior and uneducated mind. And Falkenhayn, for his part, came to think that his country (the Germany that he so loved) was under the influence of monsters – although while their plans to exterminate or enslave whole races and to control (in utter tyranny) every aspect of peacetime (not just wartime) life remained theoretical, he never had to make the final break.

The conflict continued into the next generation. Famously Admiral Canaris (head of German military intelligence) became an enemy of the National Socialists – not because he was a believer in a democratic form of government, but because he believed that the Nazis were a moral outrage violating the most basic principles of universal truth and justice. But the point of view in Germany opposed to men such as Admiral Canaris. the point of view that made itself felt in such things as the German Declaration of War upon France in 1914 – a pack of lies, and (perhaps more importantly) a deliberately OBVIOUS pack of lies (in order to make a philosophical point – as the President of France, a philosopher, noticed at once), had long had nothing but contempt for the very idea of universal objective truth and justice.

I’d always thought that the rise of Fascism and Communism in the 1920s was primarily due to the political chaos and material privations suffered by German citizens through the latter stages of WW1 and continuing through the Versailles Treaty negotiations. Paul shows that the groundwork for both strains of totalitarian thought were already well underway even before the catastrophe of 1914. Of course, as I think I illustrated in the origins of WW1 posts, nothing about the situation in Europe at that time was simple or straight-forward.

August 24, 2017

The Story of Western Philosophy

Filed under: Education, Europe, History, Humour — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 26 May 2017

Relevant mystery link: https://youtu.be/myc7eHGg5y4
If you notice any factual errors in this week’s video, please just bear in mind that life is ultimately meaningless in the first place.

August 15, 2017

QotD: Platonism versus Epicureanism

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

It is all this that made Epicurus and his philosophy so scandalous in the ancient world and beyond. Plato never did get to create his perfect society. But his followers did manage to establish variants of Platonism as the dominant philosophy of later antiquity. And all the other main schools of philosophy were agreed that the world should be ruled by intellectuals. These should tell the civil authorities how to govern. They should provide the moral and spiritual justification for the rule of absolute and unaccountable systems of government — systems of which the Roman imperial system was only the most developed. They should have positions of honour within these systems.

Epicureanism was a standing challenge to these pretensions. We have no precise evidence for the spread of Epicureanism in the ancient world. But it does seem to have spread very widely. Why else should Cicero, Plutarch and many of the Christian Fathers have given so much effort to sustained attacks on it? Why else, in spite of his emphatic remarks on the nature of happiness, was Epicurus, even in his own lifetime, subjected to the most outrageous accusations?

We have one statement from Cicero, that Epicureanism in his own day was one of the dominant schools of philosophy in Italy. So far, he says, Greek philosophy had been available only in the original language. But writers such as Amafinius had translated several Epicurean works — on the publishing of whose writings the people were moved, and enlisted themselves chiefly under this sect, either because the doctrine was more easily understood, or because they were invited thereto by the pleasing thoughts of amusement, or that, because there was nothing better, they laid hold of what was offered them.

There is no doubt that it influenced the classical literature of Rome. Of course, there is the great poem by Lucretius. But there is also Catullus and Horace and even Virgil. Without citing them, their works are imbued with an Epicurean outlook on life, either directly from Epicurus or indirectly from Lucretius.

Another indication of popularity is that once converted to Epicureanism, people hardly ever switched to another philosophy. The philosopher Arcesilaus testifies to this fact even as he tries to explain it:

    You can turn a man into a eunuch, but you can’t turn a eunuch into a man.

Then there is the curious testimony of the Jews. During the three centuries around the birth of Christ, the main everyday language of many Jewish communities was Greek. The Gospels and Letters of Saint Paul were all directed at mainly Jewish audiences and are in Greek. One of the most important philosophers of the age, Philo of Alexandria, was a Jew. Many Jews took on Greek ways. Many, no doubt, stopped being Jews and made themselves into Greeks. The condemnation of these Hellenised Jews is Apikorsim, which may easily be taken as a Semitic version of Epicurean. The term survives in Jewish theological writing. According to one Internet source, Apikorsim are what Chasidim refer to as Jewish Goyim, or secular Jews. They seem to be the worst opposition for Hasidic Jewry.

A term of abuse so loaded with contempt is unlikely to have been taken from the doctrines of an insignificant philosophical tradition among ordinary people of the age. It is reasonable to suppose that many lapsed Jews became Epicureans. If so, Epicureanism must already have had large numbers of adherents among at least the semi-educated classes.

Sean Gabb, “Epicurus: Father of the Enlightenment”, speaking to the 6/20 Club in London, 2007-09-06.

July 20, 2017

QotD: Who was Epicurus?

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

Epicurus (341-270 B.C.) was a Greek philosopher who claimed the cosmos was eternal and merely material, made up of atoms and void. Yet, breaking with his predecessor Democritus, he considered the universe indeterminate. In the realm of ethics, Epicurus taught that the purpose of human life was the pursuit of happiness, which could be achieved by the measured study of the natural world and adherence to a prudent and temperate hedonism.

He counseled men not to fear their own death, saying,

    Foolish, therefore, is the man who says that he fears death, not because it will pain when it comes, but because it pains in the prospect. Whatever causes no annoyance when it is present, causes only a groundless pain in the expectation. Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not.

He considered friendship as the utmost means of securing wisdom, saying,

    Friendship dances around the world, bidding us all to awaken to the recognition of happiness…The same conviction which inspires confidence that nothing we have to fear is eternal or even of long duration, also enables us to see that in the limited evils of this life nothing enhances our security so much as friendship.”

He advised men to avoid vain ambitions such as the pursuit of fame, exorbitant wealth, and political power for their own sake. Rather, he thought wise men would be “strong and self-sufficient” and “take pride in their own personal qualities not in those that depend on external circumstances.”

To Epicurus, pain is a natural evil, pleasure a natural good, with the ultimate pleasure being the absence of bodily pain and tranquility of the mind. From his Letter to Menoeceus:

    When we say, then, that pleasure is the end and aim, we do not mean the pleasures of the prodigal or the pleasures of sensuality, as we are understood to do by some through ignorance, prejudice, or willful misrepresentation. By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul. It is not an unbroken succession of drinking-bouts and of revelry, not sexual lust, not the enjoyment of the fish and other delicacies of a luxurious table, which produce a pleasant life; it is sober reasoning, searching out the grounds of every choice and avoidance, and banishing those beliefs through which the greatest tumults take possession of the soul.

Nevertheless, because Epicurus claimed the ultimate aim of happiness is to find pleasure – and not virtue or knowledge unto themselves – many of his contemporaries and later critics would uncharitably accuse him of advocating debauchery, one even saying he “vomited twice a day from over-indulgence,” and that his understanding of philosophy and life in general was wanting.

One might hear the very same smear today from mainstream American partisans in regard to libertarians, i.e. that liberty lovers are simply “pot-smoking republicans” or libertines who barely understand life and are too drunk on utopian dreams to see clearly. In this same vein, many reproached Epicurus (as they do of libertarians today) for his aloof stance on politics as apathetic and his notion of justice as too transactional.

“Natural justice is a pledge of reciprocal benefit,” writes Epicurus in his Principal Doctrines, “to prevent one man from harming or being harmed by another.” Elsewhere he writes, “We must free ourselves from the prison of public education and politics.”

Accordingly, Epicurus set up his own school, “The Garden,” where he offered philosophy to anyone, even women and slaves – an unheard of practice at the time, which many contemporary critics saw as proof of his penchant for depraved behavior. Why else would one invite women and slaves into one’s abode other than revelry? Was he actually going to talk to them about ideas?

Thankfully, we have Diogenes Laërtius to defend Epicurus from his detractors:

    But these people are stark mad. For our philosopher has numerous witnesses to attest his unsurpassed goodwill to all men – his native land, which honored him with statues in bronze; his friends, so many in number that they could hardly be counted by whole cities, and indeed all who knew him, held fast as they were by the siren-charms of his doctrine…the Garden itself which, while nearly all the others have died out, continues for ever without interruption through numberless successions of one director after another; his gratitude to his parents, his generosity to his brothers, his gentleness to his servants, as evidenced by the terms of his will and by the fact that they were members of the Garden…and in general, his benevolence to all mankind. His piety towards the gods and his affection for his country no words can describe. He carried his modesty to such an excess that he did not even enter public life.

Joey Clark, “What Epicurus Can Teach Us about Freedom and Happiness”, Foundation for Economic Education, 2016-10-18.

July 6, 2017

QotD: Youth

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

You see, when one’s young one doesn’t feel part of it yet, the human condition; one does things because they are not “for good”; one thinks everything is a rehearsal. To be repeated ad lib, to be put right when the curtain goes up in earnest. One day you know that the curtain was up all the time. That was the performance.

Sybille Bedford, A Compass Error, 1968.

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.

May 29, 2017

QotD: Western intellectuals’ anti-Western bias

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

Much of the West’s intelligentsia is persistently in love with anything anti-Western (and especially anti-American), an infatuation that has given a great deal of aid and comfort to tyrants and terrorists in the post-9/11 world. Besides these obvious political consequences, the phenomenon Julian Benda famously called le trahison des clercs has laid waste to large swathes of the soft sciences through ideologies like deconstructionism, cultural relativism, and postmodernism.

I believe, but cannot prove, that le trahison des clercs is not a natural development of Western thought but a creation of deliberate propaganda, directly traceable to the successes of Nazi and Stalinist attempts to manipulate the climate of opinion in the early and mid-20th century. Consequently I believe that one of the most difficult and necessary tasks before us in the next half century will be to banish the influence of totalitarian nihilism from science in particular and our culture in general.

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

April 1, 2017

QotD: Philosophy

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

One quarter of philosophy is about Being; one quarter about Knowing; one quarter about the Being of Knowingness and one quarter about the Knowing of Beingness.

Ace, “Terrific Bill Whittle “Afterburner” Video Essay on The Great Unlearning”, Ace of Spades H.Q., 2015-08-18.

March 13, 2017

QotD: The legacy of nineteenth century intellectualism

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

In the Nineteenth Century, intellectuals raised the argument that Western Civilization was wrong about all its major conclusions, from Christianity to Democracy to Capitalism, and that a rational system of scientific socialism should and would correct these errors and replace them.

This, over the next hundred years, was attempted, with the result that in a single generation the socialists and communists and national socialists of various stripes had killed more people and wrought more ruin than all world religions combined during all the previous generations of history.

Meanwhile, the visual arts were reduced to aberrant rubbish not merely ugly and untalented, but objectively indistinguishable from the work of schizophrenics; literature reduced to porn and tales of failure and decay; science was reduced from an honest and objective pursuit of truth to a whorish tool servicing political ends, particularly the ends of environmentalist hysterics, but creeping into other areas; universities degenerated from bastions of learning protected by traditions of academic freedom to the foremost partisans in favor of speech codes and political correctness; family life was and continues to be assaulted; abortion continues to carry out a slow and silent genocide of negro babies, girl babies, and other unwanted humanoids; law enforcement has been redirected from protecting the innocent because they are innocent to protecting the guilty because they are guilty; the Fair Deal and New Deal of the socialist philosophy at its height of intellectual respectability did nothing but prolong what should have been a ten month market correction into a Great Depression that lasted ten years; Welfare programs encouraged, exacerbated, and created a permanent and unelevatable underclass in America, ruining the very lives the programs were alleged to help; Affirmative Action has made race-hatred, accusations of racism, and race-baiting a permanent part of American life, despite that no less racist nation ever has nor ever could exist.

So the Left has not only failed in everything they attempted, and failed at every promise they made, they failed in an immense, astonishing, unparalleled, and horrifying way, a way so deep and so vast and so gross as to never have been seen before in history nor ever imagined before, not even by science fiction writers. Even Orwell did not foretell of a time when men would voluntarily adopt Newspeak and Doublethink and all the apparatus of oppression, freely and without coercion. Even he, the most famous writers of dystopia of all time, could not imagine the modern day. The failure of the Left is indescribable: one can only grope for words like ‘awe-inspiring’ or ‘astronomical’ to express the magnitude. If Lot’s wife were to look steadily at what the Left has done, she would turn to a pillar of salt, so horrifying, so overwhelming, so dazzling is the hugeness of failure.

Now, when your prediction and worldview and way of life and philosophy turns out to be an utter failure of epic, nay, apocalyptic proportions, you have one of two choices. The honest choice is to return to the drawing board of your mind, and recalculate your ideas from their assumptions, changing any assumptions that prove false to facts.

Pardon me. I have to stop typing for a moment. The idea of a Leftwinger actually doing this honest mental act is so outrageous, that I am overcome by a paroxysm of epileptic laughter, and must steady myself ere I faint.

John C. Wright, “Unreality and Conformity of the Left”, Everyjoe, 2015-07-05.

December 10, 2016

QotD: Memory and imagination

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

I continue to be amazed by this idea, about the passage of time. Photos, for instance, revive vivid memories from, say, forty and fifty years ago. And what was so commonplace then, so often boring, is now gone forever. It has become mysterious, fascinating to the philosophical mind: how can these things have been? How could I not have known, at the time, that the everyday was so exotic?

But we are charmed, and then return to another everyday. We have been briefly entertained, as by a TV documentary.

These pictures present faces one once knew well, but far away in another country. (And “the past is a foreign country,” anyway.) One adds forty or fifty years to the face of each remembered person, or death to those a little older. Yet in the pictures they are all young and blythe, and I can remember being among them, “as if it were yesterday.” Those times are now forever lost to our living sight: though not from God’s omniscience.

Each, let me add, went in his own way, yet there is a commonality. I can imagine going back to an old neighbourhood — now as a traveller from the future — and finding it physically not much changed. One’s heart beats: one wants to run up and knock at a door, at all the doors — “I, Tiresias.” But then one’s heart breaks. For behind each door, a shock of non-recognition. Those people don’t live here any more. The neighbourhood that appeared unchanged is verily changed beyond recognition. It is another place now. No one knows who you are.

The idea is quite a simple one: all is lost, so that in a few more years, even these pictures will mean nothing to anybody. Unless they happen to be “quaint,” in some collectable way. But the idea in itself — of our inevitable extinction — is more immediately lost, unless it can be articulated. It is not fact-checkable, in any given moment. It requires poetry, to keep it alive in our souls.

We feel nostalgia, for people and places and things, but we have lost the ability to be “Japanese” about it: to begin to grasp the incredible poignancy of our condition, and bring it into our lives as a constant, so that it applies to our present, too. To live, as it were, on the cusp of eternity.

David Warren, “On the transience of things”, Essays in Idleness, 2016-11-29.

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