Saturday, August 29, 2020

The Meaning Of Life / A Handful Of Gold

A cache of ancient golden coins was found buried in a clay jar in Israel. Photo by Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

- Time was there was nothing better in life than to sit at a cafe and philosophize. Now look.
- What's that doing there? What is it exactly?
- A handful of gold. I found it this morning riding my bike across Wilshire. Right in the middle of the street. Must have been run over by trucks and cars a dozen times to get into the state it's in.
- Worth a thousand dollars, minimum.
- I guess.
- What are you going to do with it?
- Nothing. Look at it on this cafe table.
- Give it to me then.
- No.
- Why not?
- It will help me find the meaning of life.
- Find gold and you find also the meaning of life?
- Maybe.
- So what is it, the meaning of life?
- The question assumes life is a sort of message, a word with an unsure meaning it asks for. That's first.
- Life is really a message, or is message being used as a metaphor?
- Either, both. I don't know. Second, the question assumes the life you and me are living is a means to an end, and that end is its meaning.
- And the means we are living through is meaningless?
- Yes. If you are satisfied with life as it is now, the question won't have any meaning to you. Do you agree? What are you doing?
- I'm testing your claim, looking at the pile of gold on the table, looking at you, looking back at the gold.
- Cafe philosophy is an end in itself, the gold a means to an end.
- Yes.
- Then if I ask you what you think the meaning of life is, you answer?
- The second way of understanding doesn't apply to me, not here not now, this place I'm at is good enough, my friend sitting across from me.
- And gold on the table.
- And contemplating gold on the table.
- And in philosophy we consider whether metaphor entering our lives, substituting word for meaning, actually is responsible for raising the question of life's meaning.
- How does metaphor enter our lives?
- You'll laugh. George Lakoff, a U.C. Berkeley professor, honored and respected, calls himself a neuro-linguist. He argues - get this - that our primary mode of thinking is metaphor, and that metaphor is wired in the brain. That is why citizens who are wired by authoritarian parents to submit and admire submission can't communicate with nurturing citizens raised by nurturing parents.
- Politics is a battle of metaphors.
- According to this professor.
- The message spelled out in society has the meaning 'submit,' for one type of person, for the other, 'nurture'?
- Yes.
- Probably these ideas had meaning for the professor because they were means to the end of his wealth and fame. Did he become rich and famous?
- To some extent.
- Unlike you.
- See the gold on the table.
- Do you know what is so laughable about the professor's ideas?
- No, what?
- That politicians who become very rich and very famous for inflexibly holding onto ideas, for their framing metaphors which are supposed to be fixed, hard wired in the brain by education, once they get into office feel not a single qualm of conscience from immediately doing the exact opposite of what their politics has been messaging. Free market proponents demand tariffs and subsidies and form monopolies. Liberals lower taxes for the rich and cut social programs for the poor.
- This talk of brain wiring reminds me of Socrates trying to describe how no one knowingly chooses the worse, yet it looks like we do it all the time, submitting to the temptation of a pleasure we know will later cause us pain. We know the 'good' that draws us to indulging in the pleasure is an illusion, a mismeasurment, but can't help ourselves.
- We have two metaphors or frames of what makes life good: good is giving, or good is obedience. And we have two means to an end arguments: live for pleasure or live in control of pleasure. If both submit and nurture meanings of life are legitimate, actually indisputable since they are hard wired, how do we decide? Is it our fate to be both authoritarian and liberal stuck in one brain in a fight to the finish?
- Our politicians can effortlessly give up their hard-wired convictions because, as we've had occasion to say elsewhere, we have body and mind, and above both we have awareness. We choose our messages, our metaphors, our meanings and our ends.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Shklar

Page 130 of 130 - The blog of the Journal of the History of Ideas ...
                         Judith Shklar

- You've been spending your afternoons in this heat wave at the shopping center.
- Yes.
- Do you know what I've noticed?
- What?
- You'll hardly believe it. The older and more wealthy of L.A. are not deceived about what is happening in our great country.
- You've been talking with them?
- They're the only people who talk any more.
- Talk to a stranger in a public place.
- Yes.
- They're not afraid. They're rich. They've not been trapped behind their screens, isolated from each other in self absorption.
- Have you changed your mind? Usually you're telling me Americans are obsessed by money and success.
- They are.
- They sold out.
- Sure they did.
- Why do you have any interest in them then?
- I'm interested in why our great American people don't seem to care about what's happening to them. Their country robbed by the rich. Locked in their houses. Kids in cages. 30 million unemployed. The ten richest men adding in a few months more than ten billion dollars to their already accumulated tens and hundreds of billions. Pedophilia is the favorite hobby of our leaders. Etc., etc.
- You have something to say now?
- You know how that place, Harvard, is so good at demonstrating how money corrupts your thinking? Something interesting came out of there not long ago. At the end of the 20th century they had a professor in their department of government, a German speaking Latvian Jew, an escapee from Hitler's Europe. Her name was Judith Shklar. She came up with a theory. Government is dangerous. It must be restrained from any attempt to justify its predations by any definition of human nature, whether that definition was freedom and creativity or human rights or subservience to the group. Any principle of human nature could be adopted by a government and used as a basis of, an excuse for oppression. The solution she found was a rule of government that would be self correcting: stop any fear of the cruelty of the more powerful inflicting pain on the less powerful. This rule, she thought, would limit government oppression, and restrain any effort to build up a state on the basis of a particular claim of human nature.
- Other than a general fear of the cruel actions the powerful take against the weak.
- Yes. Fear being communicable spreads into a 'climate' of fear and a sort of democratic unanimity.
- Are individual acts of injustice subject to this principle? Breach of contract, theft, assault, murder forbidden?
- They are acts it would be cruel of government, allowing them to go unchecked, to be complicit with. But in many cases of this kind remedying the fear of cruelty that one person or class of person feels would cause fear of cruelty to the persons or classes being accused. For example, I claim the way you, a more powerful person than I am, speak of Jews makes me afraid, and I demand the government remedy my fear. But the government, more powerful than you, doing so, regulating your speech, would cause you fear and pain. Cruelty balanced out by cruelty, no government action could be taken. Even in these days of the epidemic the rich having their money taken away is still felt to be an act of cruelty not to be permitted to the government.
- It isn't clear. Or am I wrong?
- No, you're not wrong. Almost anything can be considered cruel. And almost nothing. The poor feel the pain of the rich having their money and property threatened, but the rich don't give a damn about the poor. The poor are a class apart, live a different sort of life; they sell themselves as slaves by the hour to their masters in corporate offices and factories.
- Why do the poor fear cruelty to the rich but the rich don't fear cruelty to the poor?
- The rich have lives in which freedom can still be practiced, and the poor do not. The rich do not feel the pain of the poor. But being deprived of money and property is something the poor have experienced and so they do fear the pain the rich would experience if deprived of their money and property. The majority of the people of this country, enslaved and impoverished, unused to freedom, don't fear, literally don't notice the cruelty inflicted on them by the government, by the rich monopolizing markets and buying politicians.* Shklar's theory doesn't work because class relations develop without being considered cruel, and once they've been created, indifference of the rich to the poor (and the poor to themselves) follows, rendering protection of the people from their government, authorized exclusively by fear of cruelty, impossible.

Further Reading:
Indifference
Indifference Revisited
Killers
What A Billionaire Deserves
What Is Capitalism?
______________________
* Judith Shklar: 'If citizens are to act individually and in associations, especially in a democracy, to protest and block any sign of governmental illegality and abuse, they must have a fair share of moral courage, self-reliance, and stubbornness to assert themselves effectively. To foster well informed and self-directed adults must be the aim of every effort to educate the citizens of a liberal society. There is a very clear account of what a perfect liberal would look like more or less. It is to be found in Kant's Doctrine of Virtue, which gives us a very detailed account of the disposition of a person who respects other people without condescension, arrogance, humility, or fear. He or she does not insult others with lies or cruelty, both of which mar one's own character no less than they injure one's victims. Liberal politics depend for their success on the efforts of such people, but it is not the task of liberal politics to foster them simply as models of human perfection. All it can claim is that if we want to promote political freedom, then this is appropriate behavior.'

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Crazy Or Evil?

article-20140828-01

- Well?
- What would you like to talk about?
- Tell me about your tramps, the people you used to see wandering around Beverly Hills and environs. The city continues to be in lockdown. What's happening with them?
- They aren't mine. And they are mostly still around. They can't pass the time inside at the cafes, they can sit outside at some, but they don't seem to want to. I see them in transit from one place to another.
- Where are they going?
- The supermarkets are open, some stores, the Century City shopping center is open. I came across Pablo there this morning, in fact.
- And who is Pablo?
- I'll get to him. I was sitting at the market's little outdoor dining quadrant, thinking of lesser evil presidential voting and a possible way out of it.
- We've already been through it.* We said that to use bad means to a good end was to take a step towards totalitarianism. We said that a worse immediate outcome might, waking people up to action, quicken the arrival of a better outcome.  Our present acceptance of a unreasonable, useless partial lockdown without testing and isolation is an example of lesser evil choice, growing I think out of fear of taking necessary risk.
- I was thinking of something simpler. A question: what if one of the candidates isn't evil, but crazy? Which is worse, crazy or evil? Evil is consistently acting on bad principle. Crazy is acting repetitively in response to an image of an unchanging world of your own making.
- I think both candidates are evil, and both crazy, but not much crazy.
- No crazier than the majority of Americans, a very crazy people.
- Yes.
- So we get nowhere with this argument. Or rather, we get back to the people living on the street in and around Beverly Hills. At least one of them, Pablo, is not living on the street, but at the Beverly Hills Marriot, a $300 a night hotel, that is, used to be one before the lockdown. Now it is called, with some humor, the Homeless Hotel, according to a March L.A. Times article I remember reading that left the hotel unnamed to prevent an invasion of hoping to be guests. I also read a Yelp review from a poor unfortunate paying full-rate astonished by the caliber of guests the hotel was now catering to. Apparently this was the last visit from that breed of guest, for the city of L.A. soon had successfully turned the place into a sort of prison, with curfew and lockout if you've failed to check in before 6pm. I met the aforementioned Pablo, as said, outside Gelson's Market in Century City. He'd got into the Marriot through his social worker, an absolute must, in case I was interested; he was eligible because he'd long been on government rolls as officially crazy.
- You're not? Sorry. How is he crazy?
- The way our president is crazy, an unquestionable egomaniac who has no subject but himself. We call that kind of behavior bad character,** not insanity.
- You're right. So with crazy or evil we haven't evaded the problem of lesser evil voting, but tell me more about craziness. Tell me why I should believe you when you claim you are not crazy.
- You know how my favorite character study, Noam Chomsky, whom I guess you're getting tired of hearing about, first made his reputation in linguistics? He came up with a very strong argument that the rules languages follow can't be learned by experience: the rules seem to originate in thought rather than communication (the use of compression makes communication more difficult), they are extremely complex, some remain unknown, their application involves cycling recursion, and they are not to be found attending to the sentences themselves. His detailed argument is something great, an immense achievement.
- You admire it.
- Certainly. I don't admire how he explains what he's observed as embedded in the operation of a language organ.
- Rooted in an organ, speaking metaphorically, or as actually rooted physically in the brain?
- The latter.
- And you think that is a mistake?
- Yes. Better to turn away from material explanation altogether.***
- And what does that get you?
- An explanation for why my impracticality, my improvidence, isn't crazy.
- I'm waiting.
- If you are visible to yourself when you are doing things, your attention is on yourself in process of change, not on the world. And when you get yourself to a place where there is beauty and love and truth, your attention is on the world, you are invisible to your self. In both action and rest, therefore, you can't and don't have a fixed vision of yourself.
- You can't be an egomaniacal American.
- No you can't. And as a result you'll have no fear of death.
- You'll take what appear to be unreasonable risks. I'm to understand that is why your carelessness is not really crazy? Your behavior is not self attending?
- That's for others to judge.
- I'll let you know when the conversation is over.
- We're almost done. Chomsky's language producing self that performs the complex cycling conversion from internal to external language is an organ, a material structure somewhere in the brain.
- While the self you see, or rather don't see, is either in change or unattended to at rest. And that makes the self invisible, unavailable to glorification in egomania.
- Your judgment now? Crazy or not crazy?
- I'll know for sure if some day I find you locked in at the Marriot.

Further Reading:
Noam Chomsky & Mental Things
Selfless
________________
* Totalitarianism & The Lesser Evil
** 'Treachery, disloyalty, cruelty, tyranny....are our ordinary vices.' (Montaigne, 'Of Cannibals')
*** Language & Leaders

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Why The Epidemic Is So Bad In America

Hitler portrait crop.jpg

- I don't know about you but I'm getting really tired of this.
- This epidemic.
- This epidemic of stupidity. A new article in an old establishment magazine, a prominent player in the media circus,* comes right out and says the lockdown is a delaying tactic while the epidemic is allowed to rage without any serious use of the tools known to work from the experience of dozens of other countries: testing, tracking, isolation. I get angry, then I tell myself, calm down, clarify, specify what's really happening.
- And what's really happening?
- The useless in itself, mere delaying tactic of lockdown is a deliberate distraction from transfer of wealth to the rich from everyone else.
- The pain of the destructiveness is the distraction.
- Yes. I used to think the repression was a political act, to get people used to the idea of being slaves to the government.
- And now?
- I see it more in terms of class warfare, an act weakening and distracting its victims.
- The time is out of joint. O curs├Ęd spite, That ever you were born to set it right!
- Call me a crackpot, a conspiracy theorist. I'm beyond caring.
- Isn't it funny that usually conspiracy theorists are raising the alarm that things are much worse than people know, and nothing is being done about it, but in this case the crackpots are being accused of saying this situation, the epidemic, is much less dire than is claimed** and much is being done in its name by the government and all of it out in the open?
- I don't find it funny.

Further Reading:
The United States & Totalitarianism
Sick Leave
Compliance
Convergence
_____________________
* The Atlantic
** New statistic: of the 600,000 U.S.Post Office employees, to date 75 have died from COVID-19.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Sick Leave

Related image

- Explain why the United States is doing just about the worst among all countries in the world in the war against COVID-19. We have five percent of the world's population, but twenty-five percent of the world's COVID-19 deaths, and the war is just getting started.
- You adopt Trump's war analogy? Sure, I'll explain. But first you explain to me why doctors, lawyers, journalists, politicians all are silent on the obvious stupidity of the lockdown, the uselessness of it.
- I asked a retired physician that question yesterday morning.
- And he answered?
- 'No one wants to stick his neck out.' Later that day I asked a new medical school graduate the same question. He hadn't thought about it, he said and changed the subject.
- We are a country of people who put money making first among all other goals. How you look, speak, move, everything is optimized for the sake of making money. We are not interested in the world except in how we can make money out of it. Once money is made we permit ourselves some entertainments until we throw ourselves back into the principle duty of life, making money. Money making is not achieved by knowing anything about the world, by making a model of the world. What's required is predicting the meaningless panic behavior of a herd, calculating probabilities: do this, and that is likely to result, no one knows why and no one cares. It's not necessary.
- Not necessary for making money.
- Are you a typical American? Then you are a believer in free speech. Not really a believer, in the sense you can give reasons for why it is preferable. All you know of free speech is it helps you make money, so far at least, subject to reevaluation in the future. But what about the free speech of holocaust deniers? of Neo-Nazis? The people who differ from the majority are exactly those people whose speech has to be protected, you argue. But maybe you have argued at another time that it is wrong to enter into a debate into certain subjects, for example, the pros and cons of rape, or whether the holocaust really occurred. Then what?
- The opposed principles have to be balanced.
- To allow free speech to holocaust deniers is to promote the debate on the subject of the reality of the holocaust. A decision to advocate debate or not to requires a general picture of how human life is lived in all its complexity, not mere probability of 'this is usually followed by that'. Another example: assuming we want to decrease the amount of violence in the world, could it be that terror is an act of violence that reduces violence in the world? Can that be a probability? But can't the violence of terror produce its own longer term bad results interfering with the calculation of probable peace in immediate results?
- I know the argument: violent people are not capable of maintaining the peace achieved by their violence. And I know from whose biography you took these stories.*
- Good for you. If you like, I'll tell you a story from my life. A couple years ago I was offered a job editing a book written by the son of a retired Iranian gynocologist with his mother advocating cesarean section for all deliveries. If free speech should be protected in all cases, then my objection to this idea shouldn't lead me to refusing the job.
- What did you do?
- I decided there were other principles involved, including the value of my life story in which I didn't want some degree of responsibility for even one woman dying on the operating table from an unnecessary operation.
- You must be the only person in the country who thinks that way.
- Let's look at our lockdowned country. Who here pays attention to the real world? Like the huckster promoter who is our president we're willing to say or do whatever is calculated to work, we don't need to know why. The government says lockdown will reduce deaths so we must have lockdown. Instant unthinking compliance! that's where the money's at! Are there other principles involved like we saw with free speech probabilities and terroristic violence?
- Unless the lockdown is of the entire population some of those in lockdown will be infected by fellow residents who leave the house to do go out in public where they become infected. Those in lockdown who escape infection, when the lockdown is ended, will be exposed to thousands of the infected and stand a good chance of being infected themselves.
- Making any partial lockdown virtually useless.
- Yes. Imagine we are in, as the president says, a war against the virus. Lockdown is our army, the herd of people in retreat from the virus. We run away as far as we can go, close ourselves off from the world. Violence is bad, free speech is good: simple principles, probablistically established, like the financier's humanly empty predictions of herd behavior in the marketplace.
- An epidemic fades away when an infected individual can't find others to infect before the infection's time of contageousness expires because too many people are naturally or from past infection immune. People in lockdown can't perform this role of blocking the spread of infection and hastening the disappearance of the epidemic.
- Healthy young people could perform the role if they unlocked themselves, taking a risk minimal compared to that taken by the old and sick if they did the same who instead remain safely locked down. Our lives are full of calculated risks: from car accidents, violent crimes, unnecessary death from hospitalization, choice of profession...
- So in our lockdown when we soldiers stage a retreat, like selling in a declining market, following probabilities, we don't know what is going on in the world. We don't think about how a lockdown is supposed to work and what its future can possibly be. In our self concern and indifference to everyone else we must be complicit with the government if we are ever to make a whole lot of money. Then, later, our money safe and sound, we decide to throw ourselves back into the fray, from prisoners become again soldiers, and reduce or end the lockdown, and...
- People start dying again in large numbers!
- Yes, of course, what else could happen? We see it all over the world, in country after country, people who in lockdown had been protected from exposure now are blindly marching into a viral attack.
- Then what should we do?
- People who are sick ought to be identified and quarantined, and those who are not sick, who are young and healthy or simply risk takers, if it is their choice, should march back into battle and live their public lives.
- And the epidemic will die out?
- If it doesn't we look for another model. Anything is better than our huckster in chief's retreat to speculators' probability.
- Anything is better than our present living for money and dying for money.

Further Reading:
An Epidemic Of Bad Thinking
Compliance
_______________________
Narrowing Focus

Saturday, July 25, 2020

America In Search Of Repression

Luigi Pirandello in 1932

I just want to go away and look at people and think.* 

- I was talking with, call him my friend, the construction site guard, and something interesting came up. Should I tell you about it?
- Why do you hesitate to call him your friend?
- We only talk while he is working.
- Why do you talk to him then?
- To keep in practice.
- You don't have anyone else to talk to?
- No.
- If he's the only one something must be special about him.
- Maybe. Twenty-three now, he went through a period of about five years where, in his words, he partied every night at the house of his friend, much older than himself, a drug dealer.
- Party, meaning drugs and alcohol.
- Yes. A wide variety of each. He also had a girlfriend during this period, again much older than himself. To make a long story short, he discovered his girlfriend was keeping up internet correspondences with other guys, broke it off with her, and then, at a bar one night his friend the drug dealer deliberately provoked a group of "ghetto blacks", as he put it, who proceeded to beat him up. The guard took to his heels, a betrayal the drug dealer felt to be inexcusable.
- The guard concluded his girl wasn't his friend, his friend concluded he wasn't his friend, and you never thought of him as your friend. Is that the story?
- No. I'd asked his opinion why he thought people in this country, and in many countries all over the world, so quickly, without challenge, even carelessly accepted government repression: closing public places, businesses, schools, locking up people in their houses.
- What did he answer?
- We're all absorbed in our private lives. Know what I'd been doing that afternoon? I asked him. Researching how ordinary people have in the recent past responded to the build up leading into totalitarianism. I found two articles proposing the same explanation: an Argentinian wrote that the county's authoritarian dictatorship was accepted as a relief from uncertainty. An historian of the Nazi period came up with the identical explanation.
- What did the guard say?
- He asked me what I thought. The situation we're in, I answered, didn't feel that way to me. It was more like the life I was living had been interrupted because its author had disappeared. Even before the words had left my lips I knew this wasn't my own idea. Then I remembered: Pirandello's 1921 play Six Characters In Search Of An Author. Pirandello described his composition of the play like this:
"Why not," I said to myself, "present this highly strange fact of an author who refuses to let some of his characters live, though they have been born in his fantasy, and the fact that these characters, having by now life in their veins, do not resign themselves to remaining excluded from the world of art? They are detached from me; live on their own; have acquired voice and movement; have by themselves -- in this struggle for existence that they have had to wage with me -- become dramatic characters, characters that can move and talk on their own initiative; already see themselves as such; have learned to defend themselves against me; will even know how to defend themselves against others. And so let them go where dramatic characters do go to have life: on a stage. And let us see what will happen."
- People had their roles to play and looked with relief at the clear stage directions repression provides for playing them.
- Yes. Do you see the difference between Pirandello's staging of personal role in its relation to public life and acceptance of repression in Argentina and Germany?
- Can't say I do. What's the difference?
- Pirandello's six characters in search of an author wander onto a stage where a director is beginning rehearsal of a play with his troop of actors. One of the six characters, the Father, explains his predicament to the director: he, the director, thinks his character has reality, but if he is honest with himself he will admit that he is always changing, and not living up to the roles he plays. Whereas he, The Father, is one thing all the time, the part written for him, but that part is an illusion, something made up by the author; he requires, if he is to experience any kind of ease, the reality of playing out the part on stage with the other five characters. Do you see?
- Not yet.
- There is progress in two directions here. The director is said to be in his own life and in his work putting changeable character into fixed form, while the actors, who already have fixed character, see that is mere words and ideas, they want their character realized in action.
- When the theater director tries to clarify himself to himself by acting in a role, he's really trying to. When the six characters in search of an author invades his theater and convince him to be their author and put them in action on his stage, they still are not real. They are performing a scenario, acting out fiction. Is that what you mean?
- Yes. I said to the guard, Look to your experience, discovering your girlfriend wasn't living up to the role, that you yourself were't considered by your drug dealer friend to be his friend. You want, I think, to forget about roles, our own or played, want friendship to be real.** The approaching government repression doesn't promise to do anything like that, only to make unreality more convincing and permanent.

Further Reading:
Eve In The Garden Of Eden
____________________
* Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio.
 ** Man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world - and defines himself afterwards. If man as the existentialist sees him is not definable, it is because to begin with he is nothing. He will not be anything until later, and then he will be what he makes of himself. (Jean-Paul Sartre, 'Existentialism is a Humanism', 1946.)

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Narrowing Focus

Map of Israel | Large Solid-Faced Canvas Wall Art Print | Great Big Canvas

- Roughly speaking, for twelve weeks 10,000 more people than usual each week have died in the U.S. If it happens that this is followed by 10,000 less than usual people dying each week for twelve weeks, would that mean that as a result of the epidemic 120,000 people died three months earlier than they otherwise would have?
- Roughly speaking. Do you think we're going to have anywhere near twelve weeks of less than usual number of deaths?
- We've already had a couple. It would support a different interpretation of the epidemic, as life shortening rather than life ending.
- A three month shortening of life over a three month period for one out of 2,500 people.
- One possibility among innumerable others. We'll see in the coming weeks.
- On a related subject: if the polls are correct and nearly all Americans believe the government is corrupt and politicians are liars, it can't be because we are a nation of skeptics. The same Americans who distrust the government believe without evidence ridiculous conspiracy theories.
- So?
- We think the government is lying to us because we're a nation of liars and the people in government are no exception. The question I have is, Why do we believe what the government tells us about the epidemic? Is it simply too complicated?
- The epidemic is something we want to believe in for its own sake, out of hatred for social life and for the relief of giving up on the possibility of imagining something better.*
- But this could happen only because our leaders - I don't mean the government, I mean those we have recourse to for advice, thinkers and creative people in general - have failed us.
- How failed us?
- By their lack of subtlety. As attempting to understand an epidemic requires being able to handle different kinds of information,** so does doing the job of social critic. You mentioned last time the Israel/Palestinian conflict and Noam Chomsky's seeing what is happening there as nothing but colonization of a weak country by a strong country: a tendentious narrowing of focus. Injustice, repression, violence are not part of his analysis. Another prominent social critic*** demonstrates the same fault in the same context. He talks about a 'Jewish occupation of a country that from the 7th century until 1948 was Muslim.' According to Wikipedia, 'Palestine was intermittently controlled by several independent kingdoms and numerous great powers, including Ancient Egypt, Persia, Alexander the Great and his successors, the Roman Empire, several Muslim dynasties, and the Crusaders. In modern times, the area was ruled by the Ottoman Empire, then the United Kingdom.' From the first to the 4th century Jews were in the majority, from the 4th to 11th century Christians were, from the end of the 12th to the middle of the 20th Muslims were, today Jews again are in a majority with Muslims not far behind.
- What do you think is behind this 'tendentious narrowing of focus?' Can it be our leaders suffer from the same hatred of social life and freedom as Americans in general?
- Do you imagine the experience of talking with them would be freeing? Remember what Henri More said: A thing can be divided up into pieces, and does not respond to the world; human beings have a character that is undivided, and are open to the world in all their different aspects as thinkers, creators, friends, lovers.****

Further Reading:
_________________

Friday, July 10, 2020

An Epidemic Of Bad Thinking

US CDC logo.svg
   (Not a government publication)

- It's discouraging.
- What is?
- I don't want to go over it again.
- What is 'it'?
- This epidemic of stupidity. This stupid response to our epidemic. Do you realize that in the past weeks, after a three month period of deaths from all causes being higher than normal by (an averaged) 15%, 70,000 a week instead of 60,000, there actually have been fewer than normal people dying in our country?* Not number dying from the virus, but from all causes: the last I looked 55,000 a week and going down. Hysteria is being maintained by calling attention to the rise in virus cases and deaths resulting from the recent loosening of the lockdown, as those who'd only been exposed to a few people in the same house now are exposed to thousands. The ratio of virus deaths per population in the U.S. (1/2,500) is roughly that of Sweden (1/2,000)** which did not have a forced lockdown and is now nearing the end of their epidemic. Sweden identified and isolated cases of exposure, the U.S. hardly did anything (unless you count locking the healthy in with the sick). That means as the useless lockdown is lifted here we are nowhere near the end. In the absence of a vaccine, virus cases and deaths will continue until acquired and natural immunity and death leave too few susceptible to spread the epidemic.
- I know all that.
- Of course you do. You're the only one I talk to.
- It's not a very serious epidemic but our government is determined to get as many deaths as possible out of it. Do you believe it is a waste of time to try to talk to some kinds of people? Supporters of our president, for instance?
- I do. For most people ideas are like a virus exposed to which an inverted immunity develops: an immunity not from the viral ideas themselves but from all other ideas. I feel like an epidemic of bad thinking has left me as a pathogen everyone around me has developed immunity to.

Further Reading:
Illegal & Unscientific
The Epidemic: Accounting For Death
_____________________
CDC: Excess Deaths Associated with COVID-19The lower than normal number of people dying from all causes is the result of the number of people dying from COVID-19 who would have died in the near future from other causes being more than the increase in deaths resulting from the partial lifting of the lockdown. 
** The Epidemic In Sweden

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Impenetrable


        
- You've nothing pressing to do? You have time?
- Yes.
- Because I can't guarantee what I'm going to say makes sense.
- It wouldn't be the first time. What do you want to say?
- First, that it is a fact that human nature is such to be free and creative.  Everything good about human life is the direct result of creativity and freedom. Do you agree?
- Yes.
- But though this seems to be an obvious fact of human nature, scientific thinking is not capable of saying anything at all on this subject.
- Why not?
- A 17th century English philosopher* put it this way: the soul is penetrable and indivisible; the body is impenetrable and divisible.
- And science studies bodies, things which are divisible and impenetrable.  Atoms, things like that.
- Yes. Things are not sensitive to the world. They do not respond, freely and creatively, to the world.
- And souls, our minds do.
- That is the argument. What is divisible is defined. What is defined is repetitive in response to other defined things. Take the claim that there is progress in the world. In China the average income is way up. In the U.S. there's been some improvement in relations between the sexes and races. But Americans are isolated from each other, isolated in divisive self-identifications into races and sexes and isolated in their work by the fixed obligation to be obedient to employers' orders. And what do the people feel, how is their sensitivity to the world to be characterized? Do they feel unable to freely and creatively respond to a world of separate classes of wealth, race, sex, and occupation? Are people happier now they slave for wages in factories in vastly polluted cities than when they were small scale farmers in a village? How do Americans feel now that, not even more rich, more of them are wage slaves, isolated from each other by social media and these last months by the epidemic lockdown imposed without consideration of its social, economic, political, personal effects?
- They feel bad.
- Unfree and uncreative.
- Yes.
- Defined and dull rather than open and responsive. Do you know who often brings up this 17th century English philosopher?
- Who?
- Noam Chomsky, the tireless MIT linguist and political activist. I just finished watching** an interview with him about the Israel Palestine conflict. Chomsky is on record with statements like 'all states do evil, the more powerful they are the more evil they do.' In his mind the Palestinians are having evil done to them in their dispute over land because they are weaker.*** Asked what Palestinians should do to be more effective in putting pressure on Israel, Chomsky answers that Palestinians must do something about their unjust, repressive, violent society which currently is an obstacle to making connections with progressive organizations around the world.
- The Palestinians are defined by their relative weakness and losses in the battle for land, not by repression, violence, injustice.
- Yes. The repression, injustice, violence of the Palestinians is to be ended for the sake of gaining more power in relation to Israel, it is not to his mind part of the discussion of the dispute itself, nor is the obviously greater justice, freedom, and peacefulness of Israel compared with its neighbors including the Palestinians.
- Strange. He's Jewish, raised by parents who were both Hebrew teachers.
- He's thinking like a scientist.
- Thinking about a world which is divisible and impenetrable.
- Yes. A world that is about power, obscure forces which move around the bits and pieces of things that are unresponsive to the world.
- In the case of Israel he ignores the surrounding world of violence, injustice, and repression **** because these conditions, like freedom and creativity, can't have a part in the analysis he practices. Still...
- What?
- Chomsky both openly questions the scientific thing/force description of the world and openly identifies himself as a political anarchist, demanding of authority that it justify any restriction of individual freedom and creativity. I don't see how the position he's taken regarding the Israel Palestinian conflict fits in.
- I don't either.

Further Reading:
The Faurisson Affair
Totalitarianism & The Lesser Evil
______________________
* Henry More, The Immortality Of The Soul
** Interview 
*** Israel's attitude towards the Palestinians:'They should be exterminated.' (Chomsky)
**** 'No necessary relations between internal and external affairs of a country.' (Chomsky)

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Compliance

Tablet Magazine

1.

- I want to make a suggestion and see where it takes us.
- All right.
- James Buchanan's book The Calculus of Consent, said to be the bible of those who really hold power in our society, describes the government as a marketplace where the powerful compete to bribe the government to take policy decisions that serve their interest, without any concern with what may be ethically better or worse. Just like the economic marketplace is supposed when left to itself to benefit each individual, the political marketplace is supposed to magically benefit all.*  It's idiotic, I know.
- If your success depends on bribery it's nice to be told reason and natural law requires of you to corrupt the democratic process.
- Yeah. So my suggestion is this: Isn't identity politics similar? There obtains a sort of marketplace not of politics or economics, but communication: each identity group is not expected to explain or justify the rationality of its identifying behavior, yet each claims a right to have a share in power over the habits and institutions of communication. What do you think?
- And like the magic of the marketplace in politics and economics, the magic of the marketplace in communication is supposed to benefit all identities?
- Yes.
- I wonder if there is an explanation here for why in our present epidemic we've allowed ourselves to be locked in our homes with nearly no challenge when it was obviously illegal and irrational.**
- Go on.
- Any utopian politics poses a danger because it sets up a defined world whose good is so great any bad means used to realize it is justified. Identity politics also presents a world dangerously defined, each identity with its own particular description. Unlike a utopia, though, identity is already realized, requiring only to be maintained, subject as it is to the power challenging speech of other identities in the communication marketplace. Political correctness, 'woke' behavior, is sensitivity to identity power loss, not involving any consideration of truth.
- Truth has no more to do with the communication marketplace of identity politics than it does in the political and economic marketplaces.
- Yes. We know then what to say about YouTube removing videos challenging the rationality and legality of the lockdown.
- Lockdown critique was a loser in the communication marketplace.
- We know the lockdown and its disruption of business was a cover for the financial crash already begun early this year, that it was a cover for the massive upward transfer of wealth in supposedly epidemic inspired legislation. About why we the people went along with it, the best we could come up with is that we hate society and like the idea of hiding from each other in our separate homes.*** I have another idea.
- Which is?
- All three marketplaces make demands for continuous flexibility in the roles we play: a new job, a realignment of allies after being outbid buying government policy, a choice of a new identity, and all three are in play in the epidemic lockdown: in the communication marketplace we demand obedience to rules for wearing masks and staying at home, everyone defending against everyone the market dominating, winning bid for national identity compliant; in the economic and political marketplaces we ready ourselves for radically new and challenging eventualities of recession and control.
- We accept the illegality and irrationality of the lockdown because it deepens our unquestioned participation in markets and allegiance to their magical outcomes.


2.

- Let's continue where we left off.
- Ok.
- Identity politics is both the product of marketplace thinking and accelerates it. Identities are social products, each identity competes to control the market of description to maximize its own power; identities - personal, professional, racial, ethnic - are things of the market, and isolating one identity from another as market competitors makes opposition to market thinking more difficult.
- Identity politics is a product of the market, sets up individuals as competitors in the communications market, and also is a weapon wielded in defense of market thinking and practice.
- Yes. So what do we do about it? Does it help to know that more is involved here than a divide and conquer strategy used by the rich minority against everyone else, the majority?
- It might, if people could come to understand that the markets they now live within - political, economic, and of personal identity - are arbitrary products of one particular social arrangement: of people forced to sell themselves by the hour to make products and then to buy those same products at a higher price than the amount they were paid to make them. A late development of this one particular social arrangement is our proudly declared racism and prejudice, our seeing freedom in open competition to control the social marketplace.
- To acquire monopoly control, to wrest that control from current monopoly holders. But doing this, where is the understanding of the other element of the market game?
- Of the slavery that produces the products?
- Yes. In slavery the producer is treated like a thing, a product. Identity is similarly a product, something made in the marketplace of social communication.
- Bad as it is to be slaves that have to buy back the products they make at a higher amount than they were paid to make them, and buy back an emancipated version of themselves the freedom of which is limited to a competition to monopolize the communication marketplace, bad as these things are, the situation is made infinitely worse by the ability of the slave owners to manage the rules of the marketplaces: to buy politicians outright, to produce the crashes that drive independent businesses into bankruptcy, to use mass media to ramp up the hostility of competitive identities.
- The slaves remain slaves, competing in the political, economic, and social markets only against each other, not against their masters who set the rules of the game.

Further Reading:
Illegal & Unscientific
There Is No Conspiracy Because There Are No People
The Crowd Of Monopolists
CDC says U.S. has ‘way too much virus’ to control pandemic as cases surge
Excess Deaths
____________________
* The Calculus Of Consent
** The Epidemic: Accounting For Death
*** Lockdown

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Illegal & Unscientific

Caduceus as a symbol of medicine - Wikipedia

- You've finished reading. What's your response?
- I'm embarrassed, astonished. I'm relieved. All this time I've been trying to understand how the experts in this country could be so stupid. And you say all you did was enter into the search engine the phrase "quarantine the healthy"?
- Yes. The articles were right at the top of the page.
- The Journal of the American Medical Association. The New England Journal of Medicine.
- About as respectable as you can get in the world of medicine.
- Listen to this:
Compulsory public health powers should be evaluated and justified under a common legal and ethical standard, including (1) individuals must pose a significant risk of spreading a dangerous, infectious disease; (2) interventions must be likely to ameliorate risks; (3) least-restrictive means necessary to achieve public health objectives are required; (4) use of coercion should be proportionate to the risk; and (5) assessments must be based on the best available scientific evidence. In emerging crises when the science is uncertain, adoption of the “precautionary principle” is reasonable to ensure public safety. Yet, health emergencies do not warrant coercion that is indiscriminate, overbroad, excessive, or without evidentiary support.*
And:
Although we are likely to see greater use of robust social distancing measures, such as school closures or the cancellation of public meetings, broad sanitary cordons — in which geographic areas are quarantined — would raise serious constitutional questions. They also can present numerous logistical challenges and can increase the risk to those living in the restricted zone. Such measures may also have limited efficacy with a highly contagious disease such as Covid-19.**
And:
Mandatory quarantine, regional lockdowns, and travel bans have been used to address the risk of COVID-19 in the US and abroad. But they are difficult to implement, can undermine public trust, have large societal costs and, importantly, disproportionately affect the most vulnerable segments in our communities. Such measures can be effective only under specific circumstances. All such measures must be guided by science, with appropriate protection of the rights of those impacted. Infringements on liberties need to be proportional to the risk presented by those affected, scientifically sound, transparent to the public, least restrictive means to protect public health, and regularly revisited to ensure that they are still needed as the epidemic evolves.  Voluntary self-isolation measures are more likely to induce cooperation and protect public trust than coercive measures, and are more likely to prevent attempts to avoid contact with the healthcare system. For mandatory quarantines to be effective and therefore scientifically and legally justified, three main criteria must be satisfied: 1) the disease has to be transmissible in its presymptomatic or early symptomatic stages; 2) those who may have been exposed to COVID-19 must be able to be efficiently and effectively identified; and 3) those people must comply with the conditions of quarantine. There is evidence that COVID-19 is transmitted in its pre-symptomatic or early symptomatic stages. However, the contribution of infected individuals in their pre-symptomatic or early symptomatic stages to overall transmission is unknown. Efficiently identifying those exposed will be increasingly difficult as community transmission of the virus becomes more widespread, making quarantine a less plausible measure as community spread proceeds. Whether individuals can comply will be determined by the degree of support provided, particularly for low-wage workers and other vulnerable communities. While quarantines are in effect in many places already, their continuing and new use by federal, state or local officials requires real-time assessment and evaluation to justify them as the science and the outbreak evolve, through a transparent, open decision making process including external scientific and legal experts.***
- You hadn't done your research. The American medical profession and experts in public health knew all the time the lockdown of the healthy was illegal and unscientific.
- Do you know what this situation reminds me of?
- What?
- The way neoliberalism, the political and economic theory that unregulated markets create wealth and encourage democracy, has been universally proven wrong in every one of dozens of countries its been tried in including our own, yet continues to be put into practice. The truth is known, obvious, and ignored. The untested theory that locking the sick in their homes with the healthy would turn out well has turned out very much unwell, yet it doesn't matter at all, it goes on.
- It is supposed to save lives. Maybe not too many, but who are you to say what is too high a cost to pay? And, you know, like ritual you see neoliberalism everywhere.
- Because it is everywhere.**** We could save 38,000 lives a year if we stopped driving and crashing our cars. If we were placed in a coma and spent our entire lives in bed we might be able to live a few months longer. Every year 70,000 Americans commit suicide, 15,000 are murdered. Estimates of yearly avoidable deaths in hospitals range from 22,000 to 250,000.***** Every year 3.3 million Americans are victims of violent crime. On any one night 550,000 with no place to live sleep on the street.
- If saving lives isn't the real reason people are throwing themselves head first into self-destruction, enlisting themselves in an obvious fraud, a medical neoliberalism, what is?
- For the politicians the epidemic is an opportunity to exercise power, for big business an opportunity to loot 5 trillion dollars from the treasury. They couldn't be happier. The people are happy too, locked down, isolated in their houses, enjoying a respite from having to be around their neoliberal competitors in the struggle for existence.****** It's a relief to discover the American medical profession isn't a group of complete morons. I would like to be able to say the same about the American people. They don't understand economics, they're not supposed to, but what's preventing them from understanding that remaining imprisoned in their homes they're losing their freedom?
- They're not supposed to understand that either. They're given little chance to exercise their freedom. They don't miss it when it's gone.

Further Reading:
Jump To Repression
The Epidemic: Accounting For Death
Science Based

Watch:
Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute
_______________________
* US Emergency Legal Responses to Novel Coronavirus, Balancing Public Health and Civil Liberties, Journal of the American Medical Association, February 13, 2020
*Covid-19 - The Law and Limits of Quarantine New England Journal of Medicine, April 9, 2020
*** Achieving A Fair and Effective COVID-19 Response: An Open Letter to Vice-President Mike Pence, and Other Federal, State and Local Leaders from Public Health and Legal Experts in the United States, March 2, 2020
**** Convergence
***** Avoidable Hospital Deaths
****** Lockdown

Sunday, May 31, 2020

What Is Blame?



- You're my teacher for lack of anyone better so I'd like to ask you a question.
- And for lack of anything better to do I'll answer, if I can.
- You always can. That's my problem with you.
- Why is that a problem?
- It's like you're playing a trick on me. Right now you've done it again because the question I want to ask you is about Giambattista Vico, the 18th century Italian philosopher who famously argued that 'the true and the made are convertible,' that 'the true is precisely what is made.'
- The same rules apply to both nature and culture: science makes/discovers abstract laws, creativity discovers/makes the truths of society and arts. When you ask me a question I am literally making up the answer and that making it up somehow makes it seem true.
- Yes.
- And like a magic trick it is not really true?
- Yes.
- We've talked about the epidemic we are living through and how a virus hijacks a living thing to reproduce it and is not really living itself. A living thing has a metabolism, a continual acting on and responding to the actions of its environment. When Vico says the truth is what is made, he means that if we want to know what a word means we need to see how it is used and try using it ourselves.
- The word being spoken is an action on the world and the world responds to that action, for example in another word being spoken to you by another person.
- There are laws regulating this constant action and response we make to the human world as we attempt to understand and live in it, just as there are laws to be discovered with science in the world of nature. Vico believed there was in operation a law of social progress where our violence, greed, and ambition would be replaced by the reasoned behavior of guardians, merchants, and leaders.
- But along the way in our progress individual nations would rise and fall. They'd relapse to a lower level, but progress would return to restart somewhere near where it left off. Which brings me to my question.
- Which is?
- Is it true that I shouldn't blame the actions of individuals who are destroying our society because it is the institutions that are at fault? In better institutions the same people wouldn't be criminals, and anyone else in the current institutions would be a criminal too? Vico seems to think this is wrong: the institutions are constantly improving, and individuals are constantly, or rather recurrently, failing to live up to them. The moral climate changes, and people who once made the best of institutions instead make the worst of them. We can't exonerate, for example, our whole empire of tens of thousands of financial criminals by the institutions, but they exonerate themselves by the moral climate. They say, and appear to actually believe, it is right that all of us serve our own interests as best we can in competition with each other,** even though that moral claim contradicts the cooperation embodied in the institutions we all participate in. What do you reply to them when they say they are not to blame for their crimes, that they and their crimes are merely an expression of the times?
- When you love a friend does that mean you know your friend?
- Yes.
- You come to know your friend in experience with your friend. The truth of your friendship and love is made in your life with your friend?
- Yes.
- And what of blame? Do we not blame people for being unlovable, for acting in a way that makes it impossible to make friends with them?
- What makes it impossible to make friends with them?
- That they do not make progress. That their truth is not in what they make but, virus-like, in the sense of power and security they derive from reproducing the act of money making.
- That a nature that begins violent, greedy, and selfishly ambitious has gone nowhere, has not been led into a careful, productive, reason directed life. But, they'll respond, they are no different from others in the tens of thousands strong class of financial criminals, the moral climate of the times....
- Is going the other direction. But we don't blame or exonerate someone for not going against the times, against the institutions of the times or the moral climate. We don't blame those who fall into any particular category.
- Who do we blame then?
- 'The truth is precisely what is made.' We blame others for making themselves unlovable.
- The truth here is in precisely what cannot be made with them.
- Yes. Blame ostracizes, or in the language of our time of epidemic, quarantines.

Further Reading:
Tricked Me Again
________________
* Convergence
** The Calculus Of Consent

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Science Based

Coronavirus: U-M experts discuss | University of Michigan News

Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.(Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte)

- Is the lockdown really science based?
- As opposed to politics or fear based?
- Yes.
- A science based policy would be one that, for example, is in response to the evidence presented by climate change scientists? Because there is near complete agreement among them?
- Yes.
- When scientists present different views of evidence, what do we call those views?
- Theories.
- So there will be some cases where we respond to scientific knowledge, confirmed theories, when there is near universal agreement, and those cases when we respond to unconfirmed theories. When would we respond to unconfirmed theories?
- When, as now, we are faced with an epidemic of unknown characteristics.
- And the theory presents a worst case scenario.
- Because the consequences feared are so bad.
- Then we move out the realm of physical, or mostly physical, science and come to social science.
- Why?
- Because we have to determine whether the policy based on the theory that presents the worst case scenario itself is science based.
- You're asking if the lockdown policy itself is science based, whether there is good evidence it will do what is expected of it by its proponents. But the evidence for social theories is nothing like as good as for the physical world. Is that your argument?
- We have in fact a good example of a social policy that can generate near complete agreement as to its result: so-called austerity or free market policies, now tested in dozens and dozens of countries.
- Complete disconfirming results!
- That's right. So what do we say about the lockdown policy of keeping people enclosed in their residences by law? Can we say this is a social science based policy?
- How can we when it's never been done before?*
- What about common sense? What does that tell us about lockdown?
- That locking the sick in with the healthy is sure to produce more infection. If people are safely to stay at home a strong effort would have to be made to identify those who are sick and isolate them.
- To summarize and apply: The characteristics of the COVID-19 epidemic are contested by experts with equally impressive credentials. The impetus behind lockdown therefore is based not on agreed upon knowledge but contested theory.** The lockdown policy itself goes against common sense - according to an Oxford University epidemiologist it reproduces the congested conditions of the devastating 19th century outbreaks - and is without any evidence to support a theory of its efficacy.
- And we don't need science to tell us the immense economic, social, and political damage done by implementing this not science based policy.*** Would it be going too far to observe that we're following in the footsteps of the defunct Soviet Union, in which 'objective' was whatever was the policy of the government, supposedly determined by science, 'subjective' was the interests of individuals, unscientific, consequently unimportant?

Further Reading:
The Epidemic: Accounting For Death

Watch:
The Swedish Approach
COVID-19 In The UK
______________________
* Swedish epidemiologist Johan Giesecke: During the Spanish flu epidemic of the early 20th century some American cities made attempts at lockdown in the sense of attempting to keep the epidemic out of the city (rather than the sense of keeping the population inside their residences) and imposing restrictions on public gatherings.
** See: Oxford professor Sunetra Gupta: The Epidemic Is On Its Way Out
*** From the comments section of the UK YouTube site UnHerd: '"We can't be sure," "I don't have the answers," "It might be because," "We don't know." If you are going to put the Gov. in a position of being put under intense pressure to close the NHS to all but basic care, close the whole economy, put millions of people out of work, destroy millions of businesses and careers in both the UK and the poorer countries that supply us goods, criminalize those who can't pay their bills as they have no income, cause certain collateral deaths, directly cause increase in domestic abuse, legally enforce the lockdown of the healthy people and removal of their liberty, cause a massive UK debt increase which will affect funding of the NHS and healthcare in a huge negative impact, then you better have a damned good reason and some irrefutable evidence like a nuclear fallout situation. Not just, "We think." In the USA, creating or being complicit with creating false alarm and panic in a population is a criminal offence.'

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The Epidemic: Accounting For Death

Image result for bertrand russell

Men sometimes speak as though the progress of science must necessarily be a boon to mankind, but that, I fear, is one of the comfortable nineteenth-century delusions which our more disillusioned age must discard. Science enables the holders of power to realize their purposes more fully than they could otherwise do. If their purposes are good, this is a gain; if they are evil, it is a loss. In the present age, it seems that the purposes of the holders of power are in the main evil, in the sense that they involve a diminution, in the world at large, of the things men are agreed in thinking good. Therefore, at present, science does harm by increasing the power of rulers. Science is no substitute for virtue; the heart is as necessary for a good life as the head.
Science has not given men more self-control, more kindliness, or more power of discounting their passions in deciding upon a course of action. It has given communities more power to indulge their collective passions, but, by making society more organic, it has diminished the part played by private passions. Men's collective passions are mainly evil; far the strongest of them are hatred and rivalry directed towards other groups. Therefore at present all that gives men power to indulge their collective passions is bad. That is why science threatens to cause the destruction of our civilization.
The quotes - you'll recognize them* - are from Bertrand Russell's 1924 book, Icarus Or The Future Of Science.

- And why this time do you bring them in?
- As the country in lockdown debates how we are to balance the benefits of fewer deaths with the economic and social costs of closed businesses and confinement within one's house, we are leaving out the cost of putting the power of using social technology in the hands of our leaders.
- By social technology you mean things like the lockdown, social distancing, compulsory wearing of masks.
- Yes.
- If the economic costs of the lockdown are closed and bankrupted small businesses, and tens of millions newly unemployed, and the social costs include domestic violence, stressful isolation and fear of the future, what are the costs you expect from use of social technology?
- Russell said it: increase in the use of power by our leaders to do evil.
- How?
- Giving individuals and small business little or nothing, while bailing out large corporations that much better, considering their incompetence, would have been allowed to go through reorganization in the bankruptcy process, many of which had their hand out more desperately because had borrowed large amounts of money they used to drive up their stock price by buying back their own stock, - these corporations bailed out with an amount equal to one entire year's budget of the United States government, or if you prefer, one quarter of the entire economy for a year, one quarter of the gross national product. And that is just the beginning.
- Go on.
- We can divide the countries of the world we are in closest contact with into two classes: those that acted quickly and were able to contain their outbreaks pretty much completely, with relatively few deaths, and those countries that waited to act until the virus had already widely spread through their population. Total deaths in the late to respond world are in the low to mid tenths of one tenth percent, varying between countries, but including Sweden, whose social distancing rules are mostly voluntary. The United States is up to about 3 tenths of one tenth percent so far (that is, three one-hundredths of one percent, about one out of 3,000). Out of this group of countries, the subset of those countries where the epidemic developed first, deaths are now declining, an indication the epidemic (at least in these countries) is winding down.** For the 12 weeks the epidemic was strongest in the U.S. the number of deaths per week increased on the average from 60,000 to 72,000, an increase of about 20%.**
- Are you suggesting that the social distancing was unnecessary?***
- No, I'm suggesting that making the rules law was unnecessary and extremely dangerous.
- Dangerous because they are social technology that puts power in the hands of a sort of people, our leaders, who are sure to use it to no good.
- Yes.
- The bailout of big business and abandonment of individuals to unemployment and small business to bankruptcy will insure the increase of monopoly.
- And monopoly, with mass unemployment, will result in lower wages, lesser or no benefits, poorer workplace safety. The administration has already halted all enforcement of environmental regulations, after having undermined the functioning of regulatory offices, leaving many posts unfilled, including infamously those agencies and offices with the job of managing epidemics. Even if the government's response to the epidemic had not been so pitiful, the existing poor health of the people would likely have resulted in more deaths than in other countries. Much of that poor health can be attributed to stress from economic insecurity leading to drug addictions and obesity, to adulterated foods, to environmental pollution, all certain now to increase with monopolization and deregulation. Death of what percentage of the population do you think these consequences will account for?
- Life expectancy in the US is going down, presently 78 and a half years, with the US number 46 in the world, and Hong Kong number one with an average life span of 86 years. What do you think? How much of that difference is due to our greater economic stress and environmental pollution you say are certain now to increase?
- I don't know. But we are talking about not tenths of a tenth of one percent of the population dying prematurely, but whole percentage points. Do you agree?
- I do.
- Putting the power to exercise social technology in the hands of our dangerous leaders has perhaps saved a few tenths of one tenth percent of the population - and perhaps not - at the cost of, without significant reversal of direction, many times as many deaths to be expected in the future.

Further Reading:
Totalitarianism & The Lesser Evil

Watch:
The Corporate Bailout
_______________________
* The Future Of Science
** Excess Deaths
*** See: Professor Sunetra Gupta: The Epidemic Is On Its Way Out ( Freddie Sayers):  
'It’s the biggest question in the world right now: is Covid-19 a deadly disease that only a small fraction of our populations have so far been exposed to? Or is it a much milder pandemic that a large percentage of people have already encountered and is already on its way out? If Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College is the figurehead for the first opinion, then Sunetra Gupta, Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology at the University of Oxford, is the representative of the second. Her group at Oxford produced a rival model to Ferguson’s back in March which speculated that as much as 50% of the population may already have been infected and the true Infection Fatality Rate may be as low as 0.01%. Since then, we have seen various antibody studies around the world indicating a disappointingly small percentage of seroprevalence — the percentage of the population has the anti-Covid-19 antibody. It was starting to seem like Ferguson’s view was the one closer to the truth. But, in her first major interview since the Oxford study was published in March, Professor Gupta is only more convinced that her original opinion was correct. As she sees it, the antibody studies, although useful, do not indicate the true level of exposure or level of immunity. First, many of the antibody tests are “extremely unreliable” and rely on hard-to-achieve representative groups. But more important, many people who have been exposed to the virus will have other kinds of immunity that don’t show up on antibody tests — either for genetic reasons or the result of pre-existing immunities to related coronaviruses such as the common cold. The implications of this are profound – it means that when we hear results from antibody tests (such as a forthcoming official UK Government study) the percentage who test positive for antibodies is not necessarily equal to the percentage who have immunity or resistance to the virus. The true number could be much higher. Observing the very similar patterns of the epidemic across countries around the world has convinced Professor Gupta that it is this hidden immunity, more than lockdowns or government interventions, that offers the best explanation of the Covid-19 progression:
 “In almost every context we’ve seen the epidemic grow, turn around and die away — almost like clockwork. Different countries have had different lockdown policies, and yet what we’ve observed is almost a uniform pattern of behaviour which is highly consistent with the SIR model. To me that suggests that much of the driving force here was due to the build-up of immunity. I think that’s a more parsimonious explanation than one which requires in every country for lockdown (or various degrees of lockdown, including no lockdown) to have had the same effect.” 
Asked what her updated estimate for the Infection Fatality Rate is, Professor Gupta says, “I think that the epidemic has largely come and is on its way out in this country so I think it would be definitely less than 1 in 1000 and probably closer to 1 in 10,000.” That would be somewhere between 0.1% and 0.01%. Professor Gupta also remains openly critical of the Government lockdown policy:
 “The Government’s defense is that this [the Imperial College model] was a plausible worst case scenario. I agree it was a plausible — or at least a possible — worst case scenario. The question is, should we act on a possible worst case scenario, given the costs of lockdown? It seems to me that given that the costs of lockdown are mounting, that case is becoming more and more fragile.” 
She recommends “a more rapid exit from lockdown based more on certain heuristics, like who is dying and what is happening to the death rates”. She does not believe that the R rate is a useful tool in making decisions about government policies, as an R rate is “principally dependent on how many people are immune” and we don’t have that information. She believes that deaths are the only reliable measure, and that the number of cases should not even be presented as it is so reliant on the amount of testing being done. She explains the flare-ups in places like New York, where the IFR seems to have been higher than 0.1%, through a combination of circumstances leading to unusually bad outbreaks, including the infection load and the layout of the population:
“When you have pockets of vulnerable people it might rip through those pockets in a way that it wouldn’t if the vulnerable people were more scattered within the general population.”
She believes that longer-term lockdown-style social distancing makes us more vulnerable, not less vulnerable, to infectious diseases, because it keeps people unprotected from pathogens: 
“Remaining in a state of lockdown is extremely dangerous from the point of view of the vulnerability of the entire population to new pathogens. Effectively we used to live in a state approximating lockdown 100 years ago, and that was what created the conditions for the Spanish Flu to come in and kill 50m people.” 
Commenting on the Government response to the virus, she suggests it erred on the side of over-reaction not under-reaction: 
“I think there’s a chance we might have done better by doing nothing at all, or at least by doing something different, which would have been to pay attention to protecting the vulnerable, to have thought about protecting the vulnerable 30 or 40 years ago when we started cutting hospital beds. The roots of this go a long, long way back.”
And she believes it is a “strong possibility” that if we return to full normal tomorrow — pubs, nightclubs, festivals — we would be fine, but accepts that is hard to prove with the current evidence: 
“So what do we do? I think we weigh that strong possibility against the costs of lockdown. I think it is very dangerous to talk about lockdown without recognising the enormous costs that it has on other vulnerable sectors in the population.” 
On the politics of the question, Professor Gupta is clear that she believes that lockdowns are an affront to progressive values: 
“So I know there is a sort of libertarian argument for the release of lockdown, and I think it is unfortunate that those of us who feel we should think differently about lockdown have had our voices added to that libertarian harangue. But the truth is that lockdown is a luxury, and it’s a luxury that the middle classes are enjoying and higher income countries are enjoying at the expense of the poor, the vulnerable and less developed countries. It’s a very serious crisis.”' 

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Totalitarianism & The Lesser Evil



- At times of crisis, we should turn our minds to what is most important. I suppose.
- What's important to me is this order to 'shelter at home,' the quarantine of the sick with the healthy, executive orders from mayors and governors taking something close to total control of our lives.
- And you are wondering what to think of it.
- Yes. It seems to have come out of nowhere. I understand the reasons given, some of them are good, but something is wrong with the calculation itself, the reasoning involved. It feels wrong to me. Help me out with this.
- There is a close relationship between totalitarianism and compromise.
- Isn't that a contradiction? Total means going all out, no compromise.
- If you are willing to use any means to achieve an end, you are right. But if you consider some means bad in themselves, there you have a compromise. The willingness to consider doing anything, which is totalitarianism, when you add an awareness that some of those means are bad, gets you compromise.
- A lesser evil argument.
- Yes. But the totalitarian, in addition to having no conscience, no awareness of doing something wrong, also is choosing a wrong world; while someone compromising is choosing a world somewhat less wrong than it could be. But they have the same way of thinking. Totalitarianism: (1) An end that is completely laid out, known in advance, believed to be wholly good. (2) Anything may be used as means to achieve it. Compromise: (1) Less bad world, known in advance. (2) Means to achieve it as little bad as possible. The calculations of end justifying the means arguments, another name for choosing the lesser evil, are very likely to be wrong, or even if not, and you managed to achieve the world planned, inconsequential:
Every fifty or hundred years in recent history a revolutionary crises occurs, where the rich take more and more from the poor until the poor feel they have nothing much left to lose. After the revolutionary attempt, the poor recover some resources, and the cycle starts over again. There are also smaller cycles of boom and bust in financial speculation, and larger cycles of rise and fall of empires, where having robbed the world the leaders rob or in wars express disregard for the lives of the led of their own country, and even larger cycles are claimed, where wealthy civilization is followed by dark ages followed by a renaissance.*
If the end is uncertain, also uncertain is whether violent, lesser evil means can lead to any but the worst worlds. If you are a killer you are unfit for an imagined, cooperative utopia. Not a problem if the end you seek is inherently violent - thus the attraction to totalitarianism, which we just saw is of the same form of thought. In times of crisis you might wake up to yourself, to a sense of guilty complicity, and to escape from yourself you become susceptible to the propaganda of totalitarianism, as again, it is of the same form of thought as compromise. In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt writes:
In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true ... Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.
- The flexibility in allowed means shows totalitarianism is a type of means to end thinking.
- Yes. What would you say is the opposite to this type of thinking, opposite to bad means justified by good ends?
- Creative thinking.
- And how would you characterize creative thinking?
- I don't know. The opposite to the kind of thinking that locked down our country.
- Opposite to lesser evil arguments. Opposite to having a fixed, clearly visualized goal achieved by compromise.
- Yes. Exactly.
- Perhaps as we are living through an epidemic we should consider something Shakespeare wrote about the plague at a time he was living through it and was doing some of his best writing:
They say miracles are past; and we have our philosophical persons, to make modern and familiar, things supernatural and causeless. Hence is it that we make trifles of terrors, ensconcing ourselves into seeming knowledge, when we should submit ourselves to an unknown fear.
Do you see what I'm getting at?
- He's calling for an open world.
- As we can look back, immersing ourselves in a remembered love, we can look ahead to a world that is opened up by kindness, in contrast to the closed, defined world of totalitarianism and means justifying end argument.
- And he's calling for submitting ourselves to the unknown.
- And thereby doing our best work, if we are lucky enough to do as Shakespeare did, working in the midst of a plague ourselves, by paying attention, practical attention, careful study of the unknown. Our means chosen are experimental, not part of an advance calculation. We try out what to do, we judge those means better that make the world more kind.
- Kindness is not a particular arrangement of the things in the world, but a relation between people that opens up the world to the infinite. Infinite are the ways to elicit love, are the practices experimented with adding to each other in possibility. Time slows down for us, the more events crowd our lives. Imagining in our lives an infinite number of events, time stops for us.
- Experiments, experimental practices are infinite in number, and like the measure of time can be stopped, the end aimed for using them - kindness - is also infinite.
- There are no matters of degree involved here. A choice between two absolutely opposed ways of thinking. Choosing the lesser evil you suggest by your behavior totalitarianism to others and stand the risk of advancing into totalitarianism yourself.

Further Reading
Means & Ends
Lockdown
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Friday, May 1, 2020

Lockdown

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (painted portrait).jpg

- We know big business benefits from economic crises,* grabbing cash bailouts from the government and using them to buy up small businesses unable to sustain lost income. We know politicians love to exercise power. But what about the people? Why are they so unanimously going along with it? What's in it for them?
- They were told it was necessary. Probably it was a good idea at the beginning for lessening the pressure on hospitals.
- But why did they believe? Quarantine the sick, yes, but quarantine the healthy? In epidemics those who can, move away. But there's no precedent for this move, this enforced lockdown.**
- What's your explanation?
- Healthy people have been quarantined not only from the sick but in much larger numbers they are quarantined from each other. Think about those words. Is it going in public we fear, or the public itself, society, where we enter innocent and well but in time all are made sick with the same loss of innocence? People have been willing to lock themselves down to recapture their innocence, while power mad, mostly senile politicians and depraved with greed big business ravage the world outside their doors.
- Do we hate society that much?
- You tell me. Rousseau wrote in 1750:
Sincere friendship, real esteem and perfect confidence are banished from among men. Jealousy, suspicion, fear, coldness, reserve, hate, and fraud lie constantly concealed.***
- As true today as it was then.

Further Reading:
Jump To Repression
Totalitarianism & The Lesser Evil
Convergence
Stanford Professor Michael Levitt: 'Lockdown is a huge mistake.'

Watch:
Fun & Games
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If with hugely extended financialization - more and more income going to debt and rent, the result of higher prices themselves the result of monopolization, privitization, and speculative, fraudulent, Ponzi scheme investment on credit - a crash is on its way, why not deliberately crash the economy with a lockdown and assign the blame to the Novel Corona Virus? See: 'Despite low unemployment rates and a rising stock market, 3 out of 4 economists are expecting a recession by 2021.'  and: Wall Street Had Cut 68,000 Jobs and Received Trillions in Emergency Loans Prior to COVID-19 Anywhere in the World, and: Another Bank Bailout Under Cover of a Virus, and: Congress Sets Up Taxpayers to Eat $454 Billion of Wall Street’s Losses, Where is the Outrage?
** According to the Center For Disease Control's website: 'Isolation separates sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick. Quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick.'
*** Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Arts and Sciences (The First Discourse)