Thursday, February 15, 2018

Quotes for today...

President Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

Our nation grew out of this principle. During the first terrible winter after landing at Plymouth Rock in 1620, many of the Pilgrims and their children were saved from starvation by the food given them by Native Americans. It was our first supplemental nutrition assistance program. Our national narrative and legendry were set in motion by this act of lifesaving food aid. We should not abandon this noble tradition, but honor it.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Darwin Day 2012

We probably shouldn't lapse into the belief that we live at some unique point in history, that we have no where to go but down... the great neo-conservative mistake is that a world once existed that resembled their libertarian/theocratic paradise (I wonder how we missed it when we were there?). The great pinko/communist utopia is no more likely, but it exists in the future. The former ignores the facts of history, the latter the basic nature of (naturally selected?) human beings. By refusing to live in or learn about their own time (how they got there, where they might be going), both groups are betraying themselves as well as us.

1. The death of Socrates

I only know that I know nothing. - Socrates (English translation) 
The writer of the Wikipedia article on this last quote adds the following: "The impreciseness of the English translation stems from the fact that the author is not saying that he does not know anything but means instead that one cannot know anything with absolute certainty but can feel confident about certain things."

The problem, as the city fathers saw it, was that he was too often infuriatingly right.

Athens had just lost a 'war of choice'; Sparta, the occupying power, had set up a 'conservative' (i.e reactionary) regime to keep the Athenians out of their hair for a few years, and bogged back off the the Peloponessus to flog their peasants and sing hymns to themselves. Democracy had apparently failed the Athenians, and the new rulers were in the mood to settle a few long standing vendettas and stifle a few irritants.

Socrates had dedicated his life to being an irritant. He dressed badly, lived off everyone, never bathed, and could drink (and talk) anyone in Athens under the table. But so what? I am sure we've all known someone like that. Heh-heh.

A quote from the Wikipedia article on the life and death of Socrates says: "Socrates defended his role as a gadfly until the end: at his trial, when Socrates is asked to propose his own punishment, he suggests a wage paid by the government and free dinners for the rest of his life instead, to finance the time he spends as Athens' benefactor."

A most infuriating person, indeed! He considered himself the least wise of men, and the most ignorant; his only arrogance was that he considered himself enlightened and improved by this epiphany. Since he was indisputably successful at making anyone look like a fool, merely by demonstrating how shaky the roots of their convictions were, he was very skeptical of the value of 'inherent' or pious virtue and the wisdom of influential men. A recipe tailor-made to piss off everyone, almost all the time. The kids loved him, of course.

Back in the bad old days, while Athens slowly destroying the spirit of 'democracy' with that thoroughness that only a really successful society can muster, Socrates was inventing situational thinking in the most Darwinian possible arena: he was an infantryman during the later episodes of the war with Persia. Luckily, he had apparently been introduced to the pioneers of Greek 'science' (Anaxagoras and his predecessor Thales) in his youth, and this practice in abstraction of thought served him well, both on the battlefield and at the dinner table. Socrates became an expert at 'dialectic' reasoning, i.e. thinking on one's feet.

Socrates possibly considered his complicity in his death sentence a last act of instruction; by throwing himself under the bus, he may have averted worse. He has often been cited (mainly through the mouth of Plato) as an opponent of Athenian democracy, but... From what little we know of his life and his character, it seems more likely that he despised what Athenian Democracy (capital D intentional here) had become; what had been done in its name, particularly in the disastrous war with Sparta. (A.R. Burn, Thucydides)

2. the Socratic legacy

The wisdom of nature is such that it produces nothing superfluous or useless but often produces many effects from one cause. - Copernicus

Non-scientists and semi-scientific 'philosophers' of the current era often mischaracterize the nature of the scientific enterprise: that science thrives on certainty and... the immutability of facts and... the rigid adherence to logic... etc. This is EXACTLY wrong, as we can see from the practice of situational ethics, the perspective of 'weak' anthropomorphism, and phenomenon of anosognosis.

The Socratic habit of skepticism, of ever-shifting ethical principles, is the very basis of Western philosophy and particularly the scientific method; it is at the very core of what separates what scientists do from 'opinion' (or religion if we must be blunt). No hypothesis is safe from scrutiny, no matter how overwhelming the evidence; and no facts are safe either: we should always go back and measure again, just to make sure.... in other words, the skeptical intuition of the scientist leads him where logic cannot or will not.

So in reality, 'Intelligent' Design enthusiasts and others who try to hijack the scientific apparatus invariably accuse the scientific 'establishment' of exactly the things that make religions and churches soinsidious; rigidity, blind adherence to logic (Aquinas and St. Augustine), unshakeable axioms, indisputable and unexaminable 'facts'. “More hypocrisy?? Haven't we had enough of this cr***? ....and a wonderful arena for examining psychological motivations and such, hmmm..??”

3. the 'weak' anthropic principle

[Freeman] Dyson [takes] Steven Weinberg (a physicist and Nobel laureate) to task for his claim that someday we will be able to know everything. “Our ape-brains and tool-making hands were marvelously effective for solving a limited class of puzzles. Weinberg expects the same brains and hands to illuminate far broader areas of nature with the same clarity. I would be disappointed if nature could be so easily tamed. I find the idea of a Final Theory repugnant because it diminishes both the richness of nature and the richness of human destiny. I prefer to live in a universe full of inexhaustible mysteries, and to belong to a species destined for inexhaustible intellectual growth.” - from the Errol Morris article

Darwinism and evolution and contingent history extend far back in time; infinitely far back beyond the history of life on earth and very possibly beyond the Big Bang itself... human intellect may very well be incapable of grasping a scale of history of even human history. How can we cope with a time scale that encompasses millions and billions of year? How will we ever reach a consensus on exactly what the universe IS, much less discern any purpose to it?

Strong anthropic adherents try to take advantage of the apprehension that the current cosmological 'physical setup' is so improbable that there MUST have been intelligent intervention at some point; the more weasely and 'devout' scientists place this intervention 'outside space and time' and, usually, beyond the Big Bang (e.g. Owen Gingerich and Francis Collins) so that 'atheistic' scientists can't get the filthy fingers of their 'method' on it (or Him).

But what does it matter if it IS improbable? If WE are improbable? According to the best biological and paleontological evidence, humans certainly were NOT the purpose of evolution; there is no direction of evolution other than the historical spread of species into available niches; the supposed 'advance' in complexity in earthly life is simply an inevitable consequence of this gradual, trail-and-error process of taking advantage of new vacancies in ecological space; the number of bacterial strains alone still VASTLY outnumber all other species combined. (And then there are all those beetles....) Complexity in just another tool of the trade in the evolution game.

So the fact that the universe seems so improbably constituted to allow humans to perceive it SHOULD imply the opposite conclusion: that humans ONLY 'notice the universe is improbably hospitable' because it so happens to BE constituted to allow life of our type to evolve to the point of self-appraisal. There could very well be multiple universes where that did NOT happen, or possibly ancestral or successive universes where self-aware beings didn't/won't exist. We don't know, possibly cannot know, since we are here. And that leads us to...

4. Anosognosis: Something is wrong, but we will never know what it is....
(ref: NY Times article by Errol Morris is here: )
Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge. - Charles Darwin (1871)
People will often make the case, “We can’t be that stupid, or we would have been evolutionarily wiped out as a species a long time ago.” I don’t agree. I find myself saying, “Well, no. Gee, all you need to do is be far enough along to be able to get three square meals or to solve the calorie problem long enough so that you can reproduce. And then, that’s it. You don’t need a lot of smarts. You don’t have to do tensor calculus. You don’t have to do quantum physics to be able to survive to the point where you can reproduce.” One could argue that evolution suggests we’re not idiots, but I would say, “Well, no. Evolution just makes sure we’re not blithering idiots. But, we could be idiots in a lot of different ways and still make it through the day.” - David Dunning (inteviewed by Errol Morris)

Anosognosis ("You cannot know all of what you do not know.") itself no longer appears to be simply (simply? Bwahahahah!) an aberration or a delusion (or even a neurological condition), but rather a profound mental reflex of Homo Sapiens; we are wired to let the circuit breakers trip in our head, to not notice the facts if they are too terrible or traumatic or demoralizing to deal with consciously. We can't help it, not a single one of us. Every person on earth has some “unknown unknown”, some space in the mental universe that they are completely unaware of.

David Dunning and his colleagues discovered, in an exhaustive set of studies, that people consistently overestimate their abilities in areas where they are not competent; moreover they found that the more incompetent a person was in a given field, the worse they were at assessing their competence. Indeed they overestimated their abilities to a degree in direct negative correlation with their actual competence. And they also appeared to the lack the skills to judge the performance of people who were competent in that field. In other words, they were not in what we would call denial. Worst of all, the more ignorant they were, the more they were incapable of discovering or correcting their ignorance.

So...we can't just marginalize 'willfully' ignorant or malicious people merely because they must 'bad' or selfish to exhibit that much stubborn incompetence. They may be LITERALLY incapable of the kind introspective and intense self-appraisal that those of us here suffer through every day. And who can blame them, really? Ignorance may really be bliss.

5. Wrapping it all up together...situational ethics

Stupidity got us into this mess; why can't it get us out? - Will Rogers

Every thinker puts some portion of an apparently stable world in peril and no one can wholly predict what will emerge in its place. - John Dewey

All of us here have repeatably fallen into the neo-Platonic swamp; I am quite sure of that.. Progressives, liberals, free-thinkers, secular humanists, moderate Republicans, No-Labelers.... we have all hit that wall that sez: “NOTHING YOU BELIEVE IS TRUE. There is NO SOLID GROUND to stand on. EVERYONE, even the people you absolutely despise, are to be tolerated, no matter how venomous or malignant their observations or conclusions or habits. Turn the other cheek. Hope for the best.” At best we believe we have discovered that we are competent enough to recognize how shaky the ground is.

Socrates, Darwin and Lincoln all shared a more constructive perspective: in a moving, constantly mutating, incredibly complex universe, we cannot afford to build a permanent foundation of belief on anything...but we can certainly find the best of the terrible alternatives, if we look hard enough and think hard enough and never, NEVER pretend that we know enough. Those ethics and morals and principles we have so painfully arrived at may be entirely irrelevant next week, but...we KNOW that's going to happen, and we are ready for it. Over and over again, throughout our lives, we will have to apply our best efforts to finding a new temporary home for our thoughts.

Darwin never lost sight of his purpose, kept his eye on the ball. He labored for more than 20 years to probe TO HIMSELF that his first intuition of his theory was true. As if it was open to question, his generosity to Wallace removed any accusation of ego from the publication of his work. He worked hard in his chosen field, for the rest of his life, defending and reinforcing his ideas. He died content, with no fear of death, because he was confident that he had comprehended what really drove biological 'determination' (or better, lack of same). And he knew that his offspring and his own personal death were an intimate part of it all. He was not of the Chosen people; he was relieved to settle for Peace instead. Only peace. Was he deluded, or was he one of the few people competent enough to judge the evidence and come to the correct conclusions?

Socrates sacrificed himself for his country (becoming a martyr to the cause of skeptical thought), as Giordano Bruno and Thomas Paine and Abbie Hoffman and Abe Lincoln did; so should we, in small ways at least. We probably will not be able to teach people who cannot or refuse to think, but we should keep trying regardless; and some of us will inevitably be burned for it. The topography of situational ethics is an ever-shifting ground of evolutionary, cultural, and physical forces in an indifferent universe. We stand willingly in the gap. The real glory is in the comprehension of a tiny part of the vast mystery of our journey. As Darwin did, perhaps, we can find solace and even content on that road.

Space Brothers Bulletin!!!!! ---- #6 -- May 2001

Been a LONG hiatus in the news because (whimper!) my 007 super-secret contact with the Brothers has BETRAYED me. Well, sort of. Io thinks my brother-in-law and nephews need her 'benign influence' (hoo-hah) more than I do. Says I'm 'enlightened' enough. Really? I haven't noticed...

So she sent me off to an EVIL and FORNICATING land on a Mission from, well, God. Not that it IS a mission from Him (as if he cared), but it has such a whimsical, 80's sort of ring to it. If I said I was on a 'Mission from Space' it would get me *looked at*, ya know. Or, I should say, *looked at more*.

My purgatory was long and eventless, punctuated only by the election of a Forehead as President, selenium accumulation, and countless frozen burritos. I withstood numerous attacks from NIMBY-crazed suburbanites and acne-ravaged meth cookers. I began to revere television and Harry Potter. I even took a job as a security guard.

But at last, while in the terrible throes of temple-slapping boredom, I was contacted! One Dark and (well, not Stormy. No night in the EVIL and FORNICATING land is really all that awful.) as I was 'doing-something-secret' in the parking lot of my Assigned Post (us security people have are own little lingo here, as you will see) I saw a Suspcious Activity. Well, actually, it *appeared* to be a bunny-rabbit, chewing on some of our client's ornamental plantings. But with my newly aquired enlightenment, coupled with the Honed Precision Senses of the Private Security Officer, I was able to see that, yes, it was a bunny-rabbit, eating the damn weeds in the corner of the parking lot. Rats.

Well, I 'investigated', in any case. Much to my surprise, the Susp.. I mean, rabbit, didn't 'evade'; he even introduced himself, in a sort of back-handed way: "Pat, why don't you tell Kim to plant something EDIBLE out here. These damn shrubs are awful! Hard, scratchy... My name's Benny, by the way, plant manager here and your new contact."

I screwed my face up in my best intelligent expression, while attempting to process this last: 'A rabbit is telling me he is managing a motherboard fabrication plant. All automated, give him his due, all he needs to do is chitter at people and push buttons with his nose or something..'

"What's wrong, are you ill or something? I'll admit I didn't expect much, Io certainly didn't describe you very impressively, but your look even worse than I'd imagined." What is it with these guys? Is there some kind of Space Brothers Agent Institute of Mockery and Bitchiness somewhere?

Meanwhile he launched into a very boring, if relatively tactful, diatribe about how I had not been conducting myself as befits one who has been admitted to 'vastness' (huh?). Those damn burritos again, I guess. All this while masticating Mrs. Love's flower bed.

Benny and his tribe are part of a new Brothers project (he explained), SPASM (Strategic Products for the Anti-Stultification of Mankind), and they are infiltrating the various electronics manufacturers around Morgan Hill to introduce Subliminal Geekification/Fnord Visualization code into all of the ROMs. Soon everyone that buys cell phones and computers will be swearing at FOX News and getting into number theory 'really deep'.

He lamented the fact that all the major manufacturers were not represented close by; Gateway, ferinstance. "No big deal, though. Since Michael lost the big foof-raw we've come to realize that anyone who buys one of them must be too far gone already. Probably an AOL user or something."

Now this was news! "You mean <glyph-squiggle>, formerly the artiste formerly known as Prince, has won the title?", I interrupted excitedly. "Don't break out your sequined leotards yet. Being inaugurated for Perfect Beingness is a long, painful process, mainly for us. His second had to be exhumed and reconstituted first, and now that he 'has returned' we are having a real hard time keeping him from performing a coup. He's been pretty pissed off ever since they took Japan away from him, and they really should have substituted something else, like Las Vegas maybe. Look what he did for the Phillipines! Elvis should have pre-empted The General as soon as <glyph-squiggle> started that project, but, well. Hindsight ya know."

Benny also informed me about activities of the DWEAB (Director of Wyrd Education for Aboriginal Beings) so I am 'in the know' once again. Since Voyager is in UPN syndication now the DWEAB has been looking for an effectively brainless way to get Their point across without borrowing too many tactics from the Grays. The current DWEAB (James Cameron, apparently) is going to visit the Brothers IN PERSON in the next year or so, once he's completed his various NASA courses, bribed the suitable congressmen, etc. He also states that he has discovered a painful but effective method of removing the Gray Implant, something calls the 'drowning-that-whiny-Leonardo' method. Has to do with watching some horrible video tape of some kind, over and over until the Gray Operators are driven insane and the implant is burned out by some sort of reverse feedback effect. Not sure what he's talking about here, but then I've been 'vastened' (NOT 'vaselined'. That's something else, also a painful but, unfortunately, INEFFECTIVE means of, well..).

Elvis managed to bail out Gravy, in March last year. Leave it to...


----- Space Brothers Inc.

----- "Gravity Repulsion And Vastening Ylem" (GRAVY)



The Space Brothers admonish thee all, Aboriginal Earth Beings:










CURES GEORGE W. BUSH! (Well, we're reaching, here.)

Suggested marketing slogans...

Kill vermin and noxious weeds in a biodegradable, economical

and asthetically pleasing manner!

The brown stuff that DOESN'T smell bad.

Smear it on the windshields of Black Helicopters and Limos and

MIB sunglasses!

Promotes Intestinal Fortitude!

Makes your engine run smoother and more fuel efficient!

Elvis sez: "Eat GRAVY and you, too, can be a Perfect Being."

--- END PAID ADVERTISEMENT --- a former Perfect Being to know the ins and outs of the stock market. So the Benevolent Ones did very well, and now own a controlling interest in IBM in addition to other former purgative mimic-ing corporate regimes. They've also managed to subvert the Bill's dad, and they must be working on Him, too, considering the his public utterences lately. This dove-tails neatly with their campaign to sabotage the Gray-sponsored prospective merger of Microsoft and Time-Warner.

The management of this last project is floundering a bit due to confusion over strategy. Some of the Brothers think that prying His Billness away will remove the last remnants of intelligence from MS. They think that the resulting company will then collapse into a huge bogosity-sinkhole from the intense concentration of stupidity that will occur when Case and Ballmer attempt to occupy the same boardroom.

Space Brothers Bulletin #7 -- Aug 2005

(A semi-regular feature of Peers of Wyrd, Good and Hearty Men,
none@all, the G/HADL, and the Vanquishers of the Gaseous)

    "So tell me again why I have to eat this crap?  Io told me she used to get cottage cheese and tuna fish."
    I gave her my best evil eye, but you know cats - they're only perceptive when it's incovenient for YOU.  She stood there with the offended posture that is universal among her kind, as if I'd mistaken the contents of her litter box for the entre' of a seven-course dinner.  
    I decided to fight fire with fire.  "I swear, Satin, you guys' monitor implants must be flawed; either that or the Brothers stipulate bitcheness as job requirement."
    "Read my lips, monkey-boy..."
    "And quit complaining about the food!  The people here will figure I've finally popped a rivet if I start feeding you stuff like that.  Do you want to make them suspicious?"
    "I don't have the slightest concern of making them suspicious, apeman.  They already think you're a dangerous whacko, believe me.  You should hear what they say about you!...And you really could work on your speil, you know.  I didn't believe Io when she gave me your persuasion score during her time with you but she DID say you were an idiot and..."
    "Agghhh!  Quit mentioning Io!  She's a traitor!  She forsook me for Republican, even!"
    "Well, even Republicans deserve our..."
    "Blaphemer!" I gave her a smug look.  "Won't they drum you out of your union for saying something like that?"
    "Bah...  Damned higher-ups are always bitching at us about 'tolerence' this, 'appropriate' that.  'Extending an olive branch to the loyal opposition'.  Ugghh!  If even one of them raised his fat ass off his..."
    Hah ha!  I knew I could distract her, eventually.  I cut off her rant, cleverly:  "But shouldn't the lower echelon of cadres be idealogically aligned with the Brothers Who Labor For The Good Of Us All?  I must say that, under the influence of your cynical attitude, my faith is  wavering; I suffer *terribly* in my manful resistance to the Evil Lure of Material Temptation-"
    "You know, I almost see what Io was getting at, you being an idiot and all.  In a sort of sickening way.  You have this sort of perverse talent for obviating the stupidity of the Enemy and all His works.  Considering your profound lack of intellect for the job I'm not quite sure how you do it yet, but...Amazing, amazing..."  She shook her head, as if she was trying to shake loose cheat grass from her ear, and dipped her head to the food bowl, crunching contentedly.
    Victory!....or as close as I'd get to it.

[We, the Space Brothers, endorse this advertisement. Insipid as it may be.]

----- Space Brothers Inc. 
----- "Gravity Repulsion And Vastening Ylem" (GRAVY)
The Space Brothers admonish thee all, Aboriginal Earth Beings: 







CURES GEORGE W. BUSH! (Well, we're reaching, here.)

Suggested marketing slogans...

Kill vermin and noxious weeds in a biodegradable, economical
and asthetically pleasing manner!

The brown stuff that DOESN'T smell bad.

Smear it on the windshields of Black Helicopters and Limos and 
MIB sunglasses!

Promotes Intestinal Fortitude!

Makes your engine run smoother and more fuel efficient!

Elvis sez:  "Eat GRAVY and you, too, can be a Perfect Being."

(or: Gray-V -- Gray Vanquishing something?)

(Has nano-bots in it that increase lifespan, intelligence, make your
turds firmer, etc.  Self-replicating:  just buy the culture and voila!
you are a GRAVY supplier!)

Of Myths and Fables

Because parents think truth will spoil childhood
They conspire in kindly untruth
We get Christmas presents from Santa
And siblings delivered by the stork

Some cling to these puzzling stories
preserving them long beyond youth
But for most the comfort of fables
is destroyed by the passage of years

At some point in our lives, if we're lucky
comes humility balancing fear
and we learn to learn from our children

So that each generation makes progress
on a journey through daylight and darkness
Toward a truth more amazing than myth
And a past even older than God.

Marie Struthers

(you go, Mom!)

Darwin Day 2013

The 'Problem of Evil': a shortcut to moral corruption?

Gary Gutting (NYTimes, 2012): "Here, discussions of the problem of evil become crucial. An all-good being, even with maximal power, may have to allow considerable local evils for the sake of the overall good of the universe; some evils may be necessary for the sake of avoiding even worse evils. We have no way of knowing whether we humans might be the victims of this necessity.

Of course, an all-good God would do everything possible to minimize the evil we suffer, but for all we know that minimum might have to include our annihilation or eternal suffering. We might hope that any evil we endure will at least be offset by an equal or greater amount of good for us, but there can be no guarantee. As defenders of theism often point out, the freedom of moral agents may be an immense good, worth God’s tolerating horrendous wrongdoing. Perhaps God in his omniscience knows that the good of allowing some higher type of beings to destroy our eternal happiness outweighs the good of that happiness. Perhaps, for example, their destroying our happiness is an unavoidable step in the moral drama leading to their salvation and eternal happiness."

Clever (or cynical) fundamentalists are particularly susceptable moral corruption because of the usual Christian/Judiacal/Islamic solution to the 'problem of evil'; because of their selfishness regarding their own salvation, and the righteousness their faith lends them, they will tend to 'write off' the suffering of other people becuase they are playing on their cynical appreciation of the statitists. THEY will make it to heaven because THEY are allowing the 'balancing' evils to be perpetrated on and by heathens.

Worse, their own transgressions are forgiven (conveniently) by the same code, or even justified..even to the point of martyrdom. Martyrdom is not just a Muslim thing, either; one imagines that American patriotism has been perverted in just this way, justifying and/or forgiving any number of atrocities and glorifying any number of casualties.

Another corrupting notion is the 'assumption of ignorance'; we DO not (and by the forumal, CAN not) understand God's ultimate intent at any scale. Fundamentalist Joe Blow on the ground, thought, cannot stand the idea that, however 'good' he may be, he MAY not make it to he cheats, teleologically speaking. Since he is 'saved', he must have ALWAYS been saved, and always will be saved...simply by the fiat that he is, ummm, doing his best with his very limited knowledge of what he should be doing.

From Dunning-Kruger, we know that the more ignorant you are, the more righteous you are going to the fundamentalist block that is the most willfully ignorant is also going to be the most anti-intellectual and the hardest to move off of the shifting sands of faith. We are talking about generational damage, here.

What does this tell us about neo-liberatianism, then? Do neo-libertarians have a 'faith'? Do they have a 'problem of evil'? Do they slump into teleological explanations when their backs are against the wall? Does the newest version of 'libertariansism' have more in common with a religion than any kind of logically constructed social theory?

Articles of Faith:
1. Government is an unnecessary and 'unnatural' imposition on the freedom of man.
As a corrolary to the above, any initiative by any government is 'evil' and an abrogation of freedom.

2. A free market economy is the most 'natural' economy for humans. [Implication: Neolithic man (or American Indians, or Athenian democrats, or Roman republicans, or nineteeth-century American West emigrants....) enjoyed the benefits of a 'free-market'. Ha-ha.]

3. Maximum individual freedom = maximum collective good = minimum injustice.

4. Any individual is theoretically (and therefore practically) a perfect agent of economic action (i.e. 'enforcer' of the free market).

5. A policy of maximum individual self-sufficiency is a necessary and sufficent condition for a robust economy. [Negative examples: post-war Europe]

6. Any individual is theoretically (and therefore practically) a perfect ethical agent (i.e. enforcer of the social contract).

[Note: I am invoking 'nature' here as the only real substitute for 'God'...This is sort of a cop-out, but it is in agreement with recent trends in libertarian apologetics.]

Addendum:  John F. Kennedy on the Seperation of Church and State

(September 12, 1960, address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association)

While the so-called religious issue is necessarily and properly the chief topic here tonight, I want to emphasize from the outset that we have far more critical issues to face in the 1960 election; the spread of Communist influence, until it now festers 90 miles off the coast of Florida--the humiliating treatment of our President and Vice President by those who no longer respect our power--the hungry children I saw in West Virginia, the old people who cannot pay their doctor bills, the families forced to give up their farms--an America with too many slums, with too few schools, and too late to the moon and outer space.
These are the real issues which should decide this campaign. And they are not religious issues--for war and hunger and ignorance and despair know no religious barriers.
But because I am a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected President, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured--perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again--not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me--but what kind of America I believe in.
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute--where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote--where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference--and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.
I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish--where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source--where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials--and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.
For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew--or a Quaker--or a Unitarian--or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim--but tomorrow it may be you--until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.
Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end--where all men and all churches are treated as equal--where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice--where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind--and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.
That is the kind of America in which I believe. And it represents the kind of Presidency in which I believe--a great office that must neither be humbled by making it the instrument of any one religious group nor tarnished by arbitrarily withholding its occupancy from the members of any one religious group. I believe in a President whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.
I would not look with favor upon a President working to subvert the first amendment's guarantees of religious liberty. Nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do so--and neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test--even by indirection--for it. If they disagree with that safeguard they should be out openly working to repeal it.
I want a Chief Executive whose public acts are responsible to all groups and obligated to none--who can attend any ceremony, service or dinner his office may appropriately require of him--and whose fulfillment of his Presidential oath is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual or obligation.
This is the kind of America I believe in--and this is the kind I fought for in the South Pacific, and the kind my brother died for in Europe. No one suggested then that we may have a "divided loyalty," that we did "not believe in liberty," or that we belonged to a disloyal group that threatened the "freedoms for which our forefathers died."
And in fact this is the kind of America for which our forefathers died--when they fled here to escape religious test oaths that denied office to members of less favored churches--when they fought for the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom--and when they fought at the shrine I visited today, the Alamo. For side by side with Bowie and Crockett died McCafferty and Bailey and Carey--but no one knows whether they were Catholic or not. For there was no religious test at the Alamo.
I ask you tonight to follow in that tradition--to judge me on the basis of my record of 14 years in Congress--on my declared stands against an Ambassador to the Vatican, against unconstitutional aid to parochial schools, and against any boycott of the public schools (which I have attended myself)--instead of judging me on the basis of these pamphlets and publications we all have seen that carefully select quotations out of context from the statements of Catholic church leaders, usually in other countries, frequently in other centuries, and always omitting, of course, the statement of the American Bishops in 1948 which strongly endorsed church-state separation, and which more nearly reflects the views of almost every American Catholic.
I do not consider these other quotations binding upon my public acts--why should you? But let me say, with respect to other countries, that I am wholly opposed to the state being used by any religious group, Catholic or Protestant, to compel, prohibit, or persecute the free exercise of any other religion. And I hope that you and I condemn with equal fervor those nations which deny their Presidency to Protestants and those which deny it to Catholics. And rather than cite the misdeeds of those who differ, I would cite the record of the Catholic Church in such nations as Ireland and France--and the independence of such statesmen as Adenauer and De Gaulle.
But let me stress again that these are my views--for contrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for President who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters--and the church does not speak for me.
Whatever issue may come before me as President--on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject--I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.
But if the time should ever come--and I do not concede any conflict to be even remotely possible--when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do the same.
But I do not intend to apologize for these views to my critics of either Catholic or Protestant faith--nor do I intend to disavow either my views or my church in order to win this election.
If I should lose on the real issues, I shall return to my seat in the Senate, satisfied that I had tried my best and was fairly judged. But if this election is decided on the basis that 40 million Americans lost their chance of being President on the day they were baptized, then it is the whole nation that will be the loser, in the eyes of Catholics and non-Catholics around the world, in the eyes of history, and in the eyes of our own people.
But if, on the other hand, I should win the election, then I shall devote every effort of mind and spirit to fulfilling the oath of the Presidency--practically identical, I might add, to the oath I have taken for 14 years in the Congress. For without reservation, I can "solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the help me God.

Darwin Day 2014

Confucius – 'What is necessary first is to rectify the names.'

Science, done right, NEVER makes assumptions. Get the data first; work the logic back until you find the least hare-brained assumptions that lead to the data. If new data screws up your beautiful and wonderful the goddam math again. Right this time! THAT is Occam's Razor.


I've been reading a lot of ancient philosophy, so I am going to bore you for the next while with a recap of my latest self-obsessed epiphanies. After all, the whole point of being 'cultured' is to inflict the fruits of your lack of mundane industry on the pathetic intellects of your unelightened friends, yes? Russians, brillant masters of both simple and subtle tortures, consider the adjective 'niculturniiy' to possess the same emotional freight and derogotary intent as we would put into, 'congenital dipshit'. They also say 'God writes straight with crooked lines', sooo....what exactly are they getting at?

And why do the fragmentary and mythical blatherings of 2500 year old cultures have any relevance to a 21st century controversy between the following philosophical positions?

  1. The universe was built, last week in geological terms, by a vaporous moral cripple, in a few days of light-duty labor that would shame the efforts of a fingerpainting monkey. And THIS week, the Jesuits realized how stupid this all sounded, hijacked a gimmick called 'logic', and created enough bullshit in the intervening, uh, days, to completely flummox everyone that wasn't following with a score card.
  2. Universally observable and derivable physical laws, completely without purpose or destiny and entirely indifferent to the pathetic concerns of intelligent beings, managed to assemble the Damned Thing over an unimagineably vast period of time, completely by trial and error. Mostly error.

Shit! Can we submit some more alternatives here?

The Indian philosopher Kapila, around the time of the Buddha, managed to invent the essential scientific view of biological evolution, and it is a masterpiece of reductionist thinking:

  1. 'Our' senses are all we have to observe with, or even IMAGINE we can observe with. No matter what kind of handy spy gadget we may create, we will still have to be able to read the needle on the damned thing somehow and have a vague idea of what the number means.
  2. Limbs, words, sex and filth are all we're equipped with to effect changes. All our fancy gadgets (if I must repeat myself) are overextended exaggerations of what we're already packing at birth.
  3. What we end up seeing is mostly dirt, air, fire, light, beetles and each other; we also suspect that 'nothing' might be an object in its own right, because we are quite capable of complaing when we lack anything in the list above, except maybe the beetles. Weird.
  4. Since this is all we have, and all we see, and all we can do...the emotions this stupid situation creates are the most basic things (and probably the ONLY things) that drives progress of any kind.
  5. Period.

If you think this over for a bit, you realize that....even the most primitive one-celled critter in the muckiest sea on the most deity-forsaken rock in the galaxy is going share the same essential motivations as the famous shit-flinging apes of Planet III/dipshit yellow dwarf/Orion sector. Move, blab, eat, shit, engage in procreative activity. Mr. Paramecium will be quite satisified to do those things over and over and escape the last thing, which is to...


What, no, I didn't mean....Hmm. This seems a bit, well, selfish to me, somehow. So maybe what will happen is that I will stave off a wonderful opportunity to...


Um, no, not that either. Odd how, when you go to heaven, you are part of the 'in' crowd, whereas if you end up in the other place...Surely being neck-deep in burning pitch would a LOT more tolerable if there were a few friends there, cheering you...uh, maybe not. Maybe we're engaging in hedonistic orgies because we don't like...


Uk. That's worse the first two. Let's just we'll leave the answer to the student for now..


Confucius, around the same time as Kapila, was vastly disgusted with things Chinese. During his later years, he was head-hunted by a recruiter for the prince of Wei. When the famous sage was asked what he would do first when the prince appointed him his head of government, he said 'What is necessary to rectify the names.'

What the hell did he mean by that?

Many people are intimidated by science, and one of the most common complaints is that:

'There are too many weird, made up words, and even the ones I recognize don't seem to mean what I (was brought up, was taught, should by golly) think they mean.'

..and the paranoid or traumitized ones might add:

'and I think THEY are part of a world-wide UN conspiracy to take our jobs, corrupt our children and bodily fluids, and generally sneer at us for our lack of...uh, whatever it is they think we lack...'

Confucius would have understood, though, because, above all things, he taught his thousands of pupils that 'the whole end of speech is to be understood'. Clarity, in thinking and speaking, is the most important thing he thought he could beat into the heads of his students.

Scientists use many common words, and have invented hundreds of thousands of new ones, because clarity and precision are absolutely essential in order to do consistent, universal, and verifiable science.

A decent scientific education includes a course in logic, and if there is ANYTHING they've tried to hammer into students' brains since the days of Plato, it is that logic can be used, and abused, to 'prove' absolutely anything. Some handy tricks include: vague terminology; absurd analogies; or unquestionable assumptions. (Ass, you, me, umption...there's a joke in there somewhere.) Thanks to a vast lack of sense of humor, imagination, and ethical intuition, the practitioners of these methods can delude themselves into thinking that they are turning the 'tools of science' against their tormentors. Hah-hah! Take that, you logic-chopping atheist bastards! God sez your tools are useless!

'Suzy, a careful and methodical girl, bought a new pair of scissors. Being (those things), she read the scissor-manual very carefully, learning that: for safety purposes, the thumb and middle finger of the left hand must be inserted as indicated in the accompanying diagram and....' Gahh! ' Suzy used the scissors to cut a neat circle of yellow paper, and drew a happy face on it. By attaching this ornament to the diplay case for her rock collection, she hoped to add a cheerful and attractive decorative note to her admittedly drab entry in the local science fair. Due to her careful attention and skillful use of the appropriate tools, she was quite pleased with the result and was sure the judges would approach her exhibit in a receptive frame of mind, the better to appreciate the detailed descriptions and outlines of geological provenance for each of her specimens.'

'Glenn, her classmate, was more energetic and outgoing, always good for a laugh. Just the kind of person you wanted to share the room with during those boring lectures in Earth Science (whatever that was). He also wished to enter something for the science fair; morever, he believed that his theme, 'Timeline for Scientific Creationism', would easily win first prize; after all, his mom had already found him a design for a good poster off the Internet.
Wow, mom had done a great job of having this printed for him downtown. All Glenn had to do was make an eye-catching caption for it. He thought '6000 BC (Before Jesus Christ)' would nicely summarize his entry.'

Patience - from Darwin Day 2012


"Men talk of killing time, while time quietly kills them." - Dion Boucicault

By 1842, Charled Darwin had 230-page essay outlining his theory of Natural Selection; and yet he waited for another seventeen years (cooridnating his work with that of Alfred Russel Wallace) to publish the first edition of On the Origin of Species. He knew he was right, but he refused to become righteous.

Abraham Lincoln tolerated a long string of incompetent generals, a viciously divided cabinet, and even the borderline treasonous behaviour of McClellan because he kept he eye firmly on the long-term plan, the big picture, the real deal: get the country through the bloodiest war in its history intact. Because of his patience with his generals, his staff, his opponents, he acheived much more for his efforts than he imagined when he was elected, and our country in the better for it.

Impatience will kill us. Apathy, adrenaline and anger addiction, greed, bigotry, ideological fanaticism, displaced rage are the malignant symptoms of our haste to be done with disappointment of expectations, grief, love, depression, anticipation of success.

What kind of civilized society should have anything but contempt for the "I just want mine, now, and fuck you if you can't take a joke you pathetic, socialist loser." attitude of the typical techinical school graduate? What kind of rational educational system rewards a tiny fraction of its most idosyncratically talentented students with the vast majority of its financial and emotional resources, and narrowly trains the rest to be wedged sideways into a vastly compromised economic system?

All the plagues of modern political life revolve around the endemic inability of Americans tolerate a little discomfort. We are the richest country in the world, and we arrogate to ourselves all the prerequisites of our forunate history leads us to believe we deserve. This is one of the worst and most pernicious cognitive biases: the habit of humans to mistake the results of historical contingency for a validation of a ideology.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

'The Dispossessed' and Anarchic Musings

Why Le Guin kicks ASS:

(from Pendleton Book Blather circa August 2014) 

For a little perspective on things political (De Toqueville and some Jared Diamond), I am re-reading 'The Dispossessed', by Ursula Le Guin.

Odo, the founding intellect of the 'dispossessed' citizens of Anarres, called herself an anarchist....but her followers never denied they could get along without some kind of collective culture. In implementing her 'anarchy' the Odonians had to introduce the idea of permanent revolution, self-criticism, and a moral conscience that constantly fought against the human tendency to dominate and own.

Since Odo asserted that most of human suffering came from the greedier tendencies of humanity, and the more overt long-term manifestations of that greed such as the accumulation of power and influence, the dogmatism of religion and nationalism, the growth of status structures, the enshrinement of property; and since she, (Le Guin that is), unlike Marx, clearly realized that all these traits were the downsides of well-ingrained survival traits of homo sap...the Odonians realized that their non-very-utopian utopia would be threatened by the tendency of their own creed to become a dogma.

The constant parallels between this struggle, and the similar problems with libertarianism and socialism, cannot be denied. And science, in order to progress, seems to have the same troubles: the constant battle against the rigidity of ideas, the disruption caused by new situations, the recurring ignorance of the less empathetic members of society.

To me, building a civilization is concisely this: Educating a culture to accommodate it to the realities of the universe, against its baser instincts. Any reaction or emotion that is 'natural' should be held in vast suspicion.

'..we didn't come to Anarres for safety, but for freedom. If we must all agree, all work together, we're no better than a machine. If an individual can't work in solidarity with his fellows, it's his duty to work alone. HIs duty and his right. We have been denying people that right. We have been saying, more and more often, you must work with others, you must accept the rule of the majority. But any rule is tyranny. The duty of the individual is to accept no rule, to be the initiator of his acts, to be responsible. Only if he does so will society live, change, adapt, and survive. We are not subjects of a State founded on law, but members of a society founded upon revolution. Revolution is our obligation, our hope for evolution. "The Revolution is in the individual spirit, or it is nowhere. It is for all, or it is for nothing. If it is seen as having an end, it can never truly begin." We can't stop here. We must go on. We must take risks.'
- the 'old miner from the south'

Notice that this does NOT advocate laying around, doing nothing. There is a very strong impulse here to contribute, to improve things, to never be satisfied that you have done enough. 'Freedom' and 'Revolution' for Odonians did not consist of sitting on the front porch drinking beer, bitching about the price of gas, and shooting at the neighbors with an assault rifle.

I would assert that the ultimate goal of libertarians and socialists is the kind of freedom described above: a 'withering away of the state' when all individuals know their responsibilities and their duties, and rules are no longer necessary.

Critics of anarchism, libertarianism and socialism bitch about the problem of pure human cussedness. In response, Le Guin also asserts that there are two kinds of human ambition: the outward one (dominance over others) and the inward (self-sacrifice). Odonians tried to channel natural human aggression into the latter rather than the former. She seemed to think that, in the absence of examples of 'better people', most energetic types would dissipate their excess obnoxiousness by trying to put more English on the universe, and therby improving the lot of everyone.

From the Pendleton Book Blather Facebook group...

Aphorism time!
IGNORISTA: a fanatic of the right, center or left who, with ignorance of and/or contempt of history and science, advocates an activist path that is doomed to repeat the stupidities of the past.
[We (the Space Brothers, who share my brain) are in *cautious* agreement on this point. We smell some smoke here, tho, so we promise to pull the plug if the 'Chao' starts any of the more energetic styles of ranting of which he is so fond. Dipshit indeed.]

A paradox of specialization:
Sometimes the best way to obtain a broad understanding of, well, everything, is to study a VERY specific part of it....but do that very thoroughly. You discover that almost all subjects worth the time are interdisciplinary; in other words, it is almost impossible to get down to the the guts of a thing without wandering off into a related field.
[And I will add; a major bonus of dredging into all this muck? You are no longer a dilettante! You are a buff, a geek, an educated layperson in the field....and you have so many, many fertile questions to follow up on!]
The Vietnam War is a case in point.
1. You can learn the strictly military details; if you consider (like the Vietnamese do) that the war REALLY started in 1946 and that the SECOND part was the one the US was involved in (essentially the day we installed Diem)...military technology? Guerrilla tactics and strategies? The effectiveness of strategic and tactical bombing? The role of civilians?
2. History of communism: how does the Vietnamese version of communism compare to Maoism, or Stalinism, or Titoism for that matter? How do ANY of them relate to Marx or Socialism in general? Did the Vietnamese believe themselves to be part of the Communist International at all, considering that they hated the Chinese and the Russians?
3. Contemporary domestic US politics! Did the war contribute, kick off, distort the political disruption of the late Sixties? How did this affect Presidential politics? Are the lessons and mistakes of the war and the Sixties of any use to us now?
4. Historical domestic politics! Isolationism! The League of Nations! The UN! Anti-communism! European politics between the wars!
5. How does Vietnamese history fit in with the history of the rest of Asia? With the US role there in the Philippines, Japan, China, and Korea? Why was colonial Asia important to the US, when we were (supposedly? Really? Philippines?) not a colonial power?
And on, and on, and on. Several dozen books later (or a few dozen hours on Wikipedia at least), you have a pretty good outline of twen-cent history.

11/4/2014 (Jon Preston) Of Scientists and Salamanders

Surprise, I found the time to read a book. So a feller came into my visitor center striking up a conversation about amphibians. We got to talkin' and I mentioned a little about my stop and go driving on the way to work to get the migrating newts off the road surface and on their merry way to wherever newts go, so's they don't git runned over. I also mentioned to the visitor, that I had once heard a blurb, one time in the past, that became stitched into my memory. It was about a book that an embryologist wrote, you probably guessed it by now, about where the newts are going.
He said oh you mean "Of Scientists and Salamanders." It is the story of Professor Victor Chandler Twitty. Published in 1966. Stanford's Prof. Twitty unlocked a whole bunch of Biologic mysteries including where the newts go. But more, he was a students teacher who's instruction birthed a generation of notable biologists. It is a very intimate, whimsical, funny book about a very smart man who never took himself too seriously and how 61% of 564 newts relocated (forcibly) from their few yards of stream to another stream 7 miles away made it back to their home waters over a six year period. I found a copy on Amazon thanks to this guy. And just to be clear, it came from a little bookshop in New Hampshire.

Bakunin and 'God and the State'

(from Pendleton Book Blather circa 2014)

Lev Tolstoy: "What do you mean, why remember?...If we remember the old, and look it straight in the face, then our new and present violence will also disclose itself." - from 'The Gulag Archipelago' Pt. 3, Ch. 7
Michael Bakunin, form "God and the State"
"All branches of modern science, of true and disinterested science, concur in proclaiming this grand truth, fundamental and decisive: The social world, properly speaking, the human world—in short, humanity—is nothing other than the last and supreme development—at least on our planet and as far as we know—the highest manifestation of animality. But as every development necessarily implies a negation, that of its base or point of departure, humanity is at the same time and essentially the deliberate and gradual negation of the animal element in man; and it is precisely this negation, as rational as it is natural, and rational only because natural—at once historical and logical, as inevitable as the development and realization of all the natural laws in the world—that constitutes and creates the ideal, the world of intellectual and moral convictions."
I am on a sidetrack, looking at Anarcho-Communist history and revolutionary history generally. Bakunin and Kropotkin are the basic sources (with Tolstoy and the French Encyclopedists, first-wave feminism, Locke and Stuart Mill as heavy duty influences). Marx and Engels were Hegelian quasi-mystical hacks, but that doesn't necessarily make either socialism or captial-S-Socialism suspect. K & B had their eyes on the ball and made lifelong efforts to avoid violence and stick to reality.
Bakunin and Kropotkin, in particular, were the main voices in opposition to the 'rightist' or 'individualist' proponents of Social Darwinism. Both of them were trained scientists as well as very outspoken political activists, and were very quick to point out that for many, or even most, animal species, 'survival of the fittest' was best understood as as survival of societies rather than as individuals.
Bakunin also understood, better than Marx or his inheritors ever would, the underlying reality of change in the environment (natural, social, political or whatever), and thus the need for self-criticism, eternal reform and evolution in any society or government.
'Stick a fork in it, it's done.' - the dumbest and most delusional political statement made in this century. US Constitutional nutbags, Randites, and neo-libertarians say this over and over. Meanwhile, in our stupid, supposedly liberal-pinko country, founded on the notion of welcoming anyone and allowing any creed that didn't meddle with politics, women and most minorities still have to sue, beg, and kill to get equality.
'Don't forget Ferguson'
"Suppose a learned academy, composed of the most illustrious representatives of science; suppose this academy charged with legislation for and the organization of society, and that, inspired only by the purest love of truth, it frames none but laws in absolute harmony with the latest discoveries of science. Well, I maintain, for my part, that such legislation and such organization would be a monstrosity, and that for two reasons: first, that human science is always and necessarily imperfect, and that, comparing what it has discovered with what remains to be discovered, we may say that it is still in its cradle. So that were we to try to force the practical life of men, collective as well as individual, into strict and exclusive conformity with the latest data of science, we should condemn society as well as individuals to suffer martyrdom on a bed of Procrustes, which would soon end by dislocating and stifling them, life ever remaining an infinitely greater thing than science."
Yep. THAT would be worse than a religious theocracy. And this is exactly where Plato and his Republic went south into crazy-land. Every philosophy based on moral relativism, those creeds that refused to tackle mysticism as the FIRST delusion to be avoided (Descartes, Hegel, Austrian economics, Marxism, the divine right of kings, etc. etc.), have compounded the irrationality of religion and created worse problems than they ever solved.

(Comment from Wyrdchao Kallisti) And (sorry for leaving out a step in my logic)...moral relativism always collapses into mysticism because, sooner or later, you have to resort to a higher power in order to make your moral decisions for you. If you make the big plunge, and resign yourself to the stark fact that the laws of nature DON'T GIVE A FUCK about humanity, and that you are going to have to deal with that....then you have finally discovered objectivity, and you can start deciding things based on the facts of the case....
From Wikipedia:
By "liberty", Bakunin did not mean an abstract ideal but a concrete reality based on the equal liberty of others. In a positive sense, liberty consists of "the fullest development of all the faculties and powers of every human being, by education, by scientific training, and by material prosperity." Such a conception of liberty is "eminently social, because it can only be realized in society," not in isolation. In a negative sense, liberty is "the revolt of the individual against all divine, collective, and individual authority."
This contrast between the two types of 'liberty' is the fundamental (and needless) divide between libertarians and socialists. Selfish interest vs. blind altruism. Group vs. individual...etc. etc.
We're all in this together, folks...we just disagree on how to get there...

Bakunin was an angry man, of course; I don't think he would have had the energy and courage to take on the questions he did otherwise. But in his later life he was able to correct a lot of his mistakes.
He points out, to oppose the more reactionary social Darwinists, that humans are social, like many other animals...survival of the fittest is more than duking it out tooth and nail; cooperation sometimes works too. Humans and chimps and gorillas and whales and baboons and dogs and ravens have empathy, in other words....but there are two categories of behavior where humans are world champions: we THINIK, and we REBEL. Amusing! appreciation of fairness and cooperation is built into us from the ground up! Thinking helps us predict events; empathy puts us in the other guy's shoes...and rebellion makes us take action if we think those shoes are going to get stolen. (It could be mine next!).
Thus Bakunin defines both negative liberty (freedom for the individual), and positive liberty (freedom for everyone else). A preference for either can be selfishly motivated, but a person is likely to be happier in the long run if the people around him are happy.
So...when we build a society, we make a choice: are we going to try to maximize individual freedom (greed is good), or collective freedom (fairness is better than nothing). There is a constant tension between the two...
Ideologists say: 'there is a problem, and only WE know how to fix it. Join us! If you don't, you will be a big loser like 'them'.' In other words, a previously homogenous group is now separated into 'us' and 'them'. 'We' know better than 'them'. 'We' can make decisions for 'them'. And 'them' no longer deserve as much freedom as much as 'us'.
Bukunin (spell check!) analogizes (and I paraphrase and explicate):
Science is our mirror (our perceptual filter, our Platonic cave) on reality. Period! It is the Universal Experience, the one thing we could lose tomorrow, and rebuild from the ground up (if we happen to have 3000 years or so of free time) and have essentially the same thing....because it depends on NO assumptions or axioms other than that we are awake and alert and not too distracted by anger or lust....
All religions (and all ideologies as well) probably STARTED as a hypothesis or theory, rationally constructed or not; heck, there's got to be SOME good reason to 'believe', to 'have faith', right? Some basis in reality....
Hah! Those guys looked at the stars in the sky and had these lively old discussions around the cook-fire, trying to figger out what was going on up there. They were all in it together, a nice friendly debate..heck, those things are way the hell up there, what do they have to do with us? What's the use of making a Supreme Court case out of who has the better theory? Let everyone talk, let's see whose brain is on track tonight...
Poor prehistoric dudes..they didn't realize our brains had all these cognitive biases screwing with our perception, did they? So....
The guy with the crazy eyes gets on his feet. He was beat up when he was small, or was born with a brain lesion, or got gored by a gazelle, or something, and he hasn't been quite right since. He starts ranting, a bit. The loudmouth bully guy (someone stole his woman, dammit!) listens raptly, encourages Crazy Eyes, makes suggestions, keeps him stirred up. They get together. They get IDEAS (as in: idealistic). They start to moralize. They start to INTERPRET what they think they see in that mirror. They may even hallucinate, a little. They start to see, and they tell or even compel others to see, their INTERPRETATION rather than the actual, original thing that they saw...
And it all goes down hill from there.
From the Appendix of 'God and the State' (Note 4):
"Must we, then, [because of the tyrannical root of spiritual authority buried there] eliminate from society all instruction and abolish all schools? Far from it! Instruction must be spread among the masses without stint, transforming all the churches, all those temples dedicated to the glory of God and to the slavery of men, into so many schools of human emancipation. But, in the first place, let us understand each other; schools, properly speaking, in a normal society founded on equality and on respect for human liberty, will exist only for children and not for adults; and, in order that they may become schools of emancipation and not of enslavement, it will be necessary to eliminate, first of all, this fiction of God, the eternal and absolute enslaver. The whole education of children and their instruction must be founded on the scientific development of reason, not on that of faith; on the development of personal dignity and independence, not on that of piety and obedience; on the worship of truth and justice at any cost, and above all on respect for humanity, which must replace always and everywhere the worship of divinity. The principle of authority, in the education of children, constitutes the natural point of departure; it is legitimate, necessary, when applied to children of a tender age, whose intelligence has not yet openly developed itself. But as the development of everything, and consequently of education, implies the gradual negation of the point of departure, this principle must diminish as fast as education and instruction advance, giving place to increasing liberty. All rational education is at bottom nothing but this progressive immolation of authority for the benefit of liberty, the final object of education necessarily being the formation of free men full of respect and love for the liberty of others. Therefore the first day of the pupils’ life, if the school takes infants scarcely able as yet to stammer a few words, should be that of the greatest authority and an almost entire absence of liberty; but its last day should be that of the greatest liberty and the absolute abolition of every vestige of the animal or divine principle of authority."
And yes, he ONLY means children. No analogies, please!
This was perverted by impatient Marxist nutbags such as Lenin, and greedy bastards like Stalin, to justify treating ALL (unenlighted) people as 'children'; "We know what's best for you." Therefore the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' became a dictatorship in fact. Liberal meritocrats and right-wing bible freaks and Randite libertarians are not one whit less tyrannical.
Bakunin makes another point, loudly, over and over:
Science doesn't sit still, so academic institutions should NEVER be involved in government. Any organization of 'higher' learning has an implied hierarchy, and any hierarchy tends to dogmatize its basic principles even though science is advancing, walking right out from under those principles, a little every day. Once that happens, the institution is no more competent to run things in the real world than any other ideology...with the added hazard of an apparent monopoly on reason.
Science enlightens; it should not rule. Religions and other ideologies are just poor imitations of science; perception without reasoning. Substituting ideologies doesn't improve things.
Art, on the other hand, personalizes perceptions. The Critic is one who says: 'The artist is saying [this]. My interpretation is the only correct one.' A Reviewer of art, on the other hand, says: 'I saw [this] in it...the artist put a lot of himself into it, obviously. I like it!' (or 'It's not my cup of tea, though.')
Reviewers are classy: they have developed an instinctive or unconscious preference for higher standards! Critics only have 'refined taste': all their cultured friends know the best things, and...last thing we want to do is go against our friends! "Oh, my reputation, my tenure, my...."
Hmmm. Maybe we need governments to be run by....the artists of history?

Cognitive Biases

(from the Pendleton Book Blather Facebook group)

...and, in case you are a late comer and have missed the point:
WHY cognitive biases? Why are they interesting?
IM(not so)HO, this is the single most important area of sociology after demographics, because it studies the decision making of individuals and groups. It is practical!
Hard sciences (math, physics, chemistry, etc.): Good grounding in the cognitive sciences makes it easier for scientists, particularly physicists, to construct models (both for themselves and for us) that are less likely to be anthopocentric constructs and hopefully more likely to actually describe physical reality. If that is possible. Lisa Randall, Steven Hawking, and the late Richard Feynmann are/were particularly good at this.
Economics particularly suffers from one particular flaw: EVERYBODY lies about money. And cognitive science can help disperse the smoke. Paul Krugman ( continually refers, in his wonkier postings, to the problems economists run into when they try to model the decision making process of different 'actors' (consumers, stock market players/brokers/exchanges, governments).
Medical science, particularly diagnostic and preventive medicine: A real minefield, here....people make MAJOR decisions about their own health, throughout life, and are almost never capable of objective judgement in that regard. And because of our extremely screwed up health care system, medical professionals and institutions also suffer from built in biases, as the result of ambiguous mandates and many disincentives to actual provide appropriate care.
I could go on, and on, and on....

History! Gah! Helps us understand and correct for the biases of individual and group decision making by both historians and historical actors. Extremely important if you are to comprehend context and compare texts and accounts. After all, they always complain that history is just a long, boring litany of 'kings'...and what do kings do, but make decisions all day long?

EXPERIMENTER'S or EXPECTATION BIAS: The tendency for experimenters to believe, certify, and publish data that agree with their expectations for the outcome of an experiment, and to disbelieve, discard, or downgrade the corresponding weightings for data that appear to conflict with those expectations.
Cold Fusion. The Piltdown Man. Differences in intelligence based on race or gender. Statin drugs. The Tonkin Gulf Incident.
They tell themselves: "Why do all this work, waste all this money, invest all this emotional capital...and find out we are wrong?" Even if they are honest, they are going to unconsciously EXPECT results to be different.
Negative findings are seldom published; after all, the experimenter has just wasted his time! He would rather toss his data in the trash, design a NEW experiment, and hope that THAT turns out the way he expected.

EXAGGERATED EXPECTATION Based on the estimates, real-world evidence turns out to be less extreme than our expectations (conditionally inverse of the conservatism bias).
Translated....the universe is more boring than we give it credit for....sure, we are surprised (the conservative bias) when we flip six heads in a row...but that doesn't happen often. Our poor little memories are associative, and the extremes and landmarks and aberrations are the anchors for it. We forget the boring stretch of straight road between the curves...
This is another case (sort of the opposite of conservative bias), where we have a difficult time understand the true meaning of 'random'. Probability is NOT intuitive.

ENDOWMENT EFFECT: The fact that people often demand much more to give up an object than they would be willing to pay to acquire it.
Essentially, psychological researchers have proved that the perceived value of an object almost IMMEDIATELY doubles (at least) once the person has purchased or acquired it. Bizarre and profoundly strange? I am always wondering if this is the true root cause of acquisitiveness, the inability of many greedy people to relinquish something once they've gained possession of it, legally or not.
Yes, you had really better read the link on this particular one. It has profound effects on human economic activity, to the point where it is an absolutely essential field of study for marketers.

EMPATHY GAP: The tendency to underestimate the influence or strength of feelings, in either oneself or others.
This is where we make a decision based on emotional factors ('I wanted to hit that guy.') and then later rationalize it ('I wanted to hit him because looked at me funny.').
By the same token, you are likely to attribute to evil what may merely be bad anger management (using the same situation in reverse).
So...honesty (to yourself and through empathy) is always the best politcy here. Delusion starts by denying that you and other people lack feelings.

CURSE OF KNOWLEDGE: When better-informed people find it extremely difficult to think about problems from the perspective of lesser-informed people.
So this should make anyone who has been accused of being 'elitist' feel a little better. This is also one piece of the Dunning-Kruger syndrome.
As a science and computer geek, I find this 'curse' fairly easy to comprehend. I have spent 40 years overdosing on science, and almost 35 years learning about computers. And I have spent at least that long trying to explain WHY these things work the way they do.
And...I do have a solution to the 'curse': I revert back mentally to the time when I was first learning the thing the less informed person is stuck on, and pretend I am in the same state of ignorance. Believe it or not, this has helped me greatly with my customers, when I bother to slow down and try it.

DISTINCTION BIAS: The tendency to view two options as more dissimilar when evaluating them simultaneously than when evaluating them separately.
-- and --
CONTRAST EFFECT: The enhancement or reduction of a certain perception's stimuli when compared with a recently observed, contrasting object.
The first can also be called the 'less-is-better effect'; we tend to notice more defining details when comparing two similar objects side-by-side; we are more likely to judge something fairly if we isolate it from other things we might want to compare it against.
The second one is very similar; the way to avoid it is to realize that proximity in TIME can also effect one's perception. Ferinstance, you are more likely to think a person is attractive if you have just been shown a picture of someone that is attractive.
These two just underline the fact that our brains are NOT logic engines; we are NOT good at filtering out the emotional and cooincidentially irrelevant details of life to arrive at the basic data.

DENOMINATION EFFECT: The tendency to spend more money when it is denominated in small amounts (e.g. coins) rather than large amounts (e.g. bills).
I am guessing that most people are reluctant to break large bills just to buy something small....or possibly there is a certain amount of superstitious awe involved in 'disrupting' round numbers?
Question: If you were given exactly $1000 as a windfall, and did not have any immediate likely are you to spend it on something trivial like a large TV? Or would you feel 'better' saving for later, paying rent or buying food with it?
If, on the other hand, you get a tax return for $738.25, would you be more likely to spend it immediately on non-essentials?
I think this bias might be related to the well-known marketing tactic of (ferinstance) selling a product for $39.95 rather than $40. The 'random' string of digits in the former are less intimidating that the round number of the latter.

DECOY EFFECT: Preferences for either option A or B changes in favor of option B when option C is presented, which is similar to option B but in no way better.
Muddying the waters, essentially. A common marketing tactic that takes advantage of this bias involves offering a third alternative that is more expensive BUT has fewer positive features. This makes the more expensive of the original two choices look more appealing by contrast.

CONSERVATIVE/REGRESSIVE BIAS: A certain state of mind wherein high values and high likelihoods are overestimated while low values and low likelihoods are underestimated.
-- and/or --
BAYESIAN CONSERVATISM: The tendency to revise one's belief insufficiently when presented with new evidence.
Eek. Very closely correlated these are.
The first results in the tendency to ignore 'data' that is in the minority (to use some rather slanted terms, heheh) could say that this type of conservatism defines the natural anti-democratic strain in human nature. This is a much less loaded explanation that avoids referring to such tendencies as 'narcissism', 'egotism', and 'greed'. Smirk.
The second can be mistaken for plain old pigheadedness, both of these cases, we are talking about biases here, not necessarily fully conscious choices. In other most of this list, we REALLY REALLY have to work hard to fight against these things, dredge them up and examine them consciously rather than let them quietly build delusions for you.

CONJUNCTION FALLACY: The tendency to assume that specific conditions are more probable than general ones.
An example spells this out best:
"Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations.
Which is more probable?
A. Linda is a bank teller.
B. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement."
Answer is A, but the probabilistically naive vastly favor B. Whew. A combination of attributes is ALWAYS less likely than each attribute separately.
This is a hard one, so give this a serious think. Try to ignore the intentional political/social smoke screen this question raises in your face (which leverages another common bias) and get to the meat of the thing...
This fallacy can be taken advantage of in a number of subtle ways, including suckering people into accepting short-cuts in arguments that are not logically valid, or are inconsistent with reality.
Conspiracy buffs are great practitioners:
Which is more probable?
A. Traffic cameras are used to enforce traffic laws.
B. Traffic cameras are used to enforce traffic laws and spy on private citizens.

CONGRUENCE BIAS: The tendency to test hypotheses exclusively through direct testing, instead of testing possible alternative hypotheses.
Very, very common with 'purchased research' that is unlikely to be subjected to heavy peer review. Basically, you set up an experiment (or test a product or idea) only to verify that the positive result is valid (e.g. push the button, the door opens), without testing whether an alternative might also yield an interesting results (e.g. hit another button, or no button, and the door still opens).
Drug trials are major benefactor of this bias, esp. since the placebo effect can cause a false correlation between the effectiveness of a drug and the (possibly ephemeral) alleviation of the illness.

CLUSTERING ILLUSION: The tendency to overestimate the importance of small runs, streaks, or clusters in large samples of random data (that is, seeing phantom patterns).
Yup. Another illustration of how poorly equipped we are to handle the world as it is.....and why the gambling industry exists.

CHEERLEADER EFFECT: The tendency for people to appear more attractive in a group than in isolation.
Hmmmm. Not sure how one would go about avoiding this one. This is a probably a combination of vanity and a desire to be part of a group...?

CHOICE-SUPPORTIVE BIAS: The tendency to remember one's choices as better than they actually were.
There are many related biases going on here as well, including hindsight bias, selective memory, and failure to remember neutral or negative outcomes...remembering things accurately is hard or impossible, and unless you are simply trying to become less deluded, it is probably pointless to worry about what has already happened.
So the takeaway from this should probably be: Don't depend on your brilliant judgement for the next big decision you make on this may have been lucky, or you may have made the right decision for the wrong reason. Certainly don't expect to have learned everything already! Get all the data you can, every time..if you have time.

BIAS BLIND SPOT: The tendency to see oneself as less biased than other people, or to be able to identify more cognitive biases in others than in oneself.
This is the main (valid) complaint against the 'liberal elite'. Ahem.

BELIEF BIAS: An effect where someone's evaluation of the logical strength of an argument is biased by the believability of the conclusion.
Captain Obvious strikes again! Dishonesty starts at home....

BASE RATE FALLACY: The tendency to ignore base rate information (generic, general information) and focus on specific information (information only pertaining to a certain case).
A group of policemen have breathalyzers displaying false drunkenness in 5% of the cases tested. However, the breathalyzers never fail to detect a truly drunk person. 1/1000 of drivers are driving drunk. Suppose the policemen then stops a driver at random, and force them to take a breathalyzer test. It indicates that he or she is drunk. We assume you don't know anything else about him or her. How high is the probability he or she really is drunk?
Many would answer as high as 95%, but the correct probability is about 2%.....think about it: out of 1000 drivers, 50 (5%) will fail a breathalyzer. Only one of those thousand is probably drunk, so it is at least FORTY-NINE TIMES MORE LIKELY that the policemen will 'fail' a sober person (assuming the drunk is caught and tested).
This is a tricky bias to get the head around, but very, very common. People are terrible at estimating probabilities, much less comparing them. And as you might guess in the example above, people will tend to fudge their estimates in the direction they expect them to go....

BANDWAGON EFFECT: The tendency to do (or believe) things because many other people do (or believe) the same. Related to groupthink and herd behavior.
Well...this one SHOULD be obvious. But amazing how often people forget it. A little bit of solitary mulling-over is all important.

BACKFIRE EFFECT: When people react to disconfirming evidence by strengthening their beliefs.
Another one that seems obvious...until you find yourself doing it. Again...question your fundamentals whenever you think you can stand the pain of it.

AVAILABILITY CASCADE: A self-reinforcing process in which a collective belief gains more and more plausibility through its increasing repetition in public discourse (or "repeat something long enough and it will become true").
I could hardly wait for this one. Merciful Jeebus. Do I really have to give any examples for this, or explain how incredibly damaging this kind of thing is? Let's have fun with this one, campers! Name your favorite item of topical, shrilly repeated gibberish.

ATTENTIONAL BIAS: The tendency of our perception to be affected by our recurring thoughts.
AVAILABILITY HEURISTIC: The tendency to overestimate the likelihood of events with greater "availability" in memory, which can be influenced by how recent the memories are or how unusual or emotionally charged they may be.
Slightly different causes, same general effect, here. PTSD would be a very good example, probably a mix of both tendencies.
'You are what you have been.' Intentional cultivation of empathy, perhaps by immersing oneself in the thought processes of different or even opposing points of view, can be of help here. Sink yourself into someone you are not....

ANCHORING: The tendency to rely too heavily, or "anchor," on one trait or piece of information when making decisions (usually the first piece of information that we acquire on that subject).
Again...don't get lazy about the information you use (do you even know where you got it?).....find more than one source for your information, and try to use good judgement about the value of each source.  This is one of the most common traits of TeaBaggers: they fixate on one issue and dogmatically defend their narrow view of that issue to the exclusion of others; even ones they share with their fellow circle-the-drainers...

AMBIGUITY EFFECT: The tendency to avoid options for which missing information makes the probability seem 'unknown'.
For example, people will be slow to adopt new methods if they lack information about the outcome. Ignorance is bliss.