I support “science,” I guess, but not this Saturday’s Earth Day “March for Science.” Why?

Well, because it proved ridiculous? A bizarre twist on virtue signaling? A risible parade of partisans pretending to be “above politics”? 

Let me suggest the crucial distinction, the key to my incredulity, by way of a question:

If scientists practice science, who practices scientism?

Science is the accumulation of knowledge by means of public testing, and the falsifiability of claims is its standard, marking its boundary with other domains of belief. Scientism, on the other hand, is the use of “sciencey” factoids, hypotheses, fantasies, arguments, theories, procedures, and, alas, even the conclusions of scientists, sans any practical recognition of fallibilism or process context. That is, scientism is science-as-dogma, science-as-rite, science-as-shibboleth, etc.

Scientism is what you find most regularly in popular discourse. Scientism is what you find most often in politics. Scientism is what you will most likely find in . . . The March for Science.

Alas, “being a scientist” is no guarantee against practicing scientism some of the time or even most of the time. Many scientists revert to scientism when they wander outside their field of specialization. Not a few practice it part-time within their chosen realm. Almost all embrace the practice when they seek funding.

But what do we call a practitioner of scientism?

I suggest: “sciencist.”

Sciencists are those people who think they like science, but love scientism all the more, and cover for their ignorance and bigotry and embarrassing blind spots by extolling Science as their God and Bible all in one. They piously march to prove their loyalty.

Too bad self-flagellation is not in sciencey vogue. I would not mind seeing these people bleed.

Just a bit.

Oh, and remember: the proper place for scientism isn’t the safe space of a university, a congress, or a parade. It is in your library, under the heading SF.

twv

N.B. “Scientism” has its origins as a technical term in a few peculiar contexts, most especially in the critique of logical positivism and reductionism. I am expanding on the usage of F. A. Hayek and Karl Popper. The image, above, is from Popper’s Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach (1972; 1989). While Hayek and Popper saw scientism as the mistaken identification of a few procedures used by scientists as defining of science itself, and therefore worthy of emulation by all intellectuals, I am taking a more sociological view of that sort of attribution error and applying it broadly. Scientism is not unlike racism and sexism, to my way of thinking. At core, racism is the “making to much of race” by improperly imputing modal (but not defining) features of the race to all or any individuals who belong to it. It is attribution error by improper discrimination. Scientism “makes too much of science” by taking some common but not defining features of science and holding them as a standard. In academic settings, this can be seen in the over-valorization of measurement, say, and applying it where measurement does not work. In popular science-mongering, it is not procedure that is over-valorized, but certain findings or conclusions and even funding rationales. Most “isms” that we use pejoratively involve similar confusions of part for whole. Scientism as discussed by Hayek and Popper and others is an academic error. The scientism I am talking about could be called vulgar scientism. And since even academic scientism is a vulgarization of science, the vulgarity of everyday scientism is . . . doubly vulgar.

In the early and middle 1980s, “comparable worth” became a celebrated cause of the feminist left. The idea was to equalize wages among occupations, particularly between, for example, a well-paid occupation that tended to be manned mainly by men and a more poorly remunerated occupation mainly performed by women. The examples given at that time were often truck drivers vs. secretaries.

I witnessed several public debates on the subject, way back then. And having just begun to study economics, I quickly came to regard proponents of the “comparable worth doctrine” (CWD) as utopian lunatics. Their glee in concocting regulatory schemes was over the top, and their arguments were always and in each case economically illiterate. They looked upon all wages as mere artifacts of custom and power, never productivity. Notions like “marginal product” and “imputation” and even “supply and demand” never rose to coherence, or even the level of mere mention.

I remember one absurd discussion, where a young man argued against a then-current objection commonly made to the CWD — that comparing truckers to secretaries was comparing apples to oranges. (That is, the occupations were different enough that no wage equalization effort could make sense.) He said that the beauty of CWD was that (quoting from memory) “we mix the apples and oranges and get fruit punch, and then divvy out equal amounts!”

You see what I mean by economic illiteracy.

Now, I did not go on to become an economist. It never became my job to investigate the statistic artifacts of the period to test the doctrine. Or any other. But I did notice that in the State in which I lived, the CWD became the official doctrine of one institution: government.

My guess is that many a low-wage government and contractor job were upped to a higher level, according to some “comparable” “worth” (of a labor theory of value variety) and that taxes were quickly increased to cover.

It might be good to check to see whether this did actually happen. I would be surprised if it did not.

I am getting at something here. There is a difference between government wages and business wages. They are figured and set differently. Unlike in the market sector, politicians can and do set State employee wages. And take credit for the hikes.

The taxes? They tend not to talk much about the taxes hiked to pay for the greater drain on resources. In markets, wage hikes must be merited by business success in voluntary markets, within a context of competition for scarce consumer attention. In politics, the checks and balances are much less integral with the process. There is a high degree of arbitrariness to government worker remuneration.

I suspect something similar happens in government regarding minimum wage jobs. I know of a number of positions paid by tax funds through contracts with the state. Many of them — particularly the temporary ones — are minimum wage jobs. (Elder care, some seasonal fishery services, and a few others come to mind.) When the minimum wage requirement is raised, budget requirements are raised, and politicians shrug “cost of living” and approve a budget hike, leading directly to raised contract worker wages.

We often say, with varying degree of inaccuracy, that “consumers pay” for minimum wage hikes. (Consumers do pay, but usually indirectly.) More accurately, taxpayers pay. Quite directly.

twv


A late, lamented neighbor of mine once defined “just war” as “mere war.” That was a quip.

A rather cynical one.

When I read just war theory, as a teenager, the most important point, I determined (in this rarefied and rarely consulted domain of thought), was this:

In contemplating intervention into a conflict with which one’s own country is not directly involved, it is not enough merely to determine which side is more nearly in the right. One must also have good reason to believe that, by intervening, one’s State could win and establish a stable and  just peace.

Even if you know who is in the wrong, if there is no likely way of “winning,” or if one’s intervention is not likely efficacious to establish a peace, entering into the conflict is immoral.

A recent study of just war theory and history by Laurie Calhoun suggests that most uses of the tradition, especially in recent times, have been to cover for gross, murderous immorality. Not to limit warfare.

As near as I can make out, this is largely because the tradition is almost never treated seriously or rigorously in the manner indicated above.

It is telling that I have not once heard, in recent public discussion over the Syrian intervention, one mention of just war theory.

twv


Man was created for social intercourse; but social intercourse cannot be maintained without a sense of justice; then man must have been created with a sense of justice. [T]here is an error into which most of the speculators on government have fallen, and which the well known state of society of our Indians ought before now to have corrected. [I]n their hypotheses, of the origin of government, they suppose it to have commenced in the patriarchal, or monarchical form. [O]ur Indians are evidently in that state of nature which has past the association of a single family; & not yet submitted to the authority of positive laws, or of any acknoleged [sic] magistrate. [E]very man, with them, is perfectly free to follow his own inclinations. [B]ut if, in doing this, he violates the rights of another, if the case be slight, he is punished by the disesteem of his society, or, as we say, by public opinion; if serious, he is tomahawked as a dangerous enemy. [T]heir leaders conduct them by the influence of their character only; and they follow, or not, as they please, him of whose character for wisdom or war they have the highest opinion. [H]ence the origin of the parties among them adhering to different leaders, and governed by their advice, not by their command.

[T]he Cherokees, the only tribe I know to be contemplating the establishment of regular laws, magistrates and government, propose a government of representatives elected from every town. [B]ut of all things they least think of subjecting themselves to the will of one man. [T]his the only instance of actual fact, within our knolege[sic], will be then a beginning by republican, and not by patriarchal or monarchical government, as speculative writers have generally conjectured.

Thomas Jefferson to Francis W. Gilmer (June 7, 1816)

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The reason people accept the institutions of the State in their lives also explains why they often demand horrific tyrannies. Once you give a special role for the State, it is hard not to identify that “special role” as tyranny.

The very core notion of the State looks like usurpation. Statism — including support for socialism, fascism, and the imperial presidency — is there in the kernel of accommodation to any and all political governance.

This is why democratic-republicanism is so unstable, and perhaps why hard-core Republicans and Democrats in America often enthusiastically yammer for outrageously criminal policies.

twv

No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another; and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him: every man is under the natural duty of contributing to the necessities of the society; and this is all the laws should enforce on him: and, no man having a natural right to be the judge between himself and another, it is his natural duty to submit to the umpirage of an impartial third. [W]hen the laws have declared and enforced all this, they have fulfilled their functions, and the idea is quite unfounded that on entering into society we give up any natural right.

Thomas Jefferson to Francis Gilmer (June 7, 1816)

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I started with quotations, aphorisms, the main points of which I thought obviously egregious. But some of my friends liked them. So I continued. I next put up statements of my own that I found especially idiotic — common pieties of our age. Some liked them; others objected. I reminded the latter, only, what day it was.

So here, in no particular order, with the names of the initial “likers” greened out…. Statements none of which are true, each of which has something disturbingly wrong with them.

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What are the core constituencies for America’s dreadful k12 government schools? Individuals vary, but hey: I can think of seven broad groups:

  1. Sports fanatics
  2. Parents who demand babysitting services
  3. Teachers and administrators whose careers depend upon tax money
  4. Progressive social engineers who wish to supplant families and markets as the prime institutions of sociality
  5. Businesses and students, who rely upon grades, credentials, and test scores to signal suitability for jobs
  6. Governments and politicians who rely upon the public system to inculcate acceptance to social engineering and government dominance in society
  7. Parents, students and community members who earnestly think something called “education” is a good idea

Everybody pretends to be in category 7. Almost no one is really in category 7, for, if they were, they would complain about poor educational achievements more, and look into alternate means of providing education. Most do not, so most are not.

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If you aim, in my direction, some cockamamie rap about “the myth of the gender binary,” be assured: I’m not interested. Your gender is none of my business. And keeping track of pseudo-science is not my avocation.

Indeed, I have yet to be convinced that there is much of anything in Gender Theory worth considering at length. I know the definition of “gender,” as a stand-in for “sex role.” More importantly, I know the open secret of the notion: even its adherents keep confusing “gender” with sex.

I am interested in sex. That’s biological. And I am interested in the roles that people make from their sex, and the norms they advance regarding sex and sexual behavior. But when I meet you, I can only guess what weight you give to “masculinity” and what weight you give to “femininity” and any other kind of sex-role “inity.” But I have little incentive to spend much time on the subject. I engage in a parsimony of attention. So I have no real interest in whatever cooked-up alt-pronoun you are pushing to honor your conception of “gender.”

There is indeed a sex binary. This is incontestable. Anyone who says otherwise is a fool of such proportions that I would not talk to that person if I could help it. I avoid crazy people. Besides, I am not a “science denier.” The biology is very clear.

As for “there is no gender binary,” my response is, at best: “Yeah, right, Goober.” Tautological truths about uninteresting fantasies are not my bag.

If you are a boy, and want to pretend to be a girl (or vice versa) that’s fine by me. But I am under no obligation to cater to your delusions or your frauds. I will call you what seems reasonable at the time, but not make much of it. If you make much of it, you can go screw yourself.

That is, unless you have gelded yourself.

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My cat, Bene: he is a neutered male.

Which brings up an interesting point: though we hear much of “gender reassignment surgery”* and “trans-” this and that, I haven’t heard of a rush to create eunuchs. But such operations were once widely performed on men, and are even now routinely performed on pets of either sex.

But we still call neutered males “he” and “him” and spayed females “she” and “her” out of convenience.

So, your pronoun trouble is yours and not mine.

It’s true, as a wordsmith by trade, I have indeed experimented with constructing a set of non-sex-specific pronouns and possessives, but it’s a Sisyphean task to get a new word shoved into a language. And it would be Orwellian to try to do such a thing through the State’s police power, as the collegiate social justice crowd is indeed trying to do in Canada and on some U.S. campuses.

Yes, when it comes to sexing humans, it remains what it always has been: a matter of cox and kunz. If you lack either the referred-to penis or vagina, or have both, then you are indeed a special case, and I will no doubt pity you. If you once had one, and now have the other, I’ll try to humor you, but I feel no obligation. And if you try to oblige me, I will take that as a threat upon my person and my liberty, and swear you are my enemy. And reach for a weapon or a lawyer.

And if you are merely pretending to have something between your legs that you don’t, or are “treating yourself” with the opposite sex’s hormones, I’ll likely avoid dealing with you, and if I cannot, your respect for me means that you must forgive my smirk.

But be assured, the only respect you are owed is the same as the respect I am owed; respect for our rights. And your rights to dress as you want, call yourself whatever you want, talk with whatever inflection you prefer, and generally behave in any peaceful manner are all the respect I feel I owe you. I may give you more than that, but you may not demand more.

Notice what I have not talked about: your interests in other people via-à-vis sexual desire and gratification. Unless we are friends, I have no interest at all in your sexual orientation(s), unless you are an attractive woman who finds me attractive in return.

All others may . . . Well, let us just say that it is none of my business.

And if you ask me for my gender, I will tell you my sex.

twv

* Of course, “gender-reassignment surgery” is a self-contradiction. Surgeries are biological procedures, manipulations of the body, and gender is supposed to be about socially constructed roles, so surgeons could have nothing to do with “gender.” Their purview is entirely limited to sex. This is just one of those terms that show the whole Gender Hooey to be just that, hooey.

 

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A friend of mine on Facebook, definitely not in my camp but a very intelligent person nonetheless (!), asked his friends for assistance:

Question: what are the advantages of characterizing the Trump administration as fascist?

I’m not asking here if this description is true. I’m wondering about its practical uses and benefits.

Many of the answers ignored my friend’s stricture about whether or not the description were true. I tried not to. But I still did not quite follow his guidelines either. For my answer characterized the utility of the word as extremely limited.

My response was as follows:

Using the term, especially when shouting down people who are engaged in peaceable assembly and normal free speech activities, makes you look insane. Against Trump it just seems gratuitous. We have reason to fear tyranny from him (as with his predecessors, if more so), but not all tyrants are fascists.

More importantly, it is worth remembering that, by calling Trump a fascist, you are insinuating that his supporters are fascists (fascism was a popular movement, if not quite populist). And since most of his followers are simply not fascist, their reaction is to dismiss you as an unhinged zealot.

Is that what you want? It certainly exacerbates the gulf between camps. When I argue against Trump with his supporters, I do not go there. But then, I am trying to convince them of something, not make myself feel good.

I’ve used the f-word, too. It makes me feel so righteous!

The full-war verbal arsenal we deploy when we fire the f-word yields quite a thrill. I know. And there are fascists in this world, and they deserve to be called by the name. So, sometimes use the word.

But when we have little evidence of fascism, and use it anyway, it does not really accomplish much but score brownie points with our tribe, while utterly alienating most people not in our tribe.

Those who use the word often, and especially indiscriminately, are not merely engaged in what we now call “virtue signaling.” They are engaged in open cultural warfare with those whom they disagree.

Unless your interlocutor whom you have dubbed “fascist” self-designates as such, you have used a word that he (or she) will likely regard as a fighting word, and you should expect full retaliation, of whatever kind that may take.

And at that point, dialogue enters a quite different realm. People are no longer arguing matters of fact and logic and perspective; no one “follows the argument wherever it leads” in such situations. Political philosophy becomes a distant dream of a forgotten time.

Now, in many situations, were I called a fascist, I would probably laugh in the name-caller’s face. The idea is ridiculous. And my opponent — enemy, really — can only be one of two things: a ridiculous boob, an idiot, a moron; or a liar, a fiend, a very knave.

So, of course, after being called a fascist, one really should be looking for and securing a weapon. For, though when you (dear reader) use the term you are mostly harmless, your opponent may be quite dangerous, and you have a right to defend yourself. Look around for pens, chairs, vases — anything to strike back at the person. Or hold up as shield.

People who throw around mad charges in high moral dudgeon should not be merely brushed off. They present a high probability of grave danger, and should be regarded as potential threats. The fact that the “anti-fascists” of antifa and BAMN are now engaging in open violence on the streets indicates how dangerous such people can be. Prepare yourself for total warfare at the personal level.

And accept the likelihood that a mass, citizen-participating civil war is in the offing, not beyond the horizon, like it used to seem, just a few years ago.

However, if you are a fascist, why should you mind being called one? Well, most people who lob the term around are in warfare mode, so even if the charge sticks, caveats, still.

But why would you be a fascist? Fascism is collectivist corporatism, and corporatism is what we have now. Fascism is just more of what we have now. Why would you want more?

Less, please. Less corporatism; less statism; fewer regulations; an end to group-based law and culture; more competition in politics; and calm down on the war lust, please.

And one way to do the latter might be to stop throwing the f-word about so easily.

twv