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“You keep using that word. I don’t think you know what it means.”

Or so said Inigo Montoya in William Goldman’s The Princess Bride.

He was reacting to a repeated use of the word “Impossible!”

But he might have well been reacting to “Racism!”

I eagerly plunged into Matt Zwolinski’s essay “Why Laissez-Faire is NOT Social Darwinism.” This is one of my favorite subjects, in part because most discussions of it are so hopelessly muddled that it has become my favorite sport to vivisect each argument as it appears before me, wriggling in front of my eyes, tempting my scalpel. Thankfully, this essay starts out well; it looks promising from the first paragraph. Zwolinski has set out to defend William Graham Sumner from Richard Hofstadter’s infamous “social Darwinism” charge. And yet, it quickly gives me pause. Here is the fourth paragraph:

“Fitness,” for Sumner, was not a normative evaluation but a descriptive claim. To be “fit” is not necessarily to be “better” or “more virtuous” than one who is unfit. All that fitness means, in the evolutionary sense, is adaptation to environment. Thus, in Sumner’s “colorful” words, “rattlesnakes may survive where horses perish . . . or highly cultivated white men may die where Hottentots flourish.” The point is easily missed in the face of Sumner’s unfortunate racism, but even racism is not the same as social Darwinism, and the substance of Sumner’s point here is clearly at odds with the popular interpretation of that idea. The fact that a rattlesnake will outlive a horse in a desert doesn’t make the rattlesnake morally better than the horse. It just means that the rattlesnake is better adapted to surviving in the desert. That is all.

My problem here? I almost missed Zwolinski making a good point because of his unfortunate mistake about the nature of racism.

And so, before I move on to evaluating Zwolinski’s deconstruction of Sumner’s putative social Darwinism, I must dissect the racism charge that he makes.

You might be saying to yourself, “What’s going on here? Why is Virkkala distracting himself from the main point?”

Well, “racism” has been associated with social Darwinism for a very long time. So, when Zwolinski identifies something in Sumner that strikes him as racist, he is already finding something that lends support to the Social Darwinism charge — if only in a sloppy, association-of-ideas manner. And, also, if the author makes hash of the racism aspect, it might shed light on any deficiencies we may find in the main argument. (If any there be.)

But the simple truth is that I am deeply distracted by Zwolinski’s comment about Sumner’s “unfortunate racism.” For, from the example he gave, there was no racism involved at all.

None.

Not even a little bit.

Sumner has compared the survival-fitness of the “cultivated Englishmen” of his day with the “Hottentots” of his day. Where is the racism here?

Sure, the Englishmen Sumner was referring to were “white,” a variety of what was then known as the “Caucasoid” race, and the Hottentots were “black,” of what was then known as the “Negroid” race.

To notice racial differences is not racism. Racism isn’t “belief in the utility of distinguishing between genetic groupings of humanity.” It is the “making too much of race,” usually by imputing statistically discernible characteristics of a race to individuals of that race. One does this either because one has fallen prey to an error typical of folk statistics, or because one is engaging in some out-group antagonism, usually in service of some play of in-group solidarity. Racism is inherently anti-individualist, by this understanding.

But it is not anti-individualistic to notice that there are racial differences. So, by identifying Englishmen and Hottentots, recognizing their typical differences, one has made no racist error. None. Not one. Not even a little bit. Racism is not, I repeat, about the recognition of “race” as a useful category of thought and speech. It is about the abuse of the category.

But, but . . . Sumner called Englishmen “cultivated” and implied that Hottentots were not! How cannot that be racism?

Because “cultivated” is not a racial concept.

Anyone can be cultivated, given the right circumstances. “Cultivation,” as here used, is a cultural concept.

The very word derives from agriculture, as in “cultivating the fields.” A culture that engages in elaborate structures of production in agriculture and industry and marketing, not to mention the many arts and sciences, is, by definition, “cultivated.” When Sumner was writing, England was quite cultivated. There is no doubt of that. And the Hottentots of central and south Africa were not. They had a fascinating primitive culture. But it was still primitive. And, as such, much less complex than the English culture. Most Englishmen were “cultivated” compared to Hottentots because they were adapted to their more complex society, and that is a simple and unavoidable truth.

Oh, but “Hottentot” is an offensive term for the Khoikhoi! Well, sure. Now. But this was not known to be any more offensive than calling a German a German or Finn a Finn, back in Sumner’s day. The Germans did not use the old Latin name of “Germany” to refer to their country, not very often; the Finns called themselves “Suomilainan,” inhabitants of “Suomi,” not “Finns” from “Finland.” Similarly, the Khoikhoi did not call themselves “Hottentot” — that was a Dutch name for them, just as Finn is the outsiders’ name for the people of Suomi, and German is the outsiders’ name for inhabitants of (or from) Deutschland. Hottentot is considered offensive, now, but so are many other words that were once the only words that folks had access to.

I do not know precisely why Matt Zwolinski thinks comparing “cultivated Englishmen” to “Hottentots” is “unfortunately racist,” but I guess it is the “cultivated” part. And this is simply an error. If you think it is racist to acknowledge cultural differences between a modal Englishman and a modal Khoikhoi, or “most Englishmen” compared to “most Hottentots,” then I am not sure what to say further. It is just a category error.

What this seems to indicate, though, is something quite common among the young, these days. It was certainly not unheard of among the old when I was a child — I remember a great aunt of mine speaking this sort of offense-taking nonsense back in the 1960s — but it is especially common now. And it has a geneology:

  1. Racism is bad.
  2. I have been trained to react negatively to anything smacking of racism.
  3. Talk of “race” itself reminds me of racism.
  4. Therefore: this mention of race is itself racist!

This can best be described as the thinking of lazy minds. It happens all the time with “sexism,” too. I have heard people say that rape is sexist. That pornography is sexist. That . . . well, you get the idea. But  just because rape has something to with sex, and is bad, does not mean that it is sexist. Sexism does not encompass all the bad things that relate to sex.

To believe that it does mean this? It is to not really understand how language works. It is to lose track of definitions, and think that any association of ideas that pops into one’s precious little head warrants some drastic identity.

My interpretation of this passage runs like this: Matt Zwolinsky read the comparison between Englishmen and Khoikhoi; it made him uncomfortable; therefore: “unfortunate racism”!

I will not try to make a similar mistake by taking my annoyance with this one error and imputing it to the rest of the essay.

All I am going to do is let it stop me from reading the rest of it tonight. Stay tuned for further discussion of this important subject — and what I hope will prove to be an important essay, regardless of Zwolinski’s infelicitous misattribution of racism to this one statement by William Graham Sumner.

twv

 

 

Some Californians want to secede from the union. I have two reactions:

  • Idiots!
  • Hooray!

They are idiots because they want to leave merely because they — a majority being Democrats in the quintessential “Left Coast” state — did not get their way in the last presidential election. This is more than a little wrong-headed. Many American voters never get their way. (I’m one. I never have voted for a winning presidential candidate.) It’s a representative republic, this our union of states, so we have to expect not always to get our way. The secessionist Californians seem to not understand the basics of the system. The spoiled asshat brats.

On the other hand, I think the United States is stuck. A secessionist movement might pry open the trap.

Republicans this last time around decided to “unstick it” by sticking it to the Democrats . . . with the candidate Democrats most hated. Republicans chose Trump because, well, the Democrats had already chosen Hillary, who was the candidate Republicans most hated. One good hate deserves another! Or so the messed-up rationale runs. But, this being the case, or not, I doubt Trump will unstick the country from its prodigal ways of too much spending, too much debt, too high taxes, too much regulation, and too intrusive and hubristic a foreign policy. He will almost certainly exacerbate some of these. His preference for nationalism over federalism bodes ill.

So, another way to unstick the country would be to break it up. And, well, to Californians: good riddance!

But there’s a hitch. Californians are Americans, and many would not want to leave.

And, more importantly, there are parts of California that want to leave . . . California. Before any secession from the federation should be contemplated, the secession of the northern counties to form a new state, Jefferson, should be on the table. I am pretty sure the would-be Jeffersonians want to stay part of the United States.

Paul Jacob, today, argues that the formation of the proposed new state, Jefferson, should be up to those northern counties that have already voted to secede, on a county-by-county basis.

Mr. Jacob also notes that there had been a “split up California” measure on the ballot a few years ago. And I certainly remember it, because I had written on the subject at the time. (Though I cannot find where I wrote about it. Hmmm.) The main point is that California is too big, and has too many people per politician . . . I mean, per representative. The state has the highest constituent/representative (c/r) ratio in the country. By far.

Making of a new state out of the far north California counties would give the new state probably the lowest c/r ratio. But it would have other effects as well.

I note that when the split-into-six measure was on the ballot, Huffington Post whined the most about the wealth/poverty ratios. Of course, the poorest segment, the north, is precisely the one that wants to leave the most. This tells you a lot about the imagination and political biases of the folks at HuffPo. And how divergent they are from actual poor people in the real rural world. Jeffersonians apparently want a state without a strong city.

sixcalifornias_0But take a look at the HuffPo map. Not for the wealth/poverty ratios, but just for the shape of the states then proposed. The great thing about the proposal was that it reflected actual regions, how people live and how they think about where they live. This is regional affinity, and it is something city-folk today tend to dismiss, as their preferred policies run roughshod over rural American preferences.

Perhaps more importantly, the proposal separated the three major cities: San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, each major city getting its own region. That makes sense. Each city is its own economic and cultural powerhouse. Each city has a region that backs it up. While separating regions fits with regional affinity, uniting a city with its natural region is also a good idea.

There are obvious problems with the six-state regional split, and these problems may have been part of the reason the proposal failed at the ballot box. First, six is just too many. Probably two too many, if not three. Second, too much weight was given to Sacramento — it was to become the capital, I guess, of “North California,” but it would dominate that new state in an unhealthy way. Third, the union of the Sierra Nevada and central valley regions seem odd, from either a regional affinity basis or a city/city-region basis.

Arguably, the Sierra Nevada (far east) counties might wish to break off to join Nevada (which is a state with too little private property, too much federal land), or join the new “South California,” or join the eastern counties of “North California” to unite with the new Jefferson State. This should all be decided in a complicated series of plebiscites, with options to choose the new alliances.

As is probably obvious by now, I’m no expert on California culture or political geography. But when I look at the rural regions, I expect to attach a major city to them. The proposed Jefferson does not have a major city. And there is no way that today’s political behemoth of Sacramento would join the norther secessionists. But those counties to the east of Sacramento might very much want to join Jefferson, and, if they did, the Sierra Nevada counties should have the option to join the new state, too. They won’t nab a major city, but they might gain important populations with cultural and regional affinities.

So, from the start, Congress should demand plebiscites in the would-be Jefferson counties, and the southern Oregon counties, too, whether they want to form the proposed new state. If yes, then, move to the next step: one by one, the eastern counties should vote to join Jefferson or not. See how far down the east of California Jefferson would stretch. Each of those counties should also have the option of joining Nevada or some other city region state not allied with San Francisco.

The Central Valley region, I repeat, puzzles me. It seems like it should belong to either the San Francisco or Los Angeles city regions, and therefore part of their respective states.

Separating “North California” from “Silicon Valley” seems nuts to me. But separating “West California” from both the San Francisco and San Diego city regions makes perfect sense. So, it seems to me, after determining the size and shape of Jefferson, then we would need to determine the shapes of South California and West California. The mostly likely states to emerge would be Jefferson, North California, West California, and South California, with the Central Valley and Sierra Nevada regions divvied up among the four.

In my previous writings on this, I think I suggested just three states, Jefferson, North California, and South California. But that lumped in LA with San Diego. That seems unfortunate. But I remember drawing the line east and west for South California pretty easily, geometrically by county borders, that way. That would be inhumanly arbitrary, of course.

In any case, after splitting up the state into three or four pieces — and perhaps allowing some counties to merge with adjacent states) — then each state could be asked about secession. Would West and North California secede? Perhaps. I doubt it. It seems so stupid, and so difficult.

Unless, of course, Americans take the whole thing as a cue: split up the union and form several new unions, with the new unions placing the federal government under receivership.

But, somehow, I don’t think anything that drastic could widely and effectively be contemplated until too late.

twv

 

The news comedy shows are, for the most part, denunciation shows. This description fits Jon Stewart’s old topical comedy show and Trevor Noah’s lamer version; Bill Maher’s HBO warhorse, and John Oliver’s hipper variant on the same network; and, especially, the best one in the business, RT’s Redacted Tonight

The worst of the lot is surely Samantha Bee’s, but perhaps I err. I have not really been able to watch her after she left The Daily Show. Larry Wilmore’s is a little better, but, last I checked it was relentlessly race-obsessed. I feel icky after watching it — like other people feel after they’ve experienced Milo, who has a touring show, not a TV show.

Red Eye with Tom Shillue on Fox is a little less denunciatory (perhaps by being more defensive?), and Greg Gutfeld’s new weekend show is . . . well, you explain it to me. These latter two are the only non-left-leaning of such shows that I am aware of. That is, the hosts are not leftists.

Many people miss Stephen Colbert’s parody show of Bill O’Reilly. Not me. I tired of it after about the second episode. It is worth noting that YouTube’s The Young Turks works as a self-parody show — an unintentional self-parody show.

Topical comedy is hard, I am sure. Being fresh and always witty? Maddeningly difficult. That is one reason these topical comedy shows resort to relentless denunciation. When you are not being truly funny, you can rely on your audience’s out-group hatred and loathing — and self-righteous sense of in-group superiority — to maintain passion and high-pitch enthusiasm. Thus delighted laughter is replaced with derisive howls

The problem with all this is that they become uncomfortably close to the show depicted in A Face in the Crowd, the great Elia Kazan film starring Andy Griffith as “Lonesome” Rhodes: grand examples of demagoguery. This is especially the case for the shows with live audiences. They want red meat (or the leftist soy-and-quinoa equivalent), and there is usually one guest who serves as the lion pride’s delectable Christian treat.

Most of these shows sport panel “debate” segments. These, of course, are played for comedy, but also for argumentative purposes, too. The better to serve the denunciation game. And yet sometimes one actually witnesses productive, honest debate. Not often. Sometimes.

Last week, mere days before the aforementioned Milo Yiannopoulis was publicly hit with a disgrace campaign based on some pedophilia-related comments he had made, the gay conservative free-speech provocateur appeared on Bill Maher’s Real Time. Last week I wrote about his one-on-one interview with Maher at the top of the show. I could not bear to watch the panel segment with Milo . . . until yesterday, at which point I hastily put together a video about what went wrong. The problem was more than mere denunciation, though denunciations there were, all around:

I briefly comment on Vee’s explanatory video, too, so I should put up his link:

The key concepts that I tried to add to the debate are the two main problems we see in modern discourse all the time, especially on television topical comedy shows:

1. Data impasses, and

2. Contractual impasses.

Either kind of stalemate-inducing situation scuttles profitable dialogue. And, frankly, neither serves as humor, either. Sure, the second kind usually takes the form of mutual denunciation, but such cases do not seem funny to me. Not at all. They are usually excruciating.

The denunciation shows might consider growing up.

Or die. That would be good, too.

To be replaced by real interviews and real debates.

twv

One of the more interesting arguments for socialism is the argument from sectoral successes, that is, with particular socialistic enterprises, the prime example being roads. As libertarian economist Walter Block chided Milton Friedman once, Friedman’s support for public roads amounted to a “road socialism.” And most folks, upon hearing that, would raise an eyebrow and pull out of the driveway and say, “if this be socialism, make the most of it.” That is why socialists bring up the roads as an example of how all-sector socialism could work. 

And they have a point: our road system is awfully socialistic. Of the main features of socialism, it has all but two*: the economic good, road access, is not now provided on an egalitarian or needs basis, but instead (1) to all permitted drivers as much as they want, (2) funded by a fairly efficient set of use taxes, on fuel and licensing, etc.

Now, Professor Block has done important work showing not only that private roads do work and have worked, here and there, and could work if universalized. But, let us admit it, his (and similar) writings notwithstanding, road socialism has not been a complete disaster, and is widely popular, unquestioned.

Does road socialism provide a good blueprint for generalized, all-sector socialism? No. But instead of providing the many usual reasons given, I will suggest another way to look at it.

Road socialism in America is an excellent example of how we tend to “regulate a commons”: ruthlessly and with special attention to prosecution (and overburdening) of the poor.

Have you ever been to a traffic court? It is apparent: every unwanted or slightly dangerous behavior is criminalized. The cops are oppressive. The rules are numerous. And the system is exploitative, often nothing more than a shake-down operation. Pleading before the court, the general run of those who challenge the system tend to be abject in their petitions. And the general theme of oppression stinks up these venues, as the states and municipalities nickel-and-dime the least successful in our society.

Think of that system writ large!

On the private roads, there is a perceptible tendency for road owners to provide help, not deliver beat-downs and stick-ups. Road service is more useful than cops, in most cases. Suggestions and highway engineering that encourage safe driving have been found to be more effective than patrolling, but our commons regulators insist upon tickets, property confiscations, and even prison terms.

So there you have it. Road socialism provides a blueprint for social tyranny.

For the good of society at large, the roads should be privatized, just to make life more peaceful and less deadening. Driving need not be regulated by fear. The fact that our most socialistic sector of society is run along  authoritarian and exploitative lines should indicate what a bad idea imitating public roads would be for yet more sectors of society.

Go to traffic court, and come to your senses: no more of this! No more socialism. Please.

twv


* Not counting sector limitations, of course.

An idea that presumably references reality should be judged on the merits of its accuracy . . . in mapping that relevant, pointed-to reality.

If the idea refers to existents, to things of a physical nature, then the idea should not be contradicted by evidence, by the facts. Empirical investigation would be the primary way to test the idea, to judge its worthiness for continued use. Belief should be based on this, if at all possible.

img_0363Trouble arises, of course, when empirical tests become difficult or impossible. Then we have to engage in more roundabout and elaborate testing. This is especially the case in the social science, since complexity necessarily complicates analysis as well as testing. And, perhaps more fundamentally, all human interaction (the realm of the social) depends upon human action, which rests upon choice — and choice (in its most deliberate forms, anyway) is the result of speculation about alternate courses of actions and the expected value of the effects of those actions. Any action must at least in part be judged in terms of what was not chosen — what did not, in effect, take place — as well as in terms of what was chosen — what was demonstrated in the act(s) themselves. This is necessarily metaphysical, in the “not-obviously empirical” sense.*

And then there is this issue: some ideas are so constructed that they derail critical thought, scuttle reasoning, and prevent the search for faults. Self-defensive theories, you might say.

Polylogism is a great example of this. Polylogism is “many logics,” and is the fairly widespread belief that there is one logic for one person or group and a different [and “equally valid”] logic for another. “You cannot understand this because you are a woman [or man]”; “you cannot understand this because you are of the wrong race”; “you only believe that because you are a capitalist”; “you only say that because you are an x [or y].”

Now, it may be true that some of these expressions pertain to some thoughts. Men may be so constituted to be more likely than women to believe that some things are true and others false — and vice versa. But the likelihood of a belief does not mean that the belief cannot be tested without reference to the believers’ sex. Truth-value is irrelevant to belief likelihood. Polylogists deny this. They say (sometimes witlessly, without thinking the idea through) that one’s perspective prohibits epistemic transcendence. We are confined to our categories. Rationality cannot be universal.

It is all very self-defeating. And, in reality, a mere formalization of variant of the ad hominem fallacy.

C. S. Lewis wrote a charming essay on this problem, “Bulverism,” and I heartily recommend that you look it up. Ludwig von Mises wrote incisively on polylogism in a technical way, and this I also highly recommend — though his manner of presentation is fairly difficult for novice readers.† Unfortunately, I’ve never actually come across a technical discussion of polylogism that is as clear Lewis’s informal presentation. Part of this is no doubt the result of the inherently metaphysical nature of human choice. And this is all the more difficult for us, today, because metaphysics itself is strongly resisted by today’s dominant modernist and post-modernist philosophical traditions.‡

I should probably go downstairs and pull out Man and People (Norton, 1963), by Ortega y Gasset. He may very well have dealt with this in the book. In memory, it seems relevant. I do know that this book made a more convincing-to-me case for a generally praxeological approach than did Mises’. Alas, I’ve not read Ortega’s final masterwork in nearly 40 years.

Nowadays, memetics deals with “mind viruses” such as polylogism. (There are others.) I am not aware, however, of a formal memetic analysis that takes a look at such self-defensive meme-plexes (I call them “memetic traps”) and relates them to the traditional lists of logical fallacies. That would be extremely useful.

I have a lot of studying to do on this issue. Hints from my friends and readers would be most appreciated.


* This should provide a clue as to why metaphysics keeps on cropping up in human science and philosophy, despite attempts by logical positivists (and others) to beat it down: we are beings where non-physicality is an essential aspect of our reality.

† C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Eerdmans, 1970), and Ludwig von Mises, Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, Third Edition: Revised (Regnery, 1966), pp. 75-89.

‡ Trends in philosophy are looking up, however, now that logical positivism has waned in influence, and some of its main contentions against metaphysics have been found wanting.

The Major Media, Desperate, Will Now Apparently Stoop to Anything in Its Social War Against Outside-the-Beltway Americans

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This could be the most important video you will watch this week:

Why would the Wall Street Journal send three journalists to do a hit piece on a popular YouTube comedian, basically tearing out of context his jokes so that he looks (to gullible Journal readers) like an “anti-semite.”

pewdiepieOn the face of it, doing a “scoop” on “PewDiePie” is an absurd bit of overkill. But Sargon of Akkad (Carl Benjamin) explains how this relates to the great issue of our time: the decline of major-media journalism, the rise of decentralized Internet alternatives, and, with it, the rise of populist politics.

One of the reasons I have not freaked out over the election of Donald Trump has been that I have had some inkling of his social and historical function. To excoriate Trump over and over is to side with the establishment and its social war with the majority of Americans. Mainstream media journalism has become worse than a joke. It has become the broad institutional equivalent of a lying tyrant.

The establishment — consisting of the media, the institutions of “higher learning,” and the permanently employed bureaucracies of the federal and state governments (the latter employed with cushier salaries, benefits and pensions than the average American worker) — has effectively marginalized those parts of the population that it has not bought off (with government subsidies), rewarded directly (by feeding them into the academic-bureaucratic and military-industrial complexes), or duped (with propaganda designed to feed self-righteous tribalism).

Thus it has been that a liar was chosen by the marginalized to play tyrant in the overthrowing of the establishment. It is an historical pattern: you ape your enemy to defeat the enemy. (I do not condone this; I merely note this.) And I, for one, will be glad to see the media establishment finally fall. The extent of their pernicious grip on American institutions can hardly be over-stated. The benefit for us could be enormous. The possibility of a freer future may open up.

Certainly, with the major media as hegemon, no real hope for social transformation can come.

The major media outlets are largely (in America, Fox excepting) insider-progressive. And, to unbuild the corporatist tyrannies that Progressivism and its allied movements (socialism, social democracy, Fabianism, fascism) have placed upon the West, the major media must first be put in their place.

twv

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There is a huge gap between “demonizing the media” and sanctifying it, idolizing it.

While Trump may be “demonizing” his targets in his hilarious recent confrontations, Kasparov is definitely giving our current major media outlets too much credit by having them stand for “the free press.”

Where does he go wrong? Where to start? Well, here: Kasparov’s statement that a free press “can never be the enemy of a free people” is absurd. Any person or any institution can turn to work against the public interest. We all know this.

Except, apparently, for partisans . . . when criticizing those they disagree with.

While I heartily agree that we, the American people, need a free press more than we need a childish autocrat, I wonder where Kasparov stands on Thomas Jefferson’s famous statement to the effect that “a government without newspapers” would be worse than “newspapers without government.” He said this while being no friend of the dominant press of his day.

Remember, Jefferson criticized “the media” of his time, and for good reason — the Federalist papers in 1800 even went so far as to declare him the Antichrist, as someone who would confiscate all Bibles. But that did not mean that he also attacked the free press . . . instead, he defended it, and not just now-and-then, but constitutionally.

And remember, Jefferson did squeak in to turn the tide against his predecessors’ policies. In this one way, 2016-2017 looks more than a little like 1800-1801.

Regardless, let us settle this definitively: why does criticizing the media not amount to opposing a free press?

Answer: Because criticizing “the media” is just short-hand for criticizing some media outlets — some journalists and their organizations. Perhaps what is usually meant is the dominant media. Usually what is under attack is just the partisan media — of the other party.

This is all so obvious that one wonders how Kasparov and the many people who repeat the same argumentative gambit can carry their heads with anything other than shame. Your guys are not the whole of the free press. To attack the one is not to attack the other.

What he has done is lump together disparate things, and then condemn his enemy for doing something that his enemy did not do. Trump did not say, nor have I ever heard him say (I am willing to accept any factual evidence to the contrary that you provide), anything against the institution of a free press. What he has argued against is the reportage, bias, and excessively partisan commentary of major media outlets*, CNN most especially.

And, having watched CNN recently, I think Trump has been entirely within the realm of propriety to attack this “Clinton News Network.” CNN’s coverage of politics is so prejudiced and partisan that not only has it supplied its side with debate questions in advance, it regularly prevaricates. The method it does so is as Clintonian as its loyalties.

If Kasparov thinks it “despotic” for a President to castigate and ignore a media outlet, what did he think of President Obama’s constant harping on Fox News, and the way he treated its correspondents in press conferences?

While folks like Trump who decry “the major media” or the “MSM” or just “the media” obviously intend to be engaging in synecdoche, and everyone with half a brain knows that this usage is innocent of logical fallacy, the anti-Trumpers who pretend that this be not synecdoche but, instead, a dangerous, broad-brush equation of part and whole prove themselves either base rhetoricians or witless buffoons in the game of debate.

Who makes up the Stupid Party now?

For the record, I do not know how dangerous Trump is. Right now, he seems more entertaining than any previous president, more active and efficient than recent ones, and more intent on following through on political promises than any politician I can remember.

This does not mean I agree with what he is doing. Far from it. I did not like even half his promises. I did not vote for Trump. I did not support him, except in one way: to note, over and over, how much worse Hillary Clinton was than he seemed. Hillary was the worst Secretary of State in recent memory, a warmonger and a center-left power-luster with a sense of entitlement at least as large as Trump’s own narcissistic ego. And, now that Hillary Clinton is out of the way, I am more than willing to oppose Trump, especially regarding his insane protectionism.

But I hope I can do so honestly.

Much of the hysterical opposition to Trump seems to focus on the man’s style. He seems to lie in new ways,  brushing off falsifications with greater ease than any past pol. He speaks in remarkably simple ways without reminding us of the Bushisms of the two previous Republican presidents. And he is surely the opposite of the abstruse and periphrastic John Kerry.

We do have something of a new creature on our hand — at least the latest hopeful monster in a strange course of evolution. And he is changing in front of our eyes, in part because of how the Left has opposed him, with all rhetorical guns a-blazing. He is a person moved mightily (perhaps most) by issues of loyalty and betrayal. So he is moving further away from his Democratic Party roots under the onslaught of current Democratic outrage.

And Kasparov has jumped in line with the outrage brigade. It is sad to see someone lose grip on the nature of noble rhetoric and argumentation.

When you stoop to using logical fallacies to make your point, you have lost.

At least, in the eyes of those of us sporting a more philosophical bent.

Hint: you cannot promote “accountability & the truth” while simultaneously slinging fallacy and engaging in base rhetoric.

And remember: the great and noble thing about a free press is not that it is “press” but that it is “free.” We here on our blogs and social media are part of the solution. We are the freer press.

But even that does not make us right. We must still mount attacks upon behavior and policies by recourse to facts and logic.

twv

N.B. I chose Kasparov’s tweet at random. There are many similar, almost identical tweets, memes, what-have-you. It is almost as if a memo went out, saying: HERE IS WHAT TO SAY. (Perhaps I need to read those Move-On emails I get every day.) So, Kasparov serves as a symbol. He stands in for many another egregious anti-Trump paranoiac. It is too rare to see honest criticism — which I would (and do) welcome. Kasparov’s tweets neatly serve to represent all the similar nonsense one hears on the talking head “newscasts,” on the comedy put-down shows, on social media, and out of the mouths of protestors who know only a lockstep uniform ideological response. In all other matters, Peace be unto him.

* Actually, Donald Trump has complained that the press has been “unfair.” That is an inelegant and whiny way to complain about the lying press, the fake media. But I never said that Trump was an elegant or philosophically astute man of letters. Far from it.

Bill Maher’s interview, tonight, with Milo Yiannopoulis was droll. Milo handled himself ably.

In his own way — and perhaps with more canny expertise — Milo (the late @nero) — is doing what Trump is also doing to the regnant ideological noösphere: breaking up the stranglehold that the Left/Center-Right duopoly has had on American (and even world) minds since World War II. As in every other interview I have seen with him in the past few months, he demurs from being identified as a conservative. He identifies as more a “libertarian.” He almost never mentions “conservative” without also mentioning “libertarian,” and he has probably done more to break our dubious culture out of the left-right rut than 40 years of Libertarian Party politicking.

My libertarian friends will probably shudder. “He is not much of a libertarian.” Yeah, sure. He knows nothing of economics. He is a radical only about free speech. He loves “Daddy” … I mean, President Trump.

But he is doing what I had hoped Gary Johnson would do, but failed: show all of America that the Left/Right divide does not exhaust the political options, and that liberty is not merely as American as Jefferson’s Declaration, but that it is a live option, and a way out of a civilizational impasse.

He is a voice, crying in the wilderness. The real leaders have yet to come. His support for Trump is no doubt over-played, for Trump is too much at odds with individualism and the old liberal tradition to do much good, and Trump has the potential to do much harm. Indeed, as I suggest above, Trump is more a fellow prophet than messiah. He is the golden apple thrown into Olympus. Chaos comes next.

Whether a more individualist order will follow is anybody’s guess. But it will never emerge until the ideologues of the duopoly are dethroned. And Milo, perhaps along with Trump, may very well contribute mightily to that cause.

Meanwhile, Bill Maher remains an ass. I had to stop watching soon after the panel started yammering. Lots of accusations about the Flynn Scandal, no evidence seemed likely to emerge. Fake news.

Very fake news.


N. B. As the title indicates, I did not watch the later panel play with Milo. From what I saw later, it did not look so good for the “dangerous faggot.” But I have only seen moments and read progressive reactions. One question: does the first person in an argument to say “fuck you” or “go fuck yourself” win or lose? (twv 2/19/2017)

Gad Saad, the evolutionary scholar who has devoted his career to explaining consumer behavior, celebrated Charles Darwin’s birthday with a new “Saad Truth” video:

Professor Saad is one of my favorite arguers, interviewers, and monologists on YouTube. I like almost all of his online contributions, and am head-over-heels for not a few of them.

Alas, this is not up to his usual stellar standards.

He defends evolutionary theory against its many unlearned critics. Many of whom have the temerity to attack his evolutionism on Twitter and similar venues. But there are problems as to how — not that — he has done so.

Full disclosure: I am on his side. I do not see how evolution cannot be the basic view of life. But I admit: I did not really believe it until after I had abandoned theistic belief. (I exited the fold of believers, long ago, for scientific and rational reasons that were tangential to evolutionary theory proper. Psychology was a major concern, however. I abandoned a supernaturalistic explanation for all the human behavior I witnessed, and after that it proved too difficult to maintain any sort of theism. I moved to incredulity, coupled with curiosity.) But in this video he spends most of his time engaging in ad hominem arguments and the argument from authority.

img_2320Which is not wholly disreputable. It is sometimes legitimate to attack the motivations and character and methods of those one disagrees with. Sometimes it is this practice, more than rational argument, that proves the only thing carable of nudging some folks out of dogmatic slumbers.

Similarly, appeals to authority (which the professor also marshaled) are not wholly out of line. When we suggest that experts generally support some conclusion or another, those who doubt the conclusion should take pause.

But there is no logical reason to side with authorities. Authorities can be, and often are, wrong.

I can cite many cases.

But all this is moot. The reason the vast majority of biologists and allied scientists support evolutionary explanations is that these explanations are the best we have available, and the alternatives just do not seem very persuasive. If you bracket out religion, especially religious motivation, from the picture.

And Saad is quite right, the standard charge that “evolution is only a theory” is silly in the extreme. First, it is not true: evolution is not “only a theory.” And second, there are a lot of now universally accepted truths that we ordinarily view primarily as theories, since our everyday perceptions would indicate that Occam’s Razor better slices in a completely different direction.

Example? Flat Earth. It is not the spherical planet theory that seems to make sense in terms of normal, everyday experience. One must broaden one’s experience (say, fly in a jet, or travel on the open seas) and engage in some tricky mental operations (noting the round and apparently spherical character of heavenly bodies, the disappearance first of ship and then of shipmasts at the horizon, etc.) to see that a spheroid Earth better describes terrestrial shape.

Most creationists, today, seem uninterested in the vast evidence gathered by geology and paleontology. Most of which backs up the evolutionary approach. But once you begin to engage in hands-on work with rock and fossils, and then look at the huge collections of fossilized life and their origin in geological strata, then the creationist and “intelligent design” quibbles are eclipsed by the huge mass of accumulated evidence, and evolution becomes pretty darn obvious.

One of the best early arguments for the facticity of evolution was written nearly a decade before Darwin’s Origin of Species, and was acknowledged by him (along with many other precursors) in a later volume of the work. That argument is “The Development Hypothesis,” by Herbert Spencer.

“Aha!” exclaim the creationists. “You admit, it is less than ‘just a theory’ — it is a mere hypothesis!”

No. I encourage a reading of the actual text. For, as one quickly learns, even seven years prior to Darwin’s explanation of speciation, Spencer made a quite convincing case. “Those who cavalierly reject the Theory of Evolution, as not adequately supported by the facts, seem quite to forget that their own theory is supported by no facts at all.” As Darwin wrote in the Historical Sketch preceding later editions of his first ground-breaking work, Spencer makes the case with “remarkable skill and force.” If one looks at facts further away from one’s normal pathway between work and home, one sees that the case for evolution is quite clear. Even sans the Darwinian advance.

The only real reason (from what I can tell) that anyone puts any stock at all in the theory of special creation is the result of being “born to a given belief” — that is, because they accept certain ancient beliefs in the supernatural, beliefs that they find comforting or exalting or in some other way psychologically attractive.

For my part, those ancient beliefs seem not in the tiniest bit persuasive. The people who first advanced them, and the books that they produced, were not at all conducive to rational thought. Doubt and incredulity and curiosity were not attitudes they sought to inculcate. Instead, they promoted dogma and something called “faith.” They were engaging in a mythological mode, intent on fulfilling purposes other than careful inquiry. None of their writings gives off the odor of reliable reportage.

Let us move on. To the next step. The fact of evolution is one thing. The explanatory principles are another. And, yet further, the extrapolations from those principles, and their applications to other questions not directly and obviouosly related to the long course of evolution, are different yet.

Darwin helped many believe the first aspect of the problem — the actual occurrence of the development of life over many, many thousands and millions of generations of living beings — by providing a startling set of principles that helps explain how organisms adapt to environments, and, over time, change structures and behaviors so that the natures of the descendants are remarkably distinct from that of their ancestors.

There are a lot of “theories” involved at every level, here. But it is not as if the initial speculations have not been backed up by later accumulations of evidence. And while it is also true that some evidence has falsified some aspects of Darwin’s (and, more obviously, Spencer’s) notions, this is not cause for alarm — evolutionary science has itself evolved, adapting to newly discovered facts, modifying to reflect reality. Increment by increment.

Creationism, on the other hand, has mostly been restricted to apologetics, to bolstering up received notions. The expansion of its “research program” has not given us many (any?) useful new insights, much less promising avenues for further exploration. And, unlike evolutionary science, it has not produced useful technological advances in medicine or anything else.

But evolutionists have.

The distant past is difficult to explain, since it is indeed long past — and we naturally enough lack direct access to the facts of the past, especially before living memory, and most especially before the human record, reliable or not. And yet, we do possess the geological record; we also understand (in part) the astronomical context, the rapidly expanding information about genetics and epigenetics, and the massive evidence of a diversity of beings distributed throughout the world (in patterns that suggested to Alfred Wallace and Charles Darwin a difficult-but-powerful idea, natural selection).

And the people Gad Saad calls morons and Dunning-Kruger-affected nincompoops? They think they understand creationism. But they do so mainly on faith, or by metaphor — they still are infat Yates with Priestley’s found artifact. The Argument from Design. But they have no real grasp of even their own theory, for, as Spencer explained,

This is one of the many cases in which men do not really believe, but rather believe they believe. It is not that they can truly conceive ten millions of special creations to have taken place, but that they think they can do so. Careful introspection will show them that they have never yet realized to themselves the creation of even one species.

Of course, “careful introspection” is not something everyone has a knack for. And it is certainly not something that our schoolmasters and institutions have spent much effort in inculcating.

I quote this passage not only because it is relevant to the folks Gad Saad laments and pillories. It helps to explain their error. And, on a personal note, it was with careful introspection that I started the intellectual journey that has not yet ended, but has led me to positions not too far from Professor Saad’s.

Yes, I came up from the ranks of [what Saad sadly thinks of as] the Yahoos. It was an ascent, if not an evolution. But, like an evolutionist, I never really stop trying to understand my ancestors. Which includes my very own past self.

And, we must remember, that the greater nescience of others is tragic not because of what they do not know, but because they do not know that they lack important knowledge. For the rest of us, our growing knowledge is comic: as science expands, the surface where knowledge meets nescience also expands, and we know more and more of how much we do not yet know. Knowledge increases, but so does the realm of the known unknowns.

twv

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I cannot conjure up the effrontery it would take to scribble marginal notes in a borrowed book.

I remember borrowing a copy of George Santayana’s Life of Reason (the one-volume edition) from a local library and reading the inane commentary of a previous reader. It actually turned me off reading the book.

I made up for this by buying the book in its first, multi-volume editions. Alas, I have only read two of its five parts, and own a mere three of them. This is not the origin of my entry into the ranks of the bibliobibuli, or of book collectors, but it may have been a turning point of sorts.

So I may owe something (what, you decide) to one particular Pacific Northwest graphomaniac.

twv

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