For the record, I am not a “climate change denier.” Climates change. Our climate is changing. No denial.

But I am a “climate science denier.” I deny that you know enough about climate to

  • shame me for my skepticism,
  • call the study of Earth’s climate a “settled science,”
  • or oust anyone from a position of employment or station for not agreeing with you.

How can I be so confident? Well, all my life I’ve avidly read about how science gets done. And I know that shaming and bullying tactics are not part of the “public testing” of conjectures and hypotheses that do constitute the mainstay of science.

Further, I grew up within a religion, and I know a cultist when I encounter one — and every anthropogenic global warming (AGW) activist I have ever met is a cultist. And, from my reading, many, many scientists are cultists too. And worse: too many scientists serve as the charlatan “prophets” who run the cult.

And I know a little something about economics, enough so that I cannot be fooled into thinking that public policies may be primarily judged according to the standard of good intentions. To the contrary, climate policy, like any other policy, requires a truly scientific scrutiny. Any proposed program requires the careful comparison of the likely benefits of the program with the costs of said program, and those costs must be understood in terms of lost opportunities. Making an argumentative gambit like “we cannot afford to do nothing” will not cut it with me. I know that doing nothing is often better than doing a risky and dangerous and costly something.

Further, I have a bit of common sense, too. And I know that the common charge by AGW fanatics, against skeptics like myself, that any corporate grant ever taints every pronouncement by a skeptic, much more plausibly counts against current AGW “climate science.” If “he who pays the piper calls the tune” applies against corporate grants, it applies even stronger to the government grants sector. Government grants are easier to get, and the money is more plentiful — other people’s money, unattached to the standard of profit and loss, corrupts more universally and with general negative effect. A never-ending tax-funded gravy train is hugely corruptive of science. The subsidized university system itself has corrupted science in many fields, with replicability rates of published study results having been demonstrated, recently, to be alarmingly low.

Model-based “science” of complex phenomena, whether of climate or society, is rarely anything more than mere scientism, and when such work is accompanied with heresy hunting and doubt shaming, the models can be dismissed — especially if they never are successfully predictive — or even retrodictive (that is, prediction of the past). Climate scientists who sport alarmist models of climate change have yet to trot out a model that even predicts recent trends, much less future trends along with future magnitudes.

Arguably, climate science jumped the shark years ago. And the damage it is doing to public appreciation of science and the calling that is science is as incalculable as . . . future climate.

Some day, I suppose, there may be a science of climate with some predictive validity. That day is not here yet.

The crazy extent to which seemingly legitimate scientists have nosed themselves into cultish climate dogmatism is, in fact, very funny. But they aren’t laughing. They are so serious they do not see the ultimate joke that they’ve perpetrated upon themselves. Mark Twain once quipped that “Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” That was a joke. We are not meant to take the joke seriously.

Being a smart person means not falling into traps easy to spot. Mark Twain was jesting. If you try to change the weather system, the climate, you will make of yourself a laughing stock.

Accept your limitations. Deny certainty in the sciences of complex phenomena, and accept that the role of the scientist is not that of priest or court wizard. Give up the hubris of World Savior, and, in accepting these limitations, accept your limited responsibility, too.

Become an apostate to cultism, and, by doubting, deny intellectual legitimacy to all cults. Including the cult of “science.”

WyvernI am sure that at least some of my friends and neighbors find themselves nonplused at the extravagance of some of my opinions — and perhaps even more at my willingness to vigorously defend those opinions . . . or test their limits, in even more extreme ideational dimensions.

All under the gonfalon of philosophy!

But disagreement is fractal: even among those whom I seem most closely in agreement on some, say, political matter, we often discover vast chasms of dispute, expanding beneath the surface.

I find this invigorating. I understand that many others do not.

It reminds me of the wisdom of the old philosopher of unified science: the more we learn, the wider the horizon of nescience.

And yes, I do wish to assert that word, “nescience” — lack of knowledge — for there exist whole domains of thought that I have no hope of ever mastering. Yes, I admit as much, merely scribbling on my mental map, “Here there be dragons.”

m-f

“Gender” theory has gained currency not because of its key contributions to sociology, human psychology, and biology. It has taken off because people like the theory; it comforts them. Most of all, it conforms to a number of deep-seated prejudices about the tabula rasa nature of the human mind . . . a wholly implausible view that shores up common prejudices that, in turn, undergird modern (read; post-modern) social life.

But that is not the whole of the matter.

Trendy gender theory allows folks to avoid using the word “sex.” That is gender’s real attraction, for the word embarrasses by its crude biology and paradigmatic images. By the familiar slovenliness of human discourse, “sex” does not, any more, stand for one of the major ways that life keeps on going, separating into male and female organisms with their corresponding and quite distinct gametes. Because “sexual” is most commonly paired with “intercourse” and “discrimination,” the word and its forms discomforts tender minds. So, the most common uses for “gender” these days flout the basic theory that promotes it, simply switching the word in . . . as a replacement for “sex.”

The most absurd example of this, in my personal experience, came to my attention while visiting a medical clinic. My doctor’s office has a form, which I must fill out annually. It asks me to select my “gender.” But my gender (according to “gender” theory) is in no way my doctor’s business. My sex is. He is a biological technician, and needs to know, in record, what my sex is.

Had he needed, for some bizarre reason, to know my “gender,” then why give “M” and “F” as the multiple choice options? That, according to theory, is itself an insult. “There are more than two genders! Die, CIS-scum!”

So I scratch out “gender” and scrawl in

SEX

Most of modern usage treats biology as a palimpsest over which to scrawl whiney evasions and badgering farragoes.

But then, the idea may never have been to develop a coherent theory of sexuality. Coherence is the enemy of postmodernism. There is no “contradiction” a postmodern “critical theorist” will not aim to encompass and babble about at length.

Now, remember: the basic idea behind “gender” was to show that sex roles are or can be fluid and somewhat arbitrary, “socially constructed” as postmodern theory likes to put it. Sex is the biology, the story goes; gender is the social construct.

But po-mo partisans appear unwilling to stop there. They try, before even scientifically considering alternative views of the very thesis they trotted out at the outset, to attack the biological nature as well. Starting out distinguishing biological reality from the construction, by human agency and culture, of sex roles, they end up erasing the bedrock reality.

As one such daring theorizer put it, “I have no interest in denying the reality of sex or of sexual dimorphism as an evolutionary process. But I want to show on the basis of historical evidence that almost everything one wants to say about sex — however sex is understood — already has in it a claim about gender. Sex, in both the one-sex and the two-sex worlds, is situational; it is explicable only within the context of battles over gender and power.”

This sort of nonsense defeats itself. It actually undermines the initial case for making the “breakthrough” distinction between sex and gender.

But that hardly matters because, for cultural reasons, the case for or against post-modern sex theory does not (and never has) rested on its intellectual coherence.

It rests on prudery and bullying.

The abuse of the word “gender” to cover “sex”  is merely a new form of sexual squeamishness, for which we make fun of the Victorians (limbs for legs, restraint from ever mentioning “private parts,” etc.).

And like the Victorian bashfulness and shame, the new squeamishness is inherently political — if most often micropolitical, operating on the level of manners. This new ideology is designed to shame some, while elevating its practitioners (the moral scolds, the Ms. Grundies) to the level of self-righteous prophets, inerrant and unimpeachable.

But since they cannot help but misuse their own terminology according to their own sets of definitions, they prove themselves mere bullies.

My suggestion? Abandon the theory. Always use “sex” where the word makes sense, and shame those who fear the word for reasons that they (apparently) do not wish made known.

We live in a putative post-shame age. Make those who misuse “gender” see that they are merely playing yet another iteration of the shame game.

“It is perfectly possible in the United States to-day for the average boy, white or black, to obtain, without cost to his parents, just as much education as Herbert Spencer ever had from others from beginning to end of his life. In many states it is compulsory. But for all that, we produce very few men comparable to Spencer.”

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H. L. Mencken, Men versus the Man, 1910.

“The man who calls each morning to empty my garbage can is a high dignitary in the Patriotic Order Sons of America, and has ten times as much political influence as I have. On election day he ceases from his labors and devotes himself to inoculating the great masses of the plain people — of whom I have the honor to be one — with enthusiasm. At public gatherings of the electorate he bears a torch and howls like a wolf. On election day I find that he has already voted when I reach the polling-place, and I enjoy the soothing consciousness that his ballot has nullified mine. Later on, perhaps, he will vote again, for he has nothing else to do all day. As for me, I must get back to my desk and finish my article on ‘The Republic versus Despotism.’”

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H. L. Mencken, Men versus the Man, 1910.

Don’t count your tragedies until they hatch:

Coral Islands Defying the Negative Consequences of Sea Level Rise

Screenshot 2015-11-28 11.05.32

“Let a boy of alert, restless intelligence come to early manhood in an atmosphere of strong faith, wherein doubts are blasphemies and inquiry is a crime, and rebellion is certain to appear with his beard. So long as his mind feels itself puny beside the overwhelming pomp and circumstance of parental authority, he will remain docile and even pious. But so soon as he begins to see authority as something ever finite, variable and all-too-human—when he begins to realize that his father and his mother, in the last analysis, are mere human beings, and fallible like himself—then he will fly precipitately toward the intellectual wailing places, to think his own thoughts in his own way and to worship his own gods beneath the open sky.”


H. L. Mencken, The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche (Third Edition, 1913), first paragraph.

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Epicurus-Browne-onblack


The secret to peace is to associate with others in activities you like, but avoid others’ activities that you don’t.

I generally shun pop music, sports, dancing, and religious events. Others avoid what I like — classical music, motorcycles, literature, and philosophy — but love their churches or clubs or poker games or what-have-you. So I don’t go to your mosque; you don’t go to the movies I do. I’ve never been in to a titty bar; you’ve never attended a performance of a string quartet. Whoopee.

This diversity of values and interests only becomes a problem when people insist that others conform to their values and share their obsessions. Really. This is about it.

From this follows my politics: we are best served when we keep obligations to a minimum; the basic duties should be few. Free people work around each other and cooperate as they see fit.

Everything above that is oppression and a recipe for strife.

People have different tastes and opinions. The only real trouble is how to navigate the differences, and the key is to bring force into as few of these debates and potential conflicts as possible.

I readily admit: we will often hurt each others’ feelings with our differing values. Of course. But the key to an open society is simple: adults have just got to buck up, get over the taking and giving of offense, and carry on. No one has to be liked by everybody. Love and inclusion are only achievable for small subsets of people. Avoid those whom you dislike. Try not to hate. Just don’t kill or steal, and, please, trade with honor.

The easiest way for “all to get along” is to refrain from doing too much together. The politicians’ eternal promise of “bringing us together” is the exact opposite of what is necessary. These yobs are snake-oil moralists. Avoid them, too, if you can.

Unanimity would be nice on the basic ground rules, the ones that establish our freedoms — justice — but even that may be a luxury.

I suspect Harry Browne said all this in his classic Seventies’ era self-help book, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World. Alas, I have never read the book. But I did read John Hospers’s review of it! He linked Browne’s approach to Epicureanism. And that was savvy.

Epicureanism was one of the three distinctly Hellenistic philosophies that aimed to help their practitioners find spiritual peace in a world of conflict, in distinctly philosophical, rather than religious or medical, ways. The general tenor of Epicureanism, like of Stoicism and Pyrrhonian skepticism, was to caution folks not to embroil themselves in matters outside their control. The locus of our control is individual. And that is why individuals should take responsibility for their lives by increasing their own agency and not dissipating their limited talents and strengths in causes and conflicts that cannot easily maintain personal direction. If one gets caught up in social movements, one becomes too dependent upon others. One’s investment in others is almost doomed to be liquidated to your own hurt.

But that does not mean that others should be shunned, that one had best live as a hermit. That is idiotic. Epicurus praised friendship, but did advise basic withdrawal from politics and religion and the Big Endeavors of life. (Very un-Randian of him.) Why? Because on the personal level you can navigate the social world, increase its benefit to you by reciprocal advantage, and, in the course of doing this, mimic the ideal polity (which in Epicurus’s own day was not possible to erect beyond small enclaves) of friendly people mutually combining for the limited purpose of security. (Epicurean political philosophy was utilitarian in a rather practical-contractarian sense.)

Times have changed since Epicurus’s day, of course. Our societies are democratic in several important ways, not just widespread franchise for majority votes on executives and legislators. Trial by jury; a basic set of rights that do find some legal purchase even against the police power; and common cultural habits that make freedom a part of vast domains of life (even if the State circumscribes us in increasingly restrictive and arbitrary ways). This democracy-as-social openness (what Tocqueville called “equality of conditions”) allows for a lot more citizen input, and a more hopeful view of social foundations. The State isn’t always out to get you. It is not always and everywhere a drain. (Though it still topen often is. Hence our interest in reforms or stratagems to restrain political power further. The actual situation is that the voluntary sector of society is so productive that the political drag, or suck, still does not drain us utterly — at least we who are not under its direct tutelage as wards of the state — to offer more freedom than was available even under less intrusive governments of the American past.)

Despite the growth of the size and scope of the State, the basic complexion of modern life remains that of the open society. And that was not something Epicurus could do much more than imagine. Nevertheless, many of the biggest cultural “wars” of the present time all pick at the open society, as if it were a problem to be solved rather than what it is, a solution to our most basic problems.

I tell you a mystery: The great blessing of our open civilization is . . . indifference! We are indifferent to most people. We love a few, get along with many. But we drop contact when appropriate, which is most of the time.

This is OK. It is more than OK. It is of paramount importance.

Unfortunately, folks who are heavily acclimated to ideologies of love, inclusion, or even kindness (as are very different folks who view free people with suspicion, fear, and loathing) find this civilizational openness challenging. To say the least. But this civilizational and omnipresent indifference doesn’t invalidate communal values of love and inclusion, it just limits them. And it refocuses the idea of respect away from hierarchy and equality (two in-group possibilities) and other obsessions of the in-group to a deference to others’ differences, to their rights.

Nowadays, folks are confused by rights talk, and with reason. The idioms of rights are often made too much of, held to possess a metaphysical importance. Suffice it here to say that basic rights can only be of a limited scope, to be “right” at all.

All rights entail obligations, and all obligations are burdens at least technically.

Rights to freedom differ critically from rights of an allegedly “higher” nature, such as a right to sustenance or right to health care. Freedom rights merely oblige others not to interfere, forbidding aggression against persons (bodies) and justly acquired property. These do not require special services and vast wealth tributes. They do not even require, some say, submission to anything like a Leviathan state. They just require us to mind our own business.

By undergirding free association, which includes the ability not to associate, these rights set up the possibility for voluntary cooperation, particularly cooperation through trade. And here, with exchange cooperation, human beings encounter the full flowering of human potential. And this arises, without overarching plan or specific regulation, from folks determining, each to his own, what is in self that serves other(s) enough that some other(s) reciprocate.

This sets up a division of responsibility. And provides the groundwork for learning, improvement, progress.

Epicurus could not see the great advantages to be gained by an extensive market, in no small part because, in his day, the widespread use of slaves masked the potential of freedom. Mutual advantage, in the ancient world, seemed restricted to kinship, friendship, communal and political realms. The world of trade, so often dotted with fraud and plunder, seemed more a contest, more a combative endeavor.

Like all the Hellenistic philosophers, Epicurus turned inward. The sort of happiness he offered was peace through the removal of pains and unnecessary burdens: “ataraxia,” or ataraxy.

By dissolving the power of the ancient states — those limited-access orders of exploitation and elaborate hierarchies and status — early moderns opened up a distinct approach to social peace, a sort of ataraxy on the level of interaction: peace through the elimination of bothersome harms and force-fed service to The Good, however conceived. By cutting through the Gordian knot of politics by forswearing subservience to some particular set of values — Nation, Duty to God, the Religion of Humanity — humanity has opened up the possibility of happiness through the more spontaneous actions of freer interaction.

This is why I sometimes see this politics as a late flowering of Epicurean philosophy, a neo-Epicureanism. By taking care of the means, preventing the greatest evils and wrongs, and avoiding the traps that nature and the state “set” for us, the putative higher ends flourish not from united and compulsory endeavor, but from the emprise of people voluntarily working together.

Cross-posted at LocoFoco.Liberty.me.

left and rightThe perversion of justice takes many forms, but the most interesting are the political. Especially the common misconceptions on the left and on the right.

There is an element of fairness embedded in the idea of justice. The vice of the left is to think that fairness can be imposed upon society by correcting for nature and chance, which operate heedless of human preferences. This is such an awesome task — impossible, really — that the motto of the left could be “everything is political” . . . for “everything” must be corrected.

The left’s characteristic form of righteous indignation is envy. And there is no intellectual humility in sight.

There is an element of vengeance to the idea of justice. The vice of the right is to think that this is the whole of the matter, and that extremity of retaliation for a wrong is usually better than moderation. The motto of the right could be “there is no kill like overkill.”

The right’s characteristic form of righteous indignation is wrath. And intellectual rigor is rarely welcome.

Of course, the terms left and right, as relating to politics, are perhaps outmoded and flimsy; your mileage may differ, simply because of the inherent relativity of “left and right.” Whether something appears at left or at right depends upon which direction you are looking.

But it is astounding how unidirectional most folk are, as if they were cattle — hence the ability to plot politics, if clumsily, in one-dimensional terms. And name the vices.

Cross-posted at LocoFoco.Liberty.me.

JohnKerrySKETCH

Everybody has said poorly thought-out, foolish things. We’ve all committed boners. But some are harder to walk away from than others, and some folks can say things that others had better not.

“I hate you,” for example, might be easy for a child to recover from, but not so easy for a spouse or a parent.

Better example? Secretary of State John Kerry on the recent Paris massacres. But let Paul Jacob explain — for it is his thesis about how to understand Kerry that is at once most charitable and makes the most sense:

Deep Thinker Kerry

Comparing Friday’s horrific shootings by Islamist terrorists to the events of last January, one-time presidential candidate John Kerry noted that there is “something different about what happened from Charlie Hebdo. . . . There was a sort of particularized focus and perhaps even a legitimacy in terms of — not a legitimacy, but a rationale that you could attach yourself to somehow and say, ‘OK, they’re really angry because of this and that.’ This Friday was absolutely indiscriminate. It wasn’t to aggrieve [sic] one particular sense of wrong. It was to terrorize people. It was to attack everything that we do stand for.”

Yes, Kerry pulled himself out of the fire pretty fast, but, even if he earnestly believes that (as Reason characterized it) “killing cartoonists is less appalling than killing concertgoers,” this was a thought better left unexpressed.

What could Kerry have been thinking?

Here’s a guess: John Kerry sees himself as a reasonable man. Reasonable men try to understand things. And in the course of trying to understand things, a reasonable man will likely explore all sorts of ideas, make uncomfortable comparisons, follow challenging arguments wherever they lead.

But Mr. Kerry does have a job: Secretary of State. This makes him a key mouthpiece for the United States of America . . . to the world, and about world events.

A Secretary of State should know that standing up for rights is his public duty. It is not spinning theories about motivation that could ominously pass as justification for slaughtering some folks but not others.

His statement may betray him mid-thought, but hey: “everything we stand for” includes free speech and the press.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

I quote Paul Jacob because (a) he wants to have people send around his “Common Sense” squibs, and (b) it fits nicely with the theme I’ve been running with these last few days, on discriminate versus indiscriminate thoughts and ideologies.

It should be hard for Kerry to “walk away from” this faux pas. But who knows? Americans forgive all sorts of sins and misstatements — if made by members of their own party.

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