Archives for category: Philosophy

The term “neo-liberal” is the left’s favorite term to conflate actually-existing globalism, limited-government conservatism and libertarianism. There is a reason why libertarians, especially, hate the term. And, often, despise leftists for using it.
The term “cultural Marxist” I heard first from people trying to explain the left’s strange obsession with inclusion/exclusion issues and group identity politics. It is, I guess, a term of art on the right. I tend not to use it, but hey, I understand its utility. Modish, post-modern social justice ideas do trickle down from their ancestral origin, in Marx, regarding class interest and exploitation . . . and the idea that oppression must be understood in those precise terms.stevehorwitz
Users of the term cultural Marxism, so far as I have witnessed, do not normally conflate SJWers and feminists and intersectionalists with liberals and statists of the center-left variety. I, at least, rarely hear it so used, except when used in haste, and when the cultural acquiescence to the SJWers by the center-left is at issue. But perhaps I am living in a bubble.
Why bring this up?
Because Prof. Steve Horwitz, an economist I follow on Facebook, wrote the following:

The progressive bubble on college campuses that makes it so hard for so many students to pass an Ideological Turing Test leads them to name-call and question the good faith of libertarians and conservatives. Those students simply have no idea what a serious, thoughtful defense of conservative or libertarian ideas looks like.
But their bubble is mirrored on the right by the retreat into the right-wing media echo chamber which causes many conservatives, and too many libertarians, to be unable to pass an Ideological Turing Test themselves. They too end up name-calling and questioning the good faith of progressives, and they have little idea what a serious, thoughtful defense of progressive ideas looks like.
We end up with people shouting meaningless terms like “neo-liberal” and “cultural Marxist” at each other rather than actually talking, while they assert that they are on the moral high ground and the others are “snowflakes,” and everyone remains blissfully ignorant of the socially destructive bubbles they inhabit.

Horwitz had me until the last paragraph, at which point I rebelled. Neo-liberal is definitely not meaningless. It started life as a way to acknowledge the filiation of ideas of modern limited-government thought. Leftists, in recognizing it, acknowledge that liberalism used to be individualist — that in itself is something of an achievement (there are a lot of “liberals” and “progressives” out there who still refuse to accept the facts of their inheritance). The fact that it now encompasses almost the whole of any possible capitalist order indicates the extent to which its users hate the central institutions of capitalism: private property and markets, and the rule of law that sustains both.
And hey: cultural Marxist is not meaningless, either. The parentage of much of modern feminism and anti-racism and the whole intersectionalist project does indeed hail from a bowdlerized Marxism. It is not economic Marxism, which is fine, since that is a brain-dead philosophy anyway. It is “cultural” in that it emphasizes culture and “systemic” social influences, all the while denying whole perspectives on biology (and is thoroughly anti-science on many levels) and economic law.
So, these two terms may be problematic in some usages, or all, they are not mere terms of opprobrium. And to call them meaningless is to misconstrue major ideological ideas in our time.
Why would Horwitz suggest that they are meaningless?
Perhaps because he is playing a popular game that many libertarians play: the left and right are equally bad. And equally good.
Designate me dubious.
Where and how they err and differ depends on the subject.
And, frankly, the “right,” insofar as conservatives tend to uphold ancient, traditional conceptions of justice, is far, far less dangerous than the “left,” which holds to ideas of revolutionary justice, what Thomas Sowell calls “cosmic justice.” And my readings of John Rawls and the Frankfurt School confirm this notion down the line.
Like Horwitz, I do not easily fit into either camp. Perhaps like Horwitz, I can pass ideological Turing tests pretty well. I know what makes both left and right tick. And tic. And talk.
For the record, I categorize my social philosophy, following Herbert Spencer and F. A. Hayek, as “evolutionary justice,” which takes from traditional conceptions huge hunks of doctrine and major hints, but then applies philosophy and social science to them, to better understand their limitations.
I readily admit, this idea was revolutionary when advanced by John Locke, and the American Revolution, and in Spencer, Gustave de Molinari and others who carried on the tradition. But it was not anything like the revolution proposed by socialists.
The left has openly flirted (and often embraced) their concepts as a revolt against nature itself. My kind of revolutionists did not have the left’s utopian view of human potential, or the leftist’s “malleablist” (tabula rasa + social engineering) view of social causation. It was on the left that truly revolutionary — cosmic in scope — notions of justice took hold.
Today, things have come to a head. Contemporaries call each other names because now they recognize, as never before, how diametrically opposed their views are. Sure, they put themselves in bubbles for the reasons people have put themselves in bubbles throughout history. But the Internet has let us all gain intimate contact with our opponents’ very ids, and each side rears back in revulsion.
This is not a result of bubble-think. It is the result of more information and personal knowledge than ever before.
And I suspect Prof. Horwitz does not see it because he is firmly em-bubbled in the Academy, which houses many a . . . “snowflake.”
And let us come to terms with that as well. “Snowflake” is not a term used equally by both sides. It was used against the Social Justice Warriors by . . . everyone else. The far left’s whining and freak-outs over ideas showed a truly remarkable touchiness that most folks outside the left, not coddled by the deep class notions of oppression, and promiscuous standards to define oppression, are outside of their experience.
Horwitz’s apparent idea, here (if he is not simply engaging in an etiquette fiction) — that the left and right is equally as bad — strikes me as implausible. The left is more firmly in love with government, far more committed to government growth, and has a lock on several major cultural institutions all of which push increasing the size and scope of government.
They are the ones to fear most of all. For those very reasons. Government must be limited in order to be possessed.
I am somewhat surprised that a libertarian might think otherwise.
Now you see: that’s the bubble I live in, thinking that libertarians have it all figured out. When formulated as “all libertarians have it all figured out”? Obviously untrue.

twv

FYI:
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Perhaps true cosmic justice would be this: each person forced to live with the consequences of his or her* ideology.

The only way to do this would be to form separate countries/states with different political and economic systems.covervoyage2arcturus

It is worth noting that my ideology would be fine with concurrent, interpenetrating populations with neighbors belonging to different “governments.” You could live in a tightly constructed socialist state, or whatever else you want; I could live with the services brought to me by Moe’s Police, Larry’s Judiciary, and Curly’s Military. But the point of most other ideologies? Force the given ideology upon everyone, the unwilling to be brought to “justice.” Read the rest of this entry »

Aspartame reminds me of homosexuality.

Why?

British philosopher Jeremy Bentham spent a great deal of effort trying to figure out a rationale, based on his utilitarianism, to make homosexuality illegal. He could find none. According to his principles, homosexuals must be treated like other adults, as basically free to do as they please so long as they do not harm others.

Sadly, Bentham would not allow his research and reasoning made public in his lifetime, for fear that it would tarnish the utilitarian emprise.

And here is the parallel story: Aspartame has been examined by scientists more than most other food substances.

They are always looking for a way to call it dangerous. And thus worthy of prohibition.

Aspartame’s like homosexuality: condemning it doesn’t pass muster.

Of course, the idea that you should ingest it no more follows than you should “be homosexual.” To each his/her own.

twv

The history of philosophy is that of geniuses getting so close . . . but missing the mark.

Hence, my appreciation of a thinker is often not “do I agree” but “can I learn” from encountering said thinker’s work.

It is not for nothing that I am apt to say appreciative things about Jeremy Bentham but not William Godwin. Is Godwin uninteresting? Never, on occasion, correct? Irrelevant. It is merely that making sense of Bentham and where he went both wrong and right is much more edifying.

Thus, often we must look for truth, but keep a special eye out for the interesting and profitable mistakes, even blunders.

The two most interesting failures in political philosophy, in the last two centuries? Herbert Spencer and John Rawls. I am not sure anyone else comes even close.

The errors of great men are venerable because they are more profitable than the truths of little men. — Friedrich Nietzsche

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This year, 2017, marks the centenary of The Great American Novel almost no one has even heard of.

Let me take that back. A bit. It is not as if the book were unknown. Critics have written about it. The story has a following, if small.

But it has, as far I can tell, never once been suggested as a contender for that dubious title, The Great American Novel. Indeed, most of the author’s cabal of readers put it third or fourth on their contentious “Best of” lists.

Still, I buck all trends. I assert that this particular hundred-year-old work is its author’s best in long form; that it qualifies for the status of meta-novel, thus giving it a cachet necessary for serious consideration by literary critics; and that it has enough contact with mainstream Americana (just enough) to qualify for the Great American status.

The book? No more evasions . . .

James Branch Cabell’s The Cream of the Jest: A Comedy of Evasions.

A thousand copies were printed in September, 1917. Two and one half years later, a second printing came out; six months after that, a third; the next year, a fourth. In 1922, a slightly revised Fifth Edition was published, with the previous editions’ Preface turned into Chapter One, and prefixed, now, with an introduction by Harold Ward. This edition became the template for the British printings. With the 1926 eighth edition, the text was established for several later Modern Library reprints, as well as Cabell’s own final revision for what he called the “Storisende” edition of 1930.

I own, at present, the Second Edition, a later Modern Library edition, and two paperback editions: the Ballantine Adult Fantasy (“unicorn head”) reprint of the Storisende, and an elaborate scholarly treatment edited by Joseph M. Flora.

After the first edition, and the spectacular notoriety of 1919’s Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice, Cabell devised a 20+ volume cycle that he dubbed, with sly pleonasm, The Biography of the Life of Manuel. In this cycle, ordered by the fictional events, not date of authorship, The Cream of the Jest appears as the final book-length comedy, followed by Straws and Prayerbooks — an indirect sequel to 1919’s Beyond Life and, like the earlier better-known work, a droll explication of Cabell’s literary philosophy — and a strange hodge-podge called Townsend of Lichfield, about which, well, one may learn more of (and understand less) from Cabell himself in Preface to the Past (1927), pp. 281 – 309.

My advice to the literary reader is to forget The Biography — all the other books the author fused into one well-ordered chaos — and begin with a later edition of The Cream of the Jest without reading any prefatory matter. Start with Chapter One and proceed. If you happen to find yourself with an earlier edition, read the preface assigned to the fictional “Richard Fentnor Harrowby,” and continue on to the first chapter.

The author’s bizarre framing of his Biography’s tales have much the same resonance of Jorge Luis Borges’s meta-fictions. They confused me when I first read them. Trying to sort fact from fiction is not easy when the forewords written by the author, which give off all sorts of cues to non-fiction status, turn out to be, instead, mixtures of fantasy, scholarly earnestness entwined with scholarly irony, and a propensity to dispense not wholly reliable autobiography.

This fictional/non-fictional framing is carried to extreme in Beyond Life and Straws and Prayerbooks, which, as I state above, are literary manifestos disguised as fiction. Both books make for strange reading, but are necessary for anyone interested in what makes books like The Cream of the Jest “work.”

Which brings me back to this one volume, itself. It is not quite a novel. And yet it is. Perhaps it is an example of modernism smuggled in from the literary attic, wherein the Guardians of Literature had placed most of the dusty old tomes of belles lettres along with medieval romance and Gothic fancy. Or perhaps it is a work of post-modernism, a clever wedding of highbrow fantasy to popular romance.

One could also argue that it is the last gasp of the Genteel Tradition in American literature, except Cabell, though suave and well-mannered, was never genteel in Santayana’s sense. He daringly broke too many taboos for that.

The Cream is really what its subtitle proclaims: a comedy. As such, it indirectly but thoroughly confronts the inevitable failures of romance as a way of life, while reëstablishing its necessity in the same breath.

Cabell, being a comedian, has it both ways. He is both a romancer and an ironist. As a fantasy novelist (The Cream is half-fantasy dream study), he attempts to “write beautifully about beautiful happenings.” But as a philosopher, he hammers a kind of realism that in the hands of naturalist novelists turns into a now all-too-familiar sanctimonious nihilism. But caution: his hammering is on the order of Nietzsche’s “philosophizing with a hammer” — what is meant is not brute force debunking but, instead, a gentle tapping as if at tuning forks and small bells. The idols of the age (and all ages) are being sounded out.

In this, Cabell places himself in a tradition he was not entirely comfortable within: of George Meredith and Thackeray, as well as the philosophical comedians of a later generation, such as Iris Murdoch. Egoism he carefully calls up for apt ridicule, as he does the deadening hand of normality, of mediocrity.

Cabell more readily hails from late-19th century aestheticism, especially the work of Anatole France. Echoes of Balzac’s Droll Tales can be easily detected. The popular romancers of Cabell’s day, such as Maurice Hewlett, might exert a background influence. But Cabell’s own favorites among his contemporaries included British literary fantasists, including Lord Dunsany, author of The King of Elfland’s Daughter, and Arthur Machen, author of The Three Imposters.

This puts Cabell utterly at odds with the mainstream of 20th century highbrow literature. And one might think it would have put him at odds with H. L. Mencken, America’s most enthusiastic promoter of the sociological novel. And yet, Mencken was an admirer. Perhaps what the Sage of Baltimore most liked was Cabell’s philosophy, that unmistakable thread of irony. Mencken called Cabell “the most acidulous of anti-romantics.”

So much for romance.

But Mencken also praised Cabell’s prose style. In fact, Mencken was capable of writing close to Cabell’s mode. In praise of Cabell he characterized the Southern gentleman as “a scarlet dragonfly embedded in amber.” Exactly.

Which might now indicate Cabell’s enduring interest for a few of us. His heart was in romance, his head was in irony, and his philosophical stance was . . . fancy footwork. Nimbly he stepped in and through several genres. The Cream of the Jest was one of the last of his fictions to be rooted in the mundane world of his time. With this work he firmly carved out a niche in high fantasy. It is half a comedy of manners and ideas, and half a fantasy, in brilliant union. The bulk of his work to follow proved more thoroughly fantastic, often set in the mythic province of medieval France, Poictesme. After wrapping up the Biography of the Life of Manuel, he jettisoned his first name, and produced several trilogies of quite distinct fantasy, including a successful dream trilogy, under the moniker Branch Cabell. At some point he brought back his first name, and, in the end, essayed a final foray back to the roots he planted in Cream, with his last (and  brilliant) comic fantasy, The Devil’s Own Dear Son.

The Cream of the Jest immediately follows three earlier comedies set in the Virginia of his youth: The Eagle’s Shadow, The Cords of Vanity, and The Rivet in Grandfather’s Neck. Of these, the first is a fairly standard romantic comedy, the second is a dark comedy of egoism and betrayal, and the last is a masterwork focusing on the waning culture of Southern honor anchored in a sad “comedy of limitations” (to quote the subtitle). Only The Rivet holds up as a complete literary success. There were also several volumes of short stories, and a non-fantastic medieval romance, The Soul of Melicent (later retitled Domnei.)

But The Cream of the Jest transcends all that preceded it. With this work, the author finally “finds his voice.” Truth is, he always had his voice. What he had not developed until The Cream was a way to unite his philosophical interests with his love of literary japery and a wholly successful and absorbing tale.

Of course, opinions vary. Many readers complain that nothing of substance happens in The Cream of the Jest. And this is true if “of substance” means sword fights and lawsuits and such: the “action” is mostly dream, and, even when set in the humdrum of automobiles, face cream factories, and politicians, almost all interior.

One of the great turning points in the story is in Chapter 27 (Book Fourth: V in the early editions), “Evolution of a Vestryman.” Here Felix Kennaston, our hero, becomes a Christian, and a leader in his local Episcopalian church. It reads like a comedy. Indeed, it reads like a parody of C. S. Lewis’s Surprised by Joy. But it came first, and one wonders whether Lewis might not have read the tale in disgust, and later, by cryptomnesia, took the half-remembered Cabellian argument to heart and became a Christian himself. Lewis was 25 when the book hit British libraries and bookstores.

I do know that Lewis hated Cabell. Cabell was so modernist compared to Lewis. Cabell the ironist could hardly please Lewis’s dogmatic earnestness. And yet Cabell himself had entered the fold of his Richmond, Virginia, Episcopalian Church, and become a member in good standing. He was more than half-earnest, himself, in this crucial chapter. Later, in other works, he defended Maundy Thursday and its Anglican rites, as being based on legends that might “possibly be true.” (Lewis became a member of the Anglican Church, churning to the top the cream of the jest: Lewis and Cabell were co-communicants.)

The ambiguities here as elsewhere set Cabell against the tide of rabid secularism. And yet his own comedies do more than merely suggest a caustic irony. What is going on here?

Cabell understood the hollowness, in fact, of the ancient traditions. But he also asserted that they were beautiful. Whether true or not, he had no intention of throwing the old ways completely aside. He was a post-modernist traditionalist conservative who was also a liberal doubter. But let us retain our bearings. What he doubted most was the advisability of a full embrace of modernity’s ongoing nihilism project.

Cabell lived his life as if tradition were worthwhile enough to preserve, if not embrace without a wink. And he wrote his fictions as if in full dialogue with the past. Indeed, that is what The Cream of the Jest really is: a philosophical dialogue with the past and its charms, while seriously acknowledging their tendency to disappear when attempted to be grasped. Just as his hero Kennaston wakes up from his dream whenever he attempts to touch his dream woman, Ettarre.

In The Cream of the Jest, we witness not the revelation of a special American Dream, but the reality of Dreams Universal. Which is American enough for me.

The year 1917 sports a few more prominent literary centenaries, the most important being the publication of T. S. Eliot’s Prufrock, and Other Observations. (Eliot was also a co-communicant of Lewis and Cabell.) It is also the year that popular fiction made an important step into the future, with Edgar Rice Burroughs’s A Princess of Mars. J. R. R. Tolkien began work on what eventually became The Silmarillon; Christopher Morley produced Parnassus on Wheels; and Norman Douglass published South Wind.

A century earlier, establishing bicentennial possibilities, Jane Austen’s Persuasion and Northanger Abbey saw posthumous success; Walter Scott’s Rob Roy hit presses on both sides of the Atlantic; and Thomas Love Peacock’s delightful Melincourt debuted.

But these are very different stories.

My story? This year I celebrate

  • my Finnish heritage, with the centenary of the birth of independent Finland;
  • my family history, with what would have been my father’s hundredth birthday, had he not died four years ago; and, perhaps most of all,
  • the centenary of the publication of The Cream of the Jest, which I read at age 17 . . .

the one novel that seriously treats personal love and cultural literacy as a romance that, while inevitably comic, even the most cynical dismiss at their peril.

twv

One of the fundamental errors of today’s socio-political thought can be summed in one simple equation, an equation quite without validity:

Diversity = Equality

Diversity does not even imply equality; it contra-indicates it.

But that identity is the foundational notion of pomo morality and “identity politics.” Only a highly nuanced analysis of the diverse things (or persons) themselves, and the diverse standards that might apply to them, would find an important connection between the two concepts. But the connection would be an identity only as a “term of art.”

But it is not highly nuanced thought that we are given. We witness, instead, relentless and hysterical assertion after assertion of the dubious identity. The notion that Diversity is Equality is the dogma of the day.

And it is corrosive to the basic habits and institutions of a liberal society. It is the latest attempt to apply coherence to the mirage of “social justice.”

twv

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I am a propagandist by profession. But my unpaid presence on the Web — which sometimes veers on rantwork, other times wanders into personal reflection — differs from my less public, behind-the-scenes editorial consulting in matters of persuasion. I allow myself, here as well as on Facebook, Twitter, etc., the latitude to use bigger words and more involved arguments . . . and to be more annoying in other ways as well. 

My middle name’s Wirkman. But, with some justice, I could elide the first phoneme: ’irkman.

Huh?

A propagandist must have one foot in philosophy. And, off the clock, the other foot is free to step in and out of the philosophy ring at will, as if dancing the hokey-pokey. And philosophy, you may remember, may have started with a kind of metaphysical speculation about the substance of reality (Thales, Anaxagoras, Anaximander), but it was early on upgraded to gadfly status (Socrates). And there is no surer way to annoy a normal denizen among the living than to question his reality or challenge her ideals. But that is the job of the philosopher. So: irksome is the name of the game.

The propagandist has that job of inducing paradigm shift, too. But there the notion is to make the bitter pill of Error Correction as sweet as Confirmation Bias Candy. 

Marketing medicine as a luxury or decency, rather than as a necessity or strict economizing effort (no one hates “austerity” more than a modern profligate cosmopolitan*) is not an ignoble thing. 

But it is not the only thing. So I can be at once more honest and more annoying when I sign my name to these posts. Or just my initials —

twv

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* See the propagandist work of Paul Krugman in the New York Times. He is paid well to shill pleasant, candy covered pills for the Establishment. And boy, does he hate the very idea of “austerity”!

Rights asymmetries were the rule in the ancient world. Hierarchies were caste hierarchies, with different rights and duties dependent on where you came from, who your parents were, etc. “My station and its duties,” as F. H. Bradley put it. The king had a divine right to rule, and it was the duty of others to obey. Case closed.

Modernity begins with a universalist attitudes towards rights. This yielded a belief in symmetrical rights assignment, to basic rights, human rights, “natural rights.” The idea?  Everyone — every person, every individual human being — was to possess the same basic rights set, and any hierarchies that evolved from there were to be based on action, chiefly, and seen as derivable from universal rights. That is, particular rights that we do not all share were dependent upon the basic rights that we do share.

The big issue of our time appears to be immigration. And here we stumble upon a rights asymmetry: 

It is almost umiversally believed that everyone has a right to leave one’s country. Only tyrannies hold their inhabitants within state-demarcating border lines. But the flip side of migration-out is migration-in: the right to emigrate would seem to entail a right to immigrate.

That is not today’s everyday reality: immigration controls are almost universal these days.

What good is a right to leave a country if one may not be accepted elsewhere?

The immigration debate sounds like excuse piled upon excuse. It is all based on fake rights, non-compossible rights.

One reason I occasionally worry about the current anti-immigration craze is memetic contagion: to resolve cognitive dissonance, emigration rights would also become widely opposed. And real, palpable tyranny would result.

  • Who has best dealt with this apparent antinomy? 
  • Can it be legitimized by appeal to universalizability? 
  • Is the émigré/immigrant asymmetry a representation of an underlying compossible rights set, something I cannot yet fathom?

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There are two kinds of people in this world: those who divide people into two categories, and those who don’t. I’m in the latter category. . . .

Japing paradox aside, I do try to avoid dualistic constructions in philosophy and explanation. It doesn’t take long in political discourse, anyway, to see that many popular dualities, though conceived as exhaustive, are anything but. Human experience does not often easily fit neatly into two.

Indeed, in the work of Aristotle we encounter a vision of ethics that does not regard Right and Wrong as the foundational antagonism, but Deficiency and Excess as a basic duality, with a middle point between these  extremes serving as equilibrium, and constituting the virtue. Aristotle provides numerous examples in the Nicomachean Ethics. When I was a young man, I devised a schema of cardinal virtues, not dissimilar to Aristotle’s, but distinct. I distinguished three cardinal self-regarding virtues and three cardinal other-regarding virtues. Each virtue could  be conceived  as middle point between one or more sets of antagonisms. My schema looked like this:

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The emotional realm I conceived in terms of the Will to Pleasure, and saw Temperance as a midway point between the lusts for pleasure and expressions of passions, on the one hand, and a deadly anhedonia and fearfulness, on the other. The person prone to anger was not temperate, but neither was the person incapable of strong feeling of any kind. The point of temperance was not to be evenly emoting at all times, but to be close enough to an emotionally stable point to be able to feel appropriately in any given situation.

Very Aristotelian, no? The other virtues I explained along similar lines, with wills-to contrasting with schemes of avoidance, fleeings-from. But in none of this discussion of a basic concept of ethics (and not the only important concept, either) did I give in to a simple dualism. Instead, I saw the experience of life in a three-fold division, and, within each division, each cardinal virtue understood as a mid-point between extremes (thus making another three-value logic) . . . and then divided into two, according to the center of regard, or direction  of concern or interest.

So when I began seriously to consider social life outside of a simple listing of virtues, but as issues to be argued over within the political realm, I became immediately suspicious of all the dualities I was presented with. As Chris Sciabarra explained so well in the opening of chapters of Total Freedom, what is needed to understand complex reality is more than a two-valued logic, the binary clicking of either-or. What is needed is a dialectical mindset, one that comprehends shifting perspective and a multiplication of entities. Shave with Occam’s Razor, sure; but you don’t grow hair that way.

Recently, James Gill and I have been making videos. He is in charge, and he aims to catch me in thought. Amidst my mumbles, I say some things that I regard as sensible. Here is the most popular of these videos, from a set reacting to Sarah Silverman’s defense of Socialist Bernie Sanders, which went viral on Facebook:

You see that I take on a statist sophism: that the basics of life be seen as “rights,” not “privileges.” And the listener tends to agree. Privilege is something only a few may have. Rights are universal. We want the basics to be universal, no?

Well, before we hastily cave to the statists’ rhetorical trap, look at it. Are these our only two options?

No. As I explained in the video, there is at least one missing third option, between the unearned advantage of privilege, and the coercible, obligatory focus of a right. What is it? It is the realm of contract, cooperation, and earnings.

I get most of what I want not by demanding each item as a right, or begging for each good as a privilege in someone else’s grants economy. Instead, I engage in trade. Or some other form of mutual cooperation. And, by agreement, I gain what I need. How? By offering and supplying something within my power and personal economy that at least one other person desires more than I desire it. This is the logic of exchange. It is a beautiful thing. When we come to terms, the results are beautiful and peaceful and harmonious.

We would surely want as much of life to fall under this realm of transaction, not under the realm of the coerced or the extorted or begged.

But socialists and other statists  continually elide any mention of this, when they push for some new realm of life to be sucked into the vortex of government, the maw of the State. They just put before us the simple binary, the duality Rights vs. Privileges.

And, in so doing, they lie.

It is a lie by omission of a great truth.

It is what you expect con artists to do, distracting our attention from the best option to get us to settle for a brummagem alternative.

Of course, most socialists are not deliberately lying. Like all religious zealots, what is lacking is a sense of piercing honesty, free inquiry, even curiosity. They have a simple vision of the world they are pushing — their utopia — and they will not let something complex like reality, or difficult, like truth, get in their way.

Thus it is with most dualisms. As I go through the usual lists of everyday dualities, we shall see how true this is.

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Investigations into “folk physics” and “folk psychology” I’ve encountered.

But arguably the most egregious divergence between scientific discipline and common opinion has to be “folk statistics.” But this word pair doesn’t seem to be a thing. (I didn’t drill deeply into my recent keyword search, but the first few pages turned up nothing useful — if you know differently, please advise.)

It is not just popular discussions of risk and uncertainty that are infected by poorly understood statistical concepts. There is a deep fear of anything being labeled “abnormal,” as if normality were the most important thing in the world.

I accepted the bulk of my abnormalities at age 7; most of the rest by a decade later. So it can get a bit annoying to witness adults fret about whether or not they or someone the love might find themselves on the receiving end of a designation as abnormal. Oh, what a tragedy: you don’t fit in to the herd perfectly! You might be an individual.

My rule in discussing statistics with people is to assume “we’re all outliers here” and let it go at that. But that is just a decency, in most situations.

Folk statistics, as a research program, would have to research common misperceptions between whole and part, problems of getting decent samplings of relevant populations, the common misattribution of causation to correlated data, and the most basic statistical errors such as confusing the mean, the median, and modal examples. Surely a study of how folks engage in statistical thinking on the fly could present a fruitful way to develop an easy thesis. After all, the examples of folk physics and folk psychology are ready at hand, and the mostly unlearned population of American suckers (“one born every minute,” we are told) should make for a rich soil to till. And the possibility of emergent savvy, in the “wisdom of crowds,” could make the study even important.

But surely the biggest topic, lurking at every corner, would be the common fear of abnormality, and the common assumptions that falling into the “normal” category implies a norm in the prescriptive sense.

The researcher into this realm would have to learn to suppress the phrase “Oh, grow up.” The occasions to use it will be many.