Saturday, November 27, 2021

Thoughts 27 November 2021


Socrates taught not that we should perfect the world but that we should perfect ourselves within an imperfect world.
But can we not yet seek to perfect (v.) the world even if it will never reach perfection (n.)?

Reason therefore resembles language. Just as language can never be objective or neutral—for all languages, without exception (mathematics included), express a particular worldview—so too reason is not an independent criterion to which one can appeal in favor of one system rather than another. The instrumental rationality that most moderns believe is the only valid form of reason was not forced on us by nature. It was espoused—in part consciously but in larger part unconsciously—to further the ends of domination inherent in the cultural values of Western civilization.
Everything is embedded.

Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

An unattractive binary. 

All around the world, authorities quite uncoincidentally find that “hateful” and “unsafe” speech is speech which is critical of them—not least in the United States, where, in 1954, the U.S. Postal Service used obscenity laws to censor ONE, a gay magazine whose cover article (“You Can’t Print It!”) just happened to criticize the censorship policies of the U.S. Postal Service.

Peace of mind produces right values, right values produce right thoughts. Right thoughts produce right actions and right actions produce work which will be a material reflection for others to see of the serenity at the center of it all.

The concentration on the inner life . . . especially the sins therein, gave an impetus to conceiving psychology legalistically, in terms of cases of conscience. If conscience is to be identified with the superego, and the passions with the id, then the rational ego that mediates between them and resolves their conflicting demands must essentially perform casuistry.

The difference between the Gnostics and the Hermeticists is that Hermetic man doesn't want to escape from the world, but to realize his full potential within it, in order to embrace his obligations, so that, as Hermes tells Asclepius, he can 'raise his sight to heaven while he takes care of the earth'.

By this point, there were really two economies: the digital economy and the material economy. Andreessen’s point was that the digital economy was becoming so powerful that it was dominating—eating up—the material economy. Increasingly, new companies were finding that they could use software to enhance their profits dramatically, expand their reach, and sell digital services rather than physical products.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Thoughts 26 November 2021


As we begin to understand the processes that go into the evolution of complex systems (and what is the human mind, if not a very complex system of processes?), we are recognizing that development isn’t always just slow and steady. Gradualism may be the dominant inclination in scientific circles these days, but both developmental psychology and complexity theory suggests that evolution can also move in leaps and jumps, with periods of relative stasis mixed in with periods of rapid change.

Called a spiritualist metaphysician by one historian, [James Mark] Baldwin and his interests straddled many worlds, and his work has been described as a bridge between “social and cognitive theories of development,” bringing to mind later theories such as Spiral Dynamics (which we will explore in the next chapter) and the philosophy of J├╝rgen Habermas, which cross the lines between those two realms.

It was never going to be easy to negotiate the trade-off between the physical health of teachers and the mental health of children, between the guidance of scientists and the livelihood of waiters, between being alive and being OK. All of this required a society where people encountered one another as fellow citizens of goodwill and a government that heard them, and we had neither.

The reason values seem so woolly-headed to empiricists is that empiricists keep trying to assign them to subjects or objects. You can’t do it. You get all mixed up because values don’t belong to either group. They are a separate category all their own.

We always condemn most in others, he [Phaedrus] thought, that which we most fear in ourselves.

Anxiety, the next  gumption trap (2 words), is sort of the opposite of ego. You’re so sure you’ll do everything wrong you’re afraid to do anything at all. Often this, rather than “laziness,” is the real reason you find it hard to get started. This  gumption trap (2 words) of anxiety, which results from overmotivation, can lead to all kinds of errors of excessive fussiness. You fix things that don’t need fixing, and chase after imaginary ailments. You jump to wild conclusions and build all kinds of errors into the machine because of your own nervousness.

As we pored over hundreds of  sticky ideas (2 words), we saw, over and over, the same six principles at work. PRINCIPLE 1: SIMPLICITY How do we find the essential core of our ideas? A successful defense lawyer says, “If you argue ten points, even if each is a good point, when they get back to the jury room they won’t remember any.” To strip an idea down to its core, we must be masters of exclusion. We must relentlessly prioritize.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Thoughts 24 November 2021

Published this fall 

When on May 21–22, 2020, the two sessions [of the Chinese Communist Party] finally convened in Beijing, the story that the regime had to tell was one of heroic national recovery. The failure of the West handed the CCP a historic triumph.

What then the conjunction of philosophical and historical argument reveals is that either one must follow through the aspirations and the collapse of the different versions of the Enlightenment project until there remains only the Nietzschean diagnosis and the Nietzschean problematic or one must hold that the Enlightenment project was not only mistaken, but should never have been commenced in the first place. There is no third alternative and more particularly there is no alternative provided by those thinkers at the heart of the contemporary conventional curriculum in moral philosophy, Hume, Kant and Mill. It is no wonder that the teaching of ethics is so often destructive and skeptical in its effects upon the minds of those taught. 

But which ought we to choose? And how ought we to choose? It is yet another of Nietzsche’s merits that he joins to his critique of Enlightenment moralities a sense of their failure to address adequately, let alone to answer the question: what sort of person am I to become? This is in a way an inescapable question in that an answer to it is given in practice in each human life. But for characteristically modern moralities it is a question to be approached only by indirection. The primary question from their standpoint has concerned rules: what rules ought we to follow? And why ought we to obey them? And that this has been the primary question is unsurprising when we recall the consequences of the expulsion of Aristotelian teleology from the moral world.

MacIntyre, Alasdair. After Virtue (pp. 118-119). University of Notre Dame Press. Kindle Edition. 


Lachman quoting Jurij Moskvitin:

A mind looking into a world external to itself will receive a picture of a world in which there are some phenomena that cannot be explained in terms of the laws generally ruling in that world. The reason is that a mind—any mind—is creating its world by means of a process of selection. The thing that will be missing in that world . . . is the law governing the total system because the mind is a part of the total system, and what it cannot perceive is itself. . . . The world as we see it is determined by the structure of what to us appears as its smallest components. To move deeper in this direction is to change the world. . . . 
[T]he total system of which the point (consciousness) is itself an element will forever remain unknown to the point. It is itself governed by a system of which it can never grasp the totality. . . . Fully to grasp and understand what it is in itself would be to grasp the totality. Therefore there will in itself forever remain something unknown, and so there will remain something unknown in the world that it perceives as external to itself. That unknown will appear as life. The increasing approach to the unknown—the blind spot in itself—is the creation of life itself.

Lachman, Gary. A Secret History of Consciousness (p. 190). Lindisfarne Books. Kindle Edition. 


The nation might bind the people, but what bound the nation? Schmitt’s answer came in the Der Begriff des Politischen (The Concept of the Political, 1927). In sixty pages, Schmitt touched on political obligation, sovereignty, group identity, and life’s purposes. To tie those disparate topics together Schmitt used a single emotive term, “the enemy.” The presence of an enemy, he wrote, engendered the nation, bound people to the state, created need for a sovereign, and lifted politics out of the mundane.

David Wallace-Wells in Air Pollution & Climate Change

 Reading David Wallace-Wells seems always to be a downer. But that's because he's a thorough, detailed reporter of the awful truth. In this article, he informs us about air pollution, which is skimming away (and in some instances, ripping away) years of life and well-being from all of us. Most of the air pollution comes from burning fossil fuels and increasingly from burning forests. It's horrible in India and China (as I can personally attest); but only bad here in the U.S. and Europe. So "bad" is good enough for Americans? But then when it comes to our habits of consumption, as a people, we're often little better than a collection of addicts.

Here's a sample of what Wallace-Wells writes:
Perhaps, like me, you have spent the last five years in a state of panic about climate change. Perhaps it has inflamed your politics, and your sense of self. It should. The world is already warmer than it has ever been in the history of human civilisation. We have already exceeded the narrow temperature window which gave rise to everything we know as agriculture and society and politics and culture. The last time there was as much carbon in the atmosphere as there is today, temperatures weren’t 1.2°C warmer than the pre-industrial base level, as they are now, but about 3°C, with forests growing in the Antarctic and sea levels twenty metres higher.
The climate is changing ten times faster than ever before in a planetary history that includes mass extinctions which wiped out more than 90 per cent of life on Earth. Half of that damage has been done in the last 25 years, since the publication of Al Gore’s first book on global warming and the formation of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – in other words, with the full knowledge of the scientific community and the effective consent of global political leaders. A quarter of the change has taken place since Barack Obama was elected president, having hubristically proclaimed that ‘this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.’ Just a few years later, he bragged to an audience in Texas that ‘suddenly, America is the biggest oil producer. That was me, people.’"
And you thought climate change was our only & biggest threat.
Of course, we could get two birds with one stone by moving quickly away from fossil fuels. But do we have the wisdom & foresight to do so?

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Thoughts 23 November 2021


When we don’t feel safe, we become afraid; and when we’re afraid, we often become less trustful of others and less willing to cooperate with them, which makes it hard if not impossible to sustain broad social commitments to the principles of opportunity and justice.
We (a great many humans now in the world) are in the grip of fear, even beyond the normal vicissitudes of life. We might say an existential dread because of climate change, environmental degradation, technological change, and the continuing threat oof war & nukes, to list my leading suspects. This, I contend, is part of the explanation of why we're seeing a decline in democracy and increased conflicts within and between nations. Fear: an excellent warning system; an undependable guidance system.

The British journalist and writer Anatol Lieven, now at Washington’s Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, recently argued that American patriotism has two faces. The first is the “American Creed,” a civic ideology that espouses liberty, democracy, and the rule of law. A powerful integrative ideology with elements of messianism has always been extremely important in the success of world empires. The Byzantines had their Orthodox Christianity, the Arabs had Islam, the French had la mission civilisatrice, and the Soviets had Marxism-Leninism. The American Creed impels its adherents to extend the Western values and Western democracy to the whole of the world.
This observation now seems rather dated, doesn't it? Our creed is slowly changing before our eyes, although the struggle to preserve the values of liberty, democracy, and the rule of law isn't over.

All this may still be presented as a Gibbonian narrative of long-term decline. Alternatively, however, Roman history can be understood as the normal working of a complex adaptive system, with political strife, barbarian migration (and integration), and imperial rivalry as integral features of late antiquity, and Christianity as a cement, not a solvent. Rome’s fall, by contrast, was quite sudden and dramatic—just as one would expect when such a complex system goes critical.

Kissinger pointed to “the environment, energy security and climate change.” Such problems could serve as avenues for cooperation between China and the United States, much as the problem of the Soviet Union had done during the 1970s.
Still true. See the recent U.S.-China agreement in Glascow. Think of the potential of a cooperative rivalry.

When Hippias goes home, he remains one, for, though he lives alone, he does not seek to keep himself company. He certainly does not lose consciousness; he is simply not in the habit of actualizing it. When Socrates goes home, he is not alone, he is by himself. Clearly, with this fellow who awaits him, Socrates has to come to some kind of agreement, because they live under the same roof. Better to be at odds with the whole world than be at odds with the only one you are forced to live together with when you have left company behind.
To wit, yourself.

On the level of common opinion, this means that clarity and greatness are seen as opposites.

An existential, meta-logical solution of the perplexity can be found in Heidegger, who, as we saw, evinced something like the old Platonic wonder in reiterating the question Why is there anything at all rather than nothing? According to Heidegger, to think and to thank are essentially the same; the very words derive from the same etymological root. This, obviously, is closer to Plato’s wondering admiration than any of the answers discussed. Its difficulty lies not in the etymological derivation and the lack of an argumentative demonstration. It is still the old difficulty inherent in Plato, of which Plato himself seems to have been well aware and which is discussed in the Parmenides. Admiring wonder conceived as the starting-point of philosophy leaves no place for the factual existence of disharmony, of ugliness, and finally of evil.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Thoughts 22 November 2022

For [Brian] Arthur, a complex economy is characterized by the dispersed interaction of multiple agents, a lack of any central control, multiple levels of organization, continual adaptation, the incessant creation of new niches, and an absence of general equilibrium. In this version of economics, Silicon Valley is a complex adaptive system. So is the internet itself.
Complexity is everywhere! (And it makes prediction a very dicey proposition.)

What corporate America wanted was not civil war and a Darwinian push for herd immunity, but social peace and an effective containment of the epidemic. The aggressive push against China added fuel to the fire. Partisanship cleaved the national economy.

Why, [Alasdair MacIntyre] wanted to know, was liberal society so rich in unrealized dreams of its own and so full of damage to things of value that everyone, liberal or not, ought to cherish? Why, he wanted to know, was liberal society so effective in ruining collegial institutions, eroding excellence, commodifying culture, and marginalizing the needy? Such ills, MacIntyre suggested, were not failures to meet liberal ideals. They arose as predictable consequences of liberal ideals. The liberal sin, to MacIntyre, was urging society to let go of people and encouraging people to go their own way.

Every actual occasion exhibits itself as a process: it is a becomingness. In so disclosing itself, it places itself as one among a multiplicity of other occasions, without which it could not be itself. It also defines itself as a particular individual achievement, focussing in its limited way an unbounded realm of eternal objects. 

Observation and experience can and must drastically restrict the range of admissible scientific belief, else there would be no science. But they cannot alone determine a particular body of such belief. An apparently arbitrary element, compounded of personal and historical accident, is always a formative ingredient of the beliefs espoused by a given scientific community at a given time.
Read again. Consider.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Thoughts: 21 November 2021


This 2018 publication becomes more relevant and timely with each passing day

Bluntly put, when democracy no longer delivers the goods, it will be consigned to the dustbin of history by an angry mob.
January 6, anyone?

We face a stark choice. We can expend our waning stocks of fossil fuels, our scarce capital, and our limited political will in a vain attempt to maintain industrial civilization as it exists, or we can use those same resources to effect a necessary transition to a radically different type of civilization. But we cannot do both, and we must choose reasonably soon.
Does anyone contend that we're still not trying to have our cake & eat it, too?

Byzantine art was monotonously sensuous even as it was austere, and with an irresistible splendor that “dumbfounded,” revealing a civilization that encompassed at once stirring liturgies and fierce doctrinal debates over the nature of Christ and the possession of the True Cross.
Having viewed a great deal of Byzantine (Orthodox) art in Romania, Turkey, Venice, and Sicily, I can confirm Kaplan's observation. It is at once simple, patterned, and predictable, but also awesome & inspiring.

And by reflecting on it we can perhaps detect one more characteristic which art must have, if it is to forgo both, entertainment-value and magical value, and draw a subject-matter from its audience themselves. It must be prophetic.
Most art is either "entertainment-value" or of "magical value" (subtly didactic & conformist), so the prophetic is rare indeed. Examples of "prophetic" art?

Imagination is indifferent to the distinction between the real and the unreal.

In art, religion, science, and history the true object is always the mind itself it is only the ostensible object that is other than the mind. That is to say, art and the rest are themselves philosophy, but implicit philosophy. Their true nature is to be philosophy, but this nature is concealed beneath an error in self-knowledge whose peculiar character produces the peculiar facies of the artistic or other consciousness. Art and the rest are the unconscious philosophies of a mind nescientis se philosophari; and this ignorance, which is the difference between the artist and the philosopher, is what prevents art, religion, and so forth from consciously studying their real object, the mind, and compels them to believe that their true aim is to contemplate those images and abstractions which are their ostensible objects.
But could the value of art and religion ever lie in the strictly articulate? The mind prefers the articulate, but the soul (psyche) responds to the symbol.

The professor stood at his lectern and noted that all autoimmune illnesses conform to a similar pattern. They all start with an insult to the body’s sense of homeostasis. That insult could be a virus, bacterial infection, splinter, transplant organ, whole-body hypothermia, fever or allergen that triggers an immune response, and, for reasons we barely understand, that immune response never turns off.
Our understanding of autoimmune disease is indeed limited, yet it is perhaps becoming more common. But then we tend to seek pallatives more eagerly than true cures. (Which would likely require changes in how we live and care for our environment.)

Until the invention of antibiotics in 1928, Western medicine couldn’t deliver much better results than indigenous medicine anywhere else in the world. In many cases, going to a shaman or witch doctor offered just about the same likelihood of recovery as seeing a Western doctor.
Wait! Didn't life expectancy expand rapidly before this date? Yes, but not so much because of medical practice but because of public health practices (sanitary sewers, potable water, etc.) and improved nutrition.

A stimulus is nothing else than a suggestion for a mental act (or any other kind of act), and an enriched consciousness contains its own suggestions within itself.

We can't control outcomes in any sphere of life. All you can do – and therefore the only responsibility you have – is to put in the time and effort: into relationships, parenting, finding happiness, whatever. The actual result, in a profound sense, is none of your business.
Control? No. But influence? Yes. In the end we must follow the path revealed to Arjuna by Krishna: "“Let your concern (or focus) be on your action, let it not be on the outcome of the action. Do not act only out of expectation of a result, but then do not slip into inactivity.”