Degeneracy Pressure

I hope you will forgive me for a series of nested self-quotes in this post.

Back in November, I posted a little item in which I quoted this, from an even earlier post:

The universal acid of radical skepticism having nearly completed its work, all transcendent values have now been dissolved — and if all that once was sacred is now remembered at all, it is only to be mocked and scorned.

I continued:

Nietzsche saw this coming: “the total eclipse of all values” would be inevitable, he knew, once there was no longer anyone to say “thou shalt not”. To borrow another astronomical metaphor: when the fires that sustain a great and luminous star have burned themselves out at last, it collapses under its own dead mass and says goodbye to the universe.

The final stages of this process can move along pretty briskly.

The link in the quoted passage just above will take you to an article, written for New York magazine by one Alexa Tsoulis-Reay, about a man who has a loving sexual relationship with a horse.

Now we have for you another item from the same author, called What It’s Like to Date Your Dad.

Returning to our metaphor above: what prevents a neutron star from collapsing further is something called the Pauli Exclusion Principle, which says that no two particles (in this case, neutrons) can occupy the same quantum state. This has limits, though: simply put, as the neutrons get squeezed harder and harder, the range of energies that they must possess to maintain distinct states increases. (This is referred to as “degeneracy pressure”.) When the mass of the star exceeds 3.2 or so solar masses, however, the energy required to prevent complete collapse reaches relativistic limits, and in an instant the whole thing gives way — because there is simply nothing left that can keep the star from being crushed right out of existence. It becomes a black hole — a gateway to oblivion that draws in anything that approaches it, and from which no light or information can escape.

To put it another way: when you have sufficient mass all seeking the lowest possible state at the same time, eventually there is nothing that can resist.

I do love an apt metaphor, I have to say.

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44 Comments

  1. Musey says

    I have to go to work so haven’t read the links, although I hope I got the gist of what you’re saying. I think that there is a moral deficit generally, an acceptance of behaviour in our society which was previously unacceptable. Whether or not these societal standards were underpinned by religious beliefs, a concept of some things being “sacred” or something entirely different is debatable. Even today most people wouldn’t think of having a relationship with or horse or going out with their father. However the majority would be tolerant of homosexuality (as an example) which is, in my opinion a leap forward..

    Don’t you think that it is ironic that the problem we have been discussing recently stems from religious certainty, strong conviction and an abundance of “thou shalt nots”?

    Posted January 21, 2015 at 3:32 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    No, not ironic.

    I’m too busy to respond at length, so I’ll refer you, for now, to this old post.

    Posted January 21, 2015 at 3:54 pm | Permalink
  3. Musey says

    Okay, so I have read your old post and I have to admit that it is clever, clever and more clever. Also, it is thoughtful and reasoned. I wouldn’t argue against you because I would lose. Every single time.

    At some level, I know what you are saying. Religions create cohesive groups and people feel that they belong, so they help each other and cooperate and don’t get too greedy. They also know that if they live a bad life there is retribution to be had, and that keeps believers on the straight and narrow. On the sidelines are people like you, who never did believe a word of it, but recognise how the wheels of society keep turning when the masses are kept in line. The problem is that too many people have joined you on the sidelines so they are now the mainstream.

    Today, it is quite alright to believe in nothing, and to be supremely confident that eternal damnation is a myth so only the believers have any incentive to be good.

    I think that reason, education, and law, a separation of church from state,should prevail. We should have enough faith in humanity that people should be good because they want to be rather than fearing punishment.

    The rise of science, universal education, and opportunity across the board means that we can no longer expect people to worship god, or believe in ancient mythology.

    To me, the essence of your argument is that religion is useful. Maybe we should set about showing people that naked self-interest is not good and we should all be trying to be a little less selfish. That way, we can make things work and build a society where every man is not out for himself.

    Posted January 22, 2015 at 1:41 am | Permalink
  4. JK says

    Today, it is quite alright to believe in nothing, and to be supremely confident that eternal damnation is a myth …

    In one literal sense Musey I consider that to be a true statement. But in another literal sense I have developed a belief (non-testable … by me) those “thinking individuals” though non-Religious, are the ones who realize eternal damnation is actually a concrete truth. And likely more concrete than the Religiously-gifted.

    If the unbeliever has a sense that the only eternal of this world is the following children and theirs.
    _________________________

    Recall Malcolm years ago sending me a link to a site titled Weird (a state)?

    The color scheme [for the wedding] is black and purple and we’re gonna wear Converse sneakers (Redball Jets?). He says he’s not gonna wear a bow tie, but it’s my wedding and I say he is. We plan to move to New Jersey where incest isn’t illegal.

    Posted January 22, 2015 at 2:58 am | Permalink
  5. Musey says

    JK, I stopped believing in God when I was about six, but I carried on going to church, because I had to, for years.

    For a little while, I did consider that those who believed in God might be intellectually impaired. However, as I have said before, and this is not false modesty, I am not an intellectual, and I do know some super intelligent people who believe in God, and I do struggle to understand why.

    In acknowledging their vastly superior brain-power I have to think that they might be right. It’s always been difficult for me though, and I always think, why has this omnipotent being been gone for so long? Why has he never dropped in for the last two thousand years?

    God, would you just get on down here and set some ground rules, because really, this is getting silly.

    In the meantime, I remain skeptical.

    Posted January 22, 2015 at 3:24 am | Permalink
  6. JK says

    Don’t misunderstand me Musey, skepticism is a good thing.

    And where “The Two Rs” are in play, it’s the Rational.

    (Might take awhile Musey, but pay some small heed when JK chooses to use the words I consider when the words I think *might* be the easier to hand.)

    Posted January 22, 2015 at 4:12 am | Permalink
  7. JK says

    Oh. Perhaps I should’ve typed “the children & grandschildren.”

    Posted January 22, 2015 at 4:15 am | Permalink
  8. Whitewall says

    Quite a metaphor. When I see Nietzsche in use along side his teachings, I think of one of my favorite writers, GK Chesterton, and his treatment of Nietzsche as well as Marx and the other “mad German thinkers” who made such a murderous “black hole” in the 20th century. Alas, Nietzsche and Marx still survive in academia and are continuing their damage to Western culture today. Chesterton fell out of favor and we in the West along with him. He is only now returning thanks to the American Chesterton Society. The West had better come to grips soon.

    Posted January 22, 2015 at 2:13 pm | Permalink
  9. Whitewall,
    I too am a Gk Chesterton fan. Sadly, I doubt most of our young people developed the intellectual conditioning necessary for serious thinking on complex societal woes or embarked on the study of enough historical material, from which to build a baseline pool of knowledge, required to wade into deep thoughts. Unless trained, most people do not develop critical thinking skills. We’ve got the attention-deficit generation, where even those spared being formally diagnosed, flail about in tehcnology geared toward superficiality. Hashtags, tweets, texts, and life guided by google searches and Wikipedia knowledge.

    Posted January 22, 2015 at 6:11 pm | Permalink
  10. JK says

    Eyes on the Saudis

    Posted January 22, 2015 at 7:11 pm | Permalink
  11. JK says

    January 19, 2015 at 2:24 pm

    Perhaps the Saudis have been preoccupied?

    Posted January 22, 2015 at 7:28 pm | Permalink
  12. Whitewall says

    Libertybelle…it’s good to know there is another one out there. I’ve learned there is a tv network called EWTN, known by some as the Catholic network–I am not Catholic, but I try to watch them Sunday nights at 9:00pm where they do a program on Gilbert Chesterton. It is nicely done. You are right about the lack of academic rigor needed for actual critical thinking. I seriously doubt many professors could do it, partly out of sheer “intellectual” laziness.

    Posted January 22, 2015 at 8:13 pm | Permalink
  13. Whitewall says

    JK, Shia to the east, Shia to the south…what’s a Sunni Saudi to do?

    Posted January 22, 2015 at 8:16 pm | Permalink
  14. JK says

    Oh Whitewall … over on Dip’s site sometime ago tho’ it may’ve not been so apparent to The Chorus, that LB “does attract attention” because, she is damned clever. (And since my word-choice has come to the forefront recently … and there’s understandably some *questionings* associated with word origin not however most certainly as regards my Friend LB, … well Whitewall, “clever” apparentlys first appearance coming from East Anglia [of Climate Science – yep, same] … “clever” where LB is concerned simply means from the East Anglian dialectal cliverexpert at seizing.

    Actually Whitewall, if I recall correctly, you were on that Dip thread too.

    Of course and I admit, the “at hand” being Syria Somesuch LB’s perceptiveness was, as my Grands would put it, “Awesome.”
    ________

    (Incidentally I expect, my shift *watching* now ended, expect no furthermuch from me as in two hours I’ll be close to extremely inebriated. As in: spelling will be more typically Hillbilly.)

    Uhm. As I recall Whitewall, your last leading “JK” ended with an interrogatory punctuation, care to remind me which it was?

    Posted January 22, 2015 at 9:04 pm | Permalink
  15. Troy says

    Religions create cohesive groups and people feel that they belong, so they help each other and cooperate and don’t get too greedy. They also know that if they live a bad life there is retribution to be had, and that keeps believers on the straight and narrow. On the sidelines are people like you, who never did believe a word of it, but recognise how the wheels of society keep turning when the masses are kept in line. The problem is that too many people have joined you on the sidelines so they are now the mainstream.

    Today, it is quite alright to believe in nothing, and to be supremely confident that eternal damnation is a myth so only the believers have any incentive to be good.

    I think that reason, education, and law, a separation of church from state,should prevail.

    I agree with almost all of this. One of the hardest things I have with accepting neo-reaction is the idea that we have to return to God. I too, used to think that people who believed in God were somehow intellectually impaired. The reason being that msny philosophers destroyed the idea of God: i.e. the ontological argument, the cosmological argument, the Euthyphro question, The problem of evil syllogism.

    But a lot of super smart people continue to believe in God despite these objections and their argument should be considered. I am completely sympathetic to the idea the religion was a glue that held civilization together. But now, with third wave feminism, nihilism, consumerism, and globalism, that glue has utterly been destroyed. Civilization is collapsing before our very eyes. ( For example, Islam is making its third conquest to Europe. How do we respond? We send James Taylor and an acoustic guitar… Is that not insane?)

    What I always thought that Nietzsche was doing when he said that “God is dead” was to show how much Western civilization would collapse because it was premised on God. And so progressives, nihilist, corptocracies, marxists, and athiest have killed off God. And we are dealing with this moral vacuum with the moral relativism we have today.

    But as a philosophy student, there were many alternatives to Christianity. For me, they are Immanuel Kant and Albert Schweitzer (two christian philosophers). I try to treat people as an end and not a means. I try to act in ways that affirm life.

    I apologize that I really don’t have a point other than it seems to me that the state of affairs is totally hopeless. Marxist is going to listen to me when I say, “that argument is specious because you affirmed the consequent.” Language doesn’t even mean anything anymore. Kant and Schweitzer are not going to appeal to people because it might tell them they have to delay gratification or they are wrong. And bird ain’t gonna hunt today.

    Posted January 22, 2015 at 9:17 pm | Permalink
  16. JK says

    Whitewall?

    Before I’m incapable the keyword is … not like our Constitution saying “at the incapicity of the Pissidfent the Vise-Pissidfent than, if two incabible Orange John askes Rand Cruise”

    Succession

    Posted January 22, 2015 at 9:18 pm | Permalink
  17. Troy says

    and apparently I don’t know how to use HTML tags either.

    Posted January 22, 2015 at 9:18 pm | Permalink
  18. Malcolm says

    Musey, you wrote:

    Okay, so I have read your old post and I have to admit that it is clever, clever and more clever. Also, it is thoughtful and reasoned. I wouldn’t argue against you because I would lose. Every single time.

    “Clever, clever, and more clever”. What can this mean, other than that I am good at a certain sort of intellectual parlor trick, that somehow I have, through artful sophistry, made it seem as if up is down, and black is white? “I have to admit”, you say, meaning that although I have apparently failed to do what I’d hoped — namely, to share with you my reflections and to persuade you, by the action of reason, to assent to my conclusion — I have nevertheless done the trick so skillfully that you can’t see where the sleight-of-hand is. That it is “thoughtful and reasoned”, it seems, only makes the conjuring harder to unmask, and adds a layer of prestige to my prestidigitation.

    You add “I wouldn’t argue against you because I would lose. Every single time.” Will you forgive me for feeling that you left out “even though I know that somehow you’re wrong”?

    What troubles me is that I’m not trying to do conjuring tricks here, but to understand why things seem to be going so very wrong in the modern world. After much reflection, I believe I have begun to see the problem, and all I have tried to do in these pages is to help others to begin to think differently about modernity, as I have learned to do, and to break some of the habits of thought that have been drilled into us all our lives.

    “Cleverness” is not what I was trying for, not at all. Have I done my work so badly?

    Posted January 22, 2015 at 11:54 pm | Permalink
  19. Malcolm says

    Glad to see Chesterton mentioned by several of you: I admire him very much myself. He’s popular, generally, in the ‘reactosphere’; in particular, one often sees references to “Chesterton’s Fence“.

    Posted January 22, 2015 at 11:59 pm | Permalink
  20. Malcolm says

    Another thing I feel I should add here: if you think that theism is only for dopes, or that it has been refuted, you are mistaken. I am an unbeliever myself, but years of engagement with sophisticated theists (I recommend to all of you Bill Vallicella’s outstanding blog as an excellent example) has broken me of my erstwhile, pugnacious atheism. When, added to that, I began to realize the adaptive role that religion plays in the competition and stability of human groups, and also to understand that the radical skepsis of the Enlightenment, for all its intellectual majesty, contains a terrible danger — an acid that can dissolve away the heart of any civilization that tries to contain it — I began to see modernity in very different terms.

    Posted January 23, 2015 at 12:10 am | Permalink
  21. Musey says

    Malcolm, please do accept a compliment when it is freely offered, without reservation. You are a far better writer than most who are paid to do the job and obviously you are thought-provoking.

    I don’t deny that religion brings people together, and I am not an aggressive atheist. I would love to believe, but I just can’t. That said, I have total respect for those who do and if it makes them live better lives, then that is a bonus.

    Of course there is a but. It worries me that you so clearly state that western religion is superior. You show me one religion where the faithful don’t believe that they are right. The Catholics, the Jews, the Hindus, the Muslims all think that they are the chosen people, they are therefore able to look down on anybody who is not like them.
    That tribalism is worrying whether it emanates from some idiot in Birmingham waving the ISIS flag or a very thoughtful intellectual who lives in NY, and writes software for a living.

    My criticism is not meant to be insulting and although you may feel that I am saying one thing while thinking another, nothing could be further from the truth.

    All my commentary is well intentioned and you do influence my thinking, but nothing is going to change my mind overnight. Especially because I know that there is another fellow who sometimes writes here, similarly gifted in the dark art of presenting his case in such a way that you know it has to be right.

    My greatest friend is an Anglican priest. She won a scholarship to Cambridge and has an off the scale IQ. She knows there is a God. She talks to him every day, asks his advice, and feels his presence every moment. When something bad happens she always knows that it is part of God’s plan. Has she ever had a moment of doubt? Never. I wish we could all be more like her, live like her and love everybody like she does, because the world would be a fantastic place.

    She also writes pretty well but has never managed to shift my skeptical position one iota. I just love the poetry of it!

    Posted January 23, 2015 at 1:25 am | Permalink
  22. JK says

    My criticism is not meant to be insulting and although you may feel that I am saying one thing while thinking another, nothing could be further from the truth.

    Why of course. Why didn’t everybody realize that a priori?

    (Musey. Don’t go thinking JK as JK promised … or said he would anyway be drunk. It’s just that … well, you know, inerrerancies. JK as you know is outback either praying to the vegetables or, trying to prey in an American marsupial to otherwise screw.

    JK relates. I “like EE” spells the properly communicative.

    Posted January 23, 2015 at 1:49 am | Permalink
  23. JK says

    Musey?

    Happy Birthday

    Posted January 23, 2015 at 2:11 am | Permalink
  24. Whitewall says

    Troy..
    I meant to return here last night, but sometimes “post dinner naps” get the best of me. I personally don’t believe Western civilization is lost nor do I believe we will be overwhelmed by doubters. After all, in her memoirs after her death, Mother Teresa was consumed with doubt all the while doing her work in the slums of Calcutta.

    Our western civilization has been harmed by our own hand. We are, I believe, facing the enemy that will gradually awaken us to what is at stake. Within that awakening I believe we will finally come to see who and what has been “the constant enemy among us”. This enemy has been plain and ever present for over a century. He has pretty well completed his “long march through the institutions”.

    Thus it is in spite of, because of and over the objections of this enemy, the West will fight a two front war against Islamism and at long last– Leftism.

    Posted January 23, 2015 at 10:01 am | Permalink
  25. Whitewall says

    JK, I also meant to get back to you last night too. I remember the thread over at Dips where LB was on board. I’ve seen her a few times. Always a nice lady. As a matter of fact, this blog seems to be a stopping place for several nice ladies. Nice to see.

    My question about Saudi was rhetorical but you summarized it with “succession”. Another old man. After him..we’ll see.

    JK, you must have had a bout of discipline overtake you last night too. You had warned about rendering yourself “inebriated”, so I thought that my nap might be well timed as you were probably “null and void” by the time I came to. Looks like you hung on.

    Posted January 23, 2015 at 10:14 am | Permalink
  26. Troy says

    Thus it is in spite of, because of and over the objections of this enemy, the West will fight a two front war against Islamism and at long last– Leftism.

    I hope it is sooner rather than later. Because this is maddening. I often wonder is the world really as batshit insane as it appears, or is it just me that’s crazy. It’s like the band I was in started playing different tunes. And now I’m relegated to trying to find friends on the Dark Side of the Moon.

    Posted January 23, 2015 at 10:33 am | Permalink
  27. Whitewall says

    Troy…sounds like you feel like you are just “another brick in the wall”. The long over due fight is underway. Notice all around the Anglosphere and indeed the developed world, the way PC is being named and called out as a weapon of our enemies that we normal folk have allowed them to use to stifle us. Also, within this awakening, the Left’s holiest of holies–Multiculturalism–is now being called out for the suicidal fraud it is. This will build. When I said the Left had completed its “long march through the institutions”, I know that it is in the nature of Leftism to begin to destroy that which they have built. After all, destruction is what they live for. Read up on the totalitarian behavior on so many college campuses and notice how things have devolved since the Free Speech movement we remember from the 1960s and early 1970s.

    If the Left stays true to form, and I bet they do, each grievance group will begin to accuse the others of a “lack of ideological purity”. They then set to fighting each other. This is when we do our “counter insurgency”.

    Posted January 23, 2015 at 11:22 am | Permalink
  28. Whitewall says

    “Chesterton’s Fence”. I had forgotten that piece. It is clever prodding to engage in deeper thinking.

    Posted January 23, 2015 at 11:48 am | Permalink
  29. Musey says

    Happy Birthday to you JK.

    I had never heard of this group before and I couldn’t hear the lyrics, but I enjoyed it anyway.

    Posted January 23, 2015 at 10:50 pm | Permalink
  30. Malcolm says

    Musey:

    I would love to believe, but I just can’t.

    I can’t either. I’m not sure I want to, but that’s a moot point.

    It worries me that you so clearly state that western religion is superior.

    I don’t believe I’ve ever said that. Quite the contrary, actually. See, for example, this post, in which I admire the fabulous adaptive robustness of the meme-plex we call ‘Islam’. See also this post, in which I explore a little further the features of a truly successful religion.

    From an adaptive standpoint — that is, from the point of view of a religion’s own evolutionary interests as a memetic replicator — Islam is a magnificent religion. In sharp contrast to Christianity, it is almost entirely free of internal paradoxes, and it makes a very simple bargain with the believer. Not only that, but because it is so much more than just a religion, it covers all sorts of loose ends that Christian believers still have to work out on their own — wearying details of law, government, family life, and so on. It’s one-stop shopping. It’s easy to see why it’s so popular.

    But it isn’t enough to ask what religion is “superior”. One also has to ask: superior for whom? Superior according to what?

    Sometimes the answer is easy. Here’s an example of a religion that is almost undeniably inferior, by almost any standard: Shakerism. The reason? Shakerism considered sex a terrible sin, and so did away with marriage, and placed a high premium on virginity. This meant that very few people wanted to be Shakers. Not only that, but people who did want to be Shakers had no offspring.

    Now there are no more Shakers.

    So: both as a memetic organism, and as a useful symbiote for human communities (in my view, religions are best understood as memetic symbiotes — intestinal flora for the human mind, you might say), Shakerism was a disaster. It became extinct by killing its host.

    But even Shakerism had some good points, by modern ideological standards: it emphasized equality between the sexes, nonviolence, the virtues of hard work and a simple life, etc. But extinct it went, and took its adherents’ gene-lines with it. (Modernity, please take note.)

    Like any symbiote, religions work better with some hosts than others, and so religions, even the more universal ones, tend to bear an organic relation to the populations they arise from. So we must also keep in mind that what is “superior” for Smith may not be so for Jones, or for abd’ Rahman.

    So: Western religion is superior? I don’t think I ever said that. I will say this, though: it’s ours, and it may be that T.S. Eliot was right: to defeat a religion you need a religion. Unfortunately ours mostly has to do, these days, with heteronormative microaggression and carbon dioxide. I worry that it may no longer be up to the job.

    You added:

    All my commentary is well intentioned and you do influence my thinking, but nothing is going to change my mind overnight. Especially because I know that there is another fellow who sometimes writes here, similarly gifted in the dark art of presenting his case in such a way that you know it has to be right.

    This isn’t a dark art. The difference between myself and the other practitioner you mention is in the axioms we accept: he likes the ones he’s been given, and that all his friends enjoy as well. (It’s a comfortable life, and I don’t blame him for luxuriating in it.) I, on the other hand, have a unfortunate kink in my nature: when I see everyone facing in the same direction, thinking the same things at the same time, and generally agreeing all round, it makes the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up. And when I see everything at once — popular opinion, political trends, the press, the universities, movies, everything — all moving in the same direction at the same time and the same rate, without any apparent coordinating principle, I become increasingly edgy. And when I notice whole sections of a great civilization quite obviously rotting and falling apart, while everyone around me seems to think things have never been better, well, it downright gives me the willies, and soon I just can’t seem to relax at all. (It’s like — what was it Morpheus said? — a splinter in your mind.) And so I have to start sniffing around, asking questions good people shouldn’t be asking — and before you know it, I’m barking my shins on axioms I hadn’t really noticed before, and asking myself “How did this get here? What’s it for, anyway? Are we really sure we need it?” And once I start looking, often I seem to find big, ragged holes where other, older axioms have been rather violently uprooted, and great scars in the ground where they were dragged away.

    That other fellow doesn’t do this. He likes things fine, just the way they are. And because you can argue anything you like as long as you have the right axioms, he makes perfect sense.

    What I’m working at here is to get people to inspect their axioms, and to consider some new ones (most of which are actually very old ones). You can think of it as non-Euclidean geometry, if you like. The thing is, though, it turns out that non-Euclidean geometry happens to be the one that describes the actual world.

    Posted January 23, 2015 at 11:38 pm | Permalink
  31. Musey says

    Malcolm, do you know how much I love you?

    Weird as that may sound there is an element of truth and I know nothing of geometry. I don’t know whether I have told you before, but by some quirky, inaccurate measure, I attended a school where everybody else was cleverer than me. How I ever passed the entrance exam is a mystery but coming bottom year in, year out, man, I did know my place.

    When I went to university I was stunned to realise that, actually, there were people there even more stupid than me.

    I hate that I always personalise this stuff, because I am over it. Clearly, this is not an intellectual response.

    Two of the girls I was at school with, in my year, are now professors. I have to admit to a certain pride, because I knew these girls and I always knew that they could do it.

    Posted January 24, 2015 at 1:04 am | Permalink
  32. Malcolm says

    Thanks, Musey. I hardly know what to say.

    You have a lovely voice. I think the problem is only that you never learned to sing.

    Posted January 24, 2015 at 1:24 am | Permalink
  33. Musey says

    Thanks Malcolm, you’re spot on, I couldn’t sing.

    It’s not something that can be taught.

    I could never sing.

    Posted January 24, 2015 at 3:05 am | Permalink
  34. Musey says

    Well, that shut everybody up.

    I did actually look up a person who was an outstanding student, and I discovered that she wrote in the national press under another name.

    She died a few years ago, and so I got to read her obituary. What a shock.

    Elizabeth Brice, RIP.

    Posted January 24, 2015 at 4:42 am | Permalink
  35. Musey says

    Well, it was a good night last night and maybe I got a little carried away. Of course, I am totally in love with white suit man, also Henry the clever physicist and JK who I think, might once have been a soldier. A special soldier. Of course, I could be completely wrong.

    Not to worry. I think you said a while back Malcolm, that you had a little brain snap. Now you have had mine. I feel relatively normal again.

    Posted January 24, 2015 at 11:32 pm | Permalink
  36. the one eyed man says

    Musey: thank you for your kind and accurate words. To quote Firesign Theater: I’m always right, and I never lie.

    This has nothing to do with our host’s patronizing assertion that my worldview comes from my friends and unspecified others who handed it down to me, or from his self-anointed role as a sniffer and inquisitor par excellence whose worldview is therefore superior to opposing ones. It comes from observation, ratiocination, and empiricism.

    Nor does it have anything to do with leading a comfortable life. Our host also has a comfortable life, with two great kids, as well as the beautiful and charming wife I introduced him to forty years ago.

    Nor do different axioms have anything to do with it. The earth is warming, we have the fastest growing economy in the developed world, the prevalence of guns is correlated to the prevalence of gun homicides, and our health care system is vastly improved: these are demonstrably and quantifiably true facts. Because they are true, they are axiomatic, whether or not one wishes to acknowledge their veracity.

    Whether government should be large or small, or spending should be austere or expansionary, are not axioms. They are preferences.

    Part of the difference in view is due to my generally sunny disposition. I’m not sure why being dyspeptic and ornery are intrinsic to conservatism – if you use Internet comment threads as a proxy, you quickly see that some of the most angry and hateful people you will ever come across are Tea Party types – but I suppose that if you tend you look at glasses half empty, you will probably believe that civilization is “obviously rotting and falling apart.”

    To believe that, however, you have to make the case that civilization yesterday was better than it is today. I disagree with Malcolm on the state of civilization in the past as well as its state today. One example: a conservative will look at America’s birth as its pinnacle, when rowdy revolutionaries threw off British oppression and established a government of free men, concluding that it’s been all downhill from there. A liberal will admire the genius of the Constitution, but recognize that it was a document which enshrined slavery and protected the ruling class by limiting voting to white, land owning men. Two of the innumerable ways in which today is better than yesterday are that slavery and segregation ended, and voting rights have expanded from 15% of the population to 100% of the (non-felonious) adult population.

    This is not to say that a sunny disposition equates to rose colored glasses. Human history is a long story of misery, oppression, and conflict. It is also one of progress: more people live under a democratic government than ever before, hunger is lower than ever before, lifespans are longer, literacy has increased, and so forth. Human life may still be nasty, brutish, and short, but the fact that it is less so than in the past qualifies as progress.

    Where Malcolm and I are in agreement lies in areas where facts lead to certain conclusions. If it is true, arguendo, that men have genetic traits which give them greater aptitude in science and coding than women, then there is no reason to ignore the (arguable) evidence that this is so. The fact that homicide rates are higher in black communities than white communities is an issue which should not be avoided out of political correctness. Facts are facts. You can’t avoid them.

    However, I will leave this for you to decide. Today’s forecast here by San Francisco Bay is 72 and sunny, with light and variable winds. I am off to play golf in an oceanside course in Half Moon Bay, where my biggest concern will be keeping my ball from landing in the Pacific Ocean. If that happens, my nearest point of relief would be Maui.

    Posted January 25, 2015 at 11:40 am | Permalink
  37. “my biggest concern will be keeping my ball …”

    Hitler had the same concern :)

    Posted January 25, 2015 at 7:39 pm | Permalink
  38. Musey says

    It’s good to see you back OEM, and you always make me laugh, and unfailingly present, very well, the other side of the argument. I don’t understand why Henry always gets so annoyed, and relating your light hearted comment back to Hitler is a bit daft.

    However, in the interests of staying onside with Henry, who I love dearly, also his lovely wife (and don’t forget that) you do sound, ever so slightly, smug, but I love you too. Very much indeed, and nearly as much the tanned guy in the white suit, who is my absolute favourite. Could you please forward a photo, so that I can decide, once and for all?

    Just don’t ask for one back, because I am feeling pretty old these days.

    Posted January 25, 2015 at 11:35 pm | Permalink
  39. “I don’t understand why Henry always gets so annoyed, and relating your light hearted comment back to Hitler is a bit daft.”

    Musey,

    If by “daft” you mean puzzling, all you have to do is click on my linked word “concern” and you will probably get the joke.

    I wasn’t annoyed at all. I was keeding! That’s what my trailing smiley was for :)

    Posted January 26, 2015 at 2:14 am | Permalink
  40. Musey says

    Hello Henry. I was already aware of Hitler’s missing bit, being well read an’ all. Whether you’re missing an eye or missing something else, it doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things.

    Posted January 26, 2015 at 2:48 am | Permalink
  41. “…, it doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things.”

    That’s an interesting conjecture, Musey.

    In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

    In the land of eunuchs, the one-balled man is king.

    Which kingship would he prefer, Musey? OEM or OBM?

    :)

    Posted January 26, 2015 at 11:12 am | Permalink
  42. Malcolm says

    Q.E.D.

    Peter, you have a knack for confirming my point with your “rebuttals”. You’ve done it again here.

    You offer some fine examples of what logic-choppers call “enthymemes”: syllogisms with a premise missing. These missing premises are precisely the unexamined axioms I was referring to — assumptions that you don’t even notice, because they are as natural to you as the air you breathe. It seems that you accept them intuitively, without examination.

    For example, you cite this as proof that things are better:

    A liberal will admire the genius of the Constitution, but recognize that it was a document which enshrined slavery and protected the ruling class by limiting voting to white, land owning men. Two of the innumerable ways in which today is better than yesterday are that slavery and segregation ended, and voting rights have expanded from 15% of the population to 100% of the (non-felonious) adult population.

    Let’s leave aside slavery (which, by the way, the Constitution did not “enshrine”, but tolerated, in order that there might be a United States at all), and look at suffrage. What you wrote takes the form of a partial syllogism:

    1) In the United States, suffrage has expanded to 100%.
    2) Our society is improved.

    At least one major premise is missing here. A more complete syllogism would be:

    1) Societies with universal suffrage are better than societies with limited suffrage.
    2) In the United States, suffrage has expanded to 100%.
    3) Our society is improved.

    Now that it’s out in the open, are we sure that the unspoken premise 1) should command our assent? In what sense are such societies “better”? Asking this uncovers still more unmentioned axioms. An even more complete syllogism might look like this:

    1) Equality in all things is the greatest social good.
    2) Less-than-universal suffrage is a form of inequality.
    3) In the United States, suffrage has expanded to 100%.
    4) Our society is improved.

    Again: now that we see it, are we sure about 1)? I’m not. As Will Durant observed:

    Freedom and equality are sworn and everlasting enemies, and when one prevails the other dies.

    You said:

    Human history is a long story of misery, oppression, and conflict. It is also one of progress: more people live under a democratic government than ever before…

    The missing axiom here, obviously, is “it is better to live under a democratic government than any other kind”. But this may or may not be so. It may be instead that how well we are governed is more important than who we are governed by, or how leaders are chosen. It may be that democracies — which are, effectively, just an inverted monarchy in which the politicians abase themselves before the masses, rather than before the King — have inherent weaknesses and drawbacks that render, them, over time, more susceptible than other forms of government to a kind of “catabolic decay”, in which they rashly consume future wealth to support unsustainable present-day extravagance (“eating their seed-corn”, as one observer has put it). We may also be mistaken to assume that the ignorance and indiscipline and foolishness of the average man, when taken en masse, is transformed by some mysterious demotic alchemy into intelligence, foresight and wisdom. Moreover, you probably believe (another undeclared axiom) that democratic societies are the most prosperous ones because they are democratic, but we can easily make a plausible case that it is not democracy, but capitalism, that does the heavy lifting in that department, and that prosperous capitalist societies need not be democratic. (This leads us to still another unspoken axiom, namely that economic prosperity is a greater social good than social cohesion, shared culture and religion and history, sustainable and non-dysgenic birth-rates, and so on — all of which seem to be shredded in modern, multiculturalist democracies). Even liberty itself may be at greater risk in democracies, as Tocqueville presciently foresaw, and as we begin to see for ourselves throughout the senescent West.

    I could go on. But I hope it is clear by now that your glib comment, and your blithe and breezy worldview, are riddled with unexamined axioms.

    But what about the “facts”? I’m afraid you’ve rather dropped the ball there as well.

    I don’t feel like bickering with you again about “the earth is warming”, other than to remind you once again that there has been no statistically significant warming this century.

    Nor will I address in detail your fantastic idea that it is a “true fact” that the health-care system is now “vastly improved” (presumably by the monstrous, and monstrously imposed, Affordable Care Act); suffice it to say that a very great many people, including every single doctor I know, strongly disagree, on empirical and quantifiable grounds.

    As for the “fastest-growing economy in the developed world”, the U.S. (which, by the way, is 151st overall) comes in behind the UK, Hong Kong, Singapore, Switzerland, Japan, and Iceland. Even utterly dysfunctional Egypt’s ahead of us.

    And as for your indefensible slur that “Tea Party types” — who in fact are generally polite and well-behaved, never vandalize property or disrupt traffic, and who even tidy up after their demonstrations — are “some of the most angry and hateful people you will ever come across” — I ask readers to consider the Occupy movement, or the Ferguson rioters, and to make up their own minds.

    Instead, let’s just look at your remarks about guns. You seem to believe that there is a causal relationship between having lots of guns around and more people getting murdered. Another unexamined axiom is buried there: namely that guns wield people, rather than the other way around. (The slumber of your intellect seems undisturbed by the fact that the highest murder rates are in places, like Washington D.C., that have the most restrictive gun laws, but I suppose you’d answer that by saying this is because guns flow to these places from other places with lax gun regulations. The obvious response to that, however, is to ask why, if it’s the guns themselves that cause murders, murder rates are far lower in the places where all those guns are coming from.)

    I went to look at the data. Here’s what I found:

    First I looked at murder rates in the 50 states and Washington, D.C. I scatter-plotted that against the rate of gun ownership in each of these places. Here’s what the resulting graph looks like:

     
    In statistics, correlation can range from -1 to 1; a value of 0 means that there is no correlation at all. The correlation I found for homicide rates vs. gun ownership was moderately negative, at -0.25. This means that states with higher rates of gun ownership are not more, but less likely to have a higher murder rate.

    Then I did the same thing worldwide. I looked at homicide rates vs. per-capita gun ownership for 173 nations. Here’s the graph:

     
    As you can see, the trend is still negative. The negative correlation is slightly less, at -0.16. (Getting closer to no correlation at all.)

    I’m afraid, Peter, that blaming guns for homicide rates simply doesn’t gibe with the data. (And even if it did, it might only mean that people who live in murderous places tend to buy more guns, in order to protect themselves.)

    Looking at the U.S. state-by-state numbers again, however, I did find one thing, mentioned by you as well, that correlated extremely well with homicide rates. It’s not something that we are supposed to bring up in decent company, but I’m going to do so anyway. It is the percentage of a state’s population that is black. Here’s the graph for that:

     
    The positive correlation here is very robust: it is 0.81.

    Make of it what you will. As Hayek said: “Without a theory, the facts are silent.”

    Posted January 26, 2015 at 12:47 pm | Permalink
  43. Malcolm says

    One other point of yours I should have addressed:

    Nor does it have anything to do with leading a comfortable life. Our host also has a comfortable life, with two great kids, as well as the beautiful and charming wife I introduced him to forty years ago.

    All true, but that is not — I should have thought obviously not — the sort of ‘comfort’ I meant. There is a good deal of social discomfort in store for heretics of all types, in every age. Less so for AGW skeptics than for, say, the Cathars, to be sure (there’s some progress for you) — but we might ask Brendan Eich, or James Watson, or Jason Richwine, or John Derbyshire, how comfortable they’ve been made to feel.

    Posted January 27, 2015 at 10:31 am | Permalink
  44. Musey says

    Henry, you may miss this response, as I missed yours, seeing as it was buried in the midst of Malcolm and OEM’s, exchanges. I think what I meant was that that it was over the top, and anyway, I don’t like references to physical “deformity”, and I know that is not what you wrote, but I do a know a man that only had one, and he is lovely. I understand he has two children. I went out with him for almost two years, and it really wasn’t an issue for me. So yes, I’m over-sensitive, but it doesn’t compare with his embarrassment, and how bad it made him feel. That is why I cannot bring myself to laugh about Hitler for that reason. Anything else, yes.

    Posted January 28, 2015 at 2:30 am | Permalink